Written On the Body, 2. May 10, 2019

So this is the 5th day of chemotherapy treatment. This first round is (so far) “chemo-lite”: I had one IV injection at the hospital on Monday, and started a regimen of taking another medication in pill form for 14 days — so I can stay home in my bathrobe, if I want to, and still be on treatment. The one major side effect is fatigue — and being home means i can nap when I feel like it. And the gray rainy days are conducive to that, and to reading. On the other hand, the doctors and friends who have been through this encourage me to walk and get light exercise, and I do feel better when I walk. I had a good walk on Wednesday, when it was sunny, although cool and windy. I am still eating well, which is important. Thanks to various friends for tips about mouthwash, hand-cream, diet, etc. Around our co-op, the trees are finally coming into leaf, and daffodils and tulips are emerging into colour. I planted pansies and a bleeding-heart in our small garden, and I think they have taken root.

Reading, as I noted, is important, and I am drawn both to mysteries and science-fiction and to journals and biographies about women artists and writers. Here are some recommendations in the second category. 1. I am re-reading the three journals by Anne Truitt, U.S. sculptor (1921-2004): Daybook, Turn, and Prospect. I first discovered Daybook in the late 1980s, when I was about 42, and wrote Ms. Truitt a “fan” letter to which she responded with words that gave me hope and encouragement: something to the effect that “a woman’s creativity is most powerful from her 40s to her 60s, if she can ride the crest of that wave.” She writes about her art, her family (children and grand-children), about being a woman and woman-artist, and thoughts about the wider world — even to the Antarctic explorers who fascinate her — and who also talk about the “waves” they encounter. Prospect explores aging, which is more relevant to me now than when I read it a decade or more ago. 2. Middlemarch and Me, by Rebecca Mead: a study of George Eliot’s life and work, and also Ms. Mead’s relationship to this novel. She travelled to various places Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) lived, and also writes about her long relationship with George Henry Lewes (I knew about this, but learned much more from the book). I have loved George Eliot’s work since university classes taught by the wonderful Naomi J. Diamond, so this book — discovered at the local library — was a real “find.” 3. Another library discovery is Jane and Dorothy, by Marian Veevers, a study of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth and how both these women dealt with lives of “genteel” poverty, their own writing, family restrictions and dependencies (and how they tried to free themselves from this), and being unmarried at a time when marriage was considered the sole purpose of a woman’s life. The book has interesting insights on the Georgian period and its views of women — but omits discussion of one reason neither Jane nor Dorothy ever married: their (perhaps unconscious) sexual/romantic attraction to women, not men. Jane was “in love” with a man at 20, which ended abruptly, then rejected a few proposals later in life; Dorothy was devoted, perhaps excessively, to her brother William, with whom she lived for much of her adult life (even after his marriage, to her good friend) — but the question certainly arises in my mind. One wonders what their lives would have been like today. It is interesting that George Eliot, about 40-50 years later, formed a deep and satisfying relationship (as companions and lovers) without the sanctity of official marriage, a relationship which nurtured her own writing (rather than interfering with it).

That’s all the medical and other news for today. Have a good weekend, and happy Mother’s Day. We’ve all had mothers (and grandmothers), even if not mothers ourselves. I celebrated Mother’s Day last Sunday when my son was visiting, back in Ontario on vacation from his work in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. It was good to see him.

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In the City

In my last post, about the changes in my life since moving, I forgot to mention the benefits and atmosphere of living in downtown Toronto — in the Regents’ Park neighbourhood, which is undergoing a resurgence — new housing, which still has subsidies for some residents; new stores; a beautiful modern aqauatic centre; a bank and supermarket (not there before, further marginalizing an already neglected area); the Daniels Centre, with theatres and meeting rooms, primarily a place for companies like the Native Earth Theatre and COBA (Collective of Black Artists). We are right near streetcars going east and west, providing easy and quick access to the subway as well as places on the streetcar lines; we are within walking distance of both Parliament Street and Broadview Avenue. Excellent medical facilities are within easy reach — clinics, family docotors, and major hospitals. Most important, however, is the mix of people — multi-cultural, in many different economic strata. Even in our co-op, there is a huge range of people — yet there is a sense of equality, a level playing field. I love going to the bank and the picture-framing shop, both on Broadview Avenue and Gerrard, and talking about Chinese New Year with the bank’s young financial advisor and the very talented young woman who frames our pictures, both of whom are of Chinese heritage and enjoy talking about that. I like being not in a “white majority” as I walk around the neighbourhood or ride the streetcar. I like the kindness of the streetcar drivers, toward me and other customers (e.g. pulling up to an accessible stopping-area on a snowy, icy day, or helping women with strollers get off and on.) I like walking through the co-op courtyard and greeting people, being greeted. I like going to pottery classes, with another co-op member (age 81!) at 220 Oak Street, a Toronto Housing building that has had many problems in the past and is getting some help from various agencies, including COTA. The pottery and art class, called the Acorn Arts Project, is run by three artists; their group has just received a Community Champions Award from CBC, one of five winners of this new award to recognize people helping the Toronto community.

This all takes me back in some ways to growing up in New York City, especially the neighbourhood on Central Park West and 96th Street where my parents and I lived until I was nine years old. Then my parents moved to a “nicer,” more upscale neighbourhood on the east-side, because “the neighbourhood was changing.” Now I have moved “back” to a similar neighbourhood, in a different country. Yes, I have seen and heard about some violence in the area, and there are still problems to be worked on — but this is outweighed by the sense of community, and the willingness to find solutions: hope rather than despair, in Jack Layton’s words.

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Moving Into a New Year (or, Moving, 5 months later…)

I haven’t written here for a while, as the autumn was a flurry of settling in to a new life, plus time for relaxing and breathing deeply. I ended the last post talking about “courage of the heart,” and this definitely has been a time to feel that. It has been a time of deepening the relationship. (I was surprised and pleased to see that George Eliot, aka Marian Evans, used this very word, “deepening,” to talk about her relationship with George Henry Lewes when they began living together in the 1850’s — cited in Rebecca Mead’s excellent book, My Life in Middlemarch, published in 2015.). We have been learning to work out the details of life: cooking together — which is fun, creative, and nourishing — as well as making the bed and taking out the garbage, doing home repairs, coordinating schedules, listening to music, enjoying time together in ongoing conversation or companionable silence, and time for each of to “do our own thing.” In my case, I have felt my writing take on new directions. And, for both of us, the change from a from a commuting relationship to living together has deepened, heightened, and grounded our intimacy. We have also been learning more about each other’s lives, from childhood on, and dealing with a few health challenges — our own and those of friends around us. And, I am getting to know more people in the Oak Street co-op, where I am now a member, and spending time, especially over the holidays, with each other’s family and friends, extending and our circle of closeness. Now, as the new year begins and light returns — there is time to reflect. Light and darkness — and returning light.

There is also the awareness of aging. I began these thoughts on moving, several months ago, with a comparison of moving and childbirth, and now again I am reminded of how time slowed and expanded during the first months of my son’s life, when he and I spend much time alone together. Living with a loved partner at this time of life, our 70’s, time as also slowed down — fewer obligations, and often less energy — but an awareness of the joy and meaning of each moment.

May the year unfold well….

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Moving Part 6 — Arrrival!

So — where to start? It is definitely a new beginning — and an ending, and also an ongoing middle to this story. A new chapter. I arrived at the townhouse at Oak Street Co-op, on Cornwall St, Toronto, at about 7:00 p.m, on Friday August 31, after a final packing up during the day, greeting the new owner (unexpectedly) and showing him around; saying goodbye to my neighbour, who dug up some iris (for herself, for me, for another couple of neighbours), and took the last batch of donations.
And now, it is a matter of settling in here — less pressure, no deadlines — and after several days (it is now Tuesday, the day after Labour Day), I feel the transition is going smoothly. The Jewish month of Elul is usually devoted to cleaning and clearing and turning before the start of the New Year, on the first day of Tishri, and this certainly has been one of those times, emotionally and physically, and spiritually, too. One of Roger’s and my projects over the weekend (in addition to unpacking some boxes) was to work on our balcony and outdoor garden, separating the palm tree into several pots, replanting the basil, planting the new iris. We also cooked together, as we like to do. I am aware of changes, the pattern of life left in Hamilton, but even more of the new pattern and rhythms of life here, and the way we are both experiencing this change in our relationship, as well as in our living spacetime. This move is giving me “courage of the heart,” a wonderful phrase/motto from the Netflix show “Sense8,” about empathy, caring, community, and working together.
To be continued…

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Moving, Part 5

August 31 — D-day, or M(oving)-day. I spent the night at the Visitors’ Inn in Hamilton, after camping out on sleeping bags in my (almost) empty house for 3 night — the couch went to a refugee family on Monday, the bed and pullout couch are long gone to other people. I had a massage yesterday, and that helped my back — couldn’t go back to the floor and sleeping bags, and also a transitional night in a hotel — clean sheets, real bed, food cooked for me — was a good step in leaving 51 Chatham.. Have to go back this morning to finish cleaning the fridge, get some plants and odds and ends. Then to see the lawyer. A sense of panic — leaving the known — but the new worlds and seas beckon, and I know I won’t fall off the edge — and I am also going to another, partly-known world that needs to be further explored and enjoyed and lived. No monsters, even if there are surprises.
Thinking back to 18 years ago when I moved to Hamilton — and back before that to the early and mid 90s, when I began getting to know people here. Also remembering my mother’s death on Aug. 31, 2009. I wish I could tell her about this move — but maybe, in a way, she knows.
Also breakfast at the Visitors Inn reminded me of breakfast here with Sharon and Peter, at the Jewish Literary Festival in 2009. Good memories. Life is full of these. As Roger mentioned yesterday, he was listening to the top 100 hits of 1969, so many songs laced with memories. Reminiscing with my friend yesterday about how we met through a casual conversation at Ladies Swiim at the Y, in 2000. And with another friend about her parents’ stories about coming to Canada as survivors after World War II. So on to new experiences, making more memories and more stories.

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Moving – part 4

Last several days in Hamilton. There is a warm breeze blowing in the garden, and predictions of very hot weather — feeling over 40C today. The big move was done last Tuesday, in the pouring rain — though it cleared up for most of the loading, and almost the whole drive in and the unloading. The flowers are beginning to face and look weathered, that end-of-summer attitude. The bees and butterflies — monarchs, and dark blue-black ones — are still eagerly fluttering and suck up nectar. The house is almost empty — though I am still finding nests of papers, yet more recycling, more shredding, more discard. I feel badly that I let so much clutter pile up — even worthwhile things (magazines, manuscripts, etc.) that could have been cleaned out much sooner. (My son: “We’ve been telling you to do this for years.” For an earlier move, years ago, he marked cartons Books, More Books, Too Many Books.)
Unpacking at Roger’s is going smoothly too — finding places for what we want, starting a “for a good home” box for the extras.
I sat in my garden yesterday, looking at the trees I planted — the ornamental cherry, the lilac, the weeping redbud — and thought of my friend Sharon Nelson in Montreal seeing a photo of the weeping redbud and saying “She is beautiful.” She — the tree with its delicate pink/mauve flowers, is definitely a she. I was glad Sharon could see the tree before she died in 2016. Sharon also loved gardens. (I had recently cut down two elderly cedars, and needed a new and beautiful tree to fill an empty space). I would like to talk to Sharon about this move, the changes in our lives and in the world. I read a poem I had written for Sharon at a memorial service on Sunday (Aug. 26) for another friend, Rita-Anne, a painter, poet, and a person of grace. Her love of nature also fills my world. The poem ends, “In the garden, new flowers appear daily. Deadhead the old blooms, allow new life to grow.”
New life, new light, changes, and growth. As summer ends, and — in Jewish culture, the new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins, with its wishes for health, happiness, and sweetness — along with saying farewell to the past, keeping the good memories, the feelings, the connections (it is just Hamilton to Toronto, commuting distance), and the stories.

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Moving, Part 3

It’s been good to see the Monarch butterflies, the roses of Sharon and the morning glories, the sun and even rain, these things that are beautiful ephemeral, living and do not need to be preserved, during this time of downsizing, purging — how many pounds of excess paper can a house hold? like 1000 or more clowns coming out of a car meant for 2 or 4 people? Why didn’t I do this cleaning and sorting earlier (or do MORE)???
The movers (three cheerful young men) are here now — some stuff to storage, some to my/our new home. As my son said once while packing, “Too many books” — even though I’ve given many away.
I was going through some nerves — would it all get done? how would logistics work? — and also sadness for leaving my home, garden, neighbourhood, people I can see frequently — but now there is also a feeling of excitement, moving toward something new and deeper. I have been rediscovering old letters from my family — my dad, in particular, who wrote infrequently and sparingly but always with love — and also poems about love, opening to life, to non-isolation. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood — and I am taking this one…

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Moving into Moving — Part 2

Coda to the previous post.

My grandparents on my dad’s side and my great-grandparents on my mother’s side were all immigrants — from Russia and Lithuania respectivly, to New York.
(I knew both Sarah, my dad’s mother, and Mary, my great-grandmother on my mother’s side, so that history was real and personal. Mary, especially, was a vital part of my life, and my mother’s; she died at 91 when I was 18.)
What did they bring? A trunk? A suitcase? A pair of shoes? A cooking-pot? A quilt? A menorah?
Only the “habit of hands,” as my friend, poet Sharon H. Nelson, said: the skills and love of cooking, of making clothing?
Certainly none of this “stuff” crowding my house.
In some ways, this
is the mind-set I want.

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Moving into Moving

Maybe what they say about childbirth is also true of moving house — you forget how hard it is so you can decide to do it all over again.
I have moved quite a few times over the years, sometimes just a few blocks within the same city, sometimes from city to city, or country to country — even across an ocean, and back. I have lived in Ontario since 1979, first Woodstock, then Hamilton since 2000 (though in a few different houses) — so that is fairly stable.
And even though I am looking forward to my coming move from Hamilton to Toronto (end of August), to live with my partner, I have mixed feelings about leaving my house, my garden, my neighbourhood, and living in Hamilton, where I have felt at home ever since coming here. I have lived in this house since 2005 — only 13 years, but yet a long time, especially because many of the things here, including books, manuscripts, and other papers, have been with me for much longer than that. Not to mention the things I brought from my mother’s house after her death, in Pennsylvania in 2009. I am finding childhood cards from and to my grandparents, photographs of people and places I’d almost forgotten, recipes, programs, souvenirs, writing by schoolkids I taught who are now at least 30 years old — and this is after months of recycling during the winter!! And of course, there have been many good visits and gatherings in this house, making it more of a home.
Moving is hard for anyone, but for a writer, there are special problems. We are like squirrels and magpies — we save things, and we love interesting, shiny things (or dull things which could be polished to rare beauty). All is grist for the miil, if not now, then in some indefinite future. Those old manuscripts (even ones written on typewriters (how long ago was that?) or saved on printer paper with punched holes, could be useful — a line here, a verse there. And the books and journals: my own (for which I’m grateful), those by good friends and acquired at readings, and all the books that I turn to for comfort, inspiration, curiosity, or just to reconnect with a good friend — a companion who makes me feel and think. “You have a lot of books, don’t you?” says every work-person who comes to the house — and then often has a story about their own writing, or their kids’.
And the stories, the memories, attach to so many everyday things: the patch of lily-of-the-valley where my cat lay down when he was dying; the painted barn-board my mother bought for her house in the country; the painting by my friend Rita-Anne who died last year, the blanket we took camping, my great-grandmother’s menorah? Keep — or let go? As Michele Landsberg once wrote about a missing family samovar, “There is always a story,” even if the object is gone. That’s also the theme of the beloved children’s book, “Something from Nothing” (written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman, adapted from a Jewish folk tale.)
And who will move into the house? What will they tear down, or repair? This was the only house I’ve lived in where I made extensive changes — tearing down a wall, completely reshaping the bathroom, adding to the garden. There is more I could do… with money, time, inclination (and a healthier back). Maybe it is time for new people to come here and enjoy it, as I move on with my life somewhere else.
Even the house seems to know change is on the way — the aging washing-machine gave up its watery ghost, the garden looks like the end of summer rather than July (the iris have some strange ailment, too). And several houses on the street have been sold this month. Maybe, the way we do with children as they grow up and leave home (my son, for instance, now lives in Cape Dorset, Nunavit — and I moved from the U.S. to Canada as a young adult), I can love the house and still let it go. There’s always a story….

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Another Birthday: Getting Older, Getting Old

Beware the Ides of March — my birthday, so a day I look forward to, as well as be-waring. This year I turn 73– hard to believe, but there it is! I was born in 1945, shortly before the end of World War Two. Now kids make me feel old for asking if they use Skype rather than Face-Time. I do have many Pisces friends, and it’s interesting that Albert Einstein was born on March 14, Pi Day — and that Stephen Hawkings died on that day.

In Jewish mystic numerology, the number 18 (for the word “Chai,” life) and all multiples of 18 are considered lucky and blessed (for example, if you give a donation, it adds to the value to give $18.00 or a multiple). So 72, last year, would have been a good year (which it was, in many ways), but also it is the completion of a cycle. 73 seems to be beginning a new, and unexpected cycle — just as the 9th day, after the 8 days of Chanukah, can represent a new start, as I noted in my novel “Feast of Lights.” This year, I am planning a move from Hamilton, where I have lived for about 20 years and have found and helped create a wonderful community of friends, colleagues, activities, and connections. I expected to continue living there — but at the same time have been developing a close, intimate relationship with someone I care about in Toronto, and it seems time to live together there. He has just turned 73 (also a Pisces), and it seems important, vital, to enjoy the good times in our lives together, as well as take care of each other when the inevitable problems of aging arise. I have lost a few dear friends in recent years, and others have been quite ill, now recovering — and, as someone next to me on the streetcar said last night, “We only have one life, not two lifes, not three lifes, just one!” And, perhaps surprisingly at this age, a new chapter is starting. Changes do bring change — I will miss friends and community life in Hamilton; on the other hand, it is commuting distance from Toronto (easier for Hamilton people to know this than those in TO), and I will be back. And you can visit me here — you will be welcome for dinner and coffee, and there is lots to do.
We talk about “growing” older and even “growing old” — growth is an ongoing process, even if the tree is a little more bent in the wind, and it takes the leaves and flowers longer to bloom — the colours are still brilliant and the scent is sweet. I continue to write, and have noticed a change in my poetry — even though I am not sure where it is leading.
Be AWARE, and March Forth with grace, courage, and a sense of balance– don’t “beware” of life’s turnings. As another Pisces friend wrote me, on a postcard of a Degas drawing of a ballerina, KEEP DANCING!

Birthdays spring us forward,
into flowering, into light.
hear the birds sing.

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