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All you need is love and writing

Such beautiful days, wet, mild autumn days with flashes of sun on the leaves as they fall. Spent hours Tuesday in the garden; my new friend Scott, a gardener and writer, came with his pruning shears to give my yard a much-needed cut. Short back and sides please. He snipped and snapped, and I followed behind bagging and bundling. There’s a bouquet of bright red leaves in my living-room, and a garden ready to hibernate for winter and emerge again, neat and clean, next year.

Scott is a wonderful gardener, reasonable and skilled; if you need some help in your Toronto yard, let me know and I’ll pass on his contact information.
I thought of Scott and his sharp shears as I sat in my Tuesday evening Ryerson class. This is the advanced group, men and women of all ages and backgrounds who’ve worked with me before and come back for more punishment. No, to go deeper, to write longer pieces and see what comes. And somehow, they have coalesced into a tight-knit group, good writers but also thoughtful, sensitive critics of each others’ work. They have learned the value of one of the most important skills for a writer – pruning. Cut out every word that is not needed, they’ve been told, and now they do, bringing in work that is spare and focussed and in some cases, like last night, inutterably moving.
Even after that exhilarating day, I woke Wednesday morning feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes I suffer bouts of insomnia and this is one of those times, linked, I think, to the lack of light as the days get shorter – I am a lightoholic, always starving for more – and also to my return from a lengthy jaunt to a ton of responsibilities, which sometimes overwhelm me. At 3 or 4 a.m., my head is flooded with frantic worries about fixing the house, renting the apartment, food, bills; more urgently, about my children, my book, money, the future, and about the lack of time.
So I grumped off into my day, cloudy with lack of sleep and many concerns. But it was Wednesday, so there was the usual midday class at the Y – not Carol, who’s running a marathon in boring old Florence, but Brian taught, and sweating was still great. I’ve made a new friend there, Alanna; before we began to chat, I could tell by the way she ran and her workout gear that she was not a civil servant, as many are at the downtown Y. Sure enough, she’s an artist. We two self-employed junk- and New York-lovers have a great deal to discuss as we run around.
On the way back, I did my usual zip into Doubletake where I found a mauve silk and cashmere sweater for $2.50 – woo hoo! – and then, for the rest of the afternoon, shut out everything else and sat at my desk. I struggle, because it’s hard to shut everything out in a house full of things to do, as opposed to the place is Paris, where all I had to distract me was Paris.
Made a late supper listening to the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” which I’d dismissed in memory as one of their more feeble efforts – wrong! The sublime “Penny Lane” made me stop and listen again, closely, to the power and push of Paul’s bass guitar; I suggest you listen again too, it’s brilliant. The album ends with “All you need is love” – John’s great voice in front, the others behind, Paul’s melodic bass line but also George Martin’s trumpets and orchestra, the cheerful background cacaphony, the flow of poetic lines and John repeating “All you need is love” at the end while the others go wild behind him. Paul sings, “She loves you yeah yeah yeah,” as if reminding them, and us, where they came from, how far they’d come. The balance and musicality, the sheer joy of that song with its sweet message made me weep.
As I was about to leave the kitchen, CBC’s “Ideas” came on. Paul Kennedy interviewed Mark Rowlands, a philosopher who lived with a part-wolf pup for twelve years and has written a book called The Philosopher and the Wolf: lessons from the wild on love, death and happiness. Rowlands spoke of himself as a simian, a clever ape, an animal no better and no worse than his brother the wolf. Other animals have not developed the ability to deceive and make bargains, he said; they are unaware of their mortality. But they have many skills far more developed than ours. He feels that the meaning of our ape lives is in the moments, the best times when we rise and flourish, and he regrets that religion emphasises the hope that we will have a life after death. “We’re all doomed,” he said. Better to live with that knowledge and make the most of the best times.
Eyes still pink from “All you need is love,” I stood swabbing at my kitchen counter for the fortieth time while I hovered around the radio, listening to a deeply spiritual conversation about the friendship of a wolf. Outside, in the soft dark drizzle, the raccoons were on the hunt and the leaves continued to fall.
Didn’t sleep well.
Wayson came over today and gave me a lecture, his usual wonderful slap and kick to get me going. He told me a fable about a man who had tons of worries going to a guru for advice. The guru told him to write down his worries so the man did, pages and pages, and gave the list back. The guru put it aside without looking at it. “Why didn’t you read it?” asked the man.
“Because I know what’s in it,” said the guru. “You have 83 worries.”
“Why 83?” said the man.
“Because everyone on earth has 83 worries. Except that there are some who have 84.”
“Who has 84?”
“The people who worry that they have too many worries.”
That’s me. 84 worries.
Wayson talked about the IFOA event last night with Alice Munro and Diana Athill, which I’d meant to get tickets for and didn’t until it was too late – another worry, idiot that I am to miss the literary event of the season. The two were marvellous, he said. I hope that the interview will appear on CBC or somewhere, so that we can all enjoy their interchange about writing and so much more. But the most important thing they said, said Wayson to me, giving me my message of the day, was this: We write to get it right. That’s all. Not for readers or to be praised or to be famous or for money.
We write to get it right.
You don’t need to be in Paris or Banff, said Wayson, about my other favourite writing retreat. This house is where you write.
But when I walk in here, my 83 worries fall on me like a heavy cloak, I said.
Don’t put the cloak on, he said. Put your worries aside when you can and write what is vital, write with passion.
Write to get it right, he said.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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