My new book “Midlife Solo” will be published by Mosaic Press later this year. Stay tuned!

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lighting the world with words

What can I do? This neighbourhood is determined to defeat me. I have sworn to quit buying tons of second-hand clothes. And yet Friday, when I went to my local shoemender to get a bag repaired, I could not help but notice that the small shop, usually decorated with pots of shoe polish and toys from Guatemala, the shoemender’s former home, now contained a big rack of leather jackets and another of old fur coats. He explained that a friend had gone out of business, so he had bought the stock.

There was a mink coat.
I have never, of course, owned a mink coat. The very thought is … well, unthinkable. But this was obviously a vintage mink coat from the early fifties, with big round buttons and very wide old-fashioned sleeves. I tried it on. It fitted perfectly, the mahogany fur gleaming and soft. I know that in February, when the wind is screaming along the wind tunnels of downtown Toronto and the snow and ice are a mile high, nothing is as warm and comforting as fur. The First Nations people taught us that.
I would never buy a new fur coat, not that it’s an option but even if it were, I wouldn’t. But this was an old fur coat. These minks had died for someone else. Surely I would only be honouring their memory, their brief lives, if I kept warm under their beautiful fur. Is this a grotesque rationalisation? Too bad. Reader, I bought the coat. It cost $69. At the shoemender! I am doomed.
Today, a busy schedule: protesting and celebrating. I went with my friends Anne-Marie and Jim to a rally at Queen’s Park, organised by the 350 campaign protesting global warming and the Canadian government’s lack of response. It was not a big rally – apparently the real politicos had gone to protest in Ottawa – and for a few minutes it made me sad. Some idealistic young people, just like us when we marched against the Vietnam War, and some old people, including a few die-hard Quakers whom Annie said had been at every peace rally since the dawn of time. The Raging Grannies, God bless them. Someone in a polar bear suit. And of course, Olivia Chow and Jack Layton, who always manage to be where they should be, though surely sometimes they just want to sit at home with their feet up and watch reruns of Law and Order.
We heard from a union or two, the Clean Train Coalition, the moderator of the United Church of Canada and a young folk singer singing about paving paradise. We heard about social justice, environmental sustainability, job equity, environmental degradation. We signed petitions. I stopped being sad. The fact is that during the Sixties, I went to plenty of rallies just like this, hopeless, bedraggled groups of do-gooders. But the Vietnam war did end, and we ended it, or helped to. Perhaps it’s not too late to make a difference here too. Though we’re mostly older now – not so keen and hopeful. Still. You never know.
I felt a sharp moment of guilt about my mink. I would not have worn it, vintage as it is, to a rally like this. There were “Close the island airport” placards, and I confess, the island airport is one of the great pleasures of living in downtown Toronto, with efficient service and the quietest planes. Even at a rally for the best imaginable cause, I could not quite go along. There’s an ornery writer for you.
Off to the action-packed International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront. I’d wanted to attend the tribute to the musician, writer, poker player and crazy character Paul Quarrington, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, but it was sold out. I went to the Brigantine Room anyway, just in case, and ran into beautiful Ellen Seligman, one of Canada’s best-known editors and certainly the most stylish. Just getting over the flu, she’d found the room too cold and was on her way out, so she gave me her ticket! What a treat – I heard the great Roddy Doyle, surely one of the best speakers the writing world has ever produced, and came up with a new life rule: never, ever, allow yourself to be on a speaker’s list with someone from Ireland. Because no matter how clever and funny you are in your Canadian way, you will look like a boring idiot after the Irish. Doyle was hilarious and moving in his tribute to Paul. Margaret Atwood followed with a wry memory, and then David Bezmogis, who’s a good writer but not … not Doyle material, shall we say. There was a great blues band, more interesting speakers to come including Wayson, but I had to slip out and head to …
The Fleck Dance Theatre, to meet old friend Eleanor Wachtel who’d invited me to accompany her to hear A. L. Kennedy, a Scottish writer. Warning: do not speak after a Scot either. Kennedy is a youngish prize-winning novelist, but this afternoon was doing a stand-up comedy routine called “Words.” She’s a gamine, a short-haired waif of indeterminate age, painfully honest about her childhood, her awkward entry into the world of literature, her involuntary lack of a sex life – yes, she was clear about that. But she was also lyrical and inspiring, speaking with passion about the power and beauty of words, at the end urging us to fill ourselves with the light of words and the books they fill. “Light yourself with words,” she said. “Words can hide you, save you, keep safe your joys, lift you up to the love of your own life.”
We writers write to get it right, I thought. And because we love the light.
Here’s to words.

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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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