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dear diary

Carol Shields was once asked if she had kept a diary. “No,” she replied, “and it’s one of my great regrets.” Carol is one of the writers I admire most, because she managed, somehow, to raise five children and maintain a happy marriage while writing well enough to win a Pulitzer prize. I, on the other hand, managed to raise two children as a divorcée while hardly writing anything at all. But I did do one thing Carol did not: I kept a diary.

And last night, I decided, as I do periodically, to take a look. I’m thinking about a new project and wanted to know what was in those pages. From the boxes and suitcases of notebooks all over this house, I got out the ones from the late sixties and early seventies, ages sixteen to twenty-one.
It’s an amazing gift, to re-encounter your very young self. Omigod, I thought, I’d forgotten just how agonising that crush was. Or that one – my God, there were a lot of agonising crushes. There was a lot of agonising, period – page after page. She was so articulate and so tortured, that girl, notebook after notebook of suffering and wondering why. The why is clear to me now, after my years of psychiatry and just plain living – certain profound insecurities based in childhood. What an interesting, infuriating companion she must have been, the tall girl with long straight hair, bouncing back and forth between ecstasy and misery, between celebrating and excoriating herself. I was exhausted just reading her. But I found some of the things I was looking for, which I’ll tell you about in due course. What a vast resource of scribbled research awaits, stuffed in boxes under my bed. Pace Carol Shields. Lucky me.
I’ve copied and sent bits off to friends, that they might also enjoy a glimpse of our shared past – a diary entry from December 1967 about the death of my pen pal Barbara, which I just emailed to her sister Penny; some Leonard Cohen-inspired poems I at 19 wrote to my housemate Patsy:
oboe lady
tries to make a golden net –
but her hair is mahogany, candle-lit
she is tall
has sunbrown hands
cannot make nets
This is the same Patsy who, forty years later, just sent me a poem for Valentine’s Day, now reprinted on this blog. She still cannot make nets.
My first diary dates from 1959, when I was 9. Now, 59 in this age of blogs and email, I don’t keep a diary any more. Also – now I am a professional writer. I don’t write, any more, just for myself. I write for you.
Found a poem Patsy wrote for me, that wonderful summer of 1970 when we were living on Pinehaven Drive in Dead Man’s Cove outside of Halifax, she an actress, I working in the box office and assisting the director with whom I was, of course, hopelessly in love. She gave me four joints wrapped up in this:
For Beth
because she is
and does
and tries to smile –
because she fits
inside this world
and does not know it –
because her hands
are always open
giving, but needing
to be held.
I’m fed up, and ashamed too, of this Own the Podium stuff. An editorial from the Guardian was reprinted in the Globe the other day, complaining of how chauvinistic and impolite the Canadians have been during these Olympics, with their new-found jingoism – including, possibly, restricting the practice time granted to non-Canadians on the bobsled course and making the course too dangerous, resulting in the tragic death that has overshadowed everything. “Own the Podium” is an American, not a Canadian, kind of meaningless hype, said the article, and I agree 100%. It’s absurd, all the shrieking about gold, the gold medal, must win the gold – when just being there means being one of the best in the entire world.
Thanks once again, Mr. Harper; this imitation-American in-your-face chauvinism and bombast has your mark all over it. I hope we settle down to being Canadian again soon, with the best that that entails – yes, a certain amount of apologetic self-deprecation, and with it, politeness and good manners, kindness, generosity, humility and graciousness.
Now that’s gold.
An article in today’s Globe makes me understand, if I needed another reason, why I am going back to Paris. Independent bookstores are disappearing from high rent Parisian neighbourhoods like the Latin Quarter, the little shops bought up by name brand stores. The French government is concerned that that the Quarter will lose its identity as a centre for students, artists and intellectuals, a place where bookstores matter. It is now running a bookstore rescue program. It buys a failing store and leases it back to the bookstore owner at less than market price, just to keep the store open. And “the terms of the lease specify that the space will never be used for anything other than a bookstore, no matter who leases it.”
Can you imagine? A bookstore rescue program. My kind of town.



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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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