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the lady and the playwright

It’s dark by 5 p.m. now, as winter sidles in. I think of the pioneer peoples in log cabins – how did they survive month after month of snow and wind and vicious cold? Nothing to complain about, here in the warm house, looking out at the still-green garden, the birds pecking at the feeder, the cat curled up, asleep as always, beside me.

Wonderful news: my friend Bill, a neighbourhood handyman with long grey hair and very few teeth who rakes leaves, shovels snow and washes windows all over Cabbagetown, has found me a bicycle. Someone gave it to him. It’s an old Raleigh woman’s bicycle with 3 magnificent speeds and a huge front basket, exactly the right height, with the high handlebars I wanted. All that was needed was a bell. Bill asked for $20; I gave him $50. I feel marvellous pedalling along upright, with books and handbag in the basket, knowing that when I lock the fairly tattered and rusty bike, she won’t be a thief magnet as a new bike would have been. Her name, incidentally, is Chocolat, with the French pronunciation, because she’s a rich brown. I look forward to many happy years, Chocolat and I, together at last.
So to those who gave me money for my birthday towards the purchase of a new bicycle, I will put those funds instead towards my travel vacation next April. Many thanks, once more.
Since returning from New York to this sweet little city, I’ve taught 2 university classes, 2 home classes, seen 5 private memoir clients and started the 697th draft of my own memoir. Sometimes I think that so much energy goes into other people’s work, it has become harder to throw myself into my own. But I’ll get there.
I know I’ll get there because I’m inspired by a fascinating book – “Must you go?” by Lady Antonia Fraser, about her love affair and marriage with Harold Pinter, one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century. It’s a fabulous book for anyone interested simply in the time and place – this couple consorted with famous actors, politicians and personalities around the world, casual mentions of lunch with Samuel Beckett, dinner with Steve McQueen etc. There’s the delicious story of their relationship – their incredibly romantic meeting and love at first sight, with some of the gorgeous, heart-melting poems he wrote to her.
But most importantly for me, there’s the image of Lady Antonia herself, the mother of six children, getting a divorce and marrying a brilliant writer while keeping her own writing career in full gear. She still had teenaged children at the time, though not, I think, living full-time at home, and undoubtedly she had a housekeeper and perhaps a cook – it’s hard to imagine Lady Antonia hopping onto her bicycle to get a load of groceries, or dashing down to the basement to do the laundry, as some other writers who shall remain nameless have to do.
But still, she was writing and Pinter was writing while they jetted off to openings of his plays and meetings with movie producers and other writers – and television interviews of them both and vacations in Italy with “the children,” his one and some of her six. She produced murder mysteries and lengthy works about history, a biography of Charles II, a history of 17th century women, while living an exotic life with a genius who adored her. Who took her to luxury hotels, wrote her passionate poems and bought her outfits at Yves St. Laurent in Paris.
I WANT TO BE LADY ANTONIA FRASER!
Okay, no, I don’t. I love my solitude and tiny little Toronto. I don’t want to write about 17th century women, and Pinter does sound like a handful, a bit neurotic and ferociously opinionated. In one moving bit, she tells us that after his death, among his things, she found a place card of her name from some dinner party, on the back of which she’d written, “You’re absolutely right, darling. Now shut up!” and passed it to him. He’d kept it for decades.
But I so admire her drive, focus and professionalism. Yesterday, discussing the writing life with students, I told them that when I attended the Humber summer program, I’d noted something the Welsh writer D.M. Thomas had said: “Cultivate the garden that has been given to you.”
You cannot write someone else’s stories, only your own. So write them.
And my student Wendy told of the American humour writer Bruce Jay Friedman whom she’d had as a mentor at Humber. She told him she was stuck on a piece of writing, what should she do? He looked at her impatiently. “Write the next fucking line!” he replied.
That’s what my hero Lady Antonia Pinter, despite her great romance and very busy life, continued to do. And that’s what I’ll do too.

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One response to “the lady and the playwright”

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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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