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conversation, music and habit: “Better Than Before”

Some interesting things to report on today, which isn’t bad considering I’m still stuffed up and achey.

As many of you know, I shop regularly at Doubletake, the secondhand store run by the Yonge St. Mission and staffed almost entirely by recent immigrants from Bangladesh. They’re friendly warm women, and as I chatted with them through the years, I realized they were hungry for conversation in English and to know more about Canada. I decided to start a conversation circle and invited Jasmine and Rani, the ones I knew best, to my house for tea. It was a nice encounter but a bit awkward, perhaps too intimidating in my personal space – they brought a magnificent azalea and a pile of desserts that must have cost them a lot.

Talking recently with a good friend at the Y, Linda, I told her about my idea, and she knew just whom to go to. Linda has volunteered for years at CRC, the resource centre in Regent Park, where many new immigrants live. And so this morning, I had a meeting with Linda and Ashrafi, who runs programs at CRC and, it turns out, has wanted for a long time to set up a conversation circle.

We’re starting mid-February. I will assemble a group of English-speaking volunteers, she’ll make a flyer and assemble women who want to speak English, and we’ll meet once a week to drink tea and coffee and talk. The goal is to help immigrants from all over the world feel comfortable and safe and to give them the opportunity to speak English, to learn about Canada from Canadians, and to talk about their own homelands. With perhaps, at certain points, some simple elements of grammar and English composition.

I’m thrilled this is coming together right now, as the world watches in horror and disbelief while the appalling spectacle continues south of the border. One way we citizens can defeat or at least diminish the forces of darkness is to try to make our own neighbourhood a kinder place. Stay tuned.

Then, in the afternoon, my first post-Xmas piano lesson. At the end of each class, as I disintegrate, fumble and bang, I remember the mantra to prevent brain loss in old age: DO SOMETHING HARD. Done and done. My fingers forget, my mind forgets, I get nervous and frustrated and it’s all excruciatingly slow, but it’s also one of the most thrilling adventures of my aging life. Tonight there was a short doc on Glenn Gould on TV, and they showed him playing the Aria from the Goldbergs. I also play it, at least, the first, very simple part, before it gets fast and impossible. You will not be surprised to learn that Beth Kaplan’s version does not sound one iota like Glenn Gould’s. And yet – it’s recognizable. It’s clumsy and halting but it’s music, with my fingers on the keyboard. A gift.

There were three books waiting for me at the library yesterday; today I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better than before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. She’s a bit perky, but she’s honest and charming and has done a lot of research on habit. She divides people into four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Even all those caps are too damn perky.) I thought I was a Questioner but I’m an Obliger, which means I need external motivation, accountability, to accomplish anything. It’s true – I exercise at the Y (once or twice a week) because it’s a regular class and friends like Linda know if I’m there or not; I practice the piano (a little) because my teacher is waiting. But I often put off getting to my desk, finding other important things to do, because – who cares? Who is waiting for my words? My need to write is often superseded by other needs.

Which Tendency are you?

I have tried for years to find or create a writing group of peers to whom I’d be accountable, without success, though my beloved home students have tried. Anyway, I’m only halfway through Rubin’s book, but I think it’ll be an important one for me.

More important, though, right now, is regaining my own perkiness. Any day now.



2 Responses to “conversation, music and habit: “Better Than Before””

  1. theresa says:

    I'm an Upholder, apparently….
    What a good idea — the conversation circle. I wish I could come along.

  2. beth says:

    Of course you are, Theresa, you are so conscientious and focussed. Whereas I need someone standing over me or I'm off fiddling about with something else. Someone should write a fable about a hare and a tortoise…

    Perhaps if you're ever in Toronto again, you CAN come along!

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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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