Swamped. Periodically I have to stop and sit and take a breath, because the world seems to be hurtling at me, at us all, out of control.
First, of course, our neighbours to the south. To think that not long ago, Canada and the U.S. felt like kin, similar English-speaking McDonald’s-eating Breaking-Bad-watching Western democracies. Now, increasingly, theirs is a society of maniacs, insane, incomprehensible. A student read a piece in class on Monday which mentioned her father keeping a loaded pistol in his top drawer, so I knew she was American before she clarified that fact. Canadian fathers, with I’m sure a few exceptions, do not keep loaded pistols in their top drawers. Madness madness madness. Then the country’s reprehensible vote at the U.N. about capital punishment for homosexuality; Trump, more vile and disgusting day by day, something that seemed impossible to achieve, and yet achieve it he does. Unbearable, watching a country hurtling off a cliff.
Okay, enough of that. I’ll go back to the beautiful memory of the Invictus Games. And today – the English-conversation group, so lively, so much chatter. At the end, Razia, small and brown and swathed in colourful cloth, beamed at me. “Thees,” she said, waving her hands at the group, “thees group – talk – I LOVE it!” She hugged me, and then she flipped down the veil to completely cover her face and was off. I love it too. Today we talked about holidays and festivals, and they were asked what their favourite holiday is. “Eid,” they all to a woman replied. We have a lot more choice in many things. But they are not unhappy women, for sure. It’s extraordinary to get to know women who, according to our rules, are so severely limited in dress, in society and work, in choice. And yet they do not seem to feel limited.
On Saturday afternoon, a huge treat – I rode down to Soulpepper in the Distillery District to see their production of “Waiting for Godot.” And felt, as I often do, so immensely privileged that I could zip off, ten minutes from home on my bicycle, to see a fine production of perhaps the greatest masterpiece of 20th century drama – for their last minute price of $25. Oh Sam, Sam Beckett, what a dark and yet comic vision you had. At one point, one of the tramps – Vladimir, I think – is spewing a list of insults, and then comes the worst: “CRITIC!” he shouts. I’d seen it in London a few years ago, an all-star cast – Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart – and didn’t like their rather jokey interpretation; it seemed to me the actors, described in a NYT review later as “a little too adorable,” were having entirely too much fun at the expense of the play. This production was solid, with a haunting Lucky, very tall, ghostly, with a pale face and long white hair.
Some people regularly reread Jane Austen or George Eliot. I think I must see a production of “Waiting for Godot” every decade or so.
That night was Nuit Blanche, the whole downtown packed with young people and many quirky art installations. I stayed home.
Sunday, not one but two new tenants moved in; Hadi who lived downstairs two years ago wanted to move back and now has, and upstairs, Carol’s room is now occupied by Elodie, a young French florist who is here for some months to learn English. Carol is at her other home in Ecuador till March. Elodie is paid by the French government to work for a florist here, and in the evening, she goes salsa dancing.
Tuesday, after my U of T class, a long Creative Non-fiction Collective meeting, many decisions to make, and hours later, off with four other non-fiction writers to Hemingway’s in Yorkville for drinks and writing talk. Now that’s my idea of fun – not art installations, but drinks and writing talk.
However – back to being swamped. This year for the very first time, as I rode off to the first class at Ryerson, I felt tired. And I realized that I’ve been teaching since 1994 almost without a break – just took two terms off in 2009 to live in France. Perhaps inspired by my friend Chris, who completely transformed his life in a MONTH, I in my more cautious way made a momentous decision: I am going to take 2019 off from teaching. Born in 1950, I always make some kind of switch in the last year of the decade.
It’s okay with my bosses at U of T and Ryerson, who have more than a year to find a replacement. How I will pay for this and what I will do that year, I have no idea. Focus on my new book. Travel. All I know is that for one year, I won’t have the treadmill – that I love, still love, will always love – of three teaching terms.
Maybe I’ll take up salsa dancing.