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Tom Allen’s kind words, but another friendship lost

A stellar day yesterday, beautiful warm weather, spring bursting open. Opening my email first thing, I found a note from CBC host Tom Allen. In the nineties, I wrote a number of essays for Fresh Air, the show Tom was then hosting, and some of those pieces are in my new book, so I asked Tom if he’d consider writing a blurb. He’s a busy man, with his daily radio work and both a film and a stage show he has produced to see to, but he immediately agreed, so I sent him the manuscript. 

Yesterday he sent this: It is such a joy to read your words again. I hear your voice saying them and your warmth and honesty. It really is lovely, and the story never disappoints. Congratulations – again, you’re an inspiration.

Will this do as a blurb? “There is a thread of gentle truth woven through Beth Kaplan’s writing. Clear and strong through calamity and reflection, it winds around us and draws us in.” 

Does it get better than that? Beautiful! Thank you very much, Tom. I’m waiting to hear from the publisher, so the manuscript is languishing, as manuscripts do. But I hope soon we’ll “get the show on the road,” as my mother used to say. 

I had my sixth Covid vaccine yesterday, which made me think, again, of an encounter the day before, when I stopped to greet an acquaintance, an amusing singer of old rock and roll who works a lot locally with his band. We were bantering, as we have for years, when Covid came up. And suddenly the expression on his face darkened, and he began to rant. “You’re an anti-vaxxer!” I exclaimed in shock, because I’d thought in my foolishness that all artists, at least the ones I know, would think the way I do.

That unleashed a tirade, linking the word anti-vaxxer with anti-Semitism, how people used to call him a dirty Jew and now they call him an anti-vaxxer. I said, “Anti-Semitism is hatred; vaccines are science,” and a fresh tirade ensued about how Dr. Fauci was wrong about everything. I said, “My father nearly died of polio. The day the polio vaccine was invented was one of the best days of his life.” 

“This has nothing to do with polio,” he retorted. 

“But it’s about the life-saving effectiveness of vaccines!” I said. He turned away, saying, “We have nothing more to say to each other.”

Another one down. What I found most shocking was the level of resentment and paranoia, the instant assumption, as he told me, that I was condemning and mocking him. I am absolutely open to an intelligent discussion, but not a furious rant. 

To me, this was another sighting of the vast, nearly limitless well of white male (and sometimes female) grievance that has opened up and is threatening us all. It was there all along, bubbling underneath, but has been brought to the surface by Trump, Fox News, and the Republican party. The sense that the world is out to get you, that minorities and immigrants, women, gays, trans people, and especially the government, are the enemy — it’s toxic and incredibly dangerous, and it’s everywhere. News outlets have discovered that anger fuels interest, which is why we constantly hear so much of PP’s voice. Anything they disagree with is “fake news,” because only they are in possession of the truth, and the rest of us are sheep being led to slaughter. I’ve been told so. There’s no way through this impenetrable wall of complaint, misinformation, and fury. 

The only consolation is that in this country there are fewer guns. To the south, these men are randomly slaughtering fellow citizens. The world has never felt so precarious, though I did live through the Cuban missile crisis, which was close. The thought of this once friendly, funny musician, his face twisted with rage — makes me sad but also frightened.  

On a cheerier note, I’ve just read The Wind in the Willows, inspired by the program Wonderland, about children’s books, that I’m watching on Monday nights. To my surprise, this novel is definitely more for adults than children, full of long lyrical passages about nature but with the funny exploits of the egotistical Mr. Toad and his friends Ratty, Badger, and Mole, to provoke laughter. A lovely book that, as the program pointed out last night, is also about the power and solace of male friendships, its author Kenneth Grahame a closeted gay man. 

My parents gave it to me for Xmas 1958, when I was seven. I finally read it sixty-five years later.



6 Responses to “Tom Allen’s kind words, but another friendship lost”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beth, I'm so glad your manuscript is coming along, complete with (well-deserved) praise. And ouch to the encounter with the guy who went rabid about vaccines. It never stops being a very troubling thing to me, how the vaccine grievance is bundled up with a whole lot of other stuff. I remember a community here on the Coast, south of us, cautiously setting up some music events once the vaccine was readily available. And they required proof of vaccination by those wanting to attend. A group arrived to protest, wearing yellow stars on their clothing. Local coverage in the newspapers mentioned the group's insistence that vaccine requirements were "against the Nuremberg Code". A tiny bit of information, badly understood, and huge assumptions about civil liberties. And it's often people whom we expect to be reasonable, educated. I've had one or two disagreements with people about this and I always say, You need to read more. You need to read more history and science. It's all there, easily accessible. No need for ignorance. But alas…

    • beth says:

      But they read in their silo, and we read in ours, and never the twain shall meet, unfortunately. Of course we think our silo is full of facts and theirs is full of misinformation, but they think the same thing. There is no objective or scientific truth any more, which is terrifying. But the comparison of vaccine denial with the Holocaust – which Danielle Smith just spoken about in Alberta – is beyond offensive.

  2. Anonymous says:

    (Me again, Theresa. I show up as Anonymous, which is perhaps accurate…. I meant to share my favourite Mr. Toad passage from Wind in the Willows, which of course sounds like it could be about any of those men you mention: "Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come…")

  3. Trevor says:

    Beth – what has happened is that people see 'those' vaccines versus 'these' vaccines – nobody ever required proof of polio vaccination, but recently we/they have required proof of Covid vaccination – which gets viewed as an intrusion on civil liberties. Most anti-vaxxers have been vaccinated, as children, they just don't see it as the same. We need to do better at informing and educating. But I know, there are strata of folk who are predisposed to oaranoid conspiracy theories. What to do?

    • beth says:

      Yes, good points, Trevor, and we certainly need to do better at informing and educating, about vaccines and many other things. But people don't have to listen, and I think most enjoy their contrary position, feeling hard done by, cursing the government. There's a new brutality, a celebration of ignorance and violence afoot that's terrifying.

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