Saturday, December 27, 2014


I would have described myself as the least lonely person alive until yesterday. Yet this Christmas week loneliness is coming at me from all angles. It came in on a trojan nutcracker and is dumping out its solders at a furious rate.

 First of all my memoir, COMING ASHORE was very favourably reviewed in THE GLOBE AND MAIL. As I was reading along  not only was I relieved the review was good, but I was thrilled that the reviewer really 'got' me. Or so I thought until I hit the paragraph that said that I was "lonely and isolated". Lonely?????( Agh !!!Picture a Roz Chast photo of sheer horror.)  I have more friends than Oprah. What is she talking about?
That same day my cleaning lady, Nelcinda, who for 18 years has  never asked me a personal question,  said to me while we were decorating for christmas, "Are you sad having no family?" I just looked at her blankly which she apparently took as encouragement and continued, "In all my years here, you have never had one relative visit the house." It is true although it never struck me as sad.  I am an only child, whose parents died many years ago .  She said, "Don't you have cousins?"  I said my dad was also an only child and my mother had one sister but her children mostly went into the religious orders of one kind or another.   My mother wasn't close to her sister nor did we visit her family often. Nelcinda took this in stride but said she would be terribly lonely without her brothers, sisters and cousins, especially at Christmas.
Oddly the same day I came across a passage from Edward Said,  a  marvellous Palestinian writer, that jumped out at me from his essay on REFLECTIONS ON EXILE which said, 
Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind for ever.
Again a reflection on loneliness, missing your country of origin.  It is at Christmas that I miss  America, my native land.   When I left America I had no idea I wasn't coming back.  I had no enemy on my trail as I crossed the border nearly fifty years ago.  I came to go to University, met my husband and stayed in Canada.  My Exile was not a sudden rip, but crept in as a whimper.  I was not Conrad or Nabokov who had to learn to write in English -- it was easy.  I could keep my native tongue. Yet no matter where I go people say, "You're American aren't you? Or people criticize Americans for their foreign policy and or their  loud, garish natures which I call friendliness.  For some reason they  figure they can criticize your homeland right  in front of you. Yet if I was from Hungary, I doubt they'd criticize Hungarians to my face.  Yet It is always open season on Americans. 
Since loneliness has jumped out at me 3 times in one day, you don't have to be Freud to know this is an issue. I am now married to a Jew and have 3 Jewish sons and no one is particularly interested in Christmas.  In fact everyone moans and actually screams when I play my Bing Crosby White Christmas C.D.   I have finally given it up. 
Yet in my head I still live through our Catholic school nativity pageant of Mary in the manger in Bethlehem which we performed every year  in grades one through 6.  It has limited drama. Once the baby was born and the 3 wise men depart the dramatic action is limited -- but still I loved it . Then in the older grades we did the Amahl and the night visitors opera.
At home my father played Christmas carols by Big Crosby , Perry Como, and  Nat King Cole on his 78's. Carollers came to the door and my dad had them in for a high ball. ( weird since some were kids.) The priest , Father Campbell, came to bless the house and he too stayed for a drink. On his second drink he sang songs in 'old Irish'  as he was originally from Ireland.  it was the only time of the year anyone other than my mother, me, or my father set foot in our home. My mother didn't like company.  Christmas was her only exception.

 On Christmas we were the only people in the only fancy restaurant in our town and the chef and waitress joined us since no one else was there. Was I lonely?  I didn't think so at the time. Now when I look back on it I have a heaviness in my chest. I perceived  it was my job to talk and make things merry in the large cavernous restaurant.  It could get tiring. I would say fatiguing more than lonely. 
I think may people miss their childhood homes, their countries and their families at Christmas. That is one of the reasons I love A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES by Dylan Thomas. It recalls each tiny memory spun in Christmas glitter.
I told my husband about my day thinking of loneliness for the first time in my entire life. As I was chatting while surfing the net, he said, "Let's check and see if you have any reviews of your new book on Amazon".  We were  revelling in  all the five star reviews and then we saw one that was only 3 stars. We ground to a halt, read it, and  found it was written by my cousin. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interpretations of my mother

I’ve written three memoirs and usually I can predict people’s reaction to what I’ve written. I  don’t mean whether they will like the book or not , I mean their reaction to the characters in the memoir. However, there is one character that always proves to be a wild card and that is my mother.  I have given hundreds of talks and am continually surprised by how much attention my mother garners both positive and negative.  In her life she was quiet and unassuming; yet, she propels people into orbit at my mere description of her. I wrote about her as the fantastic mother I thought she was—if I could be half the mother she was to me I’d be thrilled.  That is why I am stymied when people find her cold, distant and neglectful.  Is that the mother I portrayed? Was there an unconscious leakage of rage in my description of my lovely, pretty, mom? 
            As described in  Too Close to the falls, My mother never cooked a meal.; therefore, we ate in restaurants. She only used the oven for drying mittens. When I, an only child,  was four, I was so rambunctious that the paediatrician said I had to work full time. Since no one would ever hire a four year old, I went to work in my father’s drug store delivering drugs with the black delivery car driver named Roy.  I went out to breakfast with my Dad, the pharmacist, and the Rotary Club and then sold the morning papers at 6:00 a:m. The rest of the day was spent  delivering and dining with Roy and  then I rolled into home  around 10:00 p:m.   It was a charmed  life of innocence and fun  with most of my time spent on the road. I developed self confidence, because let’s face it, when you deliver drugs, people are happy to see you. 
             When I went to catholic school, I acted up, on a regular basis, speaking out of turn, questioning religious doctrine, and trying  to be amusing which was interpreted, probably correctly,  as disruption. When the principal, Sister Agnese,  called my home to complain, my mother just listened and after hanging up  said  to me that the nun had no sense of humour and suggested I save my routines for her when I  got home.  When people said I was too loud or too brash, she told me I was blessed with a big personality that may have been too big for the town. She suggested I ignore my critics which I found a satisfactory solution.  My mother and I had a lot of fun together. We confided all of our secrets to one another and she killed herself laughing at all of my imitations of people in the town.  She encouraged me in all of my endeavours no mater how bizarre.
            In, After the Falls, the sequel to, Too close to the Falls , the plot thickened and became a bit darker.  When I was in high school , my mother and I were left to cope with a father who’d lost his mind from a brain tumour and his money through bad planning while having a brain tumour.  We both used black humour to get us through our darkest times.  For example  when I was in University and investigated by the  FBI at my home,  my father, whose mind was failing, thought the agents were Hoover salesmen and got out our vacuum for a home demonstration. Somehow in his ravaged brain he had still retained the association of FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. My mother and I were perpetually amused by that tale.  I think it is an Irish Catholic trait to laugh in the face of tragedy.  Why not—crying doesn’t help?  When she was dying of leukaemia a few years after that she said the up side was no one would expect her to get up early or make a meal.
            It is true that she thought my life was my own and if I was going to act up or not do my school work it was my decision. When school called  to complain and asked if she was the mother of Cathy McClure, she always said no.  As she said, “Well I didn’t act up – you did."  When the police came to our house after I painted all the Black lawn Jockey’s in Buffalo white in the night, she said she had to have two Excedrin and go to bed.  She never once, in my entire life, criticized me.  I am not saying that was a good or bad thing – it is just a fact.  
            In all the book clubs I talked to most people admired by mother but there are always some who found her aloof, distant, and non-maternal and ultimately neglectful.  Some were appalled we didn’t have food in our house.  They equated food with love.  It seems to me that restaurants are great and why does it matter where you get your sustenance?  If food is love then why not love Colonial Sanders?  It is true she left me  to sort out my own issues.  But that seems to me the best way to grow up. Rousseau says  benign neglect is the best form of parenting and I’m with him on that one.
       People have some unrealistic view of what mothers are supposed to be. ( Especially true in the 50’s when women didn’t work) How long is it going to take to put these shibboleths of motherhood to rest? It seems like whenever you cut one myth to pieces, it rises up and double like the  hydra. My mother  had a graduate degree in math. She was a prisoner of her time living in an era before women worked. Once she confided to me that she really didn’t like motherhood. She found it a confusing and difficult job with no rules.  She said she loved me, but not the job of motherhood.  She said it was like teaching. ( She only taught for one day—saying she didn’t know she’d have to teach children.)  She loved math but not the job of  teaching it. She loved me but not the job of motherhood.  I imagine if we were all honest, there would be lots of mothers who would say the same thing.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pig Headed

Why do I get so nervous for each publication of one my memoirs? Honestly, nothing else frightens me, well… maybe cooking, but I’ve learned how to avoid that.
On the day of my latest launch for my third and final memoir, Coming Ashore, I went to the gym in the morning to work off some of my excess energy and did what I always do, stepped on my treadmill and placed my hands on the heart rate monitor handlebars to see my resting heart rate. The machine does some fancy calculation involving my weight and age, (both appalling) and comes up with a magic number called my ‘training zone’ that my heart is supposed to take to heart.
Today for the first time as I stood there I read a message on the monitor I’d never seen before. In big green letters it said, SLOW DOWN! “I’m not even moving”, I said aloud to my machine. After a few minutes of standing still I started to walk stealthily like Peter following the wolf.
Then the screen went red and it said, PRESS EMERGENCY RED STOP BUTTON AND DISMOUNT!
I can only assume my heart was racing. My first thought was this was a great way to lose weight. You can surpass your training rate just by standing still and having a book launch.
 I write memoir. I have written ‘truths’ about myself that I would never have told anyone. Sometimes I’m embarrassed when I see that I’ve said in print.  I write alone for years on end in the confines of my third floor office perched in the treetops and confess to the squirrels and to my computer. My latest and, praise the Lord, last memoir in my trilogy covers my life from the age of twenty-one to twenty-six.  I wanted to be honest about what I was like at twenty-one.  (Who wasn’t somewhat of whack job at twenty-one?) At my launch I had to read a section about my ridiculous and somewhat embarrassing antics involving Jimi Hendrix in London.
 In my life, or anyone’s life, we all use defenses—denial, humour, intellectualization, delusions of grandeur and anger, the latter being my defense of choice. However, I’ve used all of them in various moments of need, and they have helped me to glide through life quite happily, relatively unscathed.
The problem with creative writing is that highly defended writing doesn’t work. It’s hackneyed and ultimately boring.  To be a decent writer, you have to dig down a layer and skulk around in your filthy unconscious, which is littered with hidden trauma and humiliation where your unbridled instincts lurk. Jung says, we as humans have a collective unconscious. It is in the unconscious where we all have things in common. To write you have to mine the creative unconscious.
In reality no one cares about my life or anyone’s life but their own. When people read fiction or memoir they are trying to find verification for their own unconscious thoughts. People say they read to learn about others and other cultures, but I don’t buy it. I believe they read to verify their interior world. It is a normalizing process.
I have received many letters referring to my first childhood memoir Too Close To The Falls, saying they also thought the Indian on the test pattern on TV in the 50’s was talking to them, just as I wrote that at the age of four, he was talking to me. They were relieved they weren’t alone in their fantasy or misunderstanding of new technology (TV was new in the 50’s). I think that people are really afraid of their own thoughts and are relieved when someone else has them. Memoirists come from behind sweeping with a normalizing brush. Ask yourself why would anyone care about Cathy McClure Gildiner at the age of four in Lewiston, New York in 1948.  I am not Madonna or Princess Diana. They read to find themselves in the book.
On the day of my latest launch, I opened the paper and read my first review, which said the book was witty and well written. As I expelling a sigh of relief, my roving eye alighted on a phrase near the bottom of the page saying I was pig headed.
So here you are out there on a tightrope telling the truth without a net and you get slammed. In memoir there is nowhere to hide. You are not hiding behind a fictional character.  I can’t assume the identity of Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy.  The character is me. When you write a memoir you have to grapple with the truth, frozen in time, of who you once were in your early twenties while still hoping to keep the reader on your side. It’s a tough balancing act.
The angry side of me wanted to scream out “Of course I was pig headed you thirty-five year old charmed reviewer.” If you are born in the forties, you have to be pig-headed not to get married at twenty-one and be a housewife and marry the catholic next door. (Not-that-there-is-anything-wrong-with that-- but it sure wasn’t what I wanted.) It was before feminism laid out the red carpet and I had to swim upstream.  There were no laws on my side in the work place or anywhere else. I got to Oxford, got a phd. on Darwin’s influence on Freud, live in three countries, started my own business as a psychologist, then decided to be a writer at the age of fifty. When everyone said it was too late to become a writer, I forged on ignoring rejection.  Then I published three memoirs with all my faults flashing in full Technicolor.  Why?-- Because I’m pig-headed and proud of it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Long and Winding Road

We, the WWOC, (Wild Women of Creemore) go camping every year on the Magnetawan River.  It is very isolated as in no Lattes for 50 miles. I swear to God we saw a bear on the road this year.  We all used to go white water rafting; however, now at 67 and waiting for a knee replacement, I sit that part out and eat chips and dip on the shore.  After getting six stitches last  month along my eye  on the Bruce trail, I decided   it is my job to keep the margaritas cold and the tea hot.  Everyone knows  that it is all I can handle and I do my job with great aplomb.  Sara, in her forties, is one of those  real wonder women who drives a giant truck and makes gourmet food for three meals a day while camping for sixteen people. I am not kidding. Wild Salmon on  a cedar blank with with mango and the next day chicken tagine with vegetables I've never seen before.  It tastes better than anything you can get in a restaurant. She can make shortcake on an open fire for strawberry shortcake. Plus she can carry food for sixteen on her back. (Ok so it took two trips.) and she can white water raft.

This year we were 'tested by the almighty' as my mother used to say. It was the wettest year in 75 years and there were bugs the size of Buicks .  (see the picture) The place was overrun with Dobson flies.  They are over four inches long  and eight inches if you include their tentacles. You could feel them landing on your back . It felt like a helicopter landing. You had to bend over and hold a chair just not to blow over.

The rain was relentless and when we unpacked the folding chairs we found giant hairy spiders with egg sacks the size of beach balls. We huddled in our tents screaming "Help! This is worse than the trials of Job" at one another.

Finally, when there was a bit of a let up in the rain, we decided to make a fire and sit around and watch Sara cook.   In a group of sixteen there  is always one person  who relentlessly tells tales that are revolting such as describing her mother's incontinence  in a nursing home and will not stop no matter  how much you say We are eating! Finally, you send her downriver in a torrential downpour with a ferocious current but she washes ashore, sputtering only momentarily and then continues her tale of maternal Depends. So much for a break in the sunshine.

Finally, when we are all waterlogged the weekend is over and we, at least I , am overjoyed to leave. But guess what?  We can't. We drag our stuff to up to the dirt road that is completely off the grid in the middle of a forest  and it is washed out. Sara's truck, the greatest four wheel drive ever invented that they use in commercials to climb Mount Everest,  goes down eight to ten inches in the muck and won't move. Eventually the tires won't even spin.

Now we were exhausted by the Dopson flies, the spiders,  and the mice who made a nest in the floating device, (and propelled out like rockets when we blew it up),  the rain and the scatological gibberish that won't end and we can't get out.  We have to live there.  We have not seen one other person for three days  and all cell phones are dead or get no reception because we have gone where  no other humans have feared to tread.  Even the bear we saw was going in another direction.

Emergencies are when various personalities emerge. There are those who simply give up and say, "Well, when we are missed someone will come looking for us." I know in my case I could be gone as long as Rip Van Winkle and my husband would not come looking for me. Interestingly no one blamed others or got angry. ( That is usually my choice weapon.)  Finally, a  leader emerged. Inese the Latvian immigrant, whose father got into Canada only if he would be a tree cutter, came to the fore. She announced with the voice of Patton,  "We will build a Corduroy Road." We tried laying  branches crosswise on the road but they only sank. ( The branches we could carry were too small for the huge crevice.)  Finally MK, another resourceful female, who always wears rubber boots even when in civilization,  said we had to pile patio tiles that were dumped in the forest into the mud hole until it was filled.  We would make two  narrow stone bridges of stone and Sara had to keep the wheels  on them or she might tip over the truck in the muck. ( See picture below.) We had to work for hours carrying the heavy stones and Inese ran the operation.  It is interesting how in an emergency one person takes over and the others have no choice but to listen, and we all have to follow orders and become peons carrying rocks. (Mostly, I photographed and felt it was my job to joke and keep up morale. Others differed as to the importance of my job.)

Finally the leader said we were ready.  Inese directed the car from the outside and  Sara did a great job driving, and we did, in fact, make it out. We were all covered in mud and it is now a day later and I am still in my pyjamas only inching back to civilization. The trip was hell but, of course, we'll go next year and tell stories about how heroic we all were in 2014 'the year of the rains'.

Friday, June 20, 2014


What is better than hiking on the Bruce trail in northern Ontario  with best  friends of forty years. I'll tell you what --NOTHING. My five friends came up to my farm for the weekend.  In the above picture I am the one in the back with the straw hat with the brim.

Then as often happens things went terribly wrong .  I tripped climbing over some rocks and went down and smashed my head, had to go to the hospital, got six stitches across my eyebrow and got a really black eye.

See picture below for some idea.  What I found interesting was how my life changed when I got back to my home in the city of Toronto. I was perceived very differently.

 First there was the man issue.

 I am 67 years old. Men NEVER  ask me out, unless they are 90 and have had too much wine at the early bird special in Florida.

However, with my black eye and black stitches I have become the bell of the ball. I have been asked out twice this week by younger men. Once I was at Hercules, my car mechanics,  in a sketchy alley behind a Jamaican restaurant at the Vaughan Road and St. Clair  Rd. in Toronto. I was leaning against my car and a normal looking, almost handsome, man of about fifty or so  with flaming red hair came strolling up to me  and we had the following conversation.

"Hey let's go for a beer."
"No thanks."
"No, just waiting for my car, thanks."
"Around the corner they have ladies hour."
"What's that ? Half price if you bring a lady?"
Ignoring my query he said with a great deal of insistence, in fact he used a bellicose tone. "COME ON. What's your problem?"
"I already said no."
"I see you been beat on. Well I can tell you I'm through with that. Haven't done it in years."
"That's reassuring."
Then he turned on a dime and said, "Fuck you. I can see why someone beat you up." and walked away.

I realized after he was gone that he thought I was so pathetic that I would probably buy him the beer.  Men who are bullies are drawn to women who they perceive as victims.  The age doesn't matter. They want someone they can abuse and manipulate. His manner was insistent almost rude and threatening. It all happened within a minute in this alley.

The same thing happened when I was walking past a smelly roofing tar truck. A man asked me to stop and chat, etc. We had almost the same dialogue.

I found it sociologically  interesting that when I  looked fairly decent no one asked me out; yet when I had black eye and looked abused, two men went out of their way to engage me.  Strange how looking pathetic is a man magnet.  People wonder why abused women meet the same kind of guy again and again,-- well now you know.

The second issue I confronted was a lack in social status.  Once I had a black eye  and looked beaten up, I dropped at least two socioeconomic levels in the eyes of others.  Or viewed in another way, maybe people unconsciously treated me as the victim that they could blame.  Read on below and you can judge for yourself.

 In the first week of my black eye I was driving through the tony suburb of Forest Hill in Toronto and I stopped at the instant teller at the bank.  The bank was having one of those customer appreciation days where the clerk sits outside on a summer's day at a table with a cheerful table cloth and balloons and offers you a lemonade. ( I guess they want to let you know how much they appreciated their 12 million dollar bonuses by offering the customer an instant lemonade.) As I was heading into the bank I grabbed  a paper cup and the teller  asked me in an officious tone, "Do you belong to this bank?" When I assured her that I did she asked to see my convenience card. Clearly she thought I was simply ripping off a lemonade.  When I turned to the other people milling around the cooler and said, "Maybe I should be finger printed or DNA tested before I get a free lemonade."  no one saw the humour. One customer said, "She is only doing her job."

I think that if I'd had a broken leg,  no low life would have asked me out and no bank clerk would have assumed I had no bank account and should have no lemonade.  Try having a black eye for a week and see how differently people treat you when they assume you've been beaten up.  You'll have 'an eye opener.'

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Shopping fracas from 1-8

Food shopping is a nightmare at the best of times. I mean think about it. You buy the food, bag it, bring it home, unbag it, store it; then you're too tired to cook it.

I live in Toronto where it has been -29 degrees for weeks with no sun and everyone is grouchy and praying for spring.  I am giving this weather detail up front so I might not be judged so harshly. I live right next to the University of Toronto so I often sink to the Metro food store where all the University kids shop. I wound up there last night  which  was a Saturday and there were thousands of students shopping for frozen Mcnuggets and Kraft cheese slices.

I really don't cook so I only buy things like raspberries for munching and milk for my tea. I never buy more than 8 items so I can get in the short 1-8  express lineup.   There were 21 people ahead of me and the lineup snaked into the baked goods aisle. The guy in front of me ( who happened to be black as was the check out woman -- this is important for the story) had way more than 8 items. He had 15 items.

My anger was rising as I crept forward in the outrageous line. I was sweating in my unbreathable winter gear. Finally when we got up to the conveyor belt I could stand it no longer and said to him  "You have more than 8 items and should be in another line up."

He turned to me and said in a really loud voice, "There are 500 people here. Why did you choose me to say that to?" Now everyone was looking.  Almost everyone was from another country so they just looked at their carts. No one wanted to get involved. I responded, "Because you are in front of me and my anger has been building." I looked at the check out woman for verification but she just looked at me as though I was a member of the Klan.   Then the black man said, "Well, now I know you don't think I can read, but I actually wonder if you can read.  He pointed to a sign and said,  "Ok, honey let's sound this out together. Then he read the sign slowly pointing to each letter with his finger. It said 1-16 ITEMS ONLY.

Oops. I said "Wow, how long has that been there?"  The check out woman said "I don't know lady but it was here when I came 6 years ago." I said 'That is weird because I have been coming here for 30 years and never saw it. She said, "The 1-8 aisle is next door." This was all said with a scowl on her face.

This was like a social science experiment like the ones I used to be involved in when I was a psychologist.  I figured the truth was the best at this point, "Gee, I guess I had free floating anger and it glommed onto the extra 8 items in your cart. "  He shook his head and I added, "Maybe I need checkout rehab." He said , "Lady you could never find the sign to get there."  The clerk said, "Move this idiocy along" as she snapped on the conveyor belt and it was over. I sheepishly crept my Visa in to the machine and crawled out.

After that contretemps I needed a tea so I slipped across the street into Tim Horton's.  There was the black man with his 15 items in a bag at his feet. I got my tea and when I went to my table I couldn't resist saying "Hey this table is reserved for the handicapped."  We both broke out in gales of laughter.  He said "Dear Lord, you are everywhere."  I joined him uninvited. He was about my son's age and is  in the faculty of education hoping to be a teacher.  He said he was hoping to teach children to read, but now he realized he had to broaden that mandate.  Any way his name is Raf and he swore he would come to my upcoming book launch.