The leader picture this quarter shows two academy members enjoying an outing on the lake at Nancy O`Connor`s farm at our annual picnic in September 2003. For many years, we visited Nancy`s farm as our first Academy event of the year.
Our first section, What`s on at the Academy, features a spotlight on the Economist Readers by Donald Plumb, a member interview of Peter Drumm by Karena de Souza and an essay by Beverley Biderman about the Virginia Woolf workshop entitled What just happened?
We have two academy member authors to showcase in the Arts and Letters section. The first is a review by Ellen O’Donnell Walters of Brenda Doyle`s book The Therafields Psychotherapy Community: Promise, Betrayal, and Demise (2020). The second book is by Martin Jones, the slow knot of time, a collection of poems, three of which Martin shares with us here.
Our section Opinions is a compendium of recollections of Laura Baldwin, who died recently, by a group of Academy members who knew her well.
In our Photographs from the Archives in this issue, Matthew Segal has chosen pictures taken by Margaret Robertson in 2003-4, of which our leader picture is one.
Workshop Spotlight: The Economist Readers
What do “green politics in Germany, The Great, and Indian vaccines” have in common? All were discussed in a typical Economist Readers seminar in the early spring. Group members included both online subscribers and people who eagerly watch their mailboxes for the print version to arrive.
The process started with inviting topics for discussion from the latest Economist edition: the lead cover article, and then five to seven other topics (out of 60 possible) suggested by members who would do a short presentation before group discussion. Topics could be from world politics, science and technology, business and finance, books and arts, or whatever else in the weekly issue.
In this session, the cover story dealt with the future of the social safety net in a post-COVID world. Issues raised included the problem of the pandemic as lack of services rather than lack of goods; the growing divide between haves and have-nots; the need to modernize the welfare state in a growing “gig” economy; and the regressive tax system in the U.S..
An article from the Books and Letters section reviewed the portrayal of history in the cinema, exemplified by HBO’s Catherine the Great, an earnest costume drama, and The Great, a riotous comedy about the same monarch, making little pretense to historical accuracy. The discussion raised questions as to whether fictional history distorts people’s view of past events, whether history can ever be objective and whether, in an era of fake news, we are also in an era of fake history.
A Business section article described the Serum Institute - a family biotechnology company in Poona, India that may produce more than a third of all the world’s vaccines. The company is a highly entrepreneurial manufacturer rather than inventor of products. Discussion included pharmaceutical industry issues: domestic production, access to vaccines, technology and licensing, and appropriate profits.
An article in the Asia section described the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and the future of nuclear energy. Discussion extended to safety and risk, the need for nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuel combustion in power plants and the current status of nuclear energy in Ontario.
The Europe section included an article about the Green Party that currently rules an industrial state in Germany. Led by a pro-business leader who believes that climate protection must go hand in hand with economic growth, the party is the world’s most successful Green party. A participant suggested that their success is easier with proportional representation rather than our first-past-the-post election system.
The meeting wrapped up after a lively two hours without discussion of Napoleon, supergrass and sign language, also topics in this issue. Perhaps some other week.
What Just Happened?
We were at the end of our last workshop session in April, and we all knew that something special had taken place. This had been the best Academy workshop we had ever attended. Why?
We were a small group of 12 women gathered over Zoom to discuss Virginia Woolf. Each two-hour session saw just one presentation on a work by Woolf, or an aspect of her life (and death by suicide), or her cultural milieu (e.g. the Bloomsbury Group). At first, I felt daunted by the idea of devoting a whole session to one presentation and discussion. But I soon found the extra time liberating, as it allowed for what one member called a “deep dive” into a subject.
It helped that we were a small group. It helped that there were no big egos in the group, and we all had a “learner attitude.” The two facilitators, Janet Maher and Tanya Long, guided the discussions with a very light hand. No one was an “expert.” But we were all prepared to read widely, research deeply, and discuss.
We also had the good fortune of being in the midst of a renaissance of interest in Virginia Woolf, so we often excitedly emailed each other links to new essays that kept popping up in the media.
The first session started with a presentation of the ideas and style of Woolf’s seminal feminist essay, “A Room of One’s Own.” Then followed a lively, respectful discussion. The women in the group were serious about our subject, well-read, and good conversationalists.
Our relaxed setting at home over Zoom seemed to contribute to our comfort level, and even to the intimacy of the group. The facilitators modelled and encouraged an inclusive workshop in which everyone’s contribution was valued. Members were generous about accommodating my deafness and lip reading by muting themselves when not speaking and raising their hands when they wished to speak. Even two hours was not enough time for some of our “deep dives,” so between sessions, we would often carry on our discussion by email.
The subject of Virginia Woolf was itself both narrow and fertile. We had one session, for example, in which we spent two hours talking about her suicide: a tremendously rich and tragic subject that branched out to a discussion of other famous suicides.
We were women discussing the work and life of a brilliant woman writer who had suffered from madness, sexism, sexual abuse and other traumas — and written passionately and honestly about these things in in her diaries and essays. The intimacy of Woolf’s writings became mirrored in the intimacy of our group. “As the year progressed,” one member said, “we risked more personal opinions, critical reflections and stories about our own lives.” It was exhilarating, and a high point of the week for many of us.
During this pandemic year, we could maintain our cohesiveness because there was no drop off in attendance during the winter months. We were sheltered at home in frightening times, come together to discuss the work and life of a woman writing during an era that included the devastating Spanish Flu Pandemic and two world wars.
There were, however, plenty of laughs. If you’re like me, you sometimes get the nagging feeling at Academy workshops that people are rolling their eyes when you speak or covertly yawning from boredom. (With Zoom, folks, we can actually see you doing it.) But in this workshop, the acceptance was such that I was good-naturedly encouraged to “don’t hold back, Bev.” When we finally meet in person, I am getting a T-shirt with that exhortation signed by all the Woolfians.
As one participant said, “While the pandemic made so many things more difficult, perhaps it also made the good things that much more special.”
We have decided to continue to meet to discuss Virginia Woolf during the summer months. See you at the Duke of York Pub. I will be the one wearing the funny T-shirt.
Bev Biderman for the Virginia Woolf Academy of Lifelong Learning Toronto Workshop, 2021/22
In the next interview in our series, I have the honour of introducing you to Peter Drumm.
Peter is a rookie ALLTO member, having joined the Academy in June 2020. He has already embraced the organization and willingly accepted to join the Board as Treasurer. Thanks in advance for your contribution and service, Peter. As you will see from our interview, we will be in good hands as Peter approaches much of what he does with organization and forethought.
How did you discover the Academy?
Karena: Peter, thank you for joining me in this conversation. You are new to ALLTO, and many members may not have had the pleasure of meeting you. What was your path of discovery to this particular learning organization?
Peter: I knew I would be retiring in June 2020. In the initial part of my retirement, I knew I wanted three things:
- To stay physically active.
- To be intellectually challenged.
- To have social engagement.
I started doing some pre-planning. I found a website SeniorToronto.ca. As I researched the topic of education, ALLTO’s format of peer-based learning immediately stood out and appealed to me. The idea that you had to research a topic, create a presentation and then share your learning with others is a departure from the normal lecture-style learning that is available elsewhere. Since joining, I have also become a fan of the dialogue-type sessions.
I am a member of the Economist Readers Group. I had been reading the publication for many years, struggling sometimes to keep up and would have piles of them lying around. It fascinates me that we can spend a full 20 minutes discussing an article that would take 30 seconds to read! It has been fascinating to hear the range of opinions.
When I worked at RBC, diversity was particularly important to us. Even though you interact with a range of people, at the end of the day, we were all primarily bankers. At ALLTO you interact with teachers, professors, scientists, doctors – a diversity of professions and backgrounds. It is wonderful to see different people’s perspective on things.
Everybody I have met at the Academy brings a fair amount of intellectual capital to the table. This engagement is refreshing and one of the reasons I am looking forward to meeting in person.
The Zoom experience has been professionally managed. In the “Cities of the Future” workshop, we had a number of break-out rooms, which helped with meeting people and discussing topics we may not have otherwise considered. Given the structure of that curriculum, when I read an article on “15-minute cities,” I immediately felt that was a topic I would like to bring to the group. It was fun to research, and I am continuing to follow developments impacting this urban planning concept.
Karena: I hear that you will also be joining the Board as Treasurer.
Peter: Yes. I was very happy to assist when they approached me. I have found the Academy to be incredibly well run and I find the Board very well organized with strong governance.
Karena: So, tell us a little more about yourself, about the Peter we might meet outside the classroom.
Peter: I was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, and raised in Dublin, Ireland. I graduated from University College Dublin with a B. Comm. degree and went to work as a Chartered Accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Working for a multi-national firm, the world really is your oyster. I was keen to get international exposure and applied for a transfer to Canada. I knew within weeks of landing here that I would like to make this move permanent.
After working for PwC for three more years, I joined the investment dealer Dominion Securities. It was later acquired by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and that is where I spent the remainder of my career, retiring from them in June 2020.
I quickly moved out of accounting and spent most of my career managing operations areas within the Capital Markets and Wealth Management businesses. In the latter part of my career, I was also involved in business process re-engineering and risk management roles.
On the personal side, I have two wonderful daughters. The older one has completed her Law degree and is studying for the Bar. My younger daughter completed her Masters at the London School of Economics and is currently working for a consulting firm in Bristol.
Karena: I am curious. You had mentioned three goals for your retirement. Aside from ALLTO, what other resources have you found to fill your time?
Peter: Well, ALLTO definitely ticked two of my original three boxes: socially engaging and intellectually challenging.
I launched into retirement in full force in September. I joined the LIFE Institute at Ryerson and took a course in cyber security. I also want to become fluent in French and completed a French language course during the winter through Humber College.
Physically speaking, one of my biggest passions is tennis, which I try and play at least three times a week when we are not in lockdown. I also like hiking and am a member of the Bruce Trail Conservancy, which is a Toronto-based hiking group. I also enjoy downhill skiing.
Now here’s another thing on my list: music. I recently thought I might have a latent talent for the drums! My wife, Carmie, got me a drum set for my birthday, and I have had a lesson with someone who used to play with a rock band. It is quite challenging. Just when you figure out what your two hands are doing, the two feet get involved!
Karena: So, Drumm by name, drummer by nature possibly?!
Karena: It has been wonderful getting to know you, Peter. Is the Academy an experience you will find yourself recommending to others on the cusp of retirement?
Peter: I will definitely sell ALLTO. The past year has been a very good and enjoyable experience.
Karena: Thank you. And looking forward to seeing you next year – on screen and in person!
Karena de Souza
the slow knot of time
Hello everyone. Linda Tu, editor of AQR, kindly asked me to write this short article about a collection of my poetry that has just been published. It is titled the slow knot of time and is available for sale on Amazon in paperback and kindle versions. Most of the poems were written during the lockdown, though a few date back over a period of 32 years. There are also some children’s poems at the end that were penned for my seven-year-old granddaughter, but adults might enjoy them too.
Without the Academy for Lifelong Learning, I doubt most of these poems would have been written or published. Since joining in 2016, I have taken some tremendous workshops, which encouraged me to spend time studying writers like Dante, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. That gave me a great hankering to write poetry again, which I began to do in May 2020. When a publisher in Allahabad, India read some poems on websites and went looking for a biography, he found one at the Academy website for a workshop I helped facilitate last year. He then emailed and asked if he could publish a collection of my poetry.
Retirement should be all about keeping busy, learning new things, making new friends and having fun. ALLTO has played a big role in all that for me.
Here are three of the poems from the collection.
Let Go of Summer *
Let go the trill of mourning dove on waking,
the jaunt at dawn above the lake
and sun that splashes, darts among the trees.
Let go the lazy hiss of eggs and bacon on the grill,
the early dip that chills one’s soul to life,
the moments for reflection, let go of these.
Let go the slow, turning times on water,
drifting with a current, dreaming with a friend,
let go the cool diving lakes of afternoon,
the tennis courts, the summer partners who
live no longer than a season’s lease, then disappear,
let go of seaside souvenirs in sunny rooms.
Let go of evening’s laughter on the dock,
and brown-eyed girls who dance with you
in lantern-lit pavilions under summer moons.
These almost-auburn days of August grow oddly brief,
the evening’s chill sets early on the folding mist
and though winter’s sleep may have yet to call,
it one day will, and not far off, so let summer gentle
slip like starlight into fall.
*This poem appears only in the Kindle version
An Aging House Cat Reflects
Dug into darkness, blanket-swathed
and curled within this warm
sleeping being whose affections are felt
deep within I am
hypnotic with dreams
of floating yellow-streaked moons
that sing me forth,
of nights crazy-ripe, explosive
in the noble smells of soil and wild grass,
in the sweet beckoning scent of wind.
I am delirious with long-ago memory,
of chasing darting long-tailed creatures
and of beings who love and touch and smell
as I and that I shall never see again.
In dark mulling spaces I take refuge
where longings wander in what
I wonder ... the where-ness?
At times I dash … this way and that.
I draw smells and meaty brown textures
into me, full-bellied, satiated,
sitting with the looming, indifferent
being, the one who rules,
hand upon my spine, stroking.
Sounds call … darkness draws me toward itself.
Loud noises, sudden and smashing, terrify.
All extends outwards
from this wondering-place,
from the not-right sense
that I belong not here but elsewhere
under some wilder, witching sky.
I’ve Been to the Attic
(A Children’s Poem)
I’ve been to the attic and guess what I saw,
some old photo albums and a dinosaur’s jaw,
a trunk full of comics, a soldier’s tin hat,
a stuffed alligator and somersault mat,
and oh, what I spied in a nook of the room --
coins that glimmered like Spanish doubloons!
Wherever I looked were marvels to view,
come with me now, I’ll show them to you,
then on the roof, from our lonely crow’s nest
we’ll watch porpoises dancing far to the west.
It’ll be so much fun, so much to explore
up to the attic and through the green door,
we’ll play till the sun slips under the eaves,
till our moms call us home with evening’s breeze.
If you are interested in what the collection is about, this review does a good job of explaining this.
The Slow Knot of Time By Martin Jones | Pegasus Literary
The Therafields Psychotherapy Community: Promise, Betrayal, and Demise (2020)
Brenda M Doyle, PhD
The Therafields Psychotherapy Community, by Academy for Lifelong Learning member Brenda Doyle, is a compelling cautionary tale that unfolds in and around Toronto from the 1960s to 1980s. During that historical period, tens of thousands of communes proliferated in North America and Europe, each with their own coalescing purpose. The Therafields community was an example of this phenomenon but was unusual in its psychotherapy focus and methods. Individual therapy could lead to group therapy and for some, living in Therafields-owned houses. At its high point the organization had about 1,000 participants, many living in 35 large houses in the Annex area of Toronto and at five farm properties.
Brenda Doyle’s connection with Therafields began in 1966. At the recommendation of a trusted priest, she met with Lea Hindley-Smith, a counsellor with a burgeoning practice in the Annex area. Two years earlier, Father Gregory Baum and a coterie of his graduate students had formed a group with Lea, one of which a year later became her first “learning group.” By 1966 some of these men and women were beginning to take on clients of their own, under Lea’s supervision.
Lea Hindley-Smith had few formal qualifications beyond her eclectic life experiences and psychology readings, which she had leveraged into a counselling practice. Self-taught, she was a compelling personality who tangentially had quite a knack for acquiring real estate. Some who met her early on recall her as “intelligent, insightful, compassionate and very encouraging to her counselling clients.” For Brenda and many others, their initial therapy was morphing into a longer commitment. They felt the attraction of Therafields as it evolved: here was a place to live with others, developing friendships, a sense of belonging and purpose, and working with good people. Throughout was the appeal of learning more deeply about oneself and others from Lea.
For the next 17 years, Brenda was part of Therafields. She is now a registered psychologist in private practice, bringing a professional lens to its story, noting that with so many moving parts shifting over two decades, an entity like Therafields can be hard to pin down—while something was going on in one place, something completely different would be going on in another. Each chapter examines an angle on Therafields and as the chronology unfolds, Brenda weaves insightful observations on the incremental development of dysfunction that eventually took it apart. A variety of perspectives emerges from the 47 interviews conducted with former Therafields members at every level.
Some members shared positive experiences with caring, earnest therapists and enjoyed the comradeship while working at the farm properties or those in the city. But at the centre of things was the growth of Lea’s increasingly unassailable position as “Teacher, Supervisor and Ultimate Leader.” By 1975 she was actively discouraging outside friendships and sources of learning. Loyalty to her was becoming highly valued; expressing disagreement was increasingly risky. As one interviewee explained, anyone who disagreed with Lea would be “therapized,” subjected to a gruelling group therapy confrontation (prompted by Lea but usually led by Lea’s supporters), unearthing some pathology within the person. The messenger was taken apart and the message swept aside.
Other darker threads included a lack of boundaries. A number of interviewees remembered their discomfort when earlier, Lea began a relationship with the husband of one of her therapy clients and then placed him in a vaguely defined, but generously salaried, position at Therafields. This went unchallenged. Like the “boiled frog” scenario, where the trouble heats up incrementally and goes unnoticed until it’s too late, a cult-like atmosphere was building. Many did not perceive the drift, despite feeling uneasy at times. Members recall just thinking there was something wrong with themselves.
But cracks were appearing, which would become fissures from the mid-1970s on. There were mounting demands from some working therapists to open up the books and provide financial accountability. Early on Lea had appointed her younger son and loyal supporter to well salaried positions managing the finances. In 1981 therapists left to establish their own practices. For them but also other community members, the pressure to work on even more property- enhancement projects was no longer met with enthusiasm. Many who had volunteered much of their time and labour over the years to transform these properties wanted to move forward with independent lives.
Moreover, Lea’s elder son Malcolm was running a private school for children of Therafields parents, charging onerous tuition. In a devastating chapter, the author outlines the signs of serious trouble at the school. In one example a parent had to get a judge’s court order to “restore” their child to its father. Yet the school continued to operate until Malcolm was arrested, convicted and jailed for crimes against two underage children in his care. Darker threads had become, as the author described it, a path into “the heart of darkness.”
This nuanced, multi-faceted unpacking of the Therafields story is recommended as an instructive contribution to the social history of Toronto and specifically of early efforts to address mental health needs. The incrementally downward trajectory of Therafields underscores how the human drama inherent in any form of institution can overwhelm its original purposes. Therafields evolved in a particular period of history, in response to the need for mental health services. For many young people, their desire for a sense of community and structure, friendship and support was met. However, unaddressed dynamics gradually snuffed out an ambitious organization that became hobbled, unable to develop within the original values of its founders.
Reviewed by Ellen O’Donnell Walter
Laura Baldwin - Her Life as Seen Through the Eyes of Academy Members who knew her well.
Laura Baldwin, one of the pillars of the Academy, died recently. Laura was loved and respected by many Academy members. She asked me to let a few people know of her impending death shortly before she died. I took the liberty of asking these people to send me some of their thoughts about her. These excerpts are the result of that request.
I first met Laura when I became a member of the Academy in the mid nineties and learned then how influential she had been in the early days of our wonderful organization. She herself joined just after its founding and in true Laura style, jumped in when she was needed. She was an incredibly caring person and always wanted to know what I was doing and how my workshops were going.
We have fond memories of Laura's always cheerful manner of dealing with colleagues in her various workshops, whether it was the Frank Lloyd Wright workshop twenty years ago or Non-Fiction Literature recently. Her warmth, intelligence and always stylish appearance put members at ease, and she could elicit comments upon the subject under discussion with a smile.
Bill and Nancy Hall
Laura had very blue knowing eyes, a marvellous voice and laugh, a keen mind and a good energy about her. She seemed ageless and could talk to anyone on any subject. She was very curious, an avid reader, a lover of music and a great supporter of Toronto's Baroque Orchestra, where her daughter, Tricia Baldwin, was the Managing Director.
Laura was an exceptionally bright woman who enlivened any discussion, whether about politics or science. She was also kind, always thoughtful of others and their trials. She never complained about her situation, preferring to empathize with others. She lived, and left, life on her own terms with dignity and style.
Laura was always researching the film and the film topic for the workshop and made a great contribution to our class discussions. She certainly did make a huge contribution to the life of the Academy.
I remember the eloquence of her speech at our Academy's 25th birthday party. I recall that there seemed to be no book that, if she hadn't read, she at least knew about. A most gracious lady.
We were both original members of the Academy and worked with the organizing committee on various development initiatives. Laura was the embodiment of a great lady, gracious and genuine in sharing her talents, especially in establishing the facilitator method and approach.
Nothing was out of Laura’s range: travel, committees, opera, theatre, music, books, good causes, debate and keeping in touch with a vast network of friends. She had a voracious appetite for knowledge and understanding and her mind was always open to new ideas. The breadth of her reading was extraordinary. She was still vivacious in her nineties, a small, spritely and elegant person whose eyes lit up as she plunged into another animated conversation peppered with a merry laugh.
As we got to know each other, Laura loved to seek out exotic restaurants to introduce me to—-part of the adventurous spirit that drew me to her. She taught me how to be engaged in the world’s conflicts without ever becoming overwhelmed or cynical. Instead of tears, I shall smile when I think of her joyous enthusiasm and appreciation of life, for rarely does someone as authentic and dynamic as Laura come into our lives.
I attended Laura’s workshops when she was a facilitator. Her comments were always pithy and entertaining. She always seemed to be in a good mood, ever curious about the topic at hand, and so knowledgeable too.
Laura was one of the longest and strongest advocates for and supporters of the Academy. She loved a stimulating discussion; she was a great listener, analyzer and someone who could come back with a clear, concise opinion. She stuck to her guns. She was very wise and thoughtful – “smooth waters run deep.” She had rich and enlightening relationships with her treasured family members of several generations.
“Feisty”. That may be one word to describe the passion of Laura Baldwin. She was always up for a good discussion on the issues of the day or on any of the interests that appealed to her.
I remember Laura inviting us all over for a gourmet dinner, which she cooked, followed by the latest Tafelmusik DVD on the coffee houses of Europe. She was truly a remarkable friend, always finding new paths to share with those fortunate enough to know her. (I was there too. LT)
I remember the way she answered the telephone - always the sparkle, the sheer joy in her voice, that "hello" with an extra syllable to the "l’s”, almost like a bell rising.
We will all miss Laura - but rejoice in having known her.
These accolades to Laura never failed to mention her intelligence, vibrance and kindness and her omnivorous delight in learning and conversations. Her love of life, her family and friends were touching, inspirational and wholesome.
A short anecdote, provided by Eveleen, attests to Laura's success in drawing on her exceptional qualities:
She had "treated" herself (her wording) to a new cookbook titled Jerusalem Cooking. She had tried out a recipe that combined chicken with Jerusalem artichokes. She was pleased with the result and so decided to share this success with a few friends. We were invited to a luncheon that featured this chicken dish. We raved, resulting in Laura producing the cookbook, which she thought to be proof-positive that she deserved no personal credit. Thus, Laura combined her innate curiosity for all things bright and beautiful and her love for her friends.
I was there too.
These photographs are by Margaret Robertson, a stalwart of the Academy, who died in 2019. They cover just four Academy events in 2003 and 2004: the Annual General Meeting, the Summer Social, the Spring Brunch and the picnic at Nancy O’Connor’s farm. The picture of Mark Abbot and Tony Barclay chin-wagging over a fence was most likely from an October walk.
I joined the Academy in the winter of 2013. When editing and restoring these photos, I was awed by how many people in them I recognize, or know, as a friend or colleague.
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