Thursday, April 27, 2017


It's almost the eve of the book launch, celebrating the release of 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky,  my long-awaited book about some of Ivaan's most iconic pieces.

Writing the book was not difficult.  Choosing the pieces to be photographed was only slightly difficult.  Seeing the book in finished form has been
far more difficult than I anticipated.  Celebrating its release is extraordinarily tough, though, and it's difficult in a way that is hard to quantify.  On the one hand, I know I will be surrounded by friends and people who care about me and Ivaan, I'll be on home turf and the place will be packed with guests, laughing, talking, eating, drinking and showing off their Ivaan jewellery. What's not to like?

I'll give a short speech, welcoming everyone, thanking them for coming, and recognizing the people who played a special part in the creation of the book. I've never suffered from stage fright.  You could send me into a room of a million strangers and tell me to charm them right out of their seats or speak to them about astrophysics, and I wouldn't turn a hair, because I'm not invested in my ability to charm people or my knowledge of astrophysics.

But I am deeply invested in wanting to ensure I've done Ivaan justice.  I didn't want to write a hagiography; he wasn't remotely saintly and would not have been flattered to be presented as one.  In fact, he was extraordinarily quirky, and it's just as well that he was very good-looking, because that kind of quirkiness is rarely well tolerated in someone less beautiful in appearance.  But he was an artistic genius and a very kind, generous and large-spirited human being who loved every hair on my head, and I wanted to pay tribute to the whole person, not just one facet of him.

This evening I received an email from a friend who is also an artistic genius. And the interesting thing about this friend is that she has exactly the same very rare quality Ivaan had:  when she walks into a room, it's as though someone had suddenly turned on all the lights.  It's an extraordinarily attractive quality.

She emailed to tell me that she had just read my book.  Here's how she described it:

"It's like a love poem with beautiful pictures".

When I read that, I nearly started howling, because she's a perceptive person and she was able to see what I had been unable to see: that I had, in fact, written a 30-stanza love poem.

In replying to her, I suddenly remembered a poem I'd found among Ivaan's personal papers a few months after he died.  The poem had been written by me 40 years prior and he had saved it all those years.  I transcribed that poem in a blog post dated April 2014.

This brought me to thinking of another, shorter poem I'd written about Ivaan during a dream I had on January 18, 2002.  I wrote it down on actual paper on waking from the dream at 5:30 a.m:


I turn and study faces in the places you have been
To see if any traces of you yet remain therein
You left on me your imprimatur, fingerprint and sign
I wonder if you touched their life as much as you touched mine.

Very soon after I wrote this poem, Ivaan suffered a second stroke which severely compromised his wellbeing for the remainder of his life.  It seemed to be a foreshadowing of what was to come.  But I now realize, thanks to my friend's perceptive words, that I have written about Ivaan in three different poems during three stages of my life, and in doing so I have in fact done what I set out to do:  pay tribute to the whole person, and not just one facet.  It is an incredible relief.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I like to think that I'm pretty excellent about keeping promises.  It's just that some promises take longer to keep than others.  It's been 8 years, 4 months and 2 days since I promised Ivaan I would write the book he had been planning to write for years.  Yesterday I fulfilled that promise.

Trying to explain why it took me so long is not easy.  Perhaps for the first couple of years I secretly hoped Ivaan would come back and write it himself. Being around his art all the time makes it hard to come to terms with the reality that I'm experiencing his presence in a different way.

Do I miss him?  Incredibly so.  I miss his enjoyment of things.  I miss laughing so hard I'm crying.  My friend Crystal was reminding me last Saturday, when it was Ivaan's and my 22nd wedding anniversary, how he used to affectionately tease me all the time.  I remember the first time Crystal came home with me for lunch.  She and I were musicology students together at University of Toronto about 12 years ago.  She and Matt were newlyweds, Matt hadn't even started medical school yet, and our lives were so different than they are today. 

Ivaan was already quite paralyzed, but we still lived in our house on Portland Street, and one day I invited Crystal to come home with me after class for lunch, so she could meet Ivaan.  I set up lunch on the deck at the rear of our house.  When I brought out a bottle of green juice for us to drink, Ivaan noticed right away that Crystal looked mildly surprised.  "Swamp water", he quipped, just loud enough for her to hear, and she burst out laughing.  Right away, I knew Crystal and I were going to be lifelong friends, because she "got" Ivaan right away.  And I think she liked the swamp water, too.

Crystal and I have remained close friends, and because she and I have been through a lot of joy and grief together,  we still communicate in a kind of code that only very close friends share.  One way she does that is by remembering the days that are important to me - the sad ones, the happy ones, the poignant ones.  So I'll get an email from her, reminding me of Ivaan's teasing, and she keeps those memories alive and present for me.

One memory that was not going to go away was the memory of my promise to him to write the book he planned to call 30 Pieces of Silver. I think I started planning it about two years ago.  First I decided to blog about it, because once I started, I wouldn't be able to stop the forward momentum.  At first I thought I'd be perfectly capable of handling every aspect of the book myself.  It was only when I'd finished the first draft, I had to accept that I'd need professional help for photography.  And that's where a very talented photographer, Richard Freedman, who knew Ivaan well, came on board.  Richard enlisted Sean, a graphic artist he worked with, to come and help us with the layout and appearance. It was a wise decision, and it really improved the appearance of the manuscript and kept the project moving along.

Yesterday the first shipment of hardcover books arrived.  I was astonishingly nervous when I heard they were being delivered.  I had a razor blade ready to cut the first box open, but my hands were shaking so much, I feared there'd be blood all over the white book covers.

I removed the first copy from one of the cardboard cartons, carried it over to the table as gingerly as if it were a priceless, ancient manuscript, or a hand grenade, and picked up a pen that I had purchased for just this occasion.  I inscribed the book to my dear sister Lesley, who is my closest friend in the world and my most valued wise counsel, among my many wonderful friends. I packed it up in a padded mailing envelope to send to her.

Then I took another book from the box, inscribed it to Ivaan's sister Nadia, rented a car, drove over to Nadia's house and sneaked it into her mailbox. I came home, took a third copy, packed it up and sent it to the national archives in Ottawa, where all books published in Canada by a publishing company are required by law to be catalogued and kept for the use of members of the public.

My next privilege is to show some pages of the book to the people who read this blog. I am always touched to hear from people who have read it and laughed right along with me at the stories about Ivaan.  So even though I may not know who these people are, the fact they care enough to read my blog makes me feel they have a special right to share in this moment with me.

Here, then, is 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky.  It is my loving tribute to my truly beloved husband.