Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Physician Heal Thyself

Early this morning, as I stirred under the covers and eased myself into the child's pose, my mind turned to this blog and its next subject. Was it time to do something about Christmas, particularly my first white Christmas, which took place in Nova Scotia, in 1943? I was especially prodded by recent events, as yesterday we hiked along the old Burlington Northern right-of-way in a successful search for a tree, which now stands beside my living room chair creating one of the treasured scents of the season. In keeping with the way we do Advent, the tree goes up as late as possible, and stays for the twelve days of the season.
One of my motivations was my sense of justice. As I had, in an earlier blog, spoken ill of my experience with singing instruction in my Nova Scotia school, I was looking for an opportunity to balance the record by speaking of something positive about the Atlantic province. For the most part, I had a very good time there, with fifteen months or so filled with the adventures of books and the bush and friends, yet I have naught been able so far to dwell much on those days, through the process of fiction. As it was in the school library in Eastern Passage that I discovered fairy tales, and in an old church hall in Dartmouth that I received my first catechism class on the Holy Trinity, I obviously owe considerable to the land of the Bluenose.
But before I arose at four for keyboard practice under the earphones, I tried what I thought would be an innocent experiment with the latest variation on the child pose. This variation is simply the extension, from the completely folded position, of one leg. That is, with the left leg folded under the torso, the right is stretched straight back. This allows for a yet deeper sinking of the left torso with a resulting extra stretch in the left quads, hamstring, and butt muscles. The groin also gets some increased attention. After a few minutes, one switches, so that the muscles of the right leg get equal treatment. Day by day I get looser and looser, all over those areas, and in the last couple of days especially I have found almost total ease in my right upper leg when I cross it over the left as I sit in my chair. This is with my feet on the floor. And actually, except for when I need to stick my legs straight out under the board holding the rubber piano,I have stopped using the footstool that has been my custom for years now. Being able to alternate the crossed leg routine is the automatic unconscious and easy stretch for my lower back after walking.
But the in-bed experiment crocked my lower back. For the first time in a long time I got up stiff as the proverbial board, and had to sit on the Swiss ball at this monitor to put my socks on.
What brought on the affliction was my decision to do some arm work while in the one leg extended position, lifting myself off my belly, raising my upper body off the mattress and holding it thus for a few minutes with my arms straight. This felt reasonably comfortable at the time, but when I came out of this form to head for the keyboard, ouch. Damn. Once again, a little learning is a dangerous thing.
I tried a few loosening procedures downstairs, and they helped a bit. Bending over to rest my forearms on my knees, kneeling on the rug in front of my chair to read a little. But from four or so on is keyboard numbers research time and I wanted to get on with it. So I set up the rubber piano on its board and sat in the chair to forage into my next discoveries, but I made a point of sitting with my feet on the floor, not stretched out on the footstool. That prevented the situation from worsening.
By the time I was done with keyboard practice, I had half-an-hour to kill before coffee time, so I went back to bed. I lay for a couple of minutes with my knees pulled up to my chest, lying on my side - apparently Thomas Aquinas slept in this position - and then once again went into the child's pose. I stayed in it for over ten minutes, then shifted to one straight leg at a time for a couple of minutes each - this time keeping my nose to the mattress like an infantryman under machine gun fire - and when I got up most of the stiffness and pain had gone.
A nice Christmas present, when you think about it, and certainly a solution no ordinary Western medicine man has ever told me about.
On the other hand, I now suspect, as a result of some breathing experiments on yesterday's search for a Christmas tree, that the Eastern pundits may not have the full story on nasal breathing. Nor had I - to the degree that I have it - until yesterday. There is a price to pay for a lack of complete cross-training.
With my mind and my fingers getting closer to having the use of the harmony tetrachord nailed in all keys and song structure combinations, my voice has started to get back the old and original co-operation from the Muse. I have indeed been able to sing with more or less full resonance here and there, but more by way of promise than the fulfillment I'm used to when the breath of God himself is in full operation. So yesterday morning before the climb, puttering methodically at the real piano in A flat major, I happily rumbled away from A flat below great C to A flat two octaves higher, all in resonance, and then more or less falsetto for the third octave. The resonance can be there too, but only after enough warm up down below has made me comfortable with the higher notes.
One of the great beauties of yoga is its insistence on breath work being the most important part of the procedures. It's not easy to get this impression from browsing the models in a yoga magazine, but this is the emphasis for real teachers. Breath becomes for a yogi like vocal resonance for an actor or a singer, and of course here the performer and the wise stretcher share the common wisdom of lungs and their attendant muscles understood. My anatomical lesson yesterday was to study the location and function in respiration of the pyramidalis and the transversus abdominus. These are the little gaffers that, from the bottom of the torso, squeeze out the last bits of air. That is, insofar as this can be done. Even after the complete and final squish, the lungs are still fifty percent full. Probably part of God's plan to prevent the overly ambitious from committing suicide. Every sport has its odd balls.
Thus, when I set off up the hill, I was in good breathing condition. My dining room around the piano had been turned into a Tibetan cave, with O Ah Um and more droning like a squadron of water bombers. And yet I wasn't at peace with my nasal in and outs for a number of blocks. No combination of steps in and steps out gave me the freedom and capacity to forget about it that I wanted. Two in, three out; Three in, four out; three in, three out: nothing quite worked.
And then I had a brainwave. Could it be that the essential part of nasal breathing was on the exhale, for the sake of ensuring that the oxygen got maximum abstraction time in the lungs, and also - following the recently studied Konstantin Buteyko - allowing sufficient creation of the carbon dioxide needed to process the oxygen fully?
So, I breathed in two - it was the steepest part of the walk, just before the right of way and its welcome flatness - and breathed out a very easy, very easy, four.
And then, and only then, could I relax. As soon as weather and festivities permit, I'll be running again, to see how this fits on the track.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saint Francis of Assisi

Push really is getting to shove.
I remember some years ago jotting down at the top of the day's journal entry the name of Saint Thomas Aquinas and having my hand shake as I did so. When I tapped in the title for today's blogspot it was my chest that took the hit. The mystic's body is a veritable road map full of mine fields for tangible reactions to the Spirit's overflow.
It's always nice to have the little troubadour and wolf tamer around, of course, because not only does he carry an enormous clout on his own behalf, but he's more likely than not to bring some of the old original team with him. Giles, Bernard, Cupertino the flying cook, Clare and her little sister, just to name a few of the first round of the insightful, and then if you tack on some of the later gang, Anthony of Lisbon and Padua, Bonaventure, and from our own time, Padre Pio, the roster puts you in mind of some of the sports teams of all times, like the Yankees or the old Montreal Canadians, allowing for the significant contempt for money in the case of the Franciscans.
But I'm not here to talk about my relation with the heavenly head of the world's largest religious order.
Marianne is the item of the day. She's had a vision of Saint Francis.
One of the unique and most telling features of the qualities of our newish bishop is our freedom to attend more church functions than the obligatory weekend Mass. We have been able to go to daily mass if the bishop is in town to say it, and the month of Advent itself got off to a very graceful start with two Corriveau appearances, with Bishop John calling a meeting to tell us he was not going to move the bishop's chair from our cathedral to the admittedly much more populous Okanagan Valley and the city of Kelowna, and then a few days later speaking at a prayer breakfast. (Kelowna had got itself quite psyched up with its hopes for a loftier status, and Nelson had been worried.)Both of these episcopal appearances brought some very pleasant graces. There was an especially nice light from heaven while he was preaching at the mass before the parish meeting.
The location of Marianne's vision was again the cathedral, on Tuesday evening when the bishop was presiding and preaching at the annual penance celebration. There were a number of other priests present to hear the confessions that followed, and one of these was a Capuchin recently appointed as acting pastor at the church in Castlegar, where Marianne and I took refuge for four solid years with the great Herman Engberink, SMA. Well, refuge for her. For me it was the only way to avoid getting loud and possibly violent with the pastor of the day, and as our absence was nothing but noticeable to the parish public it was a much more effective punishment than a good drubbing.
On Sundays we always sit in the gallery, at the back and above the lower floor. In the silly season after the beginning of 1988, this meant we could put down the kneelers when all about us the rebellious and easily misled sheep were refusing to use theirs. Prior to 88, when certain Canadian bishops and priests were playing the fool with the ancient custom of kneeling during the consecration, the habitual household pews were to be found close to the front, on the congregation's left-hand side of the cathedral. This was also my favoured location for a private visit and chat with the resident saints and their Maker. In recent months, for other than Sunday service, we have returned to the front pews, under the crucifix above and to the left, and the Sacred Heart and the tabernacle in front. In our church, Mary is at the front, above the bishop's chair.
Saint Clare is the patron of television, so I have read, because once when she was sick and could not attend the Christmas midnight mass, Christ gave her a running vision of it anyway.
Marianne wasn't sick. She'd better not be. Too many preparations for Christmas, for one thing, and I can still get into trouble with the computer and need my tech. But she was finding the so-called examination of conscience in the penance pamphlet rather tedious, so Francis took pity on her and showed up kneeling on the carpeted steps below the tabernacle. He had his back to her, she says, but he stayed for the rest of the service and apparently has hung around since.
To keep the ecclesiastical record straight, I should mention that he had shown up earlier in the house, twice during the past year since the announcement of our Capuchin appointment, but there did not seem to be any promise of permanency on those occasions.
I should also point out that the vision was not of the material and external kind, like the apparitions of Mary to children, but of the brand that comes to mature contemplatives and their interior life. This means it is something seen with the image-making faculties of the soul, but not created by the imagination.
Pseudo-psychiatrists tempted to try to second guess this information should realize that one of the first authors I read in the autumn of 1956, after leaving law school for the first time, was Sigmund Freud. He remains a thinker who inevitably gets mixed reviews from this writer. On occasions like this one he's hilarious.
As the Lord himself once said to me, "Before psychiatry, I am." Is there a modern bishop, anywhere in the world, who can understand the full force of such a statement in our times? If so, I'd like to meet him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Roberto Luongo's Adductors

I think it fairly safe to say, after last's evening's sports news, that right now the world's best known groin muscles belong to the number one goalie for the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo. Not everyone in the world cares about hockey, of course, but the game has millions of fans in all those areas where it is possible to build and freeze a pond, rectangular or otherwise, and in this age of instant communication the hockey community probably has its mind more on Roberto's predicament than on any other issue.
The reasons don't require a rocket scientist to make them apparent. Until Roberto went down from that apparently innocent little movement of his left leg - I think it was in Pittsburgh - the team he was, somewhat surprisingly, appointed captain of this year - the outfit I used to bite my nails over in the 50's - was definitely emerging as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup, and Roberto was on every one's mind as goaltender choice for the 2010 Olympics. The Canucks had got off to an indifferent start, but then, as Global TV's Squire Barnes pointed out as things got rolling, Luongo never really gets into his deepest magic until November. That's when it becomes apparent that the Canuck backstop really is part cat. Or is it mongoose? One of my favourite Kipling stories when I was a lad was Riki Tiki Tavi, about the mongoose that nailed the cobra threatening the children in an Indian bungalo.
It was at that point most people probably remembered that Roberto had gone down from a lesser groin pull back in the exhibition season, as I recall it. Most people that is, who were not trainers or yogis, or myself. The trainers, at the first incident, automatically started thinking about a treatment that would not only put a player back on the ice, but would, especially in the case of someone so uniquely valuable as this paticular goal tender, prevent it from happening again. Yogis wondered if Roberto did yoga, and if he did not, what kind of reception would they receive if they called up Canucks management.
I'm not sure it would be prudent to call myself a yogi, because I am not now, and probably never will be, an expert on all the hatha yoga positions, or asanas as they are called in Sanskrit, and certainly have never needed them or used them in order to attain a more spiritual connection with God. Having lived within the Christian influence all my life, I have grown up experiencing that all the most desirable spiritual habits are in fact given, and are not things to be striven for through any special physical routines. But I am also just as certain, that as God is the Lord of the body as well as the soul, it was His will that I should take up the study of yoga to some degree, and later, other physiological disciplines, in order to see how through the various cultures of this many faced world of ours He has inspired men and women - and children in their own unique way - to look after their own health, and in certain cases, to teach others how to do so.
Thus, when I saw Luongo taken off the ice the first time, I immediately wondered if it were time to talk about yoga and western athletics. This is certainly not a brand new idea in many areas, but there is always the question of how thorough the yoga on the part of the teachers, and how thorough the understanding and application on the part of the student. One sees jogging clubs with quite wretched body language, due to the lack of nasal breathing and sufficient integration of walking with running, and one has to be wary of any western athletics, professional or amateur, where this is no real awareness of yoga as the fundamental route to physical self-analysis.
Luongo is, obviously, a profoundly graceful goalie, as lithe between the pipes as Gretzky was all over the ice. He makes you wonder if his mother were a dancer, and taught him the splits, and I imagine that there is a lot more wisdom about the pelvic tilt around hockey rinks than there used to be. I might be talking completely through my hat, and Roberto might have been in such perfect condition that his injury can only be put down to the sort of fluke that can happen to anybody. I recall that the most painful session I ever had with my upper back, rarely a location for injury, came from reaching for a slice of toast as it popped up from the toaster. Later in the day I hosted scheduled guests lying on my back on the living room floor and probably had two days off work.
But I also keep thinking about the child's pose, especially with the variation whereby you spread your knees wide enough to feel a nice little stress on the adductors, let your torso fall between your upper legs, and let your mind ramble happily for many, many, minutes. For my money, this is the second great position after the two prone poses, which are basically for the sake of breathing and relaxation, and possibly the most important asana an athlete can know. It not only stretches everything, it tells you pretty well infallibly just how all the tight spots are doing.
It's also great for praying - how much more can the knees bend? - as Moslems have known all along.
When I first discovered it long ago, it was a great gift for my vocal performances, singing or acting. It perfected what I knew about putting my back into things. But I actually let it go until recent months, until I finally realized that it was pretty much the missing link not only for the twinges in my joints brought on by insufficient stretching after running and even walking, but also for the finishing touches to rebuilding the voice that appears to be inching its way back to public notice.
As far as I'm concerned, it's the best thing to do before you get up, the best way to start the day, especially if you're a hockey goal tender.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Royal Revolution?

Ever since I started putting my my poetry on the blog, I have known it would only be a matter of time until I hoisted up some verses from other writers I have known. Marianne has a number of poems; one of them in particular, "Easter Vigil", is certain to appear, and possibly before Easter. Another writing friend penned some wonderful lines about Terry Fox I intend to use when the time is right. And Shawn wrote some good poetry in her student days and has occasionally jotted song lyrics since. A verse she wrote early in 1965 is appropriate now.

Walk right in, sit right down,
Gerry takes your fine from you.
An evening at the Nelson, or the Royal bar,
You went for just a couple but you went too far,
Walk right in, sit right down,
Gerry takes your fine from you.

This was a take-off from a chart song of the day, written and performed by the Rooftop Singers, lead out on a 12-string, "Walk Right In". At the first hootenanny at Notre Dame Shawn and I were just a couple, singing traditional folk songs, but we were joined by 12-string player Tim Yates, a bush pilot hopeful, for later concerts, and with a 12-string on hand Shawn wrote an entire parody about the methods the college had for getting money out of the students. Gerry was the NDU registrar. The song was hugely appreciated.
The Nelson Hotel, along with the Civic, got the between-period trade in the days of the Western International Hockey League. Both bars were just a long slap shot away from the old Civic Centre. The Royal was too far west even for a good sprinter. The Nelson has changed its name to the Grand. (Where I found the Glenmorangie of Valley Voice fame.) But the Royal kept its moniker, and today I dropped in for a couple of the local brewery's concoctions and chatted with customers and bar keep. A bar in the afternoon can be one of the deadliest places on earth, but we all managed to make it pretty lively this afternoon, because we were discussing music in general and the great show on Tuesday night in particular. (Also, the barkeep, from Winnipeg but too young to remember Bachman Turner Overdrive, writes poetry and was intrigued to hear about RockSalt.) It's been many, many, moons since I could honestly feel there was any profit in such an hour or two at that time of the day, but I'm getting the old feeling that a bar can be a school room of sorts if you work it right. Especially a bar with a stage, a certain amount of sound equipment, a drum kit, and a town full of young musicians all eager to upgrade their skills, and an open mike night.
This is not a new idea for me, by any means, but it's the first time it's been surrounded by even a hope of sufficient working elements, including sufficient skills in the presenter, and perhaps a new docility in the new generation. The middle generation, as I think of it from the other side of three score and ten, is more likely than not to be pretty much disabled by authority problems, unless it's drastically changed from the last time I ran a check. But of course this middle generation has a big age span. Some of it is actually as old as I am, some of it is as young as my grandchildren. But it's still stuck in the middle.


I did get to ask about the Latin version of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, but not from the bishop or even the pastor, at last night's "town-hall" meeting. My answer came this morning from one of the town's most learned musicians, like myself disengaged much of the time from the music of the liturgy because of the parish dedication to the lowest possible standards. (A note on more the the same in Vancouver coming up. It's not just us.) He informed me that the Latin was there because this particular collection of music for the mass is thought of as coming from Taize and not from the Church as such. I am probably safe in assuming therefore that it will not be there next Sunday when the usual choir returns. It would seem this is not quite the Advent God had in mind, at least in terms of the liturgy.
But we are plainly experiencing an aspect of Advent in our Capuchin shepherd. Bishop John obviously has a genuine prayer life, and has taken well to the Franciscan emphasis on preaching the whole Christ. He is very kind, but not the least bit interested in being cool. Generally speaking, my habitually optimistic self has experienced a steady diet of spiritual infusions since the announcement of his appointment, but his sermon at the Tuesday evening mass simply created a light show, throughout the entire fifteen minutes or so that he was preaching. He is to say a word or two at a prayer breakfast tomorrow and that too, I'm sure, will be an occasion for the Holy Spirit to brag about our new man.
Thomas Aquinas says a lot of things about bishops - I once had to remind John Paul about some of them - but it all boils down, as Thomas says, to only a pair of simple priorities. A bishop must be able to rule his diocese and to lead his people in prayer. He was certainly running the show on Tuesday night, not only at the mass but at the following meeting, and I suspect that tomorrow morning he will show even more elements of his ability in prayer, subject, of course, to a few observations from an older and more Carmelite codger like myself.
Ah. One more point. Both Saint Francis and Padre Pio made brief but satisfying appearances in this study on Monday morning as MT and I were talking about the week ahead. This also augurs well for the weeks after that. It was Francis, of course, who put the manger scene into Christmas celebrations, and it was Pio who, when he wasn't redirecting American bomber squadrons, heard confessions so that people could actually enjoy celebrations with a clear conscience. There are few experiences more joyful than being hauled out of mortal sin by a priest who knows his business.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Real Advent

Early in December of 1964, my first year in Nelson, I was one evening reading in the Nelson Daily News a virtually full-page article by Dr.Frank Kluge about the celebration of the Advent season in Europe. Dr. Kluge taught German at the university. It was a lively piece as well as long, and definitely put a reader into the mood of the season.It was moreover, especially sparkling to me, because growing up in a family which, except for my grandparents, had no sense of church liturgy whatsoever, I had found my first Catholic Advent, in 1958, the most wonderful device for building the Christmas spirit without confusing it with the cloying excesses of premature indulgence. Even living then in a non-Catholic home I had been able to get into the Advent spirit, and when Shawn and I were in our own household the following year and could set the tone for ourselves, we took every advantage of the restrained beauty of the Advent wreath, the singing of Advent hymns instead of premature Christmas carols, and so on. So well did the Church deal with the real heart of Christmas, thought I, that I could have become a Catholic for that alone.
Now Dr. Kluge was not a Catholic, but a Lutheran, and not being schooled in the varying degrees to which post 16th century religions, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to know that many of those not fully within the Roman bosom could still find as Advent as joyful as I did.
And then, in the midst of my thoughts, I had a locution, just as in Mrs. Ferguson's studio, and probably in about the same week or two, "One of these days Nelson will have a real Advent."
This was, of course, both profoundly interesting and profoundly puzzling. For one thing, it was difficult to apply it to myself personally, this look to an unnamed future date, because I had already known a very satisfying sequence of Advents. And yet it would seem that I was meant to be part of this special occurrence. But what was so unique about Nelson? Was I to assume that Advent had never been taken seriously in the cathedral diocese? How could that be? In the other parishes I had lived and taught in it was certainly taken seriously and both of them were hundreds of miles from their bishop.
Granted the diocese had been dragging its feet in certain liturgical areas. In my first Easter, a few months later, I found it somewhat puffed up about finally getting the new rubrics for the Easter Vigil and related elements into gear. This was a little irksome, as I had been familiar with these welcome changes, actually returns to the customs of the ancient Church, for four or five years.
I had by then become quite disenchanted with the university and was realizing that it was not really the place for me, and I would have to wait for time to reveal the real reasons for my being so inspired to come to the Kootenays. I have by now, of course, spelled out a number of these, but not in any way that could connect them directly with the locution, at least not at the time I was doing this spelling out.
At that time, history reminds us, the Second Vatican Council was finishing up its third session, with one more to go, and then, by the autumn of 67, with the Latin gone from the Mass, in would come the vernacular, and as it was to turn out, probably the worst epoch of hymn writing in the history of the Church. As I've said earlier, I have been rendered incapable of singing most of it, and have expected to carry on in this regrettable predicament until some quite radical changes are made, and for the time being I can see this coming about only if the Pope lays down some prohibitive rules. Possibly there's never been a time when book burning would be more welcome to real men and the good angels.
But, but, but.
Someone in our cathedral has done one small thing. When I arrived for the 8:30 this morning, well ahead of the starting gun, as is my usual custom, I was handed a little leaflet with some mass music somehow supposedly related to the community at Taize. It was, to say the least, not very exciting. Taize's strength is obviously not in composition. And, at first, I was as angry as I was bored, because it was, after all, the first Sunday of Advent and there was not reference to Advent on the first page. This kind of rotten rubrics has happened frequently around here: so many times the music does not in any way reflect the spirit of the particular feast.
So, wearily I turned the page.
Well, as Saint Augustine says you never know from one day to the next who will be your friend and ally, who will be your enemy. Expect reversals, if you want to keep your peace of mind.
Not only did they have the traditional O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but they had it in Latin, three whole verses.
Now they had it in English too, below the Latin. And knowing the lamentable history of this
lamentable diocese, I knew it could be capable of printing just such a paper in order to tell the Pope, yes, we are doing things in Latin and then actually rendering the hymn only in English.
Not the new bishop mind you, but he's busy and not always at hand and so many so called leaders have been getting away with murder so long why would they stop at a thing like that?
Nonetheless, being an incurable optimist, I conned the Latin. I knew that if the tiny little choir, utterly lacking in strong voices, launched into the old tongue they'd need all the help they get. There would not be a peep from the congregation, it is so long out of practice with such things. The choir knew this too, which actually moved me to admire theme somewhat should they go for the Latin.
And whadda ya know? They did.
I wasn't perfect. You can't be perfect without practice and time to recover from disbelief, and the printing was not as bold and clear as it might have been, but the Muse came and I ran the show.
As Augustine, again, says, he who sings well prays twice, and this place needs all the prayer it can get.
And the bishop may actually have been behind the surprise. He's holding a townhall meeting on the future of the parish and diocese on Tuesday night, in the school gym. I just might ask him if we owe the Latin to him. If so, this just may be the Advent God was talking about. Or maybe one getting close to it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fathers and Sons

Being a hermit, I do not ordinarily keep a lookout for evening entertainment out of doors. We already have a good deal of entertainment on the video and dvd shelves, which means very good films, many from the BBC, which is generally acknowledged now as having the best talent pool in the world, thanks to British theatre. Also, in a week today, I have to render two-and-a-half pages of text from the memoirs of one Bill Triggs into a recording microphone. Bill was from England, and for the past several days we have been watching Michael Palin's "Full Circle", his journey around the Pacific Rim, not only for Palin's wonderful ability to portray a people and a country's most human face, but also so I'll be primed to render Mr. Triggs with a reasonably accurate accent. His son Stan, whom I've known since the days we jammed together in the north basement of Brock Hall, he on mandolin, I on tenor banjo, says I was the spitting aural image in my last try, for a different project, but no real actor ever rests on his laurels, and I've already hit a couple of rough patches in my rehearsals, inasmuch as some of our BBC stuff comes with Cockney, Geordie, and Yorkshire accents. These can play the very devil with an actor with a musician's ear. Bill was a purser on the Kootenay Lake paddle wheelers, and Marianne's niece Nicole is cooking up a virtual history of the lake boats for a computer installation in the Nelson museum. We record in this room a week from now. Interesting, when you ponder that the only other recording these walls have seen were for the present Pope.
But, there it was in the Nelson Daily News: Fathers and Sons: four guitarist/singers, performing in the Royal Hotel on Tuesday, November 25. Amos Garrett and Jim Byrnes being the fathers, and Steve Dawson and Doug Cox the sons.
Now, I'm a novelist. (A very creditable poet and critic and publisher at the Coast also admits that I'm a poet, but that's another story.) And to me, Fathers and Sons is a novel by Turgenev. I read it, when I was the keeper of the little basement room in the Irvine house on Bellevue Drive in Point Grey, the city of Vancouver, in 1958-59. Something about one young radical and freethinker influencing another young fellow. I am also a theologian, and therefore references to fathers and sons remind me of some very stern sayings laid down by John the Baptist in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. All of this hits me with a rush, and I decide that the monastery will empty on Tuesday night, in order to take up some space in the Royal. I need no powers of persuasion. My cohorts are in the mood for some BLUES. I must confess, however, that I did diddle and dawdle over jumping on the tickets, and had to be almost manhandled into Eddy Music by MT. She knew that the affair would be sold out, and we'd better grab tickets before we were shut out. But that's teamwork.
And she was right. It was sold out. Of course. The cognoscenti knew these guys, all of them. I've been in Europe mentally for decades, so what do I know, although I think my oldest son had talked about Jim Byrnes, from his time in Vancouver, and Amos Garret had been through Nelson before. But, like I said, we don't go out much.
Perhaps I had a sense of celebration, perhaps I was confident that with all my music research I wouldn't feel so far out in left field when the blues experts started to strut their stuff. They'd bloody well get their ears in line if I got into the singing groove, but when it came to walking through a guitar neck with complete familiarity I had for a long time been out in the cold. All those goddamn chord books. Oh yeah, a good place to start, as I have said before, but by no means a place to finish.
But now I know what finishing is all about, because I really know how to start, and in the Royal on Tuesday night, I knew how to analyze the skills exploding in front me, on the stage which the newish management has arranged along the east wall. Twenty-six years ago, when I dropped in for a beer after a rehearsal for my last play, the stage of the Royal was then too on the east wall. My oldest son was playing and singing. I remember in particular Jimmy Buffet's "Margueritaville".
What goes around comes around. In the spring of 1982, on the east wall of the Royal, it was the Red Brigade. The three musicians in my son's band were redheads. In the late fall of 08, it was Fathers and Sons.Two greyheads and a couple of men long past nineteen. Still at it, still on the road, and we're all the richer for it.
This was the night of the day I had put the first three stanzas of the long poem up on the Web, and the next morning I sent them to a poet/publisher who had led me to RockSalt, the influence of which has already been celebrated. His professional kindness was quick. He liked the lines. He also told me that 100 people turned out in the Nanaimo library for the RockSalt launch in that town.
So now, I think, the spectrum of the Ranger is initially complete. I know where I am and what I'm about and all I have to do is live with the different inspirations competing with each other. I actually already had some topic sentences for a review of F and S even before we got there, but I had to hold off for 48 hours because of other stuff rearing its head, and even as I was getting to the head office, as it were, which to my surprise is up in Smithers, I was fending off overtures from canto two of To Hunt the Lions, at the same time as I was pondering what to do with the news from Ohai, California. That's where John Stark lives, but also leaves for professional reasons. At least one of these reasons will be to check out the response to his Chekhov film, about to play during the winter in art film theatres in New York. And that just might be only the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Big Poem: stanzas one to three

Last week MT and I went for lunch - in the middle of a six mile walk - at a restaurant that lies at the north end of Nelson's famous orange bridge. The bridge was up and carrying traffic by 1957, replacing the ferry that shuttled the half-mile of water between the north shore and Lakeside beach, just downstream from the old tug ways, and a motel and restaurant to go with it were erected not long after. I had eaten in the restaurant only a couple of times before 72, but in the autumn of that year, once I realized that it didn't seem likely that anyone was going to publish the fourth draught of the yacht novel, I set to work on my first attempt at what is now known as "The Big Poem".
By that time, we had pretty well ceased to operate our house as a home for young adults with various needs that can be met around a stable family, and were in the process of creating the more definitely monastic community that has functioned ever since. Marianne had moved in, although also attending the college, and I was in the final months of analyzing and experiencing the spiritual life as defined by the Carmelites, thus in the psychological position to be able to look back fairly objectively at a life I now felt ready to be described through the form of the long narrative. Wordsworth's "Prelude" or "Growth of a Poet's Mind" was my intended model, due to a not-so-little ecstatic experience I'd undergone while looking into some early lines one rainy April morning in Vancouver, in 1957.
One of the greatest things about being a modern poet, at least in English, is that it is all but impossible to conceive of making a living writing only poetry. Thus it must be done for the sheer joy of using words, and in the spirit of poverty. It is much like going for a walk, in that sense, simply for the pleasure of putting one foot in another and having a look at the landscape. When I was at work in my scribbler, on those November/December afternoons in 72, I felt those benefits keenly, gratefully, sitting a table in the room on the lower floor, which, with the younger set up and away, had become the study. And I also had the walk, because after a good session with the Muse I would stroll across the bridge - the south end was only two blocks from the house - to the restaurant for a cup of tea.
I was remembering those pleasant hours at our lunch last week, most keenly, and with a great deal of satisfaction, because I was at that position, so longed for by writers, of knowing I finally had the write beginning for the poem I'd begun work on 36 years earlier, to the month. The first stanza had not only been set down in the current loose leaf binder, but it had been emailed to my youngest, a writer herself of no mean ability, and gained not only her approval, but a request for more. I think it was the day after the lunch that I came up with two more stanzas, and thus have enough to post on the Ranger. Here we go. (With such memories rolling in from the West Coast, I ordered an oyster burger.)

The story telling started with my Grandad.
By nineteen-forty, when I was a little boy,
Athena was dead and gone, royally snuffed
By the conversion of the last pagan Greek,
And no one yet had talked to me of Homer.
My Iliad came in the Saturday comics,
Read to me on his lap by my bachelor uncle:
Prince Valiant, Orphan Annie, Little Lulu,
And Popeye too, though I had no war with spinach.
Thus, oh, how the world was my oyster when I learned to read!
But books are books, and men, God bless, are men,
And before I could read my Grandad told me a story.

You should have seen the set for this performance.
My grandparents' house was a castle in a forest,
With a yard as big as a field and barn full of chickens,
Sheds all over the place and apple trees,
Berries and grapes and all that stuff from Paradise,
Plus Grandad kept the Bible by his bedside,
And every time I came to check him out,
The Lord who ruled his life had time for me,
You felt it in the walls, you heard the Father in his kindly voice,
Old Walter moving slow, waiting on my catching up,
And then one day he came up with a memory.

My Dad was with me, we went there together,
Some morning before he had to go to England.
We sat in the dining room, with the antelope head on the wall,
And I on the couch they'd covered with wolverine skins,
Grandad had come to the Coast from the fields of Ontario
By way of the Yukon gold and a farm for foxes,
With, fore and after, brothers in Montana;
The head of a Yukon ram in the living room
Stared down on all my days in the house;
My Grandma had shot two grizzlies in her time,
Wore lumps of solid gold around her neck,
I would see them every time she poured my tea.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tai Chi and the Flexbar

Back in March of 1980, when I was sorting out the ideas and images for the opening chapter of "Contemplatives" - not that it bore that title then, for my working name for it was "The Bush Novel", until I realized that we were not really going to get that much bush until the sequel - I was moved to state right off that a great deal of the time we made hugely important connections with the next step in life because of, as it seemed, mere happenstance. I took great delight in spelling out that Michael Thurman's discovery of the tyro novelist, Nicholas Taylor, came about because of accident. In part, Michael walked down into a certain room because he was looking for a book. There was indeed a book, but it was not the one he was promised. No matter, he found a novelist, whom he had not been looking for, nor suspected existed. These are the memories that come to mind as I sit down to talk about one of the most brilliant creations, in my opinion anyway, in the field of fitness instruments, which I only discovered about 26 hours ago, in the drugstore. It is an utter marvel of simplicity, yet, as simple things often are, it is complete genius, and if there is a Nobel Prize for common sense, the designers should get it.
I know, I know. I sound like Madison Avenue, and serious devotees to the spirit of poverty will be tempted to think I'm angling for cash. Will the Thera Band people advertise on the Ranger's Blog? Will the Ranger begin to float a Communications stock in Toronto and New York? Will Dreamworks pay a million for the film rights to "FLEXBAR", the secret weapon of the Chen Family, withheld from Mao Tse Tung and his henchmen and coming soon to a movie theater near you?
We dropped into the store in the late afternoon because I had decided it was time to get the section manager to order another elastic ankle support. I've been wearing an old one and a new one, on our walks, working on the principle that as the elastic supports hold up the sagging muscles and tendons, but at the same time allow freedom of movement, which my Birkenstock insets do not, quite, I should get another new one, a Futura, because the rib seam in it is not as intrusive as the rib seam in the other one, brand name of which will go unmentioned. Wearing the Futura on the more collapsed left ankle is, I think, helping to restore some of old elasticity of muscle and tendon.
But the department manager was busy with the four p.m. orders delivery and we had to cool our heels. And ankles. So MT was snooping around, always on the lookout for health and fitness information or devices, while I talked with the clerk, and when I rejoined my fellow researcher, she was studying a page or so of instructions and flexing one of the three different-sized coloured cylinders, made of rubber, or a substance equally elastic, that were lying on the display shelf. I don't know which size she had started with, but as I hove to she was demonstrating the biggest one, blue, one and seven-eighths of an inch thick, 12 inches long, bendable in every direction. For a moment I could not see the point of it, but when she showed me the direction booklet, a good 12 pages, I tried three of four of the little exercises, and realized, thanks to some recent re-unification of my initial grasp of the real working union of body and soul in the Yoga area, that we had come upon an enormously valuable instrument.
In 2005, as I was winding down my relationship with the weight room, I was conscious of two motivations to leave. The first, to get back to distance running; the second, to go back to researching yoga. I did both, but three years later, it's become more and more obvious that the priorities have been reversed. I'm not a great runner, by any means, but I've always known more about running, at least from some points of view, than I have about yoga, with the exception of the ultimate yoga breathing experience, that is, the breath of the Spirit, which of course is in no way available as a result of any man made physical practice. When I was given the breath of the spirit, in the early days of 1968, I knew neither jot nor tittle of any concept known to hatha yoga, let alone a conscious awareness of any asana, or yoga position.
But in 70 or so, when being shown how to get into a headstand made me realize there was a method to this mysterious practice, I had no sooner settled into the crocodile pose, face down on the living room rug, and just getting relaxed, than there was a mighty whoosh of the thing that had started coming when I was collapsed on my bed a couple of years earlier, not for the sake of toning my muscles, but simply to ponder the latest spiritual burden. Clearly God was blessing the ancient skills of India and my mystic's interest in it.
But he was also setting a standard, although I had none of the practical understanding of the subtler rules of exercise, as I might have called them then, that would have made this intelligible.
Nor has the culture I grew up in, so it has been along journey to get to the point where I could so quickly realize the genius of the little blue instrument that lies on the table beside me as I write.
(If every computer jockey had one of these cylinders, would he get tendonitis? Is there a real need for ergonomic keyboards, or are they simpy the door that's built after the horse is stolen?)
Every adequately designed exercise program proceeds by degrees, of course. But given our natural ambition to get to the max as quickly as possible - especially rampant in pittas - how do we come to thoroughly understand the general absoluteness of the the 'less is more rule'? Do we really begin as gently as we should, thus eliminating any and all damage that always retards progress in the long run?
I suspect I'll be writing chapters on this hardest of all lessons to learn or teach, so for now let's get back to one of the early thoughts: FLEXBAR: THE MOVIE.
Our scene is somewhere in China, anywhere famous for a tai chi school. A quiet dojo, with a dozen or so adepts all going through their chi gong warm ups. (Sound track optional.) This is a wide shot. The camera zooms to a single member of the group, whom we now notice is not actually following the others, only doing a standing pose, the wu chi, while staring out the window. Now pan to a corner of the room, where stands a box of medium size. The leader approaches the box and begins to lift out cylinders similar to the one described above. Suddenly the watcher hisses something in Chinese. (My Chinese is much worse than my Latin, so we'll need advice here.) But I know the subtitles.
"NO. NO. No rubber bars. Hide box. Maoist bastards coming now! If they find box we lose most precious secret! Quick! Quick!"
The leader puts the cylinders back in the box and zips it behind a curtain. The group resumes chi gong, the watcher included, and when half a platoon of China's revolutionary finest march in everyone is polite, welcoming, smiling, and signs all the papers necessary to commit the tai chi people to giving up their secrets, guarded for centuries, and coming out of the closet to teach the nation how to get healthy. (It was this, or be rubbed out down to the next dozen generations or so.) More smiling, bowing, shaking hands, short speeches on the blessings of national harmony and the genius of the leader and the happiness of helping out the young republic.
Small army leaves. Musical interlude until the watchman is sure the troops are gone, then out comes the box, each student gets his cylinder, then demonstrates how it is used to gently analyze and strengthen every muscle connected to the shoulder girdle. All the time each practitioner is doing this, he stands still, for the sake of strengthening his legs, this latter purpose being a major priority in Tai Chi. What the audience realizes, although it might take a while to catch on, is that all the first stresses each student puts on the rubber stick is profoundly gentle, held at some length with obvious comfort and stability, and only gradually is greater stress demonstrated, and never without the obvious presence of calm and comfort.
Next scene. Big government presentation. Usual long speech by Chairman M. Thousands watching in some big stadium. Tai Chi group emerges to band music, marches to the centre of the field and begins to demonstrate opening positions, all about standing and various, but motionless, positions of the arms. Low at the side, holding the imaginary ball, and so on. Not only as a demonstration of national harmony does a regiment of Red Guards join in, but also to prove how quickly the new army can learn an ancient skill.
But there are no cylinders. The dojo guys wink at each other. They speak some pretty jolly Chinese, which subtitles into: "Those army guys better not lose their guns. We're still a step ahead. If it ever comes to hand to hand, we'll beat the crap out of them."
Well, not quite a movie. Maybe an ad, that Squire Barnes of CanWest Global can show on his side-splitting Satellite Debris, one of MT's favourites. The movie would have to go back in time, to show how the ancient dojo used bamboo sticks and other flexible items in place of the rubber cylinders and would of course have a love interest and the overthrow of some corrupt dynasty or nasty nest of robber barons. And it might not be at all funny. I have a feeling that the strength that eventually comes to the discerning employment of this device, following the real laws of developing physiology, would be not a little deadly. Yesterday a robber baron, tomorrow a plate of finely chopped pig food.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Yacht, Book 2, Chapter 13

Still somewhat affected, naturally, by her mother's stunning edict, Maggie's voice faltered a little, but Paul's singing the numbers with her gave her warmth and confidence and she eventually soared free on her own. This, Sadie Blakeley thought, was probably a good thing for the Schlegel household. Paul had been upset with the news, no doubt much more angry than he showed under his joking about and turning the setback into one more opportunity to show how fully he understood the music scheme, and she had wondered if he just might go down to Maggie's house with the girls - the turnabout was at the Schlegel's this time - and have it out with Maria then and there. He was most certainly a teacher, a soul incapable of tolerating error, incompetence, any attempt to mask the real truth, any sign of confusion or lack of confidence on the part of a student. But Maggie had taken the lesson, so his mind could rest, knowing the essential next step had not been interfered with.
So the girls left, both of them looking as is they would love to throw their arms around Paul and hug him to death, but of course they didn't know him that well yet. And he was, after all, their classroom teacher. The experience would be all that sweeter and good for their souls when it happened naturally. Possibly he was too angry for it anyway.
The girls left, Paul slouched in a chair with a furrowed brow, and Sadie got him a beer. "By no means do you have to earn your booze, Paul, but I think we both know you've earned this one."
"Bloody rights I have. Wait'll I run into that old bat. And whatever opening scene from Macbeth she was listening to in order to come down on her kid like that. You must have some real doozers in this town." He didn't use any adjectives rooted in four-letter words, but Sadie could hear them roiling in his brain.
And she could also hear his mistake, his assumption, about Maggie's mother's age. She was heading back to the kitchen. Adam would be home before Paul was finished his drink. But she turned back, laughing, realizing that as talented as the young teacher was, he was also very humanly capable of jumping to conclusions. In fact, to thoroughly get rid of the tensions that had been layering her house for the last hour, she sat in a happily relaxed lump herself, and laughed and laughed.
"No offense, young fellow, but you have been thinking that because Deirdre is my youngest, and born just before I was out of my Forties, that Maggie's Mom is also a woman of . . . . shall we say, mature years?"
"Oh my God." Paul sat up, and started to laugh himself. "Yes, I have. I suppose we've been too busy making cultural beach heads for me to ask family questions. She's not . . . .middle aged?"
"Heavens, no. Margaret is the oldest, and Maria wasn't all that old when she was married. She's very little into her Thirties, and, incidentally, rather good looking. Oh my. Wonderful. For the rest of my days I will wish I could have been in her house or wherever when you ran into her with a lecture in your mind all arranged for an elderly charter member of the stitch and bitch set. You're a man, and a young one at that. I'm sure you would recover and get on with your job, but the initial encounter would have been worth a camera angle or two. Oh, you don't have to start dropping your visor. She's a very good young woman and she and Horst love each other dearly. And Horst would never let her bully Maggie away from you, although it might take a while to persuade Maria to see the light. She's a convert. She was raised Mennonite, on the Prairies, and she sometimes falls back into odd frames of mind. Especially over music. She's very talented. There's been some real devils at work in the business of this afternoon. She would be my choice to make the very best of what your secrets are, and I'm sure in the end she will, if you have time for another student. But I fear that at the beginning she would not be easy about it. She might tell Maggie that she should have studied her scales better, but I think there's more to her negative experiences than that.As I said, she's good looking, and some music teachers . . . ."
"Hmm hm. Maman has had a few victims of that species of nonsense. I think this Horst must be quite the man. I'm looking forward to meeting him. What does he do?"
"He's the accountant at the mill."
"You guys are quite the cartel. But nothing really good can be done without real friendships, as Aristotle says, and it's always especially efficient when business and friendship go forward in the name of culture and faith. Man, what Gaetan Renard and my Grandpere accomplished in the name of both is certainly proof of that." He was recovering quickly, and sat up even straighter.
"You will have to tell me more about it. But not now. I must get to the kitchen. Thank heaven the weather's cooling off. Oh, and don't assume that there actually was anything that dark in Maria's student days. It might just have been some disciplinary approach radically different than yours and very stupid. But I've always wondered, and I think you should be aware of the possibilities because I really think she will wind up listening to you, and letting your show her how to make better use of her own piano. After all, she can't help but hear that voice on Sunday, unless she goes somewhere else for Mass. And another thought. Have you even see Ionesco's 'The Lesson'?"
Paul hooted. "Seen it? I belonged to the Players Club, I'll have you know, and I did the teacher's role two years ago. I was very successful, too, considered one of the most hateful men who'd ever graced the stage. That was enough villainy for a lifetime, I can tell you. Where did you see it?"
"See it? That's your second assumption of the day. I played the student, in my own college days."
"Good heavens! You're an actress. Wonderful. Maybe that's what gives you so much understanding. Thank Christ you're not taking Maria Schlegel's side of things. Between her and that Havincourt woman, and even Iris' initial reaction I've had to wonder if I'd come to the ends of the earth in Blackfish Bay. I mean I know Vancouver is full of wilfully ignorant rabble as well, but I did expect a little more pastoral quiet and co-operation than has shown up so far. Or shall I say I expected a little less opposition? I'm an optimist, you see. I expect people to trust and expect the best, not doubt, bitch, whine and insist only the worst can happen. Sometimes it has to, of course. The first three chapters of Genesis lay it all down. But it would all be so much nicer if it didn't. But here, I'm bitching too, just after you handed me a beer for my nerves. Maybe I should just realize that it's all happened so quickly so I won't take you and Adam for granted. That's a problem with me, expecting every house to be like the one I grew up in. My adopted brother used to get on me about it, as he came from quite the opposite." He raised the bottle. "To the Blakeleys. Long may they reign, and may all their enemies either repent or catch the plague."
"Oh, dear. I didn't get you a glass."
"Never mind. I'll imagine myself at the wheel of the Melinda Richards, looking for swimmers to run over." He rose from the chair and followed Sadie into the kitchen.
Sadie was still ready to laugh. "Maria Schlegel would make a very pretty corpse."
"But why did she do it? Why did she turn cannibal on her own daughter? Maggie simply did not deserve it."
"I can see you're the sort of teacher who believes in shooting the parent first and asking the kid 'why' later."
"You got it. But as they quickly found out when I was learning my new trade in the spring, I shoot kids even faster if they ask for it. But this scenario knocked me flat. I'm a veteran observer, you know, of the good, the bad, and the ugly that have been through my Mom. Dierdre and Maggie are both genuinely docile and genuinely as eager as they come. The sort teachers live for, if they've any sense. The world is full of resistance to real learning, especially when it comes to art. They haven't balked once. You talk about my teaching the mother! All I can see in my head is complete resistance. She isn't likely to do the first damn thing I tell her!"
Sadie began rustling around the stove and in the fridge and cupboards.
"It won't be like that. Trust me. Maria is young, Maggie is her firstborn, and the Schlegels have some friends - not the Blakeleys - with mouths as big as the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, and even more eager to argue just to hear the sounds of their own voices." She stopped to look at him, and firmly said, "You know what discretion means, right?"
"Yes, Ma'am."
"Good. Because I'm not eager to have any of my critical remarks come back to me. It makes life that much harder for Adam. So a lot of the things I might say, or you might hear in this house, you have to forget, like the priest in the confessional. But of course some things you will need to hear, and have a right to hear, because of your position in the school, the parish, and I what I suspect will happen very quickly, the community at large. As you get to know people, you will find these things out for yourself. But, as you said, there are some real doozers. Born gossips, born meddlers, born souls who would rather do anything than read a good book or open their lives to anything more than a soap opera mentality. And, bluntly, let me tell you that there are a couple of women in Maria's circle who are simply jealous of how much she and I enjoy each other's company. I've never met her parents, but I suspect that there is a history of harshness there, so she appreciates knowing an couple from her parents' generation that simply give her room to be. And I quite suspect that the parents have never really forgiven her for becoming a Catholic. And one of her woman friends has a daughter the same age as Maggie and Deirdre, whom they try to make room for, but she's not easy company. She's coarse, and I suspect about to get promiscuous, or at the least, simply too moony over boys. The mother was much the same, she can see it coming, and she probably hates the situation and resents the fact that Maggie and Deirdre just might escape the same fate, because they have some interests in things of the mind. She might have heard something about you, and managed to find just the right words to set Maria off balance. Stranger things have happened. Strange things always happen when people ignore Casti Connubi. Oh. I don't mean the Schlegels. I mean the woman that might have been part of the false witness."
Paul grinned. "Good old Pius XI. My grandfather used to send him lovely letters."
"Really? Rome seems so far away. It's hard to imagine someone in Canada - other than a bishop, of course, just sitting down and jotting a note to the Pope."
"Easy enough when you're Philippe. And he never had anything to hide, like a lot of bishops do. He was more or less just taking dictation from the big head office in the sky. As natural as Adam dropping a line to Vancouver. How long do you think it will take Maria to come around?"
"Are you asking for Maggie's sake or hers?" Paul was by a window now, looking down over the hill that sloped to the Strait. They had remodeled, he thought, with this house that went back some years, probably before the First World War, putting in more windows to take advantage of the view.
"Well, hers in both cases," he said. "Because unless she wants to commit the unthinkable and tell Maggie she has to stop being Deirdre's friend, Deirdre will certainly show her every thing she learns from me. And that might even be an advantage, a silver lining in the cloud of the Schlegel discontent, because that simply means that Deirdre will learn it better. Nothing makes you learn more efficiently than the prospect of having to teach what you know."
"I thought of that too, which is why I'm not too worried about Maggie. And once you've met Horst you'll realize he really does wear the pants, and Maria will not hold out against what he knows is good for his daughter. This would never have happened if he'd been home from work. There must have been some stupid incident this afternoon, and it provoked Maria to fall back into whatever happened over her and music when she was young. Horst is no musician, by the way, just a very good accountant. He can't help her that way. I'm not worried about Maggie now, although of course it was very disturbing to have Maria call me up in such a ridiculous mood. No, it's Maria that's concerning me, or you and Maria, because I'm absolutely convinced, after watching and listening to you with the girls just now, that you're the man to solve her problems with music, to clear up whatever happened when she was young. I mean, I've never seen anything like you, and I even suspect, whether you know it or not, because I have read a little of your grandfather's writing, that you have some mystic in you. I'm sure you can do it, and I'm only afraid that you will say you don't have time. Or that you're still angry and can't forgive her for upsetting Maggie." She had turned away from the stove and looked directly at him. He thought: good women are all the same. I could be looking at my mother. Lucky Maria Schlegel, to have such a friend.
He grinned. "Would you kick me out if I refused?"
"Of course not. I happen to be very fond of art and the thought that you might actually be painting in my house is very pleasant indeed. But for some reason I'm also very fond of Maria. Somewhere, somehow, she's been dealt a bad hand." She turned back to the stove, then went to the fridge for lettuce and took that to the sink.
"How long have you known her?"
"A little more than a year. They were in Vancouver, which she really loved, after the Prairies, and Horst was number three man in the head office. The accountant here retired, and they offered Horst his job. So they moved, and Maggie came to Saint Bridget's, where Deirdre had been having far too easy a time being head of the class. Maggie's brain was the best thing that could have happened to her. They could have become enemies and rivals, but by the grace of God they became friends."
"I heard how she said Maggie was the best math student in the school. It reminded me of how I finally came to reckon with Jacob's skills with philosophy. You learn to recognize that God loves variety, and made each of us unique. Then, and only then, can you know how to create teamwork. Of course I'll take Maria on, if she'll have me. There's a fair amount of shrinking goes on around our house, and I'd like to get at the skeletons in the Schlegel closet just to see if I can do my bit." He grinned again. "Besides, she's good looking, right? Just think of what it will give the good Edna Havincourt to talk about. We wouldn't want to let down the gossip columnists, would we?"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Editor's Foreword

Goodbye Microsoft Word, for now at least, and hello once again to Blogger.com.
The Yacht, Book Two, is about to go forward on the channel at hand. Early on we brought over chapter one, just for fun, and I carried on with the writing on Word, transferring to Adobe PDF for shipping to my five steady readers, up to and including chapter 12. Somehow in the midst of summer visits, gardening, and yard work, MT did not get 12 printed out. It was therefore not at hand an hour ago when my mind really began to clear over the next step - where to get going on chapter 13 - so when she had looked up 12 on My Documents, then printed it out, I got to read it afresh after a long time away and realized it was time to hammering at the gates of the musical infidels, that is, get The Yacht up on the Web where all the world can get a glimpse and make up its own mind without the interference of the Luddites in the invested industries that surround music printing and teaching. None of the faithful five, moreover, need miss a beat. They just have to tune into the Ranger, as some of them already do.
What about chapters two to twelve for Ranger fans only? At the moment, no clear answer. Perhaps an ordinary publisher will show up and bring out a book. Perhaps I'll go to the work of retyping the chapters into Blogtype. I was having so much fun reading 12, except for a couple of spelling mistakes, of course, that I could see myself working through the other chapters again quite happily. And then there's always the challenge of going on with the new in such a fashion as to also retell the old. And who can say where a story actually begins? Thus the technique of the flashback, thus good old Homer beginning at the gates of Troy ten years down the road after Agamemnon and his sailor/soldiers hit the beach. Possibly this is Homer's secret code by which he was telling the reader that it took him ten years to get the beginning right.
I know what that feels like from more than one project. At the moment I'm feeling, finally, strong enough to say on this medium, that I think I've got the beginning, at last, to the BIG POEM I've been draughting away at for something like 20 years. This is thanks in no small degree to a recent publication, an anthology of BC poets, "Rocksalt", released just days ago by Mother Tongue Press on Saltspring Island. The compendium is very lively, very eclectic, and also, for me, very encouraging, a kind of handbook of all the rules a poet needs to keep in mind in these days of trying to reconcile - for my generation - the poetry we read in school and the poetry that is published now. The point is, I learned to love grammar at age ten, and ever since then have been puzzled by writers who work as if they hated that particular branch of knowledge, but I also understand the power of an image, and its capacity to become a symbol. Sometimes the Lord speaks to me in sentences, sometimes He utters merely one word. It takes all kinds, and in my Father's house there are many mansions.
I probably could go to three slots on my blog, one for this journalism, one for Contemplatives, and a third for fiction and poetry, but for the moment I think I'll keep it simple, and stick to two channels only. This means there will be no ordinary Ranger until chapter 13 is up and away. So I would like to close with the proof that, yes, I really am a periodical. I have a very genuine 'letter to the editor', the kind that is only just to quote because it is very comment on something I have said, another way of looking at a question that may actually provide more insight, at least for some, than my own expression.
Marianne's cousin Jack, also a Tremblay, has been my most constant American reader. He lives in North Adams, Massachusetts. This is the town, actually, where MT's father was born, although he moved to Canada with his family only a few years later. After the last post, on the child's pose, Jack wrote:

The best position you can hope to obtain is that comfort position just prior to sleep. You will not fall into sleep if you have not obtained it. So I submit that whatever position you obtain just at the point of sleep is the ultimate YOGA relaxation position . . . . . but who can remember?

I liked the plain science, and I also liked the mystery in Jack's words. And I very much appreciated a note from him some weeks back in which, after manfully absorbing a number of my tales of unusual visits from the Almighty, he coughed up a lovely little bit of his own special history. Everyone has at least a bit of this in them, or so I've always believed, but not everyone knows how to admit it, or even discover the memory. One of the reasons I'm driven to write this thing is in the hope of getting that done.
I started up this post on Friday. This is Sunday, and over the weekend, as if to back up the decision to bring up the yacht novel, I've made another big breakthrough with keyboard fingering fundamentals, sufficient not only confirm the wisdom of starting up chapter 13, but also moving me to add unto my profile. The only thing I can't do at the moment, though, is find the words to do justice to the mighty onslaught of the Spirit was involved in all this.
Maybe these will come if I get on with the chapter.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Patanjali Revisited

Should the people who thought up Blogger.com get the Novel Peace Prize?
As I began the clicking of the mouse that would lead to this post, I was beginning to get back into a bit of temper. As I had already come through a very great deal of temper over the previous morning hours, I wasn't looking forward to a rerun. And then, as the Blogger mechanism began to unfold before my appreciative eyes, I felt myself relaxing. Ah, the release that Geeta Iyngar speaks of in the latest issue of Ascent, the quarterly published out of the Yasodhara Ashram at nearby Kootenay Bay, although she was really speaking of release in a tense muscle, not a tense soul.
The source of my winter of discontent? The Yoga Journal, generally a most excellent and useful magazine, but annoying at the moment because there seemed to be difficulties in getting an email directly to the chosen target. In this case, either the EIC, Kaitlin Quistgaard, or the latest contributor to write about home practice and therefore the very real problem of motivation, Jason Crandall.
Oh well, happy fault. As was the case in at least half the plays I got involved in, I'll just have to let myself be dragged into the arena, through a knot hole, kicking and screaming. And then, as with the plays, I'll do all right, realize that I wouldn't have missed the new assignment for the world, and wonder what all the fuss was all about.
This means, because of the felicitous technology at hand, that I am now launching yet another yoga periodical, sort of, simply in order to say a thing or two not only in appreciation for the discipline, but also to point out a thing or two that most of its promoters do not.
For example, Jason Crandall, even though he is talking, along with the entire edition, about the most essential part of any undertaking, a home practice and the necessity of a modest but consistent daily schedule.
Do no modern yoga teachers realize the importance of starting in bed? I recently asked another expert this same question, and got looked at in wonderment. The bats of October have been put away for another year, but the image of the plate is still valid: the yoga establishment as I know it has got itself two strikes, but can it connect with the ball on the third attempt?
Although I first looked into yoga almost forty years ago, I only became acquainted with name of the alleged founder, Patanjali, some months back, buying a little book of his at our local very eclectic main street bookstore. As those who have read him know, he actually wrote down only one thing about hatha, or physical, yoga. He insisted that each and all asanas must be "stable and comfortable."
My, my, my. Such a rule for life, as well as yoga, and yet I wondered at the moment of reading this essential principle, and still wonder, how many yoga people, teachers as well as students, actually keep this rule throughout their yoga hours, beginning, middle, and end. I had only been familiar with the sage's words a couple of months when I ran into a young woman I'd come to know over the previous few years, a third generation member of one of Nelson's most famous athletic families, a soccer player, a student of the weight room, lately fallen in love with yoga, and studying it at the Coast. Her teacher, she said, in his competitive and ambitious youth had broken both his knees. I asked her if she had heard of Patanjali, and yes, she had, and I gather it was from her older, wiser, instructor.
I think I actually had my first spiritual encounter with Patanjali in June of 1990, although I had no idea then of who he was and why I would eventually need to know him. I assumed that my visitor was only the usual, that is, the Holy Spirit alone. For about a week, starting on the 10th of that month, each morning as I sat in my reading in my habitual corner of the living room I experienced this very pleasant suffusion of spirit within my bones and all the rest of me which seemed to have something to do with complete physical strength, perfect agility, and a general weightlessness short of actually being lifted out of the chair.
Being human, and up to that point concerned about fitness only in terms of hiking and running, I began to wonder if I would be able to take such a feeling to the roads. From the beginning of the track, in 82, I'd had a lot of spiritual encounters over the running, but none quite like this one. And the same spirit certainly did not show up to aid me with longer and longer runs, or more frequent runs, although I think there was a nice little bit of it in September of 98, when I put in the fortnight of short jogs, limiting myself to a half-hour only, but doing it every day, and realizing that I was indeed increasing my agility. Not long after that, as I have written earlier, came the gym, John Douillard, and the growing conviction that Western Athletics could only get stupider by ignoring the physiological wisdom of Mother Asia.
Having said this, I also suspect that the Asiatic schools can only suffer by ignoring what the West has done correctly, not only in the precision of its anatomical studies, but also in all those very knowledgeable trainers that colleges and professional teams employ to keep their athletes healthy.
And then all these schools, having shaken hands at happy hour together, can sit down and really get to the basics, which means Aristotle. I quote:

And because everything which has matter is moblile, it follows that mobile being is the subject of natural philosophy. For natural philosophy is about natural things, and natural things are those whose principle is nature. For nature is a principle of MOTION and REST in that in which it is. (Capitals mine). Therefore natural science deals with those things which have in them a principle of motion.

To be perfectly honest, this excerpt from the beginning of Aristotle's 'Physics" has actually come through Thomas Aquinas' commentary on that text, but of course the plain sense is not interfered with, nor the depth of the original vision diminished. And to be honest even further, let me admit that it took me some months - I've owned the book since the spring, I think - to find that pairing of motion and rest and be struck by its significance to my still on-going search for the various stretches esssential to my personal tights spots.
A different dosha than mine might be quicker to latch on to it. But I'm a pitta at any kind of physical exertion, to the degree that in order to educate me properly, the Holy Spirit is utterly ruthless, under the terms of his decades old contract with the mature mystic, and simply refuses to give me either physical comfort or a calm and creative mind at any point where I try too much or too quickly. I get a little room for trial and error, of course, just as a compass needle gets to swing a bit before it settles down and points north, but no more than that, before any sense of being centred is completely taken away.
This really happened over the weekend, following the first few sentences of this post, as I was getting better and better at understanding how to use my waking up at night to perfect the effects of the child pose, that which I finally realized was the real key to most, if not all, the problems brought on by the recent months of hard walking and a lot of sitting to read or write without enough stretch smarts.
A hard, straight, floor, with or without a yoga mat, will of course tell you more accurately about some muscle capacities than a slightly sinking mattress will, but the experience of these last few weeks of exploring this most comfortable and stable of options has convinced me that to ignore the natural genius of mattress yoga is to miss a huge essential. I may be waxing on over this concept for a while.
For anyone who does not know what the child's pose is, understand that it is simply a position in which you kneel on your shins, lower legs together, and fold your torso over your thighs, tucked up somewhat like a child in the womb, with your head resting on your fists stacked on top of each other. This for starters. As you stretch, your head naturally drops right down to the mattress and then you can put your arms any which way they are inclined to take themselves. It is the best place I know of to start gentle push ups, for example.
Most of us started life in a bed. It's as good a place as any to start getting into real shape, which always includes finding the balance between effort and comfort.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spiritual Fact , Spirtual Fiction

So, there she be. Chapter seven, up and running. That which was, by decisions of more publishers than I care to name, in higher places than I care to name, hidden from the eyes of the general, and even the theological, public, for a full couple of decades and more. Nice to see her out on her own, rambling through any part of the universe that can boast of an Internet hook up. It's hard to think of the computer communications network being any more energetic, lucid, and useful than Saint Paul of Tarsus, but it does get to zip around and about the universe quicker than he could. It took him years to get to Rome from the Levant. I get there - or anywhere - from the Kootenays as quick as click of a mouse. Can communications in Heaven be any faster?
Chapter seven was written in July, I think, in 1980, and it was unique amongst the first seven chapters in that it was not entirely fictional. All the characters up to that point, and therefore all the events, insofar as the events resided in characters, were, simply, made up. This does not mean that the spiritual events had not in essence occurred. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Spiritual events have been the norm of my life since I was a child, albeit not as regular then, nor as intense, and on reflecting on my mature years I can only say that my greatest difficulty as a story teller is to accept that ten times the quantity of fiction I have been allowed to write would be still only a fraction of the daily hum and rumble of the Almighty in my existence. The winter and spring of 1957 was no exception, and the story of its own self would be adventurous enough; and yet, in the peculiar way that those born to the novel have to think, I was moved to invent a framework, if only because I knew I was to be a novelist before I knew I had also to write an autobiography.
The essential elements of the Brock basement episode did indeed happen. There was a young man who dropped in while I was writing, and the job in the Chilcotin-Homathko wilderness did arise out of the endless inspirations of those days. But there was no Thurman Engineering in charge of the dam survey, and the young man did not go on into films, but into teaching college English, a noble programme from which he has recently retired. He came down to see me in the Pub rooms regularly, before he went off to his own summer job - I think timber cruising that year - for I already knew him quite well, and we did go up to the dear old Brock caf regularly for coffee. I think he was intrigued to see an aspiring novelist at work, and I was acquiring an increasing fondness for him and his friends, who were probably the most genuinely aesthetically conscious students I'd yet to meet. The university newspaper group were wonderfully interesting, but they were for the most part inclined to journalistic thinking with its inevitable passion for politics. These things, like the law, are necessary and useful, and certainly not without drama, but they are not equivalent to poetry and those who think they are inevitably wind up coarsened by their own convictions. The young man and his cronies also knew well the young lady I was to run into eight months later, and this would have added a mysterious, very well hidden, element to the mystique of it all. The spirits were enormously active, and enormously provocative to deep thinking; and trying to write the truth rather than according to a slickly positive, or tediously pessimistic, formula, without any other pressure from work or outwardly imposed study programme, contributed infinitely to helping them along. I knew I didn't have much of a plot, and I also knew I was seriously short of a vocabulary complete enough to describe all that I was experiencing, but I had every confidence that if I plugged along on my present route I would find both in their own good time.
I was not yet keeping a journal, so I don't know the precise date of my one sunny morning rising from the typewriter to walk over to the student employment hut. It was toward the end of April, that I do know. I walked through the door and swiftly found a sheet of paper, tacked on the notice board, asking for the lesser bodies for a survey crew, chain men and axe men, that was to spend the summer in the Homathko watershed, entering through the western Cariboo. There was another location offered to, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but I was so charged by the thunderous coincidence of the Cariboo opportunity that it is possible that had all the places there been taken up, I might not have been at all interested in the Island job.
For a full year- a long time in the life of a twenty-one-year-old - I had been running on intuition, and that had served me very well, so well that I regularly wondered when it might all come crashing down and leave me back in my old, at least externally, rather chained estate. My father had even ventured to warn me, when I asked for a meeting to explain why I had left law school, that I might never find another job, and of course the devil loved to use that line of reasoning in the days - or rather nights - when I had left the law buildings and was totally devoted to studying on my own. I don't think my Dad really believed his own threats, because he knew his oldest son was simply too energetic and too smart to ever be "out of work" except by his own choice. But he had his dreams, and I was busy kicking the crap out of them. I think this had started the day I decided to join the Ubyssey and had been furthered by my joining the staff at the Vancouver Sun, the newspaper of the unions. (It was also owned by Catholics, the Cromie family, but whether or not this figured in those parts of his mind which were still Scots-Irish I do not know.) Also, for a man who had never really passed through high school, whatever the education the army conferred on him during the war because he was, by nature, actually a good teacher, he had an enormously irregular estimation of himself as a student of psychology through his study, as by then a personnel manager, of the texts related to that very low level of analysis of the human predicament.
And now here was the Cariboo, falling in my lap. The Cariboo, with its profoundly evocative history in the family, even though I had never seen that part of the province's Interior. The Okanagan, yes, especially the northern parts, and with some rambling into the very south in the weeks with the railway mail car that passed through Kamloops. But not the Cariboo, the setting of the first inflaming episode in the legends my grandfather told me, heard when I was still a tyke; or the location of my father's famous summer when he was twelve and his dad was developing a gold mine; and, finally, the scene, in the very northern part, of Rich Hobson's "Grass Beyond the Mountains", the story of his founding of a ranch south of Vanderhoof, the only book which ever tempted me to run away from home. The only situation of any kind, for that matter, which shows that I basically had it pretty good under my parents' roof, until it was time to leave it.
I never thought of it then as a kind of perfect revenge, on God's part, of the paternal nonsense. But I did see it as an enormous confirmation, to me, of the rectitude of my professional choices, and I was delighted when the man behind the desk, a very pleasant gentleman named John Hicks, signed my up for the adventure of a life-time.
Because I had barely studied any philosophy, and in real fact nothing like the core of a sound Thomistic or Scholastic programme, my then entire search for proofs of God's existence were - I can call them now - Existential. Saint Francis de Sales, as I was to learn some years later, says that the will of God is scarce known except by events. I sometimes believed, then, that the existence of God was scarce known except by events, and the Homathko job was just that sort of event.
What else could it be? The previous summer, I'd experienced the sense of my life as a complete failure unless I was able to spend one more summer working in the woods. This from reading one of Hemingway's short stories. It was a warning, a promise, and Mr. Hick's offering was the fulfillment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Eric Tuttle's Dojo Shoes

Too bad the current financial crisis cannot be fixed as easily as my left ankle.
Not that the foot is totally all right again, but, as alluded to in Post 41, I went from 0 to 60 about as quickly as it can be done, and carried on for two more days of ten miles each. That should take care of a pound of tummy lard, although the results won't really show until the cell exchanges are complete and my body stops retaining water. I've found it quite amazing, how much fluid the system holds for repair work. Just in an ordinary day, or even a day without much physical activity, the average difference between the scale before bed and the scale before breakfast - actually before juice and coffee, as I'm at that much too early for Cook to expected to wrassle the bacon and tomatoes - is two whole pounds. These statistics were learned over and over again in the jogging summer of 2006. And given certain conditions like a very heavy workout, or successive days of heavy workout, especially if one has laid in a lot of animal protein, the difference can be much greater. Just recently I registered an evening-morning difference of six pounds. That's one of a kind, but four pounds or so is not that difficult to come by.
So what brought on the sore foot?
High heels.
You thought this was just a female problem? Or, if male, happened only to cowboys who got separated from their horses a long way from the ranch?
Uh uh. It happened to your friendly neighbourhood common walker. Not spikes, of course, nor those cuban things my mother-in-law looked so good in, but good old-fashioned rear ends of a very nice pair of walking shoes. I had just been thinking how much I appreciated my Dunhams on the return of wet weather and the putting away of my sports sandals. My Dunhams are full of support, a kind of little truck disguised as a Toyota Camri, just the thing for ambling along at a moderate speed.
But legging it out for the best part of 20 miles at four knots? Maybe not, unless, as I learned yesterday morning while taking on the 5.5 mile lake shore route, you redesign your running style.
The thing is, we were not born with shoes on. And there's a very good chance that Adam would never have worn the things. Moreover, after the Garden of Eden, mankind went barefoot. I've just read that blacks have a higher incidence of high blood pressure. Does their recent introduction to footwear have something to do with this? They haven't had the millenniums of genetic adaptation? This is only speculation, of course, but no one can deny that nothing drops a sense of stress at the end of the day like taking off a pair of shoes.
And shoes have heels. Especially modern jogging shoes, built for the miles of pavement that most joggers pound in their workouts. Of course if you just jog on those springy heels, and don't walk as I do in order to stick to my nasal breathing regime, you don't put the foot through all those complicated moves it takes to walk. Any dumb foot can run, because it's a kind of just putting one slab in front of another. That's an oversimplification, of course, but it makes the point that if you really want to make your feet think, take them for a walk, especially a long one, in a pair of shoes that are actually built the same way your foot is, with a heels of the shoe not only the same thickness as the soles, but rounded at the back like the natural heel of the foot.
Ah, you say, but that's basically the old fashioned running shoe, those things we all had to wear before they copied basketball shoes and gave everybody arch supports and a fair amount of cushioning. Nobody even makes those any more, do they?
Yes, they do. In China, for the Tai Chi people, who, you are no doubt aware, can be very extraordinary athletes, and much too clever to chose the wrong kind of foot wear.
I first met these humble little shoes in 2002, when MT and I joined Eric Tuttle's seven a.m. chi gong and tai chi sessions. Chen style. Demanding stuff, and away out of any practical hopes of my attainment, but I was fascinated by Eric's stillness doing Wu Chi in the Summit Gym, actually disturbed by not knowing what he meant when he talked about paying attention to the deeper muscles, and further impressed by the commitment of the Traditional Chinese Medicine students turning up five mornings a week for an extra hour of class. I began the class in jogging shoes. Pretty funny, when you look back, but the best I had at the moment. Eric quite quickly took pity on me and offered to sell me his spare set. And it was a bargain price. You could buy four pairs of Feiwues for the price of my road shoes.
I had to put my Birkenstock arch insets in the Feiwues, of course. The narrow heel took a little time to get used to, but the body can learn to re-balance and I started using the dojo shoes in the gym as well, both for tossing weights and running on the treadmill. Anyone who really understands the musculo-skeletal system will realize that I made a brilliant choice.
Unfortunately, as I see it now, I did not make the same brilliant choice when I returned to the "track", as it were, in 2006. Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone go to dojo shoes exclusively and throw away their high-tech joggers. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time and place for everything. But walking and jogging in old-fashioned running shoes is an education in how our feet, designed by God Himself, actually were meant to work.
This is how it was.
On the Sunday evening, with 20 miles behind me, and my Personal Trainer obviously cranking me into orbit, with an early supper and the dishes therefore early done behind me, I decided to hit the road once again, to pile on some extra mileage. I had an hour before the weather report - to be followed by Chief Inspector Morse - and that should be good for another four miles. So I zipped out to the porch and climbed into my Dunhams. Hah. As soon as my foot hit the floor, my ankle screamed in agony. I recalled the times I had sprained it, it was that bad.
You could say I'd had my warning. Recall that I said I squatted down to study Coyote. He was indeed a message from First Nations wisdom. They wore moccasins, remember? Low Heels.
As Coyote moved on and I started straightening up, my ankle hurt like hell. But I was able to sort it out by walking on the side of my foot and extensive use of the Chicken Walk that Eric Tuttle demonstrated for MT and me one afternoon in the gym.
The Chicken Walk is a Shing Ye thing, where you stroll across the room with your butt as close to the ground as you can set it, and still actually walk. (Keep your spine straight and as vertical as possible.) It was not part of any course we were doing with Eric, but I think he was hit with a bolt of at least Buddhist lightning and inspired to put on an impromptu demonstration for our unique benefit. Eric did not stroll, actually. He shot across the room like a rooster putting the run on Brer Fox. Man, just think of his quads. Also, think of how it eased my pain by stretching my Achilles and the calf muscles.
Now, about a week or ten days before the dilemma of the painful ankle, the Lord had done two things. For about half-an-hour, he took away any and all mystical burdens, leaving his merely human servant with so much natural energy that the servant thought he must go mad if he could not find some way to spend it. And within 48 hours He also provoked a memory of the dojo shoes, which had been used a couple of months earlier to ease lower back pain brought on by, believe it or not, the not especially high heels of the sports sandals. Still, they were high enough, after my sledge hammer assault on the stump, to give me an awful cramp in the glutes, which also went into the good old always vulnerable sacrum, but which also could be nicely dealt with by going about in bare feet. I did this around the house, back in the summer, and out on the street wore the Feiwues. Everything settled down very nicely, and with my growing knowledge of physiology I began to realize that man-made heels, for all their good intentions, interfered with the normal stretching design of the muscles in the back of the leg, from the Achilles tendon to the gluteus maximus, and now that I come to think of it, probably with the plantar tendons and muscles as well.
What a difference an inch makes, but I actually forgot this rule of thumb, or, more precisely, the heel as its Original Designer intended it to function, and had to once again learn the hard way. I really do hope this is the final lesson of this problem.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Walks of October

Well, the schedule I've been looking for since the beginning of January has finally, I think, arrived. And with it, I might add, not a few very interesting memories. It's getting close to the Canadian Thanksgiving, which in my particular recollections reminds me of the weekend trip to Victoria that did so much to precipitate my first, profoundly useful, withdrawal from law school. To be perfectly truthful, I have for some time wondered if the actual weekend were not a little later, because the big decision began to be made on the Sunday night of the return to Vancouver of myself and my roommate, I'm now fairly sure; but it's this time of the year that brings the memories to mind, and the spirit of the celebration is more important than the date recalled.
Now, as then, I have shifted priorities, and it has given me a very pleasant sense of freedom. For five months, so driven was I by the sense of need of the reform of music education, the blog has loomed every day as my first active duty. (Active as opposed to contemplative, or all the necessary operations of passive prayer.) With the weekend this has changed, because I have decided, or more accurately, been given the grace to decide, that my prime duty for the weeks ahead was walking for the sake of getting my weight down. I have indeed managed to lose eight or so pounds since my visit to my intended surgeon, at the end of December, but I feel that this is not enough, and of course the threats of high blood pressure justify the removal as soon as possible of more fat.
When I graduated from high school I weighed 150 pounds. I weighed the same after four years at UBC and for the next decades only weighed more when I had gained muscle from working at weight bearing occupations. I was still an eleven stone or 250 kilos chap in 1982 when I had my appendix operation. When you average seven miles of walking a day, spread over morning, afternoon, and evening, it's not easy loosing the lean. But with Shawn going to the museum in 83, and MT taking over housekeeping duties, the walking suffered. Then there was the car, acquired in 86, which made things worse from the fitness point of view.
So the battle of the bulge was on, and I struggled, actually quite successfully, with staying in the lower 160's, albeit with a second-hand scale which lied, although we did not catch on to the full extent of its fibbing until we bought a new one, battery-powered, which told the grim truth to the nearest half-pound. There was also the gym scale, which measured the nice acquisition of muscle weight in 2000, but you can't stand on that one wearing only the glasses you need for reading the numbers, unless you own the place and can go in when no one else is around. And other stuff demanded concentration, like the music research, the steady growth of the various plots, and the study of alternate schools of fitness and medicine. I always had in mind the simple fact that if I could just get into a regular schedule of adequate mileage, the lard would slip away in a relatively short period of time, but I could never quite get to such a program until the summer of 2000.
Now I knew, absolutely, as mystics have to know, that it was not simply a matter of human will power. When your principal purpose on earth is contemplative prayer, even 20 pounds here and there is all but irrelevant. Compared to most men still active, I had nothing but time, in the physical sense, for walking off the baggage, and yet there was more to it than that, for I seemed to have to go through a routine that included jogging, even if it meant hurting my joints to the degree that insisted on fuller studies of the musculo-skeletal details I was not always eager to learn. So, stop and start from June of 06 to March of 07, and the pounds were once more losing ground. But then the final understanding of the absolute rule of numbers as applied to music theory and practice, and then nine months of a lot of energy for the keyboard and not much for the open road of the dedicated walker, to say nothing of the return to writing via, finally for me, the new and lovely wrinkles of the word processor.
Frankly, I ignored the bathroom scale in those nine months and ate a lot of my own extremely healthy homemade bread, and drank a fair bit of my excellent - Capuchin approved - homemade beer, in the wee smalls of the morning while I kept exploring the gaps, on the keyboard, between my lovely, exciting, theories, and my much less lovely grasp of good scale studies and the perfect sense of fingering needed to go with them. It was not especially creative work, in the main, and I knew the beer would help me hang in there until I got a message or two. I also knew that the beer would hand some extra cells around the waistline, and I was right. By the time the good doctor gave my marching orders, literally, I was peaking - and paunching - at a svelte 177.
Thus, at four in the morning, sometime in the first week of the New Year, I felt myself kicked out of bed, and not for the rubber keyboard under the earphones, but for the streets of Nelson. There had been snow, but the city lads had the roads plowed. I worked out an uphill route, in the center of the old town, which is where we have lived these many years, but then settled for the Fairview route, going east on a gentle downhill grade to the last north-south street on that side of the town, then coming in parallel to the lake shore and home through the main intersection of Ward and Baker. A little over an hour. I got out about four times a week or so, and started losing around half-a-pound every fortnight or even less. I endured a finishing course on water retention - you think mood swings are bad - and also began, largely due to those nine months of leisure, to register quite sore feet. Well, I assumed it was just the leisure. More on that later.
As the jogging had earlier, painfully, illuminated my ignorance about the effect on the knees of tight quads, the front muscles of the thigh, so this walking programme began to teach me that I had been quite neglectful of the physiology of the feet. My arches became so sore that I went to our orthotics man to ask for an increase in the dimensions of the insets I've worn for the past dozen years. He skilfully prodded my extremities and said what I needed was not fatter insets but a better application of calf stretches. I had planter fasciaitis. He demonstrated the cure, and I began to make it work, although not to full effect. And, fortunately, MT had some months earlier begun to lay in texts related to the study of fascia.
I think this step marks the beginning of the end of the process, although I do not yet have total control of the effects on my feet. Yesterday morning I decided, or was moved to decide, that I would begin a ten-mile-a-day schedule. By far the most important part of this decision was to insist to myself and anyone else that the walking was the new priority. Even the blog could go to hell. If the ten miles left me too tired, so what? Besides, with the latest economic crisis, the world might need to relearn how to walk.
Even though my left ankle was giving me a little trouble, I thought, from some new stretches, I made my goal, in two rambles. MT left me to myself for the second. The ankle was even worse this morning, and as I came out on the street after Mass I felt like Saint Teresa of Avila the time her carriage collapsed while the horse was pulling it and her across a creek. "Lord," she said, "if this is how to treat your friends, no wonder You have so few." I was in a like frame of mind. If I've been so mentally set up to get cracking on the conclusion, why the sudden breakdown? The ankle had been fine for weeks. I stayed puzzled for about three blocks, then hit upon the solution, which was to extend the left leg as I walked, forcing it to be the leading limb. This worked instantly, and after the customary muffin at the coffee shop in the hotel on the lake shore, I left the ladies to walk the few blocks home on their own and took off for another two hours, rain or no rain, going east within constant view of the lake to Horlick's Point, the end of the road at that part of town. It's mostly bush out there, and only a few hundred yards along the return, I spotted a youngish coyote, down on the CPR tracks. I squatted down and we studied each other for a while, then he went on his way. Unlike Saruman, I like to pay attention to the animals. I'd say the coyote was a sign that it's going to be a very good month. In this part of the world, Coyote was an enormous symbol to the natives.
Then for a while I had the company of a border collie. Black and white, like the sons of Saint Dominic. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican. He had a phrase I've always loved: sufficient distinctions. I'll publish this now, as it is long enough, and the next installment will tell of that principle as applied to a perfect curing of my podiatrist problems, which surfaced hugely while I was in the middle of this essay.