Friday, May 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Hernias

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
The first hernia happened, as I said earlier, in the spring of 82. That was the "worst" part. The best part was actually some best parts, plural, because a little later, as the month of May was moving on, "Chariots of Fire" came to town and I was inspired to take up running. "I'm an actor," I thought, but all those guys hammering so happily along that beach make me feel as if I'm a very lazy actor. As I also said, I was averaging about fifty miles a week walking at this time, so my self assessment was not all that accurate, but that is how I felt. Besides, after the hernia, I knew I needed to get stronger. And as any good physiotherapist can tell you, running creates such strong lower back muscles that you have to do abdominal exercises to equalize. I knew how to do sit-ups.
My journals tell me that this is the anniversary of my first run, and for a guy who already walked that much I was cautious to a fault. A total of six quarter-mile laps, half of those walking. I felt really good, and remembered being eleven on Lasqueti, jog-walking down the road to my new friend's place because the six or seven mile journey that my brother and I had set out on one sunny Saturday morning was going to take forever if we just walked. Being able to stop and start the running part as we liked made the process very likable, and of course trotting on gravel between two walls of trees made it even better. It occurs to me that I'd like to do that road again, this time from end to end. Maybe when I'm rich and famous.
This hernia has also won an Oscar in its role as a blessing in disguise.
Most of the credit goes to MT and her almost three decades of reading and research, but ordinary medicine also gets its share. The machinery registered the high systolic/diastolic numbers - on two separate visits - the anesthetist canceled the surgery, and my family doctor told me about sodium. He also measured my blood pressure and found it at 160/105. Going down?
Having had a cast iron garburetor for a stomach as a young man, I had proceeded into middle age without interest in hearing one word of caution about salt, and carried on after both my wife and our cook both stopped putting salt on their meals. (MT has always included a sufficient quantity of NaCl in her cooking, either sea or rock salt.) I can't say I wasn't given good example, and I can't say I didn't have the opportunity of an excellent research library. And I also have memories of various little irritations that started landing on my body in the 80s, so now I have to ponder the degree to which they were caused by too much sodium. The unwanted concentration of sodium also partly explains why my body would suddenly be so happy to profoundly augment its water intake over this past week. For a pitta, salt is already heating, so too much of it is simply pouring salt into an already existing wound.
Last night I had the first meal of my life, other than porridge or pancakes or such, on which I did not sprinkle or grind out a liberal helping of salt. I can't say that I missed the stuff.
But when I was telling this saga this morning one of the clerks at the food co-op, she told me she has low blood pressure - it runs in the family - and that she loves salt and can eat all she wants.
Different folks have different ways of avoiding strokes.
I must admit that it's been a somewhat anxious week, and now I feel like a man just let out of prison, or maybe the hospital. And that's good, because thanks to my piano lab rat's enthusiasm to one of her principals about her grandpa's music methods, I have a business luncheon happening on Monday. Hayley insisted that the lady wanted to meet me, I went to her office, and the meeting was set. From another granddaughter who lives here, who intends to summer school Spanish at this quite new establishment, I then learned that this school is in the process of setting up its services, thanks to the computer, on an international basis. This information also given in the co-op this morning. Nelson is just that kind of town.
Now let's do some music, if only to celebrate.

With the guitar. I've made another break-through with the keyboard, thanks to Hayley's pushing on - never get too serious about lesson plans - but this success once again raises the question of massive publishing ventures, so I need to think about what to say about it. Besides, in Guatemala, Vladivostok, etc., more kids have guitars than pianos. I have no idea how balalaikas are tuned, but they have to be tuned according to the numbers, so the theory applies to them too. You should hear MT doing her numbers on our octave mandolin.

We left off at 3 and I later mentioned 4 and 5, but I didn't nail the relevant frets. Some people figured that out, of course. But for those who didn't, let it be understood that, to repeat, 3 is stopped at the 4th fret, 4 is stopped at the 5th fret, and 5 is stopped at the 7th fret.
So now we have our first 1/2 tone, the one-fret space between 3 and 4. This tells us that we are using the major scale, in this case the E major scale. If you want to understand and even hear the essential difference between the major and minor scale, simply play all five numbers the same way you have learned them except the 3. The 3 for the minor scale you play on the 3rd fret instead of the 4th. This puts that critical half-tone a fret lower. As you can see, or rather, hear, the resulting sound has a very different effect on the musical emotions.
But back to E major. You can either play the second part of "Three Blind Mice" on 5 down to 3, or else you can really launch out and play all of "The fox went out on a chilly night" on just those five notes. There are not many songs that have only a five note range, but that old folk tune that I learned from a Harry Belafonte album is one of them.
If you're already slick with the first five notes of the E minor scale, then try "Hangman, hangman, slack your noose" if you know it. It simply goes up the scale, and then comes down. A simpler challenge than "Joy to the World", which uses all eight notes, and only in order in the beginning.
Or, if you don't feel up to playing tunes, or you don't know the songs I've mentioned, simply carry on with your backwoods counterpoint. That good old second string, the B, just keeps on putting out as the harmony line for 3, 4, and 5. And thus all the way up to the upper tonic, or 1, if you feel inspired to keep going.
The 7th fret gets you note 5, to repeat, the 9th gets you 6, the 11th gets you 7, and the 12th gets you the upper 1. We are still in the major scale.
For E minor, the other half-tone comes between notes 5 and 6, which means that 6 will fall on fret 8 and 7 will fall on fret 10. The upper 1, once again, falls on the 12th fret.This is the E minor natural scale. Forget, for now, all that melodic and harmonic minor crap that the conservatories, or at least the scale books, shove at the poor beginning student.
The B string functions as the 5th just the same. Them as invented music were obviously a lot brighter than so many of those who teach it, especially when those who teach it, or publish it, try to tell you that there are no songs in the natural minor scales.
Computers have speakers and sound now, don't they? I might get to record again. I did quite a bit of that in 71, and MT even cut a number, although not with me. This all happened at Nelson's first venture into recording studios, where a number of friends of mine and another forty or so musicians created a folk music program for the local radio station. The program ran for eight months and the studio kept on for some years. We almost got a contract with CBC Radio in Vancouver, but to do so we would have had to move there. None of us had any reasons to move to Vancouver and we all had good reasons to stay in the Kootenays.
Now we see one of the more mysterious reasons starting to make sense.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


We need another correction, this time not of the spelling of a name, but of a blood pressure rating. The second reading of the bottom, or diastolic, figure was not 116, but 113. I don't recall the top, or systolic figure accurately because, as I said, the whole process was entirely unfamiliar to me and I had no understanding of what the figures meant, even though I had much taken to heart the example Dr. John Douillard - the Body, Mind, and Sport author - had spoken of in his own moment of confessing that he also had received a stunning surprise over his own blood pressure count, even after he'd mastered his daily schedule, so he thought,via ayurvedic medical wisdom.
The medical profession, in its own defense, might conclude that I have, for a self-professed intellectual, simply been a very lazybones, a perfect sloth, when it came to the question of home study of health questions. There most certainly are a lot of books out there, and apparently I have nothing but time for reading them. Why so late the inspiration to suddenly come on like Albert Schweitzer?
And late it is, for between actually starting this post and then getting called for breakfast, I managed, in my ignorance and inexperience, to get "diastolic" and "systolic" mixed up. Not an unreasonable mistake when you realize that it was only two mornings ago, discussing these issues with my third music method "lab rat", the remarkable Shelby Tett, that I for the first time heard those scientific terms used in any meaningful context. It reminds me of my initiation into the computer world, when I finally had to think about the lingo that I had happily ignored for so many years. Among Shelby's many attributes is a degree in food science from the University of Queensland in Australia. The only way to a clear understanding of my predicament is to blame God. It's all right. Go ahead, he really is big enough to take it.
You see, I made the choice when I was a mere ten years old, and it was via God's methods of inspiration and clarifying things.
I wasn't always stupid about medical matters.
Because of the war, our family moved a lot, as I have said before, so that by the time I was in the second half of my grade five year, I had changed schools ten times. None of these changes hurt my reading habits. On the contrary, they presented me with a great variety of school libraries and their boyhood treasures. In Nova Scotia I discovered fairy tales, in Ontario, King Arthur, Captains Courageous, Glengarry School Days, and Penrod. But the moving around never allowed me to find out that I was head-of-the-class material, and I'm not so sure I would have been especially delighted anyway, because my idea of success was to own a ranch with a lot of horses, or maybe become a professional athlete.
But by Hallowe'en of 1945 we were back in Vancouver, or more accurately, Burnaby, living on Jersey Avenue, a block below the wading pool in Central Park. We were four, then quickly five when my youngest brother was born early in December, and we were living with my father's parents, holding down three rooms on their upper floor and having the run of the rest of the house and three-quarters of an acre of garden and a big chicken house. I was enrolled at Inman Avenue School, where my father and aunt had known all their elementary schooling. I learned a lot of songs, via the young man who could read piano music and sing out, but also, after the set of class exams the grade fives sat to, it turned out that I had the highest mark in the anatomy test. I had quite honestly become fascinated by the orderly structure of the skeleton, worked hard, without realizing I was working, at the medical terms for all those bones, and aced the exam. And then it turned out that I had had led the class overall in other subjects as well.
Then a few weeks later we moved to Lasqueti Island, 60 miles north of Vancouver, so my Dad could log with horses and make his last bid to be his own boss.
My new school, Tucker Bay, had less than a dozen students and a very pleasant middle-aged lady presided over the room. Her surname was Tucker too, but only coincidentally. The island had been named after some big wig in the British navy. The school was a mile-and-a-half away from our house and barn and field. I learned to ride a bike over the first two days in the new home and either rode or walked for the next year-and-half along a gravel road between two walls of trees that ran unbroken by any sort of building until I got to the school yard. The middle brother - whom I just called to wish happy birthday - joined me in the fall.
Had it not been for Mrs Tucker, would I have become a doctor? Probably not, because I think that to actually become a doctor or a nurse you have to actually like hospitals. The only way I can like a hospital is to meditate aggressively, before I have to visit one, on the necessity and charity of the medical profession.
Whether it was in the last weeks of grade five or the first of six I can never be clear on, but it was in that section of my life that I encountered the next phase of the writer's apprenticeship, after a sheer love for words and stories itself, through the office of my teacher's happily realizing that the language text then in vogue for British Columbia schools was not my real cup of tea. It was long on cartoons of dancing commas and so on, and short on accurate definitions.
She went to the small shelf of books on the wall behind the school's wood burning heater and brought back the first day of the rest of my life. It was the standard complete syntax text for elementary schools in the province of Alberta, published in 1937, the year after I was born. I opened it up to find a masterpiece of common sense. "A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing." And so on. I never looked back, but I also never forgot Mrs Tucker, and whenever my friends in the world of culture get too high on the hobby horse that insists that our neighbour to the east is the most redneck province in the country, the West Texas of Canada, I bring out the tale of the grammar book.
Stephen Harper can't be totally bad, but like so many people he's only going to get better if he takes up Dr B's water book. There is excellent advice in there, as a matter of fact, for asthmatics.
How many parts of speech are there? Eight, I think, if you include interjections.
YBMCFW uses the same number for the schedule of physiological priorities for water use when the supply in the body is inadequate. This is built into us in order for us to be able to survive droughts and lesser predicaments such as being stupid about the difference between simple water and all the other stuff we drink. Water has to do with preserving life, or even with just living it properly, while the other stuff is mostly about self-gratification and entertainment. These are not bad in themselves, but nobody ever died from lack of coffee, tea, Coca Cola or Johnny Walker. They didn't even get heartburn from foregoing those pleasantries.
So in the body's self-protective hierarchy for water utility, the list goes thus: brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, glands first, although as I understand it also in a kind of descending priority; and then muscles, bones, and skin. (Models and actresses might like it the other way round, but there it is.)
It was for this reason that I was excited on Monday to find out that the skin on my thumb I had sliced on Friday with the grass shears was healing faster than skin wounds generally have been for the past several years. Since then too, as my body starts to rehydrate itself to the originally designated level, I find my lips the sensitive indicators of real thirst they are supposed to be.
Interesting, how finely the Creator tuned his prototype. This first came to my notice with BM and S, after I began reading the directions and jogged with my mouth totally shut, breathing both in and out through the nose. I'm a pitta, I was a member of the track team, and I'd had the 220 K in mind for a long time, so naturally I pushed my luck. Creation had the perfect response: after a few too many yards of jogging at a time, even pretty slow jogging, my nose would start to sting. Just in the right nostril.
Aha! So that's how some of the old rishis found out some of this stuff. Neither the lotus or any other position seems very connected with track and field, but perhaps back in the old days some of them ran down game like the Tarahumaras in northern Mexico. And maybe if they'd kept on running down through the centuries I wouldn't have had to find out all this the hard way.
And maybe, just maybe, the prevention of illness would be so effective that the cure wouldn't be so expensive that it endangers the economic balances of society.
By the way, as of yesterday morning, after an early walk, the weight is 170.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Longest Way Round

These days at least it seems impossible to go from A to B in a straight line. But this must be for a good reason. I had every intention of spelling out - or, more accurately, counting out - the next mini-scale, or note pattern, which is three, four, five.
What? you say. We've already had three.
Yes, but only as the top note of the first pattern, one, two, three. Now it's task is to be the bottom or first note in three, four, five. But more of that in a moment.
Yesterday morning I walked up to the hospital and got the shock of my life. The nurse was assigned to take my blood pressure and otherwise ask me questions and give me instructions about how to prepare for my hernia operation in June. Somewhere in the past three years of renos to house and yard I popped the stomach wall at the bottom of my tummy. This time on the right side, whereas back in 82, before I took up jogging, I did it on the left, but not on my own property. On that occasion I was on Little Theatre duty, carrying with another actor or the director a heavy little cast iron heater down three flights of stairs. The heater was to be part of the set at "Monkswell Manor", the location for Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap". I was Major Matthews, that is, the Scotland Yard man, in disguise. Ripping good fun, especially as I was directed by a former student, part of my last grade seven class, which I had run through Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar".
There is, by the way, living in Nelson a man whose grandfather built St. Martin's, the theatre where the Mousetrap had its record London run. You see what sort of town this is, and why its detractors wind up looking silly.
The shock came as I read the number on the bottom side of the pair of figures. 107, I think it was. The nurse was as surprised as I was, so after all the paper work, she fired up the apparatus again. Twenty minutes at least had gone by, and this time it read 116. Even more worrisome, and I was told to call my GP for an appointment out of which I would get a prescription for something that would lower the figure. I said I would, and I did, as soon as I got home - it's only a four block ramble from the hospital to our house, and actually the tenants just previous to us were three or four nurses, for reason of the location. My GP's receptionist quite cheerfully told me not to worry, as often a mere visit to the hospital could cause the stress that would drive the figures higher than they would be otherwise. But she did schedule an appointment, for exactly a week hence.
I didn't know anything about hypertension because I've never had to see a doctor about it. So when the nurse told me what to do I also knew I would bring up the subject to MT.
She immediately dove into her extensive library, which pretty well dominates the east wall in her little cell, and came up with "Your Body's Many Cries For Water", by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D., my present choice for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. She found the relevant chapter, 6, said a few pertinent words, and left me to read. She is still rebuilding part of the garden and anyway had already spent quite a lot of time trying to get me to listen up to Dr. B.
I've had the sense of one day sitting down to digest him page by page, simply because of earlier instruction from her, plus some interesting proof of the unique purposes of water I'd realized on my own, but I hadn't yet got around to it. But now the alarming surprise made me utterly co-operative. I read until I not only got to first base, but also knew I was finally in the right ball park. I also immediately drank two full 16-ounce beer jugs full of water. And a little later, a third one.
I had asked the nurse if my weekend assault on the big spruce stump had anything to do with this news on my blood pressure. She said probably not, and for the moment, I accepted her opinion. She was a very nice young lady and in every other respect, competent. She may, in the long run, be right about the stump and my six hours in two days with a 12-pound sledge and some really effective splitting wedges. But I doubt it, although not because she was personally at fault. From how thorough she was I suspect that if she didn't graduate at the top of the class, she was close to it. She simply graduated from the current schooling, which still has much to learn about how the body heals itself if it is only co-operated with intelligently.
But I'll give you the facts, the evidence, the documentation as I understand it.
As I said, I took up jogging in 82, trotted an average of 15 miles a week until 98 - this in addition to two daily walks - and read whatever literature seemed useful. The West Point Fitness book, Sheehan, Spino, Fixx and a woman author very good on jog/walking. Then in 2000, John Douillard and the radical principals of ayurveda. I've even sketched some novel on the basis of some of this last information and of course kept researching myself, with a constant supply of help from the big personal trainer in the sky, although some of it took me a long time to understand.
Is Dr. B the last major expert I have needed to find before any attempt at the 140 miles? My journals tell me I was thinking precisely of this loop in 1983.
You see, after the most recent battle with Bruce the Spruce, in his truncated situation, I kept having a sore lower back from Sunday to Thursday. No amount of pelvic tilt walking took it away, nor my recently discovered ability to cross my right leg over my left when I'm sitting in my chair. I've sat the other way since I was a kid. It's an excellent stretch, the lotus for Westerners, but only if you do it both ways. Doing it one way has left me with a chronic stiff, short, right hamstring plus all the tightness you could ask for in the glutes and any other right side muscles affected by such negligence.
But yesterday at ten a.m. I downed my three jugs, took another litre outside and went back to rendering Bruce. Another three hours, and great progress. MT's brother comes by with his truck tomorrow to take away the very burnable wood so far. I kept knocking back the jugs of Adam's Ale all day, added a pint of Heineken at supper time. (Had to check the spelling, and also to drain the last four ounces out of one of those neat little 5l kegs. Technology, when it's on the right track, is great stuff.)
You see, as we learned from Ayurveda, I am largely a Pitta in my physiology's attitude toward work and sports, but I have a Vata cooling system, which lets me work or run in the heat because I sweat like a racehorse in August at Santa Anita.
When I went back to making running the priority in 2006 I was aware of all this and always drank lots of water when I ran. One of the reasons, of course, why I was so successful in losing weight.
But I don't think I applied this science all that well to the stump operation, so by Thursday, even though I had rested and walked, my lower back was still sore, and my blood pressure was high.
Enter the evidence of the scales.
We bought the battery driven variety months ago, as I knew I would eventually start to write about my fitness results and therefore needed to be accurate. The scale is dead on, to the half-pound, and also has this nice little feature of flashing the lower figure you are aiming at before it settles on the truth. Very encouraging. Three weeks or a month ago it flashed 171, then settled for 171.5.
On this Monday morning past, it registered 173.5 Ouch, but of course I have been well coached on water retention, on how the body automatically stores water at the least sign of stress, an actual injury or otherwise, like running or using a heavy weight for a few hours.
This morning, the day following the three-hour assault and all that water, I weighed myself at the usual time, 5:45, on my way to feed the cat and make the coffee.
Later, as we headed out for a Baker Street breakfast and shopping, I realized that my back had loosened up. I mentioned this to the resident expert. The kidneys, she said instantly, must be finally getting their share of the water supply.
And wouldn't you know it? For an entire week I'd been remembering high school chemistry class, and our rugby coach, Mr Chapman, repeatedly telling us that water was the universal solvent. I've never really understood him until now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guitar Smarts

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the blackboard. I've had to deal with the latest Ottawa/Big Pill attempt to take the humble hawthorne berry away from the birds, the bees, and all those people doing their best to stay away from heart surgery. By now everyone has heard of Bill C-51, but it snuck up on me a little late, as I have obviously been busy elsewhere, and anyway health questions, as I have said before, are specifically the problem of our housekeeper. The rule is, don't upset MT. She's always been one of the calmest people I've ever known, so when she's in danger of losing her cool, it's infallibly for a good reason. One of these days you'll hear about what happened at the Vatican because it seemed that the Curia was trying her patience.
So I've had to get stiff with Stephen Harper before I could take up the git-fiddle, and this is ironic because before I read the warnings on C-51 that showed up in the Nelson Daily News on the Friday just past I was ruminating over a story about a tremendous good done to a ten-year old me by the ministry of education in the very province our PM comes from.

Are we there yet?
Yes. I know we're there because on Monday evening I sat on my front stairs and played a little serenade over Nelson, and the ideas for what follows came rather well. This was not on the Hummingbird, but on the more readily available old Harmony classical that MT's mom bought her back in 68, after she called me up and asked if I'd teach her daughter guitar. As a classroom teacher would say, I was getting up my lesson plan. It was an exciting few minutes, with the Muse letting me know that we were getting underway, but it will get even more exciting when I take out the 5 string banjo and take it to the front stairs. Same volume as a bugle, but with a lot more sounds per whack.
There were a number of questions.
Should I first present an entire scale, or should I concentrate on showing the surfer/reader/student the incredible amount of music available on simply the first three notes, once he or she has understood how simple it is to throw in a simple bass line? As Aristotle said, the whole is the sum of the parts, which translates roughly into the pedagogical need to give a true indication of the breadth of the subject while at the same time showing how to get such a firm grasp on a part that joy and confidence become automatic. (As Aquinas said, the greatest pleasure is in knowing.) And of course every student is unique, a class unto himself. I once thought this rule only applied to voice studies, but no more.
At the same time, it should be said that the following principles apply to more than the guitar. At this stage a ukulele will do as well, both tenor and baritone, as will re-tuned banjos, like my old four-string tenor.
The guitar is tuned in such a way that all the pairs of strings except one are four degrees of the scale apart from one another. Thus, as we are starting on the thinnest string, down at the bottom of the neck, which is called the high E and the first string, we only need to know for now that the second string, the B, should sound identical in pitch to the high E when it is stopped at the Fifth fret.
The frets are the little brass rods that cross the neck of the guitar. That little gizmo that the strings first cross when they head from the pegs toward the body of the guitar is called the Nut.
All the frets have numbers. And so does the nut. The nut's name is 0, even though the note that you get when you strum or pluck the E string is called One. As I said earlier, the nomenclature in music never ceases to be interesting.
The frets are numbered one to twelve, if you decide to stop the E string all the way up to the top note of the octave. On a classical guitar the 12th fret lines up with the body, but on flat top steel strings and such that position is usually taken over by the 14th fret. Where a cut-away enters the picture the coincidence is even further along. The sooner you become familiar with the numbers of every fret, the better, and if you work at it a bit you might start to feel yourself fond of, and competent in, the jazz idiom. Lately, I've been hearing Duke Ellington's horn riffs on my 12 tone practice.
How come 13?
That's just how it is. They call it the 12 tone scale, but you need the 13th note to round it off, just as with the pentatonic (5 note) scale you need the 6th. The diatonic scale that is usually the first you hear of in music class uses all 7 letter names - C to B but has to add another C at the top.
The foundation note, but the way, is called the tonic, not because music is healthy for you, but because it is that note that sets the tone. It is therefore always One, in music other than Gregorian chant, and can be used as a good harmony line, or second voice, all by itself, no matter what the melody is up to, without annoying anybody who actually understands music. I think I first actually understood this as a member of the Nelson Choral Society, singing Bach's Christmas Oratorio.
Happily enough, the Five, called the dominant, will also serve as a constant bass on its own. It is in knowing how to use one or the other, the tonic or the dominant, according to how the key relates to the particular design and tuning of the guitar, that makes the number-wise guitarist as free and flexible and all over his instrument as Wayne Gretzky was all over the hockey rink.
In today's lesson, therefore, we acknowledge that the B, string 2, is our dominant, our harmony line, our access to double-stopping as dear old Amy called it, without having to actually lay a finger on it.
So, let's go.
Count the nut and the frets merely up to the 4th fret. Perhaps even draw a guitar neck and its string on paper and write down the numbers on the space above. 0, for the nut; 1,2,3,4 for the frets. Make these symbols small and neat, as you should now draw a circle around each of 0, 2, and 4. Above the circles write 1, 2, 3.
You now have the first notes, in any variety of order, of more songs than I want to count, but I will mention "Three Blind Mice", not only because it is known universally but also because if you slowly plunk 3, 2, 1 you will hear what I mean. Some people say that the nursery rhymes were full of political innuendo. Not TBM. It was written by a very clever music teacher who wanted his students to see how the whole scale was organized around the notes of the tonic chord, 1,3,5. But that is for later. For now, just the first 3 notes.
Don't fuss about the fingering. The index on the left hand will be enough for now to stop the strings - only for notes 2 and 3, as 1 is obviously a freebee. Later on, for your own good, I get very fussy indeed, about all four fingers. By the way, you put that pressing finger as close as you can to the fret, to get the purest tone.
For the right hand making the sound use the index finger for starters and then, when that seems a little simple, try alternating with the middle finger. Do this index/middle pattern on each of the three notes, and don't rush. This is a good time to practice your adagio. i/m, i/m, i/m . . . .
Once that is rolling, starting playing the B string with your thumb, so that you now have an arrangement that goes 5, 1, 1; 5, 2, 2; 5, 3, 3; Again, slowly, and repeat each phrase or position until not only until it is perfectly clear but so you can also start to hear the next one. Go up the E string to the 3, come back down, start on the 2 and go either way, explore all the possibilities of just those three pairs of notes. Try different rhythms. Or not. T/i/m; T/i/m; T/i/m . . . .
AND COUNT! Not the beats, but the number names for 1, 2, 3.
Not necessarily out loud, although if you feel like singing, go ahead. Practice resonating the vowels in one, two, three. They are UH, OO, and EE. At the lower end of the E scale you're nicely in the middle of an average vocal range. I think Emmylou Harris might have practised this way because she has one of most resonant voices in the business. Resonant and relaxed.
But it's really the mental word for the number that is so crucial and so necessary for separating the men from the boys. For the development of the mind that ensures complete success the correct numerical mental word is the grammar of the science, the syntax.
And that reminds me of the good thing from Alberta, but for another time. And maybe we have to see what Stephen comes up with. Or backs down to. God, I hate the threat of mandarins interfering with the peace of mind I find strolling through the woods. Especially when I have to be afraid they might be on the take. Indeed, the love of money is the root of all evil.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The International Brotherhood

Have I found the perfect schedule for writing this thing? From the fall of 53 to the spring of 57 I was habitually a part-time author. (I speak of the fiction, not the journalism of the Ubyssey or the Sun.) I could use only the energy of the evening, not that which most professionals prefer, the spirit of the morning, with or without breakfast. If I felt I had become a different person simply by taking up the typewriter to sketch out a story in 53, I felt the same change again, only deeper, when I had the freedom of the entire day and could get to the Once-upon-a-time in the morning,with a completely fresh and well-rested brain. In March of 57 I left an office job to spend a few weeks trying my hand at what I thought of as realism, and I was so happy with the mood of the results that I stayed at my post-breakfast typewriter until well into May, when I left Vancouver for my dream job in the bush.
I now seem to getting to that same schedule here, which means I get to set up a good draft before lunch, let it all roll around in my head for the rest of the day, and come back to edit the next morning. Then, if I'm still feeling feisty, I get on with the draft of the next post.
Thusly, I began to answer my own question from yesterday.
B Company also exists, but with a different, and longer, name than the WMV. It is: The International Brotherhood of the Sippers and Sharers of Single Malt Whiskey. The IBSSSMW. Is this Polish, like the Pope who broke the back of the Soviet bear? John Paul liked whiskey. I know that, because I saw a clip on TV, where the seminarians at the Scots college in Rome presented him with a bottle of the stuff. This was back in 84, just before he came to Canada and three years after I had written my first transformation scene, which involved two men drinking the dew of the Highlands together. Chapter 10, book two. I mentioned the possibility of such a unique spiritual event as the transformation in the first pages of the book, so as to avoid confusing the readers of Field and Stream, and then had to wait out thirty chapters before such a thing showed up. Philippe Gagnon, the centre piece of all this phenomena, has just returned home after yet another futile conversation with his blind, deaf, bishop. These defects were spiritual, of course, the kind Jesus could not heal with a little mixture of mud and spit. Philippe's companion for this event was a patron, Gaetan Renard,whose creation is owed to the Editor-in-chief, due to a conversation one summer morning as we strolled the waterfront pathway at the Nelson mall.
Now, the IB is even more loosely organized than the WMV, and so far, much smaller. It started out two years ago because of a film and a bottle of Glenmorangie and at the beginning I had absolutely no idea of where it was leading to. I was by that time getting used to the Net, and as I can see now, practicing for the world of the Blog by engaging various souls in internet conversation, but I was still thinking about publishing as a print shop process, and music, or music instruction, as something to be produced in a much more complicated ambience than the studio at hand. We all know now that I had even considered the acreage of the CPR lands in Nelson.
But, starting back in 2002 or so, a young film maker named Aubrey Nealon made a very classy little film, "A Simple Curve", mostly in and around New Denver, in the Slocan Valley. It was the sort of story, I thought, once it was screened early in 2006, that both Aeschylus and Aristophanes would be very happy with: funny, swift, and beautifully pastoral, yet terribly true to life and the relation of cause and effect. True, we had experienced Hollywood showing up and fulfilling the old locution about the campus going down and the movies coming up, much more than once, but this was home grown, not only Canadian to a major degree, but with a tale indigenous to our part of the universe and even including in the cast, through marriage, relatives of mine.
I knew nothing about the production when it was happening, and was, I admit, even wary of seeing it when it came out. The Slocan Valley has been known for flake, now and again, and Canadian films, at least in earlier days, were notorious for underestimating the time it took to write a thoroughly good script.
But not to worry. We had ourselves a classic. I saw it four times, and bought copies for all my bairns. Not since "Chariots of Fire" had I walked that often into our local movie theatre for one movie.
Also, I wanted more information on the background of the film, and thus got in touch with a lively little bi-weekly called the "Valley Voice", not only published in New Denver, but with credits at the end of the film for helping out with the production. They gave me all their stories about the film and I became a regular reader of the paper. The Voice had always been available at our local food co-op, along with other organs in the newspaper rack, but my business then, as I saw it, was with the store's magazine shelves, where I could find the "Yoga Journal", "Tai Chi", and "Ascent", which last, although published in Montreal, was really the spiritual product of our local ashram at Kootenay Bay. It is in fact a photograph from the history of the search for the ashram site that happily occupies my computer dashboard. The Three Sisters, in the Rockies, south across the Bow in the rising sun.
The Voice is a family enterprise. Dan Nicholson, publisher; Jan McMurray, editor and reporter. It also boasts a regular reporter, Art Joyce, who is a much published poet, although not in that newspaper, and other contributors of note.
The Voice is also known and appreciated for its full two-page letters section, virtually a living history of many of the issues of our times.
Shortly into my reading of the paper, I perceived the possibility of a running joke. It seemed that the publisher, a Scotch man, could get a certain mileage out of "complaining" about the fact that no one ever thought of buying the thirsty newsman a bottle of the stuff. The Voice is longer on integrity and relevance than it is on profiteering. I related to this situation with complete visceral empathy, as I could remember the weeks on either side of Christmas, 81, when I was on a very anxious tear through a certain section of "Contemplatives" and had most kindly had my creative nerves soothed by not only one, but two, bottles of scotch that came my way as gifts. One was from the local Knights of Columbus, in gratitude for my calling their bingo once a month for some years past, even though I was not a Knight anymore; the other from the incomparable Pauline Hanbury, founder of the Nelson Christmas Faire, who seemed to think I had made myself useful by hanging around when the Faire was running a week or two previously. Actually, I think I made the bank run, and therefore did make a contribution.
It had happened in New Denver that the mayor, Hal Wright, coming upon Dan in the liquor store, on the one hand muttered at Dan's complaining, and on the other, bought him a mickey of scotch. So Dan wrote a little editorial reporting this, with, of course his tongue in this bearded cheek. He keeps his offerings short, and even non-existent, in order to maximize the space for his letter writers, but when he steps up to the plate he inevitably hits the ball well and I realized I had in my own back yard a man who knew words, and also an opportunity for sharing a little of my recently acquired bank account in the spirit of the Volunteers.
I had to wait a while for the delivery to get through. We had not owned a car for years and no one seemed to be dropping by the house on his or her way to New Denver. I had mentioned to Jan the idea of sending up a bottle, over the phone while talking about back copies, but weeks, then months, went by and I began to feel that I had been shooting off my face, making promises I couldn't keep.
Then, with the 2006 running season begun, late, but very seriously, at the end of June, I was nicely into it when I came back from a trot late one sunny Friday afternoon to hear a familiar voice holding forth in my living room. Pat Pyrz, who had grown up in Winnipeg with my oldest son-in-law, was talking with the housekeeper. We had not seen him for some time, but we had heard he had bought property away to the north of us. He was in fact on his way back to it, to a lodge he had built himself on the Incomappleux, a river that flows into the Upper Arrow Lake well north of New Denver.
"Aha," says I. "Do you know the Valley Voice?"
"Not only do I know them," says Pat, "I have to drop by tonight, to do with a story on my place."
So, I had not been off my trolley after all.
My supply house was one of the local cool stores, with a good hard bar selection, but at the time with only one single malt, Glenmorangie. Good enough, and Pat headed out of town.
Lo and behold, in the next issue of the Voice, the tale is told, and with a nice little reference to Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island", in that Dan, when Pat handed him the brown paper bag,wondered if someone were tipping him the black spot. He also mentioned that Glenmorangie was his father's favourite malt. Pat told him who the bottle was from, but Dan had arrived in New Denver shortly after I dropped out of the active life of the well-known performer and he'd never heard of me. He knew Shawn from the museum world, but that was not necessarily a connection. We got into a fairly regular back and forth, with the first conclusion a number of months ago, when I sent him the first chapter of the book of fiction narrating piano theory. He approved, very generously. But he really got into gear less than three weeks ago when he flatly told me I should put the music system on the Web.
So now you know whom to reward if you get anything out of these music dictations, and what to send him. Jan also has her preference in such things, but naming it will require an installment of its own.
Tomorrow, with all these memories of the Mosebys and music about, we should get to the guitar.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Company A

The term "Georgia Volunteers" shows up in the journal notes following the inspirations over "Gone With The Wind". I'm not going to look up those pages now, because it is more important to recollect the genesis of term "volunteer", inasmuch as it applies to my own particular mental processes, as booted about here and there by own guardian angel, or angels. There are, by the way, an enormous number of these latter entities. I have had internal visions of angels for a very long time, coupled with a variety of interesting conversations, but back in 2000, in the spring of which I became excited about the possibilities of the Net and also looked up new fitness opportunities, I had a whacking great vision, again internal - or intellectual, as John of the Cross calls them - of the most humungous quantity of angels I had ever imagined. This was in the sky over the centre of Kootenay Lake, as MT and I were crossing over to Kootenay Bay, from Balfour, in March, during the season of the last runs of the MV Anscombe, before she was replaced by the bigger, faster, Osprey 2000. It was rather like the vision of the Emperor Constantine, before the battle of the Milvian Bridge. "In this sign conquer." Only in my case it was more like "In this company, you will get creative." Not a locution, more a puzzling intimation. At some point, I might bring out the journal notes for that day. I think it was March 22.
Back to "A" Company. This was that wonderful collection of Nelsonites known as the "West Moseby Volunteers", a profoundly democratic cross section of vocations and interests that as far as I know was the brainchild of a guitar playing, bagpiping, treekeeping, songwriting, professional forester named Jim Munro. I have mentioned Montana before, and I must refer to that great state again because West Moseby was a humble cow pasture lying within its boundaries, and it was from a trip to that area that Jim came up with the name for the organization.
There was a certain amount of historical rigamarole surrounding the history of this "Para-military" assembly, loosely derived from some claim to it being founded by the hitherto undocumented survivors of the Little Bighorn, but no one was required to take an exam concerning this history, no one swore any oaths to defend anything, and there was therefore, logically, no paymaster. But there was a lot of bonhommie and now and then a useful contribution to the community. Jim and carefully selected explosions engineers snowshoed up the steep trail to Pulpit Rock, to launch fireworks into the Nelson sky during some winter celebration of the 60s, and later, during one of the summer festivals an even larger troop of gunners tugged and pushed a wooden cannon over the trails of Gyro Park in order to fire an evening salute from the lookout. I was present for the latter, having been trained as an artillery man myself, and felt inspired to write a poem, but failed. This was typical. With the Mosebys, idea and good intentions were much more important than execution.
I got into the outfit because I sang, and especially because I knew a good number of Celtic folk songs. Munro was far from being the only piper.
The connection went like this. Sometime before Christmas of 64, while I was still more or less content to haunt the halls and work in the bookstore at NDU, I heard of an upcoming celebration for Brotherhood Week, to be held on the campus early in February in the big gym-cum-auditorium, known as Maryhall, the site of our first Nelson hootenanny. The organizer was Felix Meuller, a veteran of the Luftwaffe, a fighter pilot, and now public relations officer for the college, and the celebration was to include as much cultural variety as Nelson and area could boast. This was not a little extensive, but as far as I knew from the local music scene, we had no Jewish folk musicians, so I approached Felix to tell him that Shawn and I, thanks to Pete Seeger, knew a couple of Jewish songs, the Moorsoldalten and the the temple cleanser from the days of the Macchabees, the name of which I cannot at the moment spell here.
The first we would sing in English, but the second in Yiddish, for which the world's least linguist would need help in getting the pronunciation right. Did he know any Jews in Nelson who could help me with this?
He did. Sam Bitnun, the pediatrician. Did I wish to be introduced?
No thanks, I would make my own way.
The opportunity came shortly after, at a hockey game, probably between the Notre Dame team, which also carried a number of lads who played for the Nelson Maple Leafs, in the Western International league, and a team from UBC, coached by Father David Bauer. I think Bauer's team was in training for the Olympics. This was a while before they let the pro's into that arena.
Sam and his wife were in the stands. Someone, possibly Felix, pointed them out to me and I nipped up to introduce myself and explain my errand. It was a happy encounter. They had kids the age of ours, Sam had the pronunciation right, and Shawn and I got an invitation to their upcoming house party, whereat we met at least half the Mosebys, and of course their wives. Sam must have been regimental MO. I don't think he was the regimental rabbi, as that job as far as I recall had already been taken up by Denny Coen, whose day job had to do with buying and selling of used heavy machinery. Denny had been a real soldier, with a real bren gun carrier, in the Seaforth Highlanders, all the way in from the beaches of Normandy.
But I had to do the songs by myself. Just before we were scheduled to taxi up to the campus, our newest youngster went into a fit of projectile vomiting, so her mother had to stay home. And I had to follow a very tough act, the senior Doukhobour choir from Grand Forks, pretty much the principal offering of the evening. But I got through my part, and Sam said some nice things to me.
That was also the first time Marianne saw and heard me. She had come to the concert with her parents. Coincidentally enough, there is a legend in the St. Martin part of her ancestry that somebody with that name was in Custer's campaign against Sitting Bull and died at the Little Bighorn. She was in grade five, in her second year at Saint Joseph's. She did not then play lead guitar.
Aha! The lady who did not become an English professor, but is most certainly the household's leading librarian, just came up the stairs from the lower music shelves with the household copy of "Rise Up Singing".

Mi y'malel g'vurot Yisrael, Otan mi yimne? Seeger used to belt it out most wonderfully.

Not being a lodge in the ordinary sense, the West Moseby's gathered infrequently, and did not gather much at all after Jim Munro went to Ottawa to count icebergs and glaciers. Something about the nation's fresh water resources in the solid state. But Rab Douglas, regimental artist, gave me a painting which hangs three feet from my nose as I write. And in 96, as I was scribbling song notes for the opera, the name "Georgia Volunteers" came to mind.
Where is "B Company"?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Georgia Volunteers

One of the brass at NDU who was not a problem was the vice-president, Dave Larder. His academic training was in chemistry, from England, and he was the first person to explain to me the hopes in computer technology for science. Researchers, he said, would have instant access to all data concerning their field. This would save time and effort. Up to that point I was aware, vaguely, that base 2 was only for the benefit of the military, whose computers were as big as an entire barracks. What I talked to Dave about was my hopes for a better formation for school teachers and the possibility of setting up a programme within the university to produce just that. I had aroused a certain degree of interest among a good handful of the students, by that time, and had been asked to put some things down on paper.
I'll cut to the chase for now, and say that the programme did nothing but garner me a nice group of friends and also kept me from getting too involved with academic work, which I abandoned anyway in order to begin, in the new year, the third version of "The Yacht", my good old first plot. But this time I added a priest, a good one, possibly in reaction to what I had found in the collar at the college. We were just about out of money, but I made what felt like a good beginning to the story, and then started work at a series of casual labour jobs that gave me a look at different locations in my new and probably permanent homeland. I felt as if I were becoming a paysano.
Meanwhile, as God had closed the door on academics and a degree, he had opened a window on music.
The Nelson area, with students from elsewhere added, seemed to have a population of folk musicians unlike anything I had ever seen! In that area, we had no end of company, and it was all company to be learned from. From October on there were a series of hootenannies, and the house parties - some of them at our place - were even better. I acquired a choice of two lead guitarists, depending on the occasion, and so at least on the entertainment front, life was very good indeed.
One of my guitar pickers - he sang too - was Eric Johnson. He had grown up in Nelson, where his father had become foreman at the Municipal garage, and as well as loving folk music he had picked up his fair share of classical smarts from membership in the Nelson Choristers, a large mixed choir conducted by the formidable Mrs. T.J.S. Ferguson, widow of a United Church minister who had died many years previously and left her to raise their four children by her skills as a music teacher.
I met her because Eric asked me to join him in the guitar section of a Christmas season presentation of the story of "Silent Night". As everyone knows, the mice ate the bellows in the Oberdorf church, so Hans Gruber could not play the organ for his original composition and had to use his guitar.
We rehearsed, in Amy's studio, in her house across the street from the Catholic cathedral, and I was delighted not only to make the acquaintance of a provincial legend, but also keen to pick up any new insights into the mysterious world of those who made their living dealing with written scores. "Silent Night" is in Bflat, so I probably capoed the first fret and strummed and arpeggioed in A.
All seemed to go well enough, but at one point she said, "Young man, when are going to learn to double-stop?"
I asked her what that was.
She said, "playing just two notes at once."
That gave me a picture, but I had no idea how to make use of it, so I said, "I probably will do that, one of these days."
Shortly after that exchange, came another of those interior messages. "One of these days, you will succeed her."
Now I was not at all bothered or insulted by her question. Eric had glanced at me to see I was having a negative reaction, to see if I had felt challenged, but I was not and had not. In such company I was as eager to learn as I was to be of use. It had been the same in Terrace for two years in the company of other singers and an especially accomplished organist. But the locution about the succession business sure set me off, albeit entirely within. What are you talking about? I'm a classroom teacher, aching to get back to the blackboard! I don't want a choir, and I'm not interested in having my days filled with piano students!
So much for locutions, for the moment. The next encounter with the Muse really pulled my soul about for a bit, making me ache for the grasp of a beauty I couldn't fully identify by any means.
Somehow there had come into our possession a booklet of the old sing-a-long classics, which on its cover displayed an image that simply of itself set my spirit soaring and persisted in haunting my thoughts for some duration. It was a very simple woodcut; black, white, red, I think, was the colour scheme. Arranged for piano, with guitar and/or banjo chords. There must have been banjo chords with this text, because the cover showed two people in a small boat on a moonlit lake, with one of them plunkin' on the ole banjo. This was in the spring or summer of 65, at about the same time as the small voice was telling me that the university was going to go down but the films were coming.
I actually owned a five string, a light weight John Grey I had picked up in the music store in Terrace, and it had served me well as far as it went, but I was not really any wiser on it than on the guitar, in spite of having owned Pete Seeger's manual for years. I had a very lively right hand, for sure. I could probably paradiddle like Earl Scruggs himself. But the left was another story, and not a very exciting one. Again, just a rhythm player, because, dammit, I have to sing too.
The image really nailed me, and I had no idea why, except that I'd read a fair bit of Southern literature and loved my banjo as much as I could. But then sometimes I 'd think about the geographical parallel. The Kootenays lie in the south-east corner of the province, and the South, where the banjo came from - actually, came to - was in the same location in reference to the United States. Yeah, and some people in the big cities thought of us as hicks, too, wouldn't you know it?
One piece of southern literature I had not read was Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind".
I had seen the movie, back in the 50's at the old International Cinema theatre in Vancouver. Ed, Fred, and I were regulars there on Saturday night. The IC was the house that brought back the old classics or showed somewhat more arty films. For me, at that time, the film was much like any other historical drama, and subsequently I recalled no scene as vivid enough to me personally to remain for the rest of my life as a reference point, such as, for example, the scene in the 50s Hollywood version of "War and Peace", where the supreme commander of the Russian army, Kutuzov, cries with relief when they bring him the news of the French withdrawal. It was then, I would say, that I began to ruminate on the meaning of the term, "General Winter".
It would be a long time before I actually read Tolstoi, and even longer before I read Margaret Mitchell. Christmas season, 1995. By that time I had a custom of selecting some book that seemed somehow appropriate, more often than not for mysterious reasons.
Now I had actually tried GWTW in 1981, with a year of "Contemplatives" behind me, and I was so affected by the first seven or so chapters that I was tempted to wonder if I had somehow not got my own beginning quite right. Obviously the spirit of Mitchell's own text was a horse of a different colour than Selznick's film, and my own understanding - quite unresearched - of Ms Mitchell's actual person had been way off base. I think I'd assumed that she'd been a spinster school teacher.
I didn't read any more at that time. Her voice was not mine, of course, and I was not always sure of just exactly what mine was. In the spring of 81 I had yet to introduce Geoffrey Haldane, in fact I didn't even know he belonged to the structure.
My journals tell me it was on December 19 that I reserved GWTW at the Nelson library. There do not seem to be any notes explaining what got me interested again - possibly some rebuke from the editor-in-chief - but it was most certainly in part at least as a way of filling the vacuum left by my resignation as a kind of once-removed spiritual director of John Paul II. My horizons, which God likes to keep as broad as possible, needed some other large project to keep them filled. I don't know what happened to the copy available to me in 81. On the 22nd the library phoned to say the book had been returned early. I went down immediately, counted the number of pages, and told myself I must read 50 pages a day over the three week loan period.
I did this, enjoying the whole thing immensely, and then in the beginning of February my oldest grandson phoned and offered me and Grandma a pair of comps for the upcoming Nelson Opera Company production of "La Boheme". He was in the children's chorus and his Dad had a solo part.
For a production which had as an orchestra one lone piano, it gave us a wonderful night. By this time too, I was reading a biography of Margaret Mitchell and thinking of a play about just how it was that GWTW had come to be published. That was a story in itself. Harold Latham exploding with joy over the manuscript on the night train from Atlanta to New Orleans.
But a few days later, late Saturday afternoon, we were watching the deBoer's "Travel, Travel", the one in which they put together, contrary to their usual format, two episodes thousands of miles apart from each other. One was about the annual Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Bavaria, the other about the Lewis and Clark Trail.
At the end of it all I asked my learned wife, "How many operas are there in the "Ring Cycle"?
"I think five," she said.
"Good Lord," says I. "There must be at least three in 'Gone With The Wind'."

Monday, May 12, 2008

The little woman

The editor-in-chief has now read the first eight episodes of the blog, and although she found the inevitable little mistakes - and made notes, like the good English professor she was bound on being when I first met her - she gives it a general thumbs up.
"It reminds me of the columns you wrote for the Ubyssey," she said.
And my number two son, calling her last night for Mothers' Day, said it reminded him of sitting in the living room talking with his old man. Pretty much the same as well from his siblings around the country.
So, the rest of the world, take that. Your slings and arrows don't have a chance, although I hope I will always be open to real instruction. Seek ye counsel from every wise man, and this also includes wise women, as the real author of Scripture always intended.
Meanwhile, the in-house agent discovered that which we had been without, that connection to the Net that made this thing available to any browser who types the right clue words into the Google search slot. So now, the advice, or the appreciation, or the questions, can come from anywhere.
And this brings us to a profoundly theological situation, and that concatenation of events whereby someone says, "And now the story can be told."
It was the end of September, 1975. We had just moved into this house, a two story, above a half-basement, Nelson turn-of-the-century classic, of modest proportions. Three bedrooms, one bathroom, but with a large tacked on porch that, with an electric blanket, served as our bedroom until most of the kids were up and away. It was our fifth house in the town, still a rental, and very much similar in construction to our first, that which we had moved into in 1964, when I arrived all bright-eyed and expectant over the educational possibilities in a town which could boast not only a Catholic elementary school, a Catholic high school - up to grade ten - but also a Catholic university not only teaching Scholastic philosophy but also accredited to train teachers, of which I had been such in the Catholic school system in BC for four years.
In spite of six years at UBC, I had never taken a degree. Nor had I acquired the paper on the wall from the University of Ottawa, although I had for a couple of years enjoyed working on their correspondence programme. Thus, I was still, in 1964, eligible for a BA, and I had enrolled for such at Notre Dame University of Nelson, with intentions on a history major, but also with many other plans in my brief case. For me, the college itself, in its top staff as opposed to its students, very quickly became a disaster, but the story of that is for another time. Suffice to say we found good reason to stay in Nelson anyway, rolled through different homes for a variety of reasons, and found ourselves on Silica Street in the autumn of 1975.
That's two blocks above the main drag, Baker Street, and the hill up at the west end of our block is so steep that there's no road, just stairs. In this town, only a non-walker can't stay in shape automatically. It's a point the Fox network missed when they came here to report on our history as "Resisterville". They never realized what a good location we have for training our infantry.
Anyway, it was a lovely September afternoon. We'd been settled in about three days. My chair was then on the western side of the living room, by my writing desk, and so my view was north and east. Houses, trees, and the local massif, officially designated on the maps as Nelson Mountain, but affectionately known and ever called, Elephant, because of the configuration of the western end of it. Possibly this was first realized by all the pukka sahibs, retired on half-pay from the Indian army of the Empire, who settled here after 1900. If I stand up and look out the front window I can see the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, but on that sunny afternoon I was simply sitting and staring up the street, getting to know the new neighbourhood.
Two or three hundred yards away - as I said, I was a surveyor, and I've had some experience on the rifle range - stood a comfortable home with a Tudor surface. You know, gray stucco and vertical boards. Nice image. Shakespeare and all that. Very literary. But also very reminiscent, because for the eight months before the editor-in-chief and I were married, in Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Vancouver, I had lived with a lovely Unitarian family, on the north shore of Point Grey, in a lovely house with an outside just like the home up the street.
Narcisso Ypes, the classical guitarist, was on the record player, with an orchestra, playing an adagio. Lovely stuff. Spanish, and Spain was not only the site of most of Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises", but also the land of my beloved Carmelite mystics, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.
All of a sudden, into this incomparable ambience, the still, small, voice said: "In this house, you will be published." The mood was pretty solemn, and the words were a definite encouragement, definitely a something to fall back on.
I was not, at that point, totally absorbed in writing, because I had the part of Matthew Cuthbert in the upcoming production of the "Anne of Green Gables" musical being produced by the theatre department of NDU. This small but lively section of the campus was much healthier than the theology department, and worth getting involved with, and it was also helping with the inspiration for the fictional characters I was assembling against the day, when, five years later, I would begin tapping out the opening pages of the first novel.
Now these words from on high were what the mystics call a "locution". God speaks, and man listens up, hopefully. Such spiritually unique events are all fully described by Saint Teresa, in the third chapter of her description of the sixth mansions of the spiritual life, and even more fully by John of the Cross in the second book of his "Ascent of Mount Carmel". I'd been having locutions for years, but this may have been the first one to do with my writing. Not a lot of locutions by that point - the flood was to come later - but enough to keep me on track.
I thought of this locution, not a little deeply, when Marianne told me she had been able to tweak the computer so that the blog was now available not just to email targets but also the rest of the surfing world. The good people at Google have done a great thing, although I certainly never had the computer in mind back in 75.
They funny thing is, I had taught the math for the computer. Terrace, 1962, in Veritas School, grade eight. The department of education had just brought in a text for the "new math" and my new principal, Sister Alberta Dohm, said I was to take it on, as she was too old to learn new tricks, although she had long been an effective math teacher. I had been studying a lot of philosophy and found in the first chapters reasons to question one of the authors of the text when he came up to render us an inaugural address at a regional conference. A good crew of the math teachers joined me at the dinner while we discussed the virtues and possibilities of base 2, as well as the relationships of logic and metaphysics with some of the new terms in the new text, but my heart was in my growing understanding of the need of the arts in the education of the young. In my second year in Terrace, somewhat drawing on the degree of abstraction required to actually read that particular math text, I began an introductory course in metaphysics with my thirteen-year-olds.
It worked, too, and it was this success, along with certain other pedagogical achievements, that move me to think I could really swing into action in Nelson.
Whatever happened to the Georgia Volunteers? They have obviously been held in reserve, but that is just as well, because the real story of the beginning of their formation goes back to those early days too, the summer of 1965. Maybe we'll get there tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Anniversary

When she was about twelve, my youngest daughter, now a mother of four and an as yet unpublished novelist, was one night sitting across the living room watching me write in my journal. I began that common custom of writers in 1957, jotting my first self-conscious lines as I sat on my bunk at lunch time in my two-man explorer style tent on the banks of Moseley Creek, the western tributary of the Homathko River. The entries were skimpy that summer, then of some length in 1958 as I was both writing a lot and converting to Catholicism, and on and off after that until the 70's, when they became fairly constant. The shelf is now about three feet long.
This daughter's name is Rebecca, and she will show up a fair bit in these blogbits, if only because she is the mother of Ian and Galen, the young hot rods who currently know more about Grandpa Ken's system than the good folks in the guitar book business.
Rebecca said, "Dad, why don't you just publish your journals?" I think by this time I had tried printing and selling the first three chapters of "Contemplatives". Printing on a Xerox, one side of the page. Two bucks for three chapters.
I said that novelist's journals were often published, but only after their novels. Or maybe their deaths.
But in this case we have something completely different. An entry from Sunday, May 11, 1980.

"Yesterday a drive out to Wildhorse with Carol. A lot of time spent looking at trees, enjoying the solitude and beauty of the valley. Wonderful stream. And Carol had a kiln full of pots. Lying down after tea in her house I began to think of a sort of Walden Pond public journal, and kept thinking about it with great fondness. You approved, when I mentioned it to you coming back in the truck. The emphasis was to be on my observations of, and appreciation for, nature. By tonight - your Mothers' Day supper - I had 3 or four hard-won pages.
You dug today the second level in the garden. Yesterday I cut up more of the wood in the lane. Not much left.
I don't think any story I've ever thought of was born with more deep response and self-validation than was the idea of the public journal. This is an interesting distinction from the fictional process. More personally mine, perhaps, or a closer experience of the full picture of oneself we will experience in a happy death? Also , as the idea was very much a result of my studies on birds and trees, tentative as these may be, I felt myself more honestly akin to nature.
As I write now, after supper, smoke rises from the backyard incinerator."

It's always nice to be able to go into the files and pull out something that can fill up part of a page without stress to the imagination, but the entry also shows how long ago the owner of the still, small, voice had the current exercise in mind. That too is reassuring.
On this Mothers' Day, this afternoon, the living room was filled with female relatives, two of whom were Marianne's nieces and a smiling little grand-niece. Two granddaughters regaled us with backstage anecdotes form the dance showcase, I held off talking about tomorrow's lesson with the piano researcher and my number three daughter talked a little about her upcoming release of an extended play, recently mastered by a chap who mastered a Grammy winning album by Herbie Hancock. And a kind-of daughter-in-law, also a singer, talked about a song that described a poor old chap whose life was full of the opposite of all this, simply because he kept walking away from his women. Out on the porch one of the nieces and I talked sound track for a virtual exhibition about the stern wheelers on Kootenay Lake.
I actually had read very little of Walden Pond, but thanks to some cash from a singing student in 1983, plus a book store customer walking away from the complete two volume edition he had ordered in, I have it now. As one of the town's philosophers, I was offered a deal, and the two volumes took their place among the other 3000. Not as large a private library as the Pope's 40,000, but good enough for us.
How goes the keyboard?
Actually, I took some of my own advice since the last notes and just worked all over the piano with my right central digit. In C sharp minor, Beethoven's key for the Moonlight Sonata. If you look at the thing in a text, it's a nightmare to all but the really proficient. Four sharps. And every accidental available. Good Lord. But if you know the numbers and what to do with them, it's a piece of cake. And that is exactly how it will be treated in the upcoming chapters of "The Yacht", book two. As we sit, young Paul Cameron is walking home to address just this challenge to a pair of adolescents.
Oh, Good Heavens! This man must be mad! Let him go back to Wildhorse Creek and teach the birds! The Moonlight doesn't even appear anywhere in the first ten years of the Toronto Conservatory syllabus! That's far too demanding! What a saddist! Arrest him! This is the worst thing I've ever heard of since I read Dolores Umbridge's treatment of Harry Potter! Are there no police in Nelson?
Oh, shut up and try it. Five, one, three; five, one, three, and so on, then it shifts to six, one, three and stays there for a bit and then gets more complicated. But you can sort the numbers out if you think about it. Just don't try to read all those fingering notes. They're good for down the road, but for now they just get in the way. You're a beginner, everybody is a beginner, until they see and hear how well this works. Just experiment with how much sound you get with one finger. Besides, that reaching all over the keyboard is good for the shoulder and back muscles. It should feel as nourishing as a stretch. Yoga at the ivories. Put your right foot on the gong pedal, your left on the damper if your cook just around the corner in the kitchen is showing signs of stress, and enjoy the genius of Ludwig. He was the first rocker. If you doubt this, get a copy of the Mondschein and study the left hand for a while. You can either play the octaves or just the top note. In fact if you work the middle finger of each hand with just the left doing the top note and the right playing LvB's arpeggios, you start to get a hold on counterpoint.
You also might get a hold on the throats of all those beings who made you feel as if you didn't understand music. There are a lot of them around. Some of them are real devils, who hate to see anyone having a genuinely good time, and others are musicians and music teachers who really do not understand how it all fits together.
I've yet to return to jogging, but I did get back to the stump and its roots. There's a lesson there too. I've never used a maul before. A maul is a six pound sledge with an axe blade at one end. It's not especially sharp, because some of the genius of a maul is its ability to deal with the little vertical sub roots that go down deep and would like to prevent me from liberating the main root. Part of its job description is to run into stones. It's a timely addition to my arsenal. Four wedges now. The old spruce is a formidable challenge, and thus a damn good gym for the next few weeks. The trick is not to try to do it all at once, as my personal trainer regularly reminds me.
Same thing with music. One step at a time, but ah, how few teachers really know what that means.
Thus, tomorrow, or whenever the Muse lets me back into this, Margaret Mitchell and I will discuss the raising of the Georgia Volunteers, a regiment such as has never been seen heretofore on the face of the earth. Nor heard.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The first lesson

This really is a very busy newsroom. I think of Barry Broadfoot and Paul St Pierre, later author and playwrite respectively, in my Sun summer of 56, arguing loudly over whether a problem they had overheard on the police radio was a real kidnapping. Broadfoot was insisting that it was, over in New Westminster, and so the presses should be stopped. St Pierre, head of the make-up desk, with the morning edition of the Sun already on its way to bed, was swearing that if it was a kidnapping it was only an estranged father taking his kids from his wife and hardly worth stopping the press for. It was as good as a row between my Mom and Dad, and the sort of thing you never got in high school with your teachers. Barry and Paul appealed to a higher authority and Broadfoot won. Later, he moved to the Kootenays.
I say things are just as preset headlines disturbing in Nelson because on Thursday night, the eve of my wife's 70th birthday - she doesn't look it, believe me - she and I went to the annual three day showcase of Nelson's major dance studio. At one point we had three granddaughters under instruction with the Dance Umbrella, but one left to return to the keyboard and help her Grandpa's research, so we still had two and of course had to be there. It was, simply, an incredible evening. I've been enjoying the show for almost a decade now, but this year seemed the best of all, and thus, although I'm not terribly qualified as a dance critic, I pondered a return to my sometime role as an arts reviewer in the Nelson Daily News. My most recent two letters to that paper had both been rather critical of other people's behaviour and I thought it might be a nice change to be able to swank on a totally positive note.
I was thinking of saying, for one thing, that I could now see why there was no need to fulfill the promise I had made to myself in July of 55, when after four days in New York City I decided that while I was not going to move to Gotham and apprentice myself to the writing trade in the world capital of publishing, I would return when I was rich and famous, and had a wife to take to all the operas, ballets, plays, and so on that the city had to offer. But sitting there in my own town and its little jewel of a theatre - the stage could be bigger for dance shows - I was having such a good time, seeing so much youthful excellence, that I'm afraid New York was no longer a thought, and I am not fond of traveling anyway, unless it's around that 140 mile loop I spoke of earlier. What a birthday present for my wife, and of course she has no granddaughters in New York, at least not yet.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the reviewer's desk.
My head finally cleared over this music thing.
The principle element of confusion has been a piece of real estate. In other words, I've been having the same problem with consolidating my gains that Napoleon had when he decided to invade Russia. Biting off more than he could chew began the decline of his peace of mind, and I could finally see that my fussing over land, factories, and jobs for the locals was doing the same for mine. My favourite instruction in canon law, as little as I read the subject, insists that the priest is to keep his "mental edge". The writer is not supposed to allow himself to get dull-minded.
I'm talking about the CPR lands, only a tiny bit of which are now used for trains, that lie west of Nelson. What to do with them is a regular source of discussion, and a concern for the city fathers and mothers, one of whom, by the way, had an enormous amount to do with the retrofit that created that gem of a theatre. I walk, and sometimes jog, across a part of this huge plain, and always wonder about it. I even started this campaign with it in mind, and wrote the mayor. If this scheme of mine is as universally necessary as I think it is, and if it needs, as is the custom in education, the appropriate text books and audio visual aids, then that land would be perfect. And these days, with no more lumber and plywood mill, and the rail yard so slack compared to the old days, we have only one manufacturing industry. Also, as it is basically children we concerned about here, possibly Marathon Realty and the provincial and federal governments would move to attack the recovery of toxins problem with all due haste.
Now I have been a surveyor, in my student days, and once for three weeks while I was between teaching posts, but I have decided that construction and all that stuff is not at the point necessary, as I somewhat ponderously become more familiar with this global village format that Tim Berners-Lee started thinking up just as I was finally producing the early chapters of "Contemplatives", and by last night I began to realize the full possibilities of teaching simply on the Web. As late as the middle of this week I was even trying to engage the help of a local publisher in a single student experiment which could be filed with the government of Ontario, but no more. I realize that if I really know what I'm doing now, I should be able to do the main work of it here, right on the computer screen. That is the power of words, that is the power of numbers. Besides, I am only one brain and something as big as I think this is needs a lot of discussion before anyone starts putting out prematurely conceived materials.
Remember such capers as team teaching, windowless classrooms, and texts that tried to make grammar fun? Or better yet, obsolete?
So, for anyone that's interested, here is the first lesson. Go to the piano or any suitable substitute, find middle C - yes, Ammerbach's innovation is sometimes useful - plunk it with your middle finger and call it "one". Now proceed up the white keys - that's going to your right - and continue to plunk each of them with your middle finger. Yes, until further notice, you may forget that you have the other four. It is this rush to involve all five fingers that immediately obscures the organic relationship between mind and body, especially where the learning process is concerned, with all its essential need of virtually infinite repetition.
You don't have to sing the numbers, but it is essential to meld in your brain the integral relationships of number, piano key, and the actual pitch of the note. Two, three, and so on, up to eight which is also the new "one" for the next octave. The one is also called the tonic, for reasons to be explained later, with more whaling on the blackboard with a pointer than music students are accustomed to, so far as I have experienced.
Now go back down, and then start doing it with your eyes closed until it's time to pour a drink or answer the call to lunch. Or, if you're an over-achiever, do the same with the left middle finger starting at the C below middle C, also called small c. The nomenclature of music is such fun.
Good. You are now playing the diatonic or eight-note scale. We will get to the chromatic, or twelve-not scale quicker than you think, but not before you learn the secret of basic harmony in the left hand. This is the one that it took so long for me to find, my equivalent to E=mc2, and it is this that I have copyrighted for the guitar instruction method.
If things go right, that enormous secret could be the second lesson. I've already spelled it out in the latest complete chapter of my yacht novel, to the approval of my little band of readers, two whom teach the process to their children. But as I have already pointed out, this newsroom never knows what's going to happen next.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

yoga miler

Finally, we get to fitness, because yesterday the still, small, voice finally said I could start the running season. This was the breaking news I guess I was getting the hint of, although for some hours I thought that which would rearrange the headlines was that night's entrance into our living room of the actor Sterling Hayden, whom a lot of people will remember as the big tall fella in "Nine to Five" who, as chairman of the board, comes in at the end to straighten out Dabney Coleman and consolidate most of the humanitarian improvements is the workplace created by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and, in her first film acting role, country singer Dolly Parton. Dolly is a perfect role model for me, actually, in the instance at hand, because this is the first time I've gone global in the journalistic mode.
I've been global for decades via telegram, letter, and occasionally even the phone, but that was always to different individuals, and almost never with a CC or any other mode related thereto.
We local soldiers three take our hour of monastic recreation for the most part with selections from the household library of modern classic films, and having recently picked up a DVD of this movie, chose it for the flavour of the night and settled in for a lot of laughs and not a few insights.
We got all that, plus Dolly's great song, and then there was Sterling.
You might say, so what? He was an old actor by then, and it wasn't that difficult a part. Why single him out when it was all that other talent that made the thing hum?
Yeah, right. But none of them were doing much in 1954, which was the year when they released Johnny Guitar and Sterling played the title role. I was in officer cadet school, CFB Picton, Ontario, and our evening recreation usually included a film in the town's one theatre, every time they changed it.
Oh, for heaven's sake, you say, that was just a western. Ward Bond, Joan Crawford, Sterling, Mercedes McCambridge and a steady flurry of deathless lines. Nobody does westerns anymore. Remember "Heavens Gate"?
I could answer, have you seen "Seraphim Falls"? but I probably should not get distracted.
The point is, God doesn't really care that much about genres when He wants to make a point. He can use whatever is at hand, and in fact he is allowed to assume that men - or women - who like to think of themselves as learned and wise, have actually read in the very early pages of the Summa where Saint Thomas talks about the fact that the more lofty the message the humbler the symbol. Thus the stable at Bethlehem, and the first news of it being given to sheep keepers, because the more lofty the message the more necessary that it be first tried out on the humble, who, not being lofty themselves, don't have as much mental fat blocking the message.
But it was not Sterling Hayden that was thus employed. It was Mercedes McCambridge. There was this scene, you see, where she is leading a posse of men and horses all hell bent for leather on getting Joan Crawford run out of town, and at the point where they all came swooping around some kind of log structure, as I remember it, I had this minor ecstasy. This was most certainly not because of any feminine charms on the part of Ms McCambridge; her lines, her make up, and her body language for that role were all heavily weighed against anything remotely connected with beauty or feminine charm.
But the ecstasy was quite lovely, connected with certain encounters I'd been having with the Holy Spirit for some years, although with no explanation at all as to why, and the unveiling of the secret waited until 1967.
I had never known that a woman could be called Mercedes - Italian for Mercy - until the night of that film. For me, that was a name given to expensive cars made in Germany.
In 1967, when I was teaching my last class, thirty lively grade sevens, in Saint Joseph's School, Nelson, I began to receive some remarkable letters from one of my students. Her name was Marianne, and her mother's name was Mercedes.
What's this got to do with fitness?
In 1980 or so, Marianne - we'll shorten it to the "MT" I usually call her - became annoyed with Western medicine, and began to study Maria Trieben, the Austrian herbalist. She retired from a very successful local career as a calligrapher, and my wife lost her favourite lead guitarist. When I took up jogging in 1982 she not only joined me at the track and out on the roads, but took the lead in acquiring the proper guide books, especially the Andersons' fine little treatise on stretching. I had never liked medical studies, but I became a moderately docile student of her researches, and gradually capable of a fairly respectable scientific attitude, although this nice little improvement in my general outlook really only settled in after I read, in 2000, John Douillard's brilliant and groundbreaking "Body, Mind, and Sport".
I discovered Douillard in our local library, while looking for a text on weight lifting, because I had joined a local gym and needed to study muscle activity. I read the book five times, finding it hard to believe that my anatomy could function so easily yet so strongly as the good Doctor said it should, and I got results, exciting results. Some right away, like the nasal breathing, some much later, after a long side trip into the tutelage of one Eric Tuttle, a martial artist with a great respect for the wisdom of the Orient, and, fortunately for me, an annual workshopper in Nelson.
It's been quite the learning curve, and of course there is some fiction coming out of it, and yesterday was the beginning of not only the new running season for 08 but also the first running season in which I've felt that I have all the basic principles adequately lined up. All my ducks in a row, as they say.
It truly was a seamless trot. I should probably patent the timetable, but then I've no doubt done enough patenting, or copyright, with some of the music stuff. Three miles, with no jog longer than two blocks, stopping the instant anything feels uncomfortable and walking until I start to feel bored. Trust the total system. With my head so full of the blogging there's more than enough to think about, but once my body is warmed up it knows on its own how to stay that way until it's had enough. And keep the mouth shut. All breath in and out through the nose. One tiny little nostril will tell you when you're in oxygen deprivation. It stings. That one I learned in 2000. I was still putting my first available active energies into the gym, so the running was always secondary, but I finally got up to a two mile jog within the system. My children and a grandchild or two have better distances.
I had been getting anxious to get out, because my lower back, owning a funny sacrum, needed loosening up, and the best thing for it has proven over the years to be jogging. Not even the recently acquired wisdom of the pelvic tilt can do the job all by itself, although it has much ameliorated the old stiffness due to garden work and wielding the twelve pound sledge - with wedges - I'm using of late on the roots and stump of a great old spruce we had taken down last fall.
The title for this piece - Yoga Miler - is the name for a domain I registered 18 months ago, then did nothing with. Now I know why. The blog was on its way.
I had registered the domain because I thought I might use it to advertise down the road when my meditations on a really long distance run were finally in order in the practical world. This was to be a 140 mile lope, from Nelson to Nelson via New Denver, spread out over a few days, sponsored by the world's major distilleries - right of first refusal goes to Glenmorangie - and featuring evening sidebar events in the arts, especially, but not exclusively, music. It would not be, must not be, an actual race. There would be severe penalties for anyone trying to make it such. Like being shot. Some of my turning point physiological instruction was given by one Kevin Wallbridge, the Yang style Tai Chi instructor in our local TCM school. In his former life, he was a marksman in the army, partially due to his having the stop breath part just right. I wasn't a lousy shot, but any means, but I know now that my range instructor wasn't as smart as Kevin
But first I have to see if I've learned enough to do this run myself.
The posts will keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Long Sabbath

And on the fifth day, he rested.

And also on the sixth, with the difference being that he went back to a little fiction writing, and also wrote a fairly provocative email. Or did he actually do the fiction on the fifth day? Writers always write, as somebody said in "Throw Momma From the Train"; the brain keeps grinding through the same old familiar stuff until finally a few new elements show to make it worthwhile to put something on paper. Or, as it is now, computer screen.
I only got to this sort of rig in 2004, thanks to a totally surprising Christmas gift from an old music student. Before that it was a typewriter, starting with a 400 pound Smith Corona back in 53, autumn thereof. That machine was so old it had the carriage return on the other side, and when I was hammering on it, set up on the desk in my room in the back bedroom of a veterans' rental home area called Renfrew Heights, it shook the house. Part of this effect was its sheer weight, and part was my joyful enthusiasm, because I had at last found an assignment in English that I actually was inspired by.
There are writers - I think L.M. Montgomery was one of them - who enjoyed composition assignments in school. But not me. I didn't mind analyzing the syntax of a passage of literature, but I did not enjoy creating passages for my teachers to analyze, rarely with much enthusiasm. I would much rather have solved a page of algebra problems, or made my own notes out of a history text. I certainly liked English class, loving stories or plays, basking in the images of the poetry even if I questioned the manliness of the art from time to time, and as I was bright enough to virtually obliterate ordinary homework by getting everything done by 3 pm, I had my evenings free to read, which was something I did as automatically as other people do not.

I read all over the place, but my most consistent fodder was Westerns, for love of horses, the outdoors, problem solving, and especially in Zane Grey, a little practical theology. It was not until I was twenty, and had fallen in love with Hemingway, and then twenty-one, and equally enamoured of F. Scott Fitzgerald, that I began to lose the dream of the 1870's as the perfect decade in all the history of mankind. Well, post WW1 Arizona too, for that was the setting of Grey's 'Code of the West', probably my single favourite of that voluminous scribbler. I've always wondered why they never made the movie when Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn were younger. And, I declare under Heaven, it was from Georgiana Stockwell's silent weeks in the homestead cabin that I first experienced the idea of the thirty day retreat designed by Ignatius Loyola. I was only ten, but everyone who understands the theology and psychology of vocations knows about ten year olds. Hell on wheels. George Eliot's Lydgate, realizing he's going to be a doctor, Joseph Raztinger knowing he's going to be a priest.
Sometimes these things can come earlier, of course. Back in the days when the modern Catholic claptrap really started to get out of hand - I'm not talking here about the sexual abuse thing - Marianne and I kept our peace of mind by ignoring the Nelson cathedral goings on and driving thirty miles every Sunday to Castlegar for the masses of a former African missionary, originally from Holland. We got to be excellent friends, during which time Father Herman told us that he had felt the spark at age 6, when a missionary priest used to visit the family home and tell stories of his life in the Dark Continent. It was fine with Father Herman's mother that he become a priest, as long as he didn't bog off to Africa. Why do so many mothers only see half the picture?
And what about me, at ten? Well, I did fall into Zane Grey, and I did have a marvelously powerful experience of hearing someone else tell a story, and then at eleven I ran into the author's Muse bigtime when I was telling a tale of my youthful travels to a new friend. All of this more or less on a lovely little Gulf island, where my Dad was logging with horses after the war.
But somehow, in my schooling, there was no format for making use of these revelations, and I puttered on thinking I was going to be a lawyer until the fateful Saturday morning, not long after I had turned sixteen - my birthday is January 2, the same as the Little Flower's - when in the course of puzzling my way through Hemingway's 'Farewell to Arms' - I ran into a very frightening Something telling me I was a novelist.
Christ, was I scared. As I said, I didn't even like composition. And the bloody book was such a contradiction of all the things I thought I believed in. Jesus. The 'hero' is sacking his nurse and deserting the army. Shit. I'm a boy scout and a cadet, and my grandparents are Baptists. Where in hell is there any reconciliation between these morals and mine?
I had picked up the book in the Hastings East public library. My own school library at Britannia, now coincidentally celebrating the 100th anniversary of its opening, just like UBC and the Archdiocese of Vancouver, had some great stuff on its shelves - I've written a small poem about this- but the Hastings East was bigger. Walls and walls of books. I used to wander around in it like a farmer looking over his fields. I was a great fan of Roderick Haig-Brown and Arthur Heming , but I'd exhausted the local supply and fell into the next chap, Ernest Hemingway.
It is, of course, a great passage, that first page or so about the king of Italy driving by. My heretofore unacknowledged writer's soul responded to the magic and I took home the book, to be discovered in depth the following Saturday morning. My Dad, my next brother, and I had nailed together a room in the basement. Two by two's and gyprock painted yellow. My brother and I had bunks, from the day we moved into the house, September, 1948.
A year-and-a-half passed, while I finished high school and entered UBC, and no plots. But once I was settled into my classes and the Ubyssey, I faced into a wretchedly wet, dark, late October afternoon and started pounding out my first novel. Hunt and peck, as journalists will, but going awfully quick and having a great time. I'd discovered that I could write dialogue! They had never asked for dialogue in composition class. The first day, I wrote four whole pages.
As George Wendt said in the 'Cheers' episode where he gets a job as a beer taster, "Honey, I'm home!"
The setting? Quite quickly our hero joins a company cruising down the coast on a yacht.
The plot? Don't ask. As the French say, one really does have to burn the first million words. But you may inquire as to the inspiration, so as to get a feel for what I was seeing in my tyro author's imagination, and you should know that the plot it has now is stuffed with the music instruction, to say the least.
In 1949, in the summer before I entered Britannia, visiting my maternal grandparents little house at the bottom of Sechelt Inlet, I found a completely unbroken set of the episodes of a serial, in the old Saturday Evening Post, by Victoria writer Arthur Mayse. The story was called Perilous Passage. It was also published by William Morrow in New York, and it was set on one of the American Gulf Islands, given a fictitious name. I simply melted. It was my rite of passage, my vision quest, my confirmation ceremony.
In the next Post, I promise, I'll explain why. Unless some hard news intervenes, of course. This blog thing is not unlike the old news room of the Vancouver Sun, where I was present more than once when a news break blew the make-up of the front page just as it was about to go to press.