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.

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