Thursday, August 28, 2008


When I got up from my afternoon nap, rather later this day than usual, as I was restless after lunch and had not only to write an email but also go for a moderate walk - half the lake shore, as we call it, - I turned on the computer and got no new messages. But I did get a very nice feeling about the process. When I came back again, an hour later, still no messages, but an idea. The Hastings East Public Library.
Not entirely unstimulated by the media, mind you, as the Pacific National Exhibition at Vancouver is in its final days, and the PNE held forth throughout the days of my youth just a few blocks east of the HEPL. That's close to HELP, is it not, and libraries, as they held books, were certainly the help and health of my childhood. We get the PNE every night with the weather, what with Global TV camped out there for all the reasons TV stations set up their tent. Hermits don't watch all the news as a general rule, because most of it is man made, and of questionable interest. The weather's source is of another kidney, and worth checking out.
Mind you, I really don't need much instigation to recall the Hastings library. There were a lot of good books in that place, and I would have never forgotten it just for that reason, even if I had never found there the Hemingway that told me I was a novelist. Libraries, small or large, in schools, homes, or otherwise were my way stations, the places I changed horses in my literary gallop around the universe. The horses were always fresh, too, so my mind could proceed at a lively pace.
To what degree has the Net begun to substitute for that marvelous opportunity that a good library presents to the searching mind? And does the electronic screen fulfill all the emotional, imaginative, and intellectual needs of the reader curled up in his armchair? In all those years when I knew that one day I would be making use of the computer - although never suspecting that I would actually use it to publish fiction - I insisted that there was no way a computer screen could substitute for that jolly collection of words on a page, between covers, that make up a book.Of course it was good for writing and communicating, and one of the vast improvements it has brought to social intercourse, especially among family and friends is its utter lack of intrusiveness and opposed to the telephone. The writer says what he or she wants when it is required to be said, and the reader takes it on at his or her convenience. No one needs to be interrupted in his daily schedule. Rather like a Trappist monastery, in a way, and society can never have too many monasteries, no matter what Henry VIII thought. Conversation without noise, and to a purpose beyond gossip, at least in an orderly diocese. But a stack, or tower, and a monitor are not easy to curl up with in an armchair of an evening in the winter, or in a hammock under the trees on a warm summer's day.
I've yet to use a lap top, and the only time one has figured in my life was some years ago when my son whose profession is the cyber world showed me where to turn his on, and then explained how soft ware could be updated like notes in a ring binder, so that necessary corrections and improvements did not have to mean a second edition, as with a book. This would seem to some to be a very small moment, but it was unmistakeably a sign to me that me and the Net were getting closer to each other. And you know - or maybe you don't - what Saint Thomas says about the size of the sign so often being in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the upcoming event.
The other day MT mentioned to me that she'd heard some chap had brought the computer closer to the book with the invention of a little rig for people - like him - who don't like the glare of a screen. It would be interesting to see such a thing in operation. Could I curl up with it in bed on Saturday mornings as I used to when I was a kid? Or in bed at night pick it up for a chapter or two after I've done night prayer in the breviary? I imagine it can plug into the same extension cord that the bedside lamp does, and run on batteries for when I'm riding the ferry to the East Shore. Ah, but the new ferry - 2000 - has outlets, especially for computer users.
When Gutenberg invented printing, were there people who still preferred the old calligraphy to cast type? Technology persists in making us change, or threatening to make us change, our fondest habits. But there are also perversions of technology, in a market driven economy, that lead us up blind alleys and prove no real improved substitute.
One thing no amount of gizmos can do is replace the feel of walls of bookshelves, crammed with old favourites of a life crammed full to the brim because of the automatic habit of reading the best that was available. In such a house it is utterly impossible to feel lonely, unless for some reasons of his own God inflicts that sense for reasons of prayer, or a warning of a soul in need that he will produce in due time. In this room the east and west walls are covered by books, floor to ceiling, end to end, and the north wall holds a medium size book case full of children's classics.
In the master bedroom, I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning looking at thirty lineal feet, in four shelves, of theology, philosophy, apologetics and so on.
So, yeah, as much as I can realize that the Hidden Designer of all science and technology always had me most tenderly in his mind when he persisted in encouraging me to keep on writing in spite of the intransigence of publishers because he knew the computer was coming, I probably keep in the back of my mind that the ordinary way of getting up a text still has possibilities, not only for the sake of places without computers, but also for the plain comfort of holding a good book in your hand, or seeing it on your shelves.
And then there is the old monastic trick, adaptable to households or friends who care about each other, yet tumble into having fallings out, for one reason or another. Where books have been a medium of communication, when it is time to test the waters for reconciliation, you find a borrowed book and take it over. The return might not break the ice, but then it might, and anyway you have tried to re-knit the bond of charity without a direct frontal attack. We're not so likely to exchange computer screens, even very small ones. Or am I wrong? Perhaps some member of the younger generation could enlighten me.
Shawn used to say that to me in our first days together: philosophers are right when they affirm, wrong when they deny. And we inevitably deny when we refuse to take instruction.
We three went rambling yesterday, via bus and ferry and shanks mule to the East shore of Kootenay Lake, and I was moved to take up "Wind in the Willows". I must have been really moved, because For a long moment I wasn't able to find it, on the shelves holding the children's books I mentioned earlier, and that made me very anxious, a feeling I know from long experience means it was important to read the book. I got to the first pages coming back on the ferry, and fell right into it.
I first read Kenneth Grahame's little masterpiece when I was in grade seven, in North Burnaby just after the family started moving back, in sections, from Lasqueti Island. My mother and the youngest brother came first, then me, then my Dad and the middle brother, just before Christmas, and I was reunited with my bike. I was enrolled in Kitchener Street School, close at hand to the little apartment my Uncle Roy had built at the northern end of his basement on Gibson Avenue. As always, I instantly gravitated to the school library and there found WITW.
As always, let me read the relevant classics, and no one gets hurt.
Thus, for a happy childhood. In all our innocence, free of worldly ambition, children of the fields and the stars, the oceans and the streams, we absorb what to us seems most natural, most beautiful, most full of meaning we absolutely have no faculty to define. But eventually comes adulthood, with its warfare over right and wrong, black and white, truth and error, and we suddenly realize the great cunning of the Holy Spirit in how he guided the child's literary meandering that in later life would be so useful to adult research. Thus we have Badger against the stoats and ferrets, and Gandalf against Wormtongue. Sometimes these treasures of instruction lie useful only in theory. They must wait on the day of reform, recovery, and retribution. But that day inevitably comes, like the Israelites delivery from Egypt, and later, Babylon, and then we see why we were so taken by the images of our childhood, and so adultly instructed by them now.
Our Capuchin bishop has just put in another triduum of daily masses and sermons. The household cavalry attended. In various subtle ways the Spirit flexed his muscles, and there were many encouraging signs. Some long awaited graces appear to be on their way.
And grace, as we know, builds on nature. The nature of friendship, the nature of art. Lately,I have reconnected with a very dear old friend from my formative days as writer. This afternoon, after picking up Dylan's "Unplugged" at our local record store, I found myself in the old, old, groove of being anxious to learn a song. (In recent years, with all my energy going to technique, that's rarely happened.) Desolation Row. Words, music, chords. It feels good for a first run at recording. Some half-wit of a critic called it surrealistic. Humph. Dylan has always been the closest thing I know to John of the Cross. That's not at all surrealistic, just out of reach for the unlucky. We'll have to see what happens. Computers are also libraries, when it comes to music, and they can make the tune available over and over again, so you can get it right. Powerful stuff. Alleluia.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Autumn Leaves

It would seem, after a month of rewrite, that chapter five of "Contemplatives" is now finished for the third time. The second time, it suffered only minor changes, in the course of MT and I recording it - in Studio G, the same room this computer functions in - for its audio distribution. Good heavens. That was fifteen years ago.
I must confess - and this feels all but sacramental - that I was not initially peaceful about realizing that I was probably faced with a major rewrite, and I think I was even more disturbed on Friday last when I peeked ahead into chapter six and there felt the deepest possible sting of discernible inadequacies regarding those pages as well. Fortunately, we were scheduled for a post-lunch walk, to the park and then back along the lake shore, and as I stepped off the stairs to the sidewalk I spotted a seagull, riding the considerable currents of the western wind. I should add that I had already had an after lunch nap, on the newly acquired broad hammock on the western porch, and having, as usual, been battered by all the devils who get their licks in before I have a chance to get my mind into my own gear again, I was still vulnerable to all the slings and arrows of the contemplative life.
But I had taken up, again, in the morning, that very nice piece of writing by a fellow Kootenayan, Patrick Lane: his "There Is a Season", all about a lovely garden - on Vancouver Island - the creatures within it, and the garden of his own soul, lately put on the way to recovery from a life of addiction, and I managed to see the seagull as Patrick might have seen him, one of God's creatures functioning in all perfection as his nature meant him to. I thought I simply must do the same thing as an author, and wrestle with the new winds of rewrite. After all, the computer and the Net offer an opportunity neither Homer, nor Shakespeare, nor Hemingway could ever dream of. Carpe diem.
Damn the torpedoes. This day England expects. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. The moment of truth, and the machinery of truth. As I said at the beginning, I think Father McNabb would have liked this rig.
The thing is, three decades ago Patrick Lane and I spent a very fine evening together in the Royal Hotel, on Baker Street, in Nelson. It was quite possibly as significant a couple of hours as any of the conversations, valuable as they were, that went on in the Algonquin Hotel in New York, the hang out of Dorothy Parker and company, or the Mermaid Tavern of Shakespeare's day in London. None of those souls were mystics. Elizabethan England, hating Spain, ignored the Carmelites, and Blighty has wobbled ever since, and I'm not aware of any circumstances in which John of the Cross and the Big Apple have actually been on speaking terms.
This was back in the late 70s, when Patrick was in Nelson - where his mother grew up - to teach a poetry writing course at summer school at NDU. I had set out on my bicycle, not to find him, but to visit a folk music friend living on the North Shore. That lad was not at home, but I found Pat staying there, and with one word between writers leading to another we both realized we would suffer no loss chatting in a pub for an hour or two.
The main point of the evening discussion was that the entire point of teaching any art was to get the student to realize the value of one good line. Screw quantity, and all that professorial shit about 500 words. Get a small gem, and continue from there. The world was full of words, so many of them execrable, not in themselves, but in the way they were assembled into some supposed shape with a message, often from a premature lust for quantity. The well carved image was the best word, in the best order, and brevity was rarely a fault.
I don't read much modern poetry, although I appreciate the spirit that poets bring to any community, because I read the old stuff. The psalms in the Divine Office, the images and their commentary in the incomparable wisdom of John of the Cross. But I appreciate that Patrick's capacities as a poet have done him no harm in the prose of his book.
Pat spoke quite a bit about a student from his class who seemed to understand these principles. I probably talked about my six weeks in a summer class in creative writing where the best thing that happened to me was my study of Hemingway's short stories. Now there was brevity, and an awful lot of spit and polish. (By the way, I just wrote to Bob Dylan, which then inspired me to recall another hotel evening, in September of 76, which will probably inspire a short story, featuring his compositions.) And then the lad showed up. He actually looked a fair amount like Dylan: small, dark-haired, sensitive, lively, and ready to razz the butt off two older blokes should they get too tendentious. I don't remember his name and I have no idea whether or not he became a poet, but I do know that the principles we're talking about are the principles of every aspect of an intelligently lived life and I was putting them into operation late yesterday afternoon when I went for a five mile walk, and stopped periodically to either meditate or essay some intelligent stretches. My thigh muscles are giving me trouble. I think I've been negligent about the quad stretches taught by the Andersons. So, put your hand on the railing of any handy bridge, or the fence marking the path off from the airport, and catch the foot behind the back so as to stretch the quads and the muscles and ligaments next the pelvic bones.
As Socrates said, gymnastics and music. On the same day, I figured out some nifty left hand for the key of G. MT the other day bought a musical chakra block. Eight notes, in eight cylinders. made on Salt Spring Island, and sold locally by a lad from the French-speaking part of Northern Ontario. I knew she'd get around to it, after our cruising the shop, successfully, on a search for wooden chimes. MT said that G is the heart chakra, and I can believe it, thinking of all the songs in G, including Dylan's "Don't Think Twice".
This is a song about the heart, determined not to be ensnared, yet honestly grateful for the experience of the trying, just as, going into chapter six with an awareness of some major re-ploughing, I am grateful for working through the shocks of chapter five. Some plot changes there, too. To tell the truth, I always felt that five was a little clumsy, but the best I could do. I had two points at least to make. First, I was nagged by the thinking patterns of those who do not understand the spiritual man, that they might think that I thought that just because a soul knows uprightness and peace of mind it is unaware of and out of contact with the worst evils. Secondly, and most important, I had to establish the fact that for all his excellence of mind and self-control, Jacob Cameron had the capacity to get angry and appear at least a little frightening in the process. Nicholas Taylor, whenever he showed up, would have to understand this. As it has turned out, the original exchange between Garfield and Jacob was only a holding pattern, and I am much happier with the new version. I think it has a deeper texture, and I know that it also faces into a problem that would have to be dealt with sooner or later.
There was also a bit of humour in the encounter of tempers, a literary joke on myself and the history of my evolving as an author.
Jacob, Michael, and Nick were my original three young men, all meeting together on a yacht in the first pages of 1953. They did not then have those names, and the only distinguishing features among them was their mutual affection for literature, and Jacob's ability to play a guitar, which came as an utter surprise to his creator. Jacob finally got a name, albeit only a last one, in the short story, "The Axe", published in 1958 in the UBC Raven by the then editor, the future Knight of Glin. That was a very violent story, as it concluded with Cameron throwing an axe at the head of his badgering boss and killing him instantly. It was probably a masterpiece of impossibilities, even though it was genuinely inspired, and always ragged my conscience whenever I thought about in later years, until I finally had to admit that the first rule of fiction was that it must be symbolic rather than literal. And, it must also be said, although I am most certainly not the fictional Jacob, I have thrown an awful lot of symbolic axes since. It is impossible to be at one with the Scriptures and not do this. But at the same time, spelling out Jacob's character for the sake my own sense of mankind in the round, I was delighted at the lack of any real physical violence. By the time I was writing chapter five, I had probably started laughing, not always an easy thing to do when under the pressure of trying to get the supernatural life on paper, except when it is an occasion for laughing at oneself.
I think about this pressure as I gear down for chapter six. At the keyboard just before breakfast - bacon and tomato sandwiches, toasted, as the harvest is overflowing in late August, my oldest daughter's feast day as we speak - I realized that music must probably go in where it did not before. I was making good sense out of the last Dylan song I recorded for Mrs. Buckley's Tea Chest. We also may have to bring the Transformation closer to the front than originally intended.
I'm wondering if the Church Militant, at least in part, needs to learn some docility. It would not be the first time.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Grails of August

It was at Albert College, in Belleville, Ontario, in the late autumn of 1944, that I first made the acquaintance of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. I was utterly captivated, felt challenged mostly by Sir Galahad, and I suppose began to ponder the significance of the search for the Grail, although somehow my archly casual relationship with the Collingwood East Baptist congregation had given me no education as to the existence or purposes of chalices. (Later, a Sunday school teacher would tell my class that Jesus would have used coffee at the Last Supper.)It was around 1972, I think, that I read Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August", to be struck both by the title and the mysterious significance of General von Francois' stubbornness sticking so meaningfully in my mind. Von Francois was the commander of the German right at the battle of Tannenberg and refused to launch his attack until the high command under Hindenberg sent him the new eight-mile guns. The Russian artillery, unfortunately for the Czar's forces, had a range of only five miles.
Around the end of the 80s I watched Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanours", with our youngest daughter when she was house-sitting down the street. Having not only played a role in a Chekhov play, but read a fair amount of his writing, I began getting restive as I spotted Chekhov's inspiration and also began to fear that Woody would be so ungallant as not to somehow give credit. But Woody made his acknowledgement not too far along, in his usual craftsmanlike way. Thus, the mention of Ms. Tuchman and her catchy title. Just as good, in its own way, as the Bats of October. (Actually, I think she came first.) The Bats are relevant, by the way, as I seem to be picking up more readers south of the line.
Contemplatives was begun, as I think I have said, on March 17 of 1980. I did not know then that I had some Irish in my blood, in a great-grandmother - also from the US of A - by then apparently lost to family history, but I knew that I had been instructed and baptized by an Irish priest, and sung and taught a lot of Irish folk songs. The sequel also saw the light in the middle of the same month. It was something about the spring, something about the drama of leaving another university year for the summer holiday. That too is a Grail that drew me for years and years, but it was not a Grail of August.
But "The Yacht", the first adventure at the typewriter, was originally a late summer or autumn piece, and throughout its various draughts has stuck with the schedule. It's not just something about the waning sunlight and the autumn mists signifying the end of life, and thus showing us the useful heart of melancholy and poetic and metaphysical speculation on the ultimate meaning of human existence, but also the expectation and excitement any real student feels at the thought of a new year at school. Well, perhaps any real older student. In my earlier years I had such a love for the freedom of opportunity in the holidays, that I honestly think I was a bit of the groaning school boy as the day of return to the class room approached. Thus the spirit of the one chapter of "The Yacht" that has turned up this blog at this point. It was a lovely morning to wake up to, day after day, when you could think of turning your feet in whatever direction they felt like going. I was not actually unhappy once school was on again, because I did enjoy the various mental challenges to a degree, but I know now that my summers were actually exercises in youthful contemplation, with no human in the form of a teacher present to interrupt or misdirect my process of appreciating creation and the variety of things and people in it. Children, unless they fall into trouble of the moral sort, are quite naturally gifted to follow note 235 of the Ignatian exercises, and might even experience some of what John of the Cross talks about in the commentary on the fourth stanza of the Spiritual Canticle.
One cannot think of the Round Table, or the Grail, without also thinking of ordeal, of trial in one form of warfare or another. Membership at the table was a desirable honour, and the possession of the lost chalice was perhaps the goal of goals, but to join the first and even to begin the search for the second was to expect a lot of bruising.
By the time I was ready to enter grade nine, I had a fairly good work ethic, like the rest of my family, and I had done well at school, in fact leading the class in recent years even though I was not really a young swat. But I had no articulated sense of the dignity of simply "being". I enjoyed "being", as my love for the holidays proved obviously proves, but I had never encountered a professional philosopher who could tell me that "being" was actually superior to "doing" and I only knew how to measure accomplishment, in the eyes of adults, by actually producing something, like a page of answers to math questions, or a well-stacked pile of wood or dishes. (There were no girls in my family.) From time to time, moreover, I felt guilty about having such a love for reading stories.
But one fine evening late in August, God introduced his special psychological operations on my soul in a new way.
It was after supper, and my brother and I had done the dishes. I was free for the evening until it was time to go bed. Through the kitchen window while we were at the sink I had seen that the huge pile of stumps and roots stacked up on the north-east corner of the big cleared area intended as the neighbourhood playing field had been fired, and by the time the dishes were finished it was a roaring great blaze. Naturally I wanted to walk up the block-and-a-half and have a look.
But I suddenly felt as if I had the flu and greatly disappointed, crawled into my bunk. I was so overcome with surprise and indisposition that I don't think I even had it to take a lingering, regretful look out the bedroom window, on the same side of the house as the kitchen. All I was capable of doing was telling my mother that I had suddenly taken ill and that it seemed as if I had the flu. She was almost as surprised as I had been, because of course only minutes before my brother and I had been roaring through the dishes in our usual lively fashion, joking, singing, talking up the day, and racing. I washed, he dried, and I could keep up with him until we got to the pots and pans, so I would store up the silverware until I got to the stickier stuff and then dump it all into the dish rack and start in on the slower section. I had showed no signs of illness then.
I must have looked ill, too, for my mother didn't argue with me, just looked as concerned as I felt.
I lay in my bunk for half-an-hour, puzzled, disappointed, but not in any physical pain, although I knew very well that my muscles and nervous system were not about to let me go anywhere. My principal thought must have been that with only a week of holiday left it was a rotten time to get sick. And I knew I didn't have any mind for reading, which was the thing I would most likely do any other time I was in bed when it was still light.
And then, as suddenly as it had come, it was gone. I felt fine. In fact, I felt great. I hopped down from the top bunk, put my pants and shoes back on and headed down the hall and through the living room for the kitchen and the back door. My mother, in the living room, asked me what I was doing. I said I was going to the fire. She said I couldn't go anywhere, as I was sick. I said I wasn't sick any more, honest, and kept insisting on my good health, until she said all right and let me go.
This startling episode - which nobody ever thought of or mentioned again - would have taken place not too many days after my discovery of "Perilous Passage", and was the other side of the coin that sometimes is called "the rites of passage". I had no way of connecting it with the earlier event, of course, and while God had no aversion to dumping unusual experience on my little soul, he likewise had no interest in explaining why at the time.
In retrospect, in trying to analyze why the experience landed at the time it did, I have decided that it was his way of telling me that there was, in my life, more to think about than school work.
And, because it was most definitely a ligature of the faculties, and a sizable one at that, it made a grand preparation for his coaching me, inflicting upon me, that very desirable empty space in the mind that is above all mere intellectual acquisitions of concepts or images. The East talks about this void void a great deal, and well it should, to students of the eastern forms of meditation,
because of the absolute need in the spiritual life, for detachment from all things except that which is above and beyond all things. Brahman, the Universal Mind, Allah. The sincerely meditative soul, bound on the Truth and nothing but the Truth, will always encounter the Nothing that is Everything, or All Things beyond all things. In these philosophical systems, excellent as far as they go, Being is Being, but it is not the Word that became Flesh, so it better stay pretty empty of human images, human concepts, except as they are, of course, necessary as steps on the ladder to the attic of emptiness. To achieve the void is no small victory, as the study of the Eastern thinkers makes abundantly clear.
It is also no small victory in the West, or amongst Christian intellectual endeavours, because of the necessity of metaphysical speculation and spiritual detachment from images and practices that actually obscure the whole significance of God becoming Man and choosing a Virgin Mother as his route for doing so. But here the image of the Word and the by-Divine-choice-equality of the image of the Divine Mother fill up the mental void so as to completely and most perfectly justify the purpose of its coming to be in the first place. In other words: Hail Mary, full of grace.
Man will never know perfectly until he dies the full significance of those words. Only when he joins the angels, and perhaps converses with the very angel that spoke the phrase, Gabriel, will he see, and understand, and embrace with complete spiritual security, all the treasures of Heaven, of which Mary is by no means the least part.
And yet the Seventh Mansion, the Transformation, the Spiritual Marriage does participate in the incalculable presence, in Heaven and on earth, of the Blessed Virgin. (Mary was a subject on which John Buchan, as fine a writer as he was in other respects, and whom I loved when I was young, made quite the fool of himself, as if somehow he had actually failed to learn the value of the medieval symbols that Walter Scott understood, even though Buchan wrote a most creditable biography of his predecessor among Scots novelists.) One might say that this supreme level of understanding and spiritual operation, created only by the supernatural action of the Almighty, is the unmistakeable sign and proof of the possession of the highest levels of the spiritual life.
But it begins where it begins, and those roots must lie in the good deep earth of passive prayer, which was what I was irretrievably introduced to the night of the bonfire on Normandy Drive. Mind you, I can't say that the experience gave me any special longing for returning to school, as would happen in later years, and was the substance of the inspiration for the title of this little essay, but the magical quality of those expectations could never have achieved the same provoking of my sensibilities without that surprising rocket through my brain, and I have to render the account of it here before I deal with the experiences of later years, especially with the late summer of 1957, which these days fights tooth and nail for supremacy over my recollections.
I shall continue, if only because it is the season for such kinds of thoughts, with education getting itself back into gear.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Agency Day

This is the 26th anniversary of the foundation of the George Edwards Agency, that august body of spiritual and literary brilliance, unsurpassed in the history of civilization, that oversees the employment of my talents. The 12th of August. In the family calendar it is a very big day, possibly the biggest after the feast of Ignatius, simply because of the way the Agency focuses the spiritual energies and capacities of the Seventh Mansion, ensuring that the supreme achievement of spiritual grace and glory is not squandered in any places that Christ and His Blessed Mother appear to deem wasteful and unworthy. The mere human vessel that carries so much grace is not always competent to discern merely on his own account where his efforts are best spent. Mankind is always in need, so the generous soul is vulnerable to misapplying good works, even unto the highest levels. One of the Agency's prime tasks, not always easy to accept immediately, is to have no truck whatever with a step taken in the wrong direction. Even popes have been known to have been set aside, and bishops, priests, and all sorts of otherwise worthy dignitaries get left in the dark before they even know they're in it.
Thus is the responsibility of the contemplative. Prayer comes first, or else.
It was in 78 or 79 that I first began looking for agents. I sensed that I was getting close to the 'final text' of the novel, and decided that it would be useful to this or that soul to try to function as an agent. Good for whomever I was trying to set up at the time, and good for the Nelson and the Kootenays, clearly by that time committed to establishing professional culture in its own right on its own turf. What could be a greater credit to a young cultural centre than the first novel in history to be allowed to deal with such an exalted subject?
The first contacts were interesting, but did not come to anything conclusive. Then, in December of 81, with the story unfolding at an alarming rate for a few weeks, I lost my nerve dealing with a local publisher. This had never happened to me before, outside the baleful glare of my incredibly well-read wife, my editor of editors, and to my rescue immediately came Jill Cormie, for ever afterward known as the senior agent. She had a great love for good novels, as well as a full understanding of the Carmelites, and a profound distaste for seeing me disconcerted among those who in the world, either as members of State or Church, pass for authorities and people of influence. She was a graduate of the tumultous days of the house on Elwyn Street, and a convert to the Faith. Her literary specialties included the Life of Teresa of Avila and The Lord of the Rings. She was very good at spanking her children and thus was well-trained for dealing with the general run of modern editors and publishers. She dealt with the local publishing hopeful who had disturbed my confidence.
But the agency itself was not yet formed, and I had one more play to do, Agatha Christie's 'Mousetrap'. This was the production that was to recreate the Nelson Little Theatre and thus install the third local drama group that was necessary for Nelson to qualify for the government money that would fuel the restoration of the Capitol and thus provide the community with the rather enviable live entertainment facility where my granddaughters annually strut their dance skills. We staged the play, I had my hernia operated upon, 'Chariots of Fire' came to town, I took up running, got in touch with an old UBC friend who for a time looked hopeful as a publisher, had that collapse, had myself collapse, and then MT became junior agent - and major mover of the outfit, having to deal on a daily basis with Moi - by simply asking for the job and then promptly going to the Nelson library and taking out Bennett Cerf's autobiography. Not that Random House was to prove of any use. As with all publishers of our acquaintance so far, including the people in Rome, they were incapable of theological dialogue at the most significant level. It's not easy being right.
And now publishers generally seem to be in a little trouble. is the new kid in the literary saddle, and we realize, the agency and I, that this is a very good thing. Nobody is faster than the Web, nobody is more democratic, except in those parts of the world where the average Joe and Jill don't have computers, and then publishers could be of help. It's a brand new vocation for the presses of London, New York, Toronto and so on, being actually useful to the Third World instead of just talking about it.
How long will it take for them to realize it?