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.

No comments: