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.

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