Sunday, September 28, 2008

New York, New York

Broadway, Madison Avenue, Wall Street, here we come.
And I did not do it My Way, by the by, as that is a road for half-wits, no matter how talented.
Take ye counsel from every wise man. Or wise woman. I think I know more wise women, at this point, than I know wise men, and one of the wise women simply nodded and grinned when I passed through the kitchen on this wonderfully sunny mid-day in the Kootenays and said I was on my way to talk to Hammacher Schlemmer about the chord-teaching guitar they feature on page 77 of the latest catalogue.
For most of my life, of course, I could only have chuckled and snorted my way through the pages of all that stuff they offer to people with, generally, more money than they know what to do with. Such a catalogue had no business in the house of a man who had taken a Franciscan inspired private vow of poverty. But then along came the parental estate, God bless it, and various bits of information being fed into the electronic surveillance of the moneyed classes, and the HS catalogue began showing up in my mailbox. As John Lennon wrote, Let It Be, and see what happens. Some of the stuff is genuinely useful, and I am, after all, the creator, at Shawn's instigation, of the great Gaetan Renard, at least one man of the universe who knew how to spend his money wisely.
But I am not a technician. Well, not an electronics technician. Actually, with MT's help with a yard or two of elastic fibre I've got quite clever in the manufacture of something that may turn out to be a most formidable enemy of high blood pressure. Maybe HS might like to talk about that, too. But for the moment we'll stick to music. Music, and phenomenal amounts of money insofar as it is generated in the process of genuinely useful manufacture. New York knows all about money, or did know before it let all those mortgage managers screw things up on the grandest possible scale. Mammon, Mammon, Mammon.
Money has a use, of course. And people with money even have a use, when they know that it's there for using wisely. So the question is, can money create a truly useful electronic teaching system with an instrument? The guitar manufacturers, whoever they are, have definitely been up to something useful. When the wheel came along, and before that fire, only fools denied the God-given advantage to mankind's struggle to get back to Paradise. So now, only fools will deny the possibilities in impeccably efficient instruction techniques in a guitar that speaks according to the norms of mathematics.
I emailed Hammacher Schlemmer. But then, I've emailed a lot of people. My agents have written to a lot of people. Some of them have woken up. Some have not.
The entire state of Georgia failed to wake up when I announced that I was prepared to write an opera based on Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind". New York could easily be just as thick.
Tune in next week, when the Lone Ranger says . . . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Portrait of the Author

So now, thanks to my granddaughter, we have my face on the blog. Or, as I like to think if it, one of my faces. It's not particularly discernible, because my tech opted for body language and background rather than a close up. Nice hat, though, you have to admit. It's new, an excellent design by Tilley - and it's already had a number of compliments, so any reader not liking it will not be listened to. My sister-in-law particularly likes it - she's seen the full photograph, via computer - and that clinches the argument, because she's always been very special to me. There was a time in the courtship of Shawn Harold when her ten-year old sister was the only person in the entire clan who liked me and thought of me as a suitable husband for the first born of the outfit.
Now as the Greeks so wisely said so long ago, "A thing goes into a man according to his disposition."
Even his own portrait must suffer the effect of this unbreakable law. I was not initially keen on Marianne's choice. I look too passive, perhaps a little sad. Just like Michael Gambon in the 2007, excellent, BBC filming of Elizabeth Gaskell's "Cranford". Not at all like the Billy the Kid image I'm actually feeling a lot these days. Those guns are slung low, tied down, with filed triggers and a pair of very itchy hands above them. I have this feeling that there are a lot of journalists out there, for one thing, who need to learn how to dance until the bullets stop. And I keep thinking of Peter O'Toole's film, "The Ruling Class", I think it's called, where the establishment wouldn't deal with a Jesus figure, so they got Jack the Ripper.
But as I thought about the photo, as I recollected over the years and the times that MT has proved her old teacher and still spiritual director dead wrong, I gave in and started to work with dear, dear, Michael. He is, he always has been, an excellent actor, and on Saturday night at the televison screening of a DVD, before the great Sunday morning encounter between Jack Hodgins and moi, he was Trigorin in the 70s BBC film of Chekhov's "Seagull", the play, directed in Nelson by John Stark, that brought me back to the stage after a six year absence. An impeccable Trigorin, was Gambon, in an excellent production. All this was simply too much to argue with, and so, dear public, I accept the comparison with Michael Gambon. My wife, on the other hand, doesn't see the resemblance. But then she is not, directly, writing this blog.
The background for the photo, which looks very "Rangerish", is the south wall of a little cafe on the East shore of Kootenay Lake, right at Kootenay Bay, where the ferry docks. The coffee shop is operated by friends of the lad who was our first renovator. He scared the crap out of me when he wanted to start with the roof - it has a very steep pitch - but we found other things for him to tackle and thus got a lot of very fine work done, including the renovation of the attic, where we now exercise on an erg, a dry land rowing machine.
Marianne and I started scouting the East Shore in 1998. She had begun to find herself profoundly depressed on Tuesdays, which happened to be John Paul's day off. February, 1998, was an unusually warm and sunny month, and somehow the North Shore bus service, originally set up to serve the good souls in Balfour, 20 miles east of Nelson, had rearranged itself so that Nelsonites could ride the bus out in the morning, and ride it back in at night. We rode the bus, caught the ferry, wandered around in the wonderful quiet of the East Shore. We even discovered salal over there. Salal is not supposed to exist east of the Cascade Mountains, the second barrier against the rain shadow that sweeps over BC from the Pacific. But there it was, shiny evergreen leaves, purple berries, just not as tall as the stuff I used to use a machete on when I was a surveyor at the Coast. We felt like professional botanists who had just made an important discovery. The old teacher, by the way, took a real whack over the head with identification. I trained her to be thorough, and by God, she's thorough, even when it means stuffing her old teacher in the trunk. It's reading that does it. Constant, dedicated, reading, of the right stuff. As Aquinas says, the Latin root for "reading" is related to the Latin root for "religious".
So, yeah, we'll go with Michael Gambon in the Mojo Cafe. He was, of course, the second Dumbledore. And JK Rowling and I have already had a bit of a push-me-pull-you via the mails.
So, think of the roles Michael Gambon has filled, so admirably, and think of Billy the Kid.
And think of Jack Hodgins and his "Broken Ground". There are some wonderful descriptions of stump blowing in that book. Incredible, actually, for my purposes, when I think of all my conversations with the angels. When I was eleven, on Lasqueti Island, sixty miles north of Vancouver, my father trained me as a powder monkey.
If not journalists, for those six guns, maybe bishops? It's interesting, how easily bishops get to imitate the Sanhedrin. Puffing and blowing like so many beached whales, blatting on about the decline of religion and the indiscretions of the young, yet themselves no more interested in perfection than a dog would be interested in a law degree. Emmett Doyle was one of the worst among them, of course, but others of my acquaintance have rarely been actually sensitive to the aura of spiritual purgation. Spiritually illiterate, basically, and apparently content to be so. Often ordinarily illiterate when it comes to literature as well. How else can one explain the pandering to the wonderfully sluttish appetites for inclusive language and almost filthy music for liturgy? It needs to be said over and over again: no one with any desire to accommodate inclusive language in any way has a spiritual life. It simply cannot be done. Therefore, we have a vast majority of bishops who have no real spiritual life. What a lovely situation for Christ's Church, especially when they don't even have the decency to apologize for the lack, nor show any inclination to take correction for the situation.
'Twas ever thus. This is the time of the year when Augustine, in the breviary, says most of his stern things about the shepherds. Then, when he's finished caning their butts, and got their attention, if not a little contrition, we have his letters to Proba, on - you guessed it - the life of the soul. It's a nice little schedule. One can only hope it gains a bit of a harvest this year.
As a little chap, I heard of the ten commandments. Later, as a young adult vigorously catching upon the catechism, I read of the two great commandments, love of God, love of neighbour. This is pretty much the schedule for most practitioners. But finally, what I really heard was the one commandment: Be ye perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. This really what it all boils down to, but why are there so few bishops sensitive to the fact?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Longer Desert

Well, there it is.
Blog post 37, a short story, or at least the first installment. "To Hunt the Lions", Canto One. I had labeled it "Philosophers All", but I had to cut that in favour of a numerical designation in order to minimize confusion.
My first published short story in fifty years. The first and last time my fiction was in print was in the spring of 1958, and I have rarely been inspired to try a short story since. In fact only two finished tales come to mind. Though they were not printed - I tried to publish with one of them- they were very useful exercises in their own way, each in their own right worthy of a footnote that would be a story in itself. The big push was always for the novel, so I could get all those spiritual symbols lined up and functioning. And for no end of other fiddling, in so many adventures outside the strict confines of my various writing rooms. Lord, there have been so many rooms. But, almost in the beginning, I worked long, hard, hours both studying and writing the short form. Somerset Maugham was the first author of my own choice, after high school, and I can recall feeling so pleased to step into the discipline of taking on a model. A few years later I wrote him a letter, and received one in return. I scrawled my signature, did not type a clear version, and on the reply he called me Mr. Key Lamb. My penmanship has rarely been better than that of Thomas Aquinas, unless I was dealing, on the blackboard or marking papers, with my students.
I thoroughly enjoyed the discipline of the shorter pieces. A short story is not unlike a song, something to be presented in a brief space. You're in, you're out. You make an impression. You may not say all that much but you say it in such a way that someone just might pay attention. Maybe I'll write a short story about the first time Shawn laid eyes on me. I noticed her, later I could tell her I remembered the costume she'd chosen for the New Year's party. She came as a nurse. But there were a lot of people at the party and we did not then exchange a word. It would be a full year until we spoke. But she noticed me, and my roommate. We seemed to be the only people there that were actually having a thoroughly good time. The kilts may have had something to do with it. She said I had looked great in a kilt.
Nonetheless, I've never worn one since, although many years ago I studied the chanter, and at the moment I'm practicing the Scots accent for some recording of stern wheeler stories at the end of the month. "Rhotic", they call the Scots dialect on You Tube. That's because you rrroll the r's. Rrrob Rrroy MacGrrregorrr. Just think Sean Connerrry, John Hannah, Billy Boyd.
But back to the short story, and the joy of writing one. Ulysses was away from home, from Ithica, for twenty years. Moses spent forty years trucking the Israelites around and across Sinai. And that seventy years the Hebrews spent in Babylon probably did not include one mature adult who had to twiddle his thumbs for seven decades. It was God who had to twiddle his thumbs, waiting for the habitually traitorous "People of God" to go through sufficient punishment for ignoring the prophets.
Of course I've not twiddled my thumbs. But there's been a little pocket of something missing in my soul, because I really did love the short ones, and, in a sense, they loved me. I suppose "The Axe" was so much of a vision piece because it would have to hold me to itself for so many years.
So I think I have created - or non-created- some kind of record. The gold medal for the longest silence. Well, in the genre. Not many people can think of me as silent by habit.
Medals are not irrelevant. Those are the things they give out at the Olympics, for one thing, and the Olympics are coming to the turf adjacent to Howe Sound in 2010. Interesting that #37 should be set on its shores. Perhaps there are a few people coming who read serious stuff, who look for, even expect, the transcendental in literature. The Muse was no doubt waiting for the coincidence.
I remember, in first year English, Doctor Creighton devoting an entire lecture to actually asking us our definitions of literature. He drew a lot of blanks, of course. In grade twelve you study a lot of literature but you aren't really asked to define it. That would require philosophy, especially metaphysics, and BC high schools did not then teach philosophy, nor do they now. Did he count out for us the five transcendentals: being, oneness, truth, goodness, beauty? I don't remember. Such a list would probably been a conceptual shock for me, even though I most certainly had pretty vast experiential knowledge of all of them, but I do remember that Creighton brought the concept of Spirit into the discussion. I hadn't thought of that either, although I always got a great deal of spirit out of reading anything that took my fancy, and I also by that time got even more out of the process of writing. I suppose the being of the things I named on the page leapt back out at me.
That is, the being had that effect in the moment of the writing, because I was working with the Muse in draught mode, and the Muse wanted to encourage me to keep up the process. But so often when it came to reading what I'd done I found it lacking. It wasn't Hamlet, it wasn't the opening paragraph of "The Sun Also Rises" or"The Idiot". And if there was a good first line, there was not often an adequate second.
And there was another problem, when you look at it from the the vantage point of more than fifty years later. If "The Axe" was genuinely inspired, then so was the very first short story I wrote, but of course did not publish, for the Saturday Evening Post. The idea came while I was waiting for the bus, on my way to the first Ubyssey party of the autumn of 1954, and it contained two college football players, one of whom would at the climax of the story refuse to tackle a running back from the opposing team, even though such a withdrawal from contact would ensure that the lad with the ball would score the winning touchdown, because he knew that the other player was actually in no condition to be in the game and tackling him would only aggravate his injuries. The missed tackle was not obvious, because he who designed it was in fact a very good athlete, and could make it look as if he had just missed. There were no boos from the crowd. Thus the embryo of Jacob Cameron, with the other player of course Michael Thurman, who knew what Jacob had done. Those were not then their names.
So, if you submit to the laws of inspiration, you realize some of the obstacles to my making an early career as an author of short stories. As with the two young men who were on the yacht in my first version of that tale, I was being moved to probe the history of the characters who would be the cornerstone of a very large dynastic series, exactly the opposite of what Poe, Chekhov, de Maupassant and so forth were all about.
But I never tried to use "Jacob" again until the autumn of 57 and "The Axe". I came up with other characters, other predicaments, for the briefer tales, and always, always, stayed away from the core of what I knew with absolute certainty I would eventually make my life's work.
Now, there is always the possibility of a great distinction between what the writer habitually thinks and what he writes, just as there are profound distinctions between the actual personality and character of an actor and the roles he or she plays. I don't think this distinction was ever greater, in the history of developing authors, than in my own, yet I always knew that there would come a day when everything, no matter how seemingly disparate, would come together, first in fiction, in novels, and then within the ordinary autobiographical form, but only after I was first published as a novelist. I was made to realize, in those first weeks at UBC, that I would have to write an account of my life with Christ. I was at that time given only one topic: how Providence would look after my finances.
My own peculiar sense of the waggish now ponders why Jesus was being so "commercial". Did he not say, "Man cannot love both God and Mammon?" Why did he not suggest a loftier topic to focus on than the funding for my board and room? He made no reference whatsoever to any of the purely spiritual, and in their own small way, supernatural, events he had been quite regularly walking me through. Nothing about the displays of light, the ligatures, visions, interior words. These alone would have rendered no small harvest of incidents wonderfully adaptable to the episodic form. But, although I most certainly was taking notes at the deepest possible level, I had no ideas for a form that could take the notes to the next steps. In terms of practical production, I had a head as divinely blank as any Buddhist could hope for. There was a massive amount of images going in, but nothing coming out except pieces of journalism for the Ubyssey, and the occasional essay that inevitably felt like anything but an exercise in verbal aesthetics, and of course the yacht novel, which was a deliberate avoidance of the huge complexities of campus life.
This condition of the short story potential was to last for a long time. But now it is over, so much over that this weekend past I emerged from the hermit's study to hear a reading and talk in Nelson by Jack Hodgins, an author from my own generation. It was a grand hour in every respect. I was mostly reminded of the fall of 74, when I met John Stark, come to our town to do Chekhov's "Seagull". Do some things take a long time? Oh yeah. The Leacock story he asked me to adapt for the stage in those weeks opened last week in Santa Monica, California, by now, as far as I know, a musical.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Innocents Aloft

It was now eleven, and fully dark. Howe Sound was quiet, but then it had been quiet all day, as Toby well knew, because he'd been on the same beach, a little further south, in the afternoon. There was only a small breeze sometimes riffling in the alders that grew just above the high tide line of driftwood, and now that it was dark, no traffic on the Squamish highway, up the bank above the beach. The only regular sound was the little lap of the tiny waves lapping on the sand below their blankets. Otherwise, it was quiet, a very nice quiet at the end of a very nice day. It was Sunday, and the day had begun with Mass, as Sunday had been doing now for months, in fact for almost a year, and then it had moved on before lunch to the beach at Lions Bay, with the girl he was less than a month away from marrying, and her high school friend and the lad the friend was going to marry. They had come in the lad's car because Toby didn't own a car anymore. The other lad owned a car very naturally, as he was a Porsch mechanic. He was also German, and his father had been in the Wermacht. Toby's father had been in the Canadian army. The two young men had shaken hands when they first met, grinned, and Toby, who was quick with words, said that with lineage like that he hoped there wouldn't be another war for a long time. They had all enjoyed the drive from Point Grey, and then enjoyed the water and the beach and the sun and the picnic and then drove back to Point Grey. They had dropped Toby off first because the two girls still wanted to talk about the old days and the changing days to come. Toby wanted to get back to his writing. It had been an hour or two short of supper and he could still get some good time at the typewriter with the novel he was trying to finish before he got married. This novel was the second run at the first long story he'd ever written, but not the same story as he'd got some nice remarks about a year earlier from a Toronto editor, and he was feeling hopeful. All the last year he'd said "Twenty-two, and nothing done." Now he was twenty-three, and that might be a good sign. Also, he'd done a lot of studying and joined the Church between the two books.
But he hadn't written a word when he got home. He hadn't even taken the cover off his old tractor down in his basement room. When he'd walked in the front door, they'd been sitting on the couch, Gabriel and Willow, side by side, like two children waiting to be taken to the fair, but not at all confident that it would happen.
"Toby! Thank God you're here!" said Willow.
"We've been waiting for an hour," said Gabriel.
"We want to climb the Lions," Willow said. "We plan to drive to Lions Bay tonight, sleep on the beach, and go up in the morning. Gabe knows of a logging road that can take us a long way in, and if we have any luck we can be up to the top and back down before dark. I've got the food picked out and everything. It'll be great fun. My last chance to hike before I got to San Francisco and Gabe has to back to the boat on Tuesday. He won't be back in town for days. But Dad says we can't go just by ourselves. You have to come too."
Gabe nodded, grinning. The word chaperon was not used, but it hung in the air and Toby had got the picture. They were each three different religions, Unitarian, Anglican, and Catholic, and the old standards mattered. The chances of trouble were profoundly slim, for not only did the other two behave themselves, they were not even in love with each other, as far as Toby could see. It was just student friendship, built around passion for similar interests, such as hiking and literature and amazing conversations, and not around a passion for nonsense. But the sensibilities of parents had to mean something. And the opportunity was certainly there. Willow was wonderfully attractive to anything in pants and Gabe was a handsome and abundantly lively fellow in his own right. He could feel two discomforts. Mr. MacBride's, for his beautiful daughter, and his own, for lack of the clacking typewriter.
He had obviously sighed and registered the loss of the writing time. And there was the question of too much leisure for himself. He'd already been to Lions Bay and had a lovely afternoon. Was he entitled to yet another day? Their faces had begun to register sheer apprehensions, and not without reason. He was, after all, the most disciplined son-of-a-bitch in all of the circles they'd ever known, although there was always the hope that since he was close to finishing his book he might be able to loosen up a little. More than once Gabriel had told him that he worked too hard, and didn't let things sit long enough.
"Okay. I'll do it. I'd feel better about it if Jelena could come too, but she has to work tomorrow, of course. If you bring the Coleman, I'll cook breakfast on the beach, and brag about the twenty course meals I could cook in the bush with two Colemans." He laughed, and it seemed all right.
So they had gathered their stuff and hit the road, Toby and the grateful pair, with Willow moving like a rocket before he changed his mind. Willow drove, through town and the park, over the Lions Gate bridge and on to the Upper Levels highway. To Toby's surprise, it all seemed fresh again, even though he'd only done the route a few hours before. He fell to thinking about the philosophers he was always reading now, the old and new Scholastics, with Aquinas heading the list, and when they reached a point in the road where it starts to turn fully into the view of the sound, under the setting sun, his soul went very still, so that he understood that all the world was his apple, and a very good apple to have. He was sitting in the back seat, on the left side, so he could look out over English Bay and the rest of the strait. It had all been his water for so long, with so many bays and coves, channel and islands and beaches, speaking to him as the Aegean had spoken to Homer, as far as the poetry was concerned, and ladling up as many adventures, but he'd yet to find the words to put it all down. On the other hand, in almost everything he read, he almost never found experiences of the mind like that which he was having at the moment. He studied the backs of his companions heads, and was very happy they made had him into a chaperon.
By the time they reached the beach and pulled off the highway down the road to the sand and the row of driftwood, it was dusk. The sun had gone down behind Bowen Island, and the high loom of Gambier rose up to the north of Bowen, mysterious as always to his imagination. He had been on Bowen, he had spent wonderful times at two camps on the Gibson shore beyond Gambier and perhaps even greater times up the Sechelt region, but he had never been on Gambier.
They had spread their sleeping stuff, fairly close to the water because the depth of the sand increased the further you got from the driftwood. Some of the driftwood lay on gravel. "Toby, is this tide coming in or going out?" Gabe said.
Toby thought for a bit. "It was coming in this afternoon, but that was almost six hours ago so it must be going out."
"Are you sure?"
"Why are you sure?"
"I've had a lot to do with tides and that's what I figure. When I was ten and we lived on Lasqueti I used to read the tidebook like the Bible, and my Grandpop on the Inlet is always battling with low tide because he bought his place in January when the tides are really high and now in the summer he has a lot of mud flat. And I've hunted oysters and clams. Once on Lennie's Lagoon we almost got stranded in the high tide. Is that enough?" He had felt profoundly well documented.
"Maybe." Gabe also knew about tides, but, according to Toby, only from the decks of his coastal freighters.
They had crawled into their blankets, the men on the outside gallantly protecting Willow in the middle. And they talked. Gabe was still thinking out the trio's relation to the characters in "The Sun Also Rises". On a previous ramble, over on Hollyburn, with no interest in any lofty summits like the Lions, they had argued over who was what. Willow of course was Lady Brett. But Gabe had said he would be Jake Barnes and Toby could be Robert Cohn. Toby had no objection to being Jewish, because every Jewish girl he knew at UBC was very good looking as well as talented and bright, but Cohn was obviously a jerk. Gabe had pointed out that he should remember that from the point of view of manhood he, Gabe, had made a great sacrifice by taking the role of Jake. Right, Toby agreed, and wished that Hemingway hadn't created so many losers.He had said this out loud and then he added, "Why is it that a guy who writes so well about nature and things has most of his people going around on crutches? I speak symbolically,of course."
"I bet you do," Willow had said, laughing gaily. "Otherwise Jelena wouldn't have you in the house." Everyone knew about their first argument, over symbols in literature. Jelena then had assumed she was going to be an English professor, and Toby at that point was finding himself suspcious of a lot of literary theories, even though in the months long before the argument, before they had met, he had loved everything he'd read about the Greeks. He'd stood on the foredeck of the ferry heading for Gibsons, on his way to visit his grandparents on Sechelt Inlet before he headed off for his marvellous summer in the woods two years ago, with Francis Ferguson in his hand and Aeschylus and Homer in his head and the sound of his own Aegean in his ears. Now he had learned how Agamemnon Channel, up at the top of the Inlet, had got its name.
And they they grew quiet, and closer to sleep. They had to keep a lid on the chat, sweet as it always was, because tomorrow would be a long and arduous day.
He'd never been to the actual top of a high mountain. Standing in the snow on the summit of an eight thousand foot ridge in the Niutes was as close as he'd come, two summers previous. But that had been one hell of an adventure. Not the climb, which was just up and steady in perfect weather, and the same back down, but all of a sudden, half way between the bare rock and the far edge of the snow comb, he'd realized that if he and his partner had kept going they could have fallen through an overhanging lip of snow, five hundred feet into the valley below. "Carl!" he had yelled to the boy ahead. Carl had turned back, no more than twenty feet from the edge of the snow. It was funny to see the foot marks stop before the end and return. Funny and frightening. He could still shake just thinking about it, sometimes. At other times it made a good story.
The summits of the Lions would be three thousand feet lower than the ridge in the Niutes, yet every foot of the way would be from sea level, and it was still a good hike. Going up the slope to the ridge he and Carl had started at around two thousand feet in altitude. Perfect weather, but he'd been a little disappointed that he had not been able to see the water at the Coast. By the time of the climb, well into July, he'd been pretty certain he was going to come back to UBC instead of heading off to Toronto to try his hand at journalism, and it would have been nice to see the real coastline, if only to spur the anticipation of returning. But he'd had to wait for that anticipation until they'd actually left the Homathko system, flying out in September under a blazing blue sky to Campbell River, bussing to Nanaimo, riding one of the CPR ships to Vancouver, sailing into the harbour at evening under a sky that at least to him seemed to be on fire. Four months away from the city, his pants filthy from the woods, his shouldered duffle bag the same, striding down the gangplank like Ulysses come back to Ithica. There'd even been a Penelope of sorts waiting too, but that had come to end and then there was Jelena and life really began all over again. No wonder intuition had told him to give his alma mater one more chance, to come back as a kind of graduate student and experience some of the campus life he hadn't taken on in his first four years. Well, three and something. In the fourth year he'd quit early to study on his own, and then work when he ran out of money, although he kept on reading well, and then for the first time in his life write with the best hours of the day. No more of writing in the evening after a full day of school.
The thoughts of morning writing had been different. More real, although of course he was older, and better read, than when he'd first run characters and dialogue through a typewriter. But there were no escapes into happy fantasy for the slicks, or pessimistic fantasy, for the little magazines.
That morning writing had been honest, from memory as best as he could do it, given certain limitations he had put upon himself. Then, two years ago, he would not even think about religious questions when he wrote. He was full of philosophical and religious questions whenever he was not at his typewriter. But at the machine of his chosen profession they were always set aside, until recently. It had been some sort of deal with God. All that stuff was to come later, when he could be sure he knew what he was talking about, and really had the words for it. And now he had some of the words, and probably more real experience than he could handle, but he had very little in the way of characters or plot. That's why he'd had to fall back on the old story of the yacht cruise, which was working, to some degree, but still was miles away from what he really knew.
It had been quiet for a couple of minutes. Maybe five minutes. And then Gabriel Franklin said, "Skinner, I have to tell you, you're dead wrong about these tides. There's water in the tip of my blankets." Toby sat up. There wasn't much light, but he could see what Gabe meant. The tide had indeed come in, and Gabe, being the furthest down the beach for some reason, had had the waves licking at his toes. His tall form was already out of the blankets and pulling them back up the beach to safer ground. Willow and Toby began following suit. Willow was laughing. Toby felt stupid. He could not remember ever in his life making a mistake about tides before. "Oh, God. I'm sorry. You're absolutely right. I must have misunderstood what was going on this afternoon."
"You deserve to be left to drown," Gabe said cheerfully. "But if I let you drown then you wouldn't finish your book and I wouldn't have any reason to write your biography."
"Are you telling me I don't have a life apart from my writing?" Toby was now laughing as well, thinking of his conviction that his life was now and had always been much more significant than what he could set down on paper.
"We know you do, but who else does? That's why you have to write about it. I can only become famous if you become famous first. That's why I have to keep you alive. So don't make it difficult for me."
"I'm moving, I'm moving. My Dad won't believe this. He used to get me to check the tide tables when we had to do something with the good old salt water ebb and flow."
"That was before you were a chaperon. Obviously the responsibility has addled your brains. Now go to sleep. We'll need your path-finding abilities tomorrow."
"Help. I thought you knew the way in. I've never even thought of climbing the Lions. And the last time I was in this neck of the woods, except for this afternoon, we came by boat. Union Steamship, all the way to Britannia Beach. There was no road after Horseshoe Bay."
"I'm talking about chosing the routes after we leave the logging road. There will be some tricky choices until we get above the timberline. That was the other excuse for bringing you. You've actually spent more time as a surveyor than the rest of us. You should be good at scouting out the lay of the land."
"Thank you for those ego-restoring assurances," Toby said. "Indeed, you have made it possible for me to go to sleep."
"Stop talking, you two." Willow was settling into her relocated blankets. "You're not making it possible for me to go to sleep."
The boys did as they were told.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Highway 61 Revisited

As John of the Cross says, one thought of a man is worth more than all the created universe. Materialists, possibly even evolutionists, hate to hear such reasoning, yet it happens to be true, simply because the intellect, and thought, is immaterial and therefore eternal, somewhat like the angels, even somewhat like God. Back in the early 80s I have a journal note about a five p.m. deadline downtown. I mean downtown Nelson. City mice like the movers and shakers of the big joints might not think that downtown Nelson means much on the global scale, but I've seen it flaring with visions like nothing I ever heard of in most of the big dumps, for all their otherwise usefulness and claims to fame. Cf our local paper, the Nelson Daily News, back in July of 82. Just west of the main intersection, Ward and Baker, stands a store called Eddy's music, once owned by a long dead violinist I once reviewed in the Nelson Daily News, Bob Eddy. He was half-brother of a very fine folkie from the Quaker community at the top of Kootenay Lake and also had a non-speaking part in the film Steve Martin made, in part, in Nelson, Roxanne. Now even in the darkest days of my strolls down Baker Street, when it seemed that Nelson, against my intentions, was totally in the hands of the orcs and the trolls, Eddys was always a source of the Muse's spark. A full-length front window full of instruments, recording gizmos, interesting texts. A constant sign of hope. One day, one day, one day . . . .
After Bob Eddy, one Don Stewart took over. He was the son of a local pianist and band leader, plays utterly wicked piano himself and also sings very well. Another graduate of Amy Ferguson's Choiristers. I don't go out much, but I've caught his playing a few times, and one amazing evening was there in the old Civic Hotel when he and his late brother Bobby, guitarist and vocalist, shut the joint down with some ripping great blues performance. Don's staff have always pretty much been musicians, so it's like going to music school and a party any time I, or MT and I, walk in, and as I think I made plain earlier, once the parental estate came through, we were in there often buying equipment and books.
When that five p.m. deadline idea came through, years ago, Don didn't own the store, anymore than I owned a computer.
But by the time my head had cleared this afternoon over a certain nag to do with preparations for recording Desolation Row, I looked up at the clock to see that it was cruising five, and phoned Eddy's. Accuracy, you see. Dylan takes great liberties with his own creations, sings and plays them pretty much as he feels moved from performance to performance, from recording to recording. Nothing wrong with that. Bach and his boys were very capable of variations. But I don't have a charted score to start with, even though we have at least three Dylan books around the place - speaking of libraries - and as an old school teacher and the resident fanatic on the value of the mathematical foundation of music, I want to know, I have to know, the structure of the original idea. How come this song didn't get into those books? Rhetorical question. Eddy's scouted the screen and found a Highway 61 text. It's on order, and so I'll listen to the different versions we have in the recording collection, and practice accordingly, but I'll wait for the score to make any final decisions. And the score will be good for reading practice.
Possibly the second cut will be Shooting Star. If it was that I reached for my git-fiddle on Desolation Row, she grabbed hers, this late morning, as Shooting Star cruised over the room. In spite of all the other studies she taken on, that to any other human being would threaten to obliterate her music, the old magic of the great lead picker was still there, and this time with the numbers.
She spelled out the riffs to me, in numbers, delighted, secure, maybe even excited. She's by temperment cool. Initially, a few years ago, she was sometimes hard to convince about the numbers. But, after all, I had taught her grammar, mystical theology, and her first guitar chords, so the math finally took hold and was seen to work. I got the feeling I might wear earphones so I can hear precisely what she's doing, while I'm at my part of the process, at least at the beginning.
In the days of the folk trio, Shawn was in the middle, getting all the benefits of the Tremblay genius in her right ear, harmonizing with me in her left, but I might get a bit selfish, at least some of the time, and take centre spot myself.
We always sang some Dylan, even when a very few of the old folks home audience resented it.
And one weekend in 76, when we did a big bar, without base and drums, which was probably suicidal, the best part of the two nights was the last hour of the Saturday, when some complete jackass of a heckling country and western customer left - the new owners of the hotel didn't have it to give him the boot - some friendly faced young lad at a front table said, "Wow. You guys do Dylan!"
Shawn smiled the smile that has launched more ships than Homer ever dreamed of, and it was with Dylan that we closed the place down. She sang, MT and I just followed on rythmn and lead. The next week, the new owners hired a stripper. It was that sort of place, a lot of the time, but for one weekend, poetry was in its glory. But we never went back to a bar. The old folks, the kids in schools, were our company. Bars need bass and drums, and I didn't know any bassists or drummers who were mystics.
Early in 79, we shut the trio down. There were a few reasons. By that time our oldest son was sixteen and the leader of a rock and roll band, largely trained by him, that had more time for pumping music into the community than we did. The lad also handled the folk idiom well as a solo act. For another, I was simply bloody annoyed at a Nelson City council which refused to understand my unique significance as a writer and a contemplative, especially such having to live, as a more or less docile Catholic, under a bishop who eventually pegged out to be an out and out criminal, although no one was actually successful in putting him in jail, so complete was the fog that bishops conferences generally have been able to spew over not only their own faithful but also organized society. And thirdly, we felt unanimously that we were getting into a rut, owing simply to the absence of a full understanding of musical and vocal technique. I went into my writer's cave, for one thing, and finally acquired the plot for hanging all my assembled characters in one gallery. There was also the opportunity of the revived Nelson Choral Society and its preferential option for the great oratorios, and acting roles for me to fill in NDU theatre, flourishing wonderfully because of mature downtown actors.
But the thought of one day recording, and especially recording some Dylan songs, always held its place. We're workin' on it. Keep on keepin' on.