Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spiritual Fact , Spirtual Fiction

So, there she be. Chapter seven, up and running. That which was, by decisions of more publishers than I care to name, in higher places than I care to name, hidden from the eyes of the general, and even the theological, public, for a full couple of decades and more. Nice to see her out on her own, rambling through any part of the universe that can boast of an Internet hook up. It's hard to think of the computer communications network being any more energetic, lucid, and useful than Saint Paul of Tarsus, but it does get to zip around and about the universe quicker than he could. It took him years to get to Rome from the Levant. I get there - or anywhere - from the Kootenays as quick as click of a mouse. Can communications in Heaven be any faster?
Chapter seven was written in July, I think, in 1980, and it was unique amongst the first seven chapters in that it was not entirely fictional. All the characters up to that point, and therefore all the events, insofar as the events resided in characters, were, simply, made up. This does not mean that the spiritual events had not in essence occurred. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Spiritual events have been the norm of my life since I was a child, albeit not as regular then, nor as intense, and on reflecting on my mature years I can only say that my greatest difficulty as a story teller is to accept that ten times the quantity of fiction I have been allowed to write would be still only a fraction of the daily hum and rumble of the Almighty in my existence. The winter and spring of 1957 was no exception, and the story of its own self would be adventurous enough; and yet, in the peculiar way that those born to the novel have to think, I was moved to invent a framework, if only because I knew I was to be a novelist before I knew I had also to write an autobiography.
The essential elements of the Brock basement episode did indeed happen. There was a young man who dropped in while I was writing, and the job in the Chilcotin-Homathko wilderness did arise out of the endless inspirations of those days. But there was no Thurman Engineering in charge of the dam survey, and the young man did not go on into films, but into teaching college English, a noble programme from which he has recently retired. He came down to see me in the Pub rooms regularly, before he went off to his own summer job - I think timber cruising that year - for I already knew him quite well, and we did go up to the dear old Brock caf regularly for coffee. I think he was intrigued to see an aspiring novelist at work, and I was acquiring an increasing fondness for him and his friends, who were probably the most genuinely aesthetically conscious students I'd yet to meet. The university newspaper group were wonderfully interesting, but they were for the most part inclined to journalistic thinking with its inevitable passion for politics. These things, like the law, are necessary and useful, and certainly not without drama, but they are not equivalent to poetry and those who think they are inevitably wind up coarsened by their own convictions. The young man and his cronies also knew well the young lady I was to run into eight months later, and this would have added a mysterious, very well hidden, element to the mystique of it all. The spirits were enormously active, and enormously provocative to deep thinking; and trying to write the truth rather than according to a slickly positive, or tediously pessimistic, formula, without any other pressure from work or outwardly imposed study programme, contributed infinitely to helping them along. I knew I didn't have much of a plot, and I also knew I was seriously short of a vocabulary complete enough to describe all that I was experiencing, but I had every confidence that if I plugged along on my present route I would find both in their own good time.
I was not yet keeping a journal, so I don't know the precise date of my one sunny morning rising from the typewriter to walk over to the student employment hut. It was toward the end of April, that I do know. I walked through the door and swiftly found a sheet of paper, tacked on the notice board, asking for the lesser bodies for a survey crew, chain men and axe men, that was to spend the summer in the Homathko watershed, entering through the western Cariboo. There was another location offered to, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but I was so charged by the thunderous coincidence of the Cariboo opportunity that it is possible that had all the places there been taken up, I might not have been at all interested in the Island job.
For a full year- a long time in the life of a twenty-one-year-old - I had been running on intuition, and that had served me very well, so well that I regularly wondered when it might all come crashing down and leave me back in my old, at least externally, rather chained estate. My father had even ventured to warn me, when I asked for a meeting to explain why I had left law school, that I might never find another job, and of course the devil loved to use that line of reasoning in the days - or rather nights - when I had left the law buildings and was totally devoted to studying on my own. I don't think my Dad really believed his own threats, because he knew his oldest son was simply too energetic and too smart to ever be "out of work" except by his own choice. But he had his dreams, and I was busy kicking the crap out of them. I think this had started the day I decided to join the Ubyssey and had been furthered by my joining the staff at the Vancouver Sun, the newspaper of the unions. (It was also owned by Catholics, the Cromie family, but whether or not this figured in those parts of his mind which were still Scots-Irish I do not know.) Also, for a man who had never really passed through high school, whatever the education the army conferred on him during the war because he was, by nature, actually a good teacher, he had an enormously irregular estimation of himself as a student of psychology through his study, as by then a personnel manager, of the texts related to that very low level of analysis of the human predicament.
And now here was the Cariboo, falling in my lap. The Cariboo, with its profoundly evocative history in the family, even though I had never seen that part of the province's Interior. The Okanagan, yes, especially the northern parts, and with some rambling into the very south in the weeks with the railway mail car that passed through Kamloops. But not the Cariboo, the setting of the first inflaming episode in the legends my grandfather told me, heard when I was still a tyke; or the location of my father's famous summer when he was twelve and his dad was developing a gold mine; and, finally, the scene, in the very northern part, of Rich Hobson's "Grass Beyond the Mountains", the story of his founding of a ranch south of Vanderhoof, the only book which ever tempted me to run away from home. The only situation of any kind, for that matter, which shows that I basically had it pretty good under my parents' roof, until it was time to leave it.
I never thought of it then as a kind of perfect revenge, on God's part, of the paternal nonsense. But I did see it as an enormous confirmation, to me, of the rectitude of my professional choices, and I was delighted when the man behind the desk, a very pleasant gentleman named John Hicks, signed my up for the adventure of a life-time.
Because I had barely studied any philosophy, and in real fact nothing like the core of a sound Thomistic or Scholastic programme, my then entire search for proofs of God's existence were - I can call them now - Existential. Saint Francis de Sales, as I was to learn some years later, says that the will of God is scarce known except by events. I sometimes believed, then, that the existence of God was scarce known except by events, and the Homathko job was just that sort of event.
What else could it be? The previous summer, I'd experienced the sense of my life as a complete failure unless I was able to spend one more summer working in the woods. This from reading one of Hemingway's short stories. It was a warning, a promise, and Mr. Hick's offering was the fulfillment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Eric Tuttle's Dojo Shoes

Too bad the current financial crisis cannot be fixed as easily as my left ankle.
Not that the foot is totally all right again, but, as alluded to in Post 41, I went from 0 to 60 about as quickly as it can be done, and carried on for two more days of ten miles each. That should take care of a pound of tummy lard, although the results won't really show until the cell exchanges are complete and my body stops retaining water. I've found it quite amazing, how much fluid the system holds for repair work. Just in an ordinary day, or even a day without much physical activity, the average difference between the scale before bed and the scale before breakfast - actually before juice and coffee, as I'm at that much too early for Cook to expected to wrassle the bacon and tomatoes - is two whole pounds. These statistics were learned over and over again in the jogging summer of 2006. And given certain conditions like a very heavy workout, or successive days of heavy workout, especially if one has laid in a lot of animal protein, the difference can be much greater. Just recently I registered an evening-morning difference of six pounds. That's one of a kind, but four pounds or so is not that difficult to come by.
So what brought on the sore foot?
High heels.
You thought this was just a female problem? Or, if male, happened only to cowboys who got separated from their horses a long way from the ranch?
Uh uh. It happened to your friendly neighbourhood common walker. Not spikes, of course, nor those cuban things my mother-in-law looked so good in, but good old-fashioned rear ends of a very nice pair of walking shoes. I had just been thinking how much I appreciated my Dunhams on the return of wet weather and the putting away of my sports sandals. My Dunhams are full of support, a kind of little truck disguised as a Toyota Camri, just the thing for ambling along at a moderate speed.
But legging it out for the best part of 20 miles at four knots? Maybe not, unless, as I learned yesterday morning while taking on the 5.5 mile lake shore route, you redesign your running style.
The thing is, we were not born with shoes on. And there's a very good chance that Adam would never have worn the things. Moreover, after the Garden of Eden, mankind went barefoot. I've just read that blacks have a higher incidence of high blood pressure. Does their recent introduction to footwear have something to do with this? They haven't had the millenniums of genetic adaptation? This is only speculation, of course, but no one can deny that nothing drops a sense of stress at the end of the day like taking off a pair of shoes.
And shoes have heels. Especially modern jogging shoes, built for the miles of pavement that most joggers pound in their workouts. Of course if you just jog on those springy heels, and don't walk as I do in order to stick to my nasal breathing regime, you don't put the foot through all those complicated moves it takes to walk. Any dumb foot can run, because it's a kind of just putting one slab in front of another. That's an oversimplification, of course, but it makes the point that if you really want to make your feet think, take them for a walk, especially a long one, in a pair of shoes that are actually built the same way your foot is, with a heels of the shoe not only the same thickness as the soles, but rounded at the back like the natural heel of the foot.
Ah, you say, but that's basically the old fashioned running shoe, those things we all had to wear before they copied basketball shoes and gave everybody arch supports and a fair amount of cushioning. Nobody even makes those any more, do they?
Yes, they do. In China, for the Tai Chi people, who, you are no doubt aware, can be very extraordinary athletes, and much too clever to chose the wrong kind of foot wear.
I first met these humble little shoes in 2002, when MT and I joined Eric Tuttle's seven a.m. chi gong and tai chi sessions. Chen style. Demanding stuff, and away out of any practical hopes of my attainment, but I was fascinated by Eric's stillness doing Wu Chi in the Summit Gym, actually disturbed by not knowing what he meant when he talked about paying attention to the deeper muscles, and further impressed by the commitment of the Traditional Chinese Medicine students turning up five mornings a week for an extra hour of class. I began the class in jogging shoes. Pretty funny, when you look back, but the best I had at the moment. Eric quite quickly took pity on me and offered to sell me his spare set. And it was a bargain price. You could buy four pairs of Feiwues for the price of my road shoes.
I had to put my Birkenstock arch insets in the Feiwues, of course. The narrow heel took a little time to get used to, but the body can learn to re-balance and I started using the dojo shoes in the gym as well, both for tossing weights and running on the treadmill. Anyone who really understands the musculo-skeletal system will realize that I made a brilliant choice.
Unfortunately, as I see it now, I did not make the same brilliant choice when I returned to the "track", as it were, in 2006. Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone go to dojo shoes exclusively and throw away their high-tech joggers. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time and place for everything. But walking and jogging in old-fashioned running shoes is an education in how our feet, designed by God Himself, actually were meant to work.
This is how it was.
On the Sunday evening, with 20 miles behind me, and my Personal Trainer obviously cranking me into orbit, with an early supper and the dishes therefore early done behind me, I decided to hit the road once again, to pile on some extra mileage. I had an hour before the weather report - to be followed by Chief Inspector Morse - and that should be good for another four miles. So I zipped out to the porch and climbed into my Dunhams. Hah. As soon as my foot hit the floor, my ankle screamed in agony. I recalled the times I had sprained it, it was that bad.
You could say I'd had my warning. Recall that I said I squatted down to study Coyote. He was indeed a message from First Nations wisdom. They wore moccasins, remember? Low Heels.
As Coyote moved on and I started straightening up, my ankle hurt like hell. But I was able to sort it out by walking on the side of my foot and extensive use of the Chicken Walk that Eric Tuttle demonstrated for MT and me one afternoon in the gym.
The Chicken Walk is a Shing Ye thing, where you stroll across the room with your butt as close to the ground as you can set it, and still actually walk. (Keep your spine straight and as vertical as possible.) It was not part of any course we were doing with Eric, but I think he was hit with a bolt of at least Buddhist lightning and inspired to put on an impromptu demonstration for our unique benefit. Eric did not stroll, actually. He shot across the room like a rooster putting the run on Brer Fox. Man, just think of his quads. Also, think of how it eased my pain by stretching my Achilles and the calf muscles.
Now, about a week or ten days before the dilemma of the painful ankle, the Lord had done two things. For about half-an-hour, he took away any and all mystical burdens, leaving his merely human servant with so much natural energy that the servant thought he must go mad if he could not find some way to spend it. And within 48 hours He also provoked a memory of the dojo shoes, which had been used a couple of months earlier to ease lower back pain brought on by, believe it or not, the not especially high heels of the sports sandals. Still, they were high enough, after my sledge hammer assault on the stump, to give me an awful cramp in the glutes, which also went into the good old always vulnerable sacrum, but which also could be nicely dealt with by going about in bare feet. I did this around the house, back in the summer, and out on the street wore the Feiwues. Everything settled down very nicely, and with my growing knowledge of physiology I began to realize that man-made heels, for all their good intentions, interfered with the normal stretching design of the muscles in the back of the leg, from the Achilles tendon to the gluteus maximus, and now that I come to think of it, probably with the plantar tendons and muscles as well.
What a difference an inch makes, but I actually forgot this rule of thumb, or, more precisely, the heel as its Original Designer intended it to function, and had to once again learn the hard way. I really do hope this is the final lesson of this problem.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Walks of October

Well, the schedule I've been looking for since the beginning of January has finally, I think, arrived. And with it, I might add, not a few very interesting memories. It's getting close to the Canadian Thanksgiving, which in my particular recollections reminds me of the weekend trip to Victoria that did so much to precipitate my first, profoundly useful, withdrawal from law school. To be perfectly truthful, I have for some time wondered if the actual weekend were not a little later, because the big decision began to be made on the Sunday night of the return to Vancouver of myself and my roommate, I'm now fairly sure; but it's this time of the year that brings the memories to mind, and the spirit of the celebration is more important than the date recalled.
Now, as then, I have shifted priorities, and it has given me a very pleasant sense of freedom. For five months, so driven was I by the sense of need of the reform of music education, the blog has loomed every day as my first active duty. (Active as opposed to contemplative, or all the necessary operations of passive prayer.) With the weekend this has changed, because I have decided, or more accurately, been given the grace to decide, that my prime duty for the weeks ahead was walking for the sake of getting my weight down. I have indeed managed to lose eight or so pounds since my visit to my intended surgeon, at the end of December, but I feel that this is not enough, and of course the threats of high blood pressure justify the removal as soon as possible of more fat.
When I graduated from high school I weighed 150 pounds. I weighed the same after four years at UBC and for the next decades only weighed more when I had gained muscle from working at weight bearing occupations. I was still an eleven stone or 250 kilos chap in 1982 when I had my appendix operation. When you average seven miles of walking a day, spread over morning, afternoon, and evening, it's not easy loosing the lean. But with Shawn going to the museum in 83, and MT taking over housekeeping duties, the walking suffered. Then there was the car, acquired in 86, which made things worse from the fitness point of view.
So the battle of the bulge was on, and I struggled, actually quite successfully, with staying in the lower 160's, albeit with a second-hand scale which lied, although we did not catch on to the full extent of its fibbing until we bought a new one, battery-powered, which told the grim truth to the nearest half-pound. There was also the gym scale, which measured the nice acquisition of muscle weight in 2000, but you can't stand on that one wearing only the glasses you need for reading the numbers, unless you own the place and can go in when no one else is around. And other stuff demanded concentration, like the music research, the steady growth of the various plots, and the study of alternate schools of fitness and medicine. I always had in mind the simple fact that if I could just get into a regular schedule of adequate mileage, the lard would slip away in a relatively short period of time, but I could never quite get to such a program until the summer of 2000.
Now I knew, absolutely, as mystics have to know, that it was not simply a matter of human will power. When your principal purpose on earth is contemplative prayer, even 20 pounds here and there is all but irrelevant. Compared to most men still active, I had nothing but time, in the physical sense, for walking off the baggage, and yet there was more to it than that, for I seemed to have to go through a routine that included jogging, even if it meant hurting my joints to the degree that insisted on fuller studies of the musculo-skeletal details I was not always eager to learn. So, stop and start from June of 06 to March of 07, and the pounds were once more losing ground. But then the final understanding of the absolute rule of numbers as applied to music theory and practice, and then nine months of a lot of energy for the keyboard and not much for the open road of the dedicated walker, to say nothing of the return to writing via, finally for me, the new and lovely wrinkles of the word processor.
Frankly, I ignored the bathroom scale in those nine months and ate a lot of my own extremely healthy homemade bread, and drank a fair bit of my excellent - Capuchin approved - homemade beer, in the wee smalls of the morning while I kept exploring the gaps, on the keyboard, between my lovely, exciting, theories, and my much less lovely grasp of good scale studies and the perfect sense of fingering needed to go with them. It was not especially creative work, in the main, and I knew the beer would help me hang in there until I got a message or two. I also knew that the beer would hand some extra cells around the waistline, and I was right. By the time the good doctor gave my marching orders, literally, I was peaking - and paunching - at a svelte 177.
Thus, at four in the morning, sometime in the first week of the New Year, I felt myself kicked out of bed, and not for the rubber keyboard under the earphones, but for the streets of Nelson. There had been snow, but the city lads had the roads plowed. I worked out an uphill route, in the center of the old town, which is where we have lived these many years, but then settled for the Fairview route, going east on a gentle downhill grade to the last north-south street on that side of the town, then coming in parallel to the lake shore and home through the main intersection of Ward and Baker. A little over an hour. I got out about four times a week or so, and started losing around half-a-pound every fortnight or even less. I endured a finishing course on water retention - you think mood swings are bad - and also began, largely due to those nine months of leisure, to register quite sore feet. Well, I assumed it was just the leisure. More on that later.
As the jogging had earlier, painfully, illuminated my ignorance about the effect on the knees of tight quads, the front muscles of the thigh, so this walking programme began to teach me that I had been quite neglectful of the physiology of the feet. My arches became so sore that I went to our orthotics man to ask for an increase in the dimensions of the insets I've worn for the past dozen years. He skilfully prodded my extremities and said what I needed was not fatter insets but a better application of calf stretches. I had planter fasciaitis. He demonstrated the cure, and I began to make it work, although not to full effect. And, fortunately, MT had some months earlier begun to lay in texts related to the study of fascia.
I think this step marks the beginning of the end of the process, although I do not yet have total control of the effects on my feet. Yesterday morning I decided, or was moved to decide, that I would begin a ten-mile-a-day schedule. By far the most important part of this decision was to insist to myself and anyone else that the walking was the new priority. Even the blog could go to hell. If the ten miles left me too tired, so what? Besides, with the latest economic crisis, the world might need to relearn how to walk.
Even though my left ankle was giving me a little trouble, I thought, from some new stretches, I made my goal, in two rambles. MT left me to myself for the second. The ankle was even worse this morning, and as I came out on the street after Mass I felt like Saint Teresa of Avila the time her carriage collapsed while the horse was pulling it and her across a creek. "Lord," she said, "if this is how to treat your friends, no wonder You have so few." I was in a like frame of mind. If I've been so mentally set up to get cracking on the conclusion, why the sudden breakdown? The ankle had been fine for weeks. I stayed puzzled for about three blocks, then hit upon the solution, which was to extend the left leg as I walked, forcing it to be the leading limb. This worked instantly, and after the customary muffin at the coffee shop in the hotel on the lake shore, I left the ladies to walk the few blocks home on their own and took off for another two hours, rain or no rain, going east within constant view of the lake to Horlick's Point, the end of the road at that part of town. It's mostly bush out there, and only a few hundred yards along the return, I spotted a youngish coyote, down on the CPR tracks. I squatted down and we studied each other for a while, then he went on his way. Unlike Saruman, I like to pay attention to the animals. I'd say the coyote was a sign that it's going to be a very good month. In this part of the world, Coyote was an enormous symbol to the natives.
Then for a while I had the company of a border collie. Black and white, like the sons of Saint Dominic. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican. He had a phrase I've always loved: sufficient distinctions. I'll publish this now, as it is long enough, and the next installment will tell of that principle as applied to a perfect curing of my podiatrist problems, which surfaced hugely while I was in the middle of this essay.