Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Real Advent

Early in December of 1964, my first year in Nelson, I was one evening reading in the Nelson Daily News a virtually full-page article by Dr.Frank Kluge about the celebration of the Advent season in Europe. Dr. Kluge taught German at the university. It was a lively piece as well as long, and definitely put a reader into the mood of the season.It was moreover, especially sparkling to me, because growing up in a family which, except for my grandparents, had no sense of church liturgy whatsoever, I had found my first Catholic Advent, in 1958, the most wonderful device for building the Christmas spirit without confusing it with the cloying excesses of premature indulgence. Even living then in a non-Catholic home I had been able to get into the Advent spirit, and when Shawn and I were in our own household the following year and could set the tone for ourselves, we took every advantage of the restrained beauty of the Advent wreath, the singing of Advent hymns instead of premature Christmas carols, and so on. So well did the Church deal with the real heart of Christmas, thought I, that I could have become a Catholic for that alone.
Now Dr. Kluge was not a Catholic, but a Lutheran, and not being schooled in the varying degrees to which post 16th century religions, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to know that many of those not fully within the Roman bosom could still find as Advent as joyful as I did.
And then, in the midst of my thoughts, I had a locution, just as in Mrs. Ferguson's studio, and probably in about the same week or two, "One of these days Nelson will have a real Advent."
This was, of course, both profoundly interesting and profoundly puzzling. For one thing, it was difficult to apply it to myself personally, this look to an unnamed future date, because I had already known a very satisfying sequence of Advents. And yet it would seem that I was meant to be part of this special occurrence. But what was so unique about Nelson? Was I to assume that Advent had never been taken seriously in the cathedral diocese? How could that be? In the other parishes I had lived and taught in it was certainly taken seriously and both of them were hundreds of miles from their bishop.
Granted the diocese had been dragging its feet in certain liturgical areas. In my first Easter, a few months later, I found it somewhat puffed up about finally getting the new rubrics for the Easter Vigil and related elements into gear. This was a little irksome, as I had been familiar with these welcome changes, actually returns to the customs of the ancient Church, for four or five years.
I had by then become quite disenchanted with the university and was realizing that it was not really the place for me, and I would have to wait for time to reveal the real reasons for my being so inspired to come to the Kootenays. I have by now, of course, spelled out a number of these, but not in any way that could connect them directly with the locution, at least not at the time I was doing this spelling out.
At that time, history reminds us, the Second Vatican Council was finishing up its third session, with one more to go, and then, by the autumn of 67, with the Latin gone from the Mass, in would come the vernacular, and as it was to turn out, probably the worst epoch of hymn writing in the history of the Church. As I've said earlier, I have been rendered incapable of singing most of it, and have expected to carry on in this regrettable predicament until some quite radical changes are made, and for the time being I can see this coming about only if the Pope lays down some prohibitive rules. Possibly there's never been a time when book burning would be more welcome to real men and the good angels.
But, but, but.
Someone in our cathedral has done one small thing. When I arrived for the 8:30 this morning, well ahead of the starting gun, as is my usual custom, I was handed a little leaflet with some mass music somehow supposedly related to the community at Taize. It was, to say the least, not very exciting. Taize's strength is obviously not in composition. And, at first, I was as angry as I was bored, because it was, after all, the first Sunday of Advent and there was not reference to Advent on the first page. This kind of rotten rubrics has happened frequently around here: so many times the music does not in any way reflect the spirit of the particular feast.
So, wearily I turned the page.
Well, as Saint Augustine says you never know from one day to the next who will be your friend and ally, who will be your enemy. Expect reversals, if you want to keep your peace of mind.
Not only did they have the traditional O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but they had it in Latin, three whole verses.
Now they had it in English too, below the Latin. And knowing the lamentable history of this
lamentable diocese, I knew it could be capable of printing just such a paper in order to tell the Pope, yes, we are doing things in Latin and then actually rendering the hymn only in English.
Not the new bishop mind you, but he's busy and not always at hand and so many so called leaders have been getting away with murder so long why would they stop at a thing like that?
Nonetheless, being an incurable optimist, I conned the Latin. I knew that if the tiny little choir, utterly lacking in strong voices, launched into the old tongue they'd need all the help they get. There would not be a peep from the congregation, it is so long out of practice with such things. The choir knew this too, which actually moved me to admire theme somewhat should they go for the Latin.
And whadda ya know? They did.
I wasn't perfect. You can't be perfect without practice and time to recover from disbelief, and the printing was not as bold and clear as it might have been, but the Muse came and I ran the show.
As Augustine, again, says, he who sings well prays twice, and this place needs all the prayer it can get.
And the bishop may actually have been behind the surprise. He's holding a townhall meeting on the future of the parish and diocese on Tuesday night, in the school gym. I just might ask him if we owe the Latin to him. If so, this just may be the Advent God was talking about. Or maybe one getting close to it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fathers and Sons

Being a hermit, I do not ordinarily keep a lookout for evening entertainment out of doors. We already have a good deal of entertainment on the video and dvd shelves, which means very good films, many from the BBC, which is generally acknowledged now as having the best talent pool in the world, thanks to British theatre. Also, in a week today, I have to render two-and-a-half pages of text from the memoirs of one Bill Triggs into a recording microphone. Bill was from England, and for the past several days we have been watching Michael Palin's "Full Circle", his journey around the Pacific Rim, not only for Palin's wonderful ability to portray a people and a country's most human face, but also so I'll be primed to render Mr. Triggs with a reasonably accurate accent. His son Stan, whom I've known since the days we jammed together in the north basement of Brock Hall, he on mandolin, I on tenor banjo, says I was the spitting aural image in my last try, for a different project, but no real actor ever rests on his laurels, and I've already hit a couple of rough patches in my rehearsals, inasmuch as some of our BBC stuff comes with Cockney, Geordie, and Yorkshire accents. These can play the very devil with an actor with a musician's ear. Bill was a purser on the Kootenay Lake paddle wheelers, and Marianne's niece Nicole is cooking up a virtual history of the lake boats for a computer installation in the Nelson museum. We record in this room a week from now. Interesting, when you ponder that the only other recording these walls have seen were for the present Pope.
But, there it was in the Nelson Daily News: Fathers and Sons: four guitarist/singers, performing in the Royal Hotel on Tuesday, November 25. Amos Garrett and Jim Byrnes being the fathers, and Steve Dawson and Doug Cox the sons.
Now, I'm a novelist. (A very creditable poet and critic and publisher at the Coast also admits that I'm a poet, but that's another story.) And to me, Fathers and Sons is a novel by Turgenev. I read it, when I was the keeper of the little basement room in the Irvine house on Bellevue Drive in Point Grey, the city of Vancouver, in 1958-59. Something about one young radical and freethinker influencing another young fellow. I am also a theologian, and therefore references to fathers and sons remind me of some very stern sayings laid down by John the Baptist in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. All of this hits me with a rush, and I decide that the monastery will empty on Tuesday night, in order to take up some space in the Royal. I need no powers of persuasion. My cohorts are in the mood for some BLUES. I must confess, however, that I did diddle and dawdle over jumping on the tickets, and had to be almost manhandled into Eddy Music by MT. She knew that the affair would be sold out, and we'd better grab tickets before we were shut out. But that's teamwork.
And she was right. It was sold out. Of course. The cognoscenti knew these guys, all of them. I've been in Europe mentally for decades, so what do I know, although I think my oldest son had talked about Jim Byrnes, from his time in Vancouver, and Amos Garret had been through Nelson before. But, like I said, we don't go out much.
Perhaps I had a sense of celebration, perhaps I was confident that with all my music research I wouldn't feel so far out in left field when the blues experts started to strut their stuff. They'd bloody well get their ears in line if I got into the singing groove, but when it came to walking through a guitar neck with complete familiarity I had for a long time been out in the cold. All those goddamn chord books. Oh yeah, a good place to start, as I have said before, but by no means a place to finish.
But now I know what finishing is all about, because I really know how to start, and in the Royal on Tuesday night, I knew how to analyze the skills exploding in front me, on the stage which the newish management has arranged along the east wall. Twenty-six years ago, when I dropped in for a beer after a rehearsal for my last play, the stage of the Royal was then too on the east wall. My oldest son was playing and singing. I remember in particular Jimmy Buffet's "Margueritaville".
What goes around comes around. In the spring of 1982, on the east wall of the Royal, it was the Red Brigade. The three musicians in my son's band were redheads. In the late fall of 08, it was Fathers and Sons.Two greyheads and a couple of men long past nineteen. Still at it, still on the road, and we're all the richer for it.
This was the night of the day I had put the first three stanzas of the long poem up on the Web, and the next morning I sent them to a poet/publisher who had led me to RockSalt, the influence of which has already been celebrated. His professional kindness was quick. He liked the lines. He also told me that 100 people turned out in the Nanaimo library for the RockSalt launch in that town.
So now, I think, the spectrum of the Ranger is initially complete. I know where I am and what I'm about and all I have to do is live with the different inspirations competing with each other. I actually already had some topic sentences for a review of F and S even before we got there, but I had to hold off for 48 hours because of other stuff rearing its head, and even as I was getting to the head office, as it were, which to my surprise is up in Smithers, I was fending off overtures from canto two of To Hunt the Lions, at the same time as I was pondering what to do with the news from Ohai, California. That's where John Stark lives, but also leaves for professional reasons. At least one of these reasons will be to check out the response to his Chekhov film, about to play during the winter in art film theatres in New York. And that just might be only the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Big Poem: stanzas one to three

Last week MT and I went for lunch - in the middle of a six mile walk - at a restaurant that lies at the north end of Nelson's famous orange bridge. The bridge was up and carrying traffic by 1957, replacing the ferry that shuttled the half-mile of water between the north shore and Lakeside beach, just downstream from the old tug ways, and a motel and restaurant to go with it were erected not long after. I had eaten in the restaurant only a couple of times before 72, but in the autumn of that year, once I realized that it didn't seem likely that anyone was going to publish the fourth draught of the yacht novel, I set to work on my first attempt at what is now known as "The Big Poem".
By that time, we had pretty well ceased to operate our house as a home for young adults with various needs that can be met around a stable family, and were in the process of creating the more definitely monastic community that has functioned ever since. Marianne had moved in, although also attending the college, and I was in the final months of analyzing and experiencing the spiritual life as defined by the Carmelites, thus in the psychological position to be able to look back fairly objectively at a life I now felt ready to be described through the form of the long narrative. Wordsworth's "Prelude" or "Growth of a Poet's Mind" was my intended model, due to a not-so-little ecstatic experience I'd undergone while looking into some early lines one rainy April morning in Vancouver, in 1957.
One of the greatest things about being a modern poet, at least in English, is that it is all but impossible to conceive of making a living writing only poetry. Thus it must be done for the sheer joy of using words, and in the spirit of poverty. It is much like going for a walk, in that sense, simply for the pleasure of putting one foot in another and having a look at the landscape. When I was at work in my scribbler, on those November/December afternoons in 72, I felt those benefits keenly, gratefully, sitting a table in the room on the lower floor, which, with the younger set up and away, had become the study. And I also had the walk, because after a good session with the Muse I would stroll across the bridge - the south end was only two blocks from the house - to the restaurant for a cup of tea.
I was remembering those pleasant hours at our lunch last week, most keenly, and with a great deal of satisfaction, because I was at that position, so longed for by writers, of knowing I finally had the write beginning for the poem I'd begun work on 36 years earlier, to the month. The first stanza had not only been set down in the current loose leaf binder, but it had been emailed to my youngest, a writer herself of no mean ability, and gained not only her approval, but a request for more. I think it was the day after the lunch that I came up with two more stanzas, and thus have enough to post on the Ranger. Here we go. (With such memories rolling in from the West Coast, I ordered an oyster burger.)

The story telling started with my Grandad.
By nineteen-forty, when I was a little boy,
Athena was dead and gone, royally snuffed
By the conversion of the last pagan Greek,
And no one yet had talked to me of Homer.
My Iliad came in the Saturday comics,
Read to me on his lap by my bachelor uncle:
Prince Valiant, Orphan Annie, Little Lulu,
And Popeye too, though I had no war with spinach.
Thus, oh, how the world was my oyster when I learned to read!
But books are books, and men, God bless, are men,
And before I could read my Grandad told me a story.

You should have seen the set for this performance.
My grandparents' house was a castle in a forest,
With a yard as big as a field and barn full of chickens,
Sheds all over the place and apple trees,
Berries and grapes and all that stuff from Paradise,
Plus Grandad kept the Bible by his bedside,
And every time I came to check him out,
The Lord who ruled his life had time for me,
You felt it in the walls, you heard the Father in his kindly voice,
Old Walter moving slow, waiting on my catching up,
And then one day he came up with a memory.

My Dad was with me, we went there together,
Some morning before he had to go to England.
We sat in the dining room, with the antelope head on the wall,
And I on the couch they'd covered with wolverine skins,
Grandad had come to the Coast from the fields of Ontario
By way of the Yukon gold and a farm for foxes,
With, fore and after, brothers in Montana;
The head of a Yukon ram in the living room
Stared down on all my days in the house;
My Grandma had shot two grizzlies in her time,
Wore lumps of solid gold around her neck,
I would see them every time she poured my tea.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tai Chi and the Flexbar

Back in March of 1980, when I was sorting out the ideas and images for the opening chapter of "Contemplatives" - not that it bore that title then, for my working name for it was "The Bush Novel", until I realized that we were not really going to get that much bush until the sequel - I was moved to state right off that a great deal of the time we made hugely important connections with the next step in life because of, as it seemed, mere happenstance. I took great delight in spelling out that Michael Thurman's discovery of the tyro novelist, Nicholas Taylor, came about because of accident. In part, Michael walked down into a certain room because he was looking for a book. There was indeed a book, but it was not the one he was promised. No matter, he found a novelist, whom he had not been looking for, nor suspected existed. These are the memories that come to mind as I sit down to talk about one of the most brilliant creations, in my opinion anyway, in the field of fitness instruments, which I only discovered about 26 hours ago, in the drugstore. It is an utter marvel of simplicity, yet, as simple things often are, it is complete genius, and if there is a Nobel Prize for common sense, the designers should get it.
I know, I know. I sound like Madison Avenue, and serious devotees to the spirit of poverty will be tempted to think I'm angling for cash. Will the Thera Band people advertise on the Ranger's Blog? Will the Ranger begin to float a Communications stock in Toronto and New York? Will Dreamworks pay a million for the film rights to "FLEXBAR", the secret weapon of the Chen Family, withheld from Mao Tse Tung and his henchmen and coming soon to a movie theater near you?
We dropped into the store in the late afternoon because I had decided it was time to get the section manager to order another elastic ankle support. I've been wearing an old one and a new one, on our walks, working on the principle that as the elastic supports hold up the sagging muscles and tendons, but at the same time allow freedom of movement, which my Birkenstock insets do not, quite, I should get another new one, a Futura, because the rib seam in it is not as intrusive as the rib seam in the other one, brand name of which will go unmentioned. Wearing the Futura on the more collapsed left ankle is, I think, helping to restore some of old elasticity of muscle and tendon.
But the department manager was busy with the four p.m. orders delivery and we had to cool our heels. And ankles. So MT was snooping around, always on the lookout for health and fitness information or devices, while I talked with the clerk, and when I rejoined my fellow researcher, she was studying a page or so of instructions and flexing one of the three different-sized coloured cylinders, made of rubber, or a substance equally elastic, that were lying on the display shelf. I don't know which size she had started with, but as I hove to she was demonstrating the biggest one, blue, one and seven-eighths of an inch thick, 12 inches long, bendable in every direction. For a moment I could not see the point of it, but when she showed me the direction booklet, a good 12 pages, I tried three of four of the little exercises, and realized, thanks to some recent re-unification of my initial grasp of the real working union of body and soul in the Yoga area, that we had come upon an enormously valuable instrument.
In 2005, as I was winding down my relationship with the weight room, I was conscious of two motivations to leave. The first, to get back to distance running; the second, to go back to researching yoga. I did both, but three years later, it's become more and more obvious that the priorities have been reversed. I'm not a great runner, by any means, but I've always known more about running, at least from some points of view, than I have about yoga, with the exception of the ultimate yoga breathing experience, that is, the breath of the Spirit, which of course is in no way available as a result of any man made physical practice. When I was given the breath of the spirit, in the early days of 1968, I knew neither jot nor tittle of any concept known to hatha yoga, let alone a conscious awareness of any asana, or yoga position.
But in 70 or so, when being shown how to get into a headstand made me realize there was a method to this mysterious practice, I had no sooner settled into the crocodile pose, face down on the living room rug, and just getting relaxed, than there was a mighty whoosh of the thing that had started coming when I was collapsed on my bed a couple of years earlier, not for the sake of toning my muscles, but simply to ponder the latest spiritual burden. Clearly God was blessing the ancient skills of India and my mystic's interest in it.
But he was also setting a standard, although I had none of the practical understanding of the subtler rules of exercise, as I might have called them then, that would have made this intelligible.
Nor has the culture I grew up in, so it has been along journey to get to the point where I could so quickly realize the genius of the little blue instrument that lies on the table beside me as I write.
(If every computer jockey had one of these cylinders, would he get tendonitis? Is there a real need for ergonomic keyboards, or are they simpy the door that's built after the horse is stolen?)
Every adequately designed exercise program proceeds by degrees, of course. But given our natural ambition to get to the max as quickly as possible - especially rampant in pittas - how do we come to thoroughly understand the general absoluteness of the the 'less is more rule'? Do we really begin as gently as we should, thus eliminating any and all damage that always retards progress in the long run?
I suspect I'll be writing chapters on this hardest of all lessons to learn or teach, so for now let's get back to one of the early thoughts: FLEXBAR: THE MOVIE.
Our scene is somewhere in China, anywhere famous for a tai chi school. A quiet dojo, with a dozen or so adepts all going through their chi gong warm ups. (Sound track optional.) This is a wide shot. The camera zooms to a single member of the group, whom we now notice is not actually following the others, only doing a standing pose, the wu chi, while staring out the window. Now pan to a corner of the room, where stands a box of medium size. The leader approaches the box and begins to lift out cylinders similar to the one described above. Suddenly the watcher hisses something in Chinese. (My Chinese is much worse than my Latin, so we'll need advice here.) But I know the subtitles.
"NO. NO. No rubber bars. Hide box. Maoist bastards coming now! If they find box we lose most precious secret! Quick! Quick!"
The leader puts the cylinders back in the box and zips it behind a curtain. The group resumes chi gong, the watcher included, and when half a platoon of China's revolutionary finest march in everyone is polite, welcoming, smiling, and signs all the papers necessary to commit the tai chi people to giving up their secrets, guarded for centuries, and coming out of the closet to teach the nation how to get healthy. (It was this, or be rubbed out down to the next dozen generations or so.) More smiling, bowing, shaking hands, short speeches on the blessings of national harmony and the genius of the leader and the happiness of helping out the young republic.
Small army leaves. Musical interlude until the watchman is sure the troops are gone, then out comes the box, each student gets his cylinder, then demonstrates how it is used to gently analyze and strengthen every muscle connected to the shoulder girdle. All the time each practitioner is doing this, he stands still, for the sake of strengthening his legs, this latter purpose being a major priority in Tai Chi. What the audience realizes, although it might take a while to catch on, is that all the first stresses each student puts on the rubber stick is profoundly gentle, held at some length with obvious comfort and stability, and only gradually is greater stress demonstrated, and never without the obvious presence of calm and comfort.
Next scene. Big government presentation. Usual long speech by Chairman M. Thousands watching in some big stadium. Tai Chi group emerges to band music, marches to the centre of the field and begins to demonstrate opening positions, all about standing and various, but motionless, positions of the arms. Low at the side, holding the imaginary ball, and so on. Not only as a demonstration of national harmony does a regiment of Red Guards join in, but also to prove how quickly the new army can learn an ancient skill.
But there are no cylinders. The dojo guys wink at each other. They speak some pretty jolly Chinese, which subtitles into: "Those army guys better not lose their guns. We're still a step ahead. If it ever comes to hand to hand, we'll beat the crap out of them."
Well, not quite a movie. Maybe an ad, that Squire Barnes of CanWest Global can show on his side-splitting Satellite Debris, one of MT's favourites. The movie would have to go back in time, to show how the ancient dojo used bamboo sticks and other flexible items in place of the rubber cylinders and would of course have a love interest and the overthrow of some corrupt dynasty or nasty nest of robber barons. And it might not be at all funny. I have a feeling that the strength that eventually comes to the discerning employment of this device, following the real laws of developing physiology, would be not a little deadly. Yesterday a robber baron, tomorrow a plate of finely chopped pig food.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Yacht, Book 2, Chapter 13

Still somewhat affected, naturally, by her mother's stunning edict, Maggie's voice faltered a little, but Paul's singing the numbers with her gave her warmth and confidence and she eventually soared free on her own. This, Sadie Blakeley thought, was probably a good thing for the Schlegel household. Paul had been upset with the news, no doubt much more angry than he showed under his joking about and turning the setback into one more opportunity to show how fully he understood the music scheme, and she had wondered if he just might go down to Maggie's house with the girls - the turnabout was at the Schlegel's this time - and have it out with Maria then and there. He was most certainly a teacher, a soul incapable of tolerating error, incompetence, any attempt to mask the real truth, any sign of confusion or lack of confidence on the part of a student. But Maggie had taken the lesson, so his mind could rest, knowing the essential next step had not been interfered with.
So the girls left, both of them looking as is they would love to throw their arms around Paul and hug him to death, but of course they didn't know him that well yet. And he was, after all, their classroom teacher. The experience would be all that sweeter and good for their souls when it happened naturally. Possibly he was too angry for it anyway.
The girls left, Paul slouched in a chair with a furrowed brow, and Sadie got him a beer. "By no means do you have to earn your booze, Paul, but I think we both know you've earned this one."
"Bloody rights I have. Wait'll I run into that old bat. And whatever opening scene from Macbeth she was listening to in order to come down on her kid like that. You must have some real doozers in this town." He didn't use any adjectives rooted in four-letter words, but Sadie could hear them roiling in his brain.
And she could also hear his mistake, his assumption, about Maggie's mother's age. She was heading back to the kitchen. Adam would be home before Paul was finished his drink. But she turned back, laughing, realizing that as talented as the young teacher was, he was also very humanly capable of jumping to conclusions. In fact, to thoroughly get rid of the tensions that had been layering her house for the last hour, she sat in a happily relaxed lump herself, and laughed and laughed.
"No offense, young fellow, but you have been thinking that because Deirdre is my youngest, and born just before I was out of my Forties, that Maggie's Mom is also a woman of . . . . shall we say, mature years?"
"Oh my God." Paul sat up, and started to laugh himself. "Yes, I have. I suppose we've been too busy making cultural beach heads for me to ask family questions. She's not . . . .middle aged?"
"Heavens, no. Margaret is the oldest, and Maria wasn't all that old when she was married. She's very little into her Thirties, and, incidentally, rather good looking. Oh my. Wonderful. For the rest of my days I will wish I could have been in her house or wherever when you ran into her with a lecture in your mind all arranged for an elderly charter member of the stitch and bitch set. You're a man, and a young one at that. I'm sure you would recover and get on with your job, but the initial encounter would have been worth a camera angle or two. Oh, you don't have to start dropping your visor. She's a very good young woman and she and Horst love each other dearly. And Horst would never let her bully Maggie away from you, although it might take a while to persuade Maria to see the light. She's a convert. She was raised Mennonite, on the Prairies, and she sometimes falls back into odd frames of mind. Especially over music. She's very talented. There's been some real devils at work in the business of this afternoon. She would be my choice to make the very best of what your secrets are, and I'm sure in the end she will, if you have time for another student. But I fear that at the beginning she would not be easy about it. She might tell Maggie that she should have studied her scales better, but I think there's more to her negative experiences than that.As I said, she's good looking, and some music teachers . . . ."
"Hmm hm. Maman has had a few victims of that species of nonsense. I think this Horst must be quite the man. I'm looking forward to meeting him. What does he do?"
"He's the accountant at the mill."
"You guys are quite the cartel. But nothing really good can be done without real friendships, as Aristotle says, and it's always especially efficient when business and friendship go forward in the name of culture and faith. Man, what Gaetan Renard and my Grandpere accomplished in the name of both is certainly proof of that." He was recovering quickly, and sat up even straighter.
"You will have to tell me more about it. But not now. I must get to the kitchen. Thank heaven the weather's cooling off. Oh, and don't assume that there actually was anything that dark in Maria's student days. It might just have been some disciplinary approach radically different than yours and very stupid. But I've always wondered, and I think you should be aware of the possibilities because I really think she will wind up listening to you, and letting your show her how to make better use of her own piano. After all, she can't help but hear that voice on Sunday, unless she goes somewhere else for Mass. And another thought. Have you even see Ionesco's 'The Lesson'?"
Paul hooted. "Seen it? I belonged to the Players Club, I'll have you know, and I did the teacher's role two years ago. I was very successful, too, considered one of the most hateful men who'd ever graced the stage. That was enough villainy for a lifetime, I can tell you. Where did you see it?"
"See it? That's your second assumption of the day. I played the student, in my own college days."
"Good heavens! You're an actress. Wonderful. Maybe that's what gives you so much understanding. Thank Christ you're not taking Maria Schlegel's side of things. Between her and that Havincourt woman, and even Iris' initial reaction I've had to wonder if I'd come to the ends of the earth in Blackfish Bay. I mean I know Vancouver is full of wilfully ignorant rabble as well, but I did expect a little more pastoral quiet and co-operation than has shown up so far. Or shall I say I expected a little less opposition? I'm an optimist, you see. I expect people to trust and expect the best, not doubt, bitch, whine and insist only the worst can happen. Sometimes it has to, of course. The first three chapters of Genesis lay it all down. But it would all be so much nicer if it didn't. But here, I'm bitching too, just after you handed me a beer for my nerves. Maybe I should just realize that it's all happened so quickly so I won't take you and Adam for granted. That's a problem with me, expecting every house to be like the one I grew up in. My adopted brother used to get on me about it, as he came from quite the opposite." He raised the bottle. "To the Blakeleys. Long may they reign, and may all their enemies either repent or catch the plague."
"Oh, dear. I didn't get you a glass."
"Never mind. I'll imagine myself at the wheel of the Melinda Richards, looking for swimmers to run over." He rose from the chair and followed Sadie into the kitchen.
Sadie was still ready to laugh. "Maria Schlegel would make a very pretty corpse."
"But why did she do it? Why did she turn cannibal on her own daughter? Maggie simply did not deserve it."
"I can see you're the sort of teacher who believes in shooting the parent first and asking the kid 'why' later."
"You got it. But as they quickly found out when I was learning my new trade in the spring, I shoot kids even faster if they ask for it. But this scenario knocked me flat. I'm a veteran observer, you know, of the good, the bad, and the ugly that have been through my Mom. Dierdre and Maggie are both genuinely docile and genuinely as eager as they come. The sort teachers live for, if they've any sense. The world is full of resistance to real learning, especially when it comes to art. They haven't balked once. You talk about my teaching the mother! All I can see in my head is complete resistance. She isn't likely to do the first damn thing I tell her!"
Sadie began rustling around the stove and in the fridge and cupboards.
"It won't be like that. Trust me. Maria is young, Maggie is her firstborn, and the Schlegels have some friends - not the Blakeleys - with mouths as big as the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, and even more eager to argue just to hear the sounds of their own voices." She stopped to look at him, and firmly said, "You know what discretion means, right?"
"Yes, Ma'am."
"Good. Because I'm not eager to have any of my critical remarks come back to me. It makes life that much harder for Adam. So a lot of the things I might say, or you might hear in this house, you have to forget, like the priest in the confessional. But of course some things you will need to hear, and have a right to hear, because of your position in the school, the parish, and I what I suspect will happen very quickly, the community at large. As you get to know people, you will find these things out for yourself. But, as you said, there are some real doozers. Born gossips, born meddlers, born souls who would rather do anything than read a good book or open their lives to anything more than a soap opera mentality. And, bluntly, let me tell you that there are a couple of women in Maria's circle who are simply jealous of how much she and I enjoy each other's company. I've never met her parents, but I suspect that there is a history of harshness there, so she appreciates knowing an couple from her parents' generation that simply give her room to be. And I quite suspect that the parents have never really forgiven her for becoming a Catholic. And one of her woman friends has a daughter the same age as Maggie and Deirdre, whom they try to make room for, but she's not easy company. She's coarse, and I suspect about to get promiscuous, or at the least, simply too moony over boys. The mother was much the same, she can see it coming, and she probably hates the situation and resents the fact that Maggie and Deirdre just might escape the same fate, because they have some interests in things of the mind. She might have heard something about you, and managed to find just the right words to set Maria off balance. Stranger things have happened. Strange things always happen when people ignore Casti Connubi. Oh. I don't mean the Schlegels. I mean the woman that might have been part of the false witness."
Paul grinned. "Good old Pius XI. My grandfather used to send him lovely letters."
"Really? Rome seems so far away. It's hard to imagine someone in Canada - other than a bishop, of course, just sitting down and jotting a note to the Pope."
"Easy enough when you're Philippe. And he never had anything to hide, like a lot of bishops do. He was more or less just taking dictation from the big head office in the sky. As natural as Adam dropping a line to Vancouver. How long do you think it will take Maria to come around?"
"Are you asking for Maggie's sake or hers?" Paul was by a window now, looking down over the hill that sloped to the Strait. They had remodeled, he thought, with this house that went back some years, probably before the First World War, putting in more windows to take advantage of the view.
"Well, hers in both cases," he said. "Because unless she wants to commit the unthinkable and tell Maggie she has to stop being Deirdre's friend, Deirdre will certainly show her every thing she learns from me. And that might even be an advantage, a silver lining in the cloud of the Schlegel discontent, because that simply means that Deirdre will learn it better. Nothing makes you learn more efficiently than the prospect of having to teach what you know."
"I thought of that too, which is why I'm not too worried about Maggie. And once you've met Horst you'll realize he really does wear the pants, and Maria will not hold out against what he knows is good for his daughter. This would never have happened if he'd been home from work. There must have been some stupid incident this afternoon, and it provoked Maria to fall back into whatever happened over her and music when she was young. Horst is no musician, by the way, just a very good accountant. He can't help her that way. I'm not worried about Maggie now, although of course it was very disturbing to have Maria call me up in such a ridiculous mood. No, it's Maria that's concerning me, or you and Maria, because I'm absolutely convinced, after watching and listening to you with the girls just now, that you're the man to solve her problems with music, to clear up whatever happened when she was young. I mean, I've never seen anything like you, and I even suspect, whether you know it or not, because I have read a little of your grandfather's writing, that you have some mystic in you. I'm sure you can do it, and I'm only afraid that you will say you don't have time. Or that you're still angry and can't forgive her for upsetting Maggie." She had turned away from the stove and looked directly at him. He thought: good women are all the same. I could be looking at my mother. Lucky Maria Schlegel, to have such a friend.
He grinned. "Would you kick me out if I refused?"
"Of course not. I happen to be very fond of art and the thought that you might actually be painting in my house is very pleasant indeed. But for some reason I'm also very fond of Maria. Somewhere, somehow, she's been dealt a bad hand." She turned back to the stove, then went to the fridge for lettuce and took that to the sink.
"How long have you known her?"
"A little more than a year. They were in Vancouver, which she really loved, after the Prairies, and Horst was number three man in the head office. The accountant here retired, and they offered Horst his job. So they moved, and Maggie came to Saint Bridget's, where Deirdre had been having far too easy a time being head of the class. Maggie's brain was the best thing that could have happened to her. They could have become enemies and rivals, but by the grace of God they became friends."
"I heard how she said Maggie was the best math student in the school. It reminded me of how I finally came to reckon with Jacob's skills with philosophy. You learn to recognize that God loves variety, and made each of us unique. Then, and only then, can you know how to create teamwork. Of course I'll take Maria on, if she'll have me. There's a fair amount of shrinking goes on around our house, and I'd like to get at the skeletons in the Schlegel closet just to see if I can do my bit." He grinned again. "Besides, she's good looking, right? Just think of what it will give the good Edna Havincourt to talk about. We wouldn't want to let down the gossip columnists, would we?"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Editor's Foreword

Goodbye Microsoft Word, for now at least, and hello once again to
The Yacht, Book Two, is about to go forward on the channel at hand. Early on we brought over chapter one, just for fun, and I carried on with the writing on Word, transferring to Adobe PDF for shipping to my five steady readers, up to and including chapter 12. Somehow in the midst of summer visits, gardening, and yard work, MT did not get 12 printed out. It was therefore not at hand an hour ago when my mind really began to clear over the next step - where to get going on chapter 13 - so when she had looked up 12 on My Documents, then printed it out, I got to read it afresh after a long time away and realized it was time to hammering at the gates of the musical infidels, that is, get The Yacht up on the Web where all the world can get a glimpse and make up its own mind without the interference of the Luddites in the invested industries that surround music printing and teaching. None of the faithful five, moreover, need miss a beat. They just have to tune into the Ranger, as some of them already do.
What about chapters two to twelve for Ranger fans only? At the moment, no clear answer. Perhaps an ordinary publisher will show up and bring out a book. Perhaps I'll go to the work of retyping the chapters into Blogtype. I was having so much fun reading 12, except for a couple of spelling mistakes, of course, that I could see myself working through the other chapters again quite happily. And then there's always the challenge of going on with the new in such a fashion as to also retell the old. And who can say where a story actually begins? Thus the technique of the flashback, thus good old Homer beginning at the gates of Troy ten years down the road after Agamemnon and his sailor/soldiers hit the beach. Possibly this is Homer's secret code by which he was telling the reader that it took him ten years to get the beginning right.
I know what that feels like from more than one project. At the moment I'm feeling, finally, strong enough to say on this medium, that I think I've got the beginning, at last, to the BIG POEM I've been draughting away at for something like 20 years. This is thanks in no small degree to a recent publication, an anthology of BC poets, "Rocksalt", released just days ago by Mother Tongue Press on Saltspring Island. The compendium is very lively, very eclectic, and also, for me, very encouraging, a kind of handbook of all the rules a poet needs to keep in mind in these days of trying to reconcile - for my generation - the poetry we read in school and the poetry that is published now. The point is, I learned to love grammar at age ten, and ever since then have been puzzled by writers who work as if they hated that particular branch of knowledge, but I also understand the power of an image, and its capacity to become a symbol. Sometimes the Lord speaks to me in sentences, sometimes He utters merely one word. It takes all kinds, and in my Father's house there are many mansions.
I probably could go to three slots on my blog, one for this journalism, one for Contemplatives, and a third for fiction and poetry, but for the moment I think I'll keep it simple, and stick to two channels only. This means there will be no ordinary Ranger until chapter 13 is up and away. So I would like to close with the proof that, yes, I really am a periodical. I have a very genuine 'letter to the editor', the kind that is only just to quote because it is very comment on something I have said, another way of looking at a question that may actually provide more insight, at least for some, than my own expression.
Marianne's cousin Jack, also a Tremblay, has been my most constant American reader. He lives in North Adams, Massachusetts. This is the town, actually, where MT's father was born, although he moved to Canada with his family only a few years later. After the last post, on the child's pose, Jack wrote:

The best position you can hope to obtain is that comfort position just prior to sleep. You will not fall into sleep if you have not obtained it. So I submit that whatever position you obtain just at the point of sleep is the ultimate YOGA relaxation position . . . . . but who can remember?

I liked the plain science, and I also liked the mystery in Jack's words. And I very much appreciated a note from him some weeks back in which, after manfully absorbing a number of my tales of unusual visits from the Almighty, he coughed up a lovely little bit of his own special history. Everyone has at least a bit of this in them, or so I've always believed, but not everyone knows how to admit it, or even discover the memory. One of the reasons I'm driven to write this thing is in the hope of getting that done.
I started up this post on Friday. This is Sunday, and over the weekend, as if to back up the decision to bring up the yacht novel, I've made another big breakthrough with keyboard fingering fundamentals, sufficient not only confirm the wisdom of starting up chapter 13, but also moving me to add unto my profile. The only thing I can't do at the moment, though, is find the words to do justice to the mighty onslaught of the Spirit was involved in all this.
Maybe these will come if I get on with the chapter.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Patanjali Revisited

Should the people who thought up get the Novel Peace Prize?
As I began the clicking of the mouse that would lead to this post, I was beginning to get back into a bit of temper. As I had already come through a very great deal of temper over the previous morning hours, I wasn't looking forward to a rerun. And then, as the Blogger mechanism began to unfold before my appreciative eyes, I felt myself relaxing. Ah, the release that Geeta Iyngar speaks of in the latest issue of Ascent, the quarterly published out of the Yasodhara Ashram at nearby Kootenay Bay, although she was really speaking of release in a tense muscle, not a tense soul.
The source of my winter of discontent? The Yoga Journal, generally a most excellent and useful magazine, but annoying at the moment because there seemed to be difficulties in getting an email directly to the chosen target. In this case, either the EIC, Kaitlin Quistgaard, or the latest contributor to write about home practice and therefore the very real problem of motivation, Jason Crandall.
Oh well, happy fault. As was the case in at least half the plays I got involved in, I'll just have to let myself be dragged into the arena, through a knot hole, kicking and screaming. And then, as with the plays, I'll do all right, realize that I wouldn't have missed the new assignment for the world, and wonder what all the fuss was all about.
This means, because of the felicitous technology at hand, that I am now launching yet another yoga periodical, sort of, simply in order to say a thing or two not only in appreciation for the discipline, but also to point out a thing or two that most of its promoters do not.
For example, Jason Crandall, even though he is talking, along with the entire edition, about the most essential part of any undertaking, a home practice and the necessity of a modest but consistent daily schedule.
Do no modern yoga teachers realize the importance of starting in bed? I recently asked another expert this same question, and got looked at in wonderment. The bats of October have been put away for another year, but the image of the plate is still valid: the yoga establishment as I know it has got itself two strikes, but can it connect with the ball on the third attempt?
Although I first looked into yoga almost forty years ago, I only became acquainted with name of the alleged founder, Patanjali, some months back, buying a little book of his at our local very eclectic main street bookstore. As those who have read him know, he actually wrote down only one thing about hatha, or physical, yoga. He insisted that each and all asanas must be "stable and comfortable."
My, my, my. Such a rule for life, as well as yoga, and yet I wondered at the moment of reading this essential principle, and still wonder, how many yoga people, teachers as well as students, actually keep this rule throughout their yoga hours, beginning, middle, and end. I had only been familiar with the sage's words a couple of months when I ran into a young woman I'd come to know over the previous few years, a third generation member of one of Nelson's most famous athletic families, a soccer player, a student of the weight room, lately fallen in love with yoga, and studying it at the Coast. Her teacher, she said, in his competitive and ambitious youth had broken both his knees. I asked her if she had heard of Patanjali, and yes, she had, and I gather it was from her older, wiser, instructor.
I think I actually had my first spiritual encounter with Patanjali in June of 1990, although I had no idea then of who he was and why I would eventually need to know him. I assumed that my visitor was only the usual, that is, the Holy Spirit alone. For about a week, starting on the 10th of that month, each morning as I sat in my reading in my habitual corner of the living room I experienced this very pleasant suffusion of spirit within my bones and all the rest of me which seemed to have something to do with complete physical strength, perfect agility, and a general weightlessness short of actually being lifted out of the chair.
Being human, and up to that point concerned about fitness only in terms of hiking and running, I began to wonder if I would be able to take such a feeling to the roads. From the beginning of the track, in 82, I'd had a lot of spiritual encounters over the running, but none quite like this one. And the same spirit certainly did not show up to aid me with longer and longer runs, or more frequent runs, although I think there was a nice little bit of it in September of 98, when I put in the fortnight of short jogs, limiting myself to a half-hour only, but doing it every day, and realizing that I was indeed increasing my agility. Not long after that, as I have written earlier, came the gym, John Douillard, and the growing conviction that Western Athletics could only get stupider by ignoring the physiological wisdom of Mother Asia.
Having said this, I also suspect that the Asiatic schools can only suffer by ignoring what the West has done correctly, not only in the precision of its anatomical studies, but also in all those very knowledgeable trainers that colleges and professional teams employ to keep their athletes healthy.
And then all these schools, having shaken hands at happy hour together, can sit down and really get to the basics, which means Aristotle. I quote:

And because everything which has matter is moblile, it follows that mobile being is the subject of natural philosophy. For natural philosophy is about natural things, and natural things are those whose principle is nature. For nature is a principle of MOTION and REST in that in which it is. (Capitals mine). Therefore natural science deals with those things which have in them a principle of motion.

To be perfectly honest, this excerpt from the beginning of Aristotle's 'Physics" has actually come through Thomas Aquinas' commentary on that text, but of course the plain sense is not interfered with, nor the depth of the original vision diminished. And to be honest even further, let me admit that it took me some months - I've owned the book since the spring, I think - to find that pairing of motion and rest and be struck by its significance to my still on-going search for the various stretches esssential to my personal tights spots.
A different dosha than mine might be quicker to latch on to it. But I'm a pitta at any kind of physical exertion, to the degree that in order to educate me properly, the Holy Spirit is utterly ruthless, under the terms of his decades old contract with the mature mystic, and simply refuses to give me either physical comfort or a calm and creative mind at any point where I try too much or too quickly. I get a little room for trial and error, of course, just as a compass needle gets to swing a bit before it settles down and points north, but no more than that, before any sense of being centred is completely taken away.
This really happened over the weekend, following the first few sentences of this post, as I was getting better and better at understanding how to use my waking up at night to perfect the effects of the child pose, that which I finally realized was the real key to most, if not all, the problems brought on by the recent months of hard walking and a lot of sitting to read or write without enough stretch smarts.
A hard, straight, floor, with or without a yoga mat, will of course tell you more accurately about some muscle capacities than a slightly sinking mattress will, but the experience of these last few weeks of exploring this most comfortable and stable of options has convinced me that to ignore the natural genius of mattress yoga is to miss a huge essential. I may be waxing on over this concept for a while.
For anyone who does not know what the child's pose is, understand that it is simply a position in which you kneel on your shins, lower legs together, and fold your torso over your thighs, tucked up somewhat like a child in the womb, with your head resting on your fists stacked on top of each other. This for starters. As you stretch, your head naturally drops right down to the mattress and then you can put your arms any which way they are inclined to take themselves. It is the best place I know of to start gentle push ups, for example.
Most of us started life in a bed. It's as good a place as any to start getting into real shape, which always includes finding the balance between effort and comfort.