Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Upward Spiral

As every artist learns sooner or later, there is no force on earth as capricious as the Muse, who, being eternal, can do what He wants with Time, and all things, physical or mental, that have to function within it. "My ways are not thy ways," nor are His schedules. Who could imagine that a composer should have to wait until he was nicely into his seventies to have the grace to learn how to arrange? As late as 1996, when I launched into the opera - I learned yesterday that Public Broadcasting Atlanta began the same year - although I had the happy faculty of being able to write both lyrics and melody, I knew that the best arrangements of these would have to surrender to someone else's talents. I didn't mind. To repeat, I love teamwork. And would have thoroughly enjoyed listening to what someone like Brian Ahern, or Gordon Lightfoot's brilliant sidekick Nick DaCaro, could do with my stuff. I mean, with "Me and Bobby McGee" Kris Kristofferson had himself a great song, but it took Gordo and Nick to take it to the singles charts, and keep it there forever. But now I can do it myself, if I have to.
God actually once said to me, "What I have arranged, I have arranged," but at the time I had no sense of this applying to music. Oh well, live and learn. In retrospect, too, I have to recognize that what He also meant was that He had arranged for me to be kept relatively stupid about music so I could keep on keepin' on with the contemplative life and rim shots at Rome and assorted other authority problems.
But no more, and not only have I finally diagnosed the ivories to the degree that I need, but I've been let back into the guitar on a full time basis. Man, what you hear when you can count. And think correctly with truly disciplined fingering. Of course I've had my moments of inspiration and understanding with the Chicago-built Harmony that sits in the living room guitar stand about eight feet from my chair, but then there's been the long gaps in my attention span while I tinker at the keyboard. As long as I could keep ahead of the great McDaniel, I was doing my job. Problem is, he's been speeding up. At our last lesson, in fact, it was I that made the mistakes. Mind you, as far as I can see so far, we're doing stuff along educational lines that maybe no one has ever done before, and I can be forgiven for stumbling.
Now I can't keep my hands off the frets. Classical, electric, Hummingbird flat top, and the five-string banjo, on which, Thursday morning, I did some serious work on "Georgia".
Now there's a bit of a first. An opera selection composed on a banjo. Admittedly I started it, back in the middle of March, 96, on the on the old Heintzman upright grand, just so I could get a sense of the power or four or five voices, with a left hand sounding like the tenor and bass sections of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but we shall proceed with banjo, if only to start creating a true public sense of the nature of this particular creation. (And my fingers need the homework.) The banjo was invented by blacks, as they had the skill to make drums, but could not duplicate the craft of making guitars to replace or augment the instruments they got from Arab traders. And everyone knows that "Gone with the Wind" has a significant proportion of Afro Americans in its list of characters, and students of human character have often found them in fact the only people in the book who actually knew which end was up. So, when you think about, it's only reasonable that the banjo should call the tune.
And what better way to pay my respects to Pete Seeger, who by taking the trouble to come to UBC in the fall of 1957 created one of the first days of the rest of my life? Shawn was in that audience too, although we were not aware of each other at the moment.
She was not around for the onset of "Georgia", however. That was MT's doing. I had been blatting a lot about the opera, back in the spring of 96, of course still finding it hard to believe it was any of my business, till on the morning of the 16th of March she said, "When are you going to start on the songs?" And out came the chorale, instantly. Melody and words for the first verse, enough to let me know it was all very genuine, and I really did have a piece of music on my hands.
But not then, and not now - Tuesday, the 3rd of March - any real words for the second verse. I tried some sketches, mostly having to do with the moods and particular history of some pretty scrappy Crackers, but none of it felt quite right, although I was much fuller later on with some of the other numbers. Thirteen years later, I can only think that I'm going to need some feedback from the Cracker state itself to get on with it. The Almighty who knows how to freeze my brain also knows how to drive a bargain.
Today is Wednesday, and this morning I began the serious rewriting of scale studies for the keyboard. I had jotted the first three degrees of the scale possibly a month ago, and they were waiting for me to get on with the next five, with the four note harmony in the left hand. In the intervening weeks, as I was saying above, I've returned to the instruments you can hold on your lap, so that now the new photo is not a falsehood. M0reover, there are now printed quantities of music staves and guitar fret boards on paper, so that we can photograph the positions and fingering and so on, and show them on the blog. Also, the camera takes short films, with sound track, so the scales can be played and sung.
Also this morning I have a lovely note from the managing editor of Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine telling me my little tale of Hemingway and some nearby huckleberries has made the cut, thus giving me a nice spot in the summer issue, going to design this Monday.
The spiral is still ascending.
The only thing that is descending for the moment is my weight. 174 on Saturday morning.
And in closing, a word from the BBC. Conrad Black is studying the piano. Maybe someone should send him my blog so he can save time and do it right. By the time he gets out of the joint in Florida, perhaps Ontario will have woken up and can give him a new career.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Emmylou Harris and the Yardstick

As Saint Francis de Sales says, the will of God is scarce known except by events. Before I could get to the second installment of chapter 10 of Contemplatives, I had to wait on some rather major spiritual events and instructions, and then, once those were sufficiently in place and understood in their application, I had to wait until this morning's Net announcement of the identity of the new archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. This news provoked my own thoughts of the Big Apple so much that I actually sat down to this rig - on a Swiss ball, by the way, so I can bounce up and down like a cowboy, or a dragoon - intending to muse on the significance as I saw it of Benedict's latest appointment.
But I was put to work first on the chapter, a nicely centreing undertaking, and then turned loose as an essayist. And all this before breakfast, the aromas of which rise up the stairs, and the substance of which I will soon be called to. And you know what the original Benedict expected from his monks: that they be always ready to drop their own personal projects to answer the general schedule of the monastery.
Having seen no alternative to getting the music message out there at this time than to once again provoke the Warner corporation, the news from New York seems relevant. The archbishop oversees the education of a lot of young people, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he can realize what I'm on to, me and my angels. Warner's head office is in New York, and the simplest thing for everyone there to do is to get together over a Mindy's cheesecake, or strudel. But of course men - or even women - are never as simple as the angels, so we'll have to wait to see how it all spins out.
I remembered yesterday, too, that when the Warner Brothers went to Hollywood, they came from Ontario. Like my ancestors, after those good souls came from Pennsylvania. It's a small, small, world.
I never had strudel or cheesecake when I was in New York. I ate apple pie in an automat that was about thirty degrees Farenheit cooler than the streets outside (now that was culture shock) and didn't really learn about the delicacies at Mindy's until I saw "Guys and Dolls", just before I headed off into the Homathko wilderness. Man, could Fosse's laddies dance.
I think I've mentioned that although my parents were great at ballroom dancing, I never took up the subject myself intil I was almost 21 and decided that knowing how to move gracefully to music might be a feather in the hat when it came to courting. From having been sports editor of the Ubyssey, I had an in with rugby coach Albert Laithwaite - "hit 'em so hahd they faht!" - and thus was able to talk my way into the ballroom dancing class, taught by another Englishman who knew his job, a Mr Valentine. That's when it first struck me, even though I'd been singing with my uke for three years, that music really was all about numbers. I thrived, and quickly became a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor.
The class was in the autumn, starting when I was still nominally in law school. In the late winter, months after leaving the legal stuff, I was winding down at Dun and Bradstreet so I could step into the harness of a writer who could get to his typewriter first thing in the morning, with the best energy of the day. But I had also bought a Buddy Knox single, "Party Doll", to play over and over again so I could learn the words and figure out the chords.
I was usually the first one of our threesome home from work, and it was my job to cook supper. It was a wonderfully sunny day, I was full of beans at the idea of soon being able to write full time, and I put on the record, probably just for the sake of study while I peeled the spuds and opened a tin of green beans.
Of a sudden, without a partner, I exploded into solo dancing. I probably did this for at least fifteen minutes, playing the single over and over again. I had such a very good time, so that when I saw Bob Fosse's lads dancing over dice in the underground, I knew what made them do what they do.
I think of this now, with, the addition of some cross training to daily in-house fitness and weight loss programme. A dance movement routine has a number of elements simple walking and running do not. It is easier on the joints, provides lateral and reverse movement as well as forward, ever forward, and can especially make use, through judicious bending of the knees - although not, initially at least, as severely as the Cossack dancers do - of the enormous calorie burning that comes with raising one's own body weight up and down as much as is comfortable according the rules of Patanjali. Also, for a mental workhorse like myself, it provides a chance to study the music and learn the lyrics as I move about.
I'be been doing some calculations I can hardly believe the results of.
A couple of Sundays ago, as the three musketeers rambled across the CPR flats heading for their rendevous with coffee, muffins, hot chocolate and so on, I was moved to wonder how many inches the top of my head rose and fell over the course of a walking stride. I estimated that if it was as much as one inch, that would mean, multiplying 175 pounds by 1/12, that I would lift 24,640 foot pounds by walking one mile.
This seemed like a lot, so I humbly decided that even if it were only half-an-inch, i would still harvest 12,000 foot pounds. I had no idea of the conversion rate for foot-pounds into calories at that point, but I was still impressed. But as I got into my gentle dancing - gentle was good, because I could see that my calves felt the change right away - I realized, on the slower pieces, that there was lots of space for augmenting the size of a step vertically, so that a slow beat might even be more calorie intense than a fast one, where you had to keep your head level so as not to break your neck.
And then I was moved to re-calculate, and used a couple of yardsticks to measure the length of my leg, and using a 30 inch stride as a standard, used my highschool geometry skills to figure out how much the top of my head really did move up and down. Would you guess four inches? So doesn't that crank the foot-pound count, and thus the calories?
If God had meant us to be obese, he wouldn't have invented dancing.
Interestingly enough, one of the original titles for Bluemantle Revisited was "Emmylou and the Yardstick", because in the process of rigging my earphones and the extension cord so I could move the cord around the furniture, I tied the cord to the end of one of the yardsticks so as to get more range for my feet by lifting the cord in a wider arc. With the purchase of a CD Walkman, that is no longer necessary and I have the full range of my two lower floors in the early morning. Katrina the cat finds all this new activity most entertaining.
So do my anterior and medial thigh muscles.
Maybe I should write a musical called "Bye Bye Blubber".
What's this got to do with the new archbishop of New York? I read that in the process of dealing with the sexual abuse problem in his diocese of the time, he was at his desk and on the phone so much and thus gained so much weight that his staff feared for his health. Is it time for the clergy to make movement class part of canon law?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bluemantle Revisited

I have tried twice to get this next post up and running, and trotted well down the track, only to hear the starter's gun sound again to call me back. Will I get all the way out with the third try? The problem has been new information coming after the earlier inspiration. The first interruption was from something negative, I if I remember correctly, possibly some mistake of mine. Right. Yes it was. I had confused two songs, thinking that "Angel From Montgomery" was "Boulder to Birmingham". But this one is very nicely the opposite. I might be getting somewhere with the local press, no longer, by the way, owned by Conrad Black, whom I once tried to persuade to invest in filming in the Kootenays. I hear that Conrad is teaching American history to fellow inmates in Georgia. I wonder if he's got to Andrew Jackson. Andy and I are very, very, dear old friends, and not just because we own a Nashville Telly. That's what it's like when your main turf is the hereafter, and old history becomes very current new history.
When I came up to the computer, when it was time to leave my agents to their own particular concerns and analysis of current events, a few moments ago, I had a message from the editor of the Weekender, the weekly omnibus of stories from and relevant to the larger surrounding area of Nelson, which includes Trail, which I was moved to think now might play a part in the next phase of re-educating the world on the question of proper music instruction. The Weekender's mother, the Nelson Daily News, as on occasion in times past, has not always been swift to pick up on the current intuitions that drive my daily processes, and I have been afraid that my second home town's reputation was once again about to take a knock on the world stage. I mean, for forty years and counting Nelson has been like one of my kids, worth praising here, needing a cuff on the ear there, but basically always available for a dinner invitation. But for months, the so-called leadership has functioned like a bunch of teenagers who don't know how to smell a turkey when it's in the oven.
But it could be that Darren Davidson has rescued the local situation. Darren is the editor of the Weekender, and also part of the brass at Kootenay Mountain Culture. He likes people, thinks big and imaginatively, and I was only saying last night, after I had written him with an idea, that he could probably do very well in a much larger setting, but he just likes living in the mountains, by a lake, in a town full of poets and painters, musicians, and upcoming Norman Jewisons.
This while we were watching Steve Martin and Kevin Kline and Jean Reno's "Pink Panther", in part a tribute to Blake Edwards, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the launching of the original.
Martin, of course, did most of his "Roxanne" in Nelson, including a scene in the very restaurant where my oldest, now journalist, daughter, had her wedding party, with her brother's band providing the music, and a former back-up goalie for the Glasgow Celtics one of the bar tenders. The other bar tender, Bob Caron, has a sister doing country and western in Nashville. Right. There are times when the degrees of separation, as vanished in Heaven, grandly descend to Earth.
Martin's Clouseau, of course, is rather busy among the soccer fraternity. And Darren and I go back to the Summit Gym, where we talked about having been rugby nuts. And then occasionally we talked on the phone when he was really looking for Shawn for museum or arts council bites. But now I think we might talk some very serious stuff about music education.
Can the Weekender save Ontario taxpayers from wasting millions of dollars? Will the Weekender wake up the education people in Victoria, who have no idea whose prayers they're riding on over the Olympic factor? Or who it was that set the Hawaiian police on Gordon Campbell when he was busy playing Dracula with the poorest of the poor?
We are now, as often in this process, a few days later. Yesterday I emailed Warner Canada, as I am now ready to rewrite Johann Sebastian's Bach's Two Part Inventions. Would they like the publishing contract to the Red Book of Scales and Studies? I've begun this work, and it's had its approval from the cook who has to listen to whatever I do outside the earphones and the Roler.
I think to myself that they might go for it, and I also think that with the economy brought so low CEO's in general are too traumatized to see the forest for the trees, in which case we can always go to You Tube. That could be fun: Mrs Buckley's Tea Chest all over again, but around the world, except for the places without Internet. Does Warner have a printing plant in Timbuktu?
A few months ago, Warner New York was not a little thick. At least with me. It's all right. They all laughed at Robert Fulton, until Cunard caught on to him. And then Cunard laughed at icebergs, which was unfortunate for the Titanic and its passengers. These things take time. The goin' up is worth the comin' down.
Why Warner? Well, in 2004 they re-released the 1975 recording of "Pieces of the Sky". Emmylou Harris, vocals and guitar; Brian Ahern, arranger, producer, and some guitar here and there. Now from start to finish, this was/is a great album, first class in its own right, and exceptionally useful to my operations of the moment. I recommend it highly to any band that has to take on a bar scene. Do what that album does, and you can't fail. If you do fail, then shoot the audience. It doesn't deserve to live. Our trio did a bar scene, for one weekend only, in 1976. That was a year after the album came out, but for various reasons I hadn't heard of it, even though Bill Langstroth had sent me a copy of "Annie", in 1972, so I knew all about Brian Ahern and his ability to make very solid records. We had an easy time of it on the Friday night, to a packed bar, not especially addicted to country music, but the Saturday turned somewhat into one of those classic scenes delineated so beautifully in both Blues Brothers films. We did have some country in our library, but not enough for the Good Old Boys of the Kootenays, and things only got back into the groove at the end of the night, when the GOBs buggered off and we closed the evening with a steady run of Dylan, with a young lad sitting right below the stage thinking that Shawn had simply wonderful tastes as well as skills, and was very happy to be where he was.

A day later

These memories have always been there, but they are especially relevant now as we commence the resurrection of Bluemantle, perhaps for public performance, but primarily and definitely for the sake of the You Tube or website version of the presentation of the music system. It's been getting to these conclusions that have continually interrupted this broadcast. Last night I began the initial design work for the Net on the piano, with the chorale "Georgia", that opens the opera; and this morning I continued with our Godin built Nashville Telly. That elegant little critter can go on earphones too, like the Roler, so guess what I now get to do in the wee smalls. I call her the Red Devil, just for fun, and boy, has she been neglected while I took the keyboard apart. But there was no way I was going to set her up and then not be able to deliver as she deserves just because I didn't have my scales and arpeggios and double stopping and fingering all figured out just like God always intended for those who understood that the universe been fashioned from something other than a mouldy haggis.
Number, measure, and The Weight. "I pulled into Nazareth . . . ."
We own about all the albums that Dylan made. Him and Lightfoot and The Band. But of course most of those are LP's and our turntable lacks a needle. So MT has decided to restock with CD's and this morning from Packrat Annie's brought home Nashville Skyline and Blood on the Tracks.
Talking to Shawn about singing is a little like courting her again. As always, she has options, having always loved art and being not too bad with a pencil and thinking about taking a drawing class or two.
But she is thinking. After hearing me rave about "Pieces of the Sky" for a week, she sat down at piano and picked out our composition for a drama based on the 1886 or thereabouts murder at the Bluebell Mine, located where the retirement village of Riondel now stands. The hour long radio play was produced here in 1973, in the summer, and aired later on the national network of the CBC. I think it was in the process of writing the song that I first thought I might one day have to write an opera. It's always been a little sad, moreover, not to be able to hand a record of the song to the inevitable inquiry that follows the hearing.
We're working on it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Circle Game

One of the guaranteed most pleasant excursions of the week for some years now has been the weekly shopping for food and household necessities at the Kootenay Co-op Grocery. It's a place that simply glows with health, common sense, and total concentration on giving the public the necessities of nutrition as God intended them to be rendered. None of the fruit and vegetables have been poisoned or abused, or mutated out of recognition, and the Co-op serves as a distributor for dozens of local producers: gardeners, grain growers, bakers, deli cooks, and so forth. In a sense, it's like an art gallery, full of crafts and integrity that comes not only from the expert artisans far away but from your immediate neighbour as well.
The Co-op is not as big as a super market, probably a third to a half, but it is larger than the corner grocery store, with members in the small thousands, and therefore it is also as formidable a site of the politics of the village pump or the city gates as you will find anywhere. There are possibly people in the area who do not shop there because they are afraid their intelligence might be challenged, or their standards of taste in several areas.
I always take a book, as we shop early, before the crowd hits, but I don't always get to read it. This morning was a perfect example of why.
I've mentioned Michael Stewart before, the personal trainer we met on the ferry, on his way for a day of 50 or 60 kilometre running on the East Shore, usually up some mountain or another. He's the lad who discovered complete nasal breathing on his own, having never heard of John Douillard, but being concerned about the pollution that travels about the globe.
I hadn't seen Michael for a bit, so when he turned up beside the cheese counter we had a lot of catching up to do. Yesterday he was out on a 60K, and would I like to be taken up a 9500 foot mountain this summer? And I wanted to talk to someone in the fitness business about my recent realization about the place of chairs and tables in the perfect and complete formula regarding indoor exercise. We also dealt with the recent media hype over a Catholic bishop who has gravely underestimated the death toll of the Jews during the Hitler era, some music theory, and standards for runners' footwear. He thought I should talk to Nike about my spring-loaded dojo shoes.
But I knew I had to report on what I hope is the final solution in my search for a weight control programme that is completely up to Patanjali's standards: stable and comfortable. Michael is a real pro. Personal training is his livelihood. It meant a good deal to me that he stood in there and heard me out, without a word of criticism, and then came up with a solution to some of my temporarily retired footware that I hadn't got to yet.
From the very beginning of my taking up running and reading about Mike Spino, as a facilitator, getting to pretty well jog and run as he felt like throughout an entire day at work, I've had an eye out for the possibility of what you might call an all-day programme: out on the track, in a gym, and now within my own house and yard, but of course any and all of it fitting within the schedule of my other responsibilities. It's only been theoretical, because no matter what I tried, I could never get the total co-operation of the Holy Spirit, the guy who covers the lungs and the autonomic nervous system in a contemplative, nor were all the relevant body joints always completely happy campers, as has been chronicled. Ever since I left the Summit Gym, in the fall of 05, although I have kept moving, there have been successive failures of one kind or another, and not a few significant new learning curves. I lose some weight, I get it back. Up goes the muscle tone for a while, down it slides. I readjust my sense of tolerable levels of stress. I learn or relearn how to deal with troubled joints. The music research, of course, has been one enemy of Muscle Beach, and so has the time and concentration on this blog, but, I can now happily report at the top of my lungs, so has the method.
Simply not enough in-house. Natural enough for a quasi-monk, you might say, and why did it take me so long to catch on?
Why indeed? I don't really know. What I do know is that during the Christmas season, which was already going swimmingly, the Spirit would not stop whispering in my ear about February. The month of groundhogs and boxes of chocolates would also hold something significant for me. I never care if winter stays or doesn't - inclement weather simply provides more time to read and study music - and I've never thought much of Valentines Day. My principal interest in February is that it was the month my mother was born in, and also five of my grandchildren. So what else could be of interest?
But, six days into the month, I finally see what the Personal Trainer was getting at. (I thought for a bit that the music thing was part of this prophecy, but in truth the fundamental formula secrets were nailed down in January.)
You want a real fat burning work-out that you can totally control, under your own roof? Without the quite elaborate stretch programme that should follow a running session? No showers, no special togs or shoes? In bite-size pieces that either allow you to get on with the rest of life as you need to, and on the other hand knit up the ravelled sleeve of boredom when neither books nor Bach - or even Jacques Loussier - can't do it?
Simply try walking around your house, in the clothes on your back, or your pyjamas if you're up as early as I am. Living room, dining room, halls, kitchen. Basement and attic if you have such, which we do, and also porch, which we also possess. Sound boring? Maybe, until you think about lymph glands, the Vienna Waltz and other forms of ballroom dance my parents were so good at, and start arranging chairs, tables, stools as circling posts. Think bus rodeo, barrel races at a gymkhana, Lionel trains, and the Daytona 500. Really get into it and you'll find muscles and tendons in your hips and so forth you never knew you had, and therefore, weren't really using. All dimensions exercise!
Straight ahead walking, even running, is for whimps! (I never said this to Michael, of course.)
So far my smallest unit has been five minutes, my largest one shot forty.
Honey, I'm home, and I have no idea why it took me so long, but I do know I had to do an awful lot of research and live class work to get to the point where I really know what I'm doing and why.
When summer comes, will I go with Michael up that mountain, both of us running it?
Right. The footwear solution. My dear old Dunhams, my lovely Brooks. Had I thought of putting felt half-soles in the front of them? No, I had to admit. But at home, as MT put away the groceries, I gave it a shot, and I think it'll work. And Michael agrees with me about the danger of high heels in runners' shoes, has cautioned about this throughout his career.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Friend Like an Old Friend

Aristotle says that a man only speaks well of what he actually knows, which means in the case at hand that I have to ask myself how much I actually know about acedia. Can someone who's been a mystic since he was three truly find himself in such a cluttered and sluggish atmosphere of head and heart? That my professedly agnostic father, for example, should find himself acutely bored on a regular basis was a matter of course, but even he could get quickly to doing something about it, and those somethings were usually positive, although not sufficiently intellectual, artistic, or religious.
I did, of course, know, and still can know, profoundly dark moments. How else, for one thing, can we stay in touch with the Cross? But to what degree were these moments simply of the acedic species?
I have actually tried to write, occasionally, about characters in the doldrums. I think this was, for one reason, that I was so little in the acedic regions, and wanted to stretch at least my intellectual experience and sympathies. And perhaps, for another reason, I had an unconscious interest in identifying the real nature of my personal predicament as a veteran of the dark night, none of which I actually understood, through having the vocabulary for, until I was becoming a Catholic.
I went so far, as a matter of fact, to devoting the last two-thirds of a novel to the concept of ennui, oddly enough, at the same time as I myself was rollicking through a most wonderful book called "Father Smith Instructs Jackson", in the summer of 1958. It was good fun. I wrote furiously, and even predicted Shawn and me setting down a year later on Cormorant Island, the land base for Alert Bay, so haunted was I by the dream of returning to Lasqueti, the home of the unconquered piano. The book was not a waste of time. Jack McClelland's editor, the lovely Claire Pratt, sent a note saying that I "wrote well, but should not attempt to rewrite the book, as the character doesn't actually do much." The "wrote well" part impressed my mother-in-law-to-be, and thus the book was worth the effort. But, consider the author's complicated reaction. On the one hand I savoured the comment on the competence with language, on the other I had to admit that I was hardly the do nothing sort, and even rankled at the inference. Probably Claire, daughter of a minister-poet, knew I was trying something on.
But I think I have had my fair share of acedia laid on top of the more adventurous travails of the mystical life, and indeed Kathleen Norris' book just might be a very lovely window on the at last divinely revealed explanation of this. (Dollars to donuts there will be a relevant symbol on tonight's viewing of "Morse".)
Kathleen, by the way, tells a lovely story that is most timely on this date. Once upon a time there was a pseudo-zealous young fellow who entered a monastery, only to find himself profoundly dis-edified at recreation time when he found his brother monks discussing the World Series. To everyone's relief, he did not last long. Nor did he know his Saint Thomas, a man, like Aristotle, and even Saint Paul, aware that all human activity that did not sin was a blessing from God, a sign that there was something else in life beside the work ethic and study only for the sake of academic honours. As I write, the Arizona Cardinals are about to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl and you can bet that there will be all sorts of angels down along those benches trying to keep those guys from more than their share of injuries.
And speaking of the angels, my old friends, I have to say that they are the reason I could never stay, for longer than a recognizing moment, in the arms of acedia.
In the process of Thomistic research for the sake of dealing with Kathleen's book, I settled, at first, on Thomas' writings about pain and sorrow. Acedia, after all, is a form of sorrow. There is nothing else you can call it. A thing is what it is, as all real metaphysicians will tell you, and all modern dilemmas come from the determination to makes things what they are not. For instance, the new president of the United States seems to think that abortion is a virtue, a solution to social problems. Such a view will produce an unfathomable amount of acedia. And those half-wits in the Middle East are determined to prove that violent aggression can solve geographic and economic problems. More acedia, and no wonder Hell is so over-populated, and Purgatory running on overflow.
And the scum of Africa are illustrating how the slave trade could never have functioned at all if blacks had not been at the bottom of it.
I found great stuff in those sorrow sections of Thomas. That is an infallible likelihood, of course. And, thus, I thought I was off. But not so. That was then, yesterday, and this is now, which means that I had to tuck in with the angels, me old buds. Holy shit. You really want to cross these guys? Read and weep.
As Thomas says, "There must be some incorporeal creatures." This at the beginning of his treatise on the angels: Question 50 in the first part of the Summa.There must be. No dithering here, none of that painful, embarrassing waffling back and forth of my old man, night after night at the dinner table. Of course, my old man was somewhat like Thomas' old man, a soldier in the pay of the emperor who was on the wrong side of the Pope, Frederick II. There must be angels. Man must have incorporeal company, the spirits, who get along just fine without the baggage of bodies. Spirits are the stuff to have at the dinner table, rather than simply material ambitions and off-colour jokes. Spirits are the real reality, flashing back and forth between God and Man, lighting up the ether, inspiring and restoring sanity, life, love, intuition. Carriers of light, harbingers of wiser days to come.
The hermits could only survive because they had the angels for company. And the saints as well, now in heaven existing as pure spirits. No bodies. My my. All those disappointed Islamic terrorists, so plum out of luck when they get to Heaven - if they actually do - only to find out there are no bodies there, especially no bodies of virgins, other than the body of the virgin mother of Christ, who might have things to say to them about the indescriminate dismembering of innocent civilians.
We had a saint around here this morning, a new friend and ally: Felix di Cantalice. Marianne has been studying the Capuchins, and read me out his name this morning, reading the old Catholic Encyclopedia on this computer desk, and when I descended to the kitchen I found myself surrounded by rather a lot of light. I first assumed that Pio was up to his old tricks, but then realized that it was more likely a sign of this new chap I'd never heard of, for all that he was a great buddy of Filippo Neri. It was Felix who made the Capuchins a major force in Rome and vicinity. Excellent choice for the newest member of the board. A big part of his job was begging for the brothers. I feel right at home.
The Capuchins seem to be up to some soul searching over their constitutions. With their recently retired minister general in the immediate vicinity, can the mystics be of any assistance in these deliberations?
There was, by the way, a symbol on Morse. He has to tell his sergeant, Robbie Lewis, that on a previous assignment, with a different chief inspector, they had failed to "keep looking". I'm not at all sure at this moment why this is relevant, but I know it is.