Saturday, March 28, 2009

Son of Medjugorje

Now the popcorn is really going to hit the fan!
And just when I was having such a wonderful time returning to the good old days of the delight of writing a short story. I'll never forget my first try at the short form, because not only was the original inspiration an awfully fiery affair, even though it happened only within the mundane custom of waiting for a trolley bus - on my way to a Ubyssey party - but it was the author's second introduction to two of the very major characters of "Contemplatives", Jacob Cameron and Michael Thurman. This was a nice shift from the necessarily protracted business of a novel - although the character of Jacob owed much to the more introspective tone that had come upon the beginning of my second book - because it brought the pleasures of the lesser assignment. Two or three themes instead of a thousand, a few days of work instead of months, and if the Saturday Evening Post went for it, a nice quick cheque and maybe I could buy a sports car!
So I thundered through the thing within a week, in the evenings when I wasn't helping put the Ubyssey to bed or marching about the UBC armouries - this year in uniform instead of civies - did a quick slapdash editing, and shipped it off, I'm sure without the courtesy of a self-addressed stamped envelope. Ah, youth! But I was personally convinced, until the thing came back a few weeks later, that I couldn't lose! The inspiration had been so huge. I was even terrified, in the way that artists get terrified over their ideas, that other writers all around the world had overheard the Muse letting me in on one absolutely terrific deal! The Post would have to acknowledge my unique genius, and I was away. And I hadn't yet even gone to New York.
The rejection was by no means a deterrent, although it was probably part of the collection of growing concepts that provoked to send one of the next tales to Arthur Mayse. Then the year after that to Earle Birney, and so on to the more ordinary processes of the writer's apprenticeship, thoroughly appreciating every step down the long road, taking careful notes against the day of success and therefore accountability, but never with any idea that it would be half-a-century and thousands of novel pages later before I would return to the joys and mental adventure of my youth.
And, now one little piece on its way to daylight, in a much loved and admired magazine right out of my own backyard; a second with yet another Kootenay publisher with a bold and roving eye, but already approved by a very well known academic and published critic; and a third which is giving me the time of my life, with all the leisure in the world, unfolding word by lovely word. No writer could be happier. The title alone, "Grizzly Gorman", is plainly a gift from the Muse, and yes, there really is a grizzly, and enormously threatening bear he is in his own right, as well as the enormously satisfying metaphor he also emerged as some days into the tale. Magazine editors around the world, if they knew of the draught, would be ringing my phone off the hook!
Just imagine, fiction no real man can possibly resist, yet absolutely true and based on fact. A genuine commercial success in these days of reality TV. And yet a critical success as well, with a text and subtext to dazzle the commentary profession for decades to come, especially those whose grasp of depth psychology is as profound - or ambitious - as their passion for syntax.
But ah, enter the inspirations of the agent, which have, in only a few days, brought us to the town of Conyers, Georgia. Now as my little band of faithful readers know, I have a soft spot for the state of Georgia, the home of Margaret Mitchell and the novel and the musical inspirations I came to in the middle of the 90s. But until yesterday I had never heard of that nice little town that lies some thirty miles to the east by southeast of Atlanta. Well, that is, not heard in the ordinary way. I don't think it's mentioned at all in Gone With the Wind, nor had it caught my eye anytime I've browsed over Georgia and her neighbours in our atlas.
But I find out now, from my journals, that I most certainly was advised about the so-called extraordinary events that are alleged by certain souls to have taken place there between 1987 and 1990.
For a week or so, Marianne has been a participant in a new feature on the Net, something called "Twitter". While I stick to my blogging, she prowls all over the place, often looking for any feature that will facilitate her work as my agent. So when she found Twitter, she quickly entered its particular ambience as an agent and started flogging Contemplatives. Good kid. It's an uphill battle, given that the vast majority, even of those who claim the ability to read theology, are so sluggish about the spiritual life, but it's been a good challenge for getting her up in the morning.
With gratifying swiftness, she got responses, on her Twitter channel, and by the end of the week,
yesterday afternoon, my Sitemeter showed a hit on the blog from the website of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, precisely out of Conyers. The reference had come from Twitter, but it was a hit on my stuff. Most gratifying. Eisenhower's principle of the broadest possible front is working at last.
But why, in this particular case? Is there a parish priest in Conyers who actually reads? This may sound cruel, and even ungrateful if you understand that it was a parish priest, a good reader, who put me on to Sigrid Undset as well as the excellent spiritual works in his library. But I have to trust that it has been the Muse rather than the devil who has been probing the statistics of real clerical literacy in mind, just as He has been raising questions regarding true practical wisdom in the music trade.
Or, perhaps Conyers has a thriving theatrical group that has heard about the opera. Or wants to overcome the Georgia predicament of no Catholic schools below college level. Or would there actually be in Conyers a publisher who refuses to believe the computer has rendered books irrelevant? Woody Allen really should be filming my imagination.
The first step towards satisfying my curiosity, of course, in this day and age, is googling. So, Conyers, Georgia. And I don't even need the capitals! There's one in the eye for English class in the good old days.
It was only a matter of seconds to get past the customary headlines to realize that Conyers is indeed a unique spot. Well, almost unique. It took me a second read of all that twaddle about the Virgin Mary to realize that although the unfortunate apostle of this falsehood is from the midwest, she ran into her "messages" in Bosnia Herzegovinia, on a mountain, no less. Just like Moses, and with all sorts of followers busy creating golden calves. I noticed the donate button. I have never wished I were a computer whiz before, but now I think it would be useful if I knew how to sneak into the website and change "Donate" to "Detonate".
Interestingly enough, my bedside book at the moment - other than my habitual saints - is a Mark Twain classic, "A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court". Providence is, as always, wonderful, especially when acting through my wife, always the bringer of the next useful text, even if it can take me months to find the right time frame. At one point, Twain's Church-bashing - did he belong to the Missouri based Know-nothings? - just about made me put the book away. (I had seen the movie, with Bing Crosby, as a kid.) But I persevered, and certainly his treatment of "miracle" must be rated as right on for the purposes of the moment.
It hurts to leave "Grizzly", but as Johnny Hart said, back in the days when our local newspaper had the wit to run "The Wizard of Id", "Once an engineer, always an engineer." The journal notes for October 13, 1990, the alleged date of the last vision, are as extensive as they are devastating - or detonating - and will need at least one full post to themselves.

Monday, March 23, 2009

That Summer in the Wilderness

My most persistent interlocutor has somewhat challenged the music instruction, and seems to wish me to return to literature and philosophical speculation. As one of the fabled Elwyn Street Irregulars, she was more of a late night dancer than a singer or musician, thus in the minority in terms of the rest of them, a number of whom had actually been paid a lot more than I ever was for their playing and singing. But she also wrote, and still does.
The coincidence is quite profound, because I had for the past forty-eight hours been reflecting on my lack of any memory of Ernest Hemingway speaking about music. All his fans know that he worked hard to qualify as an expert on the subjects, other than writing and writers, that meant a lot to him - hunting, boxing, bull fighting - and even painting, but as I remember him, he had no opinions on music. Probably I'll read something on that very subject the next time I take him up, but for the moment that's how it stands. If I find that he did say a thing or two, perhaps even quite a lot, I'll know I might have simply glided over it because by the time I got to him I was very much a musician, a bona fide troubadour of the folk variety who had also by then soaked up quite a bit of jazz and was about to take on a lot more. And I'm fairly certain he knew absolutely nothing about real music theory, so that would have left me even less interested in what he had to say, whereas in Morris West's "Second Victory" I was completely riveted - and also in patient despair - over a very small note about a seventh chord on the piano. Likewise over everything Robertson Davies had to say about singing in "A Mixture of Frailities", although I have since realized that there was much more to be learned than he could speak of.
But my challenger's timing is deadly, because I've now begun something with at least the working title of "Getting Along in the Bush". With two short stories down, and a million to go, this will be a good chunk of "The Skinner Family Legends". The Muse has finally come through with some of the oldest promises, and, once again, the in-house tech has advised me how to work the numbers on the blog. "Grizzly Gorman" will cheerfully appear in its own time without disturbing the numerical ordering of the individual posts. There are no deadlines, and leisure will have its exclusive way. Nor are there any ordinary magazines discussing publishing with me, so necessary length will also have its way, especially as I have recently had a professorial prod away from excessive brevity.
Leisure is something a writer needs, of course, when paying due homage to the man who ended his days just south of here, in Ketchum, Idaho, and there was something rather circular in that geographical identity too, because it was in Idaho, in the Saw Tooth Range, where I began my reading of Zane Grey, also a great lover and presenter of the great outdoors. The wilderness, the bush, the outback, aka Paradise until it was screwed up by Adam and Eve.
R.C. Zaehner writes very well about nature mystics. Sometimes I think my father was a bit of that strain, even though his father was a Christian. When my grandfather was quiet in the woods or on top of some mountain ridge, he thought about Jesus. But I don't remember my father ever having a sense of Christ, yet he loved nature and got an enormous amount from it. I suspect he spends a lot of his purgatory listening to Jesus pointing out all the times when what he thought was only natural was actually nothing of the sort.
But I was never a nature mystic, because of that light around my Grandad's head and the ongoing incidence of the rest of it. I was always a Christian contemplative, albeit Protestant of sorts, so when I got to Hemingway's descriptions of Catholic images and locations, especially in
Spain, it was like a preface not only to the Faith, but to Ignatius Loyola and the Carmelite mystics. It all went in like mother's milk, especially as I was actually bottle fed as a baby.
I have been in a Hemingway mode specifically now for some weeks, because of the huckleberry story, and this has become intensified by getting my hands on an old favourite, Morley Callaghan's "That Summer in Paris", his account of the months he spent reunited with Hemingway in France and also meeting Scott Fitzgerald and every other well known writer hanging about in the City of Light. I first read this very lovely book in the 64-65 winter, finding it in the Notre Dame library. It was one of the definite bright spots in that horrifying year, clarifying many questions about the complicated man I had used as a writing teacher, and promising a future that would see me both published and understanding of the black surprises I had come to in the Kootenays. When these things were accomplished, I promised myself, I would take up the book again and thoroughly enjoy the second read. Naturally, I never expected that it would be more than forty years before these circumstances came together. Nor, most important of all, did I have any inkling of the incredibly filthy thinking that would over come the language of worship in the Roman Catholic Church, the home from birth of Fitzgerald and Callaghan, and the new cradle for Hemingway.
As I said, I first read a library copy, and with Notre Dame vanished these many years - as God had warned me it would be, in the same time frame as I was reading the book - the edition I have now is a paper back, not a hard cover, and it seems it is back in print only because of grants from the Canada and Ontario arts councils. I am not ungrateful for the factors that made it possible for me to keep my promise to myself, believe me, but at the same time I have to wonder at the general state of illiteracy that requires such rescue from the neglect of a sine non qua. Merely as an obligatory text in any programme of creative writing alone, That Summer deserves to be kept alive without any sort of plugged-in life support. That this is not the case, throughout every corner of the English speaking world, proves that most of the people not only studying, but teaching, creative writing or the study of modern literature, have no real idea of what they're doing. Callaghan's 1963 text is a divine gift to the writing process, the heavenly ordained common priesthood of the scribes who will escape damnation, and the attempt to see it in any other light is a guarantee of, well, illiteracy.
I'm not speaking, it follows, of the simply mechanical inability to spell out and pronounce syllables, for all that, as good reading teachers know, the ability of a grade three or four class to do this is the equal of at least two Beethoven symphonies. I am speaking of the illiteracy of college presidents, bishops, magazine editors and book publishers, politicians and high school principals, and an unfortunate proportion of writers and all other fools of that ilk who allow themselves to be involved with the pages of babble that modern leaders like to call documents, or significant statements of policy.
I, of course, might have wound up in one of their unfortunate chairs, for I was a student in the UBC law school. But in the summer of 1956, taking a job with the Vancouver Sun, and being given the afternoon shift, of most happy memory, I had the morning to spend in a creative writing class, wherein I chose Papa Ernie as my mentor and read all fifty of his short stories, thus overcoming all sorts of bafflegab, including all the bad lessons from English class, both in high school and university.
This was not all Ernie's doing, of course. Literature is not God, but the occasion of God. But when we open the door to Christ, no matter what hat and cloak he comes in, we grow up. We give him a chance, and we prosper, in the real sense. Certainly I have prospered, hugely, not only as a writer, and now, in Getting Along in the Bush, I get my chance to say thank you. "Grizzly Gorman" is only the beginning.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Conrad Black's Second Piano Lesson

Okay, World, there she be. It's only a small part of the revolutionary Red Book of Scales, but, with explanations, it should make a very good start. Who was it said that a picture is worth a thousand words? Perhaps. But, in my experience, if the picture is any good at all, it needs ten thousand words to explain why.
I've been talking about camera images for a while, but only now have we got one that is worth discussing. And that was virtually by accident, as MT had only taken the camera out to record the first crocus of 2009. A lovely shot. She showed it to me as I was at the keyboard with the above, very happy to have in A major what I had sketched out a month or more ago in C. I had jotted the first pair of staves at two a.m., then the second set toward noon after we came back from shopping. So I said, "See if you can get this!" And she did, and then she was able to get it on the computer and then on to the blog, and I could see that we really were in business, and also why I was in the last 24 hours incapable of either making bread or writing more of short story #3. In fact, I couldn't even go to early morning dance class, so anxious I was to get that first exercise on paper.
C is all right for starters, as it illustrates the scheme of how the major and minor intervals lie - all white keys get you the half-tones at the 3-4 and 7-8 spots - but it ain't the best key for this guy's voice, which hangs around best in the same range as those of Johnny Cash and the aforementioned Emmylou - adjusting for the gender difference of course - and I really do like rumbling along in A. It would be great fun gigging it up with the Dali Lama and his boys in northern India. And of course that range carries a certain authority. When it turns up, on the rare occasion of an acceptable hymn, it irks the nuns with authority problems no end. They like the male voice to sound as caponed as possible. Take that one to a shrink if you will.
That's right, A. Three bleedin' sharps. Totally defiant of the conservatories, who put A major in fourth place, and most definitely the sort of thing that used to scare me off any time I moved from an instrument to a sheet of paper.
That situation, of course, only existed because I hadn't figured out the numbers, and tried to follow the directions for using all ten fingers instead of the sensible beginner's two.
It's a Biblical principle that keeps turning up in these music investigations: God has ordered all things in number, measure, and weight. This means that you recognize that the orders of music are in the numbers rather than the letters. It also means that you cannot actually measure
intervals with multiple fingers, as this means relatively little to the brain's real sense of measurement, easily cultivated with the probing of one finger only - initially the middle digit. And it further means that only moving the entire forearm can give the student a true sense of the true weight involved in striking the note. Naturally, there is a place for the rest of the hand as the music becomes more complicated and true skill has developed to the point where speed as a merit. But, as with all things, the musician who starts off centred will remain centred.
I actually was making some pretty good use of the brown book, counting up and down the octaves and triads of A major with just the third finger and the numbers, sometimes with one hand, sometimes with two, but the schema there is so incomplete without the alternation of major and minor - plus the one diminished - arpeggios that are found in my second pair of staves.
The first set is the scale divided into its three logical parts, based on the natural division that comes with the three notes of the tonic triad. This is absolutely necessary to a comfortable assimiliation of the 2,3,4,5 left hand notes as harmony. No, those are not numbers of the fingers, they are numbers of the notes!
Some seasoned keyboard readers will no doubt instinctively plunk with all the digits, and that is all right if that is what it takes to experience the pleasure of truly musical studies for themselves. But sticking with this procedure will never reveal the freedom that comes with starting properly and will only encumber the student with mental lumber he or she doesn't need at the beginning, especially where there is an innate sense of rhythm just looking for a good little tune to boogie with.
I assume that the Ministry of Education in Ontario is still dragging its feet, and my CEO has just informed me that he knows all sorts of young pros back east discontented with the conservatories. Good timing on both our parts. Now concerned teachers and literate students can get down to work.
Let the Force be with you!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Grizzly Gorman

There were six of them, sitting in the hotel lounge and telling stories, getting acquainted and reacquainted, the night before the survey crew headed west. The four older men knew each other, as three of them were with the Power Commission, and the fourth was a bush pilot who flew for the Commission on contract. One of the younger lads, Russell Nikos, an engineering student, was familiar to the older fellows because he had worked for the Commission the previous year. He had been part of the crew that had gone into the survey area at the end of the summer to have look around for the next season and build a small dock at the south end of the lake.
But the other young man,Toby Skinner, had met none of these men until the day before, when most of this summer's crew, as many again as the group in the lounge, had gathered at the bus depot in Vancouver to make up their little cavalcade and head north at the end of the afternoon. They were supposed to leave the city closer to noon, but there had been problems with the trailer carrying their seventeen-foot outboard cruiser, their main supply boat. This had taken time to solve at a welding shop, so the men already at the bus depot withdrew to a nearby hotel for the inaugural get together of the long summer in each other's company. The boss, who was part of the evening affair in the lounge, had not joined the hotel crew in the city, as he was at the welder's. Nor had the pilot. He was with the lounge crew now because he had flown in from Vancouver Island to check on his hunting cabin, and then dropped down to spend the night in Williams Lake. He had known they were passing through because he would be flying for them later on in the summer.
They'd all had a lively time in the pub, back in the city, for most of the crew were students, engineers somewhat intrigued by having an arts man like Toby in their midst, especially as he seemed to have a lot of stories at his disposal. Also, from Russell, the first of the crew at the bus depot when Toby arrived, they'd learned that Toby had a banjo in his duffel bag and knew a lot of songs. Toby had also spent a lot of time with the military, although never near a combat situation, and that had helped with the flow of conversation with Ted Gorman, their equipment wrangler, and a veteran of the real thing. He'd been a paratrooper, a victim of the bungled drop at Nijmegen, but other than his time in the war, he seemed to have been more or less a professional woodsman, taken out of school by his surveyor father in grade four and earning his keep in the wilderness ever since. He was the oldest man in the group by a decade, but he seemed to have no family himself from what Russell had said about him. He was, Russell had said, an expert at his trade. Gorman's mother had been an Ojibway, and looking at his profile as they had sat side by side in the hotel pub, Toby thought he would have done well as a film actor.
The man on his left in the pub had driven the one-ton from Victoria, the Commission headquarters, with two more boats, cedar lap streaks, lashed to the iron frame, and loaded with their tents and other equipment. He was older too, thirty or so, from New Zealand and he had by then designated Toby as the crew member who would ride shotgun in his truck. His name was David Battersby. He was bachelor, and plainly a very decent fellow, and fascinated to learn that Toby was a musician. He had not been to university in New Zealand, but had studied as an engineer's draughtsman.
It was not the first time that Toby had acquainted himself with new friends and acquaintances. . As a boy he'd changed neighbourhoods and schools hand over fist, thanks to the war moving his father about, and he'd belonged to Cubs, Scouts, and cadets. Then had come the university newspaper, and officer cadet camp. In the previous summer he had worked for biggest newspaper in Vancouver, even reporting on the smaller fish in a provincial election. Always the challenge of getting to know new faces, new interests.
But this adventure was somehow different. The others had just seemed to happen. He would think out his next move, make a decision, and it would always prove to have been an interesting choice, and, as a writer in training, he'd come away with good stories and character notes. There had been surprises, especially in his first year in law school, but there was not much real negativity, no life shattering mistakes. Well, one mistake, but he hadn't been caught by it. And he knew he would not make it again.
He felt perfectly free, and wonderfully lucky, but he also knew he'd had to earn the luck. He'd had to mightily displease his father by leaving law school in his second year, and he'd had to disturb two employers by deciding to quit his jobs so he could put all his energies into reading as he wished, and write first thing in the morning. He'd even had to annoy his creative writing teacher the previous summer by choosing Ernest Hemingway as his mentor. That had actually been a smart move, even if he hadn't appreciated Hemingway so much, because it had exposed in the teacher, himself a writer recently published in a prestigious American magazine, the special stupidity some writers had about about their peers.
Toby had really loved Hemingway. He had read all fifty of his short stories, and two critical works that made him see the connection between Hemingway and the Greeks, Hemingway and the Bible. Well, at least the Old Testament. How much Hemingway knew about the New Testament Toby was not sure, even though later, in the middle of the winter when he was working on the railway mail car between the Coast and Kamloops, he had read "The Sun Also Rises" and was quite intrigued by the scene with Jake Barnes praying in the Spanish church. Toby had a feeling that he might know more about the New Testament than Hemingway had, but he could never have explained, then, how he knew this.
But he had loved the man's simple, direct, style and been overwhelmed by the feeling that he had at last found a writer who could show him how to write about his own experiences with all sorts of things, but especially with the bush. When you had grown up in Canada, but especially in British Columbia, where he had spent most of his time, the bush was what you were, and yet it was not easy to find the words to express this. But Hemingway had been able to do so. Hemingway's woods and streams were northern North American. "Big Two Hearted River" could easily have been set in Canada. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' "The Yearling" happened in Florida, too far south to be set in Canada. It was a hell of a book, given to him by his Nana, his mother's mother, in the Christmas after the war ended and the family was all together again, living in his grandparents' house over the winter before they went up coast, but it was not the Canadian woods Rawlings was talking about. Hemingway's Michigan, sticking up there between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, might as well be Canadian. Logging clearings, burnt forests, streams with trout in them, railroad tracks: Toby knew all of that stuff and not from south of the line.
The thing was, you had to know how to be quiet in the bush. Just quiet. You didn't have to catch anything, or shoot anything, although that was satisfying too, but it wasn't necessary. What was necessary was to be there, sometimes alone, sometimes with people who didn't disturb the magic, who simply let everything about the time and place flow through their skin into the bottom of their soul.
That's how Nick Adams was in "Big Two Hearted River". Sure, he'd caught some lovely trout, but you knew that wasn't the main point of the story. The main point of the story was the ability to be content with creation and solitude. To know what to do with whole days of freedom, and also write a story about such an experience without putting a gun or a girl into it. Toby had known and enjoyed plenty of stories with guns and girls and horses and cars and all the other instruments of travel in them, but few of these tales had echoed so well his own affection and respect for solitude and quiet, especially in the woods or along a stretch of water, as had so much of Papa's writing.
And yet, when he had learned that this story was about Nick Adams when he had come home from the war, and was twenty or so, he was surprised. From his own experiences on the Inlet he had assumed that Nick was sixteen or so. No comparison at all with himself at twenty, with three years of university behind him and, just before he climbed into the fifty tales, by his own choice an exciting ramble through his first philosophy text. So that was why it was good that a friend had insisted he read F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He had not taken a university philosophy course, neither in first year nor any other. He had enrolled in the freshman course in psychology, and been bored with most of that, whereas one of his high school buddies, a genuine scholar, had gone the philosophy route and crossing Toby's path one day, spoke of it in such a way as to show he obviously loved and was excited by the subject. But before summer school had started, with a hurt neck from diving off a board too high for him into the university pool, he had needed to rest on his bed in the frat house near the pool and read a language philosopher, and found his own excitement. It had impressed his father that he had taken psychology, but his father would not think much of the philosophy text, just as he had not thought much of his working for the newspaper, especially as it was very pro-union.
But in those months of the previous summer it didn't matter what his father thought. Toby had moved out; he was no longer under his father's roof, and his days and his mind unrolled in a fashion that anyone determined to be a writer would be an idiot not to rejoice in. And so he had lived a summer and an autumn and a winter and early spring that made him every inch his own man, with his own inexhaustible supply of things to do and think that were endlessly nourishing, and now this job had turned up.
It was as if his life had started all over again. And why not? He had, in a sense, done his four years of university, and from the standpoint of a general education done them very well indeed.
He had wasted little time: he had learned how to read. He still had miles to go, before he could sleep with the wise, but he was no longer putting off the greats, no longer either bored or mystified or frightened by them. He had learned how to make them work, line by bloody line, and stoke the fires in his soul by doing so, and now he was getting ready to move in on the Bible, the book that as a little boy he saw resting on his grandfather's night table.
Because the pilot was the latest to join the early stages of the safari, finding the crew almost as soon as it had sat down, he had been given the opening minutes of the story telling. Like all seasoned bush pilots he was full of sagas of narrow escapes, often meaning stories on himself. His Beaver too heavily laden, the lake too small for landing according to the book, trees too high for a comfortable takeoff. An ornery bull moose guarding the beach, a cache of food not strung high enough to escape the attentions of a black bear.
Toby had only flown three times in his young life, but there was at least one story with each flight. Yet these trips were not on bush planes, and he had his own story of a Beaver, of his first sighting of the plane, newly designed and the pride of the nation. "The first time I ever saw a Beaver was over Sechelt Inlet," he said. "We were coming down the hill after a cougar hunt which never saw the cougar, just his tracks. The cat had killed a dog, so this woman who'd grown up on the Inlet, just a ways along from our summer camp, took her dog and me and my friend who lived there on a hunt one afternoon. It was exciting for a while, always hoping you'd catch sight of the beast. I only had a twenty-two with me, which wasn't much use on a cougar, but Katerina had a 30/30 and this German Shepherd. But we didn't see any cougar and we got bored so we started back down. We were following this old logging road, which was mostly in the bush, but at one point all the slope below was clear, logged off some years before, with a clear view of the Inlet. We heard this low roar and looked up, and there was this float plane, single engine, broad wings, gliding down for a landing at Porpoise Bay. I've seen a slow plane or two in my time - one time my Dad took me to the firing zone at Point Petrie during the war and I saw a Lysander, towing a drogue for the Bofors to fire at - the 40 mm cannons - and that thing was no rocket. But that plane over the Inlet! It was incredible how slow the pilot could take her down. I'd been reading something about it in the Province, so I knew it was a Beaver. Beautiful. Just a interesting as any old cougar." He grinned at the pilot. "Probably more so now, seeing we'll being flying around in a Beaver with you."
"Maybe," the pilot said. "I might need some help now again with loading freight. But you guys will be hopping from place to place in a chopper. When do they show up?" He asked Mortimer, the engineer in charge. "Your helicopter guys?"
"A few days yet. There's no place for them, really, until we've set up camp at the south end of the lake and cleared the trees away to make a helicopter pad. Choppers cost a lot more by the day than you do, so there's no point having them hanging around when there's no way to put them to work. But once they get going they'll be busy enough. This job would be impossible without helicopters. You've flown over the Homathko gorges. You've seen what the country is like."
The pilot laughed. "I've done some crazy stunts is my time, but you wouldn't see even me trying to land my plane on that water. Even a Beaver has its limits."
"We know a helicopter pilot in our family," Toby said. "I mean, he's a family friend. We met him just after the war, when my Dad was logging in the Gulf Islands. He flew a Spitfire, and then fished and logged after the war and then when it looked like they were starting to put helicopters to work he went out to Sea Island and got his licence. He flies for Okanagan. David here said our choppers are out of Victoria."
"Right," the Beaver pilot said. "Great fellows. They're just small right now. Two pilots. Your guy was a trainer during the war. He flew Harvards."
"Our next door neighbour flew Harvards," Toby said. "In Alberta. Bloody small world, isn't it?"
"War always makes the world smaller," Battersby said.
"So does surveying," Toby said. "It's already anchored New Zealand right off Victoria harbour.
I've danced in the Empress, you know. Billy Tickle and his orchestra, right? And been along for the ride when they were firing the three point sevens at Albert Head. They're gone now, of course. By the time I got to Picton the anti-aircraft had gone American, with ninety millimetres.
Great town, Victoria. My home away from home, and my roommate all this past year was from there. He took me home one weekend in the fall, and that blew me right out of law school. Of course that had been brewing for months, but it was that weekend on the Saanich Peninsula, in the golden sun of autumn, that put the match to the fuse."
"But a guy like you should be working with his head," the pilot said. "You don't really want to be a chainman all your life, do you?"
"I think when the summer is over I'll go to Toronto and work as a journalist," Toby said.
The pilot took a long pull on his beer and then said, "Now, that does sound like a good plan. You had me worried there for a minute. A journalist is it? Well, stick around with us long enough and you'll have some stories to tell."
Gorman had been listening carefully. For one thing, he'd been made extra thoughtful already by Battersby's asking Toby to ride in the truck with him, which meant that Ted had to be content in the sedan with the rest of the crew, another five bodies. He'd come over from the Island in the car, but assumed that he would travel the rest of the way in the truck, with more room and a higher view of the countryside. Toby had been feeling his luck, and hoped that Gorman wasn't going to be sore about it. But office staff was of a higher order than a maintenance man, and anyone with army experience knew what that meant. But they'd all had a great dinner, and the mood in the lounge was mellow. They might as well make the most of their last night in civilization.
"Do you want to tell just your own stories, or other people's?" Gorman asked Toby.
"Any good story is worth telling," Toby said. "And I've been a journalist. The only stories a journalist tells are other people's, unless he's doing a feature on his own travels or something like that. Or maybe about some mistake he's made that it would be good for other people to hear about." He laughed. "I've got lots of stories about myself that will do for that, although I'm not sure anyone would read them. One of them, in fact, about my own writing. Up to now, I've only had three airplane rides in my life, but two of them were long rides, and good stories in themselves, especially the last one, where we all thought for a moment we were going to die. Well, probably the airmen knew better, being pros, but the rest of us didn't. But when I got back from the trip I wrote a very short tale for one of the least of the slick magazines and put a romance in it that obliterated the real story. What could be stupider than that? My only excuse is that I had not yet taken the creative writing course and started reading Hemingway, who I quickly learned would have know exactly what to do with my day in the sky. I was pretty ashamed of myself, I can tell you. One of these days I'll have to make up for it by telling the real story."
"Did you get it published?" Mortimer asked.
"Thank God, no. No, other than my newspaper work I've published very little. A couple of poems is all, actually. I was writing a novel this spring, but I ran out of money before I could finish it, and now I'm here, sitting at this table and having the time of my life. I've always wanted to see the Cariboo, you see. It's mythical country in our family, but only my Dad and one set of grandparents lived in it. And reading a book about it is the only thing that ever tempted me to run away from home."
"What book was that?" David asked.
"'Grass Beyond the Mountains'. By a fellow named Rich Hobson who came out from New York to work as a cowhand in Depression Wyoming and went up into the northern Cariboo with a buddy to start up a big ranch in the wide open spaces south of Vanderhoof. I was in grade eleven, the year I learned I was a writer, and I suppose I thought I needed more adventure in my life to write about. It was great tale, and I've always loved the outdoors, the places away from the city.
And horses. And hunting moose. I mean, the idea of hunting moose. I've never even seen one."
"That's what this story is about. Hunting moose," Gorman said. "And it's interesting that you know something about the country south of Highway 16. I found the moose just out back of a hunting lodge at the western end of the Nechako."
"Where we're going," Mortimer said, "You'll meet a hunting guide who takes parties out for moose every fall. Jim Reeves. He and his wife own the ranch we jump off from. When you're a rich and famous writer, you can come back and hire him to take you out."
"If you're going to do that," Gorman said, "You'll really need to hear this story."

It was a half-dozen years earlier, up in the Nechako country, before the Kenny Dam was built to raise the water level in the valley three hundred feet, to create the reservoir for the turbines at Kemano and power the new aluminum smelter at Kitimat. As in so many of the wilderness corners in the nation's most vertical province, there had been a hunting and fishing lodge on the shores of the river, and Gorman was one of the crew staying at the lodge while they charted the changes about to come over the landscape.
It was early in the fall, but moose season had begun and one sunny evening after dinner when Gorman went for a stroll, he took a rifle with him. He was not anxious for a kill, for the evening itself was lovely enough, in the light of the sunset and the gold of the leaves already come to the northern Cariboo. But he felt that he might have some luck, and anyway the staff at the lodge had talked of bears in this lonely part of the world, and he was out by himself, without a partner to talk with so as to warn them. And at this time of the year bull moose were not at all bashful about disregarding warnings altogether, even warnings as huge and swift and noisy as the head end of a freight train, further north on the CN line.
His route lay east, above the river and through some acres that had been logged not too long before, so the second growth was still on the small side, with aspens and cottonwood, and scattered conifers that had started later, and patches of willow. There was a stream further along, he had been told, and the path would cross it on some flat rocks set in place years ago by a couple of burly hunters. Bigger timber lay up the gentle slope to his right, and half-a-mile or so ahead, looming above the brush, but his route for the moment ran though low foliage, just the height for a moose to be browsing in. Gorman thought about his Ojibway side, his mother, and had no problem going quietly. Moreover, the gentle evening breeze flowed his way. There was not much movement in this little wind, but it was all in his favour.
He was almost at the creek when he spotted the moose, a huge brown form with a mighty set of antlers working over a willow bush near the running water, fifty yards away, suddenly visible around a short curve in the trail. The bull's nose could smell only what came from beyond them both, and his eyes looked in the same direction, yet there was enough of the left side of his neck showing to offer an ample target. He would never know what hit him.
The rifle came up slowly. Gorman fired once, and as the bull staggered a few steps, got in a second shot for insurance. The moose went down, his hind feet twitching for a moment, and then lay quiet. Still, the hunter approached quietly, gun at the ready for a surprise. Moose were phlegmatic, not always easy to kill, not always swift to die. It helped that the moose had not seen him. A moose was like a grizzly. If it saw where the sting was coming from, rage would keep it moving.
But the bull was thoroughly dead, inert as a log. It was not until he was sure of this that Gorman realized he had not brought any tackle for cleaning the animal. He had been too interested in the charm of the evening, the beauty of the countryside. A full grown moose was not a grouse or a rabbit, or even a little Coast blacktail deer that a strong man could hoist on his shoulder. An adult bull weighed over half-a-ton, often without its stomach. He'd need block and tackle for hoisting the carcass into a tree, and a saw and a hatchet for carving the brute into packable sizes. He was, moreover, lucky that in so much shrubbery there was a real tree at hand, a young cottonwood. It might bend a little, but it would hold the creature vertical enough.
Back at the lodge he came upon another clarifying realization: the rest of his crew, the lads that could have helped him carry the sections of moose, had walked down the river to try fishing. With light failing now, he could not wait. He could not leave the moose overnight, there were too many creatures that would be happy to come upon a free supper. A pack of wolves, for example, would do serious damage to his prize before morning. He loaded a pack with the cleaning gear and head back up the trail.
As he rounded the corner from which he had spotted his quarry, he thought his eyes were playing tricks. In spite of the general brush of the area, that particular fifty yards of trail offered a clear view, right down to ground level. He could see no dark bulk lying in the spot he had left it.
The evening light had started to fade, of course, but it was not dark. With every step he expected the moose to reappear, until he had covered two-thirds of the distance, and then could no longer admit that the bull had not vanished, leaving nothing on the trail but the sounds of the birds, and there were few of these, and from farther away than the immediate locale.
As Gorman reached this point in his tale, he paused. Plainly, he was coming to the climax. There are few men who can resist a good hunting story, and none of them sat in the chairs around table in the hotel lounge in Williams Lake, itself in the heart of moose country. Had it been a busier night, Gorman would have had at least half the room listening. He had almost an actor's voice, Toby thought, and one could not help feeling that he was telling a tale of Homeric proportions. Homer, the man who had recorded the practical as well as courageous genius of Ulysses. Toby felt singularly lucky that he had started to study the Greeks more seriously, since Hemingway's stories and Carlos Baker's book about him.
"To this day, I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, when I was captured at Nijmegen, it wasn't my fault. I wasn't the guy who dropped the attack plans out of the airplane and set up the Germans to be waiting for us. Mind you, it meant I survived the war, because I spent the rest of it in a prison camp. If the plans had stayed where they belonged I might have been killed. As it was I lived through the war only to almost get killed along the Nechako."
He paused for a moment, because he was telling a cautionary tale, and made sure the attention was undivided. "I made the mistake because I was angry, I guess. You never want to get angry in the bush. The bush doesn't like it, and it finds ways to get back at you. But I was angry because I'd gone to all this bloody trouble and my moose was gone. I never stopped to realize that there was only one thing in the world in those circumstances that could have moved a half-ton of animal. All I understood was that the moose was gone from the left side of the path, and there on the right side there was another trail, six or eight feet wide, going up the slope through those damn willows and crap. Maybe ten feet wide, with the little trees all bent over and smashed into the ground in some places like a bulldozer had just gone through. So I started swearing and stormed along this new highway for about thirty feet."
He paused again. He sipped his beer and was imitated by the rest of the table.
"And then I heard the growl," Gorman said. "And finally I stopped looking just ahead of my feet going through those goddamn broken willows. And then I saw the grizzly bear, about thirty feet away again. Reared up on his hind legs and growling at me. About nine feet tall and madder than hell that I was interrupting his supper, which he'd nicely begun. He must have come along pretty soon after I'd dropped the moose. Maybe he came because he heard the shots. I'd never been that close to a grizzly before, and never want to be that close again. Reared up and mean, but when I look back on it, a gentleman in his own way, giving me a warning, and prepared to let bygones be bygones if I got the hell out of there. Which I did. I didn't run. I had the presence of mind just to back away, making sure I didn't fall down. That might have tempted him. But once I was on the regular path, I moved pretty quick, I can tell you. I don't think I relaxed until I was back inside the lodge."
His listeners nodded. Their imaginations, their own memories, their individual nervous systems had been following him closely. Toby's mind, naturally, had gone one step further. This was a story he would definitely write one day. Maybe even this winter, when he was a free-lance journalist in Toronto, and idling his motor between features.
But he did not got to Toronto that winter, he stayed home in his own mountainous province, and it was fifty years before he wrote the story, long after he'd learned to deal with the grizzly bears of the spiritual life.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Power Triads

That new profile photo is getting more honest by the day. I really do understand the Spanish guitar, thanks to the numbers and sensible finger discipline. I had someone take a photo of me at the piano years ago, to send to the Pope of the day, but decided against its leaving Nelson. I looked acceptable as a person, and I was smiling, but my hands on the keys lacked the whole truth, by a long shot, and I decided against false advertising.
By late Sunday afternoon, as I strolled east on Baker Street, heading for home after a walk I needed to take after I had been able to start writing my second short story within the week, I had figured out to approach the scientific study of the key of E - major, minor, and whatever - and was keen to get home to try it out. The readers know that Tim and I have been working on A, then I proceeded to D and made a bit of progress, enough to prove the logic of the numbers and our fingering drills, so now if E behaved accordingly, with adaptations, of course, we really were up and running. This would be good, because the emails to assorted authorities have been pretty sassy, and the last thing I need at this point would be some sort of road side mine, of my own bad design, blowing up and interrupting the flow of the process.
Moreover, Hayley and I have begun charting sensible chord graphics. Actually, triad graphics, and these also look satisfying.
By noon Monday, the great McDaniel and I had proceeded through both D and A, with some nice little schemas on paper. Everything worked extremely well indeed, and so I'm looking for ways to be even sassier, and probably will not stop until I find an authority who actually gives a damn about kids.
From the get go, I had a fairly good rep as a rythmn player, from ukulele to 12-string, and without bass and or drums instinctively felt the need to provide a good bottom end with the six note guitar chords. ("Bottom End" was for a time the name of one of my son's bands.) But now I can boom off the big E and A with articulation also, with all the pretty little horses thrown in. Better than that, so can the student, as soon as he learns to count on two strings.
And your mother tried to tell you that motorcycles were wicked? Tim actually has that nice little resonant classical of his, for a bargain price, because he knew how to do some necessary work on the music store owner's bike. Find Tim an old Indian or Norton and he might even show you a lick or two.
Tim is more than a gentleman biker and a guitarist. He is also a reader, and as of yesterday a valid critic, as least for me. This brings us the the second short story. I told him the drama of getting the first into the hands of the KMC magazine designers and then launched into the cycle of inspiration that had turned what was to be a family reminiscence into a bona fide short story. I quoted the gift first sentence that had told me in no uncertain terms what I was about to be about. I was not really looking for a response, but I got a beauty. He said he could really see the landscape I was describing, and so on. It was a nice boost for finishing the story, first draft, over the rest of the day.
And now it's Thursday. Story #2, "The Filly", was finished and sent to a prospective publisher yesterday. I had promised that date or today, but I had already heard the opening sentence for #3 before I started editing the draught, so I shipped #2 out on the earlier date, started #3 last night, and this morning sent #2 to a kindly and very well placed professor/author in the East.
He's quick. As I once heard a pastor say, if you want to get something done, ask a busy man. I had a very nice comment back before I even left the house for the morning walk.
But the morning actually started with an email from the musician daughter explaining her inspiration for engaging the Royal Hotel in August for the celebration of our 5oth, a subject on which I had very few clear thoughts until now, and even then I'm still a little fuzzy.
You know parents. The fuss - for years, for decades - goes the other way. That's how it has to be. The only thing you can insist on getting back from rug rats is respect and obedience, especially when you tell them to say their prayers and learn to like reading books. They love you, of course, except when you're a monster, and maybe even then, but you don't get anywhere demanding for yourself the same kind of attention you're obliged to give them. And then, eventually, they do grow up and think and feel like adults and insist on doing things for other people, including their parents. And even grandparents.
Somewhat tentatively we offered to do the traveling. They could stay in their own houses and show around any of them that hadn't been visited. But that didn't go down very well. They wouldn't get the chance to visit each other, and as they are all still friends, and they liked growing up in Nelson, our plan simply went against nature. (It's nice to have kids who understand the natural law.) So the grand gathering had to be, and all of a sudden there were enormous outbursts of energy and planning appearing on this computer. Who is coming for sure, who maybe. Who stays where. This is planned for a house, that for a restaurant, and a third thing for the beach, and of course baby sitting.
That was all to be expected, and I didn't have to involve myself with any of it. I'm not a mother and grandmother, not a housekeeper, both of whose efficiencies in these matters are utter legends. I could just keep on writing and researching for the months before it all happens. Quite possibly my only commitment was to show up, maybe looking skinnier, the father of their youth, except for the state of his hair.
But then the short stories started exploding, and Pauline booked the Royal, which has been her Queendom for some time, and I start to wonder what else Providence is up to. Like the Church, God is enormously fond of anniversaries. He's also fond of keeping His promises, but on His own time. I think this is going to be a summer to remember, even without knowing all the reasons.
It will certainly be a March to remember. Even at 73, the two-week return to fitness test still works. I'm in week three of studying solo dance, and have learned that my left leg muscles, especially in the hip, are still tight, making me suspect that it's dance, as so-called primitive people have known forever, that is the supreme mother of conditioning, even beyond yoga and tai chi. This is a conclusion that may not be valid universally, for all people at all times, but it is most certainly my ultimate destination in the past nine years of physio research.
I'll explain the rather uniquely efficient route for discovering that tightness in a separate piece. Anything that takes two years to figure out needs a thorough treatment.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Conrad Black's First Piano Lesson

Toronto has given the world a great variety of things. Some of them are good, like the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, and my fictional narrator, Geoffrey Haldane; and others are problematic, like the Brown Scale Book, and Conrad Black. Both of these less than perfect institutions have been part of my spiritual jurisdiction for a long time, although I have never been able to do much about them. Conrad turned down my early 80s invitation to invest in the local film industry, and the Brown Book has been frustrating and puzzling me long before that. I keep trying to find a use for it, and almost always have to decide that it's more harm than good. But today, after I carried on with the notation for my scales, and found some genuinely lovely sound in them, plus a few weaknesses in my fingering that I need to work on - thus leading to more useful scales, or parts thereof - I actually found a way to make good use of the Toronto publication, although only if you ignore some of the instruction. One hates to see anything wasted.
This principle of conservation also applies to Mr Black. There is no question of his having the skills for business and administration, and he is also a competent writer, as his book about Maurice Duplessis is ample evidence. So if he were to catch on to a better way of learning and teaching music, he could be a force. Well, as long as he didn't hire the same kind of penny pinchers as last time. Our own daily newspaper suffered a lot of lost coverage from Radler's formulas. And also if he lost his alleged contempt for the people who work for him. I can't say that I admire all opinions of all journalists equally, but I don't see any point in thinking of them as catagorically less than myself, if only because every valid journalist has his own sphere or two of expertise and only a complete fool thinks of himself as a master of all subjects, unless, of course, he happens to be God. A wise man only gets to be wise by becoming profoundly grateful for the information others take the time to share.
So who is grateful for the information I am taking the trouble to share? I mean, a brain like Crossharbour's, if it went to work with the numbers and real digit smarts, wouldn't take too long at all to start putting conservatory professors to shame. And Conrad is an intense man, so his music, given the right formation, might get right up there with all the great pounders and piano wreckers, from Beethoven to John Goodman. (They should have made a series out of "King Ralph.) I'm not being sarcastic. Having spent the last six decades as a teacher and reclaimer of wounded psyches I'm dead serious. How many souls are afflicted and turned to vice because they were born with more musical ability than the system of the day found a way to bring out?
But of course, as with all things, you have to start small and docile. And then you have to stay that way, at least for part of the time. I've made some absolutely huge discoveries, and yet I also keep getting tossed back to the drawing board, because I constantly have to register the great leaps of understanding, the founding concepts; and then break them down into smaller, practical steps for beginners, including, of course, myself. We are never masters of something we haven't practised.
So, for Conrad and whomever, here we go. The X commandments of piano basic training.

One. For now, close all the books and put away the sheet music. You can bring them back as needed or inspired, but for now they can only get in the way.
Two. Double the jail cells available everywhere and put in them all music teachers who break rule one.
Three. Inform these teachers that they will only be allowed out and let back to work if a, they obey rule one; b, agree to have all fingers on both hands except the middle finger, no. 3, tied up and rendered useless. Now, like my previously discussed 140 mile jog, this is a symbolic gesture, because actually the middle finger needs the other ones to be free in order for it to function adequately. This is probably a symbol of wise government. There are more social secrets in bodily design than most men ever think of. They really do have to get rid of the haggis theory.
Four. Get someone - a book can be of help here, but then instantly close it and put it away - to show you middle C. Ammerbach had his points. The letters do have a purpose. I like to be introduced by own name, for example. It provides a precision in the bank and in my medical records. But my actual functions are the dynamic factors. I am a husband, a father, a friend, an artist. All those things are far more interesting than a mere name, no matter how much my mother liked it.
Five. Now forget the letter name and call this key "one." Name it mentally, over and over again, as you thump it with the middle finger, of the right hand, and even sing the note, if you sing, or render it in all the other languages that you know, if you are any kind of linguist. "One, one, one, one." I would recommend at least four beats, initially at any speed that is comfortable, and then at a variety of speeds and with as many kinds of beats as you can thing of, if that is also interesting.
Six. Ah, finally we are allowed a choice. The top kick actually has a grin on his face. At this point, he begins to allow the recruit to exercise his own judgement, always an interesting stage in the development of skills. The beginning pianist now has to decide whether he or she wants to carry on ascending the scale, passing into two, three, and so on all the way up to the eighth key, which is also "one" all over again. If this is the choice, please note that the only keys played at this point are the white ones. No black keys allowed, not because this is a subtle way of teaching racism, but because by the arithmetical laws of the scales, we would not be playing C major if we used a black key. (In C minor we use three of them, so be patient.)
The alternative is to step up with the left middle finger and play the C that is eight notes to the left, or down. This brings up another choice. Do I play the entire lower octave up the scale to the middle C, or do I explore the sound of harmony, by simply playing the two C's with both middle fingers? This lower C is called small c, in some traditions.
The two "ones" together, one octave apart, are of course the echo of the difference in the ranges of the adult male, lower, and women and children, higher. Think about that, and work to be harmonious. And you've really caught on, play two middle fingers together, up and down the octaves to your heart's content, in as many rhythms as you can think of. Left one with right one, left two with right two, and so on.
Here endeth today's lesson.
Oh. I am reminded of Toronto's other contribution: Marshall McLuhan. He must be smiling at all this.