Thursday, January 21, 2010

Birth of a Salesman

While I'm not yet a threat in the under-75 class in the Boston row-offs, I have made a big jump - actually drop - in my own best time for the 100 calorie dash. That's five calories short of the total that by my calculations is how much bread and cheese you burn off while scooting the Olympic distance of 2000 metres, but it's a nice round number for my calculations and close enough for folk music. My old record was 8 minutes and 47 seconds, the new one is 8:33. The Boston clock for the 105 cals is around a flat 8.
I know, I know. In order to be the perfect flag-waving Canadian at this time in our history I should be doing something on ice, or out in the snow, not spinning a fly wheel in our attic. But the erg upstairs is the most efficient indoor fat removal device I know, and besides, when I get bored with things simply physical, as novelists and philosophers must do, I can pick up a book from the coffee table especially lofted into the top floor to be my reading desk. Or these days, interesting for utterly tragic reasons, I can look at the little image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe occupying the north-east corner of the table and ask her to help all those poor Haitians. And, anyway, I've already done my bit for the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics. Back in the clutch days, when the dignitaries were voting, the Almighty made it pretty plain that I'd better put my prayers into the balance if I thought Canada should get the Games rather than Austria or Korea.
Yep, the rowing machine is my baby, my sport of sports, my answer to every question I've ever had about a reliable fitness and weight-control programme, although it must be said, and must be said again, that I'm very grateful for all the general physiological instruction I've picked up via the recent years in the gym, Chi Gong class, some familiarity with yoga and dance, and a modest fortune willingly spent on books about it all. I don't think I'd want to row as much as I do without a good appetite for cross-training and intelligent stretching. As with every particular sport or working man's muscle use, rowing an erg is muscle, tendon, ligament, nervous system and organ specific, which means a good chance of disturbing the body's natural need for, and sense of, balance. Too much of these muscles, etc., not enough of that. Look like Popeye in one part of your anatomy, and a victim of rickets in another.
And because the rowing is obviously full of rhythm and motion, the opposite manouvres naturally conform themselves to the stillness of yoga. After all, you should be tired of movement after anything up to and past ten minutes of playing galley slave, so astute stretching simply feels good as well as saves your muscles from lumping like dried clay. My first move after I descend the ladder to and from the attic is to flop on the bed and fold up each leg in turn for the split leg child's pose, as I call it, but which is also known to more proficient yogis as the Pigeon. It's also a very comfortable way to say part of a rosary.
Which brings me to the main target of this sales pitch: clergy and religious with weight problems. The erg is the most perfect answer I can think of. The phone need never be out of reach, and the divine office and spiritual reading splice beautifully into a schedule of 10 to 25 calorie intervals. You speed up or slow down as instinct dictates, and the electronic chart tells you exactly how much lard you're burning, and all the time, if you've taken on a little reading on these question, you know that an erg is at least 50% more efficient, in terms of time over calories, than walking or jogging, without any threat to ankle and knee joints.
Take it from me: the good people at Concept 2 are not really people. They're angels, sent from Heaven to cure the West's love/hate relationship with fat and lethargy.
When I was a teenager, trying to figure out what I would be when I grew up, the one job I didn't want and wasn't going to have was that of a salesman. But I kid you not, I now could cheerfully drum from door to door with a handful of glossy Odes to an Erg in my eager hand. And so I do, through the kind offices of the good people at
And by this time next year, I will be 75, and in an easier time category for the Boston row-offs. Bless me, Father, for a I have a most sinfully ambitious eye on the record, if only to prove the genius of Ayurveda and Dr. John Douillard on the subject of nasal breathing. On that score, Concept 2 is better at building than understanding.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Second Redaction

Quite frankly, I have no idea what the other four crises were, and I have no interest at this time in spending any effort trying to identify them. All I know is that as I was returning to the current chapter-under-rewrite of "Contemplatives" - a couple of days ago - it came into my head that the very idea of so many quite significant changes to the 80-88 text was "the fifth major crisis of my life". Now as I was a dozen chapters on the downhill pull from this cataclysm, I was no longer in danger of any sort of trauma from mentally revisiting original scene of the stunning event - a total surprise when it came - but I did put myself to wondering whom I knew that had been made to face into something equivalent and I thought of our Bishop, plucked out of his very happy retirement amongst his beloved Toronto Capuchins and exiled to the diocese of Nelson, with its history of abusive priests and still-in-place experimental approaches to the liturgy. As a former minister general, he was a much-challenged administrator in one context, and now he is a much-challenged bishop in another. So he gets to do it all over again, but differently.
One also thinks of the Pope, for so long the fiercely attentive - albeit lovingly - doctrinal watchdog the progressives loved to hate -or feel superior to - now the main man himself getting to bless the sick and kibbitz with the kids and all that stuff that makes the whole man instead of just the cop on patrol be manifested.
There must be those who would say that I'm puffing myself up rather much to bring in those two comparisons, and possibly they're right, especially if they can prove that novelists are never as important as administrators, but I'll stick to my comparison not because of my own talents or lack thereof, but because of the subject material the Muse decided long ago it would be my lot to take on. It was definitely the Holy Spirit who wanted Benedict as Pope, then John Corriveau as Bishop Nelson, and only He could have designated a klutz like myself to wrestle with the problems of putting the Transformation on paper. (And now computeronics.) And having chosen such a klutz certainly only He could guide me through it all, with no little absolutely necessary help from my spiritual companions.
So, yes, "Contemplatives" is getting some significant reworking, more extensive I think than the two works of John of the Cross that experienced the same fate. (The Spiritual Canticle and the Living Flame) I think it's been freed up for this, in the mind of Muse, because NWTA has emerged. If the second novel better takes care of the actual history, the first can be even more ideal, more instructive in its use of the imagination more than memory. And readers have different moods. At one time they like to know how things could have gone, with sufficient intelligence and virtue in place, and at another they want to hear about just how much running room the Devil was allowed in the hearts of the faithless and the traitors.
Does this mean that the old version of Contemplatives is buried? Not at all. There is the tape of two-thirds of it, the readers' copy long circulated in the family, and the quite two-thirds in the Vatican Library, where the scholars can go to draw comparisons with the new stuff. This is what redactions are all about, giving the scholars something to do. This probability regarding my writing of the future I was well coached on in first year English, one of the few things that made university English different than that in high school. I could never think of myself as a scholar - and still can't - because my drive was character and plot, but it was interesting to think that a few people might find reasons to do all the scholarly stuff with my writing, eventually, and I took not of the anguish these ladies and gentlemen suffered when detail were missing. I would, I thought, try to keep my notes as best I could.
It's quite fascinating, of course, to ponder the great gaps in my knowledge of the then Church Militant as I was winding down to March of 1980, when Contemplatives finally saw the light of a "final" text. I did know our diocese was pretty rotten at the top, but I was not all that aware of how common our situation was throughout the Western Church. Because I had grown up in Vancouver and been converted there, and also because it is our neighbour diocese to the west, I was much aware of Archbishop James Carney and his predilection for his Catholics actually being Catholics. He expected them to read the directions when all else failed, or maybe even be smart enough to stay out of predicaments that guaranteed failure. I had some knowledge of Carney being considered "conservative" by most of his fellows, but I had no idea of the depth and breadth of their follies as a nationwide situation until we started to hook up, in a very practical and immediate way, with John Paul and the Vatican. That was at the end of 82, so previous to then, the tension of the Contemplatives plot was due merely to the immediately local enmity to Saint Thomas, John of the Cross and the Scriptures as they were read and understood by men and women of real faith.
My first real tip about the Canadian Church generally, and "modern" nuns specifically, did come about, however, because of the writing, and quite quickly after I started. That story later, but I mention it now because it shows that I was not totally locked up in my ivory tower.
Nor have I done a Lady of Shallot with the music studies. She who follows the web sites reporting instantly on the Church - I still prefer to peruse after the fact in L'Osservatore Romano - made my heart sing last night with a report that now that Rome has pretty well straightened out the translations battle - I hedge my bets because I remain convinced that only a half-wit uses the word 'humankind' - all half-wits invited to defend their reasoning to the Transformation, face to face - Rome will begin to deal with the music madness.
This may be the biggest single reason for the second redaction,thirty significantly painful years after the beginning of the first.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Incredible Retirement Two

"To those who already have, even more shall be given, while to those who have nothing, even that shall be taken away." Thus the Lord's advice on the subject of spiritual growth, something I have been blessed with all my life, even more after I became a Catholic, in exponential fashion, sufficient to let myself be persuaded that I was almost a master of the philosophy of God's ongoing generosity.
Only an idiot would try to comprehend God, only an idiot would think he had Him in the bag.
Well, although I have never taken New Year's resolutions very seriously - as a Catholic you come to learn that it is the Lenten resolutions that God is looking for, simply because He set up a Church that is set up to provide the real help instead of the guff you get form the average self-help writer - but I have been persuaded, if not forced, to admit that there can be New Year's realizations. God invented time, He is the master of time, and therefore He has the right to start off 2010 with a fresh insight for everyone. Whether they take advantage of it is up to them, but He always does His part and makes the offer, and hopefully, by the beginning of Lent - February 17 this year - we have started to understand what it is.
Of course with Shawn's retirement process going full blast early in December, I had some clues as to what some of my particular realizations might be, and it is true that I had started the second available novel, "Not Without The Angels" by then. But everyone knows that a hurricane always has a direction. Those who have always lived east of it know what to expect if it suddenly decides to reverse its attention from things to the west.
It is not to be expected that Hurricane Shawn will turn her back completely on the local cultural scene, just so she can dote on the latest rumblings from the Parnassus across the morning pillows. Impossible, simply because she has too many friends within the Nelson creative circle, and everyone knows the value and need of the office emeritus. But her retirement does mean that she has more time and energy for some of my stuff and any connections that arise from it, and I have already been profiting from the two weeks that she spent tidying the archives, but without the public, so that more of her thinking went in the direction of the household and its concerns.
Initially, this might seem quite natural, and no doubt all sorts of couples digging in with their retirement situation have similar experiences. In a natural sort of way I was quite prepared myself. After all, "The prudent man is given foresight."
But what has taken me utterly by surprise, where my role as half-wit gets star billing, is the inescapable spirit of complete return to the mood of the days and weeks when we first met and I realized that my life had changed so much once again.
How else could it be explained except by saying that it had doubled? Where there had once been one of me, now there were two!
A lot of this, of course, I can blame on the usual suspects. (Interesting that a younger friend of the family, when last seen by Shawn visiting her in the hospital recovering from a quite serious ski-ing accident) was watching "Casablanca" on her lap top. "Round up the usual suspects." has always been my favourite line from that film.) But in this case the usual suspects are not the criminals of North Africa, but the Trinity, which for reasons much better known to itself than to me, have always played Pig-in-the Middle with my typewriter, binding or loosing the inspiration and permission of the moment in the most abnormal fashion. Not even Shakespeare, who penned "Many a slip 'twixt cup and lip" would have guessed how much his words would apply in my case. The Bard was most certainly king among the playwrights but he was no mystic according to the standards of the Carmelites. His writer's blocs came from Nature, not the iron heel of the Almighty having other, more significant, work in mind. Literature might entertain the universe, but it is prayer and contemplation that keep it from being destroyed.
And yet I have to admit that Providence did have a literary agenda as well, because it knows the lady's unique value to the writer. Nothing could be more valuable than her undivided attention to my concerns. It's probably going to take me six weeks to manifest, in print, what she accomplished along these lines in the first six days of the rest of our lives.
As anyone who has read the beginning posts of the Ranger knows, "Contemplatives" took eight years to complete. Most of the time the words came slowly. But there were also a few months when it went like greased lightning. With Shawn about so much now, that pace might be coming back, forked. The new and updated "Contemplatives" after all is a mere rewrite of sorts, with almost all of the hard labour of creation going into a bevy of fictional characters and situations. NWTA is little more than a stroll down memory lane, with a lot of holy and educated fun, interspersed here and there with just enough devils to make the thing realer, and stranger, than fiction.
And if I had any doubt about getting my butt into gear, it has been taken away by my writing daughters. They can't be allowed to take over all the history of the family, the province, and the culture of the recent decades.