Friday, December 16, 2011

All We Want for Christmas

To every thing there is a season, including maxims. Here are three:

Better late than never.
It wasn't a pretty goal, but we'll take the point anyway.
There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine that have no need of repentance.

After the past few weeks of spending much more time than we should have to deliberate over one of the most ridiculous decisions ever made by a national conference of Catholic bishops, we have finally been let off  this annoying assignment by the bishops of Alaska. This is not to say that much in the way of damage control has actually been exercised in Canada, but the news from way up north indicates that it's only a matter of time, and we probably don't have to worry about it very much from now on. An example is an example.
I speak, of course, of this novel practice of making an entire congregation stand after receiving communion until the last parishioner has got his wafer. In actual fact, of course, nobody can actually make anybody do this, and we get regular reports of people who have the sense to do what they've always done: kneel and say a prayer of thanks, and perhaps offer their communion for another soul or two, as soon as they get back to their pews. Any Catholic who believes this standing around wrinkle is a matter of obedience and unity within the community is only telegraphing the poverty of his individual spiritual life. If there was ever a clear cut instance of where, when, and how to offer fraternal correction to a bishop or priest this is at the top of the list.
And speaking of lists, where are the Guiness Book of Records people? In this time of growing interest in making Mass more and more of a circus act, is there going to be a prize for the congregation which has to stand the longest? The record so far, that I have heard of, is fifteen minutes. But that should be topped come Christmas.
But the really big prize should not be given out for this small marathon. The big prize should go to the most idiotic sermon justifying the innovation, with a special bonus for the silly oaf that speaks the most abusively of 'individual piety'. Tape the moron, and send a copy to the Pope. It will make a nice subject to discuss at the next ad limina session of the Canadian bishops. The severest tongue lashing I've ever read in L'Osservatore Romano was John Paul to the bishops of Western Canada in 1988, but perhaps it will be outdone by Benedict this time around. You'd think they'd learn.
Believe it or not, Alaskan Catholics have actually been enduring this heresy since 2005, when Roger Schwietz became archbishop of Anchorage and its 400,000 souls. And more incredible, a lot of American dioceses started inflicting it back in 2002 or so. We'd never heard of that, to tell the truth, until now, when we were sent to a Net interview, with Cardinal Arinze, then head of the congregation that governs worship practices, that he gave when he came to the States in 2003. He assured his audience that such nonsense had not come from Rome. (He also assured his audience that if he were Pope he would not allow altar girls.)
But now, the majority of American sees have taken their brains, at least in this regard, and because Alaska gets a huge tourist inflow from the lower 48, confusion has reigned supreme in visiting season for these half-dozen years and Schwietz and his fellows have finally seen the light. They actually saw it in the month of November, which I wish I'd known, for the sake of my good night's sleep, and got the change going for Advent. Joyeux Noel, Alaska.
May your thinking spread as quickly as possible. The round red fellow with the reindeer couldn't bring us a better Christmas present.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Appointment Number One

Remember the Michael Keaton film Dream Team? It has a wonderful opening that occurs to me as the perfect image to identify the fantasy life of, apparently, the majority of Canadian Catholic bishops.
The movie opens in a mental hospital, with Christopher Lloyd, white-coated like a staff member, carrying a clip-board as he moves from to room taking notes on the patients. It's all very serious for a little while until a real doctor shows up and we realize that good old Chris is actually a patient. A roaring great laugh from the audience, and once again we enjoy the blessings of the talents of a great comic actor.
By now, there are a lot of bishops, priests, religious and grossly undereducated but nonetheless self-confident parish assistants in Canada who are trying to convince themselves and each other that I am just like the character Mr. Lloyd plays in that movie. After all, did I not use the term for one of our cultural high priests, the psychiatrist, in opening post for this series? I call it series because I suspect it's going to take considerable time and effort to bring so many unfortunate minds to their senses, if not their knees. And if I can actually think of myself in a psychiatric capacity without actually having taken a degree, must I not actually be somewhat off my rocker?
Frankly, I have to admit, I have been moved to wonder the same myself. But that was decades ago, and anyone who is by any means a student of John of the Cross, possibly even without actual experience of the dark night, understands that such thoughts are simply the work of the devil, because the mystical life itself is the prize of all spiritual gifts and no just God is going to allow it to be easily won, or easily retained, and is thus obliged to test those to whom it is given. Wondering if you're crazy is only one of the abuses to be suffered.
One of the learned - and experienced - of these souls was the recently beatified John Paul II, my spiritual student from 1984 until 1994. He was not in the Seventh Mansion, but I was, so he was open to conversation, and became, they say, the wiser for it. But not quite wise enough to excommunicate bishops who cluttered their altars with those tedious and spiritually very unsightly young females, mind you, and for this I had to resign my office. All the Vatican knows that the day he got my letter, more or less, is the day he broke his hip.  But the beginning was very, very good, and offered some future hope for the Church, if only because it also led to perhaps the more important result, my becoming known to the man who is Pope now. Benedict and I go back to July of 83, and the imagery I was moved to use even then has a remarkably current relevance: the throat-slitting of the 400 false prophets on the slopes of  Mount Carmel.
In 83, however, I assumed that the image - symbolic rather than literal, of course - applied only to certain Catholic leaders only in Canada. I was aware of some troublesome johnnies in the US, but did not really consider them my business. My principal concerns were Canada and getting a novel finished. (It was then far from being even half done.) Also, even a mystic can take on only so much, and the sex abuse situation of those days, especially in our diocese, was a big enough burden to labour with, or so one would think.
But then it became increasing obvious that even Rome was part of the abuse problem: it gravely lacked a suitable machinery for dealing with the offenders in an expedient manner, clearly a travesty of justice. Those failures have been corrected.
And now it may be possible that it is faltering on the questions of liturgical practice, by insisting, perhaps because of certain lacks of detachment on the part of John Paul, on a power in the liturgy it cannot have in this earthly sphere. Heaven on earth exists only the souls of those granted perfection at the highest practical level. John of the Cross has ceased to become a theory: he is the norm of discernment for questions at this level, and if necessary, Christ may show up in various ways to make sure the Church uses that norm.
The Pope has been warned.
This means everyone else should take heed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Insane Bishops

"I have ordered all things in measure, number, and weight." That was God speaking, of course, from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. It comes to mind as I set out upon my one hundred and fiftieth post on the Ranger,  having wondered for months what this specific column would be about. After all, the number 150 must be significant to the creator of arithmetic, as there are 150 psalms in the Bible, 150 Hail Marys in the 15 mysteries rosary - plus the three that start it off after the Our Father, and 153 fish in the net Jesus ordered the apostles to lower after their previously unprofitable hours. I had different subjects in mind, but always lacked that special little intrusion of the Holy Spirit that I know has to be there to make it all fall into place, and make it look easy.
How many times did I say to Him: well, what am I waiting for?
The answer has come: the incredible idiocy of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
For years, over this or that issue, they've been shooting themselves in the foot, busily interfering, on the advice of God knows whom, with the orderly, devout, worship of Canadian Catholics, and now they've done it again. They're trying to forbid Catholics to quietly offer their gratitude to God for the Eucharist after receiving communion in the way sensible worshippers have done for centuries, by kneeling down to pray as soon as they get back to their pews. The Conference's experts on innoculated insanity have got it into their heads that the people should all stand as a body until the last communicant has got his or her Host.And then they don't kneel anyway, they just sit.
Have Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini come back to life? Or are the bishops so unaware of history and current Church leadership that they cannot grasp that a Pope raised in the Nazi era is particularly sensitive to such mob psychology? Or are they deliberately trying to create a schism?
They've certainly created, yet again, serious variations in practice. Certain bishops and priests are already refusing to follow the party line, and we may even see a few brave local laity follow their example, once they get it through their chronically sheepish heads that the garble that is coming off the pulpit is not endorsed in Rome, as all the print outs we've seen so far lead them to believe.
Our little circle will behave as always, listening to the Holy Spirit and acting according to His promptings, which so far have always been to maintain the standards set by the Archdiocese of Vancouver, at least as early, in the face of group hysteria, as 1969.
How the angels are going to behave is another story. When I looked into my Summa this morning Thomas' first paragraphs about them had a particularly intense light.

Monday, October 31, 2011

An Upright Life

It now a full four months since I last published a post on the Ranger.
Some of the silence came from a fitness situation which has yet to be totally resolved. I had picked up a soreness between my shoulder blades, months ago, which I suspect came from an inaccurate rowing posture - and which temporarily gave me a very painful right shoulder - and I had to wait until it was well on the mend before I could discuss it. This was especially true, as in that last post I had somewhat erred, in thinking I would be able to address the back yard buttercup problem with a steady attack with physical labour. I was correct to be confident in the grace to be regularly active in the garden, but that was not for buttercups, but for slugs. I spent a good three weeks manually hunting the little beggars, very bountiful this year, before we bought a manufactured ally. This stuff does the job, with a fortnightly sprinkling of attractive suicide pills, freeing my back from the ache brought on by  a half-hour of daily stooping with a dull blade for lifting the little slug off a defenseless leaf and drowning him in a pail of salt water.
The buttercups we are addressing with two bundles of asphalt shingles. The stuff is sturdy enough to walk on, and of course blots out the light the green pest needs to grow with. In the spring we will plant grass on the bare earth, and move the shingles to the other half of the buttercup infested lawn. As might be expected around this house, where all the practical masculine intelligence and brawn is spent on music research, the shingle solution was the cook's idea.
On the erg, I was going in too far on the release stroke. You're right, I had not taken time to watch the DVD provided by Concept 2 and the Australian foursome. Nor had I even looked at the short film on the display terminal on the erg. I was simply trying to maximize the time on the erg - initially, I'm convinced, one does get more calories per stroke on that longer reach - and I had firmly in my mind, so I thought, memories of the Olympic sculling in Sydney, particularly the British Eights. I would have said that they reached as far forward as possible.
My household, as it turns out, was smarter than I was. Both Shawn and Marianne rowed with nicely upright spines, leaning back rather than forward. And to be honest, I did not feel any muscle discomfort in the beginning months that I could attribute to rowing posture.
But in the middle of this winter, I started to notice the pain between my shoulder blades, and found it rather sharp, anytime I turned my head when out walking. For months I had no real solution,  and even when I cut back on the rowing, there was no cure. Fat Watch fell back on the Walkman treatment, and I caught up with Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale, the latter of whom actually played in little old Nelson many years ago. Also, I had recently read Clapton's autobiography.
But then the attic ambiance beckoned once again. After all, the view, although small, is exquisite, for memories as well as present events, and the library up there not a little compelling. (I am now half-way through Edith Nesbit's Enchanted Castle, a ripping yarn, and a definite precursor to J.K. Rowling.) It was also a most integral part of a scientific discovery, which may have been the chief purpose in my posture mistake and the result of working my way through it.
You see, my habit in the attic is to read at least half as much, timewise, as I row. This why, for one reason, I suggest the erg as an excellent fitness device for clergy and religious. (But remember, ask your bishop if you may read your breviary, while you row, not if you may row while you read your breviary. Just another example of the sufficient distinctions Saint Thomas speaks of.)
In my first months, I noted, I was often only good for 10 or 15 calories between reading breaks, at least until I was fully warmed up. (10 to 20 minutes, depending on your body type) This was with the arms reaching full forward, and thus, as I was to realize, actually compressing my lungs against  a real full breath. Because I was using nasal breathing - easier on an erg or bicycle than running - my nose could sting quite easily. Now, using the upright posture, my average rowing set is 35 calories between reading breaks with no stinging nose unless my body is till rebuilding from previous efforts like longer walks or every day rows of 315 calories worth. I found this situation a thundering validity of the superiority of nasal breathing, and the utter necessity of making yoga the basis of all athletic disciplines. I could even forgive God for letting me wander so long up the garden path of half-wit fitness.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Joy of Buttercups.

When we first moved into our present house, back in 1975, it had a lot more lawn than it does now. But as far as I remember, it had no butter cups. Lots of dandelions, of course, and a variety of other weeds that love invading lawns and making the chemical companies better off than they should be: dandelions, hawk weed, creeping charlie; but no buttercups, or at least not enough to be considered a problem. But about ten years ago, this situation changed, and the rapacious little critters began to take over. To some degree, we dealt with them as Marshall Kutesov dealt with Napoleon, by reducing their opportunity for conquest, by reducing the grass space, as he retreated, taking away the opportunity to fight. We began surfacing with cement pads, gravel, more garden, even asphalt roofing tiles in the work space below the compost bins. In fact there is now only a lawn, so to speak, in one area where we hold dinners for visitors in the summer, and all the other grass is simply paths.
But this a good-sized yard, and the paths still leave plenty of opportunity for the yellow peril. If you keep them mowed, of course, buttercups make a good ground cover, much better than plain dirt, or a host of weeds like dandelion, dock, or plantains, but we still prefer grass with our shrubs and flowers and vegetables, and our low rock walls and rather high fences. It's all quite a paradise, and the butter cups strike one as something of a flaw.
I've tried boiling water, but that kills the adjacent grass just as effectively as it kills the butter cups. I've also tried the dedicated gardener's formula: elbow grease, and dug the little rascals out. They come much more whole than dandelions, and it's a good excuse to be out in the fresh air. We have a nifty kneeling pad, both dirt and water proof, or I can bend over and stretch the back of my legs now that yoga and other sciences have taught me how to be easier on my lower back problem. But with the music research and other matters, I've never been able to be constant enough to actually rid the paths of that stubborn and, year by year, proliferating weed.
But this year things just might have changed. The music research, with both piano and fretted instruments is done. All I have to do is practice, and figure out how to spread the news in the fiction, principally, for now, in The Yacht. There's sometimes nothing better than a stretch of mindless work for creative rumination. And something so totally physical, and intellectually and imaginatively undemanding, is a nice break from the discipline of music practice, as satisfying as that is when conducted along the lines of a totally sensible theory.
I made a good start on Sunday, thus being inspired to start this post. But then a mildly annoying upper arm got extremely annoying, not from pulling off butter cup flowers and digging up the plants, but from some concentrated work on keyboards, both normal and neoprene, and playing guitar and banjo in a position that can be stressful to the arm, even if if looks very relaxing to other parts of body. But perhaps even more cause was pillows. Bed pillows, of which for years I have used two. The study of trigger points, already mentioned, helped us realize that sore deltoids - shoulder muscles  - which have been a factor for years, was probably being caused by a wrong disposition in every other muscle on the right side of my back. I was a grand mixture of disappointment, fear for my right arm and hand with the music, and conviction that there was a solution - thanks to a lot of trigger point massage definitely helping - but I also carried the lurking suspicion that there were stretches I was not using. With the loosening of the right hip as a priority, I had neglected my habitual hang off the ladder to the rowing room, for one thing. Going back to this plainly helped - short hangs, often with feet on the floor - a number of time through the day, and generally any stretch that could lengthen muscles on the right shoulder and upper back, including the neck.
But this morning, early, I took away the pillows and used a flat mattress. The improvement is already radical, and I have not needed a massage today. Alleluia. There was also an improvement in my breathing patterns: I did not have to breathe through my mouth when lying on the right side of my face.  I have heard that mouth breathing while sleeping can raise the blood pressure.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Understanding the Piriformis

It's a wise man who knows his own muscles, especially those so crucial to full motion, by walking, running, or dancing; and full rest, by sitting.
Unfortunately, it's taken me a very long time to come anywhere near a full knowledge of the muscles and nerves that govern those uses of my anatomy, especially when it comes to stretching, as essential as that should be from the beginnings of physical education, and it's downright humiliating to realize that the errors are so simply overcome, that the secrets are so natural and easily teachable. And it's all but infuriating to realize that this most fundamental piece of physiological wisdom has need neither of a sophisticated gym or fitness centre nor a yoga studio, especially when it comes to the piriformis and the three gluteals,  all of which, although they are a full leg's length away from the feet, nonetheless seem to affect their efficiency. The body, as divisible as it may be to a surgeon, insists on functioning as a single unit.
All you really need for this overhaul is a good armchair - or couch-potato's sofa - and a good book or DVD. Or even a CD and a glass of beer!
Long before I was old enough to drink beer, I had both the chair and the book, and the sweetest little perfectly elastic LEFT piriformis in the Western Hemisphere. I almost never had to spend any time sitting at table or desk, hunched over my homework sitting in a straight-backed chair with my feet flat on the floor and getting hardly any stretch anywhere. After a late afternoon full of exercise of one form or another, with perhaps a bit of after-supper cavorting thrown in, I invariably read for an hour or so, sitting in the family living room, with my left leg crossed over my right. Thus, lots of stretch for the left piriformis, the left glutes, even the left quads and hamstrings.  God and Nature's gift to the juvenile bookworm and future philosopher. Absolutely lovely, as far as it went.
But of course it went only half-way, and not the more stressed half at that. My right leg was forever busy blasting away at a soccer ball, a football, pushing off the bases, propelling my side of the scrum, and was probably the principal power leg on my bike, or chopping wood, or propelling pucks or tennis balls.
There was of course no yoga in the schools in those days, or even on the racks with the other sports magazines, nor in school or public libraries, at least in the youth sections. So I grew up with a very tight right knee, and all sorts of annoyances in my right hip and right lower back. There was indeed a medical problem in my lower vertebrae, as I have mentioned, but it was not the whole story, as learning of the pelvic tilt has demonstrated.
And when I did start to take up a little yoga, forty years ago, I gathered no clues as to how to deal with my personal ignorance, nor, I am quite sure, would I have come upon yoga teachers sensible enough to show me the solution I have now. The East, like the West, has so many ways of being unable to penetrate to the real epicentre of the problem. One of the largest studios I know of locally simply refuses to use any props, for example, and probably would not allow an easy chair to even be classified as a prop. I asked once about props, got a rather closed look and verbal response, so I did not go on to any questions about mattress yoga. And that is interesting, because I instinctively knew to do calf stretches in bed as soon as I started running, and for a couple of years or more Shawn has been instinctively employing the kind of hip stretches that work both the piriformis and the glutes while sits up in bed in the mornings reading her breviary. This is by no means the first time my wife had made me feel like an idiot.
I also have always crossed my legs at the ankles when lying in bed, or sitting up to read, and I realized this morning that as simple and comforting a posture as this - a little extra gentle stress when sitting up - registers precisely on the top of the femur, the greater trochanter, where the piriformis inserts. To make it really hum, I further discovered, just this morning to my shame, that if you cross the legs at the KNEES it works so beautifully it just about makes you cry. The more you work at physical conditioning, the more you realize that the fast food approach is only damaging, and the real genius is in any strategy that can extend stress time gently.
All this sudden clarification has happened, as surprising discoveries so often do, from an accidental event. My skateboard shoes, my totally flat heel boarders, unbeknown to me as shoe style until my little grandson came to stay with us six years ago, had finally started to wear down around the heels. Shawn took them, along with a pair of her own shoes to our neighbour repairman, who to my surprise said he could do something. (I had assumed I'd simply have to buy a new pair.) While the boarders were in the shop, I took the life of my left ankle into the battle zone and set out for a long walk in my dear old brogues, which, in an act of faith in the future, had been recently re-heeled. Just in case, I put my dojo shoes in a small pack. It was only several months ago that even a short ramble in the oxfords had caused problems.
But, lo and behold, almost five miles later, the dojos were still in the pack, and my ankle was registering no appreciable discomfort, aside from the simple fact  of its being the more collapsed of the two, both in need of Birkenstock inserts. Miracle, plus a determined attempt at prognosis. What had I recently been doing right?
Two months of early morning dancing had probably helped. (Still Emmylou, then changed to the  Robert Plant and Allison Kraus Grammy winner we picked up last year. It'll probably be Doc Watson next.) This caper is the keeper for weight control, by the way, as far as I'm concerned. A minimum of impact on the joints, a maximum of inspiration to get you up and at it. The ever vigilant Divine Personal Trainer had been suddenly stingy about the rowing and running. Another source of input was better stretches for both dancing and my much reduced rowing schedule, principally the more regular use of the split child pose. (Only one leg folded, the other straight. This one is also good for reading, as long as you keep your back as low as possible.)
But I think the primary source of the new, improved, ankle came along about a month ago when MT and I fell into looking up the piriformis in the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies. A great deal of new light broke through, thanks to the fullness and clarity of the discussion therein, and also as a result of my finally being able to unite negative experience with recovering techniques.
To be frank, I had not paid very much attention to the piriformis. I knew it was one of the six or seven interior, or deep, pelvic muscles concerned with hip rotation, but I had no sense whatsoever of it being something of a lone gun, operating because of its peculiar location, as an indicator as well as a governor of correct procedures. Or, incorrect, as in my case, because, literally for some years, I've had so much mildish irritation around my left trochanter that I quite regularly, and quite sadly, had to ponder the possibility of a plastic hip. After all, the right had been the irritating side, which I had been used to for decades, so what else could the left promise?
Yet when I actually spoke, quite recently, with someone who had undergone a hip replacement, and he described the very considerable pain that he'd had to live with previously, I was sure my problem was not the same. But what was I dealing with?
Ironically, thanks to my respect for hatha yoga, I was dealing with the simple fact that my attempts at across legged sitting, or the Tailor Position, while they had been good for some things, were not going to solve the problem, which in fact, on a fifty-percent basis, I had known the solution for, all my life.
In my grand success at solving to a considerable, although not yet complete, degree, the ancient and annoying tightness of the right side from my lower back to my knee, I had pretty much neglected the left, almost never falling back on the old youthful happiness of crossing my left leg over my right knee when I sat down for a nice, long, utterly therapeutic, session of reading, reflecting, watching a BBC detective series, or simply drinking a beer. But with the right side coming along nicely, and myself rigidly in favour of balance in all things, I had sensed a need to equalize the left.
And then my beloved boarders showed signs of needing some TLC, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Had I suffered from the inspiration to study more guitar smarts, I might have left myself in better shape in this regard, but the pressure to grasp the keyboard has been nothing if not rampant. It is not a little significant that with the keyboard pretty much in hand - has anyone out there solved the mantra riddle yet? - I have returned a little more determinedly to my first love, even thinking kindly of beginners' chords - and if the mood keeps up, the left piro and glutes will indeed acquire all the bounce of a lacrosse ball. (That was one sport I did not play, but I've always admired the remarkable bouncing ability of the ball the players pay so much attention to.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

353646: The Mantra

That's how it came, early yesterday morning, just after I'd woken up at 4, after the first decent sleep in that many nights, thanks to a rousing bout of flu, cough, and cold that had me sneezing like a ruptured steam boiler. I was so sick I'd had to cancel my Monday morning with the great McDaniel, and let him go off to the ski hill, yet I had managed to sit to the piano stool for regular, very short, intervals, and keep plugging at my instinct that the mother lode of it was not too far from the end of my shovel.  A wee advance, a definite set back - something missing in finger dexterity, accurate finger stretching, digital comprehension, all stemming from yet another instance of a correct general concept cluttered up by the lack of sufficient small steps to achieve its execution gracefully. I'm finally closing in, you see, on the four-note chord studies - in each hand - that should make skillful reading child's play - and variations even easier - and I've been finding the numbers absolute to comprehension, but I'd yet to salt away the routine that would make the student quickly almost too confident to endure. (You know how kids get.) I was close, but not quite the cigar. (I learned that one from my youngest, the other blogger, but long before she could handle a blog.)
And then it came, very early in the morning, very quickly after I started up the mental arithmetic, but this time in an unusually well-protected interior landscape. The devil had not even had a moment for any of his usual dirty work at the wake-up cross-roads.

 353646.     That's all it is. So little, and yet so significant, once you get hold of how to read it. The devil that loves to confuse and discourage students has been thrashing ever since, like a crocodile with a pit bull clamped to his tail.
I still get a little nervous when I type it in, which I've already done several times for a number of people, some extremely well placed, others extremely knowledgeable, or both. Can it really be that easy? So easy and useful and infallibly effective to explain, yet so mysterious if you don't have a clue?
I must admit that I've always wondered what I would do when I finally got to the end of the journey, in terms of making the final clues, whenever I found them, as plain as the sums in a math primer. Obviously, going by the other blogs, they're fodder for fiction. But there's a lot else that's fodder for fiction in those blogs, and the technical information has to find its way in through the natural movements of the characters, unfolding day by day, as have these discoveries. It's been the longest detective story I ever heard of. At adoration of the blessed sacrament in our recently refurbished rectory chapel the other day I was explaining to a lady some of the history of the three stained glass windows that were installed a few months ago, and the coincidence of this event. Her father-in-law, in Slovenia, was a professional organist, and teacher. The windows are from the old Saint Joseph's convent chapel, from the days when the teaching nuns and boarding students lived there, and even after the top floor of the convent school was closed as a residence by the fire marshall, the chapel was used for school events. Our trio sang "Me and My Uncle", for some students in there, along with other folk songs, and the stained glass windows kept me company while I banged away on the chapel piano, always trying to solve the questions that when answered would lead to reading. That was in 1967. A few years later the old school was torn down and a new one built, but the windows were preserved, by one Tam Shields, who had been trained in the stained glass craft in Glasgow, where he was also sometime back-up goalie for the Celtics, and stored on church property against the happy day of their re-employment. Thus they were company in early days of research, and now they smile on me again as I conclude.
Not that I'm ready to perform in Carnegie Hall, or even lead the hymns in Eton chapel (this morning I Googled that school's incredible music programme) but I sure as hell please myself with all the drills, finally being able to put together all the other patterns and pedagogical concepts I've realized over this educational saga., and thus make the music and arrangements that move me the most. Beauty, like charity, begins at home.

353646   Think about it. I wonder if there is a lad at Eton who could deliver me a good essay. He would need to appreciate what Socrates said about the heart of education, and unlike me, he is probably able to read all about that in Greek.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Novel Alert

It was back in 91 or so that the thought on which I was allowed to lift my prayerfully immobilized bones out of bed, some considerable time before the dawn, was this, from the usual source: "If I wanted you to do it, I could have you working on four books at once."
At that time, if I remember correctly, I already had more than one book on the go, yet there was a certain sense of precision to the statement that only comes clear now, thanks to the Net, Blogger, and, as always, the amazing technical skills of MT. In the last ten days she has not only transferred the entire text of Not Without The Angels to a more pleasing format but also unearthed the twelve chapters of The Yacht, my story most concerned with music instruction, heretofore buried in Microsoft Word on the old computer, and set it up on the Ranger list. (Mind you, The Yacht does not yet connect with Sitemeter, but this does not interfere with readership, only with the author's awareness of whose reading it. No life can be truly full which does not include a little mystery.)
So now, I work away at four distinct undertakings in print. While I have not been discontent with less, previously, daily wondering gratefully at the available technology, I must confess that the foursome does give me a definite sense of fullness, and I think brings with it an added sense of leisure. Writing well is inevitably an anxious business, and anything that will tone down the stress must  be welcome. The goal, I think, is to be able to feel, writing your own stuff, as you feel, reading Jane Austen. (At the moment on Emma, and in general on course with the entire canon, film and book, since the middle of Advent, as it is the perfect material for the moment in a faith community run ragged by the sort of undisciplined imaginations Jane is so good at exposing. I said as much to our bishop, over a cup of tea in my living room.)
The timing is not unprovidential, nor contrary to gradual, and eminently mysterious, unfolding of my grasp of music theory and technique. Although I had an extremely good time with the first dozen chapters of The Yacht, and although they admittedly contain a mass of music instruction that must daunt any reader, and probably dismiss the faint-hearted, in spite of my every effort to make the logical as plain as possible, they still lacked certain essentials, certain fundamentals of the art of teaching anyone without previous instruction, yet possessed of a working ear and a grasp of the common sense of arithmetic, especially when it came to uniting fingers, sound, and the printed staves with all those funny little black marks that look so undecipherable.
A long time ago the Lord said to me: "It's my book, and I market it how I like." In those days, I assumed he was only talking about my first novel, as I had no idea of creating a music text that stood by itself, although I was putting a lot of music instruction into my fiction. Jacob Cameron was not for idle chatter the adopted grandson of Philippe Gagnon, whose understanding of all sorts of music was as close to incomparable as one could get. But of course the Lord always means more than he seems to at first  hearing.
I have to admit that I enjoyed re-reading chapter twelve of The Yacht, where I had left off many months ago, and had only to do a little editing before I felt I could release the story on the Net. I also must admit that once I had come up with the two immediately previous posts  on the channel at hand, I began to wonder if that was it for using the Ranger for so much music instruction, as Yacht had been precisely designed for that purpose, initially inspired after discovering an utter rocket of a keyboard drill featuring right hand triads and left hand octaves, all put together to deal with all the possibilities of those associations in logical a dramatic order, somewhat in the style of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, except for the ease which should go with any sensible scale study. This was all very well at the time, and good for a chapter that generally had a positive effect on those good enough to read it for me, but it certainly did not unlock the secrets of a truly comfortable study of four-part harmony and reading skills.
But this last is pretty much done now, at least to the point where I can give the next section of the book the precision it has been waiting for. So, there's a dozen chapters of the tale, here comes the rest of the lessons, and there are enough interesting signs out there in the real world to indicate that the entertainment community might just be capable of waking up, eventually.