Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tatlayoko Lake Two

I don't think that at any time beginning a Ranger post have I felt as if I were launching into a novel. That is, up until now. 159 posts along the way, I have consistently assumed that my Muse came from the department of journalism, or perhaps the essay field, but not from fiction. I enjoy the journalism, and I always recall becoming first aware of the journalists' Muse in the offices of the Ubyssey. (It was a pleasant surprise, and very strong, evidence of profoundly useful mental energy pouring out of my fellow students at work on producing the edition of the day.) I also like the sense of being an essayist, which does not have quite the pressure of simplifying as much as one does for journalism.
But with these examples of intellectual labour there is not quite the same sense of starting off on a voyage of discovery that one has in beginning a work of fiction. Perhaps it is because, to a certain degree, you already know what you are going to say in the lesser forms. Your task is to report on what you already comprehend, as briefly and as clearly as possible. This is, of course,  no mean challenge, but I think it means that you had most of the fun in the mental notes made before you started to write, and before that in the gathering of the material.
In the fiction, the material gathers you, and this is what makes writing a novel more like a love affair than a job. It's also what makes it in the long run much tougher. You do get to abstract from the total universe in a novel, as in any smaller form, so you have the comfort and security of limits, but it is so much less of an abstraction, and no matter how clearly defined the limits you have set for yourself, you still somehow look out over an entire horizon of possibilities every time you sit down to the keyboard. It's something like having to look God right in the eye and figuring out what to say for yourself, rather than merely, in a way, taking dictation.
Another aspect of the adventure in fiction is the capacity it has for surprise, and that means surprise to such a degree that it can blow all the best laid plans to pieces, working as much devastation as to have you start all over again. The first five years in this house were like that, a veritable warfare in which the constant victor was the wastebasket, or files to be hidden at the back of the cupboard. It was such a pleasant relief to be able to acknowledge, with help, finally, that the right "final" text had been finalized. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the process of writing without lasting acceptance from my in-house editors but it does mean that I did have to endure several winters of discontent, sprinkled with the humbling recognition of premature enthusiasm. Fortunately, I did always have the grace of being able to start all over again, simply because putting words together to make something more or less unique always has a charm of its own.
In themselves, I have to admit, the surprises were principally of the positive sort, always along the lines of a constant upgrading, insisting every once in a while in just a little more grace, in proportion to nature, and eventually demanding the presence of a certain amount of glory.
To a certain degree, I must admit to repeating myself, using thoughts from early posts of the Ranger, but not for the purpose of indulging memories that I've already enjoyed making use of. A writer is certainly entitled to talk about his own methods with the process, and even obliged on occasion, but he also has to exercise a certain detachment: he has to abstain from finding excuses to go  on talking when he's actually run out of things to say. But in this case, the repetition has a distinct purpose of its own, and at this point, at least for myself, it would seem to be utterly marvelous in its application. I certainly do have more to say, and what I have to say has the honoured status of having come from experiences of an ancient vintage. We all know the value of a fifty-year old single malt, especially when it comes in a bottle you thought you would never lay hands on again.
When I said goodbye to Tatlayoko Lake, well on in September of 1957, in my youthful  confidence I assumed I'd be back in a few years, four, maybe five or six at the most. It was a sure thing. I'd been making assorted typewriters rattle like Gatling guns for the last four years already, and now that I'd finally tucked into studying classical philosophy, discovered Thomas Aquinas - with help from a friend - and done my apprenticeship with my only real "contemporary" rivals - Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald - I was bound to make it as a novelist pretty shortly. And to make it big. Those two had made their names by the time they were twenty-five, and so would I. It would be a piece of cake. All I had to do was create a readable summary of everything that had happened to me over the past  years, at UBC and other places, winding up with my unbelievable summer in the shadow of the Waddington Range. Providence had given me the experiences, both social and literary, and it would continue to provide me with creative triumphs to match. I'd be back, with fame and money in my pocket, and I'd sleep in one of the Bracewell log cabins across the road from the ranch house, and go hunting for moose with that most excellent of men, Alf Bracewell.
Error number one. It was not really Alf who was the hunter's guide. A little recent research, thanks to Sage Birchwater's numerous - and highly readable - texts on the personalities of the Cariboo-Chilcotin reveal that it was really Alf's wife Gerry who stalked the moose, the deer, the grizzlies, on behalf of hunters. I had realized that Gerry was a lot of things - like the wife-to-be I was to discover a few months later something of an archivist and local history promoter - and also like my mother, a great hostess, but somehow I had not totally clued in to her status a class A hunting guide. I was not totally stupid about women with rifles, since in fact my father had hired Birgalette Solberg to ferry us across Sechelt Inlet in her clinker built and show us where the deer hung out on the far shore, but I did not catch on to Gerry's status as a hunter at that point. Her late brother's guitar, a Gibson, as her son Alec has recently informed me, was a principal focus of my interest. It was a most beautiful instrument and I was largely under the quality of its influence, like a visitor to the Louvre struck by an original masterpiece he has heretofore seen only as a print. The simply fact that I was able to get involved in a sort of bullfight the next day after I played it is proof enough that jockdom has always had to compete with the artiste in my life.
To be continued.