Monthly Archives: February 2014

In my craft or sullen art, or somesuch excuse-ridden excuse for not getting on with it

writring

Sometimes writing goes well. Sometimes writing goes badly. Sometimes writing goes not at all.

I know when it is going well. Ideas arise smoothly and without self-consciousness; the lexicon is expansive and the wit is superlative. I mean to say, it all just flows together and the delight in the act is palpable. This is good shit, I muse. I want to share it with others. I am compelled to share it with others. This is unmatched by few who follow this craft. I feel so positive I could burst.

When it’s going badly, nothing comes easily. Even clever ideas somehow cannot be expressed in a way that enchants me. I say, “enchants me” for that’s what it must do first or else I cannot presume it will enchant anybody else. At that time tiresome elements like typos are more frequent and a vocabulary that I pride myself on being relatively extensive drops to about a third (or less) of its normal potency.

When this condition persists for a while panic sets in. Have I lost it? Will I ever get it back? What is the difference between now and (say) two weeks ago when I felt I could rule the literary world? What happened to me in the interim? Why does everything I write become something reminiscent of other things I’ve written a dozen times before and my self-consciousness is not permitting me to break out of the miasma? I will write a line and think, I have written this before and I didn’t like it the last time. Self-consciousness then becomes pervasive and that cripples me even more. Racked with doubt I ask myself why I am persisting with what is apparently a mug’s game. Who told me I could write? Why do I do it?

I offer up my plaints to my wife who has heard this all before so many times. She asks, quite legitimately that, if I cannot write how is it that I’ve made a living with the process for much of my adult life? Did I somehow manage to fool the people who wrote those cheques for me? Was my byline in assorted newspapers some sort of a mistake? That affords me a little – teeny-weeny – bit of solace but not enough to get me out of my torpor. The most pervasive emotional sensation at a time of blockage is ‘loneliness’. You know, me against the world and that dead horse I’m a-floggin’ ain’t getting up. And the more I beat it the worse it gets.

The real problem with writing (or any creative endeavor) is that it’s all pure ego. It is the writer or artist not only against the world, but against him or herself. And invariably we are our own harshest critics. Ironically, in this ego-fraught endeavor, whatever it might be, the perpetrator of the public sin is all-too-often an introvert – or at least an ambivert. I don’t mind disrobing in public but somebody must tell me they like what they see for it’s painful for me to pull down my knickers for your scrutiny if I harbor any thoughts you won’t be impressed.

And that is what I mean about the ‘ego’. I’m at my best and most productive when I have somebody in my life against whom I can bounce off my stuff. Otherwise I lapse into self-consciousness and writing becomes masturbation rather than gratifying carnality with another. No, it’s not an inapt metaphor. At least I don’t think it is, but there is nobody here I can bounce it off so I’ll just have to satisfy myself that the thought expresses some aspect of what it’s about.

In that I wonder about writers like Salinger and Pynchon who have gained some sort of notability for saying “fuck you and leave me alone” to the outer world. Did they really produce brilliantly by assuming an Emily Dickinson mode of life? Salinger may have shunned outsiders in the sense of granting interviews but it is also relatively well-known that he had assorted little enraptured doxies tending to his wants and needs whilst he had them in his thrall. So, their isolationism may or may not have been entirely true.

I once, a number of years ago – while I toiled at a small-town newspaper – attempted to secure an interview with the most recent literature Nobelist, Alice Munro, who happens to live in the same town as I do. I secured her home telephone number via a mutual friend. I don’t know if the person in question remained a friend of bristly Alice because she was livid that I’d had the audacity to call her and no she did not grant interviews to small town papers, so screw you, buddy. She didn’t actually say the latter, but it was the impression I got from her tone. In other words, I wasn’t respecting her right to decamp to a little burg for part of the year. Maybe that’s how Salinger felt, as well.

I don’t. I’m needy.

hitrchikerI read one time that Douglas Adams who wrote the wondrously inventive, witty, and often downright hilarious Hitchhiker series (there truly aren’t superlatives sufficient to describe the writing of Adams), among many other things, suffered from blockage so agonizing that it has been suggested the stress cost him his life at a rather disturbingly early age. Ironically, in that regard, when I first encountered his words about 1980 I thought I’d give my left testicle to be able to write a tenth as well as he does. Well, I’m happy that reference was only metaphorical and nobody was going to demand such an amputation, but you get the point I am making.

That was early in my writerly career and I had been a columnist for about three years by that point. Now these many years later I still feel the same pressures and am still as lacking in self-confidence. I can receive personal accolades and even win writing awards – and I have won a few – but it doesn’t make the angst dissipate. When I go dry I am filled with thoughts that it will never come back.

Latterly, David Sedaris has filled me with both the same sort of admiration and angst combo.. I love what he writes and how he writes it and I then tell myself that I have three virtually completed manuscripts kicking around that have gone nowhere and why is that? Well, perhaps there are two reasons that justify this state-of-affairs. I refuse to accept the possibility that it might be because they aren’t terribly good, and therefore I put it down to the fact that I write, but I don’t sell myself well, and I have no agent. And secondarily it might be due to the fact I’m lazy. Once I have been rejected one I am inclined to say ‘screw it’ and move on to another project.

Years ago I taught creative writing to a high school class. That was a very happy time in my truncated teaching career. Eager little faces on enthusiastic kids who actually liked the magic that can unfold with an adept handling of the printed word. Part way through the term I got a call from a teacher of the same course at a high school some sixty miles away. He let me know that he and his class were having a special writing day and he thought it would be good for his kids to interact with another group taking the same course. I thought it was a fine idea and we got ourselves a school bus and we headed down there.

jack hI immediately liked the teacher at that school. He was an outgoing and agreeable chap, and during the course of the day he and I discussed our personal literary ambitions. He informed me that he was currently in the process of publishing his first novel. The bastard! He wasn’t a struggling hack like I was – a dabbler – a dilettante (I’d be loath to admit) but a guy who was actually in the process. And yes, that novel was published. Not only published, but to considerable acclaim and that novel was the first of many from his highly skilled and readable output. That ‘other’ teacher’s name was and is Jack Hodgins.

Well, at least when by now ‘well-known’ author Jack Hodgins comes to town he invariably grants me a chatty and pleasant interview. Take that, Alice Munro. He doesn’t yet see himself as being ‘too famous’ and needing to eschew small-town newspapers. Sorry. Starting to sound bitter here.

Whatever the case is to be for me in the future, I suspect I will persist in what it is that I do as a writer. Maybe someday Something I have penned will find it’s way between covers and on somebody’s bookshelf or in the remaindered bin, perhaps, at Munro’s Bookstore in Victoria. There’d be a certain irony in that.

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At least I am alert enough to remember not to eat the yellow snow

calvin

Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.

 

DSCN2225Snow brings out the latent Husky in Max. He rolls in it, lies down in it, eats it, pees on it, and just generally goes into ecstatic fits when there are numerous inches on the ground. Like now.

I don’t have latent Husky in me. I loathe the stuff. It’s wet, it’s cold, it’s perilous, it impedes my passage either on foot or in a vehicle, it’s dangerous, it’s inconvenient, and it’s probably a few dozen other negative things.

Myth holds that Eskimos have over a hundred words for snow. That myth is untrue. I believe their term (which escapes me) translates to “nasty cold shit that makes us wonder why we live here”.

Kids, it is widely believed, love snow. They long for it and are thrilled when it manifests. Mainly that is because a goodly snowfall offers portents of a cherished Snow Day.

I was a strange child – possibly in a lot of ways, but shall not go there now – in that I hated snow. Oh, I didn’t mind it when it first fell. I could even be a bit excited about prospects of sleigh riding and such. But, I was impatient about it. I didn’t want it to last for very long.

I remember vividly lying in bed at about age five in a winter in which there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground and the snow had been with us for seemingly ever in those pre-climate shift days. So, I am lying in bed and I am hoping that during the night some force of he nether world – elf, gremlin, fairy, witch – will come down and magically lift all the snow away.

I know I have waxed tiresomely in the past about favoring warm weather and warm climates, but it is true. I live in the wrong part of the world, I suspect. I have a friend in Palm Springs right now, and a couple more in Central America. Now, I may love these people but I also resent the hell out of them for being where I should be.

Some people like winter and snow because they favor winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, skating and hockey, etc. I haven’t skied since I was in my teens and I thoroughly disliked the experience and all I was left with was sitting in a crappy little shelter with a wet ass and longing to go home. Skating I am actually pretty good at and I like it. But rare are chances of outdoor skating any longer – see climate change. Sleigh-riding. Well, I don’t have a sleigh and am not about to get one at this stage of my life.

All I can think is the damn winter Olympics are over and spring should therefore be here.

Sorry Max, but you don’t have to go out and shovel the driveway right about now.

‘You say it’s your birthday. Well it’s my birthday too, yeah’

cake

Wonderful wit Stephen Wright once asked: “What’s the youngest you can die of old age?”

I only ask this due to the fact I am on the eve of a birthday. I won’t say which one mainly because I am terribly vain and it suits me to have you think I am much younger than I really am. OK?

Regardless of that, I feel a pending birthday is a time for reflection about many, many things. If you’ve been around for a while you are driven to thinking about stuff. There is a line in that ghastly, egocentric song My Way, that opines “regrets, I’ve had a few.” And indeed I have. So does everybody in all likelihood. I don’t believe I am the only one capable of bad decisions or major gaffes in life.

I regret, for example:

– that I never learned to surf when I was young.

– that I never learned to play a musical instrument – and don’t anyone be telling me that it’s never too late. That just compounds my guilt because I likely won’t take the task on and will then have even more regret.

– that I didn’t take off to see the world when I was very young and single.

– getting married as young as I did the first time around: I was 24.

sandy et moi– not ever being intimate with the girl I was madly in love with through high school so that I might have found out whether or not it was worth the agony. If it wasn’t then I’d never have to wonder any more. (I notice in the picture my sweater has a hole in it. Hmm, maybe that was why she rejected me ultimately)

– not having lived in more places than I have. I mean, I lived abroad for a year but that was it. I’d like to have lived in some other ‘abroads’.

– not having learned a foreign language (no, I am not bilingual even though the myth persists that Canadians are – hah!). But, when I was traveling in Latin America last fall I thought I wish I knew Spanish because it is the ‘other’ language of the Americas and anyway, it sounds kinda cool.

– I know there isn’t sufficient time to go to all the places on that cliche ‘bucket list’ and I’m good with that. I would, however, like to go to New Orleans sometime, and also NYC, the Canadian Maritimes and certain parts of Texas. Oh, and I’d like to go back to Florida because I got just a fleeting glimpse when we completed our cruise in the fall.

– I have never been to Vegas. I never ever want to go to Vegas. Just sayin’.

– the losses to mortality of some very special people in my life whom I shall always miss.

As it stands, by this juncture in life I am also happy about certain aspects of how things have turned out.

I am happy and grateful:

– that I live in a free society in which I can express opinions.

– for the people in my life and that certainly includes all my Facebook people who are a vast array of worthy folk.

– the technology that allows my to be in instant touch with those who are important to me.

– that I am not impoverished.

– that I am not (so far) disabled.

– that I have (finally) a certain amount of domestic bliss.

– I have a pleasing home in a quiet neighborhood in a quiet community

– that I have been given creative skills that continue to impel me forward. Even if my words never appear between covers (and I still hope they will) I am grateful that I still feel compelled to write and can actually do it. I also like the fact I can paint a bit and spent a number of formative years as a cartoonist.

OK, so I am holding my own so Happy Birthday to me.

But truly not all electronic connectedness is a bad thing.

mo lettas

Some might see elements of my last blog as being a decrying of all innovations electronic. But that’s just not so. And I am about to tell you why.

There was once a time when I was an inveterate letter writer. I liked to keep in touch with friends and family and I tried to make my missives witty, droll, informative and chatty. But, of course, the snail-mail letter to and from friends and lovers has long since gone away.

By the way, I gave very good ‘love/lust letters’ and I kind of miss waiting for scented epistles from somebody about whom one held salacious and wanton thoughts. No way to perfume an email message, damn it. I know there are folks that are averse to scent for reasons both legitimate, due to allergies, and spurious just to be a pain-in-the-ass to others who might make different choices, but if a letter wafted with a nice scent then it was a kind of bonus.

But, there were regular letters. Chatty letters. Informative letters and I used to love the wit and wisdom of certain of my friends and if I saw a certain return address on an envelope I knew I was in for a good, thoughtful, sometimes bawdy and ofttimes hilarious read.

I still have certain letters that were keepers: love letters going right back to high school days, friendly letters, letters from relatives long since parted from this earthly sphere.

DSCN0933I have a very cherished slightly distant cousin in England whom I’ve known since she was in her teens and I wasn’t all that much older. She and I have corresponded for literally decades and prior to that I used to write back and forth with her mum who was one of the more charming women I have known and had a voice and accent just like the Queen’s. I miss her to this day. But Angie, her younger daughter – and all of Angie’s family, husband, kids, sister and now grandkids are, I consider very much part of my life.

And, when Angie and I wrote, our letters were inspired but were a long time in-between. Though, they were unscented for obvious reasons. I liked writing to her and she liked writing to me, I presume.

But, then came the wide-world of connectedness and Angie and I are connected via email, Facebook and so forth and it’s a sheer delight to me to hear from her regularly and to send messages off to her and family. I love it.

So, in that context, bravo this Brave New World. Parts of it I truly like.

I have never texted or ‘sexted’ and a few other considerations

electronic shit

I have serious doubts as to whether I am being all that I can be as a man, or indeed all that I ‘should’ be. Not that there are rules about such matters but sometimes the observations and comments of others leave me feeling less than adequate.

By being a ‘man’ I especially mean being a man of a certain age. I base my observations on the things in life I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in. As follows are some of the elements of life about which I should be enthralled and yet I find myself wavering between apathy and disdain (and sometimes even contempt) depending on the circumstances.

At the same time I bear no malice towards those who favor such things. I’m a friendly guy and I like people to feel at their ease when in my company. So, if you want to go into raptures about your boring fucking golf game don’t anticipate me to pee on your parade. I’ll even refrain from citing Mark Twain who described golf as a way of ruining a perfectly decent walk.

I guess for me it goes back a long way. I remember telling a kid some factoid of information when we were in about 9th grade – junior high being the most repulsive stage of human development – and he asked me how I knew that.

I read it,” I said, and not in a smug way. I mean, I wanted to say it in a smug way, but that’s not my nature.

Read it?,” he said, a look of disdain crossing his ‘challenged visage, “Is that all you do is fucking read?”

All I could do was shrug, palms out. I mean, how was I supposed to deal with that?

Otherwise I was as normal as could be expected from a 14-year-old boy. I liked girls. I mean, I really-really-really-really liked girls; I was longing for the day I got my driver’s licence, which meant I liked cars; I liked rock-and-roll; I liked parties; I liked TV; I liked movies. Oh, and I liked to read, and I read a lot – adult books, not juvenile-oriented ones.

Now, by my age here is where I sit about certain aspects of life:

goff– Golf: I think we covered that ground

– Sports in general: Pretty much as per golf. I really don’t give a rat’s about what team does anything. I don’t know those people so why should it matter to me?

– Entertainers’ lives: Like athletes, I don’t know them so I don’t care what they do, what drugs they use, how much they drink, who they are screwing, what their sexual preferences are, and in that I’ll add to the fact that when I look at magazine covers at the supermarket I don’t know who at least 80 percent of them are, so why should I care. I do care however when a supreme talent like Mr. Hoffman  decides to end his live by a badly-considered decision. There are performers I like and admire so I’d rather they stuck around.

– Socializing: I’ve concluded I never was a partier. Back in my drinking days I numbed myself and too often made a horse’s ass of myself and that was mainly due to shyness, I have realized. If I socialize I like small gatherings of maybe us and another couple or two other couples and I hope everybody calls it an evening early.

– Friends: I don’t have a vast array of people I would call close friends. Scads of acquaintances, but my charmed circle is few. My friends too are both male and female. I have a teeny handful of blessed male friends, and actually a slightly larger handful of blessed female friends.

– cars: Some people obsess about getting new vehicles on a regular basis and go into raptures over them. I drive a rather elderly car and I love it and it still runs well, so I don’t give a damn about getting another.

– electronic crap: I am writing this on a nice laptop that I recently bought to replace my other one that had packed it in. And that’s pretty much me in the world of electronics which I find to be a massive bore. My cellphone plan ran out a while ago and I haven’t replaced. I have never texted, or sexted, for that matter.

Otherwise, I am still an outgoing and friendly chap who is comfortable with his own company and periodically interacting with people he holds dear and I hope they are around forever. And yep, I still really like girls.

Valentine’s Day is poignant for me at a couple of levels

This offering is a repeat from many years ago but I felt it was worthy of being repeated, so there.  Happy Valentine’s Day to all my friends and loved ones.

charlie brown

Valentine’s Day is more than a Hallmark Cards manufactured special occasion for me. Oh, it is all of the poignant suggestions of hearts and flowers, candlelight and love, and assorted cherubim flitting about the pace. I am a genuine romantic at heart and soul, and I love everything to do with sharing one’s devotion with another person.

Valentine’s Day makes me think of school days when we had a big old heart-festooned Valentine’s Day box in the classroom, in which assorted waifs could ‘mail’ their little messages to an adored other, but always disguising the sender of the message, or maybe including the first and last letter of the name, and connecting them with a bunch of little dashes. Difficult to discern maybe if the girl’s name was Ermingarde Clytemnestra von Dusseldorff, but if it was plain Jane Smith, it was kind of a giveaway. The more caring among teachers, recognizing the potential for cardless Charlie Browns in the class would ask each kid to send a Valentine to every other kid, just so nobody got left out. A kind thought, though it was one that sort of defeated the purpose if you wanted to send a really special card to somebody for whom you had a huge passion. And children do have huge passions, whether adults like to think so or not. I spent most of my school days being madly in love with one little girl or other.

Of course, I never declared that ardor, so Valentine’s Day gave me the opportunity to come out of myself. I doubt if I ever did, though. I probably gave as a closing salutation on a card to one I especially adored, “Yours Truly” What can I say? I was a kid, and there are few kid lotharios.

grannie and granddad

All of that notwithstanding, Valentine’s Day, however, has another meaning for me, and it’s one that is in some respects more than a commemoration of St. Valentine. To me it’s a commemoration of my maternal grandmother, for February 14th is her birthday. I always remember that because she was, in so many respects, the pivotal and most adored adult of my childhood.

To say I didn’t come from a happy and secure childhood home would be on a par with saying Al Capone had control issues. My parents did not have a good marriage and, while they may have provided us (my brothers and I) with such things as food and lodging, they weren’t to be noted for their affectionate natures. Maybe they loved us – probably did – but they never really expressed it. This isn’t a whine, by the way. They were who they were and I can’t do anything about it at this juncture. I’m only pleased, if I can be candid, that I didn’t grow up like them in my attitudes to other people. I think I’m a rather warm and caring person.

And that impulse within me I attribute to my grandmother. She lived only a block away when I was growing up, and on my way home from school I always dropped in on ‘Grannie’ and shared a cup of tea with her. It had to be tea, because she was more English than the Queen. She was an upper-middle class girl who married my 30-year-old grandfather when she was 18 and came to the wilds of western Canada about 1910. However, she never lost her salons of London sense of refinement.

I loved her and cherished her. She was funny, very intelligent, well-read (she more than anyone else introduced me to books and gave me a love for them), and showed the love of an elder for a child.

As the story goes, within days of giving birth to me, my mother came down with a severe illness of some sort. She was staying at Grannie’s house because my dad was away in the navy. Anyway, this left Grannie to care for me in my earliest days. So, she and I bonded. We imprinted. And she subsequently became more of a mother to me than my own.

Then, when I was 14, she was hit and killed by a car when crossing the street. She was only in her late 60s. Her death was utterly unexpected, so no emotional preparation had been put into place. My brothers and I were devastated. We were devastated for years afterward.

But then life moves on as it must.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all, and an especially Happy Birthday to Grannie.

 

All things being equal, I think now I am done with zoos

marius

I think I am finally pretty much done with zoos. Too bad at one level because I love seeing animals. But, at another level I also ‘love’ animals and maybe have finally moved past seeing them as a spectator sport. And it’s not just because of Marius, the ‘slaughtered’ giraffe in the Copenhagen Zoo.

I say slaughtered because that’s what it was. In the name of some genetic concern that seems mighty curious and oblique the poor bugger was put down and then fed to the lions and the public was invited to come and watch while the lions devoured their nums. Yeah, lions eat giraffes. I’m OK with that. It was the motivations of the catering service I find questionable. What were they trying for, a throwback to ancient Rome?

And that’s the real problem with zoos. They leave such decision up to ‘scientists’ rather than real human beings with feelings. “Finished torturing lab animals? Well, we have a zoo position that would be ideal for a guy/gal of your complete lack of sensitivity.

I know I am being egregiously harsh and judgmental here but I can because it’s my blog.

I also eat meat, and love it. I am an unrepentant carnivore. A carnivore who would become vegetarian in a heartbeat if he was called upon to expedite the animals he eats. I had beef last evening. I chose not to think about the ‘cow’ aspect. My valued friend Wendy Starr vouchsafed that same point following a Facebook item yesterday and I cannot argue with her. But, as I said, I don’t kill the animals that I eat and I have already stated that I no longer fish, I put spiders and even wasps outside rather than kill them, the concept of hunting is beyond my comprehension, and so on and so forth. I’m simply very Buddhist about the creatures with whom I share the planet.

So, yeah, the Marius thing is beyond the pale to me. I don’t want to share that same planet with people who harbor such malevolent attitudes.

As for zoos, I get torn. Personally I love seeing certain animals (with a particular fondness for giraffes, I might add). I have been to some of the better zoos in the world, the London Zoological Gardens, San Diego, and even Honolulu has a very decent zoo.

grillerYet the whole thing began to pall on me a few years ago. I was at the San Diego Zoo, which is world-class and quite wonderful. But, I was looking at the gorillas and amongst them was a little family of Mama, Papa, li’l tyke gorilla. And, like all kids the toddler gorilla was being a bit of a – well – monkey. And Mama had to reprimand him on a few occasions. And I simply found them so much like a human family that I wondered if they truly should be in captivity. Yes, I know the Gorillas in the Mist tale and how endangered they are in the wild. Yet, the captivity somehow didn’t seem right.

At Seattle’s quite exceptionally good Woodland Park Zoo I found myself impressed by the hugely extensive African Savannah display with lions, gazelles, and all those other antelopish things. I thought it was great except you could hardly see the animals. They had positioned themselves far away from the gawkers. Hardly blame them.

Now, having written what I have I will find out if in future travels I can refrain from  zoo attendance. But one things for sure, Copenhagen Zoo is definitely off my list.