Thursday, June 29, 2006

Maudlin Mariner

I don't know about this.

Some say writing is what you make with your hands.

My hands have been idle of late.

The devil soon finds lots of work for you.

Devil or Lutheran demon?

Don't know.

But here goes anyway.

The writing life is not a person's period in time, it's a dimension.

A dimension that can span a period of thirty years or more--sometimes much more--and it tells more about the nature of the gods than it does the nature of the writer.

Sure, the autobiographical facts will be there, he/she was born, went to schools, got married, decided on the writing life but had children all the same, had some early success, a kudo here from the writing communiy, a grant here, a magazine piece published there, a novel snipped published in serial form.

But the call. That Hank Williams call:

But when that lonesome road
takes to callin' me
There's something o'er that hill
That I've just got to see.

Poor pity the writer who answers that call, that Nietzschean sound whistling through the keyhole, into the room where you're safely bedded down with you wfe and children in your rambling Victorian house, the moon outside shining a ghostly white, as in Bob Seeger, or Jefferson Aiplane: "Come with me, my friend, I'll show you another country."

You are, of course influenced by the art around you for the past seventy years, from country tunes to William Burroughs to rock'n'roll. You are also, somehow, a child of the Thirties, perhaps because of your parents or those tough-nut landladies of Toronto or maybe Baltimore.

An original Jimmie Rogers song is haunting your mind:

Gonna pack all my things in a grip
Take me a long ocean trip
Out on a great big steamship
You ain't gonna see your daddy no more, no more, no more.

And throw Momma from the train?

Or Momma throwing Dagwood Bumstead off the train when she has had enough?

The mood is not hitting only you. It is hitting the old lady as well. She too, wants to learn about life.

But the children, what about the children? Lately, only the babysitter is in there pitching and here is where the gods come in, for selfishness is not a virtue, Ayn Rand be hanged.

Pack all my things in a grip.
Take me a long ocean trip.

Tahiti. Gaugin country. The beautiful Wahines. Love under the Seagrape. Sand whispering through the palms.

You have abandoned the creepy meatball of your life. Ah, Jerry Rubin.

Abby Hoffman." If it feels good, do it."

Tahiti was the high school popularity you never had. And many beautiful lovers. And an aristocratic status for being vaguely European and a writer. For every writer is an European, and every European a writer.

How nice it was to outfit the boat, to travel to islands, first the near ones, the long green of Paradise Island , throwing your dice. Then the Panama Canal and the Pacific. Just you and your lover. Can't do laundry once in the Pacific. Will have to wait till next port.

Robinson Crusoe country. But Friday is not your firs mate. Tuesday is, and she is American

The gods appear to smile.

Every artist needs a Tahiti. Every Monday needs a Tuesday.

Every homosexual must sail the ocean alone in a 35-foot boat.

To each his own.

So you think you'd gotten away clean, the sense of relief, as in the first stages of divorce.

Oh if it were only so easy.

You leave your spouse and children for the sake of your beautiful canvases and there is a karma that will follow.

Greek theology proposes a Poseidon Earthshaker. Not for nothing did blind Homer sing the song. But how did he commit it to writing? Part of the mystery.

For a typhoon will soon appear and knock your around and will split your mast and will split your boat and throw your lover into the sea where only by your resourcefulness and seamanship do you finally rescue her, trying all the time to show fate can be thwarted , but she has been somehow broken and uglied by the experience and she is not the same beauty she was just scant days ago. The gods demand a price. Fate can not be fucked, not really.

And so after all the S.O.S.and all the helicopters, you somehow return to your Tahiti, but and things have changed between you and your lover.Your money is gone, your boat is holed and your beautiful lover has gradually been transformed into very nearly a hag. Part of it is the passage of time.

Poseidon is immortal, and you are not.

You know, also that something out there punishes.

Adultery is not a game. You have pitted yourself agains all the gods, against God. Yes, yes, your strength, your free will in the place of the natural laeticia that is grace.

Dubliners:" For you, I have given up my life, my peace of mind. Even my god."

But must you know sin to move onto the next plane?

The late Johnny Cash did not entirely walk the line, yet he knew about moving to the next dimension.Sin? He certainly knew about pain.

And yet, somehow you get the sense that this is not a period in your life, it is part of an even larger dimension, the life-space of a writer in time, who sought to steal fire from the gods and was himself set on fire in an oily boat wreck that was fast becoming a climax to his life, yet the climax would not come, not right away.

And so you set down the details of the past 33 years, looking for a matrix, auguring for the key to the dimension you are in. You intuit, somehow, that you left as a boy and you will return as an experienced man.

The former wife and children former wife and the children are still back there trying to cope with it all and the hell of it is that they understand.

And since your shipwreck had drawn headlines, the CBC is suddenly tramping up the woods looking for you, and they do a documentary on your life, and it works, and the producer pays you for it, probably your idea in the first place, and suddenly you are safe and sound.

Ah, but three-thirty in the morning, when again the moon comes calling a ghostly white, you know you hadn't really done it. The great sprawling novel, the final key to your life, just isn't there. There had been other novels, television skits, freelance pieces, but The Big Book isn't there.

The problem? You were born in Nova Scotia and not Europe. You have a Yankee seafarer's truth, but it is not a universal truth. You were not Norman Mailer, not wise enought to just write about Micronesia, period. Europe is the museum of culture, a culture possibly too rich for you. Possibly, you culd have been born in the wrong country.

You are a North American writer.

Bit off more than you could chew. Destroyed your family. Destroyed two more families and a couple of friends. The god demands a price.

And now, my friend, you can finally sit down and write.

Inside your dimension.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Doubting Thomas had me doubting

How quickly a blog's reputation can go to seed.

I'd put up some old published college short stories and poems, and for two days anyway, hardly anyone seemed to raise a yawn.

Panic. I am getting no hits. Now is the time to nudge old friends, re-court some women bloggers, hunt up my professional friends who in the past had submitted razor-sharp and insightful bits.

But there was still nothing. Could it be that my uh, creative material had seriously sucked for the past forty years and people had been too kind to say it reminded them of Hoover or Juno vacuum cleaners".

"You suck," says the fan to the vacuum cleaner in a cartoon.

"Blow me," said the irritated fan.

And then along came Thomas.

He must have sensed my plight and sent me a link about a blogging pig in a comic book, the pig finally deciding that if he had no comments on his blog, he'd just give up and put his stuff on the fridge from now on.

Right on, Doubting Thomas.

I was about to type my blog on magnetized paper and plaster the stuff all over the fridge when the first trickle of real comments began to come in.

Now, from the smug standpoint of having gleaned an entire ten comments on that particular blog, "He whom the gods destroy they first call promising", I offer my own comic strip to Doubting Thomas. 'Fraid it's a little in bad taste, but then Thomas knows me. I picked up the strip which I am about to reproduce while sleeping in an alleyway outside a Newmarket bar. I had covered myself with two EYE magazines, and stuck for reading matter in the morning, found the cartoon, titled DRY SHAVE, the best thing in that sad gay-lib throwaway.

So, here is what Thomas sent me:

And here is what I'm putting up in answer to Doubting Thomas.

Sometimes the humerus is connected to the ulna. Heh.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Everybody knows about it
Every single one's got a story to tell
From the Queen of England
to the gates of Hell

And if I catch you coming back this way
I'll tell it to you
It's not what you want to hear
but that's what I'll do

--Jack White of White Stripes

The story made the rounds. It was off-trail among my professional friends. My professional friends were interested in good writing. Quality stuff that people would want to read.
I submitted the story, and dead silence.

Well, what do you think of my story, I asked an editor.

"Yeah, I read it."


"I dunno.Weird and off-trail...And then I don't go for all that cock-in-mouth stuff. Don't know."

It was soon apparent to me that I had laid an egg.

But something had compelled me to write the story. A daemon, five o'clock in the morning, Nietzsche's daemon whistling through the keyhole. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin too: Abandon your creeping meatball and do this.

This is important.

Where do we draw the line between the enthusiast and the madman?

My good wife had always allowed me to indulge in my fantasies. After all, we were rich, artistic, and had the money to follow our own natures.

But my own nature was telling me something else.

"You must go out, gather the experience and write this story."

But to write the story, I would have to leave my wife.

"So be it," said the daemon.

But the daemons may have been a false daemon of creativity. It may have been a mere trickster whose aim it was to have me go out and ruin my life.

For everybody I'd shown the story to, seemed a bit put off by it. Twenty years ago, editors were prissier, more conservative. "All that Sixy-Nine...I wonder."

Maybe I'd just gone on a bum's quest and had written a bum story.

Here goes anyway.

(or, An Exploration into the nature of scatology)

No one saw him leave home. No one saw him on the train where he had reconsidered the wife of the bright yellow day to whom he had just said goodbye. No one saw him leave for Mexico City on the early morning plane. No one saw him lad at Mexico City Airport. No one saw him getting on the bus for San Miguel de Allende. Only God saw him.

He had felt for the first time in his eye yesterday's tear, and it was still only yesteday to him as he moved ahead into time, and he wondered how this could be, he was racing so far ahead of himself, the dreams he had been having, the apartments of horror where there were Medusa faces and white hotels with burning women standing outside, though the burning women were never consumed.

No one saw him rent his apartment, no one saw him sitting at his typewriter, no one saw him there in San Miguel de Allende, where the grass was dream grass and his clay house a Conquistador house of pale smoke and history.

Then he saw her, or, rather, she saw him. There, where southwest was another part of the world. There, where the girls were tall and slightly knockneed, a touch of Cherokee, perhaps, certainly Trarascan. And like a lonesome woman she came to him, felt his loneliness and they had found each other.

Yet on the train, he had considered himself a still-married man, who had so recently said goodbye to a wife of the bright yellow day, to soon rent a monk's cell, to sigh in a kind of relief at having left it all, to immediately be plunged into a precipice of silence, for there was a vacuum here, and a vacuum is either death or great power.

And soon there was an entaglement with the Cherokee woman. There werre sparks among the bougainvillea and the flowers, and fights and love again. But very quickly, they fused together.
It was then that he decided to write his beautiful novel in two parts.

This he did.

Then he and the Cherokee woman separated again.

And when he got home there was no one there as he walked past the dog, past the bird, past the blighted tree around which the lilacs had all died, but the phlox and the daisies were out, where his wife appeared to him and ochre stranger and her dark-eyed lover a worse shade.

And he knew not what to do, save go insane, and he was not ready for that and he sent for his Cherokee love out of Mexico by way of Montana and California, fo that was where she had lived, and she came to him carrying to great wicker baskets and an enormous quilt.

And so they now settled in Toronto and every five days he would see his heartbreakingly beautiful children, take them to theatres and sunny hills and dells and the Cherokee woman would come with them and she would look after them, fuss after them and bring her gifts and read them stories and check out the advertisements for the best children's plays, for she appeared to love him, and so, them.

And it soon became apparent to him that he had made a dreadful mistake, that she was not the one, the he should never have gone off to Mexico to write his beautiful novel in two parts, for he had done nothing more than to fall into a strange bed, though the Cherokee womand did love him, he knew. For they had separated, he'd left her there in Mexico as he ran back home and he had felt a deep loss, there had been a fusion and both of them had felt the rent.

And yet on the road, in his car, on the way to his old teaching spot, he would be seized with longing, regret, pain for want of the wife of his youth, calling her name, ogoing mad behind the wheel of the car he had retrieved as part bargain in the failed marriage, yet it had not been his car but hers, as it had not been his own life but hers.

And he felt, as two rook-like birds along the road seemed to pick at him, his liver, spleen, brains that he was in some Hieronymous Bosch fantasy, the birds were eating him and he was near to exploding.

"You are going crazy, said the Cherokee woman. You need an analyst."

And soon there was the analyst, who merely shook his head and recommended a stronger doctor and the stronger doctor recommened an insane asylum where the grass was again dream grass, there where the mind turned to oceans of pepper and the Cherokee woman was on another side of the world, and all the songs were about the Hotel California.

And while in the Hotel California, he felt entire pieces of himself being ripped away, entire chunks of Laura, her body, her reasts, her vagina, old sepia-toned family portraits of their trips to the Barbados, their bearded elders, their children, all ripped away by an adultery that screamed to God even though it had been all so easy, for it had no conscience, this sex thing, though this experience somehow led to the terrible triangle of God.

And here, he crossed himself.

And presently, they appeared to make a vegetable of him, "this is how we make an asshole", filling him with doubt,guilt and religion and so mutated, he was soon thrust out into the world as a good tailor or taxi driver before he had hardly learned how to cut cloth or read a map.
And all the while, the Cherokee woman had been writing and telephoning him, "Doofus, wake up," but he had already gone into the nearly fatal confusion that is madness, and it had been too late. And the Cherokee woman was forced to go to Idaho City, Idaho, there with he potatoes, his cousins now, out there where West was another side of the world.

And then, in a parallel universe of strange books like Solaris, there appeared a third woman who somehow promised to repair all, to answer his every wish, including the need to go home again.
And this third woman had something of the man in her and she seized him by the woman inside and gave him a harrowing and a shaking, though he yet came inside her mouth and so enslaved her.

And presently, he met another woman. He was impoverished now, because he had gone off the scale, one woman after another and not women to marry; he was on a rollercoaster, a series of rollercoasters on which beside him had sat differeint women, the last of which had robbed him of everything he had, all fifty thousand of it.

And this woman saw that he was poor while she took him into her mouth and tasted him and did not like it, did not like him, did not like to see his ears down there between which was death on two legs and the song in his head may well have been Queen. And she left him to marry a dealer in real estate and lived happily ever after.

While he again became a teacher.

Teacher? Adulteror. What is left after a man reaches the stench of the tomb? Down among the criminal elements, down among the losers, alcoholics, thieves. The garden of Eden is the marriage bed and the fiery angel wil punish.

And he took up with a lounge dancer whose mouth had had again violated, causing her too toleave in disgust, but not before he say his own dirty pants hanging on the wall, which he soon picked up, dressing himself in the messy trousers.

And as he put on his drousers, he realized that the typewriter had been gathering dust and grime for a long time now and he realized that it was at this time that he had to complet his novel in two parts.

And barely before had completed his novel, he was again hired by the local university to teach, for he needed an income, and it was here that he met the She, even before he finished his novel in two parts.

She was as beautiful as a star, as fine as a mother's body, a star of 1930's films, the IT Girl, Clara Bow, blonde as Greta Garbo, sexy as a girl standing against a wall in the sun, her head back, inviting a lover.

She would not let him get too close. She would only respond to him part way and he had to content himsel with sleeping in the crook of her arm. He was harboring a love. In the crook of her arm.

But in the crook of her arm had been a pinprick, a deep one.

It was the cocaine she loved first, and then him.

And she tried to make him come along, and he spat it out and was soon off to another trip to Mexico.

Where he would write his beautiful novel in two parts.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

He Whom the Gods Would Destroy, They First Call Promising

He whom the gods destroy they first call promising.

Well, I was considered promising at good old Rye High, as we called Ryerson University in those days, and so were a number of others called "promising." We all seem to have ended up more or less obscure.

I had been rejected once by the Fifth Page, Ryerson's literary magazine and I wondered why.

"Write about sexual difficulties. Write about angst pain, separation, rejection. That's what your English prof, the editor is going through," some wag advised me.

I wrote poems about rejection and pain, wrote a short story about sexual difficulties and voila, instant publishing.

Heaven forbid that you should check out the psychological space of editors before you submit stuff....get to know their hangups, their preferences. Strategy over talent? Works that way sometimes.

But there were other people who submitted really good stuff, especially on Susanne Howden who wrote so well about being alone in the spring. I have to include Susanne's poem as well. Nice poetess.

So, for no other reason than to show we were precocious and we came to a bad end, I'll offer a sampling of wares from way back, almost forty years ago at Ryerson 1967. How relatively easy it had been to get published as a serious short story writer through the Ryerson Publications Committee. How hard it is now.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ivan's recalcitrant muse

Struggling all night with a recalcitrant muse, I somehow got Baker on the brain, Russell Baker, the famed columnist who began one of his Sunday Observer reports with "How quickly a man's reputation can go to seed."

Thirty yearss struggling with a mechanical typewriter, all the nicotine, prescription drugs, booze. Three million words in print--no wonder that this man is burned out and his reputation has gone to seed.

And only now have some of the brains come back, and they came, strangely from a meal of roast beef, where the brains are. Vegetarians are a tad anaemic, and alcoholics don't eat well enough. Got a mental block? asks Mencken, " Well just put on the old bib and tucker and have a good meal."

I had hoped to get some of the old thunder back by writing a short story about a man and his muse, but though the spirits were definitely around and something was tugging at the drapes, what seemed like beautiful words in the wee hours turned out to be hackneyed words and even the writing mood, the "muse" was just counterfeit genius.

So into the oven goes the roast beef, a kind of refined uranium to light up your life and you hope the fork witll be an isotope for the artistic explosion you hope will occur. Little H. P. Lovecraft explosions going on outside your head as you get into a Ken Kesey mood of lightning flashing all around and creativity high.

Except that it is a false high and you jump off the mechanical Remington muse and back to the computer keyboard, which is easier and faster.

Rudyard Kipling says poetry and writing is produced by the very materials of the process, the typewriter, the erasers, the pencils, the butt-filled ashtray--and he is right, but that is only for the first draft. The second draft has to be clearer, more sure.

But something was happening during that image of the man entangled with his muse. Not for nothing were the drapes going wild and the windows rattling.
It was your soul trying to catch up with your body--thirty years of running flat out, pedal to the metal without stopping for one good meal of roast beef where the soul no longer seems to hide behind a knife, but where it waits for a diner's knife and fork, to be eaten like a sacrament. Where the hell had you been for thirty years? Chasing your own tail, jumping up all the time high on your booze and drugs, like a rapidly deflating baloon, an ordinary and somewhat dull man pumped up with his stimulants and depressants, made interesrting and exciting only because of those stimulants and depressants. Whooosh!

Maybe it was not Russell Baker but good old R. J., a contributor to this space that I had on my mind and how similar out processes seem to be.