Tuesday, December 05, 2006
It can be done
The beautiful woman in her paiseley dress wanted to know why I persisted as a teacher of writing.
"Why are you wasting your time at this," Eleanor Gallagher wanted to know. "You should be writing, not teaching.
"You are a writer. .
"And all you do is teach.
"People are counting on you. You have to go out and do something really fine. Stay out of classrooms.
"If you can't make it, none of us can make it."
This was more than just a challenge.
This was like me poised at my stake. Saint Sebastian, about to be executed by archers.
There is a school that says all creative wriing instructors are frauds and should be shot. Better with arrows. More pain.
I don't know how many times I had taken Eleanor Gallagher's advice.
And proved that I could do it, only to have to go out and prove it again.
Eleanor kept taking my course, over and over again, as had many others over the years.
I suppose my support group of perennial students spoiled me.
After the challenge from Eleanor Gallaher, I won my own column in Topic Magazine in these parts, and was soon writing essays for the Toronto Sun. My novel, The Black Icon, began to be reviewed in Toronto.
I began to have groupies, but never Eleanor Gallagher.She was my lady. My lady challenging the knight. This was courtly love.
Eleanor Gallagher wanted some proof from me that I was worthy..
If I could not produce something fine-- and no student ever surpassed a teaching master in York Region--then
I might as well give up both teaching and writing and go back to the ways of my father, master carpenter, probably a more honest trade in the first place.
"You must go out and write another novel, Ivan.
"Not just a fragment, like last time.
"The real thing."
I don't know why I had allowed a student to be a guide for me.
Maybe she had taken the words right out of my mouth.
Every teacher feels at some point in his/her life that she's a fraud. I was beginning to feel like a fraud.
I had to do a second novel.
Well, I did.
Eleanor Gallagher, who by this time must surely be a senior, would have been proud of me.
But the cost, the cost.
Loss of home. Loss of job. Loss of spouse. Loss of mind.
Loss, loss, loss
And yet enough love within the loss to almost make it worthwhile.
And proving to Eleanor Gallagher that I was not entirely a bullshitter.
And yet Ozymandias.
Shattered statue in the desert. Look how great I am.
Could this be what Eleanor wanted?
Do not the roads to hell start with good intentions?
There was a time when life was simpler, more authentic.
Young man on the make, with beautiful young wife, driving to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to write the great Canadian novel.
What was ultimately produced was a fragment, the story of my mother and father.And maybe that may have been enough.
Why did you torment me, Eleanor Gallagher?
The Black Icon is what got me the teaching job in the first place, that and some sheepskin.
Let's start at the beginning, at least where it all began for me, Eleanor Gallagher...
THE BLACK ICON--Chapter Four
Michael Podolski sat astride a joist and busied himself with trimming X-braces before inserting these between the rough-hewn beams. The yellow wood smalled fresh, incensed. Chips flew under the broadaxe, the piney smell rich in Michael's nostrils. Things, materials, these were so uncomplicated, workable, solvable, so unlike the life that was beginning to confuse him.
Sophia, Sophia, bullheaded, clumsy Sophia, once so young and fresh; putting up with the bullwork into which he had forced her while they bruilt; washing his clothes the neolitthic way, by the stream, hauling water, chopping wood, loving each object that belonged to him as if the thing were he himself.
Now, after eight years, two misscarriages and two children, Sophia had grown shrewish, bitchy, nagging. Nagging all the time. "Why don't you go into partnership with Danylo Shankewitch? He always has building contracts. Is it because your have such a lousy business head that you keep hiring yoursel out, freelancer? You, who never settles anything on paper, letting your best friends rob you. Idiot. Biggest fool in the village. And all you do with your free time is pend your mony at that Spaniard's in the korchma, kicking up your patched heels at those parties. While you play your fiddle, the children and I stay home and starve."
Michel watched his hammer gild the nailhead with each blow. He drove it home with his characteristic three-tap finality, set th tool down and rolled a cigarette. There seemed to be no way out of this. "Work, sleep, eat, shit. There's got to be something better. If not for me, then for my son and daughter." Just at that moment, someone called Michael from below. He lifted himself up on the joist, balanced along the beam like a tightroper and made for the edge of the rigged ceiling. Down below, one-eyed Fedko, the grizzled old letter carrier was shouting and gesticulating.
"What is it," Michael shouted down on him.
"I've just been down to the telegraph office on my rounds," said Fedko, wiping his red face with a linen rag.
"Good for you. What's so interesting over there?"
"Don't be so self-satisfied. Wait till you hear this: The Germans are coming. They've overrun the Polish border and are advancing east at twenty miles a day. Nothing can stop them.
"Jesus Christ. Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. You'll be able to read it in the paper for yourself."
Michael whistled. For as long as he remembered, there had always been Poles in this mountainous part of the Ukraine. It was a fact of life. The hated Poles. who had taxed, cajoled and beaten the Galician provincials. Young Galicians disembowelled in the bushes after a dance.
Now the Germans,the efficient, no-nonsense Germans whose engineering works and machines Michael had often admired, now they were coming.
"Thank you, Fendko, thank you very much!" he shouted to the postman. "At last," he said to himself.
Now, cap tilted back, whistling, Michael attacked his work with a new vigour. "Now we'll see what will happen to our shitty-assed Pans," he said to no one while his hammer thunped into the pine.
War, schange, stark, evil and ominous; but it mean change. Above all, change.
...............end Chapter Four THE BLACK ICON