Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Clown (nearly) dies in circus act

News item:


DUBLIN--A clown was crushed to death during a cirus stunt that went wrong when a hot air balloon caught fire, police and witnesses said Tuesday.

The accident at the Touring Russian Circus happened Mnday night in Cariff, county Clare, a village in western Ireland, in front of about 100 people, most of them children. Police identified the dead performer as a 26-year-old man from Belarus, but didn't release his name.

Witnesses said the man, dressed in a clown oufit, was hanging from a cage that was being suspended from a hotair balloon inside a canvas tent. When the baloon exploded in flames, the cage crashed to the ground on top of the man. They said circus workers struggled to life the cage off the man, but he was pronunced dead at nearby Ennis General hospital.

The man's wife, who was also performing at the time, suffered a broken arm, police said.


I've always had trouble with balloons as symbols.

When in love, the balloon is a beautiful symbol of the moon being a balloon, of things going swimmingly, of you being David Niven in evening wear and she in a silk taffeta gown, the two of you in a brisk foxtrot.

Kinda gay, what?

Don't worry, it gets dark.

At least darker.

Little did you know that you were dancing with a witch. You had no way to prepare for this. All your science, all your degrees. She got you by your your female side that you could never see, could never see in a lifetime if you hadn't met this woman who had just written and published a Texas novel, My Sister Gone, all about torturing and murdering her rival, her sister. Can a writer's worst enemy be another writer? But no. She seemed a friend.
In between drinks she is is telling you that you had been a clown all your life, a professional clown of course, but a clown all the same.
And even at this, you have already lost your touch.

So she slips you a book, The Clown, by Heinrich Boll, and you see, finally, that you are a clown who is fast losing his skill and it is only the booze, the alcohol and the drugs that are greasing your optimism. That and the blonde Texas girl with the Betty Grable bangs.

She has shown you a part of yourself, the clown part, old guy who'd lost his turns, has been losing them for years in fact, and only the alcohol and cigarettes were in there greasing your optimism.

You listen to her. After all, she'd just been published by Alfred A. Knopf. Borzoi Books don't come a dime a dozen.
The lady has class.

At least she had some till we reach my aparment,
at the front of which is a fountain with faun in it.

She leaps into the fountain, hikes up her bouffant gown, drops her pants and has herself a pee.

Ah, Fata Morgana. Morgan Le Fey. Witchie-Poo. Strange Cindarella.

In the apartment, she is not yet danced -out. All she wants to do is dance.
Dancing on the coffee table. Dancing on the end tables. Dancing on floorspace that I hadn't littered with my manuscript pages.
We get to the moment of truth and out of her purse she produces a vibrator, and I'm wondering what the hell I am there for. To be a courier for Radio Shack batteries?

The turn excites me.

She might need a soother through all that action.

Saucy fellow.

Somehow, we got each other off. I was damned if I was going to put on her gown, her idea, but largely for a laugh.
"You like my gown so much? Why don't you wear it?"

Ah, the Night Full of Rain Syndrome. Liberated woman with antique Alpha male.

There is a strange song running through my mind, something from the time I had been in the service:

Her father was a brewer
But she was a ...ing hooer.

No wonder she wrote My Sister Gone. Look what she was doing to me.

In the morning, she was gone.
I groped around for her...just the empty side. She had left a drawing on the Parson's table. A big red balloon.
And me on the shoosh end, hanging on for dear life.


I went on with my lonely little life.

The professor with the Blue Angel now so sadly vanished.

Jalbert in the clown outfit. Le Balon Rouge, chasing my balloon. Chasing her.

Crowing like a cock in between my juggling act. Cuck-a-ruck-a-koo.

It was only a matte of time until I was fired.

I applied for a number of jobs, some with a circus. I even offered to be shot out of a cannon.

"We might be able to use a man of you calibre," the manager laughs. I could tell it was his favourite joke.

How does it come upon a man, so steeped in his philosophy, his physics, his science--that he has no idea at all of
the Bob Dylan line: "Don't put on any more airs when you're down in Rue Morgue Avenue
They god som hungre women there
and the'll really make a mess out of you."

Well, one Isis leads to another, and this one a bit kinder.

"She was going to kill you. But you somehow broke the spell, you little warlock you. And you escaped.
"Now I'll lie down with you, but I won't f*ck you."

Ah, easy conquests says old Herodotus.

Stay with the easy conquests.

Otherwise you'll be all on fire for the one you can't get, your whole being honed to get her, to get the unattainable.

I found an easier conquest, or, I suppose, let myself be conquered.

The obsession with The One was almost gone.

But the following morning, I peered out the window and say the most beautiful balloon, red-and-white striped, like peppermint or an oldfashioned barber's pole.

Fell into the goddamn rosebushes.

I used to know some wild guys who had been studying for the priesthood, something I was halfway now seriously considering. "Crown or no crown. Get the f*ck out of my rosebush!"

It is twenty years later. I had long ago given up my gig as a circus clown.

I had sensed for years that my Morgan Fey was probably in the clutches of the Mafia, like Richard Brautigan, who, some say, offed himself. Or was offed.

My hormones were acting up again.

Had to find Morgan Fey.

I had kept following her. Tracked her down. She was living with a Don. Beware of Italians bearing gifts.

I caught her witht he don and took a swing at him. Strangely, Don Corleone dropped like a stone.

The next night the phone call. "You'got a problem, Ivan. If you don'lt fix the problem, I will." Musta been high on something. A few minutes later, the ring of the phone. "You got a problem, Ivan. If you don't fix the problem, I will."
"I will, Ivan."

One night the don had enough.

Bikers were dispatched.

I woke up in the morning. There was the red ballon again.

This time I jumped into the rosebush, almost as if St. Francis of Assisi, the Dali painting. St. francis with the hairy legs, waving his cross at the naked tempation in the sky.

Behind me, my apartment exploded.

Strange how words can jog memories and associations.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Locomotive god terrorizing citizens

All right, all right.

Nothing to get excited about.

So what if you are out of food, booze, cigarettes and everybody's calling you a p*ick, so what if your wife left you because you couldn't satisfy the bourgeois contract of a hundred thousand dollars a year, so what if your girlfiend has taken off-- you told her you were bending over backwards for her and she tells you she had been bending over forwards for Frank-- ouch that hurts! So what if you've embarked on writing a play, putting yourself totally out of your medium, so what if you are as flatulent as a l6th century theatregoer high on you diet of onions and beans, grossing out the players.

So what?

When the going gets weird, the weird turn amateur?

There is something left of Hunter S. Thompson here. The weird really have to turn pro.

You must write. You must get something published--it matters not where; you have to get your clout back.

You must publish or perish.

The blogs are not doing it anymore.

You need something as surreal as an Old Navy ad, the Balloon Song, replete with lyrics by Fanny Fa-shon.

Proof for sure that the overground is a hell of a lot more talented than the underground, anf if not, they hire Fanny to bring the house down (up?). Fa-shon's gonna getcha!

Old Navy. What a genius promotion department. And the same for Telus, with Wal-Mart not far behind.

A kind of retro Cindy Lauper, but cooler. You can't quite identify the drumbeat. It's something new, always the new on top of Old Mikey and the incredible Jack White and his Stripes.

There has been a change in the zeitgeist and only musicians seem to have noticed.

If I were a musician starting out today, I'd be into Indie rock so fast it would make your harmonium spin.

All of which is reasonlably cool stuff for a blog, but you have to get your feet back on the ground.
Get something published!


And so this old scat-writer sees a story in the paper about noise pollution all over town and is suddenly awakened by a train whistle he swears has come right through a wall and into his poor addled cranium. The catchy Balloon song is all but drowned out by a whistle so loud it makes the cat claw at the screen door.

So, like many another belligerent and fearsome Canadian, he makes a warlike gesture. He writes a letter to the editor.

Here is how it came out in the Era-Banner, just yesterday:


For the past five years, I have been terrorized by the locomotive god of Newmarket.

He is a thundering and implacable god. Once you hear his peals, you retreat to your bedroom.

But here too, the walls are shaking with the god's mighty thunderings.

You retreat to your bathroom and close the door, and even there you have to put your hands to lyour ears, quite to little avail, for the god's mighty bellow goes right into your skull and nearly into your major aperture, so penetrating is the sound.

I don't know what the decibel level is for permanent ear damage, but having been a musician, I know the noise is mightier than the most powerful tweeter and there must be a lot of deaf seniors at 540 Timothy Street alongside which the train is almot in our laps, four times every morning, beginning at six.

The same thing at six p.m.

Usually, it's when you're in the middle of doing dishes; you put soapy fingers to ears, gald, finally when the noise dies down, only to have that damnable claxon rattle your skull just minutes later.
The GO-train's claxon, for some reason, is set so high, you can hear it all the way from Aurora, getting on your nersves as it gets closer and closer to its awful crescendo, right under your balcony.

All right. All right. There have been seniors offed at the intersection of Timothy and the tracks, but that's probably because they had been deafened by the train's horn inthe first place and couldn't hear the thing coming.

---Era-Banner, August 24, 2006

Ah, the straws we clutch at when we haven't been published for a while and trying to write a play.

A play, for chrissake! What do I know about plays?

Enough, I suppose, that if you put your work in a whole number of different mediums, somehing has got to come out.

Well, a little bit just did.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Problems of a literary lion (Lioness?)

Every so often in this fraudulent literary life, we get a break.

Big break.

After years in the exurban wilderness, I was finally hired by a large circulaion magazine to write more or less what ever came into my head--which wan't much, but the publisher liked my clippings from the past and said I had some credentials. I had been hired and pretty well fired by the best newspapers and magazines in the country, so now I would finally get my "reward"and write pretty well what I pleased.
"But keep it edgy," said the publisher. Run us just short of libel, but make those suburbanites choke on their breakfast, wondering who the hell this Ivan guy is and how can we sue him.

Well. My first column was on rock'n'roll, my celebration of the fact that a really crappy musician's union ASCAP, had made sure that the American pupblic would be bored for years wirth really shitty jazz, while it was Sam Phillips over at SUN Records that was revolutionizing the music industry with his Presleys, Carl Perkinses and
Johnny Cashes.
And their union was BMI and not ASCAP, and I felt that nobody would lament the decline of that old Broadway banner.

Well, in came mail from all the music teachers and all the weekend jazz players, and all the supporters of that boring medium which I swear was designed to make us all feel inadequate, the little bits of play between the bassist and the drummer, the harkening back to airy Broadway, the Cole Porter. Bleat, bleat, thunk.
I felt jazz was great when played by black folk, but once the sharp whiteys got in there, the Blues of New Orleans went straight to hell. The Irving Berlin ripoffs from the Gula people of North Carolina had had their day, I felt.
And then came rock, and then came politics, Woodstock, the horror of Altamount and the final tribute to the Rolling Stones.

Well. The notoriety I got soon landed me a job a rock critic. I had to change my name.
Now it was The SUN rocks, with John Pope.
For a while, I really felt that I was not only John Pope,but Pope John.
A year of this relative fame. Then another.

And then nothing.
Like many another ordinarily dull sot who cranked up his optimism and small talent with nicotine, coffee, booze, drugs, I had somehow burned out my brains and liver and white paper syndrome hit me. Hard.

I could no longet write.

Sure there had been the shinplaster colums, cutting my grass, things the wife said, things the neigbour said, secret thoughts of resentment about my wife, family, my dog.

But now I could no longer write.

"Can't get it up any more, eh 'John Pope?'"
The other columnists were starting to rag me.
One was a food columnist, whose standing logo was "Eating out with Neal Campbell."
I got our cartoonist to draw the setting of a wild office party, where Neal Campbell was dining upon a pert young secretary,who was perched on an old fashioned computer monitor, legs astride. "Fix the bastard. Eating out with Neal Campbell indeed."
The cartoon somehow got past the editor and I was fired.

No problem. By this time I'd gotten a reputarion and I was soon a staff writer for The Canadian.
But here, the same problem.

I was seriously blocked.

I had arrived at university a couple of credits short, substituting Russian for French to get that credit, and Physics for math, in which I was weak. A statistical thing, yes, but I really did not have French and I did not have math.
I had sneaked in on Air Force education paper. Thanks god for the vanishing traces of the GI bill.
So where I could write, I could not really add, but lord, how I could plagiarize, especilly old music reviews. I had given myself my own Rolling Stone education by reading every last word in Rolling Stone and Downbeat and then remembering and condensing what I had read. Being a weekend guitarist did not hurt either.

Well, blocked or not, I was still moving in some pretty fast company. A contributor to Billboard, vintage stars
Lyle Talbot and Yvonne de Carlo as dinner guests. Hanging out with Bruno Gerussi, of Beachcombers.
How brash one was in thos days. "Any one ever call you a Wop,Bruno? I have some ethnic issues."

"You cut through that stuff," said Bruno, though I'd seen him wincing at the question.
Hanging out with Peggy Lee, Gino Empry, grand Toronto impresario, Honest Ed Mirvish, who initiated world-class theatre in Toronto, my reviews all over the outside walls of the Royal Alexandra and the "Poor Alec" too.

And yet I was still a blocked writer.

I began to feel like an Italian in the early Sixties and the economic slump there. "No future, but what a past."

Pride, of course, comes before a a fall.
I had to make a grand comeback. I would write a novel and bring the house down.
I quit the Canadian.
"Take a leave of absence," said the kindly editor.
No, I was going to be a artist, a novelist.
"Pick up the mop, 'artist", I know you, really know you. They don't."

Ah out of work and doing the mop thing.

Bu there was hope. Mommy-in-law was getting feeble and she needed a "sitter" while living in Florida.

Does a cat have a tail?

I would be an excellent sitter and Ladies' Home Companion.

Wifey, kids and I off to Florida.

Magnificent failure.
Blocked writer gets a salary living at Lauderdale-by-the-sea. Dinners of clams and lobsters, graceful trencherman,
sniffer of Grand Marnier.

Not bad for a Polack who used to relax with a Colbassier out of a brown bag.

Three years of this, and wifey wonders whether I had turned it over in my drunken little mind that I should get a job, a real job. "You've got the paperwork. You could be a teacher."

But here too the problems.

At the community college level, you have professors who often have no paperwork at all, just work experience.
Many are thugs; some even have records. These thugs were teaching our kids. In the fierce competition for headships, I began to fear for my sanity, if not for my life. Some of the teacher were people with criminal mentalities, if not backgrounds. Bunchafuckinassholes, I decided.

Off to write the Great Novel again.

"You do it without me," says wifey.

Ah, the old pride-before-a-fall thing.

I would do the masculine thing, would work in isolation for years, write the book and bring the house down.

Well I didn't quite.
I had learned something of life, the divorce, the splitting of the house,the loss of all my assets, the new therapist for my pitching brain--who the hell wanted to know that?
I wrote it all down in a book and the book sort of sold.

And now one is Rumpelstilstkin, a kicked-out Rumpelstiltskin for whom the woman is no longer spinning gold.

Who won this one?

For the life of me, I don't know.

For the only writing I do these days is here.

And that is not quite being John Pope, John Pope the Pro.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

You want me to recommend you for the Pulitzer?

Snoopy atop his doghouse dreaming.

It is quiet in the barracks.

The Red Baron has zoomed away, the Lafayette Escadrille in hot pprsuit, hoping to catch wily old von Richthoffen before he lands, nearly out of gas.

I am out of gas.

But I can be Snoopy, or, more properly, Walter Mitty, dreaming of glory, dreaming of being a fighter ace, helmetted and gogled, shot down by the Red Baron, falling into the rye on a late September afternoon, German farmers after me with pitforks, foreign devil fallen from the skies. "Hail to the Kaiser", I am practicing for fear of being forked.

"Nobody tells the Kaiser to f*ck- off. Never.
"I mean look what happened when Churchill told him to f*ck off.
"Total war.

"The Kaiser is a cool dude. I am ethnically German. My grandfather was a German.
"I have always been a German."

Very probably the way I would have acted. Most of us are so brave, so noble in our own heads, but when it comes to the moment of truth, we do what most people do in such situations.

We are no great shakes.

I am no great shakes.

For the past thirty years (after a decade of a suburban joy I wished I'd never left),
I have been clocking my own psychotic sprint for glory, for the Pulitzer Prize, for the Nobel.

We were talking of the Nobel way back in college, my friend so vain he had already drafted, like his hero Jean-Paul Sartre, a rejection speech for his Nobel, saying that the whole thing was a put-up job to promote Polacks (me?) and totally ignoring of late to nominate North American
writers. "I respectfully reject this prize on grounds that it is politically correct and probably full of AIDS activists, those overpaid blowhards who do nothing for the poor kids."

Now that's ego.

Yet forty years later, my friend Walter and I are still after the same blamed thing.

A Pulitzer would be nice.

Ah, but there you have to produce a work scrupulously researched, rich in politics, human content, drama. You'd have to be at least a Bob Woodward.( A page of Mr. Woodward's copy produces a scrupulocity worthy of a Meister Eckhard, medieval logician, indomitable debater.
A page of my own copy resembles a Franciscan monk high on Crack).

Yet I have bamboozled the best, certainly Alan Walker, of the Canadian Magazine, friend of Margaret Atwood--why the hell didn't I know that then, when I was a staff writer for the Canadian!--Peggy and I would have had some nice chats. She could have gotten me nominated.
The thing with Alan Walker though, he had a brain that would f*ck up a computer, encyclopaedic knowledge of damn near everything, and I only fooled him once on a story.

Ah well. Still dreaming.

I am with the Emir of Qatar, hoping for a writer's grant.

I am with Madame Azuela, in Argentina, hoping to get the key to Borges, with whom she'd hung out.

I am atop the doghouse hoping to catch sight of The Red Baron.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Farting and Tap-dancing

A story is told, in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, of a little alien who communicated great danger by farting and tap-dancing.

He lands on a golf course frequented by redneck businessmen and is soon dispatched with a nine-iron.

Ah, how many of us are farting and tap-dancing these days.

So many budding authors waiting for The Call, the telephone message, the fax, the e-mail.

I fear I am one of them. Three million words in print and one novel jammed into the nervous system of a company that seems more into political correctness than literature...I have a sneaking notion that all fiction is politics in Canada. Poltics to get the grant, politics about being angry only about government-approved things, i.e., AIDS, the shoddy way we treat women, novels of reverse utopias set in the future usually better done by William Burgess or even John Updike. We have no imagination, it seems, but these are our novels, our Canadian novels, we with the garrison mentality (Damn Frenchies will come any day now to get their country back).

And yet, even when you produce government-approved second-rate work, there is some skill required, some bragging rights once the book is out, air time, you might get on CBC and CPAC and bore the hell out of everybody.

I have been waiting for a year now.

Friendly notes. One is advised to be patient. And all the while the AIDS and ANTI-SMOKING crowd is coming out with all sorts of titles. And they are from the publishing house you'd sent your novel to.... Those evil pharmaceutical companies, those demon tobacco giants. Everybody is making a fine living, and probably sneaking a smoke or a hooker, female or male, during the lavish food fests.

And we marginal writers still harbor the naive notion that if you speak from the heart, you will be heard.

The heart is left to the Health Care crowd and Howard Healthcare is fast beconing its prime novelist.

The rest of us dangle.

Dangling man.

Dangling woman.

How fingernail-on-the-blackboard a feeling. Either/or. Fame or nothin'. Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.

Well, myself being so old that I distinctly remember the fall of Rome, I've had it happen before.

A disastrous attempt at local politics had left me fired from two prime writing jobs (There are Masters and they don't like what you're saying) and working in a wood shop, my apartment consisting of a berth under the saw machine...The sawdust kept one warm....yeah, yeah, I know...mawkish, Dickensian.

The call came to my boss in his glass-ronted perch above the machines.

"Come on up, Ivan. I want to talk to you."

Uh-oh. Fired again.

But no. This was Hollywood.

This was The Call.

"It's Moira Dann. Globe and Mail. She likes your first-person essay.

The contract came in through the fax (so lucky the boss had a fax) and uh, the cheque was in the mail.

Sweet Jesus Christ. Six hundred thousand readers.

I had to do even better than this. I had to write another novel.

I now had a real friend in a real publishing world.

Sent Moira the part-novel. Nothing.

Nothing again three months later.

I checked out a proper publishing house and sent them the outline.


Hemingway: Y nada Y nada Y pues nada.

This is bullshit, I decide and immediately invest in a computer and run the damn thing off myself.

Luck. Another website picks it up and the book was, sort-of, published.

In the middle of all this, I set up a Creative Writing programme all by myself, actually putting up a shingle. "Put a Doctor in front of your name, one girlfriend advised.

It worked.

Soon I was making money, albeit on the backs of my poor students, largely seniors with time and money on their hands.

So many had so many good novels, but they would, some of them die before actual publication.

This tended to scare the hell out of me. A completed novel by 74, you are about to submit and you die.

"I am a failure, one old gent is lamenting on his deathbed.

I am an ogre, I say to myself, assuring the poor old writer that he had in fact reached me. He had reached another person. Yes you did, Mr. Maxwell. You can die with some comfort.

The dying and crying soon got to me.

I may well end up like poor old Bill Maxwell and die unpublished, or, at least, not published widely.

So I invested in this old computer, hoping Google at least would pick me up.

Google scoops up everything.

My poor novels are up and listed.

But I fear I'm still farting and tap-dancing.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Coming Up For Air

Aaron Braaten my friend and sometimes e-publisher of my not-so-great sprawling novels has just received a Master's degree on bloggers and their ways. I do believe he has established a trend. "You're gonna love this," he told his examiners.

They did.

He got his MA in Economics, especially in the socio-economic makeup of bloggers.

Aaron surveyed as many bloggers as he could, including this post-luddite hopeful.

I think Aaron has started a trend.

But the Toronto Star in an independent survery, seems to think it's a down trend.

"Internet breeding loners?" a Star headline asks.

"Canadians who spend more time online are more likely to neglect family and real-life friends", says a Statistics Canada survey.

Not so, says Jeffrey Boase, a PhD candidate at Toronto U, who will shorty defend his own thesis on e-mail and social networks.

He says the Internet has saved him from social isolation.

"I spend a lot of time working in solitude, and the Internet is one way to be more social. I spend an average of ten hours a day onling. If anything, it's helped me to stay more connected."


I myself thought that once you're in the trap of Boolean algebra, the matrix of all our surfing and blogging, you'd just get more machine oriented, more of an obsessed and addicted blogger and surfer.

Suck it up, or almost--says Barry Wellman a professor of sociology at Toronto, acknowledging that online social networks do occasionally diplace family interaction but such a trend is to be expected with society's increasing reliance on technology.

The nature and extent of my addiction to blogging was driven home to me this weekend when a visitor came and took me places, like the local Farmer's Market, a flamenco concert and a swell Greek restaurant.

Where'd I'd been? On the moon?

It was like coming up for air.

I seemed twenty years younger, I had brought some flamenco into my life and a vegetable wagon pulled by horses made me, through a kind of synchronicity, realize that I had turned into some sort of loner vegetable myself, only my reading of other people's blogs and emails bouoying up my optimism.

And yet my benefactor had insight.

"Look what you have built up. It doesn't seem like much,but through your blog and other people's blogs, you have created a kind of interactive novel."

So we are all building the great interactive novel? A Time Magazine of cyberspace?

Seems like even mass volume political blogs like Chuckercanuck out this way, are also developing a literary flair, and who knows, out here in Canada anyway we seem to be producing some sort of literature.

And literature has long been the loneliest of professions.

I will never forget my unofficial "greeters" at the Toronto Star, where I'd first started as a cub reporter.

They had a good look at me and declared, "Talent hides in the strangest places."


"You are going to be one lonely son-of-a-bitch. "

Well, yes. One is, uh, odd.

And until friends come to call, one lonely son-of-a-bitch.

But the Internet is slowly taking over my life.

It hypercharges my brain. My brain seems to double and ten itself as it works in tandem with all that information.

I seem to write better and faster (at least that's the illusion you get after abandoning the old Smith-Corona).

I also have the pathetic delusion of being a great stick man from all the porn I watch.

Looms weaving by themselves. Lovers coming and going in your own head.

It took some "field reseach" to arrive at a conclusion about all this.

In Graffito veritas?

Most answers to perplexing problems seem to come from low humour:

A troubled man had scrawled on a washroom stall: "My mother made me a homosexual."

A less troubled man scrawled just underneath: "If I get her the wool, will she make me one too?"

Who is this Deus ex Machina?

And what is he/she doing to my brains and balls?

Like some sort of sciencefiction cyborg, I am now embedded in the machine and, echoing the machine-like utterances of of Daft Punk:

"I now know my purpose."

Which is?

Monday, August 07, 2006

"Famous Writers" and other optimists.

I never took the "Famous Writers" course offered to optimists a few decades ago, but there is something in their assertion that all you have to do is let one word follow another, keep it up, and you'll soon be a famous writer.

I do know a successful cartoonist who took the Famous Artists' course that was co-offered, but he too said there was something lacking in the course, that lack probably a person with more desire than actual talent.

Letting one word follow another.

Well, hell, that's how I started without taking the course.

I've said it before, but even a paranoid, if he writes enough, will eventually come out with something sensible, certainly resembling some sort of expository writing. The ninety-nine monkeys on ninety-nine typewriters thing.

"To be or not to be, that is the glatz...(whoops, typo!)

Jesu Cristo, how crappy our writing is when we first begin.

We men start with the great "God Is My CoPilot" type of novel, the iconic fighter pilot, face, helmet earphones reflected in the instruments of our P-40's, John Belushis, all of us, in "Pearl Harbour", or maybe fuzzy Snoopy puppies, keepers of the flame, flaming out with Red Baron strafe tracks all over out doghouses. Sad nights in the barracks. Love later. "When Dashing Pierre of the Lafayette Escadrille goes down, he goes down in Flames!"

So we send our chapters to our smart friends and the smart friends have a look and say "I wouldn't sent this to anyone just yet" and we persist and come out with something like a first novella, and it's about some harm done to some damsel a long time ago, and you realize that it was all autobiographical and somewhat nasty, since you yourself were involved and your conduct was hardly heroic.

Scratch one first novel.

"You've got to begin at the beginning," says the smart friend.

So you beging with "I was born..."
Then it seems to work better.

But you still haven't learned how to write, Famous Writers Course or no.
One word does follow another, but to the experienced editor, whether it's you by now or somebody else, it is just drivel, the kind of drivel this writer here was accused of when he interviewed a maker of gargoyles (maker of gargoyles??!) for a big magazine and totally f*cked up the story.

"Meet Victor Tinkl, famous gargoyle maker
"When it rains the medieval gargoyles surrounding his studio, as if around a cathedral, pee and ejaculate like crazy, some with wings outstreched, others just appearing to masturbate quietly, with griffon wings folded."

Mr. Tinkl, a successful drawing and sculpture master at the Ontario College of Art, took immediate umbrage and accused me of "irresponsible journalism: and calling my work "drivel."

That's what happens when you write for a magazine that is into sensationalism and you're just the nut case, with your "let one word follow another" style to go along with it all. ("I want peope to choke on their breakfast when they read you...Run just short of libel," said the sensationalist publisher, who sort of wanted a National Enquirer here in the boonies outside Toronto).

Well, he hired the right man. There was very nearly a libel suit.

A more proper way to have gone would have been a serious story on Mr. Tinkl as a scumptor with a baroque flair who sculpts for the love of sculpting and though he has a salary from the college, nevertheless spends tens of thousands of dollars doing what he really loves.

Like maybe we writers?

Letting one word follow aother.

Nah. You gotta have some structure, some planning, some judgment.

And yet and yet, to the beginning novelist, I really would suggest letting one word follow another. How else are you going to splatter 300 pages with words? You gotta have that word count. Writers, successful or not, gotta count words. Three hundred pages, and you have 40,000 words, you have a novel.

Whoops. Power failure in this heat. Computer going wonky.

More on this later.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Fritzing it in the parking lot

This blog is really about me being able to position illustrations properly. The copy is almost incidental.


Fritz the Cat sleeping in the parking lot.
Fritz the Cat, thrown out by his wife, propositioned in the parking lot by some lonesome woman.
All of a sudden not homeless, and getting it on.
Afterwards, we go dumpster-diving and she falls right in. "It's not funny. Get me outta here."

Fritz the Cat sleeping it off in the parking lot.
Knock on the window.
It is the chief of police.
Whatcha doin'? Just wanted to see if you're all right.
Good thing it's a small town.

Fritz the Cat hitchhiking to Toronto (car won't go; it is only used for sleeping)
Fritz the Cat picked up by off-duty Metro cop.
Hit all the bars with Metro cop.
Back to ":home" in the parking lot...Barbie set up just back of the trunk. I fry something, hoping the cops won't come. But the cops are right here. Man, this is real camping.
Cop and I have a drink out of the trunk.
How the hell are we going to have a leak, out here, with all the cars, all the people?
"Here, I'll show you says the cop....Trouble with you is you don't get out enough."
Cop kneels down, hauls her out, pees righ under the rocker panel of my broken-wown old Dodge.
I follow suit.
Looks like two guys, in turn checking something under the car.
"You don't get out enough."

Fritz the Cat now all alone.
Swiss Chalet guy brings some chicken. "Ding-Hao," I say in Cantonese.


The parking lot seagulls are alighting, screaming their heads off. They are after my chicken scraps.
Tomorrow, it'll be scouring in between the white and yellow lines, looking for cigarettes.

Somebody else taps at my window.
It is another hobo.
Turf war. He won't leave. Wants my "Home". I get on the cell phone that doesn't work. He sees me and leaves.

Another bum greets me in the morning. He wants to know my secret. How come you a rich bum, have car and never be out of cigarettes? I want to know your secret. I want to follow you around.

I go out into the parking lot and he follows me, as if out of a Charlie Chaplin movie, out of some antique caroon, where if I walk with a limp, he copies, also walks with a limp and the occasional hop.
I tread on a cigarett package, walk on. He also treads on the cigarette package and walks on.
"I read your book," he says.
How come a bum has read my book?
"I spend a lot of time in the library. What is your secret?"
"Glad you read my book, but you're starting to get on my nerves. Stop following me."

Quiet again in the parking lot.
A gorgeous woman taps on my side window. "Here is five dollars for gas. Keep you warm. It's a cold night.
"Why thank you. What's your name?
And with that she was off in her pert blue Audi.

Ah, the gutter and other good places.
But the timing must be right.
Wrong time, wrong place and you are dead.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


It was fun being a genius till the job died.

People would say, "There goes Ivan the genius."

I was of course, in a very small community where anybody who successfully completed Grade Eight was considered at least gifted, so it was no big deal.

The mayor, a Grade Ten dropout, stood up in council one day to declare me a town treasure. I had had a successful newspaper column for two years, in which I not only extolled my home town, I had also published my Black Icon novel in serial form and dedicated the whole thing to to the town of Newmarket. :(Bear in mind that this was a long time ago. Nowadays the suburbs are full of Islamic MD's and other optimists).

But it was fun to be a "genius", king of the Main Street assholes and probably the only guy not on welfare.

At least in the places I hung out.

Most alcoholics prefer to drink in places you could hold court, be the most upwardly mobile guy in the room, which wan't hard to do. Most of the men around me were already fried at 33, the drugs, the alcohol, already pocking their faces. Being well fed, middleclass and reasonably smart about my drinking, I still looked the picture of success well into my late thirties. You are what you eat, and filet agreed with me. And yet I drank, Lord how I drank! A tippler really, shrewdly keeping my nuttiness to myself.

But then I'd get lonesome and hit the working guy's pub.
And it was here that I'd be dubbed the town genius, somebody who not only successfully completed Grade Ten, but had actually, through a series of lucky accidents, including a stint in the Air Force, managed to get to university, after which I would try to explain the ABC's of the atomic bomb to anybody who would listen. "Hey man, what's an isotope?" "Just see it as a big cattle prod and the cow mooing for its life could be called the bomb going off." "Oh
"I know this guy out in Pefferlaw who actually made it with a cow."

To each his own.

Of course, the pub was also full of other idiot-savans besides myself. One could actually explain the Pythagorean Theory to me, and he confounded me on a way of squaring the circle using nothing but two planks.. I had to tip my hat to people from the garages and the building trades who could do astounding calculations fairly routinely. A mechanic sometimes knew a whole lot more than an MIT engineer.

But my ability was torturing words, torturing words to the point where they actually made sense. "Even a paranoid, if he talks long enough, will make sense," the profs used to tell me. I was a paranoid and I wrote a whole hell of a lot.

Just cut out the bullshit around the edges and you've got yourself a column. Paid for what you think, or appear to think. Nobody knows that out of an 800 word essay, I'd have to thrown out a like number of false starts.
It was the words, the beautiful words. When people read them, something twigged in them. I was talking about them. "Yes, that is the way I feel every day," one woman declared. "You have somehow cottoned onto the way women think." Ah, that's where I knew I had them. F*cking poet wins every time, even though only half-blind.

I used to make noises about Homer.

"You the homo genius?" the cook was asking.

Oh if I'd only been a homo.

Life would have been so much simpler.

I was starting to have groupies, some of whom I'd drink with.

Some guy from Yugoslavia comes to our table.

"Ah, Ivan. Bratchik. Life is hard, no?"

Life is hard, yes, " I agreed, going into the gloomy Slav mode.

He took a drink of his plum brandy and then blurted out:
"How much you vant for voman? Come on, I give you fifty dollars."
I tried to explain that this was a student of mine and I was only reading her short story.
Story schtory, schort schmory. You are not a bratchik," complained Hugo the Yugo.

I did explain that we had to go to a poetry reading.

Poor Hugo.

Life is hard.

We quoted poetry and loved each other until the wee hours, right up until the time Hubby had to leave for work.
We waved goodbye from the picture window.

Great fun until it happened to me and I was the Dagwood Bumstead.

What goes around...

There were some female students who weren't exactly thrilled by my dating married women out of the night class that I had.

Off to the Dean.

I found myself not teaching the next semester.

Oh how much fun it was to have been a genius.

Unfortunately, not a homo genius.Randy prof, in fact
I thought I would recoup my fortunes by running for mayor.

Incumbent said I had an unfair advantage because I had completed Grade Ten and I had a newspaper column.Conflict of interest.

Lost the column
Lost the election.

Lost chainmail pants.

Lost the friggin' money.

Ah how nice it was to have been called Doctor at the college.

Nowadays, at the pub, somebody would say "asshole" and I would do a double-take.

Still got the paranoia.

But where in f*ck did the talent go?