Saturday, March 31, 2007

Willie Nelson, my karma mechanic

The dream had to be put aside. Family starving. You'd taken the job as copyeditor and headline writer, poet of typography, zippy headlines produced in a seconds, somebody else's copy polished to a tight sheen, every word counting, as if there were a paper shortage.

At least that was more or less the job description. Desk man, or sub-editor as they say in the U.K.

Last person to see the copy before the mighty presses rolled. You processed the copy and wrote the headline; writers did not write their own headlines. There was the matter of advertising already dummied in. There was column width and depth. There were instances where you only had only one column in which to write your head, so you'd
use three or even four lines in that narrow space. Farm boys did not like a movie about their town, so in those days you wrote, aping some oher adept in the past:


Oh you had to be good. No fuzzy-eared Wordworths here. Speed and accuracy was the shiibboleth.

Except that I was neither speedy nor accurate. And I had a big mouth and an ego the size of Newfoundland.


Me? The published poet, short-story prizewinner, former Toronto Star man?


The music playing in my head, out of Charlie Brown: "Who me?"

"Yes, you! "

He's a clown, that Charlie Brown.



Wife is pregnant again.
Buck up, fuckup!

I had initially quit my job at The Canadian Star Weekly so I could finally write that great novel. Ran out of money;
ran back to what was by now called The Canadian magazine. "Think I'll pass," said top editor Gerald Anglin.

Sure as hell can't go home again.

Over to the Toronto Telegram. They needed headline writers. I had a rep. I was soon in.
But you have to work nights to put the paper out in the morning. Two a.m. And three a.m. and four. Always working in the wee hours. And you had to be brilliant on demand, sleepy or no. These were the days before
serious barbiturates. Mind spinning in the morning. Impossible to sleep. I drank.

Walking into work at three a.m., still half drunk. Actress June Havoc having an up-and down career. Head editor, or "slot man" wants an eight column headline, 36 points high to explain the story. You set HB pencil to paper,

"Havoc an apt name for showbiz game."

"Good," says the slot man. "But can you keep it up?"

I couldn't.


You go back to the university. "Yes, yes, we can find a job for a recent graduate. But a mature man?
Things were so bad that at thirty, I was seriously thinking of going back to my faculty advisor.

Catch Thirty . Here you were in your twenties, brilliant, you thought, bulletproof. Instant publishing for anything you wrote.

Catch thirty. You'd already burned yourself out.
It was now that you had to pay for all those superiorities, the newspapers and magazines with so much of you in it, the yearbook, the student newspaper, the literary magazine.

Catch thirty. Like the -30- journalistic ending for a written piece.

"You've dug your last hole, Mole!". At least that's what had happened to a plug-ugly character in MAD magazine.

Now the novel, the project with the terrible price, has drawn you back, back to the cashing in of beer bottles, Mac' milk jugs, painting furniture for your mother-in-law.

Hugo the Yugo, who owns the apartment complex, wants his money.


Then sudden, unexpected relief.
The mother-in-law wants to go to Florida. She is a little ill. Very like a baby. She has no babysitter for her Florida vacation.

Does a cat have a tail?
I would be her constant companion, confidante, bottle-washer, bum-boy. My wife too, offered her services.And wouldn't my little boy like a Florida vacation?

Leonardo Arms, the famous condo in Fort Myers.

Gulf wind wafting through the white stucco penthouse.
Going shelling in the morning, shopping for momma-in-law at Winn-Dixie. Dolphins jumping up and down as you drive over the bridge to the Winn-Dixie.

What a marvellous way to screw up! Did actually I know what I was doing when I let my life just float away?
Wife and chubby-chucks doing fine. Momma has big bucks. We suddenly had big bucks and a new station wagon to drive (Mother-in-law had to get around). Hey, this was just like downtown! But better.

Sharp stinging sense of inferiority all the same. I had been fired. I took it personally.

Had to make amends. Put pen to paper, did some golf course story and what do you know? Published in the Reader's Digest.

I had killed the incubus, but did not yet give it a name, so it really stayed down there, tamped-down but ugly and accusing all the same. Deep down, you are a fuck-up. You are a turd.

Well, here we were, living the life of millionaires on Mommy's money.
And yet, deep down, I was a turd. I knew it, mother-in-law knew it; only my poor wife didn't know it.

Losing at scrabble (some editor!); Losing at board games. A duffer at bridge. Piss- poor swimmer at the dive club.

On the outside, we were on top of the world.
But I was a turd.

Late at night the twelve-pack to feel like a kid again, the twenty cigarettes. "You're turning alcoholic baby," says wife.
I know. That's because I'm a turd.

Can not snap out of the lassitude. The worm gnaws away. I needed a karma mechanic. I prayed for a karma mechanic. Head of the household going mad. What shall we tell the children?

My mother, though highly intelligent, as are most crazy people, had once been institutionalized.

Like mother like son?

Catch Thirty. You who have enjoyed life and sampled some of its pleasure, will die. And not only will you die, but you'll die crazy. What will we tell the children?

Well, at least I had bred out --totally out of my gene pool, diving into a nother ethnic group's gene pool. I married someone as far from my backround as possible..

My mother, once she recovered, said, "Your son is lucky. He is a troika. Three ethnic groups in one. He will do well." He did.

But the search for the karma mechanic.
The more I drank, the more I seemed to disappear up my own aperture.
And then finally, the karma mechanic.
Would you believe it?

Willie Nelson.

There was that long-suffering, almost angelic face on the TV screen. "There were seven Spanish angels in the altar of the Sun/ They were praying for two lovers, in the valley of the gun." Well, I had certainly considered going out and buying a gun.

But the life story, Willie Nelson's life story. The sleeping in laundromats, the whiskey bottles piled up, history of family anxieties, divorce, orphanhood. And there he was, bright and angelic on TV, singing his life song.
On the Road Again.

The snap had somehow been achieved. Suddenly I was free. And sane. And on the road again.

Back in the station wagon, back up 75 towards Detroit and Toronto.

I was going to take on those goddamn towers, write my book and bring the house down.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Tangled Web Department

Tangled Webs Deparment.

They told me at Ryerson U that I was "all ability and no judgment."

Ordinarily, a university will not graduate anybody who might later embarrass the school.

They somehow let one through.

So my judgment was really off on the blog that I have just deleted.

I stole a picture from one JR, over which there may have been some flak.

I "outed" a fellow blogger. Almost scotched a project we'd both been working on.

Still, de debbil is on my shoulder.

JR looks so much like me, though younger, that it's uncanny.

So I will put JR's picture up again...Even his back porch looks a lot like mine, though mine is more recently painted. Heh.

So I will offer up this blog of apology, with just one finger crossed.

Will also try to retrieve the comments to the now deleted previous post.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Okay, Josie--You win. My photos. By not- very- popular- demand

I got to university rather late, after a five-year stint with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
I flew for a while, but I fear few were impressed with my airmanship, especially when I nearly tore the wings off the plane after zooming toward the hangar after my first solo.
They soaked me in water, traditional first solo dunking, but my flight instructor was not totally thrilled. I ended up in ground crew, radar...Came in real handy once I graduated to blogger!
The supercilious horse's ass on the right is me graduating from Ryerson University...I had to take four courses at other universities to get that BA. I guess I'm forever a late bloomer. Accreditation committee insisted on me doing catch-up work at U of T...Was it my low SAT scores?
Seems I couldn't tell calculus from cabbage rolls.
Ah well, they gave me the "Polish" mark anyway. Enough to graduate.
Not sure if this is a blog. I am relaxing with a Cobassier and my first royalty cheque from the Aurora Public Library. Hic nobis!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shamelessly stolen from the Canadian Press

He welcomed Canadian viewers to "The Colbert Report" - pronounced "ra-PORE" - when it launched on The Comedy Network in November '05 by telling them: "I am Stephen Colbert. I have balls. If you're lucky, they might just rub off on you."

When the Conservatives booted the Liberals out of power in last year's federal election, Colbert was quick to take credit, crowing: "I fixed Canada in 77 days!"

Now Canada, it appears, is ready to thank Colbert for his repair work by holding a "Stephen Colbert Day" celebration, featuring none other than Don Cherry himself, the type of no-nonsense straight-shooter who would be well and truly adored by Colbert's faux right-wing pundit.

A night of festivities, including a Colbert lookalike contest, is being held Tuesday in Oshawa, an industrial city east of Toronto better-known for its GM plant than its tendency to whoop it up.
"The only cool thing that has ever happened to Oshawa," commented one blogger on her blog It's Gonna Be a Blue Moon Rising.

Shannon McFadyen, a spokeswoman for the city of Oshawa, said Sunday that Colbert himself is not appearing at the event, but added "The Colbert Report" may send a field producer for a future segment on the show.

Nonetheless, more than 1,500 people are expected to turn out at the General Motors Centre, a gleaming new venue in downtown Oshawa that opened in November and seats 6,000, McFadyen said.
"We're getting a really interesting mix of people who are coming," McFadyen said. "There are hockey fans, Don Cherry fans and then sort of younger university students who are really into the Colbert show. We have a group of kids coming up from New York University, for example, and some interest from Newfoundland. It's a real blend of people because the themes are hockey and comedy."

It all started when about two million Colbert fans inundated an online contest to name the mascot of the Saginaw Spirit, a Michigan OHL team. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle was born as a tribute to the comedian.

Colbert soon threw his support behind the squad and began trash-talking its OHL rivals, especially the Oshawa Generals.

After a public volley of taunts and counter-taunts, Oshawa Mayor John Gray issued a challenge to Colbert on the eve of a recent showdown between the two teams: if the Generals won, Colbert would have had to wear a Generals jersey for an entire show. If the Spirit won, Gray had to declare Colbert's birthday "Stephen Colbert Day" in Oshawa.

Colbert, whose pundit was inspired by Fox News's belligerent Bill O'Reilly, accepted the challenge but had a more humiliating suggestion: he wanted "Stephen Colbert Day" to be declared not on his own birthday, but on Gray's - March 20. And so it was.

"How old are you going to be?" Colbert asked Gray in a recent interview on his show. "Old enough to know better than to take on Stephen Colbert?"

"Hopefully, in the future, yes," Gray, who turns 48 on Tuesday, admitted sheepishly.

One of the highlights of the night's festivities promises to be the selection of the winning Colbert lookalike.

Five semi-finalists have been chosen from across Canada and the winner will be determined by the competitor who gets the loudest cheers from the audience on Tuesday night. The victor wins a trip to New York City, where he'll attend a taping of the "The Colbert Report," a spawn of Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."

There will also be a hockey challenge featuring a showdown between the team's mascots: the Generals' Shooter and the Spirit's aforementioned Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle.

For the $5 cost of admission, there will also be free cake and Dr. Pepper - Colbert's favourite soft drink.

For McFadyen, the entire Stephen Colbert event signifies that the city of Oshawa, which has long lived in Toronto's shadow, has a sense of fun all its own.

"It's just one of the things we are doing to say Oshawa has a lot to offer. It's an exciting place to be."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Guest Memoir. FRIENDS, by Donnetta Lee

The first time I saw Elizabeth, or remember seeing her, was in junior high school in home economics class when we were thirteen years old. I was seated at one of those long classroom tables that accommodated ten or more girls. Another friend named Sheila was sitting beside me. I remember remarking to Sheila as Elizabeth walked by us that I thought Elizabeth was such a pretty girl. Sheila responded with, “Yeah, but she needs to stand up straighter.” No doubt, Sheila was just a little jealous.

So there was Elizabeth seated at another long table that formed an “L” with ours. Sheila filled me in on her. Seemed she was the daughter of a doctor in town. She had two brothers and a sister and was a nice person.

I don’t know how it ever came about that we actually spoke, but somehow we got to know each other. I believe it was in that very home- ec class.
I had been reading books about magic, spirits, and séances. In some conversation or other, I was brave enough to mention these things to Elizabeth and a couple more girls in our class. Well, that did it. We decided to hold our own séance. We decided to contact the spirit of John Kennedy. Whatever made us think of contacting John Kennedy is beyond me!

For days, we met on the steps of the porch to the home- ec building. We sat in a circle, chanting. We commanded the spirit of the president to come to us and speak. I don’t think he ever responded. If he did, he likely whispered and we couldn’t hear him. It’s a thousand wonders that some teacher didn’t catch us and think we were doing the devil’s work or some such.
It just seemed as if Elizabeth and I thought along the same lines. And I was so flattered that she actually liked to have me as a friend. I mean, really. She was the daughter of a doctor for heaven’s sake! That was special in my books.
So, we wrote stories, we held séances, and we laughed. Our friendship blossomed. Of course, I didn’t tell her our family’s secret. She would never have been my friend if she knew that. The secret was that my dad was a chronic alcoholic. So I would not be worthy to have her as a friend if she knew about that. That’s how I felt.

At lunchtime, we walked the short distance from the school to the small downtown. I usually did not have enough money for the school meal but could get a Coke at the drugstore. We drank vanilla cokes as I remember. They were a dime. Then I took to saving my lunch money for Beatles records.

I don’t recall how many times I stayed over night at Elizabeth’s house. I really didn’t like to stay away from home, but I had such a good time when we were together that it was worth it. Even when Elizabeth’s little brother Richard gave us a hard time. I felt sorry for her for having such a pain for a little brother. It seemed to me that we hardly saw her brother, Robert, or her sister, Susan, but when we did, they were always nice to me. So were her mom and dad.

Just when I was feeling secure at school and having a great best friend, Elizabeth told me that her family was moving to another town far away from the one we went to school in. I was crushed. I thought I would never see her again. But she assured me that we could get together in the summers.
Elizabeth was right. During the school year, we wrote letters back and forth. We made up pretend lives, make- believe characters, wonderful, beautiful dreams. Every time my mom, brother, and I drove the ’54 Ford into town from the farm, I could hardly wait to go to the post office and pick up the next letter Elizabeth sent. There were times I felt, in the loneliness of living on the farm, that those letters were all that kept me connected to the world. Those letters gave me something to look forward to, gave me something to dream about. They were magic to me and just as good as gold.

When summer came, I couldn’t believe it when Elizabeth’s mother actually brought her out to the farmhouse to stay with me. Sometimes, she rode the bus from her town into the town where we had attended school. Mama, my brother and I would be there in the old ’54 Ford to pick her up. Typically, if my dad was not home for whatever reason, we just stayed out on the farm. If he were home, Mama spirited us off into town to stay at my Granny’s house. We were happy wherever we were, as long as we were together.
There were even a couple of Christmases that we got to spend with each other. One Christmas, Elizabeth, who could sew, made us matching dresses. She still has a picture of us together in our dresses. We also had look-alike hats that we wore when we pretended to be spies for U.N.C.L.E. (fromThe Man from U.N.C.LE. TV series). We were very cool.
We wrote stories. We wrote songs. We made up dances. We wrote and performed skits. We held séances. We worked with the Oujia board. We tried to make wine out of the grapes from Granny’s arbor in the backyard. We cooked lunch for my Grandpa. We tormented my brother. We took on secret identities. We played many, many pranks. We were always dreaming and scheming. We were going to be famous writers some day. We were going to go to Hollywood. We planned to buy clothes at an army surplus stores really cheap. Of course, Elizabeth could alter clothes to fit us since she was the seamstress. And more of the plan: Travel and living would be simplified by securing a travel trailer. It would all happen for us. We knew it. We had to stick together.

Eventually, I shared the story of my dad and his arabesques with Elizabeth. As I should have known all along, it never mattered to her. I was what mattered to her. Our friendship was what mattered.
Those were the best times of my life. I am blessed to have had them. I still remember the empty, lost feeling that enveloped me when I watched Elizabeth’s mother driving her away at the end of each visit. I have felt that depth of loneliness only a few times in my life. I hope to never feel it again.

Of course, the day came when I started running around with a local group of girls. We went into town every Saturday night, looking for boys. Then the day came when I actually started dating. I wrote Elizabeth fewer and fewer letters. I was growing up and in a new direction. I eventually had a “steady” boyfriend and all my attention focused on him.

My mom grew emotionally stronger and gained the courage to leave my dad. She began managing and operating the town’s café. Mama, my brother, and I bought a small house and moved into town. We were emancipated, free.

Approximately fourteen years passed. During that time, I had a recurring dream of seeing Elizabeth far away in the distance. She was too far away to hear me calling, and she walked away. I woke up from this dream with, as Elizabeth calls it now, “dream dregs.” Those were sad moments. They took me hours to shake off. In fact, at any significant time in my life when I was sad, I had that dream.

I thought of Elizabeth often as my life progressed. I went to college. I married. I had a son. So did Elizabeth.

One day, by happenstance, I ran into Elizabeth’s cousin Mike at Mama’s café. Mike was doing some work in town and stopped in for lunch. Imagine my delight when Mike told me he had Elizabeth’s address.
I took a chance and sent a letter.
Of course, Elizabeth sent one back!

I remember when I received that letter that I sat down and cried tears of happiness. It was as if no time had passed between us. And that was that.

We continued to stay in touch. We vowed we would never ever lose contact again.

If I could have a sister, it would be Elizabeth. She has "been there" through my moves, my divorce, my marriage, and everything in between. She is always there. She is always supportive. She always listens. She is the definition of a true friend.

Since receiving that letter, so long ago, I have never again dreamed the sad dream of Elizabeth leaving. That’s because she won’t. I didn’t realize it then, but she never really left. She was just waiting for me.

--Published electronically by Island Grove Press, 2007.

Donetta Lee holds all rights.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Snapped continuity: A Rondeau

I'm asleep and I can't wake up.

I discuss this feeling state with former media czar Patrick Watson.

"It's nothing. Just a sensibility shift, says Mr. Watson.

But for me, it wasn't elementary. For me, It was a feeling of snapped continuity.

Snapped continuity.

Pockets of angels.

Pockets of Boticelli, his quirky, almost cartoon-like rendering of all the stations of Hell.

"In the middle of the journey of our lives.."

Intermezzo del camin du nuestra vita...

Boticelli, perfectly capable of rendering angelic beauty as in that Venus- on- the- halfshell so reminiscent of Toronto City Hall, and then doing a complete 180 and illustrating Dante's hell for us. And what a proper hell it was, out of all the materials of the 14th century and a little beyond, into our present time.
Was Urjo
Revell thinking of Boticelli when he designed our city hall? Hard to say. From the beginning, in l964, they said the new shell-like structure was ugly, even down to the
turd-in-the plaza of Henry Moore. But look at that plaza now. Finnish furniture elevated to high art. Ikea with a whole lot of Boticelli thrown in. It is beautiful.

Ah, we ourselves are starlight, are golden. "And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

I once took a page out of Joni Mitchell's book and produced a newspaper column whose standing logo was "Both Sides Now."

Oh the arrogance of it, thinking, at 34, that I had seen it all, had figured it out, that I'd been through hell and would be able to write the guidebook.

At least, my young fool's notes were carrying the house. I had succeeded in cobbling together other people's material and making a living at it.

Other people's material.
Well, there was Woodstock. "Come with me, my friend, I'll show you another country." Yes, Jefferson Airplane with Gracie Slick fronting. And Janis Joplin:

"Sittin' by the window
Lookin' out at the rain
(Yeah) Sittin' by the window
Lookin' out at the rain
Somethin' got a hold of me honey
Seems to me...
Seems to me like a ball and chain!"

And then the" aw- aw- aw- aw -Please!
I just wanta walk your mouth..."

It's a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack.

Master Jack trying to be nimble at the typewriter, writing the great Canadian novel, f*cking it up, wife saying "you picked a hard thing to be."
Writing. The only thing you know and even at this you are failing.
Jefferson airplane on CHUM FM. Gracie Slick. "Go Ask Alice."

You mean I am not in their league? I am not an artist?

The saved-up joint lit up, hoping to get that sense of omnipotence and creativity back-- and it is not a good stone. Not even with the chelm. Three years go by. Same problem. "You are f*cking up, baby.
Looks like you'll have to go to work for a while."

I go to work as a rock critic. I am still wearing the suit and tie they told me to wear at our "I think- I- can" technical university. Old school tie, yes, the beanie, almost.
Frosh all my days. Trying to be hip, trying to be cool. In blazer and slacks. Electric Circus, Brower and Walker rock shows at Varsity Stadium, an old haunt . Old university grounds.
Philosopher's walk, remembering some of the hazing at Trinity College. Poor kid with the beanie still on, carrot in his mouth, "Eat that, you queer." Preparation for life, yeah.

Well, they did prepare me for life. Trinity was sort of a finishing school for me, my mainline trade being journalist. Eating the carrot. Fellating the stars.

I finally doffed the suit, got some paiseley and beads and went the whole rock columnist routine. Here and there I would affect comic book Riddler outfits, Batman, Superman, the five-inch
high-heeled boots. Frequenting the electric spots, Granny's...all our imitations of Club 54. I had fantasies of meeting Margaret Trudeau.
And suddenly the bubble burst. The Toronto Telegram sank, and so did I.

Like many another screw-up, I retreated to my cottage to write that great Canadian novel.
It laid an egg.

Back to the journalism, back to the column I had titled "Both Sides Now".
Back on "boogie street", for I was making money again, and the next thing you know, I'm at the Toronto Sun with my scrawls, and life is good. Except that I had screwed up the novel. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world...

I seemed to have
lost my soul, first to rock'n'roll and now to something like the profession of Neil Young's father--journalism. I was not an artist, just a moon reflecting all the stars, here and there nearly mooning them out of sheer envy.

Comes now the standard artistic trick. Drive your family away. Find a garret. Become the novelist you were meant to be.

Snapped continuity.
You try for heaven, try for Beatrice among the stars and you end up in hell. The separation anxiety kills the creativity, your biopsychic intensities overcoming your proof page, the bottles piled up, the alcholism, the shame of rehab.

And the question is asked, did he, did he deliver the goods?
Yes he did. But it was like Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. The project was finally completed, but it had been motheaten, and finally chewed upon by sharks.

And there was all this snapped continuity, what they had been talking about in the Sixties and Seventies. I had finally myself gotten the snap.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Victor, You Are So Immature!

Talent hides in the strangest Places, and when I went to work for the Oakville Beaver, I knew my situation would turn really bizarre, right from the word Oakville Beaver.

We suddenly had an assembly of six gifted people, one Larry Milson, and extremely able comic strip artist and the five of us aspirants who were doing puff jobs on the rich and famous and making a good living of it. Paparazzi, sort of.

The sports writer, one Neil Campbell, was about to be promoted to food editor and he would require a logo and a cartoon.

The title of Neil's new column would be "Eating Out With Neil Campbell".

Well. You can imagine what a bunch of us perverts and young fools would do with something like that.

Perched atop a computer terminal, a lady had been fetchingly drawn, with Neil, able trencherman, wearing a bib and tucker.

The cartoon was, of course rejected by the publisher, but we immature sots somehow couldn't stop giggling.

The trouble with being given more or less a free hand by the publisher was that our copy began to reach washroom standards, with such gems as "What are you doing looking down here for? Your a**hole's in Ottawa!"

And drawing on washroom stall by budding scientists. E=MC2---and all the math, all of it, spilling down onto the washroom floor M/V ~^---all that.

The lament on the washroom floor: MY MOTHER MADE ME A HOMOSEXUAL. And the rejoiner: IF I GET HER THE WOOL, WILL SHE MAKE ME ONE TOO?

For this we got $50,OOO (present dollars) a year?

As punishment, I suppose, I was sent to Copenhagen to cover a NATO exercise and while on free time, observed lovely elderly ladies selling the most outrageous porn--and it was all legal. What in Canada might have been smut and filth was taken as high art in Copenhagen, and it was freely available to young and old.
But still, the place was spanking clean (no pun intended) and incidences of sex crime went way down.

I chanced upon uber-intellectual Susan Sonntag, who after sharing a beer with me assured me that I too was
an a**hole and should get the hell back to Ottawa. Ouch. It was only years later that I learned the very accomplished Mr. Sonntag hated men...But in fact, I probably had too much to say. And Danish beer is three times as strong as Canadian. Makes your garrulous.

I came back a little more mature (I think), yet puzzled by a country so socially advanced yet at the same time so smut- ridden. And I think Ms. Sonntag had cured my immaturity.

Coming back to Canada, I sent my novel to a Montreal publisher who immediately rejected it on grounds that the "hero" lacked maturity.

How did one go about becoming mature?

I went on to join the Toronto Telegram and was fired there for my immaturity.

No sooner do I get fired than my wife comes into a pile of money, that protracting my immaturity for at leas five years. Doesn't everybody?

My wife was pregnant, I went to a doctor who sneered at my immaturity--then saw the new Cadillac outside
and practically went down on his hands and knees, thus adding to my immaturity.

I was immature, but somehow lucky as hell.

Eventually, I got my book published, this again adding to my immaturity. I was the local god. "I am an artist, Martha!" This again added to my immaturity.

At the age of 36, I joined a rock and roll band, and this further contributed to my immaturity.

At the age of forty, my wife finally gave up. I was suddenly forced into maturity.

Now I eke out a living editing and stealing.

This is maturity?

Bring back that stupid kid!

Friday, March 16, 2007

'56 Mercs zooming through the night. PEOPLE SEE US EVERYWHERE!

All this nostalgia, for the Fifties and Sixties lately--'51 Mercs racing through the night, Conway Twitty on the air,
PEOPLE SEE US EVERYWHERE (little rejoiner from the back seat: "They think you're a f*cking square."); car coats and A&W's and roller skating waitresses. "Haven't you a girl like little Sheia, blue eyes and pony tail?";
Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The Teddy Bears. TO KNOW KNOW KNOW HIM IS TO LOVE, LOVE LOVE HIM.

Boogie cuts and boxcar hair for the guys, everybody's a Fonz, trying to stay cool in the back of the theatre,
your cigarette intact, but five guys are piling on you anyway, wanting to "polish your ivories." Blackboard Jungle, and Rebel Without a Cause (What was all that about anyway?)--All those days before Don McLean's AMERICAN PIE.

We were innocent, violent, rock'n'roll loving, coming back from the drive-in, "the fingerbowl", indeed holding up our fingers for our friend to smell--wishful thinking, really. Fifties crude. Who put the bop in the bop-she-bop-she bop? and the crude rejoiner, "Who put the meat in the Meteor?."

The condom in the wallet, almost always never used, the wrapper frayed. The falling in love, Rick Nelson
playing the soundrack for our love lives, which were largely nonexistent. The guys would brag to each other, but only one of five was really getting any. And those that were getting it were soon married and it was off to the Steel Company of Canada or Dofasco for to pay for baby's booties.

We were in some sort of penal colony, barely allowed to rock and roll, and Elvis was shown only from the waist up.

H-bombs were going off all over, one of them knocking out the earth's magnetic field for a full fifteen minutes.

Sputnik, and Laika the incredible space dog, Russkies at your doorstep and maybe even barefooted African troops.

Jim Crow ruled, nobody was voting in Alabama, and Chuck Berry was always getting arrested, though he could play guitar just like ringin' a bell.

And then the 1957 recession, and all the boys were joining the Service and George Diefenbaker here in Canada
and nuclear-armed Bomarcs, and H-Bombers flying over Winnipeg while Diefenbaker was sayin "No nuclear arms over Canada."
It was a mad time, but we were young, and sure to have our way.

And did we not have our way by the Sixties. The summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury the sit-ins and the love-ins.

Little bourgeois girls sitting on cold Yorkville Avenue steps, just to be part of the scene.

Long-lost classmates hardly recognizable from the drugs and booze. "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now."

Sex, drugs and LSD. People hanging out of locust trees in the morning, all of them on MDA.

Mandala: "Love-itis got a hold on me."

Steppenwolf. And Burton Cummings. AMERICAN WOMAN.

What in hell was all that about?

American Graffiti, that's what it was all about.

But eventually, all the empty-handed soldier came home.

When childhood was over, the things of childhood had to be put away.

And now we reminisce.

It was a simpler time. It was a grand time. Everybody had money. You could afford to eat in restaurants. Beer was 26 cents a bottle. Everybody had reefers.

And your mother decked out as if part of the B-52's.

Daddy Let Your Mind Roll On!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I am a writer because I can't teach, because a teacher can't be crazy

Thirty years ago, on a bright January day, I decided to stop teaching.

The move was not hard to make.

I had taught six semesters straight, had no summer vacation, was untenured, and felt I was badly used by a liberal arts faculty who just saw me as a supply teacher who could be put into any slot at any time, night or day.

This was hard on the system, my system.
Renaissance man. Natural. Could do anything. Anything? What did I know about math? But I had to teach that too. And psychology, and something called Existential Philosophy, which I immediately found, ah, absurd.

All my writing friends had been bemused by my decision to teach in the first place.

Chickened out, did you? Couldn't handle the pressure of writing. Of deadlines. Took the easy way out!

But the teaching "way out" wasn't all that easy.

Everybody carried knives this long, there were times I had been placed in a den of thugs, not all of them intelligent, and I was getting really tired, as I made my appointed rounds, of being told told by hirsute, hippie-looking barbarians-- other teachers in this cabal-- that they could "hurt me."
I had been a successful magazine columnist and on the strength of that success, I was pressganged as an English teacher in a college whose hiring practice was to hire achievers and not necessarily PhD's.

But then I was surprised to learn that except for two lonely, timorous, frightend Doctors, I was the only degree holder in the Department of Anguish. What was this? Flintstone University?

Alley Oops all, loinclothed and mortarboarded--well, not really mortarboarded, on their dinosaurs.

Community college.

Rock University.

I had graduated from a place called Ryerson, itself once known as "Rye High", but while there, I observed among the teachers, a certain ease of doing things, of making the difficult seem simple, of a great camaraderie, a sense of community. This attitude I picked up, and it really was my style of teaching. Offhand, but, hopefully, with some knowledge of the material.

But the more I taught at X College, the more I realized that students were not taught, they were manipulated, even sexually manipulated. I would see some courses dwindling from 23 to three students, within a few months, certainly with one teacher.

Something was clearly wrong in the state of Denmark.

"Of course, I manipulate students," my department head was saying, in his own queer way. "But it's for their own good."

Damn if war doesn't always come when you're not ready.

My wife was becoming bored with my Dagwood Bumstead routine, my children were uncomfortably bright and needed attention while wifey was student at her night classes; she said something about dating some prof; people were after my job, a class of "graduate students" wanted to bandy words with me when they didn't have the words to bandy and I had to fail three of them because they felt it was above them to actually complete assignments.

I had words with the course head of that particular group of know-it-alls, about their attitude, and he countered by entering my classes and demanding to see my lecture outlines. Happily, for once, I was organized and had all the xeroxes for the class. But what was another teacher doing monitoring my classes? We had words. I offered an elegant explanation: F-off, Burton, and get the hell out of my classes. You are forming some sort of cult here.

Work pressure kept building up. I was teaching about four disciplines now, and even more in night classes.

Old wifey comes home a four a. m. "Did you get laid?" "What if I did?"

Damn that nunnery they have at Glendon York school of French. All men are are arseholes.

The hangers- on at the house that I was getting increasingly good at kicking out, peeing- off the wife.

And all this time building up to a nervous breakdown, big time.

"I've got to get back to being a writer, and not a teacher, because a teacher can't be crazy."

My deparment head, a Fifties man was accused of using greasy kid stuff, had a nervous brreakdown over it and was soon fired.

Suddenly, tenure was upon me. "Lots of work around here, Doctor," the dean had said.

But it was too much and too late. "I finished this last semester, did I not? I hung in and got rid of the troublemakers, not only in my department, but in Physics and formal English. "Now I'm going to have a quiet nervous breakdown."

It was really a defining moment. Another teacher was made department head, but I was too enervated to worry or even care. I had to get out.

Well, get out I did. I went to Mexico, was immediately hired as department head of Nonfiction Writing by the University of California, at least at a Mexican satellite campus. "Feather in your cap," writes the poor wife, stuck witth the children.

My god. Out of the frying pan and into paradise. At least for a year.

I won't bore you with the rest of the story.

When my Ulysses Comes Home (Woof-Woof, Wag-Wag).

"You mixed-up idiot-savant, who's spouting Socracres and Kant
"And here's you coat and shoes, thoughtfully picked by label, Hart.
"Your philandry is plain to see
"You're really not that bloody smart."

Two paradises lost in the space of a year.

My own satirical poetry back in my face, in real time.

Ensconced in a tiny apartment while the lady rents the house.

The moral of the story?

Stay in that kitchen. Take the heat.

Hell is a hundred times hotter.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dumpster Diver's Cook Book--An ongoing project

"I hope that some of you might be interested in helping with this. I volunteer at Food Banks and often people get very limited ingredients with which to put together a meal. Children are the primary users of Food Banks. Often in a groceries from the Food Bank there will be powdered milk, pastas, rice, canned soups (lots of tomato soup), baked beans and other kinds of beans. I know everyone has some simple easy good recipes and I hope some of you might be able to share some at the above forum. Spreading the word would help out a lot too. I think it is important and food is becoming a very serious issue for many families. Not many people seem too interested but even one child going hungry is just one too many. Thanks so much for your time. Cheryl"

Dear Cheryl,

Why mess around with food banks? Go first class: Dumpster dive.

In the first place, food bank food will kill you dead. They all want you dead over at the food bank and stale-dated beans, water chesnuts, tomato soup and popcorn making kits-- will certainly get you on the Surekill Expressway-- Or have I spent too much time in Philadelphia?

All the large supermarkets especially the "We are fresh-obsessed" chains, have huge automatically-fed dumpsters, sealed tight, but not all that tight as frequent overloading tends to make the dumpster hiccup and more often than not disgorge maybe a whole chicken just a day or two past its "best before" date, three chocolate cakes still in their nearly indestructable plastic wrap, four Pilar's sausages also in their platic wrap, a container of lard, and, as an added filip, a screwdriver you can stir all this stuff up with, should you want to be the compleat
dumpster diving cook.

You start with the chicken. OK, it was a bit soggy to begin with, but it's Toronto in winter, and the zero temperatures (by anybody's thermometer) have probably killed any salmonella that you may be in danger of contracting..
It's chicken, for god's sake. All chicken will kill you dead if eaten raw.

There are several schools of preparing chicken.

You probably live in cramped quarters (or no quarters at all), so using the oven is out of the question. The fumes will kill ya in any event if you are in a one-room apartment.

Cut the chicken up. There are several schools. I usually detach the drumsticks first, though the big bone there is hard to cut trough and you may have to pry a bit with the screwdriver. Then a knife up the chicken's derrierre (this might not work, so you may again have to resort to the screwdriver).
Oh hell, place the chicken chest-up and throw it into a pan of sizzling lard; throw in the drumsticks too, turn over often and, aftertwenty minutes, turn down the heat.
Fish the four chicken components out of the frypan and place the whole mess into a large pot of boiling water in which there is a heaping tablespoon of salt, a half an onion, a clove of garlic and lots of the loose carrots you'd found around the dumster. Put the heat on low and forget about the project for about two hours.

Voila, Chicken a' la Rousse.

And if you'd found a potato or two around the dumster, you could have thrown the potatoes in with the chicken, or boiled them separately.
Eat what you can and throw the leftovers back in the pot. You'll have chicken for three days, and after that, you can throw your food bank noodles in and you'll have fine chicken soup.

Doesn't all this bring your tastebuds back to life?

(I had to steal a picture from JR, who is a dead ringer for me anyway, though much younger and a bit easier to look at).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why Two, K2?

There will be an early onset of Daylight Saving Time today.

Like about three weeks early.

I talked about this to my son, who was busy putting folks' fears to rest about this over at Omnipreator Computers.
"Steve,what are we going to do? This is Y2K all over again.
"All computers up to Windows 98 will be kaput until the proper Spring Forward date three weeks down the road.
"Your I-pod, old VCR, alarm clock, DVD--will be late an hour.
"And how are you going to reset your Blueberry?"
"Blackberry," he corrected. He gave me that "there's no hope for you old Luddites" look.
"The world isn't coming unhinged. Just routine Sunday morning operations."

I had to persist.

"Anchor people, Wolf Blitzer, Lloyd Robetrson, Morley Safer, are all telling me that total havoc will descend on the world community, this act of the U.S. congress to have daylight saving time come upon us three weeks early.

"They're already diving out of basement windows in East Kazakhstan. Barat blames it all on the Transportation Commission. He says nobody will get to work on time. 'The clocks are bent. We'll all go broke. It's because of those guys'".

Son begat is still unruffled. He yawns while reading the Toronto Star, where smart people, doctors, high- profile defence lawyers and even David Suzuki are warning of impending doom.

"Yeah, Dad." Gather up all the non-perishable food you can, get your hand-wound radio, and head for the hills. The end is nigh!"

"Why do you make me feel like a Jehovah's Witness everytime smart people tell me apocalypse is just around the corner? I mean, even Sandie Reynaldo."

Son chews his pencil while completing his crossword puzzle.

"Because it isn't. Everything's already built in. Taken care of.

You journalists!"

I went downstairs and banged the hell out of my Smith Corona.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It was only one night for Dante Alleghieri

A writer is a person who writes. We write, do we not.

How is it that in the course of our lives, we leave an entire universe behind and make a quantum leap into another.

Were we pushed?

No matter. We are somehow in a Christ-like state, the time where he could not be touched, for he was entering another dimension.

Snapped continuity.

Hank Williams: A false goodbye, a life is shattered.

Strange, this Chapter Thirteen of my LIGHT OVER NEWMARKET

I was very fidgety on the train. It seemed that I had been on this train making this border trip forever. Like being in a dream. Val and I had only made this very same trip a few days ago. Now it's me solo. Back on the same train, the same border trip. Anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, these were the demons that were driving me.

The trip was a blur. An overnight one. I found I couldn't sleep in the seat I'd been assigned to. (I couldn't afford an antique Pullman this time because I simply hadn't the money). As it was, I was striking out almost blind, with only enought money in my pocket to get me to about Dallas-Fort Worth.
I had been in such a rush to go, just go, just to strike out for Toronto and get to Loren before she was in that bastard's power, sexual power, no small thing when a a woman switches men. Or men switch women? I was still young enough to trust my insticts, my mottoes, my certainties. Motion in itself was life and I was sure moving.

Recent flahbacks came, like the ubiquitous prickly pears out the train window.

Oh, life in the new dimension had been good. We were the most famous couple in old Manuel Hidalgo. What was it that I had seen and felt, when new girlfriend Valerie and I were actors together in the Instituto theatre? I had surprised myself by having become as good an actor as Valerie had been an actress. Something I didn't know about her past life?
We had been involved in a comedy skit and I recall memorizing my lines again and again, no matter how much initial anxiety and pain I was beginning to feel as I fought back the fight-or-flight rushes of my separation from Loren. Valerie had a quick and facile memory; I needed to be more surefooted. I had read and reread entire lines of the script, committing it all to memory, not just once, but several times, learning and re-learning so that I could not only keep up to Valerie but to surpass her. I was not yet forty. No woman, no other person could show me in a bad light. I could not be intellectually outperformed. Maybe Valerie had gotten it right on that railway platform. "The key to you is your ego. Simple. Simple!
And all that time I thought she had the brains of a hairdresser...

My foray into acting was still fresh in my mind.
During and up to the time of the dress rehearsal, I had in my now anxious state the intimation that my life was in danger. I wasn't given much to clairvoyant imaginings, but the conviction had been there. Your life in danger. And then the sudden focusing in my mind on my mother and my father. Who are you, Dmytro? Who are you Paraskeva? I had to, at the age of 39, fully apprehend who my mother and father were. I was not Irish, like my friends. I had only seen myself that way for most of my life. Most everybody around me was Irish-Canadian. But I was not. I was some sort of carbon-copy Irishman and not a very good one at that.

Small matter really. I was now on a train bound somewhere to north Texas, with about fifty dollars in my pocket, and some of the money already froittered on cokes and cigarettes.
Toward evening, I was becoming more and more fidgety; I couldn't sit still. I went back to the tiny cubicle at the far end of the car that served as a bar and had four Corona de Barils. Self-medication. I had to calm down.

Back in my seat, I tried to sleep, but sleep wouldn't come, only more fidgetiness and more anxiety. The nerve of that woman! Telling me goodbye out-of-hand, ending it just like that after ten years of marriage. And all in such a nice unsentimental tone, not even an echo of our married years together. Bitch. Insensitive woman. She was completly in the wrong.

Early the next day, with the train clacking through the immemorable adobe hamlets, and, finally the outskirts of Monterrey, I was more agitated and upset than ever, not having slept a wink. I had been so since Loren's letter, the maddening insomnia, the endless need to smoke, to drink, drink anything, coffee or beer, all of those substances combining to drive me even deeper into a sate of near-panic and woe.

A customs man boarded the train. He was checking tourist visas and passports. He came up to me and asked to see my passport and my tourist visa. I produced both. The mustachioned official, who spoke perfect English and had the trained eye of the experienced border guard, said out of his tin soldier's moustache and crips uniform: "I will have to keep your passport, for examination, Senor."

Panic. At no time are you to surrender your passport to enyone unless its only for perusal. The official wanted to take it out of hand.
"I can't let you do that. You can't walk away with my passport..Look, it says so right here."

"I do not care what it says on your passport. I will take it now, I will keep it and you will keep your mouth shut while I'm examining. Go to your section of the car and wait. We will be in the dining car."

A familiar need to void my bowels came upon me. Jesus. They will keep my passport; they will throw me in some dingy jail. I'll be dungeoned and forgotten. I remembered the stories of those who had been imprisoned in Tijuana, the large central pissoir in the open cell, the feces, the lack of food, the brutality of the guards. Gad.

I went to the washroom cubicle and had a good look at myself. A passable looking man, fairly well dressed, but the hair, the hair. It was hanging to almost my shoulders, silvery blond, scraggly, unkempt. I looked like a hippie who had somehow gotten himself a Salvation Army worsted suit that happened to fit. You look like a fugitive!

Back to my seat now, worried about the fact that I may not get to Toronto at all, let alone solve what I had to solve with Loren.

Back came the customs official. I decided to be firm, that I would demand my passport back on pain of incarceration or worse. Visor- cap trundled up to me. I opened my mouth, but was flagged by the blue-black book the senior official was holding in his hand. "Your passport, Senor."
Teapot crisis.

I got off the train at Nuevo Laredo and took a taxi for the border crossing.
The first place I ordered the taxi driver to go was the duty free liquor store where I purchased the biggest bottle of Tequila that I could find. This was serious business. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't getting through the nights. The tequila would help me. It had always helped in the past.

Across the border, nothing to declare but the luggage and the tequila. Back over the Rio Grande in a blur, on foot, back past the same little shops that carried the duty free goods, back to look down over the river, where farmers' fields and dirt patches ended at the muddy gorge. I walked back into Laredo on the American side.
What a shock. And for the second time: everybody in American Laredo--everyone--was still Mexican. Not a Caucasian face in sight. I had the first twinge of regret over what I was doing. Only a scant week ago, Valerie and had been at this very spot along with Lucille, the stunning Southern belle who could write so Southern, about Good Ole Boys, and women kept penned like farm animals. There was George, her boyfriend, George divorcing his wife and keeping Goldie Hawn Lucille as a mistress. Dave taught photography at the Instituto in Manuel Hidalgo. He was also a drawing master at some school in Oklahoma. He had a lot to be proud of; an accomplished man. After months of standoffishness back at the Instituto, he was finally accepting me as a friend. We had all been together on the border trip, something of a necessary ritual in our Manuel Hidalgo set-- No new tourist visa, you don't stay in Mexico.
Lucille, George and Valerie had all been friends even before Valerie had met me. Could Valerie and George have been lovers before Lucille came on the scene?

Now I was in the self-same spot that we had been standing on, just scant days ago, during our mutual shopping jaunt, in front of the same motel we'd all stayed in, and I was so angry, so self-conscious and so alone.
As I went to book into the hotel the only thing on my mind was Loren. Loren, Loren, why did she dismiss me so out- of- hand, what was she thinking? How could she end this marriage, just like that, with no sparks, with no attempt to get me back, with no hint of a fight, of acrimonly even. Just a straight Dear John.

The hotel room was at least comfortable, almost identical to the one Valerie and I had slept in so very recently. Standard motel layout. American. Predictable and familiar after the relatively comfort-deprived state of things in Mexico. There was the colour television and its somehow comforting whine of the cablecast channel before the backround elevator music came on. They had an endless tape of of the by- now unfamiliar popular songs of the past year. Hits would play and I could not identify them. I had missed a part of the seventies. "Cheap Perfume and Candle light". And something by Merle Haggard, "Are the Good Times Really Over For Good?"
I took a deep pull of the tequila and though about Loren and what I wa going to do, or what I was going to say to her.

..............end chapter thirteen

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Ballad of Phombus Pucker

Two weeks late on E.A. Monroe's request to have one's high school senior picture put up, just so we could compare high school pictures on our webs, I have finally dug one up, but it's my graduation picture from Ryerson University--which people called "Rye High" anyway because that excellent school took forever to get proper university accreditation. Once Ryerson became "legit", switcing from a school of technology to a full blown university, I had to take four courses at the University of Toronto to finally get my sheepskin. I was a bit older than the regular students. But Johhnny-come lately was so glad to finally make Varsity anyway. I immediately undertook to work on my Master's degree, as I had somehow stumbled on an untenured professorship at Seneca College. Seneca saw my name chuck-chuck-chucking in print so much that they figured I could teach creative writing, PhD or no.

Odd things happen when you get your degree. One became a bit pompous. When we'd have oysters for dinner, I became professorial, waxed copiously on the fact that oysters have eyes, a complete digestive system and a foot. It would drive my poor wife crazy, but the children would look up with some interest, here and there.

I was probably aping my father-in-law, a very successful businessman and published book writer.
I didn't go as far as to insist my plates were heated for my meals (the old Scots way)--but I was given to lecturing the family at mealtime. Just like old Stewart.

"You've become a pompous f**cker," my wife would keen.

So eventually she went out and got a degree of her own, and good on her.

And the competitive instinct takes many forms.

I had completed a novel, parts of which were a bit graphic, and my daughter caught old ma writing a book, parts of which were pornographic. "Mother!" my daugher gasped.

Ah, two "PhDs" in the same family.

I think my old mentor, E.S. had a breakdown over it. "You'll probably end up divorced," he told me across the squash court. "Set yourself up so you can write."

Oh how many times I have had to set myself up so I could write!

Eight permanent relationships---Psych prof friend said 'you're right off the norm'--and I am no closer to piety nor enlightenment...Of all the great gay ancient Greeks, I only trust Aristotle, since he was married twice!

I came across a ninth girlfriend, an English lady.
I made the standard mistake of telling about past relationships.

"Have you tried darts?" The strawberry blonde with the glowing complexion had quipped.

Reson for my entering university rather late was a five-year stretich in the Air Force.

They used to have a song in basic training:

"They're not making the girls the same this year (think I'll turn queer).

Ah, perhaps small farm animals.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Where will poor Clark Kent change now?

Not only old Ivan hankers for superpowers while he identifies with Clark Kent, who was invented at the Toronto Star (Daily Planet) where Ivan sometimes hangs out...The good graces of Antonia Zerbisias had allowed Ivan to print all sorts of outrageous stuff, and now they appear to have cut Antonia's blog back...hope it wasn't something Ivan said. Antonia's blog now lies dormant, though I am sure one day very soon, she will reemerge as the Wonder Woman Antonia really is. Smart, terrific media writer and a friend.

But something caught my eye recently, in another newspaper, the Toronto SUN. Andy Donato, who used to illustrate some of my old SUN Stories, notably SINGLEMAN IS THE NEW SUPERHERO (l975)--has been distressed in SUN editor Mike Strobel's lament that the phone booth has gone the way of the buggywhip and the car coat, and where will poor Superman change now.
Always supplying the answer Andy Donato replies in a cartoon posted just yesterday.

I got a huge laugh out of it.

Hope you enjoy it too.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Would you take a used novel from this man?

Would you take a used blog from this man?

When a writer plagiarizes himself, he's in trouble.

Then there is the fact that some of my family are beginning to think some of my current blogs are a little risque.

My daughter hasn't said it right out, but I fear that dear old da is beginning to be perceived as a thougtful masturbator.

"I mean, you repeat yourself all the time."

I must make amends.

Reprint a totally original blog that I wrote two years ago.

What the hell, if it works once, It might just work again.

The theme is about the same as it has been for two years: "Oh-oh, I'm screwed again!"

So here we are with a recycled blog. Most of my correspondents are new to "Creative Writing".

Hope I can offer some entertaniment:


Life has a way of knocking you on your derriere when you come too close to the ring, and just as my website was succeeding into making me something of a local star, I ran out of money and was forced to take a job.
The reception wasn't too bad.
They all seemed to know me at Shanahan Ford around these parts, but after seeing me for the third time, head and feet sticking out from a load of mufflers and exhaust pipes, the thrill was gone. The same thing at 400 Auto Wreckers when I decided to take an asthma fit right outside the office because of leaks in my ancient delivery vehicle. Feeling Not so much like a Saddam- gassed Kurd, but more like something of a turd, I soldiered on after the wreckers brought me around.
There is a line out of old Beverley Hillbillies that goes like: You're an artist, you have to suffer. Boy, are you going to suffer when you find out that the construction crew screwed up and dumped cement not at your poolside, but all over your new BMW.
Story of my life.
Just like MAD's version of "Prince Violent", I somehow always manage to "pick up bow, drop quiver, pick up quiver, drop chainmail pants."
John Cleese: For every success, there is a corresponding failure.
Hey, I'm not complaining.
Thanks partly to Jeff Mitchell's excellent writeup on me in the Era-Banner hereabouts, the name "Ivan Prokopchuk" shows up in a lot of GOOGLE places from here to New York City, where the new McLuhan, Douglas Rushkoff has reprinted a riff or two of mine. Lots of stuff about old Ivan on other websites too. Again, Jeff Mitchell got me started, while an able son looked after the technical end.
Not bad for a scribbler who had hoped at one time to write some soft porn and get the Ukrainian vote too, though Ukies are really quite conservative. The title? Naked Came the Ukrainian. I still think it will sell....You publishers out there, will you take a used novel from this man?
And yet I still have to work for a living.
Having had too good a time in the Sixties, I am not too hot as an executive right now. Gaping psychedelic holes in my head; short attention span. At least I can deliver parts. "You've got it all ass backwards," says my friend Jackie Playter as she watches me struggle with a stubborn GM Astro that had lost its tailpipe. Presumably, she means I should get back into writing or politics, where I belong. Christ, have you ever tried politics, especially municipal politics?Some of the tree huggers and AIDS activists should try it when they're not so righteous about cimate change and all that. Municipal politics in Ontario? The Mafia will kick your ass and call you a ........cker.
Which I probably why I am reduced to dropping off auto parts.
Yet there is something mildly grand about being a speedy mercurial figure, a Hermes or Mercury (sometimes indeed driving a Mercury) on winged Adidas feet, dropping parts all over the world, right hand extended to the heavens to display a NAPA symbol.
The other day,at a NAPA party, a won a thirty-pound ham. Knocked off my perch as a pro, yes, but is it ever nice to eat regular!


I have since quit the job. They clawed back my old age pension, so I had to quit.

"No good bastard," the civil servant sneered. "He actually went out and WORKED."

So now I am living off my Mastercard and my popcorn pension.

But I do have a habit of falling into money.

Here is that envelope from the publishing company.

I dare not open it.

Probably "this fine novel", and all that, "but you would be better served by larger publisher."

Ah well, if I'm rejected, I can always say it was just a tactic to test my survival skills.

But the envelope sits there unopened.

Norman Mailer says that if a man is knocked around too much, he sometimes turns queer.

On top of everything else?.

I had no brothers to practise on.

And my sisters took all my money.

This needs professional consultation.
I go to my successful writer friend, George Henderson, fat and almost gay himself from his success.

"So what was your novel about, George?

"I'm pretty proud of the title, said Henderson: HOMO HOTPANTS."

Ah well, George and I have one thing in common.

Our families have rejected us.

I hope Norman Mailer is wrong.

"I'm not going to back up on lighbulbs, George." (Then I had a flash)..." Well, maybe for big bucks."

"I've got big bucks," says George.

Uh oh.

On top of everything else!

I ended up doing a review of George's novel.

He said, in his 'zine, he's going to burn my office down.



Friday, March 02, 2007

Longwinded advice on how to write a novel

Thirty years ago, I had some students who felt for sure that they had forgotten more about writing than I was prepared to teach them. They were so good. They were so precocious. They already had their B.A.'s. They would be the next generation of teachers and writers.

Except that they couldn't write and any criticism or advice I had to offer was somehow a personal affront!
I gave them writing assignments and they would not complete them.

Feelgood education back then, in a skewed high school system in Canada.

The child, the student, was held to be a unique and creative individual and "Teacher leave those kids alone."

A dominant Alpha type of kid would appear and he/she would set up the projects and tasks. Teachers would just throw out challenges, monitor the kids--or go into the faculty room to smoke, or, in some cases, work on their inferiority complexes
So it seemed that by University, students knew how to shuffle paper, but not much else. They had fair handwriting and they would be good bureaucrats.

One day I was thrust into a class of know-it-alls whose sole claim to literary fame was the desire itself.

But they were writers who wouldn', couldn't write. And not at all willing to learn. They had to take my course as a prerequisite to their Historical Interpretation programme. You needed at least, a writing workshop.

Two months go by, and no essays, no written pieces. "I already took that in university."

What in hell? I thought university taught you discipline.

Not in my nature, but I had to fail some of them. The ones who stayed turned out to be good writers, and I helped them as much as I could to gain access to publishing.

I swear there is still a "feel-good" crowd out there in blogland, the know-it-alls, who seem to know how it's done, but, like literary critics--can't acrtually do it. And any criticism of them is a personal affront.
My specialty had been the novel.

The trouble with most advice you get about writing a novel, especially on the internet is that the advice is, more often than not, offered by a second generation of the feelgood crowd, few of them with a word published and so the blind--Yea even the dyslexic-- tend to lead the blind and dyslexic . Makes for a good social club and perhaps an even better cult, but save for often colourful essays and even more rococo responses, little is actually accomplished.

Writing a novel is serious business. For some, it is the only business. The monomaniacs, the fanatics, the real professionals.

Save for this old fraud, I can't seem to find too many of these on the web.

There is really nothing all that grand about writing a novel. You are going to lose hair and teeth and you won't feel so pretty anymore when you realize that you are, sort of, selling your body. Certainly your body of experiences. There will be a tendency to exploit friends and strangers.

And you've got to break the project, or the project will break you.

It is, more often than not, a lifetime quest, the dream, the lifestyle, the execution. The execution is sometimes your own, especially if you blow the novel. (Just thinking of JR's comment in my last blog).

I am quite influenced by the work of John Braine, how he goes about writing a novel, the rugged prose instead of clever and sometimes deranged stream- of -consciousness, symbolism, Dada and all that. It seems to me that it's best to write like a Yorkshireman, direct, clear-eyed and in plain English.

That being said, I tend to write like an expatriate Pole trying to be Joseph Conrad.

So to begin: Do not attempt the novel before thirty, but do try to work on some short stories which could be included in your school's literarty magazine, yearbook, tourist promotional mags or the little literary magazines or websites. Cut your teeth. Get the feel of what they used to call printer's ink running through your veins. Hang around, if you can, with published writers. Hang around the Press Club. Hang around the funkier book stores. Get a job there if you can, especially if the owner is eccentric and has a chapbook operation behind the store. There is always a guitar hanging on a wall, and you can play that to impress the funky book store owner...Maybe he'll let you work at his antique press.

Write lots of letters to the editor. You'll get quite a bang out of your name in print for the first time.

But the best training is with a large metropolitan newspaper. Why? Because there you will learn to steam-clean your prose, to write economically, to discern finally the line between English composition and writing.

Nice work if you can get it. Well you can get it. You can get it by making a lot of noise as a poet or short story writer, preferably in the better blogs or the college magazines One successful short story can get you on the staff of a newspaper or magazine.. You will have been noticed... Don't drink with the other hopefuls, go to where the managing editors go, usually a good English-style watering hole.

I used to drink hugely with Ray Timson, the ME at the Toronto Star. This was after another editor, Gerry Toner gave me a good break and I somehow blew it...Well, if you disappoint one editor, there is always another. I am certainly not God. I make mistakes.

Some of Ray's his advice was good, some was not so good. But Ray was one of the most respected editors at the Star, a natural writer and well-liked. Another gifted man was Rae Corelli and another gifted person, a female, Pat Williams was extremely supportive. She was so proud when I finally became a teacher of writing after having my byline up there along with hers at The Star.

But there's the novel, ah the novel, "The Great Bitch" as Norman Mailer calls it.

Well, I came part of the way. I was finally offered an Ontario Council grant for my Light Over Newmarket, and somehow, by hook and crook and the Council's help, I finally saw Light Over Newmarket published. Reviews were pretty good, one fairly recent in Aaron Braaten's blog, Grandinite.

But I still hadn't made the big time. Not the Big Apple. Not New York.

I did eventually end up with an agent, who did drop me for some technical mistakes I kept making (now I was the student!) and though he compared my work to Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, he also told me he was not Maxwell Perkins. I would have to make the corrections on my own. He did not entirely avoid suggesing I find a new agent and good luck with that.

So it's not always a clear path. You might lose some hair and teeth writing a novel, but you are never fully done. When you think you're done, you're only half done.

But I finally got it done. Done, at least, to my own satisfaction.

I have sent the book to a New York friend who knows his way around.

There is a satisfaction of putting THE END to a work, but the work, more often than not, may have its antecedents in a whole can of worms, personal problems, family anxieties, ethnicity, rejection, failure, pain... Reality television, if you will. But crafted, you hope, into someting not ugly, something fine.

In the course of writing a novel, I have mislaid an entire family, have journeyed through alcohol, madness and loss of respect--the gods are jealous--and only then was anything accomplished. No pain, no gain.

The begining novelist, is a total monomaniac--prison guys say 'dickhead'-- and I worry about that. Really worry about it.

So how do you start your novel?

Not the traditional way, not "It was a dark and stormy night", though it was good enough for Snoopy and it might even be good enough for you if you can edit your first chapter into something.

You begin with something you had written in the past, something you'd had published, actually published, way back there, when you were cutting your teeth. Your best blog perhaps, or something you had somehow smuggled into commercial print. That particular piece had a reason for being outstanding enough to be published or to be praised by people you respected while your work was in blog form, and that is probably where the gold is. You were younger then, and not a real writer. You wrote from the heart, not yet a slip-slider, angle-taker, flim-flam man and general mountebank who is the Beatles' famous Paperback Writer.

You begin with the best thing you'd had published as a young man or woman and you start to mine that material.

With me, it was The Black Icon, a book I thought I'd blown, but with some help from a creative writing instructor, I was able to salvage it, using only the first third of the book, which involved the character's birth into war and famine and a final salvation by reaching Canada with his parents who somehow survived the horrors of the Second World War by sheer blind luck, though Dad did do a spell in a concentration camp.

It is best, I suppose, by beginning with "I was born"; or "He was born", or "She was born".
Take the first paragraph out of an old Sixties novel by John Fowles, The Magus and the example will do only too well. I believe he went, "I was born the son off middleclass parents themselves under the shadow of that monstrous dwarf, Victoria. My parents died early and it was soon apparent to me that I was not equipped by heredity to be the kind of person I wanted to be."

But then the skill, the skill. You need to acquire the skill You need to acquire a painter's use of overlay, all that background action and descripion attaining a compact whole. Literaray finesse.
This is almost impossible to acquire.

But, you might say, I only want to write commercial fiction, the thriller, the mystery novel.

No matter. The same degree of skill. Have you every tried writing commercial sh*t? Difficult, isnt it? Very difficult.

Especially difficult if you don't know about overlay or literary finesse.

Here is something by one Gordon Cotler, SHOOTING SCRIPT, of some ten years back.

I thought I caught a glimps of Stavros as I was getting out of my car in the network parking lot, but I couldn't be sure; the southern California morning sun had bleached the scene almost to white on white. And whoever I saw had climbed into a car in the section marked RESERVED FOR TALENT. Not even the most indulgent definition of talent would have given the nod to Stavros. Still, real or imagined, his was a portent. I just wasn't willing to accept that anything having to do with Nicholas Stavroscould be portentous. He was an annoyance, a minor one I expeced to fade like a bad sunburn.

Okay. You notice that quite a few things are going on in this bestseller operner.

There is overlay for sure, almost painterly Notice the Southern California sun having bleached the scene to almost white on white, sort of like gesso on a canvas. There is a quick description of Stavros and the psychological space he projects for the narrator. There is also hardly a word wasted. This is best-seller style. Hope you can attain it.
I never have. But I am at least a reader who at the same time knows for sure that he has produced more brute word count in commercial print than any recent bestseller author. Three million words in print, and I still wonder sometimes if I will really ever get it.

So the thing is for your opening paragraph to be a snapper, but a snapper crafted by skilled and experienced hands,hopefully your hands. You are not fooling around here. You are writing for your life.

Chapters follow a kind of magazine rule, Lead, Body and Point, the point finally agreeing with the lead. Rules are always made to be broken, but in general terms, your opener should be a snapper and your chapter closer must be a snapper as well. You've got to keep them turning pages.

Online, it is a different story. It is your genius, like maybe young Chuckercanuck's out of Montreal, that will bring out the real gold. You may have to be the doctors daughter with a checkered past to finally arrive at this level of ability, but a person like Chucker seems to have it all the same. I do believe this all comes from the mother. I am a firm believer that your character comes from the father but your genius from your mother. Or not.
But probably.

The most important thing is your first chapter. This is the uh, seminal beginning.. This is where you were born, in fact and in metaphor.

Write a good first chapter and the rest will more or less follow. If you have the will, had put in the time and have acquired the skill.

I'll have more to say on this as we go along.

..Or can you handle any more of this rambling.