Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Once Upon a Time There was a Memoir (Tavern?)

Every so often, (at around the even decades), we seem to want to write our memoirs. Some do, but, as in the production of a full-blown novel, some have brained themselves on merely this project. You might be Victor Immmature. Some memoirs might be premature, as the important people in your life may still be alive, and some far from "memoraible" yet.
But now, as so many of the old companions seem dead or dying, it might just be time.

And so, the beginning of a memoir. But I fear, that as in my dry runs at memoirs in the past, I might yet brain myself, for the wall of work knows more wittily than you yourself about your being alive. There is a script on that wall, your life outline that you were really not conscious of. Is it true with Joyce Cary that "Your plan, no good; Gods plan best"?
Nevertheless, in a kind of hubris, I press on with one more memoir.:

A lifetime ago, I was a college professor with a flair for writing fiction. I had a secretary and a receptionist. and a computer hard drive full of emails from important tliving novelists whose work I lectured on. I was still in their circle, at least with the Canadians, and I missed their company, usually at the old but swell King Edward Hotel on King Street, Toronto, Oh, I'd miss the mammoth drunks at that place, from whose upper stories, you cold see the claimed, claimed again-- and reclaimed landfill that was lakefront Toronto, not yet obscured by the somehow Oriental-appearing greed towers that replaced any hopes of waterfront renewal. We merely drank at the club downstairs--or covered convenions on Great Lakes water pollution that never seemed to get anywhere. We were at the old King Eddy to revel and carouse. It was a "Once Upon a Time There Was a Tavern" period. We were young writers, sure to have our way; so sure and exuberant that many times we were asked to leave, after our enthusiastic, animated reconstructions of great sprawling novels, in the smoky air-- back in the days before the tobacco prohibition; nervous, selfconscious waiters who didn't want to hear our ...bullshit, and stop all that smoking, there's a law you know.

Doctor or horses ass, we all loved the place all the same. It was an oasis from reality, though we were all nearly solidly ensconced in our in chosen professions; but he shits were killing us, and we knew it, nevertheless it was fun to rant and revel, to drink the incredible Canadian draught at the time, of which you could drink gallons, feel good, and never get a hangover, back the days when Molson's didn't pay tribute to the chemical industy...Or Toronto the the Peoples Republic of China--or Palermo.

Yet there always came tomorrow, the workaday, and you were at that godawful age of 39, when the artist in you was shouting, now! now! now! while at the college you were parsing the kraut syntax of Franz Kafka.

Some of my fellow teachers had already turned grey. There seemed a restlessness among them, almost a snippiness. "Why should I sully the profession with my own clumsy scrawls?"...But deep in their hearts they knew that writing talent or not, you couldn't make a living of it. So they stayed. Some of them seemed a little ill. Was this the way of writers-turned-teachers?

Ah but there was always the King Eddy where we could often be found, lying, bragging, throwing wild promises to the wind.

During the day, we were pigeon-grey academics in our pigeon-grey pigenhole offices. And we knew, already, in 1977, that things were going to get worse. But Trudeau was in office, the country was in good multicultural hands, and we were sure to have our way.

But the way seemed somehow inauthentic. Something was warping the zeigeist in the midst of the Vietnam war. Further shit was sure to happen, as we watched the completion of the World Trade Centre via New York Magazine and Buffalo TV. And our own CN Tower to almost rival such Faustian projects.

Life was too good. But we all sensed, artistically at least, that things were going to get worse. The Titanic was heading for the iceberg. It would take some time, but the unried monster boat was surely heading for that great white Hoo-Doo.

In the middle of the partying and working, I decided to jump ship.

I went to Mexico to write still another novel.
I got it done by discipline alone. Finished on page 500, but knew in my heart that it was no good. I had to go go to work now, to the old job, or get a new one.
I soon arrived back at the college, where I had once achieved an untenured professorship there by way of an earlier book, a fluke, a local bestseller, an odyssey of novel about about an escape from suburbia, from Tikertown Newmarket, Ontario.
I returned to find not much had changed. There were still lots of restless, greying forty -year- olds in their micro offices in their Dilbert cubes in Toronto who wished like hell to have done what I did, even if it meant loss of security, personal and financial. But they were still in their Dilbert cubicles, and presently, so was I. Return of the native.
I had come home with a manuscript. But what kind of manuscript?

I failed. Bad knight. Broke my lance in the quest. The goal was wrong, my talent somewhat short. At the end of two years of the writing, rejection. Who me? God's chosen?

The Alvin and the Chipmuks song in my head, as if out of a computer: "Yes you." I did not bother to resubmit. I knew that the book was no good. Just knew it. Too wordy, too long, to unstructured for somene who was supposed to be a seasoned pro. I was also broke. I had to get a that job.

Teaching was far easier than writing. Writing was going the long, hard way. Hardest thing about teaching was figuring out what you were going to talk about the next day.It also paid five hundred dollars a day, whereas for an author, the pay was next to nothing The reward would have been fifty thousand dollars flat, and if your book didn't go, you had to pay some if it back. Law of deminishing returns the economics profs said.

But even here, in the ivied halls of Lady Eaton's former estate in King City in my third semseter there, I was beginning to sense there was now even less security at King than in some writer's colony in West End Toronto..

My employer, Seneca College, was trying to fire me.

Even at this, there was now the possibility of failure.

....end of first installment.



Charles Gramlich said...

I did a bit of memoir in Write with Fire. I kinda figured I might not ever get to do it, and, frankly, my life is not more interesting than enough to fill up a few pages. Yours sounds a bit more exciting.

Anonymous said...

Subject: refugees

News From The Manitoba Herald, Canada

"Reported" by Clive Runnels

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The recent actions of the Tea Party are prompting an exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and to agree with Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

"I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left before I even got a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. He then installed loudspeakers that blared Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through and Rush annoyed the cows so much that they wouldn't give any milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons and drive them across the border where they are simply left to fend for themselves." A lot of these people are not prepared for our rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a single bottle of imported drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley Cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumours have been circulating about plans being made to build re-education camps where liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR races.

In recent days, liberals have turned to ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have been disguised as senior citizens taking a bus trip to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching half a dozen young vegans in powdered wig disguises, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior citizens about Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney to prove that they were alive in the '50s. " If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we become very suspicious about their age." an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and are renting all the Michael Moore movies.

"I really feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them." an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

JR's Thumbprints said...

Such clarity in all that confusion! What about those early years when you were a wee lad?

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Oh, I was just a wee bairn of a lad then. :)

Mona said...

I feel that memoirs are about the days gone by and not about people. A memoir might contain ppl, but ppl don't make a memoir.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


Somebody once said to me, "May you have an interesting life."

Ogawd. Chaos master!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Who's to say you're wrong, Mona.
There are many kinds of memoirs.

Norman Mailer's Adverisements for Myself was all about him and his quest for Champion Novelist...And, I might add, Sex Addict-- also something of a champion at this! But the women in his novels are sort of whorey, and his Sergius O'Shannessys are more often than not, talented pimps.
Yet in his straight novels, his characters, his people could be memorable....Maybe because he was a self-confessed fan of Tolstoy.
Or Dostevsky?
...But Celine was a strong influence. Now there was a man who could write a memoir!

Erik Donald France said...

You and Keith Richards ~ love it~

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Thans so much, Erik Donald France.

I didn't emmediately get the reference, but Crikey, Keith Richards is indeed writing his memoirs...And from the critics, they're said to be damn good! I think he calls Mick Jagger "Madge", or something in the book.

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,

I want to thank everyone who voted for Drive-by Saviours for the Canada Reads Top 10 list. Alas, it fell short, but really making the Top 40 list was an over-achievement for a brand new book by a little known writer. So thanks everyone for your support.

My latest column is up on The Coast website at http://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/certifiably-green/Content?oid=1994523.

It looks at why, just as LEED (the international green building standard) is taking off in Canada, the Atlantic region is falling behind.

Happy Friday!

Chris Benjamin

Donnetta Lee said...

Wow! I should write my memoirs. Everybody has at least one good book in them. Probably, it's their memoir. Nobody could make up the stories that happen in real life! D

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

You're probably right, Donnetta.

Some wag told me I ain't written anything good since The Black Icon--which was part autobiographical.