Friday, November 26, 2010
Something to think about while doing the laundry:
Perusing my favourite blogs of late, one theme seems constant.
Going hither and thither, suffering damnably, but always returning to self.
But there is somehow redemption for all that travail. We come to realize that only through trouble, much trouble that we find ouselves. And the reality of others, and their trouble as well.
It may be the source of a smile to republish a poem I had put into a page of my college magazine while myself still in my twenties.
Has one really come a long way...baby?
By Ivan Prokopchuk
Through the labyrinth of soul
U p through the maze
Down to the dregs
And sideways, left, right
But always returning to centre.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
I forget which blog comment I picked it up from--probably somebody commenting into Razored Zen, or The Walking Man( some of my favourites)--but over and over again I hear echoes of the late and great writer, Joyce Cary: Your plan no good. God's plan rocks.
This seems echoed by a Russian trapeze artist and tightrope walking lady.
You have the skill. But what actually happens is up to God.
How many times have I burrowed like a mole underneath all obstacles, trying in my own underground way to get where I'm going, only to hit a big boulder, and instead of going around-- going mano a mano, rock versus nose, and, of course, ending up with a frazzled nose...Like a young dog attacking a porcupine head-on, with the inevitalble yelp of "Arrowfff, Fuck!"
Heh. Hate that when it happens.
Old Newfie expression:
If at first you don't succeed--give up. No sense making a fool of yourself.
Now we come to writers, seasoned and new.
If at first we don't succeed, we try again. And again, and again, sometimes a much as seventy times. And what do you know, on the seventy-first time you make it.
But you are by now a different person.
You are now like other professionals who themselves had attacked that rock in their path until they picked up an almost woodpecker technique that through sheer vibration (and a by-now very calloused nose)--actually cracked the rock. Perhaps with a resulting crack in the head. No sissy. Sisipus triumphant at last.
I have met these people in Education. Seventy resumes. Seventy no's.
Finally winning on the seventy-first application.
Myself, I had the smugness of getting in first-time out. Three million words in print trumped any PhD.
It had been my philosophy that in life, you don't take things. They are given to you.
...Until I met the seventy time loser who took my job.
Now, I will have to go your way and take on ant-like qualities.
But army ant.
Because you are unproven.
You forgot god.
No, not me. I am not God. He is.
It's really up to Him.
And you forgot to take God into the equation,
Sunday, November 14, 2010
My intention was to produce a yeoman essay on the late Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges, addressed especially to Mona, who often writes-in here. She is a bona fide PhD-- and myself, I think I once got a doctorate in dancing and Voodoo in what was left of a forest in Haiti; an MD of the rain forest.
But in the course of writing my er, discourse, I had some sort of mental blackout, a power failure if you will, but very probably, a Senior moment.
Blank screen syndrome.
Seems I had stopped getting mental blocks once I switched onto the keyboard for writing--can you imagine what it had been like to compose 2,000- word drafts on a typewriter, again and again?--compulsion neurosis--hell that took not only some gung-ho ability--but on a mechanical typewriter, it seemed to take considerable brawn. Let your weary fingers do the walking, and, ogawd! they did, up to the point of cramps.
Well, today keyboarding is infinitely easier, but that doesn't mean ones ideas are any more communicable...Fifteen thousand drunken monkeys in your head don't necessarily produce War and Peace, or even an essay on Borges.
Nevertheless, current mental block or no, we flinch not, neither do we falter. We will press on.
As Borges said in his foreword to a collection of his stories, "It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books, setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them".
Lord, I'd better not do my esay long...Better to pretend the essay already exists an offer a summary of it?
But let's have a look-see at the actual text, at least its beginning. This would be important.
The Approach to al-Mu'tasim
Philip Guedalla informs us that the novel The Approach to al-Mu'tasim by the Bombay barrister Mir Bahadur Ali 'is a rather uneasy combination of those Islamic allegories which never fail to impress their own translators, and of that brand of detective story which inevitably outdoes even Dr Watson and heightens the horror of human life as it is found in the most respectable boarding-houses of Brighton.' Before him, Mr Cecil Roberts had blasted Bahadur's book for 'its unaccountable double influence of Wilkie Collins and of the famed twelfth-century Persian, Ferid Eddin Attar' - a simple enough observation which Guedalla merely parrots, though in an angrier jargon. Essentially, both reviewers are in agreement, pointing out the book's detective-story mechanism and its undercurrent of mysticism. This hybridization may lead us to suspect a certain kinship with Chesterton; we shall presently find out, however, that no such affinity exists.
Well, I know old Chesterton as a pretty good antique horror writer...But I can't even imagine all the other references.
But it is Borges, in his own chaming way, assuming, tongue-in-cheek that we know all his references and we are thoroughly hipped on Muslim lore. He presumes that the Bombay barrister Mir Bahadur Ali is a household name and we are familiar with all his works and the various shades of Islam...Such is the strange, amazing power of fiction. We are somehow convinced that we know all the references and nuances of Borges' tales.
Borges somehow magically charms us on:
The first edition of The Approach to al-Mu'tasim appeared in Bombay towards the end of 1932. The paper on which the volume was issued, I am told, was almost newsprint; the jacket announced to the purchaser that the book was the first detective novel to be written by a native of Bombay City. Within a few months, four printings of a thousand copies each were sold out. The Bombay Quarterly Review, the Bombay Gazette, the Calcutta Review, the Hindustani Review (of Allahabad), and the Calcutta Englishman all sang its praises. Bahadur then brought out an illustrated edition, which he retitled The Conversation with the Man Called al-Mu'tasim and rather beautifully subtitled A Game with Shifting Mirrors. This is the edition which Victor Gollancz has just reissued in London, with a foreword by Dorothy L. Sayers and the omission - perhaps merciful - of the illustrations. It is this edition that I have at hand; I have not been able to obtain a copy of the earlier one, which I surmise may be a better book. I am drawn to this suspicion by an appendix summarizing the differences between the 1932 and the 1934 editions. Before attempting a discussion of the novel, it might be well to give some idea of the general plot.
Its central figure - whose name we are never told - is a law student in Bombay. Blasphemously, he disbelieves in the Islamic faith of his fathers, but, on the tenth night of the moon of Muharram, he finds himself in the midst of a civil disorder between Muslims and Hindus. It is a night of drums and prayers. The great paper canopies of the Muslim procession force their way through the heathen mob. A hail of Hindu bricks hurtles down from a roof terrace. A knife sinks into a belly. Someone - Muslim? Hindu? - dies and is trampled on. Three thousand men are fighting - stick against revolver, obscenity against curse, God the Indivisible against the many gods. Instinctively, the student freethinker joins in the battle. With his bare hands, he kills (or thinks he has killed) a Hindu. The Government police - mounted, thunderous, and barely awake - intervene, dealing out impartial lashes. The student flees, almost under the legs of the horses, heading for the farthest ends of town. He crosses two sets of railway lines, or the same lines twice. He scales the wall of an unkempt garden at one corner of which rises a circular tower. 'A lean and evil mob of mooncoloured hounds' lunges at him from the black rose-bushes. Pursued, he seeks refuge in the tower. He climbs an iron ladder - two or three rungs are missing - and on the flat roof, which has a dark pit in the middle, comes upon a squalid man in a squatting position, urinating vigorously by the light of the moon. The man confides to him that his profession is stealing gold teeth from the white-shrouded corpses that the Parsees leave on the roof of the tower. He says a number of other vile things and mentions, in passing, that fourteen nights have lapsed since he last cleansed himself with buffalo dung. He speaks with obvious anger of a band of horse thieves from Gujarat, 'eaters of dogs and lizards - men, in short, as abominable as the two of us'. Day is dawning. In the sky is a low flight of well-fed vultures. The student, in utter exhaustion, lies down to sleep. When he wakes up, the sun is high overhead and the thief is gone. Gone also are a couple of Trichinopoly cigars and a few silver rupees. Shaken by the events of the night before, the student decides to lose himself somewhere within the bounds of India. He knows he has shown himself capable of killing an infidel, but not of knowing with certainty whether the Muslim is more justified in his beliefs than the infidel. The mention of Gujarat haunts him, as does the name of a malka-sansi (a woman belonging to a caste of thieves) from Palanpur, many times favoured by the curses and hatred of the despoiler of corpses. He reasons that the anger of a man so thoroughly vile is in itself a kind of praise. He resolves - though rather hopelessly - to find her. He prays and sets out slowly and deliberately on his long journey. So ends the novel's second chapter.
It is hardly possible to outline here the involved adventures that befall him...
Yes, yes, of course. Dontcha know?
The trick in Borges seems to lie in one master narrator, for all stories, and all stories being somehow one. Even your story?
It is a given among Borges scholars that the characters in Borges are not like the characters in your own life or experience, but I would like to differ. I sometimes think the omnicient narrator is talking straight to me, but its probably solipsism
There was a time during The Second World War, where my family, though not Jewish, was about to be shot.
Cut to Borges:
The rifles converged upon Hladlik, but the men assigned to be the triggers were immobile. The sergeant’s arms eternalised an inconclusive gesture. Upon a courtyard flagstone a bee cast a stationary shadow. The wind had halted, as in a painted picture. Hladlik began a shriek, a syllable, a twist of the hand. He realised he was paralysed. Not a sound reached him...
Well, as fate would have it, no sound of gunfire reached us.
A tired, beat-up Colonel appeared upon the scene and told the soldiers there would be no more execution of civilians on this day.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
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.
Friday, November 05, 2010
Comes to reading, I'm so busy with the blogging these days that I am like the Champion Oyster Eater out of old Bob and Ray radio.
....They are interviewing a man on a very early prototype radio show of something like "Man Versus Food."
They ask the champion oyster eater, "How many oysters did you eat today?"
He answers, "Three"
"Three?...I though you were the champon oyster eater!"
"Yeah, but they're slippery little devils!"
Well, to do a one-eighty, I must admit that I have read one, count it, one novel this year.
For a writer, that's unconsciable....Sure, there were lots of shorts stories and articles, lots of blog read. But one novel?
It was called "The Communist's Daughter" by some Canadian writer, and after myself having married Red Rosie at one point--I didn't want to view another old Ninochka film with Greta Garbo. But "Daughter" was different...an old Commie's excuses for having to abandon a daughter whom he'd never seen. He had to go and find the Way!
It's almost a familiar quest with talented people.
Genius songstress Joni Mitchell did the same thing. Some tabloids said, "Bitch genius abandons daughter," but then don't we all sometimes give it all up for the beautiful songs, or, in our case, what we think are beautiful songs...Compared to those of Joni Mitchell, why in hell did we run off to Tahiti or somewhere e, only to find, after losing everything, that our songs were more like Barry Manifold.
"How many oysters did you eat?"
"Three."...because the oysters of creativity are slippery!
The god has a price, and it might well be your teeth...and even hair...I mean come on, have you ever tried to write a novel? It's impossible!...so you write stuff like I'm writin' now!
For sure I should be reading more, certainly reading more novels. The beast has to feed!
But no, only one novel read all the way through this year.. About the Commie's daughter....He doing a Leon Trotsky and almost getting hammered out, as he explains to his estranged daughter. Got the Trotsky trots. Went for a dump.
Familiar story...Samson, Intending to meet lions on the path. And he finally knowing that he was a mouse. Squeaking his excuses.
Don't he seem a little like you and me?
The gradiose plan, the calclulated risk;
And wham! Rumpelstitskin.
Somebody will call your name.
You'd better get back to reading, would-be Shakespeare. Read some real books besides your clumsy scrawls.
Somebody has already done you, but better.
Hard to top the noble wop.
Ya should have read him/her before you started out on your journey to Tahiti.
But then, you are secretly like a mainland Italian:
...But like Dante's compusive sinner in Hell,
what a past!
This is the strangest of all secrets.
"In the middle of the journey of our lives..."
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
For a while, I tried to re-integare myself back into the Ukrainian community from whence I sprang.
It just didn't seem to work for an Anglicized Slav who had gone too far working in the vinyards of Journalistic English.
But I did take a course in Slavics, U of T, and after re-discovering the poetry of our Taras Shevchenko (on whose grave Canada's PM,Stephen Harper laid a wreath last week), I was moved to write this:
MAYBE, TARAS, JUST MAYBE
Of all the problems that beset the busy mind of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, none was so familiar or so strange as the problem of slavery. Taras Shevchenko wrote 160 years ago, while still a young slave to Russian masters, and yet his message, scrawled across time in bootleg packets may apply to our own time, and even here in my own time, in York Region.
Slavery is as old as mankind, from the first crafty Sumerian seizing an innocent beach boy or girl among the reeds to the slaves of Rome, so aptly described by the ancients, the sixteen-hour days, the blackened faces of the bakery boys, the scarred backs showing through the hemp, the fire-scarred visages, the stink and exposure of loincloths, everybody working, moving all the time, one eye out for the master's whip. As for African slaves, there is a galaxy of literature on this, right from the first seized Nubian in Egypt.
Recently, I visited a sweatshop in York Region. The sixteen-hour days, the blackened faces of the wage-slaves, the scars on hands and back from being caught in machinery, the grease-blackened visages, the exposed privates where the denim had ripped. Yet apparently the money is clean enough, or they wouldn't do it.
Poor Taras Shevchenko. Enslaved all his life, finally liberated because of his talents, enslaved again for excesses committed over his newfound freedom, like many another person today who just can't handle the mantle.
And yet he speaks to us over the tens of decades. The French have noticed him, and certainly do we.
An yet, how far have we come? Marx has come and gone. Those who had nothing to lose but their chains have found themselves again in chains, but tighter.
And who knows what strange shape hulks now again towards our region to set up hectare-sized sweatshops and call it a campus.
Over here, pimps call the new arrivals sex trade workers.