23 November 2015

Simple and Free

(from my journal, April 2015)

I enjoyed five minutes of fame, reading at the Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference open mic at the library downtown, before attending the opening event at Open Space, and blending with the masses of other writers, all jostling between our day jobs to earn a ray of public acclaim, or even bare acknowledgement, to validate the hours, months, decades, lifetimes of struggle to bring words into pleasing arrangements, and place them before the open maw of the reading public. Gatekeeper teeth barring entry, however, to all but the one percent who are lucky, talented, connected or charismatic enough to chance upon the secret access code.

In the meantime, I continue… simple and free, before taxes, before death, before Facebook. I once worshipped the improvisational license of the Beats, and now find it characterized in the literary press as “suffer[ing] from the hectic spasmodic urgency of Beat sentimentality.” So I take that impulse to the streets, as it were, jamming with the gang in the well-equipped garage, and call it a hobby: simple and free.

Only one editing job done in the last two weeks: a worrisome trend, if I want to be rich and busy, but I don’t. I’d rather keep life… simple and free. So I continue chipping away at the reconstruction of a flawed first novel, making way in its turn for the magnum opus, HyperLife, a sprawling chronicle which, in typical fashion, straddles the unpopular gulf between genres, nay whole universes of book categorization, fiction and nonfiction. Which messes even with the age-old linearity of narrative, by virtue of the hyper-, that virus in our collective present day which sends us scurrying from snippet to tweet, from post to soundbite, from share to like, hopping tabs of inboxes and subsidiary apps, tweaking profiles and vetting comments, jostling for a dollop of the pie, jostling ever faster, vibrating till the waves of collective activity mount in tidal force, fractally compounding, leaping in quantum flux to a singularity that pins itself to the end of the current breath, the moment at hand: simple and free.

In this enterprise, by doing, I am undoing. Clearing the decks, stowing all cargo below, so that what is left to do is simply to arrange the chairs, for a sunset concerto, in the middle of the ocean, becalmed, content.


23 August 2015

Conference and Kootenays Tour

Breakdown and Reconnection

From the beginning of the idea of the writing conference--When Worlds Collide, in Calgary--I resisted. Having just arrived from a trip overseas, I wanted only to settle into a comfort zone at home, get into a writing routine. I looked forward to the relaxing days of August, the last opportunities for sunning and swimming. But my publisher suggested it might be a good chance to get more exposure, by doing some readings and sitting on panels.

ArgentaI could visit my daughter who lived in Nelson, halfway to Calgary, and connect with old friends who invited me to stay with them and visit. I could arrange a reading in Nelson at the Open Mic, Sunday evening in the park. A friend in Victoria counseled, "Why not do it all?" Finally I set out, making the leap.

Deja vus came thick and fast: the smells of the mountain air in the morning, the sight of faces from fifteen years ago, some aged, some looking the same. I suppose by now I have lived away from there for long enough to have assumed a new identity, from which it is now possible to reconnect, affirming the old bonds of friendship and shared experience.

Bound for an alpine hike with my daughter, we headed up to Kokanee Glacier on a steep gravel road, hottest day of the year. I neglected to monitor the car's temperature gauge. The clutch started going clunky, then quit altogether, as steam rose from under the hood. I stopped the car, waited a while, tested the clutch pedal, tried again. The clutch worked now, but we thought it best to park there and let the engine cool, take a short hike and then reassess.

On returning to the car, I added a liter or two of water to the radiator, and found that the car would now run, so drove a little way further to turn around. Heading down again, the engine suddenly quit, the warning light on. Now it was really cooked. I pulled over to the side and parked. Sent a passing car down to call for a tow truck. Waited an hour and a half with none arriving, so hitched down to phone, and found that the tow operator wouldn't come without a direct call from us. Now it could be arranged.

Was this result, the possible death of my car, what was prefigured in my gut resistance to the trip? Should I have listened to the gut instead of the "should" in going through with the plan anyway?

car tow The lesson ties in with the message of Barbara Geiger in a conference workshop. It is all worth it in the end, but you have to make the effort. The first stage, where you are, might show your talent, but it won't get you where you need to go. That comes from, first, realizing the need to make your weaknesses stronger. You have to burn out and stall first, get towed to a competent mechanic, and start with a new timing belt and clutch, before the journey can be resumed.

On Being a Public Figure

WWC Attending a conference, doing readings, sitting on panels, visiting and staying with old friends and reaching out to make new ones... these are the activities of a public persona. Out of the comfort zone of the private writing space, into the public eye, putting on a public face.

Having a voice--like everyone--and using it. Standing up and asking a question in a workshop; offering insights from experience, on a panel; sharing crafted words, in a reading; sharing interests with companions of the moment.

book launch Learning from everyone. Not in competition--though you are--nor commiserating, so much as celebrating the passion, whether hobby or career, and inspiring each to trust that voice. If this is our choice in stepping out of our comfort zone, we enter at any point, not to be "good" or point to another as "bad" for saying or not saying anything, but to write, and to work harder, for that audience to grow.

Barbara Geiger says it takes ten years from the Aha! moment, where you recognize the need for revision, the switch to making the reader's experience the priority; taking the craft seriously and committing to rework and prune. That is the period of growth, on the writer's journey--the laborious yet liberating process of addressing your weaknesses.

rainbowThis is also, by the way, the protagonist's story: at the beginning of struggle, awaking to the need to change. From there, escalating tension--like the raindrops and thunder, now as I type in my tent, in the foothills of southern Alberta.

As the thunder builds; the hum of the highway reminds there's another option: keep driving. Lightning flashes across the sky. The thunder rolls. The traffic swishes by.

The thunder builds. There is a lightness in the darkening dusk. I sit cozy in my synthetic shelter, swaddled in nylon, down, blanket, sleeping pads. A comfort zone of the moment, in transit. A private time to reflect, before engaging in the world again. Landing in a new place, even if it's an old place, the other side of the leap.

prairie clouds

13 April 2015

Thailand Vigil

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
~ Marcel Proust

A journal's refrain: "Meanwhile, I continue..."

Reading in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I reflect: after death, do I still reserve the right, on some hidden stage, to pronounce such effrontery against the cosmic will of dissolution and recombination, in face of the irrelevance of the very concept I?

walk on waterI return to this moment, this seat under the red and black rebel flags of the Freeway Bar, here on this pristine beach where it is possible to walk on water.

Last night in the musical din, a voice called out, "Where's Jesus?"

A gravelly voice replied, "Who wants to know?"


How slow the progress of days, when one is apart from home and community, self-exiled, learning to accept the singleness of being in the world and the illusion of that separateness, so that there is no pain in the apparent separation, no issue in the singleness; all a matter of perception, choice, style of journey undertaken for certain reasons: devotion to art, respect for discriminating synchronicity, allowing what is new to come unbidden.

Beside the placid moving waters of Ao Hin Kong, I note the morning quiet of the bungalows, the single bird call, the morning motorbike traffic humming by on the road.

My morning vigil proceeds, breakfast in the belly, despite the cascade of world events... catastrophe for some and a reckoning of global chess for others, the one percent of the one percent of the one percent, seemingly protected in their vaults from the chaotic fallout of their designs.

Meanwhile, we continue: "Life is good..." however tenuous; fraught with health challenges (tenacious life holding sway against inevitable decline of the individual unit); with the vicissitudes of acceptance and rejection, attraction and repulsion, success and failure, anticipation and disappointment. There is no finality in this polarization but in the balance, the cycling through extremes and fluctuations.

We pause to recognize and celebrate, enjoying the rocking ride; else why bother?

On the ferry ride, passengers are treated to the following scenes on large video screens: drunken, half-naked youths cavorting on the beach to loud music; Thai guys pouring liquor from the bottle down the throats of nubile young white women; assorted bikini-clad partygoers. Posh resorts on pristine white-sand beaches and turquoise waters; towels on beds shaped like swans; infinity pools overlooking bays and islands. Water sports for overgrown children: giant vinyl water toys, to climb on, bounce on, fall off; in pastel colors... just like the wading pool in my backyard as a kid in a hot, bricked-in Eastern city, where I learned to cope with, perhaps developed a taste for, 90-degree heat and 90 percent humidity.


In the tourist destinations these days, it's Russians everywhere-maybe spending their new capitalist wealth; or maybe, like rats, fleeing the sinking ship of state that the Western corporate mafia military elite is anxious to blow out of the water in order to get their greedy big hands on all that oil and natural gas? I played drums with these guys and gals; they're just like us (people); so don't go buying the war lies and all the other baloney that's sold at the newsstands by the same shills who produced the blockbuster hits Vietnam, Granada, Panama, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria... (or looking further back, as far as you want to go).

So war's a racket, as the chief enforcer General Smedley Butler famously (or not so much, downplayed by the shills) wrote... and what do the rest of us do about it, or in spite of it? Is the solution somewhere in the turn of phrase, switch of conception, where the "in spite of" becomes the "about"? Or is it the other way around? As Buckminster Fuller famously (or not so much, drowned out by the shills) said... "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

Which of course is why I prefer constructing model realities known as novels or musical improvisations, or deconstructing the house of marked cards and leaving the resulting silence to speak for itself.

Thailand sunsetThailand beach