In case you hadn’t heard, the Alberta election (which I wrote about in my last post) was held and much to everyone’s surprise – delight or dismay, depending on what side of the political spectrum you are on – the left-leaning NDP won a whopping majority, thus ending some 43 years of uninterrupted rule by the province’s right-leaning Progressive Conservative Party.
For the record, my candidate of choice, Terry Rock, who was running for the PCs, didn’t fair so well. My riding of Calgary Buffalo went to a candidate for the NDP whom I never saw during the election, still haven’t seen, wouldn’t know if she walked up to me and hit me over the head with a dead fish, but that’s politics for you. I wish her and our new premier Rachel Notley the best of luck.
Those of you who know me will recognize that the NDP come far closer to my own political views than the other parties, although for all that I had somehow made my peace with the PC regime and had learned to live with the status quo. Clearly, though, by anyone’s standards, it was time for a change, and we got it, big time.
For many, this shift from right to left was seen as a seismic event. I have to say that I was frankly amazed at the passionate responses to the election from friends, as seen on Facebook, from both sides.
When we play sports, or engage in competition of any kind, we are taught – or at least we used to be taught – to be gracious in both victory and defeat. There was little grace that I saw following this election. I saw gloating from the left, sulking from the right, the whole thing made me aware once again of just how entrenched we have all become in our own beliefs, and how intolerant we have become to the beliefs of others.
In fact, what was once upon a time in the fairy tale past a measured dialogue that is surely the cornerstone of democracy, now sounds something like this:
I’m right. You’re wrong. Shut the fuck up.
Do you remember Voltaire? No? Well, I’m not surprised. It was he who said, as seen above, I might disagree with your opinion, but I am willing to give my life for your right to express it.
Well friends, we seem to be a long ways away from such lofty tolerance. That seems to be what we are losing these days, by the bucketful: tolerance. I know this. I’m a smoker. Believe me, I know.
If the great bastion of conservatism in Canada has fallen (remember, Alberta is sometimes referred to a “Texas North,”) an even greater force of evil (in some people’s minds) has insinuated itself into the heart of Calgary: bicycle lanes. Or as they are properly known as, the City of Calgary Cycle Path Network.
These bike lanes that have taken away precious lanes for car traffic, and precious parking spots in front of businesses along various streets (including 12th Avenue, where I live) have added insult to injury in the minds of many of our citizens, and if anything I have probably heard more outrage and frustration directed at them, and cyclists in general, than at the dreaded NDP government.
It’s so bad that as a cyclist, I don’t even love them. Now when I leave my apartment, I am afraid that whenever I’m outside of the official bike lane, which is actually on the other side of the street from me, I will be fair game, fairer than ever, to all the wannabe rodeo kings in their penis-extending souped-up pickup trucks (most of which show no evidence of ever having driven on anything but pavement, but I digress).
I mean, they were bad enough before we pissed them off . . . Who knows where all this will lead?
These two radical leftist events – the election of a socialist government and the sudden appearance of bike lanes – came together perfectly in a letter I saw written to the Calgary Sun recently. (Or was it the Herald? Hard to tell them apart any more.)
In a wonderful blazing fusion of intolerance and ignorance, one reader complained bitterly about the bike lanes – which are obviously a civic undertaking, not provincial, set in motion years before this election was held – ending his diatribe with a little phrase I’m sure we have not heard for the last time in these parts: I blame it on the socialists.
Seems we live in interesting times.
Thanks for reading!
This song by Paul Brandt would seem to beg the question, now that we have an NDP government here, will our rednecks now be properly referred to as orangenecks? Time will tell . . .
According to my friends on Facebook, and at least some of the polls, we in Alberta would seem to be at a crossroads of sorts — one path being the well-worn if not worn-out way of the Progressive Conservatives, the other leading into the uncharted and hitherto unimaginable regions, at least in Alberta, of the NDP. With various Wild, Wild Rose and Liberal possibilities thrown in for good measure.
According to one poll I saw, my own riding of Calgary Buffalo is favouring the NDP, followed by the Liberals, followed by the Conservatives and finally, the party we hope has no hope in hell here in the inner city, the Wild, Wild Rose.
For those of us with any kind of memory at all, this situation is reminiscent of the election three years ago when a similar poll told us (well, it told me anyway) that the Wild, Wild Rosers were in the lead, followed by the Conservatives and then the Liberals.
The Liberals in that election were represented here in Calgary Buffalo (where I’ve never actually seen a buffalo in all these many years, not yet anyway) by the incumbent Kent Hehr who, despite the dire predictions, won the last election quite handily. Which taught us, if nothing else, not to trust the polls which as I say had predicted a Wild, Wild Rose landslide.
So here we are, back again, only this time the threat to the ruling (for ever) Conservatives is from the left, not the right, but one can’t help but wonder if the effect won’t be the same – that voters will decide once again on the lesser of two evils and continue the tired old dance with the devil they know.
On my Facebook at least there is a real thirst for change. Yet, I can only imagine that for every orange marker I see, there are at least 10 PCs biding their time fully intending to keep things just as they are, thank you very much. In other elections I’ve witnessed here, there has been no change, other than the leader of the ruling party – which, I have heard, is the longest continuously ruling democratic government anywhere in the world.
Countries have come and gone, walls have been built and have fallen, the world has changed in so many ways since the days when the PCs were young and brash and vibrant. Finally, at least some of the voters in the province have awoken to the realization that they haven’t actually done a very good job of running the place, not by anyone’s reckoning.
It’s hardly a secret that my own political sensibilities run a little left of centre, and maybe a little left of that some more. My granddaddy on my mom’s side helped start the CCF party, the forerunner to the NDP, so maybe it’s hereditary. I believe that Tommy Douglas was the greatest Canadian Premier (albeit in Saskatchewan) in our brief history, giving us, for example, an Arts Board long before the Canada Council came into being, not to mention universal Medicare.
And so, while I would be delighted to have an NDP government in Alberta (and I can’t even believe that it’s a possibility) as usual I’m going to step out of line and for the first time in my life vote Progressive Conservative.
It’s true. (Sorry, Grandpa.)
I’m not actually voting for the party, I’m voting for the individual, who in this case is Terry Rock. My old friend Kent Hehr has left provincial politics and will run in my federal riding of Calgary Centre in the next election, and you bet I’ll do what I can to help him win and replace what’s-her-name from the Cons who was recently voted the most useless MP on Parliament Hill.
Running for the Liberals in Kent’s place is David Khan, who seems like a great guy. I’m sure he would make a wonderful MLA. I don’t actually know Kathleen Ganley who’s running for the NDP, and I haven’t heard anything from her or her people, but I wish her luck. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to name the Wild, Wild Roser. And I haven’t heard a peep out of Trevor Grover of the Green Party. Those are my choices.
So why would I vote for Terry Rock of the PC party and run the risk of perpetuating this rather tired, stale and ineffective government?
Well, he’s a good man, for starters. More importantly, however, it’s where he comes from. He the founding President and CEO for ten years of Calgary Arts Development. As a result Terry is probably more knowledgeable about the activities and aspirations of artists and arts organizations in Calgary and even throughout the province than anyone.
When this election race first began, I thought how wonderful to have a knowledgeable and sympathetic MLA – one on the government side of things, for a change. It’s really not too big a stretch to see him as the Minister of Culture. Who better?
But that was then, and this is now. How things have changed over the course of this campaign! If nothing else, it feels like we are finally able to have some kind of intelligent political discourse in the province.
Obviously, I don’t know what will happen to Terry or the PCs on Tuesday – that’s why we cast our votes. As for me, I only have one vote, and for the first time in my life, I’m voting for the Progressive Conservative candidate.
Thanks for reading, and if you live in Alberta, please do the right thing on Tuesday and get out and vote.
Everyone who’s anyone will be there . . . so read on!
The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.
On May 7 at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, I will be launching my novel, The Piano Teacher. Beyond launching a single book in a sense I will be launching a new incarnation of myself, this time as a novelist, adding to but not necessarily replacing other incarnations which have included, to date, musician, playwright, journalist and educator. (I may be missing a few.)
I suppose one way to stay young and humble and hungry is to leave your comfort zone and try something new. (Isn’t that what the Lulu Lemon bags tell us to do?) It’s always a bit scary and there is no real safety net but the risk of failure and public humiliation is not new to me.
Over the course of my writing career which includes to date 15 plays and almost 300 newspaper columns and numerous and various magazine articles and poems, I am quite used to sharing my failures along with my few successes.
For me, hell is not failure; hell is to stop trying new things.
I found the writing of the book to be straightforward enough. It’s written in the first person, in the form of a diary, so in a sense it’s an extended monologue – very extended, in fact, it’s about 70,000 words.
I wrote it mostly in Caffe Beano in the three small journals pictured here with a mechanical pencil. Yes, it’s true, I still prefer to hand write my first drafts when time allows. After I had filled the three notebooks, I was fortunate to receive an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant to transcribe it from those handwritten journals into my computer which was a labourious but productive process.
The only part of the journey that was difficult and even unpleasant was finding a publisher. Being an award-winning playwright seems to offer little advantage when looking for a publisher for a novel.
I only showed it to two people in this regard, and both times I got the same response, that it doesn’t have a broad enough commercial potential. Quite frankly, I was proud of that, and maybe I’m arrogant (because I’m too old to be naïve) but I think the writing holds together well enough and because it’s about a classical musician, a concert pianist, and because I assume the classical music mob is one that actually likes to read, I think I’ll be ok.
I have no illusions that I’ll make a million bucks, but I’ll at least have a work I am proud of and that I created purely on my own terms.
And so I just said “Fuck ‘em. I’ll do it myself.” And so I am, through my own boutique publishing company, B House.
I have written about B House before on this blog (see, for example, Publish and Perish in my archives). Our biggest difficulty in the past (one of many, I assure you) has been with distribution. I think I have solved that problem by having it printed in two different ways.
Locally, as we have been doing, it is being printed by Blitz Print and those are the copies that will be available at my launch May 7. Over the summer I hope to get copies to other independent book stores in Calgary (Pages and Owl’s Nest) but by and large if you’re in Calgary and wish to buy a copy, your best bet is to go to Shelf Life Books on the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW.
At the same time, the book is also available on line through Blurb.ca or Blurb.com depending where you are in the world. (As is my play Queen Lear. Other titles will be made available in this way over time. At least that’s the plan.)
If you would like to buy the book on line, simply copy and paste this link and order away:
Beside providing you with hours and hours of entertainment, it will obviously make a nice present for your child’s piano teacher, or for Aunt Mable, or for the mail man, etc. etc.
Sorry, but one has to engage in some shameless self promotion from time to time.
As I was writing this post, I heard from my dear friend Morag Northey who informed me that she is going to bring her cello and grace us with some music at my launch. Morag created the musical score and performed the role of the cellist in my play Queen Lear at the Urban Curvz production a few years ago. Her support for this novel of mine means more than I can say.
If you’re in Calgary, I would love to see you at Shelf Life Books on May 7 at 7:00 PM. There will be wine and cheese and Morag and music and I will obviously sign your copy of the book – who knows, it might be worth something some day.
And wherever you are, I would appreciate your support through my online sales. Contrary to popular belief, we artists don’t live on air. It’s nice to eat.
Thanks for reading!
As I prepare to launch my novel The Piano Teacher next month, the old playwriting career has shown a sudden spike in activity, this time over in Russia.
I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!
From what I make of it, it will only be a matter of time until I’m like a god over there, they won’t be able to get enough of me. Soon, my photo will grace the wall of every dwelling place, humble or grand, likely hung between Dostoevsky and Chekhov, two of my favourite writers in any language or medium.
I have been fortunate enough to have had my work performed in far off places before (Turkey, for example, and Nova Scotia) and I have come to learn that the further they are away from you, the less likely they are to pay you. But that’s ok, it’s all part of establishing one’s international reputation.
The contract they have sent from the land of Putin and Pussy Riot is especially puzzling. In fact I’ve never seen anything quite like it. To wit, the theatre has licensed the play – which is my play Queen Lear, translated into Russian a few years ago by a woman named Galina Kolosova who is a friend of Joyce Doolittle, for whom I wrote the place in the first place, but in English, obviously – to stage the work beginning on April 25 for one performance a month for a duration of three years.
I like the three years part, but once a month? I can’t think of an equivalent in the Canadian theatre. One performance a month! How is that even possible?
It gets better. In the land of subsidized theatre, the average ticket price is only a dollar or two. The theatre seats 100. My royalty is 6% of that, which according to my math will work out to about $6.00 per month. But for three years.
Like I say, it will only be a matter of time till I’m like a god over there.
Still, it is flattering always to have your work produced, especially in exotic climes such as this, and of course as strange as it all seems to me from this side of the pond, I wish them the best of luck with it.
The dream is that a director or producer from a theatre that performs a little more frequently than once a month in a larger theatre, such as the Moscow Art Theatre where Chekhov and Stanislavski used to hang out, will see it, love it and mount their own production. As unlikely as that might be, it would now seem to be in the realm of possibility, at least.
One can always dream, right? It goes hand in hand with the enterprise of writing plays.
By the way, if you’re interested in obtaining a copy of Queen Lear, at least in English, I’ve published it through my publishing company B House with the online printer known as Blurb, website http://www.blurb.com or in Canada, http://www.blurb.ca.
Any sales will be greatly appreciated, as obviously my royalty money is a little thin these days.
Anyway, it’s all good, I’m not complaining. But one of these years, would it be too much to ask to get a production where I make a shitload of money? Just once? Would that be asking too much?
Someday, friends. Someday.
Thanks for reading.
The Beatles won’t let me share Back in the USSR, so here’s this instead . . . .
When I began writing for the Calgary Herald, my publisher Peter Menzies told me there are over 300,000 people from Saskatchewan in Calgary, and so just treat it like it’s Saskatchewan’s largest city, which I did. Shamelessly.
The demise of FFWD, Calgary’s entertainment weekly for the last nineteen years, is both lamentable and predictable – and probably disastrous for arts groups in all areas in terms of promotion through the weekly listings – let alone providing an informed critical response to the work on stage.
Looking back at arts coverage over the last 20 years, it’s been a slow and steady and deadly decline.
I arrived here in 1994, chaperoning my play Some Assembly Required at Alberta Theatre Projects’ now-defunct playRites Festival. At the end of that run (“the hottest six weeks in winter!”) I was given a stack of clippings – previews, reviews, insights, interviews from a variety of papers and magazines including previews and reviews from the Globe & Mail and whole-page spreads from The Calgary Herald. It added up to an impressive pile of paper, a couple of pounds worth, probably.
That was just what had come out in print. Add to that several television interviews and spots on CBC Radio – which continued over the years thanks to the unflagging support of Caroline Smith – and one felt that the work and, assuming it happened more than once, one’s career, were taken very seriously in Calgary.
Thanks to the work of many great journalists, not to mention publicists from all the theatre companies, I was able to become something of a big deal during my ten years at ATP.
In 1997 a publication called The Calgary Straight came into existence. I had always been attracted to the idea of writing some kind of column, and one evening at an artists’ soiree organized by Bart Habermiller, who at the time was the City of Calgary art guy, I met the Straight’s editor, Patricia Robertson.
She invited me to submit an article. I did. It got published. And so I was on my way. Or so I thought.
Very shortly after that, Patricia took exception to the way the paper was being run and quit. (She made what could be call an “ethical decision.” Remember those?)
Michelle Greysen stepped in and took over. Following a chance encounter at Stage West (!), she asked me to write a weekly column. I thought my journalistic ship had finally arrived. I even went so far as to buy a little notebook to keep track of all my fabulous ideas for possible columns.
One day around this time I went into the old Roasterie 2 in Kensington to write down some of these bright ideas in my little notebook, and there was Michelle sitting at one of the back tables with an open bottle of Baileys in front of her. It didn’t seem hopeful, and it wasn’t. The home office (Vancouver’s Georgia Straight) had pulled the plug on the fledgling venture in Cowtown. She invited me to drink to the memory of the Calgary Straight. We had a drink and that was that.
The Calgary Straight folded in 2002 after a 5 year run, sadly just at the point it was starting to turn a profit. As sad and frustrating as it was for the people involved, it wasn’t a great surprise, I suppose, and it didn’t matter that much in terms of the big picture because around this time The Herald was going strong with Martin Morrow, Bob Clarke, Stephen Hunt et al; Lisa Wilton and Louis B were over at The Sun, and FFWD had an extremely strong presence – and some very good writers like Nikki Sheppy and eventually Martin Morrow who went over to FFWD following the acrimonious strike at The Calgary Herald.
It was around this time that my photo graced the cover of FFWD. (I think I was on there a few times, but this one in particular stands out in my memory.) To prepare for my 15 minutes of fame, I went to a hairstylist who spent hours getting my eccentric hair to behave itself. The hair ended up being rather high, I thought. Making matters worse, in the photo I was wearing some kind of velveteen jacket. The effect was that I looked, how can I put this delicately, a tad effeminate.
I asked my friend and advisor in such matters, Bob White, if he thought that photo made me look gay. He looked at it for a moment and said, “No, it doesn’t make you look gay. It makes you look like a woman! Like a dowager from the 1870’s!” Or words to that effect.
I made a situation that arose as a result of that cover the subject of a Spoken Word performance at an event titled “Smart Men, Hot Words.” Or was it “Hot Men, Smart Words?” Either way, I thought the organizers wanted something hot and sexy. Turned out I was probably wrong. (You can find it on You Tube if you’re desperately bored. For the record, I did not really masturbate in the washroom at IKEA, but I digress . . .)
With my matronly visage gracing their cover, I wondered about pitching the idea of a weekly column to FFWD. I ran the idea by Bob White (my advisor on such matters) and he suggested I try The Calgary Herald first. (Bigger audience, more pay, etc.) As it happened, Ashley Menzies, daughter of Peter Menzies, then publisher of The Herald, was in my Saturday morning playwriting class at ATP. So I asked her one day if she thought her dad would be interested in going for a beer with me. She laughed and said that her dad had asked her to ask me if I’d be interested in going for a beer with him.
Don’t it go to show that it ain’t what you know but who you know?
A few days later at Ed’s on 17th, Peter and I met over a couple of beers and some chicken wings and my weekly column with The Herald came into being. I told him I didn’t know anything about journalism. It didn’t phase him. He gave me only one rule: don’t write like anyone else.
I went on to prove that I didn’t know the first thing about journalism almost 300 times over the next 5 years. Some 250,000 published words. In fact, I even outlasted Peter who got the old heave-ho a couple of years into my cyber-residency at the paper.
And then, one fine day, The Herald went into the dumpster. My editor called me one morning and told me it was over for me and many of my fellow free-lance writers and photographers. He actually wept when he told me this. It was a black day.
I was sad that it had come to an end, but on the other hand, closing in on 300 columns, I was finding it increasingly hard not to plagiarise myself. Obviously, The Herald is still being published, but it’s a shadow of its former self.
Martin Morrow moved to Toronto. Nikki Sheppi and the writers I had come to know at FFWD scattered to the winds. Patricia Robertson moved to Saskatchewan where she is continuing her own writing career. Michelle Greysen is in Lethbridge writing up a storm and selling real estate. Recently, Caroline Smith retired from the CBC. There are a few brave souls like Stephen Hunt at The Herald soldiering on, but all in all, with the end of FFWD, you would have to think that arts journalism in Calgary is hooked up to the machines in intensive care, if not in palliative care.
After a few years of not writing for The Herald, I missed it, and started writing this blog, which is much like my column was. I’m not sure how many people used to read my column in the paper. I do know exactly how many read this blog, and where in the world they are reading it. (This morning, for example, I see I have had readers from Canada, The US, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Estonia and Portugal. My daughter Hanna lives in Portugal, so that explains that one. But Estonia? Maybe I’m big there, who knows?)
My thoughts on the death of my friend Michael Green last week were read by several thousand people from around the world, mostly in Canada and probably mostly in Calgary. Not exactly viral, but I hope it was of comfort to those who read it.
Because here’s the thing: I don’t get paid for this. All of us artists in all disciplines are finding it more and more difficult to actually get paid for the work we do. Ironically, digitization which potentially brings our work to vast audiences has made it less likely that we ever get paid properly, if at all, for what we do.
The rules of the game have changed. I don’t trust anyone who says they know where it’s all leading. Really, we have been caught out like the scribes in the days of Gutenberg. We have sacred skills that technology has rendered not meaningless, but virtually worthless.
And so, RIP, FFWD.
Interesting times, indeed.
Thanks for reading! Here’s something I found on You Tube this morning . . .
Photo by Brian Jensen
Like so many others, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Green in a fatal accident in Saskatchewan earlier this week. He was a gift, really, taken away too soon and so suddenly. Although Michael and I were friends for 20 years, we never had the opportunity to work together. We had been meeting with a producer on a rather ambitious project, and had high hopes for creating a show for 2017 together, but now, alas, that will never be.
There were three others who also lost their lives in this terrible accident: Michele Sereda, who was an old friend and even former neighbour from Regina; Blackfoot Elder and film maker Narcisse Blood — I know it was my great loss not to have met such a great man; and finally, Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, a Saulteux artist from Saskatchewan. To all of the friends, family and colleagues left to mourn the untimely passing of these four beautiful souls, I offer my heart-felt condolences and most sincere sympathy.
Now, it wouldn’t fall to me to write any kind of official tribute for Michael. As friendly as we were for so long, there are many other who knew him better and are far more qualified to talk about his dazzling life and many, many accomplishments.
However, at the spontaneous gathering held at the Big Secret Theatre on Wednesday, I kept thinking of a story of his that to me says so much about the kind of man he was, and that’s what I’m here to share.
Here’s how it went down . . .
A couple of years ago, on a warm summer’s evening, a few of us, including Johanne Deleeuw, Tim Williams, Kate Newby, Cam Ascroft, a few others and myself had gathered at the Auburn Saloon with the express purpose of drinking some beers and generally shooting the shit. After we had been there for an hour or so, Michael wandered in, got himself a drink and joined us.
He told us that a couple of nights earlier, he had been sitting in his back yard with a friend, smoking a joint and having a couple of drinks when suddenly, out of nowhere, a police helicopter flew in, hovering directly overhead, making a hell of a racket and generally scaring the hell out of them.
If that weren’t bad enough, after a minute or so, it turned on its powerful spot light and shone it right into Michael’s little yard, illuminating him and his friend in a stark and very bright, even blinding, light.
I don’t know if it’s on account of my own tendency to suffer from rather intense feelings of paranoia whenever I smoke up, but if that had happened to me, I’m sure I would have taken refuge inside my house, turned out all the lights and probably hidden under my couch.
But not so with Michael Green. Once he had sized up the situation and was reasonably sure he was not being abducted by space aliens, he picked up his phone, dialed 911, and when they answered, yelled, “I’M THE GUY IN THE LIGHT!”
After an intense conversation with the operator, he was actually patched through to the officer in the helicopter, to whom he repeated, “I’M THE GUY IN THE LIGHT!” Adding, “WHY THE HELL ARE YOU SHINING YOUR LIGHT IN MY YARD?! I’M TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH MY FRIEND! SHUT IT OFF!”
Amazingly, they did just that, they turned off their light and flew away.
Michael had us all in stitches telling that story, and ever since I heard him tell it, I always thought it said so much about him:
“I’M THE GUY IN THE LIGHT!”
It’s so fitting on one hand, and yet, those of us who knew him would surely suggest he wasn’t, after all, the guy in the light. He was, in fact, the light itself. The source.
He radiated a pure, dazzling, multi-coloured light that shone on all of us who were fortunate enough to know him. It shone on audiences of One Yellow Rabbit performances and the High Performance Rodeo for the better part of three decades. It shone all throughout the City of Calgary at hundreds of events during Calgary 2012. Most recently, it shone on the lives and illuminated the stories of our First Nations People who have been shrouded in darkness far too long.
In fact, that’s why he was in Saskatchewan in the first place, to explore the possibility of creating “Making Treaty 4” along the lines of “Making Treaty 7” which he helped produce here in Alberta.
Such a bright light he was. For many of us, the world became a little darker, a little dimmer with his passing.
He will be missed.
Thanks for reading.
The lights of Calgary shone yellow for One Yellow Rabbit on Tuesday night. I shamelessly stole this photo from Facebook. If it’s yours, please let me know and I’ll give you credit!
It began with The Brothers Karamazov which I lugged home from the second hand book store one day, it was a Saturday afternoon. This was years ago, but I remember thinking nothing else would do. Never mind that it was my third copy of the book, the third I could think of. Never mind I’d never read the other two, having given up in despair around page 24 both times. This one would be different. On the cover, The New York Times Book Review promised: “One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevsky’s original.” I needed that. I needed the musical whole.
Feverishly, I read 24 pages then put it aside. The trouble was, there was no place to put it. The bookshelves had long been filled. Not just filled like they were meant to be, as they were when I was young and happy and the days were sweet. Now there were piles of books stacked on their sides along the shelves so you couldn’t even see the ones in behind them, let alone reach one if you needed it. I needed a new book case, desperately, but the thought of going to IKEA filled me with self-loathing and disgust, so no new book case had been procured.
The Brothers were set down on the carpet between the book cases and the coffee table in my living room. It was meant to be a temporary measure. And yet it sat there for several days and soon the entire room seemed to be organized around it. I thought of my mother who had worked so hard to put me through university, what would she think of this errant book just lying there on the carpet? Such thoughts filled me with shame and many a night I went to my poor bed and cried myself to sleep thinking of mother and the rest of the family I never saw any more. I knew deep inside that none of them would just leave a book sitting there on the floor like that. Day after day my shame and grew and my confidence began to crumble.
One day not long after, perhaps weeks, maybe months, I had stopped washing so it was hard to differentiate one day from another, I went to my favourite coffee shop where all I could afford was a cup of hot water. I couldn’t actually afford hot, so settled for lukewarm. I looked down, as I always did in those days, as looking up was too painful, and there on the bench beside me was a copy of Kafka’s The Trial. My heart raced. I felt feverish. Sweat poured from the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet. Like a condemned man, I took the book in a trembling soggy hand and stashed it into my greasy satchel and furtively made my way back to my cheap lodgings.
I lay on my couch in mortal agony, subsisting on saltines and vinegar, and read the entire book without a break. When I was finished, I hardly knew my own name. Without thinking, I set The Trial atop The Brothers Karamazov before I swooned and fell into a treacherous sleep.
It was later the same day I tired of reading a piece on monopedomania in The New Yorker and set the magazine on top of The Trial. The next day, a letter from the phone company threatening to cut me off (again) went on top of the magazine. In the laundry room I found a copy of a biography on Steven Tyler which I mean to get to someday, but for now, it sits on top of the nasty letter from the phone company, beneath a slightly damaged Penguin Pride and Prejudice.
Something sculptural and loathsome and demonic was forming in my living room. Day by day, book by book, bill by bill, magazine by magazine, the tower rose from one foot, to two feet, to six feet, until I had to stand on my tip toes to jam a Pizza 73 flyer between the top of the pile and the ceiling.
By now, the tv was obscured from my favourite place on the couch. A second tower was growing up beside the first, grounded with a two volume set of impressionistic art. Before long, it too reached the ceiling, and a third tower began. And a fourth. And a fifth. You get the idea. Soon my entire apartment was a series of precarious piles of paper and I found myself scurrying around in this maze of my own creation so that I began to feel more like a rodent than a human being.
One night, as I sat in my local bar, nursing a flat beer, my eyes yellowish with fever, reading a stale Paris Review, despite my best intentions I was joined by a local harlot who rubbed my thigh and suggested we return to my hovel for a night of passion. I had been without passion that involved a second party for so long that I unthinkingly said yes. Up the stairs we climbed to my grim dwelling place. She was afraid of elevators. I can’t blame her.
I opened the door to my apartment. She entered and saw the towers of paper rising to the ceiling. She shrieked, causing a percussion that, as if in slow motion, started the crumbling and deconstruction of the towers. Like dominoes they began to fall, drawing the attention of the neighbours and the building manager and soon we heard the wail of sirens in the distance.
I scurried out the kitchen and onto the fire escape, climbing down to the alley where I began to wander disconsolately in the rain. This was weeks ago. I wander still. The only possession I managed to salvage from the ruins?
The Brothers Karamazov . . .
Thanks for reading!