Archive for the ‘James Joyce’ Tag

Critical Mass   3 comments


“How was your break?” she asked.

I was taken back. Break? What the hell was she . . . ?

Ahhhhhh! Break! Christmas! New Years! That must be what she meant.

A lovely lady, don’t get me wrong. I know her through friends. From the look of things, part of her break was spent in a much sunnier clime than this one. I guess for her and her husband who presumably works and her kids who are at school (I believe they are studying something having to do with wealth) a break would be a real and tangible thing.

But I stumbled somewhat in my reply to her.


“I didn’t really get a break,” I think I said. “I mean,” I added, “I don’t really have a job at the moment to have a break from.”

But this made it sound like I’ve been sitting in a basement drinking Lucky for the last month and I didn’t want to give that impression, so I added: “But I did manage to write half a novel, or so.”

And it’s true, I did, that’s what I’ve been doing.



It started innocently enough. I didn’t mean to be writing a novel. It started, in fact, from a post I wrote on here about teaching piano lessons again after all these years. And then I read a novel that was written in the form of a journal. And then I wondered if I could marry these two things – a man thrust into a situation where he is teaching piano lessons after years and years, and a fictitious journal, and before I knew it, I had 10,000 words or so.

Just a little every day, that’s all it takes. 500 words or so. You take the odd day off, but now and then you surprise yourself and write 1,000. And soon they add up.

There comes a point when the writing starts to gather momentum and you achieve what I think of as critical mass – you know you have something there on paper that seems of a fine enough quality that it seems impossible stop, the only option is to keep going.

Once you have achieved critical mass, and you have some sense of where you’re going, then all you really need to do is keep at it with some sense of discipline, but at this point it feels more like note-taking than anything else.

You can see from my photos that this is all hand-written, some of it at my favourite table at Caffe Beano, some of it at my kitchen table.


It is written in a green-covered “Writer’s Block” graph paper notebook using a Pentel “Kerry” mechanical pencil loaded with Faber-Castell Super-Polymer 0.7 B leads. For this particular project, nothing else will do. If I lost the pencil I would probably give up and if something happened to the notebook, then the great Canadian novel would disappear like so much smoke and I would be very sad. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am always aware of exactly where that notebook and pencil are.

The next steps are quite obvious. I need to stay patient, doing a little more every day, making discoveries about the characters and the story as I proceed. And then when I think I am finished, and not before (I have another notebook ready to go, volume 2 as it were) I will have to go through the labourious and somewhat clerical task of entering it into the old MacBook.P1070294

And from there, well, who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a good publisher and my little book will sell millions of copies and I’ll be rich and famous. Or maybe not.

And so that is the long and truthful answer as to how my break was. It just means different things to different people, I guess.

Any further questions?

Today (January 13) is the day James Joyce passed away in 1941. Here is a strange little animation with Joyce (at least his statue) reading an excerpt from Finnegans Wake.  I chose this one because of the subtitles which make it easier to appreciate the tremendous word play and playfulness of the language . . .

Thanks for reading!

Posted January 13, 2013 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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Easter, circa 1966   Leave a comment

"I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."

One of my jobs these days is teaching what I would call “culturization” to a class of internationally educated professionals at a place called Alberta Business and Educational Services.  (Please see my post from last August, Work Work Work.) While we focus mainly on the English Language, we also spend a lot of time talking about the culture these new Canadians find themselves in.  Naturally this week we spent some time talking about Easter, which in turn got me thinking about Good Fridays and Easters past and how it was celebrated in this part of Canada when I was a child.

The religious aspect is very different now from when I was a kid, say 9 years old as I was in 1966, whereas the secular side seems pretty much the same. No big surprise there, as we have changed from a fairly religious society into a secular one over the course of my lifetime.

I was raised in an Anglican household which is hardly charismatic or fundamentalist, but even so I remember Good Friday being a very serious day. Certainly in my early years we attended church on Good Friday, although that seemed to taper off as I got into my teens. Well let’s face it, the whole thing tapered off when I got into my teens. The deal made was that after confirmation, around 13 or so, you could make up your own mind, and so like most of my friends, I made up my mind not to go anymore.

If I needed any “confirmation” that I was on the right track, it came when I got to college (around 1976) and read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  We all read it back then, us artsy types, as we shifted our sense of the holy from religion to art.  That book, maybe more than any other, influenced my decision to spend my life in the realm of aesthetics. Back in 1976, such a pursuit precluded religion of any description. At least for many of us it did. I don’t think much has happened to change that in the last 40 years or so.

And yet I remember with some lucidity St. Peter’s Anglican Church in the old north end of Regina on Good Friday as it was in the 1960’s. Obviously there was no theatrical tradition in Regina at that time to influence my decision years later to become a playwright (the Globe Theatre, like so many Canadian theatres, was founded in the early 1970’s), but the church provided plenty of dramatics. The image I remember most vividly was the black crepe that covered all of the crosses and other iconography on Good Friday morning.  “Somber” doesn’t begin to evoke the feeling it helped create in the church for that particular service. Although my mother was hardly strict, even at a young age I could tell that unwarranted displays of levity would not be appropriate and would be dealt with severely. I’m not sure that I was able to grasp the religious or theological significance of the day, but I knew something good was not happening, which in my youth made me question why on earth they called it “good” Friday in the first place.

But then things got turned around in a few days, thanks mostly the intervention of the secular component of the holiday, the Easter Bunny. This was Santa Clause’s leporine counterpart who as I understood it eschewed a reindeer-powered contrivance and simply hopped from house to house delivering chocolate bunnies and chickens and jelly beans and the like to all good children, everywhere! (We had no idea at the time that other children elsewhere in the world weren’t just like us.) He even took the time to hide them in shoes and under pillows and other places that were so clever some years we’d be still be finding stale confections well into the summer – the piano bench! My baseball glove!

It may not seem much but in those days, citizens of this part of the word did not regularly stuff themselves with sugar-based edibles. Chocolate was still something of a special treat. I read somewhere that the average serving of a Coke around that time was 8 ounces, and you might have one only a few times a week. Nowadays an average Big Gulp, a staple of some daily diets, is something like 32 ounces. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, or the slushy-berg.  (The need North Americans have developed for sugar is beyond the scope of this post, to put it mildly.)

On any account, Easter came. I’m not sure when I was young if I really understood the concept of resurrection – I probably didn’t understand the concept of death, if I even do now – but importantly, beyond the religious aspect, it came with chocolate and yes, the church was transformed, the black cloth all gone, flowers everywhere, the congregation belting out a wobbly Halleluiah Chorus, hugs and handshakes all round and even the minister was smiling down on us; back home some new clothes to wear, the big meal prepared, the Lenten abstinence having come to an end so the wine was flowing (but not too much!), the air blue with cigarette smoke and pipe smoke, my brother still alive and my grandma arriving and slipping a quarter into my hand which in those days went a long way at the candy bar or, if one was of a literary bent, and being already overburdened with chocolate, towards the purchase of two Archie Comics . . .

Easter truly was a time of joy.

Thanks for reading . . . .


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