You know me as the insanity writer. But I’m also a preacher. I decided to post my most recent sermon. I always cringe a little when I listen to these. The mistakes leap off the recording and chomp me on the nose. (I should have said anglophile of course, not anglophobe.) But mistakes like that help keep me humble. Enjoy!
click here: 012713
I’m a chess geek. I learned the moves when I was four, but have always maintained that this isn’t very impressive. The rules are simple. My father and brother learned them in 1972 with the help of an encyclopedia called The Books of Knowledge. That was the year Bobby Fischer became the first American chess champion of the world. Chess was all the rage. I watched my father and brother play for a while and then asked if I could have a go. I sat down and proved that I could lose with bludgeoning repetition, but got kudos for obeying the rules.
About five years later I finally beat my brother in a game. It was summer time and we were at our cottage. My brother was so excited that I won that he grabbed the magnetic set and showed it to my folks and his friend. I was livid, convinced he had taken pity on me and thrown the game. I shouted at him and stormed out. All these years later I still feel a little bad about that.
Over the years I’ve had an on again off again relationship with the Royal Game. Through my teens I was part of the Jousting Knights Chess Club, founded by my brother. My brother got a friend of mine to create a standard. Two knights (of the chess piece variety) glowered at each other over crossed lances. My brother also put together The Jousting Knights Creed. A few of the tenets ran as follows.
A knight never gloats over a fallen opponent.
In defeat a knight always holds his head high. Though he lost a battle he may yet go on to win the war.
In chess and in life the knight never holds back, and is never satisfied with a weak effort. Win, lose or draw he gives his all.
I’m a hopeless romantic. I’m also lazy. Put those facts together and you get someone who certainly isn’t destined for greatness on 64 squares. (To the initiated I am a Class B player.) Playing the game has always been a lark for me. Studying the game has always felt too much like math.
I’ve managed to go lengthy periods, sometimes a few years at a time, without playing at all. But like a siren call it keeps lulling me back. This year I got all wrapped up in the world championship match between India’s Vishy Anand and Israel’s Boris Gelfand. I got up at 2:30 AM to watch the finale live from Moscow. In recent days I’ve been pulled in by the London Chess Classic, which has seen world number one Magnus Carlsen break the record for highest rating of all time.
So world events in the Royal Game have stirred my blood again. I’m following top level games and playing a chess app on my iPhone every chance I get. I have a few dusty chess books on hand which I’m eying as well. I might break down and crack the cover on one. But I’m a little nervous. The magic of chess isn’t found in those pages. Something much closer to algebra is. And I’m afraid my zeal for the game won’t survive that kind of close analysis.
Here’s a link to a marvelous interview with the world’s highest ranked player, by Norwegian journalist Martin Sandbu:
I saw a quote on Twitter this week, words that once had a profound impact on me. ‘LEAP, AND THE NET WILL APPEAR.’ I first encountered this Zen saying in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. A book I read eight years ago at a defining moment of my life. More than that really. The book had such a powerful impact on my life that it did define me.
I read The Artist’s Way when my life was at a crossroads. The single ache of my existence was to write full time. This book helped me find the courage to resign from my day job and do just that. Cameron’s work was a conduit. I poured myself into it, and as a result dove headlong through a Magic Wardrobe, into a Looking Glass, down a Rabbit Hole, and off down a Yellow Brick Road.
The Artist’s Way is about freeing the blocked creative. It begins with morning pages. Show up every day and write anything and everything that comes to mind. Nothing is wrong. This exercise is an amazingly effective way to silence the critical thinker. Once my inner critic realized that it could no longer impact what was flowing into being on the page in front of me it skulked off into some distant corner to pout. With joyous abandon I wrote on. I started taking artist’s dates as well. I courted my artistic self, feeding and caring for it in on long nature walks and trips to museums. Then I would return to the page, and watch how my times of respite became fodder for my craft, and for the blinking cursor that I fed so furiously.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? But there was a shadow side. A sinister aspect to the liberation I found in the pages of Cameron’s best seller. That book reflects a philosophy as well. It taps into streams of Eastern thought which struck me as glorious at the time. A mode of being that is perfectly summarized by that quote mentioned above. Leap, and the net will appear. Believe and the Universe will make a way for you. If writing is the desire of your existence then write, and the way will be made straight. The valleys will be lifted up and the mountains brought down. A highway will be made through the wilderness and you will be led into your promised land.
I believed this unreservedly. To the point that I took that leap, and began a free fall through the abyss. I quit my day job. I began to write full time. I used up my savings. I cashed in my RSPs. I soared through the air with the greatest of ease, filling more pages in a year than I had in the previous ten. And I did so believing, heart and soul, that the universe would provide a net for me. It would affirm my intention by sustaining me on my path of choice.
I wrote until the money was gone. And I kept on writing well after that. I knew a pure sweet resolute conviction that I had been granted permission to pursue my passion for the rest of my days. My prayers were those of thankfulness. I resonated with the certainty that I was what I was meant to be. A writer. “Yes thank you God,” I would mutter, as I typed like mad. “I am a writer.”
Reality struck home when my landlady, a sweet Jamaican soul, finally confronted me. Rent was well past due. A fact she had let slide for quite some time out of compassion, and out of a heart that’s bigger than all out doors. But she told me this was the end of the road. She gave me to week’s end to make things right. Then she padded off to her bedroom and left me blinking out and up into the night sky, wondering where my provision had gone.
In fact the universe never provided. I took that leap, and no net appeared. I had surrounded myself internally with the conditions I wanted to produce. And I went splat on my face as a result.
I settled back into the working world and took some time to look over what I produced that year. It was a sprawling chaos of words. I had so resoundingly silenced my critical thinker that I was left believing in a worth that was not there. I looked at pages (endless pages) which I wrote in a sweet frenzy, in the belief that I was adding something meaningful to the substance of the universe. On sober rereading I saw the truth. It was garbage. Without form and void.
I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite poets, A.E. Houseman. ‘Malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man.’ My opiate of choice was a cocktail. Equal parts blind faith and a Mad Hatter’s devotion to my craft. The result left me penniless. And no closer to my dream of being a professional writer.
The Artist’s Way is one of the most influential books on the craft ever written. No question. But The Artist’s Way was not the way for me.
Love to hear your thoughts.
Communications giant Telus says The Future Is Friendly. I say the future will kill us all.
Today, as I drove along the snow swept wastes of the Canadian Prairies, I came upon a dead coyote off the side of the road, its carcass picked near clean by a murder of crows that was still working on the remains. I pulled over and the crows took flight. I got out and crunched my way down the short slope and stopped before the animal. The head was intact but the eyes were gone. The ribs were bare save for the odd tuft of fur.
I looked up at the expanse of bright blue sky, then back to the carcass, with my shadow cast over it. And I felt a pang of envy. This critter’s work was done. Its labors ended, it had given up the ghost and would struggle no more. Why did I envy him? Perhaps because this was a day of failure. Three months ago I decreed I would have a draft of a novel done by today. And I don’t. Nowhere near. In fact I abandoned the project not long after making that announcement.
Then there’s the fact it’s late November. My seasonal affect disorder has been sinking its icy tendrils into my bowels lately. I feel it creeping in. Feel it seeping through invisible cracks in the walls, like ether. Dulling my senses, numbing my wits. And leaving me envious of that four legged fellow mortal whose rest is won.
My dogs dream. I awake and hear them whimpering in their sleep, and running on spot as they lay on their side, chasing the vision in their mind. I suspect that coyote dreamed too. When it still had eyes that grew heavy and lids to shield them as it slept away. I stood there wondering about a dead coyote’s dreams, as the crows settled in the field and took to watching me. Biding their time.
I had dreams too. Had a persistent one in times past about this present age of my life. I have long looked forward to my forties. In the same way that ten to twelve year olds look forward to their high school years. With the rich whiff of future nostalgia. An intuitive sense that all the sweets of life are waiting there. Tantalizingly that future life beckons, around a certain corner, upon reaching a certain milestone. An age when awkwardness is at an end, and we find our perfect place. A time when we will resonate with the knowledge that we are who we are meant to be, living all the fulness that life can bring.
I’ve long looked toward my forties in this way. Since my twenties if not before. I saw myself at this age, all professorial. Strolling about with pipe in hand and sporting a beard, wearing one of my many cardigans. Without a care in the world, simply and perfectly at peace. A source of wisdom too. People would come to me, seeking it. I would recline in my wingback chair and distill nuggets of truth as I reloaded my pipe. A life so sweet and easy. In tune with the frequency of creation.
I once shared this dream with a friend of mine who is a decade my senior. I was a mere whelp of 32. She shook her head sadly when I told her my vision for my life at her age.
“Be careful,” she said.
“Of what?” I asked.
She chuckled quietly. “Of a life that doesn’t crystallize that way.”
Wise words of caution. For I remain a tremulous solution, still churning in a discontented way, with no such distillation in sight.
It was my turn to shake my head, there at the side of the road before that carcass, as a dozen pair of ink spot eyes considered me from the field. I turned then and crunched my way back to the car. As I started off again I realized something. The real reason I felt that pang of envy.
That coyote was as dead as any dream it ever had.
And here I am, soldiering on, beyond the death of mine.
Therapeutic Hallelujahs - http://www.24novels.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Hallelujah.m4a
It’s those school days, school days. Dear old golden rule days. I’m back in the swing of things, as my podcast explains. Reading, riting and rockin it out to a golden oldie in my latest 3 minute podcast. Enjoy!
Swingin On A Star – http://www.24novels.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/16.m4a
Mii Not So Fit – http://www.24novels.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Wii.mp3
What did I find when I dropped in on that premier movie site, Rottentomatoes.com? AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR CAMBRIAN AT THE TOP OF THE HOME PAGE!! I am uber pumped! A big thanks to Kobo for giving my novel such prestigious coverage.
Here’s an audio excerpt from the novel. You can find Cambrian on the Kobo site by clicking the cover to the right.