Friday, April 22, 2011

The Creed

flickr photo by Eric Perrone

These statements form the bedrock of my personal philosophy. They make sense of my world. If they are proven untrue, then at the very least they must be replaced with something truer! 
  • I am a manifestation of eternal spirit.
  • Spirit only exists in physically manifested forms.
  • Spirit expresses itself through innumerable acts of will.
  • Spirit defies entropy.
  • Spirit and matter are co-eternal and eternally commingled; separate yet inseparable.
  • Infinite spirit manifests through finite consciousness.
  • Infinite spirit knows itself through individuated experience.
  • Spirit can neither be created, nor destroyed.
  • Spirit is simple, uniform, majestic.
  • I am an essential illusion.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Narrative Voice

flickr photo by moriza

It has taken a long time for me to recognize narrative voice as the heart and soul of my stories. Every writer develops a narrative voice with every story he tells, but skilled writers are more conscious of it as the underlying spirit of their works and they are able to use voice as a creative element. I have tended to step back and 'let the story tell itself'. But even that is a form of narrative, expressing who the teller is by his absence. In other words, if you don't step brashly forward, the reader will invent you as an aloof being they are trying to piece together from your script!

Readers want a sense of the story-teller. He cannot escape being part of his story.

More on that another time. What struck me this morning is narrative voice as the essence that separates literature from every other art form. Film and theatre can incorporate narrative voice, but when they do they are really straying into the realm of literature and it is a device they can only use sparingly. Their audiences want immediacy. They want to experience action through their own senses, not interpreted through the intellectual and emotional lenses of a story-teller.

This is what will perpetuate literature as an art form. Whether the narrative voice speaks from the pages of a book, through a book reader, in a YouTube clip, or even in a collaborative work with other art forms such as film or dance, the narrative voice is that distinctive quality that readers and listeners want to experience as part of the story.

There is an intimacy to writing that other art forms do not share. The reader or listener is actually allowing the writer to blossom inside his or her own brain as a narrative voice, and the reader as participant is creating a story with the writer. That is the beauty of the form. It is the same intimacy that people share around a café table or in a conversation with a friend. Or (for those with the courage to write this way), the dreadful intimacy of talking to someone you detest but cannot get away from.

For anyone who thinks literature is somehow passé I have one phrase to utter as my perpetuating mantra: Narrative Voice.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Angel by Ron Mueck from flickr photo by Metropilot

If there be such things as angels
they breathe air just like me,
itch and scratch to the nth degree
and in the end - die,
their filaments of bone and muscle exposed
like the crushed wings of dragonflies
once their season's done.

But while they yet live, what glory!
Oh my, what glory!

To be published in OTHER SPECIES,
An INTROspective from outside
the human genome... Contributions Welcome

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why I LOVE writing - Rationalization #1

This morning I found myself poring over issues of the Cariboo Sentinel from the late 19th Century. For a lot of people that may not seem a very inspired lead-in to a post about the love or writing. Who in his right mind wants to spend a day reading parchments about events that transpired more than a hundred years ago - before the invention of the the caffeinated human?

A writer! That's who. At least this peculiar manifestation of the species.

One of the things I love about writing is the weird dimensions it takes me into. Too often we're in a big rush to get words onto paper to prove we're actually WRITING. But as I mature - strange thing for a 58 year-old to be saying, but perpetual maturation is another facet of writing I should perhaps write about... as I mature, I find I want to get off the linear track and explore wider and wider circles of discursive meaning.

I just looked up discursive, by the way, and discovered it signifies what I intended in one sense, as in: dis·cur·sive adj - lengthy and including extra material that is not essential to what is being written or spoken about. There's another nuance to the word I don't mean, namely - using logic rather than intuition to reach a conclusion. Logic is like Werther's caramel candies to me, a bad habit I have trouble avoiding.

What Mr. Encarta refers to as 'not essential', however, is the very essence of writing. The not-essential stuff is what you stumble on when you are researching character, place and meaning. It may never actually make it into print, but it's fascinating just the same. And fun. For example, I came across a tidbit in the Cariboo Sentinel about a witness to the signing of a will, who was being questioned in court and was asked how he knew the 'testatrix' was of sound mind. His reply: "I base my opinion on the fact that she knew brandy from beef tea."

Not essential. But surely delightful, and somehow revealing about the sentiments of the era.

Those kinds of intriguing digressions, whether or not they actually make it into the story do help make the story - and shape the writer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Empathic Civilization

A friend has loaned me a copy of Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization. I haven't got very far into it yet, but the premise is that as creatures we care for one another, that the apparent brutality of the world is aberrant to some degree, and exaggerated to a large extent. If you measured the rate of empathic interactions to that of aggressive and destructive ones, the indicator would overwhelmingly point in the direction of a world that is kinder and more gentle then we have imagined.

I am opening my mind to Mr. Rifkin's thesis. I want to believe what he's saying, and insofar as it's within my realm of influence that's the kind of world I strive for. Nor is that striving in vain. I believe that transformation occurs one mind at a time, gathering momentum and speed as more minds are aligned in a certain ideal. The world can be a more empathic place, and believers in an empathic world have a responsibility to live that belief.

But has the world been an overwhelmingly empathic place until now? I have not been convinced so far.

Stained Glass Excerpt - Suspended Animation

From the journal of Kyle Welland, protagonist in my novel in progress, Stained Glass...
(Kyle Welland)
Andrew isn’t the least bit interested in what I’m doing. I thought he might perk up a bit, beings as the research is about his own family, but he remains as sullen and dull as most male teenagers. Sometimes I want to grab him by the collar, shake him, and yell “Wake up!” at the slouching brute we’ve created. But it wouldn’t do any good. He’d stare me down with that who-gives-a-shit look of his – a look harder than bricks. As far as he’s concerned his mother simply wants him out of her sight, and his father has been designated keeper – the guy who drags him away from his friends, such as they are.
St. John the Divine in Yale BC
We stopped at Hope for breakfast. There’s a place we go to whenever we’re heading inland called The Home Restaurant. They serve big plates of classic North American cuisine. For breakfast: bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast, all washed down with endless cups of coffee. It’s always crowded there, the drone of anonymous conversations punctuated by the clatter and clash of the kitchen and the bustle of waitresses whisking by with armloads full of heaped plates. Andrew and I had run out of words. So we sat on either side of the table stewing in our own silence while life went on around us.
I honestly don’t know how we got to this place. Sure, I haven’t been a role-model dad. But I haven’t been a complete bastard either. Doreen and I have taken care of the basic stuff. He’s never lacked for shelter; food; support in school; encouragement in sports, music, anything he wanted. But something’s been missing and he blames the two of us for it. I’m not even sure he could identify where the black hole in our relationship is, or what kind of gravity is sucking the love out of our lives. It’s real though. Andrew’s resentment is real.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer
I keep coming across the story of Thomas Cranmer, the reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, who is considered the 'Father of the Prayer Book', in reference to the Common Book of Prayer, the writing of which he oversaw in its first printing of 1549, then in its first revision in 1552. On March 21, 1556 he was burned at the stake outside St. Mary's Church in Oxford.

Writes Richard H. Schmidt in his book Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality, "When the wood was kindled and the flames began to leap up around him, he stretches out his right hand into the fire, crying 'This is the hand that offended!' Nor does he withdraw his hand from the flame until first it, then the archbishop himself, are consumed."

Imprisoned for three years by Queen Mary, who restored the Catholic liturgy in the Church of England, he had recanted the protestant theology which the Book of Common Prayer had introduced. But in his final moments, while reading a prepared speech which was supposed to complete his humiliation, he departed from the text, attempting to reaffirm his Protestant beliefs before he was dragged out of the pulpit for execution.

Only by reading stories such as these do I gain a sense of the powerful faith that moves men like Thomas Cranmer. Christopher Dryden traces his spiritual lineage directly to the archbishop, and prays that if a moment ever comes when he must prove his faith, he will be be able to. Anna Armstrong is the test he faces, and like his spiritual forebear, he wavers. This inner conflict between his duty as a priest and his love for Anna will become intolerable for him as the story develops, and like Thomas Cranmer, he will end up showing himself to be entirely human.