volume 24 of the golden west: 2001-2002 november-may  work & days: a lifetime journal project  










This one is quite readable. Peaceful with Louie, happy with Tom. Part 1, last push to finish Being about. Part 2 in San Diego over Christmas. Part 3 Joyce dies, winter residency at [my college]. Parts 4 and 5 student letters, a lot of Paul Shepard.

Mentioned: David Adams Richards Nights below Station Street, Russell Hoban Riddley Walker, Ursula Le Guin "Dragonfly", Florence Connolly Shipek Delfina Cuero: her autobiography, Lord Jim, John Lahr on Judy Dench, Mary Chapin Carpenter I feel lucky, Laura Sewall, Jam Ismail "News of the universe": Muan-bpo and the Cantos, Huge Brody East of Eden, Monika Langer, Monsoon wedding, Karina Gauvin, Peter Kubelka, The Eagles Once more to the limit, Eudora Welty and Alice Munro in Oxford book of modern women's stories, Berlioz The shepherds' farewell, To the lighthouse, Tibetan monks at the Chan Centre, Paul Shepard, Atanarjuat the fast runner, A beautiful mind.

November 22

Louie's little mama moving at the counter, long-nosed, bent, slow, with her top-knot knob. She speaks without the slightest variation, pleasant, even, compliant. I've now seen her alert twice: when I was talking about Sarah's moral problem, and when I was talking about Rowen's reading problem. Minister's wife areas of expertise. But last night, looking at the quince and pomegranate on the mantle, she described farmsteads in the Karoo, windmill over a very deep well, water tank, vegetable garden surrounded by barbed wire to keep out the little springbok, windbreak of quince and pomegranate trees. There would be a cooler, a little room with walls filled with charcoal kept moist by a trickle of water. In the cooler, figs and salted meat. During the nights the meat would be taken out and hung on the covered porch. At five o'clock after the heat, Iris said, the grandmother would sit on the porch in her apron, peeling figs, one for each of the children, cold, like ice cream.


I woke again, a night of many wakings, from dreaming I was hearing interviews / reading a big broadsheet newspaper, by or about young philosophers or philosophy students who were saying what I want to say in the mind and land project. I looked to the front page to see who had put out the broadsheet. A logo that said, The Origin People. Looking at it I cracked into feeling. One of those cracking into feeling moments, painful joy.

The point was the culture those voices were speaking from: relaxed, fast, informed, centered, carried on the front edge of the wave.

I turned on the radio. I'd left it last night on Bellingham's Christian station. There was a young ardent unusually hip voice preaching about the devil roaming the earth trying to trap us into compromise, talking us into trusting ourselves rather than the word of the lord. His exhortation was, O gang. I was listening with pleasure, curiosity, distrust, apprehension. I have always loved an exhortation to stand strong, committed, uncompromised. I believe in trusting the direction of the larger something. I am living the life the better preachers describe, working through stopping points, strengthening other spirits, centred in a large coherence, joyful in a plan, and so on. But could my strength and happiness be the payoff of a deal with the devil? Could the devil have taken me by means of Joyce and the bookwork?

The doubt is there, set into me in childhood. I defend myself with observations: the Christian culture is a stupid dishonest culture, the best people I see are not Christians. I have won my strength and happiness by honesty and effort, willingness in pain. The Christians have no clue how to help me. They were the devil that destroyed Frank. Before I took this road I was locked in isolation and uncertainty, unable to do good. I am living the life they recommend more than they are. In this age it is better to find it around us, in life, than to try to find instructions in doctrine and scripture, which are infested with male vested interests and interpretable in mutually inconsistent ways.

But the notion of the devil is the spoiler. If there is a being who could make all observation uncertain - this is Descartes - then I am helpless to decide anything and must look for someone to make decisions for me. But I could be wrong about those someones. And so it is a reductio isn't it. I must stand in what I am. But there is also a distinction among I's. Stand in the I that recognizes, not the I that speaks first thoughts.

What is the devil, though - seduction - existence and possibility of - seducibility, weakness - the sins that are their own punishment.

Here's a thing that's worrying - is it? I notice I'm hard about the unfortunate. I feel about prostitutes and drug addicts in the downtown East Side, let them die. I feel about warring factions anywhere, let them kill each other. Let the unfit cull themselves. A true Christian will not want any spirit lost. But I think I can do more to help spirits by working for what I do work for than by caring about those deaths. But still, does the hardness mean something? Does it matter?

December 21

Went to Louie's house where the fire's gift, whatever it is, that great fine natural goodness of heat that is perfectly right, reaches across to the chair though it is not near. Came in joyfully in my new coat and said, Louie my Ramadan is over, I want some port. Louie said, Did you finish chapter 7? I said, No, I finished IT, I finished all of it.


Say what I think I have, an epistemology for art, an epistemology for environmentalism. An epistemology for dreaming, mysticism, craziness, for all the religions to the extent that they know anything. Epistemology, account of aboutness not 'knowledge.'

What I've gained among other things is an ability to let my terms float. I don't peg them. I don't believe they can be pegged. The whole of an organization matters. A sentence has potency but it does not have truth except in a manner of speaking. The question is sanity, well-foundedness. Cultures easily construct tissues of insanity.

San Diego 28

I'm remembering something maybe from the first train trip to Queen's. It was a stop at night, a long stop, Winnipeg, likely. I was talking with two men on the platform. I was excited and confident, as I was then, engaging them, flirting probably. They were from a university - I'm not sure - but they were sophisticated, I thought, observant, articulate. They were looking at each other and one of them said I must have a good mother - was it that? I understood that he meant I must have someone who loved me wisely, because I was so confident and forward in spite of being lame.

The parable of the girl who discovers she is a dragon ended with the dragon rising glittering and smoking above the heads of the magi males, one of whom, a pretender, a dead-in-life, she has just turned into old bones huddled with a broken stick.

Tom said yesterday that when he drank he would turn into a dragon. He doesn't like to see crocodiles on the nature channel because they are too much what he feels he is. The lightning strike. When he was a dragon he was fueled with high octane white gas. I said I've seen the dragon. I go on seeing a reptile in the width of his mouth and in his huge nostrils. At times I look at him and want to close my eyes. I feel I've died and gone to Mars.

But the point about the men on the platform is that they may have been partly right but they also were not seeing that I am a dragon. At the time I registered what was there to register but I didn't know they were wanting to diminish me. I took it with an inner firming and went on.


Le Guin's girl from the farm is simple and honest. She defeats the cabal by demanding to meet them in the grove where things only are what they are.

3rd January

The question I'm having is about human weakness for mad theory - weakness in fantasy - religion - how humans will believe anything - people are sane in practical things, often, but insane at any distance from base - beliefs the oddest mixtures of mnemonics, social control, art & play, wish to understand how it all works, dream & hallucination, propagated accident, personal madness, ritual fear-relievers.

Surely part of the rage of Europeans against other peoples is the rage against noticing the irrationality of their own beliefs when they begin to see that beliefs can differ.


Tom has figured out how to deal with me. We were on our bikes last night and he was doing what he does, diving across intersections leaving me stranded when the light changes. I feel pathetic left behind while he waits complacently on the far side. It kept happening. I was storming-over by the time we got to the Upstart Crow. You hate me, he said in his child voice. Yes. I hate you, I said. Then I immediately felt better. I'm laughing now. I'm a powerful hater. It is a dreary burden trying to suppress hate all the time. Later last night we were looking at the candles on the TV. I said, This little light of mine. Should have known better. He then had to sing the whole song. I was scowling. You hate me, he said. Yes, I said. I was busted. I am busted as a hater.


A blackened mummified skeleton wearing a bonnet under layers of pink sheets, in a hospital bed with a sheet metal roof and roses growing on its right side. I see a blackened claw, the ball of a left foot. When I pull, the entire skeleton comes out from under the pink sheets.

Vancouver 20th

We made pie crust on her marble slab table. She gave me Polish sausage I was chewing as I chopped butter into flour with an egg whisk. She was chopping with a spatula in the same bowl. I said, You know an African song probably. Women pounding food is obviously the origin of drumming.

Later we were on the couch together yawning but not stopping. It was raining heavily. Then we heard silence. The rain had stopped. I went to the French doors. No, it was there floating down under the alley streetlight, it had turned to snow. By the time I decided to go home, after midnight, the sky at her windows was intense like a lamp.

One more story from the last trip. The plane from San Diego to San Francisco took off at five in the afternoon and flew over water all the way. I had a seat just in front of the wing on the left side. 11F. There was a new moon riding steadily above and ahead of the wing tip.

As we flew, the sky darkened. At first there was a tinted haze back toward Mexico, a greyish purplish pink. Then, as we left the San Diego marine layer behind, the sky simplified to vivid sunset bands, dark orange at the horizon, lighter orange, gold, pale yellow, bluish-white, pale blue, and then dark blue shading up into the black. The crescent moon and the small wingtip light were brilliant together in the blackness above the brilliant band.

Something wonderful is that I gave Louie Nights below Station Street and she liked it more than anything else in the last month.


Joyce in the hospital. I went with Louie yesterday.

I asked how she knows how to work. Does she hear a voice? She says no she sees something. She feels how it would be to be the other person. There's always a lot happening and she's very present, so she knows a lot about the person. She sees who they really are and then she sees what comes up that prevents them from being that.

I had said I thank her many times for having gone out searching so she'd find what would work. The search for truth she said. Louie suddenly said, I think your truth is love, and Joyce crumbled. Her face broke up in spasms of pain. Louie was leaning forward with a tear running down from her right eye. She was very pink and looked wonderful. I was abashed to be so outclassed. Joyce crumbled, it says, because that is her working faith, the truth she is responsible for. It isn't the truth I am responsible for, or not exactly.

What else. The kind of pain it is to see her dying is the mourning pain I don't at all resent. It is like thanks and tribute. You this time, me another time. There is a great security in its quality. It's the security of accepting the worst because it is the price of the aliveness one has loved.

1st March

Woke from a night struggling with William's floods of beige froth. What to call that unholy religiosity of tone. The writing in spiritual counterculture magazines. Why is it so bad? Why are the graphics so bad? Does the thing that makes them 'spiritual' make them stupid? Or is it the other way around? They are stupid, profoundly, profoundly stupid. The thing that makes them stupid makes them spiritual. Denial? Yes. In William it is dyslexia compounded by protest, an unmanly body compounded by protest. Protest in his case takes the form of grandiosity. He's very loveable but profoundly loveless. He's loveable in the way his sort of body can be, by playing up his quirkiness. He's in exile because in England they would be onto him. He's loveless because he's angry. He's pitched his tent in god's-love-land so he has to try to seem loving, which makes him sign his letters Blessings, William as if he were a bishop, and press my hand between the two of his. These complications make him chaotic.

There's a passage just at the end of his sheets where he goes into the song of himself.


I light on that like a bird. Here's the place to start.


Night before last I dreamed Joyce had moved her office into my house before she died.


Another thing I did this weekend was write Mary a long email. I said I often regret that I can't tell her how wonderful I find life, I mean the value to me of what she gave me. This music is making me feel her slow dying. I look at her with a pang. Is it my betrayal or hers? I look back at her as if I have left her in the underworld, treading the upward slope, young, bereft, steady, alone, alone. I am on the other side.

Feeling it that way, I am feeling I was the one who left her. Two years old, I took my pillow and went away to find the world. Seventeen, I read Brave new world and understood that I was on a road away from them. Thirty-two, taking drugs to find true feeling, what I found was grief that if I knew the much more I could learn to know I would leave my mother irrevocably. But on this road there have been other mothers. This road is a beautiful road, a road with a strong curve to great satisfaction and completion.

I can feel it the other way. She betrayed a small child, who saw her back and found herself alone and held herself together with the courage that made Joyce weep. She betrayed me again, many times, by dodging the truth I brought her. She let me carry it alone. She turned her back the many times I called.


Everyone at the table was comfortable. We ate crab with garlic butter, French bread, good green salad. There were two bottles of a BC red wine with bite. Both the local filmmakers present had young second wives. I was sitting next to Peter. Near the end of the meal I announced that I was writing about art as a form of biological being. I had the table shyly for a minute, but I could feel Peter resisting. I was in agreement with him but had taken it further. He wanted to go on being the senior philosopher. He was the guest and the great founder of structural film and I in his eyes was just some local woman who would do if I supported his thoughts like a mother, with encouraging murmurs and insightful questions.


My women students are all sane, Mike too, but the other three of my guys are stuck, each in his fashion. Lying, each in his fashion. They are capable, accomplished, more accomplished than the women - much. Is there some relation between their competence and their madness? Their feeling selves are vats boiling in darkness, giving off molecules that intoxicate their thinking selves into driven, fantastic billowings of theory. Each in his way is blind. I want to say, What's your simple feeling here? Keep your accounts, or all you do will be only the blind speech of what you have suppressed.


There has been a twist in the wind, from happiness to this melancholy. I want the melancholy. I want the heart there is in those letters. I want the girl in them. Now I am massive wise and kind. Then I was a slip of a thing, a river riding the river. I was so in love. I was an orchid sending fragrance onto a planet with no other orchids, blooming my heart out, out, out, crying into the endless air that brings no message back. I am describing a child alone in a hospital bed in a city in a vast nowhere without relation to the only where there was. Let me be faithful to this loneliness which is my contribution to the world. What am I seeing, what was I seeing as I hesitated between sentences. What it might mean to say it is my contribution to the world. It's a contribution I haven't made yet.

How would it be made. By writing about how that circumstance makes a person, how that structure goes on making a life.


We're not mismatched, it says. It means the mismatch forces us to know. Oh well, but what's left over. He's writing, writing. I won't like what he's writing but other people will. I must write, write, too and other people will like what I write. But shouldn't I be with someone who likes what I write? No, it says. Because I was alone I must remain alone? There are different aspects of being alone, you mean. Yes. Writing is the place to be alone. Yes. I have made myself alone, there. I want it both ways. I want to head for the edge and then I want a welcoming group to meet me there. I can have company in other ways but should not expect it where I try to outrun it. Okay. That's it. That helps.

So I should think of publishing as setting up invisible billboards that change the landscape - no one can see them but they alter what can be seen.


Friday morning. Just now I was reading back here and there. I like how plain-spoken I am, at the same time as innovative. It is my taste in any medium, simple taken into smart. The smart is not shown by signifiers of smart but by shades and tones and inventions, grasp and motion.

I love the phenomena of being and want to write them. I am about witness not assertion. Tom is about assertion not witness. It means his beautiful book called The Golden West will never be written.

A man called Mr Grabecki, eighty-five years old, took to sitting on his window sill, rocking and singing. His room was an inside room on the third floor. On Tuesday about eleven, a crazy man in 199 on the second floor phoned down. He said someone had fallen past his window. Is he dead, said Tom. No, he's sitting up. Tom ran upstairs and found Mr Grabecki on the gravel of the light well speaking aloud. I'm in Phoenix Arizona. No, I'm in Albuquerque New Mexico. What does it matter, I have seven hundred dollars. He took out his wallet and counted his money. He needed stitches to his knees and hands. When the paramedics came they strapped him to a gurney and Tom took them down the freight elevator.

Hearing Jesu joy of man's desiring with its wringing sawing violin line I was feeling Christian culture at its height, as if the Ming dynasty or some other high civilization no longer in existence. If I were sure it was dead I could admire it. I fight with the remnants of a culture in deep decay.


A woman 86 years old, whose name is Grace. She wants to go, she says, because she can't do anything any more. Five years ago she was still golfing. She can't read. She watches sports on TV. As she speaks a tiny dog is running about, a Yorkshire terrier, old, dirty, spindly, stupid as a little mop head. This pitiful beast genetically engineered to appeal to the pitiable in people was spoken of and to all evening as if he were the heart companion of a human life.

On Christmas Eve this year Grace was at the Mills' house with the little dog. Quite late in the evening Flurry was let out for a piddle. He disappeared. The boys were out on foot and in cars calling all over the neighbourhood. Flurry was not found. It turned out that he had run two blocks to the doorstep of a house with five Yorkshire terriers. He had barked and been let in and had spent the night as a guest.

7th April

Was that the music John Suderman conducted at the Clearbrook MB church one Sunday morning in 1962 or maybe 1964. The shepherd's farewell, Berlioz. I heard it on CBC just now and was stabbed with grief for that time. Frank at 21. My grandma and grandpa and Frank are dead. There was a moment at a height - the MB community had had long enough in Clearbrook to organize a choir that could sing Belioz in a broad full stream. Opa and Oma had raised their children but were still on the farm. Oma's red maples glittered outside the dining room window. The acacia next to the garage towered and stirred with flowers. I was smooth, brown and glossy. Frank stood on the gravel of the yard next to his red truck. There were garlic dills sliced thin with ham at Sunday late afternoon lunch. I wore a green blue and white gingham dress. I felt the beauty of this pinnacle of time but I was eager for the leap away. I didn't know it was maybe the realest I would ever be.

What is it about nostalgia. Nostos algos, home pain. I felt it as sinking a well shaft to another time, contacting it. What is it really? Grief for the death of a time, the whole time and place. To the lighthouse, a house standing empty.

In a dream I saw the surface of a page of my work rubbed like worn fabric so fine gold threads showed in the paper.


Tibetan monks growling onstage at the Chan Center. What did I think. Not much. First, the Chan Center is very mechanical-looking, wires and struts and some large motor-thing suspended over the stage. Second, there was much drapery-adjusting among the eleven monks crosslegged on facing rugs, putting-on and taking-off and folding and patting of crowns and embroidered shawls. It seemed a guy thing, technical and meant to intimidate: exaggerate the maleness of voices and surround it with saffron and maroon, clashing brass, drums that penetrate the listeners, long braying horns. Say it is a manner of taming a black power that likes human skulls, black crows, black dogs.

I did like the overtone when I first heard it. It was very high and bright and did not sound like a human voice but like a whine produced by a metal.

Here I'm on the verge of writing my conclusion. The initiation I would give is to say here is our opportunity in this life: we are physical beings in a physical universe, we are sentient by being just that. Great feats of sentient response and sentient invention become possible to us by construction and reconstruction of our bodies. Initiation into the human enterprise, the stage of adult responsibility, is initiation into knowledge of the ground of our possibilities, and knowledge of the possibilities themselves.

"Failure of the adolescent's mentors in the succeeding four or five years to translate his confidence in people and the earth into a more conscious, more cosmic view, in which [he] broadens his buoyant faith to include the universe."

8 May

My west. My evening west window, high fading color, the so many years of. Street cherries in flower over the pointed roofs. The line of poplars at the bottom of Strath schoolyard is in leaf between two roof-slopes. I am frightened of giving it up, being homeless, being gone forever, being adrift. When I came to the window - I'm waiting to take Louie to the airport - there was a naked little girl in light on a bed at the window across the way. She's the little girl born in that house, the yellow one, a couple of summers ago. The bed under the window is very recent. A month ago there was a crib across the room. In winter, when the lights are on through the evening, the little bathroom window has the mother undressing for the bath, standing at the bathroom door taking off her bra. In the mornings, through the kitchen window on the ground floor, I've seen child, dog, and father's legs against the checkered floor.

Rowen phoned as I wrote. Louie is calling when she comes off work. I have a heart ache about death and endings. It's dark now, except for a fading turquoise band across the west.