Volume 8 of Raw Forming: 1968-69 September-July  work & days: a lifetime journal project  

Kingston farmers' market, new Nikon Ftn











The interim between fourth year at Queen's and leaving Kingston for London. Part 1, working at Hugh Lawford's treaty project, I buy a Nikon, Greg leaves for England. Part 2, radical hip surgery, am in KGH in a body cast for months. Part 4, the cast comes off. Confused indecision about whether to stay with Peter, a week with Chris Cordeaux in Montreal.

Mentioned: Greg Morrison, Arnold Dresser, Olivia Howell, Hugh Lawford, Mike Easton, Peter Harcourt, Joan Harcourt, Peter and Christine Dyck, Bruce Stewart, Joanna Downey, Jean Chabot, Marilyn Cox, Paul Epp, Patricia Wainman-Wood, Hugh Wainman-Wood, Robert de Chazal, Jack Usher, Joan Newman, Wade Junek, Chris Cordeaux, Marytka Kosinska and Leschek Kosinki, Peter Duffy, Judy Epp, Paul Epp, Michael Bopp, Ron Matheson, Dr Charles Sorbie, Richard Swindon.

30 William Street apartment 15, Morrison's Café, Kingston General Hospital (Watkins 369 and Victory 192), 180 Stuart Street, 82 St Norbert St in Montreal, Margaret's Restaurant in Montreal, Beaver Lake.

Ben Shahn, 400 coups, Berger Permanent red, The legend of Lyla Clare, Curlew river, At play in the fields of the lord, Pas de deux, Persona, The favorite game, Judy Collins, Don Levy Time is, The fixer, Rabbit, run, Couples, The music room, Morse Peckham, Witold Gombrowicz Pornographia, Shostakovich cello and piano sonata, Steppenwolf, Riders of the purple sage, Life magazine, The king must die, The bull from the sea, Camus An absurd reasoning, Louise Bogan Woman, Teorema, Tolstoy, Modern Times, La Chienne, Skammen, Ernest Simmons Leo Tolstoy, Portnoy's complaint, Robin Spry Prologue, If, Dylan.

November 4


The drive there and back, daylight disappearing, color fading and then winter dark. Service centres for coffee, the good feeling of stepping out of the car into the cold and running across to the usually ugly deserted box with waitresses distracted and charmingly curt, "Good, that's not hard to make," or tired and grumbling. Silence as we look at stars through the windshield, both leaning forward with our chins nearly on the dash; bursts of talk, dark countryside, lights. We stop beside the road for fresh air, turn off all our lights to see the starlight. Trucks go past, an assault first of light and then of sound, with the sound dying quickly after passing whooshtt and the light plowing solidly on in a long narrow swath across the road and the ditches into the fields on either side. Silence again, enormity.

Saturday, early Sunday. Rob on the carpet at Jack Usher's, lying in his tight cut-offs, sweater and medallion, talking as if he never had learned to fence. He has been thinking and worried about us, he wants to be in love, he doesn't want to complicate his life, he thinks he should at least be in love with people he sleeps with, he never had enjoyed it so well. "What do you do with people? You need them but it is better by yourself. You want them to give to you or take from you but you don't want to give to them." I say that sometimes you enjoy enjoying them and it's selfish in your own way, but he doesn't understand the strength of physical presence, his rough hair like beaver, like a squirrel's tail, his squared-off body, hands, legs, his too-large face and his ridiculous wonderful complete sincerity, and his smile that changes the shape of his potato jaw, his voice like his father's but younger and thinner. He said of Marny (a summer in the Gaspé with Marny) that she was too wild, "She had too much wildness in her, and I really have none at all. I'm very conservative probably." He is impatient, he wants what I said, to be in love and to be alone, not to be lonely, to fuck well, not to fuck anyone he doesn't love, to be one and whole with someone besides himself as he is only with himself. I recognize it because I remember it. Now I've come to love risking myself, just a little, as part of being one in myself, risking, stretching myself by making it work and pretend and devise strategy in the arena. Pain. I admit my bedazzlement with the physical world, physical people, Rob's rough clean hair beside my knee with firelight.

As we came back on 401 from New York State he turned his lights off and we drove in the dark. He got a ticket. We drove quite fast. Above us, high, was a single wind-cloud, brilliant with moonlight, again enormity, and we drove with our chins on the dashboard almost to Kingston.

Happiness all weekend at Granby. The strange clean room upstairs that I slept in, with "Cress Delehanty" in the bookshelf, waking early Saturday in the strange house to hear Mr de Chazal speaking French on the telephone. Mrs de Chazal's books on children's art, the squirrel, the black-branch wet bush full of grosbeaks, some chickadees, an acrobatic nuthatch, a jay, but especially the fat yellow grosbeaks. Camera magazines, Robert finally getting up, and the unspoken agreement between his father and mother and me that he is a fine manly nice looking young man.

Driving back on Sunday through the small French villages into Vermont, talking about our romantic histories, the day in high school when one of the boys was the first to get his finger into a girl and took all his friends aside individually to tell them about it. It was a wonderful day, Robert said.

The Gauchers on their farm, the kitchen with polished linoleum, wood stove, painted plaster fruit and calendars on the walls, Eatons curtains.

I was very happy coming back with him last weekend. I felt like a grande amoureuse who'd found herself at last. We ate bread and cheese, the houses in the sunset towns were magic, with gold windows as we drove along a lakeshore, and then the empty roads, white face with dark hills curving close around us, the stretches of throughway and the brilliant long cloud that stayed with us, dark speed, excited awareness of Rob, an other, a new other.


I told Greg about the dream, two mornings ago. I was at home, in Mother and Father's bedroom. Father was on his side of the bed, lying on his side with his back to us, asleep. I lay beside Mother in bed, she had her arms around me from the back, I lay quite indifferent, comfortable, passive as Mother moved against me, unsurprised when she came into me like a man. After three strokes I knew I was going to climax and lay waiting for it - I did, six kicks in the womb - Mother counted them aloud. I thought, still in my dream, how odd it was that I should have climaxed so fast, and vaginally too, with my mother as I never had with anyone. And then to Greg: "I knew it was Mother but it was exactly like being with you. I've been thinking about how I've been with you, indifferent, sometimes really hostile. Maybe I'm looking for my father now."

Saturday late November

I am lonely. Myself slides, like a many-leaf shutter in a camera, petals sliding over one another, I am narrow and closer sometimes, but the sliding movement is myself as well as the narrowed beam of light. I slide as I consider alternatives, these powerful shapes and voices who are other people, with their own styles that are styles and not a sliding out of desperate accidental limbs to catch hold of the real world. What shall I be? Would it be better to be M? To be David? Could I hold my neck that way? Could I learn Joan's trick of speaking sharply and ironically but gently so that ... . If I had legs like M's and will I be pretty as Joan when I am thirty five? I don't talk about my being as it is in the centre, I write as another posing of a timid or reckless limb in the world, but the sliding is this exactly, look at Carolyn's bottom, slight, like a seashell, pretty. Carol's cracked full mouth if I could so graciously feign respectful interest no it's humiliating and boring to be so nice, she's a minister's daughter like a minister's wife, without edges, slippery and round but she said, one day "I feel like nothing." I remember the bathroom mirror this morning, that awkward form of buttocks and back, crooked, tilted to one side, bumpy, this is the body I recklessly offer them, the others? I stare. Judy telling Susie on the other side of the raspberry rows that I stare at her dancing and make her feel uncomfortable. I have to spend the rest of my life inside this body, and it's changing, sliding like myself, but imperceptibly, toward something I don't choose and do fear.

Pierre Léger's poem - Voyage de la délivrance - makes me feel that Greg and I and our house this summer were something peaceful, quite serene and full of love of life, of food, music, color, the lake glittering below. I wish my house were that now. But before this house can be a délivrance for those who can lie back (not Rob, not Peter although I wish he could) and before I can carry flowers into the bedroom of visiting people I love and set them on the floor under the window that is like a French window, trees pressed in close full of spider webs, I must rearrange that peace in myself, in this book (which now instead of remembering and praising asserts, questions, is full of polemic and cries of confusion) and I don't know how, except to plan and resolve, but those lists are always silly, unabsolute, so I won't put them in, write them separately.


Peter Harcourt called and asked me to lunch, red wine, pizza and salad at Lino's on a red-checked (plastic) tablecloth. I looked at the lines around his evasive blue eyes (he doesn't look at me when I speak to him) and he talked about women, Joan and the Elizabeth I reminded him of. When I had dinner with them on Saturday his daughter Jenny brought down their wedding picture. He was thin, pinch-faced as a Siamese cat, very arrogant. She looks as she does now, with her head on the side, frightened, holding onto Peter's arm. His hand is clamped over hers. He's a rare, lovely man, full of complexities and obtusities but alive at high heat, self-ironical, funny, uncannily aware. I want to be like him. And he's a bit of a letch, he loves women, and lusts after them, but really loves them as hardly any men know how, imaginatively, sensually, intellectually. He distorts them a little but at the same time sees them affectionately and accurately and with excitement as even or especially their husbands and lovers do not. He's been my best course at Queen's, without exaggeration. From him I am learning a style of living and thinking that almost (not quite) fits me and that I can stretch out in or remake to my size. We can touch each other now and that tension is gone. It never was sexual attraction but it was physical attraction, from even early last year. He was special. I see the kids in class this year look at him as I did, and then he comes up to sit beside me when the film begins, and I feel immensely older and really graduated. I am too, I'm not his student anymore. It's equality. Ha, if it were so easy.

December 17, 1968, 30 William Street #15, Kingston

I came home today, after last night's far open melted loving with Greg, after At Play in the Fields of the Lord, oatmeal bread breakfast, brilliant white sunless guilty morning away from work. Before scallops at Murphy's and buttery-milk oyster stew, before Pas de Deux with Greg seeing it for the first time, before the short on Borduas shot by Dufaux, constantly tracking then stopping dead to stare at a composition like white frozen sea cutting into land [sketch], before Persona, before seeing the Lawfords and the Coxes and the Harcourts at the movie, before cheesecake and whipped cream at the Astor, before jubilantly walking home to give Greg the fruitcake and feed the cats milk, I bought a Nikon F Photomatic Tn.

31 Dec

In Ottawa three nights ago I went to see The Fixer with Greg, deep in new snow, my long black cape, he in his leather gold-colored jacket after we'd had dinner with Nana and I had taken Greg's picture aureoled by the white face of the grandfather clock. When we came home from the movie we sat downstairs in the living room with one light low behind us and I wanted to seize Greg and bite him. Because of The Fixer, Alan Bates' blue eyed shaggy haired face in the village, then the ghetto, then the prisons. Becoming political, do I have to? Ferociously, "But what does it say about how you should spend your life? What does it say about how I should spend my life? You've stopped looking for alternatives. I've stopped looking for alternatives. We assume there aren't any. You're lazy."

"It's to stay alive. It's very important! Hardly anyone does. The guy in Take One talking about how nearly everyone dies between the ages of twenty and thirty." "I nag you because I think you're a good person or could be a really good person if you had what you lack. The first thing is understanding, experience, because you don't know what people are like and the second is courage because you don't do anything about what you know." "You won't reach in after people, like your father." (Who came to the door when we left, stood on the porch with his hands in his pockets looking steadily and I thought sadly after us as we backed down the drive. I asked Greg what he thought of it. "Feeling more than he can say, that's why I hate things like goodbye parties." "Greg!")

And about my camera, tears in my eyes because it was important to believe that I can do something with that camera. "I can't take pictures if it isn't out of love of the world. Like those pictures - the mother and child, the green shirt man. The way they look at the camera, it's as if I love the world and respect them." It was very clear how I should live, I had three points! "The first is that I have to be honest and only say what's true. The second is that I have to work only out of love of the world, and the two aren't necessarily compatible. And the third is that I have to stay alive somehow and really look for alternatives but especially I have to stay alive."

When we went upstairs to bed I was full of the feeling that I can be someone, not, like Richard, that I can do whatever I want, but that I can do something very well, that I can become something extraordinary, if I find what I want to be and don't lose myself somewhere, by marrying or by not marrying, studying or not studying, by finding or not finding the particular men with whom I could be excited as with Desser and challenged as with Don, seen as with Peter, confident as with Greg. Yeah. And at the same time I wonder if I won't die before I can become anything; I scrutinize my body for omens. Last night I lay awake near morning listening to the pains that have settled in my hip and knee, wondering about scars, stiffness, rheumatism at twenty four and invalidity at twenty five. I thought about my journal, if I died would someone want it? Who would I give it to? Not Greg because he wouldn't feel it. Not Desser, although I long for him, because he doesn't know me. Olivia and Don? Mother? And at this moment I realize that if I do actually die this little patch takes on a prophetic importance. Well, I don't know; I feel that I might, and I don't want to. At the same time the future is so uncertain, vague, and my desires for it so far from the ceremony of most people's lives, that I haven't any clear sense of missing or losing something, only of being certain that I'm unfinished and my life hasn't assumed or found an aesthetic pattern, or an organic pattern.

If I wanted an image of the starting point, my beginning self, it would be that of the ten year old I was. One night at the Sexsmith Bible Institute I went out early to the Mercury. I remember the collar of a winter coat, I remember smiling at a strange boy I passed and continuing to smile after he'd gone, and then passing Darlene Hamm whom I thought pretty and whom I knew to be in the centre of approval, admiration, good manners, self certainty, pretty clothes, whose edges I seemed to prowl, sullen, pretty only in the private moments no one knew how to evoke, badly dressed in other people's old clothes that didn't fit, usually in shoes that my hobble had deformed very quickly. (Peter saying "So you're going to hobble home by yourself?", did it take an effort to say "hobble"? I said "Yes, I'm going to hobble home by myself," and it took an effort, but not like the first day at school in nylons.) When she passed I was struck, evaporated, turned to the self I thought she saw and no longer the delighted strong self I had believed the minute before. Not very different as I am now. Something is different but I may not know what until I've passed it.

The details of that night in Sexsmith remain - cold, blue dark, frozen mud in the street and I think frost of the sidewalk boards. What structure there is in my life may really be sensual, this sort of detail echoing, repeating through the different knots of time I've kept, these knots with so many details intact. Other nights in Sexsmith, a night at the old place when I got up and walked through the unfamiliar dark pasture past the meadow with thistles that could only be reached through a thicket of poplars and willows, to the dirt road going up up over Hill Sixty. The bicycle hurtling down the shiny track where the road had been flattened. Moonlight out of a turquoise sky, road, trees, pasture, garden, yard, flat hayroofed barn (not designed that way, but unfinished). Caragana hedge, board sidewalk, the old white house.

21 January


Sounds in the corridor remind me of the Edmonton hospital, the juice cart rattling, the heavy squeak of the food wagon, sixteen-year-old boys mopping lazily (coming in and mopping one spot conscientiously for ten minutes while they talk about my guitar and Gordon Lightfoot), the clear clean English accent of the Hampshire girl who's my nurse, orderlies slowing down to peek in my door as they pass, rapid footsteps, shuffling footsteps of old people ("I'm takin' a walk, nurse, t'keep up my strength"), visitor's footsteps hesitating as they read room numbers, the red haired nurse's aid with no hips calling back "Very welcome at any time" to some patient who's thanked her for flouncing in with a change of water for the flowers.

Greg has left for England, last Tuesday, a week today. His thesis had dragged on longer and longer but finally it's done, typed, examined, corrected, approved, and he's popped out of Canada like a caragana seed flying out of its high-tension catapult-pods. The late night plane from Montreal, with his record player, his cowboy boots, a new blue denim jean jacket, his Australian sheepherder's hat, off to London, well-tailored small-scale tidy England, where he'll surely seem very colonial with his big hands and feet and his flamboyant colors (brassy blond at the top of his head, bright red beard), like one of the Indians brought back by explorers to exhibit to the king.

4 April


A nurse lent me The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea about Theseus the King. Historical romance, really romance, the bull dancer, the silver-haired Amazon with grey-silver eyes, destiny, the mother cult and Apollo of the light, the landscapes of Delphi, Sounion, the hills around the Acropolis.

When Peter came late this afternoon I was dazzled out of conversation by the painted ships and steep cliffs I'd wanted to see across the glitter on today's peacock-blue lake. And the Amazons! Hippolyta coming back out of the forest, naked, brown, tall and narrow, strong, with silver hair loose around her forehead and a face like Indra's, transparent grey green eyes full of light, with one arm drawn back holding the bow string. She knew she was loved and never tested, never asked, never pulled the string to see whether the other end was loose: "We are what we are, love. Let us keep our pride." And through the two books, the past three days, I've been tugged by the Mysteries, by bull-leaping, by the death chosen as a gift to the gods, by the world full of omens to be read, by the instantly recognized instantly returned friendship, by love that is half fate half wonder and a sacrament from the beginning, by religion that's partly my old feeling of landscape, by contact with seasons and weather, by the notion of god possession that is in a way still freedom, by honour. Of course I want to be an Amazon, powerful by right of beauty, like Theseus, but still able to be his arms companion-lover.

Something else, another alternative. Mary Renault's language, all concrete, clear as water when she's telling stories, without abstractions, full of images that tie Theseus' life as thinking to the seen world. Me, I think so little, and usually only writing. Would I think more if my language were less difficult. But I like the leaps I can make with abstractions, false leaps or not? I like the feeling of leaping.

May 6

The two-acre Greek landscape at Fort Henry, washed light, we bargaining and haggling about whether we'll love each other. I'm wrong to reason and haggle because Peter is Peter and he's worth quite a lot. I'm willing only to take small risks, hitchhiking to Labrador, but not large ones like taking on Peter Harcourt. Other, lesser, women wouldn't hesitate, and from his point of view they are right. But they're more generous and I'm not sure what I can give up.

If I stay with him I must be completely blunt with him, even if it is destructive, I must always risk everything to gain everything, or else it will not work.

10 May

What nonsense I've been writing in using the book to talk to myself. Peckham: "How hard it is to feel what you do indeed feel." Except that feelings are created in going along with situations that presume the feeling. My main, real, feelings of tenderness are usually half repentance at having wounded somebody, I don't know whether it is guilt pleased with itself or really a spontaneous response to the evidence of someone else's vulnerability to me. And the obsessed passion comes only when I'm being ignored! More and more I discover that my emotions in the love-complex of relationships are petty at least in origin, sometimes not in expression.


I finally found the image for my indecision yesterday; it's the strong bewildered conviction that something is terribly wrong with this idea of Peter's and that I must discover what it is before it's too late. I stall him in the meantime - just a minute while I think about it some more, I've almost got it, everything will be alright when I understand, and then throw out some arguments which are peripheral, which I know are peripheral, but which I scrutinize anxiously because the key might be contained in them. They seem to circle around the 'something' which is wrong.

At nearly three o'clock he picked up the book and walked out with it in humiliation. I felt as though we were in a swamp, trying to push our way out of a morass, numb and blind, numbed and blinded by our own language, and not only our language but also our thoughts themselves, our arguments opaque in their own guile.

Friday, last day of June in 1969

I've been at 82 St Norbert St since Sunday. Peter brought me and looked around at the house, talking to himself about the cat smell. Christopher was in the kitchen, barefoot with his feet curved like claws, bluejeans with a strip of red print cotton sewed around the bottoms of the legs, a red striped baggy shirt. He seems to stand back on his heels because his reservoir-of-chocolate-bar stomach is carried high and his shoulders held far back. Dull light brown hair uncombed, hanging to his shoulders; precisely trimmed beard shaped around his face like whalebone, solid and porous. The skin on his forehead and cheeks so pink and unwrinkled, the benevolence of his silver blue eyes, something childish about his mouth, make him look like a grave but happy six year old girl. His big body carried so lightly makes him seem a benevolent angel, and like angels he has no hips at all.

On Thursday night squint-faced Nash of the beautiful smooth freckled back sat on the step playing his guitar. The children from upstairs, Linda, Pinky, sat and sang. Finally they called me down to them and we sang while the neighbours came out on their stoops with bottles of beer. When I went upstairs, leaving Nash playing his steel-string blues, Christopher was almost asleep with grass. I went out to sleep on the balcony, between the rocker and the geraniums, with a squashed orange moon between the poles of the railing, and the neighbour woman casting a last indignant look at the street. Grey opaque sky, police cruisers, someone screaming upstairs, quarrels on a stoop downstairs, everything becoming more silent each time I woke, then morning delivery trucks sliding through the convent entrance smoothly as toothpaste from a tube, no room to spare, skill and many mornings the same. Then I woke suddenly to see Christopher smiling down on me. It was time to go to work, he gathered me up for a public kiss and went off as I waved through the railings.

And last night. We went to get wine and a watermelon, Nash, Chris and I all barefoot, tiptoed out of the Greek store holding the watermelon like an unhatched baby and were pursued by the cashier. Came home and put them in the refrigerator. Chris got into one of his deep baths in the dark bathroom. I came in and sat on the toilet seat to talk to him. Nash talked from the kitchen, in shorts and beautiful, with the pink tip of his prick dipping innocently out along his bare leg. Suddenly a siren began, an air raid siren swinging around like an airport's searchlight, sweeping past very strong, fading, reappearing. At the same time it was raining, water crashing off the porch roof, people beginning to run in all the streets visible from our high balcony, thunder and long pulsating cracks of lightning. We all ran to the doorway. There was a strong light over the buildings toward the east, which seemed to be growing larger and more intense. We weren't sure. We all had the same thought, it's not so bad if we die now, we're all together, eating watermelon in the thunderstorm, feeling so close to each other. We all thought of the people we weren't with, but as Nash said, "all together in a clump." The city spread out from that gritty second floor verandah, the mattress factory, the police station in steps downward, then the slum clearance high rises, then the real skyscrapers and the dock elevators, the streets and the park, like a backdrop shining and almost colorless, astonishingly serene, and even more because of the siren and the thunderstorm. We sat down in the doorway, letting the moment ebb itself out, drinking the Mateus from shared glasses and eating pizza and watermelon. Later Christopher's beard smelled of cooked cheese. This morning when he brought me tea it still did.

Part of Christopher's charm is the way he tells me about myself. "You're like an acorn," "You feel like a baby camel," "When you came in and I saw the leather cap, the jacket, I thought 'There's a unit,' you know how to extend yourself." "Look at you on the chair, the way you've arranged yourself with the plate." "The way you hold your shoulders." "The second before you woke you were quite different, when you woke all the strings tightened." "You don't embroider yourself enough. You could be more remarkable than you are."