Гринуэй Тод
Loitering

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  • Аннотация:
    These essays derive from a lifetime spent in Canada and England making a living in a variety of ways. There are essays on talking to children, sailing a boat, encounters with the daemonic, beauty, God, sexuality, hallucinations and even how to pronounce the number seventy-seven. It is a book written about walking the human line, or trying to, in a world at once horrifying and astonishingly beautiful, by a man who describes himself as 51 percent optimist, 49 percent pessimist.


  •    Loitering
      
       aspects of
       being
       in the world
      
       Tod Greenaway
       Copywrite 2007 No Tod Greenaway
      
       ISBN 0-9780659-0-5
      
       Published in 2006 by Tod Greenaway
       609 Latimer Street
       Nelson, BC
       V1L 4V2
       greenaway@uniserve.com
      
       Printed and bound in Canada
      
       Some of these essays have been published in West Coast line
      
      
       To Fumiko
      
      
       Contents:
       Preface
       Three Exemplary Events
       calemar, gravity, song
       Axe
       The Mother-machine
       An Island
       Lost Understanding
       That Which
       Unclean! Unclean!
       Mortality
       Sense and Sensuality
       Stroke
       Loitering
       A Revelation
       Hospital
       Four Notes
       purposes, mindgames, songbirds, be
       The Devil Made me Do it
       Changes
       I was Not Born Here
       Dipstick
      
      
      
       Preface
      
       When I was a small boy on the farm I was often sent to the basement to fetch a jar of preserves or a pail of honey. This required extreme care. As I came down the cellar steps I could see, on my right, the open door of the coal-bin, blank and black. During this expedition I never once took my eyes off that dreadful doorway.
       I would walk past the furnace on my left, then turn and walk backwards to the shelves, grope behind my back for the required container, then sidle past the furnace and up the stairs, watching over my shoulder, in a state of constant tension until the basement door was safely shut.
       One day, however, I had been given a thorough tongue-lashing for some sort of criminal negligence, then sent for a bottle of pickles. I was feeling so worthless, so utterly wretched, that from the foot of the stairs I walked straight to the coal-bin and turned so as to stand squarely in the doorway with my back to whatever was there. It was welcome to kill me and rid the earth of an outcast beyond redemption.
       But at the same time, in the midst of my despair, I couldn't help but be surprised at my own behaviour. It was interesting: It seemed that what I felt inside myself changed the way the world looked outside.
       Now, seventy years later, I am inclined to think it changes the way the world is.
      
      
       Three Exemplary Events
      
       ITEM: calamar. I was swimming in the Adriatic with a mask and breathing tube over a bed of dark seaweed, winding and unwinding slowly in the current like hanks of heavy umber-coloured hair. I flushed out a squid the size of my hand. This little creature startled me as much as I scared it. It looped and twisted in intricate evasive manoeuvres, much like the `barrel roll' with which early aviators liked to show off, and rocketed back into the seaweed. It was so quick as barely to be visible, but in that fraction of a second it blurted out a convoluted record of its passage in sepia. One masterly stroke of calligraphy disintegrating in the current.
       Transient, like the best things
      
       ITEM: gravity. A friend of mine, Art McKay, was a painter. Art was decidedly fey; things happened to him that do not happeh to other people.
       At the time I am thinking of he painted with stove enamel. One night he opened a quart can that had been opened earlier and then improperly closed. He pried out the thick rind that had hardened on the surface and looked around for somewhere to get rid of it. The door of his studio was cased in old-fashioned molding with a little carved rosette about four inches square at each upper corner. You have seen these in old buildings. By whim he stuck the paintskin over one of these rosettes and went home. He showed me later what he found in the morning. It was eerie. The patch, impeded by its own viscosity, had spent the night slithering down the molding, leaving its trail. When it came to the Yale lock it inched its way laboriously out over the casing, then over the oval brass knob. Hanging by a thread of thickening paint, its own weight had tilted it in until it found the door frame again. Then, rotating as it went, it kept going until finally, several inches short of its goal_the floor_it ran out of goo and stopped and hardened, leaving for all time a monumental calligraphic record of its fall.
      
       ITEM: song. I was cycling downtown from my home in Vancouver. The high point of this route is the corner of Pender and Heatley; from there north and west it's downhill all the way to where False Creek and Burrard Inlet used to connect at high water around what is now Carrall Street. I began to coast down Heatley. I never, ever pedal downhill. To forego such a pleasure would seem like spitting on the gift of gravity.
       I had barely started down this long incline when I heard singing on my right. It was a girl on the sidewalk with a skateboard singing a wordless song to herself. She was a strange person. About fifteen, not exactly beautiful, perhaps a trifle simple-minded for all I could tell, but to me, extraordinary. Not the girl herself perhaps but the conjunction of girl and song and movement. We floated side by side to stop at the lights at Hastings Street. She smiled at me, still singing. We both turned left on Powell Street. I passed her, but I could hear her still. When I stopped in the five hundred block she came clattering down the sidewalk and floated west, and her song faded and faded.
       More transience. This encounter haunts me still. A door opened into my life, allowed me a glimpse-of what?-then closed. I cannot dissociate the event from a passage in The Idea Of Order At Key West by Wallace Stevens.
      
      
       She was the single artificer of the world
    In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
    Whatever self it had, became the self
    That was her song, for she was maker. Then we,
    As we beheld her striding there alone,
    Knew that there never was a world for her
    Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
      
      
       Axe
      
       On a summer day in the fifties I was picnicking with friends at a beach somewhere in Saskatchewan. One of them lent me an old oxygen-rebreathing apparatus. This was the forerunner of the aqualung. I had never dived before, but he showed me how to use it and I swam out to give it a try. When the water seemed deep enough to be interesting, I submerged and swam down to examine the sand close up, sucking away quite comfortably from my little tank. But then I wondered what the world looked like from the standpoint of a fish and I made the mistake of rolling over to look up at the surface. My mask began to fill with water. Alone in this alien environment, I utterly panicked. It was absurd, but people die absurdly. Panic overwhelms.
       But before I could begin to thrash about, a curious event occurred. An entity arrived, or perhaps revealed itself, that I can only call IT. IT instantly walled off the panic and rendered it harmless. IT said to me in no uncertain terms, You will now hold your breath, open your eyes, swim up to the surface, take off the mask, breathe, and stop this nonsense!
       Let me be clear: this was not me giving myself a good talking-to, nor was I `hearing voices.' It was the assertion of a will quite apart from my own, and there was no possible questioning of it. The panic went on flailing away like an hysterical bird trapped in a room-I was sharply aware of it-but it had been effectively sealed off and rendered harmless. I did what I was told, there was the sun, the beach, the friends waving, the panic subsiding, IT modestly departing.
       Nothing like it has happened before or since. The entire episode was over in five seconds, very businesslike, sharply defined. What does it mean? Was it an outside agency coming to the rescue? What outside? What agency? It seems unlikely that a seraph or an archangel could spare the time for someone stupid enough to drown in eight feet of water. Well then, is this IT a separate component of oneself? If so, why have I not known it?
       I am no closer to understanding it than ever. Curious events occur in dreams, but I have never encountered such a powerful force in a dream as this entity that appeared underwater on a sunny morning. It seemed like the personification of pure will. Whose will? Not mine, God knows; if my will were that monumental I wouldn't be sitting here tapping out words, I would be in Ottawa running the country.
       Daemon? Guardian angel? My guardian angelЎcan there be such a thing?
       Whatever this entity, I wonder how trustworthy it is. Could it be destructive? I think of the double-bitted axe, that cuts the cutter or the cut. If I were in an overloaded lifeboat, would IT re-emerge and order me to push others into the water to drown so that I could live? Or would it compel me to be noble beyond my nature? (I mistakenly typed this as `to be normal beyond my nature'.)
      
      
       The Mother-Machine
      
       Following is an account I wrote in the summer of 1980 about a stay in hospital. There is a curious note of melancholy about this text that I can't account for.If there was a specific source for it, I have long since forgotten.
      
       A month ago, on a Tuesday night in May, I went to the Vancouver General Hospital with severe pains in the small of the back. At fifty-three I had never been in a hospital. The back pains turned out to be due to a fierce urinary infection which in turn necessitated a kidney operation. This seems to have worked, since I can now piss even more copiously than before.
       The operation came on a Friday morning. Wheeled drowsily along basement corridors, and then without a break the kaleidoscope confusion of surfacing out of that deep place. This is the disconcerting part of anaesthesia: there is no formality, no sense of time having passed as you get when you wake out of sleep. As though, in that deep place, time had been temporarily disconnected.
       I spent the first days in complete symbiosis with the hospital,wired into the mother-machine night and day. Fed and watered and urinated by way of intravenous tubes, the oxygen mask, the catheter, tubes of surgical rubber sprouting out of the skin, nasal tubes draining fluids, and the endless needles.
       I spent most of that time with eyes tightly closed. They felt sore, the light hurt them. Did it really hurt them? Or did I keep them closed so I could listen inward? I talked lucidly enough to visitors, so far as I know, but basically I was listening to myself and to the mother-machine.
       Once in those first days I caught a glimpse of death. It was no more than a flicker between waking and sleeping. I saw it between the boles of large black poplars (cottonwoods) growing as they do along a gravelly river-bank. I recognized it among the leaves, in the dapple of shadow. Where does this figure come from? And why black poplar?
       And I suspect it didn't come as neatly as that, all in one image. I think it was disordered, probably in parts, and I have pieced it together in my mind. I have done the literary thing: by saying so I have made it so.
       Yet the hospital itself could be so beautiful. Waking in the night, if the ward was quiet, I could lie and listen to the quiet clicks and throbs of that vast machine, and the remote soothing voices at the nursing station. The incredible gentleness of those nurses, most of them.
       Somewhere along the line I came to know Demerol, injected at first into the arm, later into the hip. With each shot the tensions eased off and I could get an hour or two of sleep. But then after a day or two I became aware of it as an experience. Along with the miraculous softening of pain there was a buzzing or twanging effect, then a flooding of the body with ease, an incredible bonheur, to each last nerve.
       I can't remember now if it wiped out pain or just made it easy to ignore. The important thing was the Great Alignment. The misery and chaos of hospital life became coherent and oriented, and therefore no longer misery. Everything lined up-memory, feelings about the world, the body-all. And I see this process. I seemed to be lying on, or more exactly was part of, a luminous sheath or membrane, backlit against the dark, like one of those boat-shaped green or gold leaves whose long parallel veins fan out from the base and then come together again at the tip.
       Why do I see this in memory, when I remember only knowing it was so? Where does the picture come from? Is it that so intense and so important an experience must be formalized by granting it visual form? Does one do this so it will make sense and then superimpose it, retroactively as it were, on the event? There are aspects of the Demerol experience that I don't understand.
       Mind you, it didn't always work. There were times when the tension in myself was so high that the drug would only partly damp out the pain, and would not allow the least alignment. But most of the time it was all right.
       I talked endlessly in my sleep, as I found out from other members of the ward. And it brought the most extraordinary waking hallucinations of a manual nature. Often this would be when visitors were there. As I would drift off to sleep my hands would reach out and work-turn screwdrivers, or run the enlarger up and down its column. Once I came to with a start to realize I had been trying to turn the pages of a visitor's forearm to read as a book.
       Friends and family were amused by these hallucinations as harmless by-products of the painkiller. But they were not so funny: they sprang from the tension and the distress of the operation. At last I began to realize how deeply I had been shocked by the operation. When that became clear the hallucinations stopped.
       On the Wednesday or Thursday I was transferred from Demerol to a set of pills with less spectacular effects. I must say it was about time, because the flowerings of the Demerol experience were becoming excessive. I was startled when I found myself in two places in the ward at once: one conventionally lying on the bed, the other a copy of myself tilted about thirty degrees from the horizontal and intersecting my other self through the chest, if you can follow. I see how shamans could become skilled at self-duplicating.
       Demerol made the whole thing possible. Without it, what a nightmare it would have been. Not just the pain, but the noise and the disorder and the tension. I see those Demerol hits now. At the very beginning I was not aware of them, so I cannot see them, but coming closer in time they become brighter. I see every one, with perhaps gaps for the failed ones. Corny as this image may seem to you, I hold to it as a long wavering line of candle-flames through the dark labyrinth of days.
       Moments. A soft cantonese voice saying, at three in the morning, along with a set of pills, "Mr. Greenaway, we are so happy that you are making so rapid recovery from this operation." In the small hours of another morning a European voice on the other side of a curtain, "Chesuss Christ, I am only haff a human being!"
       Human moments in the machine.
       But then the most woeful of all things happened: early Friday morning I woke up with my mind wiped clean.
       I did not know who I was.
       I did not know why I was there.
       The core of my despair was not the loss of identity, but a terrifying question: why was I there? To be helped, or for the benefit of others? Because if it was for the use of others, then I was a nothing, not a person but a creature. If was as though the roots of my teeth had been scraped bare. It was the anguish of the infinite, familiar to me from very early childhood, when I saw mazes in the air before sleep. I saw them, but I was also trapped in them and couldn't get out and I knew that I never would.
       In the hospital that morning it began to come clear: I was from somewhere else, and therefore was there for a fixed time. Then my home life came into focus. And finally my name. I was in the hospital, I could pull the call-switch and a nurse would come. But what could I say? She would only give me more pills.
       Friday was a nothing day. Even though I was helped up to walk my first steps by a physiotherapist. "Open your eyes, Mr. Greenaway!" I was tense and nervous. End of a nothing day.
       And then on Saturday morning I opened my eyes. They didn't hurt. I looked around at the ward and saw the others. I looked out the window. I saw buildings. And grass. And I kept them open. I was back. I bolted everything the kitchen would send up. The whole thing was over. Seven days. I thought about my business, such as it was, I thought about the world, the hospital became intolerable. I began to pester everybody to get me out. I turned through 180 degrees.
       Looking back now, I ask, what does it mean? Why should it mean anything? Millions of people have operations; they don't demand that it mean something. They are just happy to be alive. But in my mind there is some lingering sense of sorrow about the whole experience that eludes me. A desolating sense of loss. But loss of what? On the whole the hospital was not a bad experience. In a month I will be completely over it, and I am certainly not depressed. What, then?
       Has it to do with the violence done to one? I have read that the art of the anaesthestist is to lead the patient to the edge of death and then coax them back. It sounds like the technique of an interrogation team: alternating violence and tenderness, until the interrogee develops a dependence full of dread. Is the intense ambivalent relationship with the mother-machine the source of tension? The humiliation of being helpless? Or is this glib amateur psychologizing?
       The operation/anaesthesia sends one out to the very edge of the world. To remotest aphelion. And it's such a long road back. Perhaps for me this was harder than I thought. Also, as I now realize, I had become mildly addicted to Demerol. Perhaps this is why I lost my memory: I didn't want to give it up. More psychologizing? I think it would help if I could talk to others. But no-one else has been there, apparently. Or if they have they're not talking. When people talk about "their operation" it is all about the nice surgeon and the bad food. Not a word about where they've been.
       So I still wonder. One's life is sundered. A suture lies across my life at the 53-year mark. My life came to a stop. Now, it has picked up. I eat, ask useless questions, write down words. But that cutline lies athwart my past.
      
      
       An Island
      
       What if you had lived all your life on an island, alone.
       Suppose, when you were a baby, your mother had set you adrift in a laundry basket, having heard that the queen was planning to have you drowned because you, lying in your cradle in your sprigged lavender dress and natty little red patent leather shoes, were more beautiful than the princess, and because the people adored you?
       Or suppose that, when you were a baby, your mother had set you adrift because the king your step-father wanted to drown you, virile and good-looking as you were even in the cradle, so that his own son should become king, and because the people adored you?
       Whichever your gender, there you are, washed up on the beach of an island unknown to navigators. You grow up in symbiotic fusion with this island, embedded in the landscape and the weather and the demands of your belly. This is not Lord of the Flies, this is radical innocence. Becoming thirsty you crowd in naked among the zebras and hamadryads at the waterhole. When you are confronted with flattened ears and bared teeth, you either back off or you bare your own teeth, depending on your judgement of the situation (a misunderstanding here could be fatal). When you have slaked your thirst and are no longer parched, you are in some other state of mind. Bored . . . ? Sexually aroused . . . ? Hungry . . . ? Whatever it is, you react. You do not think, "I am hungry," you lack the language to think " I am," or "I am not." You look for food. Do you, in fact, think at all?
       Your world is composed of two elements: death and food. You are another animal at about the 150-pound level on the food chain. Creatures bigger than you are look upon you as a juicy morsel. You yourself are a predator pitiless to morsels smaller than yourself. When you glimpse a sinister movement in the jungle you shinny up a tree in a flash. At a flicker of movement in the grass, you pounce. You are acutely alive to menace, and to dinner. You are oblivious to flowers and sunsets. They are what perceptualists call `ground;' flowers and sunsets do not `configure.' Here you are, in the midst of the primeval, dangerous, erotic paradise at the heart of all our dreams, and you don't even know it!
       And so you grow up on this island, eating. . . sleeping in the sun. . . lolling (alertly) in the lagoon _ a pleasant life much of the time.
       Suppose, then, a boat lands on your beach and people get out. Do you make the connection between yourself and these pallid creatures teetering about on little shiny black hooves?
       The strangers teach you to talk. The first thing they do is introduce you to category. They cannot rest until they have re-arranged your mental world to suit themselves. They din it into your head that you are one of them, not an animal, and that animals and all the other things are different from you, and somehow, not quite as good. "We are ourselves," they say, "and everything else is nature." Of course, when you understand this you can't help becoming a little proud; you are now better than the animals, because they are only animals. You know they are animals and they don't, and this gives you power. But these people go on classifying and sub-classifying until it makes your head spin. All your life you have had to deal with a large black animal that growls at you if you go near, and which is truly dangerous, and another animal, a harmless little creature that seems to confuse you with its mother. You are astonished to find the people lump these creatures together as `baboon.' How can this be, you think; anyone can see that they are quite different. Of course you learn to subdivide baboon into naive young baboon and cantankerous old bull. This is hard to master, but what is harder to understand is why it matters. There are times when you wish these new friends of yours would get back into their boat and go away.
       But of course it is too late. You are no longer part of the island. You are apart from it because you know it is an island. You have been thrust out of nature. You even come to see that you are `naked'. You are estranged from nature and can never go back. The flaming sword turns each way, to keep the way of the tree of life. So, you throw in your lot with these strangers: you put on the clothes they give you and you become one of them. You become People. You belong.
       Or so you think.
       But then these people want to know your name. What? they say, you have no name? You must have a name. Everybody who is anybody has a name. To make the concept easy to understand, they walk about with name tags attached to themselves: `Sir Nigel Fflunch,' `Gertrude,' `Alonso Dogsbody' and so on, and they make one up for you. It says `Kim.' And indeed you see that it is useful because it is very hard to tell human beings apart. Whereas baboons don't need name tags because anyone can tell one from another. So now you say "Kim hungry" or "Kim person." But they say, "No no! Not `Kim hungry-I am hungry, I am a person.'"
       And so at last you learn to say "I." Kim is a label for others to use, "I" stands for Identity. You learn that you are an individual and you can never be one of others. There is no going back. From this moment on you will be truly human; you will be lonely. Welcome to the club.
       And now our revels all are ended. It turns out that the people who wanted to kill you are dead themselves, so you can leave the island and claim your inheritance. Indeed, you must leave. You don't want to. You want desperately to throw off your clothes and stay on the island, but you see that you can never again be one with the goats and the hyraxes. You would always be a human, naked and absurd, playing at being "natural."
       And so you go back across the sea and play at being a human in your palace of many rooms. You amuse yourself with the chess board, the neurosis, the printed menu and all the other set-pieces of society. As the years go by, a curious change takes place. The great dangerous and exciting events of your life on the island begin to fade. The escape from the panther is played over and over, but each time it becomes more stylised, less `real,' until you can't be sure whether it happened or you read about it. But now all the various elements of your childhood come flooding back at unexpected moments. You discover you have a profound knowledge of the odours of all the flowers which you don't remember even noticing at the time, even the faint lemony fragrance of what you now know as cowslips, at the edge of the swamp. The sting of frosted grass on bare feet catches you unawares, sharp as yesterday, unsettling you with waves of pleasure and pain. These are the large losses and the meager compensation for those who have been wrenched out of paradise.
      
      
       Lost Understanding
      
       Augustine says evil does not exist. Everything that is, he says, is good. Good is an entity. Evil is not; evil is merely the absence of good. It has no proper existence of its own.
       This is an outrageous statement. It contradicts what our hearts tell us. We may perhaps allow that a man who absconds with the cash is a mere crook_ may even be a bit likeable. But Hitler now: Hitler was evil, Absolute Evil. There are shades of grey, yes, but then there is black. A difference in kind. We tend to think of evil on that level as a tangible something in the world, like electric current. We see evil as an elemental force that people like terrorists can tap into. And of course there is literature, full of evil. The Encyclopedia Britannica says, in reference to Bataille and de Sade, "The search for fulfillment via the enjoyment of cruelty forms part of the human psyche."
       But no: Augustine, to break the spell, would remind us that these are only books. And Hanna Arendt says, "Evil is a matter of thoughtlessness, a refusal to use reason as we should. . . Our souls are made to work."
       Ruth Kluger was a 12-year old Austrian child who survived the concentration camps of the Second World War to write a book, Weiter Leben. Susan Neiman quotes her as saying that the people who worked in places like Auschwitz, where Kluger spent some months, could not function without what she called `lost understanding.' This phrase caught my attention so sharply that I sent for a translation. The book is interesting, but nowhere could I find those words or anything like them. By that time however, I had come across a description by the scholar E.R. Dodds of an incident from the Iliad. Agamemnon in an irrational outburst had publicly humiliated Achilles, their prime warrior, in front of the entire army. He explains later, in a kind of apology, that Zeus had "taken away my understanding" (Dodds' translation).
       The major mindset in the western world is obviously that of secular people, at home with rational thought. Cool people, unencumbered with emotion. Admirable people, men for the most part, they make possible our western technology-based society. They score high on the so-called intelligence-quotient tests. They overwhelm us with sheer fact. Rational thought has been such a success that sometimes there doesn't seem to be any other kind. A rather circular sign in the fish market reads EAT FISH. FISH MAKES YOU SMART. SMART PEOPLE MAKE MONEY. WITH MONEY BUY MORE FISH. Just so: Technically minded people invent more technology, and technology encourages more technologists. They know. They know all about things, they know how things work, they know how to do things, and they get things done. Had the world been left to people like myself we would still be living in caves.
       But to know is not necessarily to understand.
       Rational thought works best in closed situations like the design of an engine, or double-entry bookkeeping, or the tightly focused speculation of pure science. The world, the human comedy, isn't knowable in that sense, and is in many ways it is out of control. It is a place of irrational behavior, paradox galore, Hobson's choice, misunderstanding, delight, despair, political rant, theological rhetoric, bravery, ambiguity, generosity, duplicity-sometimes both in one person-, tons of wellmeaningness, masochism, naivetИ, cynicism, charm, ambition, questionable motives. And chance_sheer blind blundering chance, a very heavy player in this comedy where everything at times seems contingent on everything else.
       The rational mind has difficulty dealing with this. It requires intelligence, and intelligence is not an extension of the intellect; it lives in another part of the mind. Intelligence is at ease with ambiguity, its language is imagination and empathy, the ability to see deep into the minds and the hearts of other people. Even terrorists? Especially terrorists.
       Unfortunately, for most of us this deep intelligence is fragile, easily swamped by hunger, poverty, rage: it is only too easy to fall into evil.
       I once experienced unmistakable evil in myself. Going home late from work I stopped at a newsstand. A young man was standing in the less well-lit part of the room. As I passed him he muttered something in a low voice that I couldn't quite catch. I asked him to repeat. He said, "How's your hump?"
       My thoughts stopped while I tried to believe I had heard what I thought I had heard. Then he said, "Arrrhh! the cripples all come out at night." Got me, right to the core of my being; I have a pronounced and obvious curvature of the spine. I turned away, but as I did so an elusive movement flickered in my mind.
       Thinking about this on my way home I recognized my response, faint but unmistakable: homicide. A rock, an iron bar. . . . Was this coming from me, the most peaceable of people? Yes. There we had been, the two of us, united in this brief symbiosis. Evil for evil.
       But then, at almost the same moment, I could see that in some way, violence is what he was looking for-violence with himself it may be as victim? It was clear what a lonely tormented person he was.
       Evil then doesn't permeate the world as an entity any more than good does. We see good men do things that result in evil but we cannot properly speak of an evil man, only the breakdown of understanding.
       It's hardly surprising that the faculty of empathy breaks down in the face of the hunger and violence that rack much of the world. We have less excuse in this country, but self-interest is just as effective. I am thinking of the curious phenomenon of welfare.
       Welfare is, as everyone says with a sigh, a problem.( To people on welfare it's THE problem, of course.) The standard political response is to throw money at it in the hope that it will go away; it doesn't. The difficulty is not money but form. I mean form as a set of common attributes that would make its members stand out. People on welfare cannot be perceived as a group or type of person because they dress like everyone else and they eat the same food when they can afford it. They share our ideas of a decent life. They are as varied as anyone else. They have nothing in common. They are almost unique in this respect. Other groups in our world are defined by their commonalities. We who were once a ragbag collection of useless `old people' have now become Senior Citizens, if you please: we are defined as old. The imposition of a mandatory retirement age firmed up our category and old age pensions consolidated it. Our state is old, our oeuvre so to speak is to die.
       Indians have been dignified as `Native People' and the state now negotiates with them. Metis, on the other hand are defined not by what they are but by what they are not, the state cannot recognize them because as a group they lack form. Prisoners in jail are the most rigidly defined. People in jail are somehow more respected than people on welfare. Given the costs of keeping people in jail it is extraordinary that nobody ever complains about prisoners wasting the taxpayer's money.
       But all this is well-known; my concern with welfare is quite specific. It has to do with small children whose parents are on welfare. It is by now well known that a child must master a language within about the first five years. If it doesn't happen within that time it never will. The child will be able to talk, and perhaps fill out a questionnaire, but they will never be articulate, they will have a comic book understanding of the world, and consequently, their lives will be arranged by other people.
       A baby learns from looking intently into its mother's eyes, watching her face, and listening. There is an intensity to this gaze that I have never seen on an older person. It's a serious matter; a lifetime is at stake. The child somehow sorts out the syntax or grammar that underlies all speech. Linguists seem unclear about his process. Mothers know even less than the linguists, but they understand what is happening. I have a note from the time my oldest son was becoming articulate (the first child is always the most vivid):
      
       During those first weeks and months John would look into my eyes and it seemed to me he was asking a question, but not knowing what question to ask. There was, apparently, nothing at the back of his eyes. This is what makes looking into a baby's eyes such an odd sensation. Sometimes he frowned and looked obscurely troubled, but perhaps this was my own trouble that I read there.
      
       If the child's mother, or someone else, cannot find the time for this mutual gaze, then it will not happen. Babies, whether rich or surviving welfare, are the most important people. This country is going to need children who grow up articulate and curious about the world and who will be competent to live well. I can't understand why politicians find this so hard to grasp. Have I missed something?
      
       Given the limitations of the modern technical mindset and the self-interest of the powerful, not to mention an education that prizes cleverness over intelligence-from where will emerge the wisdom to sort through the coming dislocations? It seems clear that before sanity emerges from chaos millions more will have to die. I am glad that I will not be around to have to deal with the inevitable confusion and dismay.
       There are two things that impress me about us humans: we are extraordinarily tough and resourceful and, when push comes to shove-brave. That's on one hand. On the other, there is the uncanny marksmanship with which we shoot ourselves in the foot, over and over and over.
       Still . . . . An evening long ago. A friend, now dead, raised the wine bottle questioningly. I looked in my glass and said without thinking "It's still half-full," _and then I laughed: I had demonstrated the definition of the optimist.
       And so I am, perhaps naively. But Hanna Arendt, who knows far more than I do, says, "We are naturally corrupt, but not corrupt by nature . . . We may still be at home in the world."
       Some `believe in God.' Others reject the idea because it's irrational and the irrational is not a demonstrable thing.
       Belief and disbelief are beset by doubt. If we say we `believe in God,' the word belief itself invokes the possibility that god may not be. The atheist is caught in the same predicament: maybe there is somebody up there after all. If each statement contains its own built-in doubt, then belief and rejection are equally frivolous. Believers and scoffers could put their minds to better use.
       I should mention, though, that Chesterton's sleuth Father Brown says in his story The Oracle of the Dog that when people cease to believe in God they lose their common sense. And I think sometimes this is true. People long so ardently to `believe in' something that they read horoscopes, indulge in 'mysticism' and make best sellers of books like The Da Vinci Code.
       Paradoxically, the nature of God is another matter. It would hardly be human not to ponder the matter. We say the moon circles the earth, but in fact our earth and the moon circle a common centre of gravity called the barycentre. Man and God circle each other. Which is the major body?
       I was charmed when I first read the encyclopedia's description of Mu'tzilah, a major strand of Sunni theology at one time. Mu'tzilites held, it said, that God has essence but no attributes. I felt at home in the clear air of this thought, it seemed to me a noble and respectful attitude vis-Ю-vis God. So unlike the whingeing Christians lampooned by Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals: "The horrible chumminess with which they address their Maker . . .the nuzzling and pawing of God."
       But on reading again I saw that I had missed "no eternal attributes." The reason Allah is seen as not having eternal attributes is that they, the attributes, would be eternal entities, and this would be polytheism. I suppose this makes a kind of logical sense, but then they go on to say-and this becomes increasingly unclear to me_that Allah knows, wills and acts by virtue of his essence and not through attributes of knowledge, will and power.
       It's worse than the Trinity.
       Milar Kundera may be seen as a Mutzilite of sorts: In his short story Edward and God, Edward "longed for God, for God alone is relieved of the distracting obligation of APPEARING and can merely BE. For he solely constitutes (he Himself, alone and nonexistent) the essential opposite of this so inessential (but so much more existent) world."
       Bradley remarks, in Iris Murdoch's novel The Black Prince, "The conventional notion of the Christian God pictures Him as HAVING created and being ABOUT to judge. A more intimate theology, and one more consistent with what we know of the nature of love, pictures a demonic force engaged in continuous creation and participation."
       Northrop Frye, in The Great Code, an examination of the English bible, says God may not be dead so much as entombed in a dead language, the words of which were "words of power." There was a time, it seems, when satire could be lethal. Words have degenerated to become neutral tokens that can be exchanged for things.
       Paul Tillich, the only theologian I can halfway understand, says God is the ground of our being. I suppose him to refer to the figure-ground aspect of perception. God is the ground against which we configure ourselves as human and mortal. This seems to a comparatively unlettered person like myself both plausible and contrived. Words, words and more words.
       One thing seems clear to me: whatever we may say God is, it is not, it is an artifact, and somehow impertinent.
       Physicists may come to understand and explain gravity. Or even_given time_time itself. Perhaps they will come to glimpse kalpas antecedent to the Big Bang. Who knows but what the drift of this universe may turn out to be demonstrably teleological after all. The mystery will still be there. I rather admire the ancient Jews who held that giving that unknown presence a name was a sort of lese majeste. In the Torah his name is still spelled `G.d.' To confer a name on something or someone is, in a sense, to control. It is interesting that a common word for a person's name is their `handle.' And what are handles for but to clutch, to grasp, to hang onto? Naming brings the named out of somewhere to here. The pagans that the Jews encountered during their wanderings, gave local habitations and names to airy nothings.
       But if we cannot talk about G.d without a handle of some sort, my own entry to the competition would be THAT WHICH. A religious person , I suppose, could think of it as THAT WHICH IS. (This would get on the nerves of an atheist even more abrasively than "God." ) To my mind, THAT WHICH leaves (It? Him? Her?) room to breathe, room to create and re-create itself. I wonder how it would translate into Arabic or Hebrew.
       But why, you will probably ask, do we have to talk about it in the first place? What does it matter? Most of the people I know are simply indifferent to the whole subject. So why talk about something that doesn't exist? Who cares? they will ask, as though that terminates the discussion.
       I care. I think it does matter. Monotheism is the groundswell of our western consciousness. We should ask and re-ask the questions that will never have answers. We were born to ask. Not to ask is to close down wonder and shut the door on possibility.
       I cannot forget that most potent of questions: Why isn't there nothing?
       That Which
      
       Some `believe in God.' Others reject the idea because it's irrational and the irrational is not a demonstrable thing.
       Belief and disbelief are beset by doubt. If we say we `believe in God,' the word belief itself invokes the possibility that god may not be. The atheist is caught in the same predicament: maybe there is somebody up there after all. If each statement contains its own built-in doubt, then belief and rejection are equally frivolous. Believers and scoffers could put their minds to better use.
       I should mention, though, that Chesterton's sleuth Father Brown says in his story The Oracle of the Dog that when people cease to believe in God they lose their common sense. And I think sometimes this is true. People long so ardently to `believe in' something that they read horoscopes, indulge in 'mysticism' and make best sellers of books like The Da Vinci Code.
       Paradoxically, the nature of God is another matter. It would hardly be human not to ponder the matter. We say the moon circles the earth, but in fact our earth and the moon circle a common centre of gravity called the barycentre. Man and God circle each other. Which is the major body?
       I was charmed when I first read the encyclopedia's description of Mu'tzilah, a major strand of Sunni theology at one time. Mu'tzilites held, it said, that God has essence but no attributes. I felt at home in the clear air of this thought, it seemed to me a noble and respectful attitude vis-Ю-vis God. So unlike the whingeing Christians lampooned by Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals: "The horrible chumminess with which they address their Maker . . .the nuzzling and pawing of God."
       But on reading again I saw that I had missed "no eternal attributes." The reason Allah is seen as not having eternal attributes is that they, the attributes, would be eternal entities, and this would be polytheism. I suppose this makes a kind of logical sense, but then they go on to say-and this becomes increasingly unclear to me_that Allah knows, wills and acts by virtue of his essence and not through attributes of knowledge, will and power.
       It's worse than the Trinity.
       Milar Kundera may be seen as a Mutzilite of sorts: In his short story Edward and God, Edward "longed for God, for God alone is relieved of the distracting obligation of APPEARING and can merely BE. For he solely constitutes (he Himself, alone and nonexistent) the essential opposite of this so inessential (but so much more existent) world."
       Bradley remarks, in Iris Murdoch's novel The Black Prince, "The conventional notion of the Christian God pictures Him as HAVING created and being ABOUT to judge. A more intimate theology, and one more consistent with what we know of the nature of love, pictures a demonic force engaged in continuous creation and participation."
       Northrop Frye, in The Great Code, an examination of the English bible, says God may not be dead so much as entombed in a dead language, the words of which were "words of power." There was a time, it seems, when satire could be lethal. Words have degenerated to become neutral tokens that can be exchanged for things.
       Paul Tillich, the only theologian I can halfway understand, says God is the ground of our being. I suppose him to refer to the figure-ground aspect of perception. God is the ground against which we configure ourselves as human and mortal. This seems to a comparatively unlettered person like myself both plausible and contrived. Words, words and more words.
       One thing seems clear to me: whatever we may say God is, it is not, it is an artifact, and somehow impertinent.
       Physicists may come to understand and explain gravity. Or even_given time_time itself. Perhaps they will come to glimpse kalpas antecedent to the Big Bang. Who knows but what the drift of this universe may turn out to be demonstrably teleological after all. The mystery will still be there. I rather admire the ancient Jews who held that giving that unknown presence a name was a sort of lese majeste. In the Torah his name is still spelled `G.d.' To confer a name on something or someone is, in a sense, to control. It is interesting that a common word for a person's name is their `handle.' And what are handles for but to clutch, to grasp, to hang onto? Naming brings the named out of somewhere to here. The pagans that the Jews encountered during their wanderings, gave local habitations and names to airy nothings.
       But if we cannot talk about G.d without a handle of some sort, my own entry to the competition would be THAT WHICH. A religious person , I suppose, could think of it as THAT WHICH IS. (This would get on the nerves of an atheist even more abrasively than "God." ) To my mind, THAT WHICH leaves (It? Him? Her?) room to breathe, room to create and re-create itself. I wonder how it would translate into Arabic or Hebrew.
       But why, you will probably ask, do we have to talk about it in the first place? What does it matter? Most of the people I know are simply indifferent to the whole subject. So why talk about something that doesn't exist? Who cares? they will ask, as though that terminates the discussion.
       I care. I think it does matter. Monotheism is the groundswell of our western consciousness. We should ask and re-ask the questions that will never have answers. We were born to ask. Not to ask is to close down wonder and shut the door on possibility.
       I cannot forget that most potent of questions: Why isn't there nothing?
      
      
       Learning Bedlam
      
       `
       On a walk in southern England we came to an iron railing that marked the end of land. My son was four. When he saw for the first time that wrinkled, grey, grandly and immovably flat THING that sprawled there forever, he looked at it for a long time from between the two rails. Then he got down and looked at it upside down from under the bottom rail. After a bit he climbed up and looked at it over the top rail. It was still there. I wish phenomena could still astonish me just by being. Well of course they do, sometimes. But not always. Not by a long shot.
       Of all the people in the world my favorites are children of three and four and five. Women are fascinating, god knows, with their minds and their hearts (not to mention their bodies), the novels they write and the way they walk, but to my mind the company of the aforementioned tykes is the best of all social delight. I have no desire to teach them anything, I don't want to change them. It is enough just to be with them and listen to their talk.
       They make me laugh, they astonish me with their wit. One morning when my daughter was about three I offended her in some way I have forgotten. She looked up at me in a total rage and swore she was going to "put you in the garbage and FROW YOU AWAY!"
       When my son saw snow falling for the first time he asked, "Why is the sky frowing that white stuff down?" While I groped for a meteorological explanation he answered himself. "Because the sky doesn't want it?"
       And that deepest of questions, "Where was I before I was anything?"
       My daughter was drawing a goat amidst a scatter of chevrons which she said were mountains. While she methodically drew the head and the body of the goat I racked my brains to think how she would relate this animal to the mountains. Three years of art school was no help. When the time came she simply ran a firm line from each corner of the goat to the nearest mountain. Well, of course! How else?
       To dismiss children as `cute' is to belittle them. I see those early years as the workplace of being human. Fancy: a child begins without one conceptual stone to pile on another. They must master a language and make sense of bedlam. And there is no time to lose; it must be done within five years or thereabouts. And they pull it off, for the most part, if they get a chance. Even if, as Rupert Sheldrake and others would claim, the child is simply tapping into the Master Memory and slowly re-minding themselves, the achievement is immense. Deeper than the Unified Field Theory. Longer than the great wall of China. And the paradox of it all is that this non-stop childwork, dawn to dark, is the wildest play.
       Today, when I watch small children trotting along the street behind their impatient elders, stopping to look under things and pointing to phenomena in wordless excitement, I see the world again through their eyes, I cannot help smiling. When I watch a man in a coffee shop with his small child, feeding it, talking to it, I ache to be that man.
       But concomitantly I wonder how long the excitement for each child will last. Sixty years ago I went to school with Leonard Nesbitt, Bill Hutchinson, Peter Isaac, Penny Hayhurst and Cokie Argue, farm boys all. By the time we were approaching adolescence the bloom was off the world a little, our native wit which once had contemplated time and beginnings, was reduced to quoting the repartee of Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio. Still and all, I clearly remember our common intelligence. In winter the cattle would paw through the snow on the south side of strawstacks and eat out little caves in the golden straw. On a saturday morning in February it would be our pleasure to lie in one of these caves, out of the wind. The pale winter sunlight, focused and intensified by the straw, was so warm you could take off your mitts and open your jacket. And there we talked boy talk about the best kind of inner tube for making slingshots, various odd events and thrilling acts of violence that had happened in the district_largely mythological I think_and most of all, of course, what do the older guys do when they're alone with girls? And I clearly remember that their speculations on these weighty matters were as ingenious and misplaced as my own. They may not all have come from as bookish a home as I did, but my book-learning merely amused them; it didn't interfere with our friendship.
       Those were the companions of my mind. Now I am a half-assed scholar, artistic jack-of-all-trades and master of none. And they? I don't know, I have never been back.
       As my own children began to talk and learn the world in the fifties, it became clear to me that each child is born a complete person, alone and self-sufficient. There is an attractive idea of God that sees him as a dance of creation and destruction and creation. He has been described as the spirit of pure play. Mind you, this play is somewhat of a menace to spectators. It can include immense practical jokes, like the volcano that buries a city under tons of cosmic laughter. His carryings-on are also of questionable taste; imagine placing the organs of generation and delight an inch from the apparatus of defecation just to see how we would deal with it! It is not accidental perhaps that this ungainly behavior is similar to that of the small child: curious, amoral, autonomous_squashing beetles and laughing with huge self-satisfaction. When things go wrong, does God have a mother to run to when an experiment backfires, when mortals don't laugh at his jokes?
       We too, you and I, were once anarchic and splendid in the assumption of our autonomy. I find this anarchism moving. It is Blake's vision of Eden. An innocent version of Nietzsche's blond beast.
       I hear the cynical voices of mothers with tired eyes and hair awry. `Anarchy, is it, Mr G? Moving, is it? That's all very perspicacious and understanding of you, my dear. But did you ever clean up after the little brutes?' (Yes, I have scraped the ammoniac shit out of diapers into a bucket, though not many, I admit.) Now mothers, you know yourselves, unless they utterly exhaust you, how fascinating the little brutes are.
       What happens to the anarchism during the family years? At the same time they are exploring the world with such wide-eyed wonder, the tots are running into big trouble at home. A confrontation develops that is familiar to anyone who has ever gone through the Terrible Two's with a child: irresistible projectile collides with immovable obstacle. The blond beast meets Bigfoot.
       There are difficulties of scale; Bigfoot is immense. Further difficulties grow out of the child's assumption that its every wish is to be met NOW. On the face of it, this is a reasonable assumption: since the child has never before existed, it has never been thwarted. At first Bigfoot is indulgent. The small fry is defiant, the adults are amused. The conflict is adroitly limned in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, although transposed to the age of six or seven, where the obstacles are Calvin's mother and the monolithic Teacher. In the real family, which is not always amusing, it gradually becomes clear that Bigfoot is the immovable object. The child is met at every turn with barriers, soft or hard but implacable. The Bigfeet do hateful things with their hands and their spoons and their soap and their safety pins. Rage is in order, bur rage is worse than useless: it brings down punishment.
       The resolution to this situation_if it is a resolution_is something that I myself would never have expected. It's clear that the child must come to a truce with the adults. Force majeure, after all; what else can they do? But at the same time I should have thought the child would never forgive the adults for this humiliating defeat. Never! Yet the opposite is true: if the child's home life is stable, they come to an accommodation with the world. Not only do they accommodate, they cleave to their worst enemies, specifically those who have destroyed their autonomy.
       It comes to this accommodation by virtue of a questionable strategy, which I do not understand, called `love.' How is defeat turned into love? I don't mean a mere sighing and making the best of it, I mean that out of this conflict grow the powerful emotions that bind families together as well as breaking them apart.
       I have wondered whether the child divides in two, one going underground. One personality submits to diapers, to the whims of women, to enemas, to defeat, to humiliation, to time, to death, to god knows what. And the other goes underground, and never submits, remains potent and unrepentant to the last. Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power says something like this. "No child, not even the most ordinary, forgets or forgives a single one of the commands inflicted on it."
       I am sceptical of both his version and mine, they feel like literary concoctions, but I have no other explanation
       One way or another, the child becomes one of us, an adult, a standard model with identity card. This is fortunate for us of course: a personality that grew up with no let or hindrance would emerge like some spoilt prince of the Italian Renaissance, all charm and stiletto. Even Nietzsche would find the blond beast unnerving. So of course we have to lead our children into civility.
       Nonetheless, if tragedy is misfortune that springs from the inevitable collision of character with event, this is the tragedy at the beginning of every life. The tradeoff is, the world gains, sometimes, with luck, a polite and useful person, but loses a creature as splendid and amoral as an angel.
       We are born original and entire. As the years go by we dwindle into grown-ups.
       But much more interesting than any angel.
      
       Unclean! Unclean!
      
       Here is a curious intellectual connection_a frivolous connection, some would say_that I made only recently.
       The sight of an olive pit or the bones of a fish pushed to the edge of a dish_or even worse on the table_bothers me, whether on my plate or someone else's; to my mind it should be in a separate container. It must always have been so, for I remember having a bowl on the table for debris when the children were small; they called it the `bree bowl.' I was never clear why it bothered me, for it went beyond mere tidiness.
       Mary Douglas wrote Purity and Danger in the sixties to explain the famous so-called abominations of Leviticus. Scholars have always been puzzled by the dietary laws laid down in Leviticus, they seemed simply whimsical. Why could the locust be eaten and not the camel?
       I quote random verses from chapter 11, the King James Bible.
      
       3 Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.
       4 Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but dividith not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
       7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
       21 Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;
       22 Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
       29 [But] these . . . shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind ,
       31 These are unclean to you among all that creep.
      
       Their classifications seem eccentric, to say the least. And whatever else weasels may do, they do not creep.
       Douglas' book is about ambiguity and categories. She says the Jews, adrift in the wilderness, looked to secure their relationship with God by way of the ceremony of eating. The dietary laws had to be clear, and only by drawing rigid boundaries could this be made so. The way to clarify a category is to exclude the questionable . "When something is firmly classed as anomalous, the outline of the set in which it is not a member is clarified." The Israelites found purity in ironclad categories.
       So, an olive pit at the edge of the plate can be seen as anomalous. It is no longer food; it has no formal existence. (Although once it is placed in the dish reserved for such things it takes on a certain identity: it becomes the quasi-formal "debris.") The category "food" is satisfactorily re-defined, sharpened, clarified.
       So: should I find an olive stone left on my plate while in a levitical state of mind it behooves me to cry "Unclean! Unclean!"
      
      
       Mortality
      
       I wrote this piece perhaps five years ago. When I remember that my oldest son is nearly 40 mortality stabs me to the heart. Even reading this sentence again replays the slight internal lurch. For a moment I am possessed by panic.
       Now why is this? It isn't fear for John, God knows, or for my other children. They have their own lives to lead, their own deaths to die. But nor is it fear for myself. I am not overly concerned about my death_at least, not so far as I can make out. I hope it will not be unduly painful, but the death itself seems, at worst, a thing. The thing, I suppose. Do I delude myself? Probably.
       It's not that I lack any reminder: I have thought of my own death habitually since I was a young man. I used to try to visualize not-being. Absurd as this sounds, I would lie on my back and relax all my muscles, one by one, until I felt utterly slack, and then hold my breath and try to imagine lying stark and dead under a prairie sky. The integrity of this simulation was somewhat compromised by my heart; it wasn't having anything to do with this tomfoolery. And the muscles became increasingly impatient to take up their normal work. So much for imaginary sensations of a state which, by definition, precludes sensation.
       At that time I was much impressed by Michael Drayton's essay On Death, a grisly memento mori typical of his time. "It is a mighty change that is made by the death of every person, and it is visible to us who are alive. Reckon but from the sprightfulness of youth and the fair cheeks and the full eyes of childhood, from the vigorousness and strong flexure of the joints of five and twenty, to the hollowness and dead paleness, to the loathsomeness and horror of a three days' burial, and we shall perceive the distance to be very great and very strange." Strange indeed. It is a grim text, but it did not appall.
       Today I try to clear the mind so as truly to apprehend, even for a moment, the reality that some day, others will be in the world and I will not. This is `real,' but the core of the reality eludes me. I try with all my energy to imagine it as a bracket around my own existence, but before it can take emotional shape it collapses into mere fact. The skull in the hand, initially so evocative, in no time at all becomes a curio on the shelf to be dusted once a week. The contemplation of death decays steadily into perfunctory ritual, like a paternoster. It appears to be a fundamental limitation of being conscious.
       The character Dot in Rose Macaulay's novel The Towers of Trebizond approaches her own demise thus: "And when the years have all passed, there will gape the uncomfortable and unpredictable dark void of death, and into this I shall at last fall headlong, down and down and down, and the prospect of that fall, that uprooting, that rending apart of body and spirit, that taking off into so blank an unknown, drowns me in mortal fear and mortal grief." This is fiction speaking; was the writer herself subject to this dismay?
       I cannot summon up such fear in myself. Why then this clutch at the throat when I see my children as adults? Is it perhaps because we see the lives of others as tragic entities, whereas we ourselves are always in process, always centred at our own point in time, with our own past reeling away in the rear-view mirror and the future to be dealt with extempore?
       Does anyone go gentle into that good night? People do go willingly. People kamikaze. Some have been known to die so others could live. And others on principle: Latimer's words from the sixteenth century are unerasable. "We shall light such a fire today in England as I trust shall never be put out." Words that thrill and chill. I cannot imagine such courage; I would recant at the drop of a hat. So I cannot ascribe my facile, shallow contemplation of death to bravery. I wonder if it is a surface scam that I practice on myself. Am I in what is called a state of denial? Denial certainly exists; I see it in people.
       Meanwhile, I grow old. I see myself in fancy standing on the bridge of a ship. The instruments have never been so accurate, my uniform is freshly pressed, I can see to the stars. But there's a plate sprung here, a leak there_well actually, quite a lot of leaks. The fact is, there is water over the floor-boards. The fact is, the thing is sinking under my feet. In my more exuberant moments I say, with a fine devil-may-care wave of the hand, "What the hell! I'll sail the son-of-a-gun under!" Defiant words, eh? What will I say in ten or twenty years time with the water at my elbow?
      
       Sense and Sensuality
      
       Why the obsession with sex? O it's a fine thing; I don't mean to belittle it. There is nothing quite so splendid as a mindblowing orgasm, whether in the master bedroom or standing up in a canoe. While it's happening it's overwhelmingly important, of course.
       But the rest of the time it doesn't have anything to do with our lives. So why does it seem important? Why do people talk about it, read books analyzing it, join discussion groups on the internet, dial up people in Birmingham or Kapuskasing to compare notes, pore over catalogues of sexual apparatus, and worry about their `performance'? It is like a mild tooth-ache: the tongue can't leave it alone.
       And talking isn't enough; people have to write about it. The internet contains hundreds of `erotic' effusions written by naОve literary hobbyists who are convinced the word can evoke the thing. Like good children of the modern technical world they think in terms of objects and processes. It never occurs to them that eroticism lives in imagination, that descriptions are dead. In clinical detail they lather adjectives and adverbs on body parts and the technical ways in which these parts can be fitted to the parts of other bodies. The banality of the result is astounding. When a woman in a story I read was described as "slurping up cunt-juices" I gave up. There are hundreds of such documents, and I imagine, from a sampling, that they are all alike.
       And what of de Sade and Bataille then, intelligent and skilled writers that they are? They don't seem to me to do any better. In the pages of both I detect an hysteria of despair. The experience is as unwriteable as ever. In a famous story by Bataille a woman comes into possession of the eye of a freshly-dead torero. She stuffs it into her vagina. This is certainly a vivid image, but it's hard to read it as erotic.
       The difficulty is that an orgasm that sends the needle off the dial cannot be described. This is not because of its intensity; while eating a mango the needle scarcely flickers, yet this sensation cannot be described either. It seems that the nature of sensory experience itself cannot be come at by the mind. Strictly speaking, a sensual experience cannot even be remembered. I remember a superb sun-ripened pear pulled from a tree overhanging the road during a bicycle trip fifty years ago, but in fact what I remember is having eaten it and thinking, at the time, how good it was. The experience itself occupies a firm place in the memory (a `placeholder' in technical talk) but has no dimension, no volume, so to speak. Pear and orgasm are as incommunicable as God. The core of the experience can be alluded to, perhaps compared to other sensations, but not touched.
       This interest in sex as a subject in itself has perhaps had one good result: people now feel free to use plain old anglo-Saxon words for parts of our bodies instead of that strange language that doctors impose on us. When I walk into a doctor's office my cock shrinks into a pathetic little `penis.' Yes, the honest old words have been coming back into speech, back onto the printed page during the last twenty-five years and I call it good because these short blunt words connect us, no matter how tenuously, with the anglo-Saxon roots of our language.
       Few people today, apart from linguists and other academics, seem aware that English is a mix of two sources: Latin in the form of French that was brought to England when the Normans invaded, and what we call Anglo-Saxon or Old English that we inherit from northern Europe `old-teutonic' as the dictionary says. Ordinary speech contains words of both derivation, but the swearwords-with the exception of `bugger,' a Balkan import-are pure Anglo-Saxon
       I can remember the first time I heard a woman say `fuck.' This ancient word has now come to be part of the language, though tediously over-used as what the church calls `profanity'. There is a plague of `fucking this' and `fucking that,' which leads to quite slovenly speech. But there is a good reason. Anglo-saxon is the emotional side of our language. If we call someone fat, it hurts, as it's meant to. If we call them obese it is merely a disinterested medical statement. When we-I speak for you, I am sure-when we are totally frustrated by the treachery of fate, the apparent malevolence of luck or the intransigence of human nature, nothing is as emotionally satisfying as a deeply felt "SHITT!"
       No matter how passionately the Normans may have cursed the obstinate British, not one of their Latinized curses ever took root. Occasionally in England I heard young men say `merde,' but they were miseducated, hoped to be thought cosmopolitan, and didn't know any better.
       The only word I dislike is `cunt' because among the farm boys and men I grew up with it was the standard term of contempt for anyone they didn't like, man or woman. I am aware that the invective of choice is now `asshole,' but I cannot bring myself to use the other. The fact that one of the most charming parts of the body is a curse tells a lot about how men feel about women. In any case, who needs it when we have the lovely sensual world `vulva,' even though, as it happens, it comes from the Latin side of the language.
       I sometimes wonder if the spread of English internationally is partly due to the fact that the emotions are safely tucked away in the Olde Englishe side, as it were, leaving the rest of the language devoid of emotion and therefore well suited to people of the modern technical cast of mind who prefer to think without emotion.
       However, I want to write about sensuality. It refers to the five senses, obviously: touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell, as every child learns by heart - or used to. Without these faculties we could not know that the world is, or that we are.
       The banished Duke in As You Like It, marooned in the Forest of Arden in midwinter describes the snowstorms and the cold as "counselors that feelingly persuade me what I am. " Shivering in the woods makes it clear to the duke that he is fragile and mortal.
       People find it hard to separate sensuality from sexuality. On the internet , sites that call themselves sensual are not just erotic but pornographic. The Church, until recently, has warned against `sensuality,' and this is probably because the bishops couldn't separate it from sexuality. To a bishop, to be sensual is to be sexual. This is curious because their Bible tells them that God walked in his garden "in the cool of the day." If this is not a sensual experience I don't know what is. What is more sensual than birdsong and the odours and colours of plants? It is during this stroll that he goes looking for Adam to see how he is getting along with the tillage. Adam was supposed to be the gardener; it was in the contract: "to dress it and to keep it." Instead he finds him sharing fruit with his wife and discussing the possibilities of human development with a serpent.
       Childhood, particularly growing up on a farm, is a sensual experience: The long summer evenings, a distant coyote, the cigarettes of the adults glowing in the porch, the first breeze of a gathering storm. . . .
       But when I grew up and began to think about women, sensuality was less clear, became confused with sexuality. In those times, among the men I knew there was an unspoken assumption that men were to womanize. Men were to pursue, women were to flee, but not too quickly. It was absurd and I was never very good at it. But then came the seventies, Trudeau's time. That era seemed charmed to me. Women in the western world were emerging as people. It was an immense relief to abandon the knee-jerk compulsion to womanize and meet women as friends. Those who ridiculed `womenslib' failed to grasp that the liberation of women was the liberation of everyone.
       Women are such a pleasure to watch! Walking in groups, laughing, dealing with men with deft irony, lingering over coffee, standing hipshot at a counter, striding about their business, gossiping, gardening. I admire the small hips and broad shoulders of contemporary women sculpted by treadmills and aerobics, their carefully cultured `abs,' hard as iron no doubt, but I feel more at home with women of a more traditional build: the tapering thighs, the bulk of the hips and strong belly balanced by the rise of the breasts, the poise of the head. The shape of the calf of the leg, with its two distinct muscles, is as elegant as any other part. Sometimes it's hard to separate sensuality from aesthetics. Parts of the body are the elbow with the main tendon/muscle, the two bones of the forearm that allow the elgant hand to swivl . . . as elegant on men as on women. My aesthetic vis-Ю-vis women is as old-fashioned as that of boats.
       I feel a certain imagined kinship with lesbians: they must surely look at the bodies of women in somewhat the same way as I do, though I expect that a woman who is turned on by other women would curl her lip at the suggestion of kinship with anything as questionable as a man.
       The clothes! The endless inventiveness of clothing the figure. And dressing for themselves instead for men. A rack of clothes in the shop is a mystery to me, the most elegant gown feels like a flour sack, it's inconceivable to me that it could clad a living person. But a woman can approach a rack, tilt her head consideringly, make a choice, hold the result against herself and decide on the moment. When this frock appears later with herself inside it . . . voila!. Carol Shields has a fine bit on clothes in one of her short stories: Tamara "never checks the weather before she dresses; her clothes are the weather. . . "
       If wit be defined as `the giving of sudden intellectual pleasure by the unexpected association of previously unconnected ideas or things,' as the dictionary says, there is a constant play of wit to this process of adorning oneself as a considered object. I am half convinced that when women are clad and coifed and shod to perfection they could worship themselves_icons, as it were_but for that tiny but constant anxiety that they seem to carry with them.
       On the other hand, there are garments that allude to nakedness: jeans cut as low as possible without falling off, swimsuits that draw attention to the crotch, `daring' cleavage in gowns-clothes that reveal rather than adorn. I can see why Muslims find this cheap eroticism disgusting. It's not the amount of skin sets one's teeth on edge, it's the suggestion of the `hoor.' To my eye the white three-piece bikini is a truly elegant garment. It's witty in the best sense. Consider the parameters of the design. It has been decided for some reason, never quite put into words, that the nipples of women cannot be seen in public by any Tom Dick or Harry, and that for entirely different reasons, still not defined, vulvas may not be gawped at. The brilliant solution was to package each of these offending pieces separately in a triangle, and make the packages themselves attractive. And behold: the result is classically elegant. Best of all, a voluptuously plump femme can wear a bikini with panache.
       It is unfortunate and depressing that the classification `beautiful woman' has shrunk to female persons aged between late teens and early twenties, preference white, preference blonde, very strong preference boobs, definitely no wrinkles, and definitely thin to skinny. This development was probably inevitable because of the invention of colour photography and the growth of magazine advertising: the lens shows the least wrinkle, and it has been decided that wrinkles are ugly. The beauty contest (chicks with boobs) and the ad agencies manage between them to exclude virtually all the interesting women in the world
       `Beauty': Are women beautiful? Is any woman beautiful per se? Was Ava Gardner? If a `beauty queen' is beautiful, then a woman of 46 with lines in her face cannot very well be considered beautiful. I saw some days ago the hands of an old woman reading a magazine. The joints were knobs, the skin between had shrunk almost to the bone, but they seemed luminous to me at that moment. This is not to say they were beautiful as we have been acultured to hear a particular oboe concerto as `beautiful.' I mean, rather, existentially beautiful. They would not have seemed beautiful to anyone else, nor to me the next day I expect. Beauty isn't an attribute then, it's temporary state of being. But when it happens it will shine out, as Hopkins says. It catches us by surprise. Beauty in this sense is something we bring, unexpectedly, to the world.
       Once, years ago, my wife was caught in an inner contradiction that she could not resolve. It may have had to do with one of my `affairs.' She was blocked; her distress was too deep to be accessible to apology, cheap advice, sympathy, comfort_there was nothing anyone could say that would have helped. We were lying on our sides on the bed, facing each other, noses almost touching. She looked ravaged. Her skin was stretched taut, coarse and stringy, reticulated almost, and her breath was utterly foul. There was a third quite evident physiological symptom of profound dismay, I have forgotten what. This went on for some time, and there was nothing I could say or do.
       But then, abruptly, she saw her way out of this paralysis. I have no idea what it was, but at once-within seconds you must understand-two things happened: her skin smoothed out visibly before my eyes and bloomed, sleek and golden, but what was most extraordinary was that her breath changed, almost between one breath and another. It took on an incomparable, almost intolerable sweetness. There are phenomena which have no apparent origin and will not fit any category and cannot be named.
       A woman once said to me in surprise, to my surprise, "You make love with your
       eyes open!" Doesn't everyone? The world is so splendid-and so horrible, yes yes I know-but so interesting, and we have so little time.
       I take it that, for a man, giving a woman pleasure is the point of this odd transaction called coitus. There are warm winter afternoons or cool summer evenings in amber light, the slight tac of sweat cooling on naked skin, two bodies, no program, just being there with this person, time that seems to have come to a stop, the visibly swollen lips, a nail scraped lightly across the inside of a thigh, I knew a woman who liked to be lightly switched, it turned her on, different strokes for different folks . . .
       There have been times, when cosseting caressing teasing tantalizing, and kissing, scratching and biting and sucking that one does somehow, absurd as it all seems when recalled in the light of day, with the aim of inducing a vulvic convulsion, I have been prey to a curious doubt. This, it occurs to me, is not a fine careless sensual abandon, this is the deliberate manipulation of one person by another. One could easily become a technician. It gives one pause. But then I have to reject this absurd scruple. Because in the end, for all the contemporary talk of `sensitivity to the needs of other,' and `getting in touch with our feminine side,' to both of which I ardently subscribe, when it comes down to it the essence of heterosexual coitus is thrusting. Men are accused of being phallocentric-well of course we are in that literal sense, how could it be otherwise?
       In recollection, two moments in the age-old seduction enterprise amuse me. One is the opening stage. The woman is lying on her back, being conventionally reluctant, and perhaps really so, her panties halfway off, until she abandons all pretense and sends them flying, with an exuberant flip of the foot.
       The other is the end of this transaction. I have seen, over and over, the look on a woman's face when the man-myself, that is, how else would I know?-has shot his bolt so to speak: this look can only be described as smug. Laughably smug. She takes this male shudderation to be a tribute to herself-as of course it is.
       Now that I no longer get into other people's beds-a disreputable practice at the best of times, I know-I think of Yeats' question to Hanrahan: Does the imagination dwell the most on woman won or woman lost? I cannot decide.
       O ladies! Ladies! I hope I have written an adequate paen, an acceptable tribute to women. It's long-winded, I know. But I think you are wonderful. And to those, living or dead, whom I have known carnally, I think of you, each so ardent and honourable in her own way.
       Sensuality.
       Two extreme examples of sensuality come to mind. For coarse animal sensuality, picture early morning in the cow barn on a prairie farm. The hired man is milking by the light of a coal-oil lantern set on the floor (those cows have kicked over more buckets of milk, those lanterns have burned down more barns. . . . ) A small boy is watching, the cat waits. The hired man aims a sustained squirt at her. She opens her mouth so wide it splits her face, she swivels it back and forth in greed to get the lovely white stuff down her gullet. Man and boy laugh.
       And then, for sensuality refined almost to the vanishing point, consider the young-old witch Serafina in Philip Pullman's book The Golden Compass. When asked why she wears so few clothes in such bitter cold she says she likes to feel "the tingle of the stars, the silky touch of moonlight on the skin."
       They feelingly persuade her what she is.
      
      
       Stroke
      
       In the spring of 1998 my wife Fumiko suffered, in the middle of the night, a complete paralysis of her left side. This was a calamity of some magnitude as can be imagined. Stroke is a disaster, recovery is a long hard road and is never complete.
       The reaction to disaster can take curious and unforeseeable forms.
       She took her first steps in September, and came home to camp out in the living room while she reassembled the muscular co-ordination to tackle the stairs.
       A morning of those early days: having helped her get up from the Porta-Potty, I would balance her on her good leg with one arm while washing her bum with the other hand, then drying. There were times when the intimacy of this dance became so absurd that there was a distinct danger of falling over because of laughter.
       There is a curious lesson from this disaster. I wondered idly one day, if it had been possible to turn back the clock, to unstrike the stroke, would I? And instantly I knew I would not have. I was startled at the force of my rejection. This was not sour grapes, this was not sighing and making the best of it with resignation, no, it was a strong choice. Of course, I thought, it was easy for me to say-but what about Fumiko? I asked her. She instantly said no -never!
       It seems a strange reaction, difficult to explain. The stroke makes being in the world more difficult for her and it will probably shorten her life. More of my time is taken up in looking after her. But surviving this ordeal changed us. We became slightly different people. Our stance vis-Ю-vis the world is perhaps more sure. Why would we want to go back?
       The irony of course is that the possibility of a further stroke is as horrifying to us now as an intimation of the first would have been in the summer of 1997.
      
       Loitering
      
       If time is a river, then we stand braced against the current so speak, keeping our feet in order not to be swept away. This is the river into which Heraclitus says we never set foot twice (if he actually said this).
       At some point several years ago I gave in; instead of fighting it I let it carry me away. So now I float down this same metaphorical time-river. Picture me reclining in an inner tube, the Globe and Mail on my lap, and waving my feet to the folks ashore.
       This is not a comfortable float. Time may stop but not age. Age chips away at you, the joints begin audibly to creak, over time the morning hard-on segues, alas, to the morning fart. Living inside a machine that is inexorably wearing out requires, at the very least, a robust sense of the absurd. The worst of it is, with the exception of a correspondent in Russia, the best of my old friends are all gone under, mostly from cancer. What am I doing, loitering here?
       All the same, this is one of the two best periods of my life. The first was my childhood of course, when I roamed the farmland in all weathers. I don't say the happiest: that would be the years when our children were growing up. But best. I am seventy-seven now. 77. It's a good number: the sibilant alliteration of seventy-seven fills the mouth. Try it. You can't rush the tempo, you have to let each of the five syllables trickle out in its own good time. I do not look forward to next year when I shall be a mere 78. I think perhaps I will lie about my age.
       Some years ago I likened getting old to navigating a ship that was sinking under my feet. I wondered at the time how I would feel when the water was up to my knees. It was a good metaphor and I liked it, but now that I'm afloat it's lost its meaning. There are days now when it seems to me that I can rub the texture of existence itself, so to speak, between my finger and my thumb.
       Death. My death. It cannot be so very far off, and I must say it seizes me with a kind of awe as I approach that blank . . . what would we call it_wall? Not wall; one collides with a wall_rather a blank nothing, that inconceivable un-being. It's easy to imagine the world without me. But to try to imagine me without the world of course brings imagination to a stop. A dead stop. Given the implacable will to exist that inflates all living things, one would expect to be terrified. I seem strangely indifferent. William Barrett (Irrational Man) says, "Any man who is not afraid to die has never lived." Perhaps. Perhaps I delude myself.
       We shall see.
      
       Revelation
      
       When I was in grade three, I was sent to "see the principal." I walked up the steps to his office with a stone in my stomach. But there, in the rather one-sided interview with the Great Man, I caught my first glimpse of the modern mind, the secular/manipulative mindset that derives, we are told, from the scholars and artists of the Renascence.
       The principal confronted me with my scribbler showing the regression of my handwriting since the beginning of the year. To demonstrate, he folded the first page in half so that I could compare it to the other half of the last page at the same time. "Look, boy," he said, "your writing is getting worse!" I was flabbergasted: he was able to show me something from two different days of my life at the same time. This clever man was able to fold time back upon itself.
       It was a revelation. If I had thought about time at all I would have said it was just something you were in. But this grownup was able to extract time from wherever it was and look at it objectively as a thing in itself! The evidence was there to see: he had it clenched between his thumb and his fingers.
       Well, I was startled, I tell you, but the lesson didn't sink in. I went on living in the child's medieval world of ritual, prohibition and compulsion. The times table was to be memorized because that's what the times table was for. Summer fallow: I took it for granted that my father harrowed the summer fallow because the function or purpose or destiny of summer fallow was to be harrowed. I thought you did the things that were to be done, you learnt the things that had to be learned.
       When I was a little older I took to hunting with my little single-shot rifle stamped .22 RABBIT on the barrel. One evening I heard the elevator agent talking to my father about duck hunting, an activity they shared. The agent was a thoughtful man. He described an experiment he had just been making with his shotgun. He had set out to find how the two barrels scattered the shot, each in a separate patttern. He set up targets and shot at them from various distances. He examined the patterns that resulted so as to have a mental reference when he was out in the marsh and the mallards came whistling in from the grain fields.
       It was another revelation. This man didn't just shoot in the casual way I did; he stepped back from the act of shooting, he separated it from the world, took it apart, looked at the elements, drew his conclusions and put it back together .
       I began, hesitantly, to see how one could perhaps question the world after all.
      
      
       Hospital
      
       This is the story of a stay in hospital that should have been routine, but which in fact went off the rails.
       One morning in December 1998 I found myself labouring to breathe. By the time my daughter took me to Emergency my fingernails were turning blue. It was found that I had pneumonia. As my lung capacity is limited to 1.5 liters (my brother has six liters) this was deemed serious. And so I was admitted to the Vancouver General Hospital.
       At the end of the day I was taken to a ward with three other patients. Things went wrong from that moment, and I don't know why. It had nothing to do with the staff or the hospital, it had all to do with some hitherto unknown pottiness in my makeup. I became alienated, an old word but more accurate than `crazy.' Memory of those days is dim but I do know that in the small hours of the first day I was conscious, and I felt abandoned. There must have been a call button, a nurse would have shown it to me, explained its use. But I had forgotten, or I couldn't find it, or I don't know what. I now gaze with disbelief at what I did next. I looked around for a signal I could send to the nursing station. I found only a urinal, a kind of urn with a handle, welded together of stainless steel. It was a formidable flask, massively over-engineered, I should have thought, for something to contain a pint of piddle. Any rational person would perhaps have tapped this urinal discreetly on the floor to attract attention. Instead, disregarding a faint but distinct doubt about the advisability of such an act, I deliberately flung it to the ceiling so that it fell to the terrazzo floor with a clang to awaken the dead. Attention and cries of reproach rapidly forthcame. This was the beginning of me as problem patient.
       The day after this exploit I entered the Intensive Care Unit.
       The moment I was there I began to hallucinate. If I lay with open eyes I saw the ward as it was. When they closed I saw a room almost filled with old wooden furniture. There were variants. Once I saw a specific stretch of pasture on the farm where I grew up.
       Some necessary medical detail: When the breathing muscles of a patient are so weakened by pneumonia that breathing is compromised, a ventilator is brought to bear. It takes over the breathing by pumping air into the patient's chest. This rests the muscles while the patient recovers. In certain cases, as in mine, the only way to attach this ventilator to the patient is to punch a hole in the windpipe and insert a curved plastic tube called a `trachaometer', and breathing is done through this device.
       Since the vocal cords are above this `trake,' speech is no longer possible. All communication is by nodding or shaking the head or writing. One becomes a non-person. A further complication is that phlegm collects in the trake, and this must be siphoned out periodically. A tube is inserted in the trake until the patient gags and coughs it up to the point where the suction tube can reach it. Having other people rooting about inside my own body would be bearable if it had all been explained to me; if I had seen a trake I could have visualized what was going on, and had I known that I could catch my breath through the ordeal of suctioning. . . . But nobody explained anything, it was terrifying, I thought I was strangling.
       Still, terrifying or not, there was no reason to act irrationally. Yet, my behaviour became totally bizarre. They said, charitably, that I was confused. Confused? I was demented.
       This was at night. During the day I seem to have been lucid. I wrote endless notes to visitors. The nurses and therapists were unendingly cheerful and seemed to like me. I like medical people, they are so intelligent. And they do real work in the real world.
       But the nights! The nights were a mixture of dream and delusion and real event, so interwoven that I still can't sort them out. I know I was a trial to the nurses. One morning a polite little Chinese nurse just before she went off her shift explained reproachfully that I had made things hard for them during the night. Apparently they had found I had climbed out of bed and was starting to use the urinal, an ordinary plastic one this time. I don't know why this was so wrong, but apparently they remonstrated, then grappled with me, with the result that I pissed all over them, all over myself and all over my bed. Everything had to be washed down. "Mister Greenaway, you were very bad." As the nights brought nightmares to me, so I must have been a nightmare to the staff.
       Every evening I felt a peculiar tension growing, an apprehension without a base, just . . . apprehension. The skin around my skull tightening, the digestion turning sour.
       There were two major dreams.
       I `knew' our civilization was collapsing. Unspecified people were turning the world to anarchy and wreckage. My room in the Intensive Care Unit was the last refuge of civilization: I was alone in this room with my bed, the life-support machinery and my servant, an elderly woman who managed the machinery. I was surprised that she hadn't gone off to join the wreckers. But no, she stayed on faithfully in the face of death. The 120-volt current never faltered, the ventilator bubbled away, the iv-drip dripped. I was not frightened, only fatalistic. It would come; it was only a matter of time. Inbreakage of the door, the lopped tubes spouting blood. . . .
       Another hallucination deserves to be recorded. From miles high on a mountain ridge I saw across a stupendous valley a smooth black rock-face with many irregular caries. These cavities were being filled in quickly with gold as I watched, and I knew that I myself was in one of these caves, preserved in gold.
       The more persistent dream was of being lost in a wilderness. I kept trying to get out of my bed to go and find the way back to the bed on which I was actually sleeping. And the staff kept stopping me of course. Over and over I was awoken by the rhetorical and deeply humiliating questions, "What are you DOING, Mr Greenaway?" "Where do you think you're GOING, Mr Greenaway?" Unanswerable questions, even if I could talk. Was this one night? Ten nights? I cannot reconstruct.
       Out of the confusion of those nights, half memory, half out-and-out delusion, there is a narrative that I find hard to come to terms with. There is a more or less factual event. A nurse was suctioning me, and I panicked. It seemed to take forever, I felt I was strangling and went into some kind of convulsion. I could see, even in my distorted view of things, that the violence of my reaction startled and alarmed her. This, or some version of it, actually happened.
       Somehow, in the toxic atmosphere of my mindset at the time I managed retrospectively to contrive a bizarre scenario. I saw (and I can still see) the following scene, looking up at her from my supine patient position as though with an extreme wide-angle lens, the malevolent face of the head nurse. The suctioning has ended, I am trying to get my breath back and protesting her roughness, she turns malevolent. Her face has the bared teeth, the rage-eyebrows of comic-book art. As punishment she ties my left wrist to the bed-frame with wire, I am so enraged that I try to bring my right hand to bear to break her wrist, but my right arm is being held by one of her stooges, an impassive man dressed in black. It is a battle between us. She is out to destroy me, and I intend to destroy her.
       The humiliating fact is, I had to be restrained, tied down with straps. I have since read that at least a third of all patients in intensive care have psychotic interludes. All the same, it oppresses me to think I should make up this grotesque comedy out of whole cloth, based on nothing but a tired nurse near the end of a twelve-hour shift, having to deal with a sudden inexplicable tantrum during a routine hospital procedure.
       Every night, as the light faded, I found the tension building. One evening, when my son was there, it was so high I could scarcely write to him. A sourness spread from my belly into my muscular tissues until they felt saturated with battery acid. I felt somatically and spiritually foul. And yet, the event toward which this anguish pointed turned out to be anticlimactic: it was merely a recurrence of my epic, hallucinatory search for my bed.
       I was in a thicket of dense shrubbery. I became aware of a man near me in this bush taking things out of shallow drawers among the branches of a shrub, putting other things back. I was wary of him, because I knew he was a communist agent. When he spoke, though, I was surprised that he spoke English. He asked, "Would you like me to suction you?" as polite as you please. Which he did, quite competently; he then turned and vanished.
       And that final semi-hallucination-he was clearly a therapist or a male nurse-was the end of my irrational behaviour in the Intensive Care Unit of the Vancouver General. When I awoke all tension had vanished, and for good. Goodbye the notorious Mr. Greenaway, hello affable Tod.
       The rest of the hospital stay was serene. The nurses were kind and amusing. The trake was removed so I could talk. The feeding tube was pulled out so I could eat. The food was better than people lead you to believe. Particularly soup. The hospital served a superb clear vegetable soup. The clear song of the stock was to be savoured for the stock itself, and counter to this ran the flavours and textures of the onions and other vegetables. A polyphonic soup.
       Now I face the long road to recovery. My self-confidence has taken a severe dent. I wonder about the doubts that come to me now: are they merely transient moods, as I think, due to the recovery process itself? Or are they harbingers of the future?
      
       Summer 2005
       The sombre mood of this piece faded, as can be seen in Loitering.
       This was seven years ago and I have become increasingly aware of the extraordinary nature of my behavior and how it shamed me in the eyes of the medical people for whom I have the greatest respect and gratitude. This incursion of unreason into my life has come to trouble me deeply. I see that I have not read my life closely. I have skimmed over the bad parts. Now I have to go back and read the text, word for word.
      
       Four Notes
      
       ITEM: purposes. Stopping by the Oldman River, noon 15 July 1999
       It comes to mind, watching a prairie gopher cropping scant grass, and beyond the gopher a circus of swifts, slashing the air with their curved-back wings (leaving it in tatters) and the water washing away the stone, that if we have a purpose, a raison d'Йtre, it is to understand the world. Or at least to understand that it is.
       Mohammed said God made the world so someone would know him, so he would not be alone. I don't know where I read this. It is not in my copy of the Koran. But I believe it.
      
       ITEM: mindgames When I was young I smoked dope until my mind became a little fractured, and I chewed peyote until I couldn't take it any more. I don't know what I expected, but in any case only once did anything happen. Someone gave me a hash brownie at a party. A few minutes later this produced a slow wipe, in the cinematographic sense, across all the senses. My sight became somehow clarified, I could hear layers of music and talk, I became aware of my sleeve rubbing my wrist, I became The Sensual Man. It was quite a pleasant sensation.
       Unfortunately, within a few minutes I had adjusted to the new level of sensuality and it became the norm. When the effect faded, it was as though it had never happened.
       No, coffee and booze are my games, the only ones I know. They are unhip and they do not sensualize for the most part, but I know them well, they are old and honoured friends. I trust them.
      
       ITEM: songbirds. Fumiko said that this morning at five o'clock a ray of sunlight touched her on the eyelid to awaken her, and at that moment a phoebe in the cherry tree below the window began to sing.
       Everyone must know by now that birdsong isn't really song at all, properly speaking, but an aggressive staking out of the male's turf: Touch that worm and I'll rip your wing-coverts off! Later in the summer when the nestlings begin to feed themselves the necessity becomes less pressing and the birds eventually stop singing. It occurred to me to wonder about those last few days; does the bird begin to `mellow ou?t'. Does the belligerence fade, are the last songs perfunctory, a little absent-minded? A touch off-key?
       How curious it would be, I thought, if an ornithologist were to record a bird singing his song once a day until he stopped for the season, then listened to the tapes of the last songs to see if they changed, became less bellicose. This would be a charming piece of knowledge. Useless but charming. But then I thought, no, this is the age of quantitative analysis. The ornithologist, anxious to be `scientific', and leery of value judgments, wouldn't even take the time to listen; right away he would transfer the analogue tapes to digital, convert the format and `output'-that toxic verb-a tabular breakdown of observed phenomena.
       So much data. So little information.
      
       ITEM: be
       This least of verbs.
       This shortest of verbs.
       Is to be an act? Is it something that we do?
       We are, intransitively, as a stone is.
       We are in the world, and we can decide not to be, but to be is a decision that has been taken out of our hands by a higher power. As the angel of the Annunciation explained to Mary when she questioned the idea of a virgin birth, "When He (Muhammad) decrees a thing, he needs only say: `Be' and it is".
       Options are limited. We are overtaken by our own moods: we cannot decide to be elated, or cast down, or frenzied. As Nietzsche pointed out, we cannot even decide beforehand what to think about. `A thought thinks itself when it wants to, not when we want it.'
       Still and all, at the best of times merely to be in thins world is in itself a powerful act of celebration, a far cry from the mute endurance of a stone.
      
      
       The Devil Made Me Do it.
       September 2005
       The events I have recorded in my piece Hospital took place in 1998. I had put the memory of that event behind me without thinking out the implications. Now this year I have come to see the whole episode with increasing dismay. I don't know why I hadn't faced this before. Why now, seven years later?
       I don't mean to retract Loitering; last summer was a high point in my life. This is why I chose it to title the book. The tone of my life has not changed, I am no less confident of myself. It's just that the irrational side of my mind has become obvious and I have to deal with it, and I don't know how.
       Medical people would say I was psychotic during my stay in the hospital. And I was, God knows, out of control. But I am not easy with talk of psychosis; the word was invented in the nineteenth century, and in all my reading, at least on the internet, psychosis is presented as total disaster-delusions, voices in the head, hallucinations, distorted thinking, `a reality-bending mental state.' A psychosis seems to have no existence of its own; it is thought of as a void in the surface of `reality', to be hastily filled with therapy. Whereas I have been re-reading Rollo May's Love and Will. He talks about the daemonic as something to be lived with, he says. It's a dangerous force:. But the daemon can be creative as well as destructive. This is something I can deal with. What happened to me in the hospital was plain daemonic possession, familiar from history.
       May says any natural function that has the power to take over the whole person, whether it be power, erotic desire, rage, creation or destruction, whether for good or for evil, is daemonic. One has only to think of Belgian actions in the Congo in the nineteenth century, or Clifford Olsen here in BC in our time. He is very persuasive. I had originally wondered, considering the event described in the axe if this guardian angle or daemon was an entity, but May says no, it is part of oneself. And of course he is right: to call it an entity would be to give in to dualism, and that is not an option for People of the Book; God may well be dead but our cultures are as monotheistic as ever. I have never heard it said that the gods are dead.
       Now that I come to consider seriously the daemonic I see that I have a long and ambivalent acquaintance with the thing.
       On a day in Toronto, when the children were small, I was making something in the yard. My son kept `borrowing' my knife. The function of small boys is, as everyone knows, to lose their fathers' tools. Mildly exasperated I said to him, "If you don't stop running off with my knife I'll . . ." Pause. Fifteen-sixteenths of my mind was taken up with my work; with the remainder I tried, absentmindedly, to think up a suitable penalty, such as turning the garden hose on him, when a completion of the sentence floated to the surface: ". . . use it on you."
       I didn't think much about this at the time, being used as I was to the bizarre things that come out of the mind, but now I have to ask myself, who said those four words? They evoke an image that doesn't bear thinking on.
       The persistent intrusion of the irrational into my life makes a story as strange to me as it must seem to you. The appearance of IT, as described in The Axe was, in retrospect, the major encounter of my life. I have never read anything like it-at best vague references to guardian angels. This phenomenon announced its presence in the world as a thing to be reckoned with.
       And of course there is the Whim: That grotesque caper was quite clearly eroticism gone off the rails, the purely daemonic at its most rank.
       In view of all this, the disasters in the hospital, and above all the four words that imploded on the lawn in Toronto, I have to revise my version of myself. I have become questionable. My will and my judgement can collapse at quite low levels of stress. I have become somewhat strange to myself. Not estranged, I am relieved to say-strange is bad enough.
       There are inexplicable holes in the corners of my life that I suppose have to do with this Caliban at my elbow, though I cannot see how. Years ago, at a dinner somewhere, I translated a word for a visitor who could not speak English. A friend sitting beside me said, "I didn't know you spoke French, Tod." I heard him with perfect clarity, but I stared straight in front of me as if I had not. He said, "Tod?" I still would not answer. But why? It was a harmless question. I speak some French, am not fluent. It was as though the question were a threat. But what threat? I did not know then, and I do not know now. All I can say is I would have answered if I could, I could have answered if I'd wanted to. But I couldn't/didn't. There appear to be invisible knots in our clearest intentions. I see this incident as one of the most mysterious non-events of my life.. Possession? But in what sense? To what end? It touched something, but I don't know what.
       And dreams, now that we are theorizing: Is this daemon the force that dreams our dreams?
       There was a period some years ago when I recorded my dreams with the care of a court reporter and even wrote a little pamphlet on the subject. I came to have the feeling that at the source of these nighttime narratives was a kind of trickster with a mind of its own and a daft sense of humour, the Tyl Eulenspiegal of dreams. This trickster has a certain command of syntax as shown by a card in a shop window in a forgotten dream that read in large clear black letters on white, though I cannot remember now whether in upper case or lower: "wet me no drivel." About the incident on the lawn in Toronto: I ask myself today, was it this trickster/daemon rummaging in the ragbag of possibilities, fitting together harmless verbal debris floating around the mind in order to `freak me out,' as we would say in the sixties? It is just the kind of mischief it would concoct.
       Yet this same trickster produced a master dream if I may call it that. I saw an Indian city, which I thought of as Benares. Everywhere was dust, ochre-coloured dust, people in ochre-coloured rags and robes, but here and there, each a cameo set arbitrarily into the landscape, lay cattle, the famous sacred cows of India, and they were numinous. This was the most intense image I have ever seen, waking or sleeping.
       By contrast, a recent dream. It began well enough: an unknown woman and I were playing ten toes in a large dark space, there was the impression of others nearby. I became aware that another woman somewhere in the room was being strangled. Cut to: me being there. I tried to pry apart the fingers wrapped around her neck. But they were not fingers, they were the knotted roots of a tree. And then there came was a howl, so loud and charged with such horror that it brought me awake almost to my feet.
       The howl I heard in that night is the howl that is rising, now and always, from the throats of all the broken people of the world, pressed to their limit and beyond.
       These two dreams, taken together, bring to mind a question that I am not the first to ask.
       The world contains indescribable splendour, and horror unimaginable. Is the horror contained within the splendour? If that is so, then we may perhaps hope. But if the splendour is an island in a sea of horror, then . . . is there no hope?
       Can it be the trickster-daemon that poses such deep, unanswerable questions?
       In the end, it is not possible to describe the daemon. I know very well how it has affected me, but I cannot say what it is. I can only say that it is something that I live with. Any more than I can say what the `self' of myself is. I am also something (someone?) I live with. This takes me out of my depth in ontology and further into language than I want to go.
       The daemon. I catch myself superstitiously wondering such absurdities as: Can it hear me? Does it know I am writing about it? Indeed it is extremely hard to find a way to write about the daemon. Can it be one of the `unclean spirits' that so devilled the apostles in the New Testament? The Bible implies that these spirits were the result of ritual pollution, and could be cured by ritual.
       I don't want to be cured of the daemon. Though I wish it could be explained. The whole thing seems preposterous. How would you describe it - a spook that has somehow moved in to share skull-space with the landlord?
       Having said that, I had to smile because I remembered that some years ago I heard a voice in my head. Yes, literally. (A sure sign of psychosis, remember?) In a quiet moment I quite clearly heard a voice about an inch in from the surface of my left temple say "Nice place!" It was the resonant easy-going voice of one of those pleasant self-possessed young men you meet these days, the kind of man I would like to have been. He sounded as though he were looking around at a comely apartment with approval.
       A voice in the head? What on earth can explain such an odd phenomenon? Another little mis-en-scene by Tyl Eulenspiegal, master impresario?
       I am aware that these experiences of mine, and my way of writing about them, make them seem trivial when set against the violence of the modern world. Helpless in the face of killing and torturing and hunger, conditioned by 5000 years of Judaism, 2,000 years of Christianity, 800 years of Islam, it is no wonder people talk of the Devil as pure malevolence. But there is a misunderstanding here.
       Satan was an angel in good terms with God, even in the New Testament as anyone who reads the Bible must be aware. It was he who couldn't stand being in the same heaven as God and consequently fell, or jumped, or was pushed, out of the sight of God and came to live down here and work mischief. But still only as much mischief as God permits. This is monotheism, after all. The `dark satanic mills' were the result of the truly daemonic greed that overcame certain men in the Midlands when they saw the fortunes to be made by linking the recently developed steam technology to the industrial loom. It had nothing to do with Satan.
       Socrates talks about the daemon warning him when he is about to do something wrong. Years ago I became aware that I was sliding into an affair with a woman I met through work. My state of mind was plain horniness. For several days, for most of the hours I was awake, I had the strong sense that I should not do what I wanted to do. The signal was clear and insistent. Of course I ignored it and went ahead anyway in my pig-headed way, and of course it turned out badly. I passed up a chance for a fine friendship. And now that I read again what Socrates said about his daemon warning him before he did something unseemly or stupid, I understand-or at least as much I can understand of this obscure matter.
       I have come to accept the presence of the daemon, no longer a hypothesis but a given, in my life because of two events. This warning is the first event. The other is the unmistakable authority with which IT intervened, underwater, some fifty years ago to keep me from drowning myself.
      
      
       Changes
      
       12 august 2005
       In considering the difficulties I have created for myself I have recalled the persona that I built up in my early twenties. Some personae may well be beneficial, but mine was not. I concocted a version of myself as the resolute man, perhaps with a tinge of the adolescent romantic loner fantasy, with a bogus masculinity. I became aggressive for no reason whatever, perhaps because I couldn't think of anything else. When I met people I hardened all the muscles of my forearm to create a strong masculine handshake. I blush to remember all this. Several people asked sarcastically if they could have their hand back. I took this to be a tribute to my resolute masculinity! I made strong pronouncements about things I knew nothing about. I cannot imagine how people were able to put up with me.
       All this because during childhood I gradually developed curvature of the spine. First this was called bifeta, then scoliosis. In fact it's plain old curvature. At fifteen I saw myself in two mirrors and realized that I was not made like other guys. It was a bad time for a discovery like this. Growing into an increasing skewing of my body, I felt isolated, cut off from `normal' people.
       By the time I was in art school this bogus persona had blinded me to what was plainly in front of my nose: I had good intelligent friends, some of whom remained with me as long as they were alive. Women responded to me sexually. The truth was, nobody who mattered to me cared about the configuration of my spinal column. I was not cut off, I was not isolated, and allowing this persona to take place distorted my entire life.
       I realized this morning that I have to become a child again. What an extraordinary idea! I laughed out loud. Not at the absurdity of it but with relief at finally coming to it. I wept a little, but mostly laughed, suddenly felt lighter. Though I do not know how it can be managed.
      
       5 september:
       Today I realize what prolonged the reign of this ersatz persona: I never talked to anyone about the curvature of my spine which had become quite obvious by then. In all those years I never talked to a single person outside of medical people, not to my wife, not to my children, not to friends-to no-one.
       I ask myself: how can I not have talked about it?
       On the other hand, how could I talk about a shame so deep?
       But I will now talk about it. Perhaps to talk about it the closest I can ever come to being a child again.
      
       I Was Not Born Here
      
       I am a registered member of the secular western world. I can deploy electronic toys, I respect rational thinking so far as it goes and I have to acknowledge the generations of labour and suffering and enterprise that have made possible this "padded world through which we in the western world float, half asleep," as John Ralston Saul says in . It is the society in which I grew up.
       But I was not born here. It is true I came to light in Manitoba, and my parents were conventional United Churchgoers, and I am protestant to the bone; nonetheless I appear to have been a changeling. I know this because I have no sense of personal guilt. None. While I have a well-developed sense of having done something `wrong', I lack the sense of having transgressed. I know the theory of original sin but I don't understand it. Perhaps this is a limitation of my mind. Not the only limitation, many would say.
       It is taken for granted in the western world that with God dead, guilt is irrelevant. It may be irrelevant, but it hasn't gone out of fashion. Guilt is quite plainly there behind the jokes and the careful irony with which `religion' is referred to, it's a constant in advertising (guilt-free tacos), and guilt runs like a leitmotiv through most of the academic writing on psychoanalysis and philosophy today, though the guilt in that case is usually not limited to Christian guilt.
       I understand that guilt, at least in Christianity, comes from a sense of having violated of rules of behaviour, but more importantly, of having bad thoughts. I have never quite understood how the fathers of the early church were able to transform priestly prohibitions into an insomniac monitor in the heart of the parishioner. I suspect they did it by getting at the children at an early age. However it was done it has survived the generations, transposed into Protestantism, rootless and amorphous now, but still part of the human mind.
       Except mine, evidently_and others of course; I am hardly alone,
       In place of guilt I am prey to shame. No other word for it. I have a strong sense of myself, and I see it as damaged by my own acts and my own stupidity, and the clumsy way I have dealt with people since my late teens, my rejection of those mutely reaching out for help, or even just for talk. I have rejected friendship offered by others. I hear a man's exasperated voice, "Tod, I'm trying to HELP you!" I have failed other people and failed myself. I am not a callous person; I know that I have hurt people and gone away and not even tried to make it up to them. It leaves permanent dents in one's sense of oneself.
       But Tod, you will say, these are extremely venial little failings, surely you make too much of them. You have not beaten, torched, stolen, killed. So it's rather academic, isn't it? A bit of self-indulgence, perhaps? Suppose a major event were to happen, say you became drunk, lost control of your car and killed a child. What then? Could you look the parents of that child in the eye and not feel guilty?
       I don't know, of course. I don't think I would, though I have no idea how I would deal with it. In some true shame-cultures I would have to kill myself; in others there would be a standard compensation for a child. I suppose I would sit in my cell and think about it.
       There is a touch of arrogance about shame: it stands upon the premise that one's own judgement takes precedence over that of all others-even that of God. And of course, by definition it makes absolution impossible. I don't particularly like it, I didn't ask for it. It makes for a certain hardness.
       In Little Gidding T. S. Elliot lists, among `the gifts reserved for age,' "the awareness of things ill-done or done to others' harm, which once you took for exercise of virtue." This sounds to me like a man afflicted with shame, not guilt.
       I like spontaneous, perhaps disorderly people who try to be `good,' do the right thing, but miss, backslide, lose their temper, yell at others, then have to go back to them to be absolved by their forgiveness, having forever to patch together a life that is constantly unraveling. Such a life seems more attractive than that of people in control, like myself. Such people are perhaps less prone to going out of control.
       So where was I born then? I have no idea. The only clue I have is a picture. In the early years of the century_my century, that is_Edward Curtis took a series of photographs of native people from California to Alaska. At least one book of these pictures is in print. When I came to the portrait of a rather disheveled man in his thirties or forties, identified only as `Hopi man,' I found myself looking into my own eyes. When I look at him today I get the same jolt. I see my own puzzlement, my own willfulness as he looks out at his world.
       And that is all I know.
       I should mention an incident. I think it's irrelevant, but I tell it anyway. Years ago I was walking west along Hastings Street in Vancouver with three or four friends, lagging slightly behind them. A native woman came toward us. When she saw me she threaded her way between the others, not even looking at them, so intently that my friends afterwards remarked on it, to explain to me in her gentle way that she needed a dollar and thirteen cents.
       I gave her money of course (I found myself obscurely honoured) but the point is, why me?
      
       Dipstick
      
       It is morning. It rains. Not heavily, but it rains. Across the street a man sits at his ease in his car. His girlfriend has the hood up, is checking the oil level. She wears a light print frock, head and feet are bare.
       I am enchanted by the grace of her bare arms, blanched against the wet shrubbery, as she wipes the dipstick with a gesture of incomparable elegance, plunges it into the engine block, withdraws, holds it up to examine it intently, then walks to the window of the car. The driver rolls down the glass to look, nods his lordly assent and closes the window.
       It is odd. An absurd beauty. A beautiful absurdity to start the day.
      
      
      
      
      
      
      
      
      

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