A couple of nights ago I went to hear the renowned Cape Breton writer Alistair MacLeod do a reading in Halifax. I have his book, Island: The Complete Stories, on my shelf, as of yet unread, but I was unprepared for the quasi-religious devotion with which crowds flocked to see him. In fact, the auditorium was so full a half-hour before the reading was set to begin that scores of new chairs were produced to fill every nook and cranny of the room. Twenty minutes into MacLeod's reading, two fire marshalls arrived, in full gear, and stood behind him, muttering ominously. The reading was interrupted (at a particularly apropos moment: he was describing how alienated the people of the story felt from the RCMP - the Mounties - of their town, all of whom were "from away"): we were over capacity. The aisles were filled with devoted MacLeodites: we would have to do a total reshuffling of the room.
MacLeod read a lyrical story about a Cape Breton miner, a man who chooses to fulfill the potential of his body through highly skilled labor over the pursuit of a university education in literature, and then urges his children to pursue the path not taken - urges, in a sense, his own obsolescence, the break in the chain of generations following one another into the family craft. His hero is philosophical, nostalgic, longing, selfconcious, and yet sure of his own choices, which seem to us to be good ones.
After the reading, people all over the room could be heard murmuring to each other and to MacLeod of the deep satisfactions of his work: "They remind me of my father," twenty-something university students kept saying, over and over, with an emotional charge that said loudly that they understood the break they were making with the past. Understood it, mourned it, made it consciously, undertook it with regret.
In the question and answer period, MacLeod talked about his curiosity about the way in which people are called to fulfill the promise of their bodies, and the assumption that those who work with their bodies are unthoughtful or unreflective. He talked about hearing sports journalists ask athletes to verbalize their craft: "What are you thinking as you go up to the basket? What is the strategy?". "Look," says the player, "I just put the ball in the basket." The clash of verbal and kinesthetic worlds.
During the discussion period, a member of the audience asked a question that is equally excellent and ubiquitous in this sort of event: "I am interesting in the pragmatics of writing. What do you do when you sit down and write? What is your process?"
MacLeod responded with an ambiguous murmur, a verbal shrug. ("Look," I thought sympathetically, "I just put the ball in the basket.")
Eventually he did say this, however: "When I am halfway though [a story], I write the last line. That becomes a sort of lighthouse for me."
Lovely, in this land of lighthouses.
* * *
What have I been up to this week?
I missed the last Sunday Salon because I was (I can barely report it, so exciting it was) at the curling. The Wimbledon of curling (the Brier, the Canadian men's championship) is in Halifax, and, as I had friends visiting from Chicago, I whisked them off to see this quintessence of Canadianness. It was sublime. We were sitting in the second row, among (it turned out) the friends and families of the various curlers, and the air was filled with the distinctive thwacking sound of large pieces of granite sliding into one another. There is not time to do justice to it here: a later post might very well be called for.
It is cold but spring-like here in Nova Scotia, and the classes continue apace. I have been doing a bit of blogging as I get back into the swing of the semester:
- In Desert Island Books, I reflect on the literary and LOST.
- I joined the Book Blogger Hop.
- On the Web Comic - in which I ponder why I haven't become immersed in this serial genre before. Do you have a favorite web comic?
- Eccentric Ell, eh? - in which I lay out the highlights of my own personal Los Angeles. Head over and give me your advice for favorite eccentric activities in SoCal.
- David Edgar's drama of globalization Pentecost
- Joan Wolf's A London Season (which I had heard nothing but raves about, but - after great efforts to get my hands on a cursedly out-of-print copy - I found underwhelming)
- Sabriel by Garth Nix - a slow start for me, but a satisfying conclusion. I was eager to take up the next volume, only to discover that I own the first and third volumes, but not the centrepiece of the triptych. Sigh.
- A Gypsy at Almack's by Chloe Cheshire. This debut novel had one of the most delightful final pages of any love story I have read in quite some time.
- And, yesterday, What I Saw And How I Lied, which I devoured in a single day and very nearly a single sitting.
- Go to the gym for the first time all semester. It's time. Let's seize a-hold of our future before I drift any further into Jabba the Hutt territory.
- Finish Betty Sharpe's novella Like a Thief in the Night, about futuristic super-assassins. And, of course, their amour. Is it possible to have super-assassins without desire?
- Watch Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn so that I can return it to Zip.ca before it crumbles away to dust from having sat on my shelf for so many months.
- Finish rereading Fuenteovejuna and Copenhagen for classes this week.
- Continue to scale Mt. Grademore.
- Traipse about in my Google Reader, catching up with everyone.
- Get further into Mistress of the Art of Death - I have only read about a chapter and a half of this novel about a medieval murder investigation. It has put me in a Chaucerian sort of mood. And that is one of my favorite moods to be in.
- Start a new novel. I am thinking of Eva Ibbotson's A Countess Below Stairs; I am trying to catch up on my YA challenge.