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A Happy New Year As Seen By Kafka From “Kafka In The Castle”

Franz Kafka

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.

 

Excerpt from : Kafka In The Castle

31 December 1916

The festivities down in the city are certainly subdued, which makes me one with the coming of the year.

There were a few shots fired into the air – which is a mockery, considering what is happening in the world. And some dismal fireworks.

Max wanted me at his party, but even he saw little point in celebration, and his entreaties were totally for form.

I understand form quite well – most of my life consists of doing the expected. Mouthing the proper words.

My letters to Felice have turned to such vehicles of propriety.

In such a way do all our days, and then our lives, acquire the necessary postmarks.

Gap Year Sets You Loose Upon The World

shutterstock_1104332271

I was pleased as punch when I realised the other day that I had taken a Gap Year many years ago. And I was surprised to find that ‘Gap Year’ is a term which started in the 1960s. I rather thought it was from Academia in England from centuries ago.

I was correct to associate Gap Year with travel to new places, or a time to do good deeds. But also – happily – it was also a year between high school and university for students to take a turn in the real world through gainful employment.

The latter was me – admittedly edged forward by the fact that my Algebra marks were deplorable. I got an almost immediate job as an Apprentice Plate Maker in a printing shop. I doubt such a job exists anymore.

My job was two-fold. I placed negatives of photos and text on a metal plate, that had a mixture of chemicals hardened to its surface. Then I placed the metal plate, with negatives, in front of two burning pieces of a substance I no longer remember. They looked like two large and thick pencils. I believe an electrical current set the pencils alight, and the resulting, concentrated fire, burned all the chemical surface off the metal plate, except for the part covered by the negatives. The end result was a metal plate with nothing but the required image upon it.

The metal plate was then coated in ink, which only adhered to the raised image. The image was then transferred to paper and cardboard, making logos (we did many spice labels) plus photos and text. There would be a separate metal plate created for each different colour.

Thus went my Gap Year, which lasted fourteen months. No travels of the world, and no altruistic attempts to make the world a better place.

But I did help sell spice.

(image)https://capricornreview.co.za/wp-content/uploads/sites/71/2015/12/shutterstock_1104332271.jpg

Kafka *Welcomes* In The New Year From My Novel “Kafka In The Castle”.

best-kafka-quotes-6-1490275694

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his missing diaries. Perhaps , tellingly, he made no entries in either of these years.

 

31 December 1916

The festivities down in the city are certainly subdued, which makes me one with the coming of the year. There were a few shots fired into the air – which is a mockery, considering what is happening in the world. And some dismal fireworks. Max wanted me at his party, but even he saw little point in celebration, and his entreaties were totally for form. I understand form quite well – most of my life consists of doing the expected. Mouthing the proper words. My letters to Felice have turned to such vehicles of propriety. In such a way do all our days, and then our lives, acquire the necessary postmarks.

 

01 January 1917

There was a cloud caught in the branches of a tree today, outside my parents home. Or so it appeared. I got up from the cot and went to tell Ottla, but she was clearing the kitchen, tending to the dishes. So I was radical, unthinking – driven by haste – and told the only one not consumed by labour. I told my father. “In the trees?” he asked. I propelled him from his chair, thrusting the papers aside. He followed me, and I could see the surprise on his face. “Where?” he asked; and I pointed out the window. “But I see nothing.”  “Oh, you have to lie on the cot.”  “On the cot?”  “And with your head just so.” I pushed him onto it, and he lay, looking sideways. “But you are right,” he said. I thought because of the holiday he might be humouring me, but then I saw that his jaw hung open, and his face was astonished. Does the boy never grow, that he can feel so good to be vindicated by his father?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

31 December 1917

The end of the year. The end of a love. The ebb of a life. Even the Empire can not last much longer.

 

01 January 1918

It is strange how we are expected to wake up on a Tuesday morning – just as any Tuesday morning – and be full of hope because it’s the first day of some arbitrarily appointed year. I walk the streets and it is still Prague.

The Time He Could Have Been King Of Montréal

underground-city

“I don’t mean to stare – I apologize. I’m not in the habit of doing this, but you remind me of someone. That has to sound like a line – the look on your face. But I’m not after ….

 

“Have you ever been in the train station at Place Ville Marie in Montreal? The escalators that come up by the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.  I had a lot of travel to get to work when I lived in Montreal, and made train and bus connection.

 

“No, thanks. I don’t want another.

 

“One morning – a Thursday – as I was going up the escalator, I saw a girl coming down from the street. She had short red hair – that’s the main reason I’ve been staring – and a green skirt with a white blouse. Coming down that escalator, with that wide space between us. She was looking at me the way I was looking at her – interest and excitement and whatever potential that leads to. We stared into each others eyes as we came level, and craned to look back as we passed.

 

“I guess I’ll have another of the same, after all.

 

“That was stupid enough. I should have jumped that barrier, or at least gone down after her. But I had a job, and was young, and things like that just don’t happen.

 

“Next morning, even though I was looking for her, and hoping so much, I couldn’t have been more shocked by a ghost when I saw that red hair. She had that same look – of shock.

 

“God, to be so unsure of what to do, and stupid to the ways of the world, and even to have that stabbing thought that it can happen again tomorrow. We stared and stared, you could almost feel electricity between us. At the top I waited as long as I dared, hoping she would come up. I had to get my bus. I just jumped it as it was pulling away.

 

“That was a Friday. I sweated through the weekend, full of grand plans about telling her to wait, or to come up to me, or yelling my phone number. She wasn’t there, of course – on Monday or any other day. I looked the rest of the summer, then it was back to university.

 

“I mean, to be given one chance like that and waste it. But two. I’ve never forgotten, even now with a wife and kids, I wonder what might have been. It can make my hands shake, seeing someone like you, and with too much drink in me.”

DE

(image)https ://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/04/34/64/1f/underground-city.jpg

God And Death Kept Me From A Poetry Reading

emily-dickinson-because-i-could-not-stop-500x344

Admittedly I set out later than I should, but the poetry readings were to go from 7-9. Enough time for some of it. However, as I was a few blocks away from the harbour (yes, I was also going to stop by the harbour first) I heard Latin chanting.

I greatly enjoy Latin chanting, so imagine my surprise. It turned out there was a large tent set up in a parking lot beside the Roman Catholic cathedral. Six men were chanting a service for a small group. It seemed related (in some way) to the jazz festival happening in the city. They had mics and lights. I lingered by the  fence and listened. Evocative and effective.

However, I did feel I should go to the poetry readings, so off I went.

But I gave in to my temptation of visiting the harbour on the way. It was there, as I sat looking out to sea, that an elderly, white haired man struck up a conversation. A visitor who had arrived by train for a week of vacation.

The first vacation without his wife, dead these fourteen months.

She was eighty-four.

When he said this, he saw the look of surprise on my face.

“Bet you can’t guess my age,” said he.

I answered, with some truth, that I never answer that question.

“Eighty-one,” he said.

I granted I would have shaved a dozen years off his age.

“Married sixty years,” he said. Always had travelled with her. Always went by car. “But it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. So he took the train.

So – yes – I stayed to talk to him.

“Get up every morning to fill the day is my motto,” he said.

So I answered his questions about the islands, and if the helicopters flying overhead were military, and if all the ships needed the use of the tugboats we were standing beside, and was there somewhere close he could buy magazines, and how he got this real good travel deal through CAA, and how he talks to everyone.

“Is that really the ocean out there?” He pointed.

I nodded.

It was.

DE

(image)http://www.poetseers.org/wp-content/uploads/emily-dickinson-because-i-could-not-stop-500×344.jpg

And A New Year Begins – Or Does It?

astronomical-clock-prague

“Circles are the answer. Just look at any circle and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, no one else is to know about the circles. They must be very stupid if they can’t see something so obvious. Yet, you get hints, don’t you – all the time out there. And in your own life – the way things happen so you never get anywhere. Never change.

“The earth, of course, and the sun – well, that’s something you can see. Either way you look at it, the one goes around the other in a big circle that takes in the whole sky. And the earth and the sun and the moon are all round themselves – all circles in their own right. So you have circles which are going around in circles, if you get my meaning.

“And if you look out further – reach out into the universe as far as you can go – they tell us that everything is going around everything else. Smaller circles and elongated circles which take in such large distances that numbers become forgotten.

“Now, this means that everything, eventually, comes back upon itself. The beginning is really the end. That’s what most people would think – and that’s where they make their mistake. You see, things don’t start by beginning – they start by ending. It’s the end which comes first in a circle, so, instead of going back to where it started, it comes back to its end.

“That explains it.”

DE

(image)http://mowgli-adventures.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Astronomical-Clock-Prague.jpg

What Sights Are These, That Prove There Is Life?

clocks

 

What sights indeed are these, that cause the racing clocks to pant their minutes in counterpoint to a life still learning the difference between wretchedness and love?

The swing goes up and the swing goes down, and then goes up again. If you are on that race, with childish yells, and up-down-mess-it-around feelings in the pit of your stomach, they haven’t lowered that coffin lid yet.

No, not yet.

****

What sights indeed are these, that make a heart argue the worth of dying, and ring the bells across the hill when there is no hand upon the rope?

There are happy tunes on the breeze and, yes, even the unicorn lifts its head with twitching ears and mouth agape.

And even (so it has been recorded, in long-ago books) our Lord Jesus God would pause in His ministrations at the wonder of it all.

****

What sights indeed are these, that ease the night’s passage and sow the fields full of restful dawn?

A race against the end is run by all of us; when the kitten kicks and purrs through her ball of string, or when the ancient’s cane tap-taps across the room. Eyes, whether young; or dim; or blind; can still open in amazement, and still marvel at the ever-changing newness.

Marvel and rejoice.

****

What sights indeed are these, that turn all tunes into rhapsodies of joy, and make the moon do gypsy dances through the night sky?

A sky of stars that shower and shake and stream across the galaxies to cram unto the ends of the distant universe. Grains of sand upon the shore would take sensitive fingers, and a lifetime of counting, yet still could never fill this distant space where even numbers stand in awe.

Zeros with mouths agape.

 

DE

(image)http://chadstjames.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/clocks.gif

 

 

Birthdays Bring Thoughts And Pictures From The Past

 

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(image)http://unbhistory.lib.unb.ca/images/thumb/2/22/Mccord_hall.jpg/399px-Mccord_hall.jpg

Birthdays make me (surprise) ponder the past.

My great friend and writing mentor, Nancy Bauer, as wise as the ears she sometimes writes about, in the past had mentioned the Past on Facebook. One of the responses to her comment spoke about our mutual times with a fluid writing group, in the gathering place fondly known as The Ice House.

That reminded me of this past blog of mine. It is centred around The Ice House and the passage of time. I’m sure Nancy, who writes a weekly newspaper column and has, occasionally, some trouble thinking of topics, will allow me to modify and steal from myself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I came across an announcement today about a memorial reading for the Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan. One of my claims to fame is being mistaken for Alden – sadly three years after he died. Perhaps I had had a rough night the night before. At any rate, at this memorial reading a number of the readers are known to me and come from my ‘era’. One of the things some of us shared was that we were members of the same writing group. This group met on Tuesday nights for two to three hours, reading and commenting on each others work. Save for one Master’s Thesis that I know of, not enough has been written about this long-lasted group. And much could be written. Many notables passed through the door and many eventually-established authors emerged.

Although the building where we met had the proper name of McCord Hall, it was in fact the very old converted Ice House of the University of New Brunswick. It had been turned fancy with wooden beams and high windows and a long impressive wooden table. The Ice House is in current use as I speak, designated as an English Graduate seminar room. There is even coffee.

 

Indeed, just recently I wrote a brief story about the Ice House for a CBC contest. It went, in its entirety:

When the august Ice House Gang was in its writing heyday at the University of New Brunswick, the saintly Nancy Bauer was looked upon as our revered Mentor. She was calm and fair, even to the untutored and raunchy. Once, while one of our more seamy members was reading out-and-out pornography, I began to rub my foot against her leg. A look of confusion crossed her face and then, with a voice etched in acid, she loudly announced: “That Estey is feeling me up under the table.”

 
I did not win.

However, perhaps the reason is because of the following. This is part of the description of the memorial reading for Alden:

Along with Nowlan, former University of New Brunswick professor Bob Gibbs was a member of the “Ice House Gang”, a group of faculty members and writers who would gather in an old stone hut on College Hill.

I know much is in the eye of the beholder, but…

DE

Kafka And His Father Have An Understanding [from: Kafka In The Castle]

kafkafather

01 January 1917

There was a cloud caught in the branches of a tree today, outside my parents home.

Or so it appeared.

I got up from the cot and went to tell Ottla, but she was clearing the kitchen, tending to the dishes. So I was radical, unthinking – driven by haste – and told the only one not consumed by labour. I told my father.

“In the trees?” he asked.

I propelled him from his chair, thrusting the papers aside. He followed me, and I could see the surprise on his face.

“Where?” he asked; and I pointed out the window.

“But I see nothing.”

“Oh, you have to lie on the cot.”

“On the cot?”

“And with your head just so.” I pushed him onto it, and he lay, looking sideways.

“But you are right,” he said.

I thought because of the holiday he might be humouring me, but then I saw that his jaw hung open, and his face was astonished.

Does the boy never grow, that he can feel so good to be vindicated by his father?

DE

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