On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning.
My Present / Your Future
Still in this World
A Life Away
You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.
Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.
Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.
Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.
Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.
Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.
People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.
There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.
Except the grave, of course.
Except the grave.
And, in my novel about him, Kafka In The Castle, I gave him this diary entry.
We know that Canada Day is really Dominion Day.
But – that said – there is still no better symbol for Canada than the industrious beaver. But even hard-working beavers hard-working beavers need their time at play. This is what I saw.
I was walking along the river and heard the strangest noise.
It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should. A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river.
First there were small rolling noises, as the branch went through its hands.
Then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’.
And then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.
This went on fifteen minutes or so, until the beaver and I both heard noises in the river.We both saw another beaver approaching.
The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which). They swam toward each other, then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and sniffed each other. They then swam in different directions.
This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver that had first approached rubbed noses once again, then made the bawling sounds one more time.
I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg). The sun was setting and they became difficult to see.
However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour and one headed to the other shore.
Perhaps they had just had a date. Perhaps they had just arranged for a date. Whatever the case, I had the distinct impression they were more than friends.
“It’s your Son’s birthday, I want to congratulate him.”
Happily, I managed to see Leonard Cohen twice (at the beginning, and near the end) of his last extended tour. Once was in the intimate venue of a few hundred folk in a small theatre. The other was in a civic stadium holding thousands. He was exquisite in both.
In my novel, Fame’s Victim, my famous protagonist, ST (famous for his discoveries of Space/Time) and Leonard Cohen, dine out in Montréal after attending the funeral of yet someone else famous, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The following is part of their day.
From Fame’s Victim:
At the table ST begins to pull out a chair which will put his back to the street, but Cohen clicks his tongue and moves the chair until it is nearly beside the other.
“We’ll sit together. We’ll twin their delight.”
“If they approach . . . “
Cohen winks. “You won’t have to sing a note.”
ST settles beside the poet and gives himself up to the street scene. Regardless of the chill in the air most of this early afternoon crowd have made little concession to the time of year. The women especially seem as fashionably and attractively attired as any he has seen in any public place.
“The ladies are alluring.” ST smiles.
“Antidote to the black of funeral garb.”
ST notes the usual ‘double take’ of those pedestrians who happen to look their way. Barely is eye contact made however before it is quickly removed. Couples immediately chat together, but there is not one finger pointed in their direction.
“What would you like to drink?”
ST looks away from the street and smiles as an unexpected thought takes him.
“Champagne. Will they have something decent here?”
“They will offer a selection.”
With a half-raised arm and the gesture of a finger, the waitress is summoned. Upon hearing the request she lists a half dozen champagnes. ST chooses one he knows will be as crisp as the day.
“Dear God – yes.” ST smiles at the waitress then glances at the other man. “Any suggestions?”
“They stuff a chicken breast here with portebello mushrooms, feta and wild rice.” He touches his lips. “With a Greek salad it is a meal to embrace.”
“That sounds fine.” ST looks back to the waitress. “But bring the champagne now.”
“Are we to toast?” Cohen watches the waitress walk away as he speaks. “Or are we to mourn?”
“I less and less mourn the dead.” ST also watches the waitress leave. “They are lost to us but they are not lost to time.”
“Then we acknowledge?”
“Yes.” ST turns to the street. “The only time I met the Prime Minister – mere months ago – he desired we have champagne. It is a memory to share.”
“Memory – the ghost at every table.”
The noontime crowd has run its course and, just as with the café clientele, the number of people on the street become fewer. However word-of-mouth has spread and everyone makes a pass of the café. Other than being the object of glances and smiles, the two men are not interrupted. Pedestrian traffic does slow however when the bottle of champagne arrives.
“They want a show.” Cohen runs a finger over the cold bottle.
“There’s a proper way.” The waitress is winding a white napkin around the bottle.
“In tandem, don’t you think?” The poet glances at ST.
“That will make the news of the world.” ST indicates the number of cameras and video recorders among the crowd.
“It should be the news of the world.”
The waitress is not certain of his intent, but when Cohen stands beside her with a generous smile she hands him the bottle. He lets the napkin fall to the table and holds the champagne – label out – toward the street. ST gets to his feet amid the click-click-click of cameras and begins to remove the wire basket.
“You can not share my déjà vu but, trust me, Time is doubling over with laughter.”
ST begins to twist the cork, his other hand around the bottle’s neck even though Cohen holds the base. When he feels the cork start to give, he puts both thumbs against it and shoves. As it explodes into the Montreal sky the waitress holds the two glasses and, amid the welling applause from the street, ST pours the champagne.
“We begin to set the clocks at normal.” The poet takes both glasses and the flustered waitress flees.
“By drinking champagne at noon?” ST reaches for the offered glass.
“By showing we no longer need to mourn.” Cohen’s smile contains wry triumph. “Time is pulling out of the station and now we need to jump on board.”
“With a sip of champagne?” ST brings his glass to his lips.
Cohen gives a slight bow to the street. “The most effective slight-of-hand is the trick that’s seen by all.”
When I wrote my novel, Kafka In The Castle, filling in all of Kafka’s missing diary entries, I discovered something interesting a few months into it. The day/month/year I was writing about, mirrored the day/month/year in which I was actually doing the writing.
For example, if the third of July was a Friday in my year, it was also Friday, 03 July in 1917. It was quite an exciting surprise, and made (I think) for more immediate writing.
Alas, my own birthday of 19 September was already filled in by Kafka, and I had nothing to do.
The following is Kafka’s actual entry for 19 September, 1917.
Following it, is the entry I gave him for his own birthday, 03 July 1917.
19 (September 1917)
Instead of telegram: “Very welcome station Michelob is excellent Franz Ottla” I wrote a farewell letter, and once again strongly oppressed agonies.
Farewell letter however, is ambiguous, as my opinion.
It is the age of the wound, more than its depth and proliferation, which constitutes its painfulness.
To be torn up again and again in the same wound canal, the countless wound operated again treated.
The fragile moody void essence – a telegram swaying, a letter directs it, animated it, the silence after the letter makes it dull.
The game of the cat with the goats. The goats are similar: Polish Jews, Uncle Siegfried, Ernst Weiß, Irma
Various but similar strict inaccessibility of the creator Hermann (who has now gone away without a supper and salutation, the question is whether he will come tomorrow), of Fraulein, the Marenka.
Basically, they are oppressed on the other side, as in front of the animals in the stable, when they are asked for something and they follow astonishingly.
The case is only more difficult here, because they seem so often accessible and quite understandable.
It is always inconceivable to me that almost anyone who can write is able to objectify the pain in pain.
For example, in misfortune, perhaps with the burning misfortune, and to tell someone in writing: I am unhappy.
Yes, I can go beyond it, and in various pranks, depending on the gift, which seems to have nothing to do with the misfortune, simply or antithetically, or with whole orchestras of associations.
And it is not a lie at all, and does not nurture the pain; it is simply a graceful excess of the forces at a moment when the pain has visibly exhausted all my powers to the ground of my being, which he scrapes. What is the surplus?
Letter to Max. Liar, vain, comedic.
From: Kafka In The Castle
03 July 1917
The date of my birth. Thirty-four years ago in a month I now dread because of the heat. I’m not much for stock-taking (thus certainly not much my father’s son.) What has been done can’t be changed, so thoughts about it are wasted effort. Lessons to be learned – that’s all. But the dreaded “future” – this is the battlefield. I’m convinced the bulk of my life is over, and any work to be done should not be delayed. Perhaps this is why I abandon things, so anxious am I to get on to the new.
In celebration of today, I did not make it my last.
In my novels where HM The Queen occasionally appears, one of those instances is after her own mother’s death at 101 years. Here is a meeting between my protagonist, ST, facilitated by the Royal Steward, Howard.
As it is the most of formal protocol days ST must accept that Howard is first and foremost a Steward of the Queen. He will be guided, he will be ushered, he will be tended to with the utmost of discretion.
“A sad occasion, Howard.”
“Leavened a touch this time around, Sir.”
This is Howard’s way of informing him that all – more or less – is as it should be.
“Please convey to Her Majesty my deepest condolences.”
“You may do so yourself, Sir.” Howard indicates for another member of the staff to continue greeting the flow of arriving vehicles. “If you’ll follow me.”
This is unexpected. ST had been surprized enough to be invited back to what he assumed would be a somber buffet in one of the State reception rooms. There would be small talk and a hurried atmosphere as most of the Royal family would soon be on their way to the internment at Windsor Castle.
“Whose idea is this?” ST asks the question to Howard’s retreating back as he follows the other man along the front of the palace.
“Whilst on duty, Sir, I have no ideas of my own.”
They enter a section of the palace unknown by ST. They come to a door that Howard has to unlock. He uses no swipe card nor keypad but a substantial metal key upon an equally impressive key ring. When they are through the door Howard locks it behind them.
The corridor is far shorter than the length they have just walked. ST guesses they are near the back lawns and gardens. He wonders if he is going to be taken to the pond he stood beside so many years ago, and if he will have the chance to skip stones again. However, in less than a minute, Howard turns sharply along an unexpected hallway and shortly stops in front of a set of double doors.
“Our destination, Sir.”
ST makes a quick appraisal of his person, tugging a coat tail and smoothing his hair. He questions the steward with a glance and Howard nods his head before he knocks on the door. ST can’t tell if Howard actually hears a response or if there is a designated seven seconds before he swings the doors open.
“Come in, Howard.”
ST notes that Howard unusually precedes him into the room instead of standing aside and then following. He is also surprized that when he himself enters the room Howard does not close the door behind him.
“Thank you for attending.”
“Your mother made a profound passage through Time. You’re welcome.”
The Queen is mid-room, standing beside an ornate floor lamp. The room is not a large audience chamber but a smaller sitting room or den. There are comfortable chairs and books on shelves and a writing table. In one corner is a television and a discreet bar.
“Yes, she did.” The Queen finally approaches ST with hand outstretched. “She put every year to use.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” ST takes the Queen’s hand, ungloved and barely adorned, and shakes it gently. He looks her in the eye as she does to him and finds a calmness he did not expect.
“Come to the window.”
He follows her across the room and notes that Howard, although unbidden, does the same. They stand in a line before the broad panes of glass.
“My mother did not often reside in this palace as she believed it rightfully belonged to the current monarch.”
“Howard tells me you are finding out about appearances.”
“Yes.” ST does not hide his glance toward the steward. “I am discovering that it is others who do not permit me to be on an equal footing.”
“Exactly so.” The Queen smiles. “And does Howard instruct?”
“I suspect so, Ma’am.” ST also smiles. “But with Howard, who can ever know?”
“Oh, we live and learn from that one.”
The Queen looks away from the men and stares out the window. Since ST is here by request and no polite dismissal has occurred, he realizes the audience is not over. He also realizes, standing and looking onto a burgeoning garden, that this may be one of the quietest rooms he has ever been in. There is not a sound reaching them from the great city of London, nor from the bustle of the palace.
“When my mother did come here, this was her favourite room with her favourite view.” The Queen points out the window. “She would often spend an afternoon here after some public or family function – the two often intertwined.”
“As she would often point out, Ma’am.”
ST almost snorts in surprize for Howard has just given the Queen a verbal nudge. He assumes this is part of a steward’s job, but ST has never seen it done.
“Yes, Howard.” The Queen glances at him. “My mother was a ‘public’ person over sixty years. She both resented and appreciated the fact that she had forty years without.”
“Both, Ma’am?” ST is struck by the notion for not only does it sound contradictory but he is startled to realize he has similar feelings.
“Yes.” The Queen turns and looks directly at ST. “She appreciated the fact she did experience the younger portion of her life where she lived almost normally. She resented the fact that by having that experience she lived the rest of her life knowing what she was missing.”
“And you, Ma’am?”
“I was not born to be a Queen but as long as Uncle David had no issue I was always reminded I was Heir Presumptive. My youth had some normality but I was never allowed to go my own way. “She pauses to look out the window. “I have never known what I am missing but I am aware I am always missing something.”
“Do you think that is worse?”
“How can I compare?”
ST has no answer for this and hopes it is rhetorical. That you can’t really know one thing without experiencing its opposite is a nugget found in the core of Space/Time – and Space/Time rules the world.
“Howard’s body language is urging me on.”
“Is it, Majesty?” It is Howard himself who asks the question. “Uncharted waters, Ma’am. I apologize.”
“You’re being protective, Howard.” The Queen nods. “It’s appreciated.”