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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

gullets, guts, and genius

A faint brightness behind the overcast, and rain fell sparsely most of today.

Kimmie had a gastroscopy at St. Paul's Hospital downtown. I drove us there early for the noon appointment ("don't be late" the handout commands), and we loitered in the wide corridors of the Providence Building, looking at historical exhibits of the hospital while waiting for the moment to approach the reception desk of the gastrointestinal unit. The humanity passing up and down the yellow halls was as miscellaneous as at an airport: in jeans, scrubs, security-guard uniforms, pajamas; white, Chinese, Filipino, aboriginal; serious, laughing, stoned, anxious. When Kimmie, quiet but brave, was accepted into the GI unit, I was told to return at 1:30.

I walked up Burrard Street and along Robson, passing by the Chapters-Indigo bookstore to seek out a can of Coca-Cola on Granville. I bought it at a little hole-in-the-wall newsstand where a Middle Eastern guy was watching soccer on a laptop on the service counter. I drank the Coke standing by the newspaper boxes at the corner of Granville and Robson, watching buses and police cars shoot by and people stride singly or scurry in groups like quail against the traffic lights, impatient of waiting. An Asian girl tried to hand out free copies of a newspaper; a friendly attractive young man tried to interest people in signing up as monthly donors to M├ędecins Sans Frontieres.

Coke finished, I entered the Chapters-Indigo store and headed upstairs to peruse the history shelves. A few titles there really interested me, but I held off since I hadn't brought the coupons I'd got when I renewed my loyalty card. I trailed listlessly through some fiction shelves on the top floor, mainly through the science-fiction shelves, thinking I might glimpse something at least with some imagination. No. It's all underworked, I thought.

As 1:30 approached I wound up at the poetry and criticism shelves, and saw some books by Harold Bloom. I picked up the tome titled Genius, a list of 100 literary geniuses and why Bloom chose them. The book opens with his comments on genius and what it is. I flipped. Hm. I like Harold Bloom, was very inspired by The Western Canon, which I got in 1996. What the hell, I thought--I'll get this.

I was attracted by the thought of being reconnected with why I--or anyone--reads in the first place. Here are some of Bloom's words from the introduction:

Literary genius, difficult to define, depends upon deep reading for its verification. The reader learns to identify with what she or he feels is a greatness that can be joined to the self, without violating the self's integrity.... Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom, which I believe to be the true use of literature for life.

I have written before of how I personally was stirred and summoned to a higher life by reading Dostoevsky and Joyce (both included in Bloom's 100). I used to think, years or decades ago, that I had (or might have) genius in this literary sense (I knew I had it in the mundane, IQ sense). Now I think not--although I'm not sure. I might. How hotly does the fire of creative desire burn within me?

I find the idea of genius fascinating, disturbing in some ways. It is isolating, and yet, through created works, can unite people and uplift them.

I bought the book and hurried back to St. Paul's to join Kimmie in the GI unit, where she lay quietly under a flannelette sheet, small and folded up, asleep, her face red. I approached and touched her. Slowly she came awake, opening her eyes a crack.

"Is it done yet?" she said weakly.

"Oh I think so," I said. "I've come back at the time they told me."

"Oh yeah...I'm in a different room."

Kimmie had been filled with Valium before the scope was sent down her gullet. The nurses were caring and affectionate with Kimmie and the other patients in the ward.

"Would you like something, darling?" they would say. Or: "He's a cutie-patootie."

In time Kimmie could sit up and eat a small muffin and a slice of cheese. I helped her out to a Blenz coffee bar across Burrard, then back to the car and home. We drove across the Lions Gate Bridge into a giant rainbow.

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