Woke at about 12:30 a.m., then again at about 2:30. Just before 3:00 I fetched myself a scotch and sat in bed drinking it. Liquor does temporarily cut through one's cares. I have a bunch of strata (condominium--I'm president and treasurer of ours) things weighing on my mind, financials for the year, the coming AGM. Bookwise, I tend to be most concerned about these periods of relative stasis, when I'm researching and preparing for the next chapter or scene. Or when I think about how much remains to be done: how difficult it is to engineer these little segments of story, and there's still a great heap of them waiting for me.
Woke at around 7:30 to the sound of falling rain. Kimmie has taken yesterday and today off, so we had a chance to sleep in. Yesterday was the birthday brunch for Robin, which went well. Robin and Trevor were over, and we all tucked into a fritata and sausages made by K, along with freshly cut fruit. Everyone seemed fine after the relative drama of the previous night.
Today was Robin's convocation for graduating from the Medical Office Assistant program at Cap College. I spent some time in the a.m. keying notes (True Believer, Origins of Scientific Thought, Rubicon), and we headed out, dressed well, in the rain. Cap College is nestled on the forested mountainside just by the North Vancouver cemetery. Kimmie and I took seats in the dark, steep auditorium while a young Chinese woman played a Yamaha grand piano quickly at stage right. While she raced through "Liebestraum" Kimmie teared up and I had to give her my spare cotton handkerchief.
Trevor came in, along with Robin's natural father Angus, whom Kimmie left shortly after Robin was born in 1981. Trevor had picked him up at the SeaBus terminal, since Angus, having slowly fallen on ever-harder times, has no car. He's 55 but looks older, with a creased forehead and papery folds under his eyes. His sandy-gray hair is longish, possibly from poverty, and he's become thin. He brought in the scent of cigarette smoke on his jeans and striped sportshirt. He speaks in a soft wheeze and cracks ironic, mocking jokes.
Robin, black-gowned like the other grads, received her certificate in proper alphabetical order, and we shuffled out to the reception in a screened-off portion of the cafeteria, where a student trio played jazz softly. Robin and Trevor had arranged to have lunch with Angus; Kimmie and I will treat Robin and Trevor to dinner tonight, so we left. We picked up a bouquet of pink roses with baby's breath at Save-On Foods to give to Robin at the restaurant.
Kim and I both seem a bit sad today. For Kimmie, it might be a combination of the rain, Robin's situation with Trevor, and the fact that Robin, unlike most of her classmates, has yet to secure an MOA job, even though she finished near the top of the class, as well as the fact that Kimmie must return to her unloved job tomorrow. For me, it might be that I lose compression on my project when Kimmie is at home, since I both want to and also feel obligated to spend time with her when she's got days off. So my project sits in "idle" even more than usual.
Yesterday Kimmie and I attended the New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society's annual homes tour--about 13 heritage houses dotted in the Queen's Park and Brow of the Hill neighborhoods of New West. Among a press of other old-house enthusiasts, we queued up and entered, carrying our shoes, houses in various stages of restoration dating from between 1891 and 1936. Most of the houses have been rescued by passionate owners from long declines as rooming-houses or nursing homes, sometimes even from city-mandated demolition.
Our favorite was the 1891 Marshall English house called English Corners. A dilapidated mansion of 9,000 square feet, half-hidden behind overgrown shrubs and trees overlooking the impersonal highway of Royal Avenue, this house was a classic "before" picture of the restoration process. The inside was a series of large, high-ceilinged rooms around the central hall and staircase leading to a spacious mezzanine floor with bedrooms. The walls had been stripped to their underlying laths; the floors were all their original dark hardwood, scuffed and unfinished. Period mantels, lintels, mouldings, sinks, and toilets were piled in various rooms, awaiting their recall to duty. The restoration will be an immense project, which the new owner, a tall bearded guy who was on hand to talk about the place, is already zealously attacking (he has raised the whole house and poured a new basement, and is framing it to be his family residence while they restore the upper floors). Kimmie especially is excited at the rescue of each old house from destruction.
That kept us busy all yesterday. The evening before, Saturday, Robin appeared with her boyfriend Trevor, and they told us that they would be moving apart so that Trevor can "find himself." Trevor was the one who asked us whether Robin could move back home with us, which I found odd: why would he be Robin's spokesman to us?
"Of course," we both said. "This is Robin's home."
When Trevor, a beefy, black-haired half-Spaniard, first uttered the words that he would be moving out (he intends to return to New Westminster, where he lived when he and Robin met 4 years ago), Robin, usually calm and not given to gushing expressions of feeling like her mother, burst into tears. Kimmie went to comfort her. Trevor, softspoken and deferential, talked about how he needed some time apart to figure out what he wants in life and find a job to tide him over till 2006 when his driving-record abstract will be clear enough to allow him to get the job that he claims to want, as a professional driver. Meanwhile, he doesn't plan to "see anyone else."
I was both surprised and relieved at the news. Surprised, because Trevor had been so keen for them to move in together 2 years ago; relieved, because I never have felt that they were a good match.
We sat through a number of long silences, Kimmie and I sitting on our leather loveseat, Robin and Trevor on the matching sofa. They plan to be apart by July 1. I asked Robin whether she wanted to stay over that night, but she said no.
After they'd left, Kimmie said, "She must be devastated. I feel so bad for her."
"You feel bad now," I said, "but that's how I felt when they moved in together two years ago. In my opinion, every other possible outcome would have been much worse. Much better this than pregnancy and a shotgun wedding."
"I know," said Kimmie, "but she loves him. Her heart is broken."
"You might call it love," I said, "but I'm not so sure that's what it is. I feel like a surgeon. Yes, you'll hurt for awhile after the tumor's taken out, but that's just a blip."
"I know it's for the best," said Kimmie. "But she must be hurting so badly, I just feel for her."
"Yes," I said, "of course."
Today is Robin's 24th birthday. She's coming over in a few minutes, with Trevor, to a celebration brunch before they go on to celebrate her birthday together. Tomorrow is Robin's grad ceremony at Capilano College for the Medical Office Assistant program she has just completed. I thought about the weird synchrony of all these events at just this moment in her life. She is under stress.
Robin met Trevor 4 years ago at Seymour's Pub at the nearby Holiday Inn, where he was a DJ. He also worked as a DJ at Mugs 'n' Jugs, a strip bar in New West. Suddenly, they were a couple: none of Robin's usual slowness there.
Two years ago, in June 2003, Kimmie and I had a picnic dinner at a viewpoint bench on Capitol Hill in Burnaby. While we munched the excellent sandwiches she'd made, looking out over the spectacular view of Vancouver and the North Shore and the distant blue mountains of Vancouver Island across the water, we talked about the news we'd just received that Robin and Trev were going to move in together. I was annoyed and unhappy.
"This is folly," I said. "Folly."
"It's not our decision to make," said Kimmie. "I want to be supportive. Maybe Trev will turn himself around."
I shook my head. "I see a river of tears," I said.
In truth, it hasn't been as bad as I'd feared. Trevor has made some effort to get himself on track to a more focused life--left Mugs 'n' Jugs, improved driving record--but now he's unemployed again, and has just got his loud Camaro back on the road. I see a guy who has found domestic life to be a burden and a crimp on his lifestyle, who wants to feel freer to hang with friends in bars and drive fast among like-minded buds.
Take it, friend. Good luck. In my view Robin needs to look within to see what it was in her that saw so much appeal in Trevor in the first place.
Oh--and my book? Just some notes the past couple of days: True Believer,Origins of Scientific Thought, and a new book I just got at Coles in Park Royal: Rubicon by Tom Holland, a narrative history of the last years of the Roman Republic. So far, excellent.
Underslept. Light streamed around our felt blackout curtain at 5:00, and I decided to rouse myself at 6:10.
Notes: True Believer; Origins of Scientific Thought; Alexander the Great.
Next I added some metatags to the blog template, looking for ways to increase my search-engine visibility, since this blog does not show up on Google when I search using "Paul Vitols", even though Blogger.com is a division of Google. Later today I tried my name on AltaVista and lo: I discovered that I was referred to by Debra Young on her blog, fantasist, and she mentions that she had found me via Cindy Harrison's blog, A Writer's Diary. (Thanks ladies.)
A web search of my name generates about 2 pages of hits. Most of these relate to The Odyssey, the adventure-fantasy TV series I created with Warren Easton in 1989. The CBC ran it in Canada from 1992 to 1995, and it has been running ever since then in various countries around the world (on the Sci-Fi Channel in the U.S.). Due to the way Canadian independent productions are (or were) set up, I don't personally make any money out of the show. Actually, now I do: France has a system whereby it levies a tax on blank videocassettes and distributes the proceeds to creators of TV programming broadcast in France. France sent me $500 last year. Thank you very much, France! Even better is the knowledge that people all over the world are watching and enjoying my show. You can't beat it.
A hot day. Kimmie and I had breakfast down at the Corner Cafe, and shopped in the heat. Nary a cloud in the sky. We sat at Ambleside beach, drinking pop and watching a freighter chug past under the Lions Gate Bridge. Then home: Kimmie wants to bake a cake for Robin's birthday on Monday.
Woke reluctantly (finally took half a Sleep Aid after crashing at 11:10 or so, having come home from a couple of beers with my friend Gordon at the Maplewood Pub) to a hot spring day. Kimmie was already up and cheerful. She'd pulled the navy-blue meditation cushion on its navy floormat from under the bed, ready to do her 5-10 minutes as soon as I evacuated the bedroom. I forced myself up and did so.
Morning notes: True Believer; Alexander the Great; and another book I pulled from my office shelf yesterday afternoon at teatime, The Origins of Scientific Thought by Giorgio de Santillana. While I was reading Alexander yesterday, the balcony door open behind me and the warm air and loud sounds of traffic streaming in, I decided I wanted to pick up Origins again, a little Mentor paperback I got in January. (I had to buy this copy from a bookseller in California when he reported in his description of the book: "excellent condition; a faint smell of cigarette smoke but you have to stick your schnozzola right into the gutter to smell it." I had to reward this description with a sale! He was right--very faint cigarette smell, but only if I stick my schnozzola into the gutter.) The book is from the original printing in 1961.
I'm trying to lean even further in the direction of following my hunches as to what to read. I generally do this anyway, but I often am still nudged by a feeling of obligation to continue with a book, especially if I've just bought it and have read only the first few pages. This habit of switching books as the mood takes me goes back at least to the early 1980s, when I was living with Brad and Keith on 12th Avenue. Occasionally, and only semi-jokingly, they would try to ban the stack of books I had piled on a corner of the coffeetable, or vote in ordinances to limit the number of books that could be stacked there at any one time. I felt a bit embarrassed, and made perhaps slight occasional efforts--no more than that--to comply. From that time on, "the stack" has been a part of my life--and the life of anyone who has happened to live with me. (I don't recall having a stack when I still lived at home with Mom. Maybe a baby stack: the forerunner of its mighty descendants.)
Kimmie has tried to ban my stack from time to time (not for a few years now, though--thanks honey). Arguably a stack of books on the corner of the coffeetable (we're talking about a stack that fluctuates from maybe 8 to 20 books) is unsightly, although I personally don't think so. To quote the title of an Anthony Powell novel, books do furnish a room; and if they furnish a room sitting on shelves, why not out of the shelves, in use?
In the more combat-prone times of our marriage, the stack has become one of the battlegrounds, admittedly a minor one, usually no more than a skirmish-point. I'm not unarmed in that battle, since most other horizontal surfaces in the house, certainly in the livingroom, are covered with figurines, vases, plush toys, seashells, model ships, cameo photos, candles, and other things, none of which is mine. Battles have receded into truce when I've tried to horse-trade horizontal real estate.
Lately even I admitted the stack was getting to be too much. I was afraid to count the books. I think it was about 20. But there were no shelves for them. Kimmie was very sympathetic and seemed unconcerned. When I put up the new Ikea shelves, I thinned down the stack, keeping only those books that I have read recently. Here's what's in the stack right now, from the top down (with acquisition dates):
Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox (May 2005) The Soul's Code by James Hillman (January 2005) A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2nd divison, vol. 2, by Emil Schurer (January 2005) What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis (February 2005) The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz (January 2005) Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (December 2004: Xmas present from Kimmie) The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes (April 2005) DNA: The Secret of Life by James D. Watson (December 2004: another Xmas present from Kimmie) McGraw-Hill's Atlas of World Events by John L. Allen, Ph.D., (April 2005) Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (December 1988)
Ten books. I keep Webster's 9th edition on the coffeetable because I have the 10th edition down here in my office, ready for use while writing.
Oh--I forgot: there's one more on the stack now: The Origins of Scientific Thought. (I brought it down temporarily to talk about it in this post.) Even though I was really enjoying and admiring this book when I first started reading it in January, at some point I realized that I hadn't picked it up in several weeks, and brought it downstairs to file in my "science" shelf. De Santillana is a thinker who sees into the depths of his topic, looks deep beneath the appearances to see essences--exactly the kind of thing I like. With my characters addressing scientific topics, I suddenly felt the need to pick up this book again (at page 67) and keep going.
It's just about teatime now: time to go do some reading.
Sunny, warm--like high summer, but with the fresh translucent greens of spring still.
Morning notes: True Believer and Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox.
When I wrote about Joseph Campbell back on 14 May, I thought that Creative Mythology was the first of his books that I bought and read, but it wasn't. My copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces I got in December 1979--right around the time when Dr. Whitehead was recommending him. This volume I have also read several times, highlighted, and keyed in compressed form into a Word document. My edition is the black-covered Princeton Bollingen trade paperback, heavy, with nice paper. The spine has come unglued and the pages are starting to break away. Now at least once a year I read it again--the highlighted portions, so I can read the whole book in one or two sittings.
In my opinion, it's one of the most important books of the 20th century. A few years ago I noted how 3 such important books appeared almost simultaneously in the late 1940s: The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), The White Goddess by Robert Graves (1948), and Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947). These three geniuses were probably not even aware of each other, but they were working with similar themes in their different ways.
The basic message underlying each is that the fiery cauldron of myth is as hot today, this second, as it ever was, and that what we are pleased to call "myth" is actually the life-force that animates our existence each day and each moment. Graves was showing how all European poetry had as its basic theme a single subject: the eternal story of the Great Goddess and her consort/child the mortal but resurrected king, the god who appears only in a twinhood of alternating roles. The new young lover kills the old and takes his place by the side of the Queen of Heaven, to be killed in his turn by his own successor. It's the story of the Golden Bough, examined at length by J. G. Frazer.
Under the Volcano tells this story in modern-day Mexico on the eve of World War 2. Geoff Firmin, His Majesty's (alcoholic) consul in Cuernavaca, lives through his last day on earth trying to reunite with his estranged wife while his half-brother Hugh replaces him in her affections, all in the shadow of the great smoking volcano Popocatepetl. Lowry gives the story urgency, pathos, and great symbolic depth, suggesting that the political and military paroxysms of the 20th century are themselves the manifestation of this same volcanic mythic force. Brother kills brother to take possession of a stretch of fiery Mother Earth.
Campbell's book takes a step further back to look at the phenomenon of myth as such, rather than any one myth. Here is an extract from the opening of Hero:
Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind.... Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.
In one sense, he's simply providing a definition of myth--his own. But in reality he is doing much more: he's trying to reintroduce us to the wonder of our own existence, and make us curious about it again in a new way. What could this thing myth possibly be, such that even what we term God is simply a manifestation of it? The book provides a kind of X-ray of the structure of all myths, all stories.
Campbell spent his career investigating and answering that question. This book, Hero, published when he was only 44, was the first sign-marker on the route of his quest. I am so glad that I have been allowed to follow.
I don't specifically remember the first time I read it. At that time I revered Carl Jung, and had read a few of his books. This no doubt struck me as being in a similar vein, and speaking with a similar authority. Incredibly, in this one book he is able to show how the myths of the world, of history, reveal the entire spiritual journey of each of us, as far as it can be revealed. The achievement is staggering, and, as I've said before, underrated.
Here's an extract from a section called "The Ultimate Boon", which was to have importance for me years later:
The prodigious gulf between those childishly blissful multitudes who fill the world with piety and the truly free breaks open at the line where the symbols give way and are transcended.... Here is the line beyond which thinking does not go, beyond which all feeling is truly dead: like the last stop on a mountain railroad from which climbers step away, and to which they return, there to converse with those who love mountain air but cannot risk the heights.
Whatever my first impression of Hero, it made me hungry for more of Campbell, so 4 months later I bought myself Creative Mythology and continued on my own personal quest. It's still on, but has been a very fruitful and fulfilling one so far.
Morning notes: True Believer and Galilee: From Alexander the Great to Hadrian.
Sent Kimmie off to work in the bright sunshine. She was angry, even furious about how she looked (very nice I thought--cute white denim jacket and pants), especially her hair, which was recently cut and dyed.
"I don't want to have 'old lady' hair!" she said. "I don't want to look like some old lady who goes to the hairdresser once a week to have her little curls put in!"
"I think you look good," I said. "Very cute."
I have learned to be assertive and definite in my statements about Kimmie's appearance--no shilly-shallying. No sheepish "oh, now, honey"s--just flat-out contradict her, bulldoze over her self-opinions. I might catch some flak, but I'm fighting on the right side.
"No. I look hideous."
She was mad, but not as mad as she has been sometimes as she bustles out the door late. She offered her cheek for a kiss on the porch, and was off. A quick, Nazi-salute wave from the sidewalk, and then she disappeared beyond the forsythia that fountains so greenly by our porch. I sighed contentedly, another morning's work done getting the wife off to her gainful employment. I returned to finish the Economist article I was reading, about the capital losses of central banks, over my empty cereal bowl on the coffeetable (I've never got out of the habit of eating in the living-room since I wore a cast 2 years ago), and got on with my own day.
Chapter 17. I opened my Notes document and plunged on, pasting in material from other documents: from my Character document on Sosigenes, from an Encyclopedia document on astronomy, from Alexander's Character document, and from a few Research documents (compressed books). What's this chapter about? What are the issues important to Alexander and Sosigenes, his long-sought hero?
It was one of those days where I feel myself barely keeping my head above water in a sea of ideas. I've brought so many ideas together--which ones belong? Which are important? Which ones are central to my story? Which provide images that work with what I'm doing? And what am I doing, anyway? What are the ideas that stir the souls of these characters, make them think and dream?
In the past this composting process has worked OK. I keep bringing ideas together on the same page, looking over things I haven't thought about for months, thinking about them in close succession to see how they live together. This type of thinking and selection forms the sub-basement of the eventual prose. For it to feel rich, it needs this kind of depth under it. You should sense that there's a lot going on underneath the explicit level of the story. The characters are intelligent, sophisticated individuals who have reasons for thinking and believing as they do.
I pushed on at this till about 11:30, as always feeling a bit guilty that I was not writing actual prose.
This afternoon I went for a run under a cloudless blue sky. The quiet and velleity of summer are setting in.
Morning notes: True Believer and History of the Jews in Babylonia.
Writing session: After refamiliarizing myself with the scene I was in, I quickly wrote 4 pages and finished chapter 15-16. It's 37 pages, 8800 words. I entered these amounts in my workbook for the novel. Projected word total: 337,000. But I am now 34% of the way through the draft; I've cracked the 1/3 mark. Technically, I'm now in the middle of the draft. I felt great.
Since it was still early I opened up the Notes document for chapter 17 and typed a few thoughts to start the process of getting the next chapter ready. But the chapter-ending euphoria pulled me away: I feel like I deserve to celebrate the finishing of a chapter by kicking back a bit. Up for my lunch of leftover mashed potatoes and green beans, and later, out in the sun to do errands.
In the mail today a treat: I received my copy of Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox that I'd ordered from a bookstore in Utah. I opened it, wiped down the cover of the Penguin paperback with a damp cloth, and recorded it in my Book Inventory. Over tea I started reading it. The lavish praise by the reviewers on Amazon.com was justified: Fox can really write. Already he has created a lush sense of the time, customs, and relationships surrounding the mysterious murder of Alexander's father Philip. I really enjoy reading good writing when I myself am working at writing something. This book will fill that role admirably.
Had a good night's sleep thanks to half a Sleep Aid, and woke at around 7:45 (it's the Victoria Day holiday in Canada--5 out of 5 people polled in the street by the local paper did not know that the holiday is in celebration of Queen Victoria). I made coffee and keyed notes from True Believer and History of the Jews in Babylonia. While keying the latter I came across a reference I'd highlighted to Hillel the Elder: The Emergence of Classical Judaism by Nahum Glatzer. Neusner recommended this as a good summary of the "enormous" literature on Hillel the Great. I checked for it at the library--no dice, as usual--so went to abebooks.com to order it used. I bought a "very good +" copy from Bibliomania Bookshoppe in Montreal for US$8. So that's on its way.
In the midst of that I got an e-mail from Dad with the subject "availability". I'll quote it in full:
4, 5, 6...?
This was laconic even by Dad's e-mail standards (he's hardly laconic in person). It took me a moment to realize he was requesting drafts of chapters after 3, since I have sent him the first 3 to look at. Maybe I should take care of that while I'm thinking of it...
Done. I also just took a cup of tea up to Kimmie in her sewing room, where she's cutting out a pattern for a bolero jacket, listening to Mark Knopfler sing "Ticket to Heaven".
Last night I got another e-mail from Warren. I was surprised, since I hadn't even replied to his last e-mail of a few days ago. He was so struck by what he'd just read in Hillman's The Soul's Code that he had to write me. He quoted the passages that had particularly hit home. I had read them myself only a couple of days earlier. In chapter 3 Hillman discusses the supposed social problem of the absent father:
Rather than blaming fathers for their absenteeism...we need to ask where Dad might be when he's "not at home."...
[Father] is trapped in a construct called American fatherhood, a moral commandment to be the kind of good guy who likes Disneyland, and kids' food, gadgets, opinions, and wisecracks.
This bland model betrays his necessary angel, that image of whatever else he carries in his heart.... The man who has lost his angel becomes demonic; and the absence, the anger, and the paralysis on the couch are all symptoms of the soul in search of a lost call to something other and beyond.
This would seem to be in contrast with the ideas behind, for example, Guy Corneau's excellent book Absent Fathers, Lost Sons, which describes some of the characteristic problems experienced by boys growing up without the influence of a father. But I believe the two viewpoints are complementary. The key question might be not whether father is absent, but why. As Hillman points out, fathers have been absent from the beginning: in the army, navy, commercial trade, exploring, and so on. And Corneau admits that dead fathers don't seem to pose the same developmental challenge to sons (he thinks it might be because the widowed mother is much more likely to speak well of a dead husband than one who ran off with his secretary). Hillman is suggesting that if dad is following his own inner calling, is living his own authentic life, then he's doing what's right for his children, wherever he is.
Warren and I were both children of parents who divorced. And only belatedly, when we were already well into the first season of our TV series The Odyssey, did we fully and consciously connect with the fact that our show, about a comatose 10-year-old journeying through a dreamworld in search of his dead father, was about our own lives. Our hero, Jay Ziegler, unable to visit his dad in life because his father died when he was a baby, goes to the extreme of bashing himself (accidentally) into a coma in order to commune with his father.
Our show connected--and is still connecting, in places like Spain and Russia where it's now being shown--with a large audience. It speaks to people.
As I think about it now, it's really the same archetypal situation expressed at what could be called the climactic moment of the Christian story: Jesus, tortured on the cross, cries out, "Father, why have you forsaken me?" This moment of maximum stress in Jesus' career echoes down through the centuries and in our souls to this moment.
Speaking for myself, I have no complaints. I think my father has done pretty much what he wanted to do in his life. Therefore, I feel free to do what I want to do. He's an eccentric--and so am I. I wouldn't have it any other way. Enjoy those chapters, Dad.
A rainy, cold, blustery day. As Kimmie says, more like March than May. After I did my morning notes (True Believer; History of the Jews in Babylonia), we walked under my umbrella to Mount Royal Bagels on Queensbury and bought half a dozen fresh ones, plus some cream cheese. This was our breakfast when we returned.
I lazed around awhile playing electronic solitaire on a handheld gizmo I gave Kimmie for Christmas (she loves games), then decided to make a start on straightening my office. I had freed up three bookshelves by moving books upstairs to new space in the livingroom shelves, so I moved books from stacks to shelves. I had to record some of them in an Excel workbook I keep called Book Inventory. Intended as a record for insurance purposes, I record each book, its category, author, ISBN, and price. The total dollar value of each category is summed at the top of each spreadsheet. I just created a formula to sum all the dollar totals: $20,735--not including fiction, which I haven't entered yet.
With that start made, I moved on to recycling useless paper and archiving file folders I'd left lying around. Then I took down my shrine. This was an overdue and poignant task. It was something I'd avoided because of the symbolic watershed it represents: I have given up the practice and study of dharma. When I tell people this, they nod acceptingly, as though it were simply a normal choice. But for me it isn't: I have been a serious student of the Buddhadharma, and have taken refuge vows, bodhisattva vows, and even certain vajra vows as a Vajrayana student, as well as sundry vows as a meditation instructor, a Shambhala Training assistant director, and a member of the Dorje Kasung (a kind of enlightened police force created by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan guru who brought this lineage of practice to the West in 1970). It is no light thing for me to acknowledge formally that I am no longer actively practicing it. Since, from the Buddhist point of view, the alternative is to continue wandering in samsara, the realm of endless suffering and dissatisfaction that is experienced by all non-buddhas (best definition of samsara that I've found: wanting things to be other than they are), it is the Buddhist equivalent of choosing damnation over salvation.
In fact it was less a choice than a realization of something that had already happened. I realized that I can no longer be a follower of others' truths, no matter how profound or perfect. I had been losing compression in my meditation practice for some time. My break from the dharma came, paradoxically, during my sojourn as a monk at Gampo Abbey in 2002, even as I was having some of the most wonderful and profound experiences of my life and was being exposed to the most profound teachings.
For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me--and maybe there is. But I don't think so. When my left Achilles tendon snapped--painlessly--during a tennis game in Sackville, New Brunswick, while I was at a one-month dharma-study intensive called Nitartha Institute (sponsored and taught by the Tibetan guru Pönlöp Rinpoche), I knew that the gods--my daimon, guardian angel, someone--were sending me home. I felt a sense almost of joy as I was rushed to Moncton for surgery. When I'd got home and recovered from my injury I tried to resume my meditation practice, but my heart wasn't in it.
There is the clue. I had found a new leader: my heart. I will follow it where it takes me, whithersoever that may be, samsara or nirvana.
Now the shrine that has stood on the west wall of my office since 1994 has been decommissioned. The stand that had held offering-bowls and images of teachers below a thangka of Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha of Vajrayana, has become a simple white Ikea cabinet, topped with a custom-made sheet of glass, against a plain wall the color of bluebells.
The office is still not completely clean and tidy (could still use a vacuum, among other things). But the rest of the job will be easier.
Again the overcast darkens and raindrops are about to fall.
Last night Kimmie and I had dinner at Pasparos Greek restaurant with my sister Mara, her husband Mike, and their 21-year-old daughter Chella. Mike is down to do a Shambhala Training meditation weekend at the Vancouver Shambhala Centre--the very one I've been a member of since 1987. It was an animated, fun evening, a fitting end to an unusual day.
Mara's read the first 2 chapters of my book; Mike's read the first chapter and has received the 2nd. They're enjoying it so far. Mike has also started to read this blog.
This morning I keyed notes from True Believer and A History of the Jews in Babylonia. I also read over the early part of this blog, and felt a bit dismayed at how little progress I've made in the last two months. I'm not even doing a chapter a month right now, which gives me a troubled feeling about how long it will take to finish. What can I do? This is the pace I work at. My pace is slow and more or less steady. It was supposed to work for the tortoise.
For my birthday in January Mom gave me a book by James Hillman called The Soul's Code. He's a psychologist who's decrying the whole culture of modern psychotherapy and its theory that psychopathology is the result of bad parenting. He wants to junk the notion that we're merely the wounded results of our parents' mistakes, irremediably screwed up due to unalterable events in the past, and that our various activities in life, positive and negative, are so many kinds of compensation for the hurts we've sustained. Instead, he wants to resurrect the ancient ideas of the daimon or genius or guardian angel, the invisible familiar that accompanies each of us through life and ensures that we live the life we were born to live. For according to this view, each of us, without exception, was born with a definite purpose.
My mother found this book compelling and inspiring, and wanted to share it with me. I read the first couple of chapters when I received it, and was interested, but found Hillman a bit too iconoclastic even for me: I thought there might still be some baby in the bathwater he wants to throw out. But recently I picked it up again, partly because Warren told me he got the book on my recommendation. Even though I find that my mind doesn't entirely harmonize with Hillman's, I do find his thesis important and inspiring.
He uses the image of the acorn as the seed of our nature, which, left to itself, or indeed in any case, will grow into an oak. The acorn cannot do otherwise. Hillman suggests that our parents, so far from being the problem cases who screwed us up through faulty rearing, are actually the exact individuals necessary to enable us to realize our destiny. We should assume that our parents were expressly chosen by us or by our daimon in order to launch us accurately on our life path, regardless of how we feel about them.
My own birth was fraught with a sense of destiny. My birth--in the sense of my origin as the product of these two specific individuals--was exceedingly unlikely. My father was born in Latvia in 1934 and was taken by his mother to Germany when the Russians looked like they were going to retake the country during World War 2. When Germany disintegrated at the end of the war my father and grandmother were part of the tide of millions of displaced persons trying to find refuge on the right side of the Iron Curtain as it fell across Europe. They lived in Red Cross camps until 1948 when they finally were accepted for immigration to Canada.
They were sent to Montreal, where my grandmother worked as a domestic while my father attended school, knowing no French and little or no English. They eventually moved on to Ontario, and Dad got a diploma in broadcasting from Ryerson and headed west to Victoria for a job at a TV station there.
My mother was born in 1937 in Toronto, but soon had moved to a little house in Orillia north of the city, where she grew up in poverty as the second-oldest in a family of what eventually came to be 14 children. She dreamed of escape, and as soon as she could, she did: she fled west with a carload of friends headed for Vancouver.
The Victoria job didn't happen for Dad, so he came to Vancouver and applied for TV work here. In the meantime he sold encyclopedias to make ends meet. My mother had got a job at Household Finance through a friend who worked there. In December 1957 my mother was set up for a company Christmas-dinner date with an encyclopedia-salesman friend of her roommate. At that Christmas dinner she was seated next to my father, a coworker of her date.
Soon they were dating. Not long afterward I was conceived. By the end of 1958 the young (24 and 21) impoverished couple was facing the prospect of becoming parents. Under the gun, they married in January 1959, and 10 days later, on my father's 25th birthday, I was born at St. Paul's Hospital in the West End.
Imagine how shocked either of these individuals would have been had some angel announced to them in childhood who would be their partner in conceiving their first child. It's a good bet that my mother had never heard of Latvia before she met my Dad. They were both refugees, and they both arrived at Vancouver more or less by chance. They met at an encyclopedia salesmen's beanfeast, and I have sought encyclopedic knowledge all my life. I have a folder called Encyclopedia to hold project files. Hm.
This morning I drove Kimmie and Robin downtown to the B.C. Cancer Agency for Robin's 8:15 appointment. Robin was diagnosed with a phase 1 melanoma a couple of months ago, and had it removed from her inner forearm. She was booked for an all-over exam at the Cancer Agency. Besides being groggy from having to get up so early, Robin showed not the slightest fear or depression at going to the Cancer Agency. She was calm and cheerful throughout.
The B.C. Cancer Agency is located in a hospital building adjacent to but administratively separate from Vancouver Hospital (formerly Vancouver General Hospital or VGH, the abbreviation still on all the signage). The neighborhood, Fairview Slope near city hall, is beautiful: on the brow of the long rise from False Creek, narrow streets once paved with flagstones are shaded over by great leafy trees among the office buildings and the occasional old house surrounding the block-sized hospital complex. This morning it was overcast, breezy, moist.
At reception Robin had to fill out a questionnaire, then we were sent to the 2nd floor to wait in a small bay off a corridor, opposite room 8. Through a doorway behind me was a larger, more bus-depot-sized waiting area with a few people in it. I took my "sketchbook" with me--a hardcover notebook in which I sometimes write descriptions and impressions of my surroundings. I've tried to remember to use it more again lately. Here is an extract from this morning's entry:
Hard-wearing carpet of grayed rose: grayed peacock-colored chairs. An older couple in 2 of the other chairs: crewcut man in dark jeans & pale-blue shortsleeved check shirt. Soft oldish voice. Farmer? She is round, plump, almost squat, in navy cardigan & navy pants; hair cut mannishly & suspiciously dark. Flat tanned face.
Room 8 is opposite me: shiny linoleum floor, fluorescent-lit like the whole rambling building. Through the functional aluminum-edged window @ the end: another squared-off modernistic bldg, with green oblong windows & a large circular window, the bldg itself brain-colored.
Kimmie and I accompanied Robin in to the examination room, where the plainclothes female assistant cheerfully told Robin to remove her shoes so she could be measured and weighed, then she would have to undress.
"Welp," I said, "here's where I cut out."
Kimmie came out with me. While Robin was calm and relaxed, Kimmie's eyes were brimming with tears. But her eyes often brim with tears.
We went down to the cafeteria to have a muffin and coffee. We sat looking across 10th Ave. to a plain cream-colored institutional building with blank square windows, now part of the Cancer Research Center, but formerly a civil licence office and a VD clinic. It was the building where my parents were married in 1959, 10 days before I was born. It was also where Kimmie's recently deceased brother Freddie was married to Evelyn in the early 1960s.
I have another connection to VGH: I worked there as a janitor off and on between 1976, when I got a summer job while still in high school, and 1981, when I finally quit for the last time. I was 17 that first summer, and 22 when I left--a powerful and often painful time in my life. I saw my first corpse; I saw surgery close up and cleaned blood-spattered ORs; I saw people comatose, broken, burnt, sick, and suffering; I experienced feelings of attraction and even love for nurses and other women I worked with.
One vivid memory is of July 1, 1976, Dominion Day, my 2nd or 3rd day on the job. I was sent to Fairview Pavilion, one floor of which was devoted to geriatric care. Confused, dejected, terry-robed old people occupied the wards. A few sat in wheelchairs out in the middle of the corridor. One of these was an old man who beckoned to me. Since I wasn't supposed to have contact with patients, particularly, I approached warily. He kept beckoning and whispering something. I couldn't hear what, so I walked closer.
"Pardon?" I said. "Pardon?"
I bent to put my ear close to his mouth. Now I could hear him:
"I want to go home."
I looked into his eyes, which were bright blue, and felt a pain in my heart.
"Yeah," I said, "I don't blame you."
He kept repeating it, and I backed away, feeling bad.
Robin was finished long before we expected. No new cancer, but she is at high risk with her white, nontanning skin, and will have to be vigilant. I did an errand in Burnaby, then took us out to a Mexican lunch on west Broadway. The sun was coming out; the trees were lushly green; it was a lovely day.
Morning notes: True Believer; A History of the Jews in Babylonia.
The writing session: pushed on with chapter 15-16, flipping back and forth between my chapter notes and calendrical notes. The writing seemed lame. Maybe it's just letdown. I've been planning this scene for so long--years--and now it's just a regular scene, maybe a bit tougher than some others, more difficult to motivate, more expository. All the things I fantasized about putting in here are being left behind: clutter. Now all I can think about is: How do I get through this thing quickly?
I was interrupted by a phone call from Chris, a high-school friend who is now an executive in Munich with a multinational high-tech firm. Most interruptions are welcome, but this one especially so. It was 8:15 p.m., his time, and he was just getting ready to leave the office. Twelve-hour days are normal for him. His lifestyle could hardly be more different from mine: successful corporate career, long hours at the office, much jetting around Europe and to North America and Asia, an active lifestyle that has him hitting the road for bicycle tours, and so on. I live more like a hermit crab: hiding in my dwelling in the semi-dark, avoiding society, forgetting about family and friends for long periods of time, until they take the initiative to contact me.
Why am I like this? I think I enjoy it. Going out, socializing, are mainly tedious to me. I'm not excited by new restaurants, new shows, new products. I adventure in the mind. Give me a good book, a good magazine, a decent TV show. When you're in a social situation somewhere you're stuck--might as well be in a leg-hold trap. Few people share my interests, and the art of conversation as a social skill appears to be dead as far as I can tell. People yak about their families, their toys, blockbuster movies, interrupting themselves and others to take calls on their cellphones. When it's not actually irritating it's a dull chore.
Uh-oh, is this degenerating into a typical blog? I'm no expert, but from what I can tell blogs tend to be a mix of three main ingredients: 1) quotidian problems; 2) kvetching; 3) self-deprecating humor. Political blogs are made up of: 1) fault-finding; 2) kvetching; 3) hostile humor. These don't interest me, except maybe if they're well written, but that's rare.
The real power of the blog, in my view, is that of being a window on someone's life. You see right in, close enough to recognize yourself in there. You commune with the blogger. The line from Shadowlands: "We read to know we're not alone." Yes.
Kimmie summed it up well a few years ago after she and I had gone downtown to have a Tarot reading at the Normandy Restaurant on Granville Street. The reader, a woman probably around 50 who sat across from us in the old-style booth, told us that she had recently read her first novel, and had really enjoyed it. She had no idea that fiction could be so interesting. When Kimmie and I talked about it later, I wondered what it was the woman thought was so special about fiction, having discovered it at this late date.
"Because it's about people's inner life," said Kimmie. "You're with their thoughts, reading what they really think. Usually you can't get that."
It hit me like lightning--yes, that's it! Here I am, a writer, and I didn't even know that. You can show the honesty of someone's inner world--the world where we all really live. If you're good enough.
I'd better start a post while I've got the chance. Yesterday zipped by and I never got to it.
I've just finished my morning writing session. The weather has turned cool and wet. We've closed our windows. I'm still wearing shorts, but now have my navy-blue fleece on over my T-shirt. (My office attire. When I quit ICBC in 1989 to write TV with Warren, we both showed up at the "office"--my house--relatively well-dressed, in near-office attire. We also used to attend story meetings with the network wearing jackets and ties, something that baffled and nonplussed the TV executives, who were aggressively "casual". Nowadays, having proven to myself that I can indeed make myself come down to my office and write, my attire is "household casual". I think of something that my mother recently told me: that John Mortimer, the British lawyer-turned-novelist, was warned by his father not to be a writer, one of the reasons being that a writer never gets out of his dressing gown. Well, why should he?)
Yesterday I steamed ahead 5 pages, but today I again dropped back into highly technical research. The discussion in the story is turning to the calendar, a highly technical topic. I already had a fair amount of material on the ancient calendars and the origin of the Julian calendar, but I wanted to take time to look through the extensive material provided by Christopher Bennett. Now there's a guy who takes ancient-calendrical research seriously. I'm delighted to make acquaintance with his website. I downloaded the Excel spreadsheets he provides on the Egyptian calendar and its synchronization with the Julian.
Why this mania for accuracy? It's certainly at least partly temperamental: the same drive that had me, as a boy building a plastic model of a bomber, wanting to paint all the inside engine parts, even though these would not be seen on the finished model. I needed to know they were there.
But it also has to do with what I think of as the modern mythology of facts. As Joseph Campbell points out, in the ancient world, when, for example, the Christian religion (myth) was born, the creation account in Genesis was regarded as factually true. Myths were regarded as having levels of truth, one of which was the factual level.
Now the popular usage of the word myth means something that is contrary to fact. Facts are regarded as truth, whereas myth is true in, at most, a poetic or symbolic sense.
The real meaning of myth is better expressed as that which people believe to be true. Strictly speaking, this is beyond the level of fact, since facts reflect sense-data rather than something we "believe". Elaine Pagels, in her book The Origin of Satan, talks about how she, after the death of her husband, became aware of living in the presence of an invisible being--
living, that is, with a vivid sense of someone who had died.... I began to reflect on the ways that various religious traditions give shape to the invisible world, and how our imaginative perceptions of what is invisible relate to the ways we respond to the people around us, to events, and to the natural world.
She goes on to say:
Conversion from paganism to Judaism or Christianity, I realized, meant, above all, transforming one's perception of the invisible world.
This relationship to the "invisible world" is the realm of belief. Our beliefs are those things we take to be true which we cannot verify with our senses or with strict logic.
I haven't worked out exactly what I mean when I say "the mythology of facts". It's a phrase that feels meaningful to me. It has something to do with the modern reliance on scientific theory as our account of what is invisible to us. We have the Big Bang theory, quantum theory, the theory of evolution. We have made experiment, factual testing, the criterion of truth.
So: if myth is that which we hold to be true, then modern myth, like any myth, must be supported by facts. In ancient times people didn't go looking so hard for natural facts as we do. We keep quizzing nature, and getting answers.
Any viable mythology then must be able to coexist with (if not account for) facts in the modern scientific sense, or we won't accept it as true--we won't buy it. My pursuit of factual authenticity is related to this. I intend to promote conviction in my (admittedly fictional) story by basing it as closely as I can on fact. I want to create a strong sense of: "This seems to be the way things actually went down--what I would have seen if I'd been there to witness it." Not unlike naturalistic technique in painting: it creates conviction through lifelikeness.
Thus I scan large complex spreadsheets of ancient calendar conversions so I can set my scene on the right day. This fiction will feel like nonfiction.
In the last few minutes the sun began to shine. The bright-green garden sparkles. In a few more minutes our new 205-cm Billy bookshelf will arrive.
Notes this morning were from True Believer and another book I brought down from the coffeetable stack: A History of the Jews in Babylonia by Jacob Neusner. My characters Menahem and Hillel hail from that part of the world, so I want to know all I can about it (that's not too much, as even the authorities agree).
Next: the writing session. I managed 5 lines before I was off checking my research notes on calendar systems. (The Billy shelf just arrived. It's a 90-pound flat box 2 meters long. One guy heaved it up the carpeted stairs to our upper floor while his partner looked on. I had him drop it flat on the bedroom floor.) I pasted a couple of research items into my "16 - Notes" document, then searched the Web for more material on the ancient Macedonian calendar, which I understand was in general use throughout the East after the time of Alexander the Great. Checking web pages for relevance and authority. Copying and pasting some of the material into my Encyclopedia document called "Calendar Notes".
I found one very good site by someone named Chris Bennett. I had to stop and read the material; he seems pretty authoritative. I think it's the same site I've consulted for other material in the past.
The calendar is a major image and theme for this work, so I don't want to make any more gaffes than I have to. Before finishing my outline I took the time to create an Excel workbook with a separate worksheet for each type of ancient calendar I was looking at: Jewish, Roman, and Essene. Based on my research, I worked out my own correspondences between them. So I wanted to feel solid and confident that I had enough material before going further with my scene and chapter.
Bottom line: no more writing. I pushed on with research until my wheels started spinning. I always feel a bit bad on days like this. Am I wasting my time?
Heavy rain through the night and on into morning. I found myself a bit depressed this morning--not sure why. I keyed notes from True Believer and A History of the Jewish People.
Kimmie made us poached eggs for breakfast. We talked about doing housework--she'd volunteered to help me clean my office today. But the book problem needs to be resolved before serious neat-making can happen. Kimmie whipped out her Ikea catalogue. We zoomed in on a promising set of bookshelves, and decided forthwith to make an expedition to the Coquitlam Ikea.
It's been years since I was in an Ikea. The place is colossal. It could be a spaceport in some science-fiction saga. Few people shop solo at Ikea; it's all couples or pairs or families. We got our 2 Billy bookshelves (had to have the larger one delivered--an extra $39, but it just wouldn't fit in or on our 2001 Corolla) and came home. Total bill: $205.
We relocated the pine shelves in the living-room up to our bedroom, to join the two pine shelves Kimmie was already using there. We shunted my collection of paperback novels up to join hers on the new, higher stack. I assembled the smaller Billy unit that we'd brought home with us, and we transferred a few books into it. When the big Billy arrives tomorrow, I'll be able to bring some volumes up from my office, and clear the growing stacks. Then I hope I can make meaningful progress on cleaning my office.
So what sent me into my mini-depression? I'm wondering whether it grew out of a comment that Kimmie made last night. We've been watching season 1 of Six Feet Under, borrowing the DVDs from the library. It's the first time we've seen it and we're really enjoying it. After episode 9 ended, I pointed at the screen and said, "That's the proper way to make television. I know how hard it is, and I appreciate their efforts."
"Aw," said Kimmie. "You didn't get much recognition for your show."
"No," I said, "I didn't."
I did get some. For one thing, Warren and I were nominated for a Gemini for best screenplay in 1994 (didn't win). And my favorite recognition came from a fellow writer--a guy I didn't know--who faxed me to say that he thought the show was great, and to make sure we knew that he thought it was worthwhile to create something of that quality. It was inspiring to him as a writer. That meant a lot to me.
Well, I'm on my own track now. I'm not supposed to be letting myself get distracted by side-issues such as sales and fame. Now quality is my sole concern.
Meanwhile: Six Feet Under. I watch how they unfold their characterizations, and am filled with admiration. Could I do as well? I think. I'd like to believe so, but I'm not sure. I'll give this my best and let the chips fall where they may.
Warm, gray, damp. Robin phoned Kimmie this morning to suggest that we join her and Trevor for breakfast at the Corner Cafe. We did. It's a little diner down on Pemberton Ave., run by a Korean family. The place looks much as it must have circa 1960: checkered linoleum-tile floor, fixed upholstered barstools, arborite-topped tables. The two daughters, petite and always smiling, are scientists. One of them has just shipped off to MIT to study engineering or physics. The other one (I think she's a biochemist) is still at home, waiting tables on the weekend. The other Saturday waitress is a cute little Serbian girl: also tiny, but blond, with deepset dark-brown eyes, a husky voice, and small teeth with little spaces between them. I had my usual Clubhouse Breakfast: two pancakes, scrambled eggs, three strips of bacon. Then I helped Kimmie shop for dress patterns at Wal-Mart.
I was introduced to Joseph Campbell by my English 100 prof Lee Whitehead in 1979. I'd never heard of him, but Dr. Whitehead was passionate, in his dry-voiced way, in his advocacy of this mythologist. He urged us to attend a lecture that Campbell was giving right there at UBC that term. I think the lecture was about Dracula or Frankenstein--I'm not sure, I didn't go.
But I respected Dr. Whitehead enough to pick up one of Campbell's books: Creative Mythology, the last volume in his Masks of God series. I still have that copy; I bought it in April 1980, just before I left home to live with my two friends Brad and Keith in the upstairs of a stuccoed shoebox at 12th and Clark. In a pencil-crayon drawing I made of our living-room there, titled "Keeth's Koffee Table", the book rests on the table alongside a poster and a stack of square coasters (Keith was proud of his nice mahogany coffeetable). I started with Creative Mythology, lacking the patience to read the three preceding volumes first, wanting to skip right to the conclusions and our current-day situation. "Just give me the bottom line, Joe."
I found it absorbing, exciting. I was looking for symbolic tidbits I could use in my own writing, but I knew I was being flooded over with a tremendous depth of knowledge and insight. I read the other three volumes in due course, and have reread them all at least once since then--Creative Mythology probably four complete times, and I have scanned through its highlighted parts many more. As with all excellent works, each time it is a new experience, richer, deeper. For this project I have typed it out as a Word document in my Research folder.
I've got the fat Penguin edition in front of me now. I've taped up the spine to hold it together. I have another, newer copy in my bookshelf, but this is the one I've read all those times; this is the one with the highlighting. It still has the little purple rosette stamped on its opening page by the salesperson at Banyen Books to show that it had been bought there. (That little rosette even shows up in my drawing from 1980.)
I suppose this book is the closest thing I have to a bible. I was a practicing Buddhist for 16 years and held a number of dharma texts sacred, but this one talks to my heart. I am spontaneously drawn to it, and to Campbell's mind and teachings. He's famous and widely read, but even so, I feel Campbell is underrated in today's world.
In this book he develops the theme that the modern Western world is at a truly new point in the evolution of human mythology (his understanding of the term mythology is much deeper and vaster than our conventional idea of it; my own thumbnail definition of mythology, based on his teachings, is "software for living"). Modern man (including modern woman of course) has emancipated himself from the ancient mythologies of the hunt and of agriculture, and in the West is staring into the spiritual problem of the mystery of his own individuality. Gradually human beings have emerged from their collectives to become individuals: autonomous beings responsible for our own destinies, our own salvation. The cultural expressions of this autonomy include objective science, industrialization, and the concept of human rights. Each person is a world; each person is precious in this conception of humanity.
Campbell develops the idea that the core myth of this era of modern Western individuality is that of the Holy Grail, most authoritatively depicted in the poem Parzifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach just after AD 1200. According to Campbell, for people with integrity of heart and mind, the authority of the Christian church came to an end at about that time. One result was the flowering of the Grail myth: a new symbol of supreme spiritual value, the innate capacity for spiritual realization within a true heart, listening to its own inner voice, and not the dictates of external authority, such as the church. The Grail represents the possibility of supreme realization for one who quests on his or her own, not following in the steps of others. It is the mythology of the modern "alienated" Western individual.
I certainly didn't understand much of this when I first read the book in 1980. But I felt the excitement of connection with real ideas--living ideas. I wanted more. Campbell, and especially Creative Mythology, became one of the tools in my kit, a kind of glowing radioactive stone of inspiration that I could take out and draw on. I've never "outgrown" it; I don't expect to. I keep growing into it. Using his text as a guide, I want to put my own hands on the live embers of our current world mythology, to move them, build with them. This inexhaustible treasure can be mined and brought to people. That is my mission.
The sky is bright; the lightest of rain falls, raindrops smacking plushy leaves discretely, barely audible. I ran in it an hour and a half ago. A dusty rich smell came off the asphalt: hot dry ground awakened by the memory of water. It reminded me of being in Colorado, and the strong dusty smell that rose in the mountains when a thundershower wet the ground.
Another good writing day: 5 pages. I'm at page 27 of chapter 15-16. My notes are paying off, acting like stepping-stones that allow me to pick my way through the scene. These are the obligatory topics and points, but the writer pours himself into each character in turn. What would I be thinking here? How would I respond? There is tension between running the scene as a free-for-all and following a plan. Experience tells me that sticking close to a plan yields the best results.
While it might appear that the time of actually drafting the prose of the narrative is the "creative" part of the work, in fact creativity enters it and undergirds it at every step. Following an outline might seem bloodless to some, but that outline itself came from somewhere--it is also a product of creativity. Spontaneity and structure are worked in at every stage. I think of a documentary I saw on the making of samurai swords in Japan. The steel was heated and tempered (plunged in water to cool quickly); then it was heated, doubled, and annealed (left to air-cool); then heated, doubled, and tempered again; then annealed again; and so on. The resulting blade was a laminate of thousands of layers of alternately tempered and annealed steel. Tempering makes steel hard; annealing makes it flexible. A samurai sword was a thousand-layer cake of hardness and flexibility.
In the same way, spontaneity and structure need to be brought together in a novel. I define storytelling as the art of arranging lifelike surprises in a narrative. The surprise events are the products of creativity, spontaneous ideas popping into the creator's head. But what makes them surprising in the narrative is structure. The structure leads us along, creating expectations in the minds of the characters and of the reader. Then...surprise! The unexpected happens. The story twists in a new direction--just like life.
Creating spontaneous-feeling, lifelike effects is, in my experience, usually hard, patient work. Warren and I found that on The Odyssey: the scenes where we did the most grunt-work and plodding came out best.
Thus, even though I don't particularly like grunt-work and plodding, I do it. The result is better.
Jeepers, another day already. I'm just back from a visit to my chiropractor, Terry Dickson. Shaven-headed, athletic, talkative, strong. Knowing I'm a writer, he likes to talk about intellectual subjects while manipulating and stretching me, interrupting himself briefly to direct me to move this way or that. Today it was about movies and public debate. Evidently there's a new release about the Crusades, and both Christians and Muslims lobbied the filmmakers to make sure they were portrayed flatteringly. According to Terry's friends (neither he nor I has seen the movie), the result is muddled.
"That's no good," I said, voice muffled by having my face pressed into the leather crevice of the treatment table. "A decent story has to have a strong point of view."
"Exactly," said Terry. "Exactly."
Then, as he provided resistance to my efforts to press my leg toward the door, he said, "I like debate. I like hearing both sides of an issue. I like hearing from people who know more about something than I do, and what they've got to say. I like having my mind expanded that way."
Good for you, I thought. You're one in a million.
It was a good writing day. I made my last few notes, and felt myself too charged up and ready to wait any longer. I jumped into my chapter in progress and started typing. I made 5 pages--an ideal day. It feels much like sailing a boat with a fresh wind after luffing in still air. Having outlined my dialogue, I flipped between my Notes document and my chapter. I felt good.
The morning notes session was also good. I keyed from The True Believer, A History of the Jewish People, and also from another book that I brought down from the coffeetable, not having looked at it in 3 months or so: Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian: 323 BCE to 135 CE by Sean Freyne.
The more I read (and key) of The True Believer, the more disturbing it becomes. Consider this from page 51:
There is perhaps no more reliable indicator of a society's ripeness for a mass movement than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom. In almost all the descriptions of the periods preceding the rise of mass movements there is reference to vast ennui; and in their earliest stages mass movements are more likely to find sympathizers and support among the bored than among the exploited and oppressed.
If that's true, then our own Western society is ripe for a mass movement. As Hoffer himself says another paragraph on: "Pleasure-chasing and dissipation are ineffective palliatives." Our society is devoted to pleasure-chasing and dissipation. Our jaded, blasé children are dry tinder waiting for the spark of a mass movement.
Another wakeful early morning. I woke just after 3:00, lay there for about an hour and a half, dozed off, and woke up again soon after. But that final catnap seems to be enough to let me feel rested in the morning. Kimmie has suggested that I just get up in the middle of the night and get to work. I tried it a couple of years ago, when my nerves were in worse shape. I got up at around midnight, poured myself a big scotch, and sat in the living-room to read a copywriting text. Three-quarters of an hour later, feeling very sleepy and half-cut, I crawled back up to bed.
I haven't wanted to get up in the middle of the night, partly because I don't expect to get quality work done at that time (I could key notes, sure), and partly because I'd be out of my routine, which is dangerous for productivity. When would I return to bed? Sure, maybe a half hour later--but how would I feel coming back to the PC in the morning? Would the freshness be gone? I foresee chaos.
So I lie there in the dead of night, trusting boredom to eventually sedate me. It can take its sweet time.
Morning notes: The True Believer; A History of the Jewish People.
Writing time: Better. As I typed my notes, I discovered that I was writing dialogue, or anyway the subtext below the eventual dialogue. I wanted to construct a path through the topics I needed to visit--how will I touch all my bases? (I sometimes think about an image that Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence once used to express what it's like to write a novel: keeping a number of plates spinning on the tops of broom-handles.) I worked with the scene backstory: the events immediately preceding the scene. This backstory sets the tone and gives the sense of being in mid-flow when the scene opens. When this is poorly worked out, there is a sense that the characters come to life only when the reader opens the book, like puppets. They don't feel like people caught in the middle of their lives, in the process of chasing their goals.
I felt things clicking into place. I pasted in a section of a Word table I worked out a couple of years ago called "Alexandrian War Timeline". Using the sources I had available, I created a list of events in the Alexandrian War between Caesar and the Egyptians. For the current chapter, I need to know exactly what's been going on lately (at least according to my reckoning--no one knows the exact dates of all these things). Endless decisions. Has Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe left the palace yet? Yes. Has Caesar executed the eunuch prime minister Pothinus yet? Hmm.... Yes. Today.
And so on. Then: who are the players in this scene? What are their objectives? This is all hard. It requires mental effort. I have to concentrate and think. In theory I'm supposed to enjoy that, but in reality I find it hard and I avoid it. It takes discipline. The reward is discovering things that work.
As I typed out my dialogue subtext I started to see how these characters could relate, what their attitudes are. I could already feel some characters pushing forward, some holding back. My reticence about writing such famous historical characters as Caesar and Cleopatra is becoming less. Here's their situation, here's what they want to do; let 'em rip.
By lunchtime I felt just about ready to start writing again.
More dreams--although not drug-induced (except for the standard wine and whisky). One had me seeing a big cardboard display advertising a book I'd written--except that my name only appeared in small print on the back, as a secondary contributor. The byline went to Mara's old friend Marilyn. She had apparently revised the book to make it acceptable, and my name was dropped. The publisher didn't care--it had a successful commercial property and didn't care where it came from. I felt outrage, an "oh no--not again" feeling, remembering my banishment from The Odyssey in 1993. As the dream went on it seemed that the credited author became the actor-comedian Wayne Brady.
What's going on? Why Wayne Brady? I last saw him a couple of days ago delivering a video clue on Jeopardy. I wondered about his career--how's it doing? I regard him as a phenomenal talent, but one who seems to be having a hard time finding a home after his brilliance on Who's Line Is It Anyway? Is this again an image of myself--genius without a home? But in this case, he's getting credit for my work.
Notes this morning were from The True Believer and A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, which I picked up again yesterday afternoon. It's fun to read a writer of such perceptiveness and deductive power as Schurer.
Some discombobulation this morning as Kim scrambled out the door late, as usual, and then phoned to ask me to bring down her fitness gear, which she'd forgotten. It's a short drive, but there's no parking, so I had to park illegally while I rushed the thing inside and up the elevator to the locked door behind which ICBC huddles in fear of the motoring public it ostensibly serves. I found myself feeling a bit hassled as I got back to start my writing day.
Today I felt overwhelmed. I hunted through my notes looking for certain material I knew to be there--a fictitious calculation of the arrival date of the Age of Pisces as might have been made by the astronomer Hipparchus, who is credited with discovering it. Couldn't find it. I opened document after document, hunting. I wound up jotting a calculation on a sheet of notepaper beside my keyboard. This is no way to be doing this, I thought: half-baked, halfhearted. How do I get myself into these things--trying to solve historical astronomical problems as part of writing a novel?
I saw massive, half-forgotten icebergs of notes on various topics. How can I possibly even remember all these things, never mind integrate them into something? Do I even care anymore?
I gamely tried to inch closer to beginning my chapter, but today I had that cold feeling that my desire for this project could simply go out like a pilot light, and I'd have to walk away from the whole thing.
Back to the writing week. Morning notes consisted of the last few "sketches" from Egypt: Gift of the Nile, and keying from The True Believer. I also took the time to note down a couple of dreams I had last night (heightened dream activity from popping half a Sleep Aid before bed). One had me dressed in a very nice charcoal suit, like the Italian crepe suit I got in 1990, and taking an elevator to the apartment of a girl named Cathy I went to school with but haven't seen since 1978. She was out with her husband--whoever he might be--and I prowled through the well-appointed apartment, snooping out of curiosity, until I saw there were security cameras and fled back to the elevator.
Another dream had me in a studio or small recital hall about to hear a performance by Dash Crofts--one half of the Seals and Crofts pop act of the 1970s. In the dream, his partner Jim Seals was dead (Seals is actually alive and well--I checked their website). I wondered how Crofts would do on his own. He started singing, and his voice seemed strangely quiet. I felt worried for him, but he pressed on, seemingly unbothered.
I haven't tried to interpret these dreams, but they're unlike any I've had before. Seals and Crofts songs are still on my personal "playlist" of tunes I hum to myself, especially "Hummingbird" and "Summer Breeze". (While others play music on stereos or iPods, I hum and sing--must be my Welsh heritage.) I remember that Seals and Crofts were of the Baha'i faith, a Persian religion I first met at the Mannheim youth hostel in 1982, when a group of German Baha'is had descended on the city to leaflet the citizens. I got a free book: Baha'u'llah and the New Era (haven't read it). It sounds like a very nice, inclusive faith that accepts the teachers of the other great religions, treating them as forerunners of their own prophet Baha'u'llah.
There must be something very significant about a duo one of whose members is deceased. I think about the mythological twins Castor and Pollux, one of whom was mortal and one immortal. The duo in the dream spans life and death, like my epic. Seals and Crofts were and are singers with a spiritual message. Singing is musical poetry: an art form that appeals directly to the emotions. They're a duo of men: possibly shadow aspects of myself.
Has part of me died? The survivor's voice is too quiet. He needs to pipe up, be heard. Is that a message for me?
I worked further on the notes for chapter 15-16. I'm handling some of the main ideas that are driving my story. I touch them in point form in my notes, reshaping, reformulating them, trying to make them clear to myself. It's easy to act on facts, but we must act also on assumptions about what we don't know directly: our beliefs. These beliefs reflect--and, when acted upon, reveal--our character.
I remember reading the words of an astrologer (I forget which): "The question is not whether a person's philosophy matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else matters." What are the core beliefs driving my characters?
Over morning coffee: keying from Book 3 of Aristotle's Politics. I felt that something valuable had been delivered into my hands. I felt that I'd been guided to it.
How? About 3 days ago, when I was working on notes for chapter 15-16, I recalled reading about Alexander the Great's aspiration to unite humanity under one polity of brotherhood in Eliade. When I checked the reference there, I found the specific place referred to by Eliade in The Politics, so I got the latter out of the library. This morning I discovered that in chapter 13 of Book 3, Aristotle reasons explicitly that a man who excels to a superlative degree in the virtue of statecraft must be reckoned a "god among men" and given supreme power above the law. While Eliade thought it clear that Aristotle was referring to his student Alexander the Great, it seems clear to me that Julius Caesar might well feel that Aristotle was referring to him. This seems perfect as the ferment that gets my after-dinner conversation going in the latter part of chapter 15-16.
The right thing came to me at the right time. This can be seen as a sign of divine help, or the working of one's higher power or daimon. According to the spiritual lecturer Caroline Myss, coincidences are a sign that one is on one's proper path, fulfilling one's "spiritual contract" undertaken before birth. You could as well say that my unconscious, remembering the reference in Eliade, brought it to my attention when I needed it, since his words were in my unconscious. But they were not conscious--that's the key point. So a higher wisdom is still at work--presumably the same source who scripts my dreams.
Either way, I had a feeling of appropriateness and excitement as I read and keyed that chapter of Aristotle; it felt like a confirmation that I am on the right track. Without my having fully planned it (impossible in any case), things are working out. I received a "just in time" delivery of needed material.
Afterward: Kimmie and I went out to my mother's place for a Mother's Day breakfast of French toast and bacon, bringing her a clematis we'd bought yesterday to start her renovation of the big garden out there. Kim, Mom, and I toured the grounds, marking shrubs for elimination by fixing masking-tape to them. We climbed down onto the rocky beach in the light rain to look up at the property. The bedrock of the steep slope is covered with thick, forbidding greenery, and dry slash is heaped in front of that, possibly dumped there by Mom's neighbor during his landscaping. Could bears be making their way through that thick growth to Mom's lawn? No--they're probably taking the easy route up the neighbor's stairs and cleanly landscaped yard, and just going through the hedge.
A cooler, overcast day. Kimmie and I were fully awake before 6:00, and decided to get going just after. Kimmie is much, much better after her two chiropractic sessions: almost fully mobile and comfortable. She was excited about our mission this morning to go to New Westminster to buy tickets to this year's Heritage Preservation Society's Homes Tour--possibly the highlight of Kimmie's year. The tour itself is on Sunday 29 May.
The coffee notes session: I finished the last notes from When Prophecy Fails, as well as the last notes from the Caesar chapter of The Twelve Caesars, having highlighted these last night. Next: more keying from Hoffer's The True Believer. Continued excellence. Consider these thoughts, which I keyed from the book this morning:
Misery does not automatically generate discontent, nor is the intensity of discontent directly proportionate to the degree of misery.
Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach.... A popular upheaval in Soviet Russia is hardly likely before the people get a real taste of the good life. The most dangerous moment for the regime of the Politburo will be when a considerable improvement in the economic conditions of the Russian masses has been achieved and the iron totalitarian rule somewhat relaxed.
Those words were written sometime before 1951. Prescient, no? I like Hoffer: an independent thinker outside the bounds of academic institutions.
That was it for this morning. Kimmie and I were off to get our tickets at the little antique shop on 12th St. in New West ($50 for the pair as members of the Heritage Preservation Society). Last year we had a lot more difficulty, since we didn't look for tickets until a couple of weeks after they went on sale, and they were sold out. We were able to get a single ticket that had come back on the market at a furniture-maker on Granville Island, then Kimmie discovered that a couple of the key players in the HPS work with her at ICBC, and she was able to get a second ticket through them. To ensure access to tickets this year, we became members of the society after the last tour.
We celebrated our purchase with breakfast at the International House of Pancakes in New West--the only surviving location for this once more prevalent chain. It was our first visit, and we were very happy with it: old-fashioned friendliness, a perky small-town feel, and cute dark-blue plastic jugs for coffee, syrup, etc. Our waitress, a thin woman in her 60s, was pleasant and cheerful. In short: it was not like a typical Canadian restaurant--more like an American one.
Again a research day. During the morning notes session, I keyed material from a book I just got from the library: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. I found it while searching the web for material on fanaticism.
It's already a fascinating and excellent little book. I would have borrowed it anyway, but I was especially intrigued by Hoffer's life story, as I read it in a review on Amazon.com by J Onyx. An elementary-school dropout who lost and later regained his sight, Hoffer became a philosopher-drifter and manual laborer. When I read this, I immediately identified with this man, whose life has a mythological cast. I want my life to be like his; I want to live with integrity as he did.
Meanwhile, his book is great. It's not a psychological or sociological study so much as a series of reflections based on his wide reading and thinking about the topic. I'm only 25 pages in, but I can see that his method is essentially to deduce what makes mass movements, and the people who compose them, tick. He presents a series of insights with supporting examples. His writing is deep and concise.
I can't highlight a library book (although I do wipe down library books when I take them out--removing the gray human wax that accretes on their covers), so I read it down here by the PC, keying notes as I go.
Coffee number 2: I switched to my Sketchbook folder, and keyed "sketches" from Egypt: Gift of the Nile. Here's an example:
Egyptian homestead: Impoverished place, looking as it might have in pharaonic times: On an irregular patch of bare tawny ground, between a palm grove and a rocky outcrop tufted over with little desert shrubs, is the homestead: a silt-colored mudbrick house that is itself shaped like a giant brick, roofed with bundled and woven sticks laid in squares on rough natural roof-poles. A "porch" extends from one side: similar roofing standing on sticks. And a lower extension or barn steps from one end of it, also roofed over with bundled sticks or grass. The dooryard and other enclosures--five or six of them--are surrounded by shaggy stooks of bundled grass or papyrus. A round earthen stove sits in the dooryard for making bread. Red peppers are gathered to dry on one flat corner of the roof. The smaller animal-pens are partly roofed with long sticks laid across the space. Straw lies scattered on the ground in a couple of little pens. The big "front" yard is bare, a mini-desert of dun sand, with a couple of dead-stick trees standing at one end. Shadows are deep black. Two people and one red cow look up at the passing plane: man in a red headscarf and white shirt and black skirt; woman in a long red kerchief, black vest, long red skirt, holding a steel washtub. All barefoot.
It's a very good book for my purposes: the photos are big, detailed, colorful, evocative.
On to the writing day. I again spent the time in "16 - Notes". As I worked with the starting lineup to a scene that was originally planned to be a chapter, I asked myself questions about the motivations of Julius Caesar, who is a character in it. It got me digging into aspects of the career of Alexander the Great--the leader against whom Caesar measured himself--when he was young, anyway. I opened my compressed Word version of Mircea Eliade's A History of Religious Ideas 2, in which I remembered he mentions Alexander's world-uniting spiritual aspirations. Hmm....yes, excellent, can use this... A spiritual dimension to Alexander's conquest of the world...
I wound up buying another book online: Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox. It's praised so highly and so convincingly by such obviously knowledgeable readers on Amazon.com that I thought I can't afford to miss it.
Essentially I'm plotting the course of an after-dinner conversation. There are topics I need to cover, and ends I need to achieve. I must cause certain results to happen. It's exciting to find ways to connect a starting situation with an outcome I already know must occur; it forces inventiveness, and, I think, heightens the surprise of the outcome. My foreknowledge of it makes it harder for the reader to guess, somehow, I think because it's not the seemingly logical outcome.
Noon rolled around after some fairly satisfying note-making. I often worry about days like this, when no actual prose gets drafted. I think back to research I did on More Things to Come all those years ago: I was investigating how the KGB operated. One of its case officers said of one their moles, planted under deep cover in some North African country, that he spent so long under cover that when the agency finally tried to activate him, he wasn't interested anymore. "An example of all cover, and no spy," said the case officer.
I'm concerned about being all research, and no novel.
Kimmie was so sore this morning she could barely move. I helped prop her up on her pillows, brought her coffee up, and phoned her bosses to say she wouldn't be in to work.
With Kimmie home, it's been a more loosey-goosey workday for me. It's also gorgeous and sunny.
I managed to do some more "sketching" of Nile Valley villages during my notes session. During the writing session I returned to preparing notes for the next leg of chapter 15, which I will relabel chapter 15-16, since I've decided to amalgamate them. It's where Alexander finds he must suddenly give an account of himself and why he's got this astronomical text, with decisive consequences for his future. Here I start delving into some issues leading to the origin of the Julian calendar. It's important symbolically, politically, and storywise.
I started to list conversation ideas in bullet form in my "16 - Notes" document. I found that I wanted to know more about the Zodiac of Dendera (a famous depiction of the zodiac on the roof of the temple of Hathor near the modern Egyptian town of Dendera). Having only a couple of notes on it from my reading sources, I checked some web pages I'd saved, and searched for new ones. I created a new Encyclopedia document on it and pasted the material in.
In short, I'm back at the process of trying to build a critical mass of knowledge to launch me into my next scene. I wrote no new pages of chapter prose today.
But I did take Kimmie up to the chiropractor, and out for a stroll at a waterfront park. I also got a visit from my friend Russ, who's in the process of emigrating to Seattle to marry an American woman. I'd sent him the link to this blog and he said he read the whole thing, and enjoyed it. He said that he's part of my target market, since he likes historical fiction about the ancient world. One of his favorite authors: Wilbur Smith. Maybe I should check him out.
Woke at 2:15. I started to feel a vague anxiety, so I went downstairs to pour myself a scotch and took it back to bed to drink it in the dark.
I have experienced clinical levels of anxiety from time to time since my late teens, with bad episodes of it in my early 20s and in my late 30s. Back then I had no idea what it might be about. In my early 20s I was willing to believe it was related to mating problems (suggestion of an astrologer I consulted at the time)--but in my late 30s, as a long-married man?
A couple of years ago, when I was rereading The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, I came across the suggestion by Freud that anxiety symptoms are a repeat of the trauma of birth: pressure, constriction, racing heart. Yes! I thought--that sounds right. Birth is the first and archetypal rite of passage. We leave what has become an uncomfortable darkness, push through to an unknown outside, and suddenly explode to a new form of existence in a bright, cold world, breathing on our own. (I'm worried that the increasing number of Caesarian sections are robbing children of this first accomplishment.) Mine was a breech birth. My first act was done bass ackwards, and in that awkward, backward, eccentric, and even dangerous way I have gone through life since.
I'm thinking that anxiety goes with resistance to the birth experience. My breech birth shows resistance to being born, I think. And I'm willing to believe that I have become jammed at thresholds in my life since then, causing intensifying anxiety.
For me, anxiety tends to be preceded by a certain flatness of thought, a kind of drab joylessness in any thought that arises. I can't find anything to enjoy mentally. There is a feeling of being trapped in a consciousness that can't change, can't enjoy. Then the symptoms start to appear: racing heart, shivering. I didn't get that far this morning--nowhere near. But anxiety hovered nearby. What birth am I struggling against?
I'm trying to give birth to this work--The Mission. Its birth will also be, in a sense, the birth of the artist who created it. It will be a masterpiece in the original sense: a work to demonstrate that the journeyman has graduated to mastery of his craft. Maybe I should be pushing in some other direction as well, the direction of light and independent life.
It's 6:25 p.m. I've poured myself a glass of wine. I have just helped Kimmie change her clothes and get settled on the sofa upstairs. After her noon fitness class today she developed a strong throbbing pain in her hip and leg--so strong she could barely walk. I picked her up at work (just a 5-minute hop down the hill) and drove her to her counselling session. After that she saw our chiropractor, who works out of the same office. I was afraid she might have a thrombosis, but Dr. Dickson says no: Kim no doubt threw her hip far out of alignment with her pratfall two Fridays ago, and some movement at fitness brought on the pain. Now it's Ibuprofen and ice. She lies under the lovely wool blanket that Dad gave us as a wedding present, leafing through her beloved "Painted Ladies" picture-books about beautiful Victorian houses in San Francisco.
Check out this latest product of my fevered imagination:
A hypnotherapist and his young client discover they have unfinished business with each other--from twenty-five centuries ago. Get this e-book for $2.99 at Smashwords or Amazon.com. No e-reader? No problem. Get a free Kindle reading app for just about any electronic device you might haveand get reading!
"In 48 BC, amid the turmoil of Roman civil war, four men--a Babylonian magician, a young Alexandrian astrologer, an old Roman soldier, and an ambitious half-Jew whom history will remember as Herod the Great--find their lives intertwined in a mission to restore the ancient monarchy of Israel, a mission that one day will be called Christianity." This blog documents the creation of "The Mission", a novel by Canadian writer Paul Vitols.