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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, February 23, 2006

waste not want not

Still can't make myself write. Instead I follow wherever my interest leads me. On the path of identity, I keyed notes this morning from The Ghost in the Machine and The Self-Aware Universe. I also keyed further into my sheaf of handwritten notes taken from volume 1 of Frederick Copleston's History of Philosophy, titled Greece and Rome. A couple of days ago I felt spurred to look at these again by reading Goswami's discussion of philosophy in The Self-Aware Universe.

When I wanted to start keying these notes last weekend I couldn't find them. For me this is unusual: I am very organized and can usually put my hands on things--information--I want immediately. I searched through binders here in my office, pulled down Rubbermaid containers of old binders, looked through the drawers in my credenza, pulled out binders stored on my bookshelves--nada. I had a clear memory of the notes, for I had had Kimmie send them to me at Gampo Abbey when I was attending the monastic college there in 2002. The program featured a segment on Western philosophy, and I thought that these notes would be useful. I was sure I'd brought them home with me--but where had I put them? Could I possibly have thought that they'd outlived their usefulness, and disposed of them? That's what I'd done with my old copy of The Ghost in the Machine, which I'd been obliged to buy again recently. I hunted and hunted, frustrated that I couldn't find them.

I remember making the notes. It was in spring 1983. I was 24, living at home in Vancouver with my mother and aunt, and not otherwise employed than working on a novel and playing in a garage band with a few friends. Mostly I lived a solitary and moneyless life. For the sake of productivity and a feeling of purpose, I had devised a daily schedule for myself. At set times I rose, ate, read, wrote, ran, and, in the afternoons after running, would make tea and study philosophy. I sat at the dining-table in the quiet townhouse, drinking tea and making notes in a binder.

As ever, I was in search of truth. What had the greatest thinkers of history come up with? Surely somebody must have figured out what is true. Also, I wanted to do thinking of my own, but didn't want to reinvent the wheel, since I had found many times that thoughts I had had were not original but in fact ancient. Copleston in his introduction to the series recommends the study of the history of philosophy partly for that reason: to find out what others have thought before embarking on thinking of one's own. "Good idea," I thought. I remembered too reading how Jung, as a young doctor at a Swiss hospital, had come across an encyclopedia of philosophy in the hospital and made time to read it when he wasn't busy with his work. (Later I would also learn how Joseph Campbell, as an impoverished student during the Depression, had lived in a converted chicken coop and read key books that primed the pump of his mind for his later studies.) I wanted to become philosophically educated.

I'd been put on to Copleston by my former roommate Keith, a religious studies student who had been referred to the books by a prof asked for advice on how to get a background in philosophy. I had gone to the Vancouver Public Library--the old green-glass building at Burrard and Robson--in search of them, and found the whole 11-volume set down on the ground floor. In March 1983 I borrowed volume 1 and got to work.

I enjoyed my quiet daily appointment with study. In I plunged: Part 1, Pre-Socratic Philosophy; Part 2, The Socratic Period; Part 3, Plato. I took page after page of notes. In all I got as far as St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)--about halfway through volume 2--and made about 108 pages of notes before running out of steam. It was those 108 pages I got Kimmie to send me in Cape Breton, and that I could not find last weekend.

Two days ago I found them. They were right where I first looked: in the navy-blue 3-ring binder of study notes from Gampo Abbey. I had tucked the notes neatly behind an index tab labeled "Western Philosophy", right where they should be. In my impatience, I hadn't noticed them there. (The other tabs in that binder are "Buddha Nature", "Practice Notes", "Tibetan", "Monasticism", "Meditation Instruction", and "Administration".) I was overjoyed. I looked at the handwriting of the 24-year-old me on the lined looseleaf pages: larger letters, but sharply pointed and pressed deeply into the paper, as I write now. Almost half my life ago.

Now I'm folding those old notes into the mix of typed materials I've got available here on my PC. So far I'm typing three or four pages a day. No doubt I will run out of steam again presently (although on impulse I went ahead and ordered two more used books of Copleston online--I eventually bought "book 1" of the Image paperback edition of his series, which combines the first three volumes in one set of covers; the two books I've bought will give me the first nine volumes--almost the whole series). I will stop, as I stop everything I do. Only to pick it up again later--maybe 23 years from now.

Waste not want not.

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