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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, June 15, 2007

building mental cathedrals

When I used to work at ICBC head office, I would walk home each afternoon--an uphill trek of about 12 minutes. One of the sights I passed each day was a three-story apartment building under construction: under very slow, slow construction.

I never saw more than two men working at the site at any one time, and often only one (and more often, none). My theory was that the building was being built by one guy, some eccentric who had taken it into his head to build an apartment block almost single-handedly. I wondered at how someone could afford to do such a thing; hadn't he borrowed money to buy the land and materials? Wasn't he shucking out interest payments month after month, with no rent coming in? The site had become notorious in the community, and supposedly the city government had had to push the owner to develop the site, which had sat vacant for months or perhaps years.

Some part of me appreciated the type of eccentricity and do-it-yourself resolve that would get someone to build an apartment block all on his own. I could relate. For the image came to me recently that writing a book is much like building a large structure, like an apartment block, and doing so single-handedly. But it's an invisible structure. And what if the structure were not a three-story walk-up, but a cathedral? Imagine building a cathedral, all on your own, which is invisible until it's finished. I would say that's not a bad image for this project. A mental cathedral, built by one (very) eccentric guy, the very progress of which cannot be noted by others, but only by that self-same guy.

Who would do such a thing?

As far as I know, the eccentric apartment-builder finished his project and it is occupied now. It's a finished, useful dwelling, like any other that was built much more quickly by a team. The patience and vision of that lone do-it-yourselfer paid off. So I've added him to my little group of inspirations and role models.


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