My parents lived the quintessential Canadian dream with their focus on immortality. They took snapshots at significant moments and left them behind with names, dates and locations on the back. They kept diaries, and wrote journals on special trips. My mother locked their love letters and birth certificates up in a metal keepsake box. They were both well educated; my father got an MA in history with Lester Pearson as a tutor. Because I had a BA in English Language & Literature, after our parents died my sisters delegated me to make a book out of our family.
- The bare facts of their story are that Kay and Jack were an English girl and a Canadian boy; he joined the Navy in world war one in 1916 and was sent overseas to the Portsmouth barracks. Her high school sweetheart had got cholera while fighting in France and died at age 19. She enrolled in the London School of Medicine for Women to become a doctor but dropped out because of a nervous breakdown. Kay and Jack met when her father, a municipal councilor commended by the Prince of Wales for helping veterans, invited colonial servicemen home for tea.
Her sister wrote to Jack for nine years on behalf of the family but then married and moved to Australia, so Kay took over the correspondence. She was 25 and thought she was going to be an old maid but her letter was perfectly timed.
- Jack had finished studying theology at the University of Toronto and was going up to Oxford House, MN as a United Church of Canada minister to the Swampy Cree. The job came with a house and he yearned for a wife to keep him company but so far it was a hard sell. No Toronto co-ed seemed interested. He proposed to Kay and she asked him to come over so she could have another look at him. They just had six days and she said it would be too risky. He got her to agree not to make her answer final for a year during which they would write to each other.
- Jack pulled out all the stops; he really wanted Kay; she was such an exceptional, smart person with a warm heart and an adventurous streak. Canada and the United Church, not himself, were his best selling points. This beautiful, exotic semi-nomadic settlement beckoned with brisk air, splashing waves, colourful leaves, good-looking childlike faces, gold-panning, delicious moose nose and a cosy wood-burning hearth. Enormous potential for her to do good lay among these folk desperately in need of an intelligent, well intentioned person’s interest in them. The merger behind the United Church was attracting worldwide attention as an example of tolerance. The future was full of promise; she was well equipped for whatever lay ahead so need not fear a thing. If only he had her he would be in seventh heaven.
- She asked him to come over again and this time they got married almost the minute after she made up her mind; they flew over the English Channel to Paris for a 24-hour honeymoon before he had to hustle back 5,000 miles to work. She packed up, said goodbye to everything and everyone she had ever known and joined him in the spring. She met his family on their farm in Cookstown, Ontario and was welcomed by his friends at a reception in Toronto before they went up to the reserve 600 miles northeast of Winnipeg by train, steamboat and canoe. They lived with the Indians, as they were then called by government, helping, teaching, laughing, sharing and exchanging cultural habits, forming attachments and etching indelible experiences both sad and happy upon their hearts. Their first child was born after a five-day, 120-mile trek to hospital at 30 degrees below zero on a cariole (big toboggan for special occasions and people) in January, 1929.
- They left the reserve in June, 1931 and became an ordinary Ontario United Church minister’s family in Nakina, where a second daughter was born, Lemonville, where a third daughter was born, Fairbank (Toronto), Cochrane, Thistletown (Toronto), Durham and Flesherton. They retired in Owen Sound in 1966 and lived there until Jack died in Kay’s arms in 1988 and she passed away in 1990. They had been married for more than 60 years and left nine grandchildren.
Kay and Jack had little in common to start a lifelong marriage except that both were avid readers. They were familiar with biblical texts they applied to daily life. They identified with the heroines and heroes of the same classical books and had faith they would succeed if they lived accordingly, doing the right thing towards each other and everyone else in the world.
- What Inspired Me to Do This Creative Work
As retired editor and co-owner of my community newspaper in Aylmer, Quebec, in 1996 I took my mother’s keepsake box to a grade four classr on Heritage Day. We sat cross-legged in a circle on the floor and I began reading to them from a journal my mother wrote seventy years before as she was riding up the fur trade route to Oxford House, MN in a canoe. I told the children if they wrote something in a journal today, it would become heritage for children of the future.
- Then I passed a page of the handwriting around the circle and pointed out that my mother had made a note in the margin saying the splotches were made by drips from the paddle. Involuntarily, I choked up and almost added a tear of my own to the page. The children were all staring at me with their eyes wide open and the teacher, a friend who wrote a column in my newspaper, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Margaret, you have to write a book.” That was the magic moment I decided to jump in and do it. For the kids. For these kids and all kids everywhere so they will know their heritage.
- Actually I had been more or less assigned by my older sisters to write a family history but now I went about it with passion. I would do my best to make my parents immortal and please my favorite professor, Northrop Frye. Most of the content was on hand but I had to research an amazing number of facts, maps etc. to make the story absolutely reliable. It was a labor of love, an exercise of my abilities and skills, a challenge I couldn’t resist, an important project for my retirement years.
(I submitted the above as a brief to the Canadian Heritage consultation on Canadian culture and creativity on Nov. 24, 2016)
In my chosen state of reclusive writing, I’m happy when the odd bit of help manages to penetrate my cozy computer sphere. This week it came in this collection of Northrop (“rhymes with doorstop,” author Robert Denham noted) Frye’s Lectures. The mailman had propped the “fat tome” (the same) against my front door since I didn’t hear the bell. The book includes eight sets of my notes because I used shorthand in order to capture every precious word when I attended Frye’s classes. I grabbed the 700-page work of art and flopped into my armchair to be with my mental master again.
A Critical Moment
My favorite course was Greek & Latin Literature (called Literary Criticism as a chapter title) which Frye sneaked in as an extra for our fourth-year class. We were only vaguely aware he was writing Anatomy of Criticism, a book to complete Artistotle’s unfinished Poetics, at the time. He didn’t ever lecture on or refer to his own scholarly activities in front of us. In 45 years of Frye scholarship, Denham had never heard of this course until I sent him my notes.
Aristotle (b. 338 B.C.) was a biologist who loved to dissect and analyse. The undefined works by Euripedes (e.g. Medea) and Sophocles (e.g.Oedipus Rex) as well as Aristophanes (e.g. The Frogs) came under his scrutiny. Aristotle might be called the first literary critic, Frye said, and it was very serious work. The people were being swayed by this new form of entertainment; the hold of the old Gods on them had been slipping. Plato, the philosopher and social moralist born in 428 B.C, first noticed it and said non laudatory, non patriotic ‘poetry’ should be banned. The concept of ‘prose’ did not yet exist. Aristotle wanted to get to the roots of what literature was.
- The book is for sale at Cambridge Scholar Publishing in the UK at an introductory 50% off. The Amazon price is not one normal readers can afford, but, as Denham says, it is a lot less than one would pay in university fees for such an education. Frye never wrote down any of his lectures — not even a plan for them. Student notes are the main source of what he said, except for one video and recordings of public speeches he gave.
Tidbit Quotes of Aristotle’s Tragedy-Writing Advice
(I doubt you haven’t heard these ‘rules’ before but even after 2500 years they bear repeating time and again. They continue to inspire me as a writer.)
- The plot is complicated up to a certain stage and then begins to unravel. This is brought about by the reversal of the intention. A deed done in all good faith produces the opposite result of what was intended
- The tragic hero is a model of saintliness, never a bad man. He goes from good fortune to bad fortune because of some mistake.
- The fault has to be something in a man which is very intelligible, very excusable, but yet not wholly justifiable
(N.B. I’ve included these sexist comments in the hope they are making you laugh!)
- A character should be good, i.e. in the sense of useful. There’s goodness in everybody, even in a woman or a slave
- The character must be appropriate. A woman must not be represented as manly or brave or clever
(Frye interrupted with his sense of humor, so we never got bored)
- The character should have resemblance; Aristotle compares it to a painting but doesn’t say whether it should be like a real person or have certain godlike qualities
- The character should be consistent. (Frye adds, “If you introduce an inconsistent character, keep him inconsistent all through”)
- Keep everything in the character according to the law of necessity and probability
(I hope the following piece of advice from Aristotle’s heart moves you as it does me.)
- Use your imagination––picture yourself in the audience, writing your own play. Try to enter into the feelings. Act out the part of your characters, even with the proper gestures. Unless you are able to enter into the feelings of the person you are putting before people you will never be successful in it.
Happy Summer Reading and Writing!
Here are my word offerings to help solve world dilemmas with a little perspective, humor and reminder of how basic the rules of grammar are. My brilliant Hungarian-born mate jokes that the English always run to the Oxford dictionary when they get into trouble. As a writer I am frustrated and dissatisfied if I can’t find the right word. That’s my job.
- Why should I call a ‘he’ or ‘she’ a ‘they’ when that’s not what I mean and you, Dear Reader, are no fool?
- Who am I to insult an LGBT by referring back with a word whose
meaning we all agree ‘it’ doesn’t convey?
- I am tired of having to drag the flow of my prose along with the reins of static punctuation marks.
- I must have a precise word in my tool kit when I need it.
My new word is ‘shey’ (pronounced ‘shay’), a combination of she, he and they (no it) and an alternative to trying to singularize the plural ‘they.’
Tip #1, to Mr. Obama: Until you pinpoint the name of our enemy, you
are not urgent. Make up your own word for it: ‘Mislam’ or some such. Step up. Get into the ring. Let supporters cheer. Mobilize the home front so we civilians will want to help police by telling them what we see, hear or know.
Tip #2 , to you: If there’s no word in the dictionary to express your meaning, make one up. Shakespeare did it all the time. Otherwise, what you write will not be forceful.
I will introduce ‘shey’ in my novel about the journey of a 60-year-marriage but, remember, I said it here to you first! The parents believed in bringing up their children with equality, regardless of sex. This was a modern idea in the 1960’s.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Novelist and playwright Edward
“In the beginning was the Word…” John the Evangelist
- Window and installation: $500.
- New door (friend contractor got it on a job site) $100
- New roof, old roof removed, new tiles, taking refuse to dump: $4,500
- New electrical feed to garage for safety (there were no lights in the lane) and to provide for an automatic garage door: $3500.00
- New garage door on the lane with mechanism and touch remote: $2000 (from friend contractor) Hardware store price quote was $6000.00
From Neglected Dump to Paradisal Garden (Hard Work Does the Rest)
- Apply elbow grease. “I pulled out all the weeds when they were four to five feet tall. It took ten days to clear the yard with a shovel and large knives to dig out roots.”
- Hoe the lawn flat.
- Plant a LOT of grass seed.” Thanks go to Grandpa and my parents for teaching me how to plant and hoe.”
- Buy plants on sale. “I lugged them home on foot, on the TTC and in taxis because I don’t have a car.”
“Oh! And Buy a Mower.”
Happy Reading & Restoring from Cozybookbasics!
The theme of a book can be compared to a diagnosis. I declare my novel is on the conflict between community and individuality. The two protagonists embody that classic divide. They are still grappling with it at the end of living more than sixty years together. My book will present itself as a story about marital love but its trouble-maker is this underlying malady. It will entertain the reader with anecdotes and antics from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. It will also shed light on the all-in-you and the you-in-all.
Some Queries to Stimulate Your Interest in My Theme
- Do you juggle community and individuality well enough in your life?
- Are texts from a book versus your own preferences irreconcilable?
- Do you think the balance should be 50-50? Who knows? Is that integrity?
- Can you change either the community or the individuality in the one you are with?
- Is the best society the one with strong individuals in charge of strong communities?
- How can we make ourselves good heroes and heroines of the battle and not get discouraged? The compromises of my protagonists were successful. See their joy!
Writing Secret #5 from Reclusive Lady of Shalott
Tip: Consider your theme well. Imagine your reader relating it to personal and political problems of their own and the world’s, past, present and future. See it as a change agent.