Sunday, January 3, 2010

resolute in the snow

Snow has been falling all day, just stopped a few minutes ago. In the Maritimes, they're expecting up to 60 centimetres; here we've had just a fraction of that. Outside is now muffled and quiet, except for the sounds of shovelling, of course. It was a good Sunday to stay in and enjoy the company of my little white box, MacZine. How can I be lonely, even on a grey snowy solitary day, with the whole world waiting on the other side of her screen?

But today, it was the radio that made the best companion, for an hour anyway. From 3 to 4, I chopped and saut├ęd a big stir-fry while listening to Eleanor Wachtel interview a Scottish writer, Willian McIlvanney, of whom I'd never heard. As usual, I had the impression they were sitting at my kitchen table, chatting while I cooked them dinner. Such a warm, lively conversation - truly, Eleanor is incomparable.

About writing, McIlvanney said that he had an epiphany at the age of 14 that he would be a writer. His parents walked into the house and he was suddenly aware of them, of really seeing, for the first time, how young his mother was. "What writing does is make you notice and appreciate the ordinary," he said, and later quoted Balzac, who opined that a writer finds out who his characters really are by depicting them "at the edges of themselves" - that is, in out-of-the-ordinary, even extreme situations. And your friends too, Mr. Balzac, I thought. When they're at the edges of themselves, or you are, you find out who your friends are, too.

He spoke about Scottish and world politics, with enormous scorn for Margaret Thatcher and what she did to his country (and, IMHO, to the world, she and her buddy Ronald.) McIlvanney loathes the "despicable political philosophy" of trickle down economics. "Money," he said, "defies the laws of gravity. It flows UP. Once people have money, they want more and find a way to get it." I've never heard it put so well. There are two ways to deal successfully with poverty, he said - to get out of it by getting money somehow, or to develop values that make living with it possible. His country has done the latter. "We value life," he said. "We are impressed by the size of your humanity, not the size of your bank account."

I was impressed by the size of his humanity. To check out the interview, listen to the podcast at www.cbc.ca/writersandcompany.

By then my stirfry was done. (It's made with peanut butter. Can't wait for dinner.) I'm lying on the divan in the kitchen, my usual perch, looking out at the stillness of the snow and listening to the new Blue Rodeo CD, "The things we left behind," which was my Xmas present from my son and is gorgeous. Time to think about resolutions. January 3 2010, a good, snowy day to make some. What are mine?

Hmm. Can't do this without a glass of wine.

Okay, that's one resolution: I am drinking, now, from a smaller, narrower glass in which less wine looks like more. So that's easy - I resolve to drink from smaller glasses.

I resolve to make more time for reading, not magazines like the New Yorker (and Paris Elle, I confess) and newspapers and sites on the Internet, but books, actual thick books. I'm back to ordering books from the library and skipping over there to get them when they come in, the call from the library like a gift from the city. Just got Lorna Sage's well-reviewed memoir Bad Blood, haven't started it yet.

I resolve to stop chewing the inside of my mouth before all my teeth fall out. One of the great quests of my life has been to get rid of the tension and neurosis with which I've always lived, and to a great extent, with a lot of high-priced help, I've done it. But there is still constant tension in my shoulders, neck, and especially, my mouth, which is often twisted in a grimace as I gnaw from the inside. I will be conscious of that tension and make it go away.

My friend Chris thinks I'm too speedy. Last night I watched 3 things on TV simultaneously - the films Lolita and Love Actually and the comic George Carlin - and at slow times, read the New Yorker too. But unlike Chris, aka Mr. Vancouver, I don't think that's a problem or a flaw, it's just how I function. It was great to see Love Actually again and, during the commercials, to watch something else.

The movie renewed my respect for the sublime Emma Thompson, who in one small scene - where she confronts at Xmas proof of her husband's infidelity - elevates a rather formulaic romantic comedy into something much greater. One of the secrets of the great British actresses - they don't let glamour get in the way of acting and truth. If a dramatic scene requires them to weep, with resulting red eyes and dripping nose, they don't hesitate. Hollywood women must weep beautifully. A great handicap.

Should I resolve not to pontificate, as I just have, about things about which I know very little? No, because that is also who I am.

Most importantly, I resolve to sit in my office chair, or somewhere else, for at least three hours a day, five days a week, and produce page after page of the memoir and other work too. That is the resolution to which you must hold me, the one I must hold myself to, dear readers. The one that counts.

As I write, I am chewing the inside of my mouth.

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