Saturday, March 9, 1974Today I went into the Rutherford Library at the University of Alberta to drop off some books and pick up some other ones, and I walked out with a copy of Robert Kroetsch’s The Crow Journals (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 1980). It wasn’t either of the books I walked out for, forced to order off-campus a copy of George Morrissette’s Prairie Howl (it apparently has an introduction by Andrew Suknaski) and George Melnyk’s New Moon at Batoche: Reflections on the urban prairie. Kroetsch’s Journals have me thinking of my own, the train journal I wrote a few years back that I’ve included in the any-day-now subverting the lyric: essays (ECW Press), writing during a Toronto-Winnipeg-Edmonton-Vancouver reading tour, but only when I was actually on the train; is there anything further? Is it even worth pursuing?
Binghamton, New York
Last night, or this morning at 1p.m., Sheila phoned from Petaluma, California. Lee had a heart attack in the Santa Rosa airport, was dead upon arrival in the hospital. I was stunned, confused, half asleep, unable to give the sympathy that she expected of me. And in bed, alone, after, I remembered the death of my mother. I remembered the wake, the crowds of people arriving over muddy roads, the body in the coffin in my parents’ bedroom. And I remembered the men who came to my father and tried to tell him of the sorrow they felt: and even at the age of 13 I saw the failure of language, the faltering connection between those spoken words and what it was I knew my father felt, what I felt…Fell asleep, finally, and had a nightmare. I was in a dimly lit bedroom. My Aunt Annie came into the room, sat down on the floor, because she wanted to talk to me. And at times in our lives she did tell me things, for I would listen to her tales of family history. She was unable to read or write and had instead a memory that covered many decades. I was not wise enough to listen carefully or to write down what she had to say, and now it’s lost…But back to the dream. She sat down on the floor, old, small, and I bent over to hear her. And as I bent over someone, something, behind me, threw a stifling quilt over me from behind, closed it around me, down over my head. I woke out crying out loud and in dread.
I’ve toyed with journaling as well as working a diary for about twenty years now, but it’s something that has always managed to elude me. Is it strange to say I’ve been too busy writing? I’ve got notebooks with scribbles that go back to the late 1980s, odd little missives to myself about something or other, but the attention then fades. I will certainly be no Elizabeth Smart [see my recent note on her here], writing an hour a day of what was happening around her, much of which fell into the early drafts of what became By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Is it enough to simply write?
I’ve certainly got enough letters I’ve written over the years filling up filing cabinet space in Ottawa (I print out two copies of all outgoing letters, going on at least five or six years now), is there anything there? Is this worth even considering at all, or should I just leave it alone? How, one might ask, does a book become book? There are plans and then there are simple accidents, of sheer accumulation.
This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, working on a piece called “On Writing” that keeps working to answer the question, “Why write?” It always goes back to that same central question, I suppose. It was something Ted Bishop put as a bug in my ear about a month ago, that I should write a book about writing itself. A foolish idea, in more ways that not, because I’ve certainly got enough else to do, and I don’t feel as though I’ve written or published enough yet to be any kind of authority. Why write? Why, indeed.