May 2 2015
A new departure for an aging writer…
When I returned from wintering in California last spring I was contacted by the new managing editor of our local newspaper, the Kelowna Daily Courier. He introduced himself to me as being recently appointed and told me, much to my surprise, that he believed I should have a voice in his publication, and that he would like me to consider writing a regular column of some kind—probably about books—as a feature for the Saturday editorial page.
At first blush, taken aback by the unexpectedness of the whole thing, I took that to mean that he wanted me to be a book reviewer, and I politely declined his invitation, pointing out that I still have contractual obligations and I did not have the time to read and review a constant stream of books. And even had I the time, I added, feeling embarrassed to say it, I have zero interest in being a book reviewer. That role, of criticizing and judging other people’s work in a public forum, is one that has absolutely no appeal for me. It strikes too close to home, and I’m too aware of the fragility of creative people’s egos and sensibilities (my own included) to be comfortable with the task of presuming to judge other writers’ work.
“Fine, that’s understandable,” came the reply. “But I wasn’t looking for a book reviewer. I was hoping you might be willing to write about books in general, about what it’s like to live as a professional novelist who makes his living writing where other people read?”
Faced with a question like that, I had to admit that I could probably talk ad infinitum about books in general, and about how the medium of the written word has affected and will continue to affect my life, and he invited me to come down to his offices and talk about the possibilities when I had some free time. I did that, and by the end of the hour we spent together I had agreed to generate half a dozen sample columns of 750 to 800 words, one of which he would feature on the editorial page every second week. It didn’t work out that way though, for he’s been running the columns weekly, ever since Day 1.
For my part, though, I’ve enjoyed the experience thoroughly and my horizons have widened in amazing ways. When I first set out, I knew only that I would write about the day to day realities of being a full time, practising writer, but I didn’t really know where I would go with it or what thematic form, if any, it would take. And I confess that I was slightly awed by (and a little afraid of) the discipline entailed in being constrained to an 800-word maximum outpouring… To me that’s usually a bare minimum and I’m not used to reining in my Muse, once she has spread her wings.
In terms of content, I expected that I would talk about books, at first, and that’s what the first few columns were about—I was feeling my way very cautiously and they dealt with books in general. In fairly short order, though, I found myself beginning to think more widely, in terms of writing rather than books per se. I caught myself looking around at mundane things I’d never taken note of before and trying to see them from a new perspective, as a short-form writer. And I discovered that I feel quite wonderfully comfortable writing such short, tightly-sculpted pieces after decades of generating 200,000-word books. The most enjoyable part of the whole process, though, has been my own discovery that the world immediately surrounding me is full of things to write about and to describe and comment upon from the perspective of someone to whom words and their meanings, their connotations and their nuances, are a vital part of life and living.
I began to think about an overall, collective title for the pieces very early in the process, and found that there had been one lying around in my head, just waiting to be picked up and used, and so I called my column, “The Tide of Times”. It’s from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, from the scene in which Mark Antony, standing over the body of the murdered Caesar, addresses the corpse as, “…the ruins of the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times.” I’ve always loved that speech and, for that matter, that entire play, but believe me when I tell you that when you get to be the age I am today, and look back on all that you’ve done over the decades, the expression “the tide of times” takes on an entirely different significance to any that it might have had when you were young.
Welcome, then, to the Tide of Times. We’ll be publishing the columns regularly here on the Blog page, most probably once a week, and speaking personally, I’d be tickled pink if you took the time to respond to any of them. And if you’d care to see the most recent ones in situ, you’ll find them at www.kelownacourier.ca.