Just to illustrate the pros and cons of Wikipedia, here is how para 3 of the article on The Last Jedi read this morning, and again a half hour later.
I use Wikipedia all the time. It’s a really useful general resource, and I donate every year to the Foundation. Still, let’s acknowledge its limitations. Its open content status means it can be manipulated by anybody in the short-term.
There is no substitute for diligent, independent research based on multiple sources. In other words, get thee to a good old-fashioned library.
Today, as the anniversary of 911 approaches, I want to put aside the whimsical APOL tour to talk about the cover of A Person of Letters. Person is a satire on writing, creativity, obsession, and love. That encompasses a lot of territory, and while there is humour in the book, there is absolutely nothing funny about 911. So why are those two not-quite-WTC towers depicted on the cover of the book?
Perhaps it was an over-reach. Those who have read Person know that it is not about 911. It is the life story of its narrator, and yes, he is there, in one of the towers, on September 11. He, like so many others, got out of bed that morning, put on his socks, and went about his business, not suspecting the cataclysm that was to come. He survived, although he is wounded and scarred, both physically and psychologically, by the experience. It changes him, and having cheated death (or so he believes) he changes the course of his life, setting out to write—to become a man of letters.
Back in the early, gleam-in-the-eye days when I began work on Person, I decided to subject an ordinary (if quirky) character to a life-changing ordeal, and imagine how he would react and what he would do. The question was, what kind of ordeal? I didn’t want it to be the subject of the book. I reasoned that by throwing him into the horrific cataclysm that was 911, he would be traumatized and forced to take stock of his life—and as everyone knows what happened that day, I would not have to write about the event itself. My skills were (are) simply not up to that task, and it was what happened afterwards that I wanted to explore: how he responds.
He is certainly deeply affected; he manifests all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress; but in his survivor’s guilt, he refuses to acknowledge his own PTSD. He chooses instead to escape—he writes about anything but the experience that traumatized and nearly killed him. He becomes obsessed, and as his journey unfolds, he veers (possibly—it is left to the reader to decide) into madness. Is the spark external (his experience) or internal (a seed that was always there)? (Or is it pharmaceutical? I left many clues to that possibility.)
I wanted to examine many things in Person: if there is a manic aspect to creativity; the point at which obsession becomes madness; and how somebody’s creation actually becomes “art”—how does it get recognized? To my narrator’s credit, he refuses to be defined by the 911 experience; he is an everyman who takes up a pen, and he wants only to be known on the merit of his oeuvre. But that is not how things work, and ultimately he is defined in terms suggested by others.
911 is a turning point in the character’s life, but A Person of Letters is not about 911, and I know that the picture on its cover confuses some people on that point. In light of that confusion, I might today choose different imagery, but artist Andrew Judd’s iconic image was created to be symbolic, not literal. What appear to be two towers, one flaming , one inert, are actually books. Person’s protagonist finds relief from his trauma in writing. The two volumes represent his first book, which has come to nothing, and his second, which is stalled. Perhaps the reason is his refusal from the start to confront his trauma straight on. Instead, he produced a muddled, un-publishable nautical epic, an escape, so he thought, but in truth an avoidance; hence the ship on Person’s cover, sailing away from the conflagration at its centre.
For those who question the cover, I accept your perspective. 911 was a cruel tragedy. But inspiration comes from many places, and in many forms. From darkness springs insight, and in this case, dark farce; and hopefully, a modicum of truth.
To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, APOL is on Queenston Heights, where in 1812 a combined force of British regulars, Canadian militia, and First Nations warriors repulsed an American army—and saved Canada.
British General Sir Isaac Brock died leading a charge up the heights, and when his Canadian aide-de-camp John Macdonnell assumed command of the assault, he too was killed. Today a memorial column stands atop the Niagara escarpment to commemorate the victory that was ultimately won, and the battle’s fallen. A statue of General Brock stands in silent vigil atop the massive pillar, a reminder of the cost of Canadian sovereignty and independence.
Happy Birthday, Canada. Chi-miigwech, to all those who Stand on Guard. And Happy Canada Day, world.
(A different type of American invasion has occurred in Canada over more recent decades. Today, the Canadian retail landscape is dominated by American chains. Perhaps it is more benign form of invasion than that of 1812, but it remains a sore point for APOL, which has yet to win shelf space at Walmart or Price Club. Perhaps it will seize these heights in due course. In the meantime, though, A Person of Letters is readily available on the American behemoth Amazon’s many domestic and international platforms. Readers everywhere are encouraged to support this hard-fought bridgehead.)
Note: “APOL” is the anthropomorphic version of my satirical novel A Person of Letters, which has gone on tour without me (with a wink and a nod to magical realism). Follow APOL’s quixotic world tour here or on my Facebook Author Page, and read about all of APOL’s (mis)adventures in sequence on this tour archive. For information about the book, go to Martin Scribler Media.
In his Second Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln invoked passages from both the Old and New Testaments to describe the significance of the challenge his nation then confronted, and to emphasize his commitment to see justice prevail. Whether you are religious, or whether you love the beauty of the language of the King James bible for its own sake, or whether you admire the eloquence of a leader who did not shrink from a grave and momentous struggle, it seems appropriate on this day, the day his latest successor withdrew his country from the Paris Climate Agreement, to consider again the words he chose to emphasize in 1865:
“Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” (Matthew 18:7)
“…so still it must be said, ’the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” (Psalm 19:9)
So too, the judgments of history are true and righteous. This is a bad decision, and history will judge Donald Trump accordingly.
“Never be agitated by more than a decent warmth and offer your sentiments with modest diffidence,” George Washington once advised. “…opinions thus given are listened to with more attention than when delivered in a dictatorial style.” This is worthy advice for any leader. On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, I can’t help wondering what America’s first president would make of its latest.
I just completed Ron Chernow’s exhaustive, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, “Washington: A Life.” Chernow’s account is sympathetic and sometimes hagiographic, but it does not ignore the contradictions of the man, a slave-owning icon of Liberty. George Washington was a man of his time, and today historical figures are judged by contemporary standards. Be that as it may, I have new respect for Washington and his accomplishments. He was a leader of moderation and balance, a dignified, magisterial character who acted in the best interests of his fledgling country, its people, and its democracy. Would that there were such an individual to lead his country now.
The APOL book tour pauses this week as I myself pause to remember a friend who has passed away. Don Stewart was a naval officer and successful businessman, husband, and father. I first met him in the summer of 1976, when we entered basic training at CFB Esquimalt, BC. Don was a loyal friend, a guy you counted yourself lucky to know, someone who you knew had your back and would never let you down. He was a born leader with an impish sense of fun; and he told marvellous stories, some of which were tall, all of which were entertaining.
Don is seen here in California last winter; he was an early reader of A Person of Letters, and one of the first enablers of “APOL” on its quirky world tour. He and his wife Karen kindly sent me photos of the book taken in the Palm Desert area. These photos launched the tour on January 19 of last year – almost exactly a year ago. This is, then, a good moment to pause; although I deeply regret the circumstances. RIP, old friend.
We are the sum of our experience, of our triumphs and defeats, and the friends we meet along the way.
The Blue Jays’ early September swoon inexplicably coincides with a tragic incident at my house, in which one of my sporting treasures, a bobblehead of original Jay Ernie Whitt, suffered a serious injury in the course of an overzealous cleaning. No blame shall be cast. I don’t like cleaning so dare say nothing (at least out loud).
I am not particularly superstitious when it comes to sports. Sure, I lace up my left skate ahead of the right one, and I’ll turn the TV off with a few seconds remaining before I’ll watch the Roughriders lose a game; but something about the Jays going cold just as Ernie went down was deeply unsettling. Coincidence? Bah. We’re in the middle of a pennant race here. It’s all hands, past and present, on deck.
Catchers’ legs are notoriously fragile, but a few dabs of Goop and several hours in traction fixed Ernie up nicely. He was back on his pins next day, taking a pose with a bat and looking pretty good in the process. I’ve done my bit, Blue Jays. Now it’s over to you.