LONDON, ONTARIO – Ten years ago in cold hard print I declared myself to be one of those conspiratorially minded chaps who believed that the obscure figure we are barely able to identify as William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) was not in fact the person who wrote the greatest single cache of plays in the English language; perhaps not the greatest in number (though with 13 comedies, 10 histories, 14 tragedies and romances as well as a volume’s worth of poems and sonnets, he can’t have all that many contenders in that department either) but indisputably the greatest in artistic accomplishment and variety. He is an epoch-shaping literary colossus of the stature of Homer and Dante and . . . nobody else.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Among his many other qualities and accomplishments – he was a bit of a genius, a writer and editor, a father of three, a husband of two, a friend of dozens and dozens, an autodidact, a master archivist, a breathtakingly blunt facer of hard truths, a perfectionist, a two-time university dropout, an actor in the days of London Little Theatre, an avaricious reader, the Master of the Games at every Nihilist Picnic, a chain smoker, a cineaste and manager of the Kinotek series of screenings at the old Central Library, a radio broadcaster and host of Moondog’s Rock and Roll House Party, a fiercely independent soul, and all-round polymath – Bob McKenzie could also be a maddeningly stubborn cuss.
LONDON, ONTARIO - Delayed by a rotating pre-Christmas strike strategically timed to dampen what little confidence Canadians retain in their loathsome national mail service, those sadists at Canada Post just took three maddening weeks to deliver a much-anticipated package from north-eastern to south-western Ontario. Which is to say I finally got my mitts on my very own copy of Canadian Converts Volume II from Justin Press in Ottawa.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Of all literary forms, diaries are the most various and numerous. Almost everyone has tried to keep one for at least fifteen minutes and every diarist reinvents the form to fit his or her requirements. I kept mine pretty steadily from about the age of 16 to 35, erratically thereafter, and hardly at all since turning 50. The three main ways that diary-keeping has been helpful for me are in sorting out primary relationships, coming to terms with overarching questions about meaning and existence, and as a sort of literary workshop.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Through my 20s and early 30s while I was building up a network of editorial connections that would allow me to make a go of it full time as a writer (at least until my early 50s when the interwebs started to incrementally decimate the publishing world) I took on a number of supplementary jobs in unrelated fields to keep the wolf at bay. Because I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t looking to any of these strictly mercenary positions as potential careers. I was after grocery and rent money; not a personal challenge or an opportunity for growth and development. I was happy to give my best effort throughout a working shift but when quitting time arrived, I was going to be putting my mind elsewhere and didn’t intend to give one more second’s thought to any of these jobs until the beginning of my next shift.
LONDON, ONTARIO – So how about that Bill Armstrong? The long-serving, charisma-deficient London politician just got turfed from office following an unfathomable 24-year reign as Councillor for Ward 2. As they elected or re-elected him seven times in a row, I presume his constituents detected something in the man that they liked (or at least didn’t mind) but his wispy appeal never travelled as far as Ward 13 where I live. Admittedly, I’m not much of a political junkie at any jurisdictional level but I did cover City Hall quite extensively for the better part of 2010 when Jim Chapman had his Voice of London website up and running and I watched Armstrong just as closely as I could stand and never cracked the mystery of why he kept getting re-elected. Suffice it to say that “Armstrong Proposes Bold New Initiative” was not a headline that ever appeared on one of my dispatches.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In 2007 Ralph McInerny, the late novelist (most popularly known for his Father Dowling mysteries), and also a translator, biographer and distinguished professor of philosophy at Notre Dame University, squeaked out one of the last and apparently one of the slightest of the more than 100 books he penned in his lifetime; a breezy 154-page literary survey almost offhandedly entitled Some Catholic Writers. Yet as the old saw says, “You cannot judge a book by its cover” (this one sports a reproduction of Sir Herbert Gunn’s famous group portrait of G.K. Chesterton, Maurice Baring and Hilaire Belloc), nor by its title or its lack of heft. Much meatier than it looks, this slim little volume contains short but profoundly well-informed and tantalizing essays on 35 very disparate writers, mostly of fiction, and is the book of its kind I return to most often when I’m casting about for new writers to check out.
LONDON, ONTARIO – London’s favourite feminist scold, Megan Walker, is revving up the publicity machine for the ninth installment of the Shine the Light on Women Abuse campaign which is promoted each year by the London Abused Women’s Centre which Walker has long served as executive director. My longstanding objection to Walker’s habitual approach to combating the evil of domestic violence is the unhelpful and irresponsible way in which she and her organization always posit violence as a male-only problem.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In addition to the beauty of their forms and the rich variety of their characters, no small part of the magnificence of dogs is the lessons they so effortlessly impart to us about the nature of reality itself. I’ve recently been thinking about two dogs from my youth and was suddenly struck by the book-ended lessons they inadvertently taught me about life and death and the way our world wags on.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Nearly 40 years into its existence, Museum London has wisely rejigged that never-optimally realized gallery space just north of the restaurant and down a flight of stairs that always felt like a dismal and under-attended adjunct to the rest of the building. There was a rather pointless reflecting pool down there when our spiffy new art gallery opened in 1980 but it was summarily sealed over when some poor blue-hair toppled into it at an opening. Thankfully, she didn’t sue, which seems to be a generational thing. Our ‘lady of the dunking’ didn’t come of age in a time as enlightened as our own when every witless mishap is routinely exploited for personal profit. But ever since her accidental baptism, that lower gallery has had the feeling of a poorly designed space that badly needed to be rethought.
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