LONDON, ONTARIO – In truth I’ve never had much enthusiasm for New Year’s celebrations. Partly this is because of the utterly perverse timing of the holiday. Pull it back almost four months to Labour Day weekend (when summer wraps up and everybody’s scrambling to get back on board Joni Mitchell’s ‘carousel of time’) or push it ahead three months to the spring Equinox (when milder weather puts the wind in our tails and thaws the coagulated sap in our veins) and the world around us would both reflect and affirm this sense of a new beginning. But in my experience at least, coming up with a list of resolutions and drawing a fresh bead on one’s life goals is a grudging, thankless task in the cold, dark hollow of earliest January.
LONDON, ONTARIO – The celebration of Christmas is about the personal intervention of the Divine in human affairs. In the first book of the Old Testament, God creates man and woman and invests them with free will which, a mere five pages later, has so completely caused things to run amok that this temperamental Deity sets out to destroy everybody but Noah and his family and those lucky beasts and birds which have male and female representation on board the ark. In the New Testament, disorder and chaos have returned to mankind (actually they’ve been pretty constant through both Testaments and continue to this day) and this time God elects to send His only Son to instruct people how to live and to win us salvation.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Look, it doesn’t even make my list of Top One Thousand Songs at any time of year, let alone Christmas. But the uncomprehending slander and mean-spirited odium being heaped of late on Frank Loesser’s Oscar-winning yuletide duet from 1944, Baby, It’s Cold Outside – a novelty tune he initially wrote to perform with his wife and which has subsequently been covered by hundreds of warbling couples from Dean Martin and Marilyn Maxwell to Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel – compels me to rise to the defense of a song I don’t even really like except on principle.
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.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :