the diary thing 
I'M LETTING MYSELF GET OPTIMISTIC and have changed the seasonal colours to a nice, airy green. It's a bit brisk today, but the trees are budding and thick, vegetal tulip stalks are thick in the front-yard gardens all over the neighbourhood. Daylight savings time caught us off guard yesterday -- I wouldn't have noticed if my computer hadn't informed me that it had moved ahead an hour when I turned it on in the morning. Good thing, too -- we probably would have blundered through the day an hour behind the rest of the continent, and wondered what was wrong with the t.v. guide.

WALKED PAST THE OLD APARTMENT a few weeks ago and saw the windows of our old place missing, replaced with sheets of plastic that puckered with the wind. A week later, the windows had been replaced with new frames and glass, and the rooms behind them were dark.  After we moved out, the mental outpatient community service that owns the building had moved their offices into our apartment while the ground floor was being renovated. While every other unit in the building was gutted, and the windows torn out and replaced, our place remained intact. Walking past on my way to the bakery or the grocery store, I could see the lights I'd put up lit in the dim, north-facing light, and saw that they'd put their desks up against the window near where our bed used to be.

I could see the dark green squares on the bedroom wall that I'd painted to frame my dresser and wardrobe, and the green-painted wainscotting on the opposite wall that was the first thing I did when my last roommate left. Over the summer, the ceiling fans I'd put up wobbled slightly -- I could never fix that wobble. Over the winter, I could see that they'd torn down the darkroom at the rear of the bedroom -- all visible from the street opposite the building.

While the rest of the building I'd lived in for over eleven years was utterly changed, my apartment stayed the same, at least until the day I saw the windows missing. The old, high windows I'd used in countless photos shoots, where Keebler sat moaning for his newly-lost street-cat life when I first took him in, through which I used to listen to listen to fights outside the Serbian bar on the main floor, which usually started after the music that had throbbed through my floor had stopped for the night. As soon as the new windows were in, I knew that they'd probably knocked the walls down, and taken down the ceiling fans. There was, by then, no more evidence of the place I called home for more than a decade, no more evidence of that part of my life.

I'm probably waxing more nostalgic than I really feel, to be honest. I don't really miss the old place that much, except, of course, for the big shooting space and the empty bookshelves. Still, I lived there while my life went through some interesting changes; it was home base and refuge and fortress of solitude and, finally, the first place K. and I lived together. Do I miss it? Well, no -- but seeing it disappear was just poignant enough to give me a bit of a lump in the throat.

"He took no pleasure in reading. No doubt that was a wise precaution for a man of action, whose imagination must be rigourously disciplined, if the will is to remain unsapped by daydreams, painting and music being, for some reason, less deleterious than writing in that aspect."
- Anthony Powell
The Kindly Ones

Random thoughts, really. Nothing coherent or momentous -- until the end.

ANTHONY POWELL DIED LAST WEEK. He was, and has been for a few years now, my favorite living novelist. Now I can no longer say that. It was such a satisfying way to answer the question: 

"OK, so who's your favorite writer?"

"Fiction or non-fiction?" 


"Living or dead?" 

"Uhh, living." 

"Well, Anthony Powell, probably."


Anthony Dymoke Powell (b. 1905) was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, among others, but he was never as famous, for the very simple reason that he never wrote a Brideshead Revisited, or had a Third Man made out of one of his books. He was an obscure figure while Greene and Waugh were making their reputations, and only reached literary prominence when he began his 12-volume series of novels, A Dance to the Music of Time. Perhaps because of the slightly pretention title, or just the lenth, it was one of those literary monoliths, like Proust or Ulysses, that was more spoken of than read, something brought up in conversation to enhance one's literary erudition. It was popularly supposed that the only people who read the whole thing in Britain were Powell's friends and acquaintances, who were merely looking to see if they were recognizable in any of his characters.

I love Powell's writing. His sentences are nightmares for the modern reader or editor, who've had their sensibilities formed by journalism and a simplistic, revered, popular conception of Hemingway, whose supposedly lean prose is assumed to have set the benchmark for modern syntax. Powell's sentences couldn't be less "modern", looked at from that particular prejudice; a sentence will begin with an observation, or a snippet of narrative, then flow into countless subordinate clauses, a steeplechase of commas, colons and semi-colons that -- grammatically flawless -- take the reader on a ride that might end half a page later, and convey the kind of equivocation, digression, and rambling train of thought that, more than Hemingway's telegraphic recitative, give the reader a marvellous sense of how the human mind really works, how the grist of information, memory and sensation form into the steady momentum of a life's narrative. 

Since there's really no such thing as "modern" -- how can anything stay new, after all? -- it seems that Powell's style of writing, once dismissed as quaintly Victorian, even Georgian, is starting to re-appear in the prose style of people like David Eggers or David Foster Wallace. And if anyone bothers to look back on my last paragraph, it's been a big influence on me. Even before I read Powell -- before I'd even heard of him -- I was struggling to write sentences that did more than link component parts -- subject, adverb, verb, predicate, object, noun, adjective, etc. -- and repeat the same process in an endless cycle, parsed regularly with periods. It wasn't the way I thought about things, and it seemed unfair to reduce the experience of the mind processing the world to such scant blocks of sensation. 

Powell might not have approved of my use of dashes -- his generation had been taught to use them sparingly, if at all -- but then he had the luxury of living in the last time in living memory where one needn't feel that anything one was saying was constantly in peril of being interrupted, even by oneself. Writers like Eggers and Wallace live in a world where a long sentence is as likely to be broken into by stray ideas, much like a t.v. show with too many commercial breaks, or not enough. It was a world that Powell, who lived far too long to have done much good for his reputation, had always inhabited, and described, as someone constantly aware of his chosen role as an outsider. Not a rebel -- there was nothing rebellious or overtly revolutionary about Powell -- but something not much valued today: the gifted spectator.

the ring, pleaseI BOUGHT THE RING. I have it here, on my desk, sitting on the edge of the latest edition of Fowler's; I can see it just over the right-hand edge of my laptop screen. It's estate jewellery, and my sister bid for it on eBay for me, after I idly showed it to K. during a lazy trawl online. She liked it, and my sister won it. I got it from Mary last week when we got together at an antiques auction, and snuck it home in my jacket pocket.

I still don't have a clue when I'll pop the question, but at least I have the essential prop. It might be nice to do it if we go to Nova Scotia this summer, but that seems like an awful long way away. Maybe it would be something to do up at Vicki's cottage, if we're invited up early in the season. Her birthday's not till the fall, and we have no serious plans to travel anywhere before then. What do I do?

Does anyone have any suggestions? I've never done this before, and I have to say that no movie, no novel, no "real-life" cable documentary show can give me any decent ideas. 

I'm sure she knows. I'm pretty lousy at hiding things, and I've left it sitting out in the open as a sort of dare, I guess. I'm not sure she's been reading this too often, lately, and I know she doesn't mess with things on my desk. In any case, the ring is sitting in its case, just behind my human skull, so I guess that's sort of a safety barrier -- K. is sort of creeped-out by the skull.

I know that the ring, and the question it accessorizes, is a kind of point of no return. Once she's got it on her finger, an inexorable process begins, first gently, then with increasing speed as we try to cope with a ritual she's been through before, and which I've never been entirely at ease with. Nevertheless, I want to do it. Wish me luck. But don't hold your breath -- this could take a while.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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