Book Forty-one



January 2, 2008.

We have been living in The City of Words,the 2007 Massey Lectures by Alberto Manguel.

I am the words I read and the words I speak. I cannot say more than this.


Today my mother died. And with her the last of my childhood slipped away.

January 21, 2008.

The church has a digital projector and screen. Reverend Phil suggested that, if we wanted we could project some images before the funeral. That evening, shortly after the reverend left, my sister-in-law and I looked through 12 carousels of slides. I took pictures directly from the screen with my camera. We worked until 1am. This morning I worked through boxes of photos that my father had sorted. I had 67 photos when I was done. They provide a line of her life. And what I can't help myself looking for is the fulcrum. At what point did the balance shift. At what point did everything begin its decent. If we believe that one event can change our lives forever (a common pitch in a movie trailer) what event changed hers? I can never know. All I have are these photographs arranged in a line from beginning to end. The picture of my mom when she was young are heartbreakingly beautiful.

April 5, 2008

I misplaced this book and so had nowhere to write for a month. What can I tell you of this missing time? It is difficult to piece back together, like a watch with many pieces missing.

April 9, 2008

Because I was alone, however, even the mundane seemed charged with meaning. The ice looked colder and more mysterious, the sky a cleaner shade of blue. The unnamed peaks towering over the glacier were bigger and comelier and infinitely more menacing than they would have been were I in the company of another person. And my emotions were similarly amplified: The highs were higher; the periods of despair were deeper and darker. To a self-possessed young man inebriated with the unfolding drama of his own life, all of this held enormous appeal. Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild.

April 24, 2008

There are few places that we can get far enough away from to truly appreciate. This is one of the wonders of travel - it is what makes it so amazing to see your house from the air, to see your coastline from the ferry window, or to see the town where your family is from as the car crests a ridge or begins its decent down the escarpment. The reverse is what makes a lack of travel so deadening - a lack of perspective.

A quote given to me by Dorothy upon my return to the house:

I was struck by the way the light felt that afternoon. I have paid a good deal of attention to light, but no one could begin to do it justice. There was the feeling of a weight of light - pressing the damp out of the grass and pressing the smell of sour old sap out of the boards on the porch floor and burdening even the trees a little as late snow will do. It was the kind of light that rests on your shoulders the way a cat lies on your lap.

April 25, 2008

Esme had a dream that all the pets could swim. Even the guinea pig. The pig could hold its breath for a very long time and so it was hard to find when it was time to go.

May 7, 2008

Dave Watson died. Dave, three other people, and myself founded Knossopolis Media many years ago. Dave was perhaps best known for his Dot Comment columns for the Georgia Straight. I remember him as addicted to 500mg vitamin c tablets, Marlboros, and organizing information. My favourite review he wrote was for an uneventful software convention in which Dave barely mentioned the convention and instead talked about his previous life as a music critic; writing words to the effect of: "This is depressing, I used to be somebody, I was regularly backstage, Leonard Cohen once tried to hit on my girlfriend ..." His last assignment was to write about his own illness.

Even though I was quite foggy for much of that time (between the various pharmaceuticals, impaired liver function, and just plain old shock at how my life just changed), one of the moments that stands out was at the tail end of that process. My parents came into town (I moved away from Vancouver a couple of years back) and we met with the cancer specialist, who said that the main medical focus would be to “preserve Mr. Watson’s quality of life”. This wasn’t really a surprise to me by then, but it’s the effect on my dad that I remember. He just kind of deflated, like he’d been slammed in the guts. It was a horrible moment, actually, seeing that impact, although for some reason it’s become my touchstone for last fall, when I had to contact quite a few people and give them bad news. I had a lot of visitors.

July 3, 2008

Oliver Schroer died.

Sometimes I think of dying as taking a trip, a trip far away to a place from which I cannot come back. We all know people who do that ... move to Tasmania (great place, by the way). The point is, we wish these people well on their journey, but we don't get all choked up and overwrought about it. We remember them fondly, and they live on in our memories through stories and the legacy they have left. We toast them in absentia and hope they are doing well in their new digs. Well, my whole journey feels a bit like that. I am going to this place we will all go, and my travel plans are just a bit more immediate than yours. (Though life is strange, and I still might not be the first to go. Just be careful crossing those streets and driving those cars, folks.) I think a lot in terms of metaphors to help me understand things. I have been informed by the stationmaster that my train is coming in immanently, and that I should be ready to get on board when it does. But until that train comes, I am doing what I am doing fully and completely. 

Final letter from Oliver

Book forty-one. Handmade by Gaye Hansen, given to me by Charllotte. It holds an astonishing amount of mortality between its covers.

Here is a list of books.

Tim McLaughlin

Photographer and writer based in Vancouver, Canada