Copyright, 2021 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
I love the sounds Nature makes
when she’s happy and none trouble
her serene countenance, vexing
her with their tireless machines
She hums contentedly
tending her bursting flower boxes
attentive to each seed or shoot
showering them with maternal love
She likes to get her hands dirty
except for the blood
which flows so copiously
it inevitably leaves a stain
She would say she’s blameless
as an iris, tender as a fawn
but we know her as a ruthless foe
when her existence is threatened
Leave her to her graces
praise her in word and deed:
the many shades of green she grows
the beauty she won’t concede
Written on my back deck June 2, 2021, while being serenaded by several varieties of bird song.
Yes, can’t hold back any longer. The second floor renovations almost done, the restored hardwood floor an enormous improvement over the ancient, dusty, shag carpet that once covered it (said aged, toxic carpet being one of the suspected “hot zones” for the initial onset of COVID-19, report from the CDC still pending).
My office is now up and running, stocked with some new book cases, hundreds of volumes surrounding me…and yet there seems to be more space than ever, each square foot fully utilized. Gone is the clutter and torn, sagging posters. Even minimized my display of toys and miniatures. This is the space of a grown, mature artist, not a terminal juvenile (that stuff goes down to my “man cave” in the basement).
Here are some pictures to show you what we’ve done. First a “Before” shot, once the carpet had been ripped up and the office virtually emptied out:
Now here’s a couple of pictures taken this morning:
Just looking at these snaps has my left hand twitching in anticipation of some serious writing. I’m talking about a binge that leaves me emotionally and physically mangled (ah, the good old days). Imagine having a space completely designed around your wishes and specifications. It’s a dream come true. The beautiful little touches that make it completely mine—
Including, as a grand finale, one wall that my wife and I layered with papier mache…incorporating fragments torn from an old, tattered copy of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I had lying around.
I call it the “Joyce Wall” and a closeup looks like this:
Work on the upper floor still isn’t complete—there’s scraping and crack-filling and painting…and then all the furniture has to be put back in the proper rooms. It’s been a process but we’re getting there.
My new creative play area excites me beyond belief. There’s a sense that my career and approach to writing are getting a reboot, a fresh beginning, distant, unexplored horizons beckoning.
What dreams may yet come…
A solid week of windchills in excess of forty below.
So, I’ve been hunkered down, editing my Notebooks, prepping for a May release of what will be my fifteenth book.
Fifteen books, not one of them a dog, all of them written out of love for the printed word, rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a contract or meeting some hairy-palmed editor’s neolithic expectations. Let’s see you top that, all you hacks and wannabes.
The editing process is always incredibly intense for me, driving myself nuts finding the exact right word (and, as Don DeLillo insists, “the right sounding word”).
At the same time I am still not back to 100% from my hip replacement surgery so can’t stay seated for the prolonged periods of time I’m accustomed to—gotta get up frequently to stretch, move about, which, of course, interrupts my train of thought and then it takes me awhile to re-focus on the manuscript. I’m having trouble adapting to the new regime but that’s the reality I have to deal with now, no use bitching about it.
When I’m not editing, I’m reading and some of the excellent books I’ve finished since the beginning of the year include N.K. Jemsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, The Cold Millions (Jess Walter), The Great Glass Sea (Josh Weil) and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a stunning exposé of how wealthy special interest groups are undermining democracy.
Movies with Sherron to unwind after a hard day of polishing my book: last night it was “Hud”, a classic starring Paul Newman; other favorites are David Fincher’s “Mank” (best movie of the year so far), Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.
I tend to devote the first part of the morning to catching up on Twitter, checking out the headlines and snorting with laughter as I read other writers’ self-congratulatory posts about their latest zombie novel or slasher offering. Sometimes I can’t help firing a comment their way and am always amazed by the sheer vitriol of their replies. The moment you bring up literary standards to these arseholes they completely lose their shit. Their reactions always serve as a reminder that genre people tend to have the smallest brains and thinnest skin.
But once I’ve had my fun it’s back to the business at hand.
Giving myself a deadline/release date is always an effective way of directing my nose to the grindstone. Otherwise I’d drag the process out past the point of sanity.
As I wrote in the introduction to the Notebooks, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would have even the slightest interest in the thoughts and reflections of a cult author with a tiny readership and a marked propensity for misanthropy.
Nonetheless, come May Notebooks: 2010-2020 will be released into the world and we will just have to wait and see how it’s received.
I’ll probably be posting some teasers in the coming weeks so I hope you’ll pop in for a look.
Have to say, I love having another title in the publishing pipeline.
It’s not for all tastes but, then again, that pretty well sums up my entire body of work, don’t you think?
After 30+ years, why would I change my approach now?
It’s been six weeks since my left hip replacement, time for a status report.
I am able to do this because I can finally sit for extended periods without getting too sore, something that has only been possible for the past 14-21 days. Which, of course, plays hell with my writing routine; I’m used to being sedentary for many long hours but that may well be a thing of the past. Also might have to invest in a standing desk at some point—hey, Hemingway used to write standing up so maybe it will be all right.
The first few days after surgery were the toughest. Thanks to the blessings of good health I had never spent a single night in a hospital and so being immobilized, reliant on others for my basic needs, took some adjusting. The surgery itself went without a hitch. I was given a spinal, which meant I was partially conscious during the procedure, listening as the surgical team bored out the hip socket to better fit the new titanium ball they were installing or tapping in some component, the force of the impact shaking my body on the table. I was lucid enough that at one point I asked to see the original ball and they brought it over, showing me how it was pitted by arthritis.
“Good riddance, you sonofabitch,” I murmured, a remark that drew chuckles from some of those present.
Post-op, pain management became very important. The night of my surgery, after the spinal anesthetic wore off, the nursing staff plied me with Dilaudid, Tylenol and some sort of nerve pill to take most of the edge off. On a scale of 1-10, my discomfort level probably peaked at 7 (I think I have a pretty high pain threshold). Each day afterward got better—by Thursday (day after surgery) I was able to sit on the end of my bed, standing briefly, and by Friday the physio people were wheeling me down to their little gym to teach me how to climb stairs, get in and out of the shower, etc.
Have to say, the worst aspect of the whole experience was getting fitted for a catheter. I was told that, ahem, older gentlemen tend to have a bit more trouble restoring their waterworks after a spinal and often a catheter is required. I get that…but it took three separate staff members to perform the procedure, which was no fun at all. My privates aren’t used to being manhandled by strangers. I was delighted when that sucker was finally removed…although the first time I went to relieve myself, it felt like I was pissing napalm.
My incision healed up very quickly, no complications with infection or draining. Once I was back home, I was contacted by our local hospital physio department and every week went in for a consultation and exercises to restore the damaged muscles. I was meticulous about doing said exercises and made speedy progress.
At the moment, I am only using a cane (see: below and note the Bruin colors on the knitted sock my wife had made for me) for trips out of the house and the new hip seems to be performing up to expectations.
The bad news is, the other hip also requires replacement, so I’ll have to go through this again in another six months.
At least I’ll know what to expect. Osteo-arthritis runs in our family, unfortunately, a genetic predisposition I would gladly do without. My hands and lower back are also afflicted, which doesn’t bode well for my sunset years.
But I’m grateful to be back on my pins again, on the mend and looking forward to a more active, pain-free future.
Many thanks to Dr. Anthony King, his surgical team and the nursing and support staff at Saskatoon’s City Hospital for their first-rate care. Hopefully I’ll be renewing acquaintance with them this summer, getting the right side dealt with, and then enjoying my new-found mobility, playing with the grandkids and feeling like, quite literally, a new man.
I try to read at least a hundred (100) books a year but in 2020, due to various circumstances, I didn’t quite make that goal.
Ninety-three was the best I could manage; not bad, but still, c’mon, Cliff, you should be able to make it to the century mark. There was a roughly equal split between fiction and non-fiction and, as usual, my tastes were all over the place.
Here’s my “Best of…” roster for 2020 and, man, when compiling it I had to make some very difficult choices:
PROCESSED CHEESE by Stephen Wright
YELLOW EARTH by John Sayles
VANISHED BIRDS by Simon Jimenez
RED PILL by Hari Kunzru
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad
AUSTERLITZ by W.G. Sebald
RULE OF CAPTURE by Christopher Brown
METROPOLIS by Philip Kerr
PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf
GROWING THINGS (Stories) by Paul Tremblay
A CHILDREN’S BIBLE by Lydia Millet
PROVIDENCE by Max Barry
THE ASSAULT by Harry Mulisch
MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES (Stories) by Amber Sparks
THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel
RABBIT FACTORY by Larry Brown
HITLER: ASCENT (1889-1939) by Volker Ulrich
POETRY FROM THE FUTURE by Srecko Horvat
SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND by Yuval Noah Harari
ON TYRANNY by Timothy Snyder
THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR by Svetlana Alexievich
IN TRUTH: A HISTORY OF LIES FROM ANCIENT ROME TO MODERN AMERICA by Matthew Fraser
CULT OF GLORY: THE BOLD AND BRUTAL HISTORY OF THE TEXAS RANGERS by Doug J. Swanson
CHURCHILL AND ORWELL by Thomas E. Ricks
THATCHER STOLE MY TROUSERS by Alexei Sayle
SONGLINES by Bruce Chatwin
ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson
HOW THE SCOTS INVENTED THE MODERN WORLD by Arthur Herman