Category Archives: Mariposa

New Directions, New Projects, Maybe Even the Occasional New Idea

Leslie and I completed, on September 20th, our 15th and final summer season of Country Supper Storytelling Concerts. In all we performed 573 of these, served and entertained 3,917 people along the way, many of whom became good friends. This whole experience was an almost unalloyed pleasure, the only alloy being occasional exhaustion. As such episodes grew in number and intensity with our advancing age, we decided we should find something new, preferably something where we could do a lot of the work sitting down.

We have always been interested in touring, especially in forms of touring that involved community participation. The Chautauqua model intrigued us, and we experimented with it one year, but it proved too big and too conflictual with our other activities. Now these are reduced, and we are about to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with our Stephen Leacock’s “My Discovery of the West” Re-Tour 2017 — from 15th to 150th in one fell swoop, or swell foop. Our ports of call will be: Orillia (for a Launch at the Leacock Museum), Thunder Bay (Port Arthur and Fort William in Leacock’s day), Sioux Lookout (Leacock didn’t go there but the train does now), Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Vancouver, and Victoria. We will launch on October 20th 2017 and end November 28th. We will tell that story, if you would like to follow it, as it evolves on: www.voyageurstorytelling.ca & https://mariposabyconway.wordpress.com/

We are also becoming the home of a Leacock Database in which we will catalogue every piece that he wrote and every public speech that he spoke to the extent that we can locate them and with as much detail as we can find. The extent is considerable thanks to the bibliographical prowess of Carl Spadoni and his predecessors. Details are bounteous in some cases, sparse in others. We will complete the first round of that project in another month. Right now the database has about 2,400 records, including 1,300 pieces and about 800 speeches. When it came to verbiage, Stephen Leacock was a prolific man.

When that project settles in for the long pull, looking for details, we will start a database for the Canadian writers of magazine articles from Confederation to World War II. This grew out of our efforts to gather Leacock articles from Canadian literary magazines like the magnificently named The Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature (1893 to 1938) and Maclean’s Magazine (1896 to the present). We started asking ourselves who these people were, many of them obviously amateurs, who wrote for these magazines with such dedication and spirit. Where did they live? How did they live? What are their stories? We are going to find out. We have seen enough already to know that their stories are enchanting, diverse, often up-lifting, occasionally tragic, invariably interesting. Stay tuned.

Then there is politics. This blog began out of my interest in writing about political matters. Other projects have interfered with the flow, but my interest persists. In particular, I am concerned about what I believe to be immaturity and sloppiness in our political discourse, particularly as reported in our beloved news media, but also in the pronouncements of both government and opposition. At the top of my list of immaturities is their, and our, perpetual carping negativity in discussion of public affairs. The political oppositions whom we hire to find fault with our governments seem to find it very difficult to get their eyes up out of the mud, after the manner of worms, in which course they are followed with mindless glee by the news media. A close second is both of their, and our, addiction to sensational anecdotes without any regard for the context or relative frequency of these episodes. Thirdly, I have a particular grief with the news media for their lust for reporting predictions without regard for the quality of the data behind them, the rigour of the analysis, or the often highly self-interested perspective of the person making them. And fourthly, I believe that maturity requires us to stop thinking of the stated intentions of our governments as “promises” and cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of what politicians are saying to us when they campaign.

And what of our governments? What share do they deserve of the obloquy? Well, obviously, they deserve all they get when they “spin” at our perceptions for the purpose of making themselves look good or make mistakes out of incompetence or dishonesty. I believe also, however, that the business of government is extraordinarily complicated and difficult, often because we the people make it so, and that a mature and sophisticated understanding requires recognition that things will often go wrong for reasons other than incompetence or dishonesty. In a huge multitude of instances they also go right, or at least well enough, and we need to celebrate from time to time all the people who make it so, at all levels, elected and hired, federally, provincially and municipally. These hard-working people are our employees, at least indirectly, and we collectively carry an employer’s responsibility, which does not consist in ignoring them when they do well, defecating on them from a great height when things go wrong, and generally thinking of them in the worst and most simplistic way we can find.

All this should keep me busy enough to hold boredom at bay. As for the inevitable decay of mind, well, maybe it will slow that down too.

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Implicit Memory and the Art of (Dis)Connection

I regret that the ruminations necessary to sustain my two blogs (this one and www.mariposabyconway.wordpress.com), not to mention the larger projects to which they contribute, have become entangled in the complexities of Memory. Because I am, in a very real sense, a professional memorizer, I am quite conscious of my memory. I think about it. I worry about it. I cultivate it. I panic when I find myself forgetting, as I do from time to time. I am filled with delight when it works well, as it often does. I try to understand how it works, so that I can help it improve. Mine is a good, stolid, workmanlike kind of memory, not brilliant, not really quick but sufficiently retentive, a companion, steady, reliable, but with sometimes an apparent mind of its own that can surprise me.

I remember one occasion when I was reciting The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to a paying audience in the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife. (If you think that was an odd thing to be doing, and an odd place to be doing it, then think again. Or even better, read the poem. Speak the poem. Then you will understand.) The poem was thoroughly embedded in my memory; I did not need to think about the coming words, but only about how to speak them. At some point, however, I lost my grip, and allowed myself to wonder what the next line might be. Immediately I was lost, because I could not deliberately remember it. Fortunately I was near the beginning of the line where I was, and thus was able to converse with myself—silently, of course—to the following effect: “I know that line. My memory has it lodged firmly. I must stop thinking about it, and let my memory do its job.” So I did, and it did, with complete accuracy, right on time, although the conversation and resulting effort no doubt affected my delivery, or even may have shown on my face, with perhaps puzzling results for the audience. Still, they did not complain.

Which brings me to Karyn L. Freedman, who has written a book called One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery, reviewed in November’s Literary Review of Canada by Dr. Clare Pain, who in the course of a lengthy summary and analysis of the book, says: “… the traumatic event is taken in by implicit memory, a system that registers knowledge such as how to ride a bike. Subsequent access to the traumatic memory is not available as an ordinary memory, but only as body sensations and actions.” On her web site Dr. Freedman (http://karynfreedman.com) speaks of her philosophical interest in “recalcitrant emotions: fear in the acknowledged absence of danger”, possibly related to “epistemic akrasia: believing against one’s better judgment”.

Implicit memory. Recalcitrant emotions. Epistemic akrasia. Hm. These are deep waters, in which I am not equipped to swim. I do like boating on them, however. “O ma ole canoe, wat’s matter wit’ you, an’ w’y was you be so slow?” Good question.

I wonder if implicit memory is not perhaps a deeply embedded form of ordinary memory, so deeply embedded that it can be called forth involuntarily, in response to any suitable stimuli, and not only deliberately. Dr. Freedman’s hour in Paris is a terrible, complicated experience, laden with an unimaginable cacophony of sensations in all dimensions—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, personal—an ultimate challenge to one’s sense of order in the world. Such a memory could conceivably be triggered by any recurrence of any of these sensations. My memory of Prufrock’s Love Song is a simple, linear one, line i being automatically triggered by line i-1 successively through 130 iterations. If I wanted to break the connection in order to control the memory, I would need to memorize a whole set of alternative line i’s, embedding them deeply so that I had to think about which one I wanted. This would be a silly thing to do, of course, under the circumstances, but that’s what it would take.

I wonder also if implicit memory does not also work positively in our relations with people we love, the memories of our joyful, complicated, diverse experiences with them being called forth involuntarily as body sensations and actions, and in other ways, in response to associated sensations, the i-1 lines of our coexistence. And what happens if those connections are disrupted? Is that not also a profound disordering of the world, possibly traumatic?

Traumatic connections between unarticulated sensations and experiences embedded in implicit memory; traumatic disconnections between unarticulated sensations and experiences, similarly embedded: Would the art of Recovery be the same, either way?

But what on earth have these meanderings to do with Mariposa? Not much, perhaps, except by free association between thought i and thought i+1. The connection with memory, however, may be more clear, because if Stephen Leacock is satirizing anything in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town—he is certainly not satirizing Orillia, or any other “real town”, or “seventy or eighty of them”, or Ontario small town life, or anything like—his target is the way he believes we remember the places we were raised. And because he does not remember his own up-bringing that way (see The Boy I Left Behind Me), he has nothing but contempt for such nostalgia. The contempt shows through, which is why the book should not be revered, only enjoyed for what it is.

Truth and Lies in Mariposa

You have to admire Stephen Leacock, crotchety old coot though he may have been sometimes. He fooled us completely, or allowed us to fool ourselves. He allowed us to think that the place he called Mariposa was Orillia, a town in Ontario, whereas he could just as well have been writing about Mariposa, a township in Ontario, of equally respectable literary worth. In fact he called it Mariposa, which is pretty strong prima facie evidence that it was, unless of course he was lying through his teeth, or simply making the whole thing up. Which is the other hypothesis.

But I am not making up the story that I am going to tell, although I am going to fudge the details a little, for reasons of confidentiality. I don’t want anybody chasing me with lawsuits. The place needs a name, so I am going to call it Mariposa, in honour of the precedent, and for another reason which I will explain. When I need geography, I am going to use Mariposa Township. Since I need a town, and Mariposa Township doesn’t really have one, just a flock of villages, I am going to make one by lumping Little Britain and Oakwood and Manilla and some others together and I am going to put them smack in the middle of the Township or as close as I can get and still find a railroad and a crossroads. And where does that put me? Well blow me down if it isn’t right there at Mariposa Station. That’s the other reason. There’s a school there too, which is handy. But I’m not going to take all the villages, because I may need some people out there in the surrounding countryside.

For the aforesaid reasons of confidentiality I am not only going to take people from Mariposa, because there aren’t quite enough of them, or from any other single place. I’m going to mix and match. I’ve been around a little in my time, lived in a number of places — eight to be exact, in three countries. In Canada I have lived in two provinces and one northern territory, in three cities, one small town (where I was raised), and two rural areas. I have worked in dozens more. I have met a lot of people, so if I pick up some from wherever it may be and plunk them down in Mariposa, I defy you to figure out who they are or where I found them.

If I need a lake, as Leacock did, I’ll use Scugog Lake, on the southern edge of Mariposa Township. I don’t think the fact that it’s 20 kilometres away from Mariposa the town will cause much inconvenience, because we’re not in horse-and-buggy days, not in this story, and if my people want to fish or go for a boat ride they can drive to Scugog Lake pretty easily. If I need a river Mariposa Brook is not far away, and could easily be enlarged. If I need a canal I’ll dig one.

But all this geography is quite peripheral to the story, which is really about a continuing war between the two great dynasties dominating political life in Mariposa for over a century: the Drone-Pupkins, on the one hand, who adopted the noble American precedent of being unable to tell a lie and evolved it into an entire political culture, and the Smith-Bagshaws on the other, who made the same thing, more successfully, out of being unable to tell the truth.

Because I am going to tell this story bloggedly, over a considerable time, I will make of myself no slave to linearity. You won’t find it reading from top to bottom, and you won’t find it reading from bottom to top. You can start in the middle, if you like, or anywhere else, and jump around. You will find any essential background information summarized on the Mariposa page.