It was one of those great wasted nights. There we were, gathered over a bottle of Lagavulin–a writer and six actors, irresponsible ne’er-do-wells each and every one. There we were, adrift on a sea of drunken babble, with a deadline looming down on us like the hull of a Russian freighter plowing the fog. What we should have been talking about was how to pull together a hopelessly muddled play before a certain increasingly impatient artistic director ripped out our livers. What we were talking about was 1970s hockey teams, Fargo wagons, thin-crust pizza, B-movies, acid trips, lemon gin, the relative merits of various adult magazines, gas stoves, making the perfect frittata, cross-Canada road trips, Henry Miller, Tim Horton’s coffee, ghost towns, grain elevators, Hawaii Five-O, Gilligan’s Island, Tim Buckley, The Velvet Underground, Nietzsche, Ike and Tina Turner, and memorable grade school experiences.
Here’s a couple, for the record. Browsing through the books of the small library in Schomberg, Ontario and coming across a collection of poetry. I had always thought poetry was supposed to be about bluebells, roses and things. I happened to flip open to Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn (1929), with its mysterious words about underground rivers, fabulous palaces, war, caves of ice, and demons. It was the first time that I had any inkling words could take you to mysterious, exotic and dangerous places.
And then there was the year that I failed out of grade ten, when I spent most of my days at the UBC recordings library, stoned on pot and hash, listening to Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon playing mind-bending jazz. I listened for hours and hours on end to recordings of compositions by Chopin, Reich, Glass, Schoenberg and Stravinsky. I listened to cast recordings of many of the best plays of the twentieth century. I listened to poetry by Dylan Thomas, E. E. Cummings, D.H. Lawrence, and W.B. Yeats. All of this when I was supposed to have been in school learning how to become a well-adjusted consumer and tax-payer. It was the best education I’ve ever had.
Taking a cab home, just as the first light of dawn was beginning to wash over the dirty grey city, and thinking back over the conversations, I came to the realization that some of the most profound experiences we ever have happen to us occur when we are supposed to be doing something far more important.
Reference: Coleridge, S.T. (1929). Ancient Mariner, Kubla Kahn, and Christabel. Macmillan Company.