Dept of Occupational Hazards

May 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’ve always respected the idea of sacrificing for one’s art, but in my life the sacrifice has manifested itself in ways far less glamourous than I anticipated. Edith Piaf’s last words on this earth have been translated as,

“Every damn fool thing you do in this life you pay for.”

But I can’t imagine the Little Sparrow was talking about back troubles.

In April, at the Tarragon Theatre, we conducted a three-week staged workshop of A God In Need of Help (heretofore known as the Venice/Prague play). The level of inspiration/stimulation from working with seven brilliant, funny actors under the exacting direction of Richard Rose—who figured out how to conjure, in a small rehearsal hall, the illusion of four men holding a sizeable crate over their heads as they trudged through the mountains—kept me revising the final scenes of the play late into the night, night after night, over the course of those three weeks. A play is a funny thing; an exacting thing: You begin with an oyster of infinite possibilities, but by the time you get to your 5th Act (so to speak), there’s only one way it can go, the way it has to go, with precision, no matter how large the world you’re depicting.

And you have to find it, otherwise the whole play will feel like a waste of time.

The weather was bad so I rarely took my bicycle to the theatre. Deskwork plus lack of exercise conspired to put pressure on a pair of old nemeses, the L4 and L5 vertebrae, until they finally decided to take a break from one another, leaving the top of my body somewhat unmoored from the bottom.

(It’s a good sign though. The first time I hurt myself this badly was when I was within striking distance of finishing this book, subject of this blog. My Venice/Prague play is in good company.)

It got better than worse than better than worse then better, until last weekend when I stood up from a church pew (at the christening of a niece) and the old L4 and L5 attacked and repelled one another with such force that I’ve been left incapacitated for the last seven days.

Perhaps God is punishing me for my heathen play.

Things are looking up, though. Last night I responded, restlessly, to a Hong Kong/London poet’s tweeted cinephile quiz question—

—and received, for my efforts, a dialogue across a 12/hr time-zone, mostly about Winnipeg (surprisingly), since she is a fan of this book, so I sent her this song, and she sent me this essay in which she expresses the fond hope to depict Hong Kong as lovingly and idiosyncratically as Guy Maddin depicted that cold city in the very very centre of my country.

In the essay, she also writes,

The universe is indifferent. I want to have a balcony in my final home so I can leave it open when I am dead. I wonder why we often forget about a pain when it subsides. Same with love.

It helped me realize why I keep thinking this back injury is the worst I’ve ever had even though it isn’t. So I wrote to her,

I’m reading your article. It’s beautiful. I’ve been thinking lately about the memory of pain because I suffered a herniated disc last

Sunday and it’s healing very slowly. When I think about when it’s happened before I can’t recall how long it took, because when I think

about the things I did beyond the first day, I don’t remember the suffering part – I just remember the conversation or card game or walk.

It happened last last summer when I was staying on an 80 acre horse farm that was mounting a play of mine. I know it was really tough to

get around, from my cabin down to the cookshack, etc, but I can’t recall the pain. I remember getting driven to a chiropractor in Salmon

Arm, even, so I know I must have been suffering, but I don’t remember it. Just as I won’t remember that I was leaning painfully against a

counter top as I typed this.

She asked me to preserve it in a less tweeted, more written form. I started blogging again so I might tuck the above into an essay of my own.

Thank you for that, Tammy.

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