(Reprinted from my earlier blog post.)
Bill Lane was born in 1951 and died December 30, 1951. He was a director and producer of theatre and radio drama, a dramaturg, a playwright, and a teacher. After his CBC career, he earned an MA in Social & Political Thought and a PhD in Theatre Studies from York University. See here, for a full account of his creative life.
31 December, 2021: Such strange days and nights. I’m living in two worlds at once. Reviewing my correspondence with my beloved lifelong friend and intermittent lover as he dies. His absence cuts through me like a knife.
Sleepless tonight, I reflect on what was and wasn’t and what might have been. Thinking about how I lived in a frenzy of single mother professorial workaholism (for lack of a better word ”getting stuff done”) for years. The end result: a marvelous daughter and some books and thousands of former students I often enjoyed teaching. And …
At the same time I’m thinking of my present life, my lover(s) [the plural more potential than actual], and how I arrange my life.
Then I kept romance at a distance in order to try to keep my life ticking along at a mad pace that could carry with me everything that needed caring love and attention. How fast could I run? How much of myself, my desire, and my pleasure could I jettison without a backward glance?
I study a portrait of you, my friend William – known as Bill. When we were so very young I began to call you William and I never stopped.
Katia, your caring lover and companion over the past five years, sends a last photograph to those who love you. You are propped up on your death bed with your beloved Katia. You wear a golden paper crown mocking a mad King Lear. You both laugh into the lens. Katia’s beautiful daughter Aurora takes the photograph. Her partner’s hand holds a lamp – “lighting grip”, writes Katia,
In this last photograph, William, you look so very slender from your year-long deadly tangle with cancer. Yet your smile is the same. Your chiseled features still yours. Your beard and mustache trimmed. Your sensuous long-fingered hands are the touch I remember. I hear your low tones, tender voice, telling observations, and loving words.
I read years of past emails and messages that chart our long rapport into the past, at a distance: the missed phone calls, aborted meetings, plans gone awry. I read backwards through time messages about our creative lives, our travels, our shifts and changes, our longing, our whimsical regret, and my maneuvers to maintain distance.
In 1970 or so, our conversations and studies intersected just as I left home and began to find my feet as a Carleton undergrad student. You were one of the first people who helped to make me feel like a creative intellectual. I was keen about drama and film and art and literature and ideas. You have such a beautiful mind – “a rare intelligence,” someone said after your death.
I remember how at twenty you were so very excited about cybernetics. While undergrads, both of us studied in a graduate comparative lit theory class with Professor Hans Ruprecht. Perhaps you told me about the class. Or perhaps I recommended it to you. The theoretical ideas flowed over my head at the time but enough bobbed around in my undisciplined brain to spur me on later to graduate school in a related field. And late in life you returned to school to do a PhD in Social and Political Thought – revelling in the theoretical and political complexity.
At the time we first met, I was a twenty-year-old student teaching assistant in two film courses. And I was making a film for children for the CBC as part of an internship program. That too was beyond me in a way but I improvised my way to completion. And I loved editing I remember. All the while, William, your beautiful voice gave me support and encouragement.
A few years ago, you wrote to me: “… I think we move thru very specific pathways in our world, often remaining adjacent to the ones we begin adjacent to… Mobility in our society certainly isn’t complete…”
And that certainly is how our lives flowed.
Adjacent. But intertwined.
Almost exactly a decade ago, you wrote to me:
I know, you probably noticed, I’m flirting with you. I think you don’t
like people flirting with you when you’re trying to get some serious
work done. I used to be like that. I remember, when we were at Carleton
together, you forced me to make love with you when we were supposed to
be on the way to our Comparative Literature class. I tried to resist,
and we were almost late for the class, but actually, I really loved it.
These days, I probably wouldn’t even resist. There’s no time to resist.
Still, if this isn’t a good decade for you, we could wait a few years.
You never know.
Seriously, though, if you’ve noticed that I’m flirting with you, the
least you could do is to flirt back.
More seriously. though, if it’s a stressful time for you, and this is
just going to make the stress harder to take, then I totally understand.
Somehow I thought it might relieve the stress, though. Isn’t that what
these kinds of things are supposed to do?
We could get together (at least for dinner) anywhere you’re going to be
on your travels, if it’s not too far away from where I am.
Then, if the flirting gets out of control, we would know what to do. And
if not, then not.
And I wrote back on April Fool’s Day 2012 when we were both 61.
William, I think it is sweet you are flirting with me. It’s possible I’m just too fragile to get involved. At least now. At the moment. Maybe by the time I come round, you’ll have gone on to something else. That’s what seems to have happened over time. We flit in and out of each others’ lives with some whimsy and it’s fun. But I’m a bit tired right now. Trying to keep track of my thirteen-year old girl who is just plain rude half the time. …[Trying to] keep up my writing which tends to disappear if I’m not careful. And my students are quite lovely but need tending too. And my roof is falling in. Our poodle knows how to open front and back door with his teeth and paws. Our neighbours find him wandering the streets – he likes that.
Things are generally chaotic though I wash dishes and clothes.
“Only connect,” my professor told me in 1970.
When you finally flew to visit me a few years later, we had a good reunion but I was so entirely disinterested in sex, it surprised me. My whole being was devoted to my academic work and my mothering. I had no room for you.
Now in 2022, I’m retired and living alone, my beautiful daughter lives a province away.
Happily I find myself in the midst of a beautiful sexy polyamorous romance with my new lover. So much to appreciate in my here and now.
While eschewing marriage or co-habitation, I still seem to long for the everydayness of a daily relationship in spite of what I once lived. And I’m not sure what I want.
Since William’s death, I feel a deep loneliness for his presence. Or perhaps I simply experience the depth of longing and the in betweenness of space and time that separated us.
Over the winter holiday the longing and loneliness of thousands of windswept prairie kilometers separated my new lover and me. Even in the months since his return, we tenderly pull each other closer and push one another away as though we are children playing the fort-da or the “gone”-“here” game. A child repeatedly disappears her toys and then experiences their reappearance. Rehearsing over and over again the pain of loss — of the absent mother? — along with the compensatory pleasure of repetition/compulsion and the sense of continuity and return when the toy reappears. This play exhibited ‘mysterious masochistic trends’ in Freud’s words.
At our age, my lover is 66 and I am 70, it is obvious that any sense of disappearance and loss is tightly linked to our health and well-being. Illness, infirmity, and death are with us. Both of us have lost dear friends in the last six months.
Even now your… his… absence cuts through me.
Like a knife.
“Time is a ship that never casts anchor”
“Time is a ship that never casts anchor” – a Sami aphorism that suits its nomadic northern Indigenous people – is an aphorism that suits me now.
I like to keep my body and mind in motion even if I do nothing more than trace a small pathway through my house, neighbourhood, and city.
What protects me from despair during this long pandemic that erupts with waves of infection and polarizing hatred even as I write? I’m insulated in part by my privilege and situation.
Police from various forces gather this morning in Ottawa to expell the COVIDIOT truck convoy that has terrorized cities and borders with their threatening public health demands and noise and air pollution and White Supremacy and anti-democratic hatred these past weeks.
What protects me? My work and my good relations. My intimate relationship pleasures and comforts me. My friendships nourish me. My daughter keeps me grounded and alert to the world around me. My writing and my yoga focus me. The creative process keeps me in touch with myself and supplements my everyday life with a solitary encounter with myself, an intellectual/emotional companionship that continues through the years.
This all seems ever more important at this moment in time of increasing economic inequality and precarity along with the seeming inevitability of environmental destruction.
Yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli holds up the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai as one who discovered his dharma and dedicated himself passionately to his path.
I’m moved by the fact Hokusai produced almost 30,000 works during his long creative life. His daily practice included drawing a Chinese lion or lion dancer every morning only to throw it “out the window to ward off ill luck” – a strategy that might help heal anyone’s writer’s block or morning anxiety.
Hokusai passion and dedication to his work, along with his humility, is charted in this observation about aging and creative life:
“When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75, I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80, you will see real progress. At 90, I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100 I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create — a dot, a line — will jump to life as never before.”
Hokusai never achieved his centenary and I wonder how he finally came to terms with his legacy.
His enviable and productive humility endured til the end: “On 10 May 1849 he died aged 88, apparently exclaiming on his deathbed, ‘If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.’”