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Brian Doyle, my new hero

Major snowfall – it was spring on Sunday and now it’s winter again. We’ll continue to seesaw for some time. But the daffodils Ken brought me last week remind me – there’s hope.

Yesterday, sitting in my dressing gown in the kitchen when I looked out to see these brave souls, in the falling snow, pruning a neighbour’s very tall tree. We waved to each other. I was more grateful than ever for my warm, sedentary – and did I say warm? –  job.

Through it’s been a difficult time – arguing with my relentless social justice warrior daughter about various political issues over text and email. Of all the things I have been through as a single parent to two shall we say stubborn, strong-willed offspring, and there have been many, I never thought what would crash Anna and me on the rocks would be differing opinions about Indigenous land claims. Of course I know there has been devastating injustice through the centuries. But I also think resolution of these issues is enormously complicated, and I think Trudeau, in his politician’s way, is doing his best to balance hugely different viewpoints and needs. My daughter disagrees. Vehemently. I have pointed out that if she doesn’t like him, wait till the Conservatives get in. But that doesn’t change the outrage she feels now.

So I have a great deal of reading to do; Anna has sent me a lifetime’s worth of articles, plus, coincidentally, someone just left in my Little Free Library 21 things you may not know about the Indian act: helping Canadians make reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a reality. When I’ve finished all else, including student essays, my own work, two library books, and the depressing newspapers, I will dig in on the Indian act.

Live and learn. Anna is way ahead of me on this one.

One of those library books is a joy, a true gem; I’ve been reading one of the essays from it to my classes, and when I read it to Ken, he went out and bought the book. I read a review of these posthumously published essays in the NYT Book Review and ordered the book immediately from the library. It’s called One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, by Brian Doyle (not the Canadian writer by the same name, the Irish-American one, born in 1956), and it’s stunning. Why did I never hear of this wise, spiritual writer, who won a number of prizes during his too-short lifetime but was never well-known? Doyle died in 2017 at sixty of a brain tumour. A tragedy.

This is a luminous, achingly moving book of essays – and yet some are also extremely funny. Here is a paragraph of an interview he did with himself about reading great books, after a rant about Marcel Proust, whom he calls a “sickly bastard” and his famous book “neurasthenic bullshit”:

Well, any other writers you think, uh, overrated?


I’m stuck on Proust at the moment. To think of all the hours wasted on his interminable salon comedy, my God. To all those readers who think Proust is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I say go read a real writer. Read the first 100 pages of War and Peace. That’s how you can take a salon comedy and make it work. Not seven volumes of twitches and repressed longing, for Christ’s sake. Get back under the covers, you wheezing pervert.

I will never think of Proust the same way again. Thank you, Brian. And for the essay called Two Hearts which is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read.

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4 Responses to “Brian Doyle, my new hero”

  1. theresa says:

    21 Things…. is a very good and reasonable book. I hate the idea of the Conservatives making any kind of a moment out of this but I also think it's way past time for the Liberals to do what they've said they're going to do. Clean water is a good start. Recognizing the Supreme Court's acknowledgement of the Indigenous right to large areas of land (re: Delgamuukw) and trying to figure out a way, in deep and meaningful consultation with those on those lands, seems to be the right thing to simply get on with now. But of course it won't be easy. Our house is pretty heated at times right now too!

  2. beth says:

    Yes, absolutely, I agree on all counts – on what needs to be done, and that it won't be easy. But sometimes my very ability to see both sides and not rise up in rage at injustice makes me feel old. Or maybe – just a little bit wise?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Beth. Sorry for the "radio silence" of late. The current political drama playing out across the country makes for compelling viewing of The National these days. I am dismayed to learn that the conflict has created such tension between you and your daughter. With one environmentalist sister in Victoria and a pro-oil-industry sister in Calgary, I'm edgy whenever the word "pipeline" arises. So your recent series of blogs commands my attention. How do we disagree with people we love without becoming alienated from each other? It's a question of Shakespearean dimensions! 2020 has been turbulent at my end. My co-writer (Absent Friend) and fellow-"exile"-in-Zurich took his own life in January; my niece in Calgary gave birth to her third child, a beautiful baby boy on George Harrison's birthday. In between: a trip to magical Iceland where I felt myself morphing into Magnus the Icelandic Poet. Oh the rich tapestry of life (and death). Cheers, and keep the faith. Alan

  4. beth says:

    Alan, your friend's death must have been devastating. My point about political discussion, over and over, is that tolerance and listening, the ability to at least hear more than one point of view, are vital. But then – I do not want to hear how great Trump is, ever. So for me that tolerance only extends so far. And for my daughter, it does not extend far at all. But then she's younger and much angrier.
    Cheers to you too.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

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Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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