March 18, 1917
Shack behind the Studio Building.
Taking stock of what I have and what I’m leaving behind. Sunday today. Less than a week before I go. On Friday. I’ll never have another Saturday here in the City (I hope) because next week I’ll be gone.
Last canvas is on the easel. West Wind I’m not finished with it but it’s finished with me. If I can live with it until the week is out, I promise I won’t touch it unless it touches me first. Its greatest danger is me being around. If I do, I can wreak a god-like wrath on my creation. Complete destruction, or a worse fate, an abandoned disfigurement, like the men who’ve returned, suffering and refusing to tell their stories.
Not much here that’s mine. I’m a man of few means. I’ve given away more than my share that makes the ordinary church tithe look shameful, except none it ever went to a church. Never take more with you than what you can portage. If by rail on the Grand Trunk, take no more than they would charge you extra. But you still end giving a tip to the porter, so keep it to what you can carry yourself.
Always have two fishing poles: one split bamboo, the other a steel rod. Take with you the flies of the summer months (no need for the winter flies, the ice is frozen), but always carry with you lures, like my home-made lures, made from Annie’s old spoons found in the pile of peelings out back. I bring these back to the City. I bring them to the place of my childhood and will be bringing them, once again, up North. They never leave me. They will probably go with me to the depths of the lake.
There are four seasons in the world, but there are only two in my mind – painting and no-painting. Or the season in the City and the season to be out of the damned place. As Lismer once said, ‘Toronto is a good place – to get out of!’ I miss him. I miss Jackson. The machine has torn our world apart, and it’s looking for more things to tear apart: families, found photos of loved ones (struck through by a bullet) and the limbs off the bodies of young men. Factories of farm implements now churn out munitions and ordnances that rumble out on the daily trains to Montreal, Halifax and then overseas to the battles if they aren’t sunk by U-boats. Battles can be regaled in romantic poems of glory. But there is no appropriate verse for unrestricted warfare; it requires the deaths of another five million men or the strafing of souls left to sink in the North Atlantic to discovery the glory of a new verse.
What is the painting, then? A useless act? ‘Leave your paintbrushes and take up a rifle in the trenches.’ When all is dead and done in No Man’s Land, the poppies still grow. Why fight? Why win? When enemies pray to the same god before fighting to the death, who gets turned away at the gates?
One thought on “March 18, 1917 Taking Stock”
Did you name the larger paintings from this winter Tom? Or Harris? Or MacCallum? You were “grieved” by the West Wind but I forecast it might be your greatest unfinished work – do not destroy it.
I am up to six 3 by 4 footers for this winter and I should be outside now instead of in the “shack” finishing number six… but it could be the best of the lot. That is what I always say though. I am always hopeful – at least most of the time.
Safe journeys my friend.