Leslie Pinder is both a lawyer and a writer. Her novel On Double Tracks was published to critical acclaim both in Canada and Britain, and was short listed for the Governor General’s Award. Her legal career — mainly on behalf of Canada’s First Nations — has involved her in some of the most significant actions of our time.
About her contribution below, Pinder says:
The themes and preoccupations in my new novel Bring Me One of Everything began when I was asked to develop the story and libretto for an opera then called The World is as Sharp as a Knife. While the opera was only partly completed, I did finish the libretto. And kept going through many turns, twists, mis-starts, misadventures. What began as a search for reasons (for a suicide) became Alicia Purcell’s hunger to discover the source of her despair and to return to laughter.
In Bring Me One of Everything Alicia Purcell compulsively searches for the reason the renowned anthropologist, Austin Hart, killed himself at the height of his fame and success. Rather than his suicide being an act of despair and loneliness, I wondered what Austin would have written in his diary had he been in a state of euphoric release and discovery. While this possibility is hinted at in the novel, it’s not really explored. Thirty-three thousand well chosen words had to go. Here’s a portion of what I wrote for him in this state. The chapter is called “Forgive Me My Exuberance”.
Over the years I had become the way that unloved children are. Behind everything I had done, all my victories dressed up and ready for the photographer, there I was, eying the food, not getting enough, scrounging around the table, the beautifully set table with all the places ready, and even one for me. Yet I knew my gluttony was on the edge of not eating at all.
I have concluded my greed partly stemmed from desiring something that was fixed, enduring, universally valid, immortal; this unsustainable ambition, my only desire. It blotted out the sun.
I had come to live my life in the pre-dawn morning, a world not of darkness but of the colourless. There were no spaces between things, no aspect to the grasses or the flowers. If there were trees they were of no description. This became my world.
Until the epiphany: I took the poles from Ninstints to salvage decaying artifacts, not understanding that they were really alive and so meant to die. I simply made a mistake. Had I only held a mirror to the mouths of those vast quiescent forms, instead of taking them for dead.
Suddenly — may it be irrevocably — this insight, like an act of god, has vanquished the guilt lodged in me like a stone. Out of the blue, the world is known to me.
To escape the stuttering life, the life of brain and mind and talk, to escape ideas about the world, all the terrible approximations. I simply had not thought it possible.
The divine leans over and touches my lips. Some divide is breached that has always separated me from others, the discreet distances, the politeness, the containment. I am pulled into another place I had not known I could enter. Breath entered me.
The vast permission that is now available. The vibrancy of seeing, of feeling my body, the air. Is this what others knew, not I? Ah, to begin again. Not being enkennelled by the stinking breath of the hellhounds daily bearing down on my transgressions.
The light at dawn reveals the blessed space between things. It is real space, real dimension; it is possible to move between that bush over there and that tree. Before it was flat, all collapsed. Now I have lungs that can take in air, the world.
There are fish in the rivers. To catch one, I hold out my arms. To sing, I open my throat. To explain what I mean, I release my voice. To know what I believe I turn my mind to it.
No history matters. No parentage, no past, no provenance. No curse of the father. No curse. No father. Just the thing itself.
I had been in a land so barren it convinced me it was my only realm. I have been led into a garden. I am able to lie down, to be a man resting.