We humans need to rediscover who we once were. There was a time when we understood that we could not destroy our environment because that would destroy us.
Individualism is partly to blame. We have come to worship individualism, but in so doing, we have lost track of the importance of the group. It is true that a long, long time ago humans probably worked on their own or in family groups to guarantee survival. Eventually, it became apparent that groups larger than families would be useful to assure survival; for example, hunting for larger animals would have required bigger groups. If you question this idea, consider how we began to develop language. Words became necessary and they had to be commonly understood. Oddly enough that is what we call language, and it is proof that when it first arrived, we understood group survival – both that of animal beings and that of human beings. We were group thinkers.
Unfortunately, we eventually invented agriculture and voila, there was an abundance of food. This also meant that a class of owners evolved, and they were greedy guys. Coincidentally, organized religion reared its ugly head about the same time and the guys who invented it were not into group sharing either. They liked power too. Working with the landowners, they used their power to coerce previously independent people into becoming virtual slave labourers (I say virtual because even if some were not de facto slaves, they had little opportunity to be something else). These slaves were important for two reasons. First, they provided really cheap labour, and second, they provided a use for surplus production. Ultimately, this transition contributed to divisions within cultures and societies which have been handed down to this very day. My wife works for a large and successful Canadian company. Apparently, it should be something to be proud of, but she knows that she is just another glorified slave.
Sure, we hear about the value of being an individual but that is a song and dance. The only possible individuals are those rich enough to control things and those who somehow have found a way to escape to a place cut off from the rest of the world.
So, what am I proposing? I think we humans need to find meaning outside the corporate, religious, and political thinking that dominates our western culture. We need to stop living this lie of individualism because it is destroying us and our planet. Am I optimistic? Absolutely not! Slaves are too valuable to be allowed to walk. On the other hand, it is possible to appear to buy in while finding your own path.
I have been a rebel all my life and a lot of the people I worked for and with never noticed. Maybe they thought I was being dumb or a pain in the common philosophy, but I knew who I was and I knew I was right. We need to change, and even a small number of us can get it started. We must rediscover the group thinking that we once had, where we understood our place in nature’s big picture, where we understood and accepted the importance of all of its parts and not just our little one.
Heavy on the Dialogue.
When I was planning this story, I knew there must be at least nine main characters because of the idea of an ennead or group of nine. However, I did not intend to write a sequel to The Lord of The Flies, so I also needed some adults, preferably of the kind and caring type. In my experience they are often grandparents, but most often grandparents are fortunate in that they can go back home after visiting or baby sitting; they do not have that day-to-day parental stress to deal with.
Unfortunately, the grandparents in this story were going to be baby sitting, not one or two but nine grandchildren of varying ages, and for two months, so they had to be special and they were. They knew that making the summer work would require a very different way of treating the children and they knew just what it was - with respect and trust. They needed the children to share the load willingly, not because they were forced to.
This is one of the reasons my story depends heavily on dialogue, for respect and trust require a lot of talking. I suppose I could have had less of that, but there was another reason to use dialogue, and that was because this is a story about ideas, and I find that ideas are best understood through conversation where one person may be the explainer and others may ask questions for clarification.
When I am studying or reading something complicated, I often wish I could just ask the question that is bothering me or holding me back, and most often I cannot.
In order to solve this problem, I used the concept of a circle. I first truly understood the power of the circle when I was studying for my doctorate in adult education at UBC in 1983. No class was ever taught with rows of learners. I think I had known the value of this for a long time because all through my first fourteen years of teaching I was constantly experimenting with classroom arrangements that were not dominated by looking at the backs of heads. When I returned to teaching in the mid-eighties, I was fortunate to be teaching at an adult high school and made sure that my classroom was in the form of a square where everyone could see everyone else, and it worked. I also came to appreciate the circle more as I got to know native people in my community and was able to attend their gatherings in the early nineties.
My final reason for using dialogue is that I like it. I like fast reads best, and those tend to be heavy on dialogue, probably why I am drawn to mysteries and detective fiction. I can still learn things but have more fun doing it. I also do not believe that heavy descriptions are necessary. Readers can us their imaginations. At one point, I say that Lucy rubbed her back against a tree. It would not matter if it were an oak or an elm. I simply wanted the reader to imagine that experience.
To wrap up this discussion on dialogue, I would like to point out that the characters live in my head and speak through me. I am merely a scribe keeping a record of the discussions and thoughts of the characters. I do not have to stop and think of who should say what; they simply take over. At least that is how it feels. It can also be said that I am all of the characters or that each represents a side of me or a side of me that I would like to exist.
Just so you do not think that my style is “out of control”, I do maintain the flow and control the plot although spontaneous changes in direction can and do happen.
I do plan my stories. For the Summer of the Ennead, I had written biographies for all of the main human characters as well as short stories about each of the animal beings. I had a rough idea about there being three parts to the story and what each would contain, but I had not given a lot of thought to the transitions from one part to the next.
Part I was a very simple chronology starting with Day One or the day of the arrival of the nine. I also decided not to limit my groupings to weeks but to nine-day cycles. I thought it fit nicely with the idea of an ennead. The idea of nine-day cycles worked very well as it happens, since that summer of 1985 had sixty-three days. This created a group of nine nines – seven nine-day cycles plus nine children plus nine animal guides.
When I got to Part II, I realized I had a serious problem. In Part II, I intended to introduce the stories of the children meeting their guides and learning how to transform. I was truly stuck because I could see no way to maintain the day-to-day pattern while introducing nine different stories twice.
This is where the sleeping brain saved my bacon – apologies to vegetarian friends and family. I awoke one morning at four AM, and I knew I had the solution. I would deal with two nine-day cycles wherein I would describe the interactions between the children and their guides and drop in some side stories about important goings-on in the camp. But I could not do this without explaining. Hence the use of a narrator or story guide became necessary. At first, I was concerned about breaking rules, but I am a rule breaker by nature, so I said what the heck and did it my way.
I wanted my story to be easy to read for anyone but with a kind of formality one often associates with the elderly and the scholarly. I wanted my elders, including the animal beings to sound like philosophers but philosophers who are able to communicate with ordinary folks. I wanted Aesop and not Walt Disney. Actually, I must be honest. If I had wanted this ahead of actually doing the writing, I was unaware of it consciously. This is where those beings in my brain took over. When I started writing the dialogues between the kids and their guides, the guides just started talking like philosophers and it seemed cool.
I hope that gives you some idea about the style of The Summer of the Ennead. As always, I am open to questions.
Learning discipline in writing.
I have three graduate degrees and each one contributed to my being able to write decently. It was not always so. A common response to my first term examination results as a freshman was that I did not write clearly. In my entire high school experience, I had never been asked to write an essay. Is it any wonder that I did not know how to write clearly? I had completed my first master’s degree and had just begun my second, when, finally, a professor very candidly told me that my writing stunk – my word. So, I asked him if he could help me. He could and he did, and I never looked back. What I had lacked was a disciplined approach. Thankfully, he taught me that. I went on the complete a doctorate in adult education where I learned the importance of editing, endlessly. Should you choose to read The Summer of the Ennead, you will be reading something that I have gone over eight times completely. By the way, I always edit my emails at least twice.
A life crisis can bring positive results.
Thirty or so years ago, my life took a turn away from the ordinary, and I lived in upheaval for the next six years, but those six years were not without their blessings. One of the changes in my life was getting involved with native people from my community. Eventually, I sat on the local powwow committee and started to teach a Native Studies course at the adult school where I worked. I learned so much from these experiences and from the excellent elders I was fortunate enough to spend time with. It was a great blessing that changed how I thought about a lot of things. You will see the fruits of those experiences in my story. I firmly believe that regaining our ancient respect for nature is our only hope given the climate crisis we now face. When I say our ancient respect, I mean the respect that all of our ancient ancestors had for the land. We have all come from hunter gatherer ancestors if we go back far enough.
Being a grandfather.
I was fortunate enough to live in the same city as my first granddaughter for a year. I got to know her, and I often wrote her stories, but as time passed, it turned out that all three of my granddaughters were living far away. I felt a need to create something for them that they could always have. The result is The Summer of the Ennead. I identify each of them with a specific animal in the story, and I believe that their animal guides suit them very well. I hope they will feel that connection too.
The evolution of a personal philosophy.
Over the course of one’s life, one lives through several philosophies. Okay, not everyone, but at least those who think of life as a growing and becoming journey. I have seen a lot of ideas come and go. I was raised in a moderately strict Baptist environment. It does not, even remotely, resemble anything I believe today. I like proof and my various studies have made seeking truth a priority in my life. I understand that perceived truth is something that can change and the search for truth can be as varied as the seekers of that truth. I love this phrase from Jiddu Krishnamurti, “truth is a pathless land”. I like it because it allows us to find our own paths, but it is very important that one have some criteria when assessing one’s truth. For me, the main criterion is provability. By provability, I do not mean the criterion that too many people use. Essentially this is ‘if it makes sense to me, it must be true’. That is known as confirmation bias, and it is not reliable. In my story, I adhere to three truths about our existence on Mother Earth. Our first truth is that we must survive. If we do not, we cannot achieve the second truth – to bring new life and if we do not bring new life, we cease to exist. The final truth is the truth of balance. No being should take too much or more than is needed. Animal beings understand this. Humans, apparently, do not. All of these truths are scientifically based. They are the facts of existence and they are my truth.
I would welcome comments, questions, or counter-arguments should you feel the urge.
At the end of the Afterward and Acknowledgments section of The Summer of the Ennead, I wrote, “This story is the result of the life I have lived. It would not have happened had I not lived it the way I did with both its successes and its failures, and I could not have imagined it at any other time in my life.”
In that short passage, I acknowledged the power of failure in my life; failure can be a great teacher whereas success tends to make us complacent. I am sorry for my failures, but I am grateful for what I have learned from them. I also know that I could not have imagined it at any other time of my life because I had tried and until January 2022, it just was not ready to come out. It is true that most of the life experiences that contributed directly to the story were well in the past by 2022, but perhaps a story is like a fine wine; it must mellow and evolve over time. For those of you who are not fans of alcoholic beverages, chicken soup might be a suitable metaphor.
Where does this mellowing take place. In the brain of course. I have published five books now, but only two have been fiction, and it is with them that I have noticed the great power of the brain to blend aspects of a story, even when I am asleep, and thank goodness for that. Four am wake-up calls, from the brain solved several of my blockages in this latest story.
I will now discuss how eight different life experiences contributed to The Summer of the Ennead – four in this post and four in the next.
Being a reader.
The first is reading. Over the last fifty years I have read over 2500 books or an average of 50 per year, and I have them all listed and rated. Lots of people are even more voracious readers than I. In fact, I read slowly; I wallow. Indeed, it seems to me unlikely that a non-reader could write a novel. Reading shows us how words fit together. It helps us recognize a good plot. It implants turns-of-phrase and new words into our brains. Reading is a writer’s sustenance.
Being a teacher.
Another life experience factor was my thirty-five years of teaching. Although, I was primarily trained to be a history teacher, I spent about half my career teaching English, so it is not surprising that I love words and the art of putting them together on a page. However, the most important thing I learned as a teacher was that students are often not respected or listened to. Our educational model is still primarily about doling out information deemed necessary by the powers that be – politicians, religious leaders, and those who govern the economy. When my career began in 1967, I realized, early on, that so called education was about creating believers in and acceptors of the way things were done. Luckily, there have always been a few rebels who have believed in respecting their students’ thoughts and that critical thinking and problem solving are vital to a young person’s education. You will see the fruits of these experiences in The Ennead in the way the elders respect and help their grandchildren become who they are capable of being.
Compiling my family history
From my mid-thirties until about five years ago, I worked, when time allowed, on compiling my family’s history. As of now, I have almost five hundred names on our tree, some dating back as far as the late 1400s, and I have learned lots of amazing survival stories. What this activity has done for me is to help me realize how fragile my existence is. Had any one of those five hundred people taken a different path, I would not exist, and I am grateful that they did not. How does this activity affect my book? As a show of respect for, at least a few of my ancestors, I have borrowed names from my family tree for all but one of the good guys in my story. Some I actually knew, since when I was young, I had three sets of great grand parents living within 10 kilometres of my home.
Growing up among old people.
I was fortunate, as hinted at above, to live in close proximity to grandparents and great grandparents. In fact, my father’s mom and dad lived on the farm next door, and my grandfather’s parents had a home on a corner of his farm. I was subjected to sweet old people until I went off to university. They told me stories, gave me cookies, made me laugh, but most important was the fact that to a person, they listened to me and tried to answer my questions although I was told I was asking too many. Usually this means that the answers were unknown or perhaps unknowable. The elders in my story always listen.
I grew up on the land. It is true that we were farmers and my elders saw the land differently from the way Native People do, but we still respected it.
Grandad had a large collection of arrow and axe heads that kept turning up each year after he had ploughed the land. He obviously had a good eye to be able to spot those artefacts from his tractor seat. I also believe that he respected them as well and knew that each one had its own story to tell.
Our two farms totaled two hundred acres, sixty of which we called ‘the bush’, probably called a forest by non-farmers. Unfortunately, the bush was underappreciated in the fifties and sixties, but not by me. It was my playground. Once inside it’s boundaries, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I would just wander around until I came to a fence. I then had to figure out whose fence it was – did it belong to the eastern boundary or the western one? Early on, it was easy to get disoriented. I do not say lost because that would not have been possible as there were fences on all sides save at the creek. Then one day, I learned of a way to find directions from the movement of the sun if it was near noon. Just stick a big stick in the ground and then with small sticks, plot the movement of its shadow.
Although our farms constituted only two hundred acres, I was never limited to those boundaries. To the west were another four or five farms, each with its own version of a bush. To the east was my friend Jim’s farm bordered by what was called ‘the Canal’. To the north was a large creek, much too wide for a non-swimmer to traverse. Truth be told, I could likely have walked across it, but then I would have had to explain my wet clothes to my mom. If I wanted to travel outside of my territory, I just had to hop a fence.
One day on one of my many rambles, I came to the western edge of Grandad’s farm. When I looked up, there was a large clearing with a very tall dead tree in the centre. At its top sat a huge nest with two small heads peaking over the edge. On a branch of the tree and on the edge of the nest sat two beautiful Bald Eagles. I was stunned. I had never heard of their existence. Later I would learn that they had been around for many years. I say many years because, as you may know, Bald Eagles mate for life, but they do have a limited life span. What you may not know is that if a mate dies, the survivor seeks a new and younger mate, thus assuring that the territory will remain in their talons and those of their descendants.
I would later learn from a neighbouring farmer that a tree had blown down in his bush and the eagle’s nest had been as large as the bed of a typical hay wagon, or about ten feet across.
But to return to the story. I was stunned by this discovery and that spot became one of my favourite hangouts. I would sit behind the fence and watch for hours. Well for twenty minutes at least – remember, for a nine-year-old thirty minutes can seem like hours, especially if you are listening to a parental rant.
Although the nest would move over the years, it stayed within a radius of that spot and the creek to the north for another forty or so years, and I would visit it whenever I had a chance to visit the area. Once when I was about forty-seven, I took a friend with me. We trod across the two farms and right up to the nest which now stood in an empty field. We circled the nest, and when we headed back one of the eagles flew out over us and circled until we had left the farm. Perhaps it was escorting us to be sure we left. I prefer to think it was a blessing.
During those early years, I often went exploring in the woods, I found black raspberries and hickory nuts, and once I found a giant oak tree. I am sure it wasn’t a giant except to a ten-year-old, but it was bigger than most trees since the bush had been harvested for timber a few times since the first settlers came in the late 1700s. It was special to me nonetheless because I had found it.
Many years later while researching family history, I learned that on the north side of the creek at the back of our farm, there had once been a native encampment. That meant that the place where I wandered freely as child had once been the home to a group of Aboriginal people. I began to appreciate how blessed I had been and why my Grandad had collected all those artefacts. I also understood better that it was our settling of the land which had forced them to leave their home.
As you can see, or will when you have read my book, this growing up on that particular farm had a great effect on the creation of my story.
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.