Monday, June 14, 2010

Surf poet

[caption id="attachment_2319" align="alignleft" width="201" caption="Driving Minnie's Piano"][/caption]

I'm still digitizing my published clips that go back to the early 90s on this site. It will take a while before they are done. In the meantime, I dug up the unedited copy of a story The Chronicle-Herald published a couple of years ago. It is a profile piece on Lesley Choyce, shortly after his memoir "Driving Minnie's Piano" was published. I loved that book.

Here's the unedited article (because I can't find a paper copy to scan):

Just outside the door to Lesley Choyce’s office at Dalhousie University, I can see through a tall, thin sliver of window that he is on his computer.

He is smiling, courteous, offers me a chair and returns to his seat behind his desk. He is wearing belted khaki pants and a denim shirt with a navy t-shirt. His hair is a curly array that frames his face. Beneath the casual attire, there is something that seems wired – a creative circuit, grounded in Halifax, amidst the city’s wildlife, empty spaces, and ocean waves. Perhaps he has managed to tap the hydro power in the waters he surfs and tumbles in.

He plucks book after book off a tidy wall of shelves. About 60 books are authored by him. Some books are skinny, some thick, all of them a testament to process – that thing that drives a creative person to create whatever it is that’s in their heart and mind to do.

A student needs to see him now, an urgent issue, possibly over a grade. He strikes me as the sort of teacher people consider a favourite, the kind that takes time to listen and soothingly explain things. Apologetic, confessional even.

Choyce’s latest book, Driving Minnie’s Piano: Memoirs of a Surfing Life in Nova Scotia is based on true stories that read like bits of song where the line between past and present blurs.

The book begins in Choyce’s childhood and we quickly meet his grandmother Minnie, who wears a floppy straw hat and escapes the mid-day heat on her farm by doing chores (snapping beans and shelling peas) early in the morning. She plays a baby grand piano (piana) and eventually advises Choyce that Nova Scotia sounds wonderful … all that coastline.

"The Minnie book" reminds me of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In part because the book is a reverie of the natural world through Choyce’s eyes and the book defies easy categorization. Like Pilgrim, it can be read as a collection of short stories or narrated whole.

“I think the world needs more books like that,” Choyce says. “Writers need to take a certain licence to explore things in your life.”

Choyce also cleverly side-steps another categorization in that the book is autobiographical, without being an autobiography. Gnarly. Dude.

One might expect this book to be about Nova Scotia, and many parts of it are set here but the reality is that the stories are bigger than Nova Scotia.

The primary thread that knits Driving Minnie’s Piano together is the concept that the past tags along with us into the present and future, connecting us to a larger time and place. Those threads surface unexpectedly in Choyce’s book, like a displaced seal pup in the middle of a road late at night and weaves the reader comfortably back and forth through time and space, inviting us to journey with the author, from New Jersey to Paris, Tokyo and ultimately home. Weather connects continents through waves. Earthquakes move and split continents. The book is big and little at the same time.

Emotionally, we see how events with Choyce’s family, friends and others shape his view of the world. In the physical sense, the book telescopes the reader over the soft mossy floor of the woods, geographical formations that cover several continents to the piercing sting of crushed ice in a January wave.

The form his book wears is a baby grand piano, a u-haul, a surf board, drumlins, places and people. Interesting and funny people. More forms that wear these matters are skunks and lichen and the soft moss that covers stones, important stones. That is Choyce’s story – or stories.

You don't need to be a surfer to find that Driving Minnie's Piano is a satisfying read with insight into the human condition and those things that drives each of us: " ..whatever it happens to be, you must love the act of doing it. And you have to love the wave, love the words or love the beans. If there ain't love in it, it's not gonna snap," Choyce writes.

By the time our meeting is over and I’ve gathered my things, Choyce is in the common area just outside his office, he’s talking and holding a piece of paper up to a couple of students who have gathered and the surf poet is all business again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Site