Wordcarpenter Books
More About Visigoths in Tweed
 
This coming-to-age story begins during Reid McFetridge's first week of university, a whirlwind that swept into a storm. 
 
Called this generation's Catcher in the Rye, Visigoths in Tweed touches on the multiple coming-of-age forces at university including an overbearing father. When Reid enrolls in a philosophy class because of a girl, he discovers a new world that holds the secret to life. The storm breaks when his best friend suffers a heart attack when they are out running. Handcuffed by painful shyness and now influenced by his extroverted roommate, Reid's anger and confusion lead him farther away from what his father wants, which brings his fahter's wrath. His love for Michelle grows but his inability to manage the chaos around him nudges him to the brink. Relive the spirit of the eighties in Kingston, Ontario. It was the last gasp of pre-electronic life. Reid's philosophy professor inspires him to use his philosophy studies to help him find the solution to his problems. The deeper he goes the more caves in around him, forces that he cannot control. Helpless and oppressed by his father, Reid rebels by skipping class and road-tripping to New York City with his roommate where they triumph in a blur of booze and women. It is an awakening that sheds light on his life path before him.
 

 

Chapter Five

Life As An Adjective

&

After the first few weeks of classes Reid's life began to settle down to an agreeable degree of sanity. Rowing filled his early mornings and classes filled his days, and social engagements filled his evenings. Tests for his commerce classes he I still didn't care about. It was his philosophy class and the readings that had his interest. Never before had something spoken so directly to him. He had no idea people wrote like that; it was like discovering a new colour and new smell and new vista all in one. Not only did he make a point of doing all his required readings, he tried to read the recommended readings too, which he hadn't ever crossed his mind before. But that's what happened; he had finally discovered a source where words meant something. Finally he had found a lair of writers who got to the point.

The early mornings became a time to enjoy rowing on the water. Getting up was tough at first, but after a couple weeks he and Taylor had developed a system of waking each other up just in case one of their alarm clocks didn't go off. It was usually still dark out when they hopped on their mountain bikes to ride off to the rowing club. And the darker it became at dawn, the colder it became. Getting rid of the shivers was his first task when he hit the morning air. There were some mornings when Taylor could hardly get himself out of bed due to the previous night's excessive partying. He was a work-hard, play-hard maniac. Somehow he could party all night and then get up to row for two hours at the crack of dawn. On the mornings when he was hungover Reid could smell the alcohol fumes emitting from his pores. Reid rowed in the number-one seat, or bow seat, and Taylor was in front of him in the two-seat so they became known on the crew as Bow Power. There were more than a few times Taylor didn't come home at all. It was not uncommon to see him leaving the campus pub with a girl and spending the night in the girl's dormitory. Despite his carefree lifestyle, Taylor never once let the crew down or failed to be there in spirit as well. That's the way it was with him.

At the first regatta on the last weekend in September at Trent University the crew raced to a distant fourth, two full boat lengths behind the winning crew from Western. He and Taylor had loads of fun at the regatta. Since they were in the novice division they raced first after the initial heats so they had lots of time to drink the traditional drink of regatta culture, schnapps, and get into all sorts of mischief. But the rowing coach Loren Orris, whom Taylor had started to call Orson Buggy, wasn't happy at all with the crew's performance. So when they returned to Kingston he made rowing practices tougher. Orson Buggy started to include the dreaded twenty-minute piece during each practice. Orson Buggy yelled from his little outboard motorboat as the eight rowers splashed atop the water with burning legs and weakened arms. The twenty-minute piece was a grind but Reid kept his mind off the pain by enjoying the scenery along the Gananoque River. The only good to come out of the dreaded twenty-minute pieces was where the crew ended up: miles away from Kingston surrounded by ducks and flocks of Canadian geese. When resting after twenty minutes of fast rowing they listened to the sound of golden-eyed loons in the slow rising mist surrounded by tall straw-coloured marshes and rich smelling maple, some mornings being like a Group of Seven painting.

Both he and Taylor continually went out to the campus pub, but it was Taylor who seemed to be expanding. His happy-go-lucky nature grew over time. His Mohawk a constant conversation piece when he met new people, he brought out the best in his fellow schoolmates. His ability to love life intimidated Reid's inability to comprehend how gregarious people embraced life, so he chose to remain aloof.

The second week after the Trent Regatta Reid relaxed on the couch after an economics class. Just as he was beginning to relax Drake came in.

"Reid, how 'bout we go up to the farm." He had been so busy with rowing and the pub he hadn't been up to the farm with Drake since the summer.

"Nice one. I need a break from graphs and charts."

When they arrived at the farm and the smells seeped into his nose he felt the tension of the day evaporate under the October sun. Beside a red barn with the word SALISBURY painted in faded white paint was a traditional gingerbread house with four proportional windows and corners of beige brick. The porch housed some old furniture and a rustic table. Like a postcard of a country home. A footpath laid with freshly cut wood chips starkly contrasting the dark rich soil led to the stables where a few people milled around with horses. The freshly hoed soil emitted a strong aroma of earth that was a medicine.

Through the open doors to the stable a women was sitting on an upside-down metal bucket in casual conversation with another woman who was brushing her horse. The stable smelled of fresh leather and horses.

"Good Day Mrs. Wilkins," said Drake, half a step in front of Reid. "How're doing today Madison? Looks like you got those new boots." They both casually greeted Drake. He left Reid there to speak to the daughter of the owner of the farm. Reid saw that she was blind in one eye.

"'Bout time," Madison replied.

"Who's this?"

""This is Reid," he said. That was the extent of the formalities. Embarrassed, he glanced at both of them and hesitated.

"Hi Reid. Ever been here before?" Madison's plentiful blond hair carefully tucked under her riding hat, boots hardly creased, pretty features bred like a good racehorse.

"No." In the silence he felt a paralysis of not knowing what to say. "Been busy at school I guess."

"So you're friends with Drake?"

"Best friends you could say."

"He's a good rider."  The sweaty cotton shirt clung to her skin revealing her style of sports bra.

"Is that Reid with an e i or a double e?" Expecting a punch line to a joke that never came.

"Ah, it's with an e i," he said, feeling as if he may be falling for it.

"Did you know that your name means red in Gaelic?" In her paddock boots and chaps Madison looked at him with her welkin eyes.

"Yeah?" He asked her if she was a Queen's student.

"I'm a fourth year English major." She smiled. "What about you?"

"Commerce." The word hung in the barn like an impostor, and Madison took her eyes off Reid. A horse sneezed.

"I should let you get back to your horse." He straightened his posture and left the stable for the practice field. The sky cloudless and the grass along the fence dry like straw. Putting his foot on the bottom plank of the fence he breathed deeply and watched a flock of birds fly out from the red and orange and yellow maple trees beside the barn as the breeze picked up. He thought about how he spoke to his father less frequently as the days went by, a result of his growing indifference to an old life and goals.

"Reid!" He was startled.

"What?"

"Want to take a run?" Face full of colour as he pulled up on his horse. "Get you in top form for the championships next month."

"Yeah, alright." He trotted on his horse named Phineas while Reid ran beside him along the perimeter of the field. The breeze warm and fresh with the aroma of fall.

"Did you see who I was talking to?"

"From afar. Who is she?"

"Lynn lives here on the farm. Plans to go to Queen's next year. Really kind person."

"Love interest?"

"One never knows. She's absolutely stunning though." Reid thought of the eye.

"Did she have a bum eye?" Drake sighed.

"One of these days you'll see that beauty is inside Reid." Tone impatient. "Let's just say Lynn had an accident when she was a girl."

"So that's why you've been spending so much time up here."

"You're smarter than you look." Drake seemed as happy as he had ever seen him at that moment. "Speaking on which, how is that philosophy class you and Michelle are in? Liking it?"

"He's a pretty sharp guy, our prof," he said. "There's something about Bakhurst that's different, which is refreshing."

"Have you told your father yet?"

"I think my parents would have had a hernia. They're paying for my education and if I turned around and told them I was studying philosophy, I think they'd have a baby. And why should I?"

"Because they'll find out eventually. And because your father pays for your education."

"So let it be eventually then. You know the irony is that it's way more interesting than commerce - the most boring subject in the history of the world."

"I have been thinking about my own little philosophy," he said glancing over at Reid.  He pushed his riding hat back exposing his sweaty yellow hair. "I've been thinking that you could look at life as either a noun, a verb, or as an adjective. For me life is a verb." Drake negotiated Phineas over some wooden debris along the perimeter of the forest as Reid watched out for grasshoppers flying into his face. "Life for me is something to be achieved through action. Through my actions I define who I am, right?"

"Alright. I can se that."

"Living life as a verb is revered because men of action achieve things. They achieve greatness."

"Yes, like Sir Francis Drake."

"The example I always think of Sir Edmund Hilary." He glanced at Reid.

"Life as a verb. All right." Salty sweat slid off his skin stinging his squinting eyes.

"Life could also be lived as a noun. I would say the majority of people view life as a noun, like it was something one is born with without working for it. It is a thing and idea that is just sort of there - like a couch - with no impetus or desire to do anything, except to look around and enjoy the scenery." Drake rode with confidence with his new thoughts.

"Life as a noun. The modern phenomenon of a couch potato. Yeah, just take a look at Michelle's roommate Barbara. What does she do with her free time? Watch soapies."

"Exactly. They watch life go by. They don't do anything. They regard life as something they own for nothing."

"Sure. Static as opposed to dynamic." Reid dodged drooping branches from weeping willows wavering in the wind, hindering him of a smooth run.

"The third way one could live is as an adjective. This is the way of the artist. That is the way that I think Taylor lives. This, I believe, is the most admirable. Somehow the artist can extract the manifold of adjectives from the everyday and, as it were, live in a finer array of colour."

"I can see Taylor as a poet."  A butterfly grazed his lip.

"So in all life's harshness, the adjectival poet is able to enjoy the irony in life. Taylor, I would say, is a unique case. His yoke is particularly wide." Drake straightened his posture and looked at Reid.

"Yes, a wide yoke. He can enjoy the poetic flow of each day""

"Right. I'd call him an adjectival dilettante."

"Dabbler?"

"Yeah, Taylor seems to have a far reaching albumin." They approached a group of sparrows darting through the ruffling branches.

"Albumin?"

"The egg white which I think is almost a hundred percent protein. Taylor has both a wide adjectival yoke but also a far-reaching albumin of coordination." This was precisely what Reid had seen in Taylor throughout the rowing season. Then he remembered a quote he had come across from his Nietzsche readings.

"The product of the philosopher is his life (first of all, before his works). That is his work of art." Drake kept riding as if he hadn't heard what Reid said, but he could tell he did because of the way he was riding Phineas.

"Yeah, I like that: living your life as a work of art."

"That's a line from Nietzsche."

"Someone's studying."

"It's not studying. It's reading for the sake of figuring out life for Christ's sake."

"Maybe you're going through a grammatical metamorphosis?"

"I'm sorry?" They approached a fork in their trail, one path veering left back towards the farm and the other veering right to an unknown path.

"You're unknowingly morphing from a verb into an adjective." Drake picked up his pace and chose to take the path to the right. Reid followed the horse up the path until they came to a hill where he passed Drake to take the lead at the crest of the hill. The new path opened up to a forest of red, orange and yellow leaves. In a flash Reid saw his life as a sentence: at birth a noun then being led to an adjective via the trail of the verb. Despite the rocks and incongruities their new path was more exciting than the trail along the perimeter with its inhibiting weeds and incessant grasshoppers.

 

Chapter Fourteen

The Chinese Laundry Café

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Sitting at the Chinese Laundry Cafe after class, Michelle leaned forward with both hands wrapped around her coffee cup, her sheepskin duffle coat draped over the back of her chair.

"I wanted to ask a question but I couldn't," she confessed.

"What was the question?"

"It was something like: Is choosing ones niche like magnifying ones muse?"

"Hmm, good question."

"If so, then maybe ones chosen path should be that which inspires your muse to magnify ones inner music." She spoke with her usual Vancouver twang.

"Muse, music; I've never thought of that connection before." Reid looked at the reflection from three mirrors hanging on the yellow and turquoise wall and caught the profile of her angular nose. Pretending to be in thought, he looked for his own profile but instead saw a black dragon painted above him.

"You know, I'm always so amazed at Bakhurst's mind," she said. "The man has some sort of photographic memory the way he can quote a philosopher on a whim, like that Kierkegaard quote he said today." 

"I wrote it down." Reid pulled out his notebook.

"I wish I could remember it."

"Here it is."  Reid's foot began thumping to the beat of the music. "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves."

"I like that one."

"Yeah, it's cool."

"Bakhurst is a classic." Michelle liked to use the word classic as an expression in the same way as Englishmen would be tempted to say brilliant. It had become a staple in her diet of words.

"I have a feeling that Kierkegaard quote was directed towards me for some reason."

"Why?"  She smiled.

"Well because he doesn't want me to get by without doing all the readings."

"Funny, I thought the same thing."

Reid looked out the window and said: "Don't you feel like you need more time to work out the sum; that there just aren't enough hours in a day to read it all."

"Or do it all. The larger the equation, the larger the sum." Sue's eyes were timeless green and steady.

"These days one has to be an übermensch to get their sums worked out in time." Michelle leaned forward again to speak.

"Übermensch, excuse me?" Eyelashes catching the light.

"Über meaning over and mensch meaning man, though it's not gender specific. Mensch is actually more like the English word human than man."

"Über, I've heard that before."

"Overman is the exact translation. It's been translated as superman but that's not quite accurate. It's more like beyond man, or a man that thrives on overcoming."

"Overman has - to me - a much different connotation that superman." He nodded.

 "Nice one. I agree." He nodded. "Zarathustra is Nietzsche's übermensch. He exercises his will to power to overcome and become who he is. In a nutshell that's the overman." When he looked at her he realized that he genuinely liked talking with her about ideas, and this broke down his fear. "Do you have your Funk & Wagnall's on you?" This was fun.

"I do."

"Why don't you pull that puppy out and flip to W."

"W?"

"Yeah." Grinning, she pulled it out. "The word is will."

"Will, okay." A moment of flipping pages and she spoke: "Here we are then, will." Michelle cocked her head slightly to mimic Bakhurst and read:

"will: (wil) n. 1. The power of conscious, deliberate action; the faculty by which the rational mind makes choice of its ends of action, and directs the energies in carrying out its determinations; in popular usage, choice, purpose, or directive effort.  2. The act or experience of exercising this faculty; a volition or a choice.  3. Strong determination; practical enthusiasm; energy of character: He works with a will; also, self control.  4. That which has been resolved or determined upon; a purpose..."

Reading on in silence, she skipped a part. As Michelle spoke she subconsciously expressed herself using her hands and fingers.

"7. A conscious inclination towards any end or course; a wish.  8. A request or command - at will, as one pleases. - v. willed, will-ing; third person singular, [resent indicative willsv.t. 1. To decide upon; chose.  2. To resolve upon as an action or course; determine to do.  3. To give, devise, or bequeath by a will.  4. To control, as a hypnotized person, by the exercise of will.  5. Archaic To have a wish for; desire. -  v.i. 6. To exercise the will.  [Old English willa]."

She looked up from her journal with a warm sheen on her skin, her long scarf hanging down the fine definition of her neck.

"The power of conscious deliberate action; direct effort; volition; practical enthusiasm; energy of character; a purpose," he said, distilling what he had heard.

"This is what leads one to their will to power, and as you say, become who you are," she said. He nodded.

"Very interesting." She laughed at him for grabbing his chin like Bakhurst.

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"What?" Playfully.

"Your problem with working out the answer?" He knew with Michelle he needed to give it some thought so he mulled for a moment.

"Time, I need time."

"You know, the first step to becoming who you are is to first find out how, then from there it's a function of effort and time."  Michelle Chatsworth smiled. 

"How are you going to do that?"

"I need time off from commerce. I need to get away for a while." He thought of Nietzsche and waiting to long to act.

"What will you do?"

"Not sure. What about you?"

"Backpack around, maybe tree-plant for some cash over the summer."

"Where would you go? "Southeast Asia?"

"Maybe."

"Australia?"

"Yeah, there too. Definitely." Michelle's bottom lip quivered and her hair fell from behind her ear.

"Why don't you do that next year Reid?" She kicked his foot under the table. "I could join you." She pulled her hair behind her ear.

"And what, drop out?" The thought of that independence threatened his fragile nerves.

"Stay with me in Sydney."

"You're going to Sydney?"

"I begin second-year at the University of Sydney next January." Her hair fell off her ear again but she left it hanging over her cheek. Reid saw her skiing background from the fine creases around the edges of her smile. 

"You're going to be living in Australia next year?" Michelle reached for her coffee and nodded. Her smile crinkled her Nordic wrinkles. "Michelle, nice one." She crossed her arms from the cold November draft coming through the old windows.

"Well, why don't you?"

"It doesn't fit, that's why. Ah, and my Dad would freak, that's another. Besides, it's too late anyway." He looked up at the large Chinese umbrella that hung from the ceiling over the corner bar.

"Stop being so repressed Reid. It'll give you problems in the future." He fidgeted. "And never say never."

"Repressed? Come on." The word struck him in his solar plexus like an electric volt of angst. He thought somewhere in his cluttered mind that he looked like his father when he was angry, even with his stiff upper lip.

"You can do so many different things Reid. The problem for you is overchoice."

"You mean überchoice." He tried to smile but couldn't.

"In my opinion your dad sounds like a dreamstealer." When he looked at the flicker in her pupil the radiance through her green eyes was like sunlight. He felt a wind of insecurity from her confidence, seeing how she was changing before his eyes.

"Michelle-"

"You're an artist Reid." Her ethereal face caught Reid's frightful glance; he tried to usher the words out of his mind but he had been listening.

 

 

 

 
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If you bring forth what is within you,

what you bring forth will save you.

If you do not bring forth what is within you,

what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
 

 
 

A true artist will let his wife starve,

his children go barefoot, his mother

drudge for his living at 70, sooner

than work at anything but his art.

George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950
 
 
 
 

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