Daily Archives: June 21, 2002

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Timothy Findley is dead.

There’s no graceful way to say it. I was jolted awake this morning with the six o’clock news because my husband didn’t get out of bed fast enough to turn it off so I could sleep. I sat up and said, “What?” to the saddened woman reading the news. I think I startled him.

Seventy-one. Died in his sleep in the warm south of France, where he moved after selling his wonderful home Stone Orchard in Ontario. Canadian seasons were getting to be too much for him. He still did work in Stratford in the summer, though.

My first thought was a selfish one. Timothy Findley is dead. I will have no more new books.

My next thought was almost as selfish. Timothy Fndley is dead. I will never meet him.

One of my dearest possessions is a signed hardcover copy of Inside Memory: Pages From a Writer’s Notebook. Findley’s writing style is so wry, so personal, that his journal makes for a humorous read while instructing in the art of living. One of my most awe-full memories of encountering an author is the lecture/reading he gave at Concordia when his novella You Went Away came out. He was deathly ill with one of those Canadian colds – he spoke around a cough drop that he replenished at regular intervals through his reading, and you could tell he wasn’t up to his usual sparkling, mischeivous self. Yet he still made a connection with me, and likely most of the audience. I didn’t have the money to buy the book at the time (the lecture was free), but when it came out in paperback I brought it home and cherished the reading of it, hearing his voice.

He began as an actor, which also endeared him to me. You could hear when he spoke: extravagant words rolling off the tongue, the use of dynamics, the rich timbre of his voice. I think many authors are actors at heart (and if they aren’t perhaps that’s why they’re missing some sort of dimension that adds the spark of life to their work). He loved the theatre all his life, and worked closely with the Stratford Theatre in southern Ontario for decades, creating several original works for performance, and appearing in their author series frequently as well.

Like Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley represents everything that is bright and good about Canadian literature to me. He explored contemporary struggle in a uniquely Canadian way, while still appealing to international audiences. Findley and Davies always seemed to have an intellectual approach to their prose that appeals to my vaguely elitist taste for a national literature that is elegant and still touches my heart. “There’s always something very magical about print,” he said. “There’s also something magical about the act of writing.” He’s so right. There’s a magic to capturing a vision, a feeling, in symbols that lie inert on a page until someone opens the book and reconstructs your vision. Writing and reading is a constant act of creation and abandonment that fascinates me.

Timothy Findley was a gentleman. He was a graceful man, with a great love of life. He was courageous, and refused to hide his homosexuality behind closed doors. He never used it as a soapbox either, for which I admired him greatly. He simply chose to live his life, in his own fashion. He loved food, struggled with alcoholism (that day in the lecture-hall, he refused to take even cough syrup), luxuriated in comfort and aesthetic beauty. He was an inspiration to me as a writer, and I feel bereft.

Tiff: for all your work, your thoughts, and your mentorship to the people of Canada both in the arts and in other disciplines, I thank you. One of his favourite sayings was, “Against despair – be well.” Today, I will remember that saying often.