Glenn Gould bathed his hands in wax and then they felt new. He didn’t like to eat in public. He was personally gracious. He was knowledgeable about drugs. He loved animals. In his will, he directed that half his money be given to the Toronto Humane Society. He hated daylight and bright colours. His piano chair was fourteen inches high. His music was used to score Slaughterhouse-Five, a book he did not like. After he suffered his fatal stroke, his father waited a day to turn off the respirator because he didn’t want him to die on his stepmother’s birthday. When Glenn Gould wrote cheques he signed them Glen Gould because he was afraid that by writing the second n he would make too many squiggles. He took prodigious amounts of valium and used make-up. He was once arrested in Sarasota, Florida, for sitting on a park bench in an overcoat, gloves and muffler. He was a prodigy, a genius. He had dirty hair. He had boring dreams. He probably believed in God.
My mind said You read about Glenn Gould and listen to Glenn Gould constantly but you don’t know anything about music. If he were alive you wouldn’t have anything you could say to him…
A composer acquaintance of mine dismissed Glenn as a performer.
Glenn Gould loved the idea of the Arctic but he had a great fear of the cold. He was a virtuoso. To be a virtuoso you must have an absolutely fearless attitude toward everything but Glenn was, in fact, worried, frightened and phobic. The dogs of his youth were named Nick and Banquo. As a baby, he never cried but hummed. He thought that the key of F minor expressed his personality.
You have no idea what that means my mind said. You don’t really know what it is he’s doing. You don’t know why he’s brilliant.
He could instantly play any piece of music from memory. On the whole he did not like works that progressed to a climax, and then to a reconciliation. The Goldberg Variations, which Glenn is most widely known for, were written by Bach for harpsichord. Bach was visiting one of his students, Johann Goldberg, who was employed by a Count von Keyserling, the Russian ambassador to the court of Saxony. The Count had insomnia and wanted some music that would help him through the dark hours. The first notes of the Goldberg Variations are inscribed on Glenn’s tombstone.
My dog rose from his bed and walked beneath the table, which he barely cleared. He put his chin on my knee. He stood there for a few moments, not moving. I could see nothing but his nose. I loved kissing his nose. It was my hobby. He was a big black German Shepherd with accents of silver and brown. He had a beautiful face. He looked soulful and dear and alert. He was born on 17 October 1988 and had been with us since Christmas Day of that year. He was now almost nine years old. He weighed one hundred pounds. His name was Hawk. He seemed to fear nothing. He was always looking at me, waiting for me. He just wanted to go where I was going. He could be amusing, he had a sense of humour, but mostly he seemed stoic and watchful and patient. If I was in a room, he was in that room, no other. Of course we took long walks together and many cross-country trips. He was adept at ferry crossings and checking into motels. When he could not accompany me, I would put him in a kennel, once for as long as two weeks. I felt that it was good for him to endure the kennel occasionally. Life was not all good, I told him. Though mostly life was good. He had had a series of collars over the years. His most recent one was lavender in colour. He had tags with his various addresses and phone numbers on them and a St Francis medal with the words protect us. He had a collection of toys. A softball, and squeaky toys in the shapes of a burglar, a cat, a shark, a snowman, and a hedgehog that once made a snuffling noise like a hedgehog but not for long. They were collected in a picnic basket on the floor and when he was happy he would root through the basket and select one. He preferred the snowman. His least favourite was a large green and red toy–its shape was similar to a large bone but it was an abstraction, it lacked charm. Hawk was in a hundred photographs. He was my sweetie pie, my honey, my handsome boy, my love. On the following day he would attack me as though he wanted to kill me.
As regards to life it is much the best to think that the experiences we have are necessary for us. It is by means of experience that we develop and not through our imagination. Imagination is nothing. Explanation is nothing. One can only experience and somehow describe–with, in Camus’s phrase, lucid indifference. At the same time, experience is fundamentally illusory. When one is experiencing emotional pain or grief, one feels that everything that happens in life is unreal. And this is a right understanding of life.
I loved Hawk and Hawk loved me. It was the usual arrangement. Just a few days before, I had said to him, This is the life, isn’t it honey. We were picnicking on Nantucket. We were on the beach with a little fire. There was a beautiful sunset. Friends had given us their house on the island, an old farmhouse off the Polpis Road. Somehow, on the first night at the house, Hawk had been left outside. When he was on the wrong side of a door he would never whine or claw at it, he would stare at it fixedly. I had fallen into a heavy sleep.
I was exhausted. I was always exhausted but I didn’t go to a doctor. I had no doctor, no insurance. If I was going to be very sick, I would just die, I thought. Hawk would mourn me. Dogs are the best mourners in the world, as everyone knows. In my sleep, in the strange bed in the old farmhouse, I saw a figure at the door. It was waiting there clothed in a black garbage bag and bandages. Without hesitation I got up and went to the door and opened it and Hawk came in. Oh I’m so sorry, I said to him. He settled down at the foot of the bed with a great comfortable sigh. His coat was cool from the night. I felt that he had tried to project himself through to me, that he had been separated from me through some error, some misunderstanding, and this, clearly, was something neither of us wanted. It had been a bad transmission, but it had done the job and done it without frightening me. What a resourceful boy! I said to him. Oh there are ghosts in that house, our friends said later. Someone else said, You know, ghosts frequently appear in bandages.
Before Hawk, I had had a number of dogs that died before their time, from grim accident or misfortune, taken from me unprepared in the twinkling of an eye. Shadrach, Nichodemus, Angel… Nichodemus wasn’t even old enough to have learned to lift his leg. They were all good dogs, faithful. They were innocents. Hawk was the only one I didn’t name from the Bible. I named him from Nature, wild Nature. My parents always had dogs too, German shepherds, and my mother would always say, You have to talk to a dog, Joy, you’ve got to talk to them. It ended badly for my mother and father’s dogs over the years and then for my mother and father. My father was a Congregational minister. I am a Christian. Kierkegaard said that for the Christian, the closer you keep to God and the more involved you get with him, the worse for you. It’s as though God was saying…you might as well go to the fair and have a good time with the rest. Don’t get involved with me–it will only bring you misery. After all, I abandoned my own child, I allowed him to be killed. Christianity, Kierkegaard said, is related only to the consciousness of sin.
We were in Nantucket during the dies caniculares, the dog days of summer, but it was a splendid time. Still, there was something wrong with me. My body had turned against me and was full of browsing, shifting pain. The pain went anywhere it wanted to. My head ached, my arms and legs and eyes, my ribs hurt when I took a deep breath. Still, I walked with Hawk, we kept to our habits. I didn’t want to think about it but my mind said you have to, you have to do something, you can’t just do nothing you know… Some days were worse than others. On those days, I felt crippled. I was so tired. I couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate. Even so, I spent long hours reading and listening to music. Bach, Mahler, Strauss. Glenn thought that the ‘Metamorphosen’ of Strauss was the ultimate. I listened to Thomas de Hartmann play the music of Gurdjieff. I listened to Kathleen Ferrier sing Mahler and Bach and Handel and Gluck. She sang the famous aria from Gluck’s opera, Orfeo ed Euridice–’What is Life’. We listened to the music over and over again.
Hawk had engaging habits. He had presence. He was devoted to me. To everyone, this was apparent. But I really knew nothing of his psychology. He was no Tulip or Keeper or Bashan who had been analysed by their writers. He knew sit, stay, down, go to your place. He was intelligent, he had a good memory. And surely, I believed, he had a soul.
The friends who had given us the house on Nantucket insisted that I see a doctor about my malady. They made an appointment for me with their doctor in New York. We would leave the Island, return to our own home for a few days, then put Hawk into the kennel and drive into the city, a little over two hours away.
I can’t remember our last evening together.
On the morning my husband and I were to drive into the city, I got up early and took Hawk for a long walk along accustomed trails. I was wearing a white sleeveless linen blouse and poplin pants. My head pounded, I could barely put one foot ahead of the other. How about Lupus? my mind said. How about Rheumatoid Arthritis? Well, we’ll know more soon… We drove then to the kennel.