Archive for the ‘McKenty Books’ Category

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

September 12, 2017

A passage from Neil’s book: Neil McKenty Live!  The Lines Are Still Blazing.

Appendix

Earlier Years

Neil’s first speech given when he was nine years old

WHEN GRANDDAD WAS A BOY

I don’t see why the power has to go off just when we are listening to the last game of the world series.  I was cross and crosser still when Granddad, who was sitting on the porch next to me, began to chuckle.  ”Well, when I was a boy,” he commenced.  All thoughts of baseball and even the most thrilling game of the World Series were forgotten, for I knew that when Granddad began that way I was sure to hear something more interesting.  ”In those days we did not have radios, and not even electricity,” he went on, ”We used candles instead and we had to make them at home.”

”But Grandfather, how do you make candles?  I though you bought them from a store?”

”Well, the tallow was rendered from sheep and beef, poured into metal molds, perhaps a dozen at a time and allowed to harden.  My part of the work began then.  Often when I came home from school, I helped mother undo the knots at the bottom of the molds and pull them out from the top.  There were no flashlights in those days either.  We did the chores by the light of a home-made lantern in which one of those candles was placed.  By the light of those flickering tallow candles we studied our lessons.

We didn’t have the long summer holidays that you have now.  At one time they were only one week, then two weeks, and later they were for three weeks.  I spent mine at home helping with the crops.”

”Bur Grandfather, you work all the time – didn’t you have any fun?”

”Oh yes, but it was different from what you call fun.  We used to sit around the fire in the evenings when someone told stories, most often ghost stories.  There I would sit in the corner, listening and shivering, to creep off to bed as thirsty as I could be, because to run through that awful darkness from the house to the pump was more than I dared.  We all looked forward to getting to the fall fair.  It was one of the most important events of the year, and we certainly wasted no time in seeing that the potatoes were dug by the second week in October to make sure we could go.  We often went to our neighbours  to kelp with the work too, logging, threshing, husking, and woodcutting.  Then there was time for fun when we finished.

In those days we did not use a binder, but cradled the wheat.  Once fall at our farm, five or six men cradled 50 acres.  We had no time to bin the grain, but tied it with a band of the straw.  When the grain was threshed we took it to some of the nearest towns, Peterboro, Colborne and Trenton.  Once I had to take a load of 65 or 70 bushels of grain to market.  There were five or six teams, travelling and going to Brighton.  We got up at two o’clock in the morning because it was a whole day’s journey.  We took along hay to feed the horses as it was such a long trip.  The teams kept coming in from the whole countryside so that by nightfall there were 100 teams in Brighton.  When I went back to look for my team I couldn’t find them, there were so many horses in the barn.  Wen we went to church in those days the whole family went in the wagon for there were no buggies.  The first buggies were used around 1870.  They were rather clumsy, and there weren’t many of them.

”How far did you have to go, and how long did it take, Grandfather?”  I asked.

”It was about two miles and it took a half an hour.”

surely a difference from the few seconds it took me to get to church in my dad’s car, I thought.

”There were no milking machines or separators in those days either,” he went on.  ”We had about 18 or 20 cows at home.  The milk was put in earthen pans and set for the night.  In the morning it was skimmed.  We used dash churns to make the butter and it often took hours before any signs of butter appeared.  Butter was packed in firkins, small wooden tubs made by coopers in the nearby village.

Washing the sheep in the spring was hard work too.  They were sheared and wool rolled in a sheet or blanket, was pinned with thorns and taken to the carding mill in the village.  After that was done the rolls were taken home and the wool was spun into yarn by the women of the household on the spinning wheel.  It was now ready for the weaver, perhaps some local farmer, who had learned the art in the old country.  Then the full cloth and flannels were taken home to be made into clothes.  A tailor would go from house to house, sit on the table , and make the cuts.  Every boy had a new full cloth suit, bound with black braid, to start off to school in the fall.  And a new pair of boots, which were made by hand.  We made our own sleighs too, out of the staves of barrels with pieces of boards to hold them together.  We had just as much fun with them as you do now with a new toboggan.

 To be continued…

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RADIO WAVES

August 23, 2017

 

Exchange on CJAD with Neil McKenty.

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On today’s program, Mayor Drapeau.  Did Mayor Drapeau mismanaged the Olympics.  Neil talks with Montrealers on the mayor at the time.  Enjoy!

NEIL’S RADIO SHOW

July 26, 2017

Exchange on CJAD with host Neil McKenty.

The Lines Are Still Blazing!

On the program today, Neil chats with Barbara Matuson, author of the book The Evening Stars, and the live callers.

NEIL’S RADIO SHOW

July 12, 2017

Exchange on CJAD with host Neil McKenty.

Dirty Quebec politics is the subject on today’s program. With the live callers.

NEIL’S RADIO SHOW

July 10, 2017

 

Exchange on CJAD with host Neil McKenty.

The Lines Are Blazing!

On this one, its mostly miscellaneous interviews on different subjects and something special at the end.

BLAST FROM THE PAST!

July 5, 2017

Here is an episode of McKenty Live!  with former Quebec minister of education Claude Ryan.

Originally broadcast on May 5th 1989

https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyMnG2R7JPw« >

A Journey Within

June 15, 2017

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Neil McKenty wrote extensively throughout his lifetime – from early efforts as a budding journalist for his local paper, to a multitude of articles for various publications at the end of his life. But arguably the hardest piece of writing was his memoir The Inside Story which chronicled his painful struggle with depression, and his voyage from despair to hope.

Have you ever tried to write your memoirs? Would it be just for your family or the general public? Or is it just too painful to write about your childhood?

In the final chapter below Neil describes the healing process he embarked on with the help of his friend Jim Reed.

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

We drove several blocks, parked the car, walked up a flight of stairs to a mussy second-floor apartment swirling with cigarette smoke, where Chris introduced me to Jim. Jim was a man in his early sixties, medium height, with a moustache, a quizzical if not slightly sardonic expression on his face and the stub of a cigarette in his mouth. Jim lit another cigarette and invited me to come and sit at the kitchen table. I told him what I had told Chris at supper, “I just want to be real.” Jim sensed immediately I was in a panic, perhaps needing professional help, and began to muse about a treatment centre, perhaps in the United States.

I pounded my fist on the kitchen table and said in desperation that I didn’t have time to go looking for treatment places in the States – I needed help and I needed it right now! It was Jim’s turn to pound the table. “All right,” he said, “this is what we’re going to do.” Then, as though he was firing a machine gun, he laid out a program of activity that made my head swim – which is precisely what he intended. He wanted to change the tapes.

First, I was to come to his apartment, on foot, six nights a week at seven o’clock for a discussion; every evening before I came I was to sit down at my desk and write out a detailed agenda of my next day’s activities; I was to fix a reasonable time for getting up in the morning and stick to it; I was to do at least an hour of physical exercise a day, preferably brisk walking; I was to watch for interesting films – to get me out of myself; I was to sign up for a weekend retreat with a group of Jim’s friends – because their serenity and laughter might well be contagious; and I was to plant some kind of garden in my back yard so I could get real earth on my hands and stop and smell the roses (or, in the case of my garden, cherry tomatoes). And that wasn’t all. Jim loaded me up with a stack of books to take home and read, most of them on some aspect of mental and emotional health, many of them based on the spirituality of twelve-step programs. I walked out the door that first night, with Jim’s words ringing in my head: “You’ve been saying ‘no’ most of your life; try saying ‘yes’ more often.”

Jim Reed

As I walked home after that first meeting, I felt a twinge – almost imperceptible but still real – a twinge of hope. Jim had given me a down-to-earth program that I could begin immediately, and he also gave me the impression that if I didn’t buckle down to it seriously, he would dump me. So I set my alarm clock for the morning, and to make doubly sure I would hit the deck running, I arranged to have breakfast as many mornings as possible with Chris in a nearby restaurant. I set aside time for the reading Jim gave me, checked the newspaper for entertaining films, went with Catharine to the Atwater Market to buy our tomato plants, and tried to say “yes” more often: for example, becoming involved with Benedict Labre House for Montreal’s street people.

As the April weather became warmer I joined the Meadowbrook Golf Club in Montreal West. Frequently my good friend, Jean Prieur, would pick me up about 7:30 and we would play four hours of golf, no carts, walking briskly all the way. I arranged to take some lessons at Golf Gardens on Cote de Liesse and started to practise for the Madawaska Classic. This was the family golf tournament at Bob and Patsy Fleming’s island summer home in the St. Lawrence near Gananoque, scheduled for the last weekend in August. Thanks to CJAD’s news director, Gord Sinclair, I was still doing the afternoon radio program, only now I walked the dozen or so blocks to the station. Usually after I returned from CJAD, Catharine and I headed to the Westmount pool for a swim. At home again, I sat down at my desk and wrote out the next day’s agenda, a simple enough task that steadied me and gave me reassurance like a security blanket.

And every evening after supper I set off for Jim’s place on foot. Every time it was the same routine. First, we sat down in his den and watched videos, ranging from biblical archeology to the significance of myth, all raising questions about the meaning of life. As Jim told me much later, we were not seeking knowledge but wisdom; he wanted to find what made me tick; he wanted me to discover a new perception of reality. Then we moved to the living room where we listened to tapes, many of them relating to the spirituality of the twelve steps, most of them chock-a-block with humour. He wanted to see what made me laugh and what didn’t. All I remember now is that for a long time, those tapes didn’t.

And then we talked. Looking back now, it is difficult to remember all that we talked about – anger, resentment, arguments, anxiety, fear, shame. There was nothing theoretical about these discussions. Usually they were about my relationship with Catharine, with colleagues in the media, with the Jesuits and the Benedictines, with my father. If I didn’t respond one night, Jim wouldn’t push. Instead he would come at the same issue from another angle six nights later. Often we discussed incidents that had happened that very day, incidents that now seem inconsequential and picayune, but in fact revealed to Jim, and ultimately to me, patterns of behaviour and attitudes. How did I feel when Catharine asked me to get a loaf of bread? Did I usually open the car door for her? What triggered my last outburst of anger and did I see that it was a control issue?

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Looking back on those many hours of discussion, I don’t think what we talked about was nearly as important as my growing conviction that Jim understood me and what I had to do to change. He sensed what he called “the football of pain” in my stomach because he had dealt with it himself. He has a spacious and intellectually curious mind – he wants to do a study of the evolution of the Bible on his computer – but when it comes to everyday garden-variety spirituality, he is as down to earth and practical as a can opener. Time after time on those many evenings of two- or three-hour sessions, Jim astonished me at how accurately he could push the buttons that governed my emotional ups and downs. Sometimes he would use shock treatment: “You’ve spent a lot of your life being a pompous ass.” Other times he would ask a simple question: “Do you think your attitude to Catharine is changing?” Presently I realized this was the key. Jim equated attitude change with personality change. My life had been soured by anxiety, fear, anger and resentment. There was little room for tranquillity, compassion, love, or real friendship.

So night after night we examined the inner dis-ease, trying to reduce the size of the football in my stomach. It was not easy going. Some days I would goof off, give up and head back to the security of the couch. On such an evening Jim would warn me, gently but firmly, that I was playing with fire, that we could lose all our hard-won gains in a moment of folly. Another time he was tougher. He asked me if I wanted to go back to the Vendome metro station and, this time, jump.

When Dr. Cervantes heard about my suicide scenario he was extremely upset and rightly so. I had promised him I would contact him immediately about any suicide plans. He felt I had let him down, betrayed him, by keeping my plans to myself. Dr. Cervantes wanted me to go back into the hospital where I would be in a secure environment. I dreaded going back to the hospital and managed to convince the doctor to give me another chance. I think my fear of going back to the psychiatric ward provided a strong motive to keep me faithful to the program Jim had developed for me. And I added another element to the program. Despite my almost total lack of skill, and mindful of the dictum about starting to say yes instead of no, I joined a small group in an art class given by Jim’s companion, Sharon, an effervescent woman whom I came to know and like. Little did I realize that for our final session I would be struggling to paint a live nude.

After a few weeks Jim had seized my attention (“pompous ass”), expanded my awareness (Catharine was astonished by my cooperation and thoughtfulness), and begun to shift my perception of reality to diminishing anger and resentment, growing serenity and compassion. In a way, Jim was helping me change the lenses through which I had viewed the world and this change was rooted in and related to a spiritual experience.

Because ultimately that is what the depression itself was, a fundamental spiritual experience. I had reached a spiritual and emotional crisis where, for a few critical and decisive hours, the emotions of despair and hope were balanced on a knife edge. There are, in my view, only two paths out of this existential crisis: giving up (some form of suicide) or giving in (some kind of surrender). The Chinese word for “crisis” has a double meaning, danger or opportunity, pointing the way to these two paths. Thanks to a strong instinct for survival which I have had all my life, with the help of divine providence and of many people, I chose to give in, to surrender.

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What did I surrender and to whom? First and foremost, I surrendered control, a lifetime of trying to control the circumstances, the people, the success in my life. I even tried to control the most minute detail of daily living, such as boiling over with anger if Catharine was not at the door the minute we agreed to leave for an engagement. Further, I had to admit that I was powerless over my emotions of fear, anger and resentment, that in those areas my life had become unmanageable. I had to reach out beyond myself for help and had to surrender the front, the mask, the persona I had spent so many years laboriously constructing, the persona disguising how rotten I really felt about myself.

In biblical terms, I had to lose my life in order to find it. The depression had driven me to my knees. Jim told me to get on the floor each night before going to bed and each morning after rising and put the day in the hands of God – whether I believed in God or not. With a smile, Jim told me he knew people who were so shy about praying that even though they lived alone, they would go into the bathroom and lock the door before getting on their knees.

As a practical matter, I had no problem about getting on my knees or asking for help, even if I had to fake it until I made it. I knew full well I could not make myself well. So I had to reach out to a power greater than myself, and I had no trouble calling that power God. But I made a bargain with myself. Never again would I make a spiritual commitment that did not ring true, that was not real. I had been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, taken perpetual vows in the Jesuits, been ordained a priest. Never again would I take a step for which the map had been drawn by other people. So when the right time came, I knelt down with Jim in his smoke-filled living room, his Russian cat watching us, and made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God. I wasn’t sure what the words meant or how the decision would turn out. But I had a good feeling about it.

As this program of activities, exercises and discussion continued through the spring and early summer of 1994, slowly, imperceptibly at first, my depression, like a fog on the landscape, began to lift. And I began to see and enjoy experiences – simple things I had not had for two years – a boat trip around the harbour, a sour-cream doughnut at Tim Horton’s, a genuine spontaneous laugh from deep inside. This last was the best because I had not laughed for two years. One evening I went out into our back yard and excitedly picked my first cherry tomatoes, imagining how they would shine like red Christmas balls beside the poached salmon for dinner.

In July, Catharine and I drove to Prouts Neck on the coast of Maine where we spent ten days with Clare and John Hallward. In August we visited with Bob and Patsy Fleming at their hilltop summer house in the Thousand Islands. I was delighted to be named the most improved golfer in the uMadawaska Classic.” I’m not sure what the accolade was based upon since I am one of those peculiar golfers who never keeps score. I signed up to take and give a couple of courses at the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement and at the Thomas More Institute. The fog was lifting, burned off by the warm sun of recovery.

People ask how I overcame my depression. There are, I think, three broad reasons for my recovery. The first is the treatment and support from the medical profession and other counsellors and therapists. This included psychotherapy, cognitive and group therapy, and counselling. I saw an insightful and understanding Jungian psychologist, Tom Kelly, for more than a year. I also had shock treatment and the very latest anti-depression medication.

I daresay I had access to the best treatment facility and medical personnel in North America at the Montreal General Hospital. The key person on the treatment team was the Director of the Mood Disorders Clinic, Dr. Pablo Cervantes. He is a remarkable, caring, intuitive, patient and skillful doctor. He never gave up when my depression, frustratingly and unpredictably, proved to be resistant to prolonged pharmacological treatment. In many ways Dr. Cervantes allowed me to manage my own treatment. He is a superb listener. He trusted me, and did not give up even after my suicide scenario. He paid attention to my wife and gave her support and hope. One day in his office, it was obvious to him the turnaround had begun, the snarling dogs were retreating and my depression was lifting. To my complete surprise, in a most uncharacteristic move, he jumped up in his chair and punched the air with a victory salute. I owe him a lot.

After the array of medical treatment, the second element in my recovery was daily physical exercise. I don’t have any scientific way to explain how exercise affects our metabolism. But it seemed evident that striding around a golf course, the sun shining on the fairways and the birds chirping in the trees, beats lying in the dark on a couch, the blinds drawn and the covers pulled up over my head. And so it was with all the exercise during this recovery period – swimming, bicycling, golf, walking, gardening. Somehow all of it helped the body re-invigorate the psyche.

The third element in my recovery, by no means entirely dissociated from the medical and the physical, was the spiritual dimension. It was also, in my view, by far the most important and decisive. In his book Simply Sane, American psychiatrist Gerald May maintains that therapy alone will not save us or even change us. What did change some of his patients, Dr. May explains, was “some kind of deep spiritual existential experience.” There is no doubt in my mind that for me this “deep spiritual existential experience” was triggered immediately by my depression, although three preceding events related in some way to the onset of the depression. These three events were my major chest surgery, regrets about my retirement from an exciting career in the media, and profound sadness about the distressing breakup of the meditation community at the Benedictine Priory.

It is immediately evident that all these experiences share a common element – a sense of something being lost, with its concomitant feeling of grief. This sense of loss is also emphasized in William Styron’s memoir on depression. Still, these events were only the occasion of my depression, not its cause. I believe that the cause was a lifetime of chronic anxiety, fear, resentment, anger, alienation, shame, loneliness, success, religious strictures, public acclaim, sex and alcohol – which almost destroyed me.

These are the main elements of my depression, but they are not its positive dynamics. How can the elements of a life-threatening disease be transformed into steps of recovery? How can the change from depression to recovery be effected? What is the nature of the “deep spiritual existential experiences” that Dr. Gerald May posits as essential to getting well?

Obviously this existential experience involves at its base a fundamental change. But what kind of change? It is easier to describe what the change is not than what it is. It is not only an external change. It will not be enough to win the lottery or take a holiday at Banff or move to Florida or California. It will not be enough to make new friends or even form a serious relationship with another person and count on him or her to make you feel better. The kind of change I am talking about will not come through a promotion at work or being awarded the Order of Canada.

All these are external changes. They change our circumstances. They do not change the core of our being – where we live, where the discomfort and the dis-ease are located. These changes are only cosmetic. They do not reach the inner person. The image I present to the world may be as smooth and shining as a rosy apple. The trouble is that when the apple is cut, part of the core is wormy and rotten. So underneath our gleaming exterior, our core and centre may be diseased and unhealthy and no external change will cure it, because our inner dis-ease is part and parcel of us, of who we really are.

What is this inner dis-ease? What are its major elements? Basically, the disease is characterized by fear – fear that, no matter how successful we are, we have never measured up, that we are not good enough, that, in fact, we are failures. We have never measured up to our parents, our teachers, our priest, minister, rabbi, our church. And we never measured up to what God expects of us or what we were told God expects of us. We have failed them all and the result is we don’t much like ourselves. At the core of our being, no matter how polished and successful our exterior, is the worm of self-hatred, self-loathing.

And this points the way to the nature of the change and why a change that is merely external will never suffice for any length of time. Very simply we must change from disliking ourselves to liking ourselves. In my view this is the most basic change there is at the emotional, psychological and spiritual level. The next question is key: how can this existential spiritual change be brought about? Not easily. Not by reading a book or taking a course. Not by a relationship, no matter how intense.

I believe the only phenomenon that can bring about this existential spiritual change is a crisis of some sort or other. In my case the crisis took the form of a severe and prolonged clinical depression. The depression could have driven me to give up or give in. Giving up would likely have meant suicide which I seriously considered. Giving in meant some kind of surrender to something or somebody greater than myself. In my case, it meant getting on my knees, admitting honestly there were aspects of my life I could not control and, again honestly, reaching out and asking for help.

In some mysterious paradoxical way, admitting that I had lost control and could not manage myself without help, enabled healing to begin. I think the key here is the willingness to give in and surrender. Because that act of humility – or down-to-earth reality which is what humility means – cuts through the control issue the way a hot knife cuts through butter. And once we have shaken off our back the “control monkey,” which we have carried for years, the process of healing can really begin.

At the heart of this process of healing, of moving from loathing ourselves to liking ourselves, is a paradox. When we do give up control, when we admit that we cannot handle the situation and reach out for help, when we make ourselves vulnerable and open to being wounded, then and only then can we be healed. When we are most vulnerable to external threats which we have feared all our lives, then, in a paradoxical way, we have made ourselves most available for healing. As the Jungian analyst Marian Woodman writes, “God comes through the wound.”

So the existential spiritual journey from disliking ourselves to liking ourselves can be a short journey, but it is a difficult one because it is weighed down by the garbage of a lifetime. The admission of helplessness, the giving up of control, the plea for help, the risk of vulnerability, the healing, are all parts of the journey. And in my case, it involved finding a guide who could help me find my way. Much of Jim’s guidance came from his own deep familiarity with the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous as articulated in the twelve steps. I had read somewhere that Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, considered AA the most significant spiritual development of this century. I began to understand why this was so as Jim and I talked about elements in the twelve steps and how they related to the process of recovery. These steps are a program for living that would enrich the life of anyone, addict or not, and I believe that in one way or another we are all addicts. We are all trying to fill a spiritual vacuum with success, money, relationships, fame, alcohol or drugs.

Or as Scott Peck puts it: “We are all wounded. None of us really has it all together. None of us can really go it alone. We are all in need, in crisis, although most of us still seek to hide the reality of our brokenness from ourselves and from one another. The men and women of AA … must confess their brokenness … and in that sense alcoholism may be a blessing.” Or to put it another way, the spirituality of the twelve steps is relevant as a program of living for anyone on the journey. The three basic elements in twelve-step spirituality that worked for me and might be universally helpful are: an admission of being powerless, a willingness to give up control, and a reaching out for help to a power greater than oneself. I think this is a formula for healing and becoming whole. At any rate, it was for me.

All that I have been describing as a transformation from interior discomfort and dis-ease to a degree of comfort and wholeness, from loathing ourselves to liking ourselves, even in a mild way, is not a proposition but a process. It takes time. It involves not only a goal but a journey. Or as Henry Miller put it: “Our destination is never a place but a new way of looking at things.” All the time I was working with Jim, he was interested in whether my attitude was changing, if I was seeing Catharine and my work and even my resentments in a new way. One beautiful morning on the golf course – the sun was out, the birds were singing – I said to one of my fellow-golfers that it was a lovely morning. “Indeed it is,” he replied, “but we’ll pay for it.” A simple remark, but we were seeing the world through different lenses.

No one, I think, has put this more strikingly than T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

In the process that Jim took me through, I began to see my world and feel about it in a different way. The lonely, anxious little boy sitting on the steps of my father’s hardware store in Hastings had changed. In a moment of profound crisis when I had admitted to myself I was helpless, I reached out and there was someone there. In that very act, totally honest and real healing began. The interior split between the way I felt about myself and the way I wanted others to feel about me, began to diminish. I gave up the obsessive drive to control. From being fragmented and torn apart inside, I started to feel more whole – a theme that is elaborated in one of my favourite books, The Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz and Catherine Ketcham. For the first time in my life the ball was hitting the glove, the arrow the target. I felt I was fitting, connecting in a way I never had before with myself, with other people, and with my understanding of God.

Perhaps I should say a word here about God as I understand God. I have always believed and still believe that there is something bigger than me in the universe or as someone said, “There is a God and you’re not it.” Of course I can’t prove there is a God. But even at the rational level I think the existence of this world makes more sense with a God than without one. I believe there is an after-life and the way we live here will affect the way we will live there. I do not censure one iota those who do not or cannot believe in God. I say only, realizing all the while that faith is a gift, that I am a believer and pray I remain so till my earthly end. I cannot put this better than the writer Morris West: “I have learned to be grateful for the small candle that lights my own faltering steps and to hope that when it gutters out, I may wake to a final illumination.”

Of course, no one else will relate to God just as I do (I still consider myself a practising Roman Catholic) and some will not relate to God at all. Nor do I think everyone must go through an experience of depression such as mine to become more whole. What I do think is that many people are not comfortable in their skin and are seeking ways to relieve their discomfort, often trying to fill a spiritual vacuum with material reality. And I think we must lose our life in order to find it. What I had to lose was my obsessive need to control. This need was so pervasive, so imbedded in my bones, that a spiritual crisis had to occur in order for me to fall on my knees and ask for help. Such a crisis need not be clinical depression. But whatever it is, it must be an experience that transforms the way we feel about ourselves and the way we perceive the world. It will involve relying on a power greater than ourselves whom some people call God. It will almost certainly involve some practice of habitual prayer. And by prayer I mean only a simple and honest reaching out of the human heart toward whatever power there may be at the foundation of life.

It was my birthday, New Year’s Eve 1994, about six months after my depression had lifted for good and after the happiest summer of my life. Catharine and I had spent the afternoon cross-country skiing and were relaxing before supper in the lounge of the Laurentian Lodge Club at Prévost, amid the soft rolling foothills of the Laurentians. Outside the frosted windows, the moonlight was glittering on a fresh snowfall; inside, a roaring fire flamed up the chimney of the large stone fireplace. At a splendid dinner prepared by our talented chef, André, I was presented with a birthday cake and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to mark my threescore years and ten.

Naturally I thought that was the end of it. Imagine my surprise when a group of club members went to the front of the room and put on a melange of songs, skits and humorous sketches in my honour. They had been working on the show all day. One skit especially brought the house down. I (that is, my impersonator) was about to hit a golf ball. Another golfer rushed up to warn me: “Stop! You’re hitting from the ladies’ tee!” I waved the other golfer away with exasperation. “This,” I replied, “is my second shot!”

I donvt ever remember feeling happier. I felt connected in a way I had never felt connected before to these people who were my friends. I laughed, and it was a genuine laugh. In some measure, I had become real. I was comfortable in my skin. And as I sat there in the dancing light of the fireplace and the happy sounds of singing, I thought of all the people including my family and the Jesuits and my friends who had helped me on my journey. I thought of how God does indeed write straight with crooked lines. And then I thought, with Catharine smiling beside me, the best is yet to be.

A review of the book:

The writing of ‘The Inside Story’

McKENTY LIVE AND WARM

by Jeanette Paul

When an autobiography’s subtitle tells you the author has been a priest, and its first few pages foreshadow alcoholism, forbidden sex and suicide, would it really surprise you if, a little further along between the bookcovers, you were to come across sermonising, sensationalism, or a numbing downer? From a broadcaster per se (one you scarcely knew in person), would you not suspect, a smidgen, that the page might turn soon into something of an ego trip?

THE INSIDE STORY takes few, if any, forays into the land of writing-sin temptations alluded to above. Because Neil McKenty is a man honest with himself, this courageous tell-all never strips him of his dignity. Nor do his revelations regarding others seek to stir up scandal The generous glimpse we get of Jesuit rites of passage, for instance, fascinates.

Skilfully crafted, The Inside Story speaks openly and even optimistically, of a life-long struggle with recurring bouts of depression. If I’d had a say, the book’s subtitle would not have been Journey of a former Jesuit priest and talk show host towards self-discovery. It would be instead In Praise of Depression.

It’s not just that “it took depression,” in Neil’s own words, “to get me to deal with fundamental fears/’ It was only after an episode of major clinical depression four years ago, he stated matter-of-factly. that “it occurred to me I might have something to say which might help other people.”

Help other people Neil has, according to rewarding feedback already received from readers. (Since publication in 1997, the book has appeared on local bestseller lists.) Even though its genre may be Memoir, or Autobiography, the importance of The Inside Story, to my mind, is more in the nature of Self-help, Some might say Spirituality.

And the questions we asked Neil at our WARM meeting February 11th bore testimony to that; many were posed with a seeking-personal-guidance slant. Not that our guest speaker didn’t do excellence in answer to queries more directly related to his topic, Writing Biography & Autobiography, too.

Neil pointed out that the trouble with most people who want to write is that they have nothing to say. As a university student, he knew he wanted to write, having gotten a taste of it already as a stringer for The Peterborough Examiner (under editor Robertson Davies), When he confided this desire to a wise Jesuit mentor, he was counselled: “then take something with content.”

This sage advice steered young Neil away from the usual writerly likes of English lit courses, and led to a History thesis which became the nub of his first book; a biography entitled Mitch Hepburn. (For those unfamiliar with Ontario history, Hepburn was a flamboyant 1930’s premier.) Neil McKenty later wrote one more biography (In the Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main) about the founder of a Montreal Christian meditation centre, today Unitas.

But now, in his seventies, when he finally did have something to say about himself. Neil’s problem suddenly became how to go about saying it- An elusive muse eventually vested upon him inspiration of the simplest sort: “just tell it like a story.”

It’s a good thing Neil possesses fine faculties for linear thinking and a marvellous memory, given that he never kept a journal. He just, as he says went with what was in my head – I figured it would be the most important.”

It’s also a plus that, as he confides with pride, “my wife is a very good critic,” since “I need reactions right away.” Never writing for more than four or five hours a day, he finished the first draft of his book “in two months flat”

And it didn’t hurt either that Neil doesn’t give up easily. Manuscript completed, he mailed a cover letter, a synopsis, and “a couple sample pages” to prominent Canadian publishers. Response varied from nil to No. He then mailed again, to publishers slightly less prominent. Ditto… 40 mailings all told.

Neil lauded the personal attention given him by the small publisher Shoreline, in nearby Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. as well as the professionalism and speed with which his book was produced.

The drawback with a smaller press, he answered frankly when asked about publicity, is that they do not have the big bucks. “Anyone who wants to write a book today but who doesn’t want to promote themselves,” he said, ’’might as well forget it”

Not everyone has the same “public persona” promotional advantage that Neil does as CJAD radio’s former (and first) Exchange talk show host, and later, TV’s McKenty Live. But then again, it’s not everyone who could have made a capacity-crowd WARM meeting so memorable, (Guests from Canadian Authors and McGill ILR joined us also.)

’”Wasn’t Neil McKenty a great speaker?” penned one member in his notepad afterwards. “I thought he gave a wonderful talk.” With a quick nod, another member summed up her evening succinctly: “What a nice man!” All I can add to that is Amen. +

Originally published in Warm Times 1998

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Radio

Neil was happiest behind the microphone. Click below to hear an episode of Exchange ‘Laurels and Lemons‘.


https://neilmckentyweblog2.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/laurels-and-lemons.mp3

 

 

PIT STOP

June 14, 2017

 

Many of you might not know that Neil use to write for The Senior Times, he had a column called Pit Stop.  Since the weather is quickly changing here in Quebec, I found the perfect article for you.

Resist hibernating and enjoy the outdoors this winter.

 »If you want to enjoy the Montreal winter, you’ve got to join it. »  I wish I had heeded that advice when I first arrived in Montreal in the autumn of 1972.

That first winter I was broadcasting editorial comments on CJAD and producing and hosting  »Prime Time », a program for seniors.  On the week-ends I huddle with my wife, Catharine, (a writer-researcher at the Reader’s Digest) inside our apartment on the twenty-first floor of a high rise near the old Forum, and read the newspaper including the weighty Sunday New York Times.  This regimen turned out to be a recipe for lethargy, lassitude and recurring stupor.

At the time we didn’t have a car (once we toured a good part of the island of Montreal on two metro tickets), but the following winter, Catharine reconnoitred the lower Laurentians by bus to find a place to stay and to ski.  Happily, she discovered on the perimeters of Prévost, then Shawbridge, a sprawling white frame house with many appendages, the Laurentian Lodge Club, founded in 1923.

Catharine and I have now been members of the Club for more than twenty-five years, enjoying chef André’s savoury cuisine and cross-country skiing on trails with such evocative names as The Barking Dog, Fallen Women, The Madonna, and of course, portions of the Maple Leaf, laid out by the famous Herman Smith  »Jack Rabbit » Johannsen himself.

One stormy Saturday, I was chatting with Mr. Johannsen (then more than a hundred, still a skier and long-time member of the Club) in the living room beside the fireplace when the  »Chief » with a glint in his eye, lit a cigarette.   »I never smoke before lunch, » he explained,  »but I usually have lunch early. »

Mr. Johannsen was not the only notable member of the Laurentian Lodge Club, chock-a-block in those early years with young families and their children.  Other distinguished members included the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield and Brooke Claxton, a minister in federal Liberal governments.

Not that the Club was an elitist conclave or luxury resort.  Far from it.  The original iron beds were purchased from the Montreal General Hospital for three dollars each.  Their springs were so dilapidated the mattresses had to be propped up by large sheets of stiff brown paper that crackled down the halls whenever the sleeper turned over.  Still, the spartan bedrooms were merely a counterpoise to the charm and gentility of afternoon tea served in front of the blazing fire by ladies in long gowns.

From its beginning in 1923, the Club was at the heart of early ski developments in the Laurentians.  Just beyond the first door across the river and through the trees loomed the Big Hill where in 1932 Alec Foster, using an old Ford engine for power, installed the first rope tow in North America, charging skiers five cents a ride.

From those early days, the Laurentian Lodge Club developed and still retains a distinctive élan marked by enthusiastic and warm camaraderie.   »The atmosphere, » as one senior member described it,  »was set by people in their eighties who had nothing to prove, » and who, it might be added, encouraged a tradition of fun skiing which meant taking time on the trail to stop to eat an orange and feed the birds.

This spirit continues, epitomized by the Club’s oldest active member, a vivacious ans elegant lady in her early nineties.  She still skis and still serves afternoon tea in a long gown.  She joined the Montreal winter a long time ago.  Obviously she had never regretted it.  Neither have I.

Published in February 1999

Jean P.

Tuesday Writing Conversation: John Main

June 13, 2017

 

From the forthcoming new edition of In The Stillness Dancing – The Journey of John Main this is chapter 3.

 

3. Special Communications Unit No. 4

During his school years Douglas Main did well in English and he liked writing. So it was natural that he should apply for a position on the Hornsey Journal, a suburban newspaper, located in the area where the Main family lived in north London. He was accepted and began his journalistic career in July 1942. In his wallet was a journalistic pass number, 23. Unfortunately, his duties were not very significant. The reason was not lack of enthusiasm on his part, but that the war had reduced the paper’s impact. For security reasons, the Hornsey Journal had no mast-head, and for the same reasons there were no signed stories or by-lines.

Still, Douglas managed to keep busy. As a junior reporter he covered the local courts, council meetings and social events. If the occasion called for it, he was not above a little journalistic licence. Clearly, the wedding of his older sister, Kitty, in August 1942, called for it. Douglas described the wedding lavishly, listed the bridal gifts, then added half as many again for good measure. He was also generous in other ways. With his first week’s pay from the Journal, Douglas bought his friend, Diana Ernaelsteen, a second-hand bicycle. She describes the scene, ‘I could see Douglas wheeling the bicycle up the road. It was in good condition. I was eight years old and Douglas promptly taught me to ride it over the week-end.’ Besides the Ernaelsteens, one other stop for Douglas was the local church, St Peter-in-Chains, Stroud Green. Douglas was checking on church news for his paper but he often stayed to chat with the pastor, Canon Aloysius Smith. The parish was staffed by the Canons Regular of the Lateran, a group that would later affect Douglas’ longer journey.

Besides his work at the Hornsey Journal, Douglas was also involved with his family on the war’s home front. The danger to their home life at 108 Muswell Hill Road was real enough. All the windows had been blown in by bombs dropping nearby. The church just up the hill had been set on fire by German bombers. Eileen Main was in charge of the red alarm-box located in their home. Their father, David, was a fire warden. Douglas and his sisters were all fire-watchers. During severe raids, Eileen would shepherd everyone onto mattresses under the heavy dining-room table.

Presently the war became more demanding for Douglas. Call-ups were becoming more numerous, so in the spring of 1943 he left the Hornsey Journal and took a course as a wireless operator. Then on 13 December 1943, he enlisted at Barnet, Hertfordshire, not far from his home, in the Royal Corps of Signals. He was then nearly 18 years old, and his russet- coloured ‘Soldier’s Service and Pay Book’ described him as 6 feet, l3/4 inches tall, weighing 145 lbs, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He wrote down his trade as a ‘student journalist’.

Douglas (John Main) in 1949 with his niece Anne-Marie Stanley

At this time, Douglas’s knowledge of the Morse code (some of it learned from his father, David) and the wireless course he had taken gave him a leg up in the Royal Signals. He was sent almost immediately to a training station in Kent. There he spent most of 1944 with his unit (Special Communications Unit Number 3) perfecting the sensitive skills required to recognize and retrieve enemy signals. He was never far from home and his family. That summer David Main had rented a house in Sussex. As the holiday time approached David sent his son a telegram. It read: ‘Tell your C.O. to let you home for the week-end for a family gathering or you will be our missing link. Your Daddy.’ The sergeant read the tele­gram to the troops in a booming voice, stressing the words, ‘Your Daddy’. Douglas William Victor Main of the Royal Signals was not amused.

In the autumn of 1944 another group (Special Communi­cations Unit Number 4) was formed for more specialized intelligence work overseas. The unit embarked for the Euro­pean theatre of war in mid-January 1945. S.C.U.4 was a mobile communications unit that included several ambulances containing wireless equipment for both receiving and sending messages. The unit proceeded overseas by landing craft to the port of Ostend. They then moved on to establish a listening base near Brussels.

The intelligence work itself was demanding but not specially dangerous (except for the occasional buzz-bomb). Primarily Douglas and the other ‘special enlistment’ were searching for hostile signals, especially the signals of enemy agents, some of whom were left behind the lines of the rapid Allied advance toward the Rhine. The knack was to pluck the correct signal out of the air, often cluttered with hundreds of signals criss-crossing like tracer bullets. Douglas would sit at a bank of receivers, one to monitor the sender, the other the receptor of enemy signals. (To confuse matters further the signals sometimes emanated from friendly agents.

Of course, there was help to penetrate the confusion. Normally Douglas and his fellow operators would receive a schedule of the special frequencies to monitor on a given day. But if they had no assigned frequencies, they searched for specified enemy signals. This demanded acute attention. Sometimes the listener-operator would recognize the appropriate signal by the manner in which the enemy operator pounded the keys. A secondary task involved locating enemy transmissions by D/F (directional finding). Bearings would be taken on the enemy transmitter from two or more intercept stations. Then the transmitter could often be located, at least in a general area, and its subsequent movements traced. Sometimes the Germans alone had as many as 4,000 messages in the air daily. These were normally transmitted in a variety of codes and ciphers, the most well-known being the complex Enigma, first broken, unknown to the Germans, in 1940. The undeciphered messages, whether from Enigma or other enemy ciphers and codes, usually ended up in a place called Bletchley Park. Located about 50 miles from London, Bletchley Park became the nerve centre for receiving, deciphering, re-encoding and disseminating information from the enemy intelligence system to Allied commanders in every theatre of the war. This information was one of the decisive factors in the eventual victory.

In spite of the pressure of their intelligence work, Douglas and his friends, especially Harry Spendiff and Tudor Jones, had their moments of leisure. Harry Spendiff was an older man. He had enlisted as a policeman from Newcastle-on- Tyne. He liked Douglas and, to some extent, took him under his wing: ‘Doug was a hell of a nice fellow, bright, out of the ordinary and definitely officer class.’ Douglas also spent a lot of time with Tudor Jones, a shy and retiring soldier from Wales. Jones taught Douglas how to swim and dive and, at Douglas’s insistence, they visited almost every church they passed so that Douglas could take a picture. Occasionally they spent a short leave in Brussels or dropped into a bar in Assche for a drink and a visit with a friendly young woman bar-tender. They also got to know and like a hair-dresser of English background in Assche to whom they took cigarettes. Tudor Jones remembers Douglas telling her he would like to become a priest.

Whatever the future held, Douglas did not like army life. He saw the war as something to be endured. He obeyed military discipline because he realized that was the way to endure it with the least inconvenience. He certainly did not relish army food, he did not appreciate the rigmarole of mili­tary regulations and he did not like some of his officers (Harry Spendiff characterized one of them as ‘a real bastard’). Still, Douglas made some good friends in the army, many of whom he tried to stay in contact with after the war. And he had fun writing poems for his mates. These lines describe the reaction of the unit’s brass on hearing Europe had been invaded on D-Day:

Our Colonel one morning, his headquarters in Bucks,

Had heard talk of invasion, amphibious ducks,

His game of golf was near its end,

Invasion! he thought, ‘For my majors I’ll send. . . . ‘Immediate action!’ the Colonel decreed,

Three months later the idea gathered speed.

When Douglas’s unit, S.C.U.4, arrived in Belgium on 19 January 1945, the Germans’ last major attack, the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ had failed. Then the massive Allied sweeps across the Rhine into Germany began. After crossing the Rhine in late March, Field Marshal Montgomery (to whose Second Army S.C.U.4 was attached), proceeded to mop up enemy forces in north-west Germany. The Germans surrendered to Montgomery on 4 May. About the middle of June, Special Communications Unit 4 was ordered to follow the Allied advance into Germany. Henceforth they were based at Bad- Zalsuflen, a spa not far from Montgomery’s headquarters between Hanover and Osnabruck. Two months later Douglas managed a short leave to England to celebrate VJ-Day and the wedding of his sister, Yvonne.

When Douglas returned home from Germany to be discharged from the army in the summer of 1946, he had served two years and 285 days in England, Belgium and Germany. He received this testimonial, extant in the Public Records Office:

Military conduct exemplary. This N.C.O. has been with the unit since enlistment. He has always carried out his duties in a highly intelligent manner and is a popular member of the unit. He is honest and can be trusted in any position.

Until his death Douglas kept a small red address book with the names of most of the men in S.C.U.4. Some of them, such as Harry Spendiff who returned to his police job in Newcastle- on-Tyne and Tudor Jones who went back to Wales to join a small business, he never forgot.

Nor did he ever forget the fascinating intricacies of his work in intelligence. The intense search for the right signal and the appropriate frequency, the discipline required to ignore or discard all irrelevant distractions in the search for the assigned objective, required attention, stillness and concen­tration. This search demanded patience and, in the face of failure, perseverance. This experience provided Douglas Main with his most striking images for describing the inner search. This is how he drew from his experience in S.C.U.4 to portray an aspect of meditation:

In a previous incarnation … I served in the Counter Intelligence Service and one of the jobs that I had to do was to locate radio stations operated by the enemy. And so we would tune in our receivers to them, but the enemy were very clever and if they were operating that day on a frequency of ninety metres, at eighty-nine metres they would send out a jamming wave, a jamming signal, and at ninety-one they would send out another. So, in order to tune in exactly on their station you had to have an extremely fine tuning on your own radio. But we liked to think that we were just as clever as the enemy and so, when we found out the frequencies that they were broadcasting on, we took quartz crystals and then we would plug in the crystal to our receiver. Our receiver would then pick up their signal absolutely spot on, and none of the jamming devices interfered with it.

He went on to describe how the meditator, like the signaller, required a clear frequency so as to be ‘absolutely spot on’. But he was only to realize the full significance of these wartime experiences in another time and another place.

For the rest of the summer of 1946, Douglas, now for all practical purposes discharged from the army, helped his parents move from London to Belfast where David Main had been transferred by Western Union. Then Douglas enjoyed a trip through southern Ireland visiting the family and friends he had missed during the War.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

June 6, 2017

Here is Neil on the other side of the microphoneisd

interviewed for his biography of John Main.

Two short clips, the first was for the show

 » Take A Brake  » on CFTV aired on January 29th,

1987 and the second one was for  » Midday  »

on CBC aired on April 17th, 1987.

Enjoy!