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Tiff wrote: "Remembrance is more than honouring the dead. Remembrance is joining themùbeing with them in memory. Memory is survival." [Inside Memory p7]
When I think of Tiff (Timothy Irving Frederick Findley) and Bill (William F. Whitehead), I think immediately of Stone Orchard in rural Cannington, Ontario, their home prior to the house in Provence and the apartment in Stratford. Memories aboundùwalks through rutted fields; candlelit dinners; the cats; the dance barre in the bedroom; and the desk where Tiff wrote it all down in longhand for Bill to type. Another abiding memory of this gentle man, is an hour spent treading water in a swimming pool, while Tiff scooped up insects from the water's surface and deposited them to safety on dry land. Philip Marchand noted his "tenderness toward the vulnerable" [Toronto Star, 22 June, 2002], and at the Stratford Memorial Service on July 14th, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson commented, too, on "his unique combination of power and fragility."
From Stone Orchard was Tiff's second collection of memoirs. The first, Inside Memory: Pages from a Writer's Notebook, charts his career up to 1990, and it is a must for those who loved him, and his creative process. The closing chapter alone of Inside Memory is worth the price of admissions, with its haunting tributes to Glenn Gould, Marian Engel, Margaret Laurence, Gwendolyn MacEwen and Ken Adachi. At the end, Tiff reprints a speech he made in 1987 to The Philosophical Society of Trent University, where the guest speakers were asked to recount their "Final Hour". Tiff opens with the cruelty he experienced in adolescence as a homosexual and his gradual æreconciliation' with who he was. Subsequently, he records that "We are all a collective hiding place for monsters". . . and "for harmony."
Inside Memory illuminates Tiff's initial 15 years as an actor in England and New York, being directed by Tyrone Guthrie and performing with Ruth Gordon in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker. Back in Canada, Tiff would play Peter Pupkin in Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches and Crawling Arnold for the CBC. At the Stratford Memorial Service, Bill recounted how they met. Tiff had no television set and asked to come over to see himself on the box. Bill was broke too, and had to choose whether to buy cheese and crackers, or 6 beers. He chose the beer and Tiff stayed the night. For their next 40 years together Bill would tease him by saying: "Isn't it time you went home?"
"And now he has."
Tiff's writing began during the run of The Matchmaker, with a prod from Ruth Gordon and some tough tutelage from Thornton Wilder. His first short story, "About Effie" (a maid in their home), was published in The Tamarack Review in 1956. Six years later The Last of the Crazy People appeared and found a publisher in 1967. Then, chapter by chapter in Inside Memory, you relive the creation of The Butterfly Plague (Hollywood, 1969), The Wars (1977), and all his novels until 1990.
The Wars is where he learned finally "to stare down despair" and it won him his first Governor General's Award. Brent Carver played Robert Ross in the 1981 film version and, at Stratford's Memorial, Brent sang "Fear No More" from Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Martha Henry also electrified the audience with her recreation of the scene from The Wars where, on the eve of Robert's enlistment, his inebriated mother drops in to chat about his childhood while he's in the bath.
Favorite works? Famous Last Words (1981) would be high on the list. Bill and Tiff had to take out a lot of libel insurance in case the Duchess of Windsor sued, and we get a glimpse of what it was like for Bill, running the æthe Timothy Findley industry.' From Famous Last Words, Bill extracted an epitaph for Tiff, drawing on Mauberley's visit to the ice age caves of Altamira, with their sketches of bison, deer, and æstick-men' on the walls. Up above the drawings there was the imprint of a human hand. The prehistoric artist had left a signature, a mark. With profound simplicity it said, "I was here."
"O, Tiffy," murmured Bill as he left the Stratford stage with a rose in his hand. He waved, and we gave them both a fervent and extended standing ovation.
Not Wanted on the Voyage (1986) brings us back to Stone Orchard and rumours of the night of research when Tiff slept outside with the cats to better understand their ways. The blind and talking Mottyl would benefit and, who know, perhaps Tiff met the unicorn that night, as well.
I wasn't as enamoured of The Telling of Lies (1986), Tiff's mystery in the Maine hotel, but happy for him when it won and Edgar Award in New York City from the Mystery Writers of America. Eighty-six was also the year when he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. My wife and I loved Stones (1988) and took turns reading the short stories aloud to each other, as we drove north from a holiday in Florida. Headhunter (1993) was disturbing, the æHeart of (a particularly Canadian) Darkness' where children were molested and a white stretch limo proved to be a moving brothel. Somehow or other we missed The Piano Man's Daughter (1995 û there's always one your miss), but we got back on track with Pilgrim (1999), where I fell in love with the Jungs and marvelled at the philosophic imagination behind the timeless central figure. I'm looking forward to Spadework (2001) now that it's out in paperback.
And the plays. In the 80s Tiff and Bill came to see a University College production of his first dramaùCan You See Me Yet? (1977)ùwhich I had directed. Tiff had been writer-in-residence at U of T (1979-80), and after the show he talked generously with the cast. Tiff was always gracious with his time, as his frequent cross-country reading tours could confirm. His long hours with PEN and The Writer's Union of Canada are also fondly remembered. When we lived near the Red Barn Theatre, he would come over on a Sunday afternoon and read from his works for another small but enthusiastic literary audience. Such a good reader he was. Those acting talents shone through.
I drove to London to see the world premieres of John A., Himself (1979) and The Stillborn Lover (1993) at the Grand Theatre (before the latter was picked up by stratford). Elizabeth Rex (2000) thrilled audiences and won a second Governor General's Award for Tiff. Ironically, this past May, it was playing at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England while Tiff lay seriously ill across the Channel in France. In 2001 Stratford mounted a stage version of an earlier radio play, The Trials of Ezra Pound and, exactly 50 years after he had acted in Stratford's inaugural season, his last play, a one-acter called Shadows (2002) would help inaugurate the Festival's new 278-seat Studio Theatre. As Stradford's Artistic Director, Richard Monette, commented: "He was with us at the beginning and he is with us at his end."
However, alongside the 10 novels, the 2 memoirs, the 3 short story collections, and the 6 stage plays, there are also Tiff's less well-known television and radio screenplays for the CBC, often written in collaboration with Bill. These were often created during Tiff's darker days, the drinking days, in the late 1960s and early 70s. Still one recalls the ACTRA-Award-winning adaptation of Pierre Berton's The National Dream (1974), which surely inspired the later play about Sir John A. Macdonald, and his earlier up-dating of Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series. In 1995, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television honoured him at the Geminis with a Margaret Collier Award for his Distinguished Body of Television Writing.
I had the immense pleasure of directing one of these somewhat forgotten works, an ambitious, original screenplay called The Paper People, written and produced in 1967. The Paper People was a feature film and a Centennial project seen on the CBC's Festival series. Two basic approaches to art were contrastedùthe creative and the destructive. The anti-hero of the film, Jamie Taylor, was a ædisposable artist', who sculpted papier-mache figures of his friends and burned them in a junkyard. Slowly the mystery of Jamie's motivations unfold and he returns to his original love of life, and his beginnings as a child prodigy who painted "sweet little landscapes, and always had the sun in his pictures." However, if the main plot-line resolves itself creatively, the counter-plot does not. We meet Jamie through the lens of a documentary film-within-a-film about him. The television journalist becomes progressively repulsed as she probes into his psyche. Disposable Art to her is "some camp joke" and her objectivity corrodes into a passionate put-down. By the end the positions are reversed. The artist finds æreconciliation' while the puritan becomes the killer. It was a theme Tiff would champion at PEN.
Again, his understanding of the strengths and frailties of the human condition marked Tiff as the gentle and formidable genius he was.
Thank God he was a writer. His words will always be with us.
Memory is indeed survival.