Author Tags: Fiction
Retired social worker William Thomas Engleson has lived on Denman Island since January of 2004. He was born at Powell River, B.C. on March 15, 1947 and mostly raised in Nanaimo. He left home a few times, the last time when he attended Simon Fraser University as a Charter Student.
Engleson first went to work for the provincial government in 1978 as a Family Support Worker and then, when cutbacks in 1983 terminated that program, he emerged as a Child Protection Social Worker. He retired in 2002. After a further 18 months as a Program Manager for the Lower Mainland Purpose Society, headquartered in New Westminster, he fully retired to Denman Island. "I do my share of community volunteering in the arts and social services," he says, "and I absolutely love writing letters to the editor, any editor."
His first self-published book in 2013 was a novel, Like a Child to Home, about an older child welfare Social Worker, Wally Rose, and the youth care services system within which he tries to do his best. It attempts to accurately portray aspects of the provision of child welfare from the perspective of an everyday social worker in British Columbia.
His Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul (2016) is a collection of miscellaneous prose that provides an excellent prism with which to view island live, and life on Denman Island in particular. "There is an intensity to rural life yet, all the while, a comfortable detachment exists, can exist," he writes. This book is rife with intelligent quotes such as: “The writer is either a practicing recluse or a delinquent, guilt-ridden one; or both. Usually both.” ~ Susan Sontag. There are endorsements from Jack Hodgins, Terry Fallis and Des Kennedy
Its foreword states:
"More than a decade ago, shortly after moving to my small paradise, I conceived of writing a series of articles on gentrification. This was sometime after I began to keep a journal, not entirely inaccurately entitled, Memoirs of a Rural Sissy. After a little more than a year of journaling, I found that vehicle slowly sputtering to a halt. It may have been how my life was unfolding but the days began to seem similar. Additionally, my rural skill set stayed remarkably dormant.
"Actually, even before the reactive conception of my gentrification disclosure, I had written a couple of articles about my wayward and reprehensible gentrification instincts and other odd sundry behavior without actually realizing that they were ‘confessions of my anything-but-innocent-aging-fellow-gentrification ways.
"Since then, a swack of these articles have appeared in the Flagstone, Denman Island’s monthly journal. The fact that the articles have appeared out of sequence, with an obscure connection on occasion, to gentrification, though it disturbs me, really only speaks to my occasionally selective, often disorganized mind. Writing to no deadline, I submitted each of them when they seemed ready to be read. The following series has remained unpublished until now. The rest follow in order of the first scribble, as true as possible to their original date of conception. Sadly, more than half of my articles’ siblings stumbled out of the gate, became mired in the boggy muck of my lost inspiration, and were left to rot on the vine of mixed metaphors and sloth. As you will no doubt notice, I use an abundance of quotes to break up the monotony of my ideas. Sometimes they actually relate to the opinions expressed. Sometimes not! In the first chapter, I begin with a lengthy quote and then settle in to the sound of my own voice.
"These writings have had a tortuous birth for reasons I simply cannot fathom. I hope they bring you pleasure and, I hope they amuse.
"And, to my good friend and beta reader, Mary McDonough, my heartfelt thanks."
Like a Child to Home (Friesen 2013)
978-1-4602-1929-4 (Hardcover); 978-1-4602-1928-7 (Paperback);
Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul (New Westminster: Silver Bow Publishing 2016) 978-1-927616-22-2 $23.95
Bill Engleson Autobiography
On the day I was born, or thereabouts, my parents pulled into a dock at Powell River and made their way to the hospital.
I am pretty sure it went that way. They never actually spelled out the details and I never asked. I can’t imagine we lingered more than a couple of days in that seaside town after I was delivered.
The next year and a half was spent on their fish boat. I am told I developed sea legs. I assume that is true. I never fell into the chuck. They never mentioned it anyways. We finally came to shore in Nanaimo. A Pulp Mill had to be built. My father signed on.
I came of age in Nanaimo. In my later teens, I left, had a truncated Canadian military encounter in Kingston, a tail-between-my-legs return to High School to repeat Grade 12 (after signing a behavioural contract,) and a second, more permanent exit into my own wonky version of maturity and liberation.
I attended SFU as a charter student, dropped out whilst remaining within, immersed myself in student politics, had a six month flirtation with Frontier College and spent more than a decade living in the CRCA, a New Westminster Co-op/Commune which is celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary in August, 2017.
For a career, I spent twenty-four years with MCFD, initially as a family support worker and, post-Solidarity, 1983, as a child protection social worker.
In 2002, I accepted early retirement but after a couple of months of mind-numbing sloth, went to work, for one and a half years, with the Lower Mainland Purpose Society headquartered in New Westminster. Previously I had served on the Board of Directors for many years.
All along the plan, our post-work life plan, was for my partner and I to live in the country, preferably on an Island. Devil’s Island or Denman Island. It didn’t matter. Well, it mattered some. Life on Denman has been full, mostly with writing, volunteering, table tennis and, of late, Pickleball.
To keep as active as is befitting a retired social worker who writes, I
maintain a blog, www.engleson.ca, and occasionally post both musings on writing and observations on the state of Child Welfare.
There is an intensity to rural life yet, all the while, a comfortable detachment exists, can exist. The community struggles, yet comes together.
I like to think my writing hasn’t hindered its intermittent coalescence.
In the Dora Drinkwater Library: A Denman Island Porch Song
By Bill Engleson
I think it is good that books still exist, but they do make me sleepy. - Frank Zappa.
Once a week, every Wednesday from 1-4 in the afternoon, I volunteer in the Dora Drinkwater Library on Denman Island. Such a reputedly literate island spawns more sluggish times than one might hanker for.
If the season is clement and the weather temperate, if the sun has managed to peep through the soaring trees that stand on the western side of the Seniors Hall, I select one of the silver-grey, plastic, all-purpose chairs that proliferate here like rampaging broom, haul it out to the veranda, aim it in a southerly direction, stretch my legs out on the large warm rock abutting the steps, open a book or magazine, read a little and gaze up now and then at the placid, bucolic trickle that is downtown Denman village life.
Periodically, I nod off, more than I probably should, sure to be roused by the raspy exuberance of a Denman raven or a lead-footed, speedway-dreaming Denmaniac -- or even an itinerant reader seeking sustenance in our dusty aisles.
As I take notice of the pulse of Denman Village, and check mine just to be sure it’s still there, I marvel at how contented I have become, how comfortable and at ease I am here on this island, here on this porch, partially shaded, allowing a few slivers of whatever sun the day offers to warm me.
I admit to being no true librarian and I do not stem from bookish roots. In the mid 1960s, I shelved books at the SFU library for a brief time. I was not a model employee -- setting, I suppose, a most dreadful example. I had never, up to then, been so intimate with so many books.
There, at SFU in my late teens, surrounded by thousands of provocative volumes, I succumbed to their ink-arched lure.
I would slink off to some private corner and devour whatever was handy until the end of my shift. Being one more reader amongst many was perfect camouflage. There was no supervision to speak of.
Oh, I performed my required duties as they arose. Carts teeming with books to be shelved arrived from time to time. Though I may not have been the total shelving slacker I now recall, my studies, or lack of them, and the revolution -- a heady mix of sex, politics, medicinal horticultural products, ideas, and insurrection -- eventually required more of my time.
An extraordinarily undemanding part-time shelving job was just too lacklustre for such an era. I resigned to relish a more intricate life.
Years later, almost by accident, I found myself consumed with a career. Initially my employment took me across the street from my home. Later, I had to travel a mile or two. Eventually I ended up with a thirty-to forty-minute commute. By some standards, this might seem an annoying trifle. It didn’t strike me so at the time. Like many urban commuters, I tended to think of the world as a series of minor inconveniences conspiring to delay only me.
When I moved to Denman, I still imagined that the world revolved around me. That first winter, I decompressed. I assessed and then submitted to my humble place in the community continuum.
Eventually I realized that the worst place for me was alone with my thoughts. Even at the best of times they can be skimpy companions.
I needed some diversion from the distressing isolation of my house. My love unreservedly agreed. “For Pete’s sake, you sweet lug, find something to do,” she emphasized, most ardently. And then added, “You’re hovering again.”
I needed a fix of hubbub. I needed busy. I needed, I thought, the commotion I had always found in the city. There is, I discovered, not a lot of naturally occurring audible hubbub on Denman Island, apart from the Fanny Bay sea lion chorus and the spill and fill of the Buckley Bay ferry providing what a friend calls the rush minute.
I was reminded of the idle observation by Jim, a minor character near the end of the 1947 film Out of the Past: “Too many people! Too much talk! Maybe that’s why I like this town. Here, three people are really a crowd.”
Committing to an afternoon a week in the library in Denman Village gave me the opportunity to enjoy whatever clamour I might find.
Over time, especially during my indolent porch ponderings, gazing off into vacant downtown Denman space, I found something else, something of greater value then human clatter. I found the lost slug in me: my true snail, my Denman Island doppelganger: my pre-revolutionary part-time librarian personality.
Indoors, the Dora Drinkwater has a dawdling routine that needs to be met. At the beginning of every shift, books scrunched through the after-hours slot are processed, Venetian blinds raised, signs hung, and sandwich board positioned near the road.
If there has been a concert in the hall, many of the books need to be nudged more securely back into their shelf. When the Hall is rocking, they shimmy and shake with abandon and slither perilously close to their precipice over the dance floor.
The signage seems singularly ineffective in drawing in traffic. The urban fiend in me, still gripping my soul with sinister thoughts, imagines the Library emblazoned in pulsating neon, flashing in a glimmering, fancy script, as if the Dora Drinkwater was some 1940s Road House/ Library pastiche.
Every year, as autumn takes hold and winter fast approaches, I move my main street Denman Village ruminations indoors. The porch is abandoned for the season.
I’m not sure it matters that the library isn’t heavily used. It may be that it achieves its purpose simply by being there. There is succour to be had in knowing that the books wait faithfully, dreaming devotedly of the day someone will lift them from their dusty bed and caress them with the love and the care they so deeply deserve.
I shy away from the gluttonous pace of Island book clubs for the very reason that books need to be tasted unhurriedly, at a most restrained pace. Others readers, of course, set their own rhythm.
Denman Island provides no hurried quotas or fixed productivity. Insularity on this limited scale means that land and literature are consumed at a modest rate.
November’s fading leaves flutter to the chilling earth. Time, never overdue, has claimed another of our key volunteer librarians. I smile to know that Betty-Ann Grodecki had a glass of red wine the day before she died.
Bill Engleson is an author and retired child protection social worker. Born in Powell River, raised in Nanaimo, he spent his first year of life trapped aboard his parents’ leaky fishboat. He resided in New Westminster for most of his adult years, retiring to Denman Island in 2004. He writes fiction, essays, poetry, and letters to the editor. He has been writing most of his life and his first couple of poetic efforts were printed in the sadly defunct Nanaimo Daily Free Press. He self-published his first novel, Like a Child to Home (2013); his second book, Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul (Silver Bow Publishing, 2016), is a collection of humorous literary essays. He is working on several new projects including a prequel to his first novel entitled Drawn Towards the Sun; a mystery, Bloodhound Days; and a collection of home grown, satirically tinged essays, DIRA Diary: Tall Tales of Democracy in Traction. His website/blog is www.engleson.ca