Life's a Beach
By Erin Gaffney
House Inside the Waves
When Richard Taylor arrived in Toronto recently to pitch his latest book to a group of national sales representatives, he showed up with a plate of homemade cookies, a small surfboard and wax, and handmade carvings.
This is what House Inside the Waves: Domesticity, Art and the Surfing Life is all about, explains Taylor, BA/75, an English instructor at Carleton and a former writer-in-residence at the university. Published by Beach Holme, the book is a househusband's account of a year living on the beach in Australia with his wife and two young daughters.
Taylor and his family relocated to Australia in 1997 on a teacher exchange. The travel memoir was originally going to be called Memories of a Crazed Househusband, because he spent a decade looking after his daughters from the time they were four months old. However, the book evolved as he began to write from his house on the beach.
It didn't take Taylor long to rekindle his passion for surfing when he was greeted with some of the world's best surf and waves the size of drive-in movie screens.
"I'd be surfing a quarter-mile out and there would be 15 dolphins right with me underneath a massive sky,"he says. "There is nothing, nothing like it."
The central metaphor in Taylor's book is sharks. One of the chapters is entitled, "General advice on how to avoid shark attacks."The first sentence reads, "You can't."It goes on to say, "Even metaphorically speaking, sharks happen. No one is exempt."
Taylor is confident readers will find the book humourous.
"I think people will laugh. They'll recognize things in life, because I make these weird juxtapositions and connections. It will make people laugh because they're not used to thinking about laundry and sharks and how they can be related."
Writing didn't come easy at first, says Taylor.
Richard Taylor "I wasn't necessarily the best writer when I started. I worked from the basics. My vocabulary wasn't very good.""I'd read a book and make lists and go to the dictionary and make typewritten pages of the words because I didn't understand them. I don't think I was naturally talented, but I had a burning desire."
This determination led him to write the novel Cartoon Woods, and the short-story collection Tender Only the One. For Taylor, "A book published is like the birth of a child. It's that intense."
Following an Ottawa book launch in June, Taylor will tour Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal before returning to Australia at the end of the year. After that, he says he and his wife are talking about taking another exotic teacher exchange to satisfy their restless urge for the tropics.
"Writing this book has been great for me because it has allowed me to still keep my foot in the water in Australia, even though I'm 19 floors up in Dunton Tower,"he says.
Erin Gaffney, BJ/98, MJ/00, is a writer and editor for the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada in Hull, Quebec.
Local author comes clean
SPECIAL - A lot of people have asked me what my new travel memoir, House Inside the Waves: Domesticity, Art and the Surfing Life is about. Like many writers who have finished a book that took years to write, I have to admit that I'm a little baffled myself. Aside from the blurb on the back cover, I guess you could almost say that House inside the Waves deals with everything from Byron to Barbie.
On a simple level, it's about a house exchange I did with my wife Dale and my two daughters Sky and Quinn down to Byron Bay, Australia in 1996-97. We swapped houses and jobs with an unlucky Australian couple and lived near the beach. I surfed my butt off, and wrote a book. Ever since I first started travelling and seriously reading other writers and thinking, maybe a little too seriously about life, I had always wanted to sit by a window overlooking the sea and write a book about the Big Mystery.
In all the writing classes I teach I tell my students to remember that, only trouble is interesting. And to assume there is a secret story hidden within the story they think they are writing. And so you'd have to say that among other things my book is probably about the sanctuary of home vs. the sublime reach of the open road. Midlife Crisis. The intimate tensions and affections of a ten year stint doing the househusband gig. A deep, subtle, tender, at times hilarious portrait of family life.
Open water swimming with sharks. Balls out surfing. Unplugging from the rat race. The tightrope walk of a freewheeling surfer and steady family man. A meditation on art, life, literature and travel that shaped a vision. Famous and not so famous hopeless romantics who over reach for a lot more than life has to offer. A rapturous portrait of a faraway place that becomes a paradise lost elegy. General advice on how to avoid shark attack, which you can't, because even metaphorically speaking, sharks happen. No one is exempt. And of course, the search for the perfect wave.
Although the book is fun, and promotes the metaphor of surfing as the ultimate pleasure, it's not just a hedonistic romp. There are a number of dark threads, hence the shark metaphor. For example my sister and her four-year-old nephew died in a house fIre a month before my family left the country for the happiest year of our lives. House Inside the Waves dwells on what Kurt Vonnegut calls, "The Existential Hum,"the uneasiness which keeps us moving, which never allows us to feel entirely at ease. Finally, it is a joyous testament to the religion of a life lived in water. But if you want to really know what the book is about you will have to read it and decide for yourself.
Barrhaven author Richard Taylor has travelled around the world twice, and published a novel, a collection of stories, many feature articles, and he has been teaching at Carleton University since 1995 when he was writer-in-residence.
Selections From The Surfer's Library
By Nathaniel Nakadate
Eastern Surf Magazine, Vol. 12, Issue 88
Waveriding serves as a means for people to relate to a dry, unforgiving world. Each wave is an ever-changing, fluid perspective-a source of heightened meaning and drive.
In his latest release, House Inside the Waves, published author, college professor, and passionate surfer Richard Taylor looks to escape the doldrums of middle- aged parenthood and revisit his poetic days of youth-documenting a return to what has haunted his waveless days for a number of years. A Canadian househusband savoring the energy-sapping joys of child rearing, Taylor is also a restless surf nomad battling deep personal tragedies. Through the words in his memoir we're there with him, frozen in time, as he confronts the recent loss of a beloved alcoholic sister and four-year-old nephew to a house fire. He does this the way any surfer would-in the water.
Despite that tragedy, Taylor's adolescent story starts almost like a fairy tale: His family gets a reprieve from the classic ruts of a landlocked existence in winter-frozen Ottawa, Canada, and agrees to a house exchange that takes them to Byron Bay, Australia. There-surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, free-living hippie culture, and pioneer surfaris-the family lucks into another domicile overlooking the variety of mind-bending righthand wonders.
The young Taylor is able to establish himself in the local lineups after rite of passage run-ins with that generation's self-proclaimed rippers, who he handles with ease. Slowly but surely, he cements friendships with the rugged Aussie veterans of his neighborhood surfing grounds, and finds a new piece of himself in the process. The new-found posse makes classic runs to Oz's countless rocky points and thumping beach breaks, never failing to appreciate the finer moments of sandy existence. And like any engaging memoir worth its salt, stream-of-consciousness memories offer a wide range of accounts-from riding the emerald cylinders reeling off the Gold Coast to devouring homemade chocolate chip cookies to grinning at a mesmerizing woman's glorious, glistening-wet backside. Tempered by his time and experience, Taylor offers us an abundance of reflections that wax on the meaning of life. As a stay-at-home father, he candidly dissects his influences in the realms of travel writing, art, and-most importantly-family. Through rumination he realizes that his own misguided interactions with his father were not necessarily the one-sided affairs he previously presumed: "Anyone who goes through life without meaningful contact with children is missing something profound,"he unashamedly declares.
Although surf literature holds only a handful of novels that truly paint a picture of the sacred lifestyle most find indescribable with words, Taylor's House Inside the Waves is set to join the ranks of such classics such as Daniel Duane's "Caught Inside,"Alan Weisbecker's "In Search of Captain Zero,"and Mike Doyle's "Morning Glass."
House Inside the Waves takes us along for all the sacred ocean moments, newfound surfing brotherhoods, and the theme of moving waters and cherished children as salvation while Taylor finally lives out his dream to travel back to a time past the only physical way he can-by inhabiting a house with a desk looking over the ocean. "All travelers want to get away from the routine of their lives to reinvent themselves for a time and perhaps find a little bit of paradise,"Taylor writes.
And that is exactly what he did.
Capital Style: Books Worth Reading - House Inside The Waves
A Book review by Susannah Heath-Eves
If Richard Taylor's latest travel memoir, HOUSE INSIDE THE WAVES: Domesticity, Art, and the Surfing Life, were a painting, it would be a mixed media on canvas. On it one would find a glimpse of Taylor's soul made up of snapshots of Taylor's friends and family from the past, passages torn from literary classics, frangipani and jasmine blossoms (still fragrant), a recipe, colonial blood letting, coral with his own blood on it, a hand-carved tiki, Sex Wax from his surf board, a shark's tooth, a clothes pin, the Beatles' The White Album, a Speedo, a Gauguin masterpiece and a Barbie Doll. All of these would be sprawled across an image of Taylor's view of the Coral Sea from his writing desk. House Inside the Waves is a bittersweet meditation on "joie de vivre"as Taylor tries to make the best of a midlife crisis.
In his attempt to escape the daily humdrum of suburban existence, and only a month after the death of his sister and nephew in a house fire in Chelsea, Taylor and his family trade homes with an Australian couple for a year on a teaching exchange that Taylor's wife, Dale, has accepted. Amidst the medley of thoughts that entwine the story like the veins and arteries that feed and clean a body, House Inside the Waves follows Taylor's daily accounts of parenting, house duties, socializing and surfing, as he ventures on a journey of self discovery and soul-enrichment.
In an interview about his book, Taylor explains, "I had always wanted to sit by a window overlooking the sea and write a book about the Big Mystery."And this is precisely what he does - somewhere between building a Barbie mansion and stroking his way through a 2.5 kilometre open water swim along Byron Bay's shoreline.
In a House Inside the Waves, history buffs will appreciate the information on pre- and post-colonial Australia, and the impact of European settlers on the "five hundred tribes"of aborigines. The Canadian Prisoners of War in Hong Kong are also remembered in a brief account of the Japanese "coup de grace"on the Kowloon waterfront during World War Two. We also learn about mainstream Australian culture as we watch Taylor at barbecues and hitchhiking to local surf spots.
Born in 1953 and raised in Ottawa, Taylor spent his childhood in land-locked suburbia. But he did most of his summers growing up at a cottage on the Ottawa River in Norway Bay, Quebec, where he vacationed with his friends and family. Amidst the highs and lows of childhood and adolescence, his cottage days formed a creature of the water; one who felt most at home when he wasn't bound by the limitations of gravity. Taylor completed high school, and a year at Simon Fraser University, then the young romantic b lined it for Hawaii and discov- ered an obsession with surfing. After graduating in 1976 with a degree in Psychology from Carleton University and marrying Dale, Taylor continued his life of travel, surfing and writing.
Taylor's works have been published for over 20 years, starting with Last Resort, a collection of prose poems. He changed his genre to short storiesin Tender Only to One (1984) and then published his first novel, Cartoon Woods, in 1988. He contributed to the travel anthology, Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame, in 2000 with Bruce Chatwin in Australia. And in 200 I he wrote Robert Louis Stevenson's Dream of Islands, for Literary Trips II. Over the years he has been writing book reviews and feature articles for newspapers and magazines, using the same relaxed pace and conversational tone as in House Inside the Waves. Two and a half years after returning from the year long exchange, he was sent back to the "Land Down Under"by The Ottawa Citizen to write a feature on the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney. At present Taylor is a sessional lecturer at Carleton University.
CARLETON PROF SURFS MORE THAN THE WEB
Author discusses surfing and his new book that shows romance in waves and life, by Lauren Krugel.
The Charlatan, September 12, 2002
In his travel memoir. HOUSE INSIDE THE WAVES: Domesticity, Art and the Surfing Life, Richard Taylor uses his experiences surfing in virtually every exotic locale as a backdrop to discuss his family life and tackle some of life's most profound questions.
Taylor currently lectures on 20th Century Literature and leads writing workshops at Carleton. He wrote a draft of House Inside The Waves while his family was on a house exchange on the Australian coast.
"It was a fantasy of mine to write a book about the big mystery of life in a house on a beach with a sea view,"says Taylor, sporting a red Hawaiian shirt, his face browned and roughened by years of sun exposure.
Hopeless romanticism is a core theme in HOUSE INSIDE THE WAVES. In a chapter entitled "Romantic Egoists,"Taylor recounts his trip to Hawaii in 1972, when he spent six weeks surfing, falling in love with an American girl and living in a mansion with her.
"After that, I had to come back to reality. My feet haven't been on the ground since,"Taylor says. "It kind of set the pace for me. It melded the fantasy of being young and in love and in a magical place."
Taylor, a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, alludes to writers like Kerouac, Miller, Hemingway and Fitzgerald frequently in the book.
"I talk about these writers being hopeless romantics in the sense that they were people who over-reached for a lot more than life had to offer," he says.
"That's what a hopeless romantic does. A hopeless romantic is someone who falls prey to their own fantasies or their own hopes and desires."
While Taylor says the book is a lot of fun, he says, "It's not just a hedonistic romp. There's sort of a dark thread through it."
In one chapter of the book, Taylor writes of how his sister and nephew died in a tragic house fire a month before he and his family left on the exchange to Australia.
"I use the metaphor of the shark to describe those dark things you can't really avoid," he says.
"It's the same when you are sitting a quarter of a mile out on a reef on a surfboard with waves the size of drive-in movie screens. It's the most amazing experience, but there is also the chance that a shark can get you."
Unlike the quintessential hopeless romantics cited in his book, Taylor stresses the importance of security and balance. "My stability is my kids and a very long, strong marriage. You need things to ground yourself," he says.
"I've been able to balance travelling and being at home - having security and the sublime open road. It's great, but it's a tight rope walk."
Of his 27 year marriage to his wife, Dale, Taylor says, "We have the same sort of travel bug and the same sort of restlessness, and we've managed to keep it going even with our kids."
While living in Australia, Taylor filled the unconventional role of 'househusband' while his wife worked as a teacher.
Taylor says being a house-husband was a difficult experience for him. "I spend a lot of time being involved with the world of women and children,"he says.
"It's a neat thing to experience, but definitely something I had to work at."
Despite the frustration that naturally came along with it, Taylor adds, "Looking after children is one of the most meaningful things you can do in life."
Since Taylor's two daughters, Sky and Quinn, will be starting high school shortly, the family will remain in Ottawa - at least for now.
In the meantime, Taylor has been busy promoting his book. Of the arduous promotion process, he says, "A writer lives like a hermit most of the time to get the work done. And then when the book's out, suddenly you're promoting yourself like Britney Spears. You've got one foot in and out of seclusion."
Taylor used a unique mixture of different media to promote House Inside The Waves at the book launch held on Sept. 10 at Nicholas Hoare Books.
His wife's wave paintings (one of which graces the cover of the book) and stained glass waves were displayed, as well as an eight foot surfboard with the book cover glassed into the deck of the board.
A former student also performed an original song with the same title as the book.
After having spent so many years of focusing on his family and his writing career, when asked if he still considers himself a hopeless romantic, Taylor replies, "After all this time, living in this house on the beach and being able to write about it, I still feel that same thing."
"I'm still looking for that perfect wave."
On the Beach: An Ottawa University Prof ponders bliss on Australia's coast.
ON THE BEACH - An Ottawa English Prof Ponders Bliss On Australia's Coast, by Ray Robertson.
TORONTO STAR. Sunday Oct, 13 2002
HOUSE INSIDE THE WAVES is the sort of book that justifies the existence of the small presses. Where else could a book that is equal parts travelogue, literary criticism, memoir, history, surfing guide and house-husband how-to find a home? Imagine such a messily heterogeneous volume being discussed around a sales conference table at one of the bigger houses; one can almost hear the frustrated howls of confusion and complaint. It's the same reason even a steady-selling author such as American Jim Harrison chooses to publish his novels with a larger house but his poetry with a university press. Keep the economic expectations low and concentrate on creating the best literary product one can.
When the job of Ottawa-based author and Carleton University English teacher Richard Taylor's wife offers the couple the opportunity of a house exchange on the east coast of Australia, the family leaps. Not only is Taylor a long-time surfboarding enthusiast and the surf is rarely up on the Rideau Canal, but he and his wife of 22 years, "wanted to see if it was possible to have one last blazing adventure before who knows what domestic surprises swamped us in the future. For too many years we'd been based in the heart of suburbia with only the smell of Bounce fabric softener in the air, row upon row of beige vinyl-sided houses, very few trees, and our grinding routine of schedules." Mid-life crises are no less real for being so predictably banal. Perhaps that's precisely what makes them crises.
Once ensconced in their new ocean view home on the Queenland- New South Wales border, Taylor gets the kids their breakfast and off to school, kisses his wife on her way out the door to work, waxes up his surfboard, unpacks his favourite books, and settles into a pleasant routine of alternately searching for the big one and cogitating at his desk overlooking Seven Mile Beach. Here, Taylor sets about doing what he's always wanted to do: "sit by a window overlooking the sea and write a book about the Big Mystery."
Taylor, uncommonly, is as equally enthusiastic about the mysteries of the natural world as he is of the mental, capable of appreciating both "the rolling swells of the Coral Sea...happy paddling out along into the glorious surf... after the emotional pistol whipping my two daughters administered to me this morning while I refereed them up through venomous snakes and poisonous spiders to their school bus" and the joyful kick of Henry Miller's prose and Bruce Chatwin's restless intelligence.
Not surprisingly, his personality as manifest in House Inside The Waves presents several intriguing dichotomies for consideration: dutiful house-husband and awed ogler of bronzed-Australian beach flesh; hard-body surfer dude and new-age sensitive guy; writer and intellectual and expert chocolate chip cookie baker. The only real constant is an earnest passion for whatever his hands find to do. Anyone capable of enthusing, "I always feel like a million bucks when I'm hanging the wash," probably doesn't need to read D.H. Lawrence to crack the Big Mystery of human happiness.
The flip side of being all things to all readers is risking that your work will be fully satisfying to one in particular - of potentially sacrificing quality for quantity. Throughout House Inside The Waves Taylor provides, among other things, an entertaining and informative history of Australia, a lively gloss on the writers who have helped shape his consciousness and the rudiments of his autobiography, all of which (and more) amount to just what one assumes he intends: a portrait of the middle-aged, married, father-of-two artist taking stock of his life.
To truly enjoy House Inside The Waves, however, it's best to focus on the forest and not the trees. Otherwise, taken on their own, the historical gleams derivative (Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore is just one of several histories that Taylor does little more than paraphrase in order to create his own chronicle), the literary reads superficial (Henry Miller is pronounced "an original," Jack Kerouac as "adored by readers and misunderstood by tight-assed critics") and the autobiographical becomes clumsily self-congratulatory ("Our bank account is always overdrawn, but our soul account is perpetually brimming").
Still, what points Taylor loses in precision he gains in pluck. Any writer who includes, in the same book, a coconut chocolate chip recipe, an appraisal of the worth of Jack London's novels and an account of the proper way to catch a wave cannot be accused of aesthetic anemia. This is no small praise in our present literary climate. As Taylor himself quotes from a character in Alexander Solzenitsyn's First Circle: "It's better to drown in the ocean than in a puddle."