The Other Notebook
by David Helwig
You couldn’t exactly call it a system, my way of handling documents that have to do with my profession. I know I should be able to find things when I want them, so I have a pile of folders which contain information about work I did in the past, contracts in particular, signed pages that have to do with what was published or broadcast and who owns the rights.
Sometime in the last year or so I was looking through one of these folders and I found that it was haunted. A dramatic and exaggerated way to put it, I suppose, but there was a strange moment when I found myself staring at a CBC contract for a radio script called Doctor of the Soul. I couldn’t remember anything about it. Nothing. Perhaps, I thought, it had been cancelled at an early stage and never produced.
It was 1980 when I abandoned my tenured teaching position and began to make my living as a full-time freelance writer. To earn what I needed, I wrote all kinds of things, and I suppose it was inevitable that I would lose track of some of them. I have written a monthly piece for The Buzz for nine years; that’s over a hundred columns. While I couldn’t sit down and list them all, I thought I could recall something about each one if provoked by headline or subject matter. But the radio play had vanished.
Well, I thought, that was all thirty years ago. I went back to other things, assuming that the radio play was an idea that had fallen by the wayside.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from the Seth, the artist and designer who illustrated About Love, my translation of three stories by Anton Chekhov. On an internet site he had been listening to an old series of CBC radio plays called Vanishing Point, and had noticed that I had written a couple of his favourites. One of them was Doctor of the Soul.
Pleased with his praise, I was also startled to learn that the forgotten script had in fact been produced, and so I searched for and found Vanishing Point on the net, and in the list of plays available, there was the mysterious Doctor of the Soul. It didn’t take me long to link up and play it. Pretty good show, really, one of the philosophical mysteries that were a specialty of the series. The phrase Doctor of the Soul (I’d already guessed this) was a reference to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist (psyche is Greek for soul), and the story deals with a weird and inexplicable link that grows up between a young woman and her psychiatrist. She is distressed that her dreams seem to be rearrangements of things that have actually happened, that she can’t break through to anything unique or original. But when her dreams do begin to penetrate to some other possibilities, she is intensely upset.
I had obviously discussed this story idea with William Lane, the producer of Vanishing Point, and he had decided to go ahead with it. With only three speaking parts it was economical to produce, and it made a good fit with the ontological oddities that the series explored. Original music contributed to its strangeness.
It was the kind of story I sometimes invented, and listening to it, I could recognize elements of dialogue that were in my own style. There was only one problem. I still couldn’t remember writing it. There is a contract that will tell me exactly when the agreement was signed and what I was paid, so I have to assume I wrote the script. It sounds like me.
So it’s there in cyberspace, waiting for me, or you if you want to go back all those years. Just google Vanishing Point. The Doctor of the Soul is always on call.