Local author and artist Jim Christy is known for his many vagabond chronicles, but he’s about to embark on an adventure of a different kind. Christy is scheduled for heart surgery at the end of January. But typical of the passionate, street-tough persona of a man who survived a month in a Colombian dungeon and being shot by his first mother-in-law – in separate incidents – he says he’s not all that concerned.
“It’s strange but I don’t sit around worrying about what’s happened and might happen,” Christy told Coast Reporter. “I had what they called a ‘bad’ heart attack nearly five years ago, followed rapidly by a serious bout of congestive heart failure, followed rapidly by a major stroke that left me 90 per cent paralyzed.”
Christy, 73, an off-and-on Sunshine Coast resident since 1992, fully recovered from the stroke, but last summer, he went on more metaphorical adventures as the heart problems knocked him off his feet again. His doctor told him he is the only person she knows who has “died twice.”
“I had two bouts of cardiac arrest, each lasting over three minutes,” Christy said. “I went to a very different place. I wasn’t afraid of dying. That was weird.”
The experience also turned the head of the hard-scrabble, Philadelphia-raised hobo poet, journalist and explorer.
“I spent 38 days in the hospital and when I left, all the cars in the parking lot were like flowers,” said. “It was amazing. All those silly clichés about the connectedness of everything. People mouth those words, but goddamn, it was true.”
Hidden Brook Press recently published Christy’s 38th book, a volume of poetry called The Heart of the World. “Heart” has appeared more than once in Christy titles, as in Flesh and Blood: A Journey Into the Heart, and Streethearts, his first novel. On the other hand, he’s also come up with titles like The Sunnyside of the Death House, Terminal Avenue, and Princess Gore, where he has written about everything from a politically driven massacre in the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to legendary beat poet Charles Bukowski. He’s had other gigs, too, as an actor, and thanks to his book Strange Sites: Uncommon Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Northwest, as the inspiration for a TV documentary series.
“It ran for three years, called Weird Homes,” Christy said. “I got a chance to actually get paid an adult salary.”
Getting paid is a bitter issue for many writers, and no less for Christy. He said his book on Charles Bukowski has been translated and sold in several languages, but he’s never seen a cent from those sales. A U.S. publisher recently decided to republish his book, Rough Road to the North: Travels Along the Alaska Highway, and to Christy’s amazement, sent him a cheque for an advance on sales. In his experience, he said, “an advance is something from the long gone past in Canadian publishing.”
The details about the stint in the Colombian dungeon and about his mother-in-law putting a bullet in him are recounted somewhere in the dozens of his other books published since 1978. Even more real tales are likely to be revealed in a biography coming out in May, Jim Christy: A Vagabond Life, by Welsh writer Ian Cutler.
But the man who’s lived these outrageous stories isn’t as inclined to be writing about them these days. Christy has put down the pen for the time being and instead enjoys creating three-dimensional art objects, like the warmly zany faux robot My Mom, which appeared in a Gibsons Public Art Gallery show last year.
Christy does have regrets, but they’ve earned him some wisdom. In a preamble to his latest raw and ardent book, he writes, with a wink: “The message of these poems left for you is that I went looking for the heart of the world and I finally found it. But I’m not telling where it is.”