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2014: A Howdy-Do Year in Review

Last January, I didn’t get my 2013 lookback, The Great Eighteen, up until the 20th, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to call this prompt. Efficient. Timely — at least for me! Reflection on accomplishments never comes at a bad time. (Does it? Of course, you ninny! Okay, but — Which doesn’t mean it’s always foolish to look backwards, either. Alright then, so maybe — Just get to it!)

I posted to JH.com 93 times last year, which is as productive as I’ve ever been, and that with December nearly ringing up a doughnut. (That’s jock-talk for nada. Zero. Hole in the JZone layer. Nuttin’, honey. I missed that bizarro perfection by one lonely post, so the rest of the year must’ve been excellent.) Starting with my self-conscious blurts in the middle of 2005, JH.com now has an archive of 637 posts. That seems like quite a few.

So, I consulted a panel of experts. What were the most meaningful, artistically satisfying and world-changing posts of 2014 on JamesHowden.com? No. I didn’t. I trawled through 2014 and asked myself, “Okay, self, what do you still like and think others might, too?” Oh, I did take my readers into account, based on what got read most, or what found life elsewhere on the ‘Net, but mainly this is me Me ME. So here is a quick skate through some of the things I wrote here last year. It gives a reasonable portrait of what gave my head a shake in 2014. It’s a quick read, and you can click on anything that appeals. Here, then, are the

Fabulous Fifteen!

1. Sequel: The (Not Quite) Christmas (Late) Show* Must Go On (Jan. 2)                 (with Chinese Characteristics)

For the last three years in China, my wife and I taught in the School of International Business, a small college within our university in Dalian. Every December, there was a spangly student SHOW. Here, I reviewed this incredible, excessive, odd, passionate, obligatory celebration of something-or-other. Warning: this is only the second half of the extravaganza, and you may not be able to resist dipping back into December 2013 for the full jaw-dropping effect. It was amazing. (And only occasionally depressing.)

2. Lost in Cambodia  (February 5)

Each Spring Festival, we ran away from Dalian for sunnier, friendlier climes, mainly Thailand but also Vietnam and last spring’s adventure in Cambodia. I got lost. I often get lost. I like getting lost, actually, at least when I have nowhere pressing to go and I’m out there seeing. It strains my bride’s not-quite-infinite store of patience, though.

3. Temples of Ancient Stone. One of Pure Imagination. (February 13) 

You can’t really go to Cambodia, I suppose, without viewing the Angkor Wat complex of Hindu/Buddhist temples. That struggling small nation, so broken by its not-so-distant thrashing by civil war and Khmer Rouge oppression, needs you to go there; it’s the foundation of their economy. We did, and happily, but were even more moved by an empty field. Weeks later, a different version of the same stories ran at BahaiTeachings.org, which was fun.

4. Better Read Than Never: SAUL’s “The Unconscious Civilization” Part SIX  (March 5) 

Yes, this was a whole series, something new for my occasional “BRTN” review of a book that doesn’t appear on best-seller lists (but may have; my most-read piece in 2014 was a 2013 review of the Steinbeck classic Of Mice and Men, and apparently it is plagiarized regularly by high schoolers. Sorry, teachers!). Saul’s Civilization is important, readable and short, and I wanted to understand it, so I gave myself the job of summarizing each of the five linked essays in 500 words or less. (Spoiler alert: I failed on the last two, but came within 100 words or so.) This entry allows you to go to the beginning of the series, if you like reading about thinking. (And vice versa.)

I wasn’t going to include this one until, out of the blue, a smart tech website ran a piece about Apple’s declining quality. Early among the many comments was a reference to Saul’s withering commentary on society’s managerial elites, which included a link to my series, and suddenly January 5 was by far JH.c’s biggest day of page-views. That week surpassed all but the best of my months, though I hadn’t posted anything in many a day. The Internet People have spoken! I bow to their wisdom!

5. Steve Nash and Morrie Schwartz  (March 30) 

Sports matter tremendously to me. I can’t get over thinking of the ways in which sport gets warped, especially the scarifying transition that professional jocks must make to a life with less adrenaline. Canadian basketball hero Steve Nash is at the end of his competitive tether, and reflects on it with his usual intelligence. I’d recently re-read sportswriter Mitch Albom’s classic good-bye to a beloved mentor, Tuesdays With Morrie, and I compared the two farewells.

6. Suzhou 2: Trapping and Snapping and Talking With the Dead (May 1) 

Sorry to give you the back end of a two-parter again, but here’s my justification. While the first one is nearly non-stop irritation at a friendly reunion gone to Chinese-tourism hell (pretty readable, I must admit!), the second one mutters its way towards calm and a conversation with my dearly missed mother.

7. Gardens Green and Grounds for Optimism (Part One) (May 19)

I got back to our travels in the “Venice of the East”, Suzhou, this time with less cranky dudgeon and more appreciation. I feel I must warn you, though: Part Two is even better, and takes you to one of the best things about Beijing. (I know, I know, I’m cheating, but you do want me to take you to the Temple of Heaven, right?)

8. Men and Guns and Murdered Sleep (May 28) 

Some of my best writing, sadly, is inspired by cowardly men and violence. This time, it was Santa Barbara, California, not Edmonton or Paris or northern Nigeria or…

BahaiTeachings editor David Langness also helped me massage my thoughts in a somewhat different direction for a related piece that appeared there soon after.

9. Spurs Win Again. We Don’t Get It. (June 21)

Casual basketball fans — the ones with wet-dreams about dunks, that noisy majority who don’t understand the game much — are feverish for LeBRON (and the Heat) or crazy for KOBE (and, ever more incidentally, the Lakers) and all the flash and dazzle and Beiber-ness that go along with it. Me? I like teams and skill and coachability (and great coaching) and intelligence and sustainable excellence and unselfishness. I like the San Antonio Spurs. It was impossible for an aging, chronically written-off team to psychologically survive the devastating way they lost in the 2013 Finals, but they did anyway, and played the most delightfully artful and cold-blooded basketball I’ve ever seen, at least since the Bird Celtics at their best. I raved. (And ranted, but only a little.)

10. China: Road Rage Against the Machine* (July 2)

* Or: Fear and Loathing on Huangpu Lu.

China made me angry, often — and often unreasonably, though I still maintain that the relentless fireworking of the one Chinese New Year that I spent in Dalian was as close as I’ve come to shell shock, or to assaulting random neighbours. It was a great experience to be there, though often dizzying and challenging. This post answers the question: why did the chicken cross the road in China? A: Because bungee jumping got boring. I overdosed on near-death adrenaline, and then detoxed at my keyboard.

11. Ravens Back Tigers Into Corner and Peck Them Into Slump-Shouldered Helplessness  (August 20) 

This was one of the most remarkable games I’ve seen, among the (not as) many (as I would have liked) matches where I’ve studied the incredible dominance of the Carleton Ravens men’s basketball team. Last summer, they absolutely mystified a prominent NCAA basketball program, the Memphis Tigers, in the second game they’d played in a week. The Tigers weren’t caught napping, but the title tells the tale. The Ravens looked to be well on the road to their, wait for it, eleventh national title in 13 seasons.

12. What, So We’re a RUGBY Family Now? (October 1)

Son the Fourth is a ninth-grader at a strong academic school where, for reasons unclear, several teachers are dedicated rugger-heads and the teams do some winning. The boy went out for this sport he knew nothing about, and pleased his cranky old dad to no end. It’s a light-hearted account of (kind of) learning a new game (sort of) together.

It was also a minor thrill when a condensed version made the electronic pages of @TheClassical, a sports mag dedicated to long-form writing about the inside of sports. Good stuff.

13. Ottawa: Next Day. (October 23)

Two young men died in the second terrorist incident in a Canadian week, one that rocked the capital. Here? In Parliament?! My son was locked down in his nearby high school all day. Another Canadian, not that much older than my boy, was cold-bloodedly murdered while doing a ceremonial duty in honour of our war dead. Symbols were strong, but shaken badly. The day’s tragic waste pales before Paris or Nigeria or Peshawar, but it hit our hearts.

14. Bruins and Ravens and Wins: Hey, WHY? (October 29)

Here was another look at the astounding Carleton athletic dynasty that has risen (barely) from obscurity, and I made the explicit comparison to the mighty dominion of UCLA basketball back at the end of the John Wooden coaching era. This is one of the seeds of the book that oughta be written — and by me — about this local instance of lofty ambitions, furious dedication and unsurpassed excellence. “What is our praise or pride / But to imagine excellence and try to make it?” asked poet Richard Wilbur. (And he never even saw the Ravens play!)

15. What Do We Remember? (November 11)

Remembrance Day had a sharper tang to it this year than it ever did when I was young. War sacrifices felt ancient to my youthful noggin, but for over a decade now Canadian soldiers have been coming home draped in red and white, and lone-wolf, home-grown terrorism took more victims in the weeks before the 11th day of the 11th month. I added a couple of items to the usual list.

 

If you’re one of the faithful, maybe you liked these, or maybe there were others that turned your crank harder. Let me know. If you’re a relative newbie, and you’ve made it to here, well, heck, you deserve to SUBSCRIBE! Thanks to all for your readership, last year and this and whenever it suits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment (1)

  1. Karl King

    Thanks for the overview of your favourite columns from this past year. Mine were the Carleton Ravens ones. 11 titles in 13 years, maybe, but after last week’s loss to Ottawa I can see that the Elite 8 championship at Maple Leaf Gardens will be a tightly contested affair. You make allusions to writing a book on the Ravens (or more specifically on the mastermind coach Dave Smart, I assume). I would like to see that book as I would like to see your writings on this site and your work on your other book take flight. The literary world would be a better place with your words published.

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