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September FIRST. What’s It To You?

Top o’ the evenin’, friends. (All slip and slope from here.)

Here were the many bits of sparkle and significance of an apparently random Tuesday in the life of a meaning-masher (me), trying to understand where one slightly eccentric but on the whole rather typical guy (also me) was coming from.

(NOTE: I am aware of autumnal equinoxes and Officially Falls, but summer was over and I heard the school bells ring. September First is a Time of Change.)

Once a teacher, always one, and always for me has the first of September been a wistful but galvanizing passage. The anxiety dreams were, and are still, in full swing. (Can I still do this? Even if I don’t actually do it anymore? Luckily, performance worries are easily transferrable.) It was, once again, time to get ready.

September 1 marked Cycle 39, Phase IV, Action Plan 13(b) of my eternal Get Organized! campaign. Those shelves? Downstairs. Clear that desk. These books go here and there. (Some may even be released into the wild.) Several priorities are in the shop for rearrangement. So much STUFF. And what do I do with cassette tapes of radio recordings and The Talking Heads? A coil-bound series of musty journals? My files from a teaching career that shows hopeful signs of being defunct? Major conundrums. Serious biz, no doubt, but I waded in and felt enlivened and resolute (with a hot ‘n’ sour side of rueful fatalism).

Speaking of fate and rue: 9-1 was mumblety-seven years and a few odd days past a coulda shoulda wouldabin wedding anniversary, would’ve been a quietly joyful reconnaissance of things past if the lights hadn’t gone out that dreadful year. Instead: “Yup. That happened. We started off so well, I thought.”

On the other hand, the first of September was still touched by the afterglow of another August wedding, also mine. We had a fine month, we two, with acres of gorgeous remembrance of our disbelieving beginnings, all the sweet fruits of twenty years of loving and low-pain growth, and our recommitment to a lively continuance. (She renewed my contract. Whew! One more year!) I recalled mountains, lakes, and streams; old letters, the suspension of time, shared heedlessness and giddy gratitude. August was good.

I also, yesterday, began re-reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus. I read it first in a period of post-marital despair and apparently terminal loneliness, so I wasn’t shocked that my experience utterly opposed the paperback cover’s delirious blurbery: “HILARIOUS…PURE VONNEGUT…A KING-SIZED RELIEF VALVE OF COMEDY….A SCREAM….A REALLY FUNNY BOOK!” I never even grinned, not once, but mind you I’m not exactly ROLFing now, either, on my third time through with the vantage point of a ridiculously fortunate life. Hocus Pocus came out in 1990, and Vonnegut was not impressed by the people of Earth. What a planet! his narrator exclaims at one point. I still find his tone and rhythm irresistible, even when – and maybe especially when – his courage and truth-telling make me wince more than his jokiness lets me smile. When I dive in, I feel the old Yeatsian “a terrible beauty is born”, or maybe there are better descriptive paradoxes. (What I’m sure of: I feel, with an urgency and depth that I struggle to account for. Maybe it’s the rebirth of honourable sarcasm, valorous follery, and whimsical doom-saying. “A moralist with a whoopee cushion,” Jay McInerney called him once-upon-a-blurb¹. Gad, Kurt gets to me.

¹ In a delicious bit of happenstance, the review of Hocus Pocus, one I’d never read before today, that I linked to above turned out to be the source of the “whoopee cushion” quote. Sweet. This was McInerney in The New York Times, a sympathetic and insightful review.

It was also Pope Francis’s declared World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. So, how did you honour the planet of your birth? Could you care any less? (Of COURSE you can! Thanks for caring as much as you do. By the way, if you missed it, the Truancy and Tardiness Office of the Vatican can be applied to for an official missed-prayer pardon. I hear it’s much less strict under Francis.) Snark aside, it seemed like a good idea. Go, Francis! I threw some words out there.

Besides ongoing bathroom renovations (thankfully, that’s Bruce the Merry’s job, not mine; just a little added chaos), this is also Get Readier Season. School starts, yes. Beginnings, including football season, but though cool fall nights and colours persist in making me want to carry a pointy ball under my arm and juke the ever-lovin’ pants off puddles and parked cars, it’s writing renewal and hoop dreams that move me now. It’s pre-season basketball time, which follows not long after off-season workouts and planning. Apparently! — summer workouts for my high school team ended about three weeks before I finished August in a weekend blizzard of sneaker-squeaks and hardwood drumbeats in the modest Ottawa nest of one of the greatest and least-known unknown sporting dynasties there is. I was observing and evaluating, that last weekend, tryouts for other ages, as well as shouting and scrutinizing and evaluating at my own under-15 team’s auditions for the Ottawa Youth Basketball Academy.² There are lots of talented kids in my city, and in a blooming-madly basketball hothouse called, um, Canada, and our team will have a fair chunk of them. And so on September 1, I was up and obsessing early. I reflected on the tryouts and felt, as if I needed it, more urgency to plan for the upcoming seasons of the two teams I’ll coach: one a high-level club team, and the other a newly developing basketball program in an old and prestigious academic powerhouse. Among other things, my planning has to be good so basketball doesn’t just take over. It can do that to me. It’s like mint plants in a garden, or twitch grass and prickers in my front lawn, except that I love it more than those.

² Ahem! And while we’re on the subject of highfalutin monikers, our teams – and hey, they are pretty darned good – are called the Ottawa Elite, if you don’t mind. (No, it’s not just for the children of senators, mandarins and cabinet ministers. We don’t actually get many of those trying out.) I’m not much for elitism, but nobody asked me about names. (And I am Title Guy!)

Yes, planning basketball seasons, and better organizing my rudimentary home-making efforts, not to mention the neighbourhood development projects and general friendliness that I imagine. Wait. Wasn’t there something else to Get Organized about?

Right. Writing. And to write. This site has lain largely fallow for the summer, but for one of those inexplicable Internet reasons, September 1 also brought a pleasant little bump in the page views for dear but neglected JHdotCOM, which reminded me: writing meandering essays with these enthusiastic electrons is A Thing I Do. And apparently there are readers, too, and here we are again.

How about you? What does the first of September mean for you? There is a comment section, y’know!

 

And if you’re new to JamesHowden.com, the next article below in this “At First Glance” section gives you a sense of what’s here (and there).

 

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