[8-minute read if you love me, 3 if you’re still not sure. This will soon make sense to you.]
August is yearning to become September. The world wants to go back to school. (I do, don’t you?) Naturally, every time I prepare to post something here on JHdotCOM, I do go back to school, figuring out some of what I think I think and what I’m nearly sure that I feel. To “see what I say,” as one writer put it.
What immediately follows is a guided tour¹ of this virtual place — good to see you! make yourself at home! — and a shameless attempt to nudge you into subscribing to the writing I scatter around it. See the command in the upper right corner? Don’t be afraid to obey it. Thanks for coming. (And please remember to shut the door when you leave.)
¹ Wait, you’re an old friend? Skip down to the ‘Read More’ button if you already know your way around. I had an August birthday. I wrote about it, and have decided to share some of my restlessness, doubt and inextinguishable intentions. You’re welcome.
So, THE TOUR:
Just below where you are right now – in the “At First Glance” section of the site – I most recently was reporting on someone about whom I’ll write more, or call me a procrastinator. (Quick! This is an emergency — get this man a procrastinator!) Marilynne Robinson is a superb writer of luminous and sharply spirited fiction and coolly brilliant essays on everything from science and religion to the culture of fear. (Libraries. Writing. Democracy. Liberty. Grace, too.²) And farther down the “AFG” queue is another sort of celebration: the appearance of my 700th Web-log post. [UPDATE: Not long after this post, the site registered its 30,000th page view, which could be construed as a YUUUGGE number. Just yuge.]
² Bonus points if you got the Tragically Hip song reference there. Your reward is in your heart.
Over yonder on the right, in the “It’s All About Sports!” section (just below the SO EASY TO SUBSCRIBE IT MIGHT AS WELL BE FREE area), I wrote earlier in August about Ottawa’s Carleton University and its brilliant, undersung dynasty of a men’s basketball program, after the Ravens had chaffed the Wichita State Shockers. There, I predicted that the Ravens would finish 6-0 against their American NCAA guests. Last night, they proved me right with their second conquest of the St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans from downstate New York. I also wrote, and not for the first time, about the wondrous women of Canada’s Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro. (Hey, that’s all over now, isn’t it!)
Just below my playground excitements is a collection called “He Said/She Said”, which doesn’t just fire out an endless stream of out-of-context bons mots but meditates on them. (Marilynne Robinson will be making more appearances there.) I just shared a beauty on solitude from American writer Fenton Johnson, and as usual tried to set it up so that readers know where it came from and why it got my attention. And just before THAT, I quoted something profoundly simple from the dying (but not fading away) Canadian rock idol/poetic conscience Gord Downie of the band The Tragically Hip. They just played what is likely their last concert together, and (most of) a nation is still talking about it over a week later.
The fourth and last section, “On Second Thought”, doesn’t get frequent treatment, but I did throw in some Howdy Poetry about a month back, which is a rarity (and not only because it references my long-departed Dad). “OST” is generally for pieces that I’ve sweated over for longer periods.
And would you consider, now that you know your way around, subscribing to this thing? ‘Cause it’s so easy and FREE and everything. Okay, no more nagging.
And now here’s the Birthday Thing, which got away from me. I was surprised how personal it became – I blame my little sister as much as possible, have from her cradle days – and so you may or may not be keen to carry on. As Neil Gaiman sometimes warns of his blog posts, Contains ME. This has quite a LOT of (possibly self-absorbed) me, actually, but I decided to run it here below the “Are You SURE You Want to Read More of This Stuff?” break. Some of you may identify with the daunting feeling of Another Trip ‘Round the Sun, another non-youthful number attached to your biographical file. Birthday Blues. This one hit me hard, about two thirds of the way through August, right when and how I was afraid it might. (I thought this would be a general “here’s where we’re at in HowdyLandDOTBlogville” but it’s turned into a festival of self-reflection. Boundaries are confusing. People seem to like self-disclosure, though. Perhaps you are a people.)
Yesterday was my little sister’s birthday. (Remember her, bottle jammed between her gums by a toddler brother back at the beginning of the post?) We’re two years and nine days apart. Her greeting for me on my day was warm (and on time!) and prompted me to confess that this year’s milestone, another number, was troubling to me.
I’m f—y-n–e. (Pardon me, I don’t like to use profanity.) But — what? That can’t be right. I just can’t get it straight in my mind, as R.P. McMurphy from Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest keeps on and on saying to me. (It has been over 25 years since I last read that wild and crazily great novel. So shutup then, McMurphy, awright?) So yes: I’m Yet Another Guy with an existential crisis of hugely banal proportions.
To wit: Intimations of mortality? Check. Fearing the inadequate life? OH yeah. Clock’s ticking? Mmmm. Goals and aspirations unfulfilled and looming, overhead and just behind me, like a squadron of vultures perched on a prison wall? Um, I dunno. Maybe. What’s it to you? Self-importance is rarely attractive.
I didn’t dump all that on her. (Come on, that’s what blogs are for! ) I had just confessed that I still fretted about so much that was yet to be done. AJ sent me back the kindest question: What are those things for you? My rambling reply went something like this:
Those things I want to DO (and fear I might not)? Well, not much, really.
I figured out five years ago that one thing I can better at with my remaining days is prayer. I don’t pray well or reflexively or feelingly. Now there’s a Project!
I gotta drop 15 pounds.
I’m taking a renewed stab — and trying not to feel doomed about it — at finding a way out of the fog of chronic exhaustion I’ve blundered about in for years. I used to have reserves, energy to burn. Burned it, I guess! My bride has lived with my fatigue for nearly our entire time together.
But I want to be contented, too. Tough balance: pursuit (of health, of happiness, or reNEWal, or…) without waking the watchdogs of disappointment.
I have to get my stillborn book finished and out there. (It’s about men, sports, and meaning.) Then I can either start on the next (better) one or finally be done with the whole dream and chase the other ones more intently.
I gotta get organized.
Africa. I want to see Africa. (And back to China. And the new Baha’i temple opening this fall in Chile, designed by a Toronto architect I went to university with and have known intermittently over the years. Hmm. Haiti, too. And Nunavut) Lots of places call me.
I would also like to be more contented at home. So, there. And here.
I’m such a poor planner, and it’s gotten in the way of being at my best, as teacher, coach, dad, husband, writer, guy, and WriterGuy. And homemaker. And GlobetrottingAdventureMan. (Thanks be to all the powers of good for my live-in travel agent.)
So much is about stuff I can still get better at. My throwing arm is arthritic, my ankles are 85, my hands on a basketball feel like dough from an unknown bakery. But I can get better at praying, at writing. At using a telephone instead of just thinking about my grown children and old buddies I miss. At writing, God knows. At coaching basketball, whether that means raising my technical game to better coach the elite young men of my city, or lowering my seriousness to help neighbourhood kids have fun and grow in a great game.
Being more decisive would help.
I would like to touch the rim of a basketball goal one more time, though I suspect that bus has left the terminal.
I may be forced to enter the SmartPhone Age. I have the cutest FlipPhone, on which I can text and talk. So cool! I usually don’t mind being lost, so the lack of GPS isn’t a problem except when it is – say, on the road with a basketball team. And it might be good to snap photos for JHdotCOM, or the hoop club’s website. Yeah. Or live-tweeting an event rather than waiting ‘til I get home, that whole now thing. But being even more vulnerable to an Internet Doomsday Distraction Device than I currently am in my own home? YeeeARGH.
BOOKS. I love going deep, and need to do it more. I still haven’t read Don Quixote. Or The Dawnbreakers. Or even The Stand.
Did I mention that I think I’d be writing some – books, I mean – if I wasn’t such a scattered and daunted sort of dude?
I’ve been hanging around the Baha’i community since I was 16, and I wish more had rubbed off on me. It would be pleasant not to be choked by chagrin every time life reminds me how long I’ve been fumbling at living this way. But then, self-loathing isn’t so attractive, either, and besides, I still love the attempt. (Try to remember.)
I would like to throw, hit and catch baseballs every once in a while.
I’d like to be gentler with my players. I work at it with Son the Fourth. I do burn like a not-so-towering inferno at times. I burn myself to ashes about five times a year, and crawl back like a weary, lame and dilapidated phoenix. (But isn’t it good that I keep coming back? Well? Isn’t it?)
And probably that’s enough. Not for me, it isn’t, but you’ve been so kind.
“No matter where I go I’m somewhere else / Restless, restless, and never quite full…” I wrote in a long-ago poem of youth. Youth. I do remember that.