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O Coach, Coach, wherefore art thou Coaching?

[5-minute read]

It’s hoopin’ time again. *swallows nervously, drums his fingers on the desk*

Can you hear the whistle blowing? I am blowing the whistle. On coaching. Mine.

I can’t just walk away, and I don’t want to, and I don’t think I necessarily ought to want to, but the apparently never-ending intra-cranial debate continues. And the scoreboard says WHAT? I don’t know why I should feel that I’m losing this contest, since I’m playing myself. But it’s a battle of divided wits, and there is always the fear of loss. Such is the mind of a man who wants Sudden Victory, in terms even his childhood self could understand. Confetti. Trophies. Hugs from my brothers, kisses from my wife. A microphone in my face; it wants to know how it feels for me to be Such A Champion. Guess what?

I still want to win.

So yes, that’s part of it. It’s probably not the most stone-headed story I tell myself about why I want to coach basketball, still and again and for who knows how long. There are other reasons, compulsions, purposes and afflictions. Some of them aren’t so savoury, while others leave a mainly good taste in my mouth. But in the pursuit of the recently proverbial (and ungrammatically concise) “Know Your Why”, let me start off being truthful, and hang the embarrassment:

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Shocking. Routine.

[A day late and a 1000 words short, so it’s barely a 4-minute read; you can finish it in one Olympic sell-you-stuff competition, but there are HOT LINKS to extend the pleasure!]   
Guess they were. Shouldn't have been.

Guess they were. Shouldn’t have been.

And yes, you’re safe. This is NOT more hand-wringing about American gun violence. It’s not even about my bride’s violent dismay at a quick tour of the TV landscape last night, though her horror at what passes for normalcy was real enough. (Our brief fling with hotel television – mainly Olympic coverage – was a side benefit of our one-night stand anniversary getaway.) This was in another sporting arena, a modest one and far from Rio, where a team known as the Shockers¹ were in for a surprise.

¹And I do know, the Wichita State team name is not about horror movie results or bad interactions with electricity. It’s a Kansas thing. It’s a wheat thing.

No shock for me, though, especially once I knew that Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker from last year’s NCAA Tournament “Sweet 16” team had indeed completed their eligibility² at Wichita State, a strong fixture in recent bouts of March Madness. Surely, too, Coach Gregg Marshall was better prepared than he let on in a pre-trip press conference in Wichita, before heading off to Canada for a four-game pre-season tour. He must have known about the reputation of Ottawa’s Carleton University Ravens, not only their twelve Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles in fourteen years, but their tendency to beat NCAA teams when they come north.

²I wish I could more confidently write “graduated” rather than “completed their [athletic] eligibility”.

The Shockers’ first game was in Montreal, and they dismantled the UQAM Citadins – ostensibly a peer to the Ravens, a CIS squad competing for national honours – 54-18 in the first half on the way to a 50-point win. But surely they’d heard about Wisconsin or Memphis or Indiana (and many others) coming into Ottawa and losing in prior summer junkets by top-drawer Division 1 teams? Of course they had. They weren’t driving blind, but it didn’t matter a bit. As my buddy Seb grinned as the game got out of hand, “I always like to look at the bench of the D1 teams as it sinks in what’s happening to them. Getting rocked by Canadians?” Meanwhile, a less-heralded Stetson University (Fla.) Hatters team had been on the verge of being blown out by the Ravens the previous Friday evening, but managed to keep the score respectable, losing by 9.

Beating the Americans is actually fairly routine for the Ravens. They’re used to this WINNING thing – but don’t tell me those non-scholarship lads don’t take sky-high pleasure in schooling the Americans at the game they’ve dominated for so long. (They do get financial aid, many of them, but it’s no “full-ride” athletic scholarship. And yes, that’s an oxymoron, but nobody notices anymore.) And longtime readers of this site will know that I’ve written this story before. Most recently, the twin killings of Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers two summers ago made me wonder. Incredible. I watched it. You should read this and then this – they show how the systematic dismantling of a bigger, more “athletic” team by a bunch of Canucks was done. They also tell most of the story, if I do say so myself, about CU’s rising dominance of incoming NCAA teams.

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Triplet Homey Birthdays: Wise Guys!

[5-minute read.]
Some of my readers are family, but most of you won’t know who I’m talking about at all. You may think, Why should I read this? These people mean nothing to me. But I think they will. I suspect that you know gents kinda like these. Listen: they were good men. (One still is.)   

The end of July is reflection time – yeah hey, another one! Rumination. Ponderables. Wonderings and wandering attention, the occasional WHY and a whole posse of what-ifs. As July finishes baking, three sweet’n’sour birthdays follow one another, three days for three men that raised and sandpapered and marinated and confused and strengthened me. Do you know these guys, or men like ’em?

Today, my big brother is 6264. (Yikes! Nice math, Einstein!) We have the usual, the far-too-standard fraternal bond. We love the other guy but never mention it, unless you count the kind of merciless-but-never-toxic teasing that comes with confidence and a certain deep kind of knowing. We would do anything the other one asked, though we know he probably won’t request anything beyond a bed to sleep in or a pool table to move. We rarely call each other, and when we do there’s always a practical reason; we don’t write much, but are surprised at what a brother might say in an email and how good it feels to read it. Despite the obvious facts that we both love sport and are often more willing to explain things than some around us might prefer, I’ve always dwelt on noticing how different we are. I find myself chronically restless, incurably dissatisfied, and find Bill, my father’s namesake, eerily content. (I don’t believe in it, to be honest, but as the decades pile up, so does the evidence of his satisfaction. The guy seems to know what he likes and like what he knows! At a fundamental level, this strikes me as amazing. I can’t quite grasp it.) He’s a business man, good and smart with money, while I eagerly avoid thinking about cash and have most enjoyed work that mysteriously put monthly sums in my bank — or didn’t pay me at all. My brother signs cheques and legal documents with a painstaking, patient cursive signature where each letter is roundly formed. I practised a snazzy, jazzy penmanship designed to look good on the first page of the books I’ve never published and the autographs nobody asks for.

The longer I interact with the lying mirrors in my life, though, or actually listen to my own spoken rhythms, the more I’m forced to admit that we look and sound a lot alike. I still listen to music that he had fairly brief adolescent enthusiasms for, and well into adulthood have feverishly played (and later coached) sports that he taught me to play. I continue to dream of baseball; I presume he was my first pitcher and catch-and-throw partner, but it predates my conscious memory. (I do, however, bat from the opposite side of the plate than he did.) It was because of playing road hockey with him that I became a goaltender on ice. I had to learn not to lean to the right in shooting my first basketballs, once I’d gotten tired of being a slapshot target, because that’s the way he did it. Ask me to punt a football, and I’ll be inclined to slip off my shoe, since Bill hit his high boomers off a bare instep and I learned that way, too. Though I hit a golf ball only very rarely (and that from the goofy side of the tee), while Bill is an avid golfer, I have to admit that we’re more similar than I used to think.  I’ve spent a lot of time searching for brothers in my life. I think we all need brothers, and I’m glad, and still mighty curious, about the one that I was given. (Hello there!)

July 28, yesterday, marked the birth day of another guy who formed me.

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Really, Kevin? Can’t Beat ‘Em?

(twelve-minute read)
One of the good guys, from what I can tell. Wearing the dark hat (and a bullseye) now: Kevin Durant.

One of the good guys, from what I can tell. Wearing the dark hat (and a bullseye) now: Kevin Durant.

Young sir, may I call you Kevin?

I’m sure They have been calling him lots worse, though I’m not looking under bridges to check. I’m guessing “traitor” and “chickenshit” and “turncoat” and “ungrateful bastard” are making the more printable lists. “Benedict Arnold” might be favoured by those who know a little American history.

So: Basketball Star Kevin Durant Signs Free-Agent Contract With Golden State Warriors. There’s your lede, not going to bury it. This being July 5th, it’s no longer news in the antic spin-dry cycle of what-have-you-hot-taken-from-me-lately entertainment/journalism. But to me it’s still novel, a bit shuddery and uncomfortable, sort of bewildering yet all-too-familiar, a cause of naive dismay and even a spur to misplaced and minor outrage. Hey, wanna come along? 

This is literally unmediated. I haven’t had the chance to filter my jangled thoughts through what must have been a torrential downpour in the Twitterverse sports teacup, a tempest in the chatrooms and sports blogs of the world. (At least in North America, this must have outdone Iceland over England by far, and may have even outstripped Trump and cute animals for an Internet spell.) I spent the very best part of yesterday hanging around in my corner of Ottawa with some of the finest young people you’d ever want to know, and many of them barely know who Kevin Durant is. The day was about selfless service. Voluntarism. Youth leadership by the young. (Hence, I wasn’t much more than a bystander, but an inspired and committed one.) Moral purpose. Community. Educational vision. Societal transformation. All that grassroots jazz. (And walking. Lots of walking.) There was no time for Twitter.

But some of the youngsters do know KD, and their phones are smarter than mine is. As we hunted for idealists in Overbrook on the fourth of July,

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Better Read Than Never: John Updike’s SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS

(10-minute read)
(If 10 minutes is disheartening, I just took a shorter look at a particular section of Self-Consciousness, the one addressed to his biracial grandchildren, in my He Said/She Said compendium of pithy quotations. It’s about growing up Black in America, by a loving White granddaddy.)

I haven’t been a huge John Updike fan, but he’s growing on me. Naturally, I read Rabbit Run,

My local library's edition.

My local library’s edition.

the first of what became the “Rabbit” tetralogy following the life course of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. For me, it was pretty much required reading, since the protagonist had been a high school hoops star and basketball profoundly colours his youthful experience. I liked it, though I wasn’t crazy about Harry. Despite periodic and ephemeral resolutions, I never did get to the subsequent novels. I will. The closer in age that I get to Rabbit at Rest, the final chapter, the more Mr. Angstrom seems like a character I should know better.

The second Updike novel I read, The Centaur, really was required reading: to keep my brain alive during a period of professional drudgery, I took some Lit courses at the University of Ottawa. Unsurprisingly, Updike appeared on the American Novel course, though the choice of The Centaur was less obvious. Perhaps because I read and re-read and wrote about it¹, I love and know that novel better than the one about the basketball hero-turned-typically-jaded-American. My affection and enduring memory of the thing might have had to do, too, with the father-son tension and the high school cum mythological dream-park setting; sonsRUs, certainly, and I still haven’t finally left the halls of eternal adolescence. I coach high school hoops still, after all.

¹ It’s academic stuff, but not terribly unreadable. However, I have placed electronic drones around the text in case some undergraduate thinks to plagiarize. You will be shocked, assimilated, and outed to the Weenyverse, if you do. Reading the essay won’t hurt, though. Reading the NOVEL would be downright healthy.

But recently, not long after seeing the great and gracious radio voice of the superb literary interviewer, Eleanor Wachtel, embodied on an Ottawa stage, I heard her 1996 interview with the famously media-shy Updike. (He died in 2009, at 76.) Wachtel interviews are always extended, thoughtful, generous expositions of the minds and hearts of many of the greatest writers we’ve had. John Updike was no exception, though I was mildly surprised to find what a humble, gracious and thoroughly engaging voice his was.

Young, and with yellowed fingers.

Young, and with yellowed fingers.

Perhaps I’d been swayed by some of the backlash against the privilege of the white male Authorial Voice of the mid-20th century. One of the nastiest was the dismissal of Updike as merely “a penis with a thesaurus”, but a pervasive view is that, though a big-seller among literary fiction-writers, he was over-rated simply because the voices of women – especially women of colour – had been suppressed. Time will tell, I suppose, but this cuts two ways. As unpopular as it may be to say it, there must be certain much-praised contemporary writers who benefit from the opposite current: the explosion of interest in and production by the previously under-published and under-privileged, those other voices from other cultural rooms that we now (wonderfully) get to hear more from. Some of these, I suspect, will have their ecstatic reviews and audience responses tempered by the sifting hands of critical hindsight. There’s nothing wrong with that.

To return to Updike, his was a voice that I was moved and inspired to hear, and hear more. He didn’t do many interviews, certainly not such revealing, appealing and lengthy ones as he had with Ms. Wachtel. I was moved particularly by a thread of their conversation in which he shyly but eloquently offered that he had always been interested in unnoticed little corners of life: odd bits of geography, obscure perspectives, his childhood view from under the kitchen table. (The ego-mad writer in me, inevitably I suppose, thought Hey, I got me some corners. But then, who doesn’t?) It was a gentle, humble, profound, a personally revelatory reverie, and I also felt that it was part of Wachtel’s genius that got him to speaking about it. I thought I heard a little wonder in his voice, that he’d been nudged to notice a slightly new perception of his own work.

That could’ve been sheer imagination, but it was one of several minor heart-quakes that urged me to read more Updike, especially his 1989 Self-Consciousness: Memoirs. It goes to odd corners. It is no standard autobiography,

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Late to the Party*: 2015 in Bloggish Review

* (BUT WHAT A PARTY! IT’S #WritingYouCanREAD!!)

That boy’ll be late to his own *funeral*, my mother used to spit (sometimes). Or mutter it with a forgiving hint of a grin (most of the time). The Tardis, if it hadn’t already been taken for Doctor Who‘s adventures in time and space, would’ve been my ideal life vehicle, at least as far as its name is concerned. (Silly Side Note No. 1: For the inverse reason, when we bought a car recently, I was swayed against all reason to buy a Honda Fit because I wanted to be that and sought constant reminders. We ended up buying a Mazda 5, and I don’t know why other than its practicality, low price and surprisingly good condition.)

So, I may not be the most practical tool in the shed, and time is almost never on my side. But hey, enough about me: what do YOU think of my Greatest Hits of 2015? There was no polling, and no process, really, and when it’s this late, who cares? Here are 12 posts from last year that you may be inspired to revisit or read for the first time (using the handy links!!), or ignore utterly in favour of finishing this post quickly. I’m with you.

(Depressing Side Note No. 1: After futzing around with this off and on for a couple of weeks, today I wrecked my suspension on the speed bump of melancholy. Now the whole idea seems stupid, but I’m hitting <PUBLISH> anyway.)

A Dozen

So we’re counting down, kids, some of my favourite posts from 2015, in no particular order except for the chronological one. (Keen, Daddio!) It starts with Martin Luther King, badly remembered, and ends with basketball teams I’ve been loving from up close, hopefully springing.

Forgetting MLK: Back to a Future (January 21)

I finally watched Selma the other night. It got me. I have, of course, no idea if David Oyelowo captured Doctor King in his private moments, but he got the rhythms and the accents of those speeches just right. (Man, and he’s a Brit, an actor who’s done Henry VI and TV cop dramas. Talent.) I watched it by a crackling fire on a February night of gorgeous and never-ending snow, so I don’t know if I did MLK or the people “sweltering with the heat of oppression”¹ any empathetic justice.

¹ Besides, that was a reference to Mississippi, not Alabama, in King’s “Dream” speech, but still.

Over a year ago, I wrote this wandering, wondering piece in the realization that I’d had nary a thought of Martin on the day of his birth and his country’s latter-day celebration of it. It has basketball in it, and Malcolm Gladwell, but mainly staggers off (as did I) into the world of an imagined 2019 Los Angeles, as per Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of his now-legendary Blade Runner.  (Yes, and Oscar Pistorious, come to think of it.)

Sunday School Picnic (non-Super Bowl Edition) (February 1)

Terrorists were everywhere in 2015, and were spoken about here. “Let’s talk toxic religion!” I wrote with mock enthusiasm, and then proceeded to write with gusts of anger. Travis Bickle, from Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, made an appearance in this piece, to my surprise. So did the Buddha, and Boko Haram, Je suis Charlie and my city’s celebration of World Religion Day. The projected Part 2, on that latter subject, would have been much more uplifting, but I never wrote it. Too happy.

Hindsight: Memorial for a Quiet Hero (February 13)

This was a local story of a humble man, one I barely knew, whose death brought me not only the familiar spectral chants of Carpe diem! from a dimly recalled Dead Poets Society, or from any number of shivering, back-straightening, deep breath-inducing invocations to LIVE while I yet live. Mark Goldblatt’s funeral let me know the man I had missed, a heroic character I had managed to pay inattention to. This one might have been my most popular of the year; it touched many more nerves than just my own.

No Academy Award – Just Light in a Dark, Dark Room (March 3)

The local met the international at the crossroads of film, politics, social justice and human rights. I gave a few hours to help organize a special showing of a documentary on the Baha’i students in Iran who are denied university education, and I got this experience back. Think Rosewater. (Which I STILL haven’t seen.)

A Canuck Man’s March Madness (March 13)

It was a little nutty. I’d decided I wasn’t missing the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s basketball championship last spring in Toronto. I took an overnight bus and lived hoops for a weekend in what used to be the greatest Puck Pagoda, Hockey Shrine, and Temple of Aggressive Forechecking on the planet: the former Maple Leaf Gardens, Conn Smythe’s “Carleton Street Cashbox”. That weekend, you may know, it became a nest away from home for the incredible Carleton University Ravens, as they won their 11th national championship in 13 seasons. This was my experience of the opening day. Spoiler Alert! (and possible Trigger Warning for those who’ve been traumatized by hoop madness): contains basketball, but in lyrical and not-at-all-obsessive detail.

There were several posts, the last of which was called “CIS/CSI Toronto: The Birds! (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, in which two old movies were summoned to explain what happened in the national final. It was gruesome.

SIV: Germanwings, High School and Islands (May 13)

I had already raged against the weakness of one particular man, the suicidal narcissist who piloted his plane into the side of a European mountain. (Blaze of inglory! Bastard!) Later, as more came out on that German airline disaster and its bitterly lost author, I wrote again, but it turned into an extended meditation on tragedy, especially searing when it strikes schools. (I’m a bred-in-the-wool, dyed-in-the-bone teacher.) I found a mild painkiller in a Jeffrey Deaver crime novel, of all places.

Seven Baha’is, Seven Years (May 14)

I wrote a whole series on this travesty, one rant for each of the 7 “Yaran” (friends) thrown into Iranian jails on hatefully delusory charges. This might have been my angriest. It will be eight years in May, and these quietly magnificent seven are not the only Baha’is – or the only Iranians, God knows, or the only unjustly imprisoned on Earth – to be warehoused, withheld from contributing their gifts to their society. But they are remarkable concerning the reasons for their captivity, and the radiant acquiescence of their response to it. (No radiance here. I’m pissed.)

Vahid: Peerless Insights From Inside Prison (May 21)

I republished my seven biographical sketches of the seven Baha’i leaders later in the year. Six months had passed since my flurry of indignation. The Quietly Magnificent Seven were still locked away, so I released them into the Internet wild a second time. I’m not so crazy. I knew that they’d be no more effective than they were the first time. However, some liked these profiles – I certainly did – and here is the last one, about an optometrist who turns into a lion.

Murray Sinclair (on Aboriginal justice) (June 28)

In 2015, Another Trudeau² was elected to lead Canada in 2015, but another story might turn out to be the big sociopolitical event of the year. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to inquire into and inform the public about the historic mistreatment of our Indigenous peoples in general, and especially the multigenerational cost of having taken thousands of children away from their parents to place them in residential schools. The purpose was to take the Indian out of ‘em by suppressing their language, assigning “Christian” names, strangling cultural affiliation and banning their godforsaken dances. Surprise! People suffered deeply, no matter how well-intentioned some of the priests and nuns and other culture-changers might have been, as did their communities and their families and their self-esteem. (And some of their teachers were brutes, racists, sociopaths and pedophiles. So there’s that, as well.)

Ahem. Anyway, back to Judge Sinclair: of Ojibwe heritage, and among the first Aboriginal judges in Canada, he gave five years of his life to hearing the stories of the survivors of Canada’s residential schools, and authored a report that brought truth to Canadian light. Reconciliation is another story, but I believe in that one, too. Read this post, if you read no others. It’s not long – it centres on a short quote, and fits easily into my He Said/She Said niche – but Judge Sinclair’s labours, and the voices to which he gave a wider hearing, will echo through Canada’s public life and policy for decades to come.

² His actual name is Justin. His election caught the imagination of Canadians. As a certified fan of his brilliant, iconoclastic father Pierre, I sometimes mutter about the son’s ah-ing and unimposing academic credentials, but he has a lot of the best of 21st-century leadership. (No illusions, though: he does labour within a fatally flawed system.) He gets diversity, he gets consultation, in a way no other Canadian leader ever has, not even his swashbuckling daddy.

September FIRST. What’s It To You? (September 2)

As a high school teacher, dad and lover of fresh starts, the first of September is always a watershed for me. In 2015, I reflected on marital success and failure, my craft, another read-through of my fave novellist³, basketball seasons to come and the meaning of the only life I know. Buckle up. This one careens about, but I still like it.

³ Initials: K.V. (Junior)

Return of the Attack of the Cool Lean Bean Counter (October 8)

Title of the Year, I think, hands down. The Bean Counter was Kevin Page, a gadfly government accountant who railed, and rails still, against government bungling and the shackling of the civil service. The event was a surprisingly lively session of the Ottawa Writers Festival, a local institution I love. This could have been one of my “Better Read Than Never’ book reviews if I’d actually read the book! I won’t – too many other things that push Unaccountable to the curb – but that’s partly because the evening itself was fun, and stimulating, and enough.

Coaching, Hoops and Young Men: A Tale of Two Teams (December 10)

One of the reasons I haven’t been a productive pen-monkey is that I’ve been coaching my arse off. This is a post where I wrote about my coaching instead of doing it. I have spent hundreds of hours with 14- and 15-year-old boys since September. My struggling high school team has finished its season, but I ruminate still over what we do in the off-season to raise our games. Meanwhile, the elite-level club team is now increasing in practice frequency as our competitive season shifts into overdrive. Pray for me. (Reminder: there’s more to life than basketball, but there’s more to basketball than basketball, too!)

 

Coaching, Hoops, and Young Men: A Tale of Two Teams

If you’re going to be the best, you have to play the best.

Yeah, coaches like to say that. Yup, I’ve used it myself, trying to convince basketball players in several Ontario high schools that getting hammered builds character, that a 40-point loss is an exercise in improvement. (And, on the other side of the scoring table, that 40-point wins mean nothing, most of the time.) “With fire we test the gold…”¹ is a thing I believe, but after last night’s drubbing, I have to wonder if there’s enough gold in them thar hills. I’m a heckuva good digger, but I don’t always stick my spade in the most promising ground. It’s deja vu all over again. (Thanks, Yogi.)

¹ From The Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah. (And how ’bout them references? A Persian Prophet in one line, a great ballplayer and language-mangler in the next!)

Linus doesn't play for Lisgar, but I might have to give him a long look...

Linus couldn’t make my OYBA team, but he’d get a long look at Lisgar…

It’s a tale of two teams, both of them mine. My young friend and assistant coach Seb and I picked a group of ninth-graders from 10 high schools across my Canadian city in August, the Under-15 squad representing the Ottawa Youth Basketball Academy (OYBA). Its teams are known as (and strive to be) the Ottawa Elite. It’s a name I don’t love, with all its potential suggestions of class privilege and superiority, but I repeatedly tell those lads that “elite” is more of a high-expectation mindset than a description of what we are. The young men are learning to work hard, and though I clearly chose several players based as much on potential as on present skill — “up-side” being the jock label of the moment — they’re also pretty good.

They will have to be: these boys will be playing the best. Our main competitions will take place in Toronto, where some of the world’s finest youth basketball development is taking place. (You may have heard of Andrew Wiggins. Tristan Thompson. Cory Joseph. The list of NBA players from the GTA gets longer.) Once high school season is over in February, my attention will turn more completely to these ambitious young dudes; in the fall, we trained twice or three times per week and got a few exhibitions played, but with many of them playing demanding school schedules, now we work out once a week. I push them hard, and many of them are looking for nothing other than that. That makes coaching fun.

My other team is a junior varsity squad at one of Ottawa’s outstanding academic schools. (Spoiler alert: it’s a whole different ballgame…)

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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,

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Where’s We At Then, Buddy? JH.com Wonders!

It’s not an anniversary, but it’s close. About mid-July 2014 my wife and son and I made our summer trip back to Canada from China, but for the first time in five years we were coming to stay. So. <Cleansing breath.> Alrighty, then. We’ve been back nearly a year. <Another breath, deeper. Shakes the tension out of his hands, drama-class style.> We’re looking at each other and thinking, This is where we are. How’re we doing? What’s up with you/me/him? Are we who we thought we were? And so on.

I study. I teach, coach, plan. Dishes, floors and laundry loads get done. The garden is weeded and I’d better pick more lettuce and funkygreens. (Note to co-habitants: belly up to the salad bar, hombres!) I am reading about: boys and young men and what might be holding them back; James Baldwin; the NBA draft and free agency; a wonderfully eccentric view of the Bible; Reading Lolita in Tehran. I’m not reading much fiction, again, but Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and Atwood’s Maddadam are shouting at me.

I don’t write much. I’m borrowing a concept from The Year of the Flood, the second in Margaret Atwood’s vivid futureDoom trilogy. There, in a “God’s Gardeners” community, people who are lethargic, dispirited, depressed or otherwise dysfunctional are said to be in a “fallow” state, as fields are left uncultivated by wise farmers so that the soil might not be depleted. June was a fallow field for my writing, and after about mid-month I accepted that. It gave my days-ends greater contentment, which is almost always a good thing. I wrote this, however tentative and diffident it is as a spasm of seed-planting, just so that you and I know where we are. (Hello!)

Before I abandoned my writing desk, I was writing feelingly and hard (not sure how well; haven’t gone back to look), striving to better know and appreciate seven prisoners of exquisite conscience. These “friends” of the oppressed Iranian Baha’i community, a group of leaders who tried to encourage their fellow believers once all their institutions and most of their rights had been removed, are now well into the eighth year of their incredible sentences. (Maybe I went fallow then because of futility — daily, tapping my uncalloused fingers against prison walls in a strange and distant country. Or I just got lazy; as a matter of principle, I don’t believe in futility, though I practise it with astonishing persistence.) Maybe you would like to read about the “Yaran”. My personal (possibly meandering) responses to their captivity helped them become more real to me.

It’s time for a quick update, reminders, and some sense of where you are, electronically speaking:

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SIV: Germanwings, High School, and Islands

Yes, and you may have heard of Stubbornness Is Virtue (SIV) week, self-declared and self-extended, in which I have granted myself executive authority to Get Stuff Done, no matter how ‘last month’ it might be. This week, we have heard more from the investigation of the Germanwings air disaster, more on the sordid rehearsal that CopilotBoy did for his all-too-sadly-inclusive march into oblivion. I wrote, quite bitterly, about this unnameable coward earlier, but here was my first (pre-empted) reaction, now finally finished — rather like my lengthy high school career.

I was in high school for a LONG time.

It was five years, at first, back in the era of Ontario’s Grade Thirteen. Five years of education and some factory/retail time later, I did some teacher prep-time in a few southern Ontario elementary schools, and then resumed what seemed to be the endless walk down the halls of eternal high school. I was a full-time Creature in my 20s, and was still barking and grinning, cajoling and joking and explaining and teaming my ever-lovin’ head off ‘til I was deep into my forties.

Then, in China, I taught university students, but it didn’t feel much different. (The kids, so sheltered by the abrasive cocoon of high-pressure study – and so charming in their child-like forays into English – seemed younger than European and North American kids. Less experienced. Less jaded. The freshmen inevitably reminded me of ninth-graders, the girls beginning to dress for the male gaze, the boys pretending not to notice.) And even now, having retreated from that consuming, exhausting gig, I hang with high-schoolers all the time. Two of ‘em live with me, and I chase many more of them around gyms, with a whistle and incessant roundball counsel. (It’s no way to make a living, but I feel lively when I’m doing it.)

There weren't enough candles in the world to brighten that day. (photo from rt.com)

There weren’t enough candles in the world to brighten that day. (photo from rt.com)

High school is where I live, still, with much of my heart. No surprise, then, that when the Germanwings airliner went down, and my morning dose of Bad News at Home and Abroad muttered that “…eighteen of the dead are from one German high school”, my heart ached more than usual. The last time I felt this way – like a bombing near-miss, where I’m assaulted by the carnage but haven’t a scratch myself – was the bit-by-bit unfolding to me of the costs of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, especially in the lives of children buried in shoddily built schools.

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