Guided Tour, Subscription Drive, and a Birthday Bucket

One of these little people was me. (Aren't white babies CUTE?) This is just a nudge to read below-the-page-break.

One of these little people was me. (I am the upright one, but I’m not sure I want to know what was in my mouth, either.) This is just a nudge to encourage you to continue below the Read-More button. Trust me: we’re still cute.

[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.


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.

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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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James Howden (on sappiness & birthday songs)

With apologies to the great Paul Simon, I present a thoroughly personal update of his jiggy 1975 song “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”. A chronological milestone was recently reached by my bride, who had the dubious honour of hearing — LIVE! — Mr. Simon’s melodies and beats overwhelmed by a most eccentric chorus of all-too-willing back-up singers, with me trying to stay in one key during the verses. It was. It was… It was odd, funny and delightful. She loves to laugh, does my bride. Her name is Diana.

Fifty Ways We Love Diana

This business of aging’s no big deal, don’t you agree?

The woman’s always dancing, if a little recklessly

And when we think about the loveliness of ‘Dee’

There must be fifty ways we love Diana

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