Where’s We At Then, Buddy? 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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News, Stuff, Things & Subscriptions

Have you missed me? (I’ve missed me.)

In the ongoing whirl of readjustment to Ottawa living, my bride getting back to work, and me coaching junior varsity basketball as if it was played on Mount Olympus, my writing routine has been thrashed. I haven’t been a very productive pen monkey. (Chuck Wendig grimaces in violent dismay and arse-kicking encouragement.) The good recent news is that a quite fine (thank you) American website, The Classical, ran a much-revised version of a piece on my Rugby Daddery and the Adventures of Son the Fourth in learning a brand new game. @classical specializes in long-form writing about sports, stuff that goes beyond the stats and standings. This made me happy.

I should have reviewed the film Whiplash, a disturbing, slightly over-the-top examination of a crazed mentor — in this case, a musical rather than an athletic one — and his perhaps equally nutty victim/protegé. I ate it up, loved and hated the thing, and have been thinking about the making of excellence and just exactly where that line is ever since. Yes, this was at the mighty ByTowne. Whiplash is a claustrophobic, in-your-face depiction of an extreme teacher-student connection, and J.K. Simmons is infuriatingly great as the megalomaniacal mentor. Okay. I suppose I just did sort of review it, but also have wanted to get to a Better Read Than Never review of John Feinstein’s The Last Amateurs, and an account of a brilliant human rights lecture by Payam Akhavan, and reflections on not living in China anymore, and more on books I’m eating, and I haven’t said a word about Ferguson or Jian Ghomeshi or the wars we try to forget or the Toronto Raptors…

…and don’t get me started about my stillborn books. (Thanks for not getting me started.)

The posting pace is about to quicken, I hope I hope I hope. Here’s what’s been going on recently here at, especially for you newbies.  If you’re a strange lurker here, WELCOME! The bits below will help explain how all this works:

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Larditude, Ice Cream, and Why You Should Subscribe to My Blog

We’ve been back from China for nearly three months now, and I haven’t put on the weight I was afraid I would. YAAAAYY! It’s neither so easy or so enjoyable to play the amount of outdoor hoops in Canada that I did among the mad-for-basketball masses of young men at every Chinese university. Here in Ottawa, it’s either empty courts, or young kids, or a game with serious Players that I can’t hang with anymore. Mostly, it’s the first two.

We still don’t entirely know which end is up. In our familiar Ottawa home, we’re still finding stuff we’d forgotten we owned, still trying to winnow down our possessions at least a little, and find places for the stuff we have. (The Story of Stuff. Daily.) We’ve cracked open most of the boxes. I have So Many Great Books That I Haven’t Read Yet. Sometimes I’m thrilled. Sometimes it’s maddening.

Meanwhile, once again, I’ve found a bit of retro-writing in my files. Last week, it was a letter I wrote to and for Son the Fourth on his first birthday, and it was good to remember the thrill of his arrival amid the wrangle of his rampant teendom. Today, it was a piece I wrote (and never sold) on the (mock) horror and (pointless) resolution arising from tipping my crappy bathroom scales at a shudder-inducing 200 pounds, distributed greasily over my formerly athletic 5’11” frame. I gave it a quick polish, and posted it over yonder in the “On Second Thought” section, just above my sappy, sentimental birthday letter.

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But you know, I’m gonna miss this place. Huge.

And I will miss our Chinese friends even more. Jet-lag smacks me pretty hard, but it’s already starting to ease a little. (I can face my keyboard with only minimal dread.) The general disorientation of farewells, uprooting and re-entry into a previous context will soon fade; the cleaning and painting and purging of our house will be over in a few weeks.  I believe and hope that I haven’t left China forever, and that I’ll see some of our friends again, but I know that for too many I’ve said my last goodbye. That’s how it happens, though I’m not much good at accepting it.

I’ll write more about it. I imagine a four-part goodbye: to the teaching work at two Dalian universities, to the new legs that China gave to my long-dormant basketball playing, to the wonders and remarkabilities of that tremendous country that is so suddenly front and centre to the world’s future, and to our sharing of the Baha’i vision with new and lasting friends. (I want you to hold me to this promise.) For now, for recently, I’ve only posted a couple of things.

In “At First Glance”, just below in this main section, you’ll find a piece I could have titled “Fear and Loathing on Huangpu Lu”. I probably was more than a few centimetres from death, but I stared at that speeding car from way too close and from the seat of my slightly soiled pants.

In the “It’s All About Sports” section, there’s this retrospective on the stunningly high level of basketball played by the San Antonio Spurs in winning the NBA championship. We still don’t get it, and with LeBron having dominated the North American sports headlines even after losing, even during the World Cup, my essay isn’t going to change anything. I tried, anyway.

“On Second Thought”, the place where I put ideas I’ve pondered and worried over longer, was just the spot for an older piece, one that didn’t find publication back in 2007 but still tells a story of faith and commitment that you might find touching. (It still touches me, but pain isn’t everything.)

And, it being World Cup season, with Germany and Argentina itching for a fight — but without violent or military intentions — a few days ago I quoted a fine American writer, Brian Phillips, who mused about what the Cup does that no other human activity can match. That’s in the “He Said/She Said” section.

Please note also that the so free and easy to SUBSCRIBE it’s almost sinful button is still just over there, top right.

JH [dot] com is on Twitter @JamesHowdenIII. It keeps followers up-to-date with what’s happening here, plus the usual Twitter smorgasboard of observations, pass-alongs and faves, and of course you’re welcome. 

Thanks for looking in. If you’re new here, read on to find out more about “Sport, Culture and Other Obsessions” that I’ve been writing about

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JHdotCOM News Update: More Milestones

I’ve been working on other projects — one big writing thingy, plus end of term school stuff and especially all the material and emotional wrangles of saying farewell to our home and friends in Dalian and across China, after five furiously lively years — and giving this site whatever tired attention I can. I did, however, find an older piece that never found a publication to call home. It comes from 2007, and it was fun and a bit frustrating to re-visit. It’s in the “On Second Thought” section.

Sometimes, as with a piece I’ll post this week, the adrenaline pretty much forced me to write something. My recent post in It’s All About Sports! also insisted on being written, as the San Antonio Spurs are such a remarkable example of teamwork and old- and new-fashioned virtues (passing! team first! unity in diversity! multi-lingual huddles!) in a sporting climate that seems to really appreciate narcissism and branding. (Shudder.)

Whew! Anyway, just about two weeks left in the China Adventure, so many good-byes. We had another one today, a hard one with a young woman who became like a sister to my wife and me, and was a most loving auntie for our son. Sigh.

The electronic footprint of this collection continues to reach heights that keep me plugging hopefully. (NOTE: correct use of “hopefully”. I still believe!) I’ve been posting my writing on this web log for nearly eight years, but JH version 2.0 has been up and running only since September of 2012. This week, another pair of notable numbers:

  • We hit 11,000 page views, and should hit the monthly thousand again by June’s end. This is viral in my world. It’s growth without ecological consequences.
  • A quote from the writer David Roth (and my comments about it) appeared in the He Said/She Said section, and this comparatively short piece was my 600th post. I’m also raising my game, productivity-wise, as No. 500 was less than a year ago. Howdy Duty!

Thanks, readers. Please note that the so free and easy to SUBSCRIBE it’s almost sinful button is still just over there, top right.

JH [dot] com is on Twitter @JamesHowdenIII.

It keeps followers up-to-date with what’s happening here, and I often pass along wee nuggets of my own or re-tweet bits I’ve found funny, consoling or important (and sometimes all three). There’s still a bit more room on that bus, too. 

Thanks for looking in. If you’re new here, read on to find out more about “Sport, Culture and Other Obsessions” that I’ve been writing about

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Another Oldie-But-Goodie Flics Its Bic

I was raised in a two-smoker household, but now I find the whole habit puzzling, fascinating, telling. I live in China, so it’s a new — no, it’s a whole old ballgame, one of many ways in which China is very 1960s despite the high-rise towers and the accessorized smart-phones. There is great social pressure on men to smoke, and restaurants have the bluey-grey atmosphere of my childhood. Women, meanwhile, rarely do, but it’s becoming fashionable for the young and superchic women in places like Beijing’s Sanlitun neighbourhood. In this, maybe it’s more like the ’40s, when my mother’s “girls” in the secretarial pool were ecstatic when she lit up in front of them: “You’ve started!

Smoking is a bizarre convention. It’s weird in so many ways. I’m much too highly evolved to engage in such a destructive and wasteful habit — I prefer potato chips — but as smoking became an awkward and shunnable offence over the past couple of North American decades, I started to notice that puffers had some advantages I didn’t, and some wisdom I could’ve used. I just posted an article to this effect from 2005, one of a bunch that never saw the light of publishing day. It’s in the On Second Thought section. Also, the so free and easy to subscribe it’s almost sinful button is just over there on the right.

Where do I start? you may be wondering if you’re new to . One way is to look at Eighteen Great Posts from 2013. You can see the list here, with delectable links if you want to go read them (again). is on Twitter @JamesHowdenIII. Thanks for looking in. If you’re new here, read on to find out more of what is all about

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INVITATION: Pick Your Fave JH Posts From 2013

A Backward Glance, A Second Thought. (Whadiddy Sayagin?)

‘Tis the season, friends and neighbours.

Evanescence is the new solidity.

No, not the season of rampant materialism, though crassness happens. And I don’t mean the time when thoughts of peace on earth, good will towards men quietly insist on being heard amid the din and the hurrying, though I’m all in favour. (Not of the noise and the haste, but of the good will part.) It’s Mirror Time! The Annum That Was! What the Heck Just Happened? The Year in Review!

Sports Illustrated has chosen the NFL quarterback Peyton Manning as its Sportsman of the Year, and the December flood of instant nostalgia is rising. No doubt Time (do we still have Time?) and People and Cool Gossip About Rich Folk I’ll Never Know are putting out their reflections on 2013; and good-for-them, I thought, might not be a bad thing for this humble gathering of electrons.

So, without further mumbling, an Invitation For You:

Faithful readers, occasional lurkers, subscribers loyal and visitors frequent, I would like to know what you’ve liked here at in 2013. Over the past year, this site has featured 39 “At First Glance” pieces on everything from fireworks to novels; 34 short essays that were “All About Sports”; five longer meditations that are found in the “On Second Thought” section; and, 45 quotations under the heading “He Said/She Said”. (I got a bit nutty, maybe, about HS/SS the past few months, but increasingly I use them as thought exercises, and append my responses to the notable words of others and my reasons for posting them.) So, lots to choose from!

Ideal scenario: you’ve read lots, remember some well, and don’t mind traipsing through the archives to remind yourself of what you’ve read here. You’ll fire me a Top 10 list (or Super 7, or…), and I’ll compile it with those of others to produce a Year in Review.

Another scenario: you haven’t been around here for long, or don’t come often, or just don’t have time to mess around with rankings, but you have read a thing (or three) that you like. Let me know the titles, and I’ll feed your choices into the blender, too.

In any case, please send me the list of your favourite titles by December 31, and I’ll try to get the 2013 results up before 2014 gets too old. Thanks! Send your list — and any other feedback, commentary, suggestions — to INFO@JAMESHOWDEN.COM .

YES, and is now followable on Twitter @JamesHowdenIII. Thanks for looking in. If you’re new here, read on to find out more of what is all about, including how to SUBSCRIBE…

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Blizzard Warning

I am posting, today, a long and windy account of watching the first game of the 2012 NBA Finals from my apartment in China. It’s in the It’s All About Sports! section, and to be sure, it’s pretty sporty. If you’re not a basketball fan, though, you might be interested in the reflections on life in China that it incidentally and breezily offers. Very browsable.

A Brief Public Service Announcement

Just a quick note, friends of HowdyDOTCom, about a new posting and a brief guide to this website. It’s easy to get here, the At First Glance section. Also to the right is the It’s All About Sports! section, and below that is another repository of writing called On Second Thought. I don’t often post there, and it’s always longer pieces, sometimes more academic, sometimes just homely family things. I’ve just posted about 5000 words on the meaning of sport – especially in the lives of North American men – and I rather like it! There it lies, near your eyes.

Getting the Word Out

Faithful browsers, this is just a quick note to point out that there are other ways to get your periodic jolt of all things Howdenian. My family and I, ensconced as we now are in Dalian, China, have started a site here to record our observations and experiences, and it will be photo-friendly and much more pithy-brief than my commentaries on . Our semi-annual Howdy Herald, a family newsletter, is going out to more people than probably, strictly speaking, actually need that much input about me and mine. I’ve included it in the “On Second Thought” portion of the site, for those of you interested in the details of my family brewings and doings.