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2014: A Howdy-Do Year in Review

Last January, I didn’t get my 2013 lookback, The Great Eighteen, up until the 20th, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to call this prompt. Efficient. Timely — at least for me! Reflection on accomplishments never comes at a bad time. (Does it? Of course, you ninny! Okay, but — Which doesn’t mean it’s always foolish to look backwards, either. Alright then, so maybe — Just get to it!)

I posted to JH.com 93 times last year, which is as productive as I’ve ever been, and that with December nearly ringing up a doughnut. (That’s jock-talk for nada. Zero. Hole in the JZone layer. Nuttin’, honey. I missed that bizarro perfection by one lonely post, so the rest of the year must’ve been excellent.) Starting with my self-conscious blurts in the middle of 2005, JH.com now has an archive of 637 posts. That seems like quite a few.

So, I consulted a panel of experts. What were the most meaningful, artistically satisfying and world-changing posts of 2014 on JamesHowden.com? No. I didn’t. I trawled through 2014 and asked myself, “Okay, self, what do you still like and think others might, too?” Oh, I did take my readers into account, based on what got read most, or what found life elsewhere on the ‘Net, but mainly this is me Me ME. So here is a quick skate through some of the things I wrote here last year. It gives a reasonable portrait of what gave my head a shake in 2014. It’s a quick read, and you can click on anything that appeals. Here, then, are the

Fabulous Fifteen!

1. Sequel: The (Not Quite) Christmas (Late) Show* Must Go On (Jan. 2)                 (with Chinese Characteristics)

For the last three years in China, my wife and I taught in the School of International Business, a small college within our university in Dalian. Every December, there was a spangly student SHOW. Here, I reviewed this incredible, excessive, odd, passionate, obligatory celebration of something-or-other. Warning: this is only the second half of the extravaganza, and you may not be able to resist dipping back into December 2013 for the full jaw-dropping effect. It was amazing. (And only occasionally depressing.)

2. Lost in Cambodia  (February 5)

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What Do We Remember?

First I tweeted, then I thought.

Typical.

Beautiful. Nothing wrong with this. Except --

Beautiful. Nothing wrong with this. Except —

I retweeted sharp, moving, bitterly lovely and earnest images: helmet and bayonet, Canadian flag, grey beret-wearing veteran among poppies in remembrance of long-lost ever-youthful brothers in arms. It’s only natural: I’m touched by the loss of “my guys”. They’re mine because even though nearly all Canadian war dead fought under a different flag than the one I’ve lived my life under, they came from places I’ve been, or want to. I’ve recited the poems, sung the songs, seen the films. I used to have McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” by heart (the poppies blow), yes, and McGee’s “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth / And danced the sky on laughter-silvered wings…”, and a long time ago I read Timothy Findley’s The Wars like I was in one.

(Well, I know. John Gillespie McGee was American, but his “High Flight” poem celebrated his epiphany as a soaring fighter pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was dead, at age 19, not long after he wrote how he “wheeled and soared and swung / High in the sunlit silence”. It was a training accident. He hadn’t even had the chance to fight for honour, freedom or anything.)

A British man named Laurence Binyon wrote “For the Fallen” as the Great War was swinging into high gear in the late summer of 1914.

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Foot Soldiers of a Different Sort

The TV types back home have been wearing poppies for a week now, and the day of remembrance has arrived. On another front of stylized war, the sporting airwaves have been spiked with tales of a truly offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins and the out-of-bounds brutality he is said to have inflicted on his team-mate. There is much hand-wringing from the shocked public, which is countered by furious defence by insiders, arguing that civilians – and I use the word purposely – cannot know the ferociously masculinized world-of-the-wars that is an NFL locker-room. For today, I will only say that Mr. Incognito (that’s actually his name) “did not act alone”, and cite a superbly indignant piece on the “warrior culture” and its insistence that Being a Man involve sometimes being less than human. Now, it’s two other offensive lineman – the grunts, the hewers of wood and haulers of water, the spear-carriers of this quite incredible game/industry of football – that I want to mention, for an entirely different reason: they’re done with it, gone too soon as some fans might lament.

I read about them the same day. One was an NFL pro, one a wannabe in the high echelons of the NCAA “student athlete” zone of professional apprenticeship. Josh Williford played for Louisiana State University, a usual top-ten program in the best league in America. He’s 6’7” and weighs way north of 300 pounds, and in a game in October of 2012, he lost his mind.

Cuts heal, but we’re not so sure about concussions. I’ve been there — different field, same blankness — more than once. Man down, way down.

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