Getting Your Howdy On: SIV Week Is Here

It’s my mother’s birthday. Were she still shuffling, flat-footed and bunion-aching, along this mortal coil of frayed and ravelled rope, she would be turning 95 today. She would be steamed. I’m so angry I could spit! she used to mutter when one of us, not always me, would race heedlessly past the wide but certainly finite fields of her patience. She loved life, doted on her family and especially those teeming crowds of grandchildren gathered around every Howden turkey. She’s a woman who suffered, and yet got pretty much what she had hoped for in life. In her last months, though, she’d had enough, and was quite-content-thank-you to be DONE with sleeping and waking and eating and all these things. One day in a hospital bed, she awoke, looked around with confusion and (at least the way I read it) growing dismay, and said, “Am I still here?”

Today is Enid Day. She died in 2006. (I remembered her, in one of my favourite and least-saleable pieces in JHdotCOM history, here: . Sorry, still unable to hyperlink.) Her birth-day is when we most remember her. I got a note from Big Sister that looked forward to her third Enid Day in Nunavut, where she her last few years of “retirement” teaching some of the damaged and despairing children and youth of Cape Dorset. She was enticed there by my ex-wife, with whom she lives. (That’s a pretty good story, I figure, though not mine to tell, not yet.) So, happy Enid Day to them, to all my relations, and to you and me.

In memory of her, I have declared this SIV Week. I’m not sure who was more stubborn, Enid or my Dad, though I’d say both changed astral planes more easily than they often changed their minds. The stubbornness I rue with such arm-waving in my fourth son informs me — eventually, ruefully, guiltily — of just how cement-headed I so often and so chronically am. Solution? StubbornnessIsVirtue Week. SIV. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; if you can’t alter it, exalt it! Winston Churchill was stubborn. So were Gandhi, King, Teresa. So am I, if only I could beat that adamantine forehead of mine against more meaningful walls.

Therefore, this having been declared SIV Week, I’m taking several half-finished things that I’ve written over the past while — and, for various reasons, chief among them cowardice, fatigue and cerebral untidiness, haven’t had the poop to complete — and I’m GETTING THEM BLOODY WELL DONE. (I also remain, certainly, cursed by Enid’s endlessly repeated counsel that if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, which has led to more procrastination and dismayed unfinish-ing than either of us can abide.) So, first you’ll see, in the It’s All About Sports section, my final Final 4 basketball thoughts, though that American college hoops lollapalooza finished three weeks ago. Other gottawritems are even older, but won’t look so obviously out-of-date because they’re less particular.

So: I’m finishing stuff. I’m clearing the decks. Spring cleaning of the neocortical kind. Purging. Loosening my load, in hopes that new and fresh things might follow, but mainly out of brute determination to do-stuff-my-way-even-if-it-makes-no-sense-to-readers-’cause-Mum-never-gave-up-and-mulishness-should-sometimes-bear-fruit-even-if-it-looks-like-a-dungpile. It’s MY dungpile. I made it all by myself! Happy Enid Day, and Happy StubbornnessIsVirtue Week!!

The rest, below, is in explanation of what this site has done and does when it’s not SIVW.

Continue Reading >>

Kurt Vonnegut (on the usefulness of the arts)

It’s Vonnegut Week, I guess. I’m re-reading Fates Worse Than Death, which has suddenly jumped the queue ahead of Bill McKibben’s Enough (readable, surprisingly funny for a grim assessment of our more is better! culture) and Seth Davis’s Wooden: A Coach’s Life (which I want to plough through uninterrupted). Given that Wooden and Vonnegut may be my top two American heroes — and hey, come to think, McKibben’s not a lot lower on that list — it’s not shocking that fiction is (again) on a lower shelf, not to mention the stack of magazines that arrived in our Ottawa mailbox during our last year in China. Woe is my reading list. (Reading lust.)

The following bit of KV is not from FWTD, or from Palm Sunday, its predecessor as a Vonnegut “autobiographical collage”. It’s from a more recent book called A Man Without a Country: A Memoir Of Life In George W Bush’s America — again, non-fiction, but even stronger in its searingly angry, despairing and somehow still spookily funny condemnation of the ruling elites in the U.S.A. (Canada currently has little, other than good luck, to boast about in this regard. Don’t get smug, Canucks.) This was among the happier quotes, one that gets cited again and again, and mostly out of context. I still like it out of context, and I print it below in this way because it contains one of KV’s goofy autograph/self-portraits.

A little context: the passage actually begins, ““If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is…” Adding that opening — which most quotation-hounds subtract, and now I’m among them — gives back the true bite of this shard of Vonnegutian advice.

Continue Reading >>

When is Enough Enough?

Some great things land in my Inbox. Here are a couple of recent examples, and links that can get you more where they came from…

I’d never heard of Gary Tyler until recently. I’d never heard of Jocks for Justice, either, but there is a group of mainly ex-athletes – only Etan Thomas, a forward for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, is an active jock activist – who are standing up for what appears to be one of the great miscarriages of justice in American history. Gary Tyler, in 1974, was riding a bus with other black students to a newly desegregated high school in Louisiana. When the bus was attacked by a white mob, one white teen ended up shot to death. Tyler remains on death row in the notorious Angola prison for being, as a New York Times writer has recently uncovered, simply “the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Amnesty International has flagged the case. Human rights and judicial reform activists are on the bit, too, as are Tommie Smith and John Carlos (the “Black Power” saluters from the Mexico City Olympics of 1968) and other sports notables. Dave Zirin, a writer whose beat is the social and political edge of sports, tells the whole story, with appropriate outrage, here.  It’s a quick but worthwhile read.

Another writer, no less passionate but more measured in his approach, is the noted American environmental crusader Bill McKibben. He’s not just a tree-hugger, although he loves the forests and trails. He’s one of the world’s most thoughtful contributors to the big discussions of how we should live, how we can remain in harmony with our highest human values and with the rest of creation. I first read McKibben in a short article in Utne magazine on how to survive (and more) the all-out consumer assault that our “holy season” has become. It was called “The $100 Christmas”. I had somehow missed his first book, The End of Nature, which was nearly 20 years ahead of its time. It was perhaps the first widely read discussion of the drastic effect on global ecology and climate that has been caused by our industrial excess. I heard McKibben recently at an Ottawa conference of the Sierra Club of Canada. He was thoughtful, he was extremely sobering, yet somehow he managed to be encouraging at the same time. And what a graceful writer!

If you have some time to read great writing that will change (or at least stimulate) your mind, try McKibben’s piece in the spring ’07 edition of Mother Jones magazine. It’s called “Reversal of Fortune”, and it begins this way: “For most of human history, the two birds More and Better roosted on the same branch. You could toss one stone and hope to hit them both…” In other words, the human quest to achieve or acquire more – more food, more invention, more control over our circumstances – has generally served to make life better. But as McKibben notes here, and in his new book Enough, we have hit the stage in human civilization where the desire and attainment of MORE of everything has stopped being beneficial and has become the source of many of our most threatening problems. It’s intelligent but superbly readable, and it won’t leave you in despair. There are things we can do to make our lives BETTER. (If you’d like to read more about this – and this is a case where ‘more’ and ‘better’ still DO roost on the same branch – please click here for more McKibben. Always a good thing.)