Petrarch (on lost souls and tennis)

In pursuit of a possible piece centring on the too-soon departed David Foster Wallace, that brilliant and neuron-crackling and ultimately doomed writer, that Guy with Curious Hair (and an ever-present headband), that Broom of multiple Systems, that brain of infinite zest, that Pale authorial King, that supposedly fun-tastic writer-thing he’ll never be or do again¹ – and oh, the loss that was to us, though too few know it! – I bought a posthumously issued collection of his essays, Both Flesh and Not. Before I could even finish the first piece, his classic take on the on-court genius of tennis god Roger Federer, the universe delivered a piping-hot review of another posthumous collection of all the tennis-themed Wallace oeuvre. (It’s called String Theory, which title is a tidy bow linking ribbons of jockery and the nerdiest domains of physics. Would Wallace have approved of the title? Sure, it’s a pun, but not the most brainless, after all.) In eager pursuit of writing I didn’t actually have to do – that is, somebody else’s – I was electronically extracted from the old-school pulpy pages of Both Flesh, (surely by Twitter, or perhaps it was Wikipedia?) pricked by precisely God-only-remembers-what in the Federer piece, and then virtually dragged to an on-line review of String Theory, which rubbed my ever-forgetful nose in pungent memories of what little I know of the desperately sad and finally self-destroying DFW, laden meanwhile with my own fumbling, muted, doomed urgency about doing whatever for no particular reason or special benefit to anybody but my imaginings, vain or narcissistic or otherwise.

This is the author photo for "Both Flesh and Not". Very high, this man, on my Wish I'd Met Him list. Reading more will only make this worse, but that's okay.

This is the author photo for “Both Flesh and Not”. Very high, this man, on my Wish I’d Met Him list. Reading more will only make this worse, but that’s okay.

¹ DFW was famous, in his essays and even in his novels, for an exuberant use of superscripts and page-end notes, digressions and elaborations that were just as fascinating as the central march of his subject. Sometimes there were end-notes to his end-notes. This note of mine points back to a set of descriptions each of which nods to one of his most important book-titles. Way too nerdy-clever (clerdy! nerver!), I know, but I had fun.

And somewhere in that review was Petrarch,

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Martina Navratilova (on winning)

It being March, me being an irredeemable basketball junkie (and hoops purist, which is a difficult double these days), I’m thinking a lot about winning.


Life is hyper-competitive these days, has been for a long while, and most of the favoured paths to success, or happiness, or just plain fame, take the path of least cooperation. Beating that guy, out-performing those rivals, one-upping the neighbours, even defeating those personal demons: everybody’s urged to be competitive, and if you’re going to compete, then it’s usually better if you win. (Though not always.) Even the English language chimes in — being able to do your job, to have useful skills, is to be competent. Cooperation is often framed as secondary, nice for kids, a good refuge for the untalented. This is one of our biggest philosophical/historical misunderstandings, say I, but let’s not go there for now. Let’s say we’re competing,

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Sports Fix (Lite) in Bangkok

The sporting sun, it was (perhaps) humblingly clear from here, does not rise and set on the tubby arse of North American interests! Now, I’ve been living in China for five years, so I knew this already, but on our annual escape southward – this year, Macau, Thailand and Cambodia – I welcomed the greater availability of some of the comforts of my Canadian home. This sometimes means good English bookstores (salute to Chiangmai, Thailand!), and it too often means affordable ice cream and choco-treats whenever I want them (sheepish salute to 7-11 stores, frequent beacons of tawdry hope and sugar lust in all three places). It has also meant limited access to the Winter Olympics; go figure, Thailand and Cambodia don’t much care!

Other evidence of my lingering athletic biases came in a Bangkok waiting room, where, pulse quickening, I noticed an English-language newspaper, that very day’s edition. Yum!

I love Gothic lettering. I love newspapers that have paper, though I’m reluctantly ready for their demise.

It was my second time running across The Bangkok Post, awakening my old jones for newsprint and crinkling pages folded just so.

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Roger and Rafa, Legacy and Kitsch

NEWS FLASH! Rafael Nadal, a short-ish lefthander from Spain, of all places, just won the United States Open tennis championship! It was a stunning, unforeseen victory that left him flat on his back, overwhelmed by exhausted emotion, utterly shocked by this incredible result in one of tennis’s greatest venues, and one of its most important tournaments of the year.

Well, no. Not really. Although he did lie prone on the court, absorbing the admiring roars of 22,000 at the Arthur Ashe court, attracting millions of viewers and hundreds of millions of GIFs and dramatic stills, it was hardly a shock. Nadal is the king of contemporary tennis. This was his 13th major championship, and a 2ndvictory in New York. Pardon me for probing the sincerity of his reaction – from all I’ve read and seen, Rafa is an astonishingly fierce competitor on court, a dedicated trainer and a fine gentleman off it – but haven’t these amazed post-match collapses become a little clichéd?

This was’s photo of Nadal in victorious distress. Way in the background, Djokovic waits to be acknowledged.

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