Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Changes To The Game

Sunday night's hockey game got off to a stellar start, for Yours Truly. After four scoreless years of playing with the same group of guys, I managed to get past the goalie twice, within the first ten minutes.

The first was the direct result of a terrific pass, from a guy who loves to play the game and not just launch a personal showboat every few minutes. I'd say it was almost impossible to fail that quality of pass, but the truth is I've messed up plenty of passes just like it. But not Sunday.

The second goal, however, occurred on one of my exceedingly rare break-aways. I doubt anyone, besides the goalie, was more surprised than I was to see the puck reach the back of the net.

After that, things deteriorated to my usual level of play. At one point I took the puck away from a guy -- he's a year or two older, an accomplished player who was, I imagine, a scrappy defence in his youth. Anyway, it clearly pissed him off to have someone who plays so pitifully make a monkey out of him. He got grabby and threw everything he had to get the puck back, or at least mess up my break. It was the latter, and we both wheezed off to our respective benches. I could tell, then, that I'd strained my lower back, and it would hurt a lot worse the next morning.

Then I stopped a slap-shot with my right shin.

So, yeah, I woke up in sad shape. As I made the morning coffee, I told my wife that playing poorly and having fun was preferable to playing well and getting hurt.

It's been a curious experience watching my game (slooooowly) improve. Right from the start, it was evident there was nowhere for me to go but up. The first few times I attempted a break-away, some young whipper-snapper would swan in from behind me, gently pluck the puck away from me and take the action to the other end of the rink. Eventually, that stopped -- not out of any personal resourcefulness I'd developed, but out of pity from the other guys. "Catch your breath, fellas, let 'im go. He just shoots at the goalie's chest, anyway."

So I concentrated on shooting where the goalie was not. That resulted in shots spectacularly wide of the net. But gradually I collected more and more ringers -- off either post, or the crossbar. It was only a matter of time before I hit net. Sunday night was the night.

I've improved in other aspects of play, also. No point exploring any of that any further, as it's been so incremental as to be unnoticeable to anyone but myself. But I do notice it, and it's one element that keeps me coming out on Sunday nights when the wood-stove and a dram of whisky ought to have the deeper appeal to a guy my age.

For most of the rest of the guys, these games are just the opposite: a determined fight against decline. Professional athletes die twice, but amateurs die thousands of times as the years wear on. Sunday night's goals, the clutch -- and the inevitable change-room drubbing that followed -- felt like an initiation into a rather morbid fraternity.

I'm not sure how I feel about that -- besides really, really sore, of course.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Dr. Hibbert: You do have friends, don't you?
Comic Book Guy: Well ... the Super-Friends.

It's curious to grieve a man who played a beloved role. I'm trying to sift through "what it all means," suspecting that someone somewhere has already done a better job of it. If I write it, I'll post; if I find it, I'll link. In the meantime, I am exceedingly grateful for this man who invested in and truly created one of the best super-friends a boy could possibly want.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The 87th Academy Awards

I haven't seen so much as a single minute. I did, however, see about seven or eight minutes of the red carpet -- just long enough to catch this supremely awkward "family moment" between Melanie Griffith and daughter Dakota Johnson. The movie in question is Fifty Shades Of Gray, and it is a rare mother who would express enthusiasm for watching her daughter enact a too-tart-to-be-vanilla sexual-coming-of-age story. But then Griffith is a rare mother for having taken similar risks and roles back when she was her daughter's age, in Body Double and Something Wild. Has Ms. Johnson troubled herself with either of those movies, I wonder?
"Who's next?" Jeff Daniels, Something Wild
Mother and daughter fled the interviewer, and I the television, opting instead for my usual Sunday night old duffs' hockey game. The fire in the hearth was tempting, but resistible. Had I stayed, I'd likely have had too much wine, to counteract the gnawing existential dread spurred on by the glowing flat-screen. As it was, the evening yielded no goals, but two assists, and some accomplished defense, followed by a hot shower and a good night's sleep. More than reward enough.

Something else I haven't seen: American Sniper. I'm lukewarm-to-cool on most Clint Eastwood movies. The last movie of his I saw on the big screen was Unforgiven, and ever since then I've adopted a Wait-For-The-Video policy. But even sight unseen it's safe to say this latest flick is something of a phenom. In Michael Moore's words, it's bringing out The Passion Of The Christ crowd. Speaking of Moore, I'm generally lukewarm-to-cool on his agitprop, but he does give a good interview. As for Eastwood's movie, I figure any flick that gets people talking this much about what a movie does is a good thing, for everyone.

That last link (again) is from the Roger Ebert website, and man, do I ever miss him after last night. I would have loved to hear his reaction to Selma, and the Academy's non-reaction to it. Matt Zoller Seitz stands in for Roger and makes the case for Selma. True to form, however, the Academy instead awarded the movie about show-biz. For a peek behind the votes, here is one Academy member's brutally honest evaluation of the ballot.

But to close with Roger Ebert, every once in a while someone in the biz shows up on the site to plug their favorite Ebert piece. This is mine. He had other observations about his Calcutta trip, all worth reading (type "calcutta" into the site search engine). With the exception of, and just prior to, his illness and debilitation, his time at the Calcutta Film Festival changed his writing more than any other life event.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On Hearing Jimmy Greene

And what did you come here to see?

A wilderness chorus
 hands joined
 voices lifted

     hearts scourged
       of expectation

An echo

The reed


    despite the silence:

Friday, February 13, 2015


I've got some words piled and filed, but they need a little more attention than I can give them right now (ringette tournament, doncha know). All apologies. I'll be back.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Guilty Pleasures: Yoda, Carnivàle

Mark Dery’s plea to “put the guilt back into guilty pleasures” is getting a lot of link-love, which I happily (and entirely without guilt) add to.

As I near the finishing line of my 50th year, I’m finding there are fewer and fewer pleasures that don’t come with at least some residual guilt. I’m running out of time. I always was, of course, but I’m also running lower on snap and vim and all the qualities one needs to get worthwhile things done. Is this really how I want to spend it?

For instance: I recently recommended, sight unseen, a novel about Yoda. Wow, do I ever regret that. I’m about two-thirds through it, and the book now hurts my eyes. It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s definitely not Sean Stewart at his best. And that’s because it’s a Franchise Novel, and Stewart soars when he’s in his own defiantly non-franchise territory.

So now I’ve got this book I feel obligated to finish, even though I reflexively roll my eyes every time I encounter the name “Dooku,” and of course eye-rolling slows down the speed-reading, so the reading never gets done.

Maybe I'll just play Grim Fandango...
You want guilt? I’m guilty of recommending it, I feel guilty reading it -- guilt compounded by what I could be reading instead -- but will feel greater guilt if I don’t finish. What’s more, I’m hooked: I want to see how Stewart plays it out. I am even, yes, enjoying the book. Guilty pleasure.
"A second time? Sure you wanna do this, sport?"
The younger daughter was after me about Carniv├ále. That’s 24 episodes, which I’d already seen, so I’d be committing one more of my disappearing days to an enterprise I’d already given a “Welllll . . . better than meh” to. But I knew she’d dig it in a big way, so of course I finally queued it up.

Wouldn't you know it, I enjoyed it more this second time around? The first time I'd been completely ignorant of avatar folklore. Now that I was all caught up and knew where everything was heading, I had no impatience with the leisurely pace Knauf & Co. took exploring the various characters at play in the carnival, much of which contributed absolutely nothing of significance to the developing story arc of two avatars fated to confront each other. 

It's just fartin' around, exploration for exploration's sake. And why not? A carnival with supernatural goings-on, travelling through the dust-bowl of the '30s has fabulous potential for writerly breadth, depth and texture -- keeping the storyline too lean and mean would be a crying shame.

Ironically, the material that now struck me as overindulgent was run as an integral element of the second season. The writers were keen to cultivate Jonesy's sweet-natured cluelessness around women for greater viewer empathy, the better to maximise the emotional pay-off of the season's conclusion. I get it, but man oh man: as the travails of his love-life played from one episode to the next, I found myself restlessly wondering what the Siamese Twins or the Lizard Man were up to.

"I'm an interesting guy: why no storyline for me?"
Just to compound my time-expenditure, I returned to the AV Club’s episode-by-episode breakdown, and discovered this two-part interview with creator Daniel Knauf. It’s curious to hear him talk about where he’d hoped to go with the concept. “Five Years Later” strikes me as quite a promising launching point, but of course there is a barrier that keeps it grounded: HBO has the rights locked-down. Knauf says they received death-threats when they shut down the show. Well then, c’mon, HBO: release the rights so Knauf can pen his novel/comic book/what-have-you. Truly, all will be forgiven.

Anyway. Twenty-four hours, spent with my wife and kid. All pleasure, no guilt. Next?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Rattling In My Brain-Pan

I’m sadly short on inspiration. Normally that would propel me out the door and off for a walk. But the view outside my window . . .

. . . is discouraging. Sunshine is welcome, of course, but bright sunshine over a fresh blanket of snow means only one thing: it is very, very cold outside.

I’ll force myself out later. If something brilliant occurs to me, I’ll come back and share. In the meantime, here are some links to material that’s been rattling around my brain-pan.

“The player is not what this is about. It’s about the files” -- Neil Young being Neil Young.

I am a reluctant iPod user, not a fan. But even so, Neil’s lost me on this particular venture, because his claims are baffling.

It is about the files, yes. There are bajillions of inferior-sounding mp3s in circulation, and the m4a files Apple sells on iTunes are of varying quality. Neil is selling FLAC files, and those can indeed sound pleasantly fat.

But c’mon: Neil’s 20 years older than I am, and he’s been playing rock concerts since before I was born. His ears must be in worse shape. Give me the CD and I daresay I could rip an mp3 that is indistinguishable from the FLAC.

The problem for audiophiles of a certain age is not the file format, it is the mastering or remastering that went into the file. And there is a tonne of older material, including Neil’s, that could stand remastering. The big bad record companies all know this, btw. Hence the recent, spanky offerings of old Beatles and Led Zeppelin discs. RUSH is putting a little spit and polish on their back catalog. Say, where’s the shined-up Steely Dan?

Neil Young, RUSH . . . Canadian-bred acts that have stubbornly followed their own muses and stuck to their own unique creative code.

"Record? With Nickelback? Do I have to wear pants?"
“I went to LA and I wrote with a team that produced all the Nickleback stuff . . . And I hate it in such a way that it is hard for me to quantify.” Hm. Seems Devin Townsend is cut of similar cloth. Here is his account of what went down.

Speaking of RUSH, drummer Neal Peart doesn’t give many interviews, but he sat down with CBC’s Shelagh Rogers to discuss his latest book, over here. It is a short, reliably erudite and lovely exchange.

And speaking of Led Zeppelin, I recently posted this passage from Stephen Davis’ LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicle of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour. The entire book, like this passage, is terrifically evocative of that particular time. Also, not a little eerie -- as befits the subject, and the era.

Finally: a writer yaks about writing -- nothing new, but Jeff VanderMeer's account of writing three novels in a year is a surprisingly trippy read, suggesting (to me, at any rate) that the books themselves are worth a look.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Marcus J. Borg, 1942-2015

Marcus J. Borg died last night -- sad news, indeed.

Borg was a philosopher and theologian of a decidedly liberal bent. He was also a perceptive observer of and articulate participant in New Testament scholarship.
Borg, with his collected works of Walt Kelly & Carl Barks
Borg was frequently accused of throwing the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater, but his sensitive excavation of the more troubling dichotomies and outright contradictions that come with professing a faith in Christ encouraged some of us to stay in the fold. In his own unique way Borg was, to his last breath, a Defender of the Faith: rigorously critical, committed, compassionate and humane.
Also: a sharper dresser than most of his students

If introductions are in order, I’d suggest starting where I did: The Meaning Of Jesus: Two Visions (1999, 2007). This chapter-by-chapter back-and-forth with conservative Anglican and academian N.T. Wright is an approachable, almost breezy read, but its oppositional approach does a terrific job of covering the most pertinent “Who was Jesus?” hot-spots. Highly recommended.*

If that whets your appetite for more, you should probably head directly to Borg’s most lauded/scourged works Jesus: A New Vision (1987), Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time (1997), and The Heart Of Christianity (2003).

But the Borg book that has given me the most cause for musing and meditation is probably one of his most poorly-executed: Evolution Of The Word: The New Testament In The Order The Books Were Written (2013).

Borg proposes a seemingly obvious thought-experiment: to get the clearest picture of how the earliest Christians pushed-and-pulled their religious POV into shape, read the New Testament in historical order, from the earliest books to the latest. Borg’s proposal has me wondering how much of my Bible college angst mightn't have got headed off at the pass if this hadn’t been a first-year requirement.

The book itself, however, is difficult to recommend, and the blame falls squarely at the feet of his publisher. Borg’s introductions to each book are well worth the read, but it seems to me that anybody who could be arsed with Borg’s proposal already owns a NRSV Bible. What could have been a slim and punchy volume -- or, better yet, an e-pub -- winds up as yet another Bible to clutter up the bookshelf. Borg's work is likely to experience the usual posthumous uptick. Say, Harper Collins: no better time than the present to rectify this situation.

RIP, sir -- and, as you were always keen to assert, God love you.

*I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my buddy Professor D. for turning me on to this book, as well as to the lovely GR for procuring it for me, back in the day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“Authors and teenagers share the books that saved their life”

This list gets me reflecting.

The “authors” tend to cite the usual suspects — Judy Blume, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, etc. “Authors” are all older folk, of course, with respectable work they need taken seriously.

So it chuffs me greatly to read the entrants by actual living teens: The Fault In Our Stars, Twilight, Throne of Glass.

Now we’re talking!

Speaking as the father of two nearly-adult book-devouring daughters, I am here to inform you that the holy trifecta of Judy-J.D.-and-Harper represent the assigned bane of my daughters’ readerly existences. And brother, do I ever sympathize — the youngest of these books is over 45-years-old; the other two have passed the half-century mark. 

In other words, the protagonists of these books would all be older than the reader's parents. Yo, curriculum developers: it is time to move on.

I see there’s a chap who admires McCarthy’s The Road. It’s not a book I’ve any use for at present, but I could definitely see my teenage self digging it. Harrowing, fatalistic, over-the-top grim, yet determinedly affirmational despite it all — pretty much exactly what I dug about the Thomas Covenant books, back in the day.

Steven R. Donaldson’s fantasy double-trilogy (I see he’s gone to the well a third time — yikes) didn’t exactly “save my life,” but it did shepherd me into a lightly-informed existentialism I could wield into my 20s, where I finally encountered Paul Auster’s Moon Palace (which definitely had a “life-saving” resonance during that decade).

As a teen, the book that probably “saved my life” was The Long Walk by Richard Bachman.

Rather ironic, given how breezily I dismiss Stephen King in adulthood.

But let’s be clear: a) I didn’t know I was reading a Stephen King book; and b) if I had known, I would have read everything else on his shelf, because that is exactly what I wanted — what I needed — to read as a teen.

It’s impossible to say at this point, but I doubt anything else by King would have resonated quite so deeply as The Long Walk.

Walk’s protagonist was a year or two older than I was (17 maybe?), a sensitive, slightly-brooding sort, living in a dystopian world entirely indifferent to his existence — until he voluntarily enters a nationally-broadcast sporting event: a walking marathon, where the winner is the only survivor.

The contestants are all late-adolescent boys, who provoke, or occasionally help, each other as the walk proceeds. They talk without any self-censorship about everything that enters a boy’s head at that age, and at some point there are indicators that our protagonist has been beset with a wee bout of adolescent sexual confusion.

It doesn’t rate as the defining element of angst for our protagonist. Nor did it for me — depending on the day of the week. But seeing the subject raised and dealt-with as matter-of-factly (and profanely) as every other source of male adolescent angst in those pages suddenly reduced its status as Pre-eminent Threat To My Identity — which, at the time, felt like a real life-saver.

I haven’t reread the book, so I can’t say whether I’d recommend it to teens today. And reading is different for every kid of course. What do I know? Maybe most kids are still keen on Catcher In The Rye. If it bothers them enough, today’s teens will go on to retire Judy-J.D.-Harper in favour of voices a little more current. If not, then not.

How about you? Is there a book that saved your teenage life? And is there one you might recommend to save mine in my 50s?
Additional: now that I think of it, my father saved my teenage life when he gave me a Christian defence of Rock 'n' Roll music not a matter that even today's most pious teens seem especially troubled over. Vive le change!