Re: Cage

One of my first memories of childhood was my dad taking me to the Riverdale Zoo, near the Don Valley in Toronto. It was an old style animal park built in 1894. I remember there were lots of cages and barred enclosures. Another time we went to a private zoo in Maine and I fed peanuts to a curiously charming caged chimpanzee. Much later, as an adult, I was shocked to see the very same primate; fingers grasping rusty bars, woefully swinging back and forth. Penning animals is controversial these days. Back when I was a kid humans had to be protected from the ferocious beasts. Nowadays it would be more appropriate if we kept the flora and fauna sheltered from our influences.

Oh we can be a barbarous species! How terrible is man who imagines two people fighting it out; last man standing. One on one sports like Boxing and UFC are signs of man’s depravity, packaged as entertainment. Being a peace loving fellow, I don’t see getting enjoyment from watching humans bloody one another while literally confined in a cage or ring. Crowds shout encouragement. We bet on a winner. We get trapped in a form of collective mass hysteria. We all lose.

Even the meekest among us can build our own personal enclosures. At their best these are places where we find comfort or security.  If we are lucky we can decorate our homes to our choosing. We can make our private spaces reflect our personality while containing the things we need to survive or flourish. For those with less means, life itself can be confining. Through circumstance or plain bad luck some exist only in a place to escape from. We can sometimes feel trapped in the cages of our own minds. Temple Grandin famously built a hug machine contraption to find reassurance in a confounding world. What others saw as confinement, she found that the device gave her control within her unique autistic world.

It may be a zoo out there and we must learn to share it. There are occasions when misbehaving children are given a time out to think about their transgressions. My sons got used to the limits of a set of stairs until they realized the error of their ways. Older mis-deeders in our society go to prison, often for the wrong reasons and usually without positive outcomes. We can’t hope to correct the penal system until prisons become creative way-stations to a better life rather than models of going nowhere fast.

Having suffered from episodes of depression and anxiety, I can relate to those who find themselves in cages not of their own design. The experience of mental illness is a tiny world where the smallest things need to be protected, where others are to be feared. I admire those who find ways to free themselves of the constraints of conventional life. Folks who climb mountains, both real and metaphorical, have pushed against their personal boundaries. These adventurers have found space to breathe, to create and to live large.

Re: Baseball

Hollywood and Baseball are the only two truly great things that come from the United States of America. Whether you refer to it as a game, a sport or a pastime; Baseball has something for everyone. I believe the meeting of spectator and athlete at the Old Ball Game has an artistic quality to it, with church-like overtones. The stadium is the sanctuary, the diamond is the nave, the pennant is the holy grail. Buy me some Cracker Jacks please.

Baseball is a story, generally played out in nine chapters by two teams with nine players on each side. During the game there is drama, strategy, plots and intrigue. Occasional foul play is rare, but umpires are there, to ensure that there is an overriding tone of gentlemanly interaction and level headed sportsmanship. I like that Baseball is a team sport as well as an individual sport. The first batter to approach home plate is truly one player against nine. With each swing of the bat the goal is to secure a place on the next base. Once there, by fate or the will of the baseball gods, the runner prays his teammates will get him home. Barring a home run, all members must work together. Coaches are allowed near first and third bases to give runners some encouraging words. It’s collaborative. It’s collegial. It’s an example of the way life can be.

Variants of ball and bat games predate the development of Baseball which got its start in North America in the mid-nineteenth century. As the sport grew in popularity it was played on vacant lots, streets and open fields. The dreams of many a boy began with hearing the exploits of their favourite player. I had a small transistor radio I kept in my desk in grade six. It gave me updates on the exploits of Roger Maris and Willie Mays, my two favourite players. I played hardball and was a terrible batter. However, I caught the league winning fly ball in my last season as a left fielder. I collected Baseball cards, kept them in a shoe box and, like everyone else, after I left home for college, my mother tossed them out,

The pace of Baseball appeals to my personality. It takes its time. The players are diverse in shape, size, colour and disposition. My favourite player right now is a catcher named Alejandro Kirk. He’s not a stereotypical athlete but damn can he perform! In a world that often seems unfair, the rules of Baseball are regularly being updated to make for more egalitarian play. Umpires, like a third team, are present to see that justice is done, that a level of respect is maintained. When judgement is questioned there is allowance for impartial review. Scandals have existed on and off the stadium grounds (steroids, gambling, conspiracy, corporate usury) but when all is said and done, regardless of who you are, you have a chance to realize your dreams on the field of Baseball.

The spirit of this game shall endure forever.

Re: Performance

I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.

We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose. 

The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.

Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it. 

I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.

Re: Olympics

Coronavirus disruption has meant cancelling the summer Olympics. To some it was inevitable, though the International Olympic Committee held back their decision until the situation became impossible to ignore. Canadian athletes were first to boldly state that they would not participate. Officially the 2020 event has been postponed yet will still keep the brand of this year as a message of hope.

The Olympics captures the value of sport in our lives. As a part of worldwide culture it is equal to artistic pursuits. Humans become more complete when they compete, using their bodies to go higher, get stronger and go faster. This reality of humanity is expressed so well in the symbols of the Olympics, for example the rings of the five colours found in the flags of the nations of the world. We speak of gold medal performances. We give tribute to those in other areas of life who make olympian contributions. We encourage children to have olympic-sized dreams.

I had dreams of attending the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 with a German born friend. A short four years later I was employed and married, with my first child on the way when the Olympics came to Montreal in 1976. I remember some company producing a series of small guidebooks which I bound and kept for a while as a keepsake. They contained records of all the Olympic games and some cool individual profiles of several remarkable athletes. It was handy on my bookshelf to use when I watched subsequent games on television with my three young boys. I love how art and sport can mingle at these events. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAFhNobJABU. Devotion, obsession, desire, compulsion, commitment; these are some words that might be used to express the sense of calling one must have to rise to Olympian stature. I admire that quest to the extent that I can tear up while watching a record breaking performance during summer or winter Olympic telecasts.

Controversies attached to the Olympic system due to the imbalance of power, the IOC structure, financial inequities or political manipulations can result in games being criticized. I grew up learning of the ideals of ancient Greece and Mount Olympus where the first athletes were awarded laurel wreaths in honour of their victories. I love the spiritual intent to support friendship, respect and excellence and the motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the creation of the IOC and the modern games in 1894. A strong message of peace can be found in the doctrines of Olympism. So it is more than sport. It is a way of thinking and acting. I choose to follow that dream.

The Olympics will be missed in the summer of 2020. Athletes will continue to work toward personal goals. Qualifying events will be staged. Once the threat of Corvid19 has passed we will again congregate in stadiums and arenas to cheer for our favourite heroes. We will share in the realization of impossible dreams. We humans will continue to strive to be the best we can be.