Writing Process: Virtual Junk to Myself

My family had many Christmas traditions. Presents were not put under the tree until Christmas Eve. The living room door was kept closed until after we had a proper breakfast. Christmas cards were used as decorations around the house. And after receiving our gifts, we had to write thank-you notes to everyone. It was an onerous, yet vital task.

Thank-you notes are a thing of the past; now children just call aunts and grandparents, or worse, send texts and posts. A quick word with an emoji or two, and they can go back to their games and chats. The same goes for notes and letters. Indeed when was the last time you received a postcard?

Postcards from camp to my parents in 1973

It’s not as if I’m pining for the days of writing thank-you notes but that, as these artifacts go, so do our memories. The Young Chronicles series detailing my 1983 Cross-Canada hitchhiking trip would not exist if not for my hand-written notes.

Original notes for Young Chronicles

While these sophomoric scribblings are not vital to living my life, they are key to reminding me of where I’ve been.

I wrote a piece twenty years ago on the poor state of sports journalism. I interviewed many sports people including Allen Iverson, Mark Messier, Cito Gaston and the sports editor for The New York Times. It was a solid bit of writing which The Globe and Mail considered publishing but ultimately rejected as being too controversial because I named names – including Stephen Brunt and Gary Mason, godawful writers still working today. The story is gone, lost because it and all of the notes were on a floppy disk that vanished in the years of transition. And so I only have this picture from Gary’s Instagram.

I rarely write on paper anymore. I text myself my notes. I do this so much that my Gmail account has flagged me (the same Gmail account) as junk, junk unto itself. Yes, even my computer is sending the message for me to get back to paper, maybe even print out these posts so that I can reflect and share on whatever platform is to come.

Mindful Gong for Leaf Goals

Instead of the damned blaring horn, spotlights and screaming, the Toronto Maple Leafs should focus on the import of the moment. Mindful Gong for Leaf GoalsA single note on a gong followed by the crowd rising in silence, a bow between teams and audience, after which they would resume play. That’s what makes a champion.

Soshkinov’s Goal: A Beautiful Thing

The Toronto Maple Leafs traded away the majority of veteran players over the past season  to begin anew.

On Monday, February 29, four young players had their NHL debuts: Connor Carrick (21), Kasperi Kapanen (19), William Nylander (19), Nikita Soshkinov (22). Soshkinov was the first of the rookies to score, two days later, on March 2 against the Washington Capitals. Soshkinov's Goal: A Beautiful ThingSoshkinov's Goal: A Beautiful Thing

It was a beautiful thing.

Soshkinov's Goal: A Beautiful ThingAnd so it begins anew.

A Big Fix for Canada’s Team

I blogged in February on The Five Big Problems of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Happily Team President Brendan Shanahan agreed on the most important point. CFeApxQXIAAM3-m.jpg-largeBy hiring Mike Babcock as the new head coach – $50 million for eight years – Leafs management sends a clear message to media, fans and players alike: this team must win now.

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 21:  Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring in the first period against the Buffalo Sabres  at First Niagara Center on March 21, 2013 in Buffalo, United States.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

There are many next steps, the most important of which is to address player leadership, but the first step is the most important.

Said Babcock this morning: “I believe this is Canada’s team and it’s time to put it back on the map. I came here to be involved in a Cup process. I have a burning desire to win. I want to build a team that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of.”

13-05-13 - TORONTO, ONTARIO - Maple Leaf Square erupts as the Leafs score to even it up 1-1 in the 1st period. Toronto Maple Leaf fans react to the Game 7 action in Boston between Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. The winner of the game goes on to Round 2 of NHL playoffs Rick Madonik/Toronto Star

Ben Johnson: The King of Scapegoats

The public’s recent kangaroo court ruling on Ray Rice reminds me of one of the greatest scapegoats in memory: Ben Johnson. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsFor years, Mr. Johnson was seen as Canada’s great hope in Track and Field. He was watched by millions as he trained for the 100 meter dash, sprinting, flexing and smiling day in and day out. He went on to set a world record in the event. Canada had the world’s fastest man.

He arrived at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a country’s hopes on his back and won the gold medal – annihilating the competition, including hated rival Carl Lewis, and setting another world record. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsHe was immediately coronated by the country, as much a Canadian sporting king as Paul Henderson or Terry Fox. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsAnd then…Mr. Johnson tested positive for steroids. Suddenly there was no medal, no record and no coronation. Mr. Johnson was transformed – in less than 9.8 seconds – into an immigrant Canada never should have allowed in. He was branded a traitor. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsIn due course, the critical eyes turned to the doctors and coaches. However the spotlight lost focus when it came to the real problem, on why Mr. Johnson was on a mission to win at all costs. Whose idea was all that? The coaches? The Canadian Track and Field Association? The media? The public? Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsAs odd as it seems to me, even today, 25 years later, Mr. Johnson is considered with a collective shame. Even now. As guilty as Ben Johnson was, as guilty as Mr. Rice may be, the real crime committed here is not by these individuals, but by a society that craves blood, the crime of reveling in a public execution.

Ben Johnson: The King of Scapegoats

Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football League

Ray Rice is guilty of domestic violence. No one, including Mr. Rice, disputes that. His guilt was established weeks ago when a video was released showing Mr. Rice dragging his unconscious fiance out of the elevator.

 Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football League

Ray Rice Video #1 (courtesy of TMZ)

The National Football League subsequently did a video review and, after Mr. Rice supplicated appropriately, gave him a paltry two game suspension.

However this decision was dramatically reversed today when videotape was released – a reverse angle as it were –  showing Mr. Rice actually throw the punch that knocked her out.

 Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football League

Ray Rice Video #2 (Courtesy of TMZ)

The NFL’s reversed decision was radioed down to the field and Mr. Rice was terminated by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and suspended indefinitely by the league.

The odd thing about this reversal is that the second videotape does not reveal anything not already known; he had admitted to striking her and the videotape had shown her unconscious from that blow. However Mr. Rice’s crime of domestic violence is not in fact at issue here, but rather the perception that the league endorses the crime.  Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football LeagueThe league understands that, if they didn’t take drastic action that it isn’t Mr. Rice who punched that poor woman and knocked her out, but the NFL itself. Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football League Which begs the question of Ray Lewis, a former NFL Baltimore Raven who served time for obstruction of justice – a plea deal to avoid murder charges – and yet recently had a statue erected in his honor.

 Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football LeagueIndeed what if Mr. Lewis’ crime had been videotaped? Would that statue have been erected or Mr. Lewis ever allowed in the television booth?  Under Video Review: Ray Rice and the National Football LeagueThe sad truth is that, as guilty as Mr. Rice is of assault, he is a scapegoat, someone for the rest of the league to heap scorn on, so that the NFL can be left to commit business as usual. (Fantasy Football owners will just have to bite the bullet and let Ray go.)

Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in Boston

I admit that I went to Boston with an attitude. As a fan of Toronto Maple Leafs, I do not think kind thoughts of anything Bruin, and so donned my Leafs cap to represent the true blue and white. Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in BostonI didn’t have to wait long for a reaction. “You guys have been losers since 1967.” The guy stared at me deadpan at the bus station.

My comeback wasn’t a classic. “At least I don’t live in Boston.”

It was going to be a long weekend, but I was up to it, and went straight into a bar called The Tam to watch the Bruins-Canadiens game, now in overtime. Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in BostonI received a few glares and just one muttered comment – “I think this guy is messing up my karma” – but that was it. I almost felt bad when the Bruins lost the game.

The startling silence continued over the next day – perhaps because I was at a writer’s conference? Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in BostonIt wasn’t until I arrived in Cambridge that things picked up again. Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in BostonA square-jawed, almost pleasant-looking man leaned out from an alley. “Leafs are the only Original Six team that didn’t make the playoffs. Did you know that?”

I wasn’t sure if he was right. It took me a couple of blocks to think it through and another few to think of my comeback. “Now I know I’m in fucking Harvard.”

I continued on to The Sinclair, preparing for the next attack.

“Love the hat, man.”

I wanted to detect a tone but couldn’t find one.

“Got to wear your colors,” said another. “I respect that.” Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in BostonIt wasn’t until I ran into an old friend at the show that the antagonism returned. “I looked up, saw the Leafs hat, and thought what an asshole. I knew it must be you.”

The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple Leafs

The heathen fanbase of teams across the continent – be they in Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles or Chicago – simply do not understand. The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple LeafsThey think it is about winning, hugging and celebrating in a crass display, that this is the point of the game. And I feel sorry for them.The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple LeafsThey don’t understand that it isn’t this at all, but, as Camus wrote in The Plague, instead is a reminder of our “never-ending defeat.”The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple LeafsThe Toronto Maple Leafs are only for those who can take it, not the world as we dream, but as it truly is: empty and unrelenting.

The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Leaf goaltender Drew McIntyre

Yes, the Leafs are only for pure existentialists. Their recent travails – an eight-game losing streak – has even brought The New York Times on the Being and Nothingness train, citing the “disturbing situation”, “devastating slump”,  and Leaf coach Carlyle’s catch phrase, “Just breathe. Take it easy. Breathe.” The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple LeafsBut they don’t understand. They use these words devastating and disturbing like they’re a bad thing, like they aren’t needed, like they can be avoided. The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple LeafsThey don’t see the wall behind us, the epidemic that’s surrounds. No. All they see is putting the puck in the net. The Existential Play of the Toronto Maple LeafsAnd it’s just so sad.

Shock to Sell

Lars von Trier’s cinematic mission to shock audiences continues with the release of Nymphomaniac.

Shock to Sell

Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac”

Using scandalous images to sell isn’t a unique plan.

Shock to Sell

Henry Miller’s early work

Shock to Sell

Fat White Family perform at Pianos in New York

But instead of shocking, this tack becomes more a source of amusement, the kind of thing that sells t-shirts. Shock to SellWhich seems to be all they’re trying to do.