Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Before classes began about a month ago, our Japanese supervisor cautioned those of us teaching the introductory writing classes that the students would need a great deal of help learning to write in English -- not because of the language itself, per se, but because of the way that thoughts and concepts are organized in English, the style and manner in which we logically connect one idea to the next, telling all you nice folks what we plan on saying, saying said thoughts, and then, in the end, wrapping everything up neatly in a bright red bonnet before calling it a day. The Japanese language is more elusive, more given to tangents, she said; it tends not to be as direct or forthright as our mother tongue.

After struggling my way through Shakespeare and Baseball, I think I see what she means.

I bought the book a) to keep on studying Japanese and b) because I like reading writing about Shakespeare, and I also like reading writing about baseball, and the combination of both topics, in Japanese, no less, sounded irresistibly odd and alluring.

One month and one hundred and fifty pages later, I finally realized that there wasn't much about baseball or Shakespeare in the book.

Mostly, it's about the American forefathers who landed on Plymouth Rock and struggled to build a life. The book touches on the roots of baseball in England, how games involving round discs immigrated to the United States along with the people who played them, how Shakespeare mentioned various ball games in various sonnets and verses in his poems and plays, and how parts of The Tempest may have been based on one of the American immigrants who helped, inadvertently, create baseball. (I think.)

But the actual amount of information on Shakespeare and baseball was minimal. The bard and the game were used as gateways into a larger analysis of how ideas, customs and sports migrate from one culture to another, and how elusive any attempt at understanding the origins of any one topic remain.

My supervisor's point was aptly proved: the book winded its way from here to there and back again, in a roundabout way that I can't quite imagine occuring in an English text. I lost count of the number of times the writer used the English equivalents of 'incidentally', and 'by the way'. Of course, I didn't understand everything, despite my dictionary's able help, but I think got, if not the gist of it, at least the gist of the gist. (If you get my gist.) And, even though it wasn't the book I thought it was going to be, it was entertaining in its own right, and I learned a little more Japanese, and I thought about topics and ideas in ways I never had before.

Which got me thinking: Most of life is like this book. We start out thinking one thing's going to happen, but it rarely does, or if it does it does so in such a way that it bears little resemblance to what we imagined was going to happen. I usually begin something convinced it's going to fail, or succeed, or land somewhere in between, and rarely am I right in my predictions, but always I make them.

I think it's a human thing to do, this notion of willful expectations. Maybe it's evolutional. We're programmed to believe that things are going to '', when we know, on the deeper, fundamental level, that that's not really the case at all. We will all grow old, and everybody around us will die, and so will we, or else an accident may take it all away from us the very next day. Or not. We may live bright and prosperous and relatively joyful lives. Either possibility is equally likely. We don't like to think of the dark stuff because doing so would immobilize us, which would lead to wild and dangerous creatures eating us in the night, and then we would be no more, anymore. Better to think we are in control, certain of our destiny, confident in our decisions. And we thus make predictions based on who we are and where (we think) we're going.

And nothing seems to work out the way I thought it would, but I remain enlightened nevertheless.

Starting university, I thought that at the age of 32 I'd be writing books in Canada or writing movies in Hollywood. Instead, I've been teaching in three different Asian countries for the past nine years.

Go figure.

But I've learned more than I ever could have imagined, or hoped to imagine. I started on one path, ended up on another, and now look towards a third, realizing that my life five years from now will probably be alien to the self typing these words.

I will start one book, one life, and at its conclusion find that it was not the one I had predicted it would be at the beginning.

I think it will be better.

That's only my prediction, anyways.

And since in the end all we have are our hopes, I might as well hope to the limit, right?

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