Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Bravo to the boys in red for capturing the championship crown at the World Junior Hockey championships, but one wonders if the intense focus and pride of the Canadian nation should be so feverishly reliant on the athletic prowess of kids barely twenty.

Canada lives and breathes and practically chokes on all things that are hockey, and I'll grant you that the Olympics, majestic as they are, historically so, are worthy of a bit (just a bit) of chest-thumping blather, but I'm a bit hesitant to get so caught up in a tournament that, at its best, should be viewed as a training ground for most of these kids who are still aiming to be pros.

One could scan American websites in vain for even a scant mention of the tournament, but the on-ice exploits of the young Canadian lads dominated the front page of almost every homegrown paper that's worth a faint click. Not to mention the endless updates and highlights on tsn.ca. I think things reached a ridiculous nadir when a recent segment on Max Domi (the son of former Maple Leaf thug and pug and all-around grand entertainer Tie Domi) focused for half of its length on why he had decided to stick out his tongue after every goal that he scored. (As Richard Moll as 'Bull the bailiff' on NIGHT COURT said so eloquently: "Oooooookay.")

Canadians don't often get to see themselves in heroic form on the screens we now so steadily stare at. Almost nobody watches Canadian films; Canadian dramas on TV have not historically been all that great; our comedy, it's good, but that's pretty much just a goofy version of ourselves. Our national literature paints a suitably complex and grim and humourous tint of our character, but reading's an individual act (and not many folks even read all that much anymore.) Canadians need something communal to observe in shiny digital form, an elevation of spirit that approaches the gods. Hockey gives us that. And if our aspirations to (humble) godhood require the benediction of teenage boys on black skates, so be it. We'll go where we can ascend.

It's nice, living abroad, to keep in touch with my home secondhand via the games that we play. I played house-league hockey (quite poorly) every year from age seven to fifteen; the first novel I ever tried to write was about a young hockey player who was also a talented novelist. (My infatuation with THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP was pretty plain to detect.) I like reading good writing about hockey. It's where I come from, if not where I am.

I wonder, though: Is all that flag-waving and chest-beating surrounding these games entirely healthy? Shouldn't these games be seen simply as an entertaining way for our teenage-talent to develop against the best of the other kids in the world? So much of our collective Canadian energy and ego is wrapped up every year at Christmas in these young players' exploits. That's a hell of a lot of pressure for those guys to deal with and defuse. Perhaps a nation's bravado would be better spent on something that drains less psychic energy from themselves and these kids.

Waving the Maple Leaf around an arena in Toronto or Montreal doesn't hurt anyone. We all love where we come from, and want to flaunt our triumphs. A little goofily flamboyant pride for one's country, and all that. Always a nice tug at the heartstrings. Yet you look at those Russian players who lost in the final, tears slipping out of their eyes, heads hung down in shame, as the Canadian spectators in the stands all around them cheered with great glee, and I feel for those Russkies. It's part of sport, this agony of defeat, and we all love a good game, and I understand that the players, both winners and losers, are building their confidence and physicality here for the professional and international exploits on ice to follow for the next good many years, but there's still, for me, something almost cruel about thousands of folks flag-waving and screaming because 'our' teenagers won, while 'their' adolescents mildly fucked up. Makes me think that patriotism is for adults, but when that same sentiment is so ferociously aimed at barely-out-of-high-school teenagers, it can quickly devolve into crass nationalism.


Not to get too heady on you or anything, but I've always been mystified and mortified by the uneasy connection between what goes in our heads, silently, and how these ephemeral thoughts actually connect to the world, audibly. We think stuff, then say shit. Words are thus formed straight from the intangible fabric of brain cells colliding. You react, based on sound-signals you decipher according to your own unwritten rules of consciousness-comprehension. And we then assemble this uncanny interplay of human interaction under the rather harmless-sounding rubric of  mere 'coversation'. A give-and-take that we're so used to in life that we think nothing of it. Granted, we constantly consider the content of what's aurally bopping back-and-forth in our dialogues, and we're 'reading' body-language, and facial signals, but the second-nature aspect of the exhange itself starts to get a bit creepy if you dwell on it for too long. On a rotating globe, screaming through space, we stand next to each other and shoot the shit about sports. That this passes for commonplace stuff still makes me uneasy.

Why? I guess it goes back to the kind of boring, circular arguments that dwell on free will and its ultimate form. How can we say we 'control' the thoughts that we think? How can you pretend to be 'in charge' of what arises in your brain and exits on your tongue? Genetics is one thing, and environment is another, but cram these two existential entrails together in life and what comes out is just us -- an awkward, perpetually defensive organism that values our stake in the world, even if we had no say in its roots.

We always have to prove that we are 'right', which I sometimes try to look at in evolutionary terms. Me no understand diddly-squat about evolution, per se, but there must be something inherent in our in-built survival mechanisms that will not readily allow us to admit that we're wrong. To hesitate, to doubt oneself, to be slow on the uptake when it comes to our own stand -- this would have, in the past, led to us being eaten. Devoured, pretty damny quickly. So now we've evolved into the kind of creatures that will brutally hurl insults strangers on chatboards over the artistic worth of a comic-book sequel because we secretly fear that we're probably wrong. Were our evolutionary forebearers somehow able to understand lanugage, and were I try to connect their own impulses to stay confident in the face of other-animal danger, and somehow, via my argument, have them intellectually link that notable and sensible state of ego-aggrandizement in the face of certain death with the current practictioners of internet-slurs, I'm pretty positive that these proto-pre-humans would take a long, sad, pitiful look at me before bashing my head in and dining out on my spleen. ("This is what we're evolving into?" they'd be thinking as they chowed down on my skull.)

Japanese has a concept known as 'iishin-denshin', which essentially means a group-form of mind-reading. Because this is a consensus-country, with everyone trying to ape all the others, the masses have developed a form of telepathy founded upon what's behind all those words. My own observation of this idea in various forms over the years has kind of led me to rethink my own notions of a single 'personality' as our defacto form. (Or norm. ) In the West, we expect the individual to be unique and creative and a lifeform all its own; in the East, in a collective culture, it's no surprise that a mono-personality is formed, an integration into others that creates fascinatingly broad ranges of expression, yet perhaps at the expense of individual 'uniqueness'. The West: Be different! The East: Be the same! One state leads to constant one-upmanship to sooth the ego; the other can tend to stifle distinct ways of thought. Viewed critically, from afar, you could say that humans have not truly found the ideal way to deal with each other. We grope as we can, based on where we come from, then gradually realize as we age that the cultural-system we inhabit has silently hooked us in to its style without so much as even asking if we'd like a cold drink.
What I'm saying is that not I dislike humans (because that would be, you know, pyschotic), or the way in which we communicate with each other; I'm saying I still don't think we've perfected, or even reasonably amplified, what it is that we feel nanosecond-by-second as we think in our heads, and how we could (or should) transmit these emotions to other humans in tow. Layers of family, and environment, and education, and time, make for an awkward collusion that results in our poorly shaped 'selves'. Extract said 'self' from its natural habitat and let it loose in the wider-shaped world, and it's no wonder that stagnant or hostile interactions can seem like life's norm.

Yet there's also all that other stuff, like kindess, and empathy, and humour, or love. We daily sense these other smelly organisms around us attempting to step out of their heads and into our own, whether it's via  a joke or a smile or a good-natured slap on the back. All these simple, life-affirming pokes. I have to remind myself to see them, and notice them, and return them in turn, because it makes me appreciate that getting out of our own skulls can be actually be done. I guess it's not an imperative, this exiting-one's-own-mind-in-the-attempt-to-acknowledge-another, because people still can live a fairly fresh life catering to their own inward needs, but the warm grasp an old friend's firm hand, or a store-door held open for you as you dawdle along can, at the right times,when your private thoughts are all dark, make the endlessly fragile meeting of our minds seem almost worth it.