Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Allegory O' the Room

This time of the season: the slap and tickle of the live fantasy draft gives way to deep bitterness over picks scooped by others; 4 games played in far-off lands on big ice with intriguing new lines and match-ups (Jarkko! Cookie! Marc Crawford’s colour!); an endless pause stretches out before the season’s North American debut when those fantasy points will start to determine good-day or bad-day at work; plans to plant Salt Spring Island garlic between periods, between games come the weekend.

Post-equinox, the signs are good. Who scores the season’s very first goal? My former pretend boyfriend, Markus Naslund, looking a little tractor-like in the acceleration department, but the wrist shot (another spring surgery on that Moore-busted elbow) seems epic. Who’s leading, after—okay—four games those goofs who Live-Draft mocked me when I picked the once and future Nazzie? Team LoJack, yes.

And over at my other pool—which formed the real structural backbone of Cold-cocked—team names and players have really stepped up. Last year, Bill Gaston (Midnight Hockey and The Good Body) who was BESTASS became BLESTASS and this year dresses Team OBAMASS. Joaner MacLeod has for years been known as TALLON, in honour of our Vancouver girlhood pretend boyfriend, Dale; this year she’s gone all ManU and is Team BIG GIRL’S BLOUSE. We finally convinced poet/hockey scholar Tim Lilburn to join. The team name he really wanted had too many letters, so it’s been shortened to Team ALLEGORY O’ CAVE. This prompted another newbie—our uber-grad student, Aaron—to go with Team WHEN IS A MAN?

Speaking of poets, I hung out with Randall Maggs a couple of weeks back at the wonderful Winnipeg International Writers Festival (Cara Hedley, author of the chick-hockey novel, Twenty Miles, was with us, too, a good gal guide for our Splash and Dash ride on the Assinaboine and Red Rivers). Randall may be the current best-selling poet in North America with his Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems. Over breakfast on Sunday, he posed a new theory as to why I would feel such energy and excitement in the Canucks dressing room, why along with the fear and silly self-consciousness I meditated on in Cold-cocked, I would feel also renewed and alive, aroused in the usual and unusual ways.

Elsewhere in the book, in honour of my fighter-pilot father, I try to dispose of the prevailing and ridiculous comparison between hockey players and warriors. But Randall thinks I might have been tapping into some deep vein of battlelust when the sight of B Mo’s bare feet got me going. Warrior/players, he proposes, are healthy and strong and happy to be fighting and really pleased with themselves because they’re protecting the womenfolk and the whole society. Pride, arrogance, super-charged ego: we need them to be this way and like it when they are. The sexual component is natural, too. Once the community is defended and the ramparts hosed down, we can all celebrate, relax and breed more warriors. Happy players, happy fans, and especially happy civilians who get to hang out for twenty minutes, post-wargames, in the room. Maybe.

Our Prime Minister, on national television, explains that he appreciates the arts, really likes the cultural component of this country, totally gets it, because after all, his son is taking guitar lessons. Our Prime Minister doesn’t know the difference between a hobby and a profession, a calling, or what it costs artists to contribute to society in the way they believe most meaningful, textured and efficient. Count the books mentioned in this blog and appreciate the ways authors influence and improve the way we see ourselves, how they aspire to lead us out o’ the cave and into the light (block that metaphor). Consider the vast territory we cover and the not-always quantifiable investment return we provide. To paraphrase Francine Prose in a recent Harper’s review, the Prime Minister could express contempt and loathing for a vast list (updated on the hour) of liars, cheats, millionaires, hockey teams and infidels, all of whom “access” public funds, but chooses to condemn and ridicule Canada’s cultural community. Why?

Randall is due to tour the Sawchuk Poems in all the American cities that have teams for which Terry Sawchuk played, thanks to the genius of his publisher, the small and lovely and low-overhead Brick Books, and the cooperation of the Canadian consuls in those cities. He spent almost a decade researching and writing his book—obsessed, passionate, and determined to tell the story, through art—poetry!—of a complex and tortured hockey player. He will receive royalties only in the form of copies of his own book. Cara Hedley has written the first novel about women playing the national game and is now a PhD student at the University of Calgary. 

Cold-cocked attempts to disassemble the simplistic, Don Cherrified, over-determined version of the sport and to rekindle and re-frame a nation’s love of its beauty, to de-centralize our preoccupations. I received no Canada Council or BC Arts Council funding for the book, nor did I ask for any. I paid two editors (my employer, UVic, helped here), a photographer, and a publicist; I paid for a flight to Toronto, one to Vancouver, and hockey tickets to 15 games in Vancouver. I will long be in debt to the book, and my publisher will not become wealthy through its proceeds, though he took a huge risk in publishing a book that is so counter-culture and which central Canada booksellers deemed to be “regional” (egads!) and therefore not worthy of prime shelf space. We all deserve better, no doubt, but we accept the terms.

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