Sunday, February 14, 2010

The abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait

The Winter Olympic Games are under way. The blokes on the Economist's podcast suggest that the winter games are "just niche sport." But they say that because they are bitches. And in that classic trick of assuming that the English world view is both correct and held by everyone else on the planet, the Economist's editor looped cricket in with soccer as being among those sports that "people actually care about."

I've lived on this island of rain for nigh four years and I know one person -- one -- who actually pays attention to cricket. And I find that the majority of people I've asked cannot even explain how cricket is played. Whereas I'm willing to bet just about everyone understands figure skating. ITV doesn't gather up low-level celebrities and teach them how to play cricket, does it? Guess what Economist punks, just because your country's no good at something doesn't make it niche.

I'll admit, though, I am an Olympics mark (a). I have been for years. The Olympic Games are solid points in my history -- I remember where I was, what I was doing, what was happening in my life, etc. Which is unique clarity in my otherwise jumbled mind.

The habit of using the Olympics as a marker stretches all the way back to the 1996 Summer Olympics when Sara came with my family on a trip to Colorado. I can still remember Sara's delight in seeing marmots for the first time. Two years later the winter games were in Nagano, Japan, and I was working for an NBC affiliate in Fargo, North Dakota. In 2000, Rachel and I watched the summer games in Sydney from our woefully shitty flat in San Diego. In 2002 we were still in San Diego but living in a better place, and we began our tradition of having location-appropriate meals for the opening ceremonies. With the winter games held that year in Salt Lake City, Rachel made Navajo flatbread (the Navajo areas traditionally stretched into Utah). For the 2004 summer games in Athens we had Greek food. For the 2006 winter games held in Turin it was Italian food. And for Beijing it was Chinese.

I let the tradition fade this time around. In part because I'm on my own and in part because I couldn't think of a quintessentially Canadian meal. I suppose I could have gone with pancakes and maple syrup, especially considering that I ended up watching the opening ceremonies in the morning. But instead it was just a few cups of tea and an orange.

In Turin 2006, one of the highlights of the opening ceremonies was having a screaming Fiat F1 car enter the stadium and spin donuts, spitting out caustic tire smoke and splitting the eardrums of every poor soul there. By that standard, the Canadians didn't really have to do much to produce a better opening ceremony. Having a tattooed tap-dancing Sheamus was showy enough. Actually, I quite liked that part, as well as the whole bit with the members of the first nations.

The part that would have had me heading to the toilets had I been there in person was the seemingly six-day-long caterwauling by Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams. Actually, it was the presence of Bryan "Apparently I Didn't Show Up For Rehearsal And Don't Know When To Hold The Microphone To My Face, Thus Making My Lip-Syncing Insufferably Obvious" Adams that annoyed the hell out of me. I would have preferred to just see Nelly writhing about in her prom dress all by herself.

The highlight of the whole thing for me, though, was poet Shane Koyczan and his poem "We Are More" (b). Poetry is ballsy for an Olympic opening ceremony, especially poetry that isn't shit; poetry that isn't overly dreamy and read out in some sort of awed whisper.

I'd be interested to hear what Llŷr thought of the piece. He, strangely, is the one bloke I know who follows cricket. But he is also an accomplished poet in this nation of Wales that places so much importance on poets. Llŷr, however, is accomplished at a particularly technical style of poetry known as cynghanedd, and it is that style which seems to draw the majority of praise in Welsh poetic circles. So perhaps it's a comparison of apples and oranges; perhaps it is unfair for me to point to the relevant, flowing, built-to-be-heard style of Koyczan and say I don't know of a Welsh poet who can do something half as good.

I really liked that piece. It made me want to be Canadian, just so it would be a poem about me. I loved the crowd's reaction to it, as well. For example, when they cheered the line: "And some say what defines us is something as simple as please and thank you."

Canada, the nation that cheers pleasantry and still hasn't forgiven Earl Hebner.

And you have to also admire the politely Canadian way of taking a swipe at the United States when Koyczan refers to Canada as "an experiment going right for a change." Although, I suppose some might argue the poem wasn't all that innovative. Something similar has been done before.

Niche sport or no, I will be watching. I love the Olympics. I love the philosophy behind them: peace through competition. And I love also that idea of pursuing hope. A phrase I use often is, "I live in outrageous hope," and that's the underlying spirit of the Olympics. Athletes push and push and push and sometimes even die on the hope of proving to themselves that they really are capable of giving everything they have.

It's not about a stupid piece of metal or being better than some other bloke who talks funny, I don't think. It's about being as good as you possibly can be, about putting every part of yourself into something and succeeding. Sometimes -- often -- success has nothing to do with whether you go home with one of those pieces of metal.

Think about it in your own life. How many times have you done something and thought somewhere in the back of your head: I could have done more. That's almost always the case in everyday life. We always could have done more, could have done something just a little bit better, but we didn't. There are myriad reasons, I suppose, but the end fact is the same. And I find I always carry a guilt and feeling that I am lazy, or not passionate enough. I get angry at myself that I don't push harder.

I admire those Olympic athletes who do. There will be athletes in these games who will be able to walk away knowing that they pushed as physically and mentally hard as is possible. And there's something so beautiful in that.

(a) In professional wrestling, a "mark" is the dedicated fan who loves all the story lines and cheers and boos along, genuinely enjoying the entertainment on a surface level.

(b) The version of the poem I linked to is the one he gave at the opening ceremonies (although, I can't find video of the actual opening ceremonies). But here is the full version of his poem. My favourite section is:
We can stand here today with all the hope people have
When they say things like: "Some day..."
Some day we'll be great.
Some day we'll be this or that.
Some day we'll be at a point when "some day" was yesterday
And all of our aspirations will pave the way
For those who on that day
Look towards tomorrow and still they say:
"Some day."


Anonymous said...

I love cricket............

mary said...

My neighbour loves cricket!