Sunday, May 23, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I love sport. I love watching athletic competitions of all sorts. And there’s little in sport that I like better than a seventh game!
Sport is a beautiful thing, and I’ve never quite understood those who are immune to its appeal. I understand that as little as I understand those who are indifferent to music or to sex. And I especially fail to understand those who are enthusiastic about the arts, but who consider sport to be crude, low class, and without aesthetic appeal.
Sport is like improvised theatre. It is athletic jazz. It is drama on a sometimes epic and mythic scale, played out for real stakes between opposing sides obsessed with their goal, which is victory.
The fact that sport involves the most basic instincts and impulses of man does not in any way relegate it to being crude and without art. Sport is the artistry of the human body. But it is not merely physical. It is conflict and expression encompassing all of the passion, intrigue, risk, dilemma, jealousy, heroism, and tragedy of human life. Sport among champions is Shakespeare on a playing field. And rare and exquisite is the artistry of the seventh game.
Seventh games are special because they are transcendant. A seventh game comes about when two teams have – over the course of six previous contests – demonstrated a degree of parity. They’ve traded blows, they’ve pulled out the stops, have employed every strategy and weapon to vanquish the other, only to emerge at this limbo of stalemate. Neither has been able to demonstrate clear superiority over the other.
And so, a seventh game is almost an acknowledgment that victory will take something more than mere skill, more than the employment of weapons. It will require something beyond the ordinary unfolding of things – luck or fate maybe, certainly heart and determination. A seventh game is rarely just a game. It invites something special. And that something special often turns up.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
I think of my job as a rhythm job. I work with people, and the work has to do with understanding and meeting their needs. And I’ve noticed that how I’m doing has a lot to do with rhythm.
Some days nothing comes easy. I might experience a string of no-shows, and fail to find any of my clients in the places I can usually count on finding them. And on these days, even if I do connect, the meetings often have a flatness, a kind of emptiness to them. There are engagements with clients that, no matter how much I intend to focus of solutions and moving ahead, seem mired in the dead weight of the situation we’re trying to work our way out of. Such meetings feel like punishment. The most I feel capable of at such times is the completion of applications, collecting the data that goes into files, or the plotting of next steps – setting appointments for tackling specific tasks. It’s not nothing, but such meetings are rarely enlivening; they don’t leave one feeling that they are on an upward course.
But on other days – my rhythm days – there is a sense of flow and freshness, and of freedom, almost. It’s a feeling of being alive, but also of being buoyed up and carried forward by the flow of life. And things happen. On these days, my appointments happen, and the engagements generate something. On these days I find the clients I’m looking for, or when I don’t, I encounter someone else I need to find, or that someone else finds me. On such days, meetings with clients have an energy to them; there is a sense of change as a present and active force, abundant and pervasive. Solutions and strategies seem to arise spontaneously on such days, out of the simple act of being present to a person and a situation.
I’ve noticed that this sense of positive possibility doesn’t have to do merely with feeling good, though it certainly has to do with feeling present and unburdened. I’m able to access these days best when I’m not over-determining what’s to be accomplished, when my agenda is less rigid, when I’m in a mode of ‘offering’ rather than ‘delivering’. But I don’t think it’s only about mood and attitude. I think it has something to do with alignment, with being synchronized.
I notice that on my rhythm days, I’m more tolerant of the unexpected, and I’m more likely to follow an impulse, perhaps to drop in on a client, to investigate a resource, or to be self-disclosing. On such days, there’s less of a sense of being at work, and more of a sense of being in my life. But this doesn’t have only to do with work either. The rhythm factor is at work everywhere. On an off-rhythm day, I pick up my saxophone and I play like an elementary school kid with a leaky instrument and a stiff, hard reed. But on a rhythm day, the music soars out of me from the moment the mouthpiece touches my lips.
I strongly suspect that I’m more efficient on these days, and that my decisions and choices on such days lead to better outcomes. Though I can’t be sure of this, since my subjective sense of things is so strong, and so slanted. I’m puzzling over how to create more of these days. I guess it’s the same as puzzling over how to be more alive.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The obvious problem with my title is that most of us – if we have issues with blood pressure at all – suffer from high blood pressure, which turns this prescription on its head.
I just had an interaction with my cable company’s customer service department, and my heart is pounding so hard that it feels like it’s going to self-eject via my throat. I’ve had such traumatizing experiences with various incarnations of customer service that it’s almost to the point where hearing the words, “How may I help you today?” is like applying electrodes to my extremities. I break out in a cold sweat and my eyeballs start to twitch.
These days, it takes a really horrendous situation for me to call a customer service number. Merely bad situations are so much easier to tolerate than the gauntlet of interventions most customer service interfaces put one through.
First of all, there are the menus, the seemingly endless repetition of: “Please choose among the following options, so that we may properly route your call.” How often are you confronted with the situation in which none of the options presented conform to your particular need? Which leaves you to guess. But then, there is the next menu, which presents another body of choices. Have you encountered the situation in which your delay in choosing am option – caused by mind numbness setting in – leads to the cheery message: “Speak to you next time!” followed by the dial tone?
If you manage to navigate the menus, there is the waiting, just to get through to a live human being, most often the wrong one, who then connects you to a department which is closed for the day. If however, you finally manage to connect to a person in the right department, who potentially can actually help you, the real gauntlet begins.
“May I have your client service number please? And your date of birth? Your home room teacher when you were in junior high school? The home room teacher’s PIN number, blood type, and the name of her childhood imaginary friend?” And it goes on like that. If the heavens are aligned, and you make it through this interrogation, maybe you get to discuss your problem.
And where it comes to phones, televisions or the internet, it helps if you have a couple of degrees, in engineering and advanced physics. Because you’re asked for not only the model number of whatever contraption is causing difficulty, but also for detailed descriptions of every symptom your gadget has ever produced. And that’s before the battery of elaborate dissections and tests you are then instructed to perform. Often, I give up about an hour and a half into this ordeal, just before the point at which I’m ready to hurl the device through the nearest window. If somehow, I make it through to the end, I feel I’ve actually earned a degree. But as often as not, my gadget still isn’t functioning.
The worst part of all this is that I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s all intentional. The first clue corroborating this hypothesis is how extremely difficult it is to even find a customer service number these days. I swear that these companies are so intent on forcing you to solve your problem via the on-line, self-help tools, that they bury all clues as to how you can actually find someone responsible to speak to. And the constant redirection, from department to department, with the need to repeat problem and symptom, and steps already taken to solve the problem, with each new person spoken to…well, it all seems clearly designed to wear one down. And sadly – as evidenced by all the electronics in my home that no longer work – this strategy works all too well!
Saturday, May 1, 2010
It’s been a musical month of April for Ponczka and I. Earlier in the month we saw Baaba Maal, from Senegal, with a very lively, up tempo mixture of pop and traditional sounds. Then we took in the Toronto Symphony doing a program of Sibelius, with the violinist Pekka Kuusisto. But let me tell you about the last two evenings.
On Thursday, we went to Koerner Hall, the very modern, venue attached to the Royal Conservatory on Bloor West, to see Steve Reich, the minimalist, contemporary classical composer. He had a program of percussive works, performed with the group Nexus. There were grand pianos and electronic keyboards, one composition featuring electric guitars and bass, a hand-clapping duet, and a quintet of guys banging wood mallets. But the best piece, to me, featured – along with the six keyboards, timpanis and cymbals – three massive wooden marimbas and two vibraphones.
The pieces were very rhythmic and repetitive. Trance-inducing in a way, certainly moody and full of rich and shifting soundscapes. I liked it a lot more than Ponczka did. She – always a people watcher – took advantage of our perch, in the single row of the second balcony, high above the stage and the main body of the audience, to study the crowd. Lots of the artsy and the intelligencia were on hand – among them, Atom Egoyan and Adrienne Clarkson. It was an enthusiastic and interesting looking audience, some stylish, some rough, quite a number of music students on hand, some packing their instruments.
Then, last night, we took the drive to Gananoque, to the Thousand Islands Playhouse, to see Stuart McLean with his Vinyl Cafe. Traffic from T.O. was horrendous – it must’ve taken us an hour and a half to clear Pickering. We arrived more than 45 minutes into the show, and wondered if there was any point in going in. Turns out that Stuart gives a full evening’s entertainment. We arrived about halfway through one of his Dave and Morley stories, missing the set-up, but catching enough of it to get the culminating situational hilarity he works his characters into. And we got to enjoy a set of tunes by his regular accompanists and the guest singer-guitarist. And a routine his did with two young kids he called up from the audience, around the giving away of cds to the youngest and oldest members of the audience. Hilarious. McLean's rapport with his audience is so natural, affectionate and light. And this was all before intermission.
The best of McLean’s evening was saved for last. It was something new, he said, being performed for the first time. He said he didn’t quite know what to call it...something like a rock opera, but not that at all. It was a telling of his early life, accompanied by a performed sound track of music he’d grown up on. Wonderful, Touching, Evocative. He spoke of his parents, growing up in West Montreal, discovering Rock & Roll, his almost first kiss, and finding his way to a career in radio with the CBC. All told with humour and more than a hint of nostalgia. We remarked to each other afterward that we were surprised to learn that McLean grew up in Montreal and lived in Toronto, because the entire event felt like a small town, community gathering, just like his on-air weekly show. There were lots of families; the streets around the lake-front venue were middle-of-the-night quiet when we left, the crowd dispersing as much of foot as by car.