Friday, November 11, 2016

Will This Make You Feel Better?

Many of you seem upset by Trump's election victory. Will you give me a chance to help you feel better?
Many of you seem to believe that the election of Trump is the result of a wave of "white hate" against minorities. After all, this is the story being told by many people on TV. And if it were true, I would be as upset as you. It would mean America is really a terrible place.
But what if that's not true? And if it were not true, how would you know?
Here's one way.
The New York Times published its demographic voting data a few days ago. If it is accurate, then what you believe about this election is incorrect, and the truth is that minorities pushed Donald Trump across the finish line - not whites.
Consider these facts from the NY Times data (which you can examine in the link below):
Only one percent more whites voted for Trump over Romney (who lost) in 2012; but...
seven percent more blacks voted for Trump over Romney;
eight percent more Latinos voted for Trump over Romney;
eleven percent more Asians voted for Trump over Romney;
one more percent of "other" non-whites voted for Trump over Romney.
That adds up to millions more minorities voting for Trump over Romney or past Republican candidates (as, by the way, I predicted on Facebook would occur a year and a half ago).
And those millions, in a popular vote as close as this one was, added up to be enough to push Trump across the finish line. The fact is that Trump is the most popular Republican candidate amongst minorities to come along in a long time. They won him the election - not a "tidal wave of white haters". It was actually a wave of blacks, Latinos and Asians.
How can that be, you ask?
Easy. Those millions of new black, Latino and Asian Republican voters saw in Trump not a racist, but a guy who cared about solving problems which affect them every single day. They saw him as a guy who was more likely than Clinton to help them and their families prosper economically, stay safe from America's enemies, get affordable health care, get a good education, and "make America great again".
So, either those new minority Republican voters who put Trump across the finish line saw something in him that affluent white people like you could not see, or they are all too stupid to recognize a racist when they see one, even though they deal with racism all the time.
I think the most likely option is the first one. And if it is the first one, the question is:
Could it be that your fears of a Trump presidency are...overblown? Maybe based on a slightly skewed perception?
I'm not arguing right now that they are. I'm only asking you if you are able to just *contemplate the possibility* that they might be. (Can you?)
And if you conclude that that is possible, and maybe, just maybe, all those minority voters saw something you missed...
...you should start to feel a bit more hopeful, a bit more optimistic, however cautiously, about this election. Maybe, just maybe, as all those new black, Latino and Asian Republican voters believe, the future will actually be brighter than the past. Maybe Trump will be better than you thought. It *is* possible, after all.
(Do you feel better now? :)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ronnie Time

Somehow or other, I managed to grow up in a house with a 70's rock star dad, without ever hearing any Lynyrd Skynyrd albums. My dad had albums by almost everyone - all he thinks about is music - but despite having toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd, he had no Skynyrd albums, that I ever saw.

Of course, I knew the hits; but the hits were hits, because they were immediately likeable; and that means that, usually, hits don't have the musical depth that other "album tracks" have.

And so, I confess it was a revelation starting to listen through the old Lynyrd Skynyrd albums this past year; and when I was able to wrangle a few weeks camping trip with three of my kids this past summer, I knew just what CD's we'd have to bring.

With my twelve year old daughter "Red Bear" (the redhead), my ten year old son "Sno-Cone", and my sixteen year old "E", I set off southward, only a vague notion of where we might go. On the itinerary was the KOA in Kent, Washington, a drive past Mount St. Helens, and then, the little resort town of Seaside, Oregon, but after that, things were a little fuzzy: maybe we'd hit California to help crew on the Tevis Cup endurance race, or even make it to Utah, where all the relatives were.

Well, I rented a Thule roof rack for the Sequoia, built a little bunk in the back for my daughter, threw a bunch of sheep skins and foam in the back (as a mattress), and we set off. It would spiral into an amazing adventure, in which we crawled through the lava caves in Mount St. Helens, dug for fossils in Wyoming, went body surfing and zoomed over the sand dunes in Oregon, ran into a herd of wild horses in northern Nevada, hung out with all the cousins in Utah, went mountain horse riding, and more. But it was Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Ronnie, the lead singer, who provided the soundtrack, and provided for maybe the most memorable moments of the whole trip.

The first magic moment occurred as we approached Mount St. Helens, the mountain in Washington whose entire top blew off when I was a little kid, in a volcanic eruption. As we ascended into the forests around the mountain, "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" came on; and to my utter amazement, as the chorus came on, all three kids - including E, my sixteen year old, who is very squirrely and shy - burst out singing at full volume, "PLAY ME A SONG, CURTIS LOEW, CURTIS LOEW!".

Wow. We'd been listening for the previous couple of days, but I had no idea it had resonated that much.

"Okay, put on 'Simple Man' now!", shouted E; and when the chorus came, sure enough, all three kids began singing at top volume, "BABY BE A SIMPLE...KIND OF MAN!". Of course, I sang along, too; and for a weird moment, I almost kind of got choked up.

You see...it was an awesome moment, but it had a bitter underside to it: Mom should be here, and the other kids. This is great...but it's not what it should be. We should all be here, together...and I felt a strange mixture of joy and sorrow, as I remembered some of those great times of old.

But, I thought, we are here, at least, and that is great; and one day, I will find that new woman, and she will be here, and it will be better than ever. And for the rest of the trip, I managed to enjoy all the other moments, as much as I could.

Like when we rolled into Bellingham, Washington, coming back home, and "Poison Whiskey" came on. I cranked it full blast. Red Bear was in the front, and began dancing wildly - still strapped into her seat - in the full throes of reckless ginger abandon. I even whipped out my Galaxy 2 and got some video of her doing her crazed "seat-dancing" (which I'm sure I will cherish forever). Or when, during the trip I wondered aloud if we should put on the Joel Osteen CD a friend had sent us, and E started screaming, "No! Ronnie's already taught us everything we need to know!", and then proceeded to enumerate all sorts of pearls of wisdom gleaned from various Lynyrd Skynyrd song lyrics. Or when "I Need You" came on again, for the 400th time, and one of the kids said, "this is the greatest song ever written". Or when I abruptly turned down "Tuesday's Gone" just prior to the piano solo, and all the kids started screaming, "PUT IT BACK ON! IT'S BILLY POWELL!"

By the time we got back home, the kids had become full-blown "Skynyrdologists", and I know that whenever any of us hear any of those songs for the rest of our lives, we'll go right back to those sunny summer drives, heading down through the great Pacific Northwest, and then east, across the deserts, to Utah and Wyoming, and then heading back up to Vancouver Island, on our 2012 summer adventure.

Everyone knows that music has the power to bind; but it struck me especially forcefully on this trip. It has been quite rare that Red Bear, E., and Sno-Cone have all been together with me for any length of time over the past couple of years; and to develop together a mutual obsession (with old Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks) was, I have to say, really cool; maybe even more so than doing all the cool adventures together.

And now, often when we are in the car driving somewhere, one of the kids will eventually say, "Hey Dad - it's Ronnie Time"; and we will crank up "I'm a Country Boy", or "Cry for the Bad Man", or "I Ain't the One", or any one of dozens of other old classics; and we will all laugh, and roll down windows (and even once last week, rolled down all the windows and the sun roof during a blinding rain storm, so that we all got soaked), and sing along with Ronnie, at top volume, together.

And I wonder, in those moments, if there is anything better than that...but I can never think of anything :)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

So, You Want a Great Guitar Sound...

Want a great rock guitar sound? Do everything "wrong". Allow me to explain.

For a variety of reasons - some of them understandable, some of them daft - many aspiring rock guitarists think that a "great guitar sound" means buying a guitar with a "hot" (high output) pickup, a large amp cranked to the max, and maybe a distortion pedal in between. But if a "great guitar sound" is one that sounds more pleasing to the human ear than other possible alternatives, what I just described is not a "great guitar sound". Here's why.

What we hear as a sound is a wave of pressure through the air. The speed, or frequency, of these waves, we measure with a unit called a hertz. A hertz tells us how frequently the wave is cycling per second. So, a wave of 500 hertz means that the sound wave is cycling at a frequency of 500 times per second.

Human beings can hear sounds which range from about 20 to 20,000 hertz, but crucially, we cannot hear all those frequencies with equal ease. In fact, our ears are designed so that there is a bump in our sensitivity to frequencies around 3000 hertz (also known as 3 kilohertz or 3k, a kilohertz being equal to one thousand hertz). This makes sense, as the primary frequency in human voices is around that range. Now, virtually any sound or noise is an array of different frequencies, with some being more audible than others. But the more frequencies in 2 to 4 kilohertz range in any sound, the more we will hear that sound as harsh and unpleasant, simply because our ears are so much more sensitive to frequencies in that range.

Now, back to your guitar sound. The particular wood used to make an electric guitar will have some effect on a guitar's tone, but the primary determinant of a guitar's sound is the pickup. A pickup is the device in an electric guitar which senses, or "picks up", the vibrations of the guitar strings, and converts them to an electric signal, which can then be amplified. Naturally, different kinds of pickups affect the characteristics of that signal in different ways.

One determining factor in how a pickup affects sound is the number of winds that the pickup has. (Pickups are made by winding metal wire around magnets).  Essentially, the more winds a pickup has, the louder (or hotter) the output of the pickup becomes, and the the more the pickup broadcasts "mid-range" frequencies, in the - you guessed it - 2 to 4 kilohertz range. Which means, the harsher it sounds.

Further, as the output from a hot pickup is distorted, the more the signal from the string itself is clouded over by harsh, white noise. This doesn't happen with low output pickups, at least nowhere near as much. In short, up to a certain point, a lower wound pickup gives you a better, "cleaner" guitar sound. Now, obviously there's such a thing as a pickup with too low of an output (like, no winding at all). That's no good, either. But I'm saying there seems to be a sweet spot for the optimal number of pickup windings, and it's not in the "high wind" range. (By the way, if you do have a relatively low output pickup but want a more distorted sound, you simply run your guitar through a volume pedal or volume-boosting EQ pedal. The pedal increases the guitar output without increasing the "noise"that a higher-wind, higher output pickup would have.)

Does this sound too simple, or too good, to be true? It shouldn't. This is just how you get a more pleasing guitar tone, and certainly how you can get a great distorted rhythm sound through which you can still hear string clarity.

Consider one of the greatest power-chord rock songs of all time: "Won't Get Fooled Again", by The Who. Millions of people envision Townshend in the studio playing a Les Paul with souped up pickups, standing in front of a wall of Marshall amps, to get that sound. The truth is that Townshend played the song on a hollowbody Gretsch 6120 which Joe Walsh had given him, fitted with Gretsch's standard (low wind) Filtertron pickups (the same set up Brian Setzer used for his classic Stray Cats material). Townshend then ran the signal through a volume pedal and into a Fender amp, thereby distorting it. Presto - a truly awesome distorted power chord sound, which retains a lot of string clarity.

My dad, on "Takin' Care of Business", used a hollowbody Gretsch with Filtertrons as well, and got another classic dirty rhythm sound. Malcolm Young, of AC/DC, has always used Gretsch guitars with Filtertrons for the same reason. His brother Angus plays a Gibson SG with humbuckers - but the humbuckers are also low, or "vintage", output. Add to this the fact that producer Mutt Lange (who produced "Highway to Hell", "Back in Black", and "For Those About to Rock" for them) regularly twiddles the EQ knobs so as to zap out the 3K range entirely from his mixes, and you have an explanation as to why the classic AC/DC guitars sound so good. (I should add here that while Filtertrons can be great for distorted rhythm, they are less suited to lead work).

Speaking of lead work, consider what most historically-minded rock 'n roll aficionados and guitarists consider the greatest lead sound ever: Eric Clapton's sound on the John Mayall and the Bluesbreaker's "Beano" album. And, guess what? It was a '59 Les Paul, with relatively low output humbuckers, through a small Marshall combo amp. That was a set-up which maximized tone and signal over noise.

Another great lead sound was the solo on "Stairway to Heaven". People think it's a hot-rodded Les Paul through a Marshall stack. It's actually an old '59 Telecaster, outfitted with its standard (relatively low output) single coil pickups, through (by most accounts) a small Supro amplifier. Add in a tiny bit of natural room echo/reverb, and boom, there's another classic sound.

What Townshend, Page, and other pioneers of classic rock guitar sounds had was tone; and they had it, because they weren't using hot-rodded, high-output pickups to play through three different distortion pedals and gigantic stacks, boosting their noise to signal ratio. They were, for the most part, using older guitars, with lower output pickups, to get subtler, sweeter distorted sounds, which paradoxically, make their guitars sound far bigger than most modern distorted guitar sounds. And certainly, those vintage sounds (the analogue tape didn't hurt) were far easier to listen to - not because there is something "magic" about their age, but simply because the set-ups were, in effect, optimized for appealing to the human ear. That those old records were recorded using tube (valve) amps on to analogue tape with vintage compressors helped too, of course.

For those interested in experimenting with achieving better guitar tones, you're in luck: we live in a Golden Age of boutique pickup winders.

Fralin, Lollar, Wolfetone, Bare Knuckle, Seymour Duncan, and many others offer great vintage-sounding pickups (especially humbuckers). There is also the Filtertron, the pickup that Townshend used for the great rhythm sound on "Won't Get Fooled Again". (I suggest going to the TV Jones website if you're interested in that; they make a wide assortment of Filtertron reproductions of varying hotness. (Remember, though, that if you're looking for a lot of sustain for rock leads, a classic Filtertron may not be your best choice). But my favourite pickups for years have been the WCR pickups. Jim Wagner has managed to produce a unique-sounding take on the classic humbucker, which to my ears, sounds even better than many of the original PAFs I've tried (I know, it sounds sacrilegious, but I think in a blind test, you'd agree).

In any case, good luck with your quest to get a great guitar tone. Send me an email if you want to discuss.



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brave?

I took my kids to see "Brave" last Friday.

I admit, I was excited. I don't go to the movies much, but it seems like every time we've gone in the past year, we've seen a trailer for it. It seemed promising: Pixar is a quality outfit, the lead looks just like my daughter Red Bear, everyone loves movies about Scottish people fighting, and you naturally assume that when a studio blows that much money promoting a movie, it's gotta be good.

Well - the animation was excellent. The voices were excellent. The look of the characters was excellent. The music was not that great (they should have used more ancient sounding music, to match the time period), but potentially, we could have given them a pass on that. The real killer was that the story was surprisingly, disappointingly, thin.

And that's what I don't get. How can that much work go into every facet of a movie - the promotion, the voices, the animation, etc. - without a corresponding amount going into the story itself? The story is the basis of the whole thing. That has to be robust, compelling, and believable. It has to make sense. Once the basics are in place, the story needs to be fleshed out, with supporting characters, and a compelling subplot or two.

"Brave" rounded second, but never made it home. It is the story of a young princess named Merida, whose dad, the king, is an amiable doofus, and whose mother (Queen Eleanor) wants her to marry whichever suitor wins a contest. But Princess Merida doesn't want to get married. She wants to ride horses and enjoy her talent for archery. After an argument with her mother about the whole situation, Merida consults with a witch, who promises Merida a way out. The witch then turns Queen Eleanor into a giant bear.

The rest of the movie consists of Merida and her mother - as a bear - trying to figure out how to turn her back into the queen. Actually, not true - they find out pretty quickly how to turn her back. But, they just don't get around to it until the last, pseudo-cliffhanging moment. Hm. Also, Merida and her mother find another large bear out in the ruins of an old castle, who had previously been a prince, and who had previously tried to kill the king. There is some mother-daughter bonding/reconciliation, as they fish out in the woods. And there is some overreaching on the part of the director (some lady I'd never heard of) to try to create dramatic moments, when the drama has not really been generated by the story itself.

Aside from the comical depictions of the suitors, none of the jokes work. A bit more comedy would have been good, especially in the form of "Timon and Pumba" style supporting actors. But there was none of those. What character arc there is for Merida, was not particularly dramatic. And while it was obviously important for Merida to turn her mother back into a human, we could have used even higher stakes (like, if she doesn't turn her mother back into a human, the entire kingdom is overtaken by evil invaders - hell, anything). There was also no real subplot, and hardly any main plot at all. It just wasn't enough.

There was a whole lot of work put into making this movie, but the core story structures, and their development, were just not there. I'd give it maybe a 6.3/10.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hatred: An Ode

I guess "hatred" is sort of a strong word. But what I feel is kind of in the ballpark (yes, I've gotten kind of sensitive about my topic today :).

I logged on today here, after a year, to post something new; and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a dramatically changed Blogger. It was disorienting. It took me a full seven minutes to even figure out how to get to this little page here, where I am currently typing, and no doubt, it will take quite a bit more time to figure other stuff out.

And, my question is: why? Why dramatically change what was working (instead of incrementally)?

It was like this on Gmail. There was nothing wrong with Gmail. In fact, there was so "nothing wrong with it", that Gmail went from zero to incredibly popular very quickly a few years ago when it came out. Yet, despite the fact that tens of millions of loyal Gmail users wanted no change, and had absolutely no complaints to make about Gmail, and were entirely uninclined to spend even a minute - let alone an hour or two - trying to find out where Google's software nerds have just hidden all their favourite features in the new program they didn't want, Google went ahead and changed everything anyway. Were there any user surveys? Of course not. Any preliminary market research? No. Any responses to the widespread dissatisfaction with their lousy overhaul? Far too much to hope for. Out of curiosity one day, I searched for hours trying to find any thread or forum where more than a slim minority liked the new Gmail changes. Almost everyone hated them.

It is not that I am against change. That would be crazy. It is that I am against mindless change, with regards to things that matter - like, when people say they are going to vote for one party or another, because they want "change", without ever contemplating for even a second what specifically they think needs changing, and for what reasons, and what shape that change ought to take. That kind. Or the kind that takes a much-valued good or service, and suddenly, dramatically changes it, just because. Just because the new CEO smelt the urine of the last CEO on the hydrant, and had to lift his leg and pee all over it to mask his predecessor's lingering presence, and for no other reason.

Anyway, I have spent a year away from my blog, and I intend to write on it more regularly. That is, if I can figure out how to use the newly reconfigured Blogger :)

(For those brave few who may want more exposure to my Town-Crank-on-Steroids bloviations, send me a Facebook friend request, and read some of the threads there).




Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thor-rible

I went to see the movie Thor last night with my sixteen year old son, T-Bone. I hadn't heard anything about it other than that it was directed (or, as I would now put it, "directed") by Kenneth Brannagh. And remembering Brannagh's good version of Henry V, I had pretty high expectations.

Well...I don't know if Kenneth Brannagh has been hit by a train in the last year or so, but if not, I'm not sure what else could account for this movie. There is, literally, almost no aspect of it which works.

Let's take something relatively trivial: language. Thor, a Scandinavian god who lives in Asgaard a thousand years ago, falls into the New Mexican desert through a tornado-like funnel connecting Asgaard and earth, having been banished for disobeying his father, Odin. Well - we can give a pass to the time travel and interstellar funnels and stuff. After all, it is a fantasy. But even fantasy movies, while requiring some suspension of belief, cannot go so far as to require the complete cessation of mental function. And so, my question to Kenneth Brannagh is: Would it have really been that difficult to provide even a flimsy explanation for why a Scandinavian who lived one thousand years ago, speaks fluent modern English?

Let's take something else trivial: the costumes and hair. Wasn't there anyone available better than the lady who did the costumes for Brannagh's local elementary school's rendition of "The Hobbit"? Couldn't we get something at least semi-realistic? The "armour" looks ridiculous, the bad hair dye jobs look ridiculous - it all looks ridiculous.

Now, something a bit more important: How can Kenneth Brannagh expect us to believe that the bloodthirsty warrior Thor, after returning from earth, no longer wants to see the annihilation of Asgaard's murderous enemies (the frost-monsters trying to destroy Asgaard) purely on the basis of a Bono-like humanitarianism he somehow acquired because of his infatuation with Natalie Portman? That's the big peak of the character arc? A desire to let enemy creatures live who are infiltrating your kingdom and trying to kill your father and all your fellow citizens? It makes no sense.

How does Brannagh expect us to believe that Thor could break into a military compound built around his hammer (lodged in a piece of meteorite), wipe out a dozen guys, but that the commanding officer watching the whole break-in would not authorize even the firing of a tranquilizer dart into the man? And how does he expect us to believe that after all that, the military officials would just let him go (without arresting him, detaining him, etc.)?

And when the giant, fire-breathing monster shows up in town for the final showdown for Thor, and starts blowing the town up, lighting things on fire, etc., where are all the military people? Even though the military folks seem able to show up in seconds to any other unexpected event, for some reason, they are nowhere to be seen as soon as Monster Man starts destroying everything.

How does he expect us to believe in a cutesy goo-goo Thor, who hams it up for cellphone cameras?

I don't understand how a guy who has been acting and directing, literally his entire life, and who has won so many awards for doing so, could have overseen the making of a movie this bad. I mean, aside from "Train Theory". I just don't get it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Game Yet

I hate losing, but I think the most fun I've had so far this year in rugby was our loss against our crosstown rival, the Velox Valhallians.

No one in town likes to lose; but in particular, no one likes to lose to Velox. They don't have the glorious, century-old tradition of winning which James Bay has, nor the tidy, almost professional air which the University of Victoria Vikes have, nor the big membership and rollicking, city-wide, let-the-good-times-roll vibe of my own club, the Castaway Wanderers. Losing to Velox is thus something of a bitter pill for teams. It just always seem to everyone else (no doubt unfairly) that they should be able to beat Velox.

But the truth is, I've played against them several times now (Third Division), and their teams have always been very good. Todd, their fly-half, runs a very tight, effective ship, and once they get on a roll, they are very hard to stop.

I experienced this again last time we played them (maybe two months ago?). They got on a roll, Todd and the inside-centre kept putting guys away on the wing, and they started racking up points. As a result, we began to panic, and began taking stupid chances in order to try to catch up. More often than not, we would turn the ball over, and then the Velox backline would begin to pound us again. If we were lucky enough to get it back, we could barely get anything going because of their ferocious counter-rucking.

I experienced that ferocity personally. My buddy and teammate John Graf had the ball and ran into contact. Tackle made. The tackler jumped up, and in that split-second, I ran in over Graf and crouched to secure the ruck (to prevent the tackler and other defenders from pushing over Graf and stealing the ball). I had it covered - both hands and feet on the ground, over Graf, crouched low. Graf put the ball backwards and I heard our scrum-half run up to snatch it away; when out of nowhere, a semi-trailer smashed into me. I'm 200 pounds, but I was smashed up and backwards like I was an 8 ounce inflatable dummy. I never saw the Velox guy coming. All I knew is that even though I had been low in a four point stance, a split second later, I'd been flipped and was hitting the ground hard on my side six feet behind where I'd been crouching. The Velox forward who'd hit me landed right next to me almost simultaneously, both of us facing each other; and in that moment, I looked at him, and he looked at me, and then...we both started laughing. I had been completely owned. I knew it, he knew it. I just blurted, "that was textbook!", and still laughing, we gave each other a tap as we got up and resumed play.

The onslaught continued without ceasing for the next hour, the Velox guys scoring try after try. With a few minutes left in the game, our coach subbed me off. I thought I was done for the day, and stood watching the game from the sidelines. Suddenly, someone got hurt, and our coach started saying, "We need a flanker. Who's available? We need a flanker!". Then, noticing me standing next to him, he said, "go in at flanker!".

"'Flanker'?". I was a back. I'd never played flanker. I wasn't even sure where I was supposed to be.

"Go!", he said. "They're about to set the scrum".

"I'm in the scrum?!", I said.

"GO!".

I went running out on the wet, muddy field toward the scrum, only a minute or two to go, us getting our butts totally kicked, completely clueless about what I was supposed to do.

"Troy wants me to play flanker", I said to Alex, another forward. "What do I do?!"

"Just play", Alex said.

As it happened, I didn't have time to get near the scrum. I quickly assumed a place in the diagonal backwards-stretching line, and almost before I knew what was happening, Kevin, the scrum-half, had snatched up the ball and was firing a pass at me.

By this time, after nearly 80 minutes of drizzle and muck, the ball looked like it had been dipped in one of those Dairy Queen vats of liquid chocolate; but sprinting forward, I managed to catch it. In that split-second, I could tell I had no gaps in the line in front of me, and so I flicked the ball to my right, to Trent, an awesome young kid who plays every game not just like it's his last, but like he's living his last minute on earth.

Just as I flicked it over, I was hammered by one of their big goons back down into the mud. But as I went down, I managed to see Trent catch it, and then - just as he was in turn being hammered by one of their goons - flick the ball back toward me, to one of our backs who had cut a line right through the middle of us. In a flash, he was through....

And there, lying in the mud next to Trent, both of us covered in grass and muck and sweat and blood, in the last minute of an eighty minute torturous ordeal in which our team hadn't been able to score one single try, getting our faces kicked in (metaphorically and literally), we watched our teammate run right through the gap created by their defenders tackling Trent and me, run another twenty metres to put a move on their fullback, and then run the remaining fifty metres all the way to the try zone to dive in for the score...and no lie, I think it might have been the most exhilarating moment of my rugby career so far (barring the try I scored last year).

We did it!, I thought. I started laughing.

"WE DID IT!", Trent shouted, in almost the same instant.

"Yeah! We did it!!!", I shouted back. "WE DID IT!", we both shouted together. And both of us started laughing uncontrollably, still lying there, covered in muck, exhausted. "We did it, man! We friggin' did it!!! Ha ha ha!". After nearly an hour and a half of trying, and failing, we had finally scored.

We stood back up. High fives. "WE DID IT!". For some reason, we just couldn't stop laughing. And even in the dressing room, we couldn't stop laughing.

And funnily enough, two or three other guys came in, also laughing, saying, "that was the funnest game we've played all year".

I thought of that game last Saturday night. I popped in to the local pub The Irish Times to check out my buddies playing, and I bumped into a couple of guys from the club, K and G. We got to talking, and the subject of Mormonism, my former religion, came up.

I didn't really want to get into the church - I've long since tired of talking about it, for the most part - but I just said, "Well, it was really devastating...to make a long story short, I discovered that it wasn't true".

There was a pause, and then K, very seriously, said, "Rugby's true. It's always true".

And G said, "it's the one constant in my life".

I knew what they meant.

And then K said, "Rugby is war, and in war, you can only live by the truth. You have to live your life by the truth...You have to live your life by the truth".

And it's hard to explain...it's something about the truth, and rugby...but I can feel it deep in my bones...

And no doubt it sounds totally ridiculous to most people - not least to people who have never been Mormon, or who haven't yet realized it is all a fraud, or who have never belonged to a warrior cult in which, in every moment, you must live by the truest truths your mind and heart can fathom, or else suffer or die (in some way or other) - but I admit, to me, in that moment, it didn't sound ridiculous at all. It sounded...well, like the truest truth there can be.

This Sunday, we play Velox again. Maybe that game will bring a lot of laughs. Then again, it could bring a lot of injuries...but whatever it brings, I'm pretty sure it will be true :).

Friday, December 10, 2010

A New Genre: The Prospective Movie Review

Maybe it's wildly unfair of me, but as soon as I saw the commercial tonight for director Julie Taymor's forthcoming version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest", I thought, "it'll be a dud". The commercial showed Prospero having been changed from a male to a female; and while, strictly speaking, that in itself isn't enough to torpedo a movie, I have a sinking feeling about it all the same. The father-daughter dynamic - obviously heavily dependent on the sex of each character - is crucial to the story; change dad to a mum, and it's almost a given that Shakespeare's enchanting and powerful tapestry begins to unravel. Certainly, Hollywood's history of destroying classic tales by trying to "update" essentially unimprovable and timeless story lines and characters only inflamed my sense of foreboding; and when I later caught Taymor's interview with Stephen Colbert, it only aligned with what I'd thought two seconds after I saw the commercial.

Though few people in Hollywood seem to grasp it, structurally changing classics in order to make them "relevant" is generally a VBI (very bad idea); after all, the reason why any story is a "classic" is because it is inherently immune to becoming irrelevant. A classic can, I suppose, be neglected by people who find things like Youtube clips of gerbils eating their own young or people falling off of ladders more entertaining, but a classic, by definition, doesn't become irrelevant. In fact, the only time classics smack of irrelevance is when the artistically mediocre, desperate to think of themselves as contemporary colleagues and peers of the original genius creators, torment us with their dull-witted versions of them. So bottom line is, I'm giving this new version of "The Tempest" a thumbs down. I hope, when I see it, I find myself to be very wrong, because it's been my favourite Shakespearean play since I first read it in Dr. McNamara's political theory class seventeen years ago (that went fast!).

On the other hand, a forthcoming remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit, directed by the Coen Brothers and starring Matt Damon, will no doubt be terrific. The Coen Brothers of course are a sure bet, so I'm not saying anything that most people don't already know. I mean...good script, good actors, and good director, means good movie.

So there are my two prospective movie reviews: The Tempest is dudsville, True Grit is great.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Hold

Hi everyone - I'm on hold. I've been traveling and doing things with the kids and just haven't had much of a chance to type anything worthwhile. I hope to post something again soon.

Hope everyone's having a good summer.

Talk to you soon,

Tal

Friday, June 11, 2010

Overlords RFC, Part 6

"We keep writing songs. Why don't we just do a record?", I said to Spoiler one day.

"Yeah, totally", he said. "We'd have to think of a name, though".

A couple of days later, Spoiler and I sat eating in the kitchen. Outside in the sun, the kids were having a waterfight.

"I had an idea", I said. "Why don't we just call ourselves 'Overlords RFC'?"

"Because that's the name of our rugby team", said Spoiler.

"I know, but we can have a rock and roll band that's....also a rugby team", I said.

There was a pause. "That sounds really weird", Spoiler said finally.

"I know - but it's so weird it might work", I said, warming to the idea. "We write a bunch of songs, most of which have lyrics and themes drawn from rugby; and the band has colours like an actual rugby team, and we even have team, I mean band, jerseys. The rugby thing's not so explicit that it wouldn't get on radio, but it's there enough so that rugby people would pick up on it".

Spoiler shoved a hot dog into his mouth. "Like ah shed, shoundsh pretty weer'".

"What about Sum 41, or Run-DMC, or Blink 182? Those were pretty weird names. And what about 'Smashmouth'? That was a reference to Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears".

Well, the more we talked, the more Spoiler warmed up to the idea. And the next day, in a flash of inspiration, he sat down at the piano and came up with a very catchy verse and chorus, and a bunch of lyrics. I suggested the solo-bridge sequence and helped with the structure and a few lyrics, and all of a sudden, we had a song. It didn't have anything to do with rugby, really, but I reckoned we could figure that out later. The important thing was, it sounded like it could be on the radio. So we started to get excited. And Spoiler and I really started to get into character. Scottish rugby player character. Who also was in a rock band.

See, it was that week that the old Scottish guy next door had started shouting across the fence at our new puppy, which had provoked a million jokes, in Scottish accents, amongst Spoiler and my older kids and me. In fact, we hadn't been able to stop talking in Scottish accents since it happened.

So we began trying to come up with song ideas every day. Often the ideas were less about any song, and more calculated to just get more laughs out of the resentful, brusque, coarse, 85 year old Scottish guy alter-egos we had now fully adopted. We'd sit down with guitars, and then one of us would say something like, "Let's wrrrite a song about....about a guy who gets his face ****in' right bashed in on a rugby pitch and there's blood everywhere!", and "let's write a song about a rrrancid slag who won't come to her fella's rugby games!", and "what about one where a guy throws a deep-fried Mars Bar at the referee at Murrayfield for missing a call, and blasts his eye socket to smithereens?"

Quick digression here:

One night, in the midst of all that, we arranged for my oldest son to babysit, and Spoiler and I went down to Darcy's, a local pub, to hear some live music. I bumped into some of the Castaway Wanderers players I knew, began to chat, and got separated from Spoiler. When I finally wandered back to try to find him, I spotted him, holding a Budweiser, talking to a cute blonde girl.

I approached and said, "hey". Spoiler quickly pulled me aside and said into my ear, "Brudder - you gotta help me out on this. I told this chick we were Scottish rugby players from Aberdeen, and we're just over here for six months playing with CW. She's totally buying it. Just keep the accent going".

Not seeing much harm in that, I held out my hand to her. "Pleased to make yair acqueentance, missy", I said.

"Same here!", the blonde said, seemingly quite taken with the whole thing. "So amazing you guys are over here. Your brother was telling me all about where you guys live in Scotland, and all about your games" (Needless to say, Spoiler's never even been to Scotland, and had never picked up a rugby ball until eight or nine days earlier, and the only game either of us had ever been in at that point was touch rugby against the little McCue kids [who had taken to calling themselves 'The Hellcats'] at the park). "So awesome you guys play".

"Aye, it's great fun but o' course just a wee bit dangerous", I said.

"I love how you guys say 'wee'! It's more than a 'wee' bit dangerous anyway". She looked admiringly back at Spoiler.

"Rright then, lassie", he said, shooting me a quick "eye-smirk". "How about another pint then?"

Sadly for Spoiler, Blondie got around to sheepishly admitting a short while later that she was married and that she'd come to Darcy's with her husband, so that ended that...but the magical power of the schtick was not lost on either of us. And so it was that a few days later, Spoiler went back to White Rock for a day to meet up with V., an ex-girlfriend who had been trying to re-initiate their relationship. Spoiler called me the morning after, triumphant.

"Okay Brudder, last night I was hanging out with V. I told her upfront that there was no way I was getting back together with her, 'kay, but I dropped a couple of hints about how I might be into spending a bit of 'quality time' with her. SO BRUDDER CHECK THIS OUT! She was all curious about what I was doing over in Victoria, so I say, 'I've been playing a lot of rugby'. Brudder, she went into total shock, because she knows I've never played any sport! She was like totally dumbstruck. She was like, 'you - you - you play rugby now?'. I'm like, 'oh yeah, I'm on a team called the Overlords. That's why I can't stay over here very long. They need me back there for practice and our next game'. Then she's still dumbstruck, like she can hardly speak, and she's like, 'What - what - like - what, what teams do you play against?'. So Brudder, I go, 'Well, we play a lot of games against this team called...The Hellcats'. Brudder! Her head completely exploded! She was like, 'oh - my - God. I always knew you were amazing. But this just proves you can do anything! That is amazing!'. And brudder, lemme just tell you, after that it was ROGER WILCO ALL SYSTEMS GO shagfest! HA HA HA HA!".

Well, I'm not saying I condone his little maneuver, but I must admit I ended up choking with laughter at the thought of Spoiler, keeping a straight face, reporting that he was now on a rugby team which often played against their crosstown rivals, the Hellcats - and happening to omit the fact that it was touch rugby against a bunch of eight and nine year olds - and so completely blowing his ex's awestruck mind.

Where was I? Oh yes - the band that was a rugby team that was a band.

More later.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Will Bud Selig Do the Right Thing?

Will Bud Selig do the right thing? I think the answer to that question is another question: Why would he start now?

Bud Selig's refusal to allow any sort of video replay into the game he claims to love has once again been revealed to the entire planet as the supremely idiotic position it has always been. Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga tonight pitched a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians, except that first base umpire Jim Joyce erroneously called Jason Donald safe at first. Making it all the more nauseating is that it wasn't even close. Donald was clearly out, but once Joyce ruled, that was it, and Galarraga's perfect game - only the 21st in major league history - will, at least as of this writing, not be officially recorded as such.

What is the right thing to do? I think the answer is obvious. Just as baseball commissioner Ford Frick ruled in 1961 that Roger Maris's homerun record of 61 in a season be recorded as having been accomplished in 162 games (to distinguish it from Babe Ruth's previous record of 60 in just 154), Selig should decree that the history books record that Galarraga pitched a perfect game tonight. Furthermore, he should shut the hell up about Ernie Banks and Dizzy Dean, stop hazily dreaming about the past, and take baseball into the 21st century - which means utilizing video replay. It's simple - each team could have one challenge opportunity a game, or even a certain number per season. The NHL uses video replay. Rugby league uses video replay. Football uses video replay. Rugby union uses video replay. Why? To preserve the integrity of their game. That's what's so stupid about Selig's position on this: despite all his prattling about wanting to maintain "the integrity of the game" by keeping video replay out, it is precisely that integrity which is damaged when the outcomes of games are determined not by the players, but by refereeing errors. Duh.

But...why would Selig start caring about (as opposed to just talking about) "the integrity of the game" now? After all, he's the guy who turned a blind eye to steroid use for years, and in doing so, facilitated the most integrity-damaging saga in baseball since the Black Sox scandal of 1919. No - if Selig does the right thing in this case, it will be, first of all, a miracle; but second of all, prompted only by a vain concern about looking like an idiot, rather than an innate sense of decency or justice.

So hopefully, there will be enough of an outcry over this episode that Galarraga's marvelous performance tonight will be enshrined in the record books as the perfect game it was, rather than the one-hitter it was not. But...I'm not counting on it.

Time for a new commissioner - and video replay.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Overlords RFC, Part Five

The next day around noon, I said, "Okay Brudder, if you want to get going here, you could get that big wisteria planted, and then get on the beds for the cedars. The kids and I can start on the flower beds".

"No problem, Brudder. I just gotta run to the store to get a few things". That made some sense, because he'd shown up with only a backpack, and was supposed to stay for three weeks. "I should be back in a few. Can I get twenty bucks in advance?". I said sure. Being carless, he jumped in my van and left.

Three hours later, with still no sign of him, I called his cell.

"Hello?", he said. In the background, I could hear what sounded strangely like calling seagulls, ocean waves, bottles clinking, dogs barking and people laughing.

"Brudder - where are you?", I said.

"I'm at the beach. It's totally awesome down here! Joey, wait, try it upside down...yeah, like that...HA HA HA HA HA!".

What the...? Who's Joey? "Hello?"

"Here boy, come on over - Tina, grab him for a sec..."

"Brudder, you there?"

"Yeah I'm here, hang on - Wait, let me try, I bet he jumps right off the edge. WOOOO HA HA HA HA HE DID IT! GOOD BOY! (ruff ruff rrrrr ruff) Where'd Bucks go? Hey-"

"Brudder - what the hell's going on? Who are you with?"

"I'm at the beach with some friends..."

"'Friends'? You just got here last night. How can you have friends?"

I heard the sound of guitar in the background, then Spoiler saying, "That's not how you play it, gimme that..."

"Brudder! Listen - you there? I need the van. I have to go get food for dinner".

Well, Spoiler finally made it home, but as usual, was frustratingly vague about how he could have made a dozen friends almost instantaneously on a trip to a store. Although, I'd seen this kind of thing before with him. We're somewhere, someone - or a group of people - appears and approaches him - not me - and says, "Hey man! What are you up to? Nice to see you. We're hitting the lake tonight, you should come on down. K, catch you later!". And then when I say, "Who was that?", Spoiler says, "I don't know; I've never seen them before". It made no sense. It was totally inexplicable, and it happened over and over. Maybe there was some cosmic "party" energy field that these people were all attuned to, that I had no access to, which enabled them to find and identify each other. No clue.

Anyway, we went to the grocery store, then threw some steaks on the barbie, and after dinner, we got out the rugby ball and went into the back yard. I don't think Spoiler had ever touched one in his entire life up to that point.

"How do you throw it?", he said.

"Just like this". I put my right hand towards the back, my left hand towards the front, and gave it a little spin as I tossed it. Within a few minutes, Spoiler had gotten the hang of it, and along with the kids, we all tossed it around.

"So Brudder, you gonna play with us against the McCues?".

"Yeah of course, Brudder", Spoiler said. "I'm an Overlord now". That was quick. Cool.

"Too bad we don't have a uniform that will fit you", I mused.

"WHAT?", said Spoiler. "Brudder, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I'M NOT GOING TO SHOW UP IN A T-SHIRT FOR A GAME. WE'RE ON A TEAM. THIS IS RUGBY. I'M AN OVERLORD-"

I admit I was totally caught off guard. I had no idea Spoiler would instantly take this so seriously. I mean...he hadn't even heard of the Overlords until a day or two earlier, and I don't even think he'd ever been on any actual team in his entire life, except for maybe a stint on a Little League team when he was seven or eight. "Okay Brudder, calm down - we'll try to figure something out", I said.

"YEAH BRUDDER. GUY INVITES ME OVER, AND THEN WANTS ME RUNNING AROUND IN A T-SHIRT DURING AN OVERLORDS GAME. UNBELIEVABLE!"

Well, a few days later we headed out to Sierra Park for our scheduled match against the McCues, the 6'3" Spoiler jammed into one of our Overlords jerseys, Polish-sausage style.

An hour later, the game was over, and we headed back to the house. The kids wanted to jump on the tramp while the sprinkler was on underneath it. Spoiler and I sat down with a couple of guitars. Within a few minutes, we'd come up with a pretty good idea for a song. The next day at the beach, we came up with another couple of ideas. Same thing the next evening, sitting around the fire.

And after a week of that, I had a strange idea.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Robin Hood Review

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast...

I saw "Robin Hood" last night, the new Ridley Scott-directed movie starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I'd heard from a few sources that it was average, but I didn't believe them. Putting together, in my head, the "Gladiator" director and the actors and the timelessly appealing story, I just thought, "it's gotta be good". In fact, it was average, a five out of ten.

Probably the most important reason for its mediocrity is a less than compelling story. The story depicted is actually backstory, an explanation of how Robin became Robin (the movie actually ends at the moment that Robin becomes an outlaw). Now that I think of it, this is the first movie I have ever seen which seemed entirely devoted to being "the first movie of a series of movies", rather than primarily a stand-alone movie, which, secondarily, could also setup a sequel. Anyway, bottom line is, the story just isn't that compelling, and is depicted in too lengthy and cumbersome a fashion.

The second factor is casting and acting performance. I can see Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, though just. He would definitely be a rougher, cruder, more piggish Robin Hood than, say, the dashingly nimble Robin Hood played by Errol Flynn decades ago. But...you know. Maybe that would have been better, more realistic. But Cate Blanchett - a fine actress - as Marian? I can't buy it. I'm not trying to be mean when I say that Cate Blanchett is one of those actresses (others include Jodie Foster, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sarah Jessica Parker) who have made it to the top-tier of their profession while being entirely devoid of sex appeal, so I think she was an odd choice. Great as Elizabeth I, miscast as a dashing hero's love interest. It's completely unbelievable.

The supporting actors are likewise pretty mediocre here. Mark Strong as Godfrey is too...what's the word...obvious; too "caricature of a bad guy". William Hurt is too American for this picture; he looks American, he moves "American", he just shouldn't be in this movie. Danny Huston was phemonenal in "The Proposition"; here, his brief acting performance, like so many of the others, is just that tad overwrought (must be Ridley Scott's fault). Robin's Merry Men, same thing.

"Robin Hood" would have been far better with a different leading lady, subtler, more "organic" acting performances, and a tighter, more dramatic story, whether comprised of pure backstory or the traditional tales of Robin Hood, or some combination.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Overlords RFC, Part Four

Right around this time, I had a chat with Mommy.

"I'd like to go back to England", she said. "I need to re-connect with my family and friends. That will help me on my journey of healing" (healing after leaving Mormonism, that is).

Not to go into too much detail, but no one had been longing as desperately for Mommy to complete her "journey of healing" more than I had over the past few years, so in the moment she said it, I was on board. She asked me to buy the tickets and schedule the trip for her, which I did: three weeks in July (2008), back to England. I would stay at home with the kids. As usual, I felt very hopeful - in retrospect, naively so - that this trip would really help her achieve peace, etc.

We were all sad to see Mommy go, although I also was relishing having a fun, laidback three weeks with all eight kids. Barbecues, the beach, swimming, biking...I thought we'd be able to have a blast. And then I had another idea. I called up my brother, Spoiler, who was still in White Rock (on the mainland, a suburb of Vancouver).

"Tracy's gone for three weeks. Why don't you come over?", I said.

"I have no money", he said.

"I have landscaping I have to complete. You can help me, and I can just pay you".

"Done", he said.

The next day, my cell phone rang. It was Spoiler.

"Brudder, it's me. I'm just pulling in to the ferry terminal. My friend gave me a ride on his motorbike".

I wondered why he was calling me if he was still riding on the back of a motorcycle. Didn't you need to hold on with both hands? In any case, it sounded like they were just stopping the motorcycle, and he was trying to get off.

"I'll be on the 3, can you pick me-OWWWWW!!!!", he suddenly shouted. "YOUR BIKE JUST BURNED MY LEG! LOOK AT MY LEG!".

In the background, I could hear his friend was saying, "Oh, you gotta be careful around the-"

"YOUR BIKE JUST BURNED MY LEG! NOW I'M GOING TO HAVE A SCAR! ALL SUMMER! A GIANT SCAR FOR SUMMER! LOOK AT MY LEG! WHY DON'T YOU WATCH IT WITH YOUR STUPID BIKE, MAN?! Brudder, this guy's pipe here just totally burned my leg. YEAH THANKS A LOT MAN. NOW MY LEG IS BURNT!....YEAH WHATEVER....YEAH....YEAH, SEE YA LATER!"

Listening in, I couldn't quite grasp how it would have been his friend's fault (who after all, I assumed had given him a ride all the way from White Rock to the Tswawwassen ferry terminal) that Spoiler, who was wearing shorts, had burned his leg on the pipe while dismounting.

In any case, the kids and I picked Spoiler up a couple of hours later on the Vancouver Island side...and thus began a legendary three weeks of hilarity.

Gotta run, more later.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Overlords RFC, Part Three

I put a call into Rich McCue. We had been friendly with Rich, his wife Heather, and their kids for a couple of years. We had played hockey with them a few times, so I thought they might be game for a rugby adventure. Fortunately, they were, and we scheduled a touch rugby game for the following week.

So far, the kids had been pretty excited about the idea. This was as surprising as it was gratifying to me, since none but two had ever shown any interest at all in rugby. Maybe they felt the low morale, too; and maybe the idea of a new adventure that we would all be embarking on, and the alter-ego element, the opportunity for totems and colours and all those things, and maybe even a kind of small-scale glory, appealed to them the same way they did to me at that moment. T-Bone and A-Roq were already interested in Norse and continental mythology, and were quite into fantasy video games, often with a martial element. They began coming up with a mock mythology for our alter-egos almost immediately. Sno-cone, six at the time, came up with a stirring riff on the piano one day, which we immediately adopted as our battle theme. The little girls, for their part, seemed very keen on dressing up in the navy and blue family jerseys, with the matching shorts and socks. We even began brainstorming for an official logo and motto. We came up with a logo - an upright oval with a simple half-cross in the upper half - and tossed around the motto "Break or Be Broken" for a few days, before concluding one day, amongst a few chuckles, that it was too intense for playing touch rugby with a bunch of little kids (we finally settled on "Together We Rise").

Anyway, we hit the local elementary school field a couple of times for practices, and when our debut game came that Sunday, we were ready. We laid out the boundary cones, went over some rules with the McCues, and the fun began. I must say it was disconcertingly tiring. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't even breathe after two minutes. Rich is something of an athlete already, and does triathlon training. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but the continuous process of stopping, accelerating as fast as possible, slowing, accelerating again, stopping, leaping, etc., really destroyed me. Rich zipped past me more times than I'd care to admit.

Despite my exhaustion, we managed to eke out a victory, and our amiable rivalry had begun. Almost immediately, our weekly games became the family highlight of the week, and I was thrilled that the kids talked about it so often, and even wanted to go out and practice during the week. I wondered sometimes how many sixteen year old boys were keen on going out a couple of times each week to run rugby drills with their little brothers and sisters. Everyone was excited and it all seemed to be working better than I had dared hope. Kids started tossing rugby balls around in the house and in the yard ("we need to practice again, our game's only in two days!"), and two even asked if they could wear their Overlords RFC jerseys to school. It seemed like magic.

The seven of us: A-Roq, T-Bone, Skinny Dip, Lady Lu, Red Bear, Sno-cone, and myself so far comprised the team (Trixta had only just turned three, and J-Dawg, the oldest, was more focused on doing musical demos at the time). We would have had an awesome time for the rest of the summer just us, but Overlords RFC got an injection of new excitement when an unexpected addition to our playing side showed up one day...

To be continued.

Overlords RFC, Part Two

We need something to rally around...we need some common goal or pursuit...we need some story...and something that can unite our three year old with our seventeen year old, something we can all do...we need...

And then suddenly I had it:

We need a family rugby team.

I had never played before, only tossed balls around with the kids. But I'd always known that rugby was the coolest sport on earth. Making it easier was that a couple of my kids had played for a local club.

We'll start a team. We'll get jerseys. We'll start drilling. We'll find another family to play against. Each week we will have a game; that is, we will go to war. We will have fun. We will have colours, a team name, maybe chants or songs, code words...it'll be like something out of James Frazer's Golden Bough....

I began wracking my brain for our "one true team name". I didn't want any name that had ever been taken for a sports team. I didn't want "The Cougars" or "The Tigers" or anything like that. No...this had to be different...unique...it had to be us.

Then one day, I think after we just got home, reading a magazine article about the Anglo-Saxons, I came across a sentence, and the word just popped out at me: overlords. That's it!, I thought. I ran a google search; there was no team on the planet called The Overlords. Plus, it was a key word in my very first favourite song, and probably the coolest rock song of all time, Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" - and all the kids had always liked the song, too. So we also had a theme song. Even better, Mummy was from England; my family was from Germany; there was an actual blood connection between us and the ancient Anglo-Saxon overlords of the British Isles. It was perfect.

The next task was determining the colours and getting jerseys. I looked online to see how much it would cost to get custom-made rugby jerseys for all of us. Way too much. I then looked around local shops - Wal-Mart, Zellers, Roots, The Gap, etc. - trying to find shirts that A.) looked like rugby jerseys, and B.) came in sizes to fit everyone from Trixta (three years old) to me. Frustratingly, I just could not find anything.

Then luck struck again one day. I popped into Old Navy, and there, marked way down (clear-out), were a bunch of matching cotton shirts, white front and back, but with navy shoulders and neck band, in all boys sizes, from extra small to large. The shirts even had a couple of navy stripes on each short sleeve. And the cotton was stretchy enough so that I could actually jam into a size large. And they were like three bucks each or something. I had already come up with the idea of having our colours silver and navy, so when I saw these, I just thought, Done.

I bought them all, plus matching white and navy blue athletic socks, and then took them to the local T-shirt shop, where I had them emblazon, in navy and silver, the name Overlords RFC (rugby football club) with a navy border around it. I brought the jerseys home, and there was an element to the whole thing that seemed akin to the thrill an as-yet-unsassigned superhero-in-waiting might feel once he is given his superhero name, a list of his superhero powers, and his official superhero outfit. All the kids put on their jerseys, looked at themselves in the mirror, and somehow or other, instantly became The Overlords, a family of elite superheroes which no force on earth could now keep down, let alone separate.

Now, we just needed a battle to fight.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Overlords RFC, Part One

We needed something. Family morale seemed to be sinking, maybe because some strange distance had once again emerged between Mommy and me, a distance I hated and wanted to erase. Why? Because I loved the woman body and soul. I'd tried a bunch of things - giving her lots of space, getting us matching beach bikes for joint evening rides, getting us kayak lessons, trying out various seduction strategies, going to a couple's seminar, giving her even more space, lots of date nights, writing notes and songs, surprise concerts, more space again, fantasy getaway weekends, counselors, everything I could think of - but nothing had really worked, and I couldn't figure out what else to do.

It was spring of 2008. Tracy and I had had a rough time two years earlier, but we had gotten over that. But now...it seemed like the bond was slipping again. What to do?

I thought and thought - kind of like Winnie the Pooh trying to get an idea - and finally I came up with something. Maybe - long shot - but maybe just getting out of town for a couple of weeks would help us re-set. But where? Well...we need happiness, I thought. For that, where else do you go but "the happiest place on earth"? It was worth a try anyway.

That's how in May of 2008, Tracy and I and our six youngest kids wound up driving to Disneyland from Victoria in our RV (our two oldest wanted to stay at home with friends). Ideally, the two of us would have gotten away alone, but it's hard to find someone to watch eight kids for a week or two. In the end, it became obvious that if we wanted to get away, we'd all have to go. Despite that, I hoped there would be some special moments between the two of us...

I don't know what Tracy would say now, but I thought our trip was a blast, and I think the kids thought so, too. We stopped first at one of our favourite little getaway places, Seaside, Oregon, and then next in Florence to ride on buggies on the giant sand dunes, and...finally we got to Disneyland, and did it all: the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, Sleeping Beauty's Castle. I don't know what it is - the tidiness, the faint smell of jasmine everywhere, maybe even the comforting predictability - but for some reason, the magic of the place never fades for me. I've been going there since I was a little kid, and each time, I feel the same thrill.

We augmented our trip with a foray to Knott's Berry Farm, during which my son Sno-Cone I think became the youngest child to ever ride on Montezuma's Revenge, and another to a dinner theatre thing with pirates, and a night out at Medieval Times. We also hit the Long Beach aquarium, a few other beaches, etc. On the way home, we stopped at a nice little resort somewhere off the highway near San Luis Obispo. It was awesome.

But the whole time we were gone, I found myself mulling over the follow-up questions: How do we keep the family morale up when we get back? How do we keep having fun together? Even though we all live our own individual lives, how do we remain centered as a family?

And then one day, lightning struck, and I had it: Overlords RFC.

More to come.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Heroes vs. Hypocrites: Mormon Rugby Girls vs. Mormon Leaders

So, let's see.

The BYU women's rugby team drills for hundreds of hours: wind sprints, push-ups, burpees, tackles, line-outs, scrums, rucks, passes, the whole deal. As they are not an official university team, they scramble for financing, holding fund raisers, relying on any source of money they can find. They pull together and make it to the national finals in Florida, where, due to a scheduling error, their second-round game against Penn State is scheduled for Sunday, rather than for Saturday. The BYU girls are then confronted with the heartbreaking choice of either pursuing the dream they have worked so hard to realize, or living up to their religious commitment to keep the Sabbath day holy. Devastated, they finally decide to live their religion. They forfeit the game. And with that, their shot at the title disappears.

But at the same time, the men who run the church they believe in so deeply feel quite happy to require that church-owned businesses - of which there are many dozens - operate every single Sunday. Why? For the same reason those leaders require them to operate the other six days of the week: profit.

This isn't right. Mormon church leaders never tire of telling church members to keep the Sabbath day holy. As an example, consider the words of the late Mormon president Gordon Hinckley in an LDS General Conference talk called "Look to the Future":

"...There are what some may regard as the lesser commandments but which are also of such tremendous importance.

"I mention the Sabbath day. The Sabbath of the Lord is becoming the play day of the people. It is a day of golf and football on television, of buying and selling in our stores and markets. Are we moving to mainstream America as some observers believe? In this I fear we are. What a telling thing it is to see the parking lots of the markets filled on Sunday in communities that are predominately LDS.

"Our strength for the future, our resolution to grow the Church across the world, will be weakened if we violate the will of the Lord in this important matter. He has so very clearly spoken anciently and again in modern revelation. We cannot disregard with impunity that which He has said".

But "disregard with impunity" is exactly what Hinckley did throughout his tenure when it came to the fourth commandment. As the man at the top of the Mormon pyramid, he could have stopped the operation of the church's for-profit businesses on Sunday at any moment. Instead, he authorized it, just as his successor, current church president Thomas Monson, does. To take just one example of this shockingly open hypocrisy, the church's Salt Lake City NBC affiliate, KSL-TV, as a rule broadcasts six hours of sports each Sunday, the watching of which is the very thing that Hinckley, in the talk quoted above, told Mormons was bad. So while the BYU girls refuse to play a game on Sunday for which they will not be paid, on grounds that doing so is incompatible with the Sabbath, the very church leaders who in effect told them not to, are making money off of broadcasting sports every single Sunday of the year!

The BYU girls walk the walk. Why don't Mormon leaders? How can they preach against the very thing they are doing? Easy - the same way Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Jesse Jackson, and dozens of Catholic priests have all preached chastity while having sex with prostitutes, mistresses, or children; the same way conservative writer Bill Bennett preached a return to old-time virtues while blowing millions in gambling casinos; the same way radio host Rush Limbaugh preached against soft-on-crime liberals while he was illegally buying Oxycontin off of drug dealers in Denny's parking lots; the same way Idaho senator Larry Craig preached family values while cruising for anonymous gay sex in airport restrooms; the same way California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer preach the evils of guns while both possessing concealed weapons permits...they just say one thing, and then do another. They just exempt themselves from the rules they tell everyone else to live by. It's easy.

Some people might think the BYU girls are stupid. I don't. I think they have demonstrated what character is all about, and I admire them: they sacrificed their own pleasure for the sake of their principles. It's too bad their religious leaders are too busy counting up the profits from the Sunday sports shows they tell everyone are sinful, but happily broadcast anyway, to do the same.

Final score:

BYU women's rugby team: heroes.

Mormon leaders: hypocrites.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sno-Cone

I'll always remember the night my son Sno-Cone (nickname) was conceived.

It was late July, 2001. We were living in White Rock, BC, and I landed around 5:30 PM in Vancouver that day after a week away. I'd missed Tracy a lot and eagerly jumped in the car to begin the forty minute drive home.

I flicked on the radio as I pulled on to Highway 99, and heard an advertisement for what was then called "The Symphony of Fire" (now "Celebration of Fire"), Vancouver's annual fireworks contest held in English Bay. They haul a giant floating platform out into the water, and then teams from all different countries come and take turns shooting off their fireworks displays every night over the course of a week or so. Judges then award prizes for the best displays. In that instant, listening to the ad, I had an idea.

I grabbed the cellphone and called Tracy, telling her I'd just landed and that I wanted to take her out for a special overnight adventure, and to pack and put on something she'd feel comfortable going out in. When she asked what we were doing, I said it was a surprise, but not to eat. I made a few other calls to get everything arranged, including overnight babysitting, got home, hugged and said hi to the kids, jumped in the shower, threw on some clean clothes, and then we left, heading back to Vancouver. So far, so good, I thought.

It was another amazing sunny summer Vancouver evening, slight ocean breeze, the odd eagle overhead, pines and firs everywhere...it felt great to be back home, and to be out with Tracy. She seemed excited and curious, which was pretty charming, and looked beautiful as ever - like a cross between Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. No one could believe she'd already had six children.

As we parked a couple of blocks from English Bay, I revealed that I'd made reservations for us to eat dinner at Rain City Grill, a restaurant we'd never visited, but which I had noticed always got rave reviews in local papers for the top flight dishes it served, using only fresh, seasonal, local food.

We walked in, and to my surprise, the greeters recognized me, and seemed thrilled to meet us. Even with my songs pumping on radio, I wasn't recognized very often; and while I honestly couldn't care less about that sort of thing normally, I have to admit that on that particular night, out on a special date with my wife, hoping that everything would go well, it felt kind of nice to meet people who seemed excited to meet us...it added to the "specialness" of our evening thus far.

I can't for the life of me remember what Tracy ordered that night, but I do remember that I got the short ribs, and they were phenomenal. We ate and chatted and laughed as the sky outside more and more turned indigo, and took bites of each other's dessert, until finally we were done.

We walked down to the beach, just a few metres away from the restaurant, and found a nice place to sit. The fireworks displays were breathtaking, and...I can't really find words to describe how I felt, sitting out there in the warm summer air next to the mother of my children, watching the shooting flames and sparks, thrilling along with the crowd to each surprise, smelling the ocean air and catching glimpses of reflections coming off the water. Everything seemed right in the world that night.

After the climax of the last fireworks display had ended, we made our way a block up the street to the quaint little hotel I'd booked for the night, and, well, you know. Our surreally, powerfully beautiful evening ended in similar fashion.

Well, you know where this is going. A few months later on Salt Spring Island, where we had moved in the meantime, Tracy got the predicted due date of our seventh child after having an ultrasound, and out of curiosity, looked at the calendar, and then exclaimed: "it was the night we went to the fireworks - it had to be!".

Sno-Cone was born April 5, 2002, in Bellingham, Washington, a hale and hearty boy, with white-blonde hair (which he still has), his blue eyes shaped like almonds (like his mother's), and an unusually calm, solid demeanour.

More to come on Sno-Cone.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Unreasonable Reason

One version of the story of the last three hundred years is that the intellectual movement known as The Enlightenment spearheaded a glorious change in human affairs, in which the shackles of dark religious superstition were cast off and replaced by the light of human reason. Popery and priests were out; science and logic were in, and amazing increases in human well-being would ensue.

We now have cell phones and aeroplanes, microwaves and computers, MRI machines and laproscopic surgery. Those are very nice things. But in the immediate wake of the Enlightenment, we had the almost insanely savage French Revolution, followed by Napoleon's tear through Europe, and then a century after that, we had the two most savage wars in human history (which included historically unprecedented genocide). And they were fought mostly by the most scientifically advanced nations ever. Moreover, in the wake of World War II, we had tens of millions of people tortured and butchered by communist regimes in service to the aims of their "one true social science". Our technology has improved. The problem is, we haven't.

Actually, the problem is worse than that, because it's not just that we haven't changed - it's that we can't. Despite all our longings otherwise, we remain human. That means we still love, and we still hate; we still unite, and we still divide; still share, and still steal. And this will never change, no matter how much more technology we have, or knowledge we possess. Contrary to Thom Yorke's ongoing paranoia, technology doesn't turn us into machines. It just gives us a power we wouldn't otherwise have. And that power can be used for good or for ill. All the while, the human animal remains the same.

Why can't people see this? The silly (if not dangerous) old notion, first purveyed by Plato and regurgitated ad nauseam even nowadays by self-styled "secular humanists", that "knowledge is virtue" - that the more "reasonable" we all are, and the more we all learn, the better people we will all be - has been refuted a million times, in a million different ways, and will be a million more times in the future. Yet it doesn't make any difference at all to the secular humanists, no doubt for the same reason that knowing that the communion wafer doesn't actually "transubstantiate" into the flesh of Jesus doesn't make any difference to the believing Catholic: because these claims are now dogma. They are now identity to these people. They have become unchallengeable articles of faith, beyond the power of any argument or empirical proof to refute. Yet, the truth is, the wafer doesn't become Jesus, and knowledge doesn't become virtue. And that means that "secular humanism" - or to call it by its real name, The Enlightenment - is as much of a fraud as Catholicism. Those who most loudly champion reason over faith, are often as unreasonable as the religious believers they think themselves superior to, if not more so.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The First Try

I was frustrated. And embarrassed.

I'd had the guy lined up. I figured he would get the ball any second, but I slowed down slightly, since in rugby, you're not allowed to tackle a guy without the ball. A split-second later, he had actually received the ball, and by then, it seemed too late. With my weight on the wrong foot, he quickly sidestepped and got past me.

And then, a few minutes later, it happened again. And then, it happened one more time. (It didn't help that the Comox jerseys seemed to be made out of some space-age super-slippery material). A few expletives popped into my head.

It seemed like a timing thing. I couldn't seem to get that down. I felt kind of like Steve Martin on "The Jerk", trying in vain to dance in time.

At half-time, I approached K., one of the guys who helps run the team.

"I can't seem to get my timing down with tackling", I said.

"Okay, no problem. I can tell you exactly how to tackle. You just have to remember one thing".

Wow, I thought. This is awesome! I'm about to hear the one key that will unlock the mystery forever. Never again will I miss a tackle. I just need this one vital piece of detailed information...

"All you have to do", drawled K., now staring at me very intensely, "is focus on the guy, and kill him". He waited a second, and then said again: "Kill him".

I looked - in vain - for any sign that K.'s lesson was a bit of cheeky hyperbole. In fact, his face was now drawn into a cold, brooding, squint, kind of like Clint Eastwood as the Spaghetti Western bounty killer right before he draws and, well, kills someone.

I managed to suppress the urge to swallow hard.

"Uh...isn't there...like...some technique I need to remember...?"

"Yeah - KILL HIM".

In the first half, I'd actually accidentally clotheslined a guy trying to tackle him. I swung my arm out just as the guy ducked low, and the inside of my elbow hit the guy right in the throat as we were running full blast at each other. And because caving in a guy's throat (classic karate move) actually will kill him, I was very worried for a second that I'd really hurt him. As it was, he was okay. But it was impossible for me to think about trying to kill the guy I was about to tackle, after coming so close to severely injuring someone. I mean, all I wanted to do was tackle these guys, for God's sake, not live inside a serial killer alter ego...

Well, fortunately for me, we retained possession of the ball more often in the second half (meaning of course that we weren't on defence), so I didn't have to worry too much about whether to focus on remembering proper tackling technique versus imagining I was Sammy "The Bull" Gravano dealing with a ratfink. But I still longed, as I always do, to be able to contribute in some way. I play out on the wing, where one doesn't get many carries even at the best of times. But playing in a Third Division game on a muddy field makes it even less likely that the ball will be spun out wide. So far, all I'd done in the game was miss a few tackles.

But - perhaps in a miraculous example of divine intervention - that all changed in an instant. One of my teammates got the ball and began speeding down the right wing. Another guy and I chased behind in support (that is, so we could ruck over, or grab an offload, or maul across the try line). My teammate was hit a few metres from the try line, and the ball squirted backwards and towards the out of bounds line. And towards me, running full-tilt behind him.

Still at speed, I snatched the ball on the bounce before it went out; and glancing forward, saw that the only thing now stopping me from scoring a try was a Comox player standing directly on the try line, four metres in front of me. In that instant, I knew I was in. I hit him full speed, and as he tackled me, he started to flip me out of bounds. As I twisted over him still hurtling towards the out of bounds line, I slammed the ball down. Try awarded: the first try I'd ever scored in a rugby game.

A cheer went up from the Premier players watching from the balcony, and I felt a sense of relief that I'd finally actually contributed something substantial. And as it happened, I think that try tied the game. So that was pretty cool.

As we walked back to receive the kick-offs, I got a few laughs by announcing tongue-in-cheek to the other guys that from now on, I expected a lot more passes. "After all", I said. "I'm averaging one try per carry in this game".

The game ended a few minutes later in a draw, 22 to 22. Annnnd...we'll see what happens next week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lying: A Personal Experience


An anonymous reader asked in the comments section to the last post if I am capable of lying.

In terms of not volunteering certain facts, I have done this a number of times when I thought someone would be damaged by it, or would be driven to destructive behaviour by it. This can be a dangerous habit to get into, but then, in real life, there are sometimes circumstances in which certain truths would be devastating to people; and in fact, I can think of one example where I still wonder if telling someone all I knew was really the right thing to do. The truth, in that case, was devastating and debilitating. Maybe keeping my mouth shut would have been better...

Regarding the more obvious lies of commission, especially for the purpose of personal gain: I have a visceral aversion to these. I choke even on telling white lies for some reason, even when I want to tell them so as to make someone feel better. I dislike being lied to and I make it a rule to not lie to others (though I can imagine where lying might be morally justifiable). I honestly can say that I don't remember lying like this, except for the example below. It was a spectacular failure of an attempt, and it remains a good reminder to me to keep things straight up.

In 1999, when my record came out, I did a lot of traveling. This wore me down; I'd be home for a day or two, then off again for five days, then home for a day, then off again for three, then home for a week, then off for ten days, etc. And a typical day on one of these trips was, get up at 5, shower, get car to the TV station for the early morning show at 7....go all day doing interviews at radio, etc., play evening show, and then finally get into bed at 2 AM after a big dinner with the local Sony people, then up again at 5 to get an airplane to the next city. So I got worn down a few times.

Well, on one occasion, I landed in Vancouver (we lived in White Rock at the time) and drove home (45 minutes), arriving at night. I spent time with the kids and my wife, then tried to sleep, but couldn't, even though I was exhausted.

I had to get up very early the next morning and fly out again, this time to Denver, and I was literally almost falling asleep at the check-in counter. I said, "Look - I'm falling asleep and as soon as I land, I gotta go perform on TV. Can you please put me in a row of three, where the other two seats aren't assigned, so I can lay down?"

So the lady said, "We have the very back row clear. The chairs don't recline, but that won't matter if you're laying down sleeping across all three". I said great, and I was on my way.

So I get on the plane, and I was so tired I actually felt *pain*, which I don't think I'd ever felt before from exhaustion. I sit down next to the window eagerly awaiting take off so I can lay down and pass out. Everyone was seated and ready to go. And then, disaster struck.

Some big goofy cowboy looking dude and his trashy wife stumbled on to the plane, and headed down the aisle right toward me.

"Oh no.....no.....it can't be", I thought. I glanced around, but there were no other open seats...no!

And sure enough, they got to the back, glanced at their tickets, and plopped right in the two seats next to me. Inside, I felt a kind of desperate panic. I must sleep. I must sleep!

Anyway, I don't know what the hell happened in my head, but in that moment of panic, I mumbled, "no - no, wait, don't sit down" and blocked the seats lol. The flight attendant, who was right there, said, "Is there a problem?"

And I said, pleadingly, "yeah, I need these seats, I gotta sleep". And then, in my half asleep state, I remember saying, "All three of these are mine"!

So the flight attendant snapped, "You're trying to tell me you bought *three tickets* for this flight, and these are all yours?".

Great idea, I thought. And I sort of feebly choked out the words, "uh - um...yeah!".

Understandably, she shot me a digusted look and snapped, "don't be ridiculous. Move out of the way"!

Of course, she was right: I had said something totally ridiculous - and obviously untrue. In my waking, painful stupor, I'd tried to salvage my yearned-for "coma time" by saying something so stupid, that I am embarrassed by it to this day.

And what was worse about it all is that, of course, my seat wouldn't recline; so I had to fly all the way to Denver bolt upright, nodding off in weird five or ten second bursts with my head snapping forward, like a WWI soldier stuck in a trench for a week.

The only consolation was that the cowboy and his wife turned out to be drunk, and while I was passing in and out of hallucination next to them, they became belligerent towards the flight attendant and were met by the Denver police getting off the ramp, who handcuffed them and took them away!

Anyway, minus this exception, I just don't remember lying ever being a part of my life. And in real life, I am never in situations where I would even feel tempted to lie, because there is just no need. It just doesn't come up.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red Bear


I'm going to have to do something with this girl, I thought. She goes from calm and happy to Mount Vesuvius in under half a second, and then...you never know what she'll do. I looked down at my crotch, my fingers lightly touching the spot on my leg where contact had been made. That was close. And it would have, um, really hurt...

Silly me. A few months earlier, I had assumed that rugby would have been enough of an aggression channel for Red Bear (a.k.a Shortcake), my freckled, red-headed, pepperpot of a nine year old daughter. In reality, three hours of rugby each Sunday tended to calm her down for the rest of the day. But by the next day, she was back to normal. Usually sweet, friendly, and confident, but with a serious temper. So...I got her and Lady Lu horseriding lessons. But that wasn't enough, either. Obviously.

What had happened a few minutes earlier was just the latest indication of that. I had kicked the can for the third time in a row, freeing all of Red Bear's prisoners and thus forcing her to to have to count again while we all hid. But in the moment that I ran up and kicked it, the petite warrior queen had let out a primal shriek and let fly with a lightning quick Muay Thai-style roundhouse kick which had landed perilously close to my broncos.

"GEEZ! Red Bear! Control yourself!", I said. "Relax!". I started laughing because it was so unexpected and outrageous (I don't allow any hitting or kicking amongst the kids at all), but really...this sort of thing was getting serious. The explosions (mostly verbal) were fairly regular. She was so full of passion, spark, energy, fearlessness, so possessed by a kind of vivacious drive which would sometimes instantly explode into a kind of fury; it was so much a part of her, that she was going to have to learn how to channel it, control it, direct it. And now was the time. Soccer, rugby, horses, biking, rough play on the trampoline, taking her to the park all the time, nice calm discussions about how to handle frustrations, time-outs, occasionally barking at her when she started to lose it...all did a little bit, but she needed more. What else could I try?

Hmmmmmmm. Oh. Yes. Of course.

I called the gym the next day.

"Hello, 'Q' Gym, Sarah speaking", said the chipper-sounding girl.

"Hi Sarah. I have a question for you. I have a girl here who I think might like to try Mixed Martial Arts down there".

"Tell me about her", said Sarah.

This is not one word of a lie.

"Well, ummmm...she....". I stammered, and didn't really know where to begin, and then, it just sort of came out: "she...she has red hair".

Sarah started laughing. "Ohhhhhhh. Ha ha ha. A redhead!".

"Yeah. Big-time".

Sarah was still laughing. "I get it, yeah. And I love it. She'll be amazing. I want to work with her!". Thank God. Sarah understands about the red hair, I thought. This sounds promising.

The next Monday (this was the 14th of this month), I showed up at the Q MMA Gym with Red Bear, my seven year old son Sno-Cone, and my four year old son Trixta. Red Bear's hair looked absolutely wild, a huge mass of long, natural curls and waves, containing what seemed like every hue of red it was possible to have: blood red, candy apple red, carrot orange, Creamsicle orange, streaks of sunshine blonde. She looked like she could just have emerged from a cave somewhere in Denmark brandishing a giant sword, ready to join a Viking raid.

We wandered into the gym area after taking our shoes off, and were greeted by Sarah - who herself had reddish hair, and who I found out, had recently been ranked the number one bantamweight female MMA fighter in the world. Wow.

"Okay you guys", she said to the six or seven kids who were already there (we were about fifteen minutes early). "Grab some of those balls over there and start throwing them around. Start trying-" (again, this is not one word of a lie; this is the God's honest truth). She said, "start trying to hit the other kids in the face!".

In that moment, I fell in love with Sarah. Not really, but you know. I'm so sick of control freak school yard monitors telling my kids they're not allowed to throw pine cones, or snowballs, or rugby balls, or dirt clods, or wrestle, or do anything rambunctious, that I felt a surge of intoxicating, almost infatuating, adrenaline. The kids, for their part, seemed absolutely dumbstruck with amazement, like they couldn't believe what they'd just heard. For a split-second, they stared at each other. Then they started laughing and ran on to the mats, grabbing the mini beach balls and hurling them at each other, with a frenzied, wild abandon, laughing still.

This is completely awesome, I thought. Even Trixta was running around laughing, dodging and throwing the balls. And hell...I couldn't help it; I finally jumped in, grabbed a ball, and started playing myself, much to the delight of the kids.

After fifteen minutes of that, class officially started. For the next hour, Sarah led Red Bear, Sno-Cone (Trixta opted out of the official class), and the rest of the class through a series of punching, kicking, ducking and wrestling drills. One wrestling drill was similar to a Sumo match: two kids faced each other and tried to push each other outside the perimeter ring. Trixta and I watched Red Bear push one kid, then another, then another, then another, then another outside the ring. She didn't seem self-conscious or nervous at all. She seemed to really be enjoying herself, even though she was smaller than everyone there, even Sno-Cone, her younger brother. Maybe this will be her thing, I thought.

Time will tell whether Red Bear wants to stick with MMA. But I'll always enjoy the memory of watching her dive in, kick butt, and come out smiling. She is one special girl; and once she learns how to channel her passions, she will be unstoppable at whatever she puts her mind to. I can't wait to see that.