Other (not always) wordless friends:
The kind of night where red sky darkens under slice of moon as you walk, a hand-knitted scarf around your neck, just the right size to tuck into a pocket once the walking warms you up, and gloves, too, come off… and over there a cat sitting on its driveway staring at another cat across the road on a driveway of its own, each sniffing the air—territory is a scent; and from an-open-window-who-knows-where, in one of these already-lighted-for-xmas houses, someone’s dinner is cooking… and you think: sloppy joes and onions.
Here is my entire lifelong experience of baseball:
In gym class, being the last person to be chosen for the team, always.
Nieces and nephew who played baseball. (Oh, did they? I only recall attending one game and being totally confused by everything including why all the parents were yelling.)
Children of nieces and nephew who currently play baseball. (If they’re happy I’m happy for them… yawn.. It’s still not my favourite outing but I bring my camera these days and that makes it better. Here’s a pic I took at a recent game. I call it: things I’d rather be doing than watching baseball.)
The one Jays’ game I’ve attended. (We had excellent seats apparently but it didn’t help the tedium. Have blocked out the details. Nothing to report.)
Two friends and one house painter who rhapsodize about the religion of baseball. (The earnestness of their comments has stayed with me for years and keeps me oddly curious about the WHY of whatever is the game’s draw.)
And then into my life falls The Utility of Boredom, a collection of essays, which (to my complete surprise), explain so much, not the least being that boredom is integral to the game—it’s an actual thing, like the space between notes played on a piano, that part of the beauty of baseball is that there is time for climbing trees. The theory is Forbes’… the analogies, mine.
Forbes’ style is casual, anecdotal, written with a wide knowledge and deep passion for the game yet readable on different levels, depending where you are on the baseball knowledge continuum. For neophyte me, it was all pleasure of discovery and details that will forever stick, like how baseball is made for radio in a way that doesn’t work as perfectly for other sports, how the rhythm of it allows you to have a game on in the background as you go about your day and you don’t miss a thing.
I like that image.
It’s an oddly comforting book. And I’m not even sure why I’m choosing this word, but it’s the right word. I enjoyed the reading, enjoyed having my eyes opened to the ‘comforts’ this game seems to offer its fans.
In ‘Sanctuary’, the opening essay, Andrew Forbes explains his own introduction to baseball and that feeling of safety and the-world-suddenly-makes-sense vibe inside a ballpark. ‘Jim Eisenreich’s Eyes’ is about finding a morality trigger from a baseball card. ‘Ballparks of America’ is a surprisingly beautiful tribute not to the stadiums and their legends but to the towns and the people that define them, delivered in bite-sized morsels.
“In Sanford, Maine, a woman tells you what the mill closures have done to the town and how there are no tourist dollars because Sanford is so far inland. Orchard Beach catches all the tourists. But Sanford has its little ballpark proudly bearing a ‘Babe Ruth was here’ plaque…”
“In Seattle, from your seat high up in the Safeco Field stands, you can see Mt. Rainier as well as Felix Hernandez. Both are astonishing…”
“In Los Angeles they beat a man into a coma for wearing a Giants jersey…”
I very much doubt I’ll ever be a seamhead (baseball fan) or even enjoy watching a game, but neither will I ever again doubt the sincerity with which those who love the game love it. Also, I believe it’s important to understand The Other… and though sports remains a weird thing to me, The Utility of Boredom has gone a long way to explaining its appeal on a deeper level.
“Boredom, in the baseball sense, is a synonym for lackadaisical; it’s the only proper response to all that green grass and blue sky. Slouchy in the Viera stands, the beery patrons were in no hurry to shake the peanut shells from their hair and return to real life. They wanted to sprawl over those sticky plastic seats for which they’d paid. And the players—the unknown pitcher on the mound palming the ball mindlessly, the batter stepping in, stepping out, stepping back in, adjusting his cup, a batting glove, his helmet—were happy to oblige.
“This is where good radio announcers truly shine: filling the space. I once heard Vin Scully…. describing a cloud over Dodger Stadium and it was the most riveting and moving 30 seconds of the the entire broadcast. It’s for this reason too that baseball became a game of such minute statistical detail: that folks at microphones should have something to say when there was nothing to discuss and nothing happening on the field.”
So glad I stumbled upon this.
I wasn’t disappointed in the least.
Nor bored for even a moment.
(&, honestly, no one could be more surprised about that than me.)
This is not a love post. It’s a pretzel post. Which, really, is almost the same thing. Still, I’m sorry if the title is misleading.
(If it’s love you’re looking for you might want to give this a miss. Unless you love pretzels, in which case I’d definitely say stick around.)
Also, if you love the On Route stops on the 401, it’s possible we’re soul mate material. (People laugh when I use ‘love’ and ‘On Route stops on the 401’ in the same sentence but they are usually people who don’t know that every On Route stop has a secret picnic area.) You heard that right.
The one in Cambridge, for example, backs onto a pioneer church inside which I found an elderly man reading a paperback western. He was there to guard the church and to answer questions about it. The question I asked was whose land was it before the church came along, indigenous-people-wise. He said he’d never thought about that but now that I mentioned it he did remember when he was a boy (because he’s lived in the area all his life) there was an Indian (his word, he’s from that era) who lived somewhere nearby and one day stole a pie that was cooling on a window ledge. The pie-baker was prepared to be outraged except that the next day a piece of fresh meat was left on the same window-ledge. I asked him if he’d ever read Susanna Moodie. He said no but that he’d get his daughter in Guelph to look her up for him.
Most On Route picnic areas aren’t as exciting as elderly men and their memories, but they’re all very lovely, tree’d and quiet and only a few minutes walk from the gas pumps and fast food. They close for the winter sometime in October. But do look for them on your next journey. They’re quite hidden.
But, pretzels, yes. I’m getting around to that.
As if picnic areas, history, and clean bathrooms aren’t enough of a draw, on my last visit to the (Trenton) On Route (en route to Montreal) I discovered Neal Brothers oven-baked pretzels, which I can’t even tell you how they added enormous pleasure to the not-especially-scenic drive to Montreal but lasted through my stay there (because there is plenty to eat in that city besides pretzels) as well as the drive home.
I’ve since found them in my favourite local grocery shop, saving myself a return trip to Trenton.
Feel free to file this under Essential Road Trip Info.
When you hear the name Sheree Fitch, you may think children’s books, Mable Murple’s creator or simply one of CanLit’s most beloved player of words.
You’d be right, of course, on all counts, but there is also her adult fiction and poetry and if you’ve missed that, you’re missing a lot.
In This House are Many Women came to me in a most magical way (what I call the Sheree Fitch effect) and I’ve been reading and re-reading it for months so that it’s pretty much found a permanent spot on my coffee table and sometimes bedside table. Poetry combined with story in poetic form, about and from the perspective of women in both difficult and joy-filled situations… motherhood as a homeless woman, daily rituals, escaping domestic violence, finding connection in friendship, and learning to trust oneself. There aren’t enough books from these perspectives, that of women in shelters, and women ultimately helping women.
It’s the kind of thing, thankfully, most women will never know first hand, but … if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to leave your house in the dead of night while someone is threatening to kill you if you leave and you keep leaving anyway, keep running out the door because it’s become apparent to you that your chances of living are much slimmer if you stay (chances of living happily are nil), so you keep running, not sure to where or to what, all you know for now is why...
… if you’ve ever wondered what happens next, then this is the book to read.
It’s Milk and Honey for grown ups.
First published in 1993 and reissued in 2004 by Goose Lane, In This House are Many Women is a collection of poems that read like prose, a journey through the life of women. Women in peril. Women as community. Women as resilient survivors. While there is plenty of gritty reality, there is much humour, love, hope and, ultimately, the message that women helping women is how it’s always been, and that is no small potatoes.
In other words, it’s a gem of a book and I’m stunned that I haven’t come across it before. Since discovering it I’ve made a list of people I want to give it to, not the least of which are women staying in shelters.
The first of four sections opens with a suite of poems following the journey of escape, beginning with ‘The Runner’—
past women with drawstring mouths
women with wombs puckered out
from plum to grape to raisin
women who have never known
what wetness means
In ‘What Rhonda Remembers About the First Five Minutes’ there is arrival at the shelter, the sound of a buzzer, strangers, lights, attention, the imagined chorus of:
someone new is coming
someone new is coming
someone new is coming
— giving the sense of entering a prison. That this house of many women is safe and nourishing takes time to discover. At first it’s only not home. The windows are bullet proof, there are security cameras everywhere. The doors are locked, everyone is a stranger, the police are on speed dial. At first there is the matter of safety, then how to simply function, how to deal with the impossibility of emotions running through you while, at the same time, you are numb to all feeling.
In ‘Edna’, the narrator looks at her swollen face in a mirror “wishing I could see the wrinkles”.
Each poem is another woman’s story. You can almost imagine the conversations as women feed their children or sit in communal areas, drinking coffee, smoking, biting their nails as they listen to one another.
In ‘Valerie Listens to Gwendolyn’, the narrator explains how the leaving went for her:
I did not leave because of his violence
I left because of mine
I got another phone call
from another woman
I went in and watched him sleeping
saliva like dried chalk
made a rim around his open
a perfect target
I had a gun
I placed it on his pillow
then I left.
There are poems about the NIMBYness toward shelters, revelations about the homeless, the roles women play when they share a space, who mothers the others, who is most in need of what and who will provide the whats. Unsurprisingly, from a writer who understands the child mind, there are meditations and revelations from a child’s perspective too (as in god wears flannel shirts).
One of my favourites is ‘Advice’, which is a list of exactly that, beginning with:
Read everything Gloria Steinem ever wrote
her last book first
and ending with:
The best answers will always be questions
You can always call your aunt.
Another, ‘Grand LaPierre, Newfoundland’ tells in pure Fitchean style, the essentials of writing a poem as if one’s life depended on it:
...it doesn’t have to rhyme
but it must always have a beat
Fitch is writing here from the inside and the outside. One has the feeling she is both part of this world and an observer at the same time.
The thread running through the book is that words are a lifeline, the writing of our lives, the sharing of our stories, that through kindness and connection with others (including Peter Gzowski’s voice), all kinds of hurdles can be overcome, that we are not alone. It’s not only about women in dire straits, but about women being strong in the way of women…
So you can understand why I can’t bear to shelve it. When a book like this crosses your path it’s good to keep it close, to open it often.