this is not a review: ‘the utility of boredom’, by andrew forbes

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 World Series, 1992(Even I contributed to that decibel level.)

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.)




(at)eleven with teri vlassopoulos — bats or swallows

“Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our conciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk.” ~Margaret Atwood from The Can Lit Food Book

The idea behind the ‘(at)eleven’ Q&A series was to allow me to highlight books I like, written by people I know (because I am so lucky to know some lovely people who write), without having to worry about bias. Having said that, I don’t really know Teri Vlassopoulos, that is, we’ve never met in person although we’ve ‘known’ each other since taking the on-line Humber School for Writers mentorship program circa 2006, at which time a sort of group emerged.  Amazingly, the group (we keep threatening to name ourselves) is more or less intact and continues to inform, critique, support, and celebrate one another’s achievements—of which there have been a delightfully surprising number—not the least of which was the recent short-listing of Bats or Swallows for both the ReLit Award and the Danuta Gleed Award.

The other reason was to connect food to books. (I do believe there is a connection.)

A funny thing about The Group is how many of us are foodies. (Although, given that food is one of the world’s great tools of procrastination, I suppose it’s a natural love interest for writers.) In any case it ties in well with the small but important side theme, i.e. what food an indvidual book inspires.

My answer to the all-important question: what does Bats or Swallows make me want to eat?… follows the Q&A.


1.  Okay. My favourite question first: what literary character did you identify with as a child?

TV:  The first character that springs to mind is Leigh Botts from Dear Mr. Henshaw, even if our lives were vastly different. I almost feel embarrassed for identifying with a character that was, in many ways, sad when my childhood was not, but I guess as an only child there was a loneliness to him that I understood. And I liked writing fan letters too. Let’s also say Ramona Quimby and her cat-eared Q’s. (Beverly Cleary: she knew what she was doing.)

2. What were you reading at fifteen?

TV:  Girl by Blake Nelson, which I discovered when Sassy magazine published a few excerpts. Andrea Marr is a teenager in Portland who stumbles onto the local rock scene, wears a fish-printed dress, gets obsessed with rock star boys and has confusing and intense friendships. It was a bible of sorts.

3. What about themes… are there often recurring themes in your work that surprise you?

TV:  The surprise comes in retrospect when I read what I’ve written and realize that I’ve been working through an issue that I didn’t necessarily admit to myself was something I needed to work through.

4. Describe your work space, what’s on your desk?

TV:  Our apartment is tiny and I don’t have a proper desk, so I do the bulk of my writing on the kitchen table. I’m sure one day I’ll get sick of this arrangement, but in themeantime I prefer it. What’s on my desk depends on the day. Right now there’s a vase with a Christmas branch, my husband’s camera, a glass of water and a lone mechanical pencil. Soon: dinner.

5. What are your biggest distractions while writing: internet, chocolate cravings, a sudden need to learn another language, rain…? How do you deal with them?

TV:  THE INTERNET, UGH! I deal with it by telling myself that my writing time is precious and that I shouldn’t squander it. It sometimes works.

6. What’s the best advice you received (writing related or not) that you’d like to pass on?

TV:  I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg years ago and her comparison of writing to running was life-changing. “Like running,” she says, “the more you do it, the better you get at it.” It reframed the way I thought of the act of writing: an exercise that requires stamina and practice. This advice still reverberates with me, especially when I haven’t written for awhile and realize that I’ve gotten rusty.

7. The stories in Bats or Swallows explore relationships with family, friends, partners, for the most part from the perspective of young women. ‘My Son the Magician’ stands out for its POV of a mature single mother with an adult son. You nail the voice perfectly, BTW, but I’m curious – how did this one come to you?

TV:  Thank you! It was one of the last stories I wrote for the book and I was getting sick of young woman narrators, to be honest. I do a lot of thinking about my writing during my commute to and from work. The first sentence of that story came to me while I was waiting for the metro – I’m not sure why (I guess I was thinking about male strippers?), and once I had the hook, the rest of the story kind of poured forth.

8. There’s a sense of movement throughout the book. People physically moving from one place to another, from one person to another, distance, travel, road trips, moving on. Were you aware of this as you wrote or was it one of those things that become apparent only afterwards?

TV:  I write about things I want to read about, and travel—not necessarily big travel, but small voyages, physical and mental—is one of those things, so I was conscious about it at the time.

9. If you had to spend a long weekend with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

TV:  Zoe from ‘Swimming Lessons’. We’d walk around Montreal and I’d show her my favourite places and try to introduce her to better friends. I’ve actually chosen to spend more than a long weekend with her because she’s now one of the main characters in the novel I’m working on.

10. Why short fiction?

TV:  Because I like reading short fiction; because it gives me flexibility to experiment with voice and style; because writing short fiction is conducive to a full-time job schedule; because I didn’t really think about it when I first started writing, it was just what I did.

11. Choices:

Breakfast or Lunch?  Breakfast! My love of breakfast is well documented (

Pen or Keyboard?  Keyboard.

Theatre or Film?  Film.

Dylan (Bob) or Dylan (Thomas)?  Bob.

Pasta or Pizza?  Pasta, homemade.

Bicycle or Canoe?  I have an irrational phobia of bikes and I can count the number of times I’ve canoed on my hands. I like walking.

Twitter or FB?  Twitter, as proven by @terki.

Coffee or Tea?  Coffee, although only on weekends because it makes me kind of crazy and this is not conducive to my day job.

Mountain or Ocean?  Ocean.

Party or Solitude?  Solitude.

Pie or Cake? — and *both* isn’t a choice ;)  CAKE! (With an extra slice for you for asking me such great questions. Thanks for the interview, Carin!)

Okay, Bats or Swallows. I’ve read you. Now what to eat??

My pick: gourmet burger made of  the best pasture-raised, sunshine-in-its-face-all-its-livelong-life, happy beef.
And a side of fries— travellin’ food.


Teri Vlassopoulos is a Montreal-based writer who’s first collection of short stories, Bats or Swallows (Invisible Publishing), was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for best first collection of short fiction and the ReLit Award. She is currently working on a novel. Find her on-line at
From the Re-Run Series: originally posted January, 2012.