Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keepie Uppie

Recently in the New York Times Magazine’s Youth Issue, we were treated to articles about a 21 year old fellow who is a highly successful online poker player with a net worth of about $5 Million, and a 16 year old female freestyle soccer player who is wowing people with her talent at keeping the ball in the air while doing tricks with her feet.

Dan Cates, the poker guy, is photographed in what appears to be a windowless grey room devoid of any decoration, with grey carpet and a grey couch. He is slouched on his office chair in front of two computers, with his feet up on the armrest of the couch, underneath a blanket. His face is pasty and he looks unwell. Perhaps it’s partially the blanket thing.

Indi Cowie, the soccer girl, is rendered in a series of colourful pictures, doing what she does best- moving the ball around in the air with her feet and head, jumping and flicking it all over the place. Looking at a video of her is much more instructive than looking at a photo. Here’s a short one:

What do these two have in common? Everything.

Each has become an expert in his or her field because of practice. An insane amount of it. Both have followed the idea Malcolm Gladwell popularized in his book Outliers- that 10,000 hours of practice at something makes you quite good. That’s about 3 hours a day for 10 years-- or a lot quicker if you do more than 3 hours every day. Pick anything: learning another language, playing tiddlywinks, stitching needlepoint cats on throw pillows, masturbating—if you do it that much, you’re going to do it well.

It brings to mind Amy Chua’s controversial recent book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the one in which her teenage daughter has performed a piano recital at Carnegie Hall by the age of 14 but has never in her life been allowed to play with another child or have a sleepover. But of course in that situation, the mother was the driving force behind the success- she forced them to practice their instruments 3 hours a day. Indi Cowie just wants to do it. The magazine article says she sometimes accidently wakes her mom up at 5am when she’s practicing in the garage. What kind of teenager gets up at 5am voluntarily?

When she performed at her school’s talent show, Indi won handily, although in addition to the comments of “Isn’t she amazing?”, the other comments were “Who is she?” She has no friends except her 12 year old sister. And even though she’s performed at halftime at a Chelsea-Manchester United match in England and has had her talents featured in a PS3 soccer commercial, she’s a nobody at home, and her name is misspelled in the high school event program. Cates, the poker player, realizes he might have a problem and repeatedly mentions trying to achieve a “balance of life” with his magazine interviewer, even going so far as to fly to Texas to meet with a specialist who would help him understand social situations. (Personally, all I think he really needs is a bit of fresh air, vitamin D and some green vegetables, but what do I know?)

All of this mocking is just jealousy on my part, of course. No one is clearly ever going to feature me in the youth issue of anything, but it’s not just that: I want to be good at something too. (Not freestyle like Indi though – my knees could never take 3 hours of practice a day and besides, I refuse on principle to take on a hobby which is sometimes ridiculously dubbed “Keepie Uppie”.) I’m jealous of how society always rewards the experts , whether it’s with money, or prizes, or some degree of fame. Apparently being goodish at a number of different things without any kind of focus doesn’t get you anywhere.

I was lamenting this to my husband, who is, in fact, an expert himself. He’s got a PhD, won the dean’s medal in grad school, has been nominated for both teaching and writing prizes, and has been awarded a number of grants and a prestigious fellowship for his research. (Strange, since he has trouble finding the coffee filters every single time he opens the kitchen cupboard.) He said, “Look, honey, it doesn’t have to be a youth thing, you could start now. In ten years, by the time you’re 51, you could be really good at something.”

“I’m 42, not 41.”

“Oh,” he said.

Sometimes I think there’s a chance that he doesn’t even know how to spell PhD.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Amongst the Garbage Cans

About two hours into my physio appointment, Travis often approaches me and says “Okay, come with me. Field trip.”

This time I had listened to almost the entire Meatloaf song Paradise by the Dashboard Lights while I did hamstring stretches, so I was eager for the change of activity—the only problem is that I knew where we were going. We were going upstairs to run amongst the garbage cans.

Now some people might think of physio as a stretchy, massage-y, relaxing appointment, and for some types of injuries, that may be true—but for me, no. I am usually dripping in sweat for a solid two hours. There aren’t really any breaks, and Travis barks a lot of orders.

The running thing always comes at the end of the appointment, when I am most exhausted. The reason I run near the garbage cans is that no one else is there; it’s nice and cool, overlooking the seating for the ice arena. Travis needs to check my running style to make sure I am not favouring my knee. “Run to the 2nd garbage can and back,” he says.

I comply. Travis stands there, arms crossed, watching me and frowning.

When I come back, he says, “Again.” I go again. I come back. “Okay, now run, knees high, to the garbage can and back.”

I go. Travis yells after me “Higher!”

I come back. The second garbage can is halfway to the other end of the arena, so I am starting to breathe a little huffily. He still has his arms crossed. Still frowning. “Now skip.”


“Yup. Like a little girl.”

“Can you demonstrate?” I ask hopefully. I know what skipping is, of course, but this will buy me some time to catch my breath and make Travis look as ridiculous as me. It actually worked once before: he skipped to the garbage can and back, and secretly I think he liked it, since he did a little twirl and added some jazz hands at the end.

“Nice try, Cathy.”

“Okay,” I say. I skip amongst the garbage cans. Tra la la.

“Nice skipping,” he says admiringly when I get back. “Now shuffle side to side. 2nd garbage can.”

I shuffle side to side.

“Now in back, in front, in back, in front,” he says.

“What?” I ask desperately, huffing and puffing. “Like this?” I try to do it but I am pretty useless. You know what this is, right? Arms out sideways like an airplane, legs shuffling sideways, alternating one in front, one behind you. It feels kind of like dancing, and I’m not a good dancer. I’m an enthusiastic dancer when I’ve had a drink or two and the music is good, but these conditions are different.

“I need you to demonstrate,” I try again. He takes the bait. He shows me a little, then comes back, and says, “Come on, let’s go. Together.” We dance sideways together, in back, in front, all the way to the garbage can and back. He is much better at it than me. Still, I can’t help feeling like a clumsy, sweaty Ginger Rogers.

“Now run up those stairs,” he says.

“Travis, there’s no stairs in soccer,” I say.

Cathy…” he says sternly.

I run up, run down. He raises his eyebrows at me. “Again,” he says.

I run again, even though I think perhaps this time he is making me do it because I am such a pain in the ass. As I go, he yells out “Knees high!” My knees are not high. They are not even highish.

Somehow I make it back down.

“Again.” He says.

I go. “Higher!” he yells. “There’s a burning child up there at the top of the stairs!”

I start to laugh. Dear god, why am I laughing about a burning child? When I get back down, I say “Travis, I don’t like that child. That child is dead to me.”


“Can’t the kid just jump down?”


I go again. As I run, he repeatedly yells “Burning!“ and again, I can’t stop laughing. I feel like I’m in the military. Is this how I would react to my drill sergeant? Maybe it’s nervous laughter since I feel like I’m in the movie Full Metal Jacket and I’m worried Travis is going to beat me with a pillowcase full of soap.

Finally, we are done with the stairs. It’s almost time for me to go home and rock back and forth in the fetal position until my next appointment. As we leave, Travis says, “You should see it when the Vancouver Giants do the stairs.” He is the physiotherapist for the semi-pro hockey team. I want to tell him I am old enough to be one of those hockey players moms—and not some kind of scandalous teenage mom, either—but I can’t talk since I am breathing so heavily, so I decide to let that one go.

I also consider asking him why he couldn’t have lifted a finger to save the poor, burning child at the to of the stairs, but then I remember I have to see him in a few days and if I am at all unkind, I’m very,very afraid of what will happen next.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Smidge of Sideboob

The Whitecaps FC is starting a new season tomorrow night in a bigger stadium, and they need to sell more tickets than ever before. They’re succeeding too, courtesy of some free publicity coming their way due to a picture of a nubile, naked young woman wearing a Whitecaps jersey rendered in bodypaint, featured in big posters, websites, and advertising all over the city. You know you want to see it. Here you go:

The image has been stirring up comment streams and a number of women are complaining about it: some have publicly threatened not to buy seasons tickets for their families because of the negative image this portrays for young women; others are former athletes who find the sexualizing of women’s bodies demeaning. The fact that the Whitecaps revealed it the day after International Women’s Day-- when everyone is in a pc frame of mind-- is a little boneheaded, to be sure, but I must admit-- this doesn’t bother me that much.

Look at the thing. Don’t bother gazing too closely though—I expect you’ll get lost if you’re looking for her ladygarden, since she’s wearing panties underneath all that paint. Plus, that’s a real scarf she’s wearing over her upper half, so what is there to see once you look past that? A smidge of sideboob? And it’s painted sideboob. Yawn. This is no different or more revealing than the cover of any modern fitness magazine or Cristiano Ronaldo underwear ad. In fact, the few people I directed towards this picture had to be told it was bodypaint. Like me, none had given it a second glance—we all thought it was just a skintight shirt.

The video of the painting being done which went along with this picture is also pretty tame. (I'll include it at the end.) When Steve watched it, at one point he turned his head sideways and squinted, saying, “Is that T or A?” Not a good sign. It’s just a fuzzy montage full of air-brushed close ups of the bodypainting being done, sans scarf, and at the end, she kind of inexplicably rolls a ball around on her neck (why? Who knows!), and then turns to the face the camera looking ......concussed. No big payoff. Sorry, everyone. No nips.

If you’re going to get all up in (unpainted) arms about unfairness with women and soccer, how about complaining, as the Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham has done, that the 9th place Canadian Women’s National Team is having an internal crisis due to underfunding—the coach is threatening to quit, the team is boycotting games in support of her-- while the men’s team, ranked 84th—is ticking along just fine?

Besides, it’s the model’s loss. She has no jersey to exchange with anyone after the game.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dementia Dad

"Did you play soccer today?” my dad asks. I think this is the fourth time this week he has asked me this. I often drop in to Extended Care to see him after my physiotherapy sessions, since they are held across the street. He is sitting in his wheelchair, looking out the window. I sit on his bed, careful to avoid the button on a cord that calls for the nurse.

“No, Dad. I had knee surgery in October.” We have this same conversation almost every time. I lift up my yoga pants legs to show Dad the scars on my knees. “This is the scar from 1998,” I say, “and this is the new one. I still have to wait at least six more weeks before I can play.”

He stares thoughtfully at my knees like this is new information. “That’s a long time to wait, isn’t it?” he asks.

Yes, oh yes.

We are quiet for a while. We’ve never had much to say, he and I. He was always the science guy, the technical guy – an avionics engineer who couldn’t connect with people very well- even his own kids. Of course, we all had our specialty niches: Meg was the smart one, James was the mullet-wearing one that he fought about haircuts with, and I was the sporty one. After I moved out to go to UVIC, the only time my parents and I ever spoke was on Sundays because that was the day of my soccer game. And just like all those years ago, once we are done with the topic of soccer, the conversation gets pretty thin.

“So, what did you have for breakfast today?” I ask. This is usually a safe subject.

“I had no stuff for my toast,” he says. He makes a triangle shape with his hands.

“Jam, you mean?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Jam.”

“Why not?”

“Well, the toast was shaped like a triangle,” he says, showing me the shape again.

What does this have to do with jam? “Cut on the diagonal?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “Everyone else had stuff on their toast. But not me.”

He starts to make the triangle shape with his hands again, but I don’t say anything. I’m eager to get past the great toast-and-jam debacle of 2011.

“Just toast for breakfast, Dad?” I say, finally.

“No,” he says, starting to make a different shape with his hands. “There were, uh, eggs,” he looks at his hands. “They were....egg shaped,” he explains without a trace of irony.

“Okay.” I say.

“And soup,” he adds, making his hands into a circle. I guess for the shape of the bowl.

“Soup for breakfast?! Nah, I think you mean for dinner last night.”

“Well, okay, yes,” he says. “It was last night but it was for breakfast this morning. It was that small stuff with air in it. It was shaped like this.” He slowly points to the small circular holes on the medical name bracelet he wears, the ones that allow you to make the bracelet different sizes. When did his wrists get so impossibly thin?

“Rice Krispies?” I guess.

“Maybe,” he says, staring out the window.

We don’t talk for a while. I decide no conversation is better than the riveting shape-filled breakfast exchange we just had. Then he looks at me and says “I want to go home. It’s so boring here.”

My stomach lurches. “Dad, you can’t go home right now. Mom can’t take care of you there. You can’t stand up or walk, remember? “

“Yes, I can. I can fucking walk.”

“Dad, before you came in here, Mom had to call me early one morning to help her try to lift you off the floor, where you had slid down. We had to get the fire department to help us. That’s why they brought you here, in the ambulance. Do you remember being in the ambulance?”

He looks at me angrily. “I came here in an ambulance?”

“Yes. A few months ago.”

We are quiet for a long while this time. We talk a little about the gardening they are doing outside here at the hospital. Across from the garden, in the distance, I can see the field where Sophie played soccer a few weeks ago. “I have to go, Dad,” I say eventually. “I’ll come and see you in a few days.”

“Okay. Thanks for coming. Have a good trip.”

I am not going on a trip. “Thanks Dad.”

“And have a good game.”

“Thanks, Dad. I will.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Look at Me, the Normal Mommy Blogger! Shopping! Celebrity Pictures!

I’ve checked out some other mommy blogs, and it seems a large proportion of what these moms do is post celebrity pictures or mention their kids and talk about how adorable they are. Now, my kids are freaking hilarious, but Hannah is starting to get tired of her comments being fodder for my musings, since I’ve noticed lately that she keeps saying awesome, unintentionally hilarious kiddish stuff, and then following it up with “promise you won’t tell anyone else I said that." Then I actually have to promise. And pinky swear. Dang. Doesn’t she know that one of the reasons I had her was for the material?

The other thing moms seem to love to blog about is shopping, particularly shopping for handmade organic linen baby clothes or crazily expensive designer handbags. They mention the brands on purpose, in bold letters, probably because they are getting free products from the companies, and it is all a form of advertising. If I want to fit in with the in crowd, perhaps I should blog about this too, but the thing is, of course, that

1) I don’t care about stuff like that and

2) my blog is a soccer blog, and there isn’t a whole lot of soccer shopping one can do. On my recent visit to Seattle, though, I did find this one soccer thing. Granted, I had to pay for it, but it was in my price range ($3.99, American), so I bought it and plan to blog about it for you. You’re welcome.

It’s a flip book, featuring Pele, the soccer star. If you hold the handle on the top and flip through it quickly, the individual pictures of Pele playing look like a short clip of him scoring a bicycle-kick-style goal, or if you turn it over and flip through the back, Pele dribbling through 3 defenders. It is not organic or made by a designer, although the brand name on it is “Flipp Tipps”, so I guess in a way, I am shilling for them now by mentioning them. Quite an unfortunate brand name, really. How can the double p at the end not make you think of Linda Tripp, the infamous informer in the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal ? I’m going to put her picture in here, alongside a picture of Jabba the Hutt, since he also has two of the same letter at the end of his name, and because I think that is the ‘celebrity’ Linda Tripp looks most like.

Look at me, the normal mommy blogger! Shopping! Celebrity pictures! Okay, moving on: at the top of each Pele photo in Flipp Tipps is a written comment about what Pele is doing; a ‘tipp’ if you will. Of course, you can’t read these if you flip through the book since they go by too fast—you need to slow down and read them one by one. I don’t recommend this. Pele is clearly a beautiful, inspirational player, but what soccer players do is usually instinctive, and can’t be written down or else it looks dumb. For example, this is what it says:

Picture 52: Balance is another key ingredient in becoming a good dribbler.

Picture 53: To perfect your balance, you must first understand the laws of equilibrium.

Picture 54: Ask your coach. It is important for you to know WHY things happen.

Wait, what? To dribble I have to understand the laws of equilibrium? Isn’t this something to do with chemistry, and nothing to do with soccer? This sucks since I am the soccer coach, now I need to study this, since at practice tonight, perhaps one of the 8 year olds will ask me about it. Damn. Thanks for nothing, Pele. Thanks for nothing, Flipp Tipps.

What else can I say? Really, don’t buy this. It’s $3.99, American, that you’ll never get back. And instead of buying this, at the same store for only a dollar more, I could have bought band-aids that look like bacon.
How cool would that have been? Hannah has been totally chastising me since I got back for not buying those instead. Now she wants them for her birthday. She’s adorable, isn't she?