Archive for November, 2016


Burn The Tape

It is common for professional sports teams to film their own games for later review. Doing so allows players to identify what went well, what went poorly, and what adjustments they can make in order to have a better outcome next time.

Occasionally however, a team will play so poorly that film review would be a pointless exercise. If a hockey team loses a game 8-0, odds are that just about every player underperformed at just about every moment in the game. In such a situation, there are no lessons to be learned from studying game film, no positives to draw, and no minute adjustments to be made. And so the coach will give a simple command:

“Burn the tape.”

Well, November has been a burn-the-tape kind of month. Between all the stress over the bar exams, a shocking result in the American presidential election, the environment at work taking a decided turn for the worse, two blow-ups with my family, and relationship issues, it has been an awful month. One of the worst ever. Tomorrow morning I will practically skip to my calendar to flip the date over to December.

The thing is, real life isn’t like hockey. In hockey, no matter how well or how poorly the previous game went, the next one always starts with the score 0-0. A fresh slate. In real life, all of the problems of November 30th will still be there on December 1st. In hockey, when your team loses a game 8-0, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll win the next game, but you can bank on the next one being better. In real life, there are no such guarantees. November has been bad, but there’s no guarantee that December won’t be worse. That’s scary.

But I’m confident, or at the very least I’m hopeful. Partly because I have to be, and partly because I genuinely believe that things will get better. They have to.

I’ve known for a while that 2016 was going to be an extremely important year in my life, and while I didn’t picture things ending up quite like this, I fully expected December of this year to be critical.

For once, I was right. Here we go.

The World’s Happiness

I consider today, November 15th, to be the date where it becomes socially acceptable to start getting into the Christmas spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the last person who will call anyone out for putting up lights the day after Hallowe’en. But society seems to regard November 1st as being too early, and admittedly it does feel a bit disrespectful to start belting out carols with a poppy on my chest. So, the 15th it is.

On the subject of Christmas then, one of my favourite Boy Meets World episodes is the Christmas episode in season six. In this episode, Eric gets a part-time job as Santa Claus at the local mall.

Eric quickly comes to love this job. He realizes how much happiness he can bring to children just by allowing them to sit on his lap and giving them a small gift. “I made her happy. I did that.” he remarks upon seeing a photograph of a beaming youngster.

Now, by this point in the series, Eric’s character is deployed almost exclusively as comic relief. And like any good comic relief character, he stretches the concept to the most ridiculous conclusion possible, and declares:

“I want the world’s happiness to be my responsibility!”

And for a time, it works out well for him. He spends a good chunk of his own money on toys to give to the kids who come to see him, and he makes all of them very happy.

Then comes one boy, holding a fire truck. He tells Eric/Santa that he was there yesterday, and was coming to return the fire truck. Eric asks why, and the boy responds that he’d only asked for the fire truck because initially he didn’t believe that Eric was really Santa. Having seen other kids get everything they’d asked for, he had come to believe that Eric was in fact Santa, complete with all of the magical powers that come with the gig. And so rather than a fire truck, the young boy says that what he’d really like for Christmas is parents.

Well, how do you respond to something like that?

We cut to later in the evening, and Eric is sitting on a park bench, still in his Santa suit. The snow accumulated on his lap suggests that he’s been there for a while.

And then Eric (who, may I remind you, is a comic relief character), starts to pray.

“What am I supposed to do? I made all those little kids smile. Took care of everyone who came to see me. No disrespect, but… why would you send me that little boy? Why doesn’t that little boy have parents?”

And then, a bit louder, he repeats himself: “Why would you send me that little kid?”

Finally, rising to his feet he says. “I will take care of this. I can be responsible for the happiness of one little boy.”

Giving a comic relief character a serious moment is a great way to stir up emotions in your audience, and this was no exception. I absolutely bawled the first time I saw this scene, and even a decade later it still hits hard.

I’ve always thought that Eric had the right idea. In my own life, every alternate career imagined myself in has always been about bringing happiness to people. I wanted to write a movie that would make millions of people laugh, I wanted to write a book that would make tens of thousands of people smile. I wanted to be the sort of teacher that would brighten up the lives of hundreds of students.

The number has become smaller over the years as I’ve realized my own limitations. I get that it’s not my lot in life to bring happiness to millions, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of people.

But God, give me one. I can handle it, I swear.

Wrong

It’s tough being wrong. I’ve never been good at it.

In elementary school, I had something of a reputation for always being right. If I said something, you could take it to the bank – particularly if the subject was math or science.

It was a nice reputation to have, but maintaining it came with a lot of pressure. On the rare occasions I raised my hand and gave an incorrect response to a math question, there was an audible “OOOOOOOOOOOH MICHAEL GOT IT WRONG!” from the rest of the class. Not pleasant.

Accordingly, I made sure that I was almost absolutely sure before speaking up. Even if I was 85% sure I had the right answer I’d let someone else go for it, lest I embarrass myself.

As time has passed, life has become more and more complex. As a result, I’m wrong more often about things than I used to be. Even though I no longer get an over-dramatic reaction from a classroom full of 10 year-olds whenever I get something wrong, I still hate the feeling. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll still try to avoid answering if I can, either by equivocating or simply saying that I don’t know enough about the subject to respond.

But even that’s not enough. Sometimes I still get it wrong.

These days it’s not math and science that are in my wheelhouse but history and political science. Particularly, elections and electoral systems. Over the last year and a half I’ve made a lot of very strong predictions about a certain recent election, and I’ve been proven dead wrong.

The result itself was upsetting, but honestly I’m not sure if I’m more upset with the result itself or that fact that for 18 months I spouted off an opinion that proved to be completely and utterly wrong. I’ve never been this wrong about anything before in my life. Fortunately, most people are upset enough at the result that they haven’t remembered to say “I told you so.”

That I wrote the previous sentence without thinking twice about it is really sad. I’m not above being horribly self-centred, it seems.