Thursday, February 25, 2010

(Almost) 28 Days Later

A number of very decent things happened this month: a feis, a concert, a school presentation, some visits. And one thing was good because it did not happen: no bites (bedbugs or otherwise) since December 21. But despite the goodness, this has been the very greyest of months. Did you know that some universities used to call the February break "Suicide Week"? That's the kind of month I am looking forward to viewing in the rear-view mirror of my life.

Being a basement dwelling troglodyte by nature, I have largely considered myself largely immune to seasonal affective disorder, the February blues or blahs or whatever you want to call them, but this year was different. The whole household has started on Vitamin D as our doctor thinks it is an effective preventer of cancers, so perhaps that will help. And since we gave up chocolate for Lent, these chewable vitamins are the closest I get, so those two factors have to help.

February was also the month I shared a friend's pain, a friend of more than a decade whose employment ended suddenly and unexpectedly in the U.S., and who will be coming home to Edmonton under less than ideal circumstances. While he couldn't tell me a lot about the situation that led to this, he told me enough that it made me extremely angry, and frustrated, and because I used to work for the same employer, disgusted and betrayed.

I was surprised at how much it affected me; obviously having control of your career path removed from you in such a way is never pleasant, but because this individual was always true to his values, and those (ostensibly) of the company, and was always forthright in his dealings, to have it end this way is unfair to the point of being criminal, and it got me right where I lived. In fact, it upset me so much that my co-workers could hear it in my voice while I was on the phone. My manager asked me if everything was all right, to which I replied I was very tired. Which was true, since even my sleep was affected for a few days afterward.

Work itself has been no picnic either, with record levels of inquiries and quite a few empty chairs due to maternity leaves, seasonal illnesses and so on. The pace is relentless and the respite is nowhere in sight. Without a refractory period, even the simplest of tasks become draining; without a chance to connect with co-workers, a sense of community is lost. For the first time since starting in this position, I was having a hard time going to work.

Things are improving though. The leadership here is aware of the challenges and doing what they can to help, which isn't a ton, honestly, but there is a lot of appreciation for the effort, and even more for the understanding. They have even set up a Wii mini-Olympics that staff all over the building are participating in on breaks and lunch hours. I got bronze in downhill, but gravity has always loved me; maybe too much.

Regardless of your faith, I hope you agree that there is much comfort to be had in these words: This too shall pass. (1 Cor. 10:12) And it will. Everything does, eventually. And the knowledge that my friend is putting a terrible situation behind him and coming back, not just to where he lives, but home, is improving my disposition as well. In fact, yesterday I e-mailed a poem around to my co-workers under the subject line "Coffee + Dr. Seuss = This":
As call volumes continue to head through the roof
And of member frustrations we have mounting proof
A few of them holler and fewer still yodel
Of instances proven and those anecdotal

In our second straight month of relentless work days
My hours pass by through caffeine induced haze
I look up for a moment from a very full plateful
And consider those things for which I am most grateful

First and foremost are the flexible bosses
Who recognize hourly emotional losses
And who help facilitate anger conversion
Into silly and sharable Wii-based diversions

The team-mates and colleagues much praise are deserving
Which sometimes they get from the members they're serving
Some callers' feedback might make our souls shrivel
But thankfully most are surprisingly civil

Most importantly though, no one sits on the benches
And everyone shares the grim work of the trenches
And although the call volume may make us all groan
At least no one here has to go it alone

"Many hands make light work" so the old proverb goes
Which is something the MSC worker well knows
The days may be hard but eventually end
And it's glad that I am to come work with such friends.

Sure it's sappy doggerel, but the beginning got stuck in my head and I was compelled to bang the rest out over my lunch break. It put a handful of smiles up around the office, which is still my favourite form of ornamentation. And having just recently found mine again, why wouldn't I share, right?

Bring on March, I say; a lion should put paid to the 'black dog' that's been lodging in my dreams of late, and the lamb will make good company later as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Medal: Metal, Meddle or Mettle?

When Glorianna was 3, she saw Irish dancing for the first time at Edmonton's Heritage Days festival, one of my favourite local events. She was captivated by the rhythm and the music, but mostly by the 'bouncy hair' that she referred back to for weeks to come. Two years later, she was still talking about it, so we started looking for a nearby school, eventually ending up at one in St. Albert. Glory endured a year of ballet/jazz, before starting in proper Irish dance the following year. There were some times she didn't enjoy it as much as others, and at its ebb, it meant my having to rearrange the basement furniture so she could take my hand and practice skips and cuts to the music of The Chieftains. Thankfully, no photo or video of this aberrant behaviour exists.

This weekend was Glory's first feis (pronounced fesh) or Irish Dance festival. In addition to being a cultural event, it is also a full-on competition. In fact, a helpful parent told me I shouldn't be taking an obvious photo of the dancing itself, if I didn't want to get yelled at. "I thought they just didn't want flash photography, which is why I turned it off..." I replied. "No, some of the schools are fiercely protective of their routines, and they're afraid of you copying their moves. I mean, these are still just First Feis events here, but still..." "Fair enough," I said, and tucked away my camera. Getting action photos without the flash was an effort in futility anyways, and the forms must be obeyed, I suppose.

The night before, Glory had gone to bed in tears because she was afraid of messing up when it came time to switch from a reel to a jig. No matter how much Audrey and I tried to re-assure her that everything would be fine, and that all she needed to do was try her best, she was inconsolable and told us in no uncertain terms she didn't want to go. As is our standard practice in such instances, we told her we would talk about it in the morning. With the morning's arrival, her spirits had improved tremendously, so we thought it best not to re-visit the uncertainty of the night before, and an hour later, we were at the feis. In the largest ballroom, where Glory's events were held, there were four stages with dancer's performing on each of them simultaneously. Live musicians provided the accompaniment, which I thought was a nice touch, even though I felt sad that they would be playing the same tune for most of the morning. We met up with Glory's teacher, who also explained to Glory that she didn't have to worry: she was with other first-timers, and there were people there to assist in counting out steps and so on. Glory ended up performing 7 times overall, and a short time later we went to look up the results as they were printed out and taped up outside the judges' room. There were a couple of honourable mentions for Glory, meaning she hadn't placed above 3rd, which was hardly unexpected. But then there was a pleasant surprise: In the end, Glory ended up with three medals, two bronze and a gold, and a trophy, which we only found out about afterwards. As proud as that made us, it did make Fenya a little jealous. Despite being in an award-winning choir for several years, she has never received a medal or trophy, and here's her little sister with a fistful right out of the gate! I'm sure our talk about the best way to display them didn't help either. Although I did try to tell Fenya about how medals shouldn't be the main reason to do something (which is true enough), in the end, I had to say that recognition like trophies and medals do feel good, because they are a recognition of not just accomplishment, but the hard work and dedication that goes into those accomplishments.

Glory's teacher overheard us, and told us that a feis has to have a component besides dance, and often this includes singing. "There you go," I told Fenya, "You get up there and sing 'Danny Boy' and there's not a mick in the crowd who'll have a dry eye, and you'll be shoo-in for certain." She's not so sure, but at least there's an opportunity there. Most importantly, Glory has shown a goodly amount of gumption and effort, and a passion for Irish dance that goes beyond a love of bouncy hair.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Night-table Terrors

jer·e·mi·ad (jěr'ə-mī'əd)
n. A literary work or speech expressing a bitter lament or a righteous prophecy of doom.

I was up late reading last night, which, in and of itself, is not unusual. My curiosity and desire to see a story unfold has battled with common sense and the certain knowledge of an implacable, headache-stained dawn since I was a boy, but this was different.

There was no enjoyment in the reading, for one thing. My frantic desire to complete the work was based on two things: the catharsis of having read it, and the hope that something hopeful or uplifting might emerge before the end.

The book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Christopher Hedges, which I requested from Edmonton Public Library some weeks ago, and like all of his fresh works, was in high demand. I've read three of Hedges' other works, my favourite being American Fascists, in which he outlines the rise of an American right-wing determined to turn America into a theocracy.

The premise of Empire of Illusion as stated by his publisher, Random House, is hard to refute:
Chris Hedges argues that we now live in two societies: One, the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world, that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other, a growing majority, is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. In this “other society,” serious film and theatre, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins.

Chapter 1, The Illusion of Literacy, opens with a drama being played out in the World Wrestling Entertainment ring, but moves to incorporate reality TV and a number of other mediums. Throughout the chapter he points out examples of delusional empowerment, the importance of self over society, and the cult of victimization where nothing is ever the fault of the individual; they are helpless, as we are all often intended to feel by those in power.

Chapter 2, The Illusion of Love, is a harrowing read, dealing as it does with pornography. For the record, I don't have a large problem with consenting adults watching other consenting adults share intimacy, but Hedges deftly points out that porn is no longer about intimacy or eroticism, if indeed it ever was. Modern pornography focuses almost exclusively on the degradation and objectification of women, where women and their genitalia are a resource or commodity to be exploited as fully as possible before disposal, which exemplifies a culture in its death spiral.

Hedges goes on to address concerns in education (especially the devolving of our universities from centers of knowledge and exploration into expensive vocational schools), and happiness (and how positivity is being perverted into a tool to stifle worker concern and dissent) before his conclusion, which makes a very strong case for comparing our neighbours to the south to other failed empires such as Imperial Rome.

And before we get too smug here in our enclave of civility and sanity north of the 49th parallel, he also documents declining literacy rates in Canada, to the order of around 42% of our population being sub-literate. The number of people who never again touch a book after leaving school is absolutely staggering, and more than a little depressing. Make no mistake, this is not a fun book to read.

So why stay up so late reading it? Fear, mostly. Frankly, Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Harris have nothing on Chris Hedges in terms of freaking the hell out of me late at night. I can't remember the last time I stopped reading a book long enough to consider how long it would take me to obtain a firearm and a stock of non-perishable food. I kept hearing Tony Randall's gremlin character solemnly telling a brokerage client "we're telling everyone to put everything into canned food and Shotguns." Looking back in the clear light of day, I still cannot call this an overreaction, especially when I consider the insights he presented in American Fascists. No other work has ever made me so concerned about the world my daughters will be growing up in.

If there is a criticism, a lot of Hedges' arguments sound like like exemplars from the 'Get Off My Lawn' manifesto, and he doesn't really address the democratization of information and the challenging of ideas through the Internet, despite having a regular column on TruthDig. Given the level of discourse that dominates the medium, however, it is perhaps harder to fault him for excluding it. From a debating standpoint, he doesn't always draw a strong conclusion from the evidence he presents, but that certainly doesn't stop the reader from drawing depressingly similar conclusions.

As an individual who believes in positivity but not at the expense of reality or critical thought, I was resistant to a lot of ideas in the chapter entitled "The Illusion of Happiness", more out of defensiveness than anything else. Once I realized that he is not necessarily opposed to individuals trying to see things in a generally positive or constructive light, but how organizations have used positivity to obtain consensus through intimidation, I found it a little easier to take, and I probably owe that chapter a re-read at some point in the future.

The speculative future he draws where some form of crisis, either real or imagined, results in a large portion of the American working class turning to elements of the conservative right to validate their victimization, re-affirm their uncontested right to success and happiness regardless of effort or ability and mete out appropriate revenge for the mess they were complicit in creating, and you may not be quite so dismissive of the next Sarah Palin news article you come across.

(I should mention that the left does not escape the author's gaze either, and he takes a number of democrats to task, especially Bill Clinton, for failing to address the inequities of the current system and taking an "if you can't beat'em, join 'em" attitude to things like the corporatization of government and campaign finance reform.)

So is it all doom and gloom? Well, mostly, to be frank, but not all. The best hope that Hedges can hold out to the reader is that history is replete with examples of where totalitarian forces have tried to establish total dominance over a population and have been undone, time and time again by nothing more than love. Simple, human, unpredictable, and often nonsensical love. And that is a very encouraging thought for the long term, if not short term, future.

Despite the fact that it is not a pleasant read, I strongly recommend this book for everyone with concerns about democracy, entertainment, children, economics, and the future, which, it strikes me, is practically everyone I know.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Sometime in the past 20 years, the opening ceremonies to the Olympic games went from something I avoided, to something I endured, to become I look forward to. The opening to the 2008 summer games in Beijing were spectacular in both scale and execution, and at the time, I remember thinking "I hope the Vanoc guys are taking notes". Having watched the ceremonies from Vancouver on Friday night (and portions again yesterday with Fenya and Glory), I have to say it doesn't look like they did. To be fair though, they did only spend about 1/10 of what the Chinese did, so full marks for getting the most bang for their buck.

Part of the reason I love the opening ceremonies is the great opportunity it gives the host country in terms of showing the rest of the world what they are all about, or, at least, what they think they are all about. Despite the disappointments (most notably the failure of one of the cauldron pillars to arise in time), the Vancouver opening ceremonies are probably a pretty fair representation of Canada, for better or worse.

Let's start with the bad:

* Energy Crisis - CTV's telecast was completely lacklustre, with poor pacing and no sense of drama and excitement. Crowd noise was filtered out of most portions, giving the initial proceedings a feeling of sterile detachment. We want to hear the cheer, dudes, why do you think they include it in so much rave music?

* Too Sexy For This Song - I know there are a lot of people who wish Canada had a sexier image, but do you know what song totally does not need to be slowed down, sexed up and performed by a torch singer in a slinky red dress and 4-inch heels? THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. (Can I get an 'amen'?) Nikki Yanofsky is awfully talented and has a tremendous voice and, yes, is very easy on the eyes for a sixteen year-old, but her rendering of "Oh Canada" felt overdone and inappropriate, having more in common with Marilyn Monroe's rendition of "Happy Birthday Mr. President" than the song I am familiar with. And my mom thinks so too.

* The Kitschen Synch - Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams singing "Bang Your Drum" wasn't bad, but didn't feel like it had a lot of energy. This may have been due to the lack of crowd noise, but is more likely due to the fact that they were clearly singing to tape, and Bryan Adams' voice can clearly be heard joining in even though his microphone is down around his hip. Sigh.

* Shut Up Already - I should mention that I have never liked Brian Williams, but I can't fully articulate why; I think he just comes across as a smug git, full stop. My distaste for him is balanced out by my appreciation of Lloyd Robertson, his partner in commentary. They both get failing grades however, as they continually interrupted any of the cultural proceedings that didn't include singing with their reading of the crib notes about what every element symbolized. My thinking is that if the audience doesn't need it, neither do we. If you want to compromise, put in a text crawl or something.

* Symbolic Dysfunction - The torch. Well, what can you say? Four flawless rehearsals, and the hydraulics pack it in at the worst possible moment. Watching Wayne Gretzky and the others wait for a giant pillar that never materialized was the definition of awkward pauses, but thank God they didn't cut away to a Viagra commercial. The worst part was that Catriona LeMay-Doan had to stand and watch while everyone else got to participate in the lighting.

* Driving Farce - As Gretzky rode in the back of a truck, carrying the Olympic flame down to the waterfront where the outdoor cauldron awaited, random happy or drunk dudes ran alongside. It's hardly the presidential motorcade, but does this strike anyone else as weird, especially given how much security there was for the regular torch relay?

That being said, though, there was a lot to like; frankly, all the cultural elements, the singing, dancing and music, were all top notch.

* Grand Entrance - The fantastic footage of the snowboarder coming down the mountain, culminating with a leap into the stadium through the Olympic rings as they erupt in fireworks was a great way to kick everything off.

* Aboriginality - Giving the First Nations chiefs a post in the dignitaries box to share in being the host nation (an Olympic first), and having their people give their own welcome prior to the parade of nations was great. And as a bonus, all four of their totems made it out of the floor without incident.

* Sadness & Respect - If you kept a dry eye when the Georgian team entered the arena wearing black armbands in memory of their dead teammate and then doffed their hats, prompting a standing ovation from all 60,000 people in attendance, I don't want to know how you did it.

* Sarah McLaclachlan - 'nuff said.

* Fiddles and Dance - this was a great production number, and the idea of linking the country together by regional styles of fiddle play would never have occurred to me. Plus, it was good to see Ashley MacIsaac again.

* The Floor - They used over one hundred projectors to create a number of effects on the floor, from waving wheat, to cracking ice, to pods of orcas swimming through the stadium, complete with whale spouts. Spectacular!

* Poetry in Emotion - I am not very hip, so I can't really tell you the difference between beat poetry, slam poetry, free verse and rap, but Shane Koyczan's poem "We Are More" was a real highlight for me, and in an evening that included Wayne Gretzky, Betty Fox, Rick Hansen, Sarah McLachlan, k.d. lang (singing Leonard Cohen), and Cirque de Soleil, that's quite an accomplishment. From the opening of
Define Canada
You might say the home of the Rocket
Or The Great One
Who inspired little No. 9s and little No. 99s
But we're more than just hockey and fishing lines
Off of the rocky coast of the Maritimes
And some say what defines us
Is something as simple as 'please' and 'thank you'
And as for 'your welcome,' well, we say that, too

he had the audience in the palm of his hand, and has prompted a lot of very positive responses from around the world. The complete text can be found here, but unfortunately I can't find a link to the reading itself. Ah hell, here is the whole thing:

"Define Canada

You might say the home of the Rocket

Or The Great One

Who inspired little No. 9s and little No. 99s

But we're more than just hockey and fishing lines

Off of the rocky coast of the Maritimes

And some say what defines us

Is something as simple as 'please' and 'thank you'

And as for 'your welcome,' well, we say that, too

But we are more than genteel or civilized

We are an idea in the process of being realized

We are young, we are cultures strung together then woven into a tapestry

And the design is what makes us more than the sum totals of our history

We are an experiment going right for a change

With influences that range from A to Zed

And yes, we say 'Zed' instead of 'Zee'

We are the brightness of Chinatown and the laughter of Little Italy

We dream so big that there are those

Who would call our ambition an industry

We reforest what we clear

Because we believe in generations beyond our own

Knowing now that so many of us

Have grown past what we used to be

We can stand here today

Filled with all the hope people have

When they say things like 'someday'

Because we are more

Than a laundry list of things to do and places to see

More than hills to ski

Or countryside ponds to skate

We are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait

We are first-rate greasy spoon diners and healthy living cafes

A country that is all the ways you choose to live

A nation that can give you variety

Because we are choices

We are millions upon millions of voices

Shouting, keep exploring

We are more

We are the surprise the world has in store for you, it's true

Canada is the 'what' in 'what's new'

So don't let your luggage define your travels

Each life unravels differently

And experiences are what make up

The colours of our tapestry

We are the true North

Strong and free

And what's more

Is that we didn't just say it

We made it be"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

D&D: Dice & Death

It was a bit more of a challenge than usual to get to church this morning. The problem seems to be with our alarm clock; it went off a little less than five hours after we had gone to bed. We had gotten together with The Usual Suspects to play Dungeons & Dragons Saturday night, and had a great time, wrapping up a little after 2 am. And, let's face it, this kind of thing is not without precedent, but that precedent was set a loooonngg time ago.

If you are familiar with the game at all, then you will not be surprised to discover that there were rumors, followed by exploration, leading to a journey, which included an ambush and a fairly brutal donnybrook with a group of kobolds (who are far nastier in this game than previous editions), wrapping up, inevitably, with an inn full of characters and more rumors. It proceeded along logically and organically to a final showdown with a boss and a ton of minions in his secret lair hidden behind a waterfall. Frankly, had a damsel in distress been added to the affair, it probably would have collapsed under its own pulpy weight, and more's the pity. At any rate, the important lesson I took away as the Dungeon Master was not to start huge booss fights after 11:00 pm.

The players are all getting a bit more comfortable with not just the mechanics of 4th edition D&D but also with the abilities of their own characters. The tactical element afforded by the gridded map on the gorgeous posters supplied in the module "The Keep on the Shadowfell" not only make it very clear what is happening at any given time, but give the game a tremendous esthetic appeal, especially when using miniatures instead of counters or the like.

For instance, one of the new monster roles is that of 'minion', literally. Minions hit just a smidgen lighter than any other comparable monster, so when you see a dozen or more of them making for your party across the map, it can be pretty intimidating. But they only have 1 hit point, which means you can do them in in job lots, such as Pete did when his Tiefling wizard Pyrus Lucifuge used burning hands to kill a half dozen of them in a single round, and it seems to be incredibly satisfying. Me I just liked that I didn't have to do Armor Class rolls, saving throws and damage rolls and bookkeeping for a bunch of nebbishes who fill pretty much the same role as the guys in jumpsuits at the end of a Bond movie, it's just "Hit, dead; hit, dead; missed; hit, dead..."

All great games are based on hard choices, and the new death rules are a big factor in that. Once you drop to zero hit points or less, you drop to the ground unconscious and make a basic saving throw every turn thereafter. These new saving throws are very simple: on a 10 or higher, you succeed and on a 9 or less, you fail. They are primarily used to determine duration of effects, like being set on fire or stuck to the ground with glue (or in one notable case, both at the same time). If you fail three saving throws, that's it: your beloved character has expired, and you either need to roll up a new guy or hope your comrades can find someone with a raise dead spell. If someone casts any kind of healing effect on you, you can get up and get back into the fight (or put that whole 'discretion is the better part of valour' thing to the test and just leg it out, I suppose, although that seems unlikely). If they can even get over to you and do some first aid (which requires rolling a 15 or higher on a d20), you stay unconscious, but stop having to make death saves.

These death saves bring a tremendous amount of tension and drama to what used to be a very boring part of the game, and the hard choice can often be 'do I help out my mate who is down, or hope they can tough it out and try to take down the guy who could potentially kill us all?' Or maybe, 'do I heal the fighter who keeps doing the most damage before he drops, or the spellcaster who already has and has now failed one death save?' As the DM, it provides me with a tremendous amount of pure entertainment, and since I have had everyone make up a back-up character to smooth out any potentially unexpected transitions, largely guilt free.

Thinking about it though, six players in a party with 4 spellcasters, only one character who wear proper armour and no rogue or cleric to speak of, I suppose it is only a matter of time before someone's understudy gets called up to the majors... feel free to use the comments section to make your predictions as to who might be first to succumb to the embrace of the Raven Queen:

Rilion Celevandal, Elf Ranger, played by Jeff

An early bookmaker's favourite since his combination of massive damage output and lack of effective defense makes him the leader in death saves rolled thus far.

Pyrus Lucifuge, Hellborn Wizard, played by Pete

A close second to Rilion in sub-zero exposure, Pyrus is now extremely fastidious about using his healing surges in between encounters.

Lannea Rookmarque, Human Paladin, played by Audrey

Her decent Armour Class is somewhat mitigated by the need to keep her 'healing hands' ability close to the action, where others have already fallen.

Warryn Weyvolde, Gnome Warlock, played by Mike

An aversion to pointy objects, loud noises or just being discerned by anyone with even remotely hostile intent means this little fellow only spends about one third of his time being visible in the first place.

Timbre Wavecrest, Human Bard, played by Earl

Effectively another spellcaster, many of Timbre's abilities enhance and amplify those of the other players, including some healing spells, but sometimes, he has to fight...

Aramil, Eladrin Warlock, played by Scott

Somewhat fragile, like most spellcasters, but also capable of tremendous casting damage, and he spends more time teleporting than a blink dog.

(Regardless of relative mortality, I am certainly grateful for the excellent names the players have chosen for their characters; I'm sure we can all recall having to go on a fantastic journey with a warrior named "Bob", or "My guy", or perhaps "Wizard #3, et cetera. A round of applause for them all, please!)

It seems to me that the real joy of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons is that we all get to take turns impressing each other. This is easier, in many ways, for the players, since they get to collaborate and get more opportunities for surprises, teamwork and derring do, but I find it incredibly gratifying to run a Kobold Wyrmpriest across a room, have it appear he has come up a square short ("Aww, is it too far little fella?"), shifting him into the last square as a minor action ("Ah, crap, he's gonna..."), and then instead of stabbing one character, having him breath fire over three of them ("Argh, don't bunch up!").

It's only then you get to hear those words that make all the planning and drama worthwhile:

"Very clever, you b@$t@rd..."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cheers, leading

There's really no reason for me to like cheerleading as an idea. Nothing against them as individuals, but look at how cheerleaders are portrayed in popular culture: cliquey, elitist, snobby, ostracizing biz-natches.

A lot ofthings have changed since high school. I'm marginally more secure now, for one thing, so I hardly ever think I am the subject of girlish laughter, at least outside my own home. I've learned that movies and television don't always present a balanced or nuanced portrayal of certain social groups. And cheerleading has become a sport in its own right.

Fenya joined the Elementary Cheer Team at Victoria this year, and had her first meet the other night, the Redmen Invitational. I went in with no small amount of trepidation, but I ended up being so impressed, I completely forgot to feel like a dirty old man. Well, mostly; I sometimes forget that feeling like a middle-aged adolescent doesn't actually reverse the aging process.

First of all, Victoria has a huge cheerleading legacy. The current coach has been at Vic for 29 years, and also coaches the Edmonton Eskimo cheer squad. The banners around the whole family gym are largely for provincial and national cheer awards, with a smattering of basketball and volleyball, and one celebrating the Vic cheer team's victory at the world championships in Nagoya Japan in 1994. In addition to being great for the cheerleaders, it is good for the school in general, as I understand they are not exactly feared by athletic competitors.

The support for the cheer teams was unbelievable, as each school's team charged out, the cheers and whistles were positively deafening. I was only there 45 minutes, and my ears were ringing when I left. All the other teams were junior and senior high school, so Fenya's squad of grade 4-6ers really stuck out, but thanks to a great intro, they got the loudest cheers of all.

Fenya is not exactly shy, but performing a dance and cheer routine in front of a frenzied crowd really took her out of her comfort zone, and I was proud of her. The fact that a team mate accidentally clocked her in the chops and knocked out a loose tooth was just icing on the cake.

Glory and I stayed to watch a few more performances while Fenya and Audrey took off to a choir rehearsal, and my state of being impressed was only enhanced. These kids clearly put a lot of time, effort and energy into their performances, and some of them are completely fearless, being flung into the air and being caught by their comrades. At one point we watched a girl get vaulted at least 20 feet in the air, while spinning, and then get caught by 4, maybe 5 teammates. "Wow!" gasped Glory, and I nodded. "Did you see how many boys are on that team?" I asked her. She shook her head. "None," I said.

I can't help but think that exposing Fenya to this degree of dedication, spirit and athleticism will be really good for her, and entertaining for the rest of us.