As I meander into my dotage, I notice that life tends to mirror autumn, that season when the days get shorter and shorter; and I also notice that some of the more paranoid among us (myself included) feel the vaguely defined suspicion that maybe this time, the sun isn’t coming back.
I carry this sensibility into just about everything: winter, the longest season of the year is certainly shorter (only ten months this year instead of the usual eleven); and summer I have noted is approximately two weeks, compared the the two months it used to be when I was a kid. Of course, back then, June used to be two months all by itself. Then there were the two months of July , the three months of the first three weeks of August, and the ten minutes of the last week of August before school reopened to begin the twenty months of the school year. Et cetera.
I have noted elsewhere that professional plays are shorter. Plays we have seen recently at the NAC and GCTC in Ottawa seem to average about a good short nap apiece — make that under an hour. I can’t say much about the length of sporting events: I noticed the Superbowl happpened last week, my signal to notice that the NFL must have played out another gripping ho-hum. I have to apologize to football fans: watching football on TV just isn’t the same for me as getting out on the field in freezing rain, when your underwear is clanging like frozen armour and you have to use a blowtorch to change after the game. Those were the days in the great white NNOSSA (Nothern Northern Ontario Secondary School Athletics): the biggest task on our practice field was trying to tackle on the non-rocky places so you could keep most of your skin.
So I wonder what the big draw of sports is, when time shows us that what really lasts in a society and what really builds a civilization isn’t bread and circuses, but definition. Of course, there are times that sports help us define ourselves: Gretzky was a source of pride in our Canadian-ness, and so was Bobby Orr and any number of athletes, male and female; but so are Leonard Cohen and Margaret Atwood and Peter Gzowski, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Mike Myers, Mary Pickford, Celine Dion, Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Gordon Lightfoot, Ernie Coombs (Mr. Dressup), Avril Lavigne, Robertson Davies, Adrian Pecknold, John Candy, Rick Mercer, Ryan Gosling, Duncan McIntosh, William Shatner, Lucy Maude Mongomery, Stan Rogers, Burton Cummings, Sara McLachlan, J.T. MacKenzie, Chief Dan George, Dan Ackroyd, Emily Carr, Farley Mowat, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, Mordecai Richler, Farley Mowat, Bryan Adams, Norman Jewison . . . and on and on. These are the people who speak to us and to the world to tell everybody who we are. They help us understand who we are.
Read Hugh Hood’s wonderful short story: “Getting to Williamstown”. Yes, it’s about that Williamstown, the one between Cornwall and Alexandria. It is collected in Best American Short Stories 1966 and other anthologies. It is a defining piece. Or go to the Maxville Highland Games and hear the piobracht pierce your heart, or the drumming competition (my favourite) or the massed bands at the end of the day (to feel the earth shake and know how music can win a battle for you, as the Romans knew). It is music, or theatre, or poetry or dance or painting that can define the moment and make life poignant and meaningful.
Now when I hear that some politician, a Mayor or a Premier or a Prime Minister for example, arguing from a position of irrefutable ignorance, proposing to cut off arts funding, I feel sorry for the poor impoverished cuss, because I can see that this is a politician with a sorry empty life that has no definition, no long-range understanding of what existence is about. There is no arguing with such a poor ignoramus; all you can do is know that this, too will pass.
So what do we do about these people who tear down landmark theatres, slash funding of “luxury items” like the arts (never mind that artists are better trained and work harder to eek out a paltry borderline existence than any fistful of self-absorbed political hacks)? We have to realize that nobody ever built a monument to a tax-cut. We have to be patient and realize that time will pass, these hacks will go away, be forgotten, but the art, ultimately, will live on because we want it to.