Thursday, September 6, 2012

Courting Nanabush

In the summer of 2010 I decided to build a basketball court in our backyard. It was admittedly somewhat of a strange choice as our children had grown up and moved out years before. The hoop was already there, installed back in the late nineties when my son Jesse was still a young lad. He used it seldom though, as did I. Installed solidly, complete with concrete-filled post, on sloping, mossy grass, it remained something of a lonely beacon for many years.

Then, in 2009, my literary leanings brought me, through a writer friend, to join the Peterborough Old Boys basketball league. This is a Sunday morning conglomeration of aging jocks and pseudo-athletes (I put myself firmly in the latter category) who compete throughout the winter for a motley collection of ramshackle trophies. Despite the fact that the participants are older and far more ramshackle than the trophies, I found that most of those old geezers had skills far in excess of my own. I wanted to hit shots, make layups, get to the foul line. In short, I aspired to be far better than I was. I wanted, and still want, to at least be an average player in that ramshackle league.

An number of issues impeded my progress in that direction: lack of confidence, lack of endurance, lack of skill, lack of ability, lack of competitive spirit, lack of size and lack of experience. What I do have, however, is spunk. A plucky willingness to beat my head against a stone wall until one or the other gives in. Some might call in stubbornness, pigheadedness, or being willfully delusional. But I prefer spunk. The word has a nice ring to it. Like the sound of ripe fruit hitting a concrete surface. Which brings me to the apple tree in our backyard.

If I was to build a basketball court, part or all of the apple tree would have to go. Its trunk was out of bounds but a good chunk of its foliage would impede any kind of baseline shot. The tree was not a top producer, yielding only a handful of hard little fruits suitable only for the squirrels. Considering all the facts, me and my hard little Darwinian heart went and got the big pruning shears. The tree remains, obligingly growing its remaining branches to the east, away  from the court- a sacrificial monument to the difficult choices yet to be faced.  

The first of these was where and how to begin the actual court. I was but one lonesome, aging man, handy, even super-handy at times, but one busily neglecting his home improvement business in order to write that novel that we all feel we have within us. Finances were limited, but pent-up energy from hours spent tapping laptop keys was not. I would compose the court in pieces, one concrete square at a time. Like the journey of a thousand miles, like the building of Rome, it could only be begun at the beginning. My starting line was the foul line, a row of bright blue tiles traversing a cement square. This grew square by square into an oblong island that encompassed the vestigial beginnings of the three point line several feet behind it. By the end of 2010, I'd created another island of squares under the basket.  Practice was possible, if one didn't mind the crazy ricochets of the air-filled sphere into parts of the yard where no sane basketball should dare to go. Parts such as my wife's gardens, the ones she had lovingly built up over the twenty years we've been domiciled in this particular location. With about twenty squares completed, and a mere eighty or so to go, with the land still badly sloped, I was looking at a completion date of somewhere in the neighborhood of 2015 A.D.. But that reckoning did not take into account 2011, which became a year of lassitude and darkness.

 A Dylan song lyric: "They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn". But in the summer of 2011, the brightest hour was right before the volcanic ash swept in, obliterated the, sun and rendered my world view into a dull grey murk. My novel, my beloved, precious book over which I had labored for so long, which, when finished, I had exulted over so excessively- mercilessly selling it to near-strangers- was not taking off as hoped. In fact, it never even sniffed the runway. Oh, the disappointment. The injustice. That my wonderful novel, reviewed so well, enjoyed by so many early readers, would suffer the same fate (wretched obscurity) as ninety-nine percent (at least) of the novels born into this world. There was only one course of action: to man-up, go into a shell, and be miserable. I would likely have done this more fully if left to my own devices, but there were still some niggling responsibilities, along with a disposition that does have a sunny, optimistic side, that prevented me from sinking completely into a morass of self-pity, online poker, and self-medication with fine Belgian beer. Responsibilities such as being husband to a terrific wife, father to two terrific children, son to an aging mother, proprietor of a home improvement business, and creator of the incipient awesomeness of an all-concrete basketball court. So, in a relatively robust moment, I ordered enough gravel to level the back third of our backyard and had it dumped in our driveway.

The mountain of gravel, delivered at the expense of a furrowed row or two worth of lawn trashed by the dump truck's wheels, was so large that it blocked a good portion of my garage door. Even the dubious joys of the the beer, the poker, and of wallowing in being an under-appreciated author could keep me from ameliorating this situation for only so long. In less than two weeks I was out there shoveling and wheelbarrowing this mountain of gravel into the backyard, spreading it into a plateau which one day would be my basketball court. But, as the book sales floundered, so did the level of my industry. You might say that once the plateau was done my efforts...plateaued. Though a few more squares of concrete appeared at sporadic intervals, by the end of the summer of 2011, the vast majority of the future court was still composed of gravel. Gravel in which, unbeknownst to myself, the seeds of an even deeper discontent were being sown.

 to be continued but not here because the rest of the piece is published in our book THE KAWARTHA SOUL PROJECT which is a collection of true 'soul stories' and related poetry and fiction set in our Kawartha area.  

1 comment:

Glenda Fralin said...

Dear friend J. R.
I just discovered your blog and love it. The way you relate the story of the basketball court is wonderful.
I think many of us learn that our first book doesn't sail into the stratosphere like we imagine, but don't let it stop you.

Steven King wrote several books before he became famous for 'Cary'. What a story that is. Then people started discovering his other work and look where he is today.

It may also be that we will become better known posthumously (sad thought). Never say die. Keep promoting that wonderful book Waking up Gillgan.