Saturday, September 3, 2011

Excellence, Students and the Olympics

And I should know,  at my age, that any statement that starts with, "I really ought to..." is suspect, very suspect.

Introduction- The original introduction ended with these three paragraphs:

Nancy Green attended university in Nelson; I took a U of Calgary night school class in law: I learned how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies not only to citizens, but, by federal Supreme Court ruling, to anyone under Canadian sky. Now I find how oppressors can get around that ruling if the orders to oppress are issued from offshore.

The B.C. Supreme Court (provincial) has finished hearing the case of the Canadian women ski jumpers. "There will little solace to the plaintiffs in my finding that they have been discriminated against; there is no remedy available to them in this court." This was in the Calgary Sun, Saturday July 11, 2009. The Sun, reminiscent of my other essay, has buried the story 15 pages into the sports section.

Those who expect excellent student protest will be disappointed. I can predict this because excellence, for students, is hard, even in an Olympic city during the Games.

Excellence, Students and the Olympics

With the 20th anniversary of our city's winter Olympics, it's time to ponder how hard everyday excellence was for me back then... and still is today... At the time of the games I was part of a happy band of volunteer university journalists. That year, at our weekly University of Calgary student newspaper, the Gauntlet, we eagerly sought to share the Olympic flame... only to discover that the spirit of excellence is hard to catch.

I say "we" but actually two of us, one of the co-editors and I, told our peers months ahead of time, to their complete bafflement, that no, we would not join them in their Olympic project. I tried to help pierce the "hype." Unfortunately, to any of my keen probing questions, I received the reply, "But it's the Olympics!" "Yes, but why do we want to—" "It's the Olympics!"

I was a little older than the other students. At their age I had arrived, down-at-the-heels, in the big city clutching my new manual typewriter. It was so tiny, not like the clunky ones on desk tops. Such a wonder of teeny precision machinery, with Eatons on the enameled steel cover. I'm sure typewriters never got any smaller. I also had a glossy new book called something like, Teach Yourself to Type. But... the typewriter gathered dust. A few seasons later, not so down at the heels, I decided to fork out for a night school course in Beginner's Typing. The "for fun" course was all filled, so I had to take the "for credit" one. With secretaries. I remember we learned to count characters and divide by two so we could center our headings on the page.


So everyday at home I'd excellently practice my typing assignments. I quickly—bang!—got so I could guide the silver return lever—ching!—with my eyes closed. Then I got so I could touch type. Hurray! I passed the course—I even raised my college grade point average!—and then... my typewriter gathered dust. I knew I really ought to practice for half an hour every day, and do a full hour every Sunday. Just as I had read in all those inspirational self-improvement magazine articles. Yes, I knew what I should do but... only dust.

Then I joined the volunteers over at the university. I was doing at least an article a week, requiring two or three drafts, with vigor and purpose... then home to the dusty machine. Except for my actual writing, I still didn't practice my typing. I still don't. I confess: to this day I can't type in numerals without looking at the keyboard. My typing speed has probably even declined since that long ago course—I know I really ought to excellently practice my typing. And I should know, at my age, that any statement that starts "I really ought to..." is suspect, very suspect.

I am steadily learning that excellence is not easy. I first found this out in junior high when I found myself the only boy in a beginner's typing course. This was just not natural and my classmates let me know it. At least it was not as bad for me as trying to be a girl in the chess club. She lasted only one day. And me? Read on...


At this time in my youth all of the male students and even some of the male teachers had long hair. The hair symbolized something. There was a sense of freedom to take new risks, try new innovations and boldly seek empowerment for all. Class timetable registration, that year, followed a "new improved" format: the students would choose their own courses, meaning: choose their own teachers. Logically things would sort themselves out: Smart students would take the more competent harder teachers while the more challenged students would take the easier ones. The academically gifted students, in other words, would pursue excellence.

Due to my personal issues, not my I.Q., I was a glum and struggling student. Nevertheless I eagerly grabbed all the hardest teachers. Turns out I was a minority of one. All those academic golden students? They all chose the easiest ones. They told me so. After only one day of classes the registration fiasco had to be fixed overnight by the teachers.

And so I lasted only one day in typing class. I was never able to fit in another one. Years later, long after my night typing class, I was able to briefly touch excellence: As a working "man" and "college graduate," I excellently scribbled my way through not one but two books of writing composition exercises. I am pleased with that, although I feel "I really ought to be doing more writing exercises these days."

But what of my Gauntlet university peers? Were they closer to excellent college graduates or closer to "take-the-easy-way-out" kids in junior high?... The Olympics were a big deal. When the torch relay passed through our town my roommate was so excited he ran alongside for a long ways in his street clothes. Then he ran home to tell me.


Months before the games were to arrive my fellow Gauntleteers had an exciting vision: They too would aspire to Olympic excellence. At our energetic crowded staff meetings this vision seemed noble and do-able. Putting out a weekly newspaper was hard enough. Now they aspired to twice or even thrice weekly. Even if the paper was thinner, and it surely would be, they would thus be required to rise to a much higher level. Like athletes, they'd reach for excellence...and be more like an efficient paper in the real world. Obviously we are talking about better organization, as in meeting with editors, and productivity.

...Note: When editors guide and edit the first draft submitted (before handing it back) or advise on stories they don't yell- only Spiderman's editor, J. Jonah Jameson, does that....

Crank out issues? How? I thought of what I had seen, or read, about things in the working world and spoke up with equal excitement. "Sure guys, our editors could have a board where they posted what time they'd return (and excellently keep to their commitment)." Some students (two or more) instantly scorned that idea, saying, "What if he wants to stop off at the A&W?" I suppose at that very moment the writing was on the wall but nobody had realized it yet.

As noted, I was not to be part of the Olympic issues, but others were. About a score of them had made a written commitment on a sign up sheet. Maybe Tony Sabo suspected something. A night or two before the games Tony called every person on the list and they each gave their word again. ...All classes were canceled: students were evicted and their residences were turned over to the Olympians. This meant students needed a little more effort to drop by the Gauntlet office. This meant too that most of the Gauntlet readers, by default, became the athletes.


I recall that in the student union food court, near the olympic oval and residences, there were massage tables staffed by volunteers from all over the continent. Since I too had a massage background I enjoyed chatting. I remember answering a lady from Chicago that no, our city wasn't cleaned up for the games; it was always like this. She was amazed and I wondered what the heck Chicago must look like.

Then I wrote up an article on athlete massage and filed it for use when school came back in session: I cared a lot about my student audience, but athletes? Not so much.

Tony and a couple others got a paid job doing stories for a periodical for the athlete's village; they had to wear fluorescent red berets. Gauntlet folks said, "Great, you can get past security and drop off copies of our Special Gauntlets for the athletes."

But... by the time they were preparing the second Special issue... things had gotten desperate. My embarrassed editor asked me if he could use my article. I said "Yes." As for those who gave their word on the list, I'm pretty sure not a single one showed up. A student later said sadly,"It was too easy to go off skiing." This was after the Gauntlet Olympic dreams had bit the dust.


Yes, excellence is not easy. And now I know: The average university man is not quite as bad as a junior high kid, but he's no better than a frat boy, either. As the Klingons would say, "They have no honor." But of course Tony did, and I treasure that.

I still see some old classmates once a year at writer K.M. Tratt's all-day Saint Patrick's party. Bruce, a university art professor, attends, and some years Bruce and I get to talking about how hard it is for art majors to keep making art after graduation. I think that whether it's painting or typing or jogging or anything else you're "s'posed to" do you probably shouldn't be too hard on yourself. It's OK to use tricks to encourage your effort such as registering for a marathon, or for next year's gallery showing, or joining a local club or whatever it takes. I once read about a nerd who could have made a nice living as a computer guy. Instead he became a millionaire because he kept finding a succession of increasingly harder little problems to solve. Whatever trick works, eh?

In my own case my art is my essays, an art that appeals to my absurd Right brain. Hence my dearth of Left brain up front topic sentences. I am driven to make art, and I wouldn't do so without using the trick of a "real" web site for essays. A mere blog (web log) would not be enough to trick me into being productive. A blog, to me, is something done carelessly with no second draft, something that unsettled Left brain people are going to frantically skim/rush/click right through.

I care a lot about readers who settle in with a nice cup of tea, but unsettled readers? Not so much. A mere blog is not enough to keep me polishing my pretty little prose.

I suppose, in conclusion, I really ought to quit reading self-improvement articles... but I do like them so.

Sean Crawford, SNAG,
sensitive new age guy,
with lots of growth potential,
Spring 2008


You might also like two Olympic essays archived in February and March of 2013 regarding reform and feminism.

Update: This is now on a blog because a blogger, Little Rivkah, has advised me: A blog has a better chance of being read than a web site. My old site was read, or at least commented on, only be those who knew me in real life. It remains to be seen whether my blog will be read enough to attract comments by strangers...

Update: Now, instead of judging readership from comments, I can go by my blogger statistics feature.

For those who came in late: My old web site has been discontinued, and so the links on this blog, with essay-introductions, are now broken. Hence I am doing "re-runs" using no more than three paragraphs of the original introductions.

New pieces, such as the previous post, Citizenship After 9/11, are still being written amongst the re-runs. I am still committed to my art.

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