26 October 2012

That would be suspiciously like joy in Mudville

What would be suspiciously like joy in Mudville, you ask? Professional ice hockey coming to Casper. Right now, it is frustratingly all uncertain, but there's a conversation happening. A conversation that could bring CHL hockey to Casper. 

The biggest challenges seem to be financial, of course, and I'm surprised that the theoretical plan would be to modify the Casper Events Center (installing ice and a Jumbotron, etc.), but it has held the Wyoming Cavalry indoor football, the CNFR, many state sports tournaments--it would certainly hold a fairly impressive crowd. It's also got locker room facilities, where glamorous things happen, like Casper College faculty members holding their annual "can anyone actually arrange their academic hood the correct way?" contest for commencement. (Pro tip: I don't think there is a correct way. I think the academic hood is just a cruel joke played on folks in academe in perpetuity. It's slightly below "good luck ever simply reading a book again" in sinisterness.)

I'm not just grasping at straws here in the absence of the NHL with my incredibly premature enthusiasm. I'm not not in panicked desperation for my Penguins, but I am applying copious amounts of AHL and KHL hockey to my chafed soul. It's something. I have emergency hockey treatments already scheduled over winter break (WBS Penguins vs. Hershey Bears, home and away, back to back days, oh yes). 

But now that I've had a good taste of real minor league sports, living here in Casper and getting kind of attached to the awkward growing period of things like Rookie ball and then the Mountain Collegiate Baseball League (not technically professional minor leagues, but still a developmental league), I'm more than a little in love. I've never been to a CHL game, nor even an ECHL game (because I've spent most of my life in the East) because I've always lived closer to AHL clubs. In this world of hypothetical wishing, I don't know what to expect. I have to admit I filter these things by baseball terminology--it seems the equivalent of AA baseball. I don't know what that looks like in hockey. I can't imagine what it will look like in Casper, with a team that, according to the article, will likely be a transplant from Texas. (I say good. I say, Let us rescue you. There is winter here. This is a place friendly to ice.) One of the teams in that league currently in Texas is unaffiliated, and my completely uneducated gut instinct says that would be the team that moves. The Allen Americans are a Dallas Stars affiliate, but the Fort Worth Brahmas are unattached (unattached officially, it seems, but there are a number of current roster players that have come up through the Sabres system, including Riley Boychuk and Shawn Szydlowski).

Wyoming is all about cattle. Come to us, Brahmas. (Or, if I am wrong, I'm cool with the Allen Americans. People wave flags here really well.)

(Also, Mario, maybe the Penguins would like a CHL affiliate, since we're sharing Wheeling with the Canadiens?)

Hockey-related talk this fall has been an exercise in not getting my hopes up. As the linked article above explains, it's far from a done deal, too. Details are incredibly sketchy, vague, fraught. What that should mean is that it's easy to push off to the side for a while. I'll learn the decision when everyone else does (and if it's going to happen, the decision will come soon, it seems, unlike in the actual NHL where nothing is happening soon). 

But all this has done is give me framework in which my imagination is already hiring a Zamboni driver. I'm already watching next year's draft, watching to see who might end up here. I don't need much on which to build wild flights of fancy, particularly not with hockey (particularly not with anything--don't let me fool you into thinking I have only a few categories of imaginative excess). 

I'm hanging my hat and my heart on this. 

Forth Worth and Allen, two of the possible hypothetical future Casper teams, are in a shootout right now, actually. 3-3 as of 9:20, MST, on 10/26. Allen wins, 4-3, on a goal by D-man Brett Skinner, a 2002 draft pick by the Canucks. He's got a bit of a journeyman's career, having started as a pro in 2005 and, after a bit of shuttling about that did include some games with the Islanders, having played for Amur Khabarovsk in 2010-2011. 

Now that I'm waist-deep in trying to wade the KHL waters (complicated most by time zones, actually, because it's hard to follow games when my students are shuffling yawning into their first class of the day), and I now think I get the enormity (and isolation and what must be a constant feeling of jetlag) of playing in Khabarovsk, I want that guy in my city, playing hockey. 

That's not even likely. Skinner's on a one-year deal with Allen, and if this season goes well for him, his goal is not going to be staying in the CHL. That isn't how the system works. The system works by moving up, moving on, and any (remember: hypothetical still, Holly) hockey that would take place in Casper wouldn't happen until 2013. 

So the right thing to do is to say, no, Brett Skinner, I don't want to see you here next year. Based on exactly six minutes of watching a text box update with the successes and failures of the shootout, I want you to have a good season. Brett Skinner, defenseman with a solid shot, I want you somewhere better next season. And then I want to watch the player who takes your place, and hope I don't see him the year after that, either.

19 October 2012

"Ae fond kiss, and then we sever": When is a story done?

It's cold here in Casper. I have hot cider. It seemed correct to start with a Robert Burns line, then. But the Burns line is purposeful in that I have reached what I consider to be a rare thing: the place of being finished with a story.

I have many times had stories be finished with me before I was finished with them (the ones that never quite went anywhere, the fragments in computer folders and notebooks where the relationship ended on a note of mutual ambivalence), and there are many stories that aren't quite there yet, something shoe still waiting to drop (as soon as I find the damn shoe--maybe waiting for the shoe to be thrown). There are the stories, too, that are only pretending to be stories, that are really just novels waiting to leap. To them, I crack my whip and brandish my chair: back! back! (Or at least admonish them to queue up in an orderly fashion.)

But sometimes, the piece and I have said all we have to say to each other, and the story goes out into the wide world and finds its right home, and once it's there, there's no reason for me to meddle with it. I'm speaking mostly of publication, which has traditionally been the marker of done (not always, of course, but oftener than not). I've had the good fortune of placing a short story that I wrote a eight years ago (it doesn't feel like that long ago) in Stymie Magazine, and so now I can talk about writing with actual concrete referents, rather than vague hand-waving at the book-in-progress.

So this is putting "Middle Infield" to rest. Walking away. Saying a fond farewell.

There is a particular pleasure in finding a journal for a story that feels right for it, and because of the specificity of this story's major pieces--baseball, queerness, teenaged characters--it was not an easy fit. Any one of those things seems to have a number of markets, but the Venn diagrams seldom overlap. And so I am especially pleased to have it homed in Stymie, where so many facets of sport (and a lot of various and interesting hybridities) are showcased.

I wrote this story in one of my MA program workshops, and I owe, of course, a great deal to a small group of excellent workshop colleagues that I had there. I remember, though, that even in its shitty first draft, it was the first short story that I'd written as a short story, all self-contained, with no lingering desires to become a novel, that I was even remotely happy with. Because I hadn't written it as the obligatory workshop submission (because workshopping novel chapters in a short story workshop is seldom productive)--I'd written the story on its own terms, and it went quickly because so much of it was so dear to me. False and fictional and all of the things I stole from the world of the real had been dragged through algae and sunflower seed shells by the end, but dear to me still.

I was in Ohio at the time. Most people don't think of Ohio as markedly different from central Pennsylvania (or any of the other mid-Atlantic states), but it was the furthest I'd been from home in the long term, in a way that was truly on my own. Campus housing, during my BA, even if I seldom went home, certainly didn't count. As a TA in graduate school, I had a job, a regular paycheck, the first semblance of a functional adult life. Gone were the thousand activities and club meetings of yesterdegree--now onto serious academic study. Now into an actual college town, which is all that town was: bars (a perilous lot of bars), great music, independent restaurants, and twenty thousand twenty-somethings. Nothing at all like my no-horse childhood home or my unfriendly, working-class city and its idyllic campus island that we seldom left.

I think now that some of this story was born of homesickness. Maybe a way to pay homage to where I'd come from because everyone else I knew seemed to be from a much more recognizable version of somewhere. Maybe a way to hold up small things I loved about a place where I no longer fit myself. No matter the reason, and I didn't know it then, but Cal and Brendan and the smaller details of their lives were ways of reaching out to the place that I'd left. That's completely contradictory in that it is all firmly fiction--it's set in upstate New York, even, years before I lived there or ever knew that I would--but the characters play out on the landscapes of memory.

A list:

  1. The snapping turtle was real. My brother and a friend of his fished them out of a farm pond, though never so big. I remember them showing me the hook they used for it, three inches long and the wire of it too stiff to bend. They did bait it with a raw chicken wing. Stevie's mother did not make soup from the turtles they caught. The turtles did eat ducklings. But I don't know how they killed them after catching them. 

  2. I harbor no ill will toward turtles, snapping or otherwise. In a visiting writer's talk while I was in Ohio, though, Clint McCown read from his novel, War Memorials, in which a lizard meets a dire end via a window sash, if I remember correctly. I remember feeling more guilty about killing off that snapping turtle in the story than I did for any number of other injustices I'd committed against characters. I do not remember if McCown felt similar remorse. I know the question came up.

  3. The pond Cal and Brendan stand beside is not in upstate New York. It is in my parents' neighbor's pasture, and the pond is roughly the size of a regulation ice hockey rink. It was fed by a small stream, though, and it never froze hard enough to skate on it. Or we never knew how deep it really was and my parents said no to our desire to skate on it. Both are true. It did house a number of fish, though, and we caught bluegills and sunnies there, on small, flimsy rods. There were turtles, snappers in that pond (as in so many ponds where I grew up), and they would have cut our four-pound test with no effort if we'd fished with any bait that tempted them.

  4. Cal's grandparents' basement belongs to my friend Bill, who was also my middle school boyfriend. Its ceilings were too low for Bill, who was already nearly six feet tall in those gangly years. In high school, a whole knot of us hung out there, stooped over the small pool and air hockey tables, and we didn't drink, even though we knew we could have. We played terrible nineties music and there was often a strobe light on because why not. There was a fat plastic barrel of pretzel sticks. One of my grandfathers still keeps them beside his chair. The basement had its own bathroom, too, one where the concrete block hadn't even been painted. It was always cold. The cold was a good excuse, and it often lead to some pair of people making out on the couch. 

  5. Ted Williams hitting walnuts with a broomstick may be apocryphal. I feel like I remember my dad telling me about it. It feels true. That's what matters.

  6. Regarding a tiny reference buried in a paragraph--a guy who went to my high school, Dominic Rich, who played baseball with my brother--did rip it up playing for Auburn. The Blue Jays drafted him in the second round in 2000. The whole valley was kind of gutted, I think, when he didn't make it past AA ball. (My hometown was blessed with excellent baseball players while my three-years-older brother was in high school. I wouldn't love the sport the way I do if I hadn't been raised on such a beautiful version of it.)

  7. The high school I imagine here is my own. Rural. Conservative. Full of people who would not let neighbors go hungry or leave anyone to change a flat tire on one's own. Full of the kind of silence, though, too, that lets Brendan say, of the possibility of queer athletes (and really, for his context, queer anyone, queer him, queer them), "No one talks about it." The silence that makes Cal continue with the affirmation that what cannot be said cannot be done. Queerness is not an option. 
This is the place where I want to say goodbye to this story. It ends with some hope because I believe in hope and I am an optimist. But this story was written years before the You Can Play Project, most of a decade before, and it was written in the fullest sense of Brendan's wishful thinking. (I am reminded of Oscar Wilde and Miss Prism's famous line: "The good end happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means." Because Oscar Wilde didn't have the luxury of that wishful thinking.) I say goodbye to this story on Spirit Day, in hopes that Brendan and Cal, wherever they are, whatever they are doing, together or alone (because characters, in my mind, keep moving forward in their worlds, aren't stuck where the last sentence leaves them--they have trajectories and there is no friction great enough to bring story to a complete halt), are well and happy and no longer in a place where they feel that hard weight of silence.

I have more hope still for the real LGBT youth because of the many organizations and individuals who are speaking out, who are acting, who are changing this landscape of silence.