Saturday, May 01, 2010

On becoming literate, part one

When it comes to literacy, I, like many men, owe professional sports a great debt.

My earliest reading memories involve the sports section of the Toronto Star. I was cursed from a young age with a passion for this city’s sports teams, and the Star, delivered daily to our front step, was like a sacred text, offering not just scores and stats (though those were very important), but also news, photos, and analysis. As soon as I could make out the words, I read the sports section from cover-to-cover every morning. And as soon as my grade one teacher told us to write something in our journals, I began composing tales about my beloved Maple Leafs and Blue Jays, as well as the Tour de France and World Cup.

I don’t remember being a particularly voracious reader in my primary/junior years, but I did tell myself a lot of stories and pretty much all of them had to do with sports.

I would hit a ball against the wall and play out matches in the World Tennis League, a fictional, professional competition divided along international lines. In the WTL, John McEnroe had defected to Canada and led the league in “jacks” – unreturnable serves that weren’t quite aces. (N.B. There is no such thing as a “jack.”)

Other times, I’d pull out a piece of paper and write out the tournament bracket for the World Cup of Freeball. (I was, and still am, a great lover of tournament brackets.) In my imaginary world, Freeball began as a once-a-year competition between the United States and Japan, but it soon caught on in other places and eventually, the Irish, Italians, and yes, Canadians, were amongst the world’s top nations. Wales always posed a threat because of their terrific keeper, who stole more games than Dominik Hasek. I never quite figured out Freeball was played–I imagined it as a sort of cross between football, soccer, and rugby (though it wasn’t Aussie Rules Football) – but flipping through my dad’s atlases to pick out World Cup nations taught me a lot about geography. (I was obviously all about integrated units from a very young age.)

For a while, I used my hockey cards to develop an expansion NHL team – I’d lay the cards out on the floor, arranged by forward lines and defensive pairings. Then I would make trades with other, strangely generous general managers, to bring in better players and take my team to the Cup. (This little game probably accounts for my minor addiction to Football Manager 2010.)

This sporty imagination reached its apex with the WWO, or the World Wrestling Organization. Unlike the WTL and Freeball, the WWO went beyond my mind. The WWO was, in fact, my first major writing project.

I began it in the sixth or seventh grade. To begin, I used all the boys in my class as the basis for wrestling characters. Stefano was Tank, Jonathan was John Rocker. Jimmy was Viper, who later became The Punisher. Matthew was The Man in Black, Fernando was The Olive King (his own idea, actually), and I was Marco Marciano. Some of the girls acted as managers and often figured prominently in storylines.

Like the WWF and WCW, the WWO was built around a weekly television show (Wild Wednesday) that built up to a monthly pay-per-view and for every Wild Wednesday, I would write a match-by-match, interview-by-interview recap. I didn’t describe every move or write out the interview line-by-line, but dealt more in generalities. (E.g. “The Olive King came out for an interview and proceeded to insult Marco Marciano’s girl, Melinda, in his typically bizarre way. Marciano appeared with a steel chair and a brawl ensued.”)

I put a lot of time, effort and thought into the WWO. I enjoyed developing my characters and my plots, my conflicts and my resolutions. I’d even occasionally tell my friends about the goings on in the WWO, only to hear the inevitable complaints about the fact that their characters had lost to mine.(Marco Marciano was undefeated in his WWO career, though I never gave him the belt.)Then, about 80 pages into my story, I popped the disk I had it saved on into the drive, only to hear a strange, skipping noise. Nothing appeared on the screen. Having been trained on the original 8-bit Nintendo, I tried blowing on the disk, but to no avail. The WWO was lost forever.

You’ll be pleased to know that I don’t watch wrestling anymore. I’m kind of embarrassed I ever did. But it got me writing and reading (I religiously picked up Pro Wrestling Illustrated from my corner store every month). And for my first couple of years of high school, I even had an online wrestling column, though I can’t remember what it was called.

Then my dad brought home a CD called Who's Missing and everything changed.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellant article as usual

1:40 PM  

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