The Women’s World Cup is Wonderful

July 15th, 2011

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone.

In one of my favourite Simpsons scenes, Lisa is having her future told by a Native American. Her future husband, an over-the-top Hugh Grant-coiffured opulent Englishman, says in reference to Lisa’s position within the Simpson family, “you’re like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.” Lisa is the flower, her family the pot of dirt.

This Sunday will see the United States play Japan in the final of the World Cup of Association Football. Sorry, I should write the women’s World Cup, but that prefix is becoming more and more of an afterthought. High crowds – more than 73,000 at the opening game and an average of more than 25,000 for the tournament – have watched good quality football, played with skill and a degree of endeavour and honesty that makes a mockery of much of what is going on in the men’s game. The tournament has shown us again that football, at its most basic level, is a means to distinguish extraordinary human beings from ordinary ones, and this three-week contest has contained both. It reminds us that even among the fickleness and corruption of FIFA in the twenty-first century, football still retains the ability to release from us our most extreme emotions. Yes, this current World Cup is like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.

Canada lost all three games in the group stage of the tournament, yet one Canadian, captain Christine Sinclair, was still justifiably lauded for one simple act – she broke her nose in the opening 2-1 loss to Germany, but continued to play and scored a superb 25-yard free kick while experiencing immense pain. There are very few players, male or female, who would willingly carry on playing in such circumstances.

Sinclair is one player who managed to succeed immediately after suffering an injury, but an arguably bigger story is that of Japan, a team hoping to bring joy and relief to a nation recently devastated by the double-whammy of an earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese winning goal against Germany and the ensuing ecstasy might do more than any monetary donation or government initiative to help the people of that land recover from desolation.

Media coverage of women’s sport has traditionally focused on femininity, proving time and again that male writers are generally inept at profiling women, particularly successful women. References to how many children they have or lengthy descriptions of their appearance abound, and subjects are described with words that contrast their femaleness with their careers; successful yet female, rather than successful and female. Or just successful. They are portrayed as a curiosity, a tangent to normality, a tributary to the gushing river of “real” news and coverage. There is no reason why we should not notice a subject’s hairstyle, young children or distaste for makeup. The problem starts when we get snaggled on these details, stuck to their femaleness like bubble gum in long hair.

What has been refreshing over the last few weeks is that players and coaches were, to most media outlets, first and foremost just athletes. Japan or the US would both be worthy winners in Frankfurt this Sunday, but – and excuse the litany of clichés that is about to follow – tears of joy and tears of sorrow will be shed, fingernails will be chewed to the quick and heart rates will go up exponentially. There will be winners and losers, but only in one sense. In reality, the real winners are those who took the time to follow the tournament in stadiums, sitting rooms, bars and newspapers or while listening to games on the radio. The tournament has reminded those for whom football is something beyond 22 individuals trying to move a ball into a net that for every Blatter-esque autocrat or ridiculous dive or feigned injury, there are many more moments of honesty and, dare I say it, beauty that are worth celebrating.

Come together right now over me

February 22nd, 2011

After reading a dainty (if not a bit passive agressive) little blog post on midnightpoutine, I have decided to vent slightly here. You see, I come from Ireland, and in Ireland if a boy likes a girl or a girl likes a boy then the girl asks the boy or the boy asks the girl to join him or her for a few drinks. It’s not like in many North American cities where people actually have to drive to get anywhere, so we meet in pubs.

Irish people don’t “date”, they “go for a drink”. They treat the two as meaning the same thing, and there is your problem. Meeting up at a cafe, park or exhibition with the mutual intention of ultimately ending up in bed together (or maybe just holding hands) would be plain weird to most people from the homeland. It can be frustrating for outdoorsy, artsy or sporty types who, though they may enjoy chatting and drinking in a decent pub, are not necessarily addicted to it. It creates a uniform format for going from attraction to doing the bold thing, usually beginning with meeting in a pub and ending with awkward drunken intercourse, if you’re (un?)lucky. I’m only going on second-hand accounts because to be honest I’ve never gone out with an Irish lady.

The midnightpoutine post is refreshing. Assuming that dating sites are at least 99 per cent populated by potential rapists, scam artists and the highly desperate and unattractive, that’s not really an option for most civilised people. Unlike ‘Luc’ who wrote that post, I have not left a trail of wannabe MILFS in my wake as a result of creating some wacky profile on PlentyofFish. But he also recommends St. Denis Street as a good place for single folk to cast an eye around. He has a point; people definitely saunter rather than march along its pretty face. And even for the most feeble-armed of the companionless, it’s a stone’s throw from my apartment where I am writing this post. As Mr. Burns would say, “excellent“.

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup

February 14th, 2011

There is a hilarious short scene in an old Simpsons episode where Bart is interviewing Homer for a school project. ‘Dad’, asks Bart, ‘do you wear boxers or briefs?’ The assumption is of course that every man wears one or the other. Homer looks into his pants and says ‘no’.

I use this reference by way of introduction due to a text message that I received from somebody in Ireland yesterday. It read: ‘How is Ireland – in its current state – viewed by your average Canadian and also by the press?’. The assumption in this instance is that the press here actually has a view of Ireland. But it does not.

On the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, National Post and Toronto Star websites, only one article dealing primarily with Irish political, economic or social life was published during the last week and a half. Other than that, the only Ireland-related articles were on the plane crash in Cork airport four days ago. In ten days the Republic of Ireland will hold a general election, an election in which a party that has won a plurality of the popular vote in every election since 1932 will be heavily walloped. If ever Ireland is to be newsworthy outside of Europe, it is now. Egpyt might have had something to do with a lack of international news about Ireland, methinks.

Let’s start with the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest-circulation national newspaper. On their very user-friendly and comprehensive website, the freshest non-plane crash stories to be found are from February 1. One is titled ‘Irish PM dissolves parliament, calls early election’ and the other ‘Next Irish government faces dire economy’. Stories that made it into the paper this week ahead of anything related to Ireland included: ‘Prince Harry to be best man, Pippa Midleton maid of honour’ and ‘3 women honored in Italy for best letters to Juliet’.

The National Post, a more overtly conservative publication than the others, has an AFP sourced article dated January 24 with the headline ‘Ireland in tatters as coalition falls apart’. The word ‘tatters’ is so ubiquitous at the moment that a group of my friends has taken away a syllable so that it becomes ‘tats’ (for example – “my car’s brakes are in tats”). Another article published online on January 24 is titled ‘Stagflation looms for Ireland’. There is perhaps no more scary verb in the English language than ‘to loom’; almost always used in a negative context, it gets the idea across that the sword of Damocles is hovering just above the scalp, ready to be released by some malign agent. Stagflation is the free market supporter’s idea of hell, the nadir of possible outcomes.

The Toronto Star’s most recent non-plane crash Ireland story is dated January 22 and comes with the headline ‘Irish prime minister resigns, plans to stay government (sic) until next election’. The fact that the paper missed the word ‘in’ in the headline probably shows how long it spent on the story. Stories that made it in this week ahead of the Irish election included: ‘Google unveils ‘Map your Valentine” and ‘First photograph of Prince Philip revealed’.

The only newspaper of the four to carry a story on Irish politics and economics was the Ottawa Citizen, which two days ago published an article titled ‘Irish parties pledge to re-negotiate EU-IMF bailout’. The article is accompanied by a rather sad, frustrated and lonely looking Brian Cowen.

And there you have it. Ireland really does not matter much at the moment. Our election is probably seen, if at all, as either boring or insignificant. Hence, it does not ‘make good copy’, as they say.

A beginning

February 3rd, 2011

There is probably a fine line between being bold and being naive, and I don’t quite know on which side of that line I now stand. An application for an online sports writing job has been sent, by me, to some email address hidden under a craigslist-given pseudonym. There is nothing to lose, I tell myself, even though I know that it would be a great and welcome surprise – “a miracle”, if I believed in such things – if I hear back from them, let alone actually get the job. Additionally, I just fired off three feature story ideas to the features, foreign and diary editors from The Irish Times. Fighting for the crumbs off the table.

And then there is my CV (a resume here is called a CV – “say vay” – by French speakers), which has an element of the Marge Simpsons about it.. When she asked Smithers what to do with a machine after getting a job in the nuclear power plant, Mr Burns’ camp sycophant says ‘Mrs Simpson, according to your resume you invented this machine.’ Now, I have not told fibs like that, but my stated trilingualism now demands that I bring my solid posh conversational French up (down?) to fluent Québécois French and that potential employers might be mildly impressed with the fact that I can speak Irish. Well, I could a few years ago anyway.

This is the blog of a 24 year-old Irish emigrant to Montréal, Québec, Canada. It’s going to be a blog about a writer-journalist-sub looking for work, hopefully finding some, and what he thinks about it all. Oh it’s all so terribly self-important, you say. Yes, this first post is, and for that I offer an apology couched in the language of well-it-couldn’t-be-any-other-way. This blog, though, is about an industry – the words industry. You won’t find it as a career category on job search sites, but it exists and has existed for millennia. Robert Harris, the brilliant English journalist-come-author, has in recent years published two novels written in the first person through the moniker of Tiro, Cicero’s servant and scribe. This was over 2,000 years ago, and Tiro’s main job was to research, write and express. His game was words, as is mine today.

Lots of people will tell you that this industry is dying, and they are right, but only if we think of the words and journalism industries as synonyms and only if we think of journalism as meaning newspapers. Are newspapers dying? Probably. Any young journalist should expect their undeniably rapid decline to be terminal and take any future change to this process as some sort of bonus. It’s a sort of dour yet Monty Python-esque always-look-on-the-bright-side-of-life mélange of attitudes. Most people in the business don’t seem to know for how long news and comment will continue to be produced and consumed via chemicals placed on dead trees; they may guess, but they don’t know.

Furthermore, journalism is moving and moving fast. If newspapers are on a permanent downward curve, it is primarily because of THE invention of our times, the Internet. News comes within minutes of the event, in some cases being consumed live like a Chinaman eating fish. Let’s play a little game. I’ll list some words that have been newsworthy recently and you count how many of them you first heard about in a newspaper: Egypt, Thierry Henry handball, Haiti, Chilean Miners, Michael Jackson, Icelandic volcano, flooding, Gulf oil spill. Get it? Most of us can understand the emotional sadness at the demise of some wonderful titles in recent years, but only the most conservative writers could call the move towards online journalism a bad thing in itself.

While one can’t really say that the words industry is in better health than ever, I propose that we don’t see the decline of newspapers as a decline in the industry itself. Think of it as a Venn diagram. We have all the jobs there are where one of the major responsibilities is to write and write well. Journalism is a subset, and within that subset is another called print, and within that is another called newspapers. While newspapers sell fewer copies and take in far less revenue through advertising than before, sales of iPads and Androids go up. As my late granddad used to say, “easy come, easy go.” And as the case of Tiro shows, the words industry gives writers the chance to work in areas that are not necessarily journalism. If Tiro was around today, we might think of him as a spokesperson for a political party; a sort of Alastair Campbell of the ancient world, but without the spite. Politics and online copywriting are just two of the many areas inside the words subset but outside the journalism subset.

This blog is more than just the musings of a young man who can’t quite figure out what he’s doing with his career, however. You, dear reader, will have to put up with me trying to figure out what this place is and what it means. In recent years I have developed an odd fascination with Canada, despite having spent only four days and three nights in the country. And that was in Vancouver, a couple of thousand miles away. I did my postgraduate dissertation on how federal politics is reported in two Québécois newspapers, La Presse and Le Devoir. I regularly stayed up until 3am in Dublin watching ice hockey on satellite television. I have only ever met one nasty Canadian, a rather loathsome girl from British Columbia who treated a good friend of mine terribly, and thus far she is the exception that has proved a rule – Canadians are fantastic people.