Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stanley Cup playoff update: the Finals

I was wrong. Unlike my prediction, Vancouver did not beat Boston in 6 games. Or 7 games, for that matter. In the few days that have passed since the biggest heartbreak in Canucks history (much bigger than 1994 or 2003), I have had time to reflect on the series itself, as well as some of the issues raised by this series. First, to discuss the actual hockey games that were played: this was the strangest Finals I have seen since...well, ever. It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde series for both teams: when Vancouver was on, they barely beat the Bruins; when they were not on, they got worked. It was a sweep that lasted seven games due to some great goaltending by Luongo and some timely contributions from the third line in Vancouver's first three home games. I think the bottom line was that the Bruins won the series as the better team, but I feel the need to clear a few things up along the way.

1. the "intangibles" (momentum and heart): It was weird how the Canucks had scored six goals all series and went into Boston leading 3-2, but it didn't seem out of sorts with the series at that point. Enough Canucks had stepped up, and they used their crowd to push through. I was fairly certain that Boston would win Game 6, and that how they won would determine Game 7. I was right: the Canucks looked done after the second goal of the four-goals-in-four-minutes onslaught in Period 1 of Game 6, and they never regained their composure. I can't remember the last time I saw a team go from the brink of victory to an impending and seemingly inevitable defeat so totally and so quickly. The Bruins took the series from that point on; as soon as they scored in Game 7, the Canucks deflated and imploded. They seemed to lose all motivation and desire to win, and that made the biggest difference.

2. Goaltending: Tim Thomas proved to be unbeatable, both in practice and psychology. He's the first goalie to win three Game 7s in one playoffs, and he won the last two by shutout. He let in eight goals in his last eight games. The Canucks couldn't compete with that. Although the entire fault does not rest on Luongo for the final two Canuck losses, he has to bear a lot of the blame for letting in the kind of goals that make it hard for a team to come back.

3. Offense/Special Teams/Defense: The Bruins thoroughly extinguished any advantage the Canucks had had coming into the series. And it wasn't even close. Not only could the Sedins not score, but they were repeatedly scored on. I think the play that signified the Canucks' woes was Bergeron's short-handed goal to go up 3-0 in Game 7. Not only did the Canucks not score the goal they needed; they let in the backbreaker.

4. Officiating: the refereeing was strange, to say the least. The Canucks had some grounds in any issues with the calls in the series, as there were some very questionable penalties on the Canucks and some significant missed calls on the Bruins throughout the series. But the best teams fight through the inequity and find a way to win, and Vancouver did not. They took it from the Bruins and the refs, as shown by Henrik allowing himself to be repeatedly punched in Game 7. His teammates didn't come to his rescue, refs be damned, and that's the story right there. But further to the refereeing on the ice was the oddity of NHL officials in their involvement, particularly in Rome's suspension after the Horton hit (which proved to be a huge catalyst for the Bruins). The hit was a little late, but not even really penalizable, much less subject to review by the league. It was subject to public scrutiny and poor timing, which meant that a hockey decision became a politicized one, and an unfortunate precedent to establish.

5. The riots: I feel like I need to weigh in on the riots. They were not related to the outcome of the game; win or lose, there were people who came prepared to incite a crowd to riot. It was an unfortunate blemish on a city that has done a great job for the past year and a half of hosting the Olympics, Paralympics, and now Cup Finals, and it does not reflect Vancouver or Canada.

So there you have it: my analysis of what actually happened to the Canucks. It will be an interesting off-season as they tweak their roster and identify the things that can push them over the top. I'm not sure that anything really needs to change, other than possibly bringing in a Recchi-esque veteran to help them over that hump, but the proof will be in the next season. I have a hunch that the chip on the Canucks' shoulders may be enough to make them even more dangerous all year, but time will tell.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Career crossroads

It's frustrating at times to be at this point in my career. I have two bachelor's degrees, three years of teaching experience, and my most recent year of casual employment, which includes substitute teaching and working as a semi-independent facilitator in an educational research project. I have an accomplished résumé for my age, and I have many significant work and volunteer experiences that have helped me to where I am today. But despite my myriad accomplishments, I am still at a crossroads in my career. Though I am searching a wide variety of jobs in the areas of education, communications, and ministry, I am limited by my training and experience to those fields. I have enough experience that I am not considered at a beginner's level, but I am not advanced enough that my experience allows me greater opportunities. I have to pursue jobs similar to the level at which I have worked because of my relative lack of experience as well as my lack of a graduate degree like an M.A. or an M.Ed. I have applied for positions in government, management, writing/editing, and non-profit organizations with limited response, and although I have not been applying for jobs outside of my skills or expertise, I have the feeling that my "ceiling" is considered lower than other candidates because of my level of experience. Of course, further complicating my career trajectory is our geographical location, which seems to be fixed for the foreseeable present; then again, I am not sure how much even a shift in location would change my current career standing, considering the dearth of educational positions in general. So, at this point, I have several options considering my circumstances. The least tenable option is that I could start over and switch careers, but I like my chosen path, despite the scarcity of employment, and the cost of receiving new training is distinctively prohibitive even if I could choose another field in which I wanted to pursue a career. I have already begun to expand my search as wide as it can be within my fields and training, so that takes care of a second option. I could pursue an M.A. or an M.Ed., though I have two concerns: the right fit for a program, and cost. If the right program is where I am, and I could find someone to pay for it, I would strongly consider fast-forwarding my plan and working toward a graduate degree; as it stands, I would find it difficult to invest in such an enterprise with my remaining level of student debt. My thought when I graduated was that I would likely wait until I had cleared out most of that debt (by my mid-30s) to pursue further education, and unless some magical money fairy gives me $20,000 earmarked for school, it does not look like that reality has changed. Of course, another option would be for me to take a job that requires no training, most of which are in the retail or service sectors. The problem I have with that is that, even with an increasing minimum wage, my wage would be half of what I earn as an educator. That means that for me to work half-time or casually as a teacher or teacher-on-call is still preferable to working a minimum wage job, thereby making such a decision more of a last resort than a viable option. So here I am, at a crossroads, but with a clear path laid out for me: the best option, it seems, is for me to remain on this road, continuing to pursue employment in education or a related field and filling in the financial and temporal gaps with casual employment until the right job comes up. I need to continue to find ways to engage in education so that I remain fresh and do not stagnate, but I also need to wait and see what happens. Then again, the last time that a transition into a new job or position was not sudden (ie. within a month) for me was my entry into university after high school. Since that point, any new position or endeavour I have taken has occurred rapidly, suddenly, and without personal precedent. So I will hope and wait and evaluate and synthesize and apply and learn and try and pray and express and work through and stop worrying and relax and enjoy the summer for what it will be: a time away from school. In the midst of everything that has happened, is happening, and could happen, I think that's what I need the most.

Ready for liftoff #U2360SEA

It's disarming how comfortable U2 seems to be living in paradox. They are simultaneously grandiose and intimate, humble yet ostentatious, technologically sophisticated yet spiritually deep. During their career, they have occupied many different places on the pendulum, but it seems that they have found an equilibrium point in the midst of all of the spectacle and sacrament (I use the word metaphorically here) of being U2. As always, the practical nature of this paradox was demonstrated in their concert at Qwest Field in Seattle. The set featured songs from each album in their career, and there were as many songs from the twenty-year-old album Achtung Baby as there were from their most recent release. Even the opening trio of songs featured songs written in 1991, 1979, and 2009, respectively. Some of the most poignant moments of the show occurred during "One" and "With or Without You", which each featured video of the members of the band from the years of recording those albums - an interesting juxtaposition with the band's current appearance and performance. As a result, the entire experience was intimate and personal, even in the midst of 70,000 fans. "Space" was a significant theme, with messages from an astronaut on the International Space Station as well as the pre- and post-show songs "Space Oddity" and "Rocket Man" and Bono's repeated references to their "space ship". Speaking of which, it's one thing to see the specs for the stage, or even to see it on DVD, but the stage is unbelievable in person. It is even more amazing to see how much the stage and multimedia presentation is an integral part of the performance, especially during the sequence of "Zooropa" through to "Sunday Bloody Sunday". It also continues to amaze me to see how their songs change and adapt to new contexts. I was particularly moved by the video introduction to "Sunday Bloody Sunday", which featured Arabic text and people superimposed over images of flags of Arabic nations. The song is as old as I am, but it is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.
So the big question, beyond the already-established reflections on U2 at this point in their career, is what the show meant to me. As the band played the opening notes of "Even Better Than The Real Thing", I began to tear up. The moment was itself not overly emotional, but I was overwhelmed with the experience nonetheless. In that moment, I realized all of the things I have worked through in the past year, and how life has changed for me, and how much God loves me, and how grateful I am to be where I am in life. Having my wife there with me, particularly in the more romantic moments during songs such as "Stay", "All I Want Is You" and even "With Or Without You", meant so much, especially in contrast to the personal pain I was working through when I last saw the band on the Vertigo Tour. "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" was maybe my favourite song of the night, though Bono's heartfelt performance on "Miss Sarajevo" also still stands out. But what got me most was how authentic the experience felt from what the band portrayed. They really have tried to remove the layers obscuring the connection with the audience, and they are connecting with us in new and exciting ways. When Bono concluded the set with "We love you!" and a round of hugs with the band, it was the real thing. We know they love us, and that's why they keep being U2. And that is simply magnificent.

Main Set: Even Better Than The Real Thing, I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Mysterious Ways, Elevation, It’s the End of the World as We Know It – Until the End of the World – Where Have All the Flowers Gone, All I Want Is You, Stay (Faraway So Close), Beautiful Day – Space Oddity, Pride, Miss Sarajevo, Zooropa, City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo, I’ll Go Crazy (remix) – Discotheque – Life During Wartime – Psycho Killer, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Scarlet, Walk On – You’ll Never Walk Alone

Encore(s): One, Will You Love Me Tomorrow – Where the Streets Have No Name – All You Need is Love, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, With or Without You, Moment of Surrender

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Life in 360°

Three more sleeps. As I am beginning to prepare for seeing the 360° tour in Seattle (geeking out over set lists, poring over recent concert reviews, listening through the discography, watching the tour DVD), I have begun to reflect on my life now as compared to my life the last time I saw U2, at GM Place in Vancouver on April 27, 2005 near the beginning of the Vertigo Tour. This time, it will be on the 7th leg of the tour, and it will be a very different experience, as it appears that the band has been exploring their 1990s catalog for songs; when I saw them last, their 1990s contributions were limited to "One" and "Zoo Station", "The Fly", and "Mysterious Ways" in the first encore. But the point of this post is not the concert itself; it's the kind of reflective analysis that a watershed moment like this provides me. It's interesting how in many ways I have come full circle in the past six years, and how I have some eerie similarities between my life now and my life then. In 2005, I had just finished a long year of school and ministry. I was in the midst of processing a huge life transition (a broken engagement), and I was entering a time of unemployment. I was not sure about what were my next steps to take in life, and I just needed to have some time away from my regular life. I am currently facing further unemployment and working through a huge life transition (staying in Victoria and finding employment), and I have had a full year of managing ministry at my church and my employment at various schools. The Vertigo tour was the first "vacation" I had taken in years at the time; going to Seattle this weekend is arguably my first vacation since then. Sure, I've done some travelling in the meantime (summers in Taiwan and the Bay Area, and two trips to Saskatchewan), but I haven't taken an opportunity like this to go somewhere with no agenda other than my own enjoyment. Even weirder is the fact that my vehicles have been involved in my ability to pay for each ticket: I had to sell my car in 2005 to pay for the tickets, whereas my 2011 tickets were affordable because I was rear-ended and am receiving a settlement. Of course, there are some significant differences: I am much more emotionally and financially stable this time, and I get to share the U2 concert experience with my wife. I do believe, though, that this is more than a show for me; just like in 2005, when I was able to see the experience of the Vertigo tour as a shifting point in my life as a whole, I believe that there is something more for me to gain as a result of this tour. After all, I still haven't found what I'm looking for, but I'm sure it'll be even better than the real thing.

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