25th Trillium Award

More Ping Pong for More Literacy

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A few posts ago, I spoke with writers Jeff Latosik, Howard Akler, Elyse Friedman, and David Seymour about their ping pong team, Balls, Baby, Balls, which will compete in the Pongapalooza championship on May 8 to raise money for children’s literacy.

The first half of our interview was co-operative, meaning that I asked straightforward questions with the aim of getting straightforward answers, and the writers supplied these without fear of penalty.

By contrast, this half of the interview was competitive, unfolding with all of the sweaty-palmed drama of a genuine ping pong match.

The interview worked like this: The four writers split up into teams of two (doubles). Team 1 consisted of David Seymour and Howard Akler. Team 2 was Jeff Latosik and Elyse Friedman.

I posed the same two questions to each team. Each team had the option to respond collaboratively, using “we” (a bad idea in ping pong, but occasionally acceptable on the page), or to divvy up the questions and use “I.”

As in ping pong, the teams were competing for points, glory, and, chiefly, audience entertainment.

Here are the results:

HG: I did not know this, but it turns out table tennis has been a summer Olympic sport since 1988. Is there a lesson for writers in the way people like me underestimate ping pong despite its status as a world-class pastime?

HA, on behalf of Team 1: True, many North Americans think of ping pong as something emanating solely from their parents’ rec room, but it is a huge money sport in Asian and Western European countries.

It's not really a lesson but maybe a suggestion that ping pong is the right game for writers: the rhythm of the game—that lulling yet intense back-and-forth—is a lot like working a sentence over, getting into the flow of it, finding the music of it. [Lovely. Educational. Ten points.]

EF and JL, speaking in chorus on behalf of Team 2: We think you’re onto something, Helen. Just because ping pong is a thing teens messed around with in basements in the 1970s/80s, it doesn’t mean there’s not a measure of difficulty or an art to it. In fact, we think there are other “underestimated” rec room activities that ought to be eligible for medal recognition, for example:

  • Making out on a pile of coats in the furnace room with Drew Woollings for several hours without contracting an STD or getting pregnant.
  • Successfully threading your friend’s dad’s Super 8 porn film through your parents home-movie projector and watching it almost the whole way through before it gets stuck in the gate and ignites.
  • Contacting “the other side” with a ouija board and a three-category point system for how much you lose your shit when your cat starts meowing.
  • Stealing one of your friend’s dad’s CANNED Labatt Ices, splitting it between three people and then making a difficult decision about whether you should act drunk to emphasize the accomplishment or not act drunk to emphasize how much you drink ALL THE TIME, which you don't because you’re twelve.

[I am sure the IOC would be thrilled to hear your suggestions. Ten points, mainly for the otherworldly meowing and the deft character sketch of this “friend’s dad.”]

HG: What was your favourite book as a child? (You can be revisionist about your past, if you feel it would make your answer more exciting.)

DS, on behalf of Team 1:The Ogimura Seminar of Table Tennis by Dell Sweeris. It was a pamphlet, really, but it offered up sumptuous morsels of wisdom gleaned from Ogimura during his visit to North America in '68, a time of radical change in the art and politic of ping pong. To this day I rely on Dell's words for inspiration:

Speed is said to have a definite value. Spin does not possess this quality. Therefore Ogimura suggested that we build our game pattern around this principle. This is so that we may decide the game for ourselves and not have to depend on the opponent's mistakes all the time. It is better to be speed crazy than spin crazy!
—Dell Sweeris, 1968

Life is a carnival? Life is a ping pong match.

[I do not fully understand, but I get the sense that many subtle jokes have taken place, possibly at my expense. Twelve points, plus an additional five points for supplying the excellent photo of Dell Sweeris which illustrates this blog post.]

EF and JL, speaking in chorus on behalf of Team 2: Since our favourites were Anne of Green Gables and The Lord of the Flies, we figure the ultimate children’s book would either be Anne of the Flies (after being stranded on a deserted Prince Edward Island with her cronies, Anne—busy imagining that she is a wood nymph—lets the signal fire burn out and all the so-called kindred spirits set upon her with bare hands and teeth), OR The Lord of Green Gables (orphans Ralph, Piggy and Jack brighten the lives of widow Marilla and her brother Matthew when they come to live in their modest farm house, but soon the evil within all men rears its head and they set upon Marilla and Matthew with bare hands and teeth).

[I am placing a request at the library immediately. One hundred and two points, with bare hands and teeth.]

Once again, please consider coming to see these sinewy wristed machines of backhanded wit play actual ping pong. Spectator tickets are cheap, and the money goes to a very good cause.

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