Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Chain Reaction~

Sometimes events, after going their unrelated ways for years, collide, creating a climax that no one could have foreseen.

Five years ago a couple divorced, and a thirteen year-old boy transferred to one high school from another. He entered the new school after completing his freshman year at the old one.

The guidance counselor in the new school enrolled the boy as a freshman again. I don't know why. The boy didn't say, "Hey! I finished my freshman year. I should be a sophomore?" I don't know why.

Four years passed. The boy was now a senior, and played on his high school basketball team, my son's team. They fought hard for their victories, and when they lost, it was close, a sweaty push-and-shove game decided at the buzzer.

Toward the end of the season, the boy was dropped from the team. He'd failed classes, had unexcused absences, and he had never turned in a doctor's form. He broke rules. The coach enforced them. He couldn't play the last six games.

The team played on with a missing link, and ended the season with a last second basket, a three-pointer by my son. They'd earned a spot in the play-offs.

Then the boy appealed his record of absences-- he wanted to play in the play-offs-- and that's when the young vice principal, her second year on the job, discovered that the boy was in his fifth year of high school.

She knew the rule, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rule that says: after four years in high school, you are no longer eligible to play a sport. She called the MIAA to "self-report" the violation.

A divorce. A move. A mistake. A broken rule. An honest administrator. A rule enforced. The team forfeited seven of their wins to their opponents. A winning record became a losing one. Twelve members of the team lost their chance to play out the season in a final tournament.

Disappointment. Anger. Embarrassment. A lesson in honesty, even if it hurts. Each member of the team coped with disappointment in his own way. For my son, it's now baseball season. Life goes on.

But there is something-- a web of people, events, and situations-- that affects our lives. Things have been set in motion years ago that have yet to climax in our lives. Objects, once set in motion, remain in motion unless acted upon by an equal and opposing force.*

But you don't always see it coming.
* Law of Inertia: Isaac Newton- An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force. An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.

Here's the story in the The Enterprise

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Breaking the rules~

The bright sun and blue sky beckoned me to the beach. Despite temperatures only in the twenties, I grabbed my camera, hopped in my truck, and headed east.

Between looking for good pictures, I wanted to find a certain kind of beach stone that I'd taken a liking to. I'd brought home a small pile last spring after walking the beach with some friends.

I'd picked up a smooth pink stone banded round its center with a stripe of white quartz. "I love this," I'd said, and during our walk my friends stuffed striped stones in my pockets.

I'd returned home to a husband who didn't share my excitement.

"Look at these!" I said.

"Rocks with stripes." It was a flat statement.

"But don't you think they're kind of cool? This is going to be my next collection. Look at this one." I like emotion in my conversations. Bruce gives "just the facts, M' am."

"Are we going to have these all over the house now?" he asks in an aggrieved tone, as If I *have* "things all over the house."

"Why would I put rocks "all over the house?" I ask. In a huff, I take my rocks and arrange them in a basket on my desk. I really like them, but every time I look at them I remember Bruce's reaction.

Today in addition to twenty pictures of a wintry beach, I came home with eight stones.

Choosing them was hard. At first I pocketed any stone with a stripe. I filled the pockets of my ski jacket with icy stones.

Then I set a standard for my picks: small enough to be cupped in my palm, the stripe had to circumscribe the rock, and it had to be more that a pencil line wide. I dumped some back onto the beach. Then I gave myself permission to break my own guidelines. Some rule breakers were best of all, like the big one I found when I'd stopped looking.

Some rules were made to break. Especially my own.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Off and on~

Bruce and I went out to eat at a nice little restaurant. Freida's. It's been around for years, well recommended, a family owned place. Not upscale, but nothing I'd be ashamed to take my city friends to. There are entrees with weird, sophisticated names, fried ravioli as a choice of pasta, spinach, garlic and feta cheese as ingredients, gourmet desserts, a long list of after dinner coffees laced with choices from the bar. . . . and two TVs over the bar, but it's middle class place not trying to be uppity.

At our dimly lit table, I pulled out my glasses to peruse the menu. The waitress saw me squint. "Oh, honey, do you need more light?"

"This is fine," I said. But she took my menu and swatted the light fixture on the wall with it. The light came on. Brightly.

She left, and we exchanged raised eyebrow looks with the women at the next table. "I wonder if she hits her husband to turn him on," said Bruce. We laughed.

The light blinked slightly. I stood up and gently screwed the bulb in more tightly. Smugly, I said to our neighbors, "All she needed to do was tighten it."

But the bulb continued to blink intermittently. On for a minute, off for ten seconds. On for five seconds, then off for a minute. "That's okay, one of the women said to me, as if I was orchestrating the light's rhythm. Leave it alone. Where we work a little thing like a blinking light doesn't bother us."

"Oh, you must be teachers, " I said.

"No, we work for the court."

The court must be worse than a classroom, because the light definitely bothered me. But they said, leave it alone. Bruce said, leave it alone. The man and woman on the other side of us cringed when the light blinked off, and blinked wildly when it came on. They looked annoyed. I got tense, and took a big swallow of my Merlot. And another.

Then the light went out. And stayed out. For over two minutes. No one seemed to notice, but me. I relaxed with my wine, and waited for our weirdly named entrees to arrive.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What were you doing?

What were you doing at 10:15 a.m. on February 22?

Here's what I did. I'd dropped my truck off for an oil change slightly before 10:00, and walked to the Better Bean coffee shop in center of town, lugging my laptop in a briefcase slung over my shoulder. By 10:15, I had my vanilla latte and toasted raisin bagel spread with cream cheese, my laptop was booted up, and I was settling in to finish writing a story for the paper.

At the same time, I later learned, a neighbor of mine was in the middle of a conference call from her home. She couldn't hear over the barking of her dog, so she shut herself in a bedroom to muffle the noise. She looked out the window overlooking her porch, then said to those on the other end, "I'll have to call you back, My house is on fire. Can you take over, Matt?"

Two women who live within a half mile of each other: One spent a comfortable hour and a half in a coffee shop. The other spent that same hour and a half watching her house burn. This is life. We take turns sharing the good and the bad.

If you don't remember what you were doing at 10:15 a.m. on February 22, it was probably good. We remember the bad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fondling my muse~

The only fondling I do these days, if you don't count the cat, is in my fantasies. Nice as that is, I'm lucky that my muse fondles me. Sometimes he gently wakes me in the night, with a thought or a fading dream, but usually he awakens me early in the morning with a muselike kiss, an idea which is too good to risk losing by falling back to sleep.

I always listen to him. If I'm too tired, or if I've neglected to leave a notebook and pen beside the bed, I repeat the thought to myself until I fall back to sleep. This is no guarantee I will remember it when I'm ready to get up. Sometimes I drag myself out of bed to my desk, and scratch out the words in the dark, hoping I'm on a blank page; sometimes in the light of day, I see I've written over another entry.

Because I've come to expect my muse to visit, and I've come to trust him, I have notebooks full of his nudges-- observations, images, questions, leads to a story I'm working on-- just waiting for me to use them. Good stuff. Inspiration. Thoughts culled from the swirl of my subconsious undercurrent by my insistent muse.

Now it's a matter of time. I owe it to my muse to put his offerings to use, lest he back off, offended that I'm letting his ideas lie fallow. Something always intervenes, and grabs my time and attention. So far my muse is patient. But I'm not.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The trials of a cable TV diva~

Being friendly and somewhat chatty, having opinions and a willingness to express them--tactfully, for the most part-- and showing a propensity for asking significant questions, I was "discovered" by local cable TV. Or rather, discovered by the producer of a weekly cable broadcast.

With no claim to fame, other than keeping up with town politics because I write for the local paper, I got a call from the producer, Greg, after we'd met at a cookout. Would I be willing, he asked, to appear on "Around the Table," a forum for "civil discourse" on issues that affect our town?

Always one to push beyond my comfort zone, I agreed. Never having seen the program, I assumed that I might have an audience of ten, and what was the worst that could happen? I'd appear once, and quietly disappear, never to be seen on cable TV again. Not too scary, since 99.9 percent of the town would not have seen me in the first place.

My debut was painless. I forgot the camera while our panel of four sat around the kitchen table in the host's home. Lights hung from the cabinets, the microphone centerpiece, and the TV on a tripod by the back door, faded into the background for sixty minutes. It was invigorating, challenging, and fun. I couldn't wait to watch the taped show the next day.

There I was-- friendly, chatty, expressing my opinions tactfully and asking wonderfully significant questions! I was also blinking like I had something in my eye, both eyes. Apparently I blink when I listen. Who knew? Oh, and I lick my lips, more than is attractive, I saw. There I was, blinking and tongue flicking, like a freaking lizard. I was appalled.

On return visits-- I was asked back because women who are willing to appear on cable are hard to come by, Greg told me, I controlled the blinking, and slathered on long-lasting lipstick to control the need to wet my lips too frequently. Later, I worked to eliminate my habit of biting my bottom lip when thinking, at least while being taped, and learned which seat presented my best view to the camera. I discovered the best spot for the camera lights to erase the early morning bags under my eyes. All while the producer asumed I was focused exclusively on the discussion. Multi-tasking at its finest.

I was on again today. Up early, showered, dressed with 30 minutes 'til showtime, I couldn't find my make-up. It wasn't any of the normal places it turns up when I misplace it. A look in the mirror convinced me. I jumped in the car, headed for CVS to get the basics. Forty three dollars later, I sat in the parking lot and put on a layer of confidence. I knew it wouldn't matter to anyone but, me. No one would notice one way or other. The quality of the tape is far from high-def. But still . . . it's the little things that make a difference. And .1 percent of a potential 25,000 viewers is enough of a fan base for me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Snow and Roses~

The meteorologists are in their glory. For the first time in this long Massachusetts' winter, there is a storm flexing its muscle on their radar screens. And to top it off, it is poised to hit on Valentine's Day. How poignant. Florists are jumping into the frenzy, offering floral deliveries early. Snow should never deprive someone's sweetheart of her roses, nor the florist of his seasonal cash.

I'm trying to keep my own excitement in check. I'd love a day off, a no school day! The kind of day to bring a cup of tea and the morning paper back to bed, while the wild winds howl. The kind of day to skip the gym, and get exercise shoveling the driveway, and bringing in wood for the wood stove. The kind of day to bake brownies, and get to lick the bowl because the one kid still at home is not interested any more. And if he were, he'd give it to me anyway. He's that kind of a son. Never mind that it will be winter vacation in four days. I prefer serendipity.

I try to stay realistic. I live in the changing to sleet and rain part of the weather map. I've been disappointed too often by overly zealous forecasts. I've spent too many winter nights in fitful sleep, waking to listen for the rumble of snowplows, only to see the blades of grass standing tall in an inch of snow. I've grumbled about never paying attention to the weatherman again!

But I do pay attention, I listen a little, skeptically, but still, I listen. And I keep my fingers crossed that realism will be thwarted, this time. The Valentine's Day gift I want is a day off.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Anna and the hairspray~

Two days ago I had the privilege of interviewing a woman for a profile piece in the local paper. Anna. She's a hairdresser in a small two-chair shop she owns.

Born in Italy, she's retained a strong accent despite thirty years in the US. That day, while I waited for my turn, she cut the hair of an Italian man. She lapsed in and out of her native tongue so quickly that her words blended in a mixture I found hard to decipher. When finished, she powdered his neck and brushed off the stray hairs and then dispensed the hug she gives her male clients. They've come to expect it.

Then it was my turn for the chair. I watched her in the mirror, keeping track of what her newly hired hairdresser was doing. She watched, chatted, and answered the phone while she wielded her scissors to cut my hair expertly, if not a bit shorter than I wanted.

I returned later in the day, when her appointments were done, with a coffee for each of us. We sat on a leather couch in a small alcove off the shop where late afternoon sun poked me in the eye. I chose to ignore it. Anna spent an hour telling the tale of her fifty years.

Now that I've heard it, it seems too personal for a column in a local paper. How can I publish 1000 words that capture her pain and anger, and subsequent growth? How can I print a story that brought tears in the retelling? She offered the truth; I will be careful with it.

When she was through talking, she wiped her eyes and stood to hug me. She looked at her shelf of hair products and pulled something off to give me, a token for my empathic listening, I assumed. When I got out to my truck, I looked more closely at my gift. A can of hairspray; Big Sexy Hair, it was called. Well, my hair has never been big, and it was even less so that day after she cut it. As for sexy, maybe if I spray some on . . . like magic, I'll have sexy hair.

So You Want to Write Profiles?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Only the beginning~

I'm not sure I should do this. Publish a blog, I mean.

It always struck me as hopelessly exibitionist. But no one knows of my existence here, except for my muse, I hope. So I'll enter the land of the blogger slowly until I'm ready to open to the world.