Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Change I can believe in

I've never met an extremist that
I didn't distrust
Remember the last line of The Who song, "Won't get fooled again"? It's one of the biggest political statements ever made in a song, as far as I'm concerned. And a great reminder that pride does goeth before the fall.

"Meet the new boss; same as the old boss."

I might be a bit of a Pollyanna and I admit that. I have this crazy idea that political and social change can happen without violence and rage. Would it have happened in Egypt without the loss of life and military intervention? In a history wrought with war and political oppression, probably not.

However, I would like to think that the US is different. It took a war for the US to become its own country. It was a war for independence from a country whose interest was purely financial.

And it took another war to keep the country together. Though the Civil War was also fueled by financial interests, the government fought to keep the country whole.

When I listen to the Tea Partiers say that they are like the founding fathers, I shake my head. If the founding fathers were here today, they would disagree with groups who use their words to dismantle the very infrastructure they fought so hard to create. Jefferson's slave-owning notwithstanding, the founding fathers were much more liberal for their times than the Tea Partiers are in today's times.

During angry town hall meetings that allow citizens to listen to and talk with US representatives, I am always amused by the way the radical right uses these opportunities to talk (or rather, yell) more than listen. A professor of mine said once, "No one ever learned anything by talking." And that is so true.

What is so scary about listening when you disagree with someone? Is it fear that your opinion might be changed? Is changing your opinion based on fact or thoughtful discourse a bad thing?

The most volatile people on the planet are those whose opinions are cast in stone. Do they view consistency of opinion as a strength? Emerson said: "The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them."

Personally, I reserve the right to change my opinion on a strongly-held belief every day. I have been reasoned out of a stance but only through thoughtful discussion. Never with rage. Once the volume rises, I stop listening.

That volume works sometimes as we witnessed recently in Egypt. Their government was (and will likely be) based upon controlling the masses more than instituting civil and human rights. For me, the jury is still out on the type of change the protesters will end up with. I would like to think of my own country as an environment that welcomes change provided it is achieved with civility and democracy.

If the Tea Partiers have their way, I worry about the loss of civility and reason. I don't want to live in a country that makes its decisions and drives change through rage, closed minds, closed ears, and revisionist history.

I guess I always look at change with an eye on the slippery slope of political movements and how power changes what might have started as a noble vision.

Are we about to meet that "new boss" with the Tea Party movement? And, more importantly, is anyone in that movement paying attention to history?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spring starts with Spring Training

With Spring Training around the corner, I've been thinking about my beloved Red Sox a lot. My first published column ran in the Lowell Sun on October 31st, 2007 -- a day or two after the Sox won the 2007 World Series. It isn't in their online archives so I share it here. GO SOX!

Okay, I admit it. I once thought that Red Sox fans were as clueless as the game they love.

I grew up with a football coach for a grandfather, so that sport was in my DNA. My ideal athlete was the quarterback, connecting with a receiver under real threat of death. To me, other sports seemed like games, and I thought baseball players were wimps. In football, they don't let a broken neck slow them down, yet baseball players are out for eight games with a “muscle pull”. I thought the game moved at the pace of underwater square dancing, its only excitement easily encapsulated in 30 seconds’ worth of highlights on the news.

My poor family and friends had to endure my rolling eyes every time they talked about the Sox. Then there were my usual snide comments about baseball being a game about who could wear the most gold chains and still hit a ball. They persisted and preached but to no avail.

Then it happened. My husband was watching the game where Clay Buchholz was going for a no-hitter while I was reading the paper. I looked up occasionally to hear what all the cheering was about and asked a couple of questions about baseball stats before returning to my paper. The next night this kid Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ball out of the park and I thought, hmmm, there’s that game again. I guess I could watch just a few plays. That won’t mean I’m a baseball fan. It’s just curiosity.

Something clicked and I started watching every game. In no time I went from being a naysayer to trying to convert other non-baseball fans with the same sort of fanaticism normally reserved for ex-smokers. I realized that jumping off the couch to scream “No, not Gagne!” is no different from fourth and goal when you’re yelling at the quarterback to pass.

I still think that football is the greatest sport of all time. But after watching Josh Beckett for the last two months, I now realize what amazing athletes baseball players are. Could Tom Brady throw a football 97 mph? If he did, could anyone catch it? And could those two skills converge almost every play of the game?

Then there’s the psychology of baseball. The daunting stare of Dice-K to a nervous batter just before he swings at the night air. Or a fastball that’s hit out of the park that the pitcher never thought anyone could touch. If that’s not like playing head games with your opponent on fourth and goal, I don’t know what is.

So there I was, staying up way too late at night to watch the World Series. I was wrong about baseball and can’t wait to tell old friends that I have seen the light. I think how wonderful it is that I don’t have to go without sports for seven months after the Super Bowl. And there’s another plus. Family members who complain that they never know what to give me now have a plethora of ideas. Let’s see. Do I want Pedroia’s or Beckett’s Red Sox jersey for Christmas? How about a bobblehead Manny for my car? Irish jig lessons?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Birthdays and Boston cream pie

Today's my birthday. Most people my age are already dreading the next number. As if dread makes getting older easier.

A friend said once, "The only option to growing old is dying young. And I like that option a whole lot less." To which I add, "Any day with cake is a good day." My favorite cake (if you can call it that) is Boston cream pie and my husband has one in the refrigerator just waiting for an after-dinner seranade of "Happy Birthday to you."

I wanted to be a grown up since I was about 8 years old. Couldn't wait to be part of every conversation because I was old enough to hear it all. When I was in my 20s I longed for my independence.

There is still something special about having my own kitchen where only my husband and I know what's hidden behind each cabinet door. I love standing on my deck in the summer and looking out at our wooded property knowing that this is our own private piece of the planet.

The 50th danceathon
When I turned 50 two years ago, I threw myself a huge dance party and invited a zillion people. It was a simple affair -- pretzels on the table and enough birthday cake to feed an army. I danced to every single song for four hours. I couldn't even get out of bed the next day because I was so achy. 

A lot of my friends who turned 50 that year mostly hid from the number. Some had small gatherings but I believe I was the only one with a blowout party. 

I felt like celebrating life with my loved ones and used my birthday as an excuse. The DJ played all of my favorite music that I find myself dancing to in the driver's seat. I don't believe I've ever had that much fun -- except for maybe my wedding day. And I was able to have so many special people there in one place. Introducing people and seeing them chat is the best part of a big party. We talk about our friends and families to others but they rarely get a chance to meet. What a treat it was for me to see folks mingle.

My mom turned 80 last week and we had the greatest celebration. It was "just" the immediate family but it was a special event at her favorite restaurant. With last August's cancer diagnosis we didn't think she'd be with us for her 80th. So there was an abundance of joy that overflowed and created a special evening. After my brother made a toast, my mom raised her glass again and said, "Here's to 81!".

Mom and I obviously share the same attitude about age. Every year is a gift. And every birthday is a reason to celebrate being here.

And let's not forget that Boston cream pie in the refrigerator.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is it possible to communicate too much?

The Springer Rescue group which does most
of its communicating over the internet.
There are times that I'm a bit of a social reactionary. I like to have some peace and quiet and miss the Westford I moved to 13 years ago. Even though the area around my property hasn't changed, the traffic on my street has certainly increased. I also miss simple things like the sound of a rake and a push mower, and the slow hissing of steam radiators on a blustery night.

When I poke around consignment shops, I see reminders of a simpler time--rotary phones that needed half as many numbers dialed to connect but took twice as long to dial; typewriters with well-worn keys and a broken carriage return; Super 8 film projectors that made a hypnotic clack-clack-clack sound as the family watched home movies projected on the wall with the lights turned off.

We replaced those clunky old devices with slick, mostly-quiet electronic masterpieces. We lost the familiar and replaced it with something better--speed. I spend a fair amount of time with teens because of the youth group I co-lead and also my "aging" niece and nephews. I'm hip to all the new gadgets and use a lot of them.

Some of my friends and family members roll their eyes when I check my email from my phone, some even roll their eyes when I talk about email. Those folks say that the world has gotten too complicated and we can only communicate over the airwaves now.

Okay. I can live with some of that. I can sometimes use my phone to get lost in my own world. When I'm waiting for an appointment, I play with my phone instead of chatting up the person next to me. I can see that, at times, I reach out less to strangers.

However, I also have to consider the other side of the coin. Because of email and social networking apps, I find that I have more friends and connect with them more frequently.

I'm not a talking-on-the-phone person. Most of my friends know that. If you want to connect with me and it's not an emergency, use the computer. I like that I can correspond when it's convenient and use language that is maybe more carefully chosen than it would be if I'm rushing out the door. I get together with people quite a bit but almost always arrange that over email.

To those who say that the internet is impersonal and takes us away from making meaningful connections, I say, "Try it."

Thanks to social networking sites, I have connected with long-lost friends and rekindled friendships that would have been gone forever otherwise. I've gotten closer to cousins that I would only see at weddings and funerals. I can see pictures of friends and family who live out of state and feel like I'm there.

I have also formed friendships because of email. For example, over four years ago, I sent an email to a local political analyst whose work I always admired. That email turned into a friendship that has seen us reach out to each other at times of great sadness, tease each other about our idiosyncrasies, and meet up at a concert of a favorite band. He has been a mentor and supporter of my writing since I first began my publishing journey. We have met in person only twice but that doesn't change the fact that we call each other "friend."

If I had to guess, I would have to say that those people would not be in my life now had there been no internet. My circle of treasured humans has expanded. And anytime I need a laugh or a pick-me-up, I look back at old emails they've sent to me just as I would a letter I saved. The difference is, there are more emails than there would have been letters.

Every generation has its form of communication. Before the computer, there was the telephone. Before the telephone, there was the mail. Before the mail, there were smoke signals.

I'd like to think that we improve our communication as we evolve. Our ways to communicate have expanded even though our civility in communication hasn't always followed. But that's a blog post for another day. And you can find it right here, on the internet.