Saturday, December 31, 2005

Snow Tonight, or Does a Mother Ever Stop Worrying?

A light snow is falling as I write this. The snows of early December have finally melted and the ground is bare, but that will soon change. Before dark, just as the snow began, I took Cosmo out to the backyard and let him romp around on the grass. An eight-pound poodle, he can (literally) run circles around me. He seemed joyously oblivious of the flurries around him and blissfully unaware that this would be his last daylight sniff of 2005.

The problem with New Year's Eve is that it occurs in winter. So snow and ice are always possible, even probable, here in New England. And the problem with snow and ice on New Year's Eve is obvious--driving, drinking, sliding, skidding.

I thought I had things worked out pretty well this year, though. Eric and I will be close to home, just a few blocks away. (I would feel better if Eric had put the snow tires on his rear-wheel-drive car, but hey, if we get stuck at the bottom of our hill, we can always hike up.) As for older son Aaron, he's in New York City and will be ringing in the New Year on the Upper East Side, where it probably won't be cold enough to snow, and anyway, he doesn't have a car.

Then there's Alex, the younger. I thought he was under control, too. Control? you might well ask. Whose control? At twenty, he's not amenable to mine. But his plan was okay with me--he'd head to a party at his friend Max's house in Cambridge and, since he would be drinking, it was understood that he wouldn't be driving. Instead, he'd spend the night at Max's and come home in the morning.

But the best laid plans, etc. etc. I wandered into Alex's room after walking Cosmo and couldn't miss the pile of used tissues on his desk.

"Got the sniffles?" I asked, hoping it was an allergic reaction to the Mexican food he'd had for lunch. But no, it was as I feared. Alex said he wasn't feeling so great--sore throat, stuffy nose, your basic cold.

"I think I might come home early tonight," he said. I glanced out the window. Snowflakes danced in the fading light. Visions of slippery roads glistened in my mind's eye.

So, what's a mother to do? Well, being the kind of mother who has a hard time separating unless she's made sure her children are aware of all possible impending dangers, I stated the obvious. I reminded Alex that my car, which he'd be borrowing, wasn't as snow-worthy as his old Toyota. I warned him that the roads would be slick, that drunk drivers would abound, that he should "DRIVE CAREFULLY." I almost ended with my standard apologia--It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that it makes me feel better to know I've warned you. But, remembering the pained expression on his face the last time I tried to explain myself that way, I left the words unsaid.

I know the ice sculptures at First Night in Boston will be gorgeous on this frigid, snowy night. And inside, at parties across the Commonwealth, warm fires and plenty of champagne will bring a rosy glow to the faces of revelers. And I believe Alex is a careful driver who won't drink if he's going to drive. Still, I'll be praying it all turns to rain.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Johnny Damon, Samson Redux?

Everyone (in New England, at least) is pondering this burning question: Why did Johnny Damon leave the Red Sox? Sure, the Yankees coughed up the big bucks, but why did the Sox let it happen?

Sportscasters and fans alike are racing to assign blame. It's all Larry Lucchino's fault--clueless Larry, had to be told by the media that a deal with the Yankees had been reached. No, it's those hapless co-managers, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, galloping around like headless horsemen, ineffectual without the wise counsel of Theo Epstein. Or why not blame Theo himself? If he'd sucked it up and accepted the Red Sox offer, all would have been smooth sailing. Johnny's hair would still be waving in the Fenway breeze and the Sox could still laugh in the face of the Yankees vaunted lineup.

Sure, it's fun (in a masochistic Red-Sox-fan kind of way) to figure out who's at fault in our latest off-season fiasco. But maybe we're asking the wrong question. Face it, Johnny's gone. It's a done deal. We need to look to the future. We need to look to Johnny Damon's hair. It's all coming off! And his unshaven face will soon be baby smooth. This is the price the Philistine Steinbrenner exacts from those who would be Yankees. This is the price Johnny will so casually pay. Here's the real question we need to ask: Will Johnny be the same without his hair? Or, like the biblical Samson, will our formerly wild and crazy center fielder lose his power when he loses his locks? I'm counting on it.

This story has all the elements of a biblical tragedy. Our team's great savior, the rock star of Red Sox nation, lusts after the fame and fortune to be found in Yankee pinstripes. He betrays his team, crosses over to the dark side, sure that he'll equal in greatness those who graced Yankee center field before him--DiMaggio, Mantle, Williams. He loves his long hair, but he's willing to sacrifice it, not realizing that along with his silken tresses will go his charisma, his attitude, his baseball persona. And maybe, his talent. Imagine Damon leading off at bat, whiffing, distracted by the lack of hair under his helmet. Picture him making a sliding catch in the outfield, his unprotected cheek abraded as he slams into the ground. These things could happen and there's no telling their effect on Johnny.

Okay, so I'm just another heartbroken Red Sox fan, once again forced to watch a beloved team member join the hated Yankees. I'm reduced to grasping at straws, hoping for a miracle of biblical proportions, praying that Johnny Damon won't lead the Yankees to yet another World Series victory.

One final note: Johnny Damon is an excellent exemplar of famosity. He's a guy whose fame as an athlete has filled him with a sense of self-importance. Behold his words to sports reporter Dan Roche of CBS4 Boston: "A good leadoff hitter is tough to find, and I think that New York just found the best leadoff hitter in the game." Still, such hubris might be forgiven and even considered endearing, if only Johnny were still playing for the hometown team.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Gathering of the Crows

Late afternoon, the day before winter's solstice. Sky bluish-pink, snow whitish-blue. From the window of my study, high on a hill, I watch the crows swoop down, settle like black leaves on bare tree limbs. Hundreds dot the cold, dusky air, inhabit the landscape. It's a noisy conclave, resounding with caws and strange crow clicks. Then eerie silence as they seem to wait, poised for some signal, mysterious to me.

Crows no longer come here in summer. Since the invasion of West Nile, mockingbirds and blue jays have usurped their realm. But today the crows have mustered their forces and gathered in vast numbers, as if to assert their dominion over the coming winter.

The light fades, the wind shifts, one among them makes a decision, and they all lift off into the twilight, pervading the world with their triumphant cries.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cyber Relationships, or the Art of Intimate Anonymity

What I love most about the Internet is that I can get things done without having to interact with another human being in person or on the phone.

I’ve always been an anxious phone caller. As a kid, I’d beg my mother to call the doctor, dentist, or teacher for me. And I dreaded having to do errands at the corner candy store. Buying cigarettes for my mom (legal at the time) embarrassed me no end. These days, although I can log hours talking to friends on the phone, I retain a residue of my early anxiety when I have to make a business call. And I still hesitate before entering a store with a request.

It’s so much neater and cleaner to handle things on the web. Literally. No newsprint all over my fingers when I read newspapers online, plus I can access news from around the world. With my son Alex in London this past semester, I regularly read the London Times, the Guardian, even the Financial Times. When riots started in France, I read Le Monde in (weird but entertaining) translation. And no more crossed-out, illegible crossword puzzles for me. Doing them online is so much more satisfying.

A couple of years ago, while looking for a writing workshop to join, I discovered the world of online classes. I found a terrific memoir-writing class, with lectures and discussions directly on the web, plus email access to all the class members. The best part—it was 24/7. I could check in any time I felt like it. The class also featured a weekly live chat online, which turned out to be its weakest aspect—with the opportunity to enter into discussion any time, meeting in real time wasn’t especially appealing to the group. After the first week, live chats were poorly attended. Another great feature of the class—members were from all over the world, from London, Malta, and Hong Kong, as well as various states.

After that first class, I “attended” several more online workshops. I relished the anonymity. I could let people “see” as much of me as I wanted, but not necessarily all of me. And when participating in discussions, I could edit my comments until they expressed exactly what I wanted to say before submitting them to the group. No more wishing I could take back some stupid observation. Now I just edited it out. I’d never felt so articulate in a class before.

As in any live class, in my online classes I gravitated toward particular individuals and found some real kindred spirits. One person in a fiction class asked if I wanted to keep exchanging short stories after the ten-week class officially ended. Although I liked her and admired her work, I felt leery of embarking on a one-to-one relationship. It seemed like I’d lose my precious anonymity—she’d get to know me too well.

But during a subsequent class, this one on writing poetry, I was again approached (via email) by a class member whom I’d gotten to like and whose work I enjoyed reading. She proposed that she and I, along with a third person in the class, continue to workshop our poems independently. We could keep up the helpful structure of deadlines and writing critiques, she said, but we wouldn’t have to pay. An excellent point. We agreed to submit poems only once a month, rather than weekly as we’d done in class, and I signed on.

My cyber poetry buddies were far flung, Bonnie from Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula and Cheryl from the Jersey shore. We knew nothing about one another other than what we revealed in our poems. It was fantastic—poetry in a pure vacuum. Over time, bits and pieces about our lives did emerge. Cheryl emailed to apologize for a delay in her critique, saying she'd been on vacation. Bonnie wrote a poem about the death of a young girl’s father, then revealed (in responding to our comments) that her daughter’s ex-husband had been killed in a car crash. From that I gleaned also that Bonnie was a grandmother.

Still, it was all very sketchy. We continued in this liberating anonymous vein for almost a year. Then Cheryl sent a fateful email. She reflected how amazing it was that we’d maintained our cyber relationship for months, yet knew so little about one another. She wondered in her email what would happen if we shared more information about ourselves. While I was mulling that one over, Bonnie took the bull by the horns and sent a lengthy email telling us her life story.

There it was. The genie was out of the bottle, no turning back. Almost before I could press send/receive, Cheryl responded with her story, and a photo! Instead of a wispy brunette, as I’d imagined, she was a big, brassy, blond! With growing trepidation, I typed out the story of my life and sent it into the ether, complete with the most flattering photograph I could find.

Self-consciousness had entered my cyber world. Now I worried about looking good for these ladies. They knew who I was! And maybe they’d want us to meet. Not a cyber meeting, but a real one, at the continental divide or some other poetically symbolic locale. I told myself to stop being irrational, that nothing had really changed. But everything had.

After the flurry of email autobiographies and photographs, things quieted down and seemed to return to normal. We sent off our poems to one another on the first of the month and our critiques within the next couple of weeks. But then Cheryl emailed us with the good news that she’d sold her house. After all, we now knew all about the house she’d been renovating with her husband, so of course we’d want to know that she'd sold it. And I confided my fears about Alex being in London after the bombings there last July. Why not? We were friends, weren’t we?

But our poems were suffering. That month, Cheryl submitted an older one, not having had time (in a month) to write something new. And Bonnie told us she was working hard on a novel, with little time left over for poetry. As for me, I eked out a poem, but it was uninspired. The muse had deserted me.

Just last week, as our little group's year anniversary approached, I emailed Bonnie and Cheryl, confessing that my heart wasn’t in writing poetry anymore, and wondering how they each felt. I was grateful when Bonnie responded, agreeing that our workshop was “winding down,” and saying she hoped we’d stay in touch but perhaps the time had come to end our formal relationship. We’ve not heard yet from Cheryl, except an email saying her computer crashed and she’ll get to our emails soon.

I expect she’ll be disappointed. After all, it was she who brought our little group together. But it was also she who initiated our self-revelations. For me at least, anonymity set me free to write intimately revealing poems. The loss of anonymity was fatal to that endeavor.

But I haven't given up hope. For one thing, I've started this blog. Here I can communicate with my imagined audience without ever having to make eye contact. Furthermore, I'm thinking of taking another class online. There's a universe of people out there who know nothing about me!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Famosity? Is that a word?

Yes, famosity was once considered a bonafide word, defined in Webster's 1913 edition as "the state or quality of being famous." In my current revival of the term, famosity refers not to the state of being famous but to the exalted sense of self-importance people feel when they achieve any degree of fame or even know someone who's famous. In my dictionary, fame (or proximity to it) plus pomposity equals famosity. For this blog, I plan to write about what's on my mind under the famosity heading. I hope the word will serve as a constant reminder to me not to take myself too seriously. And I won't hesitate to point out examples of famosity in others when I see them!