Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sometimes, even seeing a small good deed can help lift your spirits

The hour was early, and the grocery store was very quiet. I'd only run in for a moment, hoping to grab a few items before work and be on my way.

Then I  heard it. The wailing of a child. It wasn't a big deal, really - grocery stores are often filled with children crying. But this had been a week so filled with sadness that I actually almost left - I simply didn't want to see anybody else in tears.

But I needed one more thing - a box of cereal. And I was so close, I figured I'd just get it and go.

As I rounded the corner, though, I saw the reason for the tears. A pink balloon, starting to float toward the ceiling.

A chubby little toddler was jumping up and down, trying in vain to catch the balloon's pink ribbon, and crying like she'd lost her best friend.  Her mother, apparently used to such calamities, was staying calm.

"It's OK," she reassured the little girl. "Don't worry. We'll find a tall man."

The little girl kept jumping, the balloon kept floating, and the mother quickly walked around the corner. The balloon was pretty high by now - too high for me to reach - and the little girl was starting to look a little frantic.

The mom reappeared. Sure enough, she had found a tall man.

He looked a little confused, and more than a little rough around the edges. He had on work boots, torn jeans, and an old jacket, and he looked a little sleepy.

But once the mother pointed to the balloon and explained her predicament, the man grinned. He jumped - he was indeed pretty tall - and grabbed the tail of the ribbon.

The little girl stopped crying at once, the tears still staining her cheeks.

"Maybe the tall man will tie the balloon a little better to your wrist," the mother said to her daughter and their new friend in that motherly way that makes it impossible to say no.

The tall man did just that.  He walked away, smiling.

So did I.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Is 'abracadabra' the new magic word? (Or: Where are our manners?)

"We're moving to the country to raise llamas," I announced to my family the other day. "We are going to start living a slow, simple lifestyle."

My husband hurriedly grabbed his breakfast and scurried down to his office, not at all eager to discuss my new edict.

My son barely looked up from his iPod, but I thought I saw him roll his eyes.

My daughter, getting milk from the refrigerator, paused thoughtfully. "I don't think you want to raise llamas," she said. "I think you might be thinking of alpacas - I hear they're nicer. Llamas spit."

Well that's just great. Spitting. It's that kind of behavior that's pushing me to my isolated country home in the first place. See, I just decided the other day I couldn't take it anymore.

You know what I mean:

  • The angry guy behind you who honks as soon as the light changes.
  • The receptionist who cuts you off mid-sentence.
  • The driver who practically takes off your front bumper as she cuts into your lane.
  • The surly customer service guy who has absolutely no interest in customer service.

The complete and utter lack of civility.

You know, my son wanted a cookie the other day; I asked him for the magic word. He said "Abracadabra." He might be right. Because I think all the other ones have been forgotten.

In a previous job, I was standing by a bank of elevators when the doors opened and a young woman got out, a little unsteady on her feet. She smiled shakily at me, and told me she'd just given blood at the blood drive downstairs.

"Are you okay?" I asked. "Sure," she said.

 Then she took a few wobbly steps and collapsed like a sack of potatoes - down for the count. Not two seconds later, a manager came zipping down the hallway at breakneck speed, his eyes intent on his mobile phone. I'm not making this up - he STEPPED OVER HER and continued down the hall.

Wow. Not good.

Hey, let's change that, you and me. Let's make behavior like that unacceptable. Let's say please and thank you, chew with our mouths closed  and help little old ladies across the street.

Let's bring back niceness. At least a little of it.

Because really, I'm not too sure about the whole alpaca thing. Not yet, anyway.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We can think in 140 characters - but can we really write anymore?

The other day, I was telling my kids about my childhood. I mentioned I didn't have a computer.

My son looked at me in amazement. My daughter gave me a pitying look.

"Were you, like, really poor?" she asked gently.

After I stopped laughing I told them, no, I wasn't really poor. We just didn't have that technology - we didn't have Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Vine or  well... heck, we didn't even have a remote control for our television set.

My son, who has a Vulcan mindmeld with Minecraft, was amazed. "What did you" he finally sputtered.

We had an interesting conversation then - wherein I reminded
the kids about nature and books and sports, and all that exists outside of circuitry.

But the talk started me thinking about technology, and the effect our ever-changing world has on writers. We can think in 140 characters. We can text in shorthand. We know how to add links and photos and videos and easily hyperlink to our sites ... but can we still create a beautiful narrative? Can we write poetically, with emotion?

Can we offer the type of prose that gives readers goosebumps, the kind that brings a lump to their throat, that stays in their memory for days?

It's harder for me, I know that. It takes more concentration, more effort to switch gears, to feel I've succeeded.

I have a few days off. I think I'll spend them buried in a few good books, just to remind me how it's done.