Saturday, November 28, 2009

And ... Action!

Because my reporting and writing has generally been limited to print media, interviewing people for stories has always meant taking notes while wearing a hardhat on a construction site, sitting in a fancy conference room, or while talking on the phone, bribing children of varying ages to be quiet with Popsicles and lollipops. Unbeknownst to most interviewees (hopefully), I've changed diapers, made pancakes and breastfed babies while conducting phone interviews.

I like to think I've gotten pretty good at focusing on listening and getting good quotes while all hell breaks loose around me.

But up until this past year, I'd never tried to conduct an interview while surrounded by lights and cameras.

I am a freelance writer for a lovely publication called "Seasons," which publishes three regional magazines four times a year. Last spring, Publisher Jim Tulley came up with this great idea to tape a cable show to accompany each issue, and run the 30-minute program on local cable stations. Cable channels are hungry for content, and Simsbury Community Television offered to help us produce a quarterly show. I'd be the show's host, he said. Gulp.

While I'm hesitant to refer to myself as either old or a dog, I have to admit it's been hard teaching this old dog a new trick.

I've got to think that if I did this kind of thing as a 22-year-old college grad, attempting to speak and breathe and think simultaneously wouldn't be so difficult. But it is.

For the most part, when I interview someone for a newspaper or magazine article, I give probably .01 percent of my attention to my appearance. My energy goes towards writing down complete quotes and thinking towards the next question.

Even when I've filled in for radio dude Colin McEnroe -- who, coincidentally, finishes each episode of the show with a diatribe about butternut squash or postage stamps -- I've been able to relax and groove during interviews.

But watching the first two episodes of "Seasons Up Close," it's clear that I'm ridiculously nervous. Those hot lights turn on and I'm like Cindy Brady in the episode when she freezes in front of the cameras on the quiz show.

The third time -- we can only hope -- was the charm. We just finished taping the winter episode, which, thankfully, featured five friends from my book club -- there to talk about, of all things, book clubs -- and began with a visit to Plan B in Simsbury, where our fantastic waitress kept our glasses full and our spirits high.

Here's to hoping that a bit of experience, a bit more Chardonnay and good friends will equal 30 minutes of watchable television.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Sign of the Times

Most of the lawn signs have been pulled from the ground and tossed in the back of somebody's pickup truck. The fall landscape is much prettier now, and I sure hated seeing those political pleas muck up our town as much as the next guy.

But because my candidate -- for whom I made phone calls, threw a fund-raiser, passed out fliers, knocked on doors and waved like an idiot to potential voters -- didn't win, the absence of the signs is adding to my sadness.

Or maybe it's not the signs. I think what's really pushed me into a post-election funk is my disappointment in the way Farmington voters clearly chose not to think about each candidate before filling in those little bubbles, but instead voted along party lines. My unproven theory is this: Because the Democratic challenger to the incumbent Republican Town Council Chair ultimately became a formidable opponent and a serious threat to the 60-year GOP monopoly in town, the Republican party mobilized. As it should have. They organized, they worked hard and they got out the vote. Fine.

What's irking me is this: Despite the fact that one particular Republican candidate for town council who has been called a racist, a sexist and an embarrassment by his own Republican colleagues, was voted smoothly back into office. He's got "ethics issues" and a tendency to say inappropriate things at inappropriate times. I can easily say that despite the fact that I'm a registered Democrat I would not have voted for him if he was on our Democratic ticket.

But Republican voters came out to fight and they won. I don't begrudge them their win. I do, however, take issue with supporting a candidate for no reason other than the letter R that follows his name. This was not a case of choosing the lesser of evils, which we've all experienced in higher level elections. There were plenty of good candidates from which to choose.

How divided are we to become?

On election day I sat next to the teenaged daughter of a former Republican council member for a three-hour "unofficial poll checker" shift. We both knew we were on opposite sides of the day's battle, but we worked together as a team, helping each other check off voters on our respective lists. We chatted, made each other laugh and made the tedious job go by quickly. As one Republican candidate said to me later in the day, when I was telling him how much I enjoyed hanging out with my Republican counterpart, he said "You were both there for the same reason. After the election, we've all got to work together as a team."

He's right. But it seems like some of us keep forgetting that. Do the politicians making daily statements to the press about health care reform understand that we don't care which side of the aisle they're on? We want them to work together to make things better.

I often get very emotional when I vote. I feel a sense power but mostly a sense of gratitude. I am grateful to the women who worked so hard almost 90 years ago to make it possible for me to cast my vote for the candidates who best represent me and my ideals. It sure would be great if every voter would take that right -- that privilege -- as seriously every time they fill in those little bubbles.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stuff This!

I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream in which it was Christmas Eve and I had forgotten to buy any Christmas presents. In the dream, I was in a sheer panic. How could I buy everything for everybody in just one day? Would my credit card company notice a significant increase in spending and cut me off? Stuff! I needed to get the stuff!

Not coincidentally, today is the day we get our new shed. (It's a Carefree Small Building, actually. Unlike me, it has not a care in the world.) Why, exactly, do we need a shed? Because we need more places to put our stuff, of course!

Perhaps my subconscious is poking me in the arm, forcing me to pay attention to all of this "stuff" stuff and make a connection here. I know we have plenty of stuff (me: jeans that don't fit quite right; The Boys: Legos; The Husband: Well, he works too hard for me to deny him any stuff, although I'm not sure why he needs five hammers.)

Christmas brings out the best and the worst in people. It's the time of year that many people give to charities but it's also the time when we lose sight of living simply and within our means. Each year I have a list of stuff I've bought for each kid. If one kid's list is shorter than his brothers' lists, I make it right. I buy more stuff.

I'm not convinced that this is something unique to my generation. Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" was thoroughly obsessed with getting the right stuff for Christmas, despite the fact that he'd likely shoot his eye out.

Sometime this morning, a flatbed truck will attempt to make its way up our driveway to deliver a shed large enough for a family of four to live in. We'll put our stuff in it, which will make room for more stuff.

But maybe we don't need an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle, another hammer and another pair of poorly-fitting jeans this Christmas.

Maybe this recession will be the impetus for all of us to chill out with the overbuying. Maybe this is the year, this is the time. Maybe we can work on being a little more carefree, like our small building.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is This Progress?

Contrary to what you might think, "progressive dinners" are not gatherings of people who like to eat while talking about having exceptionally progressive ideas or enjoying progressive rock. No, the word "progressive" here refers to the fact that the stress level of those involved in one or more stages of a progressive meal becomes progressively more intense as the event's day goes on.

When we moved 3 1/2 miles away from our old house to this one, our social calendar suddenly became full at all times. People in this part of town like to party. And unlike in many neighborhoods in America, our neighbors actually invite other neighbors inside their homes. A new family moved in at the end of the summer. Someone from down the street threw them a big party, after meeting them just once.

The non-profit organizations in this area have clearly figured this out. And so, on Saturday night, we were one of a dozen or so couples who agreed to be hosts for the Stanley Whitman House Progressive Dinner. During a cocktail party for 100 people, six people we'd never met would be given an envelope containing our address and we'd serve them dinner.

Because The Husband and I have people over quite often, I generally do not get too freaked out about having dinners and parties. (Note that I did not say we often "entertain." I make it a point not to juggle or tap dance when guests come to visit.) Having taken four cooking lessons in the past year or two, he has now become the one who does the cooking for guests, while I pay attention to things like making the salad and making sure the toilet is clean. I'm not convinced that this lack of responsibility is making things easier for me.

If you have a list of 23 dinner-party-related things that need to be done by 5:30, you're busy all day, checking each item off of your to-do list. On Saturday, I played a long game of Scrabble with my son and, yes, cleaned the toilet. While The Husband chopped and sauteed and roasted, I got a 32 points plus a 50-point bonus for using all seven letters in one turn.

But suddenly, it was almost time to go. Quick shower, throw on something Stanley Whitman-ish and I'll be all set. But it was a Clothing Catastrophe Night. Every woman in America knows exactly what I'm talking about. The outfit you planned to wear looks terrible (very likely because of the amount of candy corn that's been consumed over the past three weeks.)

So what should be a 15 minute process becomes a 45-minute painful procedure. After trying on a few dozen sweater and skirt combinations, the closet is left looking like a burglar had come in looking to steal an outfit, but everything was all wrong for him.

But you know things really aren't going well when, five minutes after you were supposed to be out the door, you decide to cut your own bangs.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Going to the Candidates Debate ...

After attending a candidates forum in town this week I posted this as my Facebook status: "If I had a blog I'd have stuff to write about today. But probably not tomorrow." My terribly insane but lovable friend Bill took it upon himself to create for me this here blog. If he brought me a plateful of chocolate-chip cookies I'd feel compelled to eat them. So I'm really only going along with this to be nice.

Not really. Because I'm working in an industry with a questionable future (print media) I kind of have to be in the loop regarding new ways of communicating.

Here's the deal with the candidates' forum and why it made me want to create a blog. My good friend Amy Suffredini is running for Farmington Town Council Chairperson. Because the town council is presently made up of seven middle-aged white guys, it seems like a good time for a bit of change.

She's been working incredibly hard learning about the town's major issues and listening to what residents say their concerns are for the town. She's new to town and new to politics. She's an attorney and former NYC prosecutor.

Before the forum, I thought things were getting a little ugly. "Whisper campaigns" against Amy swirled around town. This one is my particular favorite: "Psst. Amy is pulling her kids out of our public schools and enrolling them in elite private schools. Her daughter will be attending Miss Porter's School." Hmm. Actually, no. Her daughter is six. Bella's smart, but we're pretty sure she's got a few more years of adding and subtracting before she heads to high school.

The Husband and I made a night of attending the forum -- dining on the tuna sandwiches donated by Highland Park Market. We shook hands and schmoozed with candidates and residents from both sides of the aisle. This is local politics; no need for partisan ickyness, right?

Each candidate was given four minutes to tell us why he or she should get our vote. Most read from prepared statements (Amy did not, which I thought was cool.) But it was Charlie Keniston who really set us on on the path of divisiveness. "This is like the presidential election," he said. "You don't vote for a president from one party and a vice-president from another party. You vote for a team." Really? In a town election? Some towns don't even designate political parties for their boards of education. Nearby Avon was recently commended in the Hartford Courant for having a board of education that rarely splits its votes and rarely votes along party lines. But here in Farmington, Charlie wants it to be us vs. them.

Do politicians really think that's what their constituents want? Here's a hint: We don't. We want you to make decisions that are in our best interests. That's it. Get over yourself, please.

I've volunteered to make calls for Amy, asking Undeclared voters if they'd be likely to vote for her. So far I've called one intoxicated young woman and one deceased elderly woman.

It was difficult to determine if either of them would make it to the polls on Nov. 3.