Sunday, June 27, 2010

Places, like newspapers, need people

I found this picture recently as I was searching for a travel photograph to call my favorite.

It was Ittybit's first plane ride. The year was 2004, and we were going to Boulder, Colo. to meet her new cousin. The young man in the picture was traveling alone and had what some might describe as the misfortune of sitting next to a baby on the plane. Now, I could be mistaken … it was a long flight, but I don't think he minded.

People can surprise you if you let them.

I have to admit, even to myself, travel photography isn't my favorite. No matter where I go or what I do, the pictures I take might have been taken anywhere: A street scene in New Zealand could be one in New York City for all the details my lens leaves out.

There are brief moments of awe, of course, just as there are an infinite number of interesting places we can go, and people we can meet once we get to our destinations.

But once we return home, unpack and get around to organizing and printing photos, the results never seem as brilliant as the memories we were intending to capture.

Trees aren't as lush. Mountains aren't as majestic. Oceans aren't as deep.

For me, family always ends up the focus, while the travel becomes a prop or just a blurry backdrop. Places, I think, need people.

So, here's where you come in ...

As some of you may know, The Record is embarking on an interesting exercise to create a newspaper — both in print and online — that is meaningful to the community but that uses little or no proprietary software.

None of that really means much to you, I imagine, since what we do behind the scenes is hard to picture, let alone explain.

The part we are more excited about, however, is the part that harnesses the power of the collective voice — you, the readers.

My piece in the initiative is to entice you fine people to send me photographs and thoughts about your travels in life from the literal to the figurative.

Through Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, I've asked folks to send me photographs from the places they’ve seen, as well as photographs from their weddings. I've asked for brief accounts of memorable moments from each event to share with our readership.

I've been honored with a small but healthy response. I admit, reading what’s come in so far has been a treat.

I hope for more. There is still a week left and I want to ask you a favor.

I want you to become part of the story I've been telling here these past few years. Please send me your photographs and thoughts. If you need assistance — scanning old photographs or even putting your thoughts into words — I humbly offer my help.

I promise to treat your memories with even more care than I give my own.

To participate, e-mail Siobhan Connally at or call 518.270.1285

Sunday, June 20, 2010

No dancing around it, the devil’s in the details

I unzipped the garment bag and released an explosion of white, feathery fluff.

"Is this it?" I wondered trying to recall the catalog photograph the dance instructor had shown us months ago when she’d decided on a costume. This puff of polyester seems a little too small, a little too sheer, a little too … risqué for a student recital.

As Ittybit stepped into the bodice, I helped work its straps over her shoulders, trying to figure out where the feathers are supposed to go. I was about to give up when another parent motioned in pantomime … 'Oh … over her head.' ..

Tongue out and holding my breath, I struggle to get the thing into place.

When I step back to check my work it just seems … wrong. Had she really grown that much? I wondered, trying to tease out a little more length from the tiny dance costume.

The mental picture I ended up with was from a different sort of catalog.

Immediately, I close my eyes, blotting out the light.

"Don’t go there," I tell myself. "Just let it go."

Think "happy," think "pretty," think "they are just having fun" thoughts.

Truly, it has been difficult for me to think happy thoughts when it comes to dance class.

I try to be positive but I stumble over the business model and the months-long preparation for recital.

I don’t really care about the details and I make no pretense of hiding my disinterest. In not caring, though, I know I am as bad as the mom hissing angrily to her child from backstage: "Pay closer attention to what you’re doing."

Have I learned nothing in these years? I don’t care about dance, but I don’t want her to think I don’t care about her.

"She is what matters," I think to myself as I write a check for the studio … and the costume … and the photographs … and the $12 per ticket for the recital … we need six, I think.

On this particular day, however, the torture for me is standing by as she has her pictures taken by someone else. Because I know when it arrives in our mailbox in four to six weeks, I will barely recognize the girl in the photograph. She will be wearing a smile I only see through the glassine windows of large envelopes. They are smiles she gives to other people.

But I’m not jealous.

It’s just a mindset. It’s just money. It doesn’t matter if you don’t let it. Breathe in. Breathe out.

I tell myself those things, too, before I open my eyes again.

She is twirling, flicking her legs from one side to another. Jumping up and down.

She happily dances to the beat of their drummer, but I know she’s more likely to get lasting joy from the tunes playing in her own head.

I don’t need to worry.

She may have gotten taller, more muscular, but inside she hasn’t changed. Ittybit is still the sweet and curious, little girl with wildly mismatched clothes and hair like an unmade bed. She’s still asking questions and figuring it all out for herself.

When it’s her turn to go before the camera, she tells me she feels silly in the dress.

I wonder whether she’s seeking reassurance or trying to reassure me.

"Well you don’t look silly," I tell her. "You look like an angel with wings."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Begging a thousand pardons is easier

I'm not good at being right.

I don't think many of us are.

Now, I'm not talking about the kind of right that takes courage. The courageous kind of right requires fortitude and endurance. It takes a willingness to subject one's self to the majority belief that you are, in fact, not only wrong, but that you are SO wrong that you must therefore be completely and totally dangerous to all you encounter.

That kind of right is important. But being good at that kind of right isn't something a person always decides for themselves. More often than not, that kind of right gives you no choice. It latches on to you when you are praying it will find someone else and it makes you choose a direction before you even know where you are going.

No, the kind of right to which I'm referring is the kind of right that so often leads a person to being just plain wrong.

It's the kind of right that requires noisy acknowledgement from everyone who's ever met you, including the little creep from fourth grade who teased you mercilessly until you punched him in the stomach, which was also his fault. He still owes you an apology, by the way.

Yes, the kind of right I'm talking about requires those who wronged us to beg a thousand pardons and sing our praises to the rooftop. It begs the question: 'Here's my chest, where's my medal?'

It's the kind of right that leads to hurt feelings and road rage, ulsers, lost friendships and long, long silences or even estrangements between family members.

It's the kind of right that turns good people into demons and lawyers into ambulance chasers.

That kind of right is never satisfied. It just festers in the memory of being wronged and chokes out any hint of what might have been wonderful.

It's the type of right that hangs on to every thoughtless act and turns it into reasoned and intricately planned treachery.

"She did that on purpose."

"He only does what he wants to do."

"So inconsiderate."

It tarnishes both sides of the coin.

It places every word ever uttered in your general direction under a microscope for examination, where in your expert (though completely biased opinion) will be found anemic or potentially deadly.

Suspicion will fester.

"You don't want to help me," we say, "You want to do whatever it is and have me thank you for doing something you want done anyway."

That type of right keeps a running tally. Until the score is even, at which point you might apologize and go along your merry way.

It's easier to be wrong. Of course, that's not to say we're any better at being wrong, it's just easier to put our wrongs behind us.

"Oops, forgot the turn signal. Sorry, my bad. …

“I didn't see you waiting for that parking space, or crossing in the crosswalk. You Ok? …

“Were standing there waiting for me. For an hour. While I forgot I was supposed to meet you. Whoops! …

“Did I forget your birthday again? I feel terrible.”

We may feel bad about our stupidity, but we don't let being wrong haunt us for years. We hardly let it haunt us for minutes.

Maybe it’s because deep down, when we really think about it, we tend to come to the logical conclusion that it (whatever it is) really isn’t our fault.

Seriously. He should have reminded me it was his birthday. He knows how absent minded I am.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Still hanging on to dog with an iron stomach

Do you know how many people don't give their pets the same consideration they would give their children when it comes to keeping them safe from potentially poisonous household products?


Well, you might if you were on hold with the ASPCA's poison control hotline like I was recently.

They are happy to lecture about all the things you’re probably doing wrong as you wait for an operator to tell you whether you are going to be making a trip to doggy emergency room. But only after you hand over a major credit card, promising to pay $65 for their invaluable service, which might help keep your obviously unloved pooch from perishing.

Of course.

It all started when my husband noticed the toilet bowl was empty save for a stain of blue on the bottom.

"Did you clean the toilet," he asked sheepishly?

"Uhm ... I ... don't remember. I think I did."

Well ... I don't think you flushed.

So there I was, on the telephone holding a bottle of "natural" toilet bowl cleaner, ready to read off the ingredients to the person who would save me from the pre-recorded lecture I was getting instead of muzak.

The minutes ticked away.

Why is "WON'T HURT THE ENVIRONMENT OR YOUR FAMILY" prominently listed, in large print, on the front of the bottle and "in case of ingestion do not induce vomiting, contact poison control and your doctor immediately" in teensy-tiny print on the back?

For the same reason shampoo bottles still give instructions. The dolts among us wouldn't know whether to "wash, rinse and repeat" or "brush along gumline in a circular motion" without them.

I had called our vet, whose after-hours message instructed me to call the veterinary emergency clinic, you know ... in case of emergencies.

Which I did next.

The folks there said there was "probably" nothing to worry about, but to be sure I should "probably" call the ASPCA's emergency hotline and they would have the definitive answer.

Still on hold.

Do I let her drink clean water, flush it out?

Do I make her eat food?

Do I have to get her stomach pumped?

OK, ew. Don't want to think about that. ....


I'll go online and check the ingredients myself.

“Sodium Lactate” is sandwiched in between "if this is swallowed" and "call a doctor."

Let's check with the Doctor Google School of medicine on that substance, shall we?


Food additive.

Naturally occurring salt in fermentation process.

The dog starts to bark her usual FEED ME bark.

This is a dog who has eaten her weight in chocolate, onions and grapes in the 15 years we've known her. She has chewed through countless sneakers, eaten carrion and dead crabs off the beach. I've lost track of all the literal garbage that she's ingested.

I hang up the phone.

"What'd they say?" my husband asks.

"I was still on hold when I hung up. I found their household cleaning list on the website and I figured she'll be alright. It's diluted and she's an iron stomach. Right now I bet she'd like a dish soap chaser."

The dog wagged her tail in agreement.

I think she was trying to tell me "Mountain Fresh" is her favorite.