Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me

I almost asked for today off.
It wasn't because I didn't want to work on my birthday. We have a sizable slate of games, and I really didn't want to miss out.
But my history of working on my birthday hasn't been good. Considering one of my worst experiences came last year on my birthday and since I just did a game Wednesday that lasted nearly three hours and totaled 40 runs, I fear the disaster that might be looming. In recent years it just seems like the job is sticking it to me on my birthday. And I wonder what the birthday gods have in store.
 It makes me wonder if I should go back to attending concerts on my birthday. After all, what could be better than seeing the Smithereens at the Paradise in Boston to celebrate? That's a fond birthday memory but one that came quite a while ago - before a job, life, and responsibility got in the way.
So each year, I wonder if this year's present will be worse than last year's surprise.
Last year, I was simply working in the office. I was paginating the scoreboard page - the sports page that has all the box scores that make sports fans go squinty-eyed before their time.
It was supposed to be a relatively easy evening. I won't go into the whole story about our wire service and our change in computer operating systems. But let's just say that was the night  the old system we were using to get wire agate chose to cease working,  on my birthday, at around 9:30. I noticed at 10 p.m. that the wire had stopped updating. When we realized what was happening and what my options were, it was 10:30 p.m. I had an 11 p.m. deadline and three columns to fill, mostly baseball boxes.  And I was going to have to do all the boxes manually, which I didn't know how to do at that moment. Usually, we'd call a box score onto a page ready formatted.
So I frantically tried to get as many incoming baseball boxes done and on the page as fast as I could. It was an agonizingly slow process, especially with a dozen boxes coming in and plenty of space to fill on the page. I  knew I was going to miss deadline because it was extremely tedious formatting everything each box at a time. I ended up sending my page about 15 minutes late. I don't even remember if I did any kind of makeover. But I do remember busting my hump to get that page out only to leave that night without a single word of recognition for my efforts.
After that, I might have vowed to never work on my birthday again.
My other birthday work woes pale in comparison. There was a softball game that lasted three-plus hours. It went into extra innings and was even delayed by a thunderstorm.
There was the year the Portland Pirates were up 2-0 in their best-of-five playoff series. Both wins had come on the road. All the Pirates had to do was win one at home. After losing the first game, they hosted Springfield on a Saturday night - and lost. That meant the next day, a Sunday, I was on the road and headed back to Springfield to cover Game Five, instead of having the day off. Guess what day that Sunday was? My birthday. The Pirates even lost that night and an expected lengthy playoff run ended suddenly.
One year I spent my birthday writing about a local coach that had died that morning. Nothing kills the birthday excitement than writing about somebody's death.
Another year, I was supposed to be headed for Owls Head. Instead, I was in the office working on some local story. I don't even remember what it was about. All I remember is that the woman in the newsroom who would put balloons on people's chairs for their birthday approached my desk while I was on the phone - with balloons in hand. I gave her a "Don't  you dare" look. She tied them to a newspaper rack right next to my desk. That actually worked as a nice compromise. As people walked by, they'd ask "I wonder whose birthday it is?" I sat there looking all innocent and say, "I don't know."
So I know I won't be driving to Springfield today.I'm not doing agate. As far as I know, nobody has died that would prompt a story from me.
I do get to combine jobs by visiting a bookstore this morning and then a softball game this afternoon. I'm even doing a game with my favorite Softball Mom in attendance. She was the one last year who didn't like my softball notebook and suggested I "Get with it and do some real reporting."
I'm not even going to let her bother me. It's my birthday. I have the following two days off. I'm ready for whatever this day brings. If work goes smoothly today, I'll be thrilled and will relish and enjoy the day. If something goes wrong, well, I'll have another story to tell next year.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Cottage With Heart

It wasn't the changes that got most of my attention, it was what had stayed the same.
There was a new shower installed, a new window and a brand new floor. Our new cottage bathroom was making great progress in the renovations. But I was intrigued not by what had just been installed but what has been there for 40 or 50 years.
In the walls was electrical wire with duct tape wrapped around it - a sure sign that my Dad had been there. There was his signature. In the ceiling was old scrap pieces of wood that were red. My brother and I concluded that these were original boards on the outside of the cottage when it was first built and painted red. This was back in the 1950's. Our assumption was that when he turned what was once my bedroom into what is now the bathroom, he used those boards in the ceiling.
There was his handwriting scribbled on beams and junction boxes, so he'd recall which wire went to what.
Upon further review, we realized that the bathroom door was crooked. We examined it and couldn't quite figure out why it was crooked but enjoyed the quirkiness of the realization nonetheless. We also enjoyed the fact that we'd never noticed it before.
My Dad built our  Owls Head cottage in the 1950's. He borrowed $1,000 dollars and used $500 to buy the land and the other $500 to build the place - with a little help from his brothers and contributions from various lawn sales and scrap heaps.
Over the years the cottage has had a few makeovers. An upstairs was built 10 years ago or so. Last year new awesome bay windows were installed as well as a new sliding door. A new well has been put in. Further changes are in the planning stages - meaning we're planning on finding money somehow to pay for them.
With each upgrade, a little bit of the cottage that my Dad built disappears. It isn't the original. It is becoming the replica. On the wall in the kitchen hangs a saw that he used to build the place with. I love the changes and improvement but hate the thought of my Dad's cottage slowly being replaced. I just realized what a nightmare it will be for me to replace his/my chair someday.
Now there are still plenty of things around the cottage that are part of his original design and handiwork. It was a place he loved. The work he did around the cottage wasn't just because they needed doing. They were acts of love. He enjoyed doing them and did them with a passion for a place that meant so much.
I remember talking to him about this very subject a few weeks before he died. My brother and I would plan to watch the New England Patriots games with him on Sunday afternoons that fall, knowing he didn't have many Sunday's left. I arrived early one Sunday morning and we had a nice chat. I discussed projects I had planned for the cottage, a new walkway that would lead to the shed,  and he talked about the labor of love the place was for him.
So when I looked around the torn open walls of a bathroom in transition, there was his stamp everywhere. I couldn't help but laugh, smile and enjoy every little piece of him that he had left in those walls and ceilings.
All that evidence is now covered over by sheet rock or ceiling tiles. Those walls are being painted. And a new bathroom will be born. It will look great and I'll be thrilled with it.
But I'll also know that my Dad is still there. The heart of the cottage still bears his work. He's in the walls. He's in the ceiling. He's in that crooked door. I feel the hard work he devoted to the place. I feel the love he had for it. I feel the love for the cottage in my heart, just like he did.
In life we all have an opportunity to leave a little bit of ourselves behind. My Dad did that in ways I see and feel every day. I can even find him in simple pieces of duct tape and a crooked door.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Great Maine Writer You've Never Heard Of

At just about every one of my speaking engagements, I mention the name of one of Maine's greatest authors.
And everybody acts like they've never heard of him.
That's because most of the audiences I have spoken to have never heard of George S. Wasson.
I could say that I was related to Stephen King or E.B. White and get all kinds of oh's and ah's, but I have no connection to either of them. When I mention my link by ancestry to Wasson and his influence on my novel Sons and Daughters of the Ocean all I get are blank stares.
Wasson is part of Maine's great literary history, as was his father, yet most people have never heard of either of them. I had no idea who they were either before I began looking into my own family history.
I discovered my connection to the Wasson family in West Brooksville. My great grandmother, Sarah,  was a Douglass. Her mother, also named Sarah, was a Wasson.  The older Sarah was not only a sister to Nancy Wasson, who married into the Mills family as my great, great grandfather's second wife, but she was also the sister of David Atwood Wasson. He was a well-established Transcendentalist essayist, author and minister, whose peers were Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau.
His son George S. Wasson became an established writer as well. He wrote a handful of maritime stories. His use of dialect and his wonderful drawings that accompanied his work, made his books something unique.
One Maine magazine listed the most endearing Maine authors in its literary history. Wasson was included on the list as was poetess Celia Thaxter, another ancestor of mine.
When I began writing my first novel and chose to base it on family history and Maine's shipbuilding and merchant sailing heritage, Wasson was an obvious  part of the research. He co-authored the book Sailing Days on the Penobscot. It is probably the most complete account of the schooner industry in Penobscot Bay. I have my great grandfather's copy of that book. My first novel is loosely based on him and a character like him that ultimately goes off to sea at a teen.
Between the stories, the list of ships built along the coast, the dialect he wrote with and the historical information provided, that Wasson book was a significant foundation of my research for my novel. Reading some of his other books, like Home From The Sea and The Green Shay, gave me even more insight into that world. I subsequently used a lot of words and phrases he used in his books to bring my characters to life. Phrases like "Godfrey Mighty", "chowly and hubbily" and "a real apple-shaker" helped make my  characters feel that much more true and real.
Included in Sailing Days on the Penobscot is mention of his grandfather, David Wasson and the three-masted ship that he built. A significant part of the plot in my first novel is based on that three-master and it being the first of its kind on the Maine coast. I think he also mentions the story of George Tapley and his dying wife (my great grandfather's sister). The plot of my novel depicts a similar story based on that account.
I read a number of books that provided me great information on that age of sail, but Wasson's work was so authentic because he was there and was part of it. There was a great authenticity to his work and I feel it helped bring something similar to my writing.
There isn't a ton of information to be found about George S. Wasson or his father David Atwood Wasson. I did an online search for photos and found one of myself before I came across any for either Wasson.
A small sail boat once owned by George S. Wasson is on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport,Maine You can still find George S. Wasson's books for sale at various online sites. There's also a book or two about David Atwood Wasson. Because of their age, they won't come cheap. A copy of Sailing Days on the Penobscot will run hundreds of dollars.
It is too bad the work of the Wasson's have been passed over through time. It makes me all the more pleased that their work was able to influence my own. I mentioned in a previous blog the impact the work of Michael and Jeff Shaara had on my novels. Like their work, my novels wouldn't be quite the same had it not been for the work of the Wasson's. And being able to carry on their work and write about their ancestry, as well as my own, makes it feel as though I'm keeping their legacy alive.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Painting Names

Choosing a paint color shouldn't be too difficult.
That's what I wanted. All I needed to do was go to the local paint store and pick out a blue to adorn my walls.
But it's a little more complicated than that. The color blue turned into Billow, Sonic Sky and  Sky Blue No. 1, 2 and 3 as well as a bunch of less masculine sounding names of which I wouldn't even consider.
So not only was I overwhelmed with the variety and various shades of blue, my mind became distracted when I began wondering, who comes up with the names of all these colors?
That immediately led me to thinking, "I could do that".
And of course, instead of picking out a color as I'm supposed to be doing, I'm mulling over my ability to name various paints and writing a Tweet, Facebook post or blog about it. That's what this writer's mind does - whether I want to or not.
Now I recognize that naming paint colors can't be as easy as it sounds. There are more shades for paints than I know what to do with. It starts with blue and then becomes less blue, lesser blue, even lesser than that blue and the lessest blue of all blue. And there's more blue, a little more blue, a lot more blue, really really blue, as blue as you can get blue and soooo blue that it's almost black blue. How do you name all those?
I've always thought it funny how they name cars. They give them this somewhat exciting name like the Elantra. No car dealer is going to call their car the Ford Lemon or the Saturn Hunk a Junk. They've got to name the car in a way that is inviting and cool sounding - for those who only buy things because the name sounds hip. It first makes me wonder if they really think buyers are that stupid and then it makes me wonder if buyers really are that stupid?
The same would go for paints. You have to be descriptive but also stylish in the name. I'd still have some fun with it but it would probably get me fired the first day.
I'd start with naming paints after bands - Metallica Black, Beatles White, Sammy Hagar Red, Deep Purple Purple, Moody Blue, Coldplay Yellow. I'd name some after sports figures - Bud Black, Randy White, Vida Blue, Mean Joe Greene.  Then I'd use my sense of humor. I'd invent Hi Ho Silver, Kermit Green, Guinness Black and Tan, Tighty Whitey and Tuscadero Pink. There would be the token softer less manly colors like Girly Pink and Sissy Blue. Then there would be the rough and tough man colors like  Burly Black and Bad Ass Blue. And, of course, I'm a sucker for wordplay. So there'd be something like Don't Red On Me and Hullablue.
After awhile, the fun with the paint names would be gone. I'd have to settle for coming up with names like they have now. I'd be putting aside fun and funny for something boring, safe and lame sounding. And that's not me.
So maybe naming paints ultimately isn't my thing. I should just stick to picking out the color blue and paint my walls with it. Afterall, it is just paint.
The final choice? It's called Skywriter. How appropriate.