Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Random Thoughts, Part I - Entry #11

Into the second month of the Writing Project, a number of random thoughts:  
1.  Handwritten correspondence is tiring – Not physically (I haven’t fallen asleep at my desk yet while composing).  It’s my wrists.  I cannot just write out a whole note or letter without lifting pen from paper.  Carpal tunnel?  I was tested a few months ago and that was negative.  Probably I’m out of shape or, more probably, out of practice.  Maybe it’s the weight of the fountain pen.

2.  Pre-Writing Before Writing – John Kralick, in his book, 365 Thank You’s, talks about pre-writing his thank you notes before ink goes to paper.  I have taken this to heart.  It allows me to ensure my thoughts are clear and concise.  I hate when I’m in the middle of writing a note or letter and my train of thought comes to a dead end.  Then, I need to creatively extradite myself from the corner I’ve painted myself into.  Oh, for the correct-o ribbon of old.

3.  The Quality of Paper – My fountain pen may be a tad heavy, but the real issue is the thickness and quality of the paper I use.  The stationery I purchased, cream-colored and elegant, is lightweight.  Think of resume paper.  I find the pen does not flow as effortlessly over its surface as I would like.  I need to press down harder and occasionally retrace some of my words, which might relate to #1.  On the other hand, the thicker card stock of notecards makes writing a pleasure.  My silver-colored fountain pen glides over the surface.  The ink seems to melt into the grain.  Fortunately, I only have a few sheets of stationery left.

4.  The Wonderful World of Stamps – One of the little pleasures I have with the Writing Project is picking out which sheets of stamps to buy at the post office.  I try to arrange my visits when the lines are short so I can spend some time perusing the varieties that are available.  In the old days, it was pretty much the American flag.  You also had to lick the stamps.  Yech!.  Nowadays there is an endless array of colorful, historical, whimsical, and patriotic stamps to choose from.  They usually come 20 to a sheet and, most gratifyingly, these easy-to-peel and easy-to-apply stamps are so much easier to work with.  I think I purchased a dozen different types in my last go-around.  Trying to match a stamp to a person is a little game I play.  Now who gets the Dory stamp from Finding Nemo?  

Friday, June 22, 2012

And the Winner Is... - Entry #10

In my copious free time  :-)  I host a Broadway music radio program on Sunday nights.  “On Broadway” has aired on WRTC-FM at Trinity College in Hartford, CT for about 18 years.  I have been attending shows on The Great White Way since the late 1960’s.  The first musical I attended with just a friend (sans parents) was the original Broadway production of Grease in December 1972 (trivia – John Travolta never played the role of Danny Zucco on Broadway).  In addition, I have a theatre blog where I review New York and Connecticut shows and post my general theatrical musings.  Why am I divulging all of this information?  Well, this week’s theme is Broadway and the Tony Awards.

Earlier this month CBS televised the Tony Award ceremony with Neil Patrick Harris as host (you can read my thoughts of the evening at my blog).  I was very happy with three of the night’s winners—James Corden taking Best Actor in a Play honors for the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors; Audra McDonald winning Best Actress in a Musical for the revival of the Gershwin’sPorgy and Bess; and Christopher Gattelli for Best Choreography for Newsies.  All were highly-deserving.  Corden, playing a lovable buffoon, in what is one of the funniest comedies I have ever seen on Broadway (coming from me, this is a big endorsement); McDonald delivering another superb vocal and acting performance (snatching her fifth Tony Award); and Gattelli displaying dance routines that are some of the most dynamic and athletic since the Jets’ and Sharks’ sizzling production numbers in West Side Story.  I wanted each of them to know how much I appreciated their contribution to the Broadway stage this season.  Their talent was a joy to watch and gave me a thrill to be seeing it on stage.  There is no better reward then viewing a live theatrical performance (which is why I will never sit through the movie version of War Horse.  The stage production is so immediate and powerful).  In the theatre we acknowledge artists through vigorous applause and the incredibly overused standing ovation.  These actions give immediate gratification to actors and actresses.  But I wanted to provide additional feedback on a more personal scale.  In a way, I am hoping my handwritten card gives them pause, a chance to reflect on how their gift enriches their audiences.

My fourth notecard was sent to a composer who was not nominated for a Tony Award but, in my opinion, should have been so honored.  Lewis Flinn composed the score to the Off-Broadway hit, Lysistrata Jones, which then moved to Broadway.  The reviews were quite good for the musical, but with no stars and a lack of buzz, the show quickly folded.  However, the songs were tuneful and fresh.  I was dumbfounded when it was not nominated for a Best Original Score.  In fact, I could not believe it only received a single Tony Award nomination.  Since the release of the original cast album—on CD and for download—I have been playing selections on my radio program.  I wanted the composer to know that someone out there appreciated his efforts.  I’m sure his friends, colleagues, and business partners all shared the same feelings as I expressed in my correspondence.  But, as a person outside his immediate circle, I am hoping my note gives him a bit of solace and maybe boost his spirits.  This past Broadway season there were few true musicals with completely original works.  Lysistrata Jones was such a show and deserved to be recognized by the Tony Award nominating committee. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Checking Out the Library - Entry #9

My son is developmentally disabled.  He comes home on weekends where part of our routine is driving to a neighboring town’s public library.  Even though he cannot read he loves to go through the stacks in the children’s section and pull out books to take home.  The librarians, both upstairs in the children’s area and at the checkout counter, are very good with him.  We have been following this weekly ritual for the last few years and the staff has gotten to know him.

This week’s series of cards takes note of these helpful and patient individuals.  My correspondence was not just directed at the staff at this one particular library, but at a number of such places as well as a few specific librarians. 

There are actually two different libraries my son frequents on his weekly visits home—both outside our hometown.  We swing by one more often then the other since it is on the way to “The Cow.”  This is his name for the Stew Leonard grocery store not far from our house.  One of their features, in the middle of the market, is a mechanical cow’s head sticking out of a barn door.  You can press a button to slowly rotate its head and set-off a loud mooing sound. 

I wanted the Director of the respective institutions to know how accommodating and supportive their staff has been during our excursions there since I’m sure thank you notes to employees are not very common.  Our trips are pleasing as opposed to being painful. 

As I wrote these two cards, I felt the need to also send notes to two of our town librarians that, over the years, have been warmhearted, caring and understanding to all our children (I’m sure their professionalism extended to all the kids in town, not just our own).  My two oldest are out of college, but I still remember bringing them to the public library for story time, to play, and take out books to bring home decades earlier.  Sometimes I thanked them for their assistance or instructed my youngsters to do the same.  But, as with many instances in life, I probably didn’t say “thank you” enough or at the right moment.  My short note to two of them—the Director of the Children’s section at the main branch and one of the librarians there—was a small way to amend my lack of acknowledging their time and energy in educating and entertaining my (all) children.

The last two librarians I sent correspondence to this past week are employed at our institution.  Before I go on let me state one characteristic about our campus, a regional branch of the University of Connecticut, which highlights a reason for sending notes to these two individuals.  For the most part, our campus is a very collegial work environment.  Many of us are one-person offices with multiple responsibilities.  This is a combination of happenstance and necessity. The head of our campus library could easily stay in her first floor setting, but she chooses otherwise and is an integral part of our administrative team.  Personally, she has aided me in my research, provided material for our Freshman Year Experience (FYE) curriculum, and indulged me by allowing some of my more off-beat collections to be exhibited in the library display cases.  I wanted her to know my appreciation and thanks in a more formal (handwritten) manner.

The other librarian, who is now the Director at a different regional campus, started her tenure at the University at my campus.  She, too, has gone above and beyond duty in helping me dig up information for my journal article literature reviews, patiently explained new technologies to me, and helped establish our FYE program many years ago.  She also was the one who sent me the link to John Kralik’s book, which was the impetus for me starting my journey.  Hmm.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick with my thank you?  :-)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Political Overtures - Entry #8

I have a confession to make.  My fountain pen sits atop the stack of writing paper and cards at home.  It does not leave the house.  However, I have been crafting some of my correspondence at work so they are being written with a different instrument, a non-fountain pen writing implement.  Please don’t think less of me.  It’s not like a political flip-flop.

Speaking of politicians…this week’s theme was along political lines.  Politics has always been one of my great interests and passions.  I have been involved in political campaigns since the early 1970’s.  As a high school student, I was knocking on doors in some of the seedier neighborhoods of Camden, New Jersey during the Congressional campaign of Jim Florio, one of the young mavericks swept into office during the post-Watergate era.  In college, I anchored numerous election night broadcasts on WRSU-FM at Rutgers University.  Since turning 18 years of age I believe I have never missed voting in an election—any election.  School board, state legislative races, primaries, national offices—I am always at the polls bright and early to cast my vote.  People that declare no candidate is worth their time or they don’t have time to vote receive a tongue-lashing from me about civic duty and our democratic system.  How many races have you heard where someone running for office lost by one vote?  Did you know that John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in 1960 by only 100,000 votes out of 68 million cast?

My political correspondence this week was grouped into two’s.  First, I sent letters to my town mayor and town manager over a proposal to surplus a small piece of parkland, adjacent to the center of town, so a hotel could be built on the site.  Now, while I support the idea of such lodgings being constructed in the vicinity, I objected to the process.  A few years ago a whole new section of our town was developed.  Where once were two car dealerships was now an upscale area with restaurants and shops.  Part of the selling point for the construction was to create a small oasis of a park within these new boundaries.  Alas, the land just sat there, a grassy, inconspicuous spot.  Fast forward to the present and that space now looks like an ideal place for a hotel.  But, before requests for proposals can go out the town government has to remove, as in officially surplus, the property.   My letters to the two town officials voiced my concern about the entire process and the possible precedent it might set.  What happens, in the future, if an enticing commercial proposition for recreational or park land is dangled in front of the town council?  Will they jump, citing the earlier instance?  I don’t envision my letters bringing the wheels of local government to a grinding halt.  However, instead of sitting on the sidelines, I wanted my voice to be heard.

The second wave of political notes went to two Sunday columnists for The Hartford Courant, the most influential newspaper in Connecticut.  Both individuals focus on state government and its officials.  Over the years, I have found the men to be forthright and straightforward in their reporting.  They have ferreted out questionable policies and practices and highlighted important concerns for state residents.  After scanning the front page headlines of the Sunday newspaper I immediately gravitate to the sections with their weekly output.  I wrote to both reporters to let them know how much I appreciated their unbiased and thorough work.  Readers may grumble, become indignant, or outraged about what they read, but that’s because a good columnist raises critical issues and makes us think even if we sometimes do get a bit hot under the collar.  I wanted them to know I valued their contribution to the Fourth Estate.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How Open Can I Be - Entry #7

I consider myself a private person.  This admission could be seen as the very antithesis of the Writing Project, which is a very open and public display of my thoughts and feelings.  As I sit down each day, deciding who to write to and how to express myself, I struggle with how much I am willing to reveal to the person at the receiving end.  Most of the cards and letters I have already mailed have been matter-of-fact missives—thank you notes, good to hear from you, and job well done.  I have not yet been stretched on the emotional front.  There has been no need to become circumspect or philosophical, at this point, in my correspondence.  Will I become more introspective?  More forthcoming?  I honestly don’t know. 

The question I struggle with about my discretion also rolls over to my blog posts.  A letter or card is to one person.  Opening up to an individual, especially someone I may have some history with, is not as daunting as an entry to this blog, which could be read by hundreds, maybe thousands of people I have never met.  This cautiousness on my part could be seen as being prudent, over-thinking a task that is more straightforward, or being a coward. 

In some respect, these questions are at the very core of today’s Internet.  Nowadays, maneuvering through our technological world means surrendering some part of ourselves to the technology behemoths—Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, etc.—whether we choose to or not.  Privacy settings or concerns are brushed aside by the masses.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.  That part of society that was nurtured on social media feel more comfortable negotiating this environment and letting a good portion of themselves all hang out.  I don’t.  Interestingly, people that have visited my website, StudentAffairs.com, might be scratching their heads because of my immersion in technology.   I catalog and embrace numerous resources on the Internet.  There is a Facebook page, a Twitter account (istudentaffairs), informative podcasts, and much more on our pages.  But I see my attitude towards technology more as a way of doing business rather then as my personal choice in relinquishing personal privacy and disclosure concerns.

So, as week two of the Writing Project begins I wonder--will I stay a bit reserved in my correspondence and blogs?   Continue to be more deliberate and less revealing?  A colleague would say these ruminations and questions are typical of my personality type (for those keeping score I am an I-N-T-J).  How much of myself I am willing to put out there will be an intriguing byproduct of my journey.