Murphy's Law is for Amateurs

Monday, February 28, 2011

Murphy's Law says, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." For speakers, this usually means the microphone will screech or the audio-visual equipment won't work or the airplane that is scheduled to arrive two hours before your talk will be delayed for three. For actors and actresses, it may be something as simple as a wig flying off in the middle of a scene.

Roland and I went to see a regional theater production of Annie on Saturday night. Professional actors played Miss Hannigan and Oliver Warbucks, but the rest of the cast were amateurs.

In one scene, Oliver Warbuck's secretary, Grace, has just brought Annie to the billionaire's mansion and introduced her to the servants. As they sing and dance "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," one of the male servants picks Annie up and swings her around. On Saturday night her wig flew off, revealing blond hair hugging the girl's scalp. Not one of the dozen or so people on stage stepped out of position to retrieve the red hair that had come to rest in a conspicuous spot.

Annie hardly missed a beat as she continued singing and dancing. And that's just what she should have done. She wasn't in a good position to retrieve the wig, and the audience didn't expect that from a child, anyway. Annie acted like a professional.

But the others on stage acted like the amateurs they were. Grace probably could have retrieved the wig the most naturally, but almost any of the servants could have broken rank, danced over gracefully and picked up the wig, and waltzed over to return it to Annie. That person would have departed from his or her scripted role, but the interruption would have been shorter and more welcome than the prolonged period where Annie looked like a scalped Indian.

Then Oliver Warbucks came on stage, noticed the wig, and picked it up. He said, "I believe this belongs to you," placed it on Annie's head, and smoothed it down. Yes, it was a departure from the script, but it brought the biggest applause of the evening.

That's the difference between being an amateur and being a professional. Professionals experience Murphy's Law, too, but they don't let it paralyze them. The professional speaker learns how to project his or her voice without a microphone, designs a presentation that is enhanced by but does not rely on audio-visuals, and leaves earlier in anticipation of flight delays. The professional actor expects the unexpected and learns how to ad lib.

If one of the amateurs on stage had taken a risk and stepped out of the script for a moment, the audience would have applauded. Would the director have yelled at him or her for it? Maybe, but probably not.

Life is like that, too. Sometimes we have to step out of the script and take a risk to help others.

Even if we don't get any applause.


The picture is from my high-school senior play. I am the old maid on the left. Although I don't remember anything going wrong, I was a true amateur at the time and would never have taken a risk if it had.

Blame Me

Monday, February 21, 2011

Borders announced last week that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is closing about one-third of its stores, including the one where my writers' critique group meets.

Not that finding a new location is a novel experience for us: we seem to move approximately once a year as conditions at our host location change. And no, we haven't put them all out of business.

More and more brick and mortar bookstores are closing their doors. Part of it is the economy, but part is a change in reading and purchasing habits. I don't mean that people are reading less, because that isn't my experience. But we are reading and purchasing reading materials in ways that make brick and mortar bookstores unnecessary as places to buy books.

And I'm one of the culprits.

If I'm at Borders for my writers' group, I'll spend money there. Otherwise, I do my shopping online where the selection is better and whatever I'm looking for is rarely out of stock. With the "look inside" feature, I can even read the back cover copy and look at the first chapter to get a feel for the writer's style.

I'm also one of the growing number of people who read e-books. I asked for and received a Kindle as a retirement present, and I love it. (Thank you, NFA gang.) Yes, I still read some paperbacks and hardcover books, but my bookshelves are already packed beyond their capacity. Besides, you can only take so many physical books on an airplane and still have room for toothpaste.

Although I'm sorry for the people who are losing their jobs, I don't mind not having brick and mortar stores as a place to buy books. I don't need them for that. But I am sad that there will be fewer places for readers and writers to congregate to talk about their passion for words. Words that inform. Words that create emotions. Words that, when strung together, tell a story. The passion won't lessen, but the opportunities for face-to-face discussion might.

And that would be a tragedy.

My Valentine

Monday, February 14, 2011

I've been married to the same guy for over 30 years. I know that's out of fashion these days, but I can't help it. He's just too romantic to give up.

Although I could cite plenty of recent instances (like the 30th anniversary party he planned without my knowledge), I'm going to reminisce about our early days, before we put on the wedding rings. I'm not sure these are in the right order, but here are some of the things Roland did to capture my heart.

A week of flowers. Roland sent me a single rose at work on Monday. Another flower on Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday. (By the third or fourth day I was expecting it.) A bouquet on Friday. I thought the flower-a-day idea was cool, and so did the people at work.
The want ads. Either The Chicago Sun Times or The Chicago Tribune had a special Valentine's Day section in the want ads for people to post Valentine messages. Roland called me and told me to look at them, and there it was. All these years later, I don't remember exactly what it said, but I think it was something like, "Kathryn Page, I love you. Be my Valentine. Roland." I didn't love him yet, so I wasn't sure how I felt about the ad.
A dozen roses, perfectly timed. Because of Roland's work schedule, we were going out every other week. On one of his work Saturdays, I was home wondering if I should break it off. While I enjoyed Roland's company, I still hadn't fallen in love with him, and that's what I was looking for. When the doorbell rang and a florist delivered a dozen roses, I decided to give the relationship a little longer to develop. So here's a note to you guys: flowers can make a difference.
More unexpected flowers. I was in law school at the time, and I went to Washington, D.C. (by myself) over Spring Break. When I arrived at my hotel, there were flowers in my room from--guess who?
A special airplane ride.  Roland had a private pilot's license, so he rented a plane but didn't tell me where we were going. I could see Lake Michigan below us, but it took a while before I realized we were headed for Holland, Michigan, to see my parents. They met us at the airport and took us to their house for dinner. Then Roland and I flew back. (Daddy took the picture while we were there. It suffered water damage in a flood 2 1/2 years ago, but you can still see the distinctly 1970s influence.)
Separate hotels. I planned a vacation to New Orleans with a friend, and we reserved a room with two double beds. When something came up and she couldn't go, Roland volunteered to step in. The hotel I had booked was filled up by then, so Roland stayed several blocks away. Some of my friends thought it strange that we went on vacation together and stayed in different hotels when there was an empty bed in my room, but I was glad Roland and I shared the same morals.
A traditional proposal. When Roland told me to dress up for our date, I guessed what was coming. He took me to dinner at an elegant continental restaurant high above Chicago's Magnificent Mile. The restaurant had strolling violinists, and Roland waited for them to come by our table. They never did, so he gave up and put the ring in my hand. I had fallen in love by then, so there was only one thing I could say.
That's the kind of guy I married.

And I guess I'll keep him.

Snow Art

Monday, February 7, 2011

As a full-time writer, I work at home. That meant I didn't have to go out in the Blizzard of 2011, but it also meant that I didn't get any days off work.

On the other hand, it did give me the flexibility to walk around the neighborhood and take pictures of nature's snow art before snow plows, snow blowers, and snow shovels spoiled it.

So enjoy these pictures.

Artist: the Blizzard of 2011.* Medium: snow.

* The artist graciously assigned me the copyright for these images.