A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Starting a new career at an age when most people have already joined the AARP has its benefits and drawbacks. One of the drawbacks--especially if you choose a career at which it's difficult, even with experience, to make a good living--is keeping body and soul together till you get rolling. Times ten, if you decide to do it in a part of the country where you can freeze to death if you're not careful.

As I look back over the last two-and-a-half years, I can see I have made some progress. I write every single day. I've got a web site, a blog, business cards, and membership in the Society of Professional Journalists. I belong to a poetry group, and crank out enough material to be able to present something fresh each time we meet. I write a weekly column in the newspaper. I've started two novels, one for each drawer in the bedside tables. My writing mentor--who's ghostwriter for Garrison Keillor--says I've got a "voice." The editor of the Briar Cliff Review wants dibs on any finished portion of the novel he's seen. I've got a portfolio of publications in national--make that international--publications. And I'm in line for editorship of a respected journal.

If I were living in a studio apartment and taking the bus to the grocery store, I'd be flush. Trying to hang onto the Emory House and the vintage sports car, on the other hand, while simultaneously pursuing various non-remunerative avocations and laying the groundwork for famous authorship, is juggling ten plates on a high wire with no safety net. Some day soon, I hope, I'll have the luxury of paying every bill in full the day it hits, but, for the moment, I'm just spreading my very little bit of money around extremely thinly, trying to keep the sharks away.

Today was the day, according to this notice I received last week, that my gas was to be shut off if I didn't spread the money a little more thickly around the BayState Gas Company. I decided on Thursday to give Customer Service a call and remind them that I'd been steadily paying down my last winter's bill. The agent I spoke with was "happy to work with me." I would need to make a payment of $395 before the 26th, she said.

I could pay something toward my bill, I told her, but not that much. $395 before the 26th, she repeated, or my service would be disconnected. Unless I was eligible for fuel assistance? No, I had been rejected, I told her. I had not been able to provide enough documentation, in the form of unemployment checks or disability payments, to satisfy them. Had I tried the Salvation Army's Good Neighbor Energy Fund? I called, but their voice mail box was full. I went down in person, but was told I had earned too little to qualify--they only helped people who had too much income to qualify for fuel assistance. Had I tried Catholic Charities? I called, but got a message telling me to leave my name and number. No one called back.

May I ask you a question? I asked the Customer Service representative. Do you like your job?

I don't understand what that has to do with this call, she replied.

I'm just curious, I said. You say you're trying to work with me, but in fact you're not. You've got a set of Procrustean plans which bear no relation to my personal situation. And no matter what I say to you, you only have a limited number of responses you're allowed to make.You're not allowed to deviate from your script, no matter what. I'm a human being, and you're a human being, but you are not relating to me as one person to another person. So I just wonder how you feel about that?

Long silence. I'm just doing my job, she finally replied.

I just ask because I used to be a collector myself, I told her. I know the drill.

Then you understand how it is, she said. I just work for this company.

No, I don't understand, I said. I quit my job because I could not continue to represent a company that required me to deal with people on that level.

Silence. Looooooong silence.

Well, thank you, I said finally. You've told me what I wanted to know.

Thank you for calling Baystate Gas, and have a nice day, she said, and disconnected the line.

I consolidated all my cash and made the payment by Friday. And now it's the 26th and I haven't been disconnected. But there's definitely a disconnect somewhere along the line...and it doesn't have anything to do with fuel.