I’m clumping along on my ‘grippers’ – grampons attached to boots for icy sidewalks – to the pharmacy. Only a narrow strip of sidewalk has been cleared between the two banks of high snow.
Inevitably I’m going to come face to face with someone heading in the opposite direction. Who will be the one to step aside, into the snow, and wait for the other to pass? Me? Or the other person?
In Montreal, at its best this can become a delightful moment of sharing – a laugh, some sort of exchange about the temperature, the state of the sidewalks, the other’s interesting hat or nice dog, and you walk away buoyed by that comradely “we’re all in this together” feeling.
At its worst, it becomes a test of nerves. Like today. I’ve already faced off with a sidewalk snowplow. The plows steam along, no slowing down, sending mums with baby strollers, young kids, dogs, oldies with canes, all leaping aside into snowbanks.
As this one came down the hill towards me, I was determined to get as far as a cleared alleyway rather than step into the snowbank. All the snowplow had to do was go just a little bit slower to give me time.
And? I ended up in knee-high snow.
I climb out of the snow and off I go again. I get to Peel, a main sidewalk already partly cleared, and a large group comes barreling towards me. Not one steps aside or makes way for me. Nor do they fall into single file or go two abreast. They don’t even seem to notice I’m there – even though I’m wearing a red coat! They (all adults) cannon into me so quickly, one after another, that I have to stop. I put up my arms to protect myself.
Right! That’s it! I’m not going to give way to anyone ever again! I’m going to barge through whoever stands in my way!
Later, another narrow pathway on a snowy sidewalk. Just as I arrive at the pharmacy, a woman comes down the steps. We stand directly in front of each other. I go right and she goes left so we end up face to face again. Then she goes right and I go left so we’re still facing each other….
There we are, both dodging to the same side again and again. A silly moment of jiggling around on a snowy street.
I laugh and look directly at her. Her eyes are firmly on some spot beyond my left shoulder and I see she’s determined not to look at me. No laugh.
I walked away feeling sad.
Was I feeling sad because the woman hadn’t laughed with me or made eye contact? Or had she somehow passed on to me the way she’d been feeling?
Did she walk away feeling cheered up because of my laugh? I’d like to think so.
Writing Lessons from a Snowy Sidewalk: Action-Reaction
If I do anything that leads you to do anything, together we have an action. If I fire a gun at you and you fall over in a dead heap, we have an action. Your first task when reading a play is to find each action: find each action’s first event (its trigger), then its second event (its heap). Both will be there. There is a heap for every trigger and vice-versa. David Ball in “Backwards & Forwards”
1. When someone did something unpleasant to me, I became unpleasant too.
2. When the woman refused to acknowledge me or the silliness of our situation, my mood instantly changed.
A BEAT is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beat by Beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene. Robert McKee in “Story”