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Taking It Easy in Newton This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I've lived in Newton all my life. Three of my grandparents lived here, as did six of my great- grandparents. I fear I will be stuck in this place for the rest of my life, as if there is some force insisting I belong here.

Here in Newton we don't call ourselves Townies, we call ourselves Newtonites. Newton is a city of eccentric people. There is a therapist on every corner, and for good reason. Newtonites keep the therapists very busy. The only criteria for being a Newtonite is one has to be a certifiable nutcase.

Let me give you some examples of a typical day. You walk into Dunkin' Donuts at 8 a.m. You are tired. Newtonites are just waking up, but the screaming and bickering has started. A woman is irate because her donut has not been evenly glazed. She is insisting on speaking to the manager. She demands a dozen free donuts to smooth things over. The clerks rush around madly trying to appease her before all hell breaks loose.

A little unnerved, you go next door to pick up a shirt at the dry cleaners. A man's face is quickly changing colors with rage - he goes from hot red to choking blue in a matter of seconds. Apparently, the dry cleaners left a speck of a spot on his Ralph Lauren sweater. "I can't see it," the manager timidly says.

"Just take a look with this magnifying glass," the angry man insists. The manager apologizes profusely. He fires his staff and offers the enraged man a year of free dry cleaning for him, his family and all of his neighbors.

Then you begin to walk to school. You are almost run off the sidewalk by the pushy mother of one of your classmates. She is excitedly screaming at you. Something must be incredibly important. She wants to know how your spelling test score compared to her daughter's. You are in kindergarten. You misspelled fit, but her daughter misspelled ill and nut. She will never make it to the Ivys, the mother laments, dramatically throwing her hands in the air. Oh, this poor woman. I'm sure no one else's life could compare to her misery.

As you cross the street in the crosswalk, you are almost struck by a racing car. There is a No U-Turn sign. The driver makes a U-turn in front of the sign. The police look the other way. Rules are for 99 percent of the world - not for those in Newton.

You walk into school. One frantic group of mothers is in a heated argument with another intense group. What is this all about, you wonder. Then you overhear what is at the root of the trauma: The frantic group wants the bulletin boards to be pink, the intense group wants them to be purple. You are only six-years-old but, being a Newtonite, you get the picture. Life is not supposed to be fun. Life is to be taken seriously - very seriously. Life is an emergency.

When our out-of-town friends come over for dinner, the adults all laugh and make sure their children don't drink our water. Could it be that the stories of our neighbors have scared them? Are our neighbors affected by our environment, or do nuts just find each another?

One of my neighbors, for example, is a true screwball. She hates people (especially children), cats, dogs and rabbits, but nothing compares to her hatred of squirrels. One spring was really creepy. It was raining dead squirrels for weeks. I'd be riding my bike, minding my own business, when suddenly a squirrel would plummet from Crazy Lady's tree, narrowly missing my head but causing me to swerve. I'd be raking my lawn, and dead squirrels would fall off the roof onto my rake. We finally had the police come and look at all the white powder she was sprinkling on the branches of her trees. They didn't want to get involved, but their presence did stop the "War on Squirrels" for awhile. In any event, squirrels don't dare live on our street; even dumb animals like that have learned their lesson. I'm just thankful that she's too freaked out by us to come to our homes because God knows she'd get the rest of us if she could.

Well, you asked that this be fiction, not nonfiction. My fictitious twist to "Taking It Easy in Newton" is that a group of world-renowned psycho-pharmacologists took out a globe and questioned which community would have the most to gain and the least to lose by their biochemical experiment. Needless to say, they chose Newton. Their plan was to seep mood stabilizers throughout the community for a period of time, and study the changes. They flooded Newton's water supply with mood stabilizers and sat back to watch the results.

Lo and behold, within a month, the tone of Newton had begun to change. Newtonites were smiling! Many looked less worried. Perfection was no longer the goal. People were courteous. People seemed at peace. Getting to work remained important, but running a child over in the process began to feel excessive. Gasp! Squirrels again frolicked in the trees. Cheers! People even began to notice the flowers growing in their own gardens, planted and cared for by a steady stream of paid gardeners. Hoorah! Even the homeless dared return to sleep on the park benches with no fear!

Some might question whether Newton lost its colorful character during this experiment. To anyone sane, the answer would be a resounding "No!" What is so attractive about enraged, busy perfectionists? The goal for all of us should be a peaceful existence and living in harmony. We sometimes need to remind ourselves that we actually know people who didn't get into the Ivys, and not only are they happy but they even have jobs. Big wow. We need to remember that others are not looking at us through a magnifying glass, so we need to stop looking at ourselves through one.

We need to remember that life is really nothing but a game, and if you burn yourself out, you lose. The winners are those who don't let all the stages and steps of the game we call life kill their spirit. We all get one shot at this game. We are the directors of our existence. Only we can live the life we have imagined for ourselves.

So, stop and smell the roses and the clean air and the green grass. Enjoy the beautiful sights surrounding us, listen to the laughter and the stimulating conversation of others as well as the introspective voice from within ... and as you work on keeping yourself centered, feel the self-acceptance, the self-confidence and the peace that eventually will come to you on your journey of self-discovery because of, and not in spite of, being a member of a community such as Newton.

A successful college essay! Ashleigh now attends Albertus Magnus College.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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