Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jury Duty

I’ve had an interesting week. On Monday I answered a jury duty summons that took me to the county seat to sit with about 120 of my fellow citizens. The judge laid out the unusual circumstances (unusual for a smallish, rural county like ours): they were needing to fill three juries at once. One was for a civil case that was predicted to last a week; one was for another civil lawsuit that might go as long as two weeks; and the third was for a criminal trial that should be over in three days, tops.

By the luck of the draw, I was assigned to the pool for the criminal case. We 35 were sent home posthaste on Monday, with instructions to return at 8:30 this morning (Wednesday).

Upon re-reporting for duty today, the potential jurors were told that the case involved a theft, under $1,500. So why wasn’t it being handled as a misdemeanor? The defendant had been convicted of theft twice before. Those prior convictions raised the stakes.

What I found fascinating about the experience was the cross section of small-town Texas represented by the members of the jury pool. We had welders, machinists, nurses, accountants, ranchers, shipping managers, truck drivers, office workers, retired military ... a candle-maker too, as I recall. I was the only writer. Or at least, the only person present who would admit to being a writer.

Sitting next to me was a retired elementary school teacher who’s now a high school reading teacher. A reading teacher! I slipped Kay my card—naturally. And I’ll be mailing her two copies of my chapter book Trail Fever. It’s been used in adult literacy classes in Arkansas (they sent me a nice note saying how well it fit the needs and interests of their adult learners). So I feel sure it’ll be of some use to Kay in her efforts to help high-schoolers improve their reading skills. Though written for the fourth-grade history curriculum, it’s got enough action and drama to appeal to teenagers and adults, too.

Coincidentally (or perhaps it’s all part of some plan?), a very good friend of mine recently shared with me some advice from Rebecca Webber—“Make Your Own Luck,” about the value of seeing possibilities in every experience. Rebecca cites research by psychologist Richard Wiseman:
“He found that those who call themselves lucky score higher on the personality factor of extraversion. That means that they are more likely to have a fortuitous encounter because they meet lots of new people ...”
I consider myself an introvert (aren't most writers?) but I also believe I’m pretty lucky. Certainly I’m flexible and open to new experiences—open “to life’s surprising twists and turns.”

I enjoyed making a lucky new acquaintance this morning. Of all the people I might have sat next to, I ended up elbow to elbow with Kay: a reading teacher! Fabulous fortune.

My only disappointment was that I didn’t get picked to serve on the jury. The chosen 12 came from the first three rows, and Kay and I were sitting in the fourth row. Well, maybe next time. Jury duty is one of life’s experiences that I’ll be glad to have, if and when I get that postcard in the mail again.

(Hmm. I wonder if I should have told the defense attorney, or the prosecutor, that the protagonist of my fantasy trilogy is a thief? Possibly that would have changed my luck ...)

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