Well, it was fun.

Way back when I started in journalism, I used to tell people that I loved it, but it didn’t love me. Today I got the Dear John note.

I thought about crying, but then asked myself what that would accomplish?

Not much. Besides, I’m more apt to cry tears of joy.

So let's fire up the blog.

It’s too easy to lay blame for this:

  • A generation of journalists far more comfortable with making videos and clicky-things.
  • Bosses who took opportunities and resources away while asking more.
  • Myself, for not making the most of whatever opportunities I may have had. Or for failing to realize them at the time they were offered.
  • A group of people who want news only after the fact, once the bad thing has happened.

… but hindsight doesn’t do much to salve the weary soul, and as a friend of mine once said, you can’t go forward while looking back. I doubt that the cold world of business much cares about the feelings of reporters who just got laid off. Subscribers probably don’t much either.

For those that do, keep reading.

My entire professional career has been dedicated to news. I was able to ride talent for a long while, and then learned how hard work added to that. And I’ve had so many editors and teachers help along the way. They are too many to list, but they put the hours in by my side editing and shaping and kicking my ass into gear when needed. The sum of their effort is evidenced in any accolades I’ve received as a reporter, and even in the small daily briefs that must feed the beast. Thank you.

I never made much money, but I was never in it for the money. I loved the story. I loved talking to people and telling theirs. I got to hold those in power up for truthful examination. I told the stories of some of the most trying times in a person’s life - the death of a child, watching industry fade, the loss of a championship game. And countless layoffs.

Now I’m on the other side of a layoff, and it’s hard to not feel like a loser. The sweat and tears - yes, there were some - put into a career matter so little right now. I want to ask why it happened, but that’s futile. And I don’t care. I’ve been dumped before, and I can’t spend time thinking like that. I had a sense, and people in news will understand this, that the other shoe was about to drop at any moment anyway. I want to be angry, and probably will be at some point, but I’ll get that out during my next long run. It's not like I got kicked out of journalism, just a job at a newspaper. (it still sucks)

The people I’m leaving in the newsroom are dedicated, capable and carry talent and skill that they bring to the job every day. They're servants of the community with equal parts heart and cynicism. They’ll end up doing plenty of good journalism - when afforded the chance.

And there’s a light feeling coming to me. I may get to have an opinion again, once I figure out what that is. I can contribute to causes and volunteer. This will bring out parts of me that journalism didn’t allow to flourish under the rule of objectivity. That said, don't expect me to light up social media with memes and other schlock. You're too good for that.

For now here’s my affirmation: You’re a reporter, dammit, go get the story.

Now the story is whatever I want it to be.

Pokemon Go

July 11, 12:50 p.m. - Last night, my wife finally broke down. Then I saw a post on facebook about a man who slammed a door in some kids' faces to get a Picachu. Yeah. That opened it up for me.

I'm now playing Pokemon GO. And I'm not telling my wife about it.

Because, yeah, it's on.

July 11, 12:53 p.m. - Just signed on with my google information, which was probably a bad idea that will lead to marketing calls and some other nefarious data collection. Anyway, I just got a pokemon. I don't know what that means, exactly. My name is PokeSmasher.

July 11, 1:01 p.m. - It's EatPokeSmash. Guess PokeSmasher is off the books. Anyway. Back to work.

The Wall

Death puts one in a reflective mood. For the past week, I've put Pink Floyd's The Wall on repeat around the house and at work and in my Volvo, which has some rust coloration in spots.

Heavily emotive guitar work all over the album. Lyrics full of double entendre, fear, loathing and shimmers of hope. And the last chords of Richard Wright on keyboard before he left the band.

Don't think that this is some kind of love note to Pink Floyd, because there's a lot about the album that I want to laugh at - like the over-the-top-ness of songs like Mother - but I just prefer to enjoy the pensive nature instead. The light picking on Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1 really just sets up for the listener a tension that delivers some time later with the chords that finally drop into a song about heavy-handed schoolteachers. And Mommy issues and Daddy issues and all that other crap that a generation of kids growing up through the late 70s had a hard time verbalizing. The whole album has a way of distilling the various fears running through the time, made tangible primarily through Communism's various walls with the Western world like the Berlin Wall (Ich bin ein Berliner) or the DMZ in Korea. But also don't forget the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank, or divisions from the Vietnam War that linger into today.

This wall-ness culminates in the first line of Mother, with "Mother, do you think they'll drop the bomb?" A polemic against the fear and paranoid thinking that leads people to put up a wall in the first place. Once the wall is up, there's no true communication, no reaching across. No understanding. The wall incubates thoughts and creates insular worlds to the point where people behind that will think, whatever comes across that wall can't be good.

Good fences make good neighbors, Frost wrote. And I agree. But a wall creates a barrier that says, "No, screw you. Go away." And in that same poem, Mending Wall, Frost agrees.

... Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
...

Listening to:

Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb Mother do you think they'll like the song Mother do you think they'll try to break my balls Ooooh aah, Mother should I build a wall

And this, too, which got me on this kick with The Wall to start:


Your pets love you, they just can't say so

Every morning there was the mewing. Time replace the water in the dish. It's time. Wake up, wake up ... wake uuuuup. Mew.

That's Skit. She is, was, an orange cat. Loved water. Liked to follow you in to the bathroom. Well, not me as much, but my wife. And she was well into her years.

We put her down today. Her kidneys were failing.

I want to write a love letter of some kind for cats, to say that they're amazing beings and whatnot. Cats never really did much for me, honestly. Yeah, I see your cat, cute girl, yeah, he's sweet and whatnot. Cute cat name too. Alsace is the name, huh? Is that where your crush from your summer semester overseas was from?

Such was my opinion of cats, largely. And such will remain my opinion of cats, largely. Even though I was bitten in the face by one and nearly lost my nose in the incident, I'm kind of a dog guy. And that's not choosing dogs over cats. They exist in silos. Can't choose one over the other. I'd unfair to both.

So I married Lauren, moved into a new place and acquired two cats. One cat, well he has always partial to my wife. He was the more nimble and could jump on the bed, for one thing. There was that one time when he hissed at me, too. Out of circumstance I wound up with Skit. In truth, I just did what I normally do when comes time to dealing with cats ... acknowledge, then ignore.

Over time, and late evenings in front of the TV, Skit would come to hang out. Little orange circle curled up, with a pink nose and then snoring. Or making biscuits until little clear drips of snot dripped from her nose. Within a year, almost nightly, she would curl up next to me, and - seeing as she was filled with lavender and chamomile - have me purring alongside in her sleep too.

Humans don't purr, silly.

And every day, the mewing. Fill the water, hang out in the bathroom. Don't, in general, touch her. Kind of on the cat-spectrum. Really into dinosaurs. Chased her little felt-covered mice. And in recent weeks my little orange fluffy friend wouldn't jump up on the sofa anymore. A trip to the vet came, and she went down quickly.

The vet brought her in to the room on a blanket, and Skit was very nearly limp. With her last little bit of energy this afternoon, Skit put her head on Lauren's arm. Lauren placed a couple of Skit's little mice in front of her and stroked her thick fur. And she was purring, again. So loudly. I rubbed he orange little head on the forehead. And then, she's gone.

I'm still not a cat person. But I am for her. For both of them.

 Goodbye Skit.

Goodbye Skit.

Update: Just got this video from Lauren, something I sent her a couple weeks ago. At risk of being too sappy, I'll just stick this right here.

Listen closely and you can hear a cat snoring. This was a few weeks before Skit went on to the great cat condo in the sky. You'll be missed, kitty.



On Bowie, creativity and changes

 Photo taken during cover shoot for Aladdin Sane. Bowie 1947-2016. Photo from the  Victoria & Albert Museum .

Photo taken during cover shoot for Aladdin Sane. Bowie 1947-2016. Photo from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

To a fellow who blurred the lines, kept working and kept creating, thanks. David Bowie died today, and this post was a long-short time in the making.

Circumstances in coincidence from my recent life led to this. Only recently I was talking with a friend about the prolific Bowie. He kept changing himself, unabashedly. He tried new things in strange music and brought some of the most memorable riffs in Rock n' Roll. He was glam, far better than Cooper was. He was the prototype for Hedwig's character in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." He also put on the polish far better than anyone else when he killed off Ziggy Stardust. He recorded God knows how many albums, influenced fashion, attitudes and made it OK for a generation of people who were in that gray area of sexuality to feel themselves out.

  • Just the other day someone brought up face paint and mentioned Ziggy Stardust. That was heavy makeup. The faceprint came later (see above photo).
  • A week or so later I caught onto a classic Bowie hook, from "Rebel, Rebel." Waang-wa-na-na-na-nah-nah-na-na-na-na-na!
  • Back in December I played The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, an album that was part of my college soundtrack, through hazy post-dorm days. I'd blast it while driving my 1991 Toyota Camry around. And after the zillionth listen, knowing it front-and-back, singing "Rock and Roll Suicide" in perhaps my greatest karaoke moment ever, I had to put it away. In one single evening, the tunes were a soundtrack for bad memories of a never-ending night with strangers that I prefer not to relive. And while I hope they're all doing well, I don't really want to see them again.

But it was December this past year when I broke Ziggy Stardust back out, on a road trip, with my wife slumbering in the passenger seat. I'm not quite the night owl I once was, and my amphetamine of choice is and always has been caffeine. On this most recent listen of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, I figured that it gives a guidebook on how to become a rock star, how to be an asshole to people who helped your rise to fame and what you'll have when you crash back to Earth. Not too much.

I won't tell you that Bowie influenced me personally in any significant way. I didn't grab on to a fashion of his, but I would subscribe to a sensibility of duty to creativity.

It was the conversation about Aladdin Sane that led me to really wrap my head around the idea that one could continue to create over a lifetime. Sure, Bowie's life not the only example. Saul Bellow wrote throughout his life, as did Twain. And musicians I know will be playing until they can't pick up an instrument. Tom Waits keeps doing his thing as well. And standup comics like Marc Maron and Louis C.K. are always working on a new hour. We will keep seeing things from Tina Fey for years to come, and certainly we can expect and have seen the same from across like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. Pablo Picasso took his creativity seriously, and worked at it every single day. But that wealth of effort to keep moving, keep trying new things - that's what's inspiring about Bowie's creative career. He released an album the day before he died. And was working on a musical play with Michael C. Hall (who I saw in "Hedwig" 16 months ago) in New York. I just read the story about it in a magazine.

The moral of this life, at least for the creative people out there: Keep making things. Make them as good as you can. They can be poignant, weird or funny. Just make things. Maybe, if you hit it just right, you can help some people along in their lives with the stuff you make. Drawing from the introduction to his obit in The New Yorker:

Because he had been so many people over the course of his grand and immense career, it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t continue to be many people—a myriad of folks in a beautiful body who would reflect times to come, times none of us could imagine but that he could. He always got to the unknown first.

That said, how many people have been helped through times of various emotional significance or complexity with "Changes," "All The Young Dudes," or "Under Pressure"?

And, in death, doesn't it feel like he got to the unknown first just one more time?

Listening to: Hunky Dory


The Twelfth Night, or forgotten holidays

Checking in with The Writer's Almanac today for the first time in a long time.

Today, Jan. 5, is the end of the Christmas season, or the Twelfth Night. As per usual, there's tons of compelling information at 'the Almanac:

"Today is Twelfth Night. It’s the eve of Epiphany, the official end of the Christmas holiday season, and the day on which many people take down their Christmas decorations or risk bad luck for the coming year."

- snip -

"It’s a Twelfth Night tradition to choose a king and queen for the festivities. Usually, this involves beans and baked goods. In English celebrations, a plum cake is baked with a bean and a pea inside. If a man finds the bean, he is crowned the Twelfth Night King, also known as the Lord of Misrule. The woman who finds the pea is crowned Queen. But if a woman finds the bean instead of the pea, she chooses her own king.

Part of the Twelfth Night tradition involves pranks, role reversals, and general chaos. Servants dressed as masters, men dressed as women, and people roamed the streets in gangs, decked out in costumes and blackened faces. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night features many of the traditional elements of the holiday."

Sounds like cause for celebration. And Halloween the stuff is long put away. Speaking of ...

 Container of silica gel. The size of a matchbook and pretty good for keeping stuff dry. Good for gym bags, too.

Container of silica gel. The size of a matchbook and pretty good for keeping stuff dry. Good for gym bags, too.

Our decorations are still up, and probably will be for a couple more days. Not necessarily lit up, but they're up for now. Fortunately the packets of silica gel arrived yesterday for putting up the garland, ornaments and nutcrackers in our 1,200 square foot apartment. The aim there is to store things in a closed underground garage that occasionally gets moisture. The silica gel should keep things dry and mold free inside the plastic bins I got on sale at Target. Nobody wants no musty Christmas decorations.

In doing so, I figured out that one can order stuff from Target online and pick it up at the store within 24 hours. No longer will I be stuck in lines, no longer a slave to the shopping cart! Freeeeeeeeedom!

Listening to: "The Trip" - Dave Rawlings Machine


Top 10 from the year

My buddy Dustin requested this one, specifically. So here are my somewhat-annotated top-ten albums from 2015, with a playlist of selected tracks:

Albums:

2015-08-12_8-55-35[1].jpg

Nathanel Rateliff and The Night Sweats - self titled - key tracks: "S.O.B.", "Look It Here." Man, I rocked this one pretty hard and heard S.O.B. on heavy rotation on the AAA stations. It's a fun song about the darkness and drinks required after love lost. The Night Sweats might be the best band name I've seen in a long while.

Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People - key tracks: "Get Better," "Next Storm," "Demons," "Silent Key." You know when you're at the gym or running and listening to music and a song pops on and grabs you and you end up sweating and tired and feeling great? "Get Better" did that to me earlier this year. The guys on NPR's All Songs Considered talked about his show in D.C., and the Turner sounds like a captivating performer.

Punch Brothers - Phosphorescent Blues - key tracks: "I Blew It Off," "Magnet," "Boll Weevil." Saw these guys at the Bijou Theatre in December on their tour I called Crowd Around The Mic. All the players sand and played into a single microphone on stage, without knocking each other out. Seeing them take Radiohead's "Kid A" and purpose it for mandolin, fiddle, double bass and guitar was otherworldly. Also, they got dark during the show. I might have been a little drunk, but the music put me in a place of deeply satisfying sadness and made me feel OK with feelings like grief and loneliness and loss.

The Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ - key tracks: "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero," "Foreign Object," "Animal Mask." This album might be about wrestling on the surface, but in Mountain Goats style, it puts you in the world of metaphor. I'm not sure that being stabbed in the eye with a foreign object is strictly about bringing things into the ring, but maybe cutting a low blow during an argument? Also caught these guys at the Bijou.

A$AP Rocky - At Long Last A$AP - key tracks: "L$D," "Excuse Me," "Jukebox Joints." Because hip hop has stuff to say. And he's on the font end of the trippy, stoned and self-aware rap game these days.

James Taylor - Before This World. I listened to this a couple of times, and know it's good, but I don't know why exactly.

Wilco - Star Wars. Good music from the best touring rock band in the U.S. Saw them twice in the past year - once downtown at the Tennessee Theatre, and again at the Pilgrimage Music Festival in Franklin. They're good, and if you don't like them (you don't have to love them), then you should reconsider what you're listening to.

Ty Segal - Ty Rex - T. Rex covers (badace) - key tracks - "Buick Mackane," "The Slider," "20th Century Boy," "Elemental Child." Play this album. LOUD. Sludge forth wit yo bad self. Segal is prolific, and is pushing rock forward while giving the proper nod to the past. I'm a T. Rex fan.

Dawes - All Your Favorite Bands - key tracks - "All Your Favorite Bands," "Right on Time." These guys hit the sentimental note and run real close to the edge of being sappy. And the drummer left the band this year. IIII-RON-EE!

Singles:

"Space Song" - Beach House. Spacey and pretty and Beach House-y

"Dreams" - Beck. Big loud Beck flips the script about 2/3 in.

"Baby Blue" - Action Bronson, feat. Chance the Rapper. This line - "I hope you never get off on Fridays, and you work at a Friday's, that's always busy on Fridays."

 R.I.P., Weiland.

R.I.P., Weiland.

Oldies, songs and albums, that got pulled back out for a few spins:

Television - Marquee Moon - 10 minutes of post punk, pre-New Wave, on the first song on the album.

New York Dolls - "Looking for a Kiss" - Punk. F-U. Get some.

Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy - Angry white dudes and dark music written cheerily.

R.E.M. - Murmur

Stone Temple Pilots - Purple - I thought this was their best album, and it has two beloved 90s songs on it, and the schmaltzy hidden track at the end. Also, I read every word of this interview of his.

Chicago - "Question 67 and 68" - Let's end this with a love song, no?

 

For the journalists on Christmas

For my friends in journalism: You're openly hated, thick-skinned, and work for truth through this and many other holidays without (that much) complaining.

It's popular and necessary during the holidays to give props to the far-flung military, our local emergency responders, and the medical professions that catch Christmas emergencies. It's also a populist move that corporations and nonprofits pull (See: The NFL). That's a rant for another day, though.

Often overlooked on holiday salutes are the people who put together the daily local news folks in PJs call up with unboxed iPads on Christmas morning. Or maybe you're the newspaper reader with a mug of coffee who looks forward to Christmas, with inky thumbs, reading section-by-section. Or you read because you want to know why you heard 2 a.m. gunfire down the street. Probably a domestic call.

Reporters put that together for you, editors pushed it through. Designers and copy editors and production staff and paper carriers (or online staff) to that story out. You don't have to call them heroes, though sometimes they are. But they are working through holidays and need their due.

My first Christmas at a paper was with an Iraq war veteran in Danville, Va. Being the cub in the newsroom, I just went ahead and volunteered for the shift. The officer was about to head out for another tour in a couple days, and I rode along. We went to a domestic call. And then hung out at one of the places he would radar for speeders - but more likely just do paperwork after a call. Much of a cop's job is waiting.

Another year in the late 2000's, I just rode the scanner - listening for any major calls in Greensboro, N.C. Afterward I got some beer and watched a DVD at home. My family and I met up for Christmas the following weekend.

In Knoxville a few years back I went to a bus station and found the best story I could. Not all Christmases glint through tinsel and mist. Last year I hung out with the police scanner. Reporters and cops both like it when there's not much to do around holidays. Not because we're lazy - far from it. When it's a calm day, that means people are getting along.

Whether embedded in a foreign bureau, or just working through their career, the reporters and editors and others in news also miss their families on holidays. And just as many - especially the reporter at your local daily paper - likely doesn't have the money to visit back home. It's not a high-paying profession. Unless you live on the East Coast, advancing often means moving far from your home to further a career.

This is no call for sympathy. Few people shoot at us, though it does happen. In the U.S. we're far more likely to be personally insulted, or grouped in with some abstract idea of "media" - whatever that is. We work with just as much volunteer spirit and pride in our country as those who are more quickly called heroes (and in many cases, rightly so). For us, to be a patriot is to question those in power - the legislature, the judicial and the executive. Corporations, and cults of personality, and big figures in sports and entertainment. Sometimes we question our own employers.

I digress. So many of my buddies in journalism will never catch a whiff of CNN airtime, or even run a column in the local daily. They'll just keep banging out stories with an ignored byline at the top. Because they know it's not about them - it's about their communities.

And they're sacrificing time with their families on this holiday to do it, knowing that there's a cold beer or three waiting at the end of the shift for them. Even if they're drinking alone for this one.

So thanks for your work.

And, above all, thanks for reading.

Currently listening to: "Christmas at the Zoo" - The Flaming Lips


12-1-15 or the First Post

Outside it's raining. Not a particularly cold rain, but December rain nonetheless.

 Traditions are important. 

Traditions are important. 

The Christmas decorations are up. Three trees, colored bulb lights on the balcony, wreath on the door. I haven't written the thank you notes from my birthday gifts just yet, but I'll get to that. And there's the beer that needs to be sent out to friends across the country. Some Wicked Weed sours, Highland Cold Mountain Ale and a few others.

These bumper seasons, fall especially, can feel desperate for the unfortunate few who can't internalize difficult feelings. We have to manufacture the holidays to give us an excuse to just be decent to each other for a while. And I still blasted my car horn each of the last three days at terrible drivers. One fellow swerved into my lane. Another just can't stop texting.

Not that I'm better than others, just a better driver most days. Except for that time last week when I scraped my driver side rear wheel well into a stationary concrete post. There's my idiot tax.

The rain is comforting. The grey clouds help introverts feel at ease with themselves. Things just aren't so open and sunny all the time. Not that an introvert has the market on morose moods, they just don't flip out as badly when they come. They're cheery people, but need the moments of still and grey and rain to digest thoughts. They don't even have to be heavy thoughts. Just some thinking to clear the head on a rainy day.

Whiskey helps too.

Listening to: