When a Definition Doesn’t Define

I was reading a story about Steve Bannon’s current Trump Administration troubles this morning and came across the word “Manichaean.” Had no idea what it meant, so I looked it up. The Merriam-Webster definition is thus:

“A believer in a syncretistic religious dualism originating in Persia in the third century A.D., and teaching the release of the spirit from matter through asceticism.”

We also got this: “ADJECTIVE, of or relating to Manichaeism. NOUN, an adherent of Manichaeism,” which says exactly nothing.

Here is the sentence from the piece written by Todd Gitlin and the usually reliable Bill Moyers:

“The consensus among reporters, both loyalists and ‘enemies of the people,’ is that this means a demotion for Bannon, who passes for an intellectual in Trump’s White House on the strength of his Manichaean media enterprises charged with a worldview that heralds global Judeo-Christian war against ‘jihadist Islamic fascism,’ aka ‘radical Islam.'”
(Photo: langports.com)

“Godspell” Simply Spectacular at Hollins

The cast is a live wire in “Godspell.”

Actress Lindsay Bronston serves cider.

Just when you think Ernie Zulia and the Hollins University Theatre department can’t possibly get any better, they do. They certainly did tonight with the spectacular production of “Godspell,” the Biblical epic that walks the delicate line between reverence, good storytelling, great humor and flashy-splashy entertainment.

The production soared in every respect, every  theatrical discipline, beginning with Zulia as director.  His touch was all over this one in every note, every move, every instant of lighting, band, costuming and stage craft, and every ounce of the considerable energy from the cast of 13 (Jesus and his disciples).

Mianami Morinaga

This one hit a high mark very early with young Japanese freshman Mianami Morinaga’s touching version of “Day By Day.” There was not a dry eye in the house–including mine. Ernie admitted that when Mianami tried out for the part, “I cried, too.”

The music was superb throughout, though, with high points coming from freshman Lindsay Bronston (a dead ringer for actress Gina Davis) signing “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” (and hitting a note most can only imagine; junior Erin Bragg (backed by sophomore Haley Phillippart) beautifully singing “By My Side”; and senior Natalie Pendergast in several efforts.

The part of Jesus in the production was played by guest artist Marion Grey, a JMU graduate, who has been in Hollins works in the past. She was athletic, vocal and a fine young actor throughout, pulling together a dozen other superb stage performances.

Director Ernie Zulia hugs President Nancy Gray.

This production was staged in unusual manner, using the stage for both its intended purpose and to seat the audience on two sides of the production in the center. At the end of the first act, the cast remained on stage and served cider to those in attendance, giving us a chance to chat with the members. It was a nice touch.

The evening was made even more special in that it was President Nancy Gray’s last production. Nancy has been a fierce supporter of the theater and was given a toast, which she richly deserved. I want to give her a toast from me, as well, for her unwavering 10-year support for the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. I don’t know that we could have lasted 10 years without her. She is special.

Marion Grey as Jesus (left/center).

Cast and audience mingle at the break.

An Exceptional Theater Weekend in Roanoke

Linsee Lewis in “The Belle of Amherst” at Star City Theatre in Vinton.

This is a simply incredible weekend for theater in Roanoke, which is quickly becoming “Theater Central, Virginia.”

  • Off the Rails Theatre finishes with the notable “Arcadia,”at the June McBroom Theatre downtown.
  • Star City Theatre ends its run with talented Linsee Lewis as Emily Dickinson in the one-woman show “The Belle of Amherst” in Vinton.
  • All the while, “Godspell” begins at Hollins and you all know how that will go.

This is an unusually bountiful weekend in the Valley for those of us who like our theater live and on stage. The two of these I have seen are exceptional and “Godspell” is, of course, “Godspell.” Put down the remote, crank up the Toyota and treat yourself to one of the best features of living in our valley.

The Selfie Queen of “Arcadia” Strikes Back

Michael and Amanda Mansfield get a kick out of selfie queen Melissa Webster.

I was at the June McBroom Theatre in downtown Roanoke a little while ago, putting together a story on Michael and Amanda Mansfield (the co-first couple* of theater in Roanoke), when the expected happened.

Out of nowhere, dressed in her black overalls, came Off the Rails Theatre costumer Melissa Webster, cell in hand, zeroing in for a selfie. Snap, snap it went as Michael and Amanda (the director and lead actor in this weekend’s “Arcadia”) broke up laughing.

All this to remind of you of one simple truth: “Arcadia” is an outstanding play by the brilliant Tom Stoppard, and has but three performances left. Tonight’s price of admission is anything you want to give–15 cents to $1,500, according to OTR’s Kathy Guy, who added, “We’d prefer the $1,500.

(* The other part of the “co” are Ginger Poole and Jack Avis of Mill Mountain Theatre.)

A Sad, Destructive Spat for Virginia Democrats

Northam (left) and Perriello

It is sad to sit there and watch Democrats eating their young again, after having given the presidency to Donald Trump, Congress to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the Supreme Court to the Koch brothers.

Facebook is alive with people complaining about the “Bernie Sanders cult,” all the while hanging tight to the Hillary Clinton cult, blaming each other for the loss and not moving on. I am especially sad to see people from this area sharply criticizing Tom Perriello, the gubernatorial candidate opposing Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam–the party regulars’ choice–because they say he is corrupt, he has never done anything, he is an outsider, he is an insider, he has male pattern baldness.

Perriello and Northam together give Virginia two of the very best candidates for governor in the country, but my guess is that neither will win because of the deep divide in the Democratic Party, the divide that insists blame be placed for election losses, for Trump, for all that those of us on the left (I’m not a Democrat) find extraordinarily distasteful and disturbing.

One of them will run against well-organized and well-funded Republican Ed Gillespie, who nearly defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Warner a couple of years ago. He is a formidable candidate, backed by huge stacks of money and a base that begins at about 40 percent of Virginia’s voters.

I will not suggest the obvious–that Dems forget the recent past and forge a good plan to move ahead, defeat the Trump faction and get government back into the people’s hands–because so many of these hard-core Dems simply won’t listen, won’t even consider doing that. Like the far right Republicans entering the 2016 election, they seem more interested in getting even than in governing.

So sad.

(Photos: Washington Post)

A Surprising Look at Sexual Abuse by My Friend Karen Prior

Author, educator Karen Prior

Karen Prior, who teaches English at Liberty University in Lynchburg and writes superb biographies (Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More? Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist and Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me) and stimulating magazine articles, has just–almost by accident–put together an important piece for the  national magazine Christianity Today (here).

The title is “10 Things Sexual Assault Victims Want You to Know” and Karen explains how it came about thusly: “I recently posted this question [on Facebook]: “What do you wish people knew/understood about experiencing sexual assault?” Responses, says Karen, filled 60 pages (including one from me, which is used in the article).

She says she had not intended to write an article, only to get a feel for the subject, but CT jumped all over it.

Karen found these stats: “7 percent of girls in grades 5–8 and 12 percent of girls in grades 9–12 report having been sexually abused, along with 3 percent of boys grades 5–8 and 5 percent of boys in grades 9–12. The numbers for sexual assault are only worse for adults, and college students are particularly vulnerable.”

The abuse I went through briefly at 17 has been hidden in a dark part of my brain ever since and I have no idea why I responded to Karen’s request. Maybe it is because I trust her; maybe I’m feeling guilty about hiding it all these years–when I did absolutely nothing wrong.

It’s a good piece, an important piece. I suggest you read it.

(Photo: Lashonda Delivuk)


Roanoke Times Eliminates Editions, Employees

This is the pre-consolidation Roanoke World-News staff in 1978, before anybody even imagined layoffs. We combined newspapers to save money, but nobody was fired. That’s me in the back, left, dark shirt.

It was pretty much inevitable that Roanoke’s daily newspaper would announce layoffs (10.5) after the Richmond Times-Dispatch–its sister in the Berkshire Hathaway family–did that yesterday (33).

Here‘s the story that appears on the Roanoke Times’ website (you have to search deep for it; it’s in the “business” section; scroll down). Appears to have been written by corporate.

The Richmond paper, another BH property, moved around and consolidated some sections and the RT has decided to eliminate SoSalem, SWoCo and Botetourt View, its community specialties, in addition to the job losses.

BH is laying about 10 percent of its newspaper employees nationally, according to the Times-Dispatch in an effort to counter the dramatic advertising losses in print and the fact that online advertising has not reached projections.

The layoffs include people in the news department, but mostly not on the first team. My favorite ex-wife was not among the jettisoned, I’m happy to say.

Those laid off worked for the community editions or were in sports or on the copy desk. (Reporter Matt Chittum, in a Facebook post, says the sports layoff was the “assistant sports editor,” but I looked up the sports department’s lineup and there was no assistant sports editor, only an “editorial assistant.”)

What isn’t quite recognized yet is that with the elimination of those zoned editions, the area weeklies have an opportunity to fill in the spaces and pick up some advertising that will be meaningful to them, maybe even to the point of hiring some of those laid off people. that kind of “journalism” (which isn’t journalism) has its value and has been a weekly newspaper tradition since the the Gutenberg press was invented.

From what I’ve read, those small, targeted papers are doing fairly well. I saw a Vinton Messenger the other day and it looks good. It appears to have one editorial employee, same as always, but a lot of community participation.

The Times’ New River Valley section, which runs four times a week, will now go to three (or two, depending on whom you ask), and the daily Extra section (which I helped introduce in the 1970s–and whose name was my suggestion) will shrink from daily to three days a week. Sunday Horizon is toast.

Years ago when Frosty Landon–who would become executive editor–edited Horizon as a high-toned and often pretentious section, one of the editors told him he should run stories people wanted to read. Frosty replied that he was running stories they ought to read.

(Photo: roanoke.com)

A Brush with Greatness from WWI

Col. Paul Rockwell, long after WWI.

I was reminded this morning–by a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wherein the writer met the last World War I veteran a few years ago–that in about 1968 I came in direct contact with Col. Paul Rockwell, a WWI member of the famous French Foreign Legion and Lafayette Escadrille.

The significance, I guess, is that we’re celebrating America’s entry into the War to End All Wars, which didn’t exactly come to that.

Paul Rockwell’s brother, Kiffin, co-founded the elite group of American pilots representing France (the Rockwells were of French extraction) and flew with considerable distinction. In fact, Kiffin was credited with being the first American pilot to shoot down a German plane, the result of an air battle over Alsace in 1916.

Paul Rockwell was a friend of an older friend of mine, a retired military officer with some measure of WWII fame. I have forgotten Mike’s last name, but he played an important role in my growing into an adult (see my memoir, Burning the Furniture) that we don’t need to get into here.

The Rockwell boys grew up in my hometown of Asheville, N.C., listening to their grandfathers talk about their exploits during the Civil War. Kiffin decided to attend VMI (where he dropped out) after graduating from Asheville High and his brother opted for Washington & Lee College, both in Lexington.

Escadrille co-founder Kiffin Rockwell.

The Rockwell brothers joined the French Foreign Legion in 1914 at the outbreak of the war and Kiffin has been credited as being the first American to join the French cause.

Paul was seriously wounded during the winter of 1914-1915 and eventually became a war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, directly linked to the Escadrille. Kiffin, meanwhile, helped found the legendary American-French flying group, even though he had not yet learned to fly. Paul became the publicist for the Escadrille Americaine.

According to Mike Sistrom, writing about North carolina WWI veterans (here), “Paul Rockwell became the unit’s publicist, writing many dispatches for American papers about the pilots’ heroics. He also published several of the memoirs of the Escadrille pilots, including McConnell’s Flying for France (1917) and the posthumously released War Letters of Kiffin Yates Rockwell (1925.) Readers thrilled to the heroism of the dashing young men. During the war, Americans were almost as likely to be familiar with the idealized picture of war presented by the small number of American flyers than they were with the horrors of combat and daily hardships experienced by over one million average American infantrymen.”

Kiffin Rockwell, who had already been wounded twice, was shot through the chest with an explosive bullet during an air battle in 1916 and killed. His brother patiently sat years later as I pumped him for all the information he was willing to share–which was a lot.

Times-Dispatch Layoffs: Sending Their Best Away

It is difficult enough that good newspapers lay off newsroom staff in order to remain viable, but when they jettison their institutional memory, the problem becomes even more serious than the simple human toll.

The Richmond-Times Dispatch–owned by Berkshire-Hathaway (Warren Buffett), which owns the Roanoke Times–laid off 33 people today, 13 of them in the news room. The layoffs include “features editor Pauline Clay, who has worked at the newspaper since 1987; assistant sports editor Bob Flynn, who has worked at the newspaper since 1999; assistant business editor Greg Shriver; photographer Kevin Morley, who has worked for the newspaper since 1984; reporter Katherine Calos, who began working for the Richmond News-Leader in 1974 and joined the RTD after the two newsrooms merged in 1992; arts and culture writer Markus Schmidt, who has worked for the newspaper since 2013; higher education reporter Karin Kapsidelis, who joined the staff in 1981; breaking news reporter Bryan Devasher, who joined the staff in 2007; copy editors Ed Newland and Jack Norton; graphic artist John Ownby, who has worked at the paper since 1988; and designer George Banko.”

That’s a lot of people, representing a lot of recent Richmond and Virginia history easily recalled because they lived it.

Editor Paige Mudd is quoted as saying, “We are saying goodbye to colleagues who have been with us, in some cases, for decades; in other cases, some who were just beginning their careers in journalism. We wish all of them well. And if our revenue improves, we will work to restore positions we’ve lost.” don’t count on those jobs appearing again any more than far southwest Virginia will see the return of coal jobs. Ain’t happening.

A few years ago, the T-D laid off my friend Rex Bowman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, who worked in Roanoke at the bureau here. It has remained a mystery to me why the paper didn’t bring Rex home, get rid of two very young–and low-paid–employees and keep this invaluable member of the staff.

In the past few years, the Roanoke Times has laid off or otherwise divested itself of an entire community of veteran journalists, preferring to either let those positions go unfilled or filling  them with children. I can only see disrespect and disregard for their customers in those staff decisions. Newspapers–good ones–require experience, at least in the leadership roles, people who can mentor and become role models for the young, talented reporters.

But that’s not what’s happening and it’s damn sad. I weep for my profession.