Another Step Toward the New News

My friend Bill Kovarik and I are working on a class for the January, 2019, version of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference (here) at Hollins University on the future of work in writing.

Today, comes this explanation of why the New York Daily News–one of the nation’s biggest remaining papers–will operate with a news staff of 40: “The decisions being announced today reflect the realities of our business and the need to adapt to an ever-changing media environment. They are not a reflection on the significant talent that is leaving today. Let there be no doubt: these colleagues are highly valued and will be missed.” That was the explanation staffers got for the 50 percent cut in a news positions at a paper where 250 newsies worked a few years to the size of a regional daily, like The Roanoke Times, for example.

The truth is hard to digest, but a newspaper is a delivery system, not news itself. So when the Tronc execs write that the layoffs “reflect the realities of our business and the need to adapt to an ever-changing media environment,” they’re on the money. I don’t see this as a ruthless culling of talent in order to remain profitable. The NYDN will continue to operate with more of an online presence (it hopes), as will so many other publications.

The technology is there, so newspapers–especially–will have to finally face that fact. Magazines, for now, have that glossy thing going for them, which seems to be appealing to many readers and certainly looks better in a scrap book than a newspaper clipping. For the reader, the magazine’s looks-before-information concentration, has also had its selling point. The internet has made us all more visual, less interested in long, investigative pieces.

That, of course, is not good for our form of government (which is dramatically changing daily), but it’s all the people’s choice. And my chosen profession is worse off for it. So are you.

Mr. Christmas and the Lighted Stocking Cap

Susan, Mr. Christmas and moi.

The old boy himself.

Yesterday, it was Mr. Christmas’ turn. Susan and I hiked Roaring Run in Botetourt County with the idea of decorating a tree for the holiday and doing a little celebrating. It’s a good idea, but we didn’t take traditional decorations.

Instead, we improvised and came up with a pretty dang good alternative: Mr. Christmas.

I had brought an extra sweatshirt (red) and Susan had another scarf, some ribbon, a pair of red gloves and a stocking cap with a string of lights attached. They were perfect.

We found a tree that had been cut off about three feet off the ground and I set to decorating it while Susan shot photos. Here’s the result.

(Oh, we do have a good time.)

Working on Mr. Santa.

Putting on the gloves.

Yeh, we do kinda look alike, don’t we?

Mr. Santa ponders a swim.

Merry Christmas, Newfound Friends!

Susan, David, LeeAnn and me.

Our gift was reciprocated with these tasty candied nuts.

My good friend Susan and I have formulated this tradition over the past few years where we go hiking on Christmas morning and the first person we run into, we give a gift. Finding somebody else out hiking Christmas Day is not always easy, but we haven’t failed yet.

Yesterday, hiking Roaring Run, we ran into a lovely couple celebrating its first Christmas together. Making matters even better is that David and LeeAnn are simply lovely people. They were, of course, surprised and delighted with the Christmas cheer (a gift certificate for Olive Garden) and they even took photos of Susan and me putting together Mr. Christmas (our decoration motif for this year; see additional post).

Here are David and LeeAnn and some of their Christmas–the part they shared with us.

LeeAnn and I chatting with the falls behind us.

The happy couple with a lunch at Olive Garden. for their first Christmas together.

Susan with her new friends.

A Family to Admire–for Many Reasons

Two of the boys edging into the water at Roaring Run., one a college student, the other about 12.

Easing toward the dump-off point.

My friend Susan and I did our usual holiday hike yesterday, this time at Roaring Run in Botetourt County, and we came across the most fascinating–and quite wonderful–family along the way.

We were first drawn to the group of about 12 or so (grand parents, parents, children) when two of its boys (and one visiting friend) stripped down to skivvies and went into the 50-degree creek’s water, sliding down the face of a large rock, which is a popular summer venue. It is not a popular December 25 venue, however. At least not in my experience.

Here goes!

But the boys–and their Mexican friend–went at it with the full support of a cheering family and all emerged a little colder, but unscathed.

While the boys were doing their best to fall over from hypothermia, one of the moms was tutoring her two little girls on how to become a fairy god child for the planet and do good things. The grandparents seemed good with it all.

Watching this family behave in the way we all wish our families worked was a true joy for Susan and me, who got to see what a family should be like from up close.

(Photos by Susan K. and me.)


The Oh, shoot! moment (as his pores slammed shut).

The younger boy, not to be outdone …

Brothers. Equals in adventure.

The Mexican visitor is a bit more tentative, but he got into the swing of it.

Smiling through the (freezing) pain.

The fully appreciative family.

Mugging for the camera.

Mom and the girls discussing the role of the heroic fairy princess.


Sexual Harassment: Another Question

Yesterday I learned some valuable lessons about sexual harassment. I posted a question about the wisdom of granting an actress a $9.5 million settlement in a case against some executives working on a TV series that runs on CBS. I suggested (unfortunately) that I likely would agree to be sexually harassed for that much money. I meant that to be a light touch. It was not. It was a punch in the face of women and I apologize for it.

The question correctly opened me for quite a bit of criticism, much of it from friends I respect. I was wrong in phrasing the question. I stand by asking the question (without the bad joke), however, because without questions, there are no answers and I learned a good bit about what harassment means to some people and just how prevalent it is. One woman talked about making sure her key was handy–as a weapon–every time she walks to her car, about living in a constant state of fear, day after day.

Others talked about not being able to do their jobs because of some idiot who didn’t know boundaries. Others talked of anxiety, of fear of losing their jobs if they resist, of feeling they have no choice.

I have been sexually harassed in the distant past by a superior at work and it was not comfortable. I found a way out. But it was never something I wanted or welcomed. It made me less effective at work and more prickly at home.

The one question I still have about the $9.5 million is not whether CBS can afford it, but about where that money comes from when it is paid to the actress. Will it come directly from the people responsible for the sexual harassment or will some some single mother in the makeup department, script girl, small-part actress, assistant to the assistant director or other person near the bottom be asked to give up her job or part of her salary in order to pay the settlement? If there is anything fair about that, I want to know what it is.

My point here–and part of my original point–is: who pays and if CBS pays, does it serve as a detriment to the individuals who are guilty of sexual harassment? Are the harassers like Trump’s minions acting out with the offer of a pardon for whatever they do? If not, what should be done to correct that situation?


Top (Maybe Bottom) 10 Quotes of 2018

Why is this man slapping his head?

Yale Law librarian Frank Shapiro annually points out the most interesting (sometimes dumbest) quotes of the previous year. Here’s his list for 2018.

1. “Truth isn’t truth.” — Rudy Giuliani.

2. “I liked beer. I still like beer.” — Brett Kavanaugh.

3. “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” — Sanofi drug company.

4. “We gather to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those that live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.” — Meghan McCain.

5. “We’re children. You guys, like, are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics and get something done.” — David Hogg.

6. ”(I am) not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!” — President Donald Trump.

7. “You don’t have to agree with Trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone.” — Kanye West.

8. “Our country is led by those who will lie about anything, backed by those who will believe anything, based on information from media sources that will say anything.” — James Comey.

9. “I have just signed your death warrant.” — Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to Larry Nassar.

10. “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd! And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” — Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

A Gentle Reminder for Christmas at MMT

We’re heading into the second weekend of Mill Mountain Theatre’s “The Christmas Cup” by Roanoke teacher Nancy Ruth Patterson and I wanted to put a bug in your ear about it. If you have children younger than teen age, I would heartily recommend the “Cup” for its gentle and beautiful message of the Christmas meaning, one even we non-Christians can appreciate.

This is the story of a little girl played by Mikayla Parker who learns the classic lesson: ’tis better to give than to receive. She learns it following the acquisition at an auction of a mangy cup that nobody else wants (even for a nickle). She pays the goodly sum of $5, which she earned, for the cup because she believes that is what it is worth and immediately she begins learning.

The lead character, Megan, is played as an adult by professional Christy Smith Treece, who serves as a narrator of the story, but the show is stolen by two youngsters–Sylvia MacNab and and Campbell Allen who play twins Brenda and Linda. They serve as a nasty-girls foil for the sweet Little M (Megan).

Professional Barbara Bradshaw lends considerable credibility to the cast, which is mostly local and consistently talented.

Mill Mountain’s annual gift to the children of the Roanoke Valley is a good Christmas show and this one certainly qualifies. The show, directed by Travis Kendrick (with a splendid set by Jimmy Ray Ward) runs through Dec. 23.  You can get tickets by calling 540.342.5740 or here.

The Snow That Was (and Lingers)

This leaf was hanging on to its color and what was left of its life.

This is how deep the snow was.

The first real winter storm of the winter 2018-19 is fading into history and for the first time in a couple of days, I was able to escape my castle and have a work meeting. I don’t usually like work meetings, but this one was a nice respite (and a nice assignment).

I look back on how pretty this snow was and how the only real negative for me was Roanoke City’s snow plows blocking my driveway twice after I had cleared it all the way to the middle of the street I live on. That really fries me and I simply wish the city would forget my street is in the city and leave me the hell alone.

You can see from the last couple of photos that I dug out well, but the city blocked me with some frozen boulders that I had to pick up and toss out of the way before I could even begin to shovel the blockage away. 

Anyhow, it was pretty and as my mama used to say, “First, look good.”

I did get to play some, making a messy snow angel.

You can always find color in the snow, sometimes in the form of stubborn flowers.

Light on the houses on my street is always pretty late afternoon in the snow.

This is my back yard.

Here’s where I dug out.

This blockage of my driveway is the city’s Christmas offering.

These big lumps were like stones, hard and heavy. I couldn’t shovel them; had to pick them up and toss them.