12/31/2012

The end of 2012

In all, this was a rebuilding year. I made a lot of progress and a lot of fronts, and I don't have any regrets really about the way things went. Three months ago I was dealt another set of cards that I'm playing fairly well at the moment. 

I've had a very good week to end this year. I've spent more time with my children than I have in four years, and it felt like I was a full-time father again. I handled it and I find myself feeling more complete than I have in years.

That's what has rebuilt. I feel more prepared to be better than I ever have been before. That's going to take some work, but I want to challenge myself in the next year. 

I'm a man with no regrets. I've made many mistakes, but I don't regret any of them. I've learned from all of the failures. I don't think I've learned all of my lessons, because I keep making mistakes. But, I have a lot of confidence that I'm on the right track. 

2012 was a good year. Nothing too terrible happened. I spent a lot of time with my children. I spent a lot of time living the waves of a really great story and writing a lot about what happens around this community. I've learned a lot more about how to play the guitar, and I'm finally getting the confidence to trust in what I do. 

The next year offers a chance of being even better, because the world has moved on, and so have I. I'm living in the now armed with the tools I have earned and fashioned in the past. I look at the  next 12 months as an opportunity to make the best of it. I am whoever I am supposed to be, and it turns out I'm doing pretty good at it all. 


Say hello to the new guys

Let's say hello to the seven new plants that have entered our lives today. I took the kids shopping with the intent of doing something nice for the house. I had a little Christmas money to spend, and I'm determined to make this place even more of my home.

I bought seven new houseplants today, including a brand new fresh sago. I also got two cacti, two other succulents, and two damaged succulents including one in a hanging basket.

I'm telling you this because you were there when I got two of the other three that have been here. You gave me the spider plant that's still getting by, though it has not yet flourished how it should. I need to give it fertilizer, but I don't quite know how.

I even transferred the rhinocerous plant to a new container, a much bigger one. Its roots were severely constrained by the one it was in, and I'm hoping it can flourish like yours. My aloe say 'allo.

Last week I wrote a long message to a woman I dated that I never sent. I wanted to, but I held back. The general point was to acknowledge whatever relationship we still have, a friendship in which I gained so much, so much more than I gain from most people.

One of things I gained is a love of houseplants and a desire to turn my house into a green place. This past year I've not really had any desire to plant anything, but in the next year I am ready to plant new seeds.

I bought the sago because it reminds me of her. Some of the best times I've had were when she told me about your plants. I loved sleeping in her sun room, one of my favorite places in Charlottesville. Looking at the sago's fronds and its big pineapple-looking stem reminds me of the times I helped move it in and out of her house. I remember how she told me it was poisonous, and that you had to be careful. I remember how she said they like to be left alone, and required little maintenance.

I'm pleased to have one of my own here and I will do the best I can to take care of it. No matter what course our friendship takes, I want you to know on this last day of 2012 that I bought

12/26/2012

A Boxing Day Manifesto

I am sitting at my home this evening on what is perhaps the most undiscovered potential holiday for America.

Dear reader, I speak of Boxing Day. I speak of the mightiness that is December 26! A day that needs to be reclaimed and have its rightful spot in the pantheon of world holidays!

I sit here alone when I should have thrown a party. I should have thrown an event that was so grand, people would celebrate the joy of Grover Cleveland. We would have engaged in all manner of Boxing Day traditions, and we would have become better people for it.

Yet, this did not happen today. I feel I have let the world down by not truly claiming my birthright as the one who made Boxing Day the perfect way to spend a day with family. For the day after Christmas should be spent with friends and colleagues in a day of reflection and merriment.

This is not the night for me to prepare for what has already happened. Mine shall be a mission over the next 364 days to plan for something magnificent.

I just don't know what it is yet because it's Boxing Day.

11/25/2012

Much better after the holiday

I'm sitting in a chair that I've finally moved to a productive part of my living room. The Christmas tree is up, and there are unused ornaments strewn everywhere. I'm listening to music I've recorded in the past wondering if any of it might be considered to be salvageable. Of late I have not been taking any of the music-making seriously, and I'm hoping to change that.

Next May will mark five years since I've lived in this house. My children will be spending more time here in the future. They're about ten feet behind me at the moment, separated by the wall between my living room and my bedroom.

They don't have a dedicated place to stay yet. I have a housemate who lives in the other upstairs room, but he'll be moving out at some point in the near future. At that point, that room will be transformed into a space for them to live and grow up.

I get sad when I don't know for sure that they're doing okay. They spend so much time away from me, but they're always happy to see me and re-enter my life. I spend a lot of time waiting for them to come back into mine.

Right now they're here, and my dog Billy is here, too. He's frustrated at the moment because I can't take him for a walk because the children are here. Later on I'll take him in the front yard, and tomorrow we'll take him on as long a walk as we can with the kids. That will mostly mean we go to the park, where they will want to play on the playground, and he will sit patiently waiting for something longer.

I had the best Thanksgiving I have had in a very long time. I went to two feasts. One was at the family gathering of a former co-worker and the other was slightly more formal and involved talking with strangers and getting to know them. I had people around me, and I wasn't alone.

Tonight I am not alone, because my children are slumbering here. We'll wake up tomorrow. I'll make breakfast, we'll play, we'll swim, and then they'll go back home to their mother's house for the week.

Meanwhile, their half-brother's mother just got married in England, just a week before his birthday.  I am hoping I can make it over to see him as soon as possible, but international travel is expensive and I have a hard time imagining how I'm going to get over there anytime soon. I keep thinking I'll build working relationships with English journalists, but it never comes to pass. I'm at a point in my life where I'm trying to figure out how to make the things that I have better as opposed to looking to expand into ventures.

Like this house, for instance. I keep thinking that I will rid myself of it, but this is a place that I am finally beginning to feel is home. I'm beginning to imagine what it would be like to slowly transform it. How to make it more livable. How to actually build new memories here. How to have the best possible life that I can have.

When my children are around, I am more or less at peace. Tonight I read them the Christmas books that I put away the first week of January. They remember them, and they're part of our tradition. When we put up the tree today we ate appetizers and listened to Christmas carols, just like we used to when I was a child.

That's what I mean by this whole idea of making the things that I already have better. If I can just focus on a few things, I can actually broaden my horizons. I can choose to have a better life.

There are things I want to do that I am not doing. I want to find a way to write more about my community outside of the narrow focus that I currently have in my job. I want to write a good song. I want to write dialogue. I want to encourage my daughter to become an acrobat. I want to encourage my son to do what he wants to do.

I want to be a good father to my children. All three of them.

And in typing these words, I can capture that feeling, that need, that absolute desire to do right by them. There are times when I feel lost, and I feel lost because they feel so far away. I messed up once and one of my sons moved across the ocean, back to the place my parents left almost half a century ago.

And here I am, in my community, doing the thing I wanted to do when I was 21. I want to do it better. I want to become an even better journalist than I have been. I want to expand my coverage area. I want to help people better understand things. I want to better understand things myself.

I've moved this chair to this location, right by the vent, so the heat spills out over me. I look around my living room and I finally feel this is a room where I can live. So many memories in here, good, bad, and positively traumatic. Two in particular haunt me if I allow myself to bring them full into any given current moment.

But I won't. That's the past. Not the current, and I have already chosen how I will deal with my future with that information in mind.

(as an aside, I leave you with a link to a recording from March 2012 that I edited into something slightly less raw http://soundcloud.com/sean-tubbs/commonwealth-remembrances)


11/20/2012

Passing the time while working the day into the ground

Another holiday approaches as the color washes out of our little corner of existence. The sun is operating at a lower power than it did six months ago as we all waited with glee for the days of heat and vibrancy.

I sat at my desk today and slogged my way through a story that wasn't too terribly interesting to write, but write it I did. I looked out at people walking past all day and wondered if I would ever meet any of them. I wondered if I would ever have dinner with them, share laughs, build memories.

The withering light in the sky is sapping my energy. I feel better when it's gone all together and the dark arrives and I can go to sleep.

10/30/2012

A dance to rekindle life

(written in mid September 2012 but not posted until now)

My Auntie Audrey died earlier this month. I barely knew her, but I found out through watching my cousins express their grief through Facebook.

I barely know my cousins, but at least I'm more connected to them in the 21st century than I was in the last one.

I found out about her passing early during the day, a Saturday. Those are usually the days when I recover from the inevitable disappointments of Friday night. Saturdays are also the days I go to make some money to pay the obligations I have because I have young children with someone I am no longer married to.

I am a person who is estranged from family at both ends of the spectrum. As a first generation American, I never really knew my grandparents and didn't know my mother's sister. I knew my mother's brother, a man who traveled over to visit us repeatedly throughout my childhood. I've not been to Scotland since he died.

I spend a lot of my life wondering what could have been if certain things had happened. What if I had been bolder as a youth? What if I had traveled more?

I last saw my Auntie Audrey in 1995 just after I graduated from Virginia Tech. I stayed with her and her husband Bill in their house just north of Blackpool for three or four days. I explored around the place, saw a lot of my cousins and their children. On that trip, I kept so close to myself and my family that I did not meet a lot of people.

I was shy, an outsider uncertain of himself. For three weeks I traveled up and then down England, Scotland and Wales. Those memories have not yet faded away, but what I remember about them is this profound sense of isolation I had, but this sense of being connected by dint of genetics to people I'd never get to fully know. Because when I came home, it was back to a family that was just beginning to grow. I had two nephews at the time, but that was it.

And I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had this vague idea of being a journalist, but I didn't know what that meant. How would I get there?

I spent that summer working for my dad, when his company was in its tenth anniversary and he had a factory in Campbell County. I spent the summer learning how to edit the processes by which the various cable assemblies and wireless harnesses were written. I didn't know a thing about engineering, but I began to see the patterns of how the various lines were to put the product together. By the end of the summer, I had learned a lot about the paperwork of manufacturing as it pertained to mechanical engineering. I had sort of begun to enjoy it.

I also was continuing to dabble in public radio, continuing the internship I had at WVTF Public Radio. I'd been loaned my own Marantz cassette recorder, and I did a couple pieces here and there. But my main focus was working for my dad.

But that August, a friend of mine told me she was moving to  New Hampshire with her boyfriend. Would I want to go?

I jumped at the chance of adventure. I wasn't making any friends in my hometown. I remember one incredibly awful night hanging out with people from work and they were incredibly racist and awful and I did not know how to say I was unhappy with that. I wanted to get away from Lynchburg, and I wanted to see something new. New Hampshire was sure to be exciting and maybe I could figure out a way to do some interesting journalism.

So, within a few days, I had mailed a cover letter and sample tape (on cassette!) to New Hampshire Public Radio looking for an internship. I got an answer about a week later, and had a phone call with the news director, a guy called Eric Westervelt. He said he was impressed with my credentials, and that if I came up, he could find a place for me.

I thought I was on my way.

Another night I can and will flesh out that thread, but for now I can say that the experience up there changed me and began to create the person I am today. New Hampshire was the first of two times time I've gotten away from everything I knew. And I am so much better for both experiences.

I didn't know Auntie Audrey that well, but I knew Uncle Dennis. Despite having grown up in Liverpool (I think - I'm really not sure about a lot of my family's experience), he had moved north to Scotland at some point.

It's important to point out that my mother was over a decade younger than her brother and sister. Audrey was in her mid-eighties. My mother's mother, if were alive, would have just turned 113.

But she didn't. She died in 1988 shortly after I turned 15. My dad's dad died the same month.

I think about my children, and how I hope so much they will know my parents as they grow up. They are an hour away from my parents and we try to see them as much as we can.

I don't want my children to be fragmented, because I was fragmented, growing up more or less alone without much family close at hand. Except Uncle Dennis, who would dazzle me every time I came to visit. So many of my younger memories have him in them, to some extent. I can't do him justice at this moment, but he was funny, sarcastic, biting, and he clearly enjoyed living his life. I wish I could have one last conversation with him.

He died in 2000 while my parents were visiting me in Calgary. I was living there with Pippa, my first wife. He'd contracted colon cancer and it had metastasized and it spread. My mother knew his time was limited, but they were so hopeful. He was 70 then, I believe. I could be wrong on his age.

I do know that my mother was four years cancer-free at that point. She had survived colon cancer because she caught it in time.

I know I have a very high risk of colon cancer and I know there are steps I have to take in order to survive.

As I write this, I'm listening to Dan Deacon songs on random in iTunes, going through his whole discography as I prepare to write about Saturday, the day I found out Auntie Audrey had died. I learned first through a Facebook post my second cousin Fiona had written. The Dan Deacon show I'd looked forward to for so long was that night, and I was kind of subdued after I read that and I didn't know if I was up for it.

I also had been invited to a dinner party that evening and initially wasn't sure if I could do both.

To be honest, on Saturday I was nursing a strange feeling because on Friday night I'd finally ended a causality loop that was really preventing me from moving on to the next chapter. I was sad about it, very sad about it, but I knew it needed to happen. Those details remain for another post way into the future.

So, I was subdued. I went for a run that ended up with me realizing my recent knee injury happened because I had been running on trails and the unpredictable footfalls twisted something that was not completely felt until later. Isn't that always the case? You do something new and you get hurt. Does that mean you stop doing new things? Or do you learn how to do new things smarter, retaining a sense of self-preservation?

I did the run, came home, and continued to invest reasons why I shouldn't go to the dinner party.

But, at some point, I realized, to not go to the dinner part would have meant that I would have lost an opportunity to talk with my friends, to meet new friends, and to generally feel human and connected to my community. Uncle Dennis would have gone to such a party, no question.

And I went, and I had a fantastic time. But when I was there, hanging out with people my age, I began to doubt going to see Dan Deacon. Hell, I'd been doubting it all day, but at the party, I wondered if I wanted to go and see a show that I would not have invited any of my dinner party colleagues to go see. I'm certain they wouldn't have enjoyed it, and I wanted to protect my enjoyment of the show.

But suddenly I was wondering. Would I actually enjoy it?

I'm not Uncle Dennis. I'm Sean Tubbs. And my life has been so vastly improved and guided by learning about Dan Deacon's music. Most people are not going to get it. I know that. But most people also didn't have a serious desire to make their own music. Most people don't fake their way through a punk rock band, fail at that punk rock band coming to life, learn electronic music synthesizing software as well as digital audio editing as a way in attempt to express the same feeling that were communicated through that punk rock band, used those audio editing skills (minus the electronic music improvisation) to resurrect a public radio career that fizzled because of an ineptitude related to analog recording, and then used those skills to move to Charlottesville, and then had two incredibly dramatic two divorces, and then remembered that playing music was a simple way to feel alive and human despite what anyone else thought.

That last one?

Dan Deacon is the reason.

After my last marriage broke up, I moved out of the house I'd bought seven months before. I lived with a friend, and I began to imagine what my new life was going to be like. I went to the gym and got in shape.

My soundtrack at the time consisted of podcasts. One of them was NPR's All Songs Considered, which packaged all sorts of things that were hip and contemporary. I'd listened to it for a while, but when the show played Dan Deacon's "Get Older" I about had a fit when I was lifting weights one day in February of 2009. (please don't read any of the text appended to the video below. At least, cringe along with me)



I heard this track and somehow it let my brain afire. I didn't know the name of it, but the explosions of sound reminded me of the sort of music I would have wanted to make if I'd had the confidence to do so. Listening now, I still feel that. I felt that the music was plugged into my brain, and all of my synapses fired in exactly that way that feels like harmony.

The other night, I shook Dan Deacon's hand for the second time, but we'll get to that in a moment. At that time, I didn't really get obsessed with the music. I was just simply enamored about this furious concoction of fast-paced beats streaming straight into my brain through my earbuds while I lifted weights. I was making myself into a better person.

I've written about this before, so I won't repeat now.

I'll just say that since seeing Dan Deacon at the Southern in October 2010,  my life has continued as lives continue. I've continued becoming a better journalist who is incredibly tuned into his beat.

But personally, my beat has been arrhythmic. I've not yet figured out how to dance to a sustainable groove.

And time is calling me. I'm halfway through my life, possibly less, given the lifespans of my ancestors.

So, the dinner party was successful. I had a great time, a great chat. After two other guests left, I decided to make a graceful exit so I could get to the Jefferson. I had so much doubt about going alone, but I drove there anyway.

And I went. I fought off the urge to just go home. I wasn't terribly excited. I was intimidated by the fact that I was going in alone, didn't know for sure if anyone was there. I was scared for some reason, but I went and bought a ticket and went through the line, registered my credit card with the bar, and proceeded to feel ridiculously and stupidly old.

I was easily the oldest person there by far. And I was intimidated. I didn't recognize a soul in the place. And I was disturbed that there were not that many people there. This was Dan Deacon, for goodness' sake!

I only caught the last three songs of the opener, Chester Gwazda, who is also Dan's producer. He seemed good, but nothing as visceral to me as the guy who helped make Bromst and America possible.

So I drank my beer. And had another.

Upon my ordering a third I met an acquaintance who was there with a couple. The guy in the couple knew of Dan Deacon, had seen a show and knew what was going to happen. He was trying to convince his girlfriend and my acquaintance about the genius of Dan Deacon.

I came alive.

"You have to understand, what Dan Deacon is doing is very important," I said.

What did I mean by that? Could I back it up? Did I want Deacon to be universally understood? Was that possible? Could I explain the joy I felt hearing his music to anyone who had not heard him before?

No. But I felt good in the moment to the people I was in front of, to an audience.

We separated and I went to perch before the show began. I wanted to maintain an ironic distance for some reason. I wasn't sure why I was there. I was older, and I could feel the youth around me.

When my uncle was 39, did he go see shows of bands he liked in Perth? Was that acceptable behavior? Everything in me was telling me I was in the wrong place despite a voice in me telling me that I was about to experience something incredible.

I had stepped outside for a moment while the ensemble was setting up, but when I came back in, I was amazed that Dan was right there. The guy who made the exact kind of music I wanted to make while I was dabbling in Fruityloops, learning music as a way to replace the visceral experience of singing atop a live band.

I watched as he fiddled with an elaborate set-up on the stage, an aspect different from his Southern show when he was right on the floor, manipulating his audio Tardis like the Doctor, transporting me to so many different parts of my self.

I did not write down the details of that night. So I shall substitute the 10-28-2010 rendition of Crystal Cat at the Southern. I'm visible in certain portions.



Almost two years later, the show was very different. First, Chester was on stage, and there were two percussionists. He did play Crystal Cat, and I found myself sort of an observer, trying not to be seen for reason.

During the first song, I was completely and utterly not dancing. I was nodding my head a little, but something was holding me back. Some force of the universe.

I looked over and saw one of my enemies, someone who I'd failed at some point for reasons I won't go into now. He was there, holding a beer, and he clearly looked unhappy and unsatisfied with the music. I did not want to run into him, so I kept a low profile and moved closer to the stage so he couldn't see me.

So, for the first three songs or so, I just watched and took in the technical spectacle. I was content to just enjoy that.

But nature called, and I had to go to the restroom. On the way, there was my enemy, and I went up to him and shook his hand and said hello. Then I went to the bathroom because I wanted to get back to the stage.

On the way back I grabbed another beer and walked back down to the crowd. I stood against the wall.

A Dan Deacon show involves a lot of crowd interaction. He creates the crowd's actions as a true master of ceremonies. In one of the first incidents of Saturday's show at the Jefferson, he asked the  audience to divide into two halves, and then appointed representatives of each side to take part in a dance contest.

I was still maintaining an ironic distance, so I stayed against the wall. My enemy was also looking at me, daring me to let go so he could have ammunition to use against me.

The rules of the dance contest is that each representative swap out about every 45 seconds or so. Someone standing in front of me was selected, and I delighted as one of their friends was selected and she went off into the middle of the Jefferson and they cheered. I smiled and felt my shell began to fade a little.

But, I didn't right away. I kept moving around the theater to get different views of other people having fun. I felt separate from everyone and thought it best to stay apart and just appreciate this show on a technical basis.

Then Dan announced another crowd dance. He told us all to move towards stage-right and then selected two people to stand facing each other towards the stage. He asked them to raise both hands in the air and then to form an arch by placing their hands together. He instructed two other volunteers to go through the arch, and then face each other, raise hands, and to touch each other's hands together in order to follow a tunnel. Everyone was to go through the tunnel and then continue adding to it.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it this time. My enemy's presence subdued me, and I wasn't feeling like dancing at all.

But then he told me us they were going to play Lots, a song off the new album America. The song had meaning for me from the first time I heard it, much in the same way Get Older had for me three and a half years ago. And, that was how he was going to provide the soundtrack for my journey through the human tunnel.

I'd done that before at the Southern, and it was incredibly fun.



I picked a spot at the back of the line, downed my beer, and then went through the chute. And, suddenly, all of my inhibitions were completely gone. I was dancing my way through, going past all of those people in style. I felt all of the objections to having fun disappear. Up the stairs I went, through the lobby, and down the stairs back to the end of the line. People ended up going behind me, and I stopped at the end, and some guy who looked just like me was on the other side and we formed our part of the arch, and people kept storming through.

For the rest of the night, I danced as hard as I could. I was reminded of how freeing it can be when you let go a little.

An hour later, I had danced so much that my shirt was completely drenched. The last part of the show was a performance of the second side of America, which is called USA. It's an amazing composition that I was so happy to see live, performed with two drummers, at a time when I really needed to be reminded of how joyful life can be.

All times that all humans have ever lived in have been sad, because the human condition is such that bad things will always happen. Sometimes these threaten to drag us down.

But for each of us, there are always oases from the threatening world. There are always places we can go to remind us of how amazing life can be, and how our own moods can change if we simply can let go.


10/27/2012

Things I've been meaning to tell you (redux)

In late December 2008, I posted something here that sort of set the tone for the past four years of my life. Looking back now, I'm amazed that I did not go into detail about what happened. I only remembered it based on the title of the post, and I'm glad I didn't spill the beans about what happened.

But now, I thought it would be a good idea to take stock on where I am right now in this, my public journal. Who knows what will happen in the future? I do not, but I can definitely say that a positive attitude will definitely move you forward in life.

For the first time in two and a half years, my children are asleep at my house. My house has been that of a divorced bachelor ever since I moved back in in May of 2009. For a time my children were here, and then they were not due to certain misfortunes.

Grief and mourning can lead a man astray, and that's certainly what happened to me. When I wrote the original post to which I referred to above, I was trying to put by best foot in front of an even better foot every single day of my life. I worked hard to lose weight, get in shape, and become a new man.

Yet, at times, I succumbed to the negativity within myself. I was not able to always be who I wanted to be, and as a result, my children were eventually not able to be here. This is something I regret, but in a journal entry I wrote to their future selves, I said that I would do right by them and I would work harder to be their father.

And now, here they are, asleep less than twenty-five feet away from me in the house that I work so hard to afford. I bought this house originally to be their childhood home and now it appears that it will be at least one of their homes.

Divorce is incredibly difficult for anyone, but it's particularly hard on those involved with young children. It certainly has been difficult for the children, but tonight I am writing from my perspective.

Briefly. Because so much of this is in the realm created by my private thoughts.

All I want to do is state that I feel more complete than I have in a very long time. I have waited for a very long time for them to be right here, in this house, the one that I want so badly to actually be my own home. How could I call this place home if my children did not at least partially reside here?

Well, tonight as I type these words I feel like the luckiest man in the world, to have fallen so far and to have climbed back up after a long arduous journey. For so long, I did not think this was going to be possible.

But, I stayed positive. I stayed positive even at times when I felt like giving up.

Now I sit here, listening for any sign that they are awake and that they might need something. So far, they have not. I put them to bed after cooking them dinner, reading my son three bedtime stories, and listening to an episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I feel like a father again. For the past month, I have spent more time with my children than I thought was going to be happen. I felt deep sadness every single day with them away from me, but so close. I fought off this sadness, though at times it enveloped me. I had become resigned to a life where I only saw them once a week.

Everything can change. You have to be ready to take charge when it does.

I stayed positive.

Look back through this public record of my life and you will see there were times when I was not.

I learned to let go of the sadness. I learned to let it wash over me. I learned to understand that what I was feeling was something I had to take in and understand, rather than react in the moment.

So, when things changed, I was ready.

I've been meaning to tell you that I've felt more happiness in the last month than I have in the past four years. And, I had so many happy times during that time as I made new friendships, learned how to be a better communicator, and took responsibility for my actions.

The end result?

I'm cooking my kids pancakes in the morning. We'll laugh and talk about the dreams we had, and we'll prepare for a fun day doing whatever it is we decide to do. And then I'll say goodbye to them as they go back to their mother, a very good person who I am proud of because I understand her journey and have nothing but compassion and respect for. She trusted me tonight, and I will pay that respect back with love and appreciation for who she is and the crucial role she plays in my children's development.

I wish there were words that could describe the smile on my face.

10/05/2012

You have to do what you have to do

Tonight, I had plans to go to a music festival in Nelson County with some friends. It was going to cap off my week before a day tomorrow with my children.

But last night, just before I went to bed, I realized that I had mixed up my calendar and tomorrow's catering gig is tonight, not tomorrow.

I made a pledge about eight months ago that I would no longer work on Friday nights. I've recognized I can't just work and work and work, and then work some more. I need to figure out a way to relax. Fridays are good for that, and I've generally had a much happier life ever since.

Yet in about 10 minutes,  I'm going to go get suited up in black and I'll head to the Colonnade Club at the University of Virginia to work a rehearsal dinner. Then I'll race back to my desk to finish my work day, because I don't have the story I'm supposed to have yet.

I don't want to work tonight, and yet I have to, because I accepted an obligation, even though I made a mistake. I'll go in, because it helps my ex-wife with the children, and because I'll finish up and I'll be quite happy indeed.

Life is better than it was. I remained positive through a very dark period in my life, and I can take the joy available to me in any given moment. The sadness I have spoken so much has evaporated. Other forms of sadness will precipitate, but for now, I am grateful that I have found the strength within to withstand and to get myself to this place, to this forthcoming now in which I will find joy no matter what.

Life's like that. You do what you have to do, be at peace with it, and then maybe some form of happiness will find you, eventually.


10/04/2012

Change is underway

Change is underway.

The past two weeks have been transformative. I've kept the details quiet, and I'll continue to do so, but everything is different now and it's time to live up to my potential.

Change is underway.

9/18/2012

Why Doctor Who?


When I was a young boy, around 9, a television show appeared on public television at 6:00 on a Monday night called Doctor Who. It was British, and I was a child of British immigrants. The main character is an irreverent and brilliant Time Lord who travels through space and time in a blue box shaped like a policeman's telephone box. The Doctor could go anywhere he wanted, but seemed to focus a lot on helping problems on Earth. He was witty, he was silly, but at times he could be incredibly serious as he dealt with various enemies.

The show itself began in 1963, on the same night my grandfather died. On the same night that JFK was shot. The show was not a hit at first, but they kept producing them and it eventually became somewhat popular. My parents may or may not have watched some of the original episodes when they were still UK residents. They took a boat and moved away, traveling across an ocean to get to their new home in North America.

I didn't grow up fully American. Not fully. I grew up with knowledge of another culture, another way of doing things. My very first memory is of being in England, away on a trip in 1976 when I was a very small child indeed. Birds flew up into the sky as we walked through an underpass. Nothing magnificent, but from an early age I was uncertain of the ground I walked on. 

The main key to understanding Doctor Who is that the main character changes shape every few years. This was originally a production issue, as the first actor to play the role became ill, and produced wanted to keep it going. So they invented this device in which Time Lords could "regenerate" into new forms while being the same person.

 I didn't know it at the time, but as I watched that first episode, I was watching as the third Doctor turned into the fourth. 

At the time, all I knew is that there were people talking in English accents on my television, matching the accents my parents had. I was too young to stay up for Masterpiece Theater, but here was something that was engaging to me. I devoured it, and every Monday through Thursday night at 6:00 I was glued to this lifeline to England.  I learned all about the mythology, and for the next two years, I watched as Tom Baker's Doctor did his thing. At one point during his tenure, Douglas Adams was the script editor. 

A similar infusion of Britishness came when the public radio station played the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series. These things are related.

But then the PBS station stopped showing Doctor Who, and my oases of Britishness was gone. I did not get to see the next three people to play the Doctor, and it all sort of faded away for me. I lost interest and grew up. The show was cancelled in 1989, and  when I rented an episode in the mid-90's, it was completely awful to me. 

My entire life, I wanted to be in England. It's my home, the place where everything in me says I'm supposed to be. But that's not how my life turned out. I ended up being marooned here. And, without all the details now, in  2005, the show was resurrected for a new generation. At that time, I was supposed to be in England. Everything in my soul said I was supposed to be there, but, that didn't happen. 

But, thanks to the magic of the torrents, I was able to watch the  ew shows in almost real-time. I was able to watch his new adventures at the same time they took place, going out over the BBC. Something about downloading episodes that had the BBC 1 narrator saying what shows were coming up next. Every time I downloaded a new episode, I felt a little teeny tiny bit like I was there. And so, I watched, and felt connected to something way bigger than me. A silly television show, but a television ingrained in my childhood. 

So, when I was in my early thirties, the show came back to life suddenly, the Doctor's adventures could be as big as they needed to be. The awful special effects of its first 26 seasons were more or less gone. The mythology resumed in astounding ways that have provoked me and made me feel both American and English. Suddenly, I didn't have to choose. I could be me in both places. 

And in 2012, we approach the 50th anniversary and the show itself has become international. My son in England watches it with his mother, and I have something to share with him. 

So, that's part of why I love the show and why it's important to me. It's well-written, thoughtful, and the mercurial nature of the Doctor mirrors my own. 

8/30/2012

A second decade in Charlottesville


A circle is completed as August comes to a close, and I mark ten full years in Charlottesville. I'm beginning a second decade here.

What a long, strange trip it has been. There have been moments of joy, moments of sadness and at least one moment where a gun was pointed at me. I've met many people, have had many chapters, and in general I feel blessed to be here in this community.

"You're going to make a ton of friends here," said my first wife when we moved here. We'd been in Roanoke ever since we moved back from Calgary. I liked the Star City, and was somewhat hesitant to leave because she was in the process of establishing her career there. And, I liked being a public radio journalist working for WVTF.

But, I needed a job, and it was here. And so we moved here, even though she spent the first four months commuting back and forth.

Our first house was up in Albemarle County on the land where the North Pointe community will one day be built. We lived in a house on Pritchett Lane that was actually owned by the Great Eastern Management Company. It was in the middle of nowhere. Moving into Charlottesville wasn't much of an option, we thought, because this was 2002 when the housing bubble was inflating rapidly.

In Roanoke, we paid $600 to live on the top floor of an awesome house with a balcony. We grew plants in the two summers we lived there. This was the house where we both watched the twin towers fall. This was the house we lived in when we got married.

We wanted a nice place to live. And it was hard to find in town. We looked at places that were more expensive and not nearly as nice. Our trip here to scout for places to work was stressful.

The house on Pritchett Lane was remote, but we could see the planes landing at the airport every night. There was nothing to walk to, but there were plenty of places to ramble. Where North Pointe will one day be, there are still trees and unused pastures and pathways that often reminded me of faraway lands.

So, our arrival in Charlottesville was fairly solitary. The downtown mall seemed so exotic and faraway. Going out for beverages was not really much of an option, except on special occasions. So, I spent a lot of time after work completely by myself, as Pippa was in Roanoke at our old house.

I read C-Ville and the Hook a lot. Roanoke did not have a weekly, let alone two.  It was an amazing novelty to learn about my new community through the articles I read. At the time, the community was in the midst of an awful drought. Those of us who were here still talk about how restaurants started using paper plates and plastic cutlery because using water to wash dishes was wasteful and depleted resources.

Reading the weeklies, I had this sense that I was in a very interesting place, but I was so far away from the center of the action. My job was interesting, but it was not downtown. I worked by the Boar's Head Inn. I didn't really feel connected to anything. I didn't have much of an opportunity to make those friends that Pippa said I would.

***

Flash forward to now. Dan Deacon's new album is playing. I'm wearing swim trunks. I was going to swim 1,500 yards but the University of Virginia's men's polo team had taken over the pool, so I didn't take the plunge.

I just had a talk with my housemate about an issue very important to me. He used the word "manipulateable" and I took delight that I have friends all around me.

I was about to meet a woman for a date the other night and Tom McCrystal was walking towards me and told me he's seen me smiling a lot more since I left Court Square Tavern.

We went to the Local, and I watched a lot of my friends play music during singer-songwriter night, and it's inspired me to get serious again about learning how to play the guitar. I played for half an hour tonight trying to learn a bluegrass progression. I didn't nail it, but I learned a new way to phrase the G chord.

I took the day off today to take care of some paperwork. I finished a book by Paul Auster which I had checked out of the library because I wanted to reconnect to novels. That's because my dear friend Beth Tayloe gave me a book for my birthday called "Writers Talking to Writers" and Auster was one of the first interviewed. I've not read a book by his in a very long time, but now I want to get to know him better. "Oracle Night" is in a lot of ways about writing and about creating reality, and as a writer I could identify with the multiple levels of reality going on in the narrative. I'm hoping I can write a review of it at some point.

I still experience the planes landing near my former house, but only as they pass over me as the pilots come to the end of their flight path.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to crank out two stories about this community we live in. The community I live in. The community I'm fairly certain I'm going to be in when it comes time to post an entry called "A third decade in Charlottesville."

I'm home.





8/22/2012

A cleaning journal


Does anyone really need their utilities bills from 2006, when they lived in another house? I'm not sure, but I've decided that things like this simply have to go. I'm sad, though, to give it up, because it's a record of a different time.

I've got to find a way to let go of the past, or I have no hope of making it to the future in style. So, I'm going now to find a box that I can put this all in so I can recycle them.

I used to recycle back in 2006. I was religious about it. Now, everything goes in the trash can. 

Well, not everything. 

I don't want to lose the paperwork from when my children were born. That's a very important paper trail indeed. The hospital were they born doesn't exist anymore. It moved and then was purchased by another hospital, so it can't possibly be seen as the same thing. So, I'll hang on to that.

I'm also not sure if I want to get rid of my car insurance payments, which date back 10 years, when I first moved to Charlottesville. So, those I will keep for now. 

Just found a note from a doomed relationship I had back in 2010. I have lived during this time of storms. 

The breastfeeding chart for when my daughter was born was tucked in all the pamphlets they gave us. Her mother updated it for a full week, though my handwriting is still clearly there in some places. It notes so much detail about the first seven days of my daughter's life, and I was there. 

That one gets saved and I'm beginning to realize I need to start a new folder. 

The paperwork from when I left my UVA job in 2004? Don't need that.

Details of my jury duty session from 2007? In the bin.

Receipt from the only time I've rented a car from England? I'll keep that as a reminder as well as to confirm that we drove 363 miles in seven days in a Vauxhall Astra. That was the time I took my daughter and her mother and the first time I knew for certain I would not be moving to England after all. 

I pause a moment, look out the window, and see an important conversation take place, but now is not the time to write it down again.

I thought about cleaning out the rest of that folder, but I want to close it right now because I don't want to get too caught up on missing my English son. I missed most of his childhood, but I had points where I was there.

All this paperwork, each of it a record of days that have gone by. I continue to elect to receive my bills through paper because the ones I get electronically I somehow forget to pay.

All this paperwork signifying momentous times. A card from my daughter's mother's mother and grandmother welcoming her into the world. First birthday card. Second birthday card. Third, fourth, and then no more after that.

All of the records from when she went to day-care and what she did, what she had for lunch. I imagine I could put this all of this data into a computer and somehow recreate that time. I can't imagine the logistics of being a father anymore, not on a day-to-day basis.

I have none of my son's birthday cards.

So much paper is now in a cardboard box. I plan to drop it off at the McIntire Recycling Center tomorrow and to let it go. I have no idea if that will stop the gravitational pull of the pass and the sheer sense of loss that seems to undergird my whole life, akin to the cosmic background radiation that may or may not emanate from the big band.

I'll never fully understand what happened.

I do know that the past three hours of cleaning and sorting has just caused more of a mess, but I'm dedicated to making things better.

I don't blame anyone for anything that happened. Maybe myself a little, but I need to let that go.

Divorce is hard enough, but to go through it twice in one decade sure packs one hell of a wallop. 

8/17/2012

When it comes home to roost

Here's what happens.

I'll be having a somewhat good time. In these moments, I feel positive and I feel so excited and happy to be alive.

Then someone will mention something about something I don't like to think about but can't escape.

This triggers a switch.  I have a sudden sensation that gravity has been modified. All of the good cheer is being sucked away from me. I'm left with nothing but all of my negativity. Suddenly I don't remember what it like to feel good and my mind just repeats all of the negative thoughts.

During my birthday week, I was able to keep these feelings at bay. But now that time is receding and I'm a little worried I won't have another sustained period of good feeling for a while.

This is when I have to have faith that things will get better.

This is when I have to fight myself the most.

This is when I have to fight my past and try to move on.

But, dear reader, it's so hard.

I view my life as one big game of chutes and ladders, only there seem to be more snakes than you'd find on a normal board.

I write this publicly because it helps keep me honest. I can't write about the specifics publicly. I also acknowledge that this is no one's fault but my own. Only I can change.

So in about a minute, I'm going to hit "publish" because doing so will be an affirmation that I can get through this, and all the other future days where my entire body becomes filled with sadness. I know how to breathe, I know how to move, and I know how to survive this.

That's what happens.


8/09/2012

At 39, a hope for courage

This is that time of the year where my human programming has me looking back at my life because I have grown another metaphorical ring. Another year down, another year to look up at the stars.

I shall take pause for the next few minutes to reflect on what happened, what didn't happen, and what might happen as the next 365 days unfold.

I am most interested at this moment in just being in this moment. I want to realize that I made it here. I made choices that carved out this existence I'm now in.

I want to make sure the choices that come in the next little while are the right ones. A lifetime has taught me to be more cautious, yet I still make poor decisions from time to time. I don't make others one quick enough.

This 39th year shall be one of paring back a little, and concentrating on what's most important to me. I want to find a pathway to being more courageous and more bold about the things that matter to me.

At the moment I am deciding to invest some time into myself and so I'm listening to a recording I made in July 2009 after I had moved back into my house. I'd been on a family vacation and had picked up a guitar for the first time in many years.

I got a guitar in high school, but I never really learned how to play. The whole guitar mystified me completely and utterly. My brother could pick up a guitar and play any song. I could not. I just liked trying to make interesting sounds.

I always wanted to be a singer in a band, but the opportunity never quite gelled. I moved to Arlington in 1998 to sing in a band, but I was terrible at learning songs. I just wanted to express myself in the moment, much the same way I do when I am writing.

So, when I picked up the guitar again while trying to get my life off the ground again three summers ago, I got the desire to want to express myself musically again. So, I used my audio recording equipment to begin capturing those moments when I played and sang, something I'd never been able to do before.

So, for three years now I've been recording myself. At first, this was almost entirely in my house. Living alone has its advantages, and I would play and record and record and play. This was just as much therapy for me as running.

But, when I began working in earnest at Court Square Tavern, I would occasionally bring my guitar in there, and I captured the feeling of me in that place. The recordings are more raw, with no effects, and without the advantage of the solid sound conveyed through my one good microphone.

Tonight, I am listening to the first of these recordings I made, where it's just me at the guitar, trying to figure out intuitively how plucking and strumming the strings in an attempt to create sounds over which I can let myself sing whatever is on my mind and in my heart.

And tonight, as I prepare another edit of it, I'm listening to me from three years ago, when certain decisions had not yet been made, and when I had not begun to really live my life again. I had not meant people who have become dear friends.

But listening now singing lyrics about not how to play guitar, I'm performing to an audience of me, because I'm far too petrified to put myself out there. This has been far too important to me. There are so many in-jokes and references that I'm not sure would ever make sense to anyone.

I've never been able to be a performer, directly. Sure, when I wait tables I like to make people laugh. And when I get a laugh from someone, I feel like I've won the lottery. I can perform when I'm on the radio telling people about what's going on.

Performing for the sake of performing, though, is something I've always been so shy of. I see other people who have gotten over this hump and are making a go of it. But in me, there's a voice that always tells me that it's a worthless pursuit. This voice comes in many flavors.

At 39, I would like that internal voice to go away. I would like to change it into an internal voice that is encouraging. Life is ticking.

I don't know if I'm any good to other people's ears, but I do know that I got through a tough time in my life by having the confidence by myself to commit time to learning an instrument in an attempt to sing songs.

I have so much fun when I'm in the zone, and I have myself recorded in those moments.

In life we have to create places where we can experience joy, turn sadness into understanding, and simply experience the world in ways that transcend the every day.

So, as I grow my next ring, I shall try to keep all of this in mind.

I had originally intended to post the recording from July 2009, but that's too much work right now. So, I'll post again the site where I occasionally get the courage to post things.

8/05/2012

Before what happens to Curiosity

I've decided to stay up to see what happens to Curiosity. We may not know what happens until later on in the week, but I want to appreciate a little about why this country is spending $2.5 billion to land a rover onto the surface of Mars.

So, of course I'll stay up a little while, even though I'm a bit tired.

As I type this, I'm reading up on Curiosity on Wikipedia. I'm learning about how the mission was put together, how it was named, how it launched. I'm planning on watching the NASA telecast, and maybe listen to some of the Radiolab show that's going on.

I'm talking to one of my roommates from Virginia Tech. He's staying up as well, I believe. His father has been involved in solar system exploration for decades. We're talking in Facebook chat about what other missions are coming up after Curiosity. As near as we can tell, there are only two major planetary expeditions en route to their destination.

New Horizons should make it to Pluto in 2015. It will have taken 9 years to get there. When it launched in 2006, my life was incredibly different. I'm sure that it will be different again in 2015. At this point in my life, that doesn't sound too far away.

Juno will enter into Jupiter's orbiter sometime in the summer of 2016.

That will be the same time as the next summer Olympics.

In 2006, I anticipated the 2012 Olympics and actually thought there was a chance I might be able to be in London this summer.

Juno will pass by Earth in October 2013 in order to pick up a gravity boost in order to increase its velocity as it makes it truly begins its three-year journey to Jupiter.

We are doing this, fellow citizens of the world.

There are people who look long into the future to plot out missions. There are incredibly smart people who have managed to figure out how to move objects throughout the solar system. There is incredibly important research going on about how the Jovian and Saturn systems work. This is our actual backyard, where we can send things to. We can do this.

But, before what happens to Curiosity happens, I think it's important to remember that if it does not go well, it still will have been a success. We took a step into the unknown in a dramatically elegant way. We tried something awesome and we will have learned from it.

I am not being pessimistic about this. I am simply pointing out that there are risks, and there have been failures in the past.

Here's a report from an English-language Chinese site that documents all of NASA's trips over the past 40 years.

Anything can happen in life. We take risks, they don't work out, and you've been divorced twice.

Anything can happen in solar explanations. You lose an orbiter or three, but you also have had a satellite in orbit around Mars since 2001 and have had an active rover on Mars since 2004 despite it having only a 60-day initial mission.

So, here we are, just over three hours outside of the first time when we will know Curiosity's fate. I have my fingers crossed, and I am hopeful that this risk pays off.

And if it doesn't? I don't know. I'll be sad. But, I will also campaign immediately for us to increase funding for space science. We need to know more about how to navigate our solar system. We need this because generations that come after us may find the information we find now useful.

But for the next three hours? I'm going to try my best to stay up. Not sure if this will occur.

One last thought.

As humans, we need to take risks. If we don't, we stay stagnant. I am proud that as a society we have determined that exploration of our solar system is worth a tiny fraction of our overall GDP.

Wouldn't it be great, though, if we could figure out a way to evolve our society to become one where we're all aligned to seeing why this is important?

Our entire history as humans has been one of looking up at the stars. Early astronomers quickly learned that planets that were different from the stars. They had movements that didn't make as much as sense. They deduced entire orbits through observations, well before the first telescopes were developed. That's who we were.

Tonight is about who we're going to be.

Tonight, we're landing an orbiter on Mars in the riskiest of fashions than we've ever done before.

If it fails, tomorrow people are going to be wondering why we wasted our money.

This post is to say that I do not feel it will have been a waste of money at all. Because we need bold imperatives.

I'm going to stop this post now. I'm going to find if there's anyway Mars is visible right now. I honestly don't know. I don't think it is, but, right now I know that I am alive and in this moment, when the Olympic games are being played 45 miles away from where my son lives and that there are three hours left in which I can feel as optimistic as I can before I know for certain what will happen next.


Weddings

On this first Sunday of August, I begin typing under the cloud of severe exhaustion. I worked a wedding yesterday from 4 to 1. This involves a lot of walking. During the day, I'd decided to go for a two-hour bike ride because I didn't want to sit around waiting for work to begin.

Yesterday was the first Saturday I had to work since June 30. Ever since I left Court Square Tavern, I decided to pursue catering as opposed to working at a restaurant. In theory, that would give me time to spend however I see fit.

The experience has been interesting in a way. I'd not been to a wedding since my first in 2001. There are many reasons for this but I'm not sure how many of them are actually worth pondering as I type these particular sentences. It's more important to note that I just don't know much about how weddings work.

Well, now I've been to six of them and each of them has been a rewarding experience in its own way. Yesterday was a marriage between an American man and a Columbian woman. The cocktail hour was presided over by a bluegrass band. A Latin American band played for dinner. I enjoyed working with the crew I was on, and it was good honest work.

However, when I got home to do some work for Charlottesville Tomorrow, I discovered that our new website was down and I had to go to work to reset it. I've not had to do that before, but my boss is on vacation so it's my turn to do whatever needs to be done.

In all, though, I felt like a productive member of society. I helped send a couple off into the world in my own little way, being as friendly and enthusiastic so that all the guests had a good time. And they did!

As did the guests at the other weddings I've done now. I look forward to this fall, and attending more weddings, attending important events in the lives of total strangers. I'm becoming less bitter about marriage watching the energy that goes to prepare for these very special days.

I am fairly certain that I'm supposed to be doing this, and that this is the result of choices I have made in my life. And it's bringing a certain joy to my life.

8/03/2012

Overcoming hatred

The national appreciation day for Chik-Fil-A's stance on gay marriage has prompted me to do something I do not do as a journalist.

I'm going to tell you what I think. 

This is a matter that I'm personally affected by, and a matter that has been on my mind very much for the past three and a half years. I may have alluded to it in my writing here, but I've never directly addressed it until now. 

My second marriage ended in part because my ex-wife finally had the courage and support of a community to become who she really is -- a woman who loves another woman.

I watched them falling in love in slow motion. This is not a post where I will talk about that in detail.

But, when the end came, I felt a tremendous sense of loss and pain. At times, the sorrow pushed me in a negative direction. I felt waves and waves of anger. Sometimes I rode these waves of anger. At times, I approached hatred. 

I don't think I ever fully went to hatred, but I could see what it looked like. It was dark and awful.

Some of the things I've seen posted about same-sex marriage definitely look like hatred to me. 

In the first few months after our break-up, I tried to educate myself on compassion and overcoming anger. I read works by the Dalai Lama that introduced me to concepts that get me through and to understand how I had no right to tell her how to live her life. My personal pain could not be used to justify anything. 

This experience was a struggle for me. But underlying the struggle was the knowledge that I loved her, and that she is the mother of my two American children. I wanted the children to be happy, and that meant their mother had to be happy. She was miserable living a lie and it was quite an unhappy life for both of us. 

But, enough of that. Let's focus on where we are now. Let's focus on why I feel it's necessary for me to say a few words about the Chik-Fil-A appreciation, and how this entire incident alarms me. 

I believe that all of us are created equal, and that we must respect other's beliefs. None of us can ever fully know what's going on in the minds of others, but we have evolved as a species and as a nation to have a system of secular beliefs that draw upon all that has come before. We trust each other to do the right thing. We cannot lose that.

I believe in human progress and the notion that we can solve our society's problems. I am proud to have been born in a country that has consistently sought to live up to the values. Those values are good. I believe in this country. We can do great things here. 

So then we come back to why I'm concerned about the Chik-Fil-A civil war. What should be a rational discussion among adults has become yet another over-simplified narrative that is being fought through Facebook status updates and mass gatherings at fast food restaurants. 

And it's not that simple. We're talking about people who have made brave choices, brave choices that have caused heartbreak. 


If you click through, notice the beautiful picture that is listed there. Look at how the author of the post has two pictures, 18 years apart, and tell me that they are not in love. 

If we believe in the notion that "all men are created equal" shouldn't we respect their right to be with each other? I look at that picture, and I think of pictures I've seen of my ex and her fiancee. You cannot deny love. 

I'm still recovering. I won't lie. But, the majority of me knows that they are in love, and I believe they have the right to be together, and to enshrine that love through marriage. I want my society to accept that as a true union that reflects the love they have for each other. 

So, back to the post that compelled me to write this. The author of the post writes this:
There are times in your life when you have the opportunity to stand up for your friends. When you let that opportunity pass, your friends notice. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, but it diminishes you, and it diminishes the friendship. That’s how it is, no matter what the issue or what the venue.
My ex-wife is my friend. Her fiancee will be my friend at some point in the future.

So, I am saying right now that I am proud of both of them for taking a massive risk in order to be who they are. I am proud of them for having the courage to do what they are doing.

We're all individuals. Some of us are gay. Some of us are straight. Some of us are damaged. Some of us are not. Some of us know how to rise above. Some of us do not.

The end of my marriage has been the hardest thing that has happened to my life to date. But, I rose above. I became a runner. I learned to play guitar. I dedicated myself to work. I tried to be the best father I can to my children. I have made the best of a situation. I reacted. I adapted.

I am more whole now than I ever have been. I am prepared to be awesome.

Life is successfully navigated when you can avoid being trapped in simple narratives. I have no doubt that the people who feel so outraged about gay marriage sincerely believe it's an abomination. Maybe some of them have personal reasons to do so.

Maybe I did once, but I chose not to take that path.

I believe that people 50 years ago sincerely believed that black and white people shouldn't marry, or even spend together.

I believe that 160 years ago, there were people who died defending what they felt was a right to own other human beings.

I cannot demonize or hate the people who helped Chick-Fil-A set a new sales record. I can be sad that there's no way of talking with the people one-on-one.  But, I am hopeful many of them can take a step back and reconsider their stance.


8/01/2012

Daybreak of August

Last night I finished watching Battlestar Galactica for the second time. The first time I'd watched it was in the initial months following the end of my marriage.

Without going into the details of the show, I'll just say that the final season is heart-wrenching. There's a lot of death, a lot of despair, and at times it feels that the word "hope" has been erased from the dictionary.

I began rewatching the final season about two months ago. This coincides with what has been a pretty rotten time in my mind as I fight off another bout of depression tinged with anxiety over my future.

Well, enough. I don't want to wallow in those details. I want to stay positive and not give in to the poisonous thoughts in my mind that seek to skew me towards the negative. I get to choose how I want to be. I don't understand the forces that seek to pull me down, but I am hopeful that I can use them to sail to new shores.

So, this month I will be reflecting on this, and publicly posting how my navigation attempts fare. I have some ideas.

First, I will catch the reader up on my attempts to stay positive despite overwhelming storms. I shall not describe the storms themselves, for that only encourages them.

I have dedicated myself over to fitness again. I've run the last four days in a row, which is having the effect of alleviating some knee pain I have had. I've been swimming at least twice a week.
I've not reacted when bad news hits. I've made it through every day. I've stayed above the clouds.

Now, though, I want to reintroduce this public element to it. I want to write publicly again, even to a handful of readers. I have skills that need to be sharpened. This little white box shall serve as my stone.


5/29/2012

Principles from 1996

Recently I found all of my journals from the 1990's. One from 5-27-1996 was about my philosophy of life. After 2,000 words or so, I concluded with this. 

Here are my ten commandments for my life.
1) Thou shall treat others with dignity and respect.
2) Thou will do nice things for those people who are your friends, never expecting anything in return.
3) Thou shall always try to be positive, finding a silver lining in anything.
4) Humility shall be your watchword.
5) Jokes must be told at all times.
6) Thou shall not be tempted to change your personality to please anyone.
7) Thou shall never retreat into your own little world.
8) Thou shall try to mend broken bridges with previous friendships, leaving no loose ends.
9) Thou shall record significant events in your life.
10) Cultivate individuality.

The fact that I have a record of something I wrote from sixteen years ago that I can cut and paste easily makes me pleased. I still have to work on a lot of these, but I think I've tried to live my live according to these principles, even if sometimes I strayed. 

But finding that I wrote out #3 before anything had really happened to my life astounds me. That's really how I try to live my life. I just wrote another 2,000 words in my journal trying to come to terms with a few things in my life, and the reason I write is to fully fulfill #3.

I'll cross back now. 

5/22/2012

What is the now?

All we ever have is now.

That's a lyric from a Flaming Lips song. I don't need at this point to explain it, because those six words can stand alone. For me, I hear them and my synapses fire up to the point where I am flooded with memories of loves that went wrong and the truth that kept me alive when I realized that is the only sane way to live a life.

But what does a person do when they can look back at all the words they have written over the course of an adult life-time? Tonight I'm sifting through journals from 1998 to see who I was then. I am finding that I am the same person. I recognize, and I remember, all the words typed long ago on keyboards past. I was lonely, I was uncertain about what was to happen, I was convinced that I had to keep going no matter what.

My best friend growing up is an art critic. I make the mistake sometimes of sharing with him bits of music that I've created in the hopes of getting his feedback. Those bits of music are things I recorded at previous nows. I have no ability to write a song, to sit and craft one. I can sit and craft a news story and I can do a good job of parenting my children. But, my chemical make-up prevents me from writing a song like everyone else.

5/15/2012

Songwriting

Tonight,  I went to the Local for the first time in a long while to see the singer-songwriter night. This is an opportunity for people who know how to make music to play with a live band consisting of Michael Clem, Rusty Speidel and Brian Caputo. It is quite a fantastic time and I recommend it for anyone.

For me, I enjoy watching what people come up with. I'm in awe of how people can write songs, and work out arrangements with a band within a few minutes. All of the songs sound professional and polished. There are some really good musicians in our community.

I also go to be inspired. I would love to figure out how to write a song. I'm stuck in the world of improvisation, where I play a few chords and sing a few sloppy lyrics here and there that may or may not tie together. I enjoy it personally, but I'm aware that the rest of the world may take issue with the way I sound.

I've always felt encouraged to just record whatever I can. I record hours and hours of material, whenever I want. It's catharsis. It's been a way I've gotten through the past three and a half years, same as running. But, what I've done so far is incredibly private and self-referential. I can change that.

I'm not sure if I will change that. My time is limited, and my main focus is to be as good a journalist as I can be and to be as good a father as I can be. After that, nothing really comes close. At a certain point in your life you try to be good at the things you're good at, and the rest is just extra. Maybe it doesn't get refined.

That doesn't stop me from hearing songs in my head every day. That doesn't stop me from having this fantasy in my head that one day I can take my creative energy and pour it into a song that others might want to hear. It's not impossible. It's not even improbable. It's just something I'll have to do figure out how to do.

So tonight I feel content to have basked in the creativity of others for a couple of hours at a place where I feel relaxed and at home. I needed this after a strange day and a strange weekend. I even got to play a little Rashomon!

5/01/2012

Selfmaking narrative

In response to a reporter's question about my work at Charlottesville Tomorrow. 

As I approach the end of my second decade as a journalist, I'm blessed to be Charlottesville Tomorrow’s senior reporter. For my entire career, I have wanted to be part of an enterprise that is both traditional and pioneering. Our country needs better journalism that is objective, intelligent, and truly non-partisan. What we do, primarily through covering local government meetings, provides a model for how the future of news could look.

I graduated from Virginia Tech and spent many years as a freelancer in public radio.  I was drawn to journalism because I wanted to explain to people how things work. This stems from my status as a first generation American who wants to better understand this place I was born but am somewhat still assimilating with.

When I was working for one of the college newspapers, I jumped at the assignments that allowed me to learn more about planning issues. I loved learning about new roads, new buildings, and new developments. Those sorts of stories affect everyone on some level, but many journalists don’t think they’re important.

After college, I briefly covered national politics as an intern at New Hampshire Public Radio. The big topic was the 1996 Republican Presidential primary.  We covered the issues more than most, but so much of our coverage was about the horse race. Did it really matter to most people where the candidates stood on national issues? Did it really affect their actual lives? Was the narrative I was writing actually connected to anything? I much preferred writing about New Hampshire, but there was little space on the airwaves.

I took a series of other jobs for a while, but returned to radio after living away from the U.S. for a year. I came back to Virginia wanting to tell stories about this place. I began working for a public radio station again, but there was no full-time work.


However, Charlottesville has been an excellent market in which to experiment. Before I was hired at Charlottesville Tomorrow in 2007, I created a website called the Charlottesville Podcasting Network to help local organizations tell their own stories. This also provided a platform to showcase my longform radio work.

I first met Brian Wheeler, CT's executive director, around that same time. I had introduced the idea of podcasting to Charlottesville, and he had the idea of using podcasts somehow to provide the public with access to Albemarle County government.

In 2007, he was able to find a full-time position and I began covering local government. At first, I knew very little about what was going on. While I had lived in Charlottesville for 5 years, I’d done very little beat news-reporting. To be a successful freelancer, you must be general. Now I had the chance to become an expert in something that our donors felt was worthy of reporting. They wanted to know what Charlottesville would look like in the future.

And the way to know that is to make sure someone is watching the process by which decisions get made. We’re charged with helping the public better understand what is going on. We have positioned ourselves as a reputable, trustworthy source of information that can explain to readers exactly what’s going on.  

We’ve accomplished that goal by being there, reporting, and developing keen ears for what’s relevant and newsworthy. We’re a constant presence. For me, this harkens back to the days of what journalism may have been like in the past. Our unique partnership with the Daily Progress means that our stories are routinely on the front-page. We help lead the discussion on local government and we do so through old-fashioned reporting with a commitment to accuracy.

S







4/26/2012

Timescene 1:06 PM

A pregnant woman in a green shirt passes out a poem to a passerby while a man in shorts interviews another woman in a green shirt about the purpose of their exercise. A woman with impossibly red hair bounces past furiously trying to avoid a piece of literature. The pregnant woman looks side to side waiting for another mark. Her child that already draws breath is excitedly chewing some food and shaking his water bottle.

A man walks past and he seems reluctant. He walks past, but she says something that catches his ear and he returns. He puts his hand in the polka dot bag she is carrying and retrieves a poem. He looks at it briefly and then walks on.

The cameraman wanders around in circles, his camera slung over his right shoulder as he waits for someone else to speak with for a news story he's doing on this project. He manages to snag one of the women who runs the organization WriterHouse, and she's explaining the importance of the project.

The WriterHouse woman reaches into the polka-dot bag and gathers a poem. She and the pregnant woman laugh. A frequent marathon runner walks past and grabs a poem and the three of them are all pointing in the same direction. Then he walks in the opposite direction towards his office.

Now she goes up to an urban planner who had been looking at his phone while walking. She is happy and clearly enjoys spreading the word about poetry.

The squirrel darts  back along the same path he just sprinted along, towards the crumbs underneath the tables at Baggby's.

Seeing an opportunity, the toy store owner comes out of her lair and begins blowing bubbles, hoping she can snare a few of the poem-laden to come into her store. Using her gun, she forms a string of bubbles and blows them straight into face of the the pregnant woman's child. He's gleeful.

Two tall men carry important documents towards the restaurant where they will eat. No one hands them a poem.

4/25/2012

One hour of editing

2:33 pm

Over 1,600 words of notes from a court case. It's a mess, transcribed from chicken scratch notes. I don't have a recording of the hearing, but I jotted down paragraphs that make sense independently. But, I have to get through them and give it a narrative.

The process must be completed in an hour because I have to work my second job tonight, a catering gig located elsewhere on the mall. This is how I help pay for my child support.

I'm distracted by the sunny day outside. I want to run in order to get my mind off a zombie relationship that keeps rising from the dead for brief awakenings that give me hope of happiness. I travel there, have a good time, but then when I get home I'm back to the solitude and the loneliness.

A track by the German band Can plays in my headphones. On my other screen, the words await me to give them shape, to give them life so people can know what happened in that court room.

I have my lede paragraph written. That's about it. I'm not sure what comes next. It's like a gigantic game of filing, this writing business. I always seem to manage to win the game, but some levels are harder.

In this case I do not have the source material to draw from. I just have my notes and the knowledge I've gathered in five years of covering this particular topic. But for some reason I've been staring at these 1,600 words again and again. They form sticky sections of oatmeal on a liquid wall.  I must force myself to concentrate.

*

3:06 pm


1,330 words. Can is playing in my ear, and this is helping me a little, but I got distracted by cute pictures for a minute. I took away from things I was hoping to come up with, and there's somewhat of a narrative now. I know most of the pieces are in place, but this story won't yet be understandable to people. I hope I'm not disturbing my co-workers by tapping my foot incessantly.

The day looks gorgeous. I would like to be running outside. I would like to be doing pretty much anything that isn't this story. I have to show up on the site of the catering gig in less than an hour and a half.

So, one more pass through the story.

*

3:13 pm

Panic setting in. That's when I work best.

*

3:21 pm


In better shape. 1,102 and the first six paragraphs make sense. I don't write about legal hearings a lot, so I don't really have a formula to work with.  Besides, Achewood is funny.

*
3:32 pm

886 words and we have cohesion. In 58 minutes, I need to be putting up tables and chairs. Right now, though, I'm enjoying the thrill of having to get this. I'm dancing in my chair to the rhythm of Can and the joy of narrative. I'm going to turn this piece in in 15 minutes.

*

3:34 pm


834 words. And it seems to make sense. I'll do a final read-through after I type this paragraph. I'll see if the story makes sense to others, and if I have all the background in place to give the reader an understanding of what's happened.

*

3:51 pm


Sent to my boss. 39 minutes to go. In a minute I head up to retrieve my black shirt rather than the white wrinkled one I'm currently wearing. I am hopeful I can get the story back quickly. Then I can go to work again.




Approaching, not reaching

Halfway through my life there's a sense I should have paid more attention in calculus. I vaguely remember something about curving lines that could come ever and ever closer to a vertical line, but couldn't quite make it there. In this mess of a thought is an apt metaphor I wish I could flesh out further, but alas.

I'm hobbled by what I can write here mostly by the limitations of what you can say in a public journal. Everything is now actionable. Everything we do is watched, scrutinized, assembled into dossiers that may or may not prove that we are a threat to society. Or that we aren't employable.

So, I back off and say very little about anything, except in rants to people I meet from time to time. And hopefully none of that is actionable, though you can never really tell in a town like the one in which I live.

It's been two weeks now since I got back from England. I've settled right back into my schedule, have worked my first catering gig, and have recurring dreams about leaving Court Square Tavern. Somewhere in the end of that story is one about how disappointing life can be, when you believe in something so much but none of it matters because the owner has no capacity to believe outside of his own conception of the world.

I believed in a place where people could go and be made to feel welcome. Now, I don't have any such place in my own life. Strangers live in my house. The closest I have is my desk when everyone is gone and I can practice my guitar while waiting for the bus ride home.

I've practiced and practiced and practiced and I've played and I've played and I've played but I don't seem to be getting close to any point where I can leap over that vertical line that blocks me from making this a serious part of my life.

Are there any serious parts of my life? Of course. I take my journalism seriously, and I feel like I am doing what I wanted to do when I was 21. Somehow, I am here, but being here came with so many costs. Long hours prevent socializing. Long hours helped a second marriage crumble apart. Long hours, especially when I was at Court Square, took away any ability for me to explore myself.

I don't want to reach out to anything anymore. What's the point?  Every time I try, whatever I want just slips away from my fingers.

But, isn't that what life is? None of us has any control over anything, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves we do.

I'm amazed, though, at how much control people give up of their own lives to people they are in relationships with, or their bosses, or their government.

Which gets us down straight to the point.

What is this all about? As the 21st century matures, we're going to watch institution after institution fail. We're going to see young institutions crumble under the weight of bureaucratic and traditional kudzu. I have this sense every single day that something has to change, but I have absolutely no idea what it is or what form it might take.


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