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. 


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.



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!


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.