hot take

The problem is that, for some of them, their core beliefs are being attacked. It doesn’t matter if they’re wrong — these are things their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins have told them in their formative years. This information from the first people they trust became a part of them. It’s bigger than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny; they weren’t just stories to placate a child, they were things those adults believed to be true. As the world shrinks and changes, they can wonder if certain things about their community and their culture are nothing but foolish lies or reject that possibility. It’s easier to lash out than to consider that another worldview is equally valid or actually correct. Even when the evidence is overwhelming.

The solution to this problem is something we’ve sought for millennia.


AS SOME OF YOU know, this whole thing began as a LiveJournal blog on June 1, 2004. In April 2011, I migrated everything to WordPress but the LiveJournal still existed. At the time, I had stuff — e.g., photos — hosted there still. My initial plan was to let it slowly fade into the ether; although all of the entries are here, I could go back there and … I don’t know.

I quietly restricted access to entries before Jan. 1, 2013, recently. I felt like a good break between trying to figure out how to function as an adult and faking it like every other adult in this world.

Also, there was a long period of me recounting how drunk I got the night before.

Overall, I’m not ashamed of anything back then, but I felt it was time to put the past in the past.

And this is the last step.

In 60 days, the two communities I ran and my LiveJournal join my MySpace pages in the Great Internet Hereafter — you know, the place where it remains intact but becomes slightly harder to find. The Internet is forever, folks.

10 years suspended

On Friday, I got a letter from a prisoner. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten one, because I haven’t written any crime articles in my short stint of being a reporter and I haven’t been a listed-in-the-paper editor in a while.

I was excited by it. Typically, they go on and on about various miscarriages of justice that happened either before or after their convictions. Sometimes, they’re right. Sometimes, prison is exactly where they need to be.

I was fully expecting a few pages from a sex offender swearing he had no idea how those images got on his computer and that the real perverts are the judges and the members of the Bilderberg Group who conspired to keep him in prison to stop him from revealing the truth.

Instead, I got a letter written on a computer. He formatted the return address in a way that made it look like he had a corner office instead of a tiny cell. I figured this was going to be a doozy and excitedly announced that I had a letter.

It was a doozy, all right. It was about the stories I wrote to catch up with the communities in our coverage area that were struck by tornadoes on my first week in Richmond.

The article “captured my attention because of the compelling subject and later, because of your compassionate voice,” the prisoner wrote.

“Because of your article, two of us at [the prison] … sent our contributions to help in the recovery,” he wrote.

The clerk of the county court, who was handling the recovery fund, sent letters of recognition and appreciation to the inmates. He sent me a copy.

“Such praise for a more-or-less natural response to a tragedy was both unexpected and highly motivating,” he wrote. “And it all comes back to your article.”

He went on to say that he aspires to become a better writer and hopes to at least be published in our paper one day.

“In the meantime,” he wrote. “several of us at [the prison] are continuing to look for ways to help those caught up in misfortune beyond their control.”

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

I shared the letter with an editor and our criminal justice reporter, hoping that a story about convicted felons scraping what little cash they get in prison to aid in storm recovery would be worthwhile.

But first, I needed know what he did.

In the early 2000s, he beat a man to death with a hammer and robbed him. He has an active sentence of 74 years in prison for first-degree murder and other charges. I vaguely remember the case.

Being a murderer doesn’t mean all you are is a monster. Being in prison doesn’t mean you ceased to be a human being. Knowing that you will spend your last days within those walls doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens to lives outside those walls.

I plan on writing him back.

benchmark 2

A year ago last weekend, I was in Charlottesville house with subtle Art Deco flourishes. I wondered where I would be a year later. We were talking about moving out at that time and figured it would be to another place in Charlottesville.

I considered finding a new place in October while listening to Trash or Treasure by Kerbside Collection. I made a note to listen to this album again and talk about where I we  wound up.

Closet space is better but there still isn’t quite enough storage space, which is ridiculous because we really don’t have a lot of stuff. It’s not like there’s crap all over the floors, but there are some things I would like to keep out of sight until needed or have a more efficient home for them.

The new property management company has spotty hours, which is a challenge when getting packages. If we stay, we need to go back to getting things shipped to work. If we leave, we’ll have to anyway, because this is Richmond. Additionally, there are some minor annoyances beyond that. It’s surprising since we went from a on-site property manager and maintenance man to a large company with other properties in town.

I think they want to get us all out so they can renovate and jack up the rent.

The building dumps all the rainwater from the roof onto the front walkway, which currently is the only entrance. It leaked in our living room after a recent rainstorm. (Mind you, we’re on the second of three floors.) Hearing the neighbors is driving Renée crazy. It’s impossible to get to central or western Henrico County without going through the Bryan Park interchange.

But we can walk to Shockoe Bottom and downtown. I can get to work on foot in 40 minutes. I’ve walked as far as Carytown. I’ve wanted a loft with exposed brick and hardwood floors as much as I’ve wanted to live in a brick Cape Cod. I’ve done both now.

Tomorrow, I’m looking at a house to rent. I have a list of questions about it, because I want to live there until we’re ready to buy.

I won’t be able to walk as much because it’s in a tricky spot — a valley separates it from the city’s core and the crossings are extremely limited. It’s also in one of the city’s vast food deserts because our over-saturated grocery market consists of several stores all near each other on the city’s fringes or suburbs.

But it is a fully detached American Foursquare house — I haven’t been in a detached house since 2008, if you don’t count the six months in North Carolina, and that’s sad. It’s also been a decade since I’ve been in a two-story detached house. It has a yard and a porch and it’s in a transitioning part of town. Two high-profile buildings on the main drag recently were purchased and are poised for redevelopment. In a way, it’ll be like being back on 33rd and Clay.

We can have a dog of any size. Katy lives a few blocks away.

But I don’t know what it looks like yet. There’s only an exterior photo. It could look like a total dump, and then we’ll have to start the hunt again. Or stick it out one more year. We’re running out of time to give our terrible new property management company notice.

I think I need a new benchmark song. I hope it’s the last one for a while.


Burn all of your art

More like Fails from Imperial City.

Repair the wasteful part.

Over the weekend, I finally got my dresser. It’s not where I want to put it just yet, but when it is, I’ll photograph it and tell the story about why I’ve been obsessed with this piece of furniture for the past decade.

While I was moving things around to get it out of my childhood bedroom, I found a box of things I thought I lost years ago. I was fairly certain some of the things in that box were stolen at some point. Since it’s been about eight years since those things went missing, I have no use for them, so I wound up going through it and then tossing the box and its contents in my mom’s trashcan.

Except for what you see in the photo.

What you see here is something I started on Dec. 17, 1998. This is the handwritten first draft of the original Tale from Imperial City: Thirty-Eight.

What’s in the lower right is a map of Imperial City. Wessex County is to the immediate north of city limits. If this were a larger map of this portion of Virginia, the main action of Brown River Blues occurs roughly where the top right green folder is.

Thirty-Eight — which is named for the internal designation Imperial City Public Schools uses for Greenfront-Council High School — is where we first meet Lorenzo Santiago Williamston, Marian Moreno and some characters who are lingering in the background of nearly every piece of fiction I write.

I didn’t know what it was about, so I kept writing until I did. It was a comedy, it was a tragedy, it was a piece of magic fiction.

It was terrible.

But I decided the gist of what took place was canon and everything else has been a sequel of sorts.

Somewhere in the process of starting Brown River Blues, characters from Thirty-Eight slowly appeared. Although Wessex County was just down the street from Imperial City, I initially had no intention of placing any of those characters — especially Lorenzo — into the story. When Lorenzo appeared, I made a promise to myself that it would be the final story about him. I found that amusing because it would possibly be the first story about Lorenzo printed for mass consumption.

Another part of the deal was that I would destroy every trace of Thirty-Eight. In both Thirty-Eight and Brown River Blues, I mention that Lorenzo is writing a novel about me in which I’m writing a novel about him in which … you get the point. As I didn’t enjoy some parts of high school, I decided it was for the best that we left that bit of our lives in our collective head.

Furthermore, the last thing I want in this world is Thirty-Eight rearing its ugly head and winding up published. I do not even want that to happen posthumously.

A few weeks ago, I felt like I was finally ready to get back into editing Brown River Blues,  restarting Project 792 and maybe writing more short stories. Losing LSW5 in 2013 and LSW6 and 7’s inability to properly call up the Brown River Blues file brought my fiction writing to a screeching halt. I haven’t recovered because that’s my thing — if I get repeatedly thwarted or the task of putting something back together is painstaking, I rage quit to the point that I do not come back to it ever again.

Example: There is a model Lamborghini Diablo collecting dust on a shelf in my childhood bedroom. I put one together in high school and, to occupy my youngest nephew, my brother-in-law handed it to him to play with, not realizing it was a model. My hours of work were crushed in seconds. I pleaded with everyone to not buy me a new kit because I knew I wasn’t going to go through that effort again.

I hoped for a sign that it was time to get back into the world of Imperial City, and I finally got it when I opened that box. Somehow Draft № 1 survived the purge.

I rode back to Richmond with that more than 200 pages of draft; the maps of the city; and the schematics of Lorenzo’s childhood home, Rosewood, the high school and the glass shop his friend’s parents owned.

I hummed the Greenfront-Council High School alma mater, Hail Greenfront and Council High (yes, I also composed a school song), and I headed over to the dumpster to personally see that Thirty-Eight was no more.

After I come back from vacation, it’s writing time.

on mayo’s bridge

about 1 a.m.

a panorama

My father was a fisherman in his spare time.

I have memories of him getting his gear out of the trunk before we stood on a pier somewhere along Hampton Roads or the James River.

I was a squeamish kid. I can’t recall ever holding a fish unless it had taken a pit stop in a grill, oven or fryer.

I recall him trying to teach me to fish regardless. Typically, he would hand me a pair of binoculars when I tagged along.

I remember the ships going by, the waves lapping the shore, the seabirds wheeling.

I remember the smell of the salt air, dewatered fish, the beers that were secreted in his pockets sometimes and the grape sodas for me.

I don’t remember him catching much of anything.

I don’t think it mattered to him.

I walked across Mayo’s Bridge last night, the city’s unofficial fishing pier. As 14th Street and Saturday night in Shockoe Bottom rushed by, several men, some of them not much older than me stood over the James, waiting for that tug on the line and not caring if it happened.

I thought of how those souls were asked what they were doing Saturday night, they said they were fishing and they meant it.

I thought of the speeding vehicles, the sirens, the boisterousness, the distant bands, the glow of the city, the people like me shuttling between bars and bed.

Then there was a break in the traffic. There was the lapping of the James, the faint smell of salt there at the end of the estuary, the fish, the night birds, the faint odor of booze, the small boat below.

I wish my father kept trying to teach me to fish.


paisley park is in your heart

I’ve got 3 chains o’ gold
And they will shine 4 ever
If one of us has 2 go
U will go before me

I’ve pretty much stopped marking celebrity deaths here, partially because there was a point when I lost touch with pop culture and it felt a little silly when it was someone who didn’t truly touch my life in some way.

Prince is different.

As I’ve said many, many times, Theresa was an absolutely hardcore Prince fan. Sure, she loved New Edition. Yeah, Maxwell was great. Of course I never would have heard A Tribe Called Quest when I did without her (I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard Award Tour).

But then there was Prince.

She lived for Prince. At 15, she forced my mom to take her and her best friend to the movies to see Purple Rain. For years, my mom complained about having to sit through it. There was a battle over Theresa’s poster of Prince in chaps. I have faint memories of her singing along to Raspberry Beret.

Because of Theresa, I know every syllable of the Purple Rain album.

Because of her, The Love Symbol Album, despite it not being exactly how Prince intended it, is one of my favorite albums. Because of her, I knew Prince could play basketball before Charlie Murphy told the tale of him and his crew versus Prince and the Revolution.

He spoke to her, and because we were so close, he spoke to me.

As Theresa’s multiple sclerosis progressed, I got serious in immersing myself into the purple world. I already was screeching Prince’s lyrics at karaoke nights. One of the moments Shaunelle shares when telling people how she knew we were going to be friends was when the Purple Rain title track was playing at one of our parties and I slid across the hardwood floor on my knees at the start of the third verse: “Honey, I know, I know, I know times are changing.” By 2012, I had a good chunk of his discography. I still have a few albums to get, especially those in that weird period around 2000 when he mostly rejected traditional music distribution. What I do have is about 300 songs. I don’t think anyone comes close in my music collection.

As my eldest sister approached the end, I knew there was something I needed to do.

I burned CDs. A whole fistful of them — my favorites and hers. She couldn’t speak by that point but I told her what I did and told my mom to play them for her. She heard most of them; my mom caught the lyrics of a song and couldn’t believe her little girl was given allowance that went to a record store that sold cassettes with songs like that to her. I called my mom Tipper Gore.

She didn’t get it.

But Theresa got to hear the Purple Rain soundtrack one more time.

When my sister died in May, I promised myself I’d listen to his new albums for her. He cranked them out like nobody’s business. I still haven’t gotten to HITnRUN Phase Two because it was first on Tidal and getting music from iTunes to my computer archive and the cloud is a few steps more than I’m sometimes willing to take.

I thought I had so much more than a year before I reached a world without both my sister and Prince Rogers Nelson.

In a strange way, I’m glad Theresa never had to live in a world without him.

I went through the motions at work after I heard the news. I was grateful that no one ratted out how much of a fan I am, and I was relieved that the only person who comes close to being as big of a fan as Theresa moved heaven and earth to get to the newsroom to write the sendoff. Otherwise, a variation of this entry would be what they would have gotten.

Before I left for the day, I knew what song I wanted to hear on the ride home. I’ve always felt 3 Chains O’ Gold was Prince’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Although When Doves Cry is my favorite song of his and Delirious had me from the second the synthesizer kicked in, I just love how big 3 Chains O’ Gold is. It’s one of those songs where I’d be OK if the artist vowed to sing no longer after making it.

I started it the second I started backing out of my space at the parking garage at work. It ended as I was shutting my car down in my parking lot.

The tears I shed while playing Paisley Park before I pulled myself together and played Love 2 The 9’s as my wife walked through the door were for both Prince and Theresa. They’re both gone, but the memories are just a few notes away.

you were a valued member of our staff

I miss these guys

Best of luck

This is my best wishes card from Charlottesville. I got it in February.

A few hours ago, I read all of notes for the very first time.

I managed to get through all of my job changes up to this point without getting an office going away card. I always thought they were stupid. Coworkers who know next to nothing about your or possibly loathe you get forced to pretend that they’ll miss you for about 10 seconds when the card comes around.

Although some of that is there, this one felt different. I guess it was because, in glancing at it, some were more than one-liners and some of them were more than one-liners after those writers told me that would be equally as long if written on the card.

Although I fish for compliments sometimes (all the time), I don’t when it comes to my job. I didn’t write that article so that someone would later tell me it was great. I didn’t sit by a reporter’s desk and rant about a story because I wanted to hear about how good of an editor I was. It was my job. It needed to get done, it’s important, and damn it, I’m not going to half-ass it because I’d rather be sleeping or binge watching MacGyver.

That’s why I couldn’t read the card just then. That was why I thought up a speech to say on my last day but couldn’t find the words when the cake was out and my desk was clear and I was minutes away from putting that newsroom in my rear view mirror for a while. I simply was overwhelmed.

I actually miss them. I really do. But it was time to go, and not just because I was commuting from Richmond.

I always tell reporters to get all they need to get out of the newsroom and get the hell out of there. Because our industry is evolving rapidly to avoid complete collapse, you can’t sit and stagnate until it’s time to cash out your 401(k). My trajectory didn’t involve staying in Charlottesville forever. I knew that when I got there. But I gained a lot more than I expected in those more than three years.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Thank you for having me.