awards

Over the past few days, my newspaper won the top prizes in its category for the Virginia Press Association awards and my wedding photographer won a Pulitzer. I want to make a joke about the candid photo of me on my main page now is priceless, but Ryan took a photo of a tragic event.

It makes being enthused about this award awkward.

I’m sure you all know what happened in Charlottesville over the summer. I’m also sure you know that Charlottesville is no more racist than your average American city, so don’t be afraid to come here. In my younger, single days, I would have found a belly of the beast to live in out of spite, but I have a wife and want to have children and have no problem with doing it here. Other than wanting to land in a larger metropolitan area a few fives of years from now because my wife is from New York and I know there are aspects of life in an Alpha City she misses with every fiber of her being.

But we were struck with tragedy. Unlike other municipalities that responded to America’s most recent public racial strife with the swift removal of Confederate symbols, Charlottesville is hampered by state law. The City Council made decisions in part to challenge that law, which made it the target of provocateurs. That situation escalated quickly, and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout for years to come, unfortunately. The only comment I will make is that our state government needs to get out of policing the minutiae of local government, especially since that largely doesn’t apply to fiscal issues. Being a Dillon Rule state keeps Richmond from bailing out cities like Petersburg, but Richmond can force cities and counties to keep war memorials they no longer want. I say we should let them have more home rule, and if it leads to statues going up or coming down with each successive city council or board of supervisors, so be it.

But I am wavering into being subjective.

And I digress.

I can’t imagine how it felt to capture something that marked the end of someone’s life, that marked the end of the illusion that America has moved beyond the mess that caused my mom to graduate from a segregated high school and made my grandmother fear traveling on unlit roads at night and enter a local grocery store through the back door even into the 1990s. If I were him, and it wasn’t my last day in journalism, I don’t know if I could have come back for another day of journalism.

And I’ve seen some things.

It’s part of the reason I know I can’t hack it as a beat reporter. I can handle that stuff, but my life cannot be just the accounting of human suffering. Those people need a voice, but I can do that but so many times. In my early reporting days, I tried to write fully about murder victims. It got overwhelming.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

But we have to do this.

If we don’t show humans at their worst, who will?

Who will tell these stories in an attempt to shame us all into being better to each other?

Who will pop the bubbles of the insulated?

Who will show those in similar situations the cold comfort of not being alone?

This is why I do this. This is why so many of us do this until we can’t anymore.

Collectively, as journalists, we can’t give up. And please don’t give up on us. Our humanity depends on it.

desperation

A few days ago, I saw this Washington Post analysis of homelessness and hunger among college students.

I scoffed. This is nothing new.

I knew at least one homeless college student. There were days when I was absolutely famished and didn’t want to ask my family for help because I was supposed to be an adult and doing this on my own, briefly had three jobs and, in theory I was guaranteed — up until my senior year, when my dorm was demolished there wasn’t enough housing and I could have been homeless if not for my fraternity brothers and I renting our unofficial official house —  three meals a day from the dining halls.

This didn’t end after graduation. After a few months of only eating beans, getting the occasional Wendy’s sandwich, gorging myself on whatever baked goods showed up in the newsroom and willing my credit card bills (and gas prices) low enough for some meat, I asked my mom for food.

From 2006 to 2009, my mom bought me groceries. Occasionally, she still does. I also try to raid her freezer whenever I visit. It’s more of tradition at this point. Or she sees a killer deal through the connections she still has from the restaurant industry.

Typically, whatever she bought me was all the food I was going to get for about a month. On paper, I made enough to live. I got paid between $22,000 and $24,000 a year at my first paper. I don’t exactly remember, but I know I made less than $12 an hour and absolutely did not reach $25,000. My rent was about $600. I had utility bills and a car payment I wasn’t expecting to have. I had college-related debt to pay back. From the start, I would get my check stub and realize that the entire thing was spoken for. And then some. I had a bank at the time that gave everyone up to $500 to use, minus overdraft fees, after hitting zero. You had 30 days to get your account back into the black. I mastered having about $5 in on the 29th day and then jumping back down to -$480.

I was constantly tired. Journalism is not an 80-hour job. We pretend it is. I’ve never worked at a paper where people put down ever hour they worked. I don’t see how some people have a second job beyond reporting. I walked into every day of my first six years or so of journalism not knowing when I’d get home at the end of the day. Even when I had food to cook, I’ve come home too tired to cook it. I went a day or two without eating because I didn’t have time to eat or had no time to prepare anything. When I lived alone in Petersburg, I’ve passed out because of that on more than one occasion.

On one particular occasion in early 2007, it took me entirely too long to have time to cook the chicken I put in the fridge to thaw.

It definitely had started to spoil.

I was in no position to waste food.

Yes. That happened.

Despite heavily seasoning it and baking it until it nearly was burnt, I almost couldn’t bear to eat it. Luckily, I had some liquor, so I figured it would help kill the germs or help induce vomiting later.

I kept it down. I don’t know how, but I kept it down.

This still feels embarrassing, although a dozen years have passed. It’s because I went too long being too proud to ask for help. And then, when I asked for help, I was too ashamed to ask for more help.

You’re better off looking back at the time when you had to eat at a soup kitchen despite being in your chosen career than looking back at the time you cooked and ate rotten meat.

Tidbit

Now that I have free time again (hooray for moving closer to work!), I will do a quick review of my novel soon and then send it to some peers for feedback. We’re rapidly approaching fully unpacked, other than needing to buy some new furniture, so this process could start as soon as Sunday.

Before I do that, there is a little footnote of information I’d like to share.

In the original version of Brown River Blues, Sydney Smith gives birth at the end. I’ve radically changed the ending, so now she’s pregnant on the first page and still pregnant on the last page. The book ends a few days shy of the due date.

Although it would be easy to just write out the pregnancy, I’m not.

Women get pregnant. It doesn’t have to be a plot point. This is a book with a lady in it, and she just happens to be pregnant.

I’m glad things worked out this way.

unpacking

I didn’t realize how much the built-in shelving and large closets at my old apartment affected my life.

Despite having a second bedroom, an office and an overlarge living room, there aren’t a lot of places for things to go. I have two boxes of stuff that I need near me that don’t have a home.

I plan on buying a desk to remedy that, because I don’t want the dining table to become my desk, as it was in Richmond. I haven’t had a desk one since I lived in Petersburg. The one I had didn’t survive the move to Hopewell in 2007, and I began typing in a prone position on my bed. I’ve been sitting and typing at coffee and dining tables like a normal human since 2012, with the exception of the two years of my first stint in Charlottesville. During that time, I used the bar between the kitchen and the living room as a standing desk. As I often had headphones on, it was dubbed “The D.J. Booth.”

We need to buy some other tables and cabinets, too. I’ll look at square footage, but I never think of closet space when I’m looking for places. Ample closet space leads to keeping stuff we don’t need, anyway. Today, I’m tossing a ton of plastic storage containers because I only use the largest ones for leftover vegetables. Long ago, I stopped carrying leftovers to work, and if we need containers, needing to find a home for them will cut down on having them for the sake of having them.

I am a little glad about having to buy storage for some of our things. Needing furniture and having the space for furniture without the place seeming cluttered surely will keep me rooted in one place for a while. Once it’s in here, I’m not moving all that crap.

i have a dining room

This is my new theme song.

As of a few hours ago, all of our belongings are in our new apartment in Albemarle County.

I go back to work tomorrow.

There is a work-related thing I need to do tonight.

I am so tired.

Almost everything remains in boxes, and I not only stopped labeling boxes at one point, I started putting things in boxes with no rhyme or reason.

But

Our apartment complex had a problem and the apartment we picked wasn’t available on our move-in day. After much consternation, we were given a larger apartment for less money. So far, the potential of this place has been amazing.

I’m sitting in my dining room right now. Sure, it’s a pass-through to the apartment-sized kitchen, but it’s a room where the table is supposed to go. One half of our living room is where living room furniture is going. The remainder is going to house my books and most likely a desk for me. I really want the dining room table to be just for food, unless I want a change of venue. There’s a second bedroom, so we don’t have to get out of here if and when we have a kid. I’ll have to buy a wardrobe, though, because that room essentially is my closet and the home of my fraternity chapter’s archives.

We also have a second bathroom and an office for Renée, who will be working for home.

There’s so much space. I can’t wait to put things where they’re supposed to be.

But I need to go back to work first.

And rest.

you probably got an email about this post and don’t want to

If you bothered to read this far, I don’t know what’s going on, either.

Beyond, well, you needing to change your email password.

I’ve gotten a flurry of subscribers to new posts, and don’t believe for one second that I’ve suddenly gotten popular. I don’t know what the end game is, but I already don’t like it.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to stop anyone from signing you up, much like how you can’t stop the circulars that clog the mailbox outside your home, but I’m trying to find some sort of fix.

Anyway, the notifications should have an unsubscribe button.

And change your friggin’ password to something that isn’t easy.

things

For the longest time — like until 2012 — I could fit everything I owned in my car with the exception of my bed.

I don’t like to collect things. Sure, I have a giant stack of books and cases of CDs and a now large plant that I’m certain is only alive through the grace of God, but that’s it. I only recently got pictures of family because I realized how weird it was that I didn’t have any.

I try to keep things to a minimum because I’ve been highly transient since moving out of my mom’s house officially. It’s typically not my fault: In general, I’m pushed out of a place by external factors.

My neighbors were loud in my first apartment, and the laundry room was heavily vandalized. I left with a full month left on my lease. I ate the difference.

I reached a point that I didn’t want to live in my first post-college house anymore because I yearned to get out of my first journalism job, and it became a manifestation of how trapped I felt. I made it about 1½ years.

I was desperate after that, and decided that living in Richmond would partially solve my problems. I took a room on a temporary basis. I’m glad it was temporary. We were incompatible. The same thing happened with my temporary place in North Carolina.

Then, five months after the first Richmond place, there was the Chimborazo house. In another universe. If not for the turmoil that was 2012, which included six months in North Carolina, I wouldn’t have left until Matt and Shaunelle decided to leave, I successfully got a job away from Hopewell or until a few months ago when The Hopewell News shut down.

We were in our Charlottesville house for three years. There were some problems that accompanied an older house. We were going to move out anyway, but things led us back to Richmond.

I was excited about moving back to Richmond, but everything changed. I didn’t fit back in. It’s been bookended by me working in Charlottesville. I’m not sad about leaving. It was a thing I left behind in 2012, and I should have known it wasn’t going to be my thing again. Our first place changed management and all but forced us out. We’re leaving our second place because Richmond no longer has anything for me.

Now we’re packing things. At some point, I got a lot more things. I think I’m tired of moving, but I haven’t yet gotten to where I’m going.

I’ve been saying this is the penultimate move until finally getting a house. I want to stick around in our next place until 2021. That was, and still is the goal, despite a little snag this week. In 2021, I’ll hit 15 years in journalism, nine of which with my current company. I want to celebrate with something. Maybe it will be with staying put for a little while longer.

I’m beginning to want permanent things — heavy, bulky things that somehow get in through the front door but seem impossible to get back out. I’m beginning to envy my mom spending more than 45 years in the same spot.

But I fear my thing, despite saying it isn’t, is constantly packing my few things.

dozen

It’s gotten the point that it doesn’t feel like yesterday.

I was in Petersburg with Simone Tiffany Crystal — my 1989 Toyota Camry — James Cecil Wheatley — my two-year-old plant — my futon from middle school, which served as a couch, LSW2 — my laptop from Christmas 2001 — and the bed I bought when I moved into the Delta Nu Chapter house in 2004.

I had no idea what to expect. At the time, I knew I was covering Dinwiddie County, Virginia State University and Richard Bland College. I had done no research into Dinwiddie. I blindly walked into a contentious Board of Supervisors meeting. A kid horrifically burned himself when he inadvertently poured gasoline on a fire. I lived in a city that, while I was there, was the “most dangerous” city in the state per capita, but never made the official list because its population was under 100,000.

I loved every second of it.

Until I increasingly disagreed with the new managing editor and became the managing editor of the paper down the road.

I had no idea what to expect. I had to hire a new sports editor, the publisher fired a reporter, I had to fire a reporter and we fought tooth and nail to restore the reputation of a publication that often was seen as a laughingstock.

I loved every second of it.

Until I felt like it was time for me to move on and a storm nearly destroyed the building and I stayed on because I didn’t want to leave them in the middle of a disaster and then headed to a copy editing position along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

I had no idea what to expect. I was hours away from everyone I knew and loved, made a nearly blind decision as far as housing, tried to balance a long-distance relationship and saw the writing on the wall when the company was bought out.

I did not enjoy that experience overall.

I then briefly returned to the paper I left before winding up here.

I won’t belabor modern history.

But this in less than two weeks, I’m moving away from the Richmond area, most likely for good.

That means that I’m also leaving where I began my journalism career, the Tri-Cities, most likely for good. I’m running out of reasons to go down there. Here’s what I said about that yesterday:

This pains me infinitely more than leaving Richmond. I learned how much I didn’t know during my time south of the James, and I had my biggest triumphs and failures there.

I love the Tri-Cities because it is a beautiful mess and because there are so many people working hard to remove “mess” from that phrase. It does not deserve the bad rep it sometimes gets. It’s a victim of so many things, including the state’s city-county divide, its own leaders at times and the changing face of commerce and industry in America.

Sure, I may rag on it and the contretemps of its governments, but you don’t get to unless you’ve lived there and worked there and rooted for it on its worst days. As recently as last month, I’ve driven to downtown Hopewell and made some of the rounds I made when I was an editor there.

I’ve half-seriously said I want to retire on some acres in Dinwiddie. Although I want my wife to go home to New York at some point, I hope at least a vacation place in that area is in the cards.

Here’s to a dozen years in journalism. And here’s to years to come.

chapter eternal

I just got in from Northern Virginia, by way of Charlottesville.

Pete’s father died.

If you haven’t been reading this blog since 2004, Pete is my college roommate, my fraternity brother and (sometimes) my friend.

OK, we’re actually close friends, but our friendship is based on my tolerating him for about three days and they yelling at him because he annoys me. But in a loving way. It’s complicated.

Anyway, when he told me his father died, that was all he needed to say. I was going to be there for him, especially since his father also is my fraternity brother.

I plotted out a ridiculous trip, of course. I intended to finagle an early shift Thursday, drive up to Fairfax, sprawl out in a hotel bed, attend the funeral as a pallbearer, skip the repast and get to work pretty close to when I was supposed to be there.

My immediate supervisor, Jenny, said that was stupid.

She gave me Thursday off. And one of my brothers, Butler, offered me a free place to stay.

Having Thursday off, allowed me to attend the wake, where I caught up with some more of my brothers. I was great to see them, but I wish it was under different circumstances. We made vague plans to do so. I hope we follow through.

For some of is, it made us think of our own mortality and the passage of time. I’ve known Pete for 17 years. My beard is rapidly turning white. We don’t party till sunrise anymore. But our craziness all seems like yesterday. And all seems so irresponsible now.

But there’s not a single regrettable moment.

It was a beautiful service, which is an odd thing to say. But there’s no other way to put it. I mean, what sort of monster says, “Oh, that funeral was so awful. Ave Maria was off-key, and that was a tacky coffin”? Well, I guess, a knock-down, drag-out at the graveside service would disqualify a funeral from being a “beautiful service,” but I digress.

It was an honor to serve as a pallbearer for my brother, my friend and brother’s father. His legacy includes bringing together a group of men who have a bond beyond just being friends from college.

And then my drive to work taking three hours at an average speed of 35 mph ruined killed any other profound statements.

i’m sorry

2018 has been rough so far. I drive up to three hours a day to commute to work. Walk my dog, make dinner and pretty much not have time for much else. I tend to not do much of anything when I have Saturdays off, sleep Sundays away and pack in everything I’ve deferred the rest of the week into Monday. I all but stopped watching TV. Until I got knocked on my butt earlier this week and had to take two days off, I could barely think straight sometimes. I’m surprised I got six entries in so far this year.

But we’re in the home stretch.

We found a place to live. We get the keys in less than 20 days. (Of course, we haven’t started packing.)

I wasn’t one of the places I mentioned a couple of entries ago.

I considered this place and promptly forgot about it. I think I had too many tabs open, inadvertently closed the one with this place and assumed I decided against it. When Renée brought it up while doing a search of her own, I realized I never looked at it.

It’s technically a one-bedroom apartment, but it comes with a den that has a window and a small closet, so it’s a bedroom that’s entirely too small for anyone over the age of, say, 10. For now, its’ going to be Renée’s office, some other storage and, if there’s room left over, a guest bed of some sort.

This place isn’t in the limits of a city, independent or otherwise, so it will be the first time in my life that I have not resided in a city. If you’re not familiar with Virginia’s jurisdictions, counties and cities are wholly separate. I used to mean counties were wholly rural jurisdictions and cities were Virginia’s urban areas that had enough resources to perform all the functions of a county and provide the additional services one expects in a city.

Although, for reasons I can’t fully articulate, not being a city-dweller seems really weird to me, I cannot wait. I cannot wait to be less than 10 minutes away from work. I can’t wait to get hours back into my days. I can’t wait to use those hours to write and finally hit spellcheck in Brown River Blues and then send it to my friends for them to critique. I cannot wait to be in a place I don’t intend to leave for a while.

I cannot wait for everything to be in place so I can sit at my desk at work and fully feel ready to finish what I started in September 2012.