Aug 20

Happy website anniversary

This blog started, on Blogger, this week in 2003. I was bored and it was a light day after work in a slow week in the studio. I’d been reading a lot of blogs and decided to try it myself with no expectations. And after 17 years and one day, here we are.

Jump forward a year, this same week in 2004, I bought the URL to this website. I think my co-workers talked me into it. Better to host your own than to jump from free site to free site. Tomorrow turns 16 years old.

This is a basic view of the statistical trend of monthly growth of the site’s visitors.

The whole site, which I scaled back starting in 2016 or 2017, has welcomed almost 3.7 million visitors over the years. Not bad for a personal site.

Thanks for being a part of this.

Jun 20

A flashback before a big flashback

We were sitting in a corner booth at the OK Cafe in Atlanta, Georgia in 2006 or 2007 and I was, as usual, thinking out loud. The Yankee had to have known that by then — this guy does all his thinking outside of his head — and she still decided to hang out with me.

We were talking about this trip she’d made to New Orleans. She was a TV hotshot and a station down there wanted her to come work for them and, as part of the tour, they drove her around to see what New Orleans was like after Hurricane Katrina. One of the job interview meals was at McDonald’s. There still weren’t a lot of options even at that point in the aftermath.

We’d watched it from afar, fearful for our friends and thankful it wasn’t our coverage area, and knowing that in all that horrible devastation that the media down there would do good, solid, amazing, real work. The year before we’d done the same when another hurricane right into the Port of Mobile. Our corporate boss forwarded us a very complimentary email he’d received, saying our work deserved the Pulitzer Prize. Only Pulitzer didn’t offer it in that format for which I would have been eligible in 2004. But they surely did in 2005 when Katrina roared ashore in New Orleans and our peers in the newsroom down there did the work and got the prize and to live and struggle and grieve and upend their own lives and look after their families and then go back to work to do it all again the next day.

It’s probably easy to forget, if you weren’t there, or somehow otherwise immersed in it, what New Orleans was like after August of that year. In the last week, a quick Google News search tells me, that three dozen stories referencing the storm have been written. It was 15 years ago and it’s still on the tip of their tongues. Which is why the news director wanted to give her the tour when she went down there for the job interview. You need to see, he said, what it is like right now. Usually when people bring you in from out of town they show you the good stuff. Back then, they had to show you the real stuff.

It was, I am sure, sobering. She ultimately turned down the job, but we talked about it a lot, and in that cafe in Atlanta I remember formulating what I thought would be just the neatest job in the world. Because I think out loud it started out pretty ragged and never really got much better, especially the name, but I called it a history journalist, reporting the journalism through the prism of time and past events, and history through a lens of journalism.

None of the things we cover or experience or watch or read about happen in isolation, after all. And New Orleans, a place hip waist deep in history and hip deep in tragedy, would have been a place for that sort of work.

They didn’t invite me down for an interview, which is fine and probably for the best. I would have pitched something like that idea and it would have been dismissed out of hand. A role like that is a passion project. It would take time and vision. And it is, admittedly, incredibly niche, when all of my media work was incredibly immediate and niche in some other sort of way. Besides, most journalists that do that sort of work? They have another name: Author.)

Anyway, I was thinking of that cafe and that corner booth and that conversation and how, all these years later that still sounds like the coolest idea. I interviewed a medical doctor and a professor who somehow holds appointments in seven different areas around the university. He’s written hundreds (literally, hundreds and hundreds) of journal articles and 12 books and he is still practicing medicine and who knows what else.

The subject was how the coronavirus pandemic is sometimes sorta similar to the influenza pandemic of 1918. He answered these questions in his role as a medical historian.

And if Dr. Gunderman, there, can find time in his day to be a medical historian on the side, I should be able to figure out some way to be a history journalist. Right? We should dive into some of that soon.

More on Twitter, check me out on Instagram and more On Topic with IU podcasts as well.

Jun 20

Mondays always have the worst titles, don’t they?

It’s Monday again, and welcome back to the part of the week in which we work on things. We’re still doing that. The emails are flying, the Slack channels are a-flurry. The video chats continue apace.

I had a two-hour student chat on Friday, and what’s more, the students are the one that asked for the meeting.

Hanging out with students is always fun, even when they are work meetings. Some students, when everyone was still living under a more restrictive lockdown, invited me to a few social video chats. That was kind of them. They are thoughtful and fun. And it was great to hear from them, see how they were doing, and to make them laugh. I became the butt of a lot jokes in those chats. It was worth it. Anyway, the video chats on Friday were about work. And going forward there will be more of those as we try to implement the things that will be our normal routines for the fall.

Normal. Routine. Aren’t those some concepts?

I suppose some people have routines that won’t change over much. And all of us will get used to the new rigors and routines soon enough. I’ve had the good fortune to be in my share of meetings to discuss what the new routines will be. The long and the short of it is that it will be odd getting there, weird getting used to it, and then a slow inconvenience we’ll work through.

But that’s what you do. You work through it. We’ll all have it to work through, all of us, in some way or another. We may as well do it with a smile. A smile that no one can see beneath a mask. Better learn to smile with your eyes.

Did you know you can smile with your whole body? When I used to do costume character work, in high school and college, you couldn’t help but to smile for pictures under that big helmet. Pretty quickly you noticed. After some time you manage to stop smiling under the headgear. But then you realized, or if you’re like me, you had to be told, to smile anyway. It comes through in the photos, in your posture, in your attitude. So you may as well smile.

By the way, when I smile, my eyes get small. So if you see me squinting, just know.

Here’s a routine, the cats!

Phoebe has a ‘You shall not pass!’ mentality in the hallway. It’s an effect roadblock. She slows you down by her cuteness, and you’re thrown off your game by a sudden urge to rub that belly.

It’s an even more effective obstacle when she does it on the stair landing. You’ve got to turn to the right, maybe you want to avoid a step, but there’s also this furry little thing.

I’m not clear at all how that’s comfortable, but that’s a cat’s posture for you.

Poseidon got interested in the camera lens.

And he’s always interested in this stovetop cover. I built this to keep the cats off the stove. Now they just sit on this thing. And, apparently, they’ll sit on it anywhere.

I’d moved the cover to another part of the countertop to clean the actual stovetop, and he’ll apparently sit on it wherever. So that was, one supposes, a good Saturday project.

Speaking of Saturday, we went for a walk through the woods, and we ran across a spotted fawn that was completely unconcerned by us. Mom was off looking for a snack and then she came back, saw us and we all stayed a respectful distance from one another.

Saturday was our anniversary, too. We spent most of the day reading through old tweets that our friends wrote that established the precise timeline of events. We looked at the menu for our wedding dinner, the eye is still drawn directly to the typo all these years later, and looked through our wedding photos and the honeymoon book. We made ourselves a crab dinner to celebrate, since we aren’t going out to eat. We listened to Sam Cooke and Al Green while we cracked shells. For a day, it was delightful.

This was right after the ceremony. We got married outdoors, under a canopy, in one of the hottest places in the country on the hottest day of the year. The heat index was 127. I was wearing summer wool. There is no such thing as summer wool. My bride looked beautiful:

(Still does!) After the ceremony was complete and we walked back up the aisle we walked inside a building. The first things she said as we began our marriage were “Oh thank goodness, air conditioning!”

For an anniversary, it should have been a more elaborate day. But, for an anniversary, revisiting the day was also perfect.

Jun 20

An early Father’s Day post, of sorts

When we moved into this house a few years ago we discovered some unfinished attic space above the garage. We wanted to use that space for storage. When the folks came up the first time my step-father offered to help. So we picked up some lumber and he bought me some extra tools and we spent a day telling ourselves “This is an attic, no one will ever see it but us. It doesn’t have to be perfect.” It merely needed to be functional. We needed some walking and storage space.

We set about cutting plywood to fit all of the interesting angles of an attic and sweated and installed it all. When it was done I climbed out of the attic and passed the first thing back inside it to my step-father. It felt right that he should put the first thing into the space. He made it usable, after all.

The attic is valuable storage. More valuable for this, which I saw again the other day when I was putting something away in there, because we’d also asked him to sign his handiwork.

I’m glad we did that. When I’m prowling around in the attic, as I was tonight to store an extra window screen, I see that right away, and it always makes me smile. I’m grateful that he takes the time to do these sorts of things every now and again. There’s always something new to learn, always some valuable experience to gain, some time worth spending on it.

It’s a great space, but more space would allow me to organize it. So I wonder if I should put in more flooring. And what we were doing with all of this stuff in the first month or two in the house before we had this extra space.

Maybe in the fall. One summer sweat in the attic those years ago was enough.

Jun 20

Here’s a question

Well, hello there, and welcome to the new week. Do we still mark those as units of time? Should we? I say we just stick with days and years, and every other Mondays. Vote for me, 2020, because I’m going to cut the number of Mondays in half. And if you vote for me twice I’ll have the mandate necessary to double your Fridays.

You’ve seen flimsier campaign platforms.

Anyway, so we’re on a Monday, and this is when we check in with the kitties. They’re doing great. Phoebe has become a big fan of climbing into this blanket for her evening naps.

Poseidon … well, he’s had a lot to say recently.

He’s always chattering on about something or other.

We went for a bike ride today, a simple little 19-miler to start the week. It was over familiar roads, and on one road I’ve only been on once before, last fall. There was a little spot on that road last autumn that was all but perfect. The leaf turn was just right. The sun was at a good angle. The leaves on the ground were brushed away in a pleasant display.

I was shooting video that day, a fine choice for the perfect peak day of fall riding. I tried that road that day simply as a curiosity. For three years it had been a fork to the right, always seen, never imagined. But the road sign there makes no sense for the area, so it became important to try the road. And that’s how it ought to work. New roads should be discovered by experience, not by maps.

A screen capture of the video became a photo for the top banner of the blog. Perhaps you’ve seen it on the site before. It looks like this:

Today it looked a lot like that, too, but much, much greener. A woman at the house closest to that spot was working in her yard, and a little boy was playing in the garden. It all seemed almost as perfect, so that road is two-for-two.

I don’t have video of it, because the little hill was hurting me today, which is also perfect. I’m sure I’ll be back on that road, though, and I’ll get another shot to show it’s greener state. The only question is, do you take the special right and make it routine? Or do you leave it rightly special?

Something to think about over the next few rides, for sure.