Wednesday


19
Jan 22

Which one of these birds decided it was time move?

I stepped outside the other evening to take the twice-daily sky picture (#IndianaSkyStudy on Instagram) and caught the shift change at some of the local ponds.

Just any old day now, one hopes, the Canada geese will head back north.

And they will, in two or three long months.

Speaking of long, today was my first 11-plus hour day of the semester. And a first-thing-tomorrow meeting, too! It started in one of our podcast studios, where I had to refresh a faculty member on basic production techniques. My morning continued with a longer session teaching production techniques to a student. Then there was a lot of editing, meetings, Email and Slack messages. Regular office stuff.

It ended in a television studio. IUSTV Sports started back up tonight.

And so we’re underway for another exciting term. It’ll feature almost 100 television programs and four or five different podcast programs and live reporting on all of IU’s varsity sports and quite a few more 10- and 12-hour days between now and the end of April.

The daily duds: Pictures of clothes I put here to, hopefully, help avoid embarrassing scheme repeats.

And today I opted for a simple, classic look.

That’s a pocket square I made last year. I’m fancy.


12
Jan 22

Let’s read century-old newsprint

I woke up, because a bit of daylight was peering through the blackout curtains, 73 minutes later than I’d intended. My phone battery died overnight. No phone, no alarm. And despite making it out of the house — showered and shaved, in 15 minutes, and on time for my first appointment of the day — I could not shake that unsettled feeling. Despite that, it was a lovely day.

It got into the mid-40s here today. Positively chamber of commerce stuff.

I gave a tour this morning, reasserting once again that I would have never enjoyed being a tour guide. And yet. Then I did a little text work, then a little video work. That was the day, flying by as they do, except for the slow parts.

He said, after rethinking the parts of the day not worth writing about here.

Let’s look at some newspapers. This is what was was going on 100 years ago in the town where all of my family lives. Not my hometown, mind you. I’m not sure, anymore, if I have one of those. People talk about a hometown as the place where you were born, or where you grew up or where you live. I’m not in the one I’d prefer, and the rest hardly apply. And though I never lived in this part of north Alabama, all of my family is from around this area. And most of our ancestors were there when this paper was published a century ago.

Ain’t that something?

Read this over breakfast.

You wonder what led up to that over the previous year.

Earl Dean was convicted in April, and sentenced to life. He was paroled a decade later. Dean died in 1951. His sister, the wife of the well-known William McCarley, died at 81, in 1966. She never remarried. The McCarleys had five kids, the last born just after the murder. He passed away, aged 75, in 1996.

There’s still a Wofford Oil Company, but I believe it is a different concern. As for that gas station?

Long gone.

Also, why is the paper telling me about yesterday’s weather? Sure, it was cold and wet yesterday. We lived it.

Will build new church.

The First Methodist Church opened in a log house in 1822. Their third church got them to their current site, in 1827. Two versions later they had a brick building, which burned in 1920, so just before this newspaper. The new church went up on the same spot in 1924 and was renovated a few decades later. No one calls it the new church anymore.

I just wrote about the dam in this space recently. I told you the river and the dam and the TVA figured into everything. In the 1921 paper the writers were discussing its future. ‘Would the government keep the dam project up? And just look at how this dam thing has insulated us from the doldrums some other parts of the country are experiencing. We sure would like it if this continued.’ It’s easy to get the sense that they knew this was their path to prosperity and maybe a touch of that modernization that people talked about, the better parts of it, anyway. Also, there were sad tales like this.

He was one of 56 people who died during the dam’s construction. I know many of the family names on that plaque.

Finally, my grandfather smoked Camels, right up until the day the doctors told him another cigarette would kill him. So my grandmother made him quit. I can still picture, though, the coloring of the package, and the crinkling of the cellophane. No matter what this ad copy says, I can still imagine that god awful “cigaretty odor.”

After my grandfather stopped, my grandmother would go outside and sneak a Raleigh every now and then. That was her brand, and I never understood the distinction. They both smelled terrible to me. And there was a lot of that in their house.

My grandmother was a lovely hostess, though, the archetype grandmother. She always made sure to send me home with food or a plant or a toy, and a suitcase full of clean clothes.

The first thing we did when I got home was put all of those clean clothes go in the washer again. The smoke smells were baked in. It’s hard to imagine these days how ubiquitous that was, and not so long ago. How we were just … used to it. Sorta like cigarette ads in a newspaper.

We had lunch today at Chick-fil-A, which is to say we ordered it via the app and got the parking lot delivery and drove to a neighboring parking lot to enjoy our sandwiches. We parked in the lot of the now defunct K-Mart. It closed in 2016 and is presently being demolished to make way for apartments. The view from that parking lot is the Target parking lot just across the street. There were perhaps fewer cars there today than at any time during the pandemic. (Both locally, and across this state, we’re setting all sorts of pandemic records right now.)

This is our usual lunch date, once a week. While we’re there, I like to imagine we’re sitting over a broad, lazy creek. Today the mental image was enough to make me overlook this little message on the back of the cup.

And that’s true enough. So keep it up, won’t you please?


5
Jan 22

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes …

We got a text in the pre-dawn hours this weekend, the sort that comes with a sting and a great ache created by a newly formed hollow place.

Our friend Brian’s father passed away. He’d been fighting some heart-related problems and things were starting to improve until, suddenly, the doctors and nurses had to say they’d done all they can do. It’s just terrible.

Tom was a husband, a grandpa and a father. He is the father of one of the most steadfast men I know. Brian and I worked together for four-and-a-half years. Everyone called us office spouses. We shared a cubicle, mostly because I didn’t drive him crazy. I only didn’t drive him crazy because I admired him so much.

And that was the guy at work. Away from keyboards and glowing screens, Brian is the person that knows my wife and me as a couple longer than anyone. He delivered the toast at our wedding. He helped us move. Multiple times. For many years, when we lived in the same town, we dined with Brian and his wife, Elizabeth, weekly. We have celebrated countless little successes with them. We have boasted unceasingly about the achievements of their brilliant daughter. We have all held each other and cried in the most unimaginable grief.

Tom and his wife, Janet, who (I’m trying to find a not-clichéd way to say it, but she) is just about a perfect gem of a human being, took us in for no other reason than we were their boy’s friends. It is part of their shared generous spirit to the world beyond their door. A lot of people do that, sure. The McAlisters made it feel like it was just for you, like you were the only lucky people that got added, which was far from the case. Felt like it, though. They met because they were spelunkers, and it worked. They had two sons and their family, official and otherwise, just grew and grew and grew.

Here’s Brian and his dad, Tom, after Brian’s daughter’s birthday party. She was a wee thing then and is a certifiably genius college student today. I don’t have a great frame of reference for father-son moments, but this felt like one, almost 14 years ago, to the day.

It looked important and cool. I didn’t want to intrude.

What’s more, their welcoming spirit was familiar. Felt like part of my family. My grandmother was that same way. Never met a stranger. She ministered with food and laughter. There for most anyone for most anything at most any time. Tom and Janet, always gave off a known sort of kindness. Their easy, unspoken, cherished bosom buddy sort of personality was normal.

One terribly sad year, Brian and Elizabeth decided to not have Thanksgiving. Their son passed away a week before and they needed some time to themselves. Rather than think of them being alone, I invited Tom and Janet, the grieving grandparents, to my grandparents’ for Thanksgiving dinner. They didn’t live that far away and it was the obvious gesture. I don’t recall if I asked my grandmother’s permission to bring people into her home. Probably I did, but I knew she wouldn’t care. These were good people because they were my people and that would have been enough. Besides, that’s what she did. There was never a “Why?” but “How many plates do we need to set out?”

And so Tom and Janet drove over and 10 of us sat around the kitchen table. In the blessing, I prayed for the family that was with us and I prayed for those who were elsewhere. I asked for strength and health for those who needed it and peace and patience and understanding for those seeking it.

Eight days earlier they lost a grandbaby and had to watch their son and daughter-in-law crumble before them. And Tom and Janet were rocks, smoothed and weathered by time and sharpened by experience. They were the great, steady, oaks of the forest. They were the comforting lights in the night. Only they were better than all of that. We don’t have imagery for such an inconceivable thing, really. After one of the services, I wrote about our friends, Tom and Janet, “You don’t know of pain until you see a parent who knows they can’t comfort their child. You don’t know strength – a true strength borne of love – until you see them do it anyway.”

That Thanksgiving, I realized that you don’t know vulnerability, real human rawness, until you’ve seen people unabashedly share their grief in a stranger’s kitchen. I also learned that you don’t know the best stuff of the human spirit until you’ve seen strangers grieve for new friends.

We laughed, too. Everyone told tall tales and we all tried to talk about other things. Tom and Janet, so grateful for a brief evening of normal, stayed a long time. I was proud we could all do that and not at all surprised that they were sent home with food.

I’ve always thought of that as a story about my grandmother. It’s one of my most precious and fondest moments with her, the materfamilias, always teaching the best of her traits by example, always demonstrating that the simple things are the important things. But I’ve come to realize it’s a story about the family I was lucky enough to get, and the family I was wise enough to choose.

I’ve been writing this with teary-eyed emotions, but now comes the hard part.

Four years later, when my grandmother died, Tom and Janet made the drive over again. For just a moment, in a way I couldn’t have anticipated, dear sweet friends covered the unfillable hole.

Since we got that early morning message I’ve thought of little more than how difficult it is to fill such a hole, even temporarily, for the people you love. How I want to do that for my friend Brian, and his mother, Janet, and that lovely family.


23
Dec 21

Enjoying our time at the Christmas cottage

It’s always such a treat to be able to open our winter home on the Gold Coast. Though we learned that one of the neighbors is considering moving away. That would really be a shame.

Even on a cloudy day like yesterday, the Saugatuck and the Sound never fail to inspire.

We went out for a four-mile run, but I pulled the rip cord just a bit early when I slammed my heel into the road. Remember, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my shoe’s fault, it was the asphalt.

I didn’t move quickly enough to catch the Canada geese, but I did get the heron from a distant, if only with my iPhone.

And of course, we ran by the old cemetery. You’ll love this marker.

1681- 1771

Families represented: Burns, Church, Gray, Hendricks, Shaw, in whose memory this tablet is dedicated by Compo Hill Chapter DAR and the Morris Park Association 1933.

In the American context of history the cemetery is getting up there in years — in the American context that plaque is aging nicely, too — one across the state is just a few decades older, and it is considered one of the oldest in New England. And if you start googling those names you begin to find the earliest English settlers in the region.

I believe there are just a handful of known graves in this cemetery, but I could be wrong. It sits beside a modern road, and in between is a walking path, and throughout you can enjoy some lovely birding and, just beyond, some decent fishing. Beyond that, you’re in a large city park that’s pretty quiet this time of year.

This evening, after she hanged her stockings by the chimney with care, I put the star on my in-laws’ Christmas tree.

It’s the little big things like that that make you understand you’re really a part of the family.

And how are your holiday festivities coming along? We’re opening a few presents this evening. And tomorrow I have to take on an entirely new role. It could be a hit! Or a miss!


15
Dec 21

The seasonal wind down

It’s funny how things sink in. The how and the when and then, just, the act of sinking in. It’s great imagery, you take a photograph of a memory or a great big block of text sliding into the brain matter. Finally! That thing sunk in!

Or, for some, it could come another way. That polaroid or life video on a short, endless loop, or that great big block of text, could collide with a domicile. I imagine it’s flying in from the left, with squiggles denoting speed, slamming into the side of a cartoon house. Hey! That really hit home!

Anyway, it just now hit home that I’ve been writing in this space for 18-plus years. I had to scroll through all of those Decembers in my FTP program to get to *checks notes* 2021, so I could upload this graphic.

That’s my ride this evening, a quick 20 miles over a fictional place in Zwift. And with this ride 2021 moved into the second place in the last 11 years for miles pedaled. Last year has, and will likely hold with ease, the top spot. All of this is pretty remarkable because, these last few years, I seem to be riding slower. It takes longer to go farther.

It takes dedication to go farther when it takes longer, he said, thinking it meant something more than it did.

This is the last production of the fall semester for IUSTV. It’s Behind The Curtain, one of the many new shows the students rolled out this term. They show a student video or, as in this case, an actual film project, and then talk to the creators.

This term they garnered well more than 80,000 impressions and almost 13,000 views of 81 new episodes of original, scripted, entirely student-produced programming. This does not count the many podcasts or social media hits of all different sorts on at least four different platforms.

Oh, and this is something of a rebuilding year, so we’re just getting started.

How do you feel about documentaries about comedians? The producer of this project is an IU professor. I’ve watched a long trailer, which was good enough to make me want to watch the full thing. (Which I will get around to in the next week or so.) And if you like comedians, you might like this, too.

I’ve lined up an interview with the producer of this project for after the first of the year. She’s got a book chapter in a new book that’s considering comedians as public intellectuals. Should we go for thoughtful, then, or punchlines? And why can’t I do both, simultaneously?

I also have three other shows in the can that I simply need to edit. Good shows, but not about comedians. That’ll be part of a day after the first of the year.

But that’s after the holidays, which I am officially on starting … a few hours ago.

So you know what that means. Two weeks of fun!