Monday, December 27, 2010

The Aftermath

Ah, Christmas. It's like a really good sneeze, isn't it? The holiday has such a tremendous build up and then it all passes by so quickly in a blur of 24 hours that you find yourself waiting for someone to say God Bless You as you recover from it.

And recovering is the trick. I'm fortunate that the front of the house is fairly clean. The kitchen's in good shape, and so is the dining room and the living room. The problem is the back rooms. Everything we were given for Christmas now has to find it's place. While the DVDs and games are easily put away, the books I was given will now have to be precariously balanced in my to-read pile for me to catch up to. They're great books, I can't wait to wade into them, particularly My Reading Life and Pat Conroy's Cookbook, both by one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy.

I'm anticipating a slow week at work, something I haven't experienced since my return to the newspaper in November. The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve is traditionally slow, and I hope this one follows tradition to a T.

The writing is progressing. I'm chipping away at projects and I'm looking forward to getting into a steady groove of it after we enter 2011. The months between January and May tend to be my most productive in the writing world and I'm anticipating finishing at least one novel in the coming months.

But I'm also going to take the time to study music just a little bit. And I'm going to figure out what to cook with this jar of really cool, homemade cayenne-infused olive oil given to me by Mr. Pie and The Student Knitter.

But first I have to clean up this house and do a little laundry. Those sneezes are rough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm Ready For My Close Up

One of the cool things about being a reporter is that you just never quite know what's going to happen next. 

I met this regal looking little fella this afternoon just across the street from the newsroom. Word filtered into us that he collided with the movie theater doors and was sitting comfortably on the sidewalk as he recovered from his concussion.

Naturally, I grabbed the closest camera and went over to get up close and personal. I sat down on the sidewalk with him, but he wasn't happy with that. Instead he fluttered up to a higher perch on the ticket office and I gladly snapped a few close ups. I literally was inches away from this hawk. It was as close as I've ever been to one of these majestic creatures.

He'll grace the front page on Wednesday's edition (in a different photo). I'm happy to say I made his acquaintance.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Interesting Week

I've had an interesting week.

It started out on Monday when I put in an extra morning's work just to handle two Christmas parades. Naturally, one of the parade organizers didn't get around to sending their information to me until right at the deadline, so it was a frantic half hour of taking in data and getting press ready.

That evening I covered the Covington City School Board meeting, where the superintendent announced they had signed an agreement with the City Manager to put a resource officer in the local high school. The next night I covered the city council meeting when a council member and the city manager had a little debate over the issue, citing what I wrote in my article in that afternoon's paper.

Let me tell you that was an interesting moment. It was the first real bit of controversy that I'd ever stirred, even during my first hitch at the paper. See, the first time around I did mostly sports, a little hard news, and feature stories. This time I have a regular beat to cover and one that I've had very little experience at. In fact, before this week I'd never covered a school board meeting at all. So when the councilman pulled out the newspaper and started off with the words "I read in this afternoon's paper..." I had a brief moment of panic where I prayed that everything was correct in that article. Fortunately it was and the debate that followed had absolutely nothing to do with any error I might have made.

The rest of the week was spent deep in the Christmas spirit. And by deep in the Christmas spirit I mean typing hundreds of letters to Santa that the newspaper receives this time of year. We're one of the very few that runs those letters on Christmas Eve. It's a great tradition and that's why we do it. But behind that great tradition is countless hours of typing until your hand hurts from pounding keys for so long.

In the middle of all this, we had our first real snow of the year Thursday. It amounted to about six or seven inches. At the newspaper, when hell and high water happens, we don't call in. We go take a picture of it. So after getting Bethany to work I plowed my way to the office, where we faced a deadline that was an hour earlier so we could get the carriers off the roads at a decent hour. Everything was going smoothly and we were all just about finished with our assigned sections when a late breaking resignation of a prominent local government figure hit the company e-mail. So there went at least thirty minutes of reading, processing and tearing up Plan A so we could drop back to Plan B on the fly.

And today I'm sitting here, waiting patiently on the obituaries to filter in to my Inbox so I can get out the door and on my way to a very scenic Hot Springs where the Bath County Christmas parade will be taking place.

I'll grant you that this job has it's moments, but it's never quite the same thing from day to day. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it sometimes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Arctic Touch

It's really, really cold out there. Don't believe me? Go open your door. Here we have have temperatures that are struggling to break into the 20s with wind gusts that are cracking on in the upper 40 mph range. I don't think that I really appreciated just how hard the wind was blowing until I went to the post office a few minutes ago.

I like post offices. They're the last buildings around here that were really built to show power. The two bigger ones around here are so large, so high-ceilinged that every little think you do in there echoes. Sometimes I think putting a stamp on an envelope echoes. But they're built to impress you with the authority and power of the United States Government and on the inside, particularly the older ones where I live, they pull it off.

After purchasing my book of Christmas evergreen stamps I went over to the table to affix them to the envelopes of the last bit of our Christmas cards to get into the mail. As I was working the envelopes, the wind started to howl. And I mean howl. Not just that little moan you sometimes hear in the winter. I mean a full on, screaming banshee wail that was enough to make you look up and take notice. The windows rattled and the doors of the post office actually creaked inward under the force of the wind.

That was the first thing that made me notice the ferocity of the wind. The second was the moment that I opened the door to step back onto the street and was hit with a blast of wind that made it hard to breath for a couple of seconds.

We didn't see hardly any precipitation off of the big storm that crashed through the area over the weekend, but we're sure feeling the arctic touch at the moment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What You Choose To See

Every now and then, something I've heard a hundred times over just strikes me in a different way.

I had that very experience this morning. I was driving to work (which is still something of a new notion for me after nine months of unemployment) and jamming to three or four different CDs as I drove. I'm driving Bethany's car for mechanical reasons and it has a working CD player. Since my Jeep doesn't at the moment, it's been months since I've been able to enjoy my collection.

I made it through The Band Perry, switched over to Dave Matthews and decided I wasn't in the mood for that, so I moved on to Clint Black and finished up at Edwin McCain as I was driving past the high school a few blocks from my office. I flipped through Scream & Whisper until I landed at track number 7, Farewell to Tinkerbell.

The song is exactly what it sounds like: Peter Pan writing a letter to Tinkerbell saying goodbye because he's fallen in love with Wendy and can never return to Neverland. I've always seen that song as bittersweet. I've always looked at it with eyes that were tinged with sadness because of the friendship that was parting ways.

But I never listened to it the other way around. I never thought about how Peter was so happy now that he was giving up his innocence, an immortal life of childhood, to fall in love with one woman and grow old with her.

I'll never be able to listen to that song the same way again. I don't think I can not hear the utter happiness that triumphs over the wistful bittersweetness. Sure, Peter revels in his victory over Captain Hook and you can hear the wistfulness in his voice when he says  "Tink you know you'll always have my everlasting love," but wow, just for a moment, forget about what he's giving up and think about what he's found.

It's incredible.

Perspective, my friends. It's all in how you look at the world...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'd Forgotten How Much It Hurts

I'd forgotten how much guitar play hurts. Wow.

I'm not talking about my fingertips now. Though I haven't seriously attempted anything on the guitar in a long while the calluses on my fingertips are still there and up to snuff. No, what I'm talking about is my left forearm. It's been so long since I've played that it almost cramps up as I twist my fingers back into the different chord shapes. I feel like I usually do after I hit the gym after a couple of months of not being in there.

I'm making an effort to do this right and study the different notes and learn to read the music. I have the sheet music to Misguided Roses by Edwin McCain and I also have Before These Crowded Streets and Crash by Dave Matthews coming in the mail. All three of these albums are music that has inspired me and I want to learn to play them right.

The first thing I've had to do is start Guitar 101 all over again and practice my chord shapes and switching between them. Now I have to get my hand accustomed to bar chords again, which, as you might imagine, is a royal pain. But I'm getting there. Now that I have a steady job with steady income I can take my mind off my worries for a while and concentrate more on the things I enjoy.

Devan and I are tentatively planning on a work session Monday it things go our way. And if it doesn't, we'll reschedule for another day soon after. We're both excited because it's the first time we've been on the same side of the world in months and we have some pretty good ideas to get down on paper.

This weekend is Bethany's big Christmas concert with the Greenbrier Valley Chorale at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg. If you're interested in coming, you'll have to call the ticket office at (304) 645-7917. I'll warn you that there's a chance they may already be sold out, but the good news is that Bethany found out today they'll be singing at The Greenbrier on December 23, which is the day before the night before Christmas. I don't think I've ever been in The Greenbrier and I can't wait for that evening.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gathering 'Round The Bookshelves

Boy, is it cold out there. And I don't mean just a little cold. I mean the kind of cold that makes me wonder why I'm not living at the beach where they shoot those Corona commercials. Actually, it's not that cold out there but the wind is brutal. We went to dinner at Devan's apartment over in Buchanan and on the way home it was all I could to do keep the Jeep on the road sometimes.

Getting the old crew together is a rare thing these days, though tonight we've decided to make it a little less rare. It's kind of cool how nothing ever really changes. We all more or  less fall into the same roles that we always do. Patrick takes over the food and becomes Devan's favorite target, Devan tries to entertain everyone in the room (he sees the world as an audience) and generally sticks his foot in the mouth and I fall somewhere in between and generally just argue with whoever I decide to disagree with on any given night.

We've all mellowed a bit since we've been married. Actually, we've all married a bit since we've gotten older. I'd say we've become more mature, but, and let's be honest here, that just probably isn't the case. We don't stay up as late as we once did, nor do we eat as much or argue at the top of our lungs as much as we once did (though that last one is a near thing).

One of my favorite parts of any given evening with Devan and Patrick is the traditional gathering 'round the bookshelves to see what books we want to steal. I came away with two novels this evening, both completely unfamiliar and recommended by Devan. He's yet to steer me wrong on a literary recommendation, so I feel like these will be worth looking into. Patrick borrowed Fever Dream, the latest Pendergast novel.

But what we actually take away from the shelves is not nearly as interesting as the conversations that happen around them. It doesn't take long for us to start batting titles around of the latest and greatest books we've read. If we're not rushed to get somewhere and eat something, our discussion eventually lands in one of those titles and we start picking apart the reasons why we liked it. Often times this happens as one of us is trying to pitch the book to the others, but the most interesting discussions happen when we're talking about a novel we've all read.

I tend to pick up on the broader themes and how the novel fits into the larger scheme of the series as a whole. Patrick tends to hit on one or two really insightful and emotional moments that really hit him hard and drove home the feelings of a particular character. Devan usually picks out the one minuscule little detail that we missed that changed the entire plot.

It's the type of literary discussion you'd never see taken seriously on any kind of talk show or podcast because it'd be next to impossible to follow it if you haven't been hanging out with us for as long as we have. Just ask my Dad. These discussions drive him nuts. In all honestly, though, these discussions are probably one of the big reasons that we've all been able to stay friends for all this time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Now That Was A Christmas Parade

I'm usually not a fan of Christmas parades, but Covington's parade was pretty cool Saturday night. Sure, it had the usual array of fire trucks and cement trucks and snow plows all festooned with Christmas lights, but it had more than it's usual share of floats and, most importantly, snow.

I like downtown Covington. Main Street looks like something out of the past with all it's streetlights and clocks and lit trees. Add in the kind of blowing snow that we had Saturday and it became the perfect backdrop for just about anything festive. There were even people handing out free hot chocolate and cookies. How it gets any better than that I just don't know.

Winter has officially settled in my neck of the woods. We had our first snowfall that only amounted to a couple of rapidly melting inches. It's interesting to note, however, that this year's first snowfall fell on the exact same date as last year's first snowfall, and we all know about the blizzard that happened soon after that.

Regardless of the snow, it's cold outside and the wind is much colder than the air temperature. It's the perfect time to be hunkered down on the couch with a roaring fire and a good book in hand. Which is exactly how I plan to spend the rest of my evening until the Ravens and Steelers kick off at 8:30.

I love winter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Snug and Warm

As I sit here in the newsroom awaiting the rush of work that's going to fill my afternoon, the first snowflakes of the year are drifting down from a uniformly gray sky that holds the promise of accumulation. It's perfect timing, really, when you consider that this is the first weekend of December.

I'm glad that I'm not out in it today, though I will be for an hour or two tonight. This is the kind of snowfall that puts me in mind of quieter, calmer times. Of fireplaces lit and overflowing with warmth, of stacks of books piled high beside my favorite chair.

I read an interesting post over at JM Tohline's blog about the most creative time of the year for writers. Not surprisingly, quite a few of those who chimed in chose fall and winter as their best times. My best writing time of the year begins December 26.

This dark and cold time of year is among my favorite times. It's a time of year that just begs to be enjoyed from inside a snug home with books both to be written and to be read and DVDs to be watched. All three of my novels, Chaos Reborn,  The Crownless King and Blood and Steel were written between the months of December and May. With luck, I'll be putting the finishing touches on both Blood and Steel and the young adult book I'm working on with Devan by the time the winter breaks.

Yes, I'll be combatting the dark days of winter by studying the art of storytelling. Be it in a television show, a movie, or in writing, I'll spend these next months wrapped in a warm blanket of words. It's enough to make me wish I lived in a colder, darker and snowier climate.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back To Work

After a month of working at The Virginian Review I can tell you that very little has changed since my departure four years ago.

The faces are still the same, the people I'm dealing with are still the same and the job is even still the same. There are a few cosmetic changes, but it's more or less the same place I left a few years ago. The sweet times to be in the newsroom are between 12:30 and 1 o'clock in the afternoon and that final half hour of the day that begins at 4:30. Those are the two most peaceful times at The Virginian Review. At 12:30 the day's paper has been sent across the hall to the press and there are 30 minutes left, on an average day, to kick back, talk and wait for the clock to tell us to go to lunch. At 4:30 things tend to be more or less wrapped up for the day and there comes a point somewhere in there where you decide you've done all you're going to do for the day and you start browsing the AP news wire or the Internet until the clock says it's time to go home.

This job has its moments, though. Two of them are going to come around this weekend. Friday and Saturday evening you'll be able to find me on the streets of Clifton Forge and Covington watching the Christmas parades roll by. There isn't a thing I can do while the parade is going on, but I'm supposed to be there. True, it's overtime, but I could write the story without ever laying eyes on a single float. The boss man prefers that I be there, however, so I will be.

Among the employees of the paper there is a lot of goofing off and a great deal of an attitude that's too far away from doing the job right in the first place. Frankly, I don't care if I have to go spend extra time covering events that don't hold my interest. After nine months of unemployment, I'm happier than a bird with a french fry just having a job again.