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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

Patricia Maris, the widow of Roger Maris, sent me a blanket as a gift this week. I am overwhelmed.

I’ll explain, but it will take a while: This story starts more than 55 years ago.

I don’t remember being at all aware of baseball from 1957 to 1960, when my father was stationed in England in the U.S. Air Force. My strongest childhood memories of England are of Mrs. Shaw, the retired school teacher next door who tutored me and taught me to read, using Janet and John books.

We moved to Utah when I was 5, and I was reading at the fourth-grade level, already launched on a lifetime as a nerd who loved to read and pursued passions single-mindedly. One of my first such passions was geography. My parents bought me some flash cards of the states to amuse me on that long drive west from New Jersey, where we landed in the United States, to our new home in Utah. I memorized the shapes and capitals of the states. I asked Mom or Dad which state I was born in. Dad was stationed then at Sampson Air Force Base in the Finger Lakes region of New York. So that became my favorite card and my favorite state.

Soon baseball became another passion for this intent, focused nerd. We didn’t have a television yet (my parents didn’t cave in on that indulgence until after the JFK assassination in 1963). But Mom listened to the 1960 World Series on the radio. A lifelong Cubs fan (yeah, more on that later), Mom rooted for the National League team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. But New York was my state and New York became my team.

So my early baseball heroes were Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford, who had historically great performances in that World Series. And the season’s Most Valuable Player, Roger Maris, played pretty well, too, and I started liking him as well. But Bill Mazeroski broke my young heart. (more…)

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LifepostsI’ve shifted much of my writing time from blogging about journalism to personal storytelling. So I thought I should blog about personal storytelling and its place in journalism.

My work days are still filled with journalism matters: leading LSU’s student media operations and teaching journalism classes (though didn’t teach a summer class). But I used to spend considerable time on weekends, early mornings and evenings writing on this blog, where I am certainly practicing journalism, usually about journalism. I spent less time, but occasionally considerable time, on two other blogs that are types of journalism, my Hated Yankees blog about baseball and Mimi’s and my 2 Roads Diverged blog about travel.

More and more, I find that personal writing is crowding journalism out of my non-work writing. And it’s not all related to my experience with cancer. Certainly, since my 2014 diagnosis of lymphoma, I have chronicled much of my treatment and observations about cancer on my CaringBridge journal. That, and the treatment itself, have cut into my time spent here.

But another project recently, unrelated to my illness, also took many hours. Steve Waldman called my attention a while back to a new product he’s working on called LifePosts, and I thought it would be a great tool to tell my father’s story. Dad died in 1978 at age 56. He died before his oldest two grandchildren’s second birthdays, so none of his 22 grandchildren has any memory of him. So I spent a few weeks earlier this year developing a timeline of Dad’s life. It was a mix of writing and research, and I enjoyed working on it immensely, stirring up many fond memories of Dad and learning (or relearning) things about him from various family documents. (more…)

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Cancer 3.0

Mimi and me at Tom's wedding last October

Mimi and me at Tom’s wedding last October

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Tom spent the Fourth of July posting photos from his wedding last October to Facebook. I liked a photo of Mimi and me together on that happy day, so I made it my profile photo. More than 200 people “liked” it and another 20-plus commented, all encouraging messages. Several noted that I looked good. I was tempted to note that the photo was from last October. But I got some similar comments about looking good when I posted some photos from the road that same day on the way to Houston.

I do look good. I don’t say that boastfully, but kind of ruefully. I look (and feel) better than my news: I was at the MD Anderson Cancer Center last week getting my third major cancer diagnosis. This time I have pancreatic cancer.

I was honored and uplifted by how many people encouraged me during last year’s treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma. If you were heartened in some way by my kicking-cancer’s-ass narrative, please know that I did kick that cancer’s ass. My lymph nodes look great, and they’ve gotten a close look the last three-plus months in a PET scan, an MRI, two CT scans, two endoscopic ultrasounds and lots of lab tests as doctors have tried to figure out what the hell was going on in my pancreas. (more…)

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CJR storyNearly 20 years ago, Bridget Hegarty gave me one of the best interviews of my career. This past Christmas Eve, she paid me one of the best compliments of my career.

Often journalists don’t learn about the impact, good or bad, of our reporting on the people we write about. A beat reporter will hear criticism or praise from regular sources. And sometimes we’ll hear some feedback right away. But journalism about personal stories is often a hit-and-run activity. Especially if you move as frequently as I have in my journalism career. I moved to another newspaper less than two years after writing about Bridget, and I never expected to hear from her again.

Generally I sort of presume that good stories have a good impact, if any, on the lives of good people I write about. And maybe I don’t want to know if that’s not true.

I interviewed Bridget for a story the Omaha World-Herald published Nov. 17, 1996. I told the stories of six women who had experienced difficult pregnancy situations, and their decisions to have an abortion or give birth. Bridget decided to have an abortion when she got pregnant after being raped.

The story stands out as one of my best and most challenging in about 15 years as a reporter. A few years ago, I was blogging updated lessons from my old stories. I’d usually post a story, with lessons sprinkled throughout, both timeless journalism lessons about writing and reporting and updated observations about how I might do the story differently today using digital tools and skills.

I had persuaded Bridget and the other women in the pregnancy story to speak for the record back in 1996. But in those pre-Google days, that didn’t mean that a story about abortion or a problem pregnancy might show up whenever anyone searched the internet for your name. So I just used initials of the women when I posted in 2013 on updated lessons from the story about difficult pregnancies.

The post didn’t get much interaction, but now it was there on the web for Google to find. Bridget couldn’t find it looking for her name and searching for your initials is pretty pointless. But this past December, she wanted to find some information about the abortion clinic where she was a patient (and later a staff member). So when she Googled that, she found my post. And she wanted to reconnect, to tell me what the story meant to her.

Soon she found my professional Facebook page. And she messaged me:

You left a permanent imprint in my mind and heart that has never left me since the day you interviewed me that I will always cherish. You helped give what happened to me a voice. It was a voice that I can now use, and do use every day of my life. You gave my voice confidence and reassurance when I thought that part of me was gone forever. I have always wanted to thank you for that!

I fought back tears as I read the message. What Bridget couldn’t know was that she wrote me on a discouraging day, my 24th straight day in the hospital, Dec. 24, and the day I learned I wouldn’t be getting out to spend Christmas at home (I got out the 26th). My stem-cell transplant had been successful, but my blood counts were not yet high enough to release me. I was pouting and petulant when the message arrived, and it immediately picked up my spirits.

Bridget and I messaged back and forth on Facebook and email and eventually chatted by Skype. When I had recovered enough to travel, I met her in Omaha in late February and interviewed her again.

That interview resulted in a story for the Columbia Journalism Review about Bridget’s voice and the journalism ethics principle of giving voice to the voiceless, which posted today.

I don’t have a lot to add here on my personal blog, except thanks to Bridget for her kind words, for sharing her story in 1996 and for today’s story about the personal impact journalism can have.

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Displays at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum recount the arrest, trial and execution of terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

Displays at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum recount the arrest, trial and execution of America’s most infamous terrorist.

The front page of the Daily Oklahoman, displayed in the museum.

The front page of the Daily Oklahoman, displayed in the museum.

OKLAHOMA CITY — We treat hate these days as something benign. Presidential candidates and their legions of supporters defend hatred as preferable to “political correctness,” whatever that is, as if those were the only alternatives. The dangers we face all look and dress differently and speak with accents, so it’s shrugged off as OK to fear and hate those who look and dress and speak differently.

Walk through the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and you remember how hateful our own can be. If you ever forgot. I haven’t. I can’t.

I was here in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s and Terry Nichols’ hate crime. I felt the grit and grief that filled the air still days after their bomb devastated this city. I interviewed spouses and siblings and parents of the Americans killed by American terrorists on April 19, 1995. I walked through the museum and the outdoor memorial this week for a second time. My first visit was in 2001, shortly after the museum opened. I am back for a conference of student media managers.

The first time I visited, the killer received scant attention. McVeigh’s trial was under way and Nichols had not yet been tried. The museum focused on the devastation, on remembering the dead, on the rescue and recovery attempt, on healing and peace. Nearly 20 years later, the museum is still outstanding and still does those things. But it also tells the stories, in a frank and necessary way, of the investigation, arrests, trials and sentences.

I have not yet visited the 9/11 Memorial, though I will make time for it on my next visit to New York. Both places necessarily honor the dead and are important tributes for Americans to visit. But Oklahoma City feels more important, more necessary, to me. We don’t need help fearing foreigners. But this memorial and museum remind us how malignant homegrown hate can be. (more…)

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Iowa Caucus Game

Iowa Caucus Game, 1983

Before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, I wrote two blog posts about them, one complaining about Iowa hogging first place in our presidential selection process and one recalling my seven election cycles covering the caucuses as a reporter and editor.

Both pieces got more attention than I had anticipated, because The Atlantic republished my piece criticizing Iowa’s sense of entitlement and did a separate post on my 1983 board game (pictured above and mentioned in my post about my caucus experience).

I don’t have much to add this year, except that every critical thing I wrote four years ago is more true than ever this year. The reality-show series of debates, especially on the Republican side, has been a debacle of posturing and sniping that underscores all that is wrong with our system.

I will make no predictions about who will win tonight, but I think there’s a better than 50 percent chance that November’s winner won’t win tonight. And I know we can find a better way to choose a president. But we won’t.

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As Washington braces for a winter storm (and the metro area’s inability to deal with winter storms), my mind wandered back five years.

On Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, almost exactly five years ago, Mimi and I drove nine hours to get home from the heart of Washington to our home in the Virginia suburbs. In good traffic, the drive usually took less than 45 minutes. In normal Washington traffic, an hour was not unusual, an hour and a half certainly possible.

But when it snows in Washington …

I am not the only one to remember that evening (or my whining about that evening):

Nine hours, 11 hours. For recalling a nightmare from five years ago, two hours seemed a minor exaggeration.

David Heyman (who will appear more in this tale later) also recalled our shared 2011 Odyssey:

My daughter-in-law, Ashley Douglass, took three hours to get home in some light snow Wednesday evening, prompting her husband, Tom, to ask if I had the link from my account of the 2011 trek to share with her. He thought it was on this blog, but it was on TBD.com, the Washington local news site I helped launch less than six months before that snowy day.

The TBD archives were preserved a few years, but have vanished from the Internet. I couldn’t even find my story of the snowy commute on the Wayback Machine (which preserves snapshots from websites, but not full archives). But I did save the html files.

Some background on that day before I share my five-year-old tale: This was the year after Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse paralyzed Washington for days. But not every winter storm forecast for DC materializes as predicted. At least a couple times earlier in January 2011, weather forecasters had warned of potentially snowpolalyptic storms that either missed Washington entirely or only provided a light dusting. So when we were warned of the Jan. 26 storm, most of Washington shrugged and headed to work as normal. But this time the forecast actually lowballed the storm. By mid-afternoon, huge, wet flakes were falling fast, sticking to the streets, and the federal government (and nearly everyone else) shut down early, sending virtually every vehicle in Washington into the streets at the same time.

I’ve spent most of my life in the Midwestern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota. I know winter storms, and laugh at Washington’s inability to handle light snow. But this was a genuine winter storm, falling fast and hard and wet on a metro area whose drivers and cities don’t know what do with a mild winter snow that wouldn’t cancel school in Iowa.

So here is my account of my commute from hell (on a day off even!) five years ago (with a few updates): (more…)

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