Story out: Parent partners close the gap between parent and child welfare

This summer I wrote a story somewhat outside my wheelhouse on child welfare. "Building the Bridge: Parent Partner Coordinators Help to Close the Gap between Parents and Child Welfare,” which will appear in the spring 2019 issue of the Child Welfare League of America’s publication Children’s Voice, looks at how parents who have themselves been involved in the child welfare system — and sometimes have lost their own children — are becoming one of the most powerful tools agencies have in the complex task of rebuilding families. Check it out here.

From the Next Children's Voice: Building the Bridge

Sara Owen knows what it's like to be on the front lines of child welfare work-and that until both sides step out of the trenches and meet on common ground, healing is rarely possible.

"This was Rome"

Destruction of Rome.jpg

This week, while looking up some information for a textbook I’m copyediting, I came across this beautiful poem written in the 11th century by a French theologian (and later archbishop) named Hildebert of Lavardin. When he wrote it, around 1100, Rome was home to only about 30,000 inhabitants, living among the ruins that had once housed 1 to 2 million.

de Roma

Roman ruins.jpg

The city now is fallen; I can find
No worthier epitaph than: “This was Rome.”
Yet not the flight of years, nor flame nor sword
Could fully wipe away its loveliness …
Bring wealth, new marble and the help of gods
Let craftsmen’s hands be active in the work—
Yet shall these standing walls no equal find,
Nor can these ruins even be restored.
The care of men once built so great a Rome,
The care of gods could not dissolve its stones.
Divinities admire their faces carved,
And wish themselves the equal of those forms.
Nature could not make gods as fair of gace
As man created images of gods.

A decade and a half or so prior to Hildebert’s visit, the city had again been sacked, this time by the Normans, who set it ablaze and destroyed significant portions of it. Gregorovius, a German historian writing in the 19th century, described the outcome as follows: "When both flames and the tumult of battle had subsided, Rome lay a heap of smoking ashes. ... The city was now terribly impoverished, and even the churches were devoid of ornament. Mutilated statues stood in the ruinous streets or lay in the dust amid the relics of baths and temples. Hideous images of saints remained here and there in the basilicas, which were already falling into decay, and attracted the spoiler by the gold which was possibly still affixed to them by votaries."

Story out: Lighthouse Labs pushes the edtech envelope

When you think of startups, you may be more likely to think of Silicon Valley or New York City than Virginia, but some of the most exciting developments in edtech today are coming out of the commonwealth and its sister-district to the north, Washington, D.C. In this story for Richmond Inno, I look at how the River City is helping foster a close connection between education and entrepreneurialism.

How Lighthouse Labs has Pushed the Edtech Envelope with its Latest Cohort

No one knows better than an entrepreneur that growth is a matter of learning, a process rather than a product - no one, that is, except a teacher.

It's Election Day! (and a look back at this day 100 years ago)

Today is Election Day, the most important day in the U.S. political calendar. If you live in Virginia, here is a handy link to the state Department of Elections webpage where you can determine where your polling place is and what’s on your ballot. And if you live in Richmond, remember that GRTC, Uber, and Lyft are all offering free rides to polling places today. Go forth and do your civic duty.

And for fun, a look back on Election Day 100 years ago—Nov. 5, 1918…


Virginia elections 1918.png

With the end of World War I a mere six days away (though naturally no one would know that at the time), voters in Virginia appear to have been somewhat distracted, with the elections for Congress in the commonwealth proving the “quietest on record.” All ten members of the state’s delegation were returned to their seats.

At the time, Virginia was a staunchly Democratic state: nine of its ten congressmen were Democrats; the only Republican, C. Bascom Slemp, represented the Ninth District, covering parts of southwestern Virginia. Note that the Tenth District representative, H. D. Flood (Henry De la Warr Flood), was the uncle of Harry Flood Byrd, the mastermind of massive resistance and the creator of the formidable Byrd machine that dominated Virginia for four decades.

Of the others elected, Carter Glass, who was first sent to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902, is an interesting case. He later became a U.S. Senator and is memorialized in the Glass–Steagall Act (repealed 1999), which separated commercial and investment banking and established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He was also an inveterate racist. At the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Convention, he openly declared: “Discrimination! Why that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this convention was elected for — to discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a view to the elimination of every Negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate."

Just to put that in perspective: the restrictions that Glass helped force through in the 1902 Virginia Constitution (which included poll taxes, literacy tests and segregation of schools) would remain in place for literally decades, until the 1960s, when the Supreme Court and federal legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 overturned the state’s ability to take such measures.

Recent work over at Richmond Inno

Just a couple of links to some of my recent work in the past month or so over at Richmond Inno:

A page of computer code can be a bewildering sight: an erratic jumble of words, colors and symbols made nonfunctional by the misplacement of a single piece of punctuation. Adults struggle to make sense of the apparent chaos, so how much trickier might it be to understand for young students? Codemoji, a Chicago-born edtech startup launching in Richmond this summer through Lighthouse Labs, says it’s not tricky at all. You just have to speak to kids in their language: emojis.

Imagine this: You're standing in the soap aisle, wondering whether to shell out an extra $2 for brand-name body wash or just go with the generic store version. The name brand is tried and true, but is it really any different from its less flashy cousin? It’s at that intersection between quality and cost that Richmond startup Brandefy is weighing in with a mobile app that offers consumers comparisons of generic and brand-name products.

“We’re no longer the coupon-clipping generation,” said Elisabeth Klughardt, Brandefy’s part-time logistics coordinator. “This is the way we do it.”

As the U.S. prepares to grapple with the “silver tsunami,” online caregiving platform Naborforce lets seniors connect with community members for rides, errands, light help around the house, or just a few hours of sipping coffee and chatting. “It’s like having a son or daughter on demand,” said Wilson, who envisioned the platform as a way to provide seniors with assistance they need to age in place, and also the compassion and companionship that bring joy to the process of aging.

Online farmer’s market startup Seasonal Roots touts itself as bringing food fresh to consumers from “dirt to doorstep,” but it’s a third element that makes that seamless transaction possible: the internet. “The problem with a farmer’s market is a farmer will come and never know if they’ll sell a thing,” founder Duane Slyder said. On the other side of the equation, customers never know if what they want from the market will be available.

To combat that uncertainty, Seasonal Roots provides customers with an online farmer’s market from which they can choose exactly what they want every week from local offerings of produce, dairy, bread, meat, honey and more, either through a membership or through a guest system of purchasing.



Story out: Fones Cliffs case referred to state AG

My story on the referral of environmental violations at Fones Cliffs in Richmond County, Va., to the state attorney general is out at the Virginia Mercury today. Check it out here.

Developer's environmental violations at historic Richmond County cliffs referred to attorney general - Virginia Mercury

Environmental violations at the site of a planned luxury golf course development, where illegally cleared land has caused the culturally, biologically and historically significant Fones Cliffs above the Rappahannock River to erode, have been referred to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring for enforcement.

A four-mile stretch of land above the Rappahannock River, Fones Cliffs are notable for their white coloration, which is due to the presence of diatomaceous earth, and for the large concentration of bald eagles that both live at the site and migrate there throughout the year.

In November 2017, Richmond County issued a stop-work order against Virginia True, which has proposed the golf resort and hundreds of housing units for the site, after it cleared 13.5 acres of forested land near the cliffs without a permit. Since then, significant erosion has occurred on the site, including landslides from the cliffs into the Rappahannock below.

Quarreling over the orange

My story for Richmond Law Magazine on civil discourse in today's society and whether or not the law profession can help promote civility is now live on Richmond Law's website. Check it out here.

An even more dismal record in Virginia's higher ed

 
 A 1945 editorial in  The Flat Hat , the College of William & Mary's student newspaper. The writer of the editorial, editor Marilyn Kaemmerle, was fired.

A 1945 editorial in The Flat Hat, the College of William & Mary's student newspaper. The writer of the editorial, editor Marilyn Kaemmerle, was fired.

In news that will be surprising to no one, a follow-up look to last week's examination of women's role in Virginia higher ed leadership reveals that when it comes to racial diversity in higher education leadership, Virginia's record has been dismal. 

There really isn't any other way to look at it. As in my last post, I looked at Virginia's 13 four-year public universities (Christopher Newport University, the College of William & Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, the University of Mary Washington, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University), but now I examined whether they have ever had a black president. 

What I found is that of those 13 institutions of higher education, only three have ever had an African American president—and two of those, Norfolk State and Virginia State, are historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). The only non-HBCU university in Virginia that has had a president who is African American is Radford University, which appointed Brian O. Hemphill its president in 2016. Every other president, with the exception of VCU's Michael Rao, the child of Indian emigrants, has been white. 

(As a note, yes, racial diversity is more than a black–white issue—but I think it's also somewhat disingenuous to not use that as a starting point in Virginia. Blacks are the largest minority group in the commonwealth, comprising just shy of 20 percent of the population according to 2016 U.S. Census estimates. And without overlooking the struggles that other racial minorities have faced in Virginia, none have been more systematically or sweepingly targeted for exclusion by means legal, legislative, or social than blacks. But then again, even if I had looked at other races, I wouldn't have found much else: the presidencies outside the HBCUs are essentially a sea of white.)

Surely linked is the fact that Virginia's public universities—again with the exception of the HBCUs—refused to admit black undergraduates until the 1950s and 1960s. Virginia Tech admitted its first black undergrad, Irving L. Peddrew III, in 1953; UVA its first three black undergrads, Robert Bland, George Harris, and Theodore Thomas, in 1955; the University of Mary Washington (then the women's branch of UVA) its first black undergrad, Jacquelyn Pulliam, in 1962; and the College of William and Mary its first black undergrad, Oscar Blayton, in 1963. 

While some schools openly resisted the admission of African Americans, others were more passive. George Mason University, established in 1949 as a branch of UVA, offered an interesting defense of its lack of diversity (link to source here): 

For as long as it existed, George Mason had never considered itself “segregated”.  In fact, in 1963 George Mason College Director, John Norville Gibson Finley chided an official from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he wrote Finley for confirmation as to whether or not George Mason was segregated.  Finley replied that Mason was not, and while it was true that it had “never had a Negro student . . . no Negro ha[d] ever applied for admission.”

According to the Lemon Project, when the editor of W&M's student newspaper, The Flat Hat, published a column entitled "Lincoln's Job Half-Done" advocating for the admission of African Americans to the College in 1945, she was fired and publication of the newspaper was temporarily halted.

Several schools did admit graduate students earlier, but the rarity of such events is revealed in the fact that William & Mary's admission of Hulon Willis into a graduate program in physical education in 1951 sparked the publication of a brief by the Associated Press under the heading "Negro Admitted."

Virginia's higher ed leadership gets a bit more diverse

I was very excited by the news that William & Mary, my alma mater, has selected as its 28th president Katherine Rowe. As part of its announcement, the College released an introductory video earlier this week that provides what I think is an exciting roadmap forward for W&M. 

I'm very encouraged by much of what Dr. Rowe says here, and her dual emphasis on not just the College's "long history" but also "innovation," and how key diversity and inclusion are to "accelerating innovation." In one of her most significant expressions of how she intends to direct the College's course, she states, "We need diversity, and we need full participation—which is what we mean by inclusion—in order to innovate. It's an essential aspect of transformation to preserve our core values." That idea fits in too to her conception of the liberal arts' role in the 21st century as a way of teaching individuals how to manage complexity, an increasingly critical task in a world struggling to sift through the vast amount of information to which we now have access and to make meaningful change in the face of that deluge. A focus on "management of complexity" also opens the door to more practical applications of a liberal arts education, a struggle that many universities have faced in the wake of the Great Recession and changing views of how institutions ought to prepare young people to become members of society.

Of course, in the spirit of diversity, one of the reasons I'm so happy to see Dr. Rowe taking the reins of W&M is because she will be the first woman to serve as the College's president. W&M has been very late in bringing a woman into this kind of leadership role within Virginia—which is somewhat ironic, since it was one of the commonwealth's first universities to admit women. 

So who has been leading the charge in bringing women to the leadership table in higher ed in Virginia? Of the state's 13 public four-year universities, Longwood University seems to have been the first to elevate a woman, Janet Greenwood, to its presidency, in 1981, following that up with Patricia Cormier in 1996. (Longwood, founded as a female seminary in 1839, actually did not admit men until 1973, when the school—then a college—was ordered to do so by the Virginia Department of Education.) And in 1997, the historically black Norfolk State University elevated Marie McDemmond to the role of president and then followed her tenure with that of another woman, Carolyn Meyers, in 2006. It is still the only Virginia university to have had more than one female president.

Unfortunately, William & Mary is not the last of Virginia's public higher ed flock to appoint a woman to its presidency. Five—Christopher Newport UniversityGeorge Mason UniversityJames Madison UniversityVirginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Tech—have had exclusively male presidents. Virginia State University has only appointed a woman, Pamela Hammond, as an interim president. And even though the University of Virginia appointed its first female president, Teresa Sullivan, in 2012, it was also the last of the commonwealth's universities to go fully coeducational, which it did in 1970. The public four-year Virginia Military Institute (a college, not a university, and so not included in the 13), of course, held out until the Supreme Court ordered it to accept women in 1997.

Of course, diversity is about far more than gender, and when it comes to race, the records are equally rocky . . . but that's another story for another day. 

  • UPDATE! Some additional fact checking reveals that Christopher Newport has in fact NOT ever had a female president. Despite Wikipedia listing "Amy Anderson" as the institution's president starting in 1979, the president appointed then was in fact John Anderson. (Yes, Wikipedia isn't always the best source, but I did cross-check a sampling of its listings with university sites while I was writing this original post, and all of its results appeared accurate. But that's a good lesson—check, check, check.) I've revised the post to reflect this fact.

On agriculture in the mass media

Manassas evening sky.JPG

Since one of the topics I write about a lot is agriculture, I've run into the problem repeatedly of exactly where these stories should—or can—be published. Agriculture doesn't naturally fall into most of the news categories publications use: Is it science? Environment? Economy? Something ... else? 

The more that I've encountered this dilemma, the more I've become convinced that it's indicative of a broader problem in the domestic print media. The reality is that virtually all major publications in the United States are headquartered in large cities, and even those with the means to open up bureaus elsewhere invariably locate them in other large cities. The decision is certainly rational: cities are hubs of news, places where people and businesses congregate and where ideas, innovation and social patterns are often most immediately evident. But what this tendency has produced is a cycle in which it is virtually impossible for someone to succeed in the industry if he or she is not working in a major city. 

One of the most crucial factors in this equation is how painfully little local-market print journalists are paid (this is often true for TV journalists as well, but I am less familiar with their circumstances, so I won't apply my observations to that segment of the industry). Many of the discussions of this issue that I have encountered in the mass media are (1) written by people in very urban environments for publications produced in and targeted to urban markets and (2) badly skewed by major-market wages. It is the norm almost everywhere outside of major U.S. cities (the New Yorks, Chicagos, Los Angeleses, Bostons, DCs) for entry-level journalists to make in the low $20K range and for mid-career journalists to make in the low $30K range. Very rarely are benefits substantial, and inevitably the hours are bad.

Consequently, what we see is a wave of burnout and turnover in local markets that isn't likely to disappear until the industry can come up with some way to counterbalance the negative aspects of the job. Under such circumstances, "success" in terms of attaining a sustainable living wage is reserved largely for those young, single and not burdened with financial debt, while "success" in terms of making an impact on a broader scale is often hobbled by limited resources (as the simplest example, two-journalist newsrooms rarely have the time to commit to in-depth investigations). 

What these factors have produced over time is a kind of industry-wide myopia about rural issues. People are people, but urban societies and rural societies are in many ways profoundly different—different in the kinds of work they do, in how they socialize, in their level of religiosity, in their political affiliations, in their manners, and in dozens of other ways. As a result, major publications often (although certainly not always) cover rural issues in one of two ways: either they portray rural populations as a conglomeration of tropes (the wise bumpkin, the ignorant redneck, the patiently suffering black man or woman), or else they assume that the priorities and history of rural populations will—or should—match those of urban populations. Both of these approaches generally stem from the way that reportage in the current system is actually carried out: because major-market journalists are located in urban areas, they "drop in" to urban areas for stories. Sometimes they only show up for a single event; sometimes they stick around for a day or two. These strategies can unquestionably produce vivid stories, and I certainly won't dispute that an outside perspective can glimpse things that someone familiar with an area might overlook. But they prevent reporters from producing nuanced, deep examinations of what is happening in rural areas, and this sets in motion a chain reaction of "silo-ing." If the print media isn't writing about rural issues, urban residents aren't being exposed to them, considering them and taking them seriously—so they don't demand such coverage, and newsrooms conclude that (1) readers aren't interested or (2) the issues really aren't that important.

That's why—to circle back here—we have a strange lacuna in the print landscape where agricultural coverage should be. Agriculture is a critically important component of the U.S. economy. Agriculture and its related industries accounted for 11 percent of all employment in 2015, with U.S. farms alone (not taking into account fishing, forestry, tobacco, and other ag-dependent industries) constituting 1 percent of GDP. Many industries, such as the massive food/drink slice of the service sector, rely on agriculture for their very existence. And yet most major-market coverage of agriculture is scattershot and reactive, focusing on unusual events or trends. That in turn reinforces the idea that the industry and the populations who work in it and whose lives are shaped by it isn't that interesting or worth sustained attention. 

So what's the answer? That, as one of my colleagues used to say, is a question above my pay grade. But I'm inclined to say that what is needed is a different kind of rural "beat," one that offers more geographic flexibility and allows more reporters to become embedded in rural regions. What is needed, too, is for editors and newsroom decision-makers to take seriously the fact that rural populations are not a thinned-out carbon copy of urban ones, and that coverage of them is as essential to our democracy as coverage of big-city streets. 

 

 

A few thoughts on pencils and the decline of manufacturing

"In an era of infinite screens, the humble pencil feels revolutionarily direct."

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran this excellent photo essay on the still-operating General Pencil Company in Jersey City that offers a glimpse of a world that increasingly seems a relic of the past: manufacturing-era America.

The basement, where workers process charcoal, is a universe of absolute gray: gray shirts, gray hands, gray machines swallowing gray ingredients. A surprising amount of the work is done manually; it can take employees multiple days off to get their hands fully clean. Pencil cores emerge from the machines like fresh pasta, smooth and wet, ready to be cut into different lengths and dried before going into their wooden shells.

To me, there is little doubt that the great era of American manufacturing is over (whether another one will take its place is a separate question entirely). Industrial America was more than just tons produced and dollars generated, although those are themselves powerful indicators of the force and extent of the phenomenon. It was also a social system, one shaped profoundly by the unions and the concept of fidelity to a single company, and by a set of beliefs that turned on not only faith in the power of machines and technology but also faith in the American worker. That isn't to say that all was rosy in "those days"; it wasn't. Businesses weren't inherently more virtuous than they are now, nor were workers more honorable or hardworking or what have you. But there was a different set of commitments that society adhered to, and a different sense of "fair play." Today, the fundamental unit of the U.S. economy seems to be the company rather than the worker. This may be a legacy of Reaganomics or the breaking of the unions or Citizens United, or all three, but its repercussions have been both deep and broad.

 

"It's Toasted"

Remember that scene in the pilot episode of Mad Men where Don Draper at the eleventh hour of a meeting comes up with the perfect Lucky Strike slogan that will distract consumers from the pernicious linkage between smoking and cancer? (The key part of the scene starts at about 3:20 in the video below.)

Don: This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want. How do you make your cigarettes?
Lee Garner, Jr.: I don’t know.
Lee Garner, Sr.: Shame on you. We breed insect-repellent tobacco seeds, plant 'em in the North Carolina sunshine, grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it—
Don: There you go. There you go. [He writes: "Lucky Strike. It's Toasted."]
Lee Garner, Jr.: But everybody else’s tobacco is toasted.
Don: No, everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike’s is toasted.

In fact, as I learned while doing a bunch of tobacco research last week for some stories, the "real" story of this scene unfolded about 40 years before Mad Men opens in 1960. According to reporter Susan Wagner in her 1971 book Cigarette Country, "It's Toasted" was originally formulated as a way for the American Tobacco Company to compete against R. J. Reynolds & Co.'s newly developed—and wildly popular—Camel cigarettes in the wake of World War I. Among other factors, Camels had benefited from their use of burley tobacco, which had a stronger, nuttier taste than the domestic bright, or "Virginia," tobacco widely used in these years. At this time, many cigarette smokers still preferred the taste of Turkish tobacco, but during the war, all imports from Turkey to the United States were cut off, leaving those smokers high and dry. Burley helped fill the taste void.

Lucky_strike_it's_toasted.jpg

With R. J. Reynolds moving toward dominance of the U.S. cigarette market—Wagner says that by the end of hostilities in 1918, the company controlled 40 percent of domestic cigarette sales—American Tobacco started looking for a way to hit back. They chose Lucky Strike, an old Richmond cigarette that had been around since 1871, when its name was formulated as an allusion to the Gold Rush then under way in California. As Wagner writes:

“A new package was designed, with its famous bull’s-eye in the center, and a sales campaign devised around the slogan ‘Lucky Strike, It’s Toasted.’ That idea came to [American Tobacco president Percival] Hill when a vice president in charge of manufacturing remarked that the amount of heat used in making cigarettes was equivalent to cooking. Lucky’s first advertising campaign shows a piece of toast with a fork stuck through it. This was the start of one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, sales campaigns in merchandising history.”

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Matt Weiner decided to exclude the toast association from his version of the "It's Toasted" campaign in Mad Men. Toast, while delicious, has little sex appeal. But the real campaign proved far more prosaic than the TV version, not just in its evocation of the comforting breakfast food, but also in how explicitly it capitalized on an agricultural commodity. It's hard to imagine a 21st-century advertising campaign touting a specific variety of, say, corn or cotton ("Tostitos: the real bolita corn chip!"). Most people today simply aren't familiar enough with agriculture to differentiate between varietals. But in the 1910s, they were, and so American Tobacco's claim that Lucky Strike was "The real Burley Cigarette" meant something. The gamble paid off: Lucky Strikes would eventually become the best-selling cigarettes in the nation, one that is still sold in the United States today.

The coldest city on Earth

When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, my family subscribed to the Washington Post, and my father read it religiously every morning, section by section (and still does). He was also always the first person up, and when I came to the kitchen table for my own breakfast, he would share certain sections with me: the Style section, which had the comics, the horoscopes, the advice columns, and what I generally considered as a teenager to be the most interesting stories; and the Metro section, which always carried on its back page the weather (and again, still does).

Every day, beneath the graphics of weather patterns across the United States and Virginia, a list appeared, in tiny letters, of the highs and lows predicted for the day all across the globe, as well as an item noting where the hottest place on Earth had been the day prior, and where the coldest. Thus I came to hear of Yakutsk, which so often bore the dubious laurels of "coldest," and it fascinated me to think of it. For whatever reason, because I had little interest in the hottest places, that place stuck in my mind over the years. I never looked it up, but I thought of it occasionally, in the way you think of fairy tales or certain stories you heard as a child. What was it like to live in such a place? Why would a person stay there, or a family, generation after generation?

Then, this morning, I came across this photo essay in National Geographic, and all that strange fascination flooded back to me. A couple of anecdotes that jumped out:

  • "Since the soil is permanently frozen, most buildings are raised on stilts. Those that aren’t are slowly sinking because the heat generated inside the buildings is melting the permafrost."
  • "Photographer Steeve Iuncker was able to photograph for for only 15 minutes at a time in the subzero temperatures before his camera froze and the film risked cracking."
  • "Locals tended to visit one another a lot, but for only a few minutes: 'They would come in, take off their first layer, drink hot tea, and have a toast with jam before bundling up again and stepping outside. It was as if their neighbors’ abodes served as relay points along their journey.'”
  • And finally, so unchangeably cold is the temperature outdoors that fish can be permanently displayed outside shops during these months, arranged like bouquets of flowers.

You can find the photo essay here.

A new year

Snow 2017.jpg

After beginning 2018 with a throat infection, a sinus infection and a fall down our stairs, this poem by Julie Hill Alger is giving me some very welcome perspective for this next trip around the sun:

Lesson 1

At least I've learned this much:
Life doesn't have to be
all poetry and roses. Life
can be bus rides, gritty sidewalks,
electric bills, dishwashing,
chapped lips, dull stubby pencils
with the erasers chewed off,
cheap radios played too loud,
the rank smell of stale coffee
yet still glow
with the inner fire of an opal,
still taste like honey.

—Julie Hill Alger

Thursday detritus

This has been a week of long hours—tough, but a relief to start having work come in again after the holidays. That Thanksgiving to New Year's lull can be brutal for freelancers, especially since it falls at a time when more funds tend to be going out than coming in. Every year I convince myself in December that no one will hire me again—only to end up in February with an uncomfortably long task list. But in this case, being overworked is better than underemployed, and I try to stay grateful to be in that position.

Having said that, I'm only human, and sometimes that reminder doesn't succeed in lifting my lagging spirits (usually around 5 p.m.)...so here's a couple things that have been this week.

1. This great news that more than 50 years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, Harper Lee is finally releasing a second novel. It's called Go Set a Watchman, and Lee has said that she's "happy as hell" to have it coming out. (Relatedly, I've been sloooowly working my way through this New York Magazine story from last summer called "The Decline of Harper Lee." Haven't dug through to the end yet, but like most NYMag stories, it's chock-full of great details and quotes and moments that seem to capture that elusive sense of how something—even if you aren't sure quite what—feels. A snippet: "[Lee had] once explained to Oprah Winfrey, over lunch in a private suite at the Four Seasons, why she’d never appear on her show: Everyone compares her to Scout, the sweetly pugnacious tomboy who narrates Mockingbird. But as she told Oprah, 'I’m really Boo.'" Undoubtedly more on this later.)

2. "Lorraine," by Jesse Thomas. I was introduced to Jesse Thomas this winter, just before Thanksgiving, at Paul Willson's Singer-Songwriter night at the Camel, and she absolutely blew me away. I also love that she's guzzling Bulleit bourbon in the music video—that stuff ain't cheap.

3. First Fridays is tomorrow night! I'm particularly excited about this series of screenprints depicting animals wearing Regency-period clothes, by Triple Stamp Press, at Ghostprint.

4. Sugar Shack doughnuts. Still not at the level of Country Style (who is?), but doughnuts + a 20-minute drive out towards the airport seems a little overindulgent for a weekday. Only 12 days until Fastnacht Day!