Wednesday, May 27, 2015

After a bit of a break...

I'm back to it. This is actually the second attempt at a blog entry under this heading, since my first one was an unintentional rewrite of an earlier posting.
Am I getting that old?
Anyway, writing is a habit, and I'm trying to get back into the habit. Yes, I'm still writing thousands of words a week ("The city council passed the measure unanimously...."), and I still enjoy all of that, but there are other stories to tell.

Friday, August 22, 2014

As football season starts...

“I tell young players who want to be coaches, who think they can put up with all the headaches and heartaches, can you live without it? If you can live without it, don’t get in it.” Paul W. Bryant

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Force or Freedom...

1. Conservatives want to regulate most everything you do with your personal life by the standards of their sliding scale of morality but want to give you, and especially corporations, a great deal of freedom to do most anything you want to do economically, regardless of the consequences.

2. Liberals want to regulate just some of what you want to do with your personal life by the standards of their feelings of enforced “fairness” or “equality” or “environmental justice” or whatever is in fashion, while making sure the financial practices of individuals and corporations are regulated to be fair, equal, and just by the standards of their own opinions.

And there, my friends, is the debate in this country: all we are doing is fighting over how much force is to be used by whom and against whom and to what ends.

Does anyone ever make the case for freedom? What would the world be like if people stopped being obsessed with making others live and believe in certain ways?

Force is force, whether good intentioned or not. Just societies are cautious with the use of force. Oppressive societies can’t exist without it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Seasons and Wishful Thinking

I listened to Dr. Kevin Elko's "Monday Morning Cup of Inspiration" this morning, and the title was "Seasons". In case you don't know who Elko is, he's the sports psychologist Nick Saban relies on to help maintain the "Process" at Alabama. If you don't know what that is, well....go watch the World Cup.

Anyway, Elko says our lives go through seasons, and many of our worst moments (depression and doubts, for example) happen when we are actively resisting the changes of life-seasons. He goes on to say we can tell when our seasons change when we realize we no longer have the grace we once had for that situation. In other words, time has moved on, we haven't moved on in our minds and hearts, but everyone else can tell we no longer fit where we've been.

Meanwhile, last week, my good buddy John Allan Clark wrote a column for the Greensboro Watchman about wishful thinking. In it, he says that him wishing that his porch ceiling fan worked was a good analogy for much of our experience in the Black Belt of Alabama; instead of doing the work ourselves, we just sit around and wish things were better. I told John Allan I liked his column. He did his usual aww-shucks routine, but I hope he knows how sincerely I appreciate his words.

Change is scary, and as our seasons change, we have all sorts of reactions. Sometimes we wish for things to change and so we do nothing, as if that ceiling-fan repairman in the sky might come down and set our blades to turning in the right way again, with power and ease. Sometimes, we refuse to accept that our time has passed in a certain situation and we linger there, awkwardly clinging to what we have known.

Our seasons change nonetheless. We see the cycle of birth, life, and death. We watch the summer heat fade to autumn, then see the winter come before spring warmth gives us a hint of the next summer. And so it goes, yet so often we fight change. We hold onto the "what might be" or the "this situation has so much potential" or the "why can't it just be this way forever?" or the "maybe one day again". And, meanwhile, we forget to be where we really are, and we neglect appreciating what really is. We live in fears or hopes of what could be and in memories or regrets of what once was. What a waste. Today's season is good enough. It's really all we have.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Graduation Speech

It occurred to me this morning that if I had continued at my previous job I would have had to write a graduation speech for this week.

This speech should be non-location-specific; it’s just as appropriate for my location as for anywhere else across America. So, never one to miss an occasion for speechifying, here’s what I really would want to say:

Friends, guests, and graduates, I’m here today to tell you five things no one else has the guts to say to you. Know I say none of these things out of malice but rather with an abundance of love and affection.

1. No one outside your immediate circle gives a royal rat’s ass about what you did in high school now. Congratulations, you have a diploma. You did volunteer work. You were third captain on the tiddlywinks team. You were an all-state basketball player. It’s all the same now. You graduated high school. Now what can you do?

2.       Most of you probably shouldn’t go to college. Oh, I don’t mean necessarily you, or you. But, most of the graduating class of 2014 nationwide. Go learn a trade. Start a business. Travel. Go sit on the beach. Do anything but go to college. There are too many people in college. Your degree will likely make you qualified to do absolutely nothing. Oh, sure, if you get a nursing degree or some other vocational degree. But, a liberal arts degree? A business degree? Good luck, and have fun with the crushing feeling of being thousands of dollars in debt with student loans.

3.       Get on the first thing smoking out of your hometown. There may be many reasons you want to stay, but none of them are likely good ones. Go figure out who you are, without your high school sweetheart or mom or dad or grandma telling you who you are and how you should be. Go have an adventure. Screw up, as responsibly as you can. Live. You’ll be waiting for your twentieth high school reunion before you know it.

4.       Your life will likely be nothing like what you think it will be. It will be better in some ways, much better in others, and worse in yet others. Your teenaged self wouldn’t recognize your future selves, and it probably wouldn’t like them. So, be flexible.

5.       The people who matter in your life will be an ever-changing cast of characters. Oh, sure, some constants will remain, but even many of the key players will change. That boyfriend or girlfriend of three years or three months or three weeks will likely not be forever yours. Your best friends will change, likely. And all of this is OK. We are always looking for permanence in this ever-changing world. You’ll be OK.

So, my dear people, go out, live life, make mistakes as responsibly as you can, don’t hold on to situations that are hopeless, hold on to the good and proven things, and remain hopeful. Hang in there. Roll Tide.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"You listen to kids too much"

"You listen to kids too much."

I've had this said to me more than once. It's almost always been by fellow educators or parents of the kids I have taught or coached. I've always thought it was the strangest criticism possible.

My response is always the same. "If I don't listen to them, who will?"

It's a response I learned from my mother. Her mother, who was hell-on-wheels and far from being mother of the year, once told her she listened to her children too much.

To be fair, my mother believed in firm discipline, and her will was absolute iron. She demanded and commanded respect. Yet, she knew kids need to be heard and listened to and respected.

She knew kids also need to be able to communicate with people who have their best interests at heart. These are people who will listen to them and tell them what the truth is.

If that was true years ago, when nuclear families were common, and supposed morality was supposedly better, what does it mean now?

I'm sorry to burst everyone's bubbles, but very few families are now run on strict discipline. Relationships between parents and children are just different somehow these days in most instances. Kids don't know how to respond to authoritarian tactics. If parents and grandparents aren't using such methods, why would anyone think schools, teachers, and coaches are going to succeed in implementing "when I say jump, you ask how high." 

Here's the good news: kids respond well to clear boundaries and also to the concept of mutual respect. You know why it works? Because children are people, too. They get you're in charge as the adult, but you still have to show them you deserve their respect. 

If you show children and young adults you care about them, that you want the best for them, that you respect them as people, they will generally reciprocate. I can't imagine working with young people and not actually valuing them, but there are many who don't, unfortunately.

Football coaches, in particular, walk a fine line. Most coaches came up in an era when every youth coach thought he had to imitate Bear Bryant or Tom Landry in the length and ferocity of practices. Young people of today and their parents, for that matter, are just not going to put up with long, drawn-out, abusive practices. There are too many other things families can be doing, and mommas and daddies are less likely to support your drill sergeant tendencies.

So, am I telling you to have “soft” practices? Of course not. I am encouraging you, however, to think very carefully about every minute of your practices and what it is you are trying to accomplish. 

I hope your goal, in every practice and in every game, is to get better. Complacency kills success in sports and, for that matter, in other phases of life. If you cannot tell you are improving every time your team gets together, you are doing something wrong. It’s that simple. 

"The football coach has a captive audience and can teach these lessons because the communication lines between himself and his players are more wide open than between kids and parents." -Paul Bryant

Friday, April 18, 2014

Snakes on (the same page as) a Train

“M’dville Council hears flooding brings snakes: ‘Snakes were everywhere,’ said Bonner”

“Could train cars blocking M’dville streets cause death?”

If those two headlines on a front page don’t grab you, nothing will. But, we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Writer’s block is particularly fun when you make your living largely by your ability to turn events into stories.

For example, the ol’ “please kill me” feeling comes in when I have to make a BOOOORRRRRRRIIIIINNNNGGGG governmental meeting into something at least somewhat interesting. 

I’ve written more about garbage than I care to admit: coal ash, toxic waste, leachate, garbage routes, garbage carts. Some of this has been interesting, both to me and evidently my readers, while most of it is painfully boring. Painfully. Boring. Like a toothache during a bad play.

Or, maybe my challenge is trying to write about a blow-out loss by an area high school football team. I really want to write something like this sometime:

“The XYZ Fierce Cats lost 56-0, embarrassing themselves, their fans, and their mommas while failing to gain a single first down and fumbling the football on every possession. This is the worst football team anyone could imagine seeing.”

Instead, this is what I might magically produce:

“The youthful XYZ Fierce Cats put up a tremendous effort but had a rough night on the road, losing 56-0 in a hard-fought game.”

The only “tremendous effort” put forth may have been them trying to figure out how to get their pads on correctly, that’s true. The only thing “hard-fought” may have been the Fierce Cats finally being able to break through their run-through sign on their second effort. But, there’s no glory in beating up kids in their local newspaper with such brutal truthfulness.

OK, back to snakes and trains. Those are the two headlines my publisher came up with for this past week’s Moundville Times, and I love them. Is it sensationalized news? I don’t think so.

Our job is to get people in our area talking about the issues. If the flooding brings snakes, and people are concerned about snakes, then they’ll be concerned about flooding and what it takes to fix the problem. They’ll stay around to read about the rest of the city council meeting, too.  Attention-grabbers are good things for the bottom line of a newspaper, no doubt, but they also help us spread the good or not-so-good news in a community.

Part of the charm of a community, weekly newspaper is the ability to have a little fun with the news, but we have to remember to be respectful of people. Stories about deadly situations or circumstances are not the place for bad puns or clever headlines. “10 Dead Near Kellogg’s Factory; ‘Cereal Killer’ Feared” is great for a cheap laugh but not much else.

So, if being too clever is a danger, what if you can’t seem to produce anything? What if you stare at your notes and your screen and nothing happens? It’s an impotent, stupid feeling.  Writer’s block is a horrible feeling. Part of it comes from fear. What if I say something stupid? What if I misunderstood what happened? What if someone think I’m a horrible writer? What if someone complains? And, part of writer’s block comes from writers taking themselves too seriously. I figure somewhere around 10,000 people pick up our newspapers every week. Is what I’m producing good enough? Shouldn’t it be better? Why can’t I be perfect?

I finally got over the worst of my writer’s block by realizing what I write doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s ok to screw up a word or a grammar rule on occasion. It’s fine if I don’t have perfect parallel structure or if I let my participle dangle from time to time. Haha. Ha. Snicker. 

While I take my job seriously in that I really feel a heavy burden to accurately record the area’s history and to tell stories well and impartially, copies of the newspaper are recycled in gardens and used as puppy pads and bird cage liners. That’s humbling.

So, write. Lose your fear of expressing yourself. Just write.