Blog: Our Reality Show

Writing
  • Happy Adult (21st) Anniversary!

    So, after 21 years, our marriage is officially an adult. Four children, including three within the first two years of marriage, are enough to challenge anyone. But we've made it this far and now get to enjoy some precious time with each other, such as today's Nats game. It's wonderful to go through this life with someone you consider your best friend. I love you, Jill!

  • The Tonys and NOLA

    I watched the Tonys last night in my hotel room in New Orleans, where I'm starting a two-week trip that includes shooting conferences here and in San Francisco, with another trip to Texas in between. (Bonus: Nick is meeting me here tomorrow and will be with me through the Texas jaunt. Yay!)

    It was wonderful to see so many people I've become acquainted with performing and being part of the ceremony, and you couldn't help but love the speeches of Ben Platt and the Divine Miss M.

    I got here early yesterday and walked around the city, dodging the raindrops to take a few photos. In the afternoon, I went on a swamp tour (why not?) and then called it a night, sitting in my bed and happily watching the Tonys.

    Based on all the noise I heard outside, it sounded like the streets of NOLA were viewing the show on a giant screen, but I decided not to be part of their fun. And given the marathon of the next two weeks, I'm happy with that.

  • Fathers & Sons

    I really don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe in spirits, both of the adult and ghostly variety.

    This summer marks the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, unbelievable because of what has happened over the past decade and because I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s also remarkable because it has been almost 10 years since my oldest child, Nicholas, was last in Texas.

    Nicholas, now 24, and I have bonded greatly over the past couple of years, developing the type of father-son relationship I always hoped and prayed we’d have during his long childhood absences marked by distance and divorce. Thankfully, circumstances lined up for him to join me this week as I trek from New Orleans to Texas to San Francisco, part of a 14-day jaunt that includes shooting two conferences on both ends, with a trip through my home state in between.

    With a month between leaving his job and starting grad school, Nick met me in New Orleans and came to Texas. The purpose of this part of the trip, determined long in advance, was to help my aunt — my dad’s sister and the last link to his side of the family — get ready to move from Pottsboro to her hometown of Longview.

    I’ve long wanted my kids, who’ve spent most of their lives on the East Coast, to come back to Texas with me to see and hopefully gain some understanding of my roots that run across this entire state. Being the oldest, and the one somewhat suddenly with time on his hands, it was logical for Nicholas to be part of this trip with my mom.

    After Nick spent two days in New Orleans, his first trip there, we flew to Houston on Thursday night and left in mom’s van for Pottsboro on Friday. My mom has separated all the photos from her nine grandchildren into boxes. Nicholas’ box, which she gave him, included many photos from when he was a baby/toddler and included my dad. Many he had never seen.

    As we made the trek up Interstate 45, Nicholas held the box in his lap, thumbing through the pictures on occasion. When we stopped at a gas station/convenience store in Ennis, one of the many small towns you pass on the long trek, the ghost/spirit made his first appearance.

    My dad was a huge fan of both superheroes and James Dean, and when we trekked into this kitschy store with its knickknacks, cheap souvenirs, and single beers iced in the open air, I spotted two metal signs above the cooler. One was the Superman insignia; the other was a photo of James Dean.

    We went to my aunt’s house and packed some of her things in the van. Nick and I made a mad dash to the Oklahoma border so he could claim he'd been to the state, then stayed up until 3 a.m. talking about life, childhood, relationships and adulting. (Yes, adulting.) The two of us and Mom left Saturday afternoon for Longview, where we stayed at the homes of my dad’s first cousins. Much reminiscing ensued.

    Yesterday, on Father’s Day, we drove around Longview, visiting the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. There, I realized something I had never thought of before: My dad was 52 — my age now — the year that Nicholas was born.

    After driving by the childhood homes of my parents, we then went to Kilgore, where I had my first chance to see the campus where my mom and dad first got together. (She was a Rangerette; he was the squad’s manager. Not a bad gig for a then 19-year-old.) We then drove back to Houston.

    In many respects, even though Jill and my other three kids weren’t with us, it was the perfect way to spend Father’s Day. Throughout the day, I received texts and calls from Ben, Emma, Kate, and Ginno (“adopted” child). Jill posted a beautiful, sweet message as well.

    Today, the last day Nicholas and I are together, real life is intervening. We are sitting in a Starbucks. I’m writing a freelance story (after processing all of this, of course); he is advertising furniture he and his girlfriend are trying to sell. We are, in many ways, adulting.

    When I started going through some of the pictures I’ve taken over the course of these past few days, I zoomed in on the one I took in that convenience store in Ennis. I knew the photo had a James Dean quote on it, but I hadn’t really paid it much attention. When I read it, however, tears came to my eyes.

    “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, and if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”

    Thanks, Dad.

  • Jill & '13 Reasons Why'

    In her role with the American School Counselor Association, my wife Jill has been fielding a number of calls about the ongoing controversy surrounding Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” the TV series about a teen girl’s suicide.

    Earlier this week, she appeared on the National Public Radio show On Point, which you can stream here. Last week, Jill  was part of a webinar that included representatives from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Association of School Psychologists.

    The webinar, titled “A Teachable Moment: Using 13 Reasons Why to Initiate a Helpful Conversation about Suicide Prevention and Mental Health,” drew more than 1,500 participants. You can stream it here.

    Very proud of my spouse and the work she is doing on this extremely important topic!

  • Places #5: Box 344 & The WPA Post Office

    The Longview Post Office, built during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and open since 1939, holds a special place in my family’s history.

    The town, about 125 miles east of Dallas, is where my parents grew up. The post office at 201 E. Methvin Street opened in 1939, the year before my father was born, and my grandfather was the assistant postmaster there until 1964, the year before I was born.

    Like many families, my grandparents used a post office box rather than home delivery. Even after he retired, my grandfather would dutifully drive the two miles or so every day or two to get the mail from P.O. Box 344. After he became ill, my aunt or another family member would get the mail for my grandmother, who never learned to drive.

    Earlier this month, my mom and I started the long process of moving my aunt back to her hometown.

    I’ve been to Longview only once or twice since 1989, the year my grandmother died. Each time I’ve returned, I’ve wanted to see what has changed since my childhood. The older, south side section of town where my dad grew up has fallen into decay. The post-World War II era Pine Tree area where my mom grew up has changed as well, though not as much.

    Remarkably, the post office remains the same, a step back in time.

    In addition to the post office boxes, which are the same as I remember them from my youth, a massive oil on canvas mural titled “Rural East Texas” remains in the lobby. According to the website East Texas History (http://easttexashistory.org), Thomas M. Stell Jr. painted the mural in 1942 “to celebrate the history of farming in East Texas and demonstrate how mechanization changed the agricultural industry.”

    Stell, described by the website as “a master portraitist who strove to connect his work with the viewing public,” was the WPA’s state director of the American Index of Design and a professor at San Antonio’s Trinity University.

  • MYT Performs 'columbinus'

    Last night, in a small, sweltering room on the 18th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School, I shot production photos for Metropolitan Youth Theater’s production of “columbinus,” a provocative and troubling play that that focuses on “the dark recesses of American adolescence.”

    Suggested by the April 1999 Columbine shooting, with a script that includes excerpts from discussions with parents, survivors and community leaders in Littleton, Colo., the play was created by the United States Theatre project and performed Off-Broadway in 2006. It runs at 8:30 p.m. today and 7 p.m. Saturday in the Black Box Theatre at Metropolitan School of the Arts.

    The cast of eight opens the show as teenage archetypes, without names but labels (Loner, Freak, AP (Advanced Placement), Rebel, Faith, Perfect, Prep, and Jock). Freak and Loner are bullied by their classmates and morph into Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at the start of Act 2. The rest of the show, which takes its script from the journals and videos of Klebold and Harris, shows what happens in the days approaching Columbine and their subsequent suicides. An epilogue features survivors, parents, and townspeople reflecting on the events.

    Warning: Given the subject matter and language, this is not a play for young or impressionable children. It is, however, a courageous step forward for Metropolitan Youth Theatre, which was founded in 2014 by three high school students who wanted area youth to perform in shows with adult themes. Past productions, all musicals put on entirely by high school and college students, have included “Rent” and “Spring Awakening.”

    “columbinus,” is directed by Chad Vann, a Hayfield High School senior who is one of the group’s co-founders. Vann also is one of the eight cast members (Jock). The rest of the cast includes Brian Perry (Loner/Dylan Klebold), Danny Waldman (Freak/Eric Harris), AP (Joshua Mutterpearl), Rebel (Bridgette Saverine), Faith (Erin Claeys), Perfect (Hallie Friedman), and Prep (Jackson Miller). Madison Hite is the understudy for Faith.

    Alyssa Denton is producing the show, with Hailey Parker-Combes serving as the costume designer and Delaney Claussen as the sound designer.

    A limited number of tickets are available at the box office for the shows. MSA is located at 5775 Barclay Drive, Suite 4 in Alexandria, Va., 22315.

    To see more photos from the production, go to my Facebook page here.

  • Legacy: Ailes and Cornell

    Roger Ailes' legacy with Fox News will be both derided and celebrated in our polarized nation, but I hope the death of Chris Cornell is not overlooked in our discussions.

    Yes, Cornell was a musician who met an early and tragic end. But he also was a husband and dad who suffered from a terrible inner turmoil. He was found after an acclaimed concert; police are investigating it as a death by suicide.

    Depression sucks, folks. The collateral damage is awful, too. #RIP #AFSP #suicidepreventionhotline

  • Random Thoughts: More Trump Tweets

    A few recent tweets related to the White House mess…

    • Tonight on Fantasy Island: The tapes boss! They'll find the tapes! Or it's a remake of "Hell Can Wait." You pick.

    • What are the odds that Rosenstein hears the words, "You're fired"? #ImpeachTrumpPence

    • My Facebook was hacked when Trump did something involving Mike Flynn. Now it happened right after Comey was sent packing. Coincidence, or is my paranoia showing?

    • "Describe this administration in 2 words."

    "I'll give it a shot."

    (Pretends to think about it.)

    "Shit show."

    "Correct! You win nothing!"

  • Frustration & Gratitude

    One challenging week: Computer craps out, Internet goes down (not related), and this year's post-50 doctoral round robin continues with with a hernia repair. So I'm behind, sore (not in the behind, fortunately), and frustrated.

    On the good news front, the Internet is back up and the hernia is fixed, which means I can start (gingerly for the next day or so) to catch back up. My twins are loving their time together in NYC, Nick saw Oprah yesterday and Kate has a variety of exciting things coming over the next week. Oh, and my wife is a rock star.

    All in all, despite the frustrations, it could be much worse.

  • Post-Surgery, Day 3

    Post surgery update: I am about an inch shy of having a tire track bruise along my abdomen, and the amount of cramping and pressure has not improved, but only intensified over the past 36 hours.

    The surgeon says it's normal.

    Don't want to see what abnormal feels like, because this sucks. #owowowowowowowow #punchinthegut #FTSh

  • Post-Surgery: Day 5

    Post surgery update, Day 5: Better today, but still uncomfortable. Found a way to sleep that worked for the most part, so that's a minor victory.

    Random observations:

    1) Growing up in the 1970s, I never understood the phrase "gas crisis." Until this week, that is.

    2) Speaking of obscure '70s references, I keep having a recurring dream of Burgess Meredith shouting, "The body, Rock! The body!" and being on the receiving end.

    3) The song that keeps running through my head is Alabama Shakes' "Hold On." Watch the video and you'll see what I mean.

     

  • Post-Surgery, Day 5

    Post surgery update, Day 5: Better today, but still uncomfortable. Found a way to sleep that worked for the most part, so that's a minor victory.

    Random observations:

    1) Growing up in the 1970s, I never understood the phrase "gas crisis." Until this week, that is.

    2) Speaking of obscure '70s references, I keep having a recurring dream of Burgess Meredith shouting, "The body, Rock! The body!" and being on the receiving end.

    3) The song that keeps running through my head is Alabama Shakes' "Hold On." Watch the video and you'll see what I mean.

     

  • Poison & Hope

    I've been trying to refrain from entering the Trump fray on Facebook, knowing that saying anything about the current shit show we live in will both alienate and embolden people. But this column by David Brooks — someone I don't always agree with, BTW — nails it on the head.

    On a related note, I was fortunate to see "Come From Away" last week in New York. It tells the story of how a small Newfoundland community bound together to help airline passengers stranded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Without being overly political, the show is beautiful, a salve on the wounds of history and a temporary respite from our current situation. It is a ray of hope in increasingly dark times.

  • The Summer of Watergate

    In the summer of 1973, I split my time between my parents' house in Texas City and my grandparents' home in Longview. Most of that time was spent with my beloved grandmother, who sat glued to the television every day.

    These were the days before cable/satellite/streaming, so daytime viewing options were largely limited to soap operas, game shows, and reruns of old black and white sitcoms and Westerns on the UHF channels. My grandparents' Zenith TV was noteworthy because it had a remote control, so you didn't have to get up and down to turn the channel, although the unreliable antenna meant you sometimes had to stand on one leg and hold your arm at a certain angle to watch a show.

    Instead of the ubiquitous "I Love Lucy," "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Little Rascals" reruns, my 8-year-old self was decidedly bored watching a bunch of men in suits speaking into microphones. I asked my grandmother a bunch of questions about the presidents, which had become a fascination for me because my elementary school was named after not one, but two of our country's former leaders (FDR and Woodrow Wilson). She patiently answered and said we always have to respect the office, no matter whether we respect the person occupying the top seat at the time.

    As my interest grew in the presidents, I took a minute to write a letter that summer to the White House. Normally I don't write fan letters, and my timing likely could not have been worse. But hey, I was 8 after all.

    Soon after, I received a form letter and a black and white photograph of the White House. Not surprisingly, a photo of our then-president was not enclosed.

    I thought about those summer days again this morning and wondered whether it's a case of history repeating itself. One thing is for sure, there will be no fan letters sent from my address anytime soon.

  • Family Reunion

    The six Cook-McFarland cousins have not all been together in more than four years, so it was great to have everyone (including Conner, Nick's significant other) in the same place this past weekend in Boone for Jill's family reunion. These pics show they were quick to pick up where they left off...

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

    ••••••

    The Hodges-Love family reunion drew about 50 people to Oak Grove Baptist Church in Boone over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. It brought together family members from Jill's maternal grandparents, many of whom we haven't seen in years. Here are a few photos; the rest can be seen in my Facebook album here.

    Meanwhile, as part of the event, I took a series of shots of old family photos to display in the room. Below is one; you can see the rest by going to this link in the VIsual Storytelling section of the website.

  • Places: American Tobacco Campus

    When my oldest son moved to North Carolina as a toddler, we lived less than a mile from the American Tobacco Company plant. Today, Nicholas still lives in North Carolina, just a mile from the place that was home to the cigarette maker’s primary headquarters.

    But times have changed greatly over the last two decades for everyone involved, in oh so many ways.

    For me, the move from my native Texas to Reidsville, N.C., in 1993 represented a huge personal and career risk. Over the eight years I lived there, life as I knew it took a series of seismic shifts. I got a divorce, met the love of my life, remarried, had three kids in a calendar year, bought a house, changed careers and found lifelong friends.

    I also saw a town and region face a series of seismic shifts of its own, as its economic drivers — mainly textiles and tobacco — left either gradually or almost entirely during that time.

    A few months after I took over as managing editor at The Reidsville Review, the town’s largest employer was sold by its parent company. More than 1,000 employees — almost 10 percent of Reidsville’s population — lost their jobs because the American Tobacco Company was no more. Today, the plant that once employed more than 1,500 people and dominated the northern part of the town is only a shell of itself, with only a handful of workers plying their trade for a company that sells cigarettes in foreign markets.

    ••••••

    Several years earlier, in 1987, American Brands closed the American Tobacco factory on Blackwell Street in downtown Durham. This, combined with declines in the textile industry, was a huge blow to the town on many levels; the company had been founded by the Duke family after which the university nearby is named.

    For more than a decade, the tobacco campus remained vacant, a gigantic hole in the center of town. But in 2004, the Capitol Broadcasting Company started a $200 million renovation effort that has led to both an economic and cultural renaissance in the city’s downtown area.

    The American Tobacco Campus, as it is now known, is home to office space, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park, one of the nicest minor league baseball stadiums in the country, is adjacent to the campus, as is the Durham Performing Arts Center, the largest of its kind in North or South Carolina. The area attracts more than 2 million visitors a year.

    Today, small businesses form a strong restaurant and entertainment district throughout the downtown area, luring back 20-somethings like my oldest son and his girlfriend to Durham, where they live in a converted textile factory about a mile from the American Tobacco campus.

    Durham is cool — not Kool — again.

    ••••••

    The past two decades have not been as kind to Reidsville, located in a rural area just north of Greensboro about 60 miles from Durham. Like many former factory communities across the nation, Rockingham County has struggled economically, and is facing a population decline.

    The tale is all too familiar. Within a decade after the Reidsville plant was sold, The Review was a shell of itself as well. Started in 1888, around the same time that American Tobacco came into being, it has been sold twice since 1997, consolidated with two other community newspapers, and seen its frequency cut from daily to twice a week.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone back through Reidsville during my trips to North Carolina. On one recent trip, I went past The Review building and the former American Tobacco plant and thought again of how their fates — caused by an almost simultaneous explosion of the Internet and the new global economy — seemed intertwined and in some ways interchangeable.

    Say what you will about big tobacco, and there’s plenty to say about that, but there’s no denying that the collateral damage caused by any major industry going through rapid decline has generational impacts. I’ve seen this first hand in journalism, my chosen field, with overworked staffs in small and midsized newspapers being sliced to the bone as the institutions that served communities for decades consolidated or closed entirely. Too many of my colleagues, hard working people with an invested interest in their community’s future, present and past, have found themselves out of work and scrambling to make ends meet.

    When I moved to North Carolina, I took some time to revisit You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, the state’s most famous author. I thought again of that book as I drove by the three houses and apartment where I lived, marveling at the snail’s pace in which small towns change, and recalling the tumultuous times that so dramatically changed my path.

    It is a place, like my hometown, that will always be part of my history. And my son’s.

    To see more photos from this essay, go to my Facebook album here.

  • New Freelance Articles, Photos

    Two new freelance articles and several of my photographs appear in the current issue of three national magazines. All have been uploaded to the website and are now available for viewing.

    • Several photos from last fall’s trip to Zurich, Switzerland appear in the Association for Career and Technical Education's March 2017 issue of its flagship magazine, Techniques. The trip focused on how Colorado schools are adopting facets of the Swiss apprenticeship model, which ACTE delves into with a feature and Q&A with the Swiss ambassador to the United States.

    You can see the photos and the stories they accompany here. For a freelance story I wrote on the trip for another publication, go here.

    Simple Logic, which is in the current issue of American School Board Journal, is a technology column that focuses on the need for more computer science and coding classes in K-12 schools. Today, only 24 states allow students to count computer science classes as part of their high school science credits. While more than a half million computing jobs are unfilled in the U.S., just 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce in 2015-16.

    LMJ Scholarship — Atticus Lee: The sixth in a series of stories about recipients of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s LMJ Scholarship appears in the current issue of Diversity & The Bar.

    For more stories and features I've written over the past year, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Random Thoughts: Ten Trump Tweets

    Here are 10 tweets about our current government situation from the last month (give or take). Note: I'm not a fan, so please feel free to move to the next post if you are easily offended.

    • Arsenic in the Clown Car: Mike Flynn. Yep, the guy who shouted "lock her up" and said anyone seeking immunity is admitting guilt is trying to avoid jail by asking for that same protection. Sure, Mike, sure.

    • FDR: New Deal. DJT: No deal.

    • Don't say you didn't say it. You did. Take responsibility. Admit that threading the legislative needle is tough. That would be true change.

    • When you try to "drain the swamp," sometimes the alligators and ogres get pissed and bite back. #trumpcare #SavetheACA

    • Broadway's new show! April Fools Day: The Kellyanne Conway Revue. Songs: Ain't Misbehavin, Razzle Dazzle, Sue Me, and Making Things Up Again

    • Trump speech drinking games? Shots for every word with 2 or more syllables? I think I'll find a sports bar instead.

    • America's new standard of excellence: Acting like a normal person. Hell, if he'd done that well on The Apprentice, he would have an Emmy.

    • When you think he's acting presidential, ask: How many reality shows are really real? Then say "reality shows are really real" 5 times fast.

    • The phrase "Trumpcare" is an oxymoron in and of itself. #Trumpcare

    • Contradiction: He puts his name on everything ... everything. And yet, he doesn't seem to want the health care bill to bear his name. #bs

  • Happy Birthday, Jill!

    Some of my favorite people in this world celebrate their birthdays today, but one in particular stands out. I love you, Jill Cook, with all my heart and soul. Thank you for being the centerpiece of life's greatest adventure: our family.

    The best part is that we're celebrating it — along with our 20th anniversary — in Venice, Italy!

    #anniversarytour #whodathunkit #grownkidsyay

  • Emma's Birthday Tribute

    This is Emma's birthday tribute to her mom. There is no disputing who the best writer in the family is...

    Back in the beginning of December, I was a few months into my freshmen year of college. While I love Point Park, some things were inevitably hard to cope with. Throughout my time here I have received care packages from my parents, always accompanied by an encouraging message (which I could tell my mom had written). These packages are sent out through the school, with all of the notes prewritten back in August.

    It was during this time in which I was struggling with a few things that I decided to get a tattoo with the quote "This too shall pass." I told my mom about this idea, and she loved it. A few days later, I received another care package. When I opened it the first words on it were "This too shall pass."

    My dad has always said that my mom and I are very similar, but it wasn't until reading that message that I truly knew how much. I'm beginning to realize that she probably understands me better than I understand myself. Everything she does is to protect and support the people she loves. She is so hardworking and strong, and it inspires me to do the same and always work to be a better person.

    As I grow up I'm more and more grateful for my parents, and everything they have provided for my siblings and me. I love you so much mom. I hope you and dad have an amazing time in Venice. Happy Birthday.

  • Places: Gruene Hall

    For some time, I’ve had this idea to do short visual stories on the places I visit across the U.S. I’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit over the past few years, and find that I’m drawn to places that are a little off the beaten path. In most cases, unless you’re a local, you pass by them on the road without a glance.

    This new series of stories starts with a visit last fall to Texas’ Gruene Hall, where I saw Charlie Robison play the second night of his annual weekend Labor Day bash. It had been some time since I had been to Gruene Hall, located near New Braunfels in the Hill Country, and I wanted to showcase this unique Central Texas institution.

    Built in 1878, the 8,000-square-foot dance hall was designed to give tenant farmers a way to socialize on the weekends. George Strait got his start there, playing once a month while beginning his career, and the hall has hosted a who’s who of Texas artists, including Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Robison is a regular, as is his brother, Bruce, and they occasionally play as a trio with Jack Ingram.

    Gruene Hall bills itself as the oldest dance hall still operating in Texas, a claim disputed by some, and it’s charm comes from how little about it has changed. It has a high-pitched tent roof with a bar in front and a small lighted stage in the back. Signs from the 1930s and ‘40s still surround the stage and hang in the hall, which has side flaps that are used for open air dancing.

    This photos in this album were taken in real-time, so you can see how the evening started slowly and progressively got more full once Robison took the stage. If you ever get the chance to go to Gruene Hall, do so. It’s a piece of history you won’t soon forget.

  • Bucket List: MLB Spring Training

    Scratch one off the bucket list. Thanks to a good friend, Tony Jones, I had the opportunity this weekend to go see two spring training games involving the Washington Nationals in Florida. The first was a road game in Jupiter against the Miami Marlins, followed by a day of activities at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new stadium that the Nationals are sharing with the Houston Astros.

    The Nationals and Astros (my hometown and other favorite major league team) squared off Saturday in the new stadium, which is part of a 160-acre complex that just opened this month and is still being completed. It was a win-win game for me.

    The best part of the weekend was getting to see the ballplayers and coaches up close during warmups and batting practice. Of course, given this week’s return of winter to the Northeast, the weather in Florida wasn’t bad either.

    Enjoy the photos, and see more in my Facebook album here.

  • Early Morning: Arlington Cemetery

    One thing I greatly enjoy — and don't do enough — is going out with other photographers on shoots. It's a great way to talk about the art and craft of what we do, and I always learn something new.

    On Sunday, just after the clocks sprung forward, longtime friend Gary Rubin and I went to Arlington Cemetery. We had no real agenda and no places we had to go. The result is a mixture of random things that caught my eye and a few takes on some of the iconic images at the national cemetery.

    Traditionally we associate Arlington with its simple white markers, which are provided free to families by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. There are a surprising number of elaborate gravestones, however, which prompted me to take a look at the story behind them.

    According to Robert M. Poole's book, On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington Cemetery, privately purchased markers were permitted from 1947 to 2001. The sections with these markers, most of them near General Robert E. Lee's former home at the top of the hill, are nearly full and the cemetery generally does not allow new burials. Older sections of the cemetery have a wide variety of private markers placed prior to 2001, including an artillery piece

    Arlington, which was established during the Civil War after the Union seized Lee's home and grounds, is a massive place — 624 acres — making it impractical to try and cover everything in a single morning.

    Enjoy these takes by visiting my Facebook album. I hope to return for more photos soon.

  • Random Thoughts: It's Not Spring Yet (!)

    A few from the “It’s Not Spring Yet (!) Random Thoughts” file….

    • Welcome, my friends, to the day that never ends. All I want to do is go outside, go outside...

    • Spring-like weather. Spring-like allergies. And then the temperature drops 60 degrees. It’s a rollercoaster ride that never ends.

    #winter(ha!)2017

    • Why I don't like Duke basketball...

    • Professor Chris Poulos touts a word he learned at a dinner in 2013: exhaustipated — too tired to give a crap. (Courtesy of my friend Mike Clark)

    • The new PP: Potty Police.

    • I interrupt this political commentary hiatus for a moment to note a contradiction. Our president puts his name on everything ... everything. And yet, he doesn't seem to want the health care bill to bear his name. Of course, as another friend noted, the phrase "Trumpcare" is an oxymoron in and of itself.

    • And finally, you gotta wonder if Steve Earle would be on Jeff Sessions' iPod...

    Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

  • Our Reality Show: An Update

    The first two months of 2017 have been as much of an adventure as the previous year was, and it’s showing no signs of letting up. In the new year alone, I’ve been to Boston twice, Asheville and Durham, N.C., once, set up two photo exhibits, photographed the Women’s March, finished headshots for 10 people, had two corporate shoots, completed three freelance stories, and taken pictures of a regional production of “Billy Elliot.”

    Combine that with Jill’s job responsibilities, which included First Lady Michelle Obama’s last official function and the National School Counselor of the Year event, and some busy kids and … whew.

    All of this is to say that it's been an extremely exciting year for the business, thanks to your support and words of encouragement. I also have a large ongoing project, several conferences already lined up for later in 2017, and a variety of other irons in the fire.

    Unfortunately, I did get behind in keeping the website updated, so I’ve spent a couple of days trying to catch up. I've made some tweaks, and added some new content. Here’s what you’ll see if you decide to look around:

    • New index pages for the Events & Performances section, with categories dedicated now to Meetings & Conferences, News & Feature Photography, Concerts, and Theater/Cabarets. This provides a better description of some of the types of photography I am doing.

    • An updated Art & Dance section, with photos from a shoot last week.

    • A completely updated blog, with more photos and videos.

    Thanks, as always, for your interest. I hope you’ll come back and visit again soon!

  • #BenCookWeek: Newsies and Law & Order

    So, in addition to this being Valentine's Day, we are marking the official kickoff of "Ben Cook Week" in the family. Last night started with Emma accompanying the boy to the Newsies movie premiere in New York.

    Tomorrow it's Law & Order: SVU (check local listings) and then Newsies opens in movie theaters. Jill, Kate and I will see the movie with a bunch of family, extended family and friends at the Regal Springfield Town Center. Nick and Conner will see it in Durham and the Cook/Ghirardi clan are going in Clear Lake.

    The movie, which received great reviews from those who saw the New York premiere, also is showing on Saturday and next Wednesday. Hope you get to see it!

  • Ben & 'Billy' in B&W

    My son, Ben, is performing tonight and Saturday as "Older Billy" in a special guest appearance as part of Wheelock Family Theatre's regional production of "Billy Elliot: The Musical."

    I went to Boston during Thursday's blizzard to spend time with my 19-year-old and took a few shots at this morning's rehearsal with Seth Judice, who is playing the title role.

    With appearances in "Law & Order: SVU" and the "Newsies" movie next week, the boy is well on his way to an adult career. But for a brief time at least, it's nice to see Ben return to the show that dominated much of his childhood.

    Bonus photos: I took the photo below of Ben and Salma Hayek after she saw the show in Boston during the national tour in 2012. Right: Caught this picture of the boy with the “Newsies” poster during a lunch break today in Boston.

  • Back to 'Billy Elliot'

    Given our family’s lengthy history with “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” it felt a little strange to see — and photograph — the show after three-plus years away. But anyone who has read my blog knows that being part of a theatre community means you will inevitably encounter circle backs, in which a show returns to your life in an unexpected way.

    Circle back is what I did for two nights last week, watching from behind the lens while shooting “Billy Elliot” production photos for Boston’s Wheelock Family Theatre. On Feb. 10 and 11, our son Ben will have a circle back of his own when he teaches master classes and plays the role of Older Billy.

    Moving any large show into a smaller regional house can be a challenging logistical task, but the cast and crew have done a terrific job. Thanks to Linda Chin Workman for bringing me in to photograph the show — I also took headshots for several cast members — and to everyone for making me feel welcome.

    Here’s a taste of what I saw — and shot — over the two nights. Some of these photos are being used in reviews in local newspapers and online, a nice bonus.

    If you are in the Boston area, you can see the show through Feb. 26. Buy your tickets by visiting www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org. Ben will perform as Older Billy at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, and 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. He also is teaching master classes for youth ages 8 to 16 at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 11.

    To see more photos, go to the Performances: Theater/Cabaret page or my Facebook album here.

  • Signs of the Times

    At last weekend's Women's March on Washington, I was drawn to the vast variety of signs and messages directed at our nation's new president. To commemorate the historic day, I decided to create a collage of the various messages and make it available to anyone interested in purchasing it.

    Titled "Signs of the Times," the print also is available with a foam core backing. If you are interested, send me an email to glenncook117@gmail.com. A portion of any profits will be given to one or more nonprofits that served as "Partners" on the march. 

  • My MTM Encounter

    In 2011, while walking to our apartment in New York from Penn Station, I happened upon the annual Broadway Barks event in Shubert Alley and was happily surprised to see two of my favorite actresses — Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore — up close. The two co-founded the animal adopt-a-thon in 1999 to promote animal adoption and make New York a no-kill city.

    Moore, who won seven Emmys mostly for two classic shows that were a staple of my childhood, was known for her charitable endeavors. Her death on Tuesday at the age of 80 did not come as a huge surprise, but still caught me and I’m sure many of her fans off guard.

    Thanks to syndication and streaming, we can continue to see Moore’s Laura Petrie and Mary Richards characters for ever. And I’m thankful that, for a few minutes at least, I had a chance to see one of my favorite comediennes do something she loved.

  • One Year Ago: Snowzilla

    It's hard to imagine, on a sunny yet breezy and brisk morning, that this was the scene just one year ago today when Winter Storm Jonas (aka "Snowzilla) slammed the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.

    The storm, one of the largest in the area's history, brought more than 2 feet of snow to the region. Schools were closed for more than a week and remnants from the storm could still be seen when the next snowfall hit a month later.

    As the storm moved into the area, longtime friend Joe Frey and I embarked on a trip into the District of Columbia with plans to take pictures. The conditions rapidly deteriorated, however, and all of these photos were taken from inside the truck with the windows rolled down.

    What’s memorable about this storm, which brought as much with it in one push as the back-to-back “Snowmageddon” that dropped 30 inches on the area within a six-week period in 2009-10, were the people who were walking around a mostly deserted D.C. At times, it felt like an episode of the “Walking Dead.”

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here or over to the Visual Storytelling section of the website.

  • Photos from the D.C. Women's March

    An estimated 500,000 people descended on Washington, D.C., Saturday to show their support for women’s rights the day after the presidential inauguration. The march, which started with speeches and performances at 10 a.m. and did not finish until late afternoon, was an incredible demonstration of support for women as well as traditionally marginalized groups.

    The large number — organizers had originally predicted 200,000 — of people overwhelmed cell towers. The Metro system set a record with more than 1 million riders on Saturday alone.

    That said, the event was peaceful and largely positive. More important, no arrests were reported the day after 230 were jailed during protests by self-described anarchists in D.C. for the inauguration. #WomensMarch #WomensMarchOnWashington

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • 'What Democracy Looks Like'

    The Women's March was an incredible event, one in which people came from all over the country to, in Jill's words, show "what democracy looks like."

    Peaceful, yet firm and assertive protests for the rights of women and traditionally marginalized groups made this a day to remember. Say what you will, and vote your conscience. But know also that a large coalition of people who took the November election for granted has had a wake-up call they will never forget.

    And I hope and pray the country is all the better for it.

  • Photographing the Presidents

    In my 30-year career, I've been fortunate to see — and photograph — the last five presidents at various events in Texas, North Carolina, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The first four times I saw the nation's commander-in-chief are from the pre-digital days (Reagan at the Challenger Memorial Service, Bush I at NASA's Johnson Space Center and at a campaign stop in Tyler, Clinton at the 200th anniversary of UNC-Chapel Hill).

    I don't have any photos from those events scanned, but here are a few selections from others — Teacher of the Year ceremonies, NBC's Education Nation — dating back to 2003 and featuring Bush II, Clinton, and Obama.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Art of the Street

    My father was a visual artist who painted not one, but two large murals on the living room wall in my childhood home when I was growing up.

    I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

    That said, I’ve always been drawn to large murals, especially knowing that an artist’s creation can be painted over at any time and lost to the whims of boredom, creativity, or both. This is especially true with graffiti and street art.

    As a photographer, I like to find ways to show the artist’s work, but with a twist. Rather than capture just the image that an artist has created, I rarely opt to shoot straight on. Using a different angle, or taking it from another spot, can occasionally illuminate the work in an interesting way.

    Although graffiti is and remains illegal, with the potential for some stiff fines, Washington, D.C., has joined other cities — Philadelphia immediately comes to mind — in supporting the growth of public art. Open Walls DC, for example, holds “mural jams” to paint the walls under the overpass at Garfield Park, but you must get a permit.

    I find myself returning regularly to the bridge under Garfield Park on H Street in southeast D.C. to see what has been created since I last visited. (It’s a great place for portrait shoots, too.) These photos were taken during three to four stops I made over the past year. For more, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Random Thoughts: Post-Oscars Edition

    A few thoughts post-Oscars:

    • Despite the end-of-show flub, the awards largely went to the right movies and performers. I was happy to see the Best Picture/Best Director split between “Moonlight” and “La La Land.” The acting categories were as expected, and it’s tough to dispute the right people won.

    • Viola Davis, in my view, gave the best performance of any actress this year, and her speech was beautiful without being overly political. Best part: “There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that’s the graveyard.”

    • Davis, with her win, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, with his loss, are still one win away from the EGOT. If I’m a betting man, I would go with Miranda, but don’t count Davis out.

    • Say what you will about “O.J.: Made in America” being an ESPN product. It still deserved the Oscar as Best Documentary.

    • The kids are all right: The little boy from “Lion” is beyond cute, but 16-year-old Auli’I Cravalho really won me over with her performance of “How Far I’ll Go.” Beautiful voice, and she wasn’t rattled a bit after being hit in the head by a ribbon twirler while belting out the song.

    • “Manchester by the Sea” is a beautifully acted and written movie that I will never watch again.

    • Best Tweet: #merylsayshi

    • The tour bus bit went on too long, but I didn’t mind it that much. The woman who snagged Jennifer Aniston’s glasses and was “married” by Denzel Washington obviously had a great time.

    • If I’m an official at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I’m blaming Putin.

  • Cold War Flashbacks & '80s Music

    I’ve always enjoyed the music of X, which straddled the world between punk and country and remains incredibly relevant. They were part of the great Sire Records roster in the 1980s that also included Lou Reed, Talking Heads, The Replacements, The Blasters, and Los Lobos, among others, and X’s first four albums are considered classics.

    As much as I like those albums, which featured the original lineup, I’ve always had a soft spot for “See How We Are,” the 1987 album that includes Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July” and the terrific title track. In the wake of the election, “See How We Are” has become my earworm.

    Recently, on Facebook, I decided to ask my friends which hit song best describes the Cold War flashbacks we’ve been having since January 20. My suggestions were R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but they came up with a fascinating playlist that includes:

    • Sting: “Russians”

    • Billy Joel: “You May Be Right” and “Big Shot”

    • Gary Jules: “Mad World”

    • Gus Black: “Today is Not the Day to F--- With Me”

    • Eurythmics: “Sex Crime”

    • The Clash: “Rock the Casbah”

    • Nena: “99 Red Balloons”

    • Tears for Fears: “Everbody Wants to Rule the World”

    • David Bowie: “This is Not America”

    • Talking Heads: “Life During Wartime”

    The more I thought about it, I realized X had another appropriately titled song — “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.”

  • Pre-Inauguration Random Thoughts

    Four more thoughts before I go back to my day job:

    1. Finally, a soundbite for liberals: Make America Smart Again.

    2. Subtitle for Inauguration Day: Freaky Friday.

    3. Ringling Bros. may be going out of business, but not before serving as chief sponsor of this week's confirmation hearings.

    4. Thank God for Bloom County.

    Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, as soon as I can remember where my ADD meds are.

  • 'Road Show' Exhibit Now at Workhouse

    Each winter, the Workhouse Arts Foundation holds its Collectors Showcase exhibition and fundraiser, featuring donated pieces from each of the 90-plus studio and the Arches Gallery artists. Last year, one of my photos was selected as “Best in Show” by Sarah Newman, an independent curator with past exhibits at the National Gallery of Art and Corcoran Gallery of Art.

    As a result, I was invited to have my own exhibit at the entrance to this year’s showcase, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. on March 4. The exhibit, dubbed “Road Show,” features 12 photographs taken during 2016, a year in which I traveled to 18 states and three countries.

    All 12 photos are for sale, with 30% of the proceeds benefitting the Workhouse’s art, education and history programs. This teaser video gives you a sneak peek at the show, which was installed yesterday. I also will feature selected images from the show — with the stories behind each — in upcoming "Daily Photos" here and on my blog.

    Starting this weekend, you can see the photos for yourself during the gallery’s regular hours (11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays) and at the second Saturday event on Feb. 11.

    For more information about the Collectors Showcase and art lottery, visit www.workhousearts.org. And stop by Building 9 to see three more of my photos and the work of the other Arches Gallery artists.

  • A Heartfelt Thanks

    To say I'm overwhelmed by the birthday wishes is a great understatement. Thank you one and all for your nice words and messages. 52 may not be the new 25, but between the kindness of my family (biological and extended) and friends far and wide, I am humbled that you took a moment to acknowledge the fact that another year in this crazy thing I call life has passed.

  • Mrs. Obama Honors School Counselors

    At today's School Counselor of the Year event, in her final public event as First Lady, Michelle Obama finished with these powerful words for the youth in our country:

    "I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong ... Don't be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear."

    ••••••

    Jill is quoted in this Time.com piece promoting the ASCA School Counselor of the Year event that will take place tomorrow at the White House. So very proud of her and the much deserved recognition school counselors are receiving.

  • One Month In: Talking Trump on Twitter

    Facebook seems to erupt in a war when I post something that half my "friends" don't agree with, so I've decided Twitter is the place to be for posting political-type thoughts now.

    You can follow me @ourrealityshow. Every month or so, I’ll post a series of recent tweets here as part of the “Random Thoughts” series, but please note that they are less filtered, occasionally profane, and quite barbed in some cases. (Just like someone else who's always on Twitter.)

    If you’re easily offended, please skip onto the next post.

    Here are some of my posts from the first month of the new administration:

    • It's possible that Trump could be the first president in history to keep his campaign promises. Scary thought...

    • Trump's version of Friday Night Lights: "Tiny Hands, Cold Heart, Can Lose."

    • So Twitter is suggesting I follow Vice President Pence. To which I say, hell to the no. (And that is putting it mildly.)

    • Trending now: #Gotham, #Lucifer, #TheBachelor. Without looking, which one is referring to Trump?

    • Just curious, if the American public could seek an involuntary commitment, would it actually happen? #onecanonlyhope #2018cantcomesoonenough

    • Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is too relevant for a revival right now. Or is it?

    • The Trump Administration apparently watches Parks & Rec and believes it's a serious documentary worth following as gospel.

    • Mark my words: Nothing changes unless Congress does in 2018. Think about that for a moment.

    • I've always been told that time flies when you get older. So why can't I blink and find myself in 2021?

    • I would like to go through one day over the next 4 years without saying "What the actual f---." Punctuation optional.

     

    • Ass: Hole, hat, jack, or “all of the above”? With Trump, my vote is for D.

    • Misogynists, racists and billionaires are now in charge. Now there's a history lesson for us all.

    • The Proofreaders Association of America has offered to help the Trump Administration with its Twitter accounts.

    • The GOP resisted when #ShePersisted, resulting in another new low in the annals of civil discourse.

    • Just saw a headline calling Donald Trump the "Religious Right's Trojan Horse." Wish someone had used a Trojan condom instead...

    • Getting really tired of the pronoun problem this country has. It's supposed to be "We the People," not "You People."

    • Not listening to the other side is, in some ways, just as bad as not voting. In fact, it's worse, because it perpetuates think-alike voting.

    • If I unfollowed/unfriended those who disagree with my views, the world would be a lonely place.

    • Trump protests the steady stream of media leaks about his phone calls. I want to wrap the Red Phone in Depends & duct tape & call it a day.

    • If Trump led a band, which do you think is the more appropriate name: Circle Jerks or Crash Test Dummies?

    • The only thing good to come from all of this is that I haven't seen a Kardashian headline in a couple of weeks.

    • Via text, I asked a career government employee how it's going. Response: "Just ducky," straddling the line between the S and F on the keyboard.

  • DeVos: A Poor Choice for Department of Ed

    Since the election, I've taken most of my political commentary over to Twitter, and tried not to weigh in here on the current "situation." It's just easier that way, and I'm not in the mood to offend my friends.

    But the appointment of our new Secretary of Education is worth more than 140 characters of snark that everyone can digest with ease.

    FIrst, I'd like to congratulate all of the choice proponents who've declared war against a proven, but not perfect system. Today, thanks to an unprecedented tiebreaker, you won. Our nation's children lost, especially those who are low-income, dealing with disabilities, and are traditionally marginalized. If you think student debt will get better because we have a billionaire running the education system, think again.

    Second, to Ms. DeVos, please join the other cabinet members who have managed to purchase power from this administration. Now, I hope you'll all get together for happy hour and salute the president with a rousing chorus of "I'm Your Puppet."

    Third, for those of you who voted for Trump because he is a businessman who does not represent business as usual in Congress, congratulations to you too. As my wife's grandmother used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

    Peace out.

  • Is Listening A Lost Art?

    I distinctly remember the first time I heard the “F” word. We were driving from Texas City to Longview on the dreaded U.S. 59 in my mom’s white, two-door Oldsmobile Cutlass. I was 9, maybe 10. My dad, his head on the 90-degree turn thanks to dysplasia/spasmodic tordicollis, was in the passenger seat and mom was driving. These were the days when the speed limit had just been lowered and mom, never wanting to break the law, kept the needle neatly positioned between the 5 and the 5.

    As frequently happens on long trips on divided four-lane highways, we played a slight game of tag with another car. We passed it, it passed us, and so on. I’m sure the driver in the other car had to be a little freaked out by the fact that, every time we passed, my dad was staring at him — involuntarily — through the passenger side window.

    Suddenly and without warning, I heard my dad explode with a resounding “F-U too, buddy!”

    I asked my mom what the “f” word meant, and she said it was a word that only adults use, and even then only infrequently. (Little did she know...) Giving my dad the stare down while somehow simultaneously looking at the road and in the rearview mirror, she proceeded to explain that it was a word I shouldn’t ever choose, especially in anger.

    “We’ve taught you to have a better vocabulary than that.”

    The lesson I took from this experience was that the word itself is not what’s important, but the tone of your voice is what really matters. What I didn’t understand at the time, but do today, was that my dad was hurt and lashed out. The other driver had no idea the kind of pain that he was in, no idea how embarrassed/emasculated he might have felt thanks to an insidious disease that would affect him for the rest of his life.

    Over the years, since becoming a writer/editor in my own right, I’ve learned to love and respect the power words have. But more important, I’ve tried to dissect and learned to appreciate the tone my voice has when I choose to use words in a certain way.

    Now, if I’m truly angry, I don’t use profanity. I don’t want people to get hung up on a particular word choice and use that as an excuse to not listen to what I have to say. Deep in my heart, I wish that others would choose words as carefully and listen when others with dissenting opinions are talking. My fear is that listening is becoming a lost art.

  • Apprenticeship Story Published

    Apprentice Approach, a freelance story that looks at how schools in Colorado are adopting facets of the Swiss apprenticeship model, appears in the new issue of American School Board Journal. You can read the story the story I wrote here and see a slideshow of photos from my trip with the delegation in the Events section of my website.

  • "Aftershock" Looks at K-12 Schools Post Election


    “Aftershock,” a story I wrote that looks at the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and its effect on K-12 schools, has been published by American School Board Journal a week before the inauguration. Read the story here.

  • Fascinating Story Behind an Iconic Image

    Photographer Lawrence Schiller took this lovely photo of 6-year-old Carrie Fisher watching her mother, Debbie Reynolds, perform at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas in 1963. The photo has received renewed attention after the deaths of Fisher and Reynolds a day apart, and prompted this fascinating New York Times story.

    Also, the deaths of these two Hollywood legends reminded me that I've written a fan letter to two people — Fisher and Richard Nixon. (Note: I was 8 when I wrote to Nixon.) If you'd like to see the letter and the response, go to this blog entry from late 2010, and catch HBO's documentary of "Wishful Drinking" when it airs again next week.

  • Dear 2016...

    11:33 p.m., December 31, 2016

    Well, if all goes well in the next half hour or so, I can say we survived. And then some. (Given the rash of creative talent that has passed away this year, "and then some" seemed like a proper qualifier.)

    It's truly been a year of great highs, lows and transitions: 20th wedding anniversary, high school graduations, moving kids in and out of new homes, Broadway, a movie, First Lady shout outs, college, new jobs, travel to 18 different states (some multiple times), Paris, Zurich, new business, old business, stressful business, deepening friendships, learning opportunities, missed opportunities, sinus infections, the flu, global uncertainty, and the love of family.

    As my kids move into rapidly into adulthood, I've tried to be a better father, in as much as my role is shifting from professional schlepper/caregiver to advisor, helper and confidant. As our home moves to a (mostly) empty nest, Jill and I have gone on a series of adventures that I hope will continue for many many years to come. It's nice when you can do that with someone who is both your best friend and the great love of your life.

    I'm increasingly aware of how the traits that our parents passed on to us are being forwarded to subsequent generations, and how a seemingly innocuous incident that occurred decades ago can have long-term effects on your life. (Spoiler alert: This is not a new revelation caused by binge-watching "This is Us," although the show is highly recommended.)

    And, I'm increasingly aware of how fragile life really is. How short it is in the grand scheme. How much we need to live it for as long as we can in a truthful, caring, and loving manner as possible.

    I was born 17 days after the Baby Boom era ended, which means I was part of the Generation X transition plan. This year, more so than any other, we saw the loss of so many people who were part of the fabric of my life from birth.

    A partial list of those we’ve lost in 2016: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Gary Shandling, Patty Duke, Doris Roberts, Prince, Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the new “Star Treks”), Gary Marshall, Marni Nixon (voice of Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn in three classic musicals), Gene Wilder, Curtis Hanson (director of “The Wonder Boys”), Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds.

    Hell, even Nancy Reagan didn’t want to stick around for the possibility of a Trump administration.

    And tonight, scanning the last-minute headlines to make sure Betty White was still safe, I saw that we lost William Christopher, who played the loving, bumbling Father Mulcahey on M*A*S*H.

    Say what you will, but I'm glad to see this turbulent year gone. Like many, I'm concerned about what the future holds, not just here but around the world. I'm also concerned about the lack of empathy our society — not everyone, I swear it's not that blanket of a statement — shows toward traditionally marginalized populations.

    So if you're lucky enough to give a significant other that kiss in a couple of minutes, take a second to think about love, what it means, and what you can do to spread it around.

    Thanks for reading my latest rant. Here's to a better year in 2017. Let's live it up...

  • Family Tradition

    When the kids were, well, kids, they loved going to the Lincoln Memorial at night. For several years, every trip Nicholas made to Virginia had to include a trip to see the tribute to Honest Abe.

    Sometimes everyone made the pilgrimage, but often we were missing one. That was true again this year — Kate couldn't make it due to another obligation — but this time we added a new member, Nick's girlfriend Conner.

    One of these days, we'll have everyone with us, and another addition or two would mean we have to take two cars. I look forward to that day...

  • A Trip to Vegas

    This past week, I photographed a conference in Las Vegas and stayed at the Westgate Hotel, which is best known by its former names and a famous occupant: Elvis Presley.

    Built in 1969 by Kirk Kerkorian, the International Hotel was the largest in the world when it opened. Barbra Streisand was the opening-night performer, but Elvis made the hotel’s reputation. He performed there twice a year from July 1969 to December 1976, eight months before he died at age 42.

    Kerkorian sold the International to Hilton in 1970 and went on to build the MGM Grand Hotel in 1973 and the MGM Grand 20 years later. Hilton owned the property until 2012 and it was sold again to the Westgate in 2014.

    Known now for its race and sports book, which is the largest in Las Vegas, the Westgate is showing some signs of age. But it still is a huge draw for visitors, and the statue of Elvis remains in the lobby.

  • First Day of Tech

    The first day of tech on any show is a challenge. After weeks of rehearsing in a studio, the cast and crew move into the theater to incorporate the other, necessary aspects of the production — set, lights, sound, costumes, and anything else that comes up during the last week before the show premieres.

    The hurry up and wait effect can be trying for the cast, the staff and volunteers, and parents, especially first-timers who have not seen a show develop before their eyes.

    Monday night’s rehearsal for “The Nutcracker” was no exception. A water line burst at the Ernst Cultural Center, where the show will be performed this weekend, which delayed the installation of the set. Plans to run all of Act I with the different casts had to be adjusted on the spot, and it took some time to start finding the rhythms that will become familiar for everyone by week’s end.

    But by the time the five-hour rehearsal ended, you could see the signs of what will be an excellent show. As one parent said, “Long night, but it’s starting to come together.”

    A limited number of tickets remain available for the shows Friday and Saturday. Go to www.metropolitanarts.org to get yours. To see more photos from the dress rehearsal, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Post-Election Ruminations

    During the lunchtime hour yesterday, Jill and I volunteered at our local polls. We saw people who were voting for the first time and a lovely woman who cast her first ballot in 1944. They were proud and honored to have that right.

    The crowd was steady but not overwhelming, a surprise given the rhetoric and passion we've seen on both sides for months now. It hinted at what I feared: People on the fence about their choices did not bother.

    Last month, I talked to a man in Denver whose anger and disgust at everything taking place with this race rivaled my own. The difference? I knew his vote and mine would cancel each other's out.

    Yesterday, I thought long and hard about that conversation. I also thought long and hard about how polarized our nation has become during my lifetime, and the stress we all have seemed to be under since this whole race began.

    If this election cycle has taught us anything, it's that anger more often than not trumps love. It is much easier to hate others for their flaws than to love despite them. And history is quick to repeat itself if we don't do something about it.

  • John Glenn: Not My Namesake

    The death of astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn brought attention to the fact that my legal name is the same as his. Born three years after Glenn's space flight, I've spent much of my life explaining that I'm named after my dad and grandfather, not the astronaut.

    Here, I went into more detail...

  • Pre-Christmas Randoms

    After a week of illness in the family, a Facebook hack, and the final flurry of shopping, here are a few pre-Christmas random thoughts:

    • USPS at the holidays: On the last Monday before Christmas, the 8:30 a.m. line at the post office rivals that of the DMV next door.

    • Ben truism: You know you're in a theater family when you "call out" sick rather than "call in" sick.

    • Memo to the alien bug that invaded our bodies last week: This is your formal eviction notice. Despite the cold and windy weather, please seek shelter outside our home effective immediately.

    • More cold commentary: I hear the roar of the ocean. Unfortunately it's inside my head. #hatethissnotshit

    • After my Facebook was briefly hacked: If you get a friend request from me, don't accept it. As far as I can tell, we're already friends... Or, in political speak: Damn those Russians.

    • Finally, here’s one worth watching. In the spirit of the holidays, we were so glad to see Walter White come back from the dead.

     

  • Thanksgiving Memories

    We're having a quiet Thanksgiving at home, quite the contrast to years past. Feeling nostalgic with Ben, Emma, and Kate here together for the first time in months, I started going through old photos of past Thanksgivings.

    A few things I noticed during our visual time travel:

    • Over the last 20 years, we've had Thanksgiving dinner in at least 7 different cities in four states.

    • Only two years (2001 and 2014) are not represented in this album. We were just moving into our home in Lorton in November 2001 and in 2014 we had just the girls here for a low-key Thanksgiving.

    • After 2003, we didn't have Thanksgiving at home until 2013. Since then, we've been at home for three of the last four years.

    • The last Thanksgiving all six McFarland/Cook first cousins were together was in 2012. They've only all been together a handful of times since. The last time all of the Cook/Ghirardi cousins were together was at my dad's funeral in 2007.

    Going back through these photos was fun experience. Some years were easier than others — no surprise given that December is the month of birthdays. At times we were celebrating new opportunities; at others we were mourning those we had lost.

    But all it takes is one quick look, and you can see why I give thanks every day for the life we have together.

  • A Hometown Tragedy

    Last week, while taking a break from photographing a conference in Las Vegas, a news story from my hometown caught my attention: A high school senior had committed suicide in front of her parents. She had been the victim of relentless cyberbullying over her weight and her appearance.

    Immediately, I flashed back to Blocker Middle School and the late 1970s. When you've been bullied, your emotions are on constant standby for time travel.

    ••••••

    I was bullied as a child. What people thought were innocent pranks about my appearance, lack of style, poor social graces, and general athletic ineptitude left scars that have taken decades to heal.

    Then, when you see something like this, something that happened in the hometown you left long ago, those scars are exposed again. You time travel back to the days when you were that fat child, that pimply, awkward, uncoordinated teenager who liked books, movies, drama, and writing. It comes back like it was yesterday.

    You are thankful for your loving parents, who were dealing with boatloads of crap of their own. You are thankful for your few close friends who accepted you for who you were. You are thankful for teachers like John C. Martin, for neighbors who became your extended family. You are thankful for those who, even if they didn't understand you, didn't judge. You are thankful that, no matter how bad things got at times, you had the inner strength to go on.

    You hope that your children did not have to endure the same things you did, knowing that bullies now hide behind their thumbs and their glare-free screens. You try to treat people with kindness, holding on to the manners you were taught. You try to look at issues and events from both sides — and there are two sides to every story — and respect others' right to their opinions, no matter how different they may be from yours.

    I appreciate the steps Texas City ISD took (making counselors available, sending a letter home to parents with other resources) in the wake of the girl’s suicide and pray that no copycat incidents — always a risk with this age group — occur.

    But don’t bury your head in the sand. The temptation some have to prey on others because of their own insecurity and inadequacy has never gone away. It's part of our history that, despite twists like social media, repeats itself again and again.

    When something like this happens, we feel the need to take action, but it always seems to be too little, too late. In Texas, two state legislators filed a bill last month that would require school districts to have cyberbullying policies. The law would require schools to notify parents when children are bullied. Anyone who electronically harasses or bullies another person under the age of 18 would face misdemeanor charges.

    Why these types of policies are not already in place in every school district in America boggles my mind. Why bullying is tolerated, by adults and children alike, simply makes no sense. And yet it is.

    The wounds heal. But the scars remain. #SuicideAwareness — 1-800-273-8255. 

    ••••••

    The essay above, posted to Facebook on Friday, generated a series of heartfelt, thoughtful, and affirming responses. A number of friends shared it, more than 70 (and counting) took the time to comment publicly, and a few sent private messages. (Read the thread here.)

    Here are some of my thoughts, based on what others had to say:

    • 2016, more than any other, has been the "Year of the Trolls." I spend a lot of time on the Internet and try my best to keep things positive, but I've noticed repeatedly that people pick up on a single word you say and use it as an excuse to rip. That is terrible for us as a society.

    • School districts and state legislators have hesitated to push policies and laws through on this topic out of fear of liability. I understand why, but a policy that requires schools to notify parents when they receive a report of bullying should be a responsibility that districts are willing to take on. In the grand scheme, doing everything you can to keep parents in the loop and invested in the well-being of their children is a baby step.

    • We’ve got to stop looking for simple, knee jerk answers (zero tolerance policies, banning all cellphones) to these types of problems. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this type of behavior, which has been perpetuated for generations.

    • No place is immune from bullying, whether you’re in an industrial town in Texas, a rural community in North Carolina, or the hallowed suburbs of Washington, D.C. It won’t go away without a concentrated effort on everyone’s part, and that means support from schools, parents, classmates, community leaders, and politicians who have the chutzpah to stand up for changes. The problem sits in all our laps.

    • For many young people, compassion is not innate; if anything, the exact opposite is, especially when you're trying to find your way. It truly is heartbreaking to see a kid who's obviously struggling socially, because you know how others have the capacity to be so cruel in those types of situations.

    • Late elementary school and middle school is where so much of this damaging behavior begins. (Middle school was my personal “American Horror Story.”) Like many kids, I thought I could handle it myself, not knowing the damage I was doing to my psyche. I wish I had felt comfortable enough to talk to someone; I would have been much better off.

    • As an average, run-of-the-mill teenage boy who was a barking seal when it came to girls, the power they had was fierce. For the most part, I saw it for what it was and didn't let it bother me. But there were a couple of cruel heartbreaks along the way, where I thought, hoped and prayed that someone was different and was severely disappointed. That's why so much of this cuts so deep and so hard. I realize how much of my life I wasted trying to get the approval of people who didn't give a shit.

    • At times, I feel like we’ve thrown bullying into the same category as poverty — “Can’t do anything about it. Those people just need to step up.” We all need to step up.

  • Five Freelance Articles Published

    Five recent articles published in three different magazines this fall have recently been uploaded to my "New/Recent Articles" section. You can check them out by clicking on the links below or by going here.

    Act Globally (November-December 2016): Increasingly, higher education drama programs are offering international experiences for their students through academic exchanges and education abroad opportunities. This story, published in the November-December 2016 issue of International Educator, focuses on how these opportunities focus on skill development as well as social justice and global issues in the developing world. 

    Leading the Leap (December 2016): Online assessments are here to stay, regardless of whether your state has embraced the Common Core Standards. In this column for American School Board Journal, I look at how a toolkit scheduled to be unveiled in December 2016 will help schools and districts assess their readiness and ability to effectively deliver these assessments.

    Cracking the Literacy Code (October 2016): Cracking the code on literacy, especially in majority-minority school districts, is no easy task. As this story in American School Board Journal notes, large-scale initiatives are costly and time intensive, and the needle on achievement rarely moves quickly. Earning buy-in and support from community and business leaders is critical, as is the need to provide strong professional development to teachers and a rigorous evaluation system that can accurately determine whether a program is working. 

    Technology Evolution (October 2016): In today's device-filled world, the tools students and teachers use can be terrific, but they have proven time and again to be no replacement for quality instruction. As this column in American School Board Journal notes, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is taking on the conundrum with its second revision of its technology standards for students. 

    Finding the Class of 2009 (October 2016): The latest in a series of articles written for the Minority Corporate Counsel Association's Diversity & The Bar magazine focuses on Nila Bala, a public defender in Baltimore, Md.

  • Family Reunion in NYC

    Reunions that include all four kids are far too rare these days, so it was great to come together briefly in New York this past weekend. Ostensibly, the reason was to formally (and belatedly) celebrate Ben’s high school graduation, which we did with a small gathering of family (biological, extended, extensions of extended) on Saturday evening.

    Nick and Conner came from Durham on Thursday night and, given that she had only visited the city a couple of times, we hit the sites hard on Friday. Nick took Conner to her first Broadway show (“Waitress”) and a friend gave them a backstage tour. Once the day was done, we had walked more than 10 miles.

    On Saturday, Jill and Kate came in by train from Virginia and Emma flew in from Pittsburgh. At that point, we had all four children together for the first time since Emma’s graduation in July. Thanks to Ginno, Casey, Bernadette, and everyone else who took the time to stop by, say hello, give a hug, and catch up. It was great seeing all of you.

    On Sunday, Emma and I stuck around and went to The Newsboys Variety Show at 54 Below to see Ben perform a song (“Unemployed”) with his roommate Josh. Again, I was struck by how kind and (obviously) talented the cast of this show is, and by how warm and friendly they are. They are a family unto themselves.

    Before you knew it, the long weekend was over and it will be Christmas before the four are together again. But it was nice — very nice — while it lasted.

  • Becoming CareerWise in Switzerland

    CareerWise Colorado, a statewide initiative that aims to place 20,000 high school students in apprenticeships by 2027, led a delegation of educators, state government and nonprofit leaders, and workforce development officials on a five-day tour to Zurich, Switzerland, last week to study the country’s apprenticeship programs.

    Led by officials from CEMETS, a division of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute, the tour included site visits to Libs, CYP, Zurich Business School, Swisscom, and EWH-Zurich, which provide a variety of training programs to Swiss students. In Switzerland, 70 percent of students choose to do apprenticeships in more than 200 occupations.

    CareerWise, a nonprofit that formally launched in September with the support of the state’s governor and several large Colorado companies, is inspired by the Swiss model for connecting employers and educational institutions.

    CareerWise Colorado’s goal is to serve about 10 percent of eligible high school students in the state within 10 years. Starting in 2017-18, businesses and corporations in the fields of information technology, financial and professional services, advanced manufacturing, and hospitality will offer high school juniors and seniors paid, on-the-job learning experiences in high-demand fields.

    One highlight of the trip was a visit to the Bern home of U.S. Ambassador Suzi Levine, a leader in the initiative to implement Swiss-style apprenticeship programs in the U.S.

    Ambassador Levine and her husband, Eric, were gracious hosts and described in detail their passion for bringing the model to K-12 schools and community colleges in the U.S.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook albums here and here. For more information, visit the CareerWise website at www.careerwisecolorado.org or the CEMETS website at www.cemets.ethz.ch.

  • Random Acts of Kindness #2: Fire Away

    I recoiled the first time I saw the video of Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away.”

    One of the best songs off of one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, the video tells the story of a couple who becomes entangled in the throes of the woman’s mental illness. It ends, as do too many of these stories, tragically, leaving the survivors to cope with unspeakable grief.

    “The song is about loving someone unconditionally through not so easy times. The concept of the video came to me as that would be the hardest possible space in which to love somebody,” Stapleton says in an interview on the Campaign to Change Direction website.

    Stapleton’s debut album, “Traveller,” has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. It won two Grammys and drew attention for its mix of old-school country and Southern rock. The video for “Fire Away” has been viewed almost 15 million times, creating awareness around an issue — mental illness — that is too rarely mentioned or not seen at all.

    Until it’s too late.

    ••••••

    I’m a lucky man.

    I’ve known two people — one a close friend; the other the daughter of family friends — who have died by suicide. I have a daughter who is ADHD/bipolar and struggles to maintain her equilibrium at times. An uncle and an aunt also have suffered from severe mental illness.

    Their experiences have helped shape me as a person and as a father. I feel fortunate to have known these people, and lucky to have a daughter as kind at heart as Kate is. And I’m committed to sharing our family’s struggles in an effort to draw some attention to mental health issues. 

    Hearing that Stapleton would be performing in D.C., I noted the show was scheduled during an intense period of travel and was unsure if I could make it on a Sunday night after returning from a second trip to Pittsburgh in two weeks. Then, when I went to buy a ticket, all that was left was a single seat in the upper nosebleed section.

    Jill had a dinner to attend that night, so she told me to go ahead. The cause is the right one, and that’s what’s most important.

    The Campaign to Change Direction is a national initiative designed “change the culture of mental health in America.” Its goal is to get people to learn and share the five signs of emotional suffering — change in personality; agitation; withdrawal; decline in personal care; and hopelessness — so that we can prevent tragedies and help others to heal.

    When Stapleton had the idea for the video, he didn’t work with a specific charity on mental health issues. Actor Ben Foster, who is in the video, suggested the campaign, which has received the support of Prince William, First Lady Michelle Obama, and actor Richard Gere, among others.

    Stapleton agreed to work with the organization, although he had no idea about the video’s potential impact on his audience. He also had to get his record company to buy into the project, noting that label executives “looked at me like I had three heads” when he told them the idea.

    “I didn’t want to be in the video. I wanted to make it with these actors because it felt more artful and meaningful,” Stapleton says. “It was just a notion, but then we made it and it became real and useful and something that hopefully can make the world a better place. … That notion became a good thing.”

    ••••••

    The DAR Constitution Hall is a great place to hear a show, but a tough venue to maneuver. The lines are long. The bathrooms are in inconvenient places. The seats, especially in the upper reaches, have extremely limited legroom.

    Having driven more than 500 miles over the previous two days, I had to get up midway through the show and walk around a bit, so I went down to the restroom and saw an usher I had talked to while waiting in line earlier. Listening to the music, we made momentary small talk about the show and I mentioned my connections to the cause, then told him I had to go back up. I didn’t want to miss “Fire Away.”

    At that point, the usher opened the door and said, “Go on in,” pointing me to an empty seat in the orchestra section. “Wait a few minutes,” this random stranger said, “and I’ll take you up a little further if I can.”

    After standing in the back of the orchestra for a few minutes — by this point no one was sitting — the usher tapped me on the arm and escorted me up toward the front, just five rows from the stage. “Stand here,” he said. “You won’t have a problem.”

    And then he left without a trace. Two minutes later, Stapleton started playing “Fire Away,” just in time for me to pull out my phone and record it. At the end, he asked the boisterous crowd to repeat the last chorus, holding up their phones to shine a light on issues that are underreported and often unseen.

    The audience complied. Here is the video I took of the performance.

    Last month marked the 12th anniversary of Brian’s suicide. Next Monday marks the sixth anniversary of Lindsay’s. That time has passed so quickly is sobering in and of itself.

    On Saturday, Lindsay’s family will participate — as they do every year — in one of the Out of the Darkness walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you would like to help, go to the team page here.

    Pay it forward. It's the least we can do.

  • Election 2016: My Last Word (Maybe)

    I've been sitting in the Denver airport all night because of a cancelled flight, which prompted this sleep-deprived diatribe. Read on if you choose...

    Look folks, I'm not perfect. Never have professed that. I have flaws as a husband, father, son and human being.

    I think the fact that I can and do acknowledge those flaws makes me imminently qualified to say this: There is no way in hell I'm voting for a Mr. in this election.

    I realize this comes as no shock to anyone who knows me well, but understand that I know and recognize that both candidates have flaws. However, if there was any margin for error, it has been erased permanently by the most vitriolic, distasteful, and abusive campaign in U.S. history.

    As a husband, father and son, I can't in good conscience vote for someone whose systemic manipulation of women (and other, equally important things from a governance perspective) is a centerpiece of his very existence. And I don't understand how anyone else can do the same.

    I have friends on all sides of the spectrum. Some of you have chosen to unfollow or unfriend me because my views don't march in lockstep with yours. Others are quick to note the flaws and peccadilloes of previous politicians for the umpteenth time.

    Some will not take the time or energy to read this because one more word about this election is just too much. And that's OK. That's your right.

    Come November 9, I hope our nation can get treatment for the collective PTSD that this election has caused (at least for those who believe such a thing exists). But between now and then, I hope everyone will carefully and prayerfully (if you so choose) consider the type of person you want to represent our nation.

    Either way, please exercise your right to vote. That's one thing we can all do together, even if we disagree.

  • Random Act of Kindness #1

    This story is about life lessons, not giving up, the kindness of strangers, and a purse.

    Yes, a purse.

    Earlier this month, Jill, Emma and I were fortunate to attend the Pittsburgh Steelers-Kansas City Chiefs game at Heinz Field. Chris Ballard, who grew up across the street from my family in Texas City, now works for the Chiefs and arranged the tickets, complete with a pregame pass to stand on the sidelines.

    Things started smoothly. Traffic was light for once on the trip from Virginia to Pittsburgh — a rare occasion indeed — and we had a nice time with Emma, who we had not seen since she started her freshman year at Point Park University. Emma gathered a group of her friends — new and old — for an Art & Dance shoot at Point State Park.

    All in all, a very nice day leading up to the main event — a nationally televised Sunday Night Football game.

    ••••••

    I hoped to bring my camera to the game, but Chris told me to look at the venue rules beforehand to make sure, and professional cameras were on the don’t list. Security crackdowns have been in force at major events around the country for the past several years, so it came as no surprise. We’ve been to several games at Nationals Park, and know the search-before-entry drill all too well.

    But we didn’t realize that purses were on the banned list, too. Only small clear bags are allowed in the stadium and even if you dump your purse’s contents into an accepted clear bag, you can’t carry the purse in.

    “Sorry, those are the rules,” the security guard said, pointing to a number of purses and bags residing in a nearby trash can.

    Suddenly the nice day was turning almost as dark as the skies above.

    ••••••

    I always tell my kids, "Don't be afraid to ask for something worthwhile, no matter how outlandish the request may seem." The worst thing a person can say is “no,” and rejection is part of life.

    Occasionally, if you’re courteous and polite, people will surprise you with the same in return.

    We didn’t have much time, but I decided to embark on a “Save the Purse” quest. I went to the box office and the customer service desk, asking if someone could hold on to it until after the game, but I was summarily rebuffed.

    Finally, I walked over to the Don’s Appliances truck. Not being from the area, I didn’t know that Don’s is a luxury manufacturer of fancy kitchens, or that the gentleman handing out free samples of food is actually a master chef named Anthony Marino.

    I explained the situation about the purse, the fact we were from out of town, in Pittsburgh to see our daughter, meeting a friend at the game, etc. Could I stash the purse with them and pick it up later?

    Unfortunately, the truck left at kickoff, so that was out of the question.

    Fortunately, Chef Marino is also married — “I understand,” he said with a smile when I told him my story — and an extremely nice person. He offered to ship the purse to us when he went to work the next day.

    Three days later, the package arrived via UPS. All we had to do was mail a check to Don’s Appliances for the shipping.

    So there’s your happy ending, affirmation that even in these most contentious of times, there are still some kind people in this world. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask, and when things work out in your favor, offer a grateful thank you.

    Remember, you never know unless you try.

  • Politics, Baseball & Other Random Thoughts

    Less than a month out, here are a few more random thoughts about baseball, politics and other things…

    • Is it flu season? Or is this feeling coming because I'm a Nationals fan during the playoffs? At least I can get a shot for the latter by walking to a nearby cabinet.

    • In case you’re wondering what my qualifications are for that last statement, remember that my childhood was spent in the Houston area, where the playoffs and Rolaids marched in solidarity every fall.

    • Dear Mr. Stump: Thank you for proving yet again that misogyny and vitriol are alive and well. I've never seen such anger and hatred in my life as I’m seeing in the days leading up to this election.

    The GOP on November 9.

    ••••••

    • On a somewhat related note, Mr. Obama’s approval rating is higher at this point in his term than any president since Ronald Reagan. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a turnaround.

    • Having been to Pittsburgh twice in the past two weeks, I’m beginning to think Pennsylvania is one of those states where the red light and the orange cone should just hook up and call it a night.


    • Speaking of travel, here’s an on-the-road question: Why do hotels that charge $200 a night leave you with single-ply toilet paper?

    • Twitter is the new People Magazine. You can read all you need while sitting on the can.


    • And the best news yet …. The boy has a job for the next couple of weeks!

  • Family Time in Texas

    Growing up, my sister and I had only two first cousins. Thanks to a mini-baby boom on both of our parts, our kids don’t have the same problem. Between the two families, there are nine Cook-related first cousins.

    Unfortunately, given the size of the families and the distance between us, we don’t see each other much. Julie has taught her kids to send me off with, “See ya next year, Uncle Glenn.”

    What’s remarkable, though not surprising given their ages (9 to 20), is how much Julie’s kids change between visits, none more so this time than Matthew, her 16-year-old middle child. Matthew, who is autistic, has shot up over the past year and now is almost as tall as I am. He also is pursuing his black belt in taekwondo, the Korean martial art that focuses on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques.

    On October 20 (fittingly my dad’s birthday), Matthew will take the test for his black belt after pursuing it for just 20 months, a remarkably short time frame but one that shows his dedication to the craft. When I was in Houston earlier this month, my mom asked me to take a few photos of Matthew in his class because I could not be there for the test in person.

    Here are some of the photos I took. Congratulations to Matthew for his upcoming accomplishment, Julie for maintaining the juggling act I know all too well, and my mom for all of the schlepping she does back and forth for the kids.

    See ya next year…

    Speaking of which, the last time I was in Houston in May 2015, my great nephew Lincoln was a newborn. Now he’s a 16-month-old toddler, constantly active and filled with innate curiosity.

    He also holds the distinction of being my mom’s first great-grandchild, and given that Calliope and Lincoln live with her in Clear Lake, the focus of much of her attention.

    During my visit, my mom asked me to take some pictures of Lincoln in “his natural habitat.” Nothing posed, just candids of a little boy. Here is the result.

    ••••••

    To see the photos from last year's visit, go to http://tinyurl.com/JuliesKids.

  • Random Thoughts: Political Seasoning

    With only thirtysomething days until the election (thank goodness), I guess it’s not surprising that this edition of “Random Thoughts” is heavily tilted toward politics in some way. So here are some observations from the past month or so.

    • Pronoun Trouble: As the son of a middle school history teacher, I think I've finally figured out one of our country's biggest problems: We have pronoun trouble.

    Every time I try to make a seemingly rational comment about this election, or one that at least merits more discussion, I get lumped into the "you people" group. But if I remember my history lessons correctly, "We the people" is how it should work.

    • What Matters: Several weeks ago, I made a "mistake" when I said "all lives matter." And while I believe that to be true (as we all should), there's no question that the antagonism and, at times, outright hatred that folks in power display toward African-Americans is just wrong.

    Just because you have an itchy trigger finger, or are afraid of a person just because the color of their skin, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation frightens you does not give you or anyone else the right to do what is done over and over and over.

    Put the damn guns down. Stop this uninformed hatred. Take 60 seconds and use the brain you were given before you hit "Post."

    For God's sake, this has to end now. Please.

    • Wise Advice: Courtesy of the Internet, here are some things to think about:

    • Drop the Mic: No matter how you feel about the issue, this is campaign ad is one of the best I've seen in years.

     

    Dear Former Gov. Perry: Charles Durning did it better. Sincerely, Cast and Crew of "So You Think You Can Dance"

    Mr. Breathed Continues to Hit it Out of the Park: Rather than watch the first presidential debate, Jill and I went to watch a somewhat meaningless major league baseball game. What did you do?

    Post Debate Observation: Fact averse (n., adj.): Epidemic affecting voters across the nation.

    • And finally…: Perhaps my eyes deceive me, but doesn't Kathy Bates look like she's auditioning to play David Bowie's role in the "Labyrinth" sequel?

  • A Random Travel Ramble

    Random ramble while sitting in a JiffyLube on a Saturday...

    Over the past 5 weeks, I've been out of town more than I've been at home. Work and family have taken us to Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and California, plus drive-thrus of Maryland (east and west), Delaware and New Jersey.

    One kid went to college. One filmed a movie. One went on the road for his job and the other started a new one. Jill and I spent great time together and more than a full week apart.

    The next couple of months bring the same level of intensity, as the situation flips and Jill embarks on a series of fall trips for work.

    Lots of stories and memories will find their way onto my website and Facebook business page in the coming days. Ironically, I now have 1986 likes on that page.

    1986 is the year I turned 21, never imagining for a moment I'd live this kind of life. To everyone who has made a contribution to that life, especially my family biological and extended, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • Edward Albee: RIP

    Several years ago, Ben and I attended the Helen Hayes Awards, where the Kennedy Center’s production of “Ragtime” was up for multiple honors and legendary playwright Edward Albee was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award. If was an opportunity — a year after the Kennedy Center run ended and four months after “Ragtime” on Broadway closed — for Ben to briefly reunite with the theatre family he had come to love.

    Terrence McNally (author of the book for “Ragtime”) introduced Albee, a longtime friend and writer of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “A Delicate Balance,” among other classic shows. At the after party, we were celebrating with “Ragtime” alums Sarah Rosenthal and Laurie Ascoli when I noticed Terrence and Albee talking.

    Not wanting to miss out on a chance to have Ben’s picture taken with two of the great playwrights of the 20th century, I convinced him to ask Terrence, an incredibly kind man who generously agreed. Laurie, Sarah and some unidentified woman (unceremoniously excised from this photo during the editing) joined in and we got this.

    Upon hearing of Albee’s death last night, I immediately thought of this special moment as well as one dating back to my time at University of Houston, where he taught playwriting starting in the late 1980s. I was taking an acting class in pursuit of a minor for my long-gestating degree, and we were asked to read some of the students’ work for Albee.

    The character I read was the villain of this noir-ish piece, which needed some work, and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. (I am not, repeat NOT, an actor.) I remember only one part of the scene, where my character asks a prospective victim, “Do you know how long it takes to watch a person drown? … Seven minutes … I timed it on my watch.”

    At that point, Albee nodded, looked at the writer and us, and said, “Thank you. Not bad.”

    Best review of my life.

  • MCCA Profile: Carly Bad Heart Bull

    A profile of Native American activist Carly Bad Heart Bull, the latest in a series of freelance stories I'm writing for the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, appears in the current issue of the magazine "Diversity & The Bar." To read more about this fascinating woman, go here.

  • A Long-Awaited Vacation

    Jill and I have been married 20 years. The number of vacations we have taken together, just the two of us, is in the single digits. (That's what happens when you have three kids in a year early on in the marriage.)

    For the past several days, we've been in Moab, Utah, enjoying the incredible beauty of the American Southwest and taking some much needed down time together. Hiking (she's in much better shape than I am), a river ride, sightseeing, taking pictures (far too many), bumping into a good friend in a random place, eating, drinking, napping and sleeping (enough of some, not enough of others). It has been great.

    And, with a few more days in Utah, now it's time for work again for both of us. Time always flies fastest when you wish it wouldn't, but I'm beyond grateful for the time we've had this past week.

  • Happy 75, Mom!

    "So my Mom turns 75 today. Not sure how that happened, because she always says she was just so young when she had me."

    Pause. Punchline. Followed by, "Of course, calling your mom a liar in public is not polite."

    She's not really fibbing. Mom and dad were 23 and 24 when they had me. But this is the type of humor we share, a back and forth that has been a never-ending game of ping pong for years.

    I wish I could put into words the influence my mom has had on me. Perhaps the best way is to describe her as "my first, best teacher," who has shared her talent with countless school children, friends, and family for her entire life.

    I love you, Mom. Happy birthday. And may the ribbing continue for a long, long time.

  • Bittersweet Farewell

    Word of the day for a lot of parents I know: Bittersweet.

    Definition (adj.): Both pleasant and painful.

    When you're dropping off your last child at college, that pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. In the end, however, I'm confident it will be less bitter than sweet for all concerned.

    Emma, we know you'll be great at Point Park. Pittsburgh is lucky to have you, just as we have been lucky to call ourselves your parents and your family. We love you, sweetheart!

  • Feature in MCCA Magazine

    For much of the past year, I have been profiling winners of the LMJ Scholarship for one of my clients, the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Corporate Counsel Association. My newest piece, “The Future of the Legal Profession,” focuses on the 2015-16 scholarship winners and is featured in the current issue of MCCA's magazine, "Diversity & The Bar."

    You can access the feature by visiting the New/Recent Articles section of my website at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Making K-12 Ed Regulations Interesting

    How do you make the regulatory process surrounding the nation’s largest education law interesting? Take a look at my story in the Summer 2016 issue of ASCD’s "Policy Priorities," which focuses on the development of regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the long-awaited successor to No Child Left Behind.

    In addition to the main story, you can also read a sidebar that includes a step-by-step breakdown of the process. (And it really is interesting, too.)

    For more recently published articles, visit http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • 11 Stories Published in USF Magazine

    This spring, I served as one of two writers for the annual edition of enVision, the magazine of the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering. In all, I wrote 11 stories that were published in the magazine, which is available to students and alumni.

    The assignments were a fascinating mix of alumni profiles and features on work currently underway by students and faculty at the Tampa-based college. You can read more about the individual stories or access a PDF of all of them by clicking on this link.

    Happy reading!

  • iPhone Storytelling: Billy Joel

    Continuing what has suddenly become a music thread….

    Billy Joel became the first performer to play three times at Nationals Stadium on Saturday, and he did so despite a torrential downpour that delayed the start of the concert by more than an hour.

    You can't carry a "professional camera" into events like this without a press pass. (I would not have brought my camera in anyway, given the rain.) However, this is one of those times when iPhone photos usually come nowhere close to the images you can get with a regular camera.

    Still, if you're lucky and recognize the shutter delays, you can occasionally get a decent image.

    Let me know what you think of these and the ones on my Facebook page here.

    Joel, as usual, was terrific in concert. He hasn’t written new music since the early 1990s, but embraces one of the best and most popular catalogues with enthusiasm. In turn, the rain-soaked crowd embraced him.

    “What’s it like sitting there with a wet ass?” Joel asked the cheering crowd.

    Fortunately, after seeing the Piano Man multiple times in multiple places (North Carolina, Madison Square Garden), we splurged and bought tickets on the stadium turf. No wet butts for us.

    Unfortunately, we were among the large contingent of the 40,000-plus fans who came to the concert via Metro and were left stranded due to the storms, which delayed the show by more than an hour. Thanks (or not) to “SafeTrack” maintenance, the subway system closed at midnight, and there was no way we could see the encore and make it to the last train.

    Joel even made a joke about the troubled transit system — “Is the Metro running tonight? … So basically, you’re (expletive).”

    With no warnings in advance from stadium officials or Metro — a transit worker at the Navy Yard said they had not even been told about the heavily promoted concert (cough) — we were stuck with a long wait and a very expensive Uber ride.

    The show was still worth it, though.

  • Presidential Politics & The Replacements

    As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of The Replacements. Turns out that Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, is too.

    According to the music blog Pitchfork, Replacements biographer Bob Mehr said that if elected, Kaine would be the first fan of the group to serve as vice president. Kaine, who was born in Minnesota, has noted in past interviews that his favorite album is “Let It Be,” the 1984 effort that brought the Minneapolis group major label attention.

    Now if we can just hear “Gary’s Got a Boner” at the inaugural gala.

  • Lori McKenna: Humble & Kind

    Note: This review also was cross-posted to my No Depression page. To see more photos, go to my Facebook album or to my “Performances” page.

    Lori McKenna started her “Wreck You” tour to promote her new CD a week before it was released, and was surprised to learn she could sell copies of “The Bird & The Rifle” before it becomes available to the general public.

    “I didn’t know you could do that,” she said during her show at Jammin’ Java just outside Washington, D.C.

    Such is the state of the music business, where release dates have been moved from Tuesdays to Fridays and smaller labels (such as McKenna’s) operate much differently than the now shrunken behemoths. Today, however, you and anyone else with an iTunes account can purchase “The Bird & The Rifle,” the latest in a series of gems from this mother of five who lives with her husband of 28 years outside Boston.

    In a just world, McKenna’s music would get the same level of promotion — and subsequent sales — as the increasing number of artists who cover her richly detailed songs. One of those songs, “Humble and Kind,” topped the charts when Tim McGraw — whose wife, Faith Hill, helped McKenna get her big break as a songwriter in 2005 — released it last year.

    McGraw’s mainstream sincerity (and video with connections to Oprah Winfrey) made the song a hit, but McKenna reclaims it on her new album. At the Jammin’ Java concert, she talked about writing the song at her dining room table between dropping off and picking up her kids from school. When you hear it on the CD, you can almost see her writing in longhand.

    Hold the door say please say thank you
    Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
    I know you got mountains to climb but
    Always stay humble and kind
    When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
    When the work you put in is realized
    Let yourself feel the pride but
    Always stay humble and kind

    Don’t expect a free ride from no one
    Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why
    Bitterness keeps you from flyin’
    Always stay humble and kind

    As a longtime fan — I have all 10 of McKenna’s albums — I’ve always appreciated her eye for life’s little details and ability to capture with grace and empathy the struggles of people just trying to get by. In concert, she almost apologizes for writing so many sad songs — the first single on the new CD is titled “Wreck You” — and while it’s true that none of her work qualifies as summer beach music, what she manages to capture is much more real instead.

    “The Bird & The Rifle,” however, has a new wrinkle: Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, who has worked wonders for Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. Cobb and a host of Nashville’s top musicians compliment McKenna’s words in a way I haven’t heard before. It is, without question, the best sounding record she has made.

    So, if you can, try to catch McKenna live sometime this summer. And stick around for the encore, where she performs “Girl Crush,” a song co-written with Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey and recorded by Little Big Town. That one won McKenna a Grammy, and long overdue recognition that her words speak volumes.

  • Family Posts

    Two posts related to people I'm closest to in this life...

    I get a little quiet and contemplative every year around this time. My thoughts tend to get scattered — even more than usual — and I forget little things when a memory of him pops into my head, like I did last night when I realized the anniversary was today.

    No question, the simple passage of time has helped. So do the memories. I still have questions and wonder what he would think about so many things involving our lives and family.

    Today marks nine years. Where has the time gone?

    I miss you, Dad.

    I've been tagged twice in the "Love Your Spouse Challenge," in which you're supposed to post photos for seven days in a row to keep the Celebration of Love and the Promotion of Marriage going. Unfortunately, I'm not the most consistent when it comes to these types of things, so I thought I'd just do 7 photos in one day instead.

    Chances are pretty good that you've seen one or more of these over time. And if you know me at all, chances are pretty good you know how I feel about the woman I've spent the last 20 years of my life with.

    I love you Jill. Always have. Always will. ‪#‎loveyourspouse

  • It's Not Funny, Folks

    Carole Montgomery is a comedian and longtime friend we know from New York. She spends much of her time traveling to various military posts to honor soldiers who have been deployed. In light of Donald Stump’s remarks about a Muslim-American who was killed while serving his country, she posted this comment that sums up my views perfectly:

    “A dead soldier regardless of race, sex or age, is someone's child. That is the ultimate sacrifice. To have it shit on by someone who would only run away from real danger or worse, grab someone to shield him is only ripping open the pain again. Shame on you.”

  • A Summer Driver's Ed Class

    Dear Drivers of America:

    We'd like to take a moment to escape from the election rhetoric and poop-slinging for a brief summer school remedial driver's ed Top 10 list. Based on our recent highway experiences, these are the things we feel the general public needs to brush up on.

    1. Let's start with the brush, and other personal grooming decisions made behind the wheel. Or better yet, let's not. As in don't do it.

    2. "Pump Up the Jams" is a song. It should not be your approach to the brake pedal. Or the accelerator, for that matter.

    3. "Rubberneckin'" is an Elvis Presley song, not a habit you should get into while driving.

    4. "Speed limit" really should just be retitled "Speed." That way, drivers who get in the left lane and go 15 mph under would know that it is both wrong and stupid, as well as impolite. Same would go for the ones who are in a constant state of auditioning for the White Rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland."

    5. If you must engage in finger pointing, remember that the longest one is not necessarily the right one.

    6. If someone behind the wheel is having trouble and points the longest finger at you, don't shout or point back. Mutter under your breath. Keeps things from escalating.

    7. Remember how your mom told you to stay out of the middle of the street? Or those days when she felt like telling you to go play in traffic? Because it's summer, be aware that other neighborhood parents are likely telling their kids one, the other, or both on a frequent basis. Approach your neighborhood accordingly.

    8. Stop (sign or light) means Stop. It does not mean pull out your phone and compose a lengthy email or text to your first cousin twice removed.

    9. Speaking of texting (note the irony in that phrase), don't do it. It can wait. Really it can.

    10. Leave the stupid at home. Please. The universe thanks you.

    Bonus from a Facebook friend: All cars made in the last 50 years have turn signals. Use them. 

  • Post-Melania Madness

    Given the heightened surrealism caused by everything else going on in the world, last night's debacle feels like the cherry on top. Joke writers are falling over themselves cracking wise today, but this entire political process has been so bizarre that comedians will need gluttony rehab before it's all over.

    Plagiarism is a serious issue (and a difficult word to spell, if you think about it). As an editor, I've caught staff who've stolen the work of others and fired them with out guilt. However, I take no pleasure in saying "You're fired" to anyone, unlike some I know or have heard speak.

    For me, this whole thing ceased to be funny a long time ago, when it became probable — not just conceivable — that we were about to be overtaken by the largest reality show in American history. One that doesn't end until at least November, and one that likely won't conclude even then, no matter which side "wins."

    And that's the news from the 100-acre wood.

    Sincerely, Eeyore

  • Tech Columns Appear in ASBJ

    One of my freelance jobs is serving as a technology columnist/contributing editor to American School Board Journal, the magazine where I worked for 13 years. The technology column, which started in January 2015 and appears six times a year, looks at trends and issues of relevance to school board members and top-level administrators.

    Here are two of my latest efforts. Click on the link to read them:

    Security Goes High-Tech: Technology and security are inextricably linked in K-12 schools. From dealing with crisis situations to safeguarding student and staff data, how you use the tools at your disposal is critical. (July-August 2016)

    Online Learning 2.0: Educators nationwide continue to search for ways to meld traditional and digital learning for all students. It’s a combination that has proven full of promise, with more than a few lessons—and potholes—along the way for school boards, administrators, teachers, and communities. (May-June 2016)

  • Photos Promote MYT's 'Spring Awakening'

    Metropolitan Youth Theatre, a student-run nonprofit company formed two years ago in Northern Virginia, will present the Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening” in July.

    Featuring a cast of 17 high school and college students, the show is the fourth MYT production since the company was founded in 2014 by Fairfax County students Sam Cornbrooks, Chad Vann, and James Woods. Students run all aspects of the productions, fulfilling the company’s mission of educating young actors and technicians about the challenges they soon will face in the professional theatre world.

    Cornbrooks, who graduated this month from Lee High School, is the producer and technical director of “Spring Awakening,” which won eight Tony Awards in its first run on Broadway and was nominated for Best Musical Revival this year. Vann, a rising senior at Hayfield Secondary School, is the show’s director. The music director is Woods, a rising senior at Metropolitan School of the Arts.

    Since the company started, I have served as MYT’s photographer, taking publicity photos to promote each show and then of the performances. Because the show’s themes focus on the sexual awakening of teens in 19th century Germany and the struggles they face with adults, we used the Lorton Workhouse as the setting for the promo photos. The gritty nature of the former prison — a place where I shoot frequently — served as a terrific backdrop for a series of mostly somber portraits of the cast.

    Performances will be July 29-31 at 1st Stage Tysons in McLean, Va. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15 and available at www.metroyoutharts.com.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Football Story Wins AM&P Award

    "Comeback Season," a freelance story for American School Board Journal, received a Silver Award for Feature Writing in the Association Media & Publishing's 2016 EXCEL Awards competition last night. My friend and former co-worker, Kathleen Vail, also received a Silver for her piece, "Mission: Space."

    The awards, handed out during a banquet at AM&P's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., were in the 20,000 to 50,000 category. To read the story, go here.

  • Surprise, Surprise!

    Good big brother that he is, Nicholas surprised Emma following the matinee of "Alice in Wonderland" on Saturday. Nick had said he could not make it to the show, but he and Conner had been making plans all along to come from Durham to Northern Virginia for Emma's last recital performance.

    And with Ben, Kate, and other family members supporting our youngest daughter, the end-of-high school cycle is almost complete.

  • Emma's Final Recital

    Emma has danced with her siblings (“Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” — 2004), played an orphan (“Hard Knock Life” — 2009), and ends her time at Metroplitan School of the Arts this weekend with two performances as the March Hare in “Alice in Wonderland.”

    At MSA, she is literally the last Cook standing, the only one of our kids to perform in every show since first grade.

    Earlier this week, someone asked me if it was difficult to see our last child finish high school. And it’s not, not really. The harder part is watching Emma in her last role, because the studio has been (literally, it seems) her second home.

    We love you, sweetheart, and are so proud of you! Break a leg!

  • RIP, Scotty Moore

    "Elvis Presley wouldn't have been Elvis Presley without Scotty Moore."

    Of all the musicians who've died this year, this may be the toughest one yet. Scotty Moore, who played lead guitar on all of Presley’s biggest hits of the 1950s and early 1960s, died yesterday In Nashville at age 84.

    Moore and bassist Bill Black were part of Presley’s original band that started on Sun Records and moved over to RCA in 1956 after cutting a string of singles that are now considered the foundation of rock and roll. Even though the two left in a money dispute in 1958, Moore returned after Presley’s Army stint ended in 1960 and continued to play for him all the way through to Elvis’ comeback special in 1968.

    The following year, Presley (without Moore) recorded “From Elvis in Memphis” and started touring again regularly for the first time in almost a decade. Ironically, his “From Elvis in Memphis” producer, Chips Moman, also died earlier this year.

    The list of musicians that Moore influenced and the genre he helped develop is staggering. Among the guitarists who cite him as a direct influence: Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and the White Stripes’ Jack White.

    Take a moment and watch Presley perform “Trying to Get to You” with Moore in this clip from the 68 Comeback Special. Presley started off acoustic, then traded guitars with Moore and lit the place on fire.

  • Random Thoughts: Early Summer Edition

    Random thoughts from the past few days. The first one is serious and deserves serious debate. The rest? Not so much...

    • After the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas involving police officers and African-American men, I scanned my Facebook feed and had this thought: “Summer vacations. Anger. Beach trips. Grief. Family birthdays. Shouting and rage. Tears of sadness and joy. TBTs and FBFs. A stark reminder that life matters. All lives matter. ALL.”

    • If Opus and Bill don't get on the ticket, then here is a logical alternative...

    • That moment when your cat sounds like he's chewing his dry food a little too loudly, then you realize he's just trying to bathe himself. Ick...

    • How someone can use the phrase "getaway" with regard to holiday traffic is beyond me.

    • Start of summer exchange heard in households around the world...

    — Child: "But nothing bad happened!"

    — Parent Auto-Reply: "This time..."

  • Feline in Flight

    Earlier today, I posted to Facebook that I spent most of my morning rushing to get a cat to the airport, ending with, “It’s a long story.” Since the post generated the expected “WTH?!?” response, I thought I’d explain.

    Jill’s cousins, Brian and Elise Hodges, left their cat with us last month as they embarked on a long journey that eventually landed them in Chicago. The plan was to send the cat back to them when they made it to the Windy City.

    The best plans, as they say. The problem was that the cat, who has been cared for like a child since Brian and Elise acquired her, had to go to the vet before she could get on an airplane. So Brian, who is very attached to the cat, arranged for someone to come pick her up and drive her to Chicago rather than inconvenience us.

    That, unfortunately, was the day after a series of horrible storms, and the driver contacted Brian to say he had two trees in his driveway and would be unable to drive Tatau to Chicago. They agreed to reschedule for Wednesday, but the driver never showed up.

    Which brings us to Plan B.

    We took the cat to the vet, got the certificates and the shots and everything else, and Brian scheduled the flight for this morning. Except there was one more problem: The carrier we had did not meet the FAA requirements.

    So, with the cat scheduled to be at National Airport at 11:45, I found myself sitting outside a pet store to get the right carrier. And, guess what? The store owner informed me that he didn’t have the required bowl and water bottle in stock.

    At 10:35, I made a mad dash through weekend “getaway” traffic — ha! — to another pet superstore, which I rapidly discerned was the feline equivalent of a Home Depot (aka 7th circle of hell). I managed to get the carrier and appropriate feeder/waterer and made the mad dash home, where Jill and Emma were trying to keep a by now very suspicious cat from running like the wind.

    Confused cat stuffed in carrier, I headed to the cargo depot at National Airport. Thankfully there are signs, but it was somehow less simple than “over the river, through the woods, past grandma’s house and take a left at the light.”

    At 11:44, I dashed into the cargo hold, cat and carrier in hand. And then I proceeded to wait for 25 minutes for the intake person to return to her desk and start filling out the paperwork. The last time I saw that many things to initial and sign was when I bought my house.

    The clerk informed me that she gets seven or eight dogs to every cat that is shipped off, explaining that's why she continued to call Tatau a puppy despite obvious appearances to the contrary. Combine this with the fact that Jill and I have called Tatau a "he" many more times than we've called her a "she" over the past month, and it would not be a surprise to see kitty therapy in Brian and Elise's future.

    To complicate matters further, a gentle giant — all 6 foot and 350 plus pounds of him — came inside the office, took one look inside the cage and stuck his face down in the gate. “What a pretty kitty,” he said in a deceptively high voice. The cat, I’m sure, twitched a little.

    Mounds of paperwork later, I left the cat behind, off to a new life with his owners in Chicago. Several hours later, she arrived at O’Hare, only to wait another two hours before Brian could be allowed to pick her up to go home.

    And so, ladies and gentlemen, that is the saga of how an 8-pound, 3-ounce cat moved from Northern Virginia to Chicago. Below, I’ve provided you with an illustration of what she looked like before (and likely after) the flight. I can’t even begin to tell you how the humans probably look.

  • A Father's Legacy

    The past 10 days included our 20th wedding anniversary, a prom, awards ceremony, baccalaureate service, graduation, graduation parties, Jill's 2+ day trip to Colorado, three roundtrips to National Airport in a 24-hour period, family members coming in from out of town and state, Orlando, the Tony Awards, the NBA Finals (wow, game 7), shooting MSA's graduation, finishing two freelance pieces, and putting up a small exhibit in the Associate Artists gallery.

    Oh, and there was this thing called Father's Day, too.

    Normally, I would get all sentimental around this time, in part because I truly wish my father was here to see all that our kids have accomplished in their (relatively) short time on this planet. Not a day goes by that I don't think of what he's missing by not being here.

    I can't help but think he would marvel at the swirl of activity that envelops our lives, just as Jill's parents would. He would tell us to slow down, if even for a second, because he never seemed to like moving quickly.

    At different times during this past week, I took a moment to look at each of my four kids who, because of circumstances, were all together for the first time in a year. In every case, I saw bits and pieces of my dad in each of them. It was a comforting reminder that, even though he's not here in physical form, his legacy lives on.

    Love and miss you, Dad.

  • The Niche of Extremism

    ex•trem•ist (n): a person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.

    This term has taken on new meaning in 2016. Just look around you. Visit your news feed on Facebook. Look at the vitriol on the campaign trail. For every good moment that we witness, for every proud graduate that we watch crossing the stage, for every small victory that someone has when he or she manages to get out of bed in the morning, we watch helplessly as extremists take over the conversation.

    Sunday morning’s tragedy in Orlando shows us yet again the best and worst in people. It brings the same outpouring of grief and compassion that we saw in the wake of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Paris, and too many others to count. It brings the same number of talking head “experts” onto cable television to fill the airwaves. It brings out the writers (me included) and so-called analysts who feel compelled to weigh in.

    With what? Opinions. Conjecture. Speculation about motives. The why, why why.

    Why?

    The extremists show no signs of letting go, willing to use isolation and intolerance as their comfort food. Extremists thrive on attention. That’s why it takes a mass shooting to temporarily lift us out of our self-imposed food comas and look at the world around us.

    The first word that came to mind when I saw the news this morning was “Horrible.” I saw the horrible tweet that came from Dan Patrick’s Twitter feed, followed by the wave of condemnation. I saw Donald Trump’s narcissistic “I was right” statement, still in shock that he has a one-in-two chance of being the leader of our country. I’ve seen God’s name used to justify beliefs from all sides — the pro-gun community, the anti-gun community, the LGBT community, the Fundamentalist community, the Muslim community.

    That’s part of the problem. We’ve become so strongly identified with our niches, our think-alike communities, that we can’t seem to take a step back in our day-to-day lives and look at the bigger picture.

    I don’t disagree with a person’s right to bear arms, but I don’t understand why anyone believes it should be easier to get a gun than a driver’s license.

    I don’t understand why someone who identifies as transgender, and is willing to be above board and brave in the face of bigotry and misunderstanding, can’t go to the damn bathroom of his/her choice.

    You can agree or disagree with me on those issues and countless others, but can't we do so in a civil manner? Or is that impossible in today's extremist world?

    Come on, folks. We’re better than this. We can’t let the extremists on either side win.

  • MSA Senior Showcase Set

    Twenty-one high school seniors affiliated with Metropolitan School of the Arts will graduate later this month. Most also will perform in a special senior showcase scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the MSA studio in Alexandria.

    Our daughter, Emma, has been a part of the studio since early elementary school, so this will be one of the last opportunities she has to perform in a MSA show. As a parent, I’ve been fortunate to watch many of these kids — now young adults — grow up and flourish as performers and people. As a photographer, I’ve also been fortunate to take many of their headshots and senior pictures as they get ready to go to college.

    Late last month, on a drizzly Saturday morning, we went out for a shoot with the seniors that will be featured in a video to start the show. You can see some here. Come back next week to look at what I take at the senior speeches scheduled after the showcase.

  • Congratulations, Nick!

    Congratulations to Nick for completing a 28.3 mile walk and raising more than $3,300 as part of the Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge. It took him 13 hours to finish the walk in what was "by far, the most exhilarating and rewarding (and exhausting) experience." Thanks to all who donated.

  • 20 Years

    20 years. Where has the time gone? It has flown by so fast, and today, our last child finishes her last day of high school and goes to prom.

    20 years of memories, travels, adventures, happy times and (a few) heartbreaks. Four young adults we've worked to raise.

    20 years. Happy anniversary to the great love of my life. Here's to many more adventures together.

  • The First and Last Day

    Dear Emma:

    I took pictures of you on your first day of kindergarten (top left), first grade and many other first days since. This morning, I had the chance to take a photo on your last day of high school.

    Two schools, 13 years, more late nights than anyone cares to count. Your mom and I could not be prouder of you and all you have done. We can't wait to see what happens in the next chapter of your life.

    Love, Dad

  • RIP to "The Greatest"

    Here is one of my favorite photos, and one that never ran anywhere, all because I could not get the little boy’s name at the time. I was assigned to take photos and write a story about an appearance by Muhammad Ali at a Texas City hotel, where he spoke briefly and signed copies of “Prayer and Al-Islam” in 1985.

    Ali, who had been diagnosed the previous year with Parkinson’s Disease, was starting to show signs of the disease that would rob him of his rapid-fire speech. But he shook hands, visited and listened to everyone who was there, in awe of his aura. He also kissed a few babies, including this one.

    Running around taking pictures, I didn’t think to get the name of the baby, and went back to the newspaper to develop the film. When I I knew who the police officer was (Willie Mitchell) and figured that I wouldn’t need it. My boss disagreed and refused to run it, choosing instead what I still consider to be an inferior photo.

    Several days later, I took a copy of the photo to Mitchell and told him I was sad that it hadn’t run. “I wish you’d called me,” he said. “I could have told you who that was. It’s Thomas Carter’s grandson.”

    Carter was a city commissioner in my hometown and an English teacher at College of the Mainland. I took him a copy of the photo when I went to a commissioners’ meeting later that year. At some point, I went by his office at COM and saw it on his desk.

    So I guess it went where it was supposed to go.

    RIP: Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest.”

  • Weather & Random Thoughts

    Weather and other unrelated random thoughts from a waterlogged brain....

    Dear Mother Nature:

    Shrek called. He wants his swamp back.

    Sincerely, Donkey

    p.s. Please stop being such a pain in the ass.

    ••••••

    • It's been so wet and rainy here that I thought briefly about building an ark. Then I quickly realized Trump would want the naming rights and ditched that plan.

    • Mixing politics and Broadway: Sondheim should write a sequel to "Assassins" and call it "Casting Stones," featuring characters playing Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr.

    • At what point does ambition segue into nostalgia?

  • Stage Dad: Farewell, Tuck...

    “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” the first number in Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate,” is a famous show business anthem. Performed by the ensemble, the self-referential song is “a chance for stage folks to say hello” while also conveying the uncertainty that comes with opening a new show in front of an audience.

    “Another job that you hope will last/Will make your future forget your past/Another pain where the ulcers grow/Another op’nin of another show.”

    Just over a month ago, as “Tuck Everlasting” opened on Broadway, I found myself humming that song and wondering how long this small, family-friendly story would last in a crowded New York marketplace. It was the first time Ben had been in the opening of a Broadway show since “Ragtime” in November 2009, but the circumstances were much different then.

    At the time, our son was just 11 (he turned 12 during the run). We had to get an apartment in the city and soon found our lives turned upside down in one of the most thrilling, confounding and, at times, scary periods we would have as a family.

    With “Tuck,” Ben was 18 and striking out as a true — at least in the legal sense — adult for the first time.

    The whispers started within a few days after “Tuck” opened to largely positive reviews, including a rave in the New York Times. The box office was not good. Ticket sales were stagnant. Expenses were high with the recording of the show’s soundtrack — due out June 3 on iTunes — and the creation of a video B-roll to promote “Tuck.” A decision to rely on social media and avoid print advertising almost entirely did not make sense, but I attributed that to being an old print guy.

    The bump you’d expect in the first week after opening never happened, and a disappointing showing when the Tony nominations were announced did not bode well.

    Three weeks of steady drizzle did not help either, forcing the postponement of a potential buzz-generating “Today Show” appearance three times. In one of the busiest seasons for new musicals in years, one that is nonetheless dominated by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, much-beloved “Hamilton,” it was proving to be a harsh uphill climb.

    The day after the “Today Show” appearance, the producers decided to pull the plug. “Tuck,” the little show that could — and did — make it to Broadway, would not last until Memorial Day.

    Why do shows that are so good, so rich and thought-provoking in their themes and execution, seem doomed to short runs?

    It’s an age-old question that is answered, simply, with the phrase: “Broadway is a business.” And any business that doesn’t make money can run for only so long before it closes. When you’re looking at a show that spends hundreds of thousands a week just to keep the doors open, the risk/reward ratio makes even investing in such a proposition a daunting prospect. Just ask the producers of “American Psycho” or “Disaster,” two other new musicals that have met similar fates within the past month.

    “Tuck’s” brief life was not due to a tainted spring or a man in a yellow suit, but to a fate that was an all-too-familiar flashback to “Ragtime.” No matter how entertaining the show was, how noble its themes and intent, the money talked.

    On its final weekend, Emma and several of Ben’s friends from Northern Virginia went to New York to see "Tuck" while Jill and I went to the graduation events for our niece, Margaret, in North Carolina. Jill and I had a lovely time, but I kept thinking back to the days leading up to the “Ragtime” closing.

    I remembered following Ben from our apartment on West 54th to the Neil Simon Theater just a few blocks away. It was a bright, sunny, and not horribly cold January Sunday. I took a picture of him walking down Broadway with tears in my eyes, feeling lost for my son. No one in our family knew what would happen next.

    It has been a fascinating ride since then. Still, when something like this — such a heady, overwhelming mix of euphoria, sadness, joy and confusion — happens to your child, you can’t help but be touched by it. And each subsequent time it occurs touches you in some different way.

    The same could be said for parenting. It never gets easier, just different. Your hopes and dreams for your children don’t evaporate even as they evolve with each experience. And they are still capable of bringing tears to your eyes at a moment’s notice.

    On our way home from North Carolina, I found the picture I took on the day “Ragtime” closed and noted how things have changed over the past six-plus years.

    “Today,” the Facebook/Instagram post read, “he made a similar trip for the final performance of ‘Tuck Everlasting,’ this time from his apartment and for the first time as an adult. We love you, son, and just like that day when I followed you as a 12-year-old into an uncertain future, I can't wait to see what happens for you next.”

  • A Mother Nature PSA

    Dear Mother Nature:

    Your ongoing three-week decision to drizzle and mist all over the Eastern Seaboard may be a response to the ongoing presidential debacle. Could it be your attempt to show voters that life is not black and white, but really overwhelmingly gray?

    Perhaps it is a perverse desire to boost the fortunes of over-the-counter drug companies everywhere. Or could it be a slow protest of the fact that Hamilton will sweep the Tonys?

    Whatever the reason, the undersigned allergy sufferers of the world would like to politely ask you to PLEASE STOP THE MADNESS NOW. Or better yet, let the sunshine in.

    Sincerely,
    Everyone.

  • Back to Summerton

    Note: Today is the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to the desegregation of America's schools. For the 50th anniversary, I made several trips to Summerton, S.C., where the first of the five cases that led to Brown was filed. Last month, for the first time in more than a decade, I returned to Summerton. This is what I observed.

    If you would prefer to read this report in PDF form, download it here. To see the previous stories I filed for the Brown v. Board anniversary, go to my Award-Winning Stories section.

    For someone who doesn’t like cars much, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

    Between commuting and long rides to far-flung places, the miles are starting to add up. I have to take my wallet out of my pocket, just like my dad did, or my back starts to hurt. I need to get out and stretch more often, even though that adds time to the drive.

    I was thinking about these and many other things as I moved our daughter’s things home from Florida to Northern Virginia — a 900-plus mile commute — last month in a Budget rental van. Because the van’s top speed was 70 mph, no matter what the law allowed, common sense dictated that the ride needed to be broken up into two longish days.

    The advantage was that I had time to think and ponder. I also could stop to take pictures at several places along the way.

    One such place was a return visit to Summerton, S.C.

    First to Footnote

    Sixty-six years ago, a group of black residents from South Carolina’s Low Country filed a lawsuit that eventually would change history. Four years and one day later, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court made sure of that.

    The court decision in Brown v. Board of Education led to the eventual desegregation of our nation’s public schools and helped spark for the Civil Rights Movement. The roots of Brown, however, started in Summerton, a fact that is better known now than it was when I first went there in the fall of 2003, if only slightly.

    I was collaborating with a longtime friend, Cecile Holmes, and a group of her journalism students from the University of South Carolina. Cecile grew up in Columbia, about an hour from Summerton, and as a longtime religion editor, was interested in the role of African-American pastors in the fight against segregation. I was interested in the history and in the effect it had on education in the Clarendon District 1.

    Working with Cecile’s students, we went to Summerton seven times between September and December 2003 to learn about the community, its schools and what led to the lawsuit. The results of our collaboration were published in my magazine, American School Board Journal, as part of a 50-page special report marking the Brown anniversary.

    My story, “From First to Footnote,” looked at events before and after Briggs v. Elliott, the first of the five cases that eventually became Brown. The legal action started in 1947, when petitioners led by the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine sought a bus so black children would not have to walk as many as nine miles each way to school.

    A subsequent lawsuit, filed by farmer Levi Pearson, was dismissed, but service station attendant Harry Briggs and his wife, Eliza, sued to challenge the “separate but equal” status of blacks. They were represented by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

    For the story, we conducted extensive interviews with DeLaine’s children as well as current Clarendon officials and Joe Elliott, the grandson of the school board chairman named in the lawsuit. At the end, Joseph DeLaine Jr. — the torch bearer for his father and the lawsuit — said he might have to reach out to Elliott, who found himself ostracized when he started speaking in favor of integration.

    It was a small sign of hope at the end of a long and tortuous saga, one that saw families lose their jobs and homes. DeLaine Sr.’s church was burned by segregationists; he fled the state and never returned. U.S. District Judge Walter Waring, who supported the plaintiffs, was forced to resign his position and leave South Carolina altogether.

    Kill ‘Em and Leave

    The year after the Brown v. Board decision, a man from Barnwell, S.C., released the first of his many hit singles and embarked on a fractured version of the American dream. James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” released in 1955, started a six-decade career that saw him crowned as the “Godfather of Soul,” the father of funk and the forefather of hip-hop. He is the most sampled artist of all time.

    Brown’s childhood — he was born to a teenage mother in a small wooden shack near the Georgia border, about 100 miles northwest of Summerton — was not unlike many black children in the South. Growing up in extreme poverty, moving from town to town and house to house, he left school after the sixth grade, had a brief career as a boxer, and spent time in a juvenile detention center after a robbery conviction.

    “Nothing is simple when you’re poor,” author James McBride writes in Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. “Poverty, for example is very loud. It’s full of traffic, cussing, drinking, fisticuffs, wrong sex, anguish, embarrassments, and psychic wounds that feed all sorts of inner ailments and create lots of loose ends.”

    What makes McBride’s book, released this spring, such a fascinating and gripping read is that it’s not a traditional biography, but a series of profiles of the people who played a role in Brown’s life. What emerges from the book is a man full of contradictions, driven by such an unshakable fear of loss that he trusted no one.

    “Behind the looking glass, behind the bluff and the ranting, the rages, the hollering, and the shouting, was a man so torn by conflict that he snuck off to smoke cigarettes so that no one would see him,” McBride writes. “Here was a man who rarely drank or cursed or let down his guard in public — which meant in front of people, in front of anyone, period; an incredibly lonely, overwrought, and sensitive man. A man who lived alone inside himself.”

    On one hand, Brown valued the promise of education for poor children — black and white — and helped calm communities inflamed by violence during the Civil Rights Movement. On the other, he treated his band members, wives, and children terribly and distrusted banks so that he left gigs with paper bags stuffed with cash.

    “If you want to keep your money,” he told one of his band members, “bury it in your yard.”

    No Outsiders

    I was in a rental car with Illinois plates the first time I drove through Summerton in the fall of 2003. We were just starting our reporting, and I wanted to get a feel for the place before we met with DeLaine’s children. I quickly found that outsiders weren’t welcome.

    As I drove down U.S. 301 and then onto Main Street, a police car pulled in behind me. I was heading toward the old Scott’s Branch High School, where there’s a small marker honoring the original plaintiffs, and had moved into the “other side of town.”

    The patrol car’s lights flickered and I pulled over. The officer checked my driver’s license and asked what I was doing. I explained and then was allowed to leave, but the random check shook me. The officer looked me in the eye and told me to “be careful”; I wasn’t sure what he meant.

    This past April, no one stopped me as I drove down the same street in the moving van. I’m not sure if folks weren’t paying attention, or whether the fact that the van had Georgia plates on it was a sign.

    Eventually, I found my way to Liberty AME Church, the site where the original petition that became Briggs v. Elliott was signed. I had to navigate around roads that were partially or fully closed due to floods last fall that devastated the Low Country. Even though 19 people died statewide in what was described as a 1,000 year flood, no one from Clarendon County perished. Many lost homes and property, however.

    As several men worked in and around the church, I introduced myself to the Rev. Robert China, who became Liberty Hill’s pastor in November 2014. China, a South Carolina native who is not from Clarendon County, showed me around the church and talked about the hardships of his parishoners. He showed me with pride the original petition, which was framed and hanging on the wall.

    “There are a bunch of roads still out, even though it’s been six months,” he said, referring to the flooding. “You’d think they could have done something to fix them and help our folks get back on their feet, but that’s not how it seems to work around here.”

    China talked about the church members attending a play In Charleston on the case, and how a museum in nearby Sumter is featuring an exhibit on Briggs v. Elliott. Later, when I mentioned that Joe DeLaine Jr. and Joe Elliott appeared on a panel together after the play, one of the church members shook his head.

    “Well, what do you know? I guess time does change some things.”

    Words, Context Matter

    In May 2004, after my magazine story was published, Cecile invited me to speak at a Brown v. Board panel in Columbia. Also on the panel was Edwin Darden, a longtime friend and colleague who has taught me more about race and race relations than I would have imagined possible.

    Ed, who was raised in New York City, has worked with schools for years, helping to ensure that boards, administrators and teachers look at education through an equity lens. We don’t always agree, in part I’m sure due to our backgrounds and past experiences, but my trust and respect for his opinion is paramount.

    I took Ed to the Summerton Diner, the white restaurant in the middle of town. Despite the mid-May humidity, there was a palpable chill in the room. The waitress was polite, but like the officer I had met months before, it was obvious that Ed — who is African American — and I weren’t necessarily welcome. When we left, he was visibly shaken; at the time, I’m not sure I fully understood why.

    You could say that children of my generation don’t know what it’s like to be part of a segregated education system. At 51, I’m part of the first group of students who went to integrated public schools starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so if you’re threading the needle of the truth, you would not necessarily be inaccurate.

    But as one of my first editors reminded me: “Words matter.” More important, as Ed likes to say, “Context matters.”

    Race and Power

    Naively, I grew up thinking that integration was how things worked, that segregation and overt racism were going away. After all, wasn’t that the law?

    My hometown district was racially mixed, increasingly so as I moved from grade to grade. The prism I used to evaluate people was not based on skin color, but on attitudes, work ethic, and the like. As a kid, I had no frame of reference or understanding about the deep, ingrained attitudes and beliefs of the people around me.

    I was reminded of that again that day with Ed at the Summerton Diner.

    Even though institutionalized racism was no longer legal, the institution had not been taken away completely. Far from it, in fact. And all it takes is one look at the many regressive practices and policies of the past two decades to see what should have been obvious all along.

    Racism, at its very core, is about power.

    It’s about holding on to power and using it to control others. It’s about dictating movement in the status quo on your terms, a distorted version of “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And when that power is threatened, when the shifts in the status quo go against our beliefs and values, we fight rather than adapt. At that point, power matters more than words or context ever could.

    Thank God some people — in Clarendon County, in Topeka, Kansas, and in other places across the U.S. — chose to fight the power.

    POSTSCRIPT:

    Thirteen years after my first visit, Summerton remains the best example of time moving slowly in small Southern towns. If you read my story, “From First to Footnote,” about the Briggs v. Elliott case, you might be interested to know what has happened to many of the sources mentioned in the piece.

    • In September 2004, Congressional Gold Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously to Harry and Eliza Briggs, the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine, and Levi Pearson.

    • DeLaine’s children — Joseph Jr., Ophelia, and Brumit — spent years talking about the case and its impact on their family. Joe DeLaine Jr., 82, who served on the presidential commission that oversaw the 50th anniversary commemoration of Brown, lives in Charlotte and remains active with the BDP Foundation, the nonprofit that is working to help educate Clarendon school children about the case and improve opportunities for the district’s students. Ophelia DeLaine, now 79 and living in Florida, wrote a book on her father and the case. Dawn of Desegregation was published by the University of South Carolina Press in December 2011 and remains in print. Brumit, also known as B.B., died in 2012 after several years of poor health.

    • The Levine Museum of the New South’s interactive exhibit, “Courage: The Vision to End Segregation, The Guts to Fight for It” debuted in Charlotte in 2004 and was shown in New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and other locations before returning to Charlotte again in 2011. It is on display now at a museum in Sumter, S.C.

    • U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, whose dissent in the original Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit was the first against “separate but equal” schools and served as the foundation for Brown, was honored with a life-sized statue at the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., in 2014.

    • Sadly, it’s no surprise that desegregation failed miserably. Today, signs in Summerton point you to Clarendon Hall, a private, almost all-white school promoting “Excellence in Education in a Christian Environment.” No mention of Briggs v. Elliott is found on the Summerton website, although you can read about it on the Clarendon County website. 

    • The public school district, Clarendon 1, is all but ignored. But thanks to the efforts of Rose Wilder, who was recognized as South Carolina’s Superintendent of the Year in 2014, Clarendon 1 now is the second highest performing among South Carolina’s high poverty schools.

    The ongoing challenge for the district, in addition to the high poverty rates of many of its students, is to increase enrollment. Because Clarendon County's overall population has declined, so has enrollment, which is down by more than 30 percent over the past decade and now stands at just under 900 students. 

    The district has started advertising with billboards along Interstate 95, using the theme “Come Grow With Us.” Ironically, a majority of the children on the advertisements are white.

  • Post-Opening Random Thoughts

    Post-New York randoms a week after Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway:

    • Master of the Obvious: Well, that was a trip I won’t soon forget.

    • The best part of the trip was getting to spend some quality alone time with my boys. I don’t get to do that enough.

    • The second best part was seeing my son do what he loves, and seeing his siblings happy to be part of the experience. We missed Kate not being there, though.

    • Watching a friend tap dance while Jon Dee Graham played an instrumental in the basement of the Hill Country BBQ was NOT the most surreal part of the trip. Close, but not quite.

    • When people are obviously trying to listen to acoustic music in a small venue, I don’t know why some feel an uncontrollable urge to turn up their inner frat-boy volume to 11.

    • I've was in way too many photos last week and not behind the camera enough. There is something wrong with this picture...

    • Things I thought I'd never say: I agree with John Boener on something. But then he had to bring up Ted Cruz.

    • Riding a bus home is OK until you get stuck in traffic and someone decides to leave the spicy burrito they ate in the bathroom 3 rows back.

    • People are bipolar. Mother Nature is not. Not sure what she is exactly, but that's a different story.

    • NYC tourist tango: 1, 2, 3 ... GAWK! 1, 2, 3 ... GAWK!

    •••••••

    Two more observations, all with accompanying art…

    • If our cats could speak English, they'd say, "See? We told you, this stuff is real..."

    • Kids, this is appropriate... (And yes, my mom did send it to me.)

  • Another Week, Another RIP

    For some reason, I’ve been having trouble writing about the death of Prince. So many words have been said and so much purple ink spilled that there really isn’t much more that I can contribute.

    But damn, that dude was talented. All you have to do is watch his Super Bowl halftime show.

    No matter what you thought about Prince, he was a visionary in the music world. Like David Bowie, he mixed fashion, androgyny, funk, and throwback rock and roll into an always fascinating stew.

    The results pushed the entire music industry in directions it did not anticipate; who would have thought he could almost turn Tipper Gore into a Republican? (If you don’t believe me, look it up.)

    ••••••

    I wish 2016 would just let up when it comes to the deaths of people I’ve admired and appreciated as a fan of music and the performing arts. If I was a popular performer in the 1970s and '80s, I'd be more than a little scared. (Unless my name was Keith Richards, of course.)

    ••••••

    Here are some excerpts from a Rolling Stone interview with Paul Westerberg after Prince’s death. The two were acquaintances who played the same clubs in Minneapolis; Westerberg also recorded at Prince’s studio, Paisley Park, after The Replacements broke up.

    • He was like a ray of light in a very cautious place. He was a star. He made no bones about it. He was glitz to a place that wasn't used to it. I remember a little scuffle broke out in front of the stage one night and Prince said, "Stop fighting, you'll mess up your clothes."

    • People like to paint him as a reclusive this or that; I think he was genuinely truly, truly shy. But one thing says a lot about him: I was there making a solo record a few years later, and I got a message that said that my friend had just died. I was truly rattled, and the next time I went back into the studio, he had filled it up with balloons. Now I'm gonna cry.

    • I've spent more time with Bob Dylan, and I've got to say that I was more in awe of Prince. I can't think of anyone better – an all-around composer, musician, guitarist, star, showman, the whole package, anyone better. If Elvis wrote all of his songs and played guitar, it still wouldn't quite be there.

    • When I got word today, I was trying to write a song. I put it down. I found myself walking up to the store, and I bought myself a handful of colorful clothes. I was just drawn to do something that he would have done.

    ••••••

    My favorite post on this topic:

    Dear 2016,

    If you give us back Prince, Merle Haggard, David Bowie and Alan Rickman we will gladly give you the top 4 presidential candidates in return.

    Sincerely,

    Everyone

    ••••••

    An appropriate song, given the type of year we’ve been having.

     

  • Stage Dad: A New Chapter

    Opening night for "Tuck Everlasting" is finally (almost) here, the culmination of almost three months filled with firsts for the boy.

    Tomorrow, we have the chance to see Ben perform during the opening of an original Broadway musical. At 18, he also is making his “adult” debut in the ensemble at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City.

    What makes this a unique experience for Ben, besides the "adult" part and living on his own in the city, is this is the first time he has been part of the cast of an original musical in New York. "Ragtime," in 2009, was a revival. "Billy Elliot" had already been running for more than a year on Broadway when he joined the ensemble. On the "Billy" and "Newsies" tours, he went through the tech process, but both of those shows were already established and much of the music/script/choreography had been locked in by the creative team.

    A new musical, even one that had been performed out of town, is much different.

    Five weeks of rehearsals were followed by almost a month of previews as the creative team continued to tweak and polish “Tuck,” which is based on the acclaimed children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt. Tim Federle, a wonderful writer and family friend who was one of Ben's mentors on "Billy," was brought in to contribute to the book. Music has been added, polished, and cut. Much of the choreography is new.

    That’s the reason the preview process is so important, because it gives the show a chance to be performed for audiences to see what works and what doesn’t before it is formally locked in.

    Chances are that if you saw “Tuck” in the first week or two of previews that what you’ll see now is different. It’s certainly been different for Ben, who is on stage quite a bit as an ensemble member and had not gone through one of those periods as a performer. (He was an understudy during the “Ragtime” revival.)

    What makes this period so grueling for the actors, creatives, and crew is that you are essentially doing two shows a day, six days a week. During the preview period, “Tuck” has been running on a nontraditional schedule, with Sundays instead of Mondays off.

    On single performance days, you typically arrive around noon to make adjustments and run through the show, take a break around 5 and then return two hours later to do it again for the preview audience. (Wednesdays and Saturdays are two show days.) Meanwhile, Ben is understudying two roles — Jesse Tuck and Hugo — and is learning their parts on stage.

    Also over the past month, the show has hosted legendary theatre photographer Joan Marcus, who captured the in-performance images that are at the top of this piece, and shot performance footage for a “B-roll” that will be used for promotion purposes.

    Finally, on Sunday, the cast gathered in a recording studio to record the score’s soundtrack, which will be available digitally on June 10 and in stores on July 1. That was another first for the boy.

    And so now it’s almost time. Another opening, another show. Proud family members in the audience. Others rooting for Ben from close and afar.

    There’s a certain “déjà vu all over again” feeling … and we couldn’t be more proud.

    Break a leg, son. 

    A couple of additional things to note:

    • It has been so wonderful to see the large number of friends and extended family who’ve come to see the show during the preview period. Cast members from “Billy Elliot” and “Newsies,” as well as friends from Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan, already have seen “Tuck.” I hope you’ll consider a trip, too.

    Dave Mack, a New York-based photographer, videographer and musician, is working at the Broadhurst Theatre and has been taking a series of beautiful portraits backstage. Here are a couple.

  • I Am Not Homeless, or a Guitar Player

    Willie Nelson joke: "You know what they call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless."

    Fortunately, this is not (NOT) a RIP message for Willie, just something I picked up while waiting for my daughter's brakes to be fixed on a Saturday afternoon of never-ending errands. I'm thankful that I'm not writing another tribute to someone who has died because there have been way too many instances of that already this year.

    I'm also thankful that I have someone I can call my spouse/girlfriend/best friend (all the same person, in case you want to make a snarky remark). 20 years into this, she overlooks those moments when I'm tone deaf and encourages me to pursue my quirky dreams.

    Thanks my dear Jill for all of the above, and doing everything you do to keep a roof over our heads. I love you.

  • Help Nick and Make-A-Wish

    As many of you know, my oldest son Nicholas has a younger sister, Bella, who lives in Greensboro and has Down’s Syndrome. Although she has since received a clean bill of health, Bella fought through a tough cancer battle several years ago. It was during that time that the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave his North Carolina family an opportunity to go to Disney World in 2013.

    “It was a long, trying, and emotional two years,” Nick wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. “She pushed through it though and is one of the strongest, most resilient little fighters I know. I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to be the big brother of this little inspiration.”

    Nick, kind and gentle soul that he is, has since been a supporter of the Make-A-Wish, including fundraisers with his college acapella group, Vital Signs. On June 3, he will hike 28.3 miles of the Foothills Trail in one day for the Make-A-Wish Central & Western North Carolina. He already has hit his $1,700 fundraising goal, but is still accepting donations to meet a personal goal of $2,500.

    “No child should have to go through what Bella's gone through. But for those that do, having their wish granted gives them and the family a break from it all, enriching lives with strength, joy and hope, an opportunity to smile,” Nick