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  • Reading on Paper

    Thought for a Monday: After weeks of thinking about issues surrounding the publishing industry, I started writing an essay on my laptop at a Starbucks, surrounded by people sitting with their laptops streaming videos, working on spreadsheets, holding conference calls, and browsing the Internet.

    The digitization of our senses, no question, is here to stay, as is the mobility that digitization provides. The beauty of constant connectivity means we don’t have to be stuck to our chairs in an office from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (or longer) every day to get our work done.

    At the same time, we all speak longingly of a time when we were not so plugged in, when the last thing we did before going to sleep was brush our teeth rather than check our email or Facebook. Nostalgic parents think back to those days when our teenagers bowed their heads at the dinner table for some reason other than to check their latest text message or Snapchat.

    Take 5 seconds to think about this: When was the last time you sat down on a Sunday morning and relaxed with a cup of coffee to read the newspaper?

    (Pause...)

    My point exactly. We all need to do more of it...

  • Reader's Block

    I promise that I’ll read another book, and I’m pretty sure it will be sometime this year.  But beyond that, I give you no guarantees.

    It’s not that I don’t have interesting things to read. Sitting on my shelves now are the recent Jonathan Franzen novel, the Keith Richards autobiography, a biography of Mickey Mantle, and the last two Jonathan Tropper novels I need to read before I’m all caught up with his oeuvre. And there is “The Girl with the…” series that is just there, waiting.

    And right now, my response is, “Eh…”

    I’ve always been a reader. My mom loves to tell the story of how she brought her 4½-year-old son to read to her first-graders, so books and I date back a few years. But right now, I couldn’t finish a picture book for pleasure if I tried.

    This happens. I go through stretches with my nose buried in a book — sometimes more than one at a time — and then I just stop. Like that.

    I still read, of course, given that I’m an editor for a living. And I love browsing bookstores — that loud sigh you heard came from me when Borders filed for bankruptcy last week. But lately I haven’t felt like doing that, either.

    The same applies to writing for pleasure. This blog has been a wonderful outlet for more than a year, but it — like reading — comes in fits and starts. Five entries in five days, and then nothing for a month. It's not like I'm lacking things to write about — hell, I collect ideas like some people collect dolls (obviously I’ve seen too much “Hoarders” recently). I jot down a few notes and then…

    Well, it just depends on where my brain is at the time.

    The advantage to having a number of creative interests — writing, photography, music, reading, theatre — is that I can stop in on occasion and not get bored. I hope you’ll stick with me, because I’ll be back soon.

    Unless I pick up a good book, that is.

  • Everything Changes

    Sometimes it takes a little while for things to hit me. I usually prefer to keep a respectful distance between my emotions and the rest of my daily life.

    Occasionally, however, I get blindsided at the most unusual times for reasons I rarely understand at the moment. When I do, it feels being hit by the wave you see in the opening credits to “Hawaii Five-O” (original, remake, and Emma’s TV show of the season).

    That happened this past weekend, another you can file under the familial "One to Remember" category. Fracturing the time line, let’s start with Monday afternoon, when I went to the pool near our house.

    Memorial Day is the ceremonial start of summer in Northern Virginia, the time when the various suburban HOAs decide it’s finally time to open the community pools. Freezing cold or scorching hot, families flock with their towels and sunscreen and stake claims to the lawn chairs. Some, like us, you will rarely see; others won’t leave until Labor Day.

    I took a book — one of several I’ve been trying to read unsuccessfully for the past several months — and a seat next to Jill while Kate played with some friends.

    The title — Everything Changes.

    ••••••

    The pool and book were a nice way to end a weekend that at times felt more like Groundhog Day (the movie) than Memorial Day (the holiday). On a 900-mile roundtrip that lasted just over 48 hours, I watched as my oldest graduated from high school and my wife and brother-in-law took care of their ailing father.

    It was an explicit reminder that we officially are part of the Sandwich Generation, even if our hoagie feels open faced/ended and overwhelmed by condiments. (And that was before I managed to rekindle old ties in the most unlikely of places…)

    Because he is the family’s oldest child (and grandchild), Nicholas’ graduation is huge in varying degrees for everyone involved. His transition to adult life turns a large page for him (obviously), as well as both of his families.

    The weekend’s activities were an opportunity to bask in nostalgia, to show how proud we are of him, and to take some time remembering what has happened in getting to this point.

    But first, we traveled to Boone to see Jill’s dad, who marked his 80th birthday this month by landing in the hospital with a broken arm and a cancer diagnosis. It was not exactly the way you want to start the ninth decade of your life, but Bob was happy to see his grandchildren, and to get some time away from the rehab facility where he currently resides.

    Jill and her brother have an up-and-down history with their dad, but both are committed to ensuring that he has comfort, and above all else, dignity. They saw his desire to return to his house and are working to fulfill it as they can, even though we live 7 hours away and Jill’s brother is 3 hours from Boone.

    Putting aside past wounds is tough, but admirable, especially in what will continue to be uncertain times ahead.

    ••••••

    Two additional truisms/clichés were reinforced this past weekend: Irony is alive and well, and the world is a very small place. Both came courtesy of our newly coined high school graduate and two of his closest friends.

    One disadvantage of Nicholas’ living in North Carolina and us living here is that we don’t know his friends and their families. On Saturday night, the McFarlands and Cooks had a chance to meet the first girl with whom he shares a his-and-her Facebook status. Ironically, she is working as an intern this summer with the person who encouraged Jill to try musical theatre when she was a child.

    On Sunday, after graduation, we finally met Nicholas’ prom date — a longtime friend from middle and high school — and her parents. Except, as I discovered, we sort of already knew each other.

    As it turns out, her dad and I met more than 15 years ago in Reidsville, N.C., where he opened and owned a local Subway and I worked for the newspaper. Our paths crossed on a number of occasions, and as people tend to do, we talked about our families — his little girl and my little boy.

    They’re not so little any more.

    ••••••

    When it comes to escaping your past, you’d have a better chance of swimming to shore from Alcatraz than shedding the vestiges of a small town. That’s doubly true if you’ve lived in Texas or North Carolina.

    Despite what I may have thought when I left, I have no desire to escape the places that brought me to this point, or wipe them from my memory. My heart always will always have a special place for Reidsville — a place I’ve written about before — and I know I can’t fully leave it behind.

    I think about this often, and was reminded of it again while reading Jonathan Tropper’s The Book of Joe, a comic novel about a man who returns to the small town where he grew up and realizes that everyone hates him, just because he had written a bestselling, thinly veiled piece of fiction about his miserable high school experience.

    Tropper’s self-deprecating, faintly absurdist style appeals to me — I truly wish I could write like that — and I have been slowly making my way through his other books, of which Everything Changes is one.

    Sitting at the pool yesterday afternoon, I looked around at others in the crowd and felt somewhat nostalgic. I remember when the pool opened, and what a big deal it was for our fledgling subdivision. I remembered the lifeguard getting on Ben’s case for running, and hearing him say, “I’m not running, I’m skipping.”

    Then, as I went to get something out of my car, I heard a slightly deep — though distinctly teenage — voice say hello. I turned and saw a young boy/man whom I barely recognized. He asked about Ben and politely reintroduced himself, and I realized he was part of a set of twins who we met when we first got here in 2001. All four kids, plus Kate, started in daycare together and now are teenagers.

    That’s when the emotions hit me.

    I told the young man goodbye and walked to my car, asking myself vaguely existential questions: Where did the time go? What happened to the last 10 years? Why did the time fly by in a blink?

    There’s no easy answer to the last question, or a decent explanation for all the emotions attached. I’m still processing that one.