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  • The Story of Generation Why

    My oldest son received his master’s degree on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, a 17-year-old gunman killed eight of his classmates and two teachers in a high school only 16 miles from my childhood home.

    The shooting at Santa Fe High School was and is disturbing for all the reasons you can imagine: Another senseless loss of lives. Another incident of gun violence in a country marred by decades of it. Another realization that, no matter how many steps local districts take, preventing someone determined to come into a classroom with a firearm is perhaps just … not … possible?

    My four children are 25, 21, 20 and 20. Ben and Emma were 16 months old when Columbine occurred. Kate was 2 and Nicholas was in first grade. We count ourselves lucky that nothing like this happened to them when they were in school.

    What does that say about our society?

    ••••••

    This school shooting was the third in eight days and the 22nd since the start of the year in the U.S. It occurred just three months and four days after 17 were slain at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School, which led to two student walkouts and the March for Our Lives events across the nation.

    I was at the March in Washington, D.C., taking photos and working on a freelance story about youth who were galvanized by the movement started by Stoneman Douglas students. I didn’t write the headline for the story, which looked at whether the Florida shooting could lead to a new era of civic engagement, but believe it is perfect.

    It reads: Generation Why.

    “Why?”

    That’s the burning question asked first and most often when something like this happens. We are on an endless search for motive, a trend that will be the path to answers. Camps form within minutes, if not seconds, on social media. The phrase “thoughts and prayers,” no matter how sincere in intent, now is considered a synonym for doing nothing.

    At the March, I interviewed more than 20 students and adults for a series of portraits that would accompany the story. (Some are in the magazine article; you can find the portraits in expanded form here.) I was struck by the kids’ determination not to go through life afraid of going to school.

    Despite our need to understand why something happens, we are stubbornly resistant to one-size-fits-all answers, which leads to an endless round robin of he-said, she-said rhetoric that does no one any good. It’s not guns; it’s people. It’s not people; it’s guns.

    Grieving quickly turns to shouting. Nothing happens. And we wait, knowing that it likely — inevitably — will happen again.

  • Places: National Civil Rights Museum

    The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination prompted me to revisit photos from my 2012 tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The museum, which opened in 1991, is located in the Lorraine Motel — where King was shot on April 4, 1968 — and various historically significant buildings in the neighborhood.

    The museum chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to the present. An exhibit that runs through this December, for example, looks at how events in 1968 are connected to today. Examples include sections looking at how King’s Poor People’s Campaign compares to Occupy Wall Street and how the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike is connected to today’s Fight for $15 minimum wage protest.

    King was shot while standing on the balcony outside his hotel room, located one block off Main Street. He had come to Memphis to lead a nonviolent march that supported the sanitation worker’s strike. The hotel, which is located one block from Main Street, was long one of the top destinations for African-Americans to stay in segregated Memphis.

    While I’m certain the photos in this album no longer truly capture the site today, you can see the visceral power and emotion that a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum generates. As we look at King’s legacy and struggles that remain relevant today, it is an essential place to visit if you’re ever in Memphis.

    To see more, go to my Facebook album here and look for a new "Places" album coming soon.

  • Notes From the 'Empty Nesters' File

    This past week, I realized something I knew deep down but had never articulated: I like exercise as long as it’s organic.

    Faced with a walk-first mentality, I’m happy to stroll around or bike until my feet want to fall off, using trains or cars only as necessary. Put in a drive-first situation, my embedded laziness takes over. The only exercise I seem to get then is typing on my laptop or phone or clicking the camera shutter. After 17 years in the suburbs, all I'm left with are really strong hands.

    Over the past two-plus months, Jill and I moved ourselves from Lorton to Alexandria, with help on a couple of occasions from friends and family. Although I’ve never been in the military, I’m pretty sure it was a 53-year-old’s version of boot camp: several weeks of hell followed by a big reward.

    On Sunday, we drove to Springfield Mall to shop in an actual store and see a movie for Mother’s Day. It was the first time I’ve been in a car in five days — one of the longest “no automobile” stretches of my life since my teens —and I haven’t missed it at all. Not one bit.

    That might seem strange given that I grew up in Texas, where public transportation is defined in the state Constitution as “build another loop,” and have driven back and forth to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York numerous times over the years to see our kids. (By my estimate, I’ve easily driven more than 1 million miles since getting my driver’s license in — gulp! — 1981.)

    Since the move to Old Town, I’ve walked at least 3 to 4 miles daily and have gone on three bike rides in the past 10 days. The exercise has been good for the mind and soul, not to mention the waistline.

    For that, I’m grateful.

    Additional observations from the “recently moved empty nesters” file:

    • My most recent bike ride was 21 miles, the longest I’ve ridden in at least five years. I enjoyed all but the last three miles of it, which is when my body’s hashtag became #hipsdontlie. Two days later, I’m ready to go out again.

    • Commuter transportation is not perfect. I thought Metro was underselling itself with its marketing theme, “Back to Good,” then realized while traveling into D.C. this week that the tagline might be a tad ambitious. Still, there’s a lot to be said for walking to the Metro and not having to deal with the car/train/car commute. (Or worse, just the car commute.)

    • Surviving the sale of one house and the purchase of another within a two-month period is a great litmus test for your marriage/friendship/partnership. What I appreciate most about Jill is that our differences mostly compliment each other. It's OK to divide as long as you can conquer in the long run, and we've managed to do that. 

    • Moving inputs and outputs: Six days a week, UPS, FedEx, and Amazon have a love-hate relationship with our front porch. On the seventh day, the City of Alexandria’s sanitation/recycling departments dread coming to our backyard to scoop up the remains.

    • Styrofoam pieces and peanuts are like glitter: No matter how much you sweep, you can never completely rid yourself of either one.

    • We are the sole reason cardboard sales were at an all-time high in the second quarter of 2018.

    • “Some assembly required” remain the three dirtiest words in the English language.

  • Random Thoughts and Meanderings

    A few random thoughts that have been floating around in my head recently:

    • Question: Does asking the Starbucks barista to turn down the loud music have a certain "get off of my lawn" quality to it? #cancelthenoise #thisismysatelliteoffice #ADDanyway #hiphopisnohelp

    • I really wish creativity had an off/on switch.

    • Passing by a TV, I recently saw the headline, “Trump ‘very unhappy’ with press secretary’s response to porn star.” I can’t even dignify that with a sigh.

    • Speaking of which, how can our First Lady be sincere about her cyber bullying platform when she lives with the biggest Twitter bully of all time?

  • After the Town Hall

    So I watched the CNN Town Hall as part of research for a story I’m writing on school shootings. In many respects, it had the feel of a community wake and the start of a larger conversation that is 20+ years too late.

    You can’t help but be moved by the raw words and visceral responses of a community traumatized by yet another horrific incident on one our nation’s campuses. Kudos to those who went into this knowing they would be roasted, such as Rubio.

    Most of all, kudos to those who said the time for talk is over. Don’t say something; do something.

    It’s worth noting those who were conspicuous by their absence. Why did the governor and the FBI not show? Why won’t state leaders engage these kids in public?

    Why? That’s the lingering question no one seems to be able to answer. But the tide could be turning.

  • Places #15: Nashville Morning

    It's a question I ask often: What happens during those in-between hours in cities that rarely sleep?

    Even though I'm a night owl by nature, I find most of my best shoots take place early in the morning. There's something about getting up before everything that surrounds us starts moving again.

    Last week, I was in Nashville for the second time in four months. The first was to photograph a conference, which combined with the bitter early December temperatures, gave me little time or inclination to roam around downtown.

    Working on a freelance story, I didn't have much time on this trip and Mother Nature again was not cooperative. But I managed to sneak out just before 7 a.m. on a cloudy morning, just before rush hour and the rain arrived, and capture these photos on and around the strip known as Broadway.

    Hope you enjoy these. To see more from this series, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/places.

  • New Freelance Articles Published

    Two freelance articles — one a feature on the state of the student press — appear in the new issue of American School Board Journal. To read the pieces, click on the links below.

    Student Press (February 2018): Student journalists in 13 states have press freedoms and protections, but administrators in the rest continue to review and censor school-sponsored publications under a 29-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision. But officials say the tide appears to be turning, at least in some areas.

    Public Comments (February 2018): The public comment portion of any school board meeting can turn quickly into a communications debacle for the board and district. Over time, however, courts have ruled consistently that the public has a right to raise and air complaints during an open meeting, even when individual employees are named.

  • New/Recent Freelance Stories Posted

    Over the past six months, I've had six freelance stories published in magazines, with more in the cue for 2018. Here's what I've been writing about:

    Smooth Transition (January-February 2018): First-year interest groups, commonly known as FIGS, are designed to help college freshmen make a smooth transition into university life through a combination of classroom work and personalization. For international students, most of whom arrive on campus just prior to the start of classes, FIGs can help them learn to navigate the sometimes tricky transitions they encounter when moving to a new country. Written for International Educator.

    Lone Star Strong (December 2017): An 11-page spread in American School Board Journal featuring more than 30 of my photographs and reporting on school district recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The package also includes a 3-minute slideshow with a separate behind-the-scenes narrative about the story.  

    Clearing a Path (November-December 2017): As growth in the number of international applications to U.S. colleges and universities falls, institutions are widening their recruitment efforts to include more students who may lack advanced English language proficiency. Many have turned to pathway programs to help ease the language transition and create opportunities for students to be successful. Published in International Educator.

    Health Tracker (December 2017): Schools searching for ways to curb child obesity rates are turning to wearable devices and software that provide data on student health and fitness. And when the technology is used appropriately, it is working. Published in American School Board Journal.

    Federal Shifts (October 2017): As districts become more invested and reliant on high-speed networks and Wi-Fi access to educate students, school board members need to be aware of how shifts at the federal level could affect the funding and long-term effectiveness of their technology programs. Published in American School Board Journal.

    Supporting Staffing Success (July-August 2017): For small and midsize staffing companies that work with large numbers of temporary and contract employees, contracting with an outside provider to provide backend support ensures payroll is accurate, on time, and in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. Published in Staffing Success.

  • Happy 25 to Nicholas!

    On this day last year, I surprised my oldest son Nicholas on his birthday in Durham. Unfortunately I’m away in Nashville and can’t do so again as he turns 25.

    25? How did that happen? I’m not sure, but I know how grateful I am to have developed such a solid, loving give-and-take relationship with this terrific young man. He’s undertaken a lot of changes over the past 365 days (engagement, working on a master’s degree, reclaiming his muse) and we have bonded in this past year like never before.

    I love you, my son, and am so proud of you.

  • Holiday Traditions

    Since 2002, the year after we moved into our house, I've taken an annual Christmas morning photo of the kids. In the early years, the rule was we had to get it taken before they could make the run at the stockings and the tree. When they got older and started sleeping in the basement on Christmas Eve, we took it on those stairs.

    So we have two photos to share, one from the first year and one from this morning. In the first, the kids were 10, 5, 5, and 5. (For those doing the math, Kate's birthday is on Wednesday, giving her the leg up on Ben and Emma again.) The second is of our three 20-year-olds; Nicholas and Conner will be here later this week.

    Here's to celebrating with family and friends on this most blessed of holidays, plus the holiday card we (barely) sent out this year.

  • RIP, Fats Domino

    Since I was out of town yesterday, I didn't get a chance to pay homage to Fats Domino, one of the pioneers of rock and roll who died yesterday at age 89.

    Like many people my age, I grew up on "Happy Days," and my first exposure to Fats' music was seeing Ron Howard do "I found my thrill..." on the show. Soon after, my dad played me the "real Fats" on one of his treasured, beaten up 45s that were stacked in the giant home stereo that could have doubled as a buffet stand.

    Reading through various tributes this morning, a Facebook friend noted Fats' connection to Elvis Presley, which led to an interesting discussion on race and music. Presley was never a songwriter, but an interpreter of "all kinds" of music — white and black.

    Because the music charts were segregated (like everything else in the 50s), white musicians such as Pat Boone, Fabian and Ricky Nelson (among others) covered songs that were moving up the R&B charts. A long list of black musicians who wrote these hits (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats) were often screwed out of royalties — and other things — that should have been given to a song's author.

    Presley, however, was different. He was quick to point to his many influences, especially black artists, and Domino was at the top of the list. I picked up the following quotes in reading the tributes to Domino.

    “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

    In 1969, at a news conference to announce the resumption of Presley's live concerts in Las Vegas, Elvis interrupted a reporter who called him “the king.” He pointed to Mr. Domino, who was in the room, and said, “There’s the real king of rock ’n’ roll.”

  • Two Random Thoughts

    • Love this quote: "The great thing about writing and creating is, time disappears. You are in the moment, and the moment can go for eight hours or for two minutes, or whatever, until the phone rings, or you know, you have to go get something to eat." — Stephen Sondheim

    • Happy birthday, Dad. Wish you were with us in body, not just in spirit, so we could celebrate with cake and a VHS movie of your choice.

  • ALCS: Is Fate With the Astros?

    The baseball gods seemingly want a Yankees-Dodgers World Series for the first time since I was a teenager. Of course, I remember my heart being broken by the Astros of the late 1970s/early 80s as this happened.

    The 1980 NLCS was a larger heartbreak than any teenage girl. (Not that many teenage girls gave me the time of day, but still...)

    So, to borrow the words of a famous Yankee, I hope and pray that it’s not “deja vu all over again.”

    But the baseball gods have proven over and over that the Marvel universe has nothing on them, so I’m not optimistic...

    Still, go Astros!

  • Random Thoughts: Harvey's Aftermath

    Random thoughts about Hurricane Harvey in the wake of the devastating storm:

    • Tonight, Jill noted a common link to Harvey and Irma: The Washington Nationals, who played against the Astros in the final series at Minute Maid and are in Miami playing the Marlins through Wednesday.

    • Dear Looters: In case you're looking for a place to stay during the post-hurricane cleanup, I'm sure a number of people will be happy to reserve you a spot in eternal hell.

    • Non-Texans, give this a read. It's the best explanation I've seen yet about the evacuate/don't evacuate aspect of the storm.

    • I wish someone could write "Texas on My Mind" and capture some of the thoughts rolling through my head. Seeing the photos and reading the stories, I just can't find the words.

    My thoughts are with all of you.

  • Places #13: Gatsby's Grave

    One of America’s literary icons, the person responsible for high school students around the world learning about the Jazz Age, is buried in a cemetery next to a busy intersection in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s path to the cemetery of St. Mary’s Catholic Church was as troubled, in some ways, as his life. It took 35 years for “The Great Gatsby” author, who died in 1940 at age 44, to be buried in the Fitzgerald family plot in Rockville, Md.

    Fitzgerald, whose life, marriage and work have been the subject of countless books, films, and TV shows, was a notorious drinker and raconteur. But the reason he initially could not be buried in the family plot was because he was a lapsed Catholic. A parish priest said Fitzgerald’s failure to go to confession and take communion regularly was enough to keep him from being buried in “consecrated ground.”

    His wife, Zelda, paid to bury Fitzgerald at the Rockville Cemetery, which is a mile from St. Mary’s. Then in a sanitarium in Asheville, N.C., Zelda did not attend the funeral. When she died 8 years later, Zelda’s casket was placed on top of her husband’s because she had only paid for one space.

    In the mid 1970s, members of the Rockville Civic Improvement Advisory Commission contacted the Fitzgeralds’ only daughter, Scottie, who was living in Georgetown. Fitzgerald’s posthumous fame had grown to the point that visitors had started flocking to the cemetery and were creating a ruckus.

    Scottie said her parents were meant to be buried at St. Mary’s, which by this time was happy to accept the graves. The bodies of the Fitzgeralds were moved to the family plot at the church cemetery in 1975. Zelda’s casket was again put on top of her husband’s.

    A stone covering the grave has one of Gatsby’s most famous lines: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Places #12: Elvis’ Memphis

    Forty years ago today, I was sitting in the lobby of Scott White Hospital in Tyler when I heard the news: Elvis Presley was dead.

    I’ve written about my family’s history with the King of Rock and Roll, but this Places entry is related to Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis, where more than 100,000 visitors have descended to mark the annual Elvis Presley Week. I made the pilgrimage in September 2012 and took these (and countless more) images while basking in the city’s musical history.

    Elvis-related tourism is worth an estimated $600 million annually to Memphis’ economy. Graceland is second only to the White House as the most visited home in the U.S. Sun Records, where Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash (among others) made their first singles, draws 160,000 visitors a year.

    As Mojo Nixon once said, Elvis is everywhere. Go here to see my 2013 essay, “My Grandmother, Dad, and Elvis,” and here to see the rest of the album.

  • Places #14: Houston’s Blast of Color

    While reporting and taking photos for a future story on how schools in the Greater Houston area are recovering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I decided to go to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the primary shelter site for the American Red Cross. Three weeks after Harvey made landfall, then dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the city and surrounding areas, the shelter still houses more than 1,000 people.

    Driving down the Avenida de las Americas, the street in front of the convention center, I was struck by the colorful strips of table cloths, shower curtains and painters drop cloth that are part of Arcade, three separate installations designed by Texas artists Sunny Sliger and Marianne Newsom of The Color Condition.

    The streamer sculptures, dubbed Hopscotch, Double Dutch, and Red Rover, were installed prior to Harvey and will remain up through mid-November. They provide a welcome respite from talk about the hurricane, as visitors can see them create new colors as the light changes and the wind gusts.

    On a hot and extremely humid afternoon, as reporters from Houston’s TV stations prepared to go live with stories on the status of the shelter, I saw a small child ignoring her mother’s admonitions to leave. I talked to another photographer (Mickey Lawrence of Urban Exposure Media) who was taking a break from storm coverage and had brought someone along to photograph the strips of colors and light.

    To see more of what I captured, go to the Places section on this website, or visit my Facebook album here.

  • Following Harvey's Trail

    Earlier this month, I spent a week taking photos and reporting a story on Hurricane Harvey for an upcoming issue of American School Board Journal, the National School Boards Association’s magazine. Having written on the aftermath of natural disasters before, I wanted to understand Harvey’s far-reaching impact on communities and schools in the wake of the late August storm.

    Being there from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18 gave me the chance to follow Harvey along much of its 300-mile path from Rockport, near Corpus Christi, to the Louisiana border. At this point, cleanup was kicking into gear and schools were just resuming in many of the impacted communities, although it will be some time before those near the storm’s eye will be open again.

    In the hardest hit areas, the loss was overwhelming. Contents of family life spilled out into yard after yard and neighborhood after neighborhood, mixed with swollen sheetrock and the growing presence of mold. “Strong” was the byword used in many communities as they demonstrated an unheard of level of resilience in the face of an economic and environmental tragedy. The generosity of others — some fellow community members, some total strangers — was constantly on display.

    The story will appear in the November issue of the magazine, and I’ll be sure to share it here. For now, follow my camera on a day-by-day journey through a state that is injured, but not broken. And check out more photos on my Facebook photography page here.

  • Marking A Milestone

    Four years ago today, I formally started my business with this photo, which was taken during a Memorial Day trip to New York City. Clicking the shutter that day, in May 2013, I did not know I would be unemployed in a week.

    After 30 years in journalism and communications, moving from job to job and seeing professional growth with each position, being laid off left me — and my family — adrift. I knew I had to do something, but prospects in an ever-changing publishing world were limited. Also, having worked for the same company for 12 years, I had seen a once vigorous operation slowly succumb to financial and organizational erosion, and I wasn't sure I wanted to face that prospect again.

    Being on your own has its downsides. You rarely know what the next day will bring. Stability is elusive. You can work 24-7 without batting an eye. You have to rely on the faith of others (especially family and close friends) and word of mouth. And you have to hope that your work is not just good, but good enough, so clients will pass along your name.

    Knowing these things, I formally launched this photography and freelance writing business five weeks after losing my job. Working on this website over the Fourth of July holiday, I launched my Facebook page on July 7, 2013.

    And here we are, four years and more than 12,000 photos later, having slowly but steadily built a client base that I can only hope will continue to grow. Thankfully, I've had the opportunity to branch off into all sorts of things, meet a wide range of new (and usually fascinating) people, and have the types of experiences I dreamed about while sitting at an office desk all those years.

    The creative malaise I dealt with for 2+ years in my previous position — an apt visual analogy is 1,000 small but painful paper cuts — has never returned. If anything, I feel more creative and engaged than ever.

    As a storyteller, one who uses images and words to tell his tales, these last four years have been a lifeline. And I know, without question, I could not do this if it weren't for my wife, Jill, and my families (biological and otherwise).

    I'm eternally grateful for your help, support, comments and feedback along the way. Thank you, and I hope you'll keep coming back to visit/use my services. 

  • RoboCallers, Meet RoboCop

    Dear RoboCallers from "Autumn Hills, Mich.," "Arlington, Va.," and "Chicago":

    I'm not interested in refinancing my house, getting government-sponsored forgiveness on student debt, adding to my home's security system, or extending the warranty on my car. And despite what you may think, I've been on the West Coast this week, so I sure as hell don't appreciate the fact that you're calling from wherever the hell you are at 4:30 am PST.*

    I wish I could petition our government to get rid of all of you, but my sources on the East Coast tell me they're busy trying to screw up things other things families actually need in their lives, like health care. And because getting rid of all the robocalls is something everyone can get behind, it won't happen. They're too busy in their partisan closets to actually agree on something.

    Why don't you spend time calling their cellphones instead? I'm sure the Russians can help with that one.

    Sincerely, The Masses

    (* Of course, I was up already, but that's a different story.)

  • 'March for Science'

    Soggy conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of supporters who came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to advocate for environmental causes and science research on Earth Day.

    The set up for the March for Science was similar to the Women’s March on Washington, held just three months and one day earlier. I was hired by the Entomological Society of America, one of numerous science organizations that took part in the event, to shoot members getting ready for and participating in the rally.

    Throughout the rally, a broad range of speakers were supported by entertainment and a series of short films and clips. Questlove, whose Grammy Award-winning group The Roots serves as the in-house band for The Tonight Show, was one of the co-hosts. Jon Batiste, music director and bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, led the house band.

    The steady drizzle turned into a downpour by late morning, and I left before seeing Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) speak or Thomas Dolby perform. These photos, however, capture some of the spirit of the day, which was mirrored in more than 600 cities on more than six continents.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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...

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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)

  • 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..."

  • Random Thoughts, Oh My...

    When you know you shouldn't click on the link, only to find yourself drawn like a moth to the light. And the light turns out to be a bug zapper. Dear Lord... (Feel free to fill in the rest.)

    ••••••

    Regarding the Stanford University athlete that received a slap on the wrist for a rape conviction, this tweet was the best response I've seen, courtesy of @LaurenDeStefano: "If someone's a rapist and an athlete, they're not an athlete who made a mistake, they're a criminal who can swim."

    I can sympathize with the father's heartbreak, but not with his words/actions or the judge's.

    ••••••

    Given all the negatives in this post, I thought I'd end with a nicer thought: You don't have to be smart or talented, handsome or pretty. You just need to be kind.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Recap or Night Cap? You Decide...

    I know why they call it March Madness, especially when March bleeds into April.

    Yep, it must be spring, that great period in life when Mother Nature looks you square in the eye, laughs, and does whatever the heck she wants. Little winter here, little heat there, lots of pollen and watery eyes everywhere.

    Why, you ask, can’t everything be spread out a little more instead of being bunched together and packed so tightly? I don’t really know. If I did, I’d bottle and sell it to you cheap.

    I’m not complaining, especially on the business end, where thankfully things seem to be opening up in recent weeks. Also, my ability to write a cogent sentence that went beyond tweet-length seems to have returned, thank goodness. It’s nice that the muse has decided to push its way past whatever was blocking my crowded brain.

    Here’s a brief summary of what’s happened over the past three weeks alone:

    • Met a series of deadlines for freelance clients. More still to do, but getting there.

    • Published the Q&A series I did with a teenager about photography.

    • Shot events on consecutive days that could not have been more different — a Strongman competition in Northern Virginia and a book signing in New York. 

    • Saw Ben in a preview of Broadway’s “Tuck Everlasting” with Jill and then another show at NYU to support one of his “Billy Elliot” friends (the outstanding Casey Whyland).

    • Embarked on a trip to Tampa to get Kate’s stuff from her apartment and truck it back to Northern Virginia.

    • Celebrated as Emma was accepted into Point Park University in Pittsburgh for the dance program.

    • Followed that up with headshots of a young girl and a family shoot in a neighboring county this past weekend.

    • Written blogs on the trip, on the deaths of a childhood friend’s son, Merle Haggard, Patty Duke, and Ken Howard (too much of that this year). Also wrote about World Bipolar Day and the current political process (which seems to have its own hints of mental illness about it).

    Whew...

  • Turning Tables: A Photo Q&A, Part 3

    Part 3: Being interviewed by an aspiring teenage photographer — the director’s cut. This section focuses on starting and running a business.

    Did you always want to own a photography business?

    Growing up in the days when we had film and not digital photography, I never, ever thought I would do something like this.

    I’ve always been primarily a writer and editor. Photography was something that interested me, and I really enjoyed doing it while working for small newspapers in Texas and North Carolina. Traditional studio portraits, however, are often more technical than artistic, and for the longest time I thought that was the only way I make a living through photography.

    When I moved into communications, and became a one-person publishing unit, I started paying more attention to the visual presentation, especially as I took photos. The problem was I did not have the technical skills, or the patience and aptitude to learn those skills in a way that could make me successful solely as a photographer.

    Understanding how to get my camera to do what I wanted so I could capture what I saw was more frustrating than fascinating, especially in the days when post-production was spent inhaling chemicals in a pitch dark room.

    That has been eliminated thanks to the digital explosion, and enhanced by a chance to pay tribute to my dad. It’s also served as an opportunity to explore that I never thought I'd have.

    How did you start your business?

    On a rainy day in 2012, my oldest son (Nicholas) needed headshots for school. Of course, he was leaving that day, so we had to be creative, especially since I didn’t have studio equipment.

    I was extremely nervous about doing them — nothing is harder than getting professional quality shots of your own family — but they turned out well and I found that I liked the challenge of portrait photography, especially without the constraint of being in a studio.

    The next year, I was laid off from my job and became a freelancer. I started offering photography as part of my services when I felt like I finally had the equipment and the skills necessary to make sure my customers would be satisfied with my work. I’ve been fortunate that most of my clients like my work, and the business has grown in new and unexpected ways. 

    What have you learned from running your own business? What are the challenges?

    I learn something new every day. I’ve had to learn how to juggle many different writing and photography projects at once while still trying to raise a family, something that is not unique to anyone who does this even if our circumstances (and skill sets) are a bit different. Like any business, this one fluctuates in a feast or famine way, and that can be challenging.

    My wife is an excellent time manager, and being the one with the out-there creative gene, I’m not. I never have been, so it’s something I have to continue working at constantly.

    Purely from a photography standpoint, I still struggle at times with my technical skills (especially in the area of retouching). They are not where I’d like them to be yet, although I’m getting better. It’s not something that comes naturally, but I’m working at it.

    What have you enjoyed the most?

    I genuinely like meeting new people and working with them on various projects, whether its through interviews for stories or going on a shoot. When you have a chance to work together in a collaborative way, like we’ve done for the “Art & Dance” series, that’s always a lot of fun.

    Increasingly, I’ve learned how to enjoy art directing a shoot. This was something I never thought I would be good at, because I didn’t think I had that level of creativity to create something out of nothing. I find it really fascinating.

    Tomorrow: Concluding with Art & Dance. For Parts 1 and 2, go here and here.

  • Tides of Memories: Pat Conroy & Others

    Pat Conroy’s death last week brought back a tide of strong memories. The first was when I read the “Lords of Discipline” in high school, and the second was when I saw Conroy at a talk/book signing in Greensboro almost two decades later.

    Like “The Great Santini,” perhaps the book he is best known for along with “The Prince of Tides,” Conroy’s “Lords of Discipline” draws upon the author’s struggles with the military’s hardness, born of traditions that encouraged prejudice and misogyny in the Vietnam-era South.

    Published in 1980, the book was being made into a film a couple of years after “Taps,” another fictionalized drama about a military school. As I’ve often done, hearing about a movie based on a novel makes me want to read the book before seeing the film, so I picked it up.

    What “Lords of Discipline” taught me was how hard it must be to do a novel justice on the big screen. Even though the film was OK, there was no way it could capture the depth of Conroy’s work, or the (occasional) pulp of his prose. The book captured a South I had long heard of, but never wanted to be part of, in such a way that I became determined never to experience it.

    ••••••

    This has been a terrible winter for artists, and the world of classic rock-era music has been particularly hard hit. Add to that list author Harper Lee and actor Alan Richman, and it has been seemingly a never-ending roll call.

    In the first three months of 2016, we’ve lost Beatles producer George Martin, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dan Hicks, Vanity, Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer, Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson of Jefferson Airplane.

    In some ways, the deaths of most of those who passed away should not come as a shock, given the hard living that many of those musicians lived during the substance-fueled 1960s, 70s and 80s. Bowie, still working until right before his death, was the exception, even though he had been battling (quietly except to those closest to him) cancer for 18 months.

    The reason, I think, that the long list of deaths surprises and gives me pause is because each of these artists was popular during my childhood. And with each passing, that childhood recedes further into my life’s rear view.

    One singer’s illness, in the midst of everything, caught my attention. Joey Feek of the country duo Joey+Rory, whose public battle with cervical cancer was chronicled every step of the way by her husband, died this month at the young age of 40.

    I didn’t know much about the couple or their music. In fact, I’ve heard only a few of their songs, which are pretty enough (especially their cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”), but not cutting edge or truly memorable. What caught my attention was their openness about the illness, the way Rory Feek wrote about and cared for his wife and young daughter as Joey moved into hospice care.

    There is something wrong about a person having to suffer in such a way, especially just a couple of years after having a child with Down’s Syndrome. But the grace and dignity they showed throughout is both commendable and memorable, and will outlive the songs they leave behind.

    ••••••

    Pat Conroy wrote about life, death, family, dysfunction, mental illness and life as a military brat in the South. He too was open about all of his family’s foibles, so much so that many of his relatives would no longer speak to him.

    He joked about this at the speech and book signing I saw him at in Greensboro, when he was promoting “Beach Music.” I had the chance to see him when Sarah Bullock, one of Jill’s co-workers and a second mother to her in many ways, invited me to come along.

    Conroy’s sense of humor, always bubbling under the surface despite his lifelong struggles with depression, was in fine form as he told stories about his father meeting Barbra Streisand, and writing. When I mentioned, during the book signing, that I had worked as a newspaper editor before moving into communications, he complemented me on “escaping my career choice.” He then signed my copy of The Lords of Discipline — a hardback I bought that day, with the phrase, “For the love of words and books.”

    Seeing Conroy was a highlight of my seven-plus years in North Carolina, and it’s rare that Sarah or I fail to mention it when we see or speak to each other. I still have the book, and last Christmas, Sarah sent me Conroy’s last work — “The Death of Santini.”

    May he — and the others — rest in peace.

  • Grammy Randoms

    Five random thoughts from a music fan about last night’s Grammy Awards:

    • Congratulations to all of the winners, but especially to Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton; both were very deserving. Their CDs have been on heavy rotation since their release, although it was reviews that pushed me toward Stapleton’s “Traveller.”

    • It was a pleasure to see Stapleton perform with Bonnie Raitt, and the performance by Alabama Shakes was stunning. They also won big this year, further validation for a long-time fan.

    • After Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl, I was anxious to see what she would do in her tribute to David Bowie, but found myself somewhat underwhelmed. The first half seemed like karaoke, as if she was auditioning for a “Mamma Mia” revival. She did rebound at the end with Fame, Let’s Dance, and Heroes, though.

    • Jack Sparrow got eaten by Hollywood Vampires. At least Johnny Depp’s bands are better than most of his recent movies (“Black Mass” being the lone exception).

    • The “In Memorium” section made me think, “Damn, we’ve lost way too many this year. And it’s only February.”

  • New Freelance Articles Published

    Two recently published freelance pieces, one focusing on the effect of student trauma and the other on Career and Technical Education, are now up in the "Writing" section and available to read here.

    “Responding to Student Trauma,” written for ASCD and published in its Education Update newsletter, looks at how trauma affects students ability to learn. According to the Defending Childhood Initiative, more than 46 million children are affected annually by trauma, with one in 10 facing five or more violent incidents in a year.

    Children exposed to repetitive trauma are at risk for a variety of physical and mental health issues—anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and a propensity for substance abuse. (Education Update is a member-only newsletter of ASCD; you can purchase print copies of the article and publication here.)

    The second piece, “Coming Around Again,” looks at the comeback story of Career and Technical Education in the February 2016 edition of American School Board Journal, where I am a contributing editor and technology columnist.

    Congress’ passage of the long-awaited successor to the No Child Left Behind Act was a major victory for many who opposed the constraints posed by the federal law on school districts, but perhaps the biggest win was for CTE. The program had seen its influence on policy decline amid demands for more academic rigor, college access, and standardized testing.

    Hope you’ll take some time to look at these pieces and glance through others that I’ve done over the past several months.

  • From Blob to Blog and Other Parts, Too

    Maintaining a website is like being caught in “Groundhog Day: Home Improvement Version.” No matter how hard you try, the job is never done, and on most days you feel like you’re stuck with a never-ending pile of laundry.

    As someone who juggles writing and photography and tries to give equal weight to both, I’ve spent a great deal of time debating the effectiveness of this website. Should the blog just feature my writing, or should it showcase both? Are the photos being presented in the most effective manner? Does the navigation make sense? Does the visitor have to click in too many places?

    Of course, I usually ask these questions at times when I don’t have Internet access, such as last night when I was on an airplane coming back from a quick trip to see Ben and Kate in Florida and do a job for a client. Given my ADD nature, time sans Internet is not necessarily a bad thing, because when I reboot I’ve often forgotten about that brief moment of panic and can let things "be" most of the time. (Just ask Jill, who’s always after me, rightly so, to pick up my mess of a life.)

    The problem with having ADD, though, is that you occasionally get meta-focused to the point where you can’t let something go. And that has happened more than once right where your eyes are now.

    Earlier this year, while trying to link back to something I had done several years ago, I discovered the blog had been poorly imported from its previous space. When I started this site in July 2013, I wanted to merge the things that represented both my love (family, writing, photography) and my profession (also family, writing, photography), so I brought “Our Reality Show” over into this space.

    I looked at the first few entries, thought they looked OK, and moved on to other things, figuring that someday I’d return and spruce them up a bit. Two years later, after a lot of lessons about linking, tagging, and categorizing, I realized what I had brought over was a mess. A rotting wood in the basement mess.

    So I fixed it, a job that took far more time than it should but one that now presents the blog in an easy-to-read manner. I added photos and a few videos — the previous site was not friendly to either of those formats — that represented the family and events of the time, giving you a more well-rounded picture and not just gobs and gobs of text.

    It looked good … until I found something else.

    Again, I was thinking about how my work is presented and whether anyone bothers to read or visit even for a moment (thanks for sticking with me, Jill and Mom). Given that I had not posted several freelance pieces I’ve written over the past several months (such as the one below), I decided to look at the writing section — "Words" in the site map — with fresh eyes.

    And those eyes again saw a blob. So I started tinkering again.

    The just-completed result is a new and (I hope) improved section showcasing my feature writing. If you have a minute, go over to the “Words” section and take a look. At the top, you’ll see a section devoted to new features such as the one I posted below. Then you’ll see several new categories, including sections devoted to stories that featuring both writing and photos, various features written for education and nonprofit/association clients, a few award winners, and some selected because I just happen to like them.

    I hope you like the changes. I’m sure at some point there’ll be more. But right now I have a number of other things to do for work and — certainly — at home. I think it’s time to get started on them now, before something else catches my eye.

  • Profile on Guilford Superintendent

    Earlier this year, I was fortunate to write a profile on Guilford County Schools' Mo Green, the superintendent who moved into education after working as a corporate attorney. Green's story — we talked for almost two hours — is fascinating reading.

    You can find the story — "Head of the Class" — in the Minority Corporate Counsel Association's magazine, Diversity & the Bar. Or take a minute and read it on my website at http://glenncook.virb.com/nonprofit-association.

  • Reclaiming the Muse

    Every once in a while, I must spend some time reclaiming the muse.

    Since May, our family has gone through a seemingly never-ending set of transitions, racing from task to task, thing to thing, and place to place. We’ve traveled hither and yon for work and for children, and tried desperately to keep up the pace. To be frank, some days it’s gone better than others, at least on my end. 

    We’ve seen two kids graduate (Nicholas and Kate); helped move three of the four children (Nicholas, Kate and Ben), co-signing on leases for the latter two; helped the fourth (Emma) get ready for college applications and auditions; been forced to buy not one but two cars (one died; one was totaled); dealt with lost (and never found) luggage after one of the trips; and purchased new camera equipment after mine was stolen. When you and your insurance agent can recognize each other’s phone number without caller ID, you know it’s been a rough go.

    Fortunately, and thanks to Jill’s careful planning and management of the household budget, none of these events have been catastrophic. Still, the collection has added to life’s scar tissue, and it hasn’t helped that at certain points “time” was the only word that did not have “down” as a prefix.

    My creative muse, which is interwoven into everything I do, was feeling more neglected than our cat. And my muse’s meow was starting to turn into a roar.

    Thankfully, Emma had her first college audition and a dance intensive in New York this past weekend. I drove her and two friends up to Lower Manhattan and stayed with friends in the city for the two days. It was just what the doctor ordered.

    Since Ben left the city four (!) years ago, I’ve rarely had enough time to do the things that make New York so appealing: Visit friends, take pictures, see shows, etc. This time around, I arranged to do a little of it all and cashed in some prime travel karma chits that apparently were accumulated over the past several months.

    I had a chance to spend time with Ginno, our “adopted” older child, staying with him and taking his engagement (!) pictures on the High Line on Saturday. After seeing Carol, another friend, I watched a devastatingly beautiful revival of “Spring Awakening” (this season’s must see after “Hamilton,” which I’m beginning to think I’ll never get tickets to watch).

    Sunday was the big test, in part because planned activities required me to go from Hudson Heights to Bryant Park to JFK Airport to Coney Island before returning to Virginia. The day would start early, before 8, and would not end until I picked up Emma and her friends at 5:30 for the drive home.

    I’m still shaking my head at the how, but it all worked. A headshot session with two children at Bryant Park was smooth, productive and efficient, despite the autumn chill. My friend Bernadette, who accompanies me on many of these types of adventures, and I left and aimed toward the TWA Flight Center, where an open house was being held in the iconic terminal.

    We arrived just after 11 and managed to get in, despite the large (and growing) crowd that wanted to see the terminal one last time before it is converted into a luxury hotel (blog entry below). No waiting in long lines meant we had a legitimate shot at our next appointment, which was with another friend (David) in Coney Island.

    Somehow we made it there in time to spend three hours snapping away, swapping stories and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. When we left to get Emma and her friends, I felt rejuvenated.

    The travel gods were reasonably kind to us on the way back to Virginia, despite an awkward exit from the city (memo to self: Learn how to get out of Lower Manhattan smoothly) that threw us off somewhat. We made it home by 10:30 p.m.

    All in all, I have no complaints. The experience helped me regain the creative muse that I’ve struggled to find at times over the past couple of months. Now I’m ready to attack the world again.

    Look out…

  • ET to ER: Medical Update, Part 4

    You’re probably tired of this story by now, so I promise that unless something major happens, this will be the last update you get from me on this topic for a while. And because I’m making progress — albeit very slow — there’s no real news value in bombarding you with information.

    Here’s what has happened since mid-September…

    • Sept. 12: I hope to go to Memphis later this month to see the boy. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit, and music/barbecue/photo opps are calling my name. So I really went to the doctor today with my fingers crossed. Toes? That's still a different story.

    Thank goodness I was cleared to travel. And now that my prescriptions are finally in the single digits, the chances of a visit from the DEA are starting to drop precipitously.

    • Sept. 19: At my last blood draw before leaving for Memphis, I realized my phlebotomist has my records bookmarked on her computer for easy access. I didn't know whether to be flattered or frightened.

    • October 1: I’m going back to the doctor for another blood draw and to have the other leg checked. Thus far, efforts to thin out my blood have been as successful as my attempts to diet, but in this case, there's nothing to be said for consistency.

    — Good news/ongoing story: Foot and knee continuing to heal nicely, but slowly.

    — Fair news/same old story: New prescription added, this time to take care of the heartburn/acid reflux/nausea from the other drugs I've been taking.

    — Today's twist: Circles on the list of items included on my blood test for now outnumber the number of answers on the SAT and ACT combined. No #2 pencils required, though.

  • Parents Give Their Best Advice

    This is the last in a three-part series based on conversations and surveys I've had with other parents of child actors about their experiences and lessons learned. The series has been published over the past week on the DC Metro Theatre Arts website and is cross-posted to the blog here.

    Over the past two columns, I have written about what other parents have to say about raising a child in show business. We’ve looked at challenges they face and what they wished they had known.

    In this final segment, I asked them for their best advice for other parents. Not surprisingly, some of the answers overlap from the previous two columns, but it really comes down to three things:

    • Make sure this is right for your family and your child.

    • It is a business.

    • Be prepared to audition and get as much training as you can.

    Here is what my cadre of parents advised:

    • “Only pursue this if it is truly what your child wants and not what you want for your child.  There is a huge difference and parents know this.  It is great when they love it and horrible to see when they do not.”

    • “As you get deeper along, remember, they don’t call it ‘show light bulb’ or ‘show airplane,’ but rather show ‘business.’  It is a business and a very competitive and harsh (at times) one.  Don’t ever think or be lulled to think otherwise.”

    • “Try not to put your life on hold, although this could be tricky. Try to fit show business into your life. Don’t stop your life for show biz. Have your child experience all kinds of things. Don’t make them a singing, dancing, acting machine. If they truly love to do this, a lot of it will be natural for them with a little training on the side. But every child is different and every family unique.”

    • “Learn how to Skype.”

    • “Make sure this is right for your family. Yes, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that many people dream of and work all their lives to accomplish — but you need to know what it would cost your family emotionally and financially. Your child will not have a typical childhood and might regret that. The time spent away from the rest of family will also have an impact. We made sure that one parent was in the city, and one at home … but it made the time for us as husband and wife hard to come by.”

    • “Everyone who is interested should pursue this but don’t expect anything. Be prepared to spend a lot of time auditioning and also a lot of money training. Get as much training as possible and be thoroughly prepared for each audition. Get terrific headshots and update them as needed. Be ready to go to every audition you are sent on (unless you feel the content is not appropriate) If you say ‘no’ too many times to agents they will forget about you. Pursue non-professional work to gain experience.”

    • “My advice to parents is to always remember to ask yourself, truly, ‘Are you doing this because your kid wants it or because you want it?’ If you answered yes to the second half of the question, you need to look inside and fulfill your own dreams.”

    • “Be involved, supportive, helpful and aware but allow your kid to be who they are not who you want them to be. Children want your approval more than anything; they will do anything for it. So give them lots of acceptance and love and know that we each have our own path to follow in this life. It is our job as parents to encourage them to find their own way and let them know they are loved no matter what they choose.”

    • “Don’t push a kid into it, but if they want to perform then try to make it happen. It’s grueling fun!”

    • “Listen to your children, and don’t push them.  Love them and cheer wildly for them whether they play customer number 10 in their elementary school play or Annie in Annie on Broadway!”

    • “Remember that you are responsible for instilling values in him or her.  Those values will serve them in life far more than any role they get while they are a child actor.  Your job is to raise a person, not an actor.  Let the professionals teach them to be good on stage, and you teach them to be good in life.  Applaud them for their achievements as a person, not just as an actor.”

    That’s sound advice all around. Thanks to my fellow parents for sharing it…

    ••••••

    To see the previous posts, click here and here. For more Stage Dad columns and related writing, go here.

  • What Parents Wish They Had Known

    This is the second in a three-part series based on conversations and surveys I've had with other parents of child actors about their experiences and lessons learned. The series is being published over the next week on the DC Metro Theatre Arts website and cross-posted to the blog here.

    One of my favorite television shows is Friday Night Lights, a beautifully written, small-scale drama that focuses on a small Texas town and its obsession with high school football. The show’s overarching theme is “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose” – a motto that all parents should adopt when they have a child who wants to perform professionally.

    That’s easier said than done, because entering with your child into the professional world of acting and performing is an ongoing test. Schedules get blown up, sibling rivalry can be on steroids, and you often will find yourself asking more questions in a never-ending quest for answers.

    We’ve faced those challenges as parents of a performer, and in talking to others in similar situations, I found a wealth of great advice – and a few warnings. Here are excerpts from my e-mail interviews with more than 20 parents, this time centering on the question: What do you wish you had known before you pursued this as a family?

    “There is so much I did not know,” one parent said. “I guess maybe it would have helped to really understand the demanding schedule these kids have, but truthfully you can’t really understand it until you live it.”

    Unless you land that million-to-one role, make sure you prepare your child for a lot of grunt work along the way. “We learned that much was involved before acting in movies,” said one parent, “including ‘learning to act’ – classes, practice, etc. – local training, local theatre, finding an agent, beginning the work. A wise coach taught us that an actor’s job is going on auditions.”

    Parents say you have to be prepared – at least as much as you can be – for lengthy separations. The cost of relocating to New York or Los Angeles is likely more than you expect, especially if there are periods of unemployment.

    “I wish I had known more about the business end and the rights and costs associated with being in a union,” one parent said. “We learned the hard way that after everyone took their percentage, we were not left with enough money to cover the cost of travel, tolls, parking and food.”

    One parent regrets not spotting his daughter’s desire to perform sooner and doing something about it. “I wish that we had acted sooner, that we had taken her to have her talents evaluated before we did,” he said. “It would have allowed us to plan more.”

    Child actors are faced with a short window of time, something I’ve discussed in previous columns. Once you reach puberty, get too tall, or your voice changes, the chances of you being hired until you reach 18 become few. In most cases, small or young-looking adult actors can be hired to play teens.

    “It’s a lot of work and time involved. When our daughter was asked to go on tour we decided not to because my husband and I had commitments here, another daughter still living at home and homeschooling, so that wasn’t an option,” said one parent, who also was a child performer. “Then our daughter became too tall, so her options for Broadway were cut very short.”

    With our son, one of the most difficult things has been the long periods of separation. For the first year, my wife and I split our time going back and forth to New York, but we had to hire a full-time guardian when he went out on tour.

    “I wish I knew how hard it was to be separated,” one parent said. “But that may have stopped me from pursuing this, so I’m glad I didn’t know.”

    Parenting, under perceived normal circumstances, often leaves you with more questions than answers. Are we doing what’s right for our child and for the rest of our family?

    “Like everything in life, choices must be made,” one parent told me. “Do we want to move? Do we want to split up our family?  What about the other kids, spouse, friends, community? For each choice (action), there is a consequence (reaction).  We have learned our personal preferences along the journey and so far they have worked well for us and our child.”

    And most important, the parents said, remember that you’re helping your child achieve their dream, not living out yours.

    “I had been a performer,” said one parent. “I knew somewhat what we would be getting into and I try to never push her into anything she doesn’t want to do. It’s not fair to her.”

    Coming Next: Parents give their best advice.

    ••••••

    To see the previous post, click here. For more Stage Dad columns and related writing, go here. 

  • ET to ER: Medical Update, Part 3

    And here is another update in the ongoing medical saga. Interesting stuff happening in this bloody world…

    ••••••

    • Sept. 1: I took "A Fistful of Drugs" and am planning to out of bed more than in today. If I don’t do something soon, I’m afraid I’ll start to sound like Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.

    ••••••

    • Sept. 2: Just got off the phone with my doctor. Turns out my blood is as resistant to diet pills as the rest of my body. The saga continues... with more follow up next week.

    ••••••

    • Sept. 3: Labor Day update/observations:

    1. I started reading the list of possible side effects from all the meds I'm on. I made it through the sheet on third med and realized that it's a good possibility I've been dead since last Tuesday. You would tell me, right?

    2. Season 3 of Justified — the one thing I've really been able to focus on in recent days — is done. It's not as great as Season 2, but still one of the best shows now on TV/DVD/VOD. A lot of fun...

    3. The washer is on the fritz the day after the cat decided that her litter box was on the fritz, too. You should have seen the looks we received at the laundromat.

    4. Behind my knee (where one clot is) has hurt like hell for the past two days. Next doctor's appointment: Tomorrow morning. Needed: Skinny blood.

    Have a nice holiday, everyone...

    ••••••

    • Sept. 4: So we officially have three kids in high school today. It makes me wonder if I can get the doctor to throw in a little something extra when I make today's visit...

    1. Sadly I was informed by the doctor's receptionist that they don't have a points program. No bonus for the kids in high school thing either, just a few shakes of the head.

    2. The person who takes my blood asked me to bring her coffee next time. I was caught so off guard that my only response was, "Cream and sugar?"

    3. I managed to leave without a new prescription, meaning that I might get under double digits by Wednesday night. Rite-Aid's 4th quarter earnings projections will take a hit, however.

    4. I've been cleared to return to work tomorrow (yay!) and told to stand up and walk around every 15-30 minutes or so to keep the blood flowing. With as much water as I'm supposed to drink, I can safely say that should not be a problem.

    5. Follow up scheduled next Wednesday, unless the blood diet (Coumadin) doesn't work. The hope is that the clot will be gone by then.

    Fingers crossed...

    P.S. The washer died.

    ••••••

    • Sept. 5: Last week's counter programming to the political convention was "Justified." For purposes of equal time, this week I'm thinking about a double feature of "Talladega Nights" and "Hot Tub Time Machine."

    ••••••

    • Sept. 6: It's a sad day when your phlebotomist replaces your bartender as a go-to person for advice.

    ••••••

    • Sept. 7: Today's self-portrait: Nauseated pin cushion.

  • ET to ER: Medical Update, Part 2

    In our last episode, I was diagnosed with having a blood clot behind my left knee and was sent home to spend 48 hours in bed. Needles and binge watching, plus a few other glorious joys, are ahead.

    ••••••

    • Aug. 28: The best way to do these updates is somewhat in list form. So here is the newest with commentary in (parenthesis)…

    1. Have spent the last 24 hours in bed, and have another 18 more to go before the next doctor's appointment (ugh).

    2. Found out a second, just forming clot was found near the Achilles but can be part of this treatment (yes, I'm very lucky).

    3. Discovered that Percoset has the effect of a sugar pill for me (too bad).

    4. Have finally watched the final season of "Rescue Me" (finally, and so well done) and am mowing through season 1 of "Justified" (excellent and getting better).

    ••••••

    • Aug. 29: The best part of convalescence is that I managed to finish season 1 of "Justified" in a single day ... and avoid the Republican National Convention in the process. In terms of entertainment value, it probably would be called a draw, but in terms of substance, I think I got the better deal in this case.

    You know you're in trouble when the doctor looks down at your leg and uses the phrase "perfect storm" in his next sentence.

    Today's update:

    1) No reason given for why the overall pain level has not subsided, although I have been promised this next round of painkillers should do the trick. My fingers are crossed; can't do that with my toes right now.

    2) I'm still out of commission at least until my next primary care doctor's appointment at noon on Tuesday. No driving until unless it's urgent.

    3) Just told my kids that I was going to bed for the night. They looked at me, and with atypical teenage restraint, resisted the temptation to say, "But isn't that where you've been for the past week?"

    Back to our regularly scheduled programming. In 20 minutes, it will be time for Season 2, Episode 4 of "Justified." I'll get to watch a sheriff chase after some hopped up drug dealers while hoping the next round of painkillers kick in.

    Somehow, I find some symmetry in that...

    ••••••

    • Aug. 30: Today's observations from the "I hurt so you don't have to" follow up with the doctors file:

    1) The more specialized your doctor is, the less likely he/she will make eye contact with you during the visit.

    2) A shot into the ball of your foot with a long needle is enough to make you file papers to add a middle initial to Jesus' name.

    3) You realize every time you walk into the drug store that the pharmacist is tempted to turn on the karaoke machine and break into a version of Led Zeppelin's "Money."

    Overall, things are a little better. The shot, despite the fact that it took the doctor, two nurses and a call to the fire department to pry me from the ceiling, has reduced the swelling somewhat. And despite continued adventures in pharmacopeia, I have been able to doze a little.

    One more health update: Just found out from the doctor that I have to go to the hospital for another blood draw on Sunday because they can't get the thinner up to a therapeutic level. Apparently even the vampires are concerned about the obesity rate.

    ••••••

    • Aug. 31: Remember those friends who had beer can collections in college? I'm not one, but I am rapidly curating my own prescription bottle collection.

    48 hours of bed rest later, I just finished season 2 of "Justified" — I think it's my new favorite show. But if I don't get up soon and take a shower, I think they'll cast me as an extra next season.

  • From ET to ER: A Medical Scare

    There’s nothing like a health scare to make you re-evaluate life. Or, at the very least, binge watch a lot of television.

    The saga I referred to in a previous post started with a sinus infection just after I returned from a trip to Boston. I’ve been on the road quite a bit this summer, both with work and with Ben, and it came as no surprise when I came down with a case of the general yucks.

    Of course, those yucks were complicated by a back that was out of alignment and this strange feeling that ran all the way down the back of my left leg. Within a week of returning home, I was in agony.

    Little did I know…

    I didn’t want to post updates to the blog, but instead sent them to Facebook, which is where I tend to put “breaking news” about the family. This saga was so entwined (and apparently entertaining) that a number of friends asked if I was writing everything down. So over the next three or four posts, I’ll try to relate the medical saga, starting now.

    ••••••

    • Aug. 21: I got off the plane from Boston and felt like my head was stuck in a vice grip. So I made a doctor’s appointment, and almost immediately felt worse.

    The reason? Waiting to see the doctor, the speakers piped in an Air Supply medley, followed by "Cat's in the Cradle" and "All I Need is the Air That I Breathe." At that rate, sinus headache was starting to sound like a permanent condition. I received some antibiotics, and later went to a Steve Earle concert with a good friend to permanently wipe the Muzak sound from my brain. That brought some temporary relief.

    ••••••

    • Aug. 24: My back is out of alignment, and it hurts like hell. This happens from time to time when I travel a lot. Usually I can self-correct any problems I’m having with the SI joint — the product of weak hips, thanks Mom and Dad! — but not this time.

    Finally, I sought out a chiropractor who seemed to set me straight, but I noticed that something was going on in the connection from the knee to the foot, which has succeeded in my arch and toes conducting a shouting match with the rest of my body. So far, the arch and toes are winning.

    ••••••

    • Aug. 26: Dear Baby Alien — I would appreciate it if you would choose your proper birth canal (Toes 2, 3, or 4 of my left foot) and exit at your earliest convenience. CGI optional.

    ••••••

    • Aug. 27: So I have a fistful of prescriptions — Rite Aid's formal dedication of the wing in our honor is being scheduled as we speak — and orders not to do anything for the next 48 hours that involves moving the lower half of my body. The reason: In addition to everything else that has been wrong with my back and knee, a MRI showed that I have a blood clot behind my knee.

    The good news is that I didn't have a pulmonary embolism today. Given that I've felt worse every time I've gone to the doctor over the past two months, I consider that a minor victory.

  • A Few Observations About Music

    If you know me, you know how much I love music. All kinds, live or studio. Ones that play to the masses — there’s nothing better than a good pop song — and ones that draw a handful to each show.

    My primary requirement is that the majority of the instruments be played by humans, not machines. Also, as a writer, I greatly appreciate anyone who can tell a story through words and/or emotions. The best performers can do both.

    Here are a few other thoughts I’ve had recently…

    • I'm an Elvis fan. Not a member of the cult, but one who recognizes his appeal, talent, and ability to cut across generations. (I'm also a big fan of the TCB band. Damn, they were good.)

    • Have you ever listened to an album and wondered, "What were they thinking when they chose THAT as the first single?"

    • Jon Dee Graham has long been one of my favorite artists, in part because he’s so freaking smart about the small things in life. Here is a quote in which he paraphrases Bruce Springsteen, another favorite:

    "Springsteen was here for South By Southwest and, the one thing that he said that really just killed me, because once again, it proves to me that artists are all the same…he said you must have absolute confidence and you must doubt completely, and you must be as brave as possible but you need to worry all the time, and you need to know that you're the best act in town and yet at the same time know in your heart you suck. And that's it, right there, that's it."

    • Milkduds and Merlot: Sounds like the end of a long day, the name of a country song ... or both.

    • And finally, a belated RIP to Etta James, who died in mid January. This song is not one of her best known, or even one of her best, but it’s definitely one of my favorites.

     

  • Life in DMV Hell

    A blood draw is preferable and more efficient than a morning in the labyrinth of bureaucracy known as the DMV.

    I went last week to get the tags and title for Bob’s car changed over, sat for more than two hours, and then was told that I had to come back with Jill to sign the paperwork. Why the person who gave me the number to wait in line could not have told me that is beyond me.

    So I came back for Round 2 on Monday. Jill worked from home, which is just over a mile from the DMV office, and agreed to meet me at a reasonable time. What we didn’t realize is that Round 2 is also known as Monday’s revenge

    I decided to channel my growing anger by sarcastically writing into my phone, so here’s what I came up with during the second long wait:

    • Songs on the DMV playlist: Highway to Hell, Misery, Enough is Enough, and that optimistic chestnut — No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

    • I’m wondering if I could get by with an Argo reference when I finally talk to the DMV rep.

    • DMV oxymoron: Civil servant.

    • R223 obviously didn't have his/her cup of coffee this morning. If he/she doesn't go to Window #5 soon, I think there may be a revolt.

    • There’s no need for lunch today. I've swallowed enough bile to last me a while.

    The good news is that we finally got everything worked out. Took about five minutes — after 4+ hours of waiting.

  • Fathers, Dads, Etc.

    This special “Father’s Day” essay is brought to you by the Department of Unsolicited Advice…

    Parenting is not a math problem. There are no definite right and wrong answers. In many respects, it’s a matter of taking your best guess at a moment in time and going with that, all the while knowing you might have to change course at some point along the way.

    I’ve been fortunate to have several father figures in my life, even if I didn’t make the connection at the time. Although none was more important than the man I called “Dad” for my first 42 years on earth, these people helped fill in the personal and professional gaps that have made me who I am today.

    Village clichés aside, I learned early in life that “family” has an elastic definition, one not confined to biology or genetics. My parents deeply loved each other and their children, but they also recognized they did not have all the answers. I’m so glad they didn’t try to pretend that they did.

    And despite having such good role models, I spent much of my first 30+ years terrified of actually being a parent, admiring those who did it well and feeling I could never measure up. As a result, much of my self-esteem centered on professional successes and less on personal ones, even after Jill and I got together and my four kids were born.

    It was only after my dad died that I realized my time on this earth was finite, and that my chances to have a direct impact on the upbringing of my kids was fleeting. I also saw the chance to be that male person that others could turn to, and tried to spend time listening and offering realistic, heartfelt advice and support where I could.

    Now, Father’s Day comes down to this for me:

    • Don’t forget to take a moment to realize that a young person is never too old for a hug, and that simple kindness is greatly underrated. 
    • Don’t be afraid to take responsibility for your actions and mistakes. An apology is not a mark of failure, but of maturity.
    • Don’t forget what brought you to this point, or those who brought you there.
    • Don’t be afraid to call out someone when necessary. 
    • Don’t forget to be thankful, even when the day/week/month/year/decade sucks.
    • Don’t be afraid to embrace uncertainty. It's where creativity begins.

    Most of all, remember that your life’s work is never done, even after you’re long gone. Whether you know it or not, your influence — good and bad — will be felt for generations to come. ‪#‎HappyFathersDay‬

  • Animals & The Natural Order

    We have a 13-year-old cat, Victoria, whose personality matches her name. She is quiet much of the time, enjoys being petted on occasion, and likes her routine of nap on chair/get up/eat/nap on bed/get up/bathroom/sun by doorway/sit on the window sill and trill like birds/nap on chair/wash-rinse-repeat.

    Victoria enjoys her routine so much that she is not afraid to use a little psychological warfare when necessary. A neighbor’s dog discovered this the hard way when he used our house as a timeshare while his primary caregivers were out of town. The dog ate Victoria’s food, so she proceeded to soil his. The dog tried to bump Vicky from the bed, so she proceeded to lie down in his bed and exfoliate fur all over it.

    After a couple of trips to our house, the dog’s short-term memory issues finally ended, and they reached a pleasant impasse. But it is obvious who is the true boss of our house, and it’s not the dog, no matter where his species may stand in the food chain.

    Earlier this year, Kate brought home a tomcat (Cairo) who was evicted peacefully from the 700-square-foot apartment where he lived with a couple, their newborn child, and another member of the feline species. Kate has long stated that she wanted another animal, and did the kid-typical, “I’ll take care of it, and do everything necessary to make sure that he is loved, etc.”

    That lasted about three days.

    What we discovered quickly is that Cairo is a high-maintenance, somewhat domineering animal with defined needs that he insists must be met. He has different meows to match those needs, which consist of rubbing on the head, rubbing on the back, making sure the food and water bowls are full at all times, and opening the door so he can go in or out at his whimsy.

    Victoria was not thrilled about Cairo’s presence and disruption of her routine, but she prefers to be non-confrontational. As long as Cairo stays away from her, Victoria is content to do the same. She has learned to deal with it, just as she has learned over time to deal with the dogs in her life.

    Cairo may be consistent in his persistence, but his cognitive skills leave a little to be desired. For some reason, even though he outweighs the neighbor’s new dog by a 2-to-1 margin, Cairo is terrified of him. He hides from the dog whenever possible. Strangely enough, when the dog comes over to check the kitchen floor for crumbs, the natural order of the house is restored, at least in Victoria’s eyes.

    And even though she hasn’t told me personally, I know it’s true. But I’m still not adding a dog permanently, no matter how much a child wants me to do so…

  • How My Website is Woven

    Having your own website is in many respects like taking care of a pet, a hybrid dog-cat-goldfish no less.

    Often it’s very active and dynamic (think dog), with changes occurring on a daily (if not more) basis. At times, though, it’s easy to let things just sit (sort of like the cat) or allow updates to float around in cyberspace (think fish).

    Animal metaphors aside, the past three to four months have been so hectic that I haven’t paid as much attention to my site as much as I’d like or need to, considering it is the portal into my mind and my business. Between freelance assignments, photo gigs, and business/family travel, I’ve let it sit for too long.

    That's not a complaint, just a fact. So I’ve taken some time over the past few days to make a slew of updates, and I hope never to get this far behind again.

    Here’s what you’ll see: A revised homepage, fully up-to-date blog, new freelance articles, a new “Columns” page, and additions to the “Performances,” “Events,” and “Visual Storytelling” sections. I still have new headshots to post as well.

    I hope you like the tweaks and changes. Take a minute to peruse and let me know what you think. All comments and suggestions welcome…

  • Stories Published in National Magazines

    Life as a freelance writer has its challenges, but the diversity of topics you get to work on is often fascinating.

    Since March, I’ve had six different pieces published by national organizations, and more are coming soon. Of those already available, five of the six are for two education associations (ASCD and the National School Boards Association), while the sixth is a piece written for the Minority Corporate Council Association (MCCA). 

    Even the MCCA story has an education component. Titled The Future of the Legal Profession and published this week, it focuses on the winners of the organization’s LMJ Scholarship. The winner who starts off the story,  Jiali “Keli” Huang, has a fascinating tale to tell.

    Here is a list of what has been published recently. (Click on the link to access or download any of the pieces, unless otherwise noted.)

    • Early Start on STEM (May-June 2015): Early colleges take on many guises and forms, ranging from separate campuses that serve small groups of students in a targeted manner to schoolwide initiatives that offer college-level courses to all eligible students. Students at the STEM Early College, a partnership between North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools and A&T that opened in 2012, will graduate from high school with up to 60 hours of college credit in their chosen field.
    • Electronic School: Tech Visits (March-April 2015): Any school leader knows that ongoing success is contingent on factors that go beyond who lives and works in your community. When your technology programs are versatile enough to be replicated in other districts, that’s even better.
    • Principal Leadership: Focus on Professional Development (Winter 2015): The days of leadership by decree are gone, as this series of stories written for ASCD's quarterly "Policy Priorities" newsletter shows. Today, successful principals collaborate, communicate, and share responsibility with their teachers and staff. They understand the job has evolved to one that puts instructional leadership first, even when the mundane, though equally important, day-to-day administrative demands threaten to interfere.

    The next two articles, written for ASCD’s “Education Update,” point you to a landing page where you can read a short sample of the article. Entire issues are available for purchase and download.

    • The Final Push Before Summer (May 2015): What schools can do between the end of standardized testing and the ringing of the last bell to set the stage for student success in the next year and beyond.
    • Reaching Them Early On (March 2015): Schools and cities are scrambling to provide early intervention as infants and toddlers suffer from the highest rates of poverty in the nation.

    Meanwhile, as part of my work for AASA’s 150th anniversary issue that was published in February, I’ve also written up and edited transcripts of interviews conducted with 16 top education leaders. The interviews, which are being archived and likely will be used online, provide a great deal of insight into the organization, its advocacy efforts over the years, and its victories and struggles.

    What is fantastic about this is that it gives readers an opportunity to see the full interviews, which had a lot of fascinating tidbits and insight that did not make it into the six features I wrote for the organization. (You can read individual stories or all six here on my website.) 

    The interviews include AASA’s current and former executive directors (Daniel DomenechPaul Houston) key former staff (Bruce HunterGary MarxFenwick English), board members who made a dramatic impact (June GablerSarah JeromeEugene White), D.C. area education leaders (Anne Bryant/Thomas ShannonGene CarterJack Jennings), state association leaders (Ozzie RoseWalt Whitfield), and longtime AASA members (Burke RoysterPeter Corona).

    Access the individual interviews by clicking on the person’s name, or see the entire set in one document here.

    Thanks for reading, and if you know anyone who’s in the market for a good writer, let me know. Right now, I don’t have much to work on, and as you can see, I like to stay busy.

  • STEM Early College Profile

    Last week, I went down to Greensboro, N.C., to — among other things — take pictures at the STEM Early College at North Carolina A&T University. The photos are for a story I wrote on early colleges for an upcoming issue of American School Board Journal. Not all will be used, but I thought this made for a nice photo essay on some of the work that is being done at the school.

    The STEM Early College opened in the fall of 2012 as a joint project between Guilford County Schools and A&T. It is the second early college the district has on the A&T campus. The school opened with 50 ninth-grade students and has added 50 each year (maximum enrollment 200). Students finish their state-mandated high school credits in two years and spend the next two years on college coursework. By the time they graduate — and almost 100% are on track to do so — they will have a high school diploma and up to 60 hours of college credit.

    Given the high cost of college tuition, the move toward early colleges is taking off. Guilford County, the third largest district in North Carolina, has the most early colleges in the nation.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook page here.

  • A Few Words of Thanks

    It's great to hear kind words about my kids and to see the things they are doing/trying to do as they all approach huge next phases in their lives.

    More than 20 years after we first got together, it's also nice to be approaching this time in life with Jill. Over the past couple of years, our friendship and relationship has grown and deepened in ways I could have only hoped when we first met during the days of Friends, Frasier and Northern Exposure.

    All in all, despite my occasional bitching and moaning, I know I'm lucky, and I wouldn't trade this life with them for anything.

    So here's a big thank you to Nicholas, Kate, Emma, Ben, and especially Jiil. I don't know what I would do without you.

  • Freelancing Truths & Myths

    5 truths and 5 myths from an experienced freelance writer...

    1. Truth: Reporters generally don't write the headline.

    2. Myth: Reporters have no influence over the headline.

    3. Truth: Some copy editors are overzealous and determined to make the story the one they saw when it was assigned, not the one you reported.

    4. Myth: Copy editors are frustrated hacks who do nothing to improve the writer's work. (Most of them are good/excellent at their jobs, and really do everything they can to improve your work.)

    5. Truth: Many sources have little knowledge, respect or understanding for what we do or the deadlines we face. (Bonus truth: Most people have little knowledge, respect, or understanding of the phrase "deadline," period.)

    6. Myth: The media is full of unprofessional hacks and paparazzi who don't deserve our time or attention.

    7. Truth: A real journalist/freelancer works diligently to get the best, most truthful story we can, reported well and turned in by the deadline.

    8. Myth: Most journalists are out to sensationalize and get the best possible headline to advance their careers. This is a myth, if only for the simple reason that most journalists no longer have "careers" in the traditional sense.

    9. Truth: The ones who take it seriously are very professional. We try not to waste your time. We are professional and courteous. We have a job to do just like you do, and we're trying to put food on the table to feed our families.

    10. Myth: Mondays are great days to ask a freelance writer who can't get his calls returned to have his blood pressure checked.

  • Interviewing B.B. King

    In 1991, I was fortunate to have an hour-long, one-on-one interview with BB King at a hotel in Houston. The interview covered much of the terrain you'll see in the various tributes to the blues legend, but I have three random — though distinct — memories from that day.

    First, King had the biggest hands of anyone I've ever met, with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali (that's another story). Just huge, with a diamond on his left hand that could have paid for my college education.

    Speaking of college, I asked King about Charles Brown, a blues pianist from Texas City who started around the same time and was then enjoying a revitalized career thanks to Bonnie Raitt. King said he always wondered why Brown chose the life of a musician. "We were all jealous of him because he went to college," King said. "He had so many more options than the rest of us."

    Finally, King said his only option was to work harder and longer than everyone else. "This is what I do," he said in a matter of fact manner. "I don't play golf. I can't imagine playing golf."

  • Baltimore: The Day After

    I’m no longer a news reporter, but I am a storyteller. That’s why I drove to Baltimore on Tuesday, pulled by an inexplicable force to capture what I saw and heard.

    The constant barrage of stories in the wake of Monday’s riots left me navigating a strange mix of anger and sadness. Long fascinated by American history, especially the unrest during the era in which I was born, I could not help but feel we’ve taken a huge step backward.

    What I saw confirmed a long-gestating belief that we’ve not come as far as I naively hoped and thought 10 years ago. As a society, we keep making the same mistakes over and over, doomed to repeat them with each passing generation because things don't fundamentally change.

    ••••••

    I’ve long had a fascination with Baltimore, located about an hour from where we live. The city is a study in racial and economic contrasts, from the beauty of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards area to the rampant poverty, unemployment and crime in the western part of the city.

    On Tuesday, I drove past the stadium where we took our kids to their first major-league baseball game. No games were being played; when the Orioles took the field again the next afternoon, the stadium was empty.

    I parked on Franklin Street and started walking, almost by reflex, toward the theatre where Ben has performed in two national tours over the past three years. But I was pulled, camera in hand, toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

    I started taking pictures, all the while aware of my surroundings on this beautiful spring day. I smiled when someone told me to be careful, nodded at the two kids who asked if I was going "down there" to take pictures, and watched the helicopters circling overhead. As I walked past the small shops and buildings, many boarded up or closed, I did my best to ignore the occasional person who yelled at me to take their picture. Instead, I took random photos of what I saw as I moved through the Upton-Druid Heights neighborhood and toward the CVS Pharmacy at the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania.

    •••••• 

    The CVS, as we all know by now, was one of the businesses burned during Monday’s riots in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man whose spine was severed while in police custody. It follows similar incidents in several U.S. cities following controversial actions by police, most notably in Ferguson, Mo., last fall.

    African-Americans in Baltimore have long had a difficult relationship with police. In Maryland, one-third of the state’s residents who are imprisoned come from Baltimore, costing taxpayers an estimated $220 million annually. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reported that the city has paid $5.7 million over four years to settle lawsuits that accused the police of using excessive force.

    Walking through Upton-Druid Heights on Tuesday afternoon, several hours before the 10 p.m. curfew imposed on the city, I passed groups of people standing on street corners and in front of small markets and mom-and-pop stores. Many buildings and abandoned row houses, once a symbol of stability for African-American families in the city, are crumbling.

    At one point, I overheard a conversation between two women, probably in their late 20s. One was almost yelling about her former boyfriend, saying that he didn’t have work, wouldn’t find work, and was stealing all of her cigarettes. She said she wouldn’t take him back again, no matter “how good he is,” because he tried to stash items stolen during the looting at her apartment.

    Her friend just nodded.

    ••••••

    Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, the nation’s most affluent state. Since riots in the late 1960s, the city has lost one-third of its population, and manufacturing jobs have dropped by 90 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for African-Americans is $33,610, compared to $60,550 for white households in Baltimore. Almost one-fourth of the city’s residents live below the poverty line, and unemployment among African-Americans ages 20 to 24 is an amazing 37 percent.

    This is difficult to reconcile when touring the Inner Harbor area and parts of downtown. But it’s not hard to see when you walk through Upton-Druid Heights, where half of the people live in poverty and 64 percent of black males are unemployed, according to the New York Times.

    Driving into Baltimore, radio reports noted that the National Guard had been sent to Baltimore. But despite a strong police presence at the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania, where camera crews were set up outside the CVS and a large crowd held up signs and chanted their protests, law enforcement was largely scattered. A gaggle of helicopters flew overhead, circling above in the clear sky.

    The National Guard was protecting the Inner Harbor, several miles away. The police department, who some would say caused the situation in the first place, was stationed in Upton-Druid Heights.

    ••••••

    Just before I reached the drug store, I saw a group of adults and kids painting a mural on an old building. The group is part of Jubilee Arts Baltimore, an organization that provides arts classes to the residents of Upton and Sandtown-Winchester. Part of the Newborn Holistic Ministries, Jubilee Arts is responsible for many of the murals that dot Pennsylvania Avenue, most of them celebrating African-American history and exhorting residents to find community unity.

    One of the Jubilee Arts volunteers told me the adults felt lucky to be working on the mural that day. Their places of business were closed in the wake of Monday’s riots, and schools weren’t open.

    While I understand why many businesses were closed and the Orioles game was cancelled, I have trouble reconciling the fact that schools were not open on Tuesday or Wednesday. For kids living in entrenched poverty, schools offer stability and, often, an opportunity to get a healthy meal. I can see why school leaders decided not to hold classes, given the unrest and tension in the city, but I can’t help but feel the kids were done a disservice.

    “It was good for the kids,” the volunteer told me. “They needed some place to go.”

    ••••••

    Over the past several days, I’ve been reading about Baltimore obsessively. It has affected me in the same way Hurricane Katrina did for many of the same reasons. I can’t help but shake my head and wonder what it will take for things to change.

    What will it take for police abuse to stop? What will it take for people to stop taking advantage of others, capitalizing on legitimate protests and twisting them into moments of violence and destruction? Will we recede back into our pre-established positions and comfortable lives until the next time something like this happens?

    As I drove home, I could not help but wonder: What will it take?

    For more photos, go to my Facebook page here.

  • Writing, Photos in National Magazine

    My writing and photos are featured in the current issue of Diversity & the Bar, a magazine published by the Minority Corporate Council Association. "A Career Built By Opening Doors for Others" is a profile of Thomas L. Sager, former general counsel for DuPont Co. Sager helped develop the DuPont Legal Model, an industry benchmark and process for law firms to promote diverse and inclusive cultures while redefining how they measure success.

    Take a look by visiting http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Stories Focus on AASA's History

    The American Association of School Administrators celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015. For its February conference edition, I was hired to write six major stories on the organization’s history. The project took more than two months and involved more than 25 interviews as well as background research.

    You can read the digital edition of the magazine in its entirety by clicking here. PDFs of the individual stories can be accessed by clicking the links below.

    AASA’s Origins: A look at the organization’s beginning, which dates back to four months after President Lincoln was assassinated, as well as major developments throughout its 150-year history.

    Governance and Policymaking: How AASA’s governance structure has evolved over its history, plus major policy stances taken by the organization to help children be ready and prepared for school.

    Conferences and Networking: Professional development is one of the hallmarks of any membership association. This story takes a look at how AASA’s training for its members has evolved over time, from large conventions to working with specific niches of school leaders.

    Federal Advocacy: Known on Capitol Hill as a feisty, respected advocate for its members and the school children they serve, AASA has taken a number of controversial stands over its history to help improve public education.

    Faces of Leadership: The superintendency has long been a profession dominated by white males, but the number of women leading school districts has grown steadily over the past three decades. Still, the lack of African-American and Latino leadership in what is now a minority-majority school system nationally is troubling.

    Publications and Communications: Visible member services, such as publications, are critical to any association. Today, however, AASA’s communications efforts go far beyond the materials that land in a member’s home mailbox.

  • Articles in USF Magazine

    Five of my freelance stories, including a profile of new Dean Robert H. Bishop, are featured in the Fall 2014 issue of enVision, the twice-annual magazine of the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering. Check them out here.

  • Two Magazine Cover Stories Published

    Two freelance cover stories I've written for the National Association of Secondary School Principals are now available to read on my website

    The newest, published this month, is a profile of Jayne Ellspermann, who was honored as National Principal of the Year for her leadership at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla. 

    Also posted is my November 2014 profile of NASSP's Digital Principal Award recipients and the challenges they face in infusing technology throughout their schools.

    To see and download the stories, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Reflecting on the Freelance Life

    I’ve always found the creative process fascinating, whether it’s reporting and writing a story, composing and taking photos, or watching a show develop from page to production.

    The end result — the product — usually is less interesting, because it’s “done” and I’m on to the next thing. For years, I rarely looked back at stories I had written or photos I shot. Some find it interesting that I don’t go to every performance of every show that our kids do, or go to the theater every time I see Ben on the road. But I have no burning desire — or the cash flow — to do it.

    Since my father died in 2007, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on my childhood and what shaped me as I try to help in the shaping of my children. Today, almost eight years after his death, I am hyperaware of time and the opportunities we have to enjoy experiences or let them slip through our fingers. I understand that creating “art” — if you could call what I do that — allows me to keep his spirit alive.

    Perhaps it’s a function of getting older, or being a freelancer for these past 19 months, but the creative process I’m engaged in now forces me to look back and revisit what I’ve done and where I’ve been on a consistent basis. The daily photos you see here and on my Facebook photo page are a function of reflecting on past work — “Why did I shoot THAT?!?” — even as I’m trying to promote getting more work. And the writing jobs I’m seeking require me to showcase the work I’ve done before.

    As a lifelong fan of history (familial, cultural, and political), I enjoy analyzing and figuring out how past events have shaped and continue to affect us to this day and beyond. A number of the essays in this blog merge those interests, allowing me to be creative (I hope) and analytical at the same time. It’s my way of explaining how my parents, family and friends have affected my life and parenting style, or whether a significant cultural event or watershed moment has forced me to look at the world just a little bit differently.

    When I had a “regular job,” I could easily point back to what I had produced, how I had managed a budget, or how many trips I had taken. When I opened my writing and photography business in July 2013, I started with nothing and was tasked with creating something from scratch.

    The juggling act that represents a freelance life is no easier than juggling the parenting of multiple teenagers. In fact, the parallels are quite striking. You never are away from it completely. You are always looking toward the future while facing the present and — I hope — learning from past mistakes and victories. You alternately feel overwhelmed, grateful, and happy/sad/exhausted/indifferent/victorious — sometimes at the same time.

    Both require you to be on your toes and constantly creative. And, I’ve got to say, I do enjoy that, even if my toes hurt more than they should on some days.

    ••••••

    So, given that preamble, I recently decided to look back at what I accomplished as a professional freelancer during 2014. And I was surprised at how productive the year actually was. 

    Here’s a list:

    • Wrote 30 feature length articles for state and national publications, several of which have come out early this year. At least one featured my photography as well.

    • Regularly updated this blog with additional essays — including ones published on LinkedIn — and photographs.

    • Shot two national conferences.

    • Photographed multiple events in conjunction with Metropolitan School of the Arts (MSA).

    • Had 20 portrait and family sessions.

    • Developed a photo series that I've dubbed “Art & Dance," which led to MSA’s first-ever calendar featuring its own students. We sold more than 70 calendars and my business donated the net profit — $500 — to the school.

    Meanwhile, the Facebook photography page (www.facebook.com/ourrealityshow) has grown to more than 1,300 followers. A website (http://glenncookphoto.smugmug.com) was set up to provide a reasonably priced method for selling prints and digital images of my MSA event pictures. More than 350 images have been sold, more than paying for the cost of the site and bringing in a small profit. I hope to expand the site to include more of my artwork in the near future.

    There’s a lot more where that came from, I’m sure. And now that I’ve spent a few moments reflecting, it’s on to the next project.

    The creative process demands it, as does the life of a freelancer.

  • The Last 5 Years: Our Reality Show

    Five years ago today, sitting in a small one-bedroom apartment on a drizzly fall Sunday in Manhattan, I started a blog called “Our Reality Show.” It was designed to be the story of parenting four kids, all of whom were reality shows unto themselves in some way.

    And that’s where the focus largely has stayed, with some side jaunts here and there. Looking back on the entries published since October 2009, I’ve managed to focus on parenting for the most part, whether it’s my parenting (or lack thereof) or the influence my parents and others have had on me.

    Even though my blogging has been wildly inconsistent, the whole process has been a learning experience as a writer and communicator. I’d like to think that I’m a better parent, son, and spouse as a result of the hours that have gone into thinking about things to write, and actually writing these essays.

    So in honor of the anniversary, let’s look at where our cast of characters is today:

    • Jill: Now the assistant director for the American School Counselor Association, my spouse/partner/best friend/love also is an excellent juggler, balancing her increasingly busy and fruitful career with being a loving and kind mom to her children. Marriage is not perfect, but almost 20 years after we first got together, I could not imagine going through this life without her.

    • Nicholas: Now 21 (unbelievable), he is a senior at Elon University and graduates next May. My oldest and I have had our share of bumps, no surprise given the acrimonious breakup between his mom and dad. But I could not be prouder of how he has handled himself, especially over the past year and a half. He is finding his way in terms of his career and in how he handles his relationships (the girlfriend, Katherine, helps a lot) with his siblings and the rest of his family. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

    • Kate: A high school senior (!), our 17-year-old has struggled mightily at times over the past few years as she works to cope with ADHD/bipolar disorder. Jill, Kate, and I have tried to be forthcoming about the challenges that she faces and our family deals with as a result of this unfortunate genetic roll of the dice, and you’ll see several essays on this topic. Raising a teenager under these circumstances is no cakewalk for anyone involved, but Kate has made progress thanks to the support she has received both inside and outside the family. At her core, she is a kind, sweet person with a loving, generous soul. She is wonderful with younger children, has a job, and is on the path to graduate. That will be an accomplishment she and everyone involved in her life can take great pride in.

    • Emma: The oldest twin (by a minute), I’ve long referred to Miss Em as “the normal one,” the Marilyn to our Herman, Lily, Grandpa and Eddie. But, more accurately, she should be characterized as the family’s old soul, the one who in many respects is far more mature and grounded than she has a right to be. Like any teenager, our 16-year-old has her struggles trying to manage life’s juggle of school, activities, peer relationships, and — for the past several months — boyfriend (!). But she is such a hard worker, so intrinsically motivated to do her best in almost everything, that I can’t help but sit back and say, “Wow.”

    • Ben: Without question, Ben has had the most interesting trajectory over these past five years. When I started this blog, we were splitting our time between Northern Virginia and Manhattan because he was starting to work on the Broadway revival of “Ragtime.” Since then, he’s performed in “Billy Elliot” on Broadway and on tour, a show (“Golden Age”) at the Kennedy Center, been on episodes of three Emmy-winning TV series, and now is on the “Newsies” national tour. The path he has been on, and the journey we have taken in the process, has made for much of the fodder on this blog. What I’m most pleased to say, however, is that through all of this he remains a good kid with a good head on his shoulders, and he genuinely loves what he does.

    This is our core cast, although you can also add Jeremiah, Ginno, and others with equally significant parts in our extended family. We have been blessed with a fascinating group of friends and extended family members who have added greatly to our lives.

    Throughout all this, I’ve tried to chronicle the ups, downs and in-betweens of this journey. Sometimes it’s been joyous, funny, or nostalgic. At others, it’s been questioning, sad, angry, or melancholy. I hope, however, that it has been truthful and entertaining for you as the reader.

    After all, it’s our reality. Or better yet, our reality show.

  • Timeless Moments — Live and in Person

    The first time I tried to see The Replacements, my grandfather died. The second time I tried to see them, almost three years later, my grandmother followed suit. Two years after that, the band broke up.

    Given the seeming effect on my family’s mortality, I chalked it up to a curse, a weird piece of karma that seemed on the fringes of a fate that seemed to have befallen one of the most influential groups of my generation.

    Of all the bands I listen to, and I listen to a lot, The Replacements are the ones that should have made it. They should have been playing to stadiums of 15,000 instead of clubs of 150 and small venues of 1,500.

    On Sept. 19, they played in a stadium — one that held the U.S. Open for more than 50 years and, like the band, is making a comeback of its own as a neighborhood concert venue. Unlike the other times, I was there, despite some hurdles.

    But no one in my family died — thank God. And the show was even better than I imagined.

    ••••••

    Explaining my lifelong affair with music is difficult. As a writer and photographer, I love songwriters who capture life’s little moments and tell complete, visual stories with smart and clever turns of phrase in 2½ to 4 minutes. I greatly admire musicians — especially guitarists, piano players, and a good horn section — whose passion seeps through every chord change, whether you hear them live or in the studio. And, even though I can’t carry a tune, I appreciate singers who can push the limits of their instrument to bring intense feelings of emotion and release to the songs.

    My grandmother, who loved music of all kinds well into her 80s, believed very strongly that the best songs are reflections of their time in a way that's somehow timeless. It’s through this lens that I hear music. How does it relate to a specific era? Does it sound dated, or is does it mean as much today as it did when it was first released?

    I’m not nostalgic for my childhood or, even worse, my teenage years or my early to mid 20s when I hear music. I’m looking for timeless, and for the most part, Paul Westerberg’s songs are just that, just like the cover songs the band plays (some successfully; others not so much).

    I did not become a Replacements fan until "Let it Be," then became obsessed when “Tim,” their major label debut, was released in 1985. At the time I was just really starting to get into contemporary music, having grown up on a steady diet of Elvis and the 50s groups and singers that my father and grandmother loved.

    “Tim” was unpredictable, a mashup of different genres and styles that combined yearning and attitude, disenchantment and hope, anger and heartache, with a sound that ranged from acoustic to punk. You could never tell where the band was going next, but their diversity of styles shaped my tastes in a way that no group has done before or since.

    Like too many of the great ones, The Replacements’ influence was much greater than their reach, with only one song approaching the Billboard Top 50 while they were active. They alternated brilliance with self-destruction, always coming this close to success before imploding on themselves in some way.

    When they broke up in 1991, it felt right at the time, but wrong nonetheless.

    •••••• 

    “God, what a mess, on the ladder of success. Took one step and missed the whole first rung.”

    I followed Westerberg’s career — in part because he was the chief songwriter and lead singer — the closest after the band drifted apart. I read the stories about the demise of Bob Stinson, the original lead guitarist who was fired from the band for erratic behavior and a Keith Richards-like habit (though, sadly, not professional constitution) of ingesting various legal and illegal substances.

    Westerberg stopped touring in 2005 and, despite the reissue of The Replacements’ catalog three years later, stubbornly refused to get the band back together. Chris Mars, the original drummer, became a painter. Tommy Stinson, the teenage bass player, started lucrative gigs with Guns ‘n Roses, among other bands.

    It wasn’t until Slim Dunlap, who replaced Bob Stinson as the lead guitarist, suffered a massive stroke a couple of years ago that Westerberg and Tommy Stinson decided to resurrect the band’s name. They recorded a five-track EP to launch the Songs for Slim project, raised more than $100,000 to help pay for Dunlap's medical care, and — just as important — enjoyed it so much that they decided to play together again.

    The tour — actually a series of one-off concerts at major summer festivals — coincided with my layoff last May. The timing, along with the easy availability of concert tapes that surfaced as mp3s within days after each show, gave me a chance to listen to the group in a way I hadn’t done since the mid 1980s. And ironically, as I approach 50, the lyrics resonated in a way they hadn’t when I was in my 20’s.

    I hoped Westerberg, Stinson, and the replacement Replacements would come our way at some point. When they announced the Forest Hills concert, I had my chance. And, short of family members passing away, I was determined to take it.

    ••••••

    Forest Hills Stadium is located in a residential section of Queens. It hosted the U.S. Open from 1924 to 1977 and, despite some renovations and the addition of some seating and a permanent stage, remains the same horseshoe-shaped concrete landmark befitting of the quiet neighborhood.

    Concerts were held during the stadium’s heyday, with The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Barbra Steisand, Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix and others performing there. The venue was reopened to live music last year, with a strict curfew of 10 p.m. to keep the residential peace, and was a perfect place for an outdoor show just before the official start of fall dawned.

    Since taking up photography professionally, I’ve tried to shoot concerts on the now-rare times that I go, partly because of the challenge of live events and in part because I want to capture the groups that I enjoy. The ubiquity of camera phones has made it impossible to police the taking of stills and video, but Forest Hills had a strict policy of no professional cameras.

    I tried to contact the promoter, the band, and the stadium, but was unsuccessful. Finally, I just decided to say to heck with it, take my camera and see what happened. Because Jill couldn’t come due to circumstances at home, I was meeting our friend Bernadette at the venue, so I had some extra time.

    Arriving an hour before the two openers — Deer Tick and The Hold Steady — began, I was promptly stopped by security and told I couldn’t take the camera in. Rather than take the train back to Manhattan where I was staying — there was no parking at the stadium — I managed to convince security to let me in with the camera, but no battery.

    The security guard, a nice guy that I chatted with for a half hour, told me as I left that I could get the battery back if I could somehow manage to swing a press pass. He too had been a photographer and sympathized with my situation.

    Walking in, I looked around the stadium and thought back to all of the events and history that had occurred there. Readers of this blog know that I’m fascinated by history, an interest that dates back to my grandmother and dad. I walked over to Guest Promotions and talked to the two women sitting at the table as the sun set, talking to them about the stadium, the musicians that performed there, and my desire to photograph my favorite band. They too were sympathetic, but said they could not give me a press pass.

    Instead, they did me one better, giving me a sticker that allowed me to go to the VIP tent and score free beer and food. I showed it to the security guard, noted my dumb fortune, and he fished the battery out of his pocket.

    “I guess it’s your lucky day.”

    ••••••

    Lucky, indeed. The pass allowed me to walk through the floor area and snap away, although I also wanted to experience the band from my vantage point in the lower bowl (which happened to be close to the VIP tent). When I returned to my bleacher seat off stage left, I had a stack of photos on my SD card and the feeling of finally being close to the band I could have seen almost 30 years before.

    That allowed me to sit back (and stand from time to time) and listen to The Replacements perform their catalogue of should-have-been hits. This time, however, it felt like a valedictory lap as the crowd sang along to a band firing on all cylinders. Song after song, anthem after anthem, I found myself moved during each verse chorus verse.

    I could never be a music critic. I love what I love too much to pick things apart and I dismiss the stuff I don’t like with barely a passing glance. A flubbed lyric here, a missed chord there — it means little to me if emotion and passion are in its place. Watching The Replacements become the rock stars they once ached to be, seeing the faces and hearing sing-along shouting of fans old and new, was more than worth it.

    You could not help but join in, too.

  • Fourth 'Money Matters' Column

    My latest "Money Matters" column for American School Board Journal, focusing on the financial pressures school districts face as they try to serve more nutritious meals to students, is now available in the Freelance section of the website. Take a look...

  • Freelance article: ASCD & Teacher Leaders

    A series of stories I wrote on teacher leadership has been published in the Spring 2014 edition of ASCD’s “Policy Priorities” newsletter. Published under the headline, “Teacher Leaders: Going Outside the Classroom and Beyond,” this eight-page package of stories focuses on how schools are defining new roles for teachers. It includes sidebars on three teacher leaders, a piece on transforming leadership, and an executive summary.

    To get to the story, visit this link. For more of my freelance articles, visit http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Back to My Roots

    You’ve heard the clichés: “What goes around comes around…” “Everything old is new again.”

    In some respects, that applies to my current career path. Thirty years ago, just after my high school graduation, I started my first job at my hometown newspaper, writing stories and taking pictures.

    Today, 10 months after my job was eliminated, I’m relying on those skills and building my own business as a writer, photographer, editor, and consultant.

    You can see my photography daily on the blog and my growing Facebook page, which now has more than 1,100 “Likes.” I also write essays on being a stage parent for the D.C. Metro Theatre Scene — also posted here — and have started a series of essays that I call “Not-So-Hidden D.C.,” focusing on lesser-known aspects of our nation’s capital.

    What helps pay the bills, however, are consulting — I started working with a Chicago-based advertising firm on a contract last month — as well as freelance writing, headshots, and event photography. I’ve also been taking photos for the Metropolitan School of the Arts.

    It’s been an interesting time, and one that appeals to my ever-so-ADD nature because it provides great variety.  And what I recently discovered is that the thrill of seeing my byline is something that never goes away.

    Earlier this week, I received two freelance pieces in the mail that I wrote earlier this year. One is the “Money Matters” column I’m writing for my former publication; the second is a piece on chronic absenteeism for ASCD, an organization that serves K-12 administrators and teachers.

    You can find both pieces in the Writing section of this website, which I recently reconfigured to reflect both my past work and my current projects. I hope you’ll take a look.

  • Packing It In

    Anyone I have met over the last 16 years has probably seen the black backpack I carry everywhere. Unfortunately I discovered recently that the bag, which I purchased just after Ben and Emma were born, had a tear on the side (most likely a seam frayed by age) and could not be fixed.

    This was a big deal. That backpack carried five laptops, three iPads, numerous cell phones, and more books, cords, and junk than I care to admit. It has been to 20 states and to a foreign country (Costa Rica) and never failed. Not once. 

    Even though this may sound somewhat extreme, for me it is like losing the family pet, albeit one that should have its own frequent flier account. But the tear became progressively worse in recent weeks, and I knew something had to be done.

    I decided to start with Brenthaven, the Seattle-based company that sold me the first backpack in December 1997. Brenthaven offers a lifetime guarantee for its products, a fact I touted to Jill then in an attempted justification for buying the backpack and my first laptop. (Needless to say, she was none-too-pleased about the purchase, given that we had twin newborns and a child who was not yet a toddler, but that’s another story.)

    A week ago, I called Brenthaven and explained the situation, figuring that 16+ years went well beyond the “lifetime guarantee” for a simple backpack, even one that had cost $100 at the time. My thinking was that they would offer a percentage off a new purchase, which was fine because I like — and obviously have gotten great use from — their product.

    Instead, the operator informed me that I could receive another backpack, equivalent to the one I had purchased. She also gave me three options for replacements. The only thing I was required to do was pay shipping.

    Today the new backpack arrived and my stuff was transferred seamlessly. The only thing different is the new model is a little lighter and gray. I think that metaphor is fitting, because in your 40s you see a lot more gray than black (or white) in a lot of areas of life.

    I also was glad to see a business live up to its word — something we don’t hear about too often, given how disposable so many things are today. And yet, I was a little sad to retire my old traveling companion for good.

    But it has done its time … and then some.

  • 'Money Matters' Column Makes Debut

    "Money Matters: The Cost of Technology": My first column as contributing editor for American School Board Journal, the magazine where I worked for 12 years, focuses on practical money tips for school board members. The column will appear 6 times a year. You can read it online at ASBJ.com or download it in the Freelance Articles and Columns section of this website. 

  • The Consistency Quest

    My mom used to say my epitaph should be, “If I could only do this tomorrow.”

    Yes, I procrastinate, often to my physical and emotional detriment. It’s one reason I’ve enjoyed my journalism/communications career. Deadlines rule, and I function very well when I have deadlines.

    Unfortunately, I seem to have passed this trait to Emma, which for her is a genetic contradiction. In so many ways, she is just like her mom — logical to a fault, careful yet generous with her time and resources, a listmaker, and far harder on herself than she should be at any given point in life.

    Emma is all of those things and more, except when it comes to getting her homework done. On that, she moves at the pace of freshly captured escargot, just like her dad. The work is done, but she pushes the deadline to the last second, losing sleep and rest in the process.

    Ben, on the other hand, is more like his mom on the homework thing. He makes lists in a logical pattern and knocks things off in a sequential, pre-determined order until everything is done. He starts his work when he gets home and sticks with it until he’s finished, at times to our chagrin and exasperation.

    Nicholas, who is in college, is just as organized, if not more so. And then there is Kate, the person who lives day to day. If she has no homework today, then she has no homework, regardless of whether yesterday’s wasn’t done or tomorrow’s hasn’t been formally assigned yet.

    “If only I could do this tomorrow.”

    ••••••

    Genetics are the only reason I can give for why this happened. I have two boys — from different mothers, no less — who are anal retentive about homework and their assignments. On the other hand, my girls are either indifferent about time frames or, frankly, could care less.

    Confused? So am I…

    In all truth, I blame my mom’s side of the family for the retentive gene, which seems to have skipped at least one generation and landed squarely in the pools belonging to my sons.

    My mom, as she describes it, was taught by the rule of the A. All my grandfather wanted to see was her report card. If it was anything less than straight A’s, he asked her about the B. (And, as she was quick to remind me, there was never more than one B).

    Somehow I skipped the rule of B, unless it meant “boredom.” I was bored from the day I started kindergarten until the day I finished high school. The classes I found interesting weren’t hard; the tough classes were not at all interesting. In fact, the only reason I’m a writer today was because my 10th grade journalism class was supposed to be an easy A, and it gave me an excuse to talk to people.

    Strange how this works, isn’t it?

    ••••••

    What motivates you? I ask myself that question almost every day, and quite frankly, am still not sure of the answer.

    My best guess is that I have an insatiable desire to chronicle and be creative. Writing and photography are ways to do both, when something catches my eye or worms its way through my ears into my brain.

    Perhaps that comes from my grandmother, who kept a daily diary for more than 60 years. Or maybe it’s from my dad, an artist who dabbled in a variety of visual genres. Of course I see it in my kids and their friends, who chronicle their lives to varying degrees on social media.

    Writing is how I process the big stuff — what you read here is where I am at a given moment, unable to shake what is occurring until I write it down. I’ve never found value in writing just to fill space, just like I can’t stand people who speak in meetings just to hear themselves talk. It’s not useful for anyone concerned.

    Photography is my way of processing the loads of visual information I see in a creative manner. It makes me stop and look at the world, whether close up or at a distance, in a different way.

    I’m still searching for ways to merge the two, which is what you see in this space. 

    Last month marked four years since I started blogging, and it was around that time that I began to take photos and post them to Facebook. When my job situation changed earlier this year, I wanted to merge the two while improving my online/social networking skills at the same time, hence the website and the “Daily Photo” you see here and on my Facebook photo page.

    I’m not under the impression that the masses will ever flock to this place to read my words or look at my images; if anything, this attempt at consistency is one way of staving off my natural sense of procrastination. Someday, I would like to have an art show (I think my dad would be proud) or publish one of my pieces somewhere besides the web.

    But as I approach 50 — I turn 49 in January — I’m finding that’s not as important as the quest for consistency. After all, why wait until tomorrow what you can do today?

  • First Freelance Article in NASSP Magazine

    My first freelance article appears in the current issue of Principal Leadership, the magazine of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Ahead of the Digital Learning Curve profiles winners of the 2013 NASSP Digital Principal Award and looks at how the infusion of social networking is influencing leadership and instruction.

  • Raising a Bipolar Child

    Note about this entry: This essay was printed in the May/June 2009 issue of Exceptional Parent, a national publication for families dealing with children and disabilities. 

    As I write this, my daughter is sitting at the turn of the stairs between the main level and second floor of our home. Feral sounds are coming from deep in her troubled soul. 



    The fact that I’m writing this now should tell you something. Sobs and screams are nothing new, but rather part of an ongoing bipolar cycle. 

It's a cycle that storms from “I can do anything!” to “I can’t do anything and no one understands me!” — from inviting the neighborhood to an impromptu basement sleepover to “Everybody hates me!” 


    I witness, and often participate in, this mental ping-pong match, with a field-level position for the square off between the opposite extremes of my daughter’s personality. But when the spillover begins, when anger and confusion turn to this horrible, morale-crushing sadness, I’m usually not welcome. 


    “MOMMY! MOMMMM-EE-EEE!”

    I go to check on her, but she curls tighter in her fetal ball. She looks up and says, “Leave … me … alone” in an almost guttural voice, then screams for her mother again. It’s pointless to argue, so here I sit, living a version of the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

    I’ve written about my daughter for her entire life. It’s how I explain to myself and others what it’s like to be her parent, one of the two people most responsible for her well-being. The right words elude me more often than not.

    My wife — bone weary from the day, the week, the responsibility that work and raising three children bring — tries to soothe our firstborn. Heroically, she helps our daughter navigate the tangled world of activities, adolescence, friendships, siblings, and sixth grade. 


    More often than not, I feel helpless.

    At times, my daughter talks in a rat-a-tat-tat cadence, tapping from topic to topic with little rhyme and less reason. So much information is being processed that she can’t get the words out fast enough. 

In quiet moments, when she is acutely self-aware, she says her brain is constantly pounding because she has so many thoughts to sort through. She calls it "eating steak through a straw." 


    Then at times like tonight, you pray that she will just come back from the deep dark hole, that soon she’ll be standing in front of you, yearning for love and approval, knowing that what happened just wasn’t “right.”

    Since I started writing, this part of the cycle has begun. She has calmed down, come in for a hug, said she was sorry, and quibbled briefly with her mother over getting something else to eat. It’s 9:30 p.m., and she is asking, with dark circles under her eyes, for something sweet. 
Mom knows better than to relent. (Remember this formula: Late Night Sugar + ADHD + Bipolar = False Energy with a HUGE Downside.)

    Fortunately, for all concerned, there is no further argument. This is not always the case.
This also is not your typical adolescence. It’s not how any of us imagined it; no parent or child would.

    It’s almost unfathomable to think we are the lucky ones in terms of the bipolar spectrum. 

But, from what we see and read, we are. She’s doing well in school, relatively speaking, although holes in her learning are becoming more exposed as she gets older. She’s gifted in many ways, none in the traditional, linear sense. And she holds it together outside the home, which serves as both her cage and her sanctuary.

    Amazingly, she has maintained a sense of wonder that remains childlike even as she approaches the teen years. She’s extremely artistic and creative, never more than while manic. But even in non-manic modes, she loves—needs, desperately so—to be doing something. 

Down time is for sissies.

    She is drawn innocently to similarly wounded souls, fawning over animals and friends until something (who knows what?) draws her attention away for good. She’s not being spiteful; truly she is not. It’s just impossible to focus on anything for too long, so we follow behind and inevitably pick up the pieces. 



    Blessed with a dancer’s lithe body, she moves across the floor with a grace and beauty that will make your jaw drop. When her jaw juts to the side, you should worry. 

That’s when you can see “it”—that place behind her eyes. 

“It” courses through her movements, gestures, actions, the tics that may or may not be medicine related.

    All are hints that something isn’t right; more often than not, “it” is quite wrong. 


    A few minutes ago, I checked on her. She is finally, fitfully asleep. In eight to nine hours, the starter pistol will fire again, beginning another cycle full of promise, dread, and the question, “Who knows what the day will bring?” 


    Who knows, indeed? 

Friends who don’t know ask if nights like this leave me numb. That’s not the right word, but I struggle to explain my daughter to myself, let alone to her siblings or to others who aren’t in this position. 

You can’t allow yourself to be numb; parental diligence demands that you not. Mostly, I manage to separate the two — the child and “it” — understanding that we’re not alone. Other parents and families deal with much worse.

    
All I can say is damn “it.” 

I will never say damn her.

  • The Pet Peeves of Editing

    The recent “Fragments” post served to reinforce what I’ve known for some time — editing makes writing (and reading) a lot less fun sometimes.

    As an editor, I constantly work to prune and shave words so stories read more clearly and succinctly. As a reader, I find myself editing already published work, and if the writer’s style (or lack thereof) bogs me down, I often don’t have the patience to finish the piece.

    As a writer, my innate ADD makes staying on task a challenge, and as a result, I’ve been known to go off on tangents (aka this blog). “Fragments” was an attempt to find some closure for the postings that I start and abandon.

    Earlier this year, I was asked to present at an Association Media and Publishing session on “The Art and Mechanics of Editing” with a colleague (Erin Pressley) who also is in this line of work. I actually enjoy presenting, although the prep work can be tedious at times.

    The best part of this session came in developing a top 10 list of editing pet peeves. Take a look at the ones below and see if you can guess the ones that are mine. And the next time you decide to write something, reference them and see if you are making the same mistakes that we often deal with in our line of work. 

    #10: Passive voice  — Just plain boring, lacks action. Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

    #9: Which vs. that — “That” introduces essential clauses while “which” introduces nonessential clauses. Gems that sparkle often elicit forgiveness. Diamonds, which are expensive, often elicit forgiveness.

    #8: Who vs. that — “Who” refers to people. “That” refers to groups or things. Sally is the girl who rescued the bird. Jim is on the team that won first place.

    #7: Misplaced modifiers — You modify something you didn't intend to modify. Wrong: I almost failed every grammar class I took. Right: I failed almost every grammar class I took.

    #6: “–ing” Words — Unnecessary in many cases. Will be going — “Will go.” Should be doing — “Should do.” Have been driving — “Have driven.” Or better yet: “Are driving” (as in, me crazy)

    #5: Absence of a nut graph — Do you have time for long and pointless? We don’t. A nut graph sets the scene for the reader and helps to telegraph where the rest of the story is going.

    #4: Widespread use of “that” — Not to be “which-y” about it, but we could do with less of that.

    #3: Stakeholders — Why do our bosses, sources, and even writers try to label some of our most important constituents as mini-Renfields? Doing so is often the lazy way out.

    #2: Acronym-soup — Don’t think of us as SOBs for bringing this up, but we have an incredible reliance on institutional shorthand that often can clutter the story we are trying to tell. If you have to use acronyms, use them judiciously.

    #1: And finally… My Pinkie Just Can’t Stop Hitting The Shift Key Because Everything We Write Is So Important That We Just Have To Capitalize It.

    What are your pet peeves?

  • The Perils of Creativity

    Creativity is elusive, tantalizing, edifying, agonizing, or — with apologies to my English teachers for ending a sentence with a preposition — some combination thereof. Throughout my life, I’ve gone through phases in which I’m extremely productive, and others in which I feel like a barking seal.

    The past two to three weeks have felt more like the latter than the former.

    January typically is a low-key time. The days are cold and short, the streets are deserted, and my muse usually is in hibernation mode until after my birthday in the middle of the month. Considering the four birthdays and two major holidays that occur in the 30- to 35-day period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I guess that comes as no surprise.

    But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

    I have four primary hobbies — writing, photography, reading, and listening to music. The first two qualify as active, while the third and fourth vascillate between active and passive. When they work together in groups or in tandem, I am at my best, but recently they haven’t been working at all, even in isolation.

    After reading six books in six weeks, I’ve had trouble finishing a long-form magazine article. As for taking pictures, I’ve spent most of my time going through the more than 5,000 I took in 2010 — most of them in an 11-month period. (Last January wasn’t too hot either…)

    After writing a variety of blog entries in November and December — so much to process in so little time — this is the first of 2011. I have started and stopped several other essays during this period — another source of frustration — that ended up as part of the Fragments series.

    For the past couple of weeks, I’ve compensated by engaging in two other enjoyable, though extremely passive pastimes — watching football and going to movies. Fortunately, between the NFL playoffs and the Oscar contenders moving into wide release, January is the month for both.

    Slowly, I can feel the muse is getting restless again. On a single train ride from New York to Virginia, I managed to complete two long-overdue entries that I hope you will enjoy in the coming days.

    My brain is filling up with things to process, and rather than feeling saturated or spent, I’m starting to feel like I can deliver on them again. My desire to get outside and be creative is back.

    In other words, look out, folks…

  • 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.

  • Tell A Story in 100 Words or Less, Part 4

    The thin whistle came at the end of every breath. A deep inhale, usually interrupted two or three times as he breathed in, holding the air in his lungs. Then the exhale — halting, pausing — and the tiny whistling sound.

    Hundreds, if not thousands of times a day I heard this as my grandfather and my father struggled for breath, the whistle becoming overwhelmed eventually by the sound of the machines.

    Breathing is something you take for granted. And then one day — no day in particular, just a day — you stop. And it’s over.

  • The Commuter

    Editor’s note: This is my attempt at a short story. It came from watching and observing different people on the train and fictionalizing their lives. This person’s story stuck with me for some reason, probably due to its resemblance to my own. I would love to know what you think…

    He ran.

    His loafers rubbed at the already thin socks on his feet, adding to the calluses on his little toes and pushing on his heels. His suit jacket flapped out, pants drooping under his belly a little more.

    Thirty feet to go, then the 22 stairs. The whistle blew. He had to make it, or sit and wait for another hour.

    Tie slung over his shoulder, he turned the corner and took the stairs two at a time — 2, 4, 6, 8 … 18, 20, 22. He waved to the man in the funny little hat and shouted for him to hold the train. The conductor nodded, silently telling him to hurry.

    ••••••

    He started testing time a few months ago, more than anything to add some excitement back into his life. The commute into his office held little to no mystery, so pushed back when he left the house for the train station.

    He regretted that now.

    He punched his ticket, took the steps up to the car marked “Coach Class,” noticed theother man’s funny little tie clip on the third button of his shirt, and started looking for a seat.

    His feet throbbed. He couldn’t stand the whole way. “Please let there be a seat,” he thought, almost aloud.

    A ball of sweat rolled down his nose, even though it was just January. His skin turned splotchy red from the desperate run.

    There was a place six rows up. And remarkably, someone wasn’t slouching in it, snoring away. He had the entire row of two all to himself. He sat, pulling up his pants as the train pulled away. He was exhausted.

    •••••••

    But he couldn’t sleep. That often happened on days like this. Mornings that started way too early and ran deep into the evening. He was lucky, and he knew it, because the man with the funny little hat and tie clip had recognized him and held things up. He wondered how, in the sea of faceless people, the man had remembered.

    The train jerked slightly to the right, then straightened. It did this every time it pulled away from the station, allowing him to tell the veterans from the rookies. Regular train riders hardly noticed; newbies cocked a half smile and made an offhand comment to the person sitting next to them. He knew this from experience, plus he fancied himself to be a casual eavesdropper.

    At least the newbies spoke. They and a couple of veteran riders who were trying to convert you in some way. Commuter converters, he called them. They made nice for the first couple of minutes, checking out your political leanings, whether you had a family, what your job was, occasionally wondering if you had a church, and then they started on their agenda. The sound and the fury varied, as did the subject matter, but the dulling effect on his senses felt the same.

    The morning talkers were the worst. The previous week he had gotten stuck next to a newbie woman wearing too much perfume. She was heading to a job interview for a position that she would never get because of her smell. It didn’t compare to the strongest, fuzziest cup of coffee he had ever consumed, but he didn’t have the heart to say anything. By the time the train stopped at his station, he was too tired and woozy to work.

    That wouldn’t happen today. He was on his way home, for one, and no one dared to sit next to him. He looked down at his belly and thought to himself, “Who would want to?”

    ••••••

    He’d been on this train for 21 years, traveling up and down an hour each way into the city. His wife had wanted to live farther out, so they found a house that looked like every fourth house in their neighborhood and moved in. The kids — a daughter now in college and a son, now in high school — were bored suburbanites consumed by shopping and the Internet. His wife, the administrative assistant to the county judge, was looking at retirement soon.

    The first stop took eight minutes, four seconds. By this time, he had settled into his comfortable routine. Take out the laptop, open up the reports and start to shuffle papers. By the third stop — 22 minutes and 19 seconds out, give or take — he had finished his task and started looking around. It was better than laptop Solitaire.

    Twenty-one years on this train, he thought, and what to show for it? No major injuries. No wrecks or derailments. No robberies. He had not been conned or converted. He had seen towns grow and decay at each stop, wondering what was happening in the lives of those around him.

    One morning, on the Amtrak, he met a woman with a scarf wrapped around her head and headphones poking out of her ears. She shifted occasionally in her seat, but remained still for most of the trip. He wondered where she was going and decided to ask. It wasn’t like him, but he couldn’t resist.

    “I’m going home,” she said.

    “Me, too. Where’re you headed?”

    She told him of the town up north. She had been home to bury her mother, leaving her husband and seven children behind. Her husband was self-employed, and they couldn’t afford for everyone to go.

    “They didn’t like her much anyway,” she said by way of explanation.

    ••••••

    Usually, he didn’t talk, even though on some days he wanted to. He had been a gregarious type on high school and college, with acquaintances who seemed to appreciate his wit and playful nature. That’s one reason his wife was attracted to him. Or at least had been.

    He worked for a government agency, like most everyone on the train, sitting inside a cubicle with his family’s pictures on the desk. Mostly, he pushed paper from one stack to the next, then into the outbox. Some mornings he daydreamed, with thoughts of playing hooky and touring the museums.

    It wasn’t a bad life. Just dull, he thought, as he saw the next group get ready to disembark. It was the fourth stop, 31 minutes and 40 seconds out. The person opposite his seat had gotten off one stop before. A woman and her child walked down the row, holding hands, sat next to him, their seat still warm.

    The child, a girl of 3, looked nervous. She was the newest newbie he had seen in a while. Occasionally a group of school children went into the city on a field trip, pissing off the commuter converters who didn’t like to be squeezed in on “their” train. A little man who rode the same route always asked the tie clip attendant, “What the hell is this?” as the school kids got on, followed by, “I hope you’ll make sure they stay in theircar.” It was the only time the little man, as he had been dubbed, ever spoke.

    But this child looked different. She was younger than the school children, for one, and there was something about her eyes.

    “Hi,” he said to the little girl, who buried her head in the woman’s chest. “It’ll be OK.”

    The woman looked down at her child and kissed her on top of the head. The little girl peered at him, a thousand questions hovering behind those big, innocent eyes.

    “Is this your first time on the train?” he asked.

    She nodded.

    “You’ll like it. Look out the window,” he said, pointing.

    She lifted her head and saw the river, then said something unintelligible to her mother.

    “Lift up your feet,” she said then, a little louder.

    Her mom pulled up her knees. The little girl motioned to him, “Lift up your feet, or your toes will turn green.”

    ••••••

    He did as he was told. The little girl’s mother looked at him and said, “It’s a little game we play; it keeps her occupied when we are in the car.”

    He smiled, and asked the woman where they were going. One stop beyond his, she replied. They would be on the train together for the rest of the route.

    The little girl looked out the window at the trees. “What’s that?” she asked repeatedly.

    Her mother patiently gave her an answer every time she asked, occasionally looking over at him and rolling her eyes slightly. He was intrigued.

    After the sixth stop, 44 minutes and 31 seconds out, the little girl started to squirm. They had had to wait much longer than usual, because an elderly gentleman had trouble getting down the stairs. He noticed the train attendant with the tie clip patiently helping the elderly gentleman down.

    He thought of the two extremes, the little girl and the old man, that were on his train. And that’s the way he thought of it; after 21 years, it sort of was his train. If he had been the manager, he would have given the attendant high marks for his kindness. He would not permit perfume. He would add a beverage area, but with no alcohol. He would force people to speak to each other.

    A northbound train zoomed past on the other track, scaring the little girl. She buried her face in her mother’s chest again, and started to whimper softly. At least she didn’t scream.

    “Would you like to sit over here?” he asked in a kind voice, motioning to the two-thirds of a seat he had remaining.

    The little girl looked at him with the big eyes. She looked up at her mother, speaking to her silently, and her mother nodded her approval. As the train left the station, she squeezed in next to him, her legs just extending past the seat’s edge.

    They rode together for two more stops. She moved onto his knee, again with her mother’s silent approval. She asked about the trees, the silver door with the big red lettering that opened and shut. She pointed at a woman two rows up and asked if she was his mother. That made him laugh. She noticed the ripples in the second river they crossed together, and made him lift up his feet again.

    His stop, 61 minutes and 34 seconds out because of the earlier delay, came quickly, and he didn’t want to leave. But he motioned to the girl’s mother that he had to stand up, that this was his stop, and she told her daughter to move away.

    The little girl complied, then turned and hugged him around the leg as he stood.

    “Thank you,” she said in a sweet little voice, pronouncing “Thank” as “Tank.”

    “No, thank you,” he said, smiling. “I hope to see you again.”

    She smiled back, an innocent.

    It had not been a bad ride after all.

  • “With Me, It’s All or Nuthin’…”

    Sometimes writing is just torture.  I sit at the computer and watch the cursor blink, type a few words to ensure that my hands still work, then put my finger on the delete button and erase what I’ve just put on the screen.

    How can a person go from needing verbal Immodium to having a clogged mind?

    What you are reading here is an attempt to belch something out in the hopes that it will clean out the brain drain, so to speak. I’m hoping that writing out my frustrations about writing (sorry for the same word twice in a sentence) will help me return to it sooner rather than later.

    One reason I became a writer was I found pleasure in creating something out of nothing. The reason I became an editor was because I never could make any money writing. And my self-editor has taught my inner writer not to publish anything until it’s done.

    Remember this: The editor always wins.

    Although I have little to no interest in science, I wish I knew how my brain worked, so that I could figure out how to be productive on a more consistent basis. I wish I knew why ideas and fragments of pieces rattle around in my brain. I wish I knew how to get them from mind to paper.

    And that’s part of the conundrum. I do know how, except when I don’t. But I can still try, and hope the words come.