John McManus and Tim Seibles, co-directors of this year’s Old Dominion University Literary Festival.
NORFOLK, Va. – The 35th Annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival kicks off today with a reception for two visual arts exhibits. Readings start Monday with author, poet and translator Yunte Huang, and the week goes full speed until Friday night, when Allan Gurganus, author of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, will write an entire novel while using only adjectives supplied by audience members.
That’s right, Hampton Roads — if you ever wanted to help a best-selling author modify his nouns and pronouns, this is your year.
For legal reasons, I must now explain that Gurganus will not write a novel with your help, but he will be here in Norfolk. Probably to read something and talk about literature. His call, really.
Sorry that lede got away from me there, but LitFest! It is great. There are a host of talented artists who will read and talk and so forth.
I traded emails with Seibles and McManus about the festival this past week. Through the miraculous cut-paste function of modern personal computing, it seems as though I interviewed them together, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from this year’s festival?
Seibles: The main thing I want people to take away from this litfest is a clear sense that language is alive and that poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc., do, IN FACT, have something to say to and about their lives.
McManus: I hope writers in the audience will go away eager to write in response to the festival guests or in argument with them, and I hope everyone will leave wanting to read these writers’ books and read more in general. That’s what happens to me during and after a good reading: I fill up with a sense of urgency at the sheer number of worthwhile books that I haven’t read yet, and a sense of urgency to sit down at my desk and write.
Q: Are there any specific artists you are looking forward to hearing or seeing?
McManus: I will admit to being particularly thrilled about M.T. Anderson, whose novel Feed I’ve read five times. He won the National Book Award for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the first volume in a trilogy whose second book is partly set in Hampton Roads during the Revolutionary War. Two of my colleagues, Sheri Reynolds and Tim Seibles, are reading during the festival; it will be a delight to hear them both. I love both Dorianne Laux and Allan Gurganus. And I’m very excited about Alice Randall.
Seibles: I think all of the guests will be a good rush for the soul, but I am especially excited about Sean Thomas Dougherty, Jamal Mohamed, Robin Becker, and Yona Harvey.
Q: What was I too dumb to ask but should have asked? And will you please answer that question?
Seibles: The answer is ‘we swim in language – we drown or we stay alive in the language we think and speak.’
McManus: You’re a professional journalist and there’s nothing you’re too dumb to ask, but if you’d asked whom we’re bringing in 2013, I’d have answered that I intend to send invitations to famous recluses like Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon and Charles Portis so that I can frame copies of my invitation letters to them and also because why not, and if you’d asked where I find all the smart, modish clothes I wear to the festival, I’d have answered that Dillard’s has an amazing 75-percent-off sale every year in the last weekend of September, which is why the festival happens at the beginning of October.
Woman, Image and Art&Photographs With Teeth: Visual arts reception. 3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some paid street parking nearby. (Further details on both exhibits below.)
Dustin Lance Black’s 8: Staged reading. 8 p.m., Oct., 3-5; 12:30 p.m., Oct. 3-4 @ Old Dominion University Theatre, 4600 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. General admission $20; students $15. Proceeds benefit ODU Out & The American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Author, poet and translator Yunte Huange. 2:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk. Near W. 49th St.
Woman, Image and Art: Visual Arts. Runs through Feb. 10 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some street parking nearby. FMI click this link.
Photographs With Teeth: Photography by Yunghi Kim, Cori Pepelnjak, Karolina Karlic & Greta Pratt. Runs through Oct. 14 @ Gordon Art Galleries. FMI click this link.
Please keep your adjectives to yourself – unless they are superlative.
Look, that was just a half-hearted grammar joke. Please do not shout out adjectives at Allan Gurganus.
NORFOLK, Va. — Not what I usually do on this thing, but I hope you might be able to help, since most of the people who read this blog are in Hampton Roads.
I have a friend, photographer Stephen Katz, who is a wonderful shooter, a great person, and a proud new dad.
He and his family are also co-victims of a property crime that happened to somebody else. Here’s a note Katz posted to Facebook, gently edited:
Please. If you have a heart, please …
Monday night in Norfolk someone stole my friend Amanda Lucier’s camera and computer equipment from her home. I feel awful for her loss and the sense of violation, but thankfully the gear was insured and will be replaced and this was likely done by someone who knows her and has been a guest in her home.
What can’t be replaced are the photos she took of the birth of my son. With the exception of the six Amanda e-mailed me the next day, all of the photos are on her computer and/or harddrive. Images of my cutting the cord. Of my brother holding his first nephew. Pics of a proud grandma.
Chelsea and I are crushed. Other than the nurse and midwife, Amanda was the only other person we allowed in the room because we wanted to cherish those fleeting moments forever. We were looking forward to sharing them with our friends and family and one day Sawyer himself. And now someone is going to simply erase them and move on without a care.
Please. If you or someone you know did this […] please have a heart and make this right. Put the CF cards or a DVD of the pics or the harddrive in an unmarked envelope and send it to The Pilot – 150 W. Brambleton Ave, Norfolk, VA 23510.
It’s possible that someone who had been in Lucier’s home did this thing, but I can’t say for sure. On the off chance you’re in our area and know anything about who might have done this, I hope you’ll help.
Let me just add one thing here. If you’re not in the position to influence this individual in a 100 percent safe and peaceful way, please just contact the police.
But, man – if you have kids, if you love somebody, if you remember that moment when everything changed in the best way ever, you know those images are worth the world and more to the people to whom they belong.
Long shot, I know. But thanks for reading it, at least. I’ll be back talking to some sort of writer about something or other in the near future.
Keep the Change executive producers Rob Wilson and Marlon Hargrave on Colley Avenue. Photo by John Doucette.
NORFOLK, Va. — Keep the Change, a new sketch comedy group in Hampton Roads, holds its debut show on Sunday, and I caught up with the group’s executive producers to talk about writing funny, writing the truth, and why their group aims to tackle sketch comedy from fresh perspectives.
Barnes and Wilson are both members of Plan B improv and sketch comedy. Wilson, of Chesapeake, recently was featured along with Plan B’s Jason Kypros in a discussion of comedy writing you can find at this link. Barnes, of Norfolk, is a veteran comic who I hope to speak with here again down the road. Hargrave, an actor, director and acting coach, lives in Portsmouth, which earns him extra points. Portsmouth living is what all the cool kids are doing. At least until the tolls kick in.
This conversation deals with the seeds of this group, including approaches to writing, collaboration, and seeking truths.
The Keep the Change show is at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 15 at Lola’s Caribbean Restaurant, 328 W. 20th St., Norfolk. There’s some free surface lot parking, and some limited nearby street parking. The restaurant is at W. 20th at Debree Avenue, within the Palace Shops & Station shopping center. Admission is $5, and the restaurant is running some drink and appetizer specials.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and there’s some adult language below.
Just a housekeeping note for those who are coming to this blog for the first time: I’m a writer, not a comic. I’ve been fixated a bit on comedy writing for the past year because I’ve been playing with joke structures within some new short fiction stories. The questions I ask writers and, in this case, writer/performers, reflect my interests, ignorance, and hang ups, such as they are, but my goal in doing these talks is to (a) talk to people I dig and (b) steal their hard-earned life forces to make my own writing better.
People seem to enjoy the conversations and get something out of it. That’s where this is coming from.
Q: So how many people are in the group?
Hargrave: At last count it was about –
Hargrave: No, 15.
Wilson: You know, I think we’re back up to 15.
Hargrave: We might be up to seventeen. We were at 22 before.
Wilson: We shed a couple pounds. [Laughter.]
Q: Did they want more snacks?
Wilson: A lot more snacks, a lot less work. That’s the funny thing to me, when people join a thing and they –
Barnes: They don’t think about the work.
Wilson: They don’t think about the work. They’re like, “Yeah, man. I would love to be famous.” [Laughter.] “Work? Yeah … I’m good.” [Laughter.]
Q: Is this going to be your first performance?
Wilson: This will be our first full show. We did a sketch at my [comedy] show, “The Business” [in May]. Did like a little standup thing, and I think it went over really well. Just trying to get our sea legs.
Hargrave: What makes the group really unique is we have poets, we have comedians, and actors. It’s pretty dynamic.
Wilson: We’ve got some straight-up writers, as well. That’s more their background, but they’re getting up on their feet and performing. It’s really cool that all these people come from all these different backgrounds, and we kind of have all bled into each others’ fields.
Hargrave: We also have musicians, too.
Q: Is it basically an improv-sketch group or more variety?
Wilson: Pure sketch, but we’ve got so many other elements like the poets and musicians. That’s an integral part of the show. So you talk about writing, and you’re moving out of a strictly sketch format, which is great.
Hargrave: With that type of dynamic, we’re able to expand our comedy to real life experiences and having a poet or writer is a beautiful thing because they write all the time. As a matter of fact, our poets come up with skits.
Wilson: It’s about expression, in that not everybody gets reached the same way. Some peope love musicals. Some people love straight plays. Some people love action movies. Some people love whatever. You’re going to get a different sketch, a different idea, a different performance from someone’s who’s writing from a musical background, because they’re concerned about the rhythm. … It’s pretty neat seeing what everyone is coming up with. And our job is, a lot of times, facilitating all this talent we’ve got, and funneling it and packaging it into one really cool show.
Beatty Barnes. Courtesy photo.
Q: So both of you [Wilson and Barnes] , you’re still in Plan B, right?
Q: So why did you want to do something different?
Barnes: I’m going to go with because Rob pulled me into it. [Laughter.]
Wilson: It’s not necessarily a black voice.
Barnes: There you go.
Wilson: But it is.
Barnes: It’s a voice, a different voice that hasn’t been seen around here in a really long time in sketch.
Q: Is everybody in the group black?
Wilson: We’re equal opportunity. … We were Pushers. Beatty was the alpha black dude in the Pushers. I was, I think, beta. [Laughter.] … Plan B’s really cool because I look at our roster now, and we’re about 50-50. That’s cool, but you talk about when Beatty was in the Pushers, it was just him, and then when [another actor] came along it was them, and then [the other actor] left. When I came in, Beatty left, and then for the longest time it was just me. It’s nice to be in a place where you’re not the only. “Okay, we need a black guy for this sketch.” In this place, we make sure we’re all pretty diverse and we’re experienced knowing that feeling. We write people. We don’t write black people or white people. Well, sometimes we need a cop. [Laughter.]
Q: Irish accent?
Wilson: Aye. [Laughter.]
Q: We’ve [Wilson and I] talked before about some of the groups and the idea of representation, and you’ve got a sketch where somebody’s black and that’s what the sketch is.
Wilson: Which is tiresome, at best.
Hargrave: And also I guess my problem with it is, and this is even on large-scale with TV, even when they do [feature a black character], it’s not written well enough. It’s not written truthfully enough. There’s always what somebody’s perception is. Usually the people who write it don’t have experience. They’ll grow up in the suburb and write about somebody in the hood, and it’s just from their perspective, and it becomes very … generic homeboy-ish, not really getting into who this person is. Very cliché. Just the human experience is what we’re trying to cover. More of a truthful story through comedy.
Wilson: One of the things we talked about was we wanted to tell the truth. Not just my truth. I kind of grew up in the suburbs. Even in Queens, it was more suburban than the Bronx. You know what I mean? We want to write everybody’s experience. My truth and Beatty’s truth and Marlon’s truth. There’s a lot of different shades. … We’re trying to make it clear that there is no one black experience. That shit used to piss me off because in theater, in a predominantly white school, college I mean, and you’d have people come up and say, “Well, what do black people think of this.” Well, I can tell you what I think. Damn it, me and him think two different things. So in trying to start this group, you understand you’re going to hear black voices, but it’s a choir, not a solo.
Q: Why did you want to do this instead of or in addition to what you were already doing? Was there any sense you weren’t getting what you needed from the groups you’re already in?
Wilson: It’s necessary. Wherever there’s a lack of something, and it’s blatant, it’s glaring, you can see there’s nobody doing it here, at least. It needed to be filled. It’s tough. Some of us have three, four, five other projects. This is a necessary thing that needs to be done. Dave Chappelle and Tyler Perry can’t do it by themselves. …
Barnes: Tyler Perry is the Kenny G of black theater.
Q: He’s a regular reader of the blog, so this is really going to hurt him.
Hargrave: When Tyler Perry comes to town, there’s a group of people who will support him and we understand that. We’re far from that, and we would like to offer a different voice because our stories are so diverse and we don’t think of everything the same way.
Q: How do you avoid doing stereotypes when you do comedy?
Barnes: Don’t do it.
Hargrave: Because we’re real. … We do more of the human experiences, so we shy away from the conversations that have been done again and again through the years.
Q: Rob and I talked before about representation, which is a big thing I ask people about on the blog [because I’ve struggled with it in my writing]. … One of the things I’ve seen in some of the comedy, but people like Larry the Cable Guy, there’s a reinforcement of the subjugation of people who have been marginalized.
Wilson: My thing is the truth, man. That’s our mission statement: the truth. Even if you’re going into a stereotype, if it’s founded in truth, I mean, people get mad when you tell them the truth. … As long as it’s really true, then it will be funny. It’s an undeniable fact if it’s true. If it’s bullshit, people can sniff that out.
Hargrave: There’s this low hanging fruit if you go for the stereotype. We go for the fruit at the top of the tree, or at least we deal with the roots of it. Comedy is truth. Comedy and conflict is truth. We stay on that side of it. … I hate when you watch movies and the black guy is the sidekick. That never happens in real life. You’ve never seen a black guy be a sidekick to a white guy.
Q: I’ve had my personal ad out for a couple of years, and never got any responses.
Hargrave: We run into that all the time. It a voice that’s not there. For the most part … people don’t even realize that there’s another story until it is told.
Q: Can you give me an example where you were able to do that?
Wilson: There was one particular sketch that was written, it’s one of our favorites, I think, of church folks. It deals with an old-timey, you know … Sheeba McLeod wrote a sketch called “Church Folks,” and there was an appendage thing I wrote a long time ago, just all of those things in one sketch. The main thing is there’s a stereotypical preacher and we’re not poking fun at black church. A lot of people would have stopped there because when you think about black church, that’s a staple. You’ve got the preacher. He’s whooping and hollering. You’ve got folks falling out. You know, everybody knows the scene of black church. Tyler Perry has helped a lot with that. [Laughter.] No, but I mean even going as far back as Flip Wilson, these are your archetypal characters in this community. What she did, first and foremost, was kind of turn that on it’s ear. It became less about the archetype and more about the situation. This minister is lascivious, man. It bleeds through. … This is something that hasn’t really been addressed. Like infidelity. The scene is less about that character, that archetype you understand and you know and less about poking fun at him, and poking fun at the lady with the big hat. It’s more about poking fun at the abuse of power. In that way, you make it a real character piece as opposed to a stereotype piece. … A lot of our sketches – you’d think as a quote-unquote black sketch group. There’s a thing about suicide. There’s a scene about gay marriage and gay relationships with this thing about Obama not to long ago. We just seek out what’s funny, what’s true, and what’s poignant.
Hargrave: We spoke about how diverse the group is, and because of our different backgrounds we can look at the same situation different ways. I grew up in D.C., which is a little more hood – I don’t want to say I’m the hood-iest guy in here. [Laughter.] We end up writing from our truth. We write from ourselves, and I think that’s where the creativity and the story comes. Again, when Sheeba wrote this, we could easily have gone into that screaming preacher. … Instead of that, the undertone is infidelity and it is abuse of power and that’s what we want to address. When we have somebody who writes a skit like that, if it becomes too stereotypical or if it’s not good enough, then we get rid of it. One of my skits didn’t make it. It can’t even be reconsidered. It’s dead. It can’t be an ego about me or anybody else … If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If you don’t fit the role, you can’t be in it. We’re challenging our writers to be more creative. Don’t come to us with the bullshit, because we won’t accept it. We started off, and people were trying to get the feel. But now we’re in a groove and people know what expectations are. They’re really writing some good material.
Q: What’s the process for writing? Does it come usually from the comedians or is it a mixture of everybody?
Wilson: The thing about this group, man, is we told them right off that everybody writes. Nobody gets to be a diva and not write. Everybody writes. You’ve got to do one of two things if you want to be in sketches. You’ve got to write yourself into them, right? Or you’ve got to show you’re so hilarious that you want these people to be in your sketch, you know what I mean? … So the sketches come in. We do table reads, and it’s a little bit of the Saturday Night Live format. When things come in to the table read, then you’re seeing who is laughing around the table, what jibes. We do an analysis of every sketch that comes in. We send it around the table. [There are suggestions.] Then it goes back into rewrites, nine times out of ten.
Q: Is it the person who wrote the sketch who does the rewrites?
Wilson: Mostly what happens, I give a lot of writing notes and we send it back with the changes we want to make. We talk about different things. We talk about what the general scene is. A lot of the time, people who really haven’t done this kind of writing before don’t understand the format, so it’s a thing of finding what the joke is. What’s the thing that’s funny? A lot of people will just write and write and write and it’s not that it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just that it doesn’t have any focus. We find the central point, the central joke, the central theme, and a lot of times the sketch will get turned on its ear. You know, there was one thing that they touched on that was really cool or really true, so we’ll take it all the way back to the drawing board and say, “All right, this part over here, I know that you’re going for some laughs, but you found some gold in this tiny little piece. Expound on this and leave all the rest of this out because it makes it muddy.”
Q: Beatty, you’ve been writing comedy for how long?
Barnes: Twenty-seven years.
Q: What do you look for in a joke?
Barnes: Having it not be a joke. Having not have a punchline, not have a tag. I like to teach, kind of, you know? Kind of do something that’s not regular, not normal. I don’t like the typical. I don’t look for the, “Oh, that’s funny right there.” You can get somebody else to say that. For me it’s more about the thing that is not normal, that’s not necessarily normal but comic. It’s easy to laugh at seeing someone fall, but [what about] the shoe that the person had on?
Wilson: We had a relationship scene. It was funny enough. It was a Lucille Ball misunderstanding kind of thing, and Beatty was like, “No. What if he was a woman.” And just that one change changed the whole thing. What it did was it didn’t make it a stereotypical scene that a man would have with a woman about a misunderstanding, just by plugging the woman into the place where the man was. … He found just in turning the head a little bit. It was funny.
Hargrave: We were right in the middle of it, too. We pulled him out right there, pulled the guy out and plugged the girl in. And boom.
Wilson: It was gold.
Hargrave: And Beatty has an older joke I love talking about. You remember when you’re talking about when you’rte driving and playing white music?
Hargrave: And then the hood guys come across and say, “Why are you playing that white music?” And you say, “Oh, I just stole this car.” Right? It’s funny. You would never expect that. Me being from the hood, I worked at Bennigan’s, and I was the token black guy in Bennigan’s. One of the funnier moments that I has working there was when I went to the jukebox, I wouldn’t play the black songs. I would play the stuff they would never expect. I’m not lying, but the only other black person there, we’d both be nodding our heads, and he knew that I did it, but nobody else in the restaurant knew that I did it. I mean, nobody would have expected that was my lineup. I had Aerosmith. I had Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. I could have played Jodeci, easily, and they would have known it was my lineup. And the deal was that the other black person, who was a rapper, nodding his head lets me know that our story is deeper than that.
Q: Do you think really – I mean, I wrote on Thursday, and I listened to Funkadelic all day long. Actually, the same three or four songs over and over again. [Laughter.] Do we still live in a society where … is that really still a thing?
Hargrave: You have the artists that get played on the radio. You’ll have Justin Bieber – Bieber, is that his name? – you’ll have him next to Lil Wayne now.
Wilson: On the same track.
Hargrave: Yeah. Now because of multimedia, because of the internet, we’re at a point in society where we see more cultural diversity. Justin was found by Ludacris.
Q: That’s the worst thing Ludacris has ever done. [Laughter.]
Hargrave: It’s a gold mine for him, that’s for sure.
Barnes: Justin’s all right, man. … I listen to what my kids listen to, and, “Okay, I can see why you would like that.”
Q: I listen to what my kids listen to, but I won’t defend the Wiggles. [Laughter.]
Hargrave: Then we have The Disney Channel, and there are a couple of kids who are artists and my daughter looks up to them all.
Wilson: There’s some regular folks who only stay in their lane, who only listen to the thing that they’re supposed to, who only watch the thing that they’re supposed to. They’ve decided to stay there. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. So I think that part of what we do is necessary in showing folks that there’s a different way.
Hargrave: I was born in the 1970s. My father tells me stories about growing up here in Virginia Beach that are unfathomable. He actually got arrested for sitting in a lunch – he got arrested for that. I can’t fathom that. We grew up post Civil Rights movement, so we don’t know anything about that. I don’t know anything about what my dad went through. My journey has been so different, so now my child’s journey, even though she remembers Bush a little bit, she’ll remember Obama on, for sure. It’s weird. My parents tried to explain the movement to us the way I’m trying to explain pre-Obama to her.
Q: Do you think the sketches you’re doing you could do with Plan B or The Pushers or another group? What is it that makes them unique?
Barnes: That’s a very good question.
Hargrave: I think that … you have to have experience in what you’re writing, and because we write from ourselves and our personal experience, the people who are in those groups didn’t experience it the way that we experienced it. The outlook, the joke of it, it just comes from a different area. And to be honest, predominantly white groups may not be able to touch something that we can touch. Just like the church sketch, I don’t know that another group can pull it off the way we do.
Barnes: It wouldn’t have been the same –
Hargrave: Impact. Would they reach the point we’re trying to reach? They might do that archetypal preacher, and it might be funny, but they wouldn’t touch what we’re touching in the same environment.
Q: What do you think of that, Beatty?
Barnes: [The sketches] stand by themselves, but to picture someone else doing them.
Q: Do you feel like you’re taking material you weren’t comfortable pitching to other groups?
Barnes: It probably would never come up. It would never come up. It would be, well, because you’re thinking – I don’t know if it’s commercial thought or you’re just staying away from what you really feel in sketches. Or maybe it’s because of the cast. You know, you just don’t have enough people for it … That might be the biggest thing.
Q: Because you don’t have enough black faces to make it come alive? Or am I misunderstanding?
Barnes: No. I think of our group [Plan B]. … We have five black folks.
Wilson: I don’t know if that was a move on their part …
Barnes: It was on us.
Wilson: I think Plan B can do it now because –
Barnes: That is a really tough question.
Wilson: I know when I was with The Pushers, we did a show up in New York. … I wrote a series of sketches called “Black Man’s Fantasies.” And a couple of them, when we were working them, they went over pretty well. It was easy. It was stereotypical. Like, calling a cab and it coming right to you. That was one of them, and they loved that one.
Barnes: I’ve never had a problem getting a cab in New York.
Hargrave: I would grab white girls off the street and say, “Please hail me a cab.” They would go right by me and pick up somebody else.
Wilson: That went over, but I wrote another one in the series and it was all about gentrification.
Wilson: Right? And immediately, [a] girl was like, “I don’t get it.” And she lived in New York. I was like, “What do you mean you don’t get it? Where you live right now … that’s gentrified.”
Q: It used to be called Harlem … Har-lem. [Laughter.]
Wilson: Maybe I could have written the sketch better, but there wasn’t [anyone] willing to help.
Beatty: Because of the cast it would be hard to do. Not enough black faces. I’m still thinking about that question.
Wilson: I could never write a black family. … I just wanted to be able to have the personnel to write the things I wanted to write. If there was a family, I could never be in the sketch. I wrote a sketch called “The Other Son.” The family was like, “We want you to know you’re black. You’re not like us.” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve all got mirrors. I figured it out.” [Laughter.]
Playing us out? Enjoy The Wiggles.
Remember, kids – make sure to use a plastic knife, and you may want to have a grownup around.
AltDaily editor-in-chief Jesse Scaccia is running for Norfolk City Council against three people who are not editor-in-chief of AltDaily. Among them is incumbent Councilman Barclay C. Winn. Photo by Sam Shinault.
AltDaily edit0r-in-chief Jesse Scaccia is running for Norfolk City Council.
Timeliness clearly is not this blog’s superpower. But I had a chance this week to speak with Scaccia and his rivals for the Super Ward 6 seat, presently held by Councilman Barclay C. Winn, the man with the most optimistic name in Norfolk government.
First, let me set the plate.
As The Pilot‘s Jillian Nolin reported, Scaccia is among three people who qualified to challenge Winn on the May ballot. The other candidates are John Amiral and Marcus A. Calabrese. As a proud resident of some whole other non-Norfolk city, I wish them all happy hunting.
During the election any story on AltDaily that is in any way related to Norfolk politics will be edited by a member of our editorial board. AltDaily will not play a role in the campaign; should Jesse (or any of the other candidates) choose to purchase advertising on the site, they will have to pay for it.
And here’s Scaccia, responding to a reader’s concerns via Facebook:
If I win I’ll more than likely move on to a publisher role with AltDaily, with us bringing on a new editor-in-chief. I’ll still be a regular contributor, just with someone else at the helm making the overall (and daily) editorial decisions. It’s been 3 years of me–we could use some new blood/energy/passion here at the magazine, a fresh take on Norfolk/Hampton Roads and the role daily, independent, online media plays in supporting/fostering the community and culture. We’re stoked thinking about where an infusion could take the project. (J)
I spoke with Scaccia this morning, and asked why it took AltDaily a while to cover his candidacy at the site.
I felt like the news was out there. I mean, our paper of record had put it out there, so I wasn’t uncomfortable feeling we were hiding anything from our readers by any stretch of the imagination.
Scaccia said the decision was one he wrestled with, and one that AltDaily‘s leadership discussed at length.
We’ve had serious internal conversations about [it] – and they’ve been going on for a while now. And some people came at me pretty hard. But that’s good. That’s why they’re there. I mean, we all really love AltDaily and we all want to see it continue. So there’s a lot of people who want to make sure AltDaily has just as much credibility, if not more, on the other side of this.
AltDaily editorial board member Jay Ford, Scaccia’s campaign manager, told me he will not edit Norfolk stories during the election, either. Ford is listed as the treasurer of the campaign in Scaccia’s March 6 statement of organization, one of the records on political candidates available to the public via the Norfolk registrar’s office at City Hall. Additionally, AltDaily publisher Hannah Serrano is listed among those who signed Scaccia’s petition to get on the ballot.
In a natural month at AltDaily, which is what we essentially have between now and the election, I don’t know if there’s two seriously political – as far as Norfolk goes – pieces on AltDaily. And those will be handled by members of the editorial board. …
I think we made it clear. If we didn’t make it clear, please let me know. That’s something we need to be really up front with. That’s always been the key with AltDaily […] be up front. As long as you’re up front and you’re honest about the rules that you’re playing by and your intentions, then it’s easier to forgive mistakes after, if they should happen.
Scaccia and I discussed potential impact for the site.
I take AltDaily very seriously, and that was one of the big things I had to make sure I was at peace with going into this before I was going to sign up was, win or lose, can AltDaily make it through this with its credibility intact? And, you know, I feel very content that is the case. …
I think the most realistic scenario if I win is – and I think it’s time for this anyway, both for me and AltDaily – I would step into more of a publisher role, and we would look for a new editor-in-chief. Even if I’m a publisher, I’ll still be submitting columns that would be edited by somebody else and they’ll have ultimate editorial control. …
I think a 23, a 24 year old out of graduate school can get paid what we can pay the AltDaily editor and be fine on that, as far as their life, and it would be a great step for their career.
Is he looking to step down either way?
I think it’s likely that my time as editor-in-chief is coming to an end.
They’re not hiring, though.
We’re not there yet. We’re taking things one step at a time. … This is really speculative. My life could be really different come May 2 or it could be exactly the same. I really don’t know what I’m going to learn through this process. I could end up on the other end and just really be energized – you know, if I lose – to keep working from the outside. And to be that voice … that tries to change things. But I don’t know.
Scaccia said his candidacy makes him feel like a “guinea pig.”
I feel like this is the direction journalism is going, as we’ve talked about before. I think we’re, just because of economic factors, because of the way society is changing, because of the divisions between rich and poor, for a million different reasons, I think we’re going more toward a world of activist journalism where it’s activism using the tools of journalism. I think that’s what hyper-local media is going to look like in the future. As long as that’s the future, I’m not going to be the [last] hyper-local, alternative magazine editor to run for public office. It’s going to happen again. And it’s going to happen again. So I think it’s good that we’re having this conversation and trying to figure out how things should work.
Earlier this week, I reached out to Scaccia’s fellow candidates to ask whether there were any concerns about the editor of a local media outlet seeking public office. For Isaac Dietrich, an advisor who returned my call to the Amiral campaign, not so much. He said they hope AltDaily will give their effort equal coverage. Beyond that?
We’re not in the business of saying that’s morally wrong to use his business and his organization that he started and founded and built up – if he wants to use that to his advantage, by all means he has the right to do that.
AltDaily obviously wants to avoid that perception, and has made it clear that Scaccia is not using the business for campaign purposes. I asked Dietrich whether a reporter for The Pilot seeking office would get the same response. He noted:
There’s a difference between The Virginian-Pilot and a blog like AltDaily. … We’re not in the business of attacking another candidate or speaking ill about Jesse.
Calabrese told me he didn’t have “any negative concern” about Scaccia running, though he compared it “in concept” to Michael Bloomberg running for mayor of New York City.
I haven’t seen anything that would make me, you know, alarmed about it, but he does have a significant advantage. That’s a big bloc for him. That’s a big audience that he has. If they come out for him, he’ll definitely have a strong showing.
Could he definitely use it to get his message out? Yes. Will he? I don’t know. I would like to think that – for instance … [when] I announced my campaign, I did it with AltDaily. You know, they put an online article up. That was a pretty big help. …
I think the only thing that can be done is see what he does.
I also asked Winn, the incumbent, whether he was concerned.
Not really. Not unless he uses his media position to try to slant things. I don’t know that he’d do that.
As noted above, mainstream media is a different beast. Maria Carrillo, managing editor of The Pilot, said running for office is not an option in that newsroom due to The Pilot‘s ethics policy. A portion of the policy is quoted at the bottom of this post. The basic idea is to avoid the appearance of partiality or conflict because that would cripple the paper’s ability to do effective, objective newsgathering. Carrillo said:
We just wouldn’t allow it. It’s too tricky a thing.
I have a stake in these publications as a consumer of their work, even when – perhaps especially when – it challenges my own opinions and understandings. Presumably, they want you and me to feel this way. Any publication that doesn’t, frankly, lacks real and lasting value.
Earlier this year, I had a conversation with Scaccia about writing for AltDaily, though I have not done so. At present, it would be hard for me to write for a media outlet that has a senior editor running for office against someone I might eventually have to interview. Whether or not that editor is directly guiding my copy, the situation opens the door for perceived or real conflicts.
Most assuredly, others disagree. My background is as a mainstream newspaper reporter, though I’m also familiar with and have written for the local alternative press. Wherever you work, conflicts are a fact of life.
On my own, I have a number of professional conflicts that limit what I can write about here and elsewhere. This is a big reason I don’t freelance. Frankly, I don’t think of what I do here as journalism. This is, at heart, an elaborate scam to speak with awesome writers and steal their collective mojo. But others might consider it journalism, such as it is, which is why I try to specify my own conflicts with the subjects I interview here.
So do I have a conflict wrapped up in all of this? You tell me.
I recently let Scaccia republish a Q&A from this blog. It was for a good cause, so I’m grateful AltDaily got it before a few more readers, but the Q&A was a blog post in which I interviewed a friend about a group in which my wife is involved. The post specified my conflicts both as it appeared here and as it appeared at AltDaily. By The Pilot‘s standards – I used to work there as a reporter – I never would have been able to file a Q&A like this. AltDaily has different standards.
I learned Scaccia was running for office after I agreed to let AltDaily publish the Q&A, but also before it actually ran on the site. Did my own conflicts with the subject of the Q&A prevent me from asking Scaccia to pull it when I learned he was running for office?
Yeah, it did.
Even if it hadn’t, when you have a real or perceived conflict, questions about motivations can – and should – be asked. This is the way of things. It’s about how you answer. I think AltDaily has done that.
‘The independence of our editors, reporters and photographers is not for sale….’
Staff members are encouraged to participate in professional, civic and cultural activities. To ensure that our credibility is not damaged, staff members have a special responsibility to avoid conflicts of interest or any activity that would compromise their journalistic integrity.
Politics and social causes:
Newsroom employees should not work for a political candidate or office-holder on a paid or voluntary basis. Attendance at public demonstrations for political causes is forbidden, unless permission is granted by the managing editor or editor. Participation in such demonstrations is forbidden.
Taking a public stand on controversial social, religious or political issues is prohibited. Such expression is also prohibited on personal Web sites, social networks and other online forums. This includes signing of petitions, either on paper or online. Staff members may not write letters to the editor.
Holding public office or accepting political appointment is prohibited, unless specifically approved by the editor or publisher.
If a staff member has a close relative or friend working in a political campaign or organization, the staffer should refrain from covering or making news judgments about that campaign or organization. A loved one’s activities can create a real or potential conflict for a staff member. In those cases, inform a team leader and take steps to avoid conflicts.
Donating money to political campaigns and parties is prohibited. Donations to or memberships in organizations with political agendas should be carefully considered.
Staff members should use common sense when displaying bumper stickers, pins, badges and other signs. We should avoid items that promote causes.
I’m now taking entries for the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest. Deadline is June 15.
Additionally, I’m pleased to say Fair Grounds Coffee on the upstairs of 806 Baldwin Ave., on the corner of Baldwin and Colley avenues in Norfolk, will display winners and runners up in July.
Details on the national tour to come when people start returning my calls anywhere.
• • • • • • • • • • •
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Imaginary Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that the second annual Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest submission and reading period begins next month.
I’m taking submissions from April 2 until June 15, with winners to be announced here at the blog on Monday, July 2. As with last year’s contest, I’ll pick the finalists and judges-to-be-named-later will vote “blind” for their favorites.
I hope get more visual art entries this year, but getting any entries at all brings its own special joy. The winners and runners up will be displayed at a Norfolk-area business. I’m still working out the details there, but hope to have more information soon.
Should nobody enter, we will pretend this did not happen. Just like my junior prom at Cranston High School East. Go Bolts.
Don’t want to enter? Suit yourself, cupcake. But before you go, do consider this persuasive and entirely solicited testimonial from last year’s winner, the Marylander di tutti Marylander who is called Gary Potterfield by all who are introduced to him as such. Get ready for gravitas:
A warning to anyone contemplating entry into the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing contest. Run. Just put down the chop sticks and run. For if you should win your life will never be the same.
Ever since I won last year’s contest, hardly a day goes by that I’m reminded of my victory. In fact, entire seasons go by and I’m not reminded of it. Immediately after the announcement, I began to receive more than 100 emails per day, none of which had anything to do with fortune cookies or cookies of any kind.
I can count at least 2,372 people who have not asked for my autograph, and that’s a low estimate.
I think my victory has even affected the time-space continuum. The February immediately following the contest explicably had 29 days.
Clearly, we need to bring the title back to the Virginia. May God bless the Commonwealth that is not Kentucky, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Yes, as the kids say, the preceding sentence was a parochialist U.S. state designation burn.
Here are the basic guidelines, from the official rules:
In this test of skill and conciseness, readers contribute (hopefully) clever or artistic fortune or fortunes of their own creation to me via email to email@example.com – not in the comments, please.
Funny fortunes. Clever fortunes. Poetic fortunes. Artistic fortunes. Silly fortunes. Sad fortunes. Angry fortunes. Your hopes and dreams, your fears and foibles. Whatever way you want to approach it. It just has to fit on or to the form of a fortune slip, so please keep it to about 30 words or less. Cartoons, (original) comic strips, photos, and artwork all are encouraged, not just the written word – it just has to fit into a fortune cookie fortune sized space, such as this:
There will be modest prizes of my choosing, including signed books by authors previously featured on this blog. Last year’s prizes included Ted Danson and Mike D’Orso‘s Oceana and Earl Swift‘s The Big Roads. There also may be prizes from local businesses in the Hampton Roads area. Or maybe not. Details to come when the reading period nears.
Please enter early and often, and maybe tell your friends.
This message is pretend approved for immediate release by the Imaginary Board of Trustees.
Karen Levy Newnam of RipplAffect. Courtesy photo by Andi Grant Photography.
NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk marketing and communications executive Karen Levy Newnam has theater and non-profit roots, and these worlds meet in her involvement in RipplAffect.
Now in its fifth year, RipplAffect has produced a series of benefit performances of Eve Ensler’s plays, primarily The Vagina Monologues, to raise awareness and money for the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, among others, and support survivors of domestic violence and rape. RipplAffect has raised about $20,000 for the YWCA to date.
Three performances this month mark the local premiere of Any One of Us: Words from Prison, a collection of monologues conceived by Ensler and developed from writings by women serving in prison. LaToya Morris directs. Newnam, a founding member and principal of RipplAffect, produces and acts in the play.
We spoke by phone about a week ago for the following Q&A, which has been edited for clarity and length. As happens around here, I’m writing about a friend — and someone I admire for her heart, drive and commitment to the Hampton Roads community. Additional full disclosure: my wife, Cortney Morse Doucette, is a founding member of RipplAffect.
I hope you’ll come away from this Q&A with a sense of how the arts can be used to support local charities, and I hope you’ll check out one of the upcoming performances. Additionally, Newnam speaks about some of the practical aspects of production — and about how conversations and ideas can become something that pays dividends.
There is one word below — hopefully, only one word — that may make you a bit uncomfortable. So you know.
Q: Let’s talk a little about RipplAffect. This is the fifth year, right? How did this start?
I was at a networking lunch with a group of women I met through Leadership Hampton Roads [now LEAD Hampton Roads]. We kept in touch and got together once a month. I was talking with Dorothy Dembowski, who is a friend of mine, just about plays that we enjoy and theater we hadn’t seen in a while, and just started saying, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be interesting to produce a play, and, if we did produce a play, why would we do it?’ And she had a lot of interest in women’s issues, as well. I did The Vagina Monologues years ago, a really great way to bring light to some of the issues facing women everywhere, but to particularly bring focus to issues in Hampton Roads.
I started talking to some of my friends in the theater. We said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do this, why are we doing this?” We started talking about the issues that were important to us and the power of theater and the arts to really make those issues accessible. We weren’t interested in starting a non-profit to raise money that other people were raising or to start a non-profit to offer services that other people were doing a great job of. But we could certainly produce theater in an effort to bring more attention to what they were doing and help them raise money for the good work that already was happening.
Q: The first year you decided on The Vagina Monologues. Had you figured out you would be working with the YWCA before you decided on the play, or did the play come first?
The play had come first. I was at a fundraising luncheon for the United Way, and I ran into the executive director of the Y. I had been on their board in my early twenties. I said, ‘Some friends of mine and I would like to produce The Vagina Monologues, and we want to be able to partner with an organization that supports survivors of domestic violence and rape, and we thought of you and I wonder if you’d be interested.’ She said, ‘My goodness, we have an intern – her name is Denise Hughes – and she’s been wanting to produce The Vagina Monologues for the same reason. Why don’t I connect the two of you?’ So that’s really how it started. I connected with Denise. She’s amazing. She was a big part of the organization until she went into the Peace Corps. … It just really came together.
Q: The first performance was at the YWCA, wasn’t it?
The first four were at the Y, actually.
Q: Some of the readers who aren’t from here won’t know the layout of the YWCA in Norfolk, but they’ve got this – what’s a wonderful meeting room, but not necessarily a wonderful theater space. But you guys kind of transformed it.
Exactly. We talked about getting theaters, and the folks at the Y said, ‘You know, it would mean a lot for us if we could bring new audiences into our building.’ So they have a very, very large multipurpose and meeting room …
We got in touch with fabric companies that support theaters, and we ended up ordering from a company out west. We ordered yards and yards and yards of black fabric and had it cut. I remember people with sewing machines and hemming and ironing, and we masked the entire space in black. Before that it was, ‘How do we turn this into a theater?’ That was one thing – let’s take the definition of the space away by masking the walls from floor to ceiling in black. Then we used some platforms to make some stage space, and actually that first year Natasha [Bunnell] directed, and she really had this vision of making the space even more vaginal. I think in between the black curtains we had flashes of red fabric. It was really something else. So when you bring the chairs in, you put a platform in, and you bring in the lights, and everything is black, it became a cozy theater.
Q: You have folks who are at, maybe, different levels of experience. I always found that the productions that you guys have done, that’s been really meaningful and informed the performances. Can you talk about the different kinds of people who have been involved in your performances over the years?
The first years, we really pulled a bunch of friends together, and said, ‘Hey, come do this with us.’ It was a phenomenal experience. We had some very talented actors. It was probably the second year that we had gotten a new director from outside of the group, and she brought in a bunch of women we didn’t know. So the group started getting bigger. The third year we actually advertised auditions. Little by little, new people entered the group. I think what speaks most to what it means to people was the fact that this year, besides myself and Cortney, the three young women – I say young women and I date myself – who are really instrumental in making this happen joined us along the way. [In addition to Morris, the director, they are Anna Sosa and Eileen Quintin.]
To some people it’s, ‘Oh, my gosh, I really want to do The Vagina Monologues.” Or ‘Oh, I need to do a play; let me audition.’ And then other people come into the fold, and it really touches them. Our director, LaToya Morris, has two jobs, and she’s doing this. She actually chose the play we’re doing, as well. This year we decided we needed a break from The Vagina Monologues.
Some people will do the show and be great at what they do and walk away. That’s fine, too. Other people, it’s the whole idea that through their acting they can elicit this thought process in people. They can open their minds to something that’s going on that they might not have thought about before and then hopefully give back in some way. It really has affected key members who keep coming back here year after year.
Q: You’ve had lawyers, students … Is it a challenge to bring people who don’t have theater experience into the story?
The year we did that the most, we were looking at it from a marketing perspective. How can we increase the audience? A lot of people, when they do productions as part of V-Day, will get members of the community to be involved. I reached out to folks, whether they were philanthropists or lawyers or radio personalities. That year, we pulled in a radio personality and a lawyer, and neither of them had acting experience. It definitely helped increase the audience, but it was an amazing process seeing someone who you consider a lovely person but is fairly reserved take one of the, I think, hardest monologues to do and get up on stage and, in character, talk about her vagina.
It’s pretty amazing. Challenging. You have a group of people and the director says, ‘You need to be off book by the 10th.’ Half the people are saying, ‘What does off book mean?’ When we have someone like that, we usually buddy up with them.
Q:The Vagina Monologues really does speak to people year after year. Could you please talk about why you think this material is something that is worth being performed and worth bringing people together in support of a community organization?
It amazes me, but at this point so many people haven’t heard it. It’s an interesting mix of humor, innocence, and just really, really in your face, dirty, ugly reality. I think for every moment of, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe they just said that’ or just horror at somebody’s plight in one of the monologues, the play also does a good job of bringing you around to the lighter side and just letting you enjoy a laugh, and then it wraps up with ‘I Was There in the Room,’ the monologue about birth, really celebrating women.
That’s one of the nice things with the new play, too. The final monologue in Any One of Us really wraps things up in a nice way. I think that’s why it’s successful.
We did The Vagina Monologues for a new group this summer, and I actually got into some intense conversations with one of the members of the board who was horrified and asked me to do some editing of the monologues and asked me to cut some of the monologues. It just got to the point where I had to say, ‘If you don’t think this is the right play for your organization, then you need to find someone else to do this for you.’ It’s not our mission to do easy theater. It’s our mission to make a difference, and this is how we make that difference. She had wanted me to cut [the monolgue] ‘Cunt’ and there were some other monologues she wasn’t comfortable with. We ended up doing the play, as is. At the end, she was just really touched. I think some of it probably offended her sensibilities, but I think she understood it. The audience, which was a different audience for us, was probably the best audience we’ve ever had.
Q:Any One of Us is kind of similar to The Vagina Monologues and some of the other theater work that Ensler has done. … This developed from workshops. [The project came out of a 10-year-old writing group involving Ensler and 15 women at a prison, according to V-Day.] Why did this play speak to your director and speak to the group as a whole?
We initially started doing this through V-Day, frankly, because it is easy. [If an application to do the play as a fundraising event is accepted by V-Day, there is no cost for rights.] They provide you all the materials for marketing. For people with full-time jobs, it makes it a manageable process. So when we decided to look at something else – that we wanted to do a different show – the first thing we did was we went and looked at other pieces Eve had done and that were part of V-Day. And, also, we looked at other scripts. …
At the end, it really was the director who called our attention to this piece. I think the main reason was it was really eye opening. Once again, Leadership Hampton Roads – I guess it was a good thing for me – we did a tour of the Norfolk Jail, and we went through all the different floors. What really got to me was the women’s side of the jail. It wasn’t frightening being two inches from the bars where there were men. It wasn’t frightening being in the open areas where there were men. It was all fairly calm. But when you got to the women’s side, there was so much anger and so much aggression – and it wasn’t just bars separating, it was walls and windows, but it was palpable and it was, I thought, a very frightening experience. So when LaToya found this piece, it was the realization that, when you start looking at it, the numbers are staggering – women behind bars who are survivors of domestic violence or rape. Not making excuses for anybody’s actions, but we started realizing the correlation between the plight of these women and the causes we had been trying to bring light to.
Q: Is it a similar experience to The Vagina Monologues?
There are funny moments in the monologues, but I think the ride is a lot rougher. But, again, the final monologue is saying this could be any one of us. It’s not an easy ride. Not to say The Vagina Monologues is an easy ride, but this is entirely different.
Q:Why do you think this is a valuable experience for people to come and see? Why do you think this piece will speak to folks around here?
Hopefully, for me, it makes people want to help, want to support organizations like the YWCA that keep women from winding up in these places. I hope it at least makes them think twice instead of judging. When you think about neglect or you think about abuse, I don’t know that people often think about this side of it. I think making that connection is important.
Q: This production is going to benefit the YWCA again, but you’re not doing it at the Y. Why did you have the change of venue this year?
I just couldn’t see us getting on a ladder again and hanging curtains and sheets and begging for lighting again – not begging. The theater community is really warm. But every year we go out an say, ‘Can we please borrow your lights? Can we please borrow your platforms?’ Buying fabric when we don’t have it. And the idea of really being able to get in a space that already was put together and instead focus on the show itself was really attractive, and it’s been a much better experience.
Q: So the space has been pretty open about having you there?
Yes. We’re at the Perry Family Theater, [home of] the Hurrah Players. And I’ve known [Hurrah Players co-founder] Hugh Copeland since my time at Old Dominion University. Basically, I told him, ‘We ultimately will be looking to have a relationship with a theater where year by year we’re producing in their space. You’re probably not the space for that … ’ Not that Hugh doesn’t support it and believe in it, but they do family theater. It’s a very different audience. So they very graciously – I mean, they have let us rent the space for what worked in our budget. We don’t make any money. It all goes back to the Y. They’ve been great.
Q: Do you see a longterm relationship with this space, or are you looking for another space?
I think as long as they don’t get any backlash – which you never know – I think it’s a great space for us. It’s just a perfect space. We could produce there again. We’ll keep looking. There are other theaters we really need to be talking to and working with, and maybe their mission is a little more in line with us. I respect what Hugh is doing, and part of me does worry, ‘Is he going to get backlash for this?’ I hope not.
Q: Where do you see RipplAffect down the road?
I wish I could tell you. No one wants to let it go, but no one has the time to take it as far as we want to. In the perfect world I would have the money and create a non-profit and hire some of these fabulous women to run it for me. I don’t see that happening any time soon. I think this year we’ll be getting our 501(c)3, and we’ll make it official. And then I’d like to see us have a relationship with a theater so that, once again, every year it’s not running out to find a theater, find this, find that. I’d like to see it get a little more stable that way. In a perfect world we’d be running programs on college campuses. I mean, I think the mission is important, and it really speaks to the strength of the arts and to theater and the opportunity to really have an affect on people and the community.
The Tunnel Traffic reading series shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, a Johnny Cash reference in which "shot" means "gathered writers to read a poem or whatnot" and "just to watch him die" stands for "just so people listening have this realization, basically, a kind of epiphany about the world." See? This cutline is totally not libelous, right Travis A. Everett, founder of the series? Photo by John Doucette.
NORFOLK, Va. — The Tunnel Traffic reading series returned last month, and it will continue this week at Borjo Coffeehouse near Old Dominion University.
The reading prompt, recently announced by series founder Travis Everett, a poet and and ODU student in the MFA Creative Writing Program, is say something “nice” about New Jersey. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m also a student in the program.
The next Tunnel Traffic is at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, at Borjo, located at Monarch Way and W. 45th St. in Norfolk. There is nearby metered street parking and some garage parking. Plenty of drinks and eats.
Here’s a video from the last one, and a brief Q&A follows.
Here’s the Q&A with Everett:
Q: The topic/prompt is “say something ‘nice’ about New Jersey”? Why is “nice” in quotes?
We’re just following an old typographic “convention” for providing additional emphasis, John.
Q: New Jersey, as in the state, yes?
The Wikipedia disambiguation page for ‘New Jersey’ informs me that there’s a Bon Jovi album, and two battleships by the same name. Our fault, for introducing the ambiguity. If you have something ‘nice’ to say about Bon Jovi’s New Jersey or either iteration of the USS New Jersey, please do.
Q: We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Anything to add?
I have a lot of “nice” things to say about glam metal.
And that’s the whole interview. As a wise man, his guitarist, and Desmond Child once wrote:
You get a little but it’s never enough.
Show up Wednesday. Maybe Tico Torres will show up to sign autographs, though I am legally obligated to tell you he will not. Anyway, if you want to rock the mike by reading the lyrics to “Bad Medicine,” don’t do it all ironic. Rock the mike with sincerity, baby.
Patriotic bench outside the firehouse in Craddock, a community in Portsmouth, Va., the city in which I live. Photo by John Doucette.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A few years ago, I became interested enough in a candidate for national office to do something rash: I allowed my email address to be joined with a good many email addresses on this guy’s digital Rolodex. Now this politician sends me emails regularly about matters big and small, and asks for money. As I was for many years a reporter, I’m used to such things. I’ve been on the email and fax chains of Republic and Democrat candidates for and holders of federal offices, and have come to think of the email rhetoric of politicians — particularly those hellbent on working in D.C. — as unusually well phrased notes from a series of teenagers I somehow adopted. That these teenagers have handlers and press secretaries to shape our discourse does not particularly change two core messages:
Hey Dad, they say, I did this and that and this, all for you – ain’t you proud?
Yo, I need some money.
Most recently, the politician emailed repeatedly to say he needed as little as $3, and – if I was lucky, of course – he’d even stop by for a family dinner. Actually, I’d have to go to him, presumably in Washington. Kids these days, they want the world to come to them. He didn’t even write the email himself. A mouthpiece offered:
And, don’t forget – if you’re one of the winners, you’ll get to bring a guest along with you.
With apologies to my plus-one, I’m not interested in becoming a winner. For one thing, I don’t eat family dinners in the District. My First Family is in the southern part of a Virginia region called Hampton Roads – in Portsmouth, the city within which I live; in Norfolk, where I work and attend school; in Virginia Beach, where I have family and occasionally go fishing; in Chesapeake, where my wife grew up and where some of my friends have settled; in Suffolk, an under-sung jewel that is the best place to go to get away from the other four cities for a little while. I’ll always pay attention to issues of national importance, and speak with my vote or, perhaps, support of this issue or that, but these places have needs, too.
So I suspect my $3 is not destined to travel far.
With that in mind, I offer for your consideration some New Year’s Resolutions:
I resolve to love my local community more than I have. I want to spend less time dreaming about the other places other people live and embrace the reality of where I live. I want to show the love more than talk about it.
I resolve to continue supporting local arts as a patron. Some of the best art I’ve seen has been in local galleries or festivals, and on local stages. I want to see more local music, more local plays, put more local artists on my walls and on the pages of this little blog. I’d rather see a failure that reaches than a success that plays it safe. I want to remember that living in a community with a strong arts scene, however uneven some work may be amid the much needed experimentation that leads ultimately to better art, is like love itself a blessing that must be replenished by love in return.
I resolve to keep my charitable giving local. This is at least for the coming year, however tempting it can be to give through large charities based in other states. Additionally, I resolve to give directly to charities and avoid middlemen. If I want to give to a local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, for example, I will give to that charity and not through a fundraising firm that delivers pennies on the dollar. I will not support any charities that have failed to file their paperwork, because if a supposed charity cannot do that basic step they will fail at providing a service or program no matter how well-intentioned they are. I will remember that the local United Way is a good means of giving or finding worthy charities for those who do not know where or how to give directly.
I resolve to consider my community before seeking entertainment elsewhere. One of the most appalling nights in my recent memory was at an unflinchingly secular “holiday” celebration/cash grab at a major amusement park in Virginia, complete with a stage play shamelessly bastardizing the “meaning” of said holiday. Which may be fine for some, but is more proof to me that commerce and faith should keep separate books. For what we spent there, we might have better enjoyed another fine day at the outstanding Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth and handled our Christmas business at home or in church.
I resolve to pay attention to local government. As a (mostly) former journalist, I have a deep discomfort with political giving. But if for some reason I decide to spread some dough around, I will look first to candidates seeking local offices because they make the decisions that directly affect my life. I will try to attend at least one Portsmouth City Council meeting, not to speak or complain, but simply to let my city officials know I care about the work they do on my family’s behalf and that I value the work of the city employees who provide services, educate our children, and protect us from crime, fire and medical crises. Also, I love Light Rail. I’ll ride the Tide when I can.
Most importantly, I resolve to increase my percentage of spending on local businesses, particularly independent businesses and corporations headquartered in our region and our commonwealth. I will continue to support the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, because the Chamber is working for the betterment of the local market. I will continue to seek out the fruits of local farms before buying at the big grocery stores. I will seek out mom and pops and try to blow less money on national chains. One of the best holiday gifts I’ve ever given to my wife came not from Wal-Mart or a national department store, but the gift shop at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum. This may seem a bit silly, but it’s a just peanut-shaped Christmas ornament. We talk about it and our times in Suffolk. We’ve done this every year that I can remember, and I can’t think of anything from a Wal-Mart that has ever generated a conversation. Chain eateries at malls can’t hold a candle to the many fine dining spots throughout the region. (See you soon, No Frill Grill. And Five Points Community Farm Market. And others.) I will remember that local businesses generally keep money in our community through reinvestment and the payrolls that support my friends and neighbors. Likewise, when I travel to other places, I will try to seek out local businesses there and reward the brave independent businesspeople making a go of it in an increasingly cookie-cutter America. I will read more books bought through independent and local booksellers.
My back yard begins in Portsmouth, and expands a bit to a region called Hampton Roads, and then to our beautiful Commonwealth on Virginia, and onward to our nation, and then the world. So, overall:
I will remember that to be a member of a region and a state and a nation starts with being a member of a community. The communities that are represented best by regional bodies and state and national governments are the communities that best represent themselves through strong support for local industry, arts, media, government, etc.
For now, the problem is that I’m all good intentions. So I hope I’ll stick to most, if not all of this, and pray my friends and neighbors will help me do so. If it’s a matter of spending $3 here or $3 there, I vote $3 here.
Because John is en route to South Africa today, he can’t write If You Read the Paper. He left yesterday and lands in Cape Town tonight, where he’ll spend ten days visiting a friend and researching a novel. During his layover in Amsterdam he sent us one of his old short stories instead, as we urged him to consider doing. It’s called “Mr. Gas,” from his 2003 collection Born on a Train. He wrote “Mr. Gas” when he was twenty-two and knew virtually nothing, so he prefers that you not read beyond the end of this editorial note, which he also wrote. He doesn’t usually talk about himself in the third person. He is probably jetlagged and confused.
This is called underselling, you see. There’s a lot in it for writers and readers to discover. Please visit AltDaily and enjoy.