Exploring

For six months, I’ve been writing a monthly feature story called Explore for the Lewiston Sun-Journal. Once a month, I spend a few hours in a particular locale and dig beneath the obvious to capture elements of the town that I’m writing about.

Each time I’ve done this, I came away with a much richer appreciation of the community I was profiling. Several times, I’ve featured towns that I regularly drove through, but from the high-speed highways that often whisk us through these places, I knew little or nothing about the town other than what the typical roadside detritus that most communities are afflicted by during our era of Happy Motoring, offered. Discovery always occurs when we slow down, take a look around, and real exploring begins on foot. At least that’s been my experience.

Exploring another Maine town.

Exploring another Maine town.

Once again, I spent Friday afternoon nosing around another place, knowing I had a deadline looming on Monday. This particular place is only two towns over from where I live and it’s a place I buzz through regularly on busy Route 196, one of those ribbons of blacktop built primarily for shuffling auto travelers through places, with little concern about esthetics, or scenery worth commending.

2014 has been the kind of year that starts out very slow, but picks up momentum as it progresses.  When I decided last fall that I probably ought to update my writing clips, my hope was that I’d have some success getting bylined, which would fit nicely alongside the other things I was doing as a free agent to make a living. Little did I know that I’d end up having such a successful first year back freelancing as a writer.

You can read my Explore feature in this Sunday’s Lewiston Sun-Journal in their b-section.

Motives

I often wonder what motivates most people—is it purely the love of money—in a capitalistic society that would make sense. What makes people do what they do, and often act in such a way that seems to undercut others? Greed is one of the seven deadly sins afflicting all of us at times.

Philosophers have written volumes about motives—whether it’s possible for them to be pure, or not. Unfortunately, Google isn’t like a library—it’s hard to bring up information about “pure motives” that isn’t oriented towards the Biblical, instead of the philosophical. I do know that Immanuel Kant (and Freud) observed that people’s true motives may be hidden, even from themselves. Even when it seems that people are acting solely to further another person’s good, that might not be the real case. Continue reading

Jesus and Maine Politics

In the world of alternative weeklies, topics covered aren’t usually the same ones that the mainstream dailies cover. If they are, there’s often more depth in reporting, or, a slightly different angle offered. Writing for an alternative weekly (or monthly) often allows a bit more leeway, also.

Maine has a paucity of alternative news outlets. Currently, there are just two places where investigative journalism that isn’t the usual “he said, she said” brand of reporting that’s the norm in newspaper reporting in Maine has a chance to get published. The two are the Portland Phoenix and The Bollard. For the purposes of self-disclosure, I freelance occasional articles for the former, especially when I want to don my investigative journalist cap.

Since my article on economic development was the front page feature in this week’s Phoenix, I was out and about scouting for hard copies on Friday afternoon. There’s still a thrill for me in seeing my name bylined, although it’s happened pretty regularly since the first of the year (and during a previous stint as a freelancer). Since the Phoenix and The Bollard are often side-by-side at the free newspaper pick-up stands, I also grabbed the latest issue of the latter, a monthly, rather than a weekly pub.

Jesus and EcDev in the alt pub universe.

Jesus and EcDev in the alt pub universe.

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Going Back and Moving Forward

I have the 3,000-word front page feature in this week’s Portland Phoenix. It’s about growth in the city of Portland, the current frenzy of real estate development, and whether or not this is best for all of the city’s residents, or just the few that are able to extract value from the current assets.

The article also looks backward, considering past boondoggles in order to have a better understanding of what might be the best way forward. I also am pretty upfront that I’m not enamored with most of the development ideas and plans coming from city hall.

My first extensive piece of writing about Portland and its economy was published back in 2004. It was about Hadlock Field. It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed on this. I’m still employing the same tools of the trade—research, putting boots on the ground and talking with those on the street, and remaining diligent in finding the narrative thread for the story I’m working on. No one has ever bothered to get this kind of up-close-and-personal look at baseball and whether it’s an economic benefit to the city, or not.

Hadlock-Pigeon

The June 2004 cover story in the late, great Portland Pigeon. “Direct Action Journalism” indeed!

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Writing Assignments

Creating structure.

Creating structure.

My Tuesday/Friday self-imposed blogging deadlines have been helpful. They’ve developed the capacity to meet other deadlines as a writer—the kind that actually help in paying my bills. It’s one of the reasons I established them, back before I was getting paid to write regularly.

As a result, this morning’s post is a truncated one, as I’m on assignment, and on a tight deadline for today, with others looming ahead.

Have a comfortable place to work.

Have a comfortable place to work.

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Perpective Requires Time and Distance

Fall Foliage-Rangeley Lake in October.

Fall Foliage-Rangeley Lake in October.

Seeing contrasts and picking out patterns often requires time and distance from the object. Perspective is often missing in the short-term. Comparisons and even side-by-sides appear strikingly different 10 months later, versus one day later.

Sometimes life presents vivid examples—we just require months (and even years) to recognize them.

Coming to the same place (Rangeley) every other week for 10 months has allowed me to observe this in snapshots of the natural world. Continue reading

Brain Shrinkage

According to this report, all our multitasking, especially on social media, is shrinking our brains. This lends new meaning to the phrase, “dumbing down.”

Given that we live in a 21st century world that demands that we attend to multiple things at once—how do we at least keep some of this at an arm’s length, or at least fortify ourselves and temper some of this “shrinkage”?

While it might be grand (or overly dramatic) to demand that you “kill your TV,” I’m guessing that solution isn’t one that most people are going to opt for. However, you might cut your television viewing—I’ve been working at it for the last month and it’s really not that bad. After 29 days of no television, Miss Mary and I watched a classic movie starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert Sunday night. I think we might limit our viewing to TCM on Sunday nights. Continue reading

Summer’s Last Hurrah

I’m not sure you can truly appreciate a late September weekend like the one we just had, unless you’ve lived through a couple of interminable winters similar to last year’s. Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Erica's Seafood--the best lobster roll in Maine? Quite possibly.

Erica’s Seafood–the best lobster roll in Maine? Quite possibly.

A hasty, last minute decision to conclude our 2014 lobster roll campaign resulted in a 25-mile Sunday drive down the South Harpswell side of the peninsula, and a final tasting of succulent lobster meat, stuffed into a buttered roll at Erica’s Seafood. Continue reading

I Like Words

I gave a talk on Wednesday night about small towns and the economic changes affecting them. I was in the small town where one of my seven recent essays was based. I had a small crowd of mostly friends show up.

I mentioned a recent dust up that occurred on Facebook on “You Know You’re From Lisbon If….”

That’s the problem with most of the communication on social media sites. It’s always, “I like __________ and you should too. Oh, you don’t? Well, you suck.” I exaggerate slightly, but the frame of Facebook is fairly narrow and all too often, binary. Continue reading

The Ole’ Hometown

Memories are faulty at best. Often, the things that we remember happening, either never did, or they happened much differently than our recollections offer. Of course, as writers, many of us use memories, experiences, and even hometowns as touchstones to craft stories and narrative, swimming around in the pool of what we think we remember.

My final essay in The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1, “Goin’ Back,” is a narrative about my hometown of Lisbon Falls. I often describe the town where I grew up as “a bit rough around the edges” to characterize the changes that have happened to a place that was never high-end to begin with—however, it was never as shabby as it looks right now, in 2014.

Thomas Wolfe was another writer who mined personal experiences and his hometown and included them in his fiction—me, I’m an essayist, not a fiction writer. As far as I know, I’m the only writer who hails from Lisbon Falls who has managed to weave together Thomas Wolfe, Libya Hill (the fictional town of his best-known book, You Can’t Go Home Again), and Lisbon Falls. I bind them together to try to articulate what’s happened to the town over not just the past 5-10 years, but I decided to go back much further than that to the 1970s, when the current unwinding began.

The Facebook page that pushed me to write the final essay in this new book of essays, “You know you’re from Lisbon ME if…”, was all lit up over the weekend about smoke, stink, and what many were calling a “controlled burn” down at the former U.S. Gypsum mill that’s no more—it’s just a big pile of rubble these days that sometimes smokes and stinks (like on Sunday afternoon). Rather shabby-looking, really.

No smoke in this photo--just rubble.

No smoke in this photo–just rubble.

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