Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Write Life: Opt for ‘remarkable’

Saturday in Jackson’s Journal is The Write Life, a trek past the mundane and beyond the borders of creativity. This is where we celebrate the craft of writing, storytelling and connecting with the hearts, minds and souls of readers.

I love my job as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I now have 30-plus years of newspaper clips as evidence of my role as a modern-day scribe, chronicling the events and people who I’ve been fortunate to encounter.

Like most writers and reporters, my work leads me to rather paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand, I do believe that what I do is important. I’m telling and reporting history. Live. As it happens. On the other hand, I often believe that what I actually produce is gibberish and not very important because it’s so poorly done.

This week I wrote an article about a rural water district’s bookkeeping problems. Maybe the water district has only 2,500 customers, but to those payers and for the community where the district is located, that’s a big deal.

Without the aid and patience of a gifted editor, however, no one was going to read beyond the lede sentence. I mean, for crying out loud, I learned to write a lede — how to “hook” the reader — in high school. What I presented to my editor began like this: “Officials with Public Water Supply District 4 at Hallsville …”

And I lost her. SHE didn’t read beyond that bland, lazy launch into an important story. Worst of all, I filed the story knowing that the lede stunk. Did that mean I lost sight of the importance of what I do for a living? Probably. Sometimes the reporting and writing seems effortless. Sometimes it’s clumsy and confusing.

My editor, Lora Wegman, insisted on a new lede. This is what I came up with:

“Failure to pay payroll taxes on some expenses and paying a higher-than-allowed mileage reimbursement rate are just two of the bookkeeping issues a former office manager brought to the attention of Public Water Supply District 4 board members Tuesday.”

Better, wouldn’t you say? I got right to it. Still a bit wordy, but so much more interesting and readable than, “Officials said …”

My sophomore (and last) year in college I was editor-in-chief of The Muleskinner, the campus newspaper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. The managing editor and I decided to reject any article that began with the words “the,” “a” or “an.” Our motto: “Get to the point.” We had journalism professors and all manner of academics argue about our unbending ban, but we won every argument. (Or so we thought. And it was that attitude that led me to leave college after two years because I really did think I knew it all).

Get to the point. If we’re writing something important, get to it. And in today’s newspaper world of a shrinking news hole, maximizing the words we use is top priority — well, second to the journalistic trinity of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The water district story was important to those customers, but I’m also convinced it was a big deal to all readers because watch-dogging and exposing what might be less-than-transparent operations ought to serve notice on all public entities entrusted with the people’s money.

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I buy into that aim. My first weekly newspaper boss used to say that photos of car crashes — and sometimes just the crashed car, because maybe we missed the actual accident — made everyone drive more safely.

I remember asking, “Then why do we keep seeing wrecks?”

My publisher, Norman Gallagher, scowled at my seemingly logical question and zinged me with a challenge. “Why don’t we do a better job getting their attention? Let’s tell the story better.”

Mr. Gallagher’s zeal for the truth was sometimes sidetracked by prejudice and personal vendettas, but he was passionate about telling the story.

“Let’s tell the story better.”

That brings me, in a rabbit-trail-chasing sort of way, to the point made by author/writer Jeff Goins, whom I consider a writer’s writer.

“What is up to you is the choice to be remarkable. As is the decision to be mediocre.”

That’s the conclusion Jeff reaches in Friday’s post, “The first day of the rest of your life.” Check out his blog.

Then choose to be remarkable.

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Filed under A reporter's life, Living Write

Grandpa brag time

Friday is typically a memoir-in-progress of the big hair and big dreams of the 1980s. Today The Journal takes a detour to share photos of Kianna Allene Brown at 6 1/2 weeks old.

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Unexpected moments of Light

It’s time for “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” when Jackson’s Journal undertakes a memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

I’ve been asked to speak and sing “The Lord’s Prayer” at a memorial service for one of Kelly’s cousins, Delena Sholler, on April 21 in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church in Belle. The location alone sends an unexpected wave of emotion through me, something I’ll explain at a later time, under different circumstances. Delena was living in Texas; I barely knew her. But my “adopted” in-law family called on me, as they often have, to memorialize and celebrate her life.

Delena’s parents are John and Nina Tynes of Union. Kelly, Kishia and our new granddaughter Kianna were planning to visit Uncle Johnny and Aunt Nina today. They are Kianna’s Great-Great-Great Uncle and Aunt. And they are two of my favorite people. Uncle Johnny “gave Kelly away” at our wedding; I recently found a gospel song that Nina wrote and I arranged several years ago.

Remembering that shared history has given me a smile and also brought to mind Nina telling the most spine-tingling ghost stories I’ve ever heard. When I mentioned that to Kelly the other day, she held out her hand to stop me. “Nope, nope,” Kelly said, waving me off and shaking her head. I imagined that just the thought of Nina’s gift of vivid narration sent goosebumps pulsing up Kelly’s arms.

Nina and her sister, Neva, have seen their other three siblings enter eternity: Leroy Guinn, perhaps the most influential man during my early teen years; Nora Wallace, whom I was with when she breathed her last; and dear, sweet Grandma – Nola McDaniel – whom a dozen of us surrounded and serenaded into Heaven with quiet, sacred hymns just three and a half months ago.

Unexpected moments of Light. That’s what I’ve experience time and again with Kelly’s side of the family probably more than my own. The last words I’d use to describe that clan – especially the distant, great-great kinfolk – are pretentious and artificial. These folks are as real as they come. A loose cannon like me fits snugly into the fold.

I’m going to follow this theme of unexpected moments of Light for a few weeks. Last week there was no “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” at Jackson’s Journal, the first time we’ve missed in three months. I’ve shed the legalistic view that “going to church,” even in the virtual world of The Journal, is mandatory for keeping a place at the grown-up table in Heaven. What isn’t acceptable, though, is just going through the motions when it comes to worship and examining my heart, but I’m a pretty good motion-goer-througher. I think I’ve mentioned before I learned from the best.

But you know one of the incredibly cool things about God? It’s as if He decides, “I’m gonna rock your going through the motions routine – when you least expect it.”

That’s called Grace.

So here I was, searching for guitar chords for “The Lord’s Prayer,” and thinking that I’d find something on YouTube, say “here’s what I’ve got for us for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” and then we’d have a quick prayer and walk one block down the street (in Belle, Mo.) to Cecil’s for a frozen dairy treat.

What I found was The Martins singing their own version of The Lord’s Prayer. I clicked. I simply wanted to listen, grab the link, slap it on this page, say “Amen” and get on with setting my lineups for the too-many fantasy baseball teams that I’ve drafted. But wow, what a version. I love, love, love The Martins.

Instead, I went next to In the Presence of Jehovah, another Martins song.

An unexpected moment of Light. If this doesn’t launch you into full-fledged worship mode, then you haven’t got a pulse. This past Sunday Natasha texted me to say, “Visiting a church and a lady is singing ‘In the Presence of Jehovah’ for special music. Thinking of you.”

God was rocking the complacency that I’d allowed to creep in to my heart.

Finally, in observance of Lent and in preparation for Palm Sunday (Kianna is being dedicated) and then Resurrection Day (we also call it Easter) I offer what might be an overwhelming experience. An a cappella rendition of O Sacred Head (one of the more challenging bass lines there is), set to video from The Passion of the Christ.

Granted, this is a long blog entry. (Broke my own rule). And it will take 12 minutes or longer to hear all the songs – and the scenes in the video are unbearably graphic. The thoughts and emotions from this post’s music weren’t what you expected when you started reading.

But I’ll bet you, too, experienced unexpected moments of Light. You’ll let me know, right? 

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

Sunday ride: Just me and Captain Joe

 

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This just in: And the winner is …

Kelly Jackson, 2012 Outstanding MSW Student of the Year. Kelly (Grammy of Kianna, wife of Jodie, mom of Kishia and Natasha) was notified today that she is receiving that award from the University of Missouri School of Social Work Alumni Organization board of directors.

The Alumni Awards will be presented on April 20. She will graduate (4.0 GPA, so far) with her Master of Social Work degree on May 11. Incidentally, Kelly did her field placement work in the fall at Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ). She’s completing her practicum this semester with Sherryl Laws Counseling and continues to work at Love INC, too. Love INC was informed today that it has been selected for the 2012 Outstanding Social Service Agency Award by the School of Social Work alumni group.

The top photos show Kelly today as a proud Grammy – the “job” she enjoys more than any other. She bottom photos are Kelly as a research technician in the animal science department at Lincoln University. She graduated in May 1996 from Lincoln with a degree in animal science; her specialty was reproductive physiology.

Here’s the best way to sum up Kelly’s fascinating, extraordinary professional and personal life:

1980’s: Nursing. (Graduated 1984 from Rolla Area School of Practical Nursing). Other full-time job: Mom.

1990’s: Animal scientist. (She entered the four-year program as a full-time mom of two girls at the ripe young age of 29. Kelly was named “Outstanding Senior” in the College of Agriculture, Applied Science and Technology at Lincoln on April 11, 1996.) Other full-time job: Mom.

2000’s: Foster mom. Other full-time job: Mom.

2010’s: Social worker ‑ champion of the marginalized, disenfranchised, oppressed, forgotten and neglected. Other full-time job: GRAMMY!

What’s next?

THIS is what Kelly was created to do: Be Grammy and guide people from hopeless, impossible situations into full, vibrant lives, while challenging and inspiring those she touches to help her change the world, one life at a time.

Kelly’s quote on all this: “It takes a lot of really colorful and different patches to make up a really cool quilt.”

I’d say my wife – my forever BFF to whom I will be married 30 years in just 42 days – has the coolest quilt I’ve ever seen.

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Catching up: If elected, I promise …

I know what went wrong.

Blame the time change, when we sprang forward an hour two weeks ago. I don’t handle change all that well. Go and throw a whole extra hour in the day – just like that – and poof!, I’m out of sorts. My doctor said I have SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. But she also said I need to lose weight, so what does she know, right?

(Just kidding. Dr. Reust is the best).

But my blogging schedule has been off. I’ve missed entire days. It’s not like the earth will stop spinning if I miss a day or two, but I’m out of kilter. This little acre of cyber space is the bit of structure I added to my life about four months ago and, wouldn’t you know it, you don’t tend to the yard for a few days and it needs mowing.

So consider this mowing. Friday is supposed to be memoir-in-progress “80’s Day,” but I’m going to skip all over the place right now. Follow along.

The Chronicles of Me

March 25, 1991 – “Meet The Candidates” forum at the Belle High School vo-ag room. I was one of six candidates vying for two seats on the Maries County R-2 Board of Education. That was 21 years ago. And that’s me on the right.

Is anyone surprised that I was the only guy wearing a tie?

 

I didn’t win, mostly because my last name was neither “Ridenhour” nor “Lange.” In fact, I finished fifth, but I did win the Canaan precinct in Gasconade County.

What the hail?

March 15, 1982 – A cast from the Baptist Student Union at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg was starting its third week of rehearsal for the musical, “The Apostle.” I played the part of Luke. (Yes, how fitting. The physician was also one of the world’s finest journalists). But the night of March 15 – it was a Monday night and we were rehearsing in the Lovinger Building gymnasium – a hailstorm busted out 3,000 windows on campus. Inside the gymnasium of the old building we were in, it sounded like the Apocalypse. (Whatever that sounds like).

What I remember most was how the streets flooded because the storm drains clogged up with golfball-size hail stones.

I was a staff writer for the Muleskinner, the campus paper. My front page story (just beneath the picture above) was “Regents pass dorm rate hike.” One sentence buried lower in the story noted that the university president asked the Board of Regents to authorize an emergency contract, “without competitive bid,” to repair the multipurpose building’s roof.

The good president called me to his office the day the paper came out (March 19) to tell me he was “perplexed” that I’d included that bit of information in the story. (My high school principal used to do the same thing). I asked, “Was it true?,” and he answered, “Well … yes,” and I wished him a good rest of the day and left.

That was 30 years ago this week. (What a trouble-maker!)

The Calendar Says …

March 23, 1982 – This notation: “75 days to go. Kelly.” Oh, yeah. We were engaged.

March 25 and 26, 1982 – Cue the lights! We performed “The Apostle.”

Fast Forward …

March 21, 1979 – “Shut up. I am going to KILL three or four of you! And I mean it!” That’s from my daily journal of my high school career at Belle High School, as spoken by English teacher Dale Mackey. Great guy, really – we often played tennis after school ‑ and I certainly don’t remember anything about his tirade, but apparently I lit his fuse that day. (Imagine that.) I laughed at his threat and he shouted some more. Me: “I think that’s pretty sad.” Him: “Well, your behavior is pretty sad, Jackson!”

The record is incomplete. I have no idea about the context.

From the aptly titled journal “My Senior Drear,” March 20, 1981 – “Had an emotional play practice last night. It’s all coming together now.” (I was Joe Keller in “All My Sons.” Intense.) “Kelly came over, we walked to school. She’s still sick, but we’re going out tonight.”

A little more …

“Cleaned out my moldy, rank locker. 3 bologna sandwiches, 1 ham/cheese, two Twinkies, 1/3 carton of milk. Carbon dating shows the provisions date back to September 1980.”

Got third quarter grades:

Journalism II – B

Astronomy – C

Study Hall – “I would’ve flunked study hall if there was a grading or credit system.”

Formal writing – A

Band – A minus

Yearbook/Publications – B

Speech II – A

Lunch that day? “Something that resembles congealed tooth plaque (allegedly ‘corn’).”

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Filed under A reporter's life, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

Good at catching, bad at keeping

Last night I held granddaughter Kianna (33 days old) and I told her about finding a praying mantis egg case on one of the oak whiskey/flower barrels on Sunday. Granddaughters need to know this kind of thing because praying mantises are cool. An intact egg case is even cooler. Leaving one or more praying mantis egg cases on the window sill to absorb warmth and energy is something every little kid should do.

(Shhh, Kianna. Don’t tell your mom. And don’t let her read what comes later).

If you want confirmation of how Kianna responded to my praying mantis stories, Grammy and Kishia can verify: Kianna laughed. Her eyes sparkled as she looked into mine during the natural history lesson.

I wonder what it feels like to be a billionaire.

Probably nothing compared to knowing that Kianna’s quiet laugh and sparkling eyes were for me last night.

Check out this praying mantis and learn what a praying mantis egg case looks like. Then read more about my catch-but-can’t-hold adventures.

 

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Sunday ride and some random thoughts

I'm giving some thought to changing the header photo for "Jackson's Journal" to something like this. I'm also tempted to change the name of the blog to "Fork in the road." What do YOU think?

And now some random thoughts:

  • I took an unannounced and unplanned two-day break from Journal posting. A little out of sorts lately, but back on my game now. Today (Monday) is supposed to be the 70’s Flashback (memoir-in-progress), but I might mix up the themes a bit this week to get back on track. I’ve neglected to share some “this date in history” entries in a timely manner.
  • Why do parents, couples and families go to Wal-Mart to speak horribly to each other and to demonstrate their terrible parenting skills? Nothing gets my dander up more than the mom or dad telling the kid with them to “shut up” or “don’t be so stupid.” Hey, mom and dad? You’re in public! And what it tells me is if they’re being this verbally and emotionally abusive in public, what’s going on at home is certainly far worse. We’ve got lots of families, marriages and parent-child relationships in seriously deep trouble.
  • Some have suggested that our excitement and energy over the birth 4 1/2 weeks ago of Kianna Allene Brown — our first grand baby — will eventually wane. Don’t count on it. This Grandpa’s and Grammy’s devotion to Kianna and mom and dad Kishia and Darnell isn’t a passing fancy. Kianna isn’t a novelty that we’ll soon grow tired of. I had grandparents who were mostly inconvenienced by me and my family. I didn’t learn how to grandparent. Kianna’s mommy, Kishia, has some grandparents who are simply absent or detached and uninvested in her life — by their choice. How sad. I don’t get it. I’m a full-time Grandpa. For those who suggest the excitement will wane: I will have pictures to show you until I take my final breath. Even then … check my pockets.
  • Kianna has two great-great-great aunts and uncles. How cool is that?

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Filed under Bike Log, Family, Kianna Allene Brown

Guest post: Cancer wasn’t in our plans

I was on the road for work, flying down the interstate with the cruise control set. I needed to make  a call that couldn’t wait until I got home later that night. So I dialed my husband and when he answered, I asked what I had been thinking about since leaving home that morning.

“Did the doctor call?”

For a heartbeat he did not answer me, and in that pause I knew.

“It’s cancer,” he said softly, like he was telling a child something she wouldn’t understand.

“What?” I said, in a voice I didn’t recognize.  “What?”

“It’s cancer,” my husband repeated. “The tests came back positive … I have cancer.”

Now it was my turn not to answer back. I just couldn’t find the right words to say to my husband of 37 years. Together we have raised three kids, and only recently the last one graduated from college. In our empty nest, we have been making big plans ‑ things to see, places to go … a road map for the rest of our lives.

Cancer wasn’t in the plan at all.

 There on the highway I simply told my husband that we would figure it out. Until I had my arms around him, I couldn’t say any more.

After hanging up, I pulled over to the side of the interstate and cried, holding my face in my hands. Cars and trucks flew past on their way to somewhere while I sat there oblivious to them all.

Finally, I checked my rearview mirror to remind myself where I had been. Then I carefully pulled out onto the interstate, leaving those tears behind.

Focused on the road ahead.

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“Then Sings My Soul …”

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting is the mid-week topic for Jackson’s Journal, a memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey.

Sometimes, the best sermons were the ones that didn’t happen. Often as the pastor a small church (I pastored three of them) I doubled as the music minister. (“Music minister” is fancy for “song leader.”) More than a few times when the music was just right and the harmony was so “on,” we might just skip the preachin’ part and sing a few more hymns.

One time Mt. Zion Baptist Church had a weekend (three-day) “singing revival.” I invited a different guest speaker for each night and told him he’d have 10 minutes to preach, but just about as long as he wanted for singing. And it just so happened that the preachers I invited had wives and/or families with incredible musical talent. At Beulah Baptist Church, once or twice a year we’d have a Sunday afternoon hymn sing following a carry-in lunch. I invited an entire Mennonite congregation from Chamois to join us once for an all a cappella hymn sing.

The memory still makes my arms get all goose-bumpy. Mmmmm! Good stuff!

Yesterday’s post was a birthday greeting to our youngest daughter, Natasha. One of the songs I mentioned in my stream of consciousness was How Great Is Our God. It’s a song that seems to touch us both very deeply and in a way it’s our father-daughter spiritual song. I also mentioned that Natasha has been to Cameroon (Africa) and Fiji. Our oldest, Kishia, has also been to Africa (Ghana), and both girls have made mission trips to Mexico.

When your daughter is in Africa, you don’t really relax.

A few years ago when Natasha was in Cameroon, Kelly and I were out doing some shopping when my cell phone rang, and it was Natasha calling from 6,000 miles away. She couldn’t wait to get home to tell me: she’d learned to play guitar. Then she told me to listen — and she played How Great Is Our God.

Worship doesn’t always need preachin’. I stood in Wal-Mart listening on my cell phone as Natasha sang from two continents away. It was easily one of the most meaningful worship experiences of my life.

So take a few minutes, click the link here and worship with Hillsong and Darlene Zschech as they lead How Great Is Our God.

Some arrangements of that newer classic incorporate part of the old classic How Great Thou Art. I couldn’t find anything on the web that satisfactorily combined those songs, but I did find this slightly new, barbershop arrangement of How Great Thou Art. (Goosebump alert).

Finally, the best song services of yesteryear were the ones where the music minister asked for congregation favorites. So I’m taking requests for future Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings.

What’s your favorite hymn(s) or praise and worship chorus?

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Old Time Religion, Uncategorized