My Dad’s life through a new lens

I struggle to write my Dad’s obit. And then I rewrite it. And rewrite it again.

Charlotte-Anne and Turtle by Joseph Lucas

Charlotte-Anne and a turtle at Lake Oswego, 1956. Photo by Joseph Lucas

Where in the world to start?

My Dad taught me to read before I entered Kindergarden, he taught me to be a photographer, how to build and fly radio control model airplanes, how to fish, how to paddle a canoe and how to rebuild the engine in a car.

Most of all, he taught me how to think, and he stoked my passion for social justice. For my 14th birthday on Nov. 15, 1969, he granted my wish by taking me to Washington, D.C. to march against the War in Vietnam.

Because I could, I sewed a gib sail for the catamaran he made from two canoes, I took him to lunch with Texas writer and iconoclast Molly Ivins, and I married a man who loved him and liked talking to him.

But the fact is, since his death on March 28, 2014, the meaning and truth of my Dad’s life ~ and the meaning of my own life ~ is changing.

There are facts, but there are no longer hard and fast truths about our lives ~ the truth and meaning are fluid, evolving.

I understand this a little better now, thanks to a generous and wise friend who pointed me to Robert A. Neimeyer, a psychologist who believes the central process in grieving is responding to the loss by reconstructing meaning.  (Book here: http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/431651A.aspx video here: http://youtu.be/xYS0W-Ulg4g)

So I will take the obit and the story of his life in bites, reconstructing the meaning in chapters. Starting with the facts and finding the truth as I go.

I love you Dad.

{{hugs}}

 

A Sax to Build a Dream on

Image

Photo by Nicole Foy

Just getting into the after-hours club in Phoenix required an unlikely combination of connections and trust.

You had to know it existed in the first place. Then you needed directions – there was no sign outside advertising the joint that opened at 2 a.m., the hour Arizona law required all bars to close.

After knocking on the door, you needed to give the name of a reference. Only then would you be admitted into the foyer, where you’d be patted down for weapons ~ or whatever.

“Don’t bring your purse,” Willie advised. So I slipped my driver’s license into right back pocket of my jeans, and a pack of cigarettes into the left.

Some time after midnight, we took off in his 1974 Datson 260Z for the south side  ~ to a place where the city’s best jazz musicians congregated to jam with each other for the fun of it, after the bars where they were paid to play closed down for the night.

We parked, he knocked and offered an acceptable name, and we got the pat down from the bouncer.

Looking around, I realized we were the only white folks in the room ~ except for the bartender, an off-duty cop.

The “pick up” band grew steadily by twos and threes, reaching about two dozen people by 3 a.m. There must have been about eight saxophones, from tenor on up to soprano, acoustic and electric bass players, a guitar or two, and a full compliment of trumpets, trombones, drummers and singers.

There were so many musicians up front that some spilled out into the room among the tables, not missing a note.

To my complete surprise, Willie took my hand in his and asked, right there, if I would marry him.

Right on cue, a tenor sax sidled up to the table and played for us like we were the only people on earth.

Soft, breathy and low at first, the saxophone swung higher and got more intense. The man behind the horn leaned into the riff, and the bell of the saxophone moved out and up as it wailed a passionate plea.

“Of course, I will,” I smiled.

A while later, we left, walking out the door just as the sun was coming up on the first day of June, 1986.

Entreprenureal Journalism links and Twitters

Here are some of the links from my discussion today on Entrepreneurial Journalism at the SPJ Region 8 Conference in San Antonio.
Books for news startups:
Entrepreneurial Journalism by Mark Briggs
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Lean Analytics Croll & Yoskovitz
Net Smart by Howard Rheingold
Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold
22 Immutable laws of Marketing, Reiss & Trout
Rocket Surgery Made Easy, by Steve Krug
Good to Great, by Jim Collins

Books for Nonprofits:
The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter
Measuring the Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter
Guerilla Marketing for Nonprofits Levinson, Adkins & Forbes
Leap of Reason by Mario Morino
Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, Emerson & Church

Twitter folos:

@dorieclark
@joshtpm
@lisawilliams
@timoreilly
@grist
@dailykos
@milsf
@acarvin
@kanter
@deanna
@steve_katz
@jdlasica
@hrheingold
@mashable

Planes, People and Another Piece of My Heart

I used to get flashbacks every August.

The aching sadness would start to swallow me on the anniversary of the Aug. 2, 1985 crash of Delta Airlines Flight 191 in Dallas, followed by another collective sob on the anniversary of the Aug. 16, 1987 crash of Phoenix-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 255 in Detroit.

As a young reporter, I covered those crashes with both sides of my brain and 110 percent of my heart.

In the months after the Delta crash in Dallas, I and a team of two dozen reporters and editors at the late, great Dallas Times Herald produced a series on aviation safety that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service Journalism.

Two months later, I quit my job in Dallas and moved to Phoenix to marry an editor, the love of my life, Bill Waldrop.

Bill directed breaking news coverage as Criminal Justice Editor at the Arizona Republic, a big, metro daily paper that wasn’t particularly interested in hiring me. So I went to work for Max Jennings at the Mesa Tribune, a paper that was still small enough to be nimble and scrappy.

Bill and I were watching the television news shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday Aug. 16, 1987 when the crawl went across the bottom of the television screen: “A Phoenix-bound jet has crashed on takeoff in Detroit.”

Back then, we only had one land-line telephone in the house, so there was a bit of an arm-wrestle about which of us would call their news desk first and say, “I’m on my way in to cover it.”

He won, and was out the door in a flash, speeding downtown in his Datsun 260 Z.

Not long after, I was off to Phoenix’ Sky Harbor Airport to interview people who were waiting for friends and family to arrive from Detroit.

My dear photojournalist collaborator and friend, Gary O’Brien, still has a photo in his portfolio from inside the airport that night. I’m squatting down with other people, trying to comfort a woman who collapsed, overcome to learn her family member had missed the flight. He lived.

Photo by Gary O’Brien

Of the 157 people who boarded the plane, only one survived, a 4-year-old child named Cecilia Chichan.

I filed a story for the Mesa Tribune that evening, and also filed something for my friends at papers in Dallas and Detroit to include in their stories for the morning.

Then, after I cajoled him on the phone for a long while that night, Mesa Trib Managing Editor Sandy Schwartz relented, and Gary and I boarded a 2 a.m. flight from Phoenix to Detroit. The Mesa Trib had never done anything like quite like that before, and it certainly wasn’t in the budget.

When Gary and I landed after daylight, Andy Hall, a reporter working for my husband, was already on the ground in Detroit.

Gary and I went straight to the crash scene.

The aviation safety series in Dallas taught me more than I ever wanted to know about the fragile mechanics of JT8D Pratt & Whitney jet engines and the deadly vagaries of weather and wind shear.

As a 10-year-old kid, I learned the basics of aerodynamics by flying radio control planes with my Dad. I was his mechanic.

But the human factor arches over all.

For the “first responders” — EMS, Fire Department, local police and sheriff’s deputies — there is nothing more horrifying and debilitating than doing absolutely everything right - by the book – and not being able to change the outcome.

When big planes crash, people die. You can’t save them, no matter how hard you try.

When I met Wayne County Sheriff’s Lt. Norm Colstrand at the perimeter of the crash scene, I asked how he was holding up. I wanted the real answer, not just a polite response.

Colstrand was a burly, veteran cop. But he was overwhelmed with a primal pain.

We agreed that I would come back, long after dark, to see what he was guarding. He needed to share his pain with the world.

Having entered the game, the Mesa Trib doubled down and sent a gifted young writer, Doug MacEachern, to join the ground team in Detroit.

Doug mercifully agreed to connect with my husband and pick up my sneakers before leaving Phoenix. I’d been in heels since Sunday evening.

When he delivered them, I found a note from my husband tucked inside one sneak: “I love you – now kick ass!”

I wore those sneaks that night on a tour of the still smoldering crash scene.

Very fortunately for me, Gary and Doug were there. Doug tells the story here, better than I ever could.

I remember picking up the page, thinking deeply about the person who owned the book it came from, and tucking it away. It lives in my home in a file labelled, “Detroit Page.” It has seen daylight fewer than six times in 25 years.

From the start, I knew the plane did not crash itself. Even back then, passenger jets were designed to take off and fly with just one engine.

Sort of like in “rock, paper, scissors,” the human factor can overrule mechanics.

And so it had in Detroit, I learned through whispered hallway conversations with pilots and investigators.

Humans in the cockpit failed to extend the flaps on takeoff. Without that lift, the plane crashed.

To the relief of the reporters working for my husband, I finally left Detroit and flew home to Phoenix. He let them come home too.

The amazing experience in Dallas provided a template for the components that needed to be in the Sunday story.

The People.

The Plane.

The Crash.

Dave Becker, Scott Bordow, Ric Clarke, Jeffrey Crane, David Downey, Chris Feola, Earl Golz. Andrea Han, Eileen Myers, Robert Perez, Bill Roberts, Jeremy Stockfisch, Ed Taylor, Ben Winton, Rick Wiley, Dough MacEachern, Gary O’Brien and I provided the facts.

Then Doug wove the words together in just the right way, describing the purple bow her grandma tied around Cecelia’s waist that morning and the yellow blankets we saw that dark night tucked around victims on the ground.

After a long time, the ghosts went into remission.

But this August, they came out to mark 25 years.

And Norm Colstrand’s words echo in my brain:

 “You hear about the plane crashing into Mt. Fuji and that 520 people got blown across the side of a mountain, and you say to yourself, ‘Boy, that’s a shame,’ and then you go about your business.

Or your hear about a plane crash in the Canary Islands and that 582 people were killed. You shake your head, and you go on with your life.

“But this time, we can’t just go about our business.

“This time, death in its massiveness came to roost here.”

New age journalism: With a pickaxe and a crap detector

This is going to be a little random, but I am grateful to Adrienne Flynn, my long-time friend, sister journalist, and now University of Maryland journalism professor, for asking me what I think journalism students should be learning these days.

Away from academia, these centipede legs sometimes take me on a run, when what I really need is to pause and think. And reflect.

So I did.

Anyone can be a publisher. Everyone is a publisher. Whether you blog or Twitter or update your Facebook status, or just text or email, we all publish news many times a day. And it’s accurate and fast. When Spain won the World Cup, Twitter beat the New York Times email alert by 15 minutes – an eon in ADD Twitter years.

Each day, people take and publish millions (or is it billions) of pictures from cell phones, not because they are paid to, but because they love to and are passionate about it. (amateur=love) Facebook edged out everyone else to become the biggest photo upload site in the world, and that was how many years ago?

Everyone can be a broadcaster, by uploading video to YouTube, live-streaming video with UStream or going two-way interactive with live video and live, commenting audience on Kyte. That my Nokia cell phone could stream live video to the web was a big deal in 2008. Today? Not so much.

Everyone can find information. First there is Google, where you can find out what people did say, and now, the second-biggest search engine is Twitter, where you can find out what people are saying about any topic at this very moment, everywhere in the world.

When all the world’s a publisher, there is no such thing as meaningful market share. I am typical: I go to 19 different places for my news every day. I am fickle. I follow shiny objects, not big, grey, pulpy lumps.

So what can make news organizations or journalists special when everyone can (and is) doing it?

Journalists have access to people and hidden information. They can put it in context, make it understandable and curate the flotsam and jetsam into a meaningful exhibit that helps people understand and make better decisions.

Journalists have special access to people and policy makers. Journalists can pose questions to policy makers, and they can — via live web casting — share that access with the community.

Think about the folks who hang out in city council chambers for hours, waiting for the “public comment” section in the end. What if you could give that access to people on a periodic basis? Often, normal mortals ask the most penetrating questions. I’ve found that policy makers agree to participate in the online “town halls” when a journalist is involved.

Journalists can find things that are not on Google. Important things. Like the HTML feed for 311 calls or the PDFs of a city council measure explaining how  ADA money will fund new sidewalks in a run-down part of town, or the scanned and PDF’d copies of each council person’s expense account. All those things are online at City Hall or somewhere, but otherwise invisible. (See Deep or Dark Web )

Journalists can find those things, put them online in context, in a visually comprehensible framework, and create people-magnets.

Don’t you want to go to the map and zoom in on your block and see what people are calling 311 about, or how fast the city fixes things, or how that compares with other places?

Don’t you want to scour your council person’s or congress person’s expense account and see where the hell they went and what they claimed they spent and compare it to their peers’ expenses?

Don’t you want to be able go back to the part of the video in the public meeting where the developer told the neighborhood association that his high-rise would have friendly, street-level retail shops, and not a high wall that screams “Keep Away?”

When it comes to data, journalists can decide which bits and bytes to turn into eye candy to help the people formerly known as the audience examine it from all sides. I collect links to examples of  data visualization, and love this video of “Gapminder” data visualization software.

And then the journalists can help people annotate the information with their own stories. And they can put it in context so we know whether it is big or small, red or green, unusual or normal.

So the students need to be in newsrooms and bureaus to brainstorm and to feed off of each other and learn from you.

Teaching them to be mere news and photo and video publishers is too pedestrian. Everyone’s doing it.

They need to be archaeologists and artists, collectors and curators.

Give each of them a shovel and a crap detector (thank you Howard Rheingold!).

Tell them to dig until they find something that you don’t get on a simple Google search.

When they come up with something, tell them to examine it, and then write about it and weave a solid backbone of context around it, then make it visually understandable.

Then you curate it: Is it good enough for this most amazing exhibition?

And when it is good enough, then you put it to the people (journalists’ best co-conspirators) and say, “What do you think? Can you help us fill in the rest of this picture?”

Then you say to the policymakers, “These people raised some interesting questions.” And you give people access to ask their questions of the policy makers. So the community can be informed and people can make better choices.

I was going to add, “and Democracy will be safe,” but I don’t want to go out on a limb.

I have no idea if this is comprehensible or if it helps. But it is where I am going.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My gold cocoon on wheels

The last thing I wanted was to own and drive a minivan — a gold Dodge Caravan that looks identical to its two million or so brethren on the highway and in every parking lot in town.

But it was what I needed.

Four years and a few weeks ago when we bought the van, I’d just had my cancerous uterus removed the hard way, and needed something gentle to ride in for the 200-mile drive between home in San Antonio and the best doctor in the world at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

While I passengered with a pillow, Willie drove the van to Houston for my next surgery, then drove down again for my series of radiation treatments. The ride was gentle, and I started to secretly love the van in a very un-soccer mom kind of way.

Later that year, I got the chance to teach journalism, Web publishing and design, multiplatform reporting and interviewing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. But I didn’t want to move.

“You can commute!” said department director Ardyth Sohn. “Everybody does it.” And so I did.

I loaded everything I could think of that fit into the van; we pointed it toward Vegas and drove. The air conditioning was good and the ride was sweet, all the way across West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and the Hoover Dam into Nevada.

And when I drove to the UNLV campus each day, at about the same time the third shifters were getting off work on the Strip, the van gave me enough elevation to see a couple of cars ahead so I could avoid the early morning drunks and the other crazy drivers.

Van

The van has more .edu than I do

We drove the van home in December, back to Vegas in January, then home again in May.

I did the “commute” until 2008, when the van and I came home to San Antonio without a single scratch.

The van’s acquired some learned trappings along the way.

Above the UNLV sticker on passenger side of the van’s windshield is a parking pass for the University of the Incarnate Word. The van parks there while I swim laps weekday mornings at the Natatorium.

A Saint Mary’s University parking pass dangles from the rear view mirror, because the van hangs out there on Tuesdays and Thursdays each semester while I teach the class formerly known as Print Journalism.

A year ago, I was persuaded to take a leadership role in a new community journalism startup called NOWCastSA.com. We planned, strategized and budgeted for video cameras, a TriCaster and people. As it turned out, getting all of that stuff and staff from here to there, where we do our thing, requires … a van.

Gear in, seats up, people in, doors close and we fly to our assignment with the Interwebs. In the past few weeks, the van clocked 250 miles on NOWCastSA.com alone.

Monday morning, I’m heading to Houston again to see my favorite doctor at MD Anderson. I have no doubt I’ll be told that the cancer’s still gone. Endometrial cancer is like that. Overwhelmingly, we are survivors.

While Willie drives, I’ll be online and working, thanks to bluetooth, WiMax 4G, the sizzling good cell connections on Interstate 10.

And thanks to the gold van that is my Giving Tree.

It’s my birthday, I’ll count if I want to

I’ve never been afraid to go places few women have gone before, and to take names and kick butt.
Thanks to my father, I learned to rebuild the engine in a 1964 Dodge Dart so I had a car to drive in 1974. (I named it Rocinante and aimed it at windmills.)
I won’t reiterate the litany of “firsts” I punched through as a woman in the journalism bidness. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time busting through the “first” wall: The first woman photographer, the first woman investigative reporter, the first woman business editor, the first woman editor, the first … well, you get the drift.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of a lot of white guys trying to do twice as well as they did so I could earn a place at the table.
Today, my 54th birthday present was to not be the lone woman at a tech conference.
We were a crowd and a tribe! A flock and a pod! A gaggle and a group!
We were not alone.
About 22 percent of the people registered for Drupal Camp Austin 2009 were women.
I know. I counted.
That’s extraordinary in a world where six percent of people in Open Source software are women. In Drupal, the numbers are more like 12 percent, but that’s still a dreadful minority.
Thanks to @laurenroth, @shana_e and @equintanilla @vitorious @chanaustin this was not a “lone woman” conference.
Women came for many reasons, including that there were people at this conference who look like them. Anglo, Asian American, African American – we were there.

In every session there were from 13 percent to 29 percent women.
I chronicled the ratio in every session I was in, to the dismay of one South Austin cretin (please click to see what an idiot he is.)
It’s my birthday, I’ll count if I want to!!
The tally tells me how far we have come. Thank you for such a meaningful birthday present!