Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Facebook

Thanks for the Facebook love

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FB as Barbie diaryDear Facebook friends: Thanks for all my birthday wishes, and, more importantly, thanks for coming back into my life. As a writer and diarist, Facebook is one of my favorite activities. Reminds me of these blue, green, purple books with hearts and keys that I have in my writing chest and I have kept since sixth grade, writing on every single page in most years. I have shelves and shelves of diaries/journals/
notebooks/whatever you call them until I got onto Facebook.

I make time for FB – morning and night — just like I journaled all those years before Facebook. I’m not too busy. I’m not embarrassed. Yes, I have a life, but I’m a writer, formerly a reporter, and I continue to report. Every day, I do this.

The other best thing about Facebook besides reconnecting with friends is: No editors. Ha!! Take that you Texas magazine editor who wanted me to change and change my Rayburn Dam story about growing up on the Angelina River until I couldn’t recognize it and – even I who love to get paid for what I write – refused to let it be published.

Even better, I can take photos of what I see and post. Yes, I was that kind of reporter, meaning I was the kind of reporter who worked at many small-town dailies and biweeklies so that I can get as good of a tornado shot as anyone. My eye sees the action in the crowd, just like my mind knows who the story-maker is in the room.

Because of FB, I don’t have to try to get my husband or kids or friends to come see the . . . sunrise, sunset, moon, Orion, Venus, Blood Blue Moon, four-leaf clover, turtles in the gully, deer, trashy graffiti, misspelled graffiti, bad punctuation on signs, snakes, Madonnas in the back of the pickup, terrible traffic on Texas 59. Or especially Ben doing something incredibly cute; Lucy doing something incredibly cute; their over-the-top cuteness when they do something together that just makes my day.

What I wanted to say today, on my birthday, as my friends write on my timeline is how proud I am of my life because of my friends and the people along my way. They are different and they are the same – these days we certainly know their differences but we don’t often talk about their sameness.

Most of my friends have pets, adore their pets and seem to love them more and more as they age. All the grandparents understand my doting adoration of Ben and forgive me for the over-sharing of his photos.

You wouldn’t believe the number of writers on my friends list including, naturally, folks from my reporter days but also from my girlhood. Port Neches, Groves and nearby were ripe for gritty stories. Heck, I even have two Pulitzer Prize winners among my friends, one of whom has won two Pulitzers.

FB keeps me in touch with my longest ago friend, Pattie, who I met the first day of first grade. And my bestie from teen-age years, Cyndy, who helped me meet my husband when she was being so charming at freshmen orientation at Lamar University. And my lifelong friend Lynn who has been in every part of my life from girlhood carpool, to living behind me at Lamar University, to now, now. We even spoke on the phone this week.

My friends include my babysitting co-op from 30 years ago when I was first in Kingwood, had only Laura and was freelancing without many friends. I’m even friends with many of my kids’ friends from their teen-age days. I really like them all better as adults.

My very favorite friends from our life in Michigan are on my list including Lynne who was the angel sent to be by my side when Trav was being diagnosed with his childhood heart problem – now cured because we moved back here to go to Texas Children’s. Without that huge glitch, we might still be wearing snow shoes and digging out our driveway.

Then, I’ve managed to reconnect with far-flung family members and watch my niece’s adventures in Alaska and my nephew who is living a nomad life as a photographer and driver in North Carolina. And, even if they don’t post every day, I get a glimpse into their lives, find out they are OK and the most important events happening with them.

Via Facebook, I’ve found out about the deaths of three good friends and my beloved niece who was named for me. I know that sounds cold and isolated from society as it used to be, but I’m so glad I found out so soon after their unexpected deaths. I wonder and worry about my wild family pretty routinely and start reaching out when I don’t hear from someone or something new is happening with them.

I have excellent cooks in my repertoire who share great and easy recipes. I have crafty folks including several quilters. Friends are building homes, raising chickens, running marathons, lifting weights, sitting by pools and beaches and drinking wine with me many evenings.

My tennis friends, my work friends, my new friends, my old friends. Wait!! I’m starting to sound like Dr Seuss.  So, I’ll stop now. Thanks for the birthday wishes but thanks more for being on Facebook and keeping in touch. I love every one of your posts and read you daily. You make my life fuller and my journaling easier. Thumbs up, heart and emotional face.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 6, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Reminded today of the first time I interviewed a murderer

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The Beaumont Enterprise newsroom -- back in the day. I'm in the middle of this photo, in front of the curtains, and facing the camera with a phone in my hands.

The Beaumont Enterprise newsroom — back in the day. I’m in the middle of this photo, in front of the curtains, and facing the camera with an old rotary phone in my hands.

I was maybe 22 years old and covering Port Arthur police for the “Beaumont Enterprise” in one of the most violent and newsworthy communities of the ’70s. Lucky for me, I was indestructible and fearless because the woman I am today would be way too wise to have conducted this particular interview

  • in a small jail cell,
  • across from a man who had beaten a friend to death with his bare hands
  • and with only one jailer nearby for my protection.

When I’m reminded of my old police reporting days, I’m lucky the story gets to end with, “I lived.” I now realize I was foolish and foolhardy and not at all unbreakable.  But, before I was 30 years old, I always was focused on “getting the story.”

I was reminded of this first interview with a murderer today because I’m listening to a new author, Allison Brennan, who has written a book “Compulsion” and it begins with a reporter interviewing a killer awaiting trial. It doesn’t read like the writer ever really did this, is my thinking.

On my commute to Houston both mornings and evenings, my choice most often is murder mysteries, police procedurals and serial killers. I read “Dexter” before he became an HBO series, “Bones” without Booth, “Wallander” before Kenneth Branaugh, “Bosch” before Amazon even existed.  You get the picture.

I tried to look at the newspaper archives today to lay my hands on reality but it’s not available. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I can’t quite recall enough facts to make the search viable.) Many of my reporting memories pre-date good web content. Most of my recollections are indelible only because of the retelling over the years and not because of the facts. At the time, I was always good with quotes and solid memories, but these decades later – who knows?

Facebook has been interesting for me because I often tell old police reporter stories and old friends come out of the ethernet to remind me of details or confirm my own remembrances. This happened most notably with my most painful interview – Karen Silkwood’s father. The photographer who was present is now a FB friend and remembered more details and confirmed some others. It was fun. But, that’s a story for another column. This one is about murder and how I survived. It also was a good lesson and one I used frequently in my stint as an adjunct professor at University of Houston.

Sharon Englade, a wonderfully generous courthouse reporter at the Enterprise at the time, gave me the lead. Generosity is an uncommon trait in the reporting world, even more so today. It happens only when you’ve seen your byline on Page 1 enough times that it doesn’t make a big difference to your ego about the next time.  Very rare indeed in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Sharon’s tip was facilitated by the jailer at the Nederland substation who had become a source of mine along my routine police “traps” I ran every day.

A convicted murderer (and I can’t find or remember his name) was transported to Jefferson County to testify against his co-conspirator in a murder trial. This man – the one I would interview – had pleaded guilty without a trial, and his partner in the crime had chosen to stand trial.

In his 30s, he was a solid figure, strong and compact. A bit attractive but, of course, I thought he was terribly old, he had been given life in prison for beating his friend to death. Now’s the part I can’t remember: Why did he and his buddy turn on this third man? I don’t quite know and can’t find the old clip; seems like it was over a woman. Isn’t that always the case?  My memory tells me they originally were all three friends. Happens. Friends turn on friends.  Stranger-on-stranger crime is the most uncommon – 2 percent for women; 25 percent for men. In my story, the likelihood of these three being friends is 75 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Now, here’s the rub.

When Sharon called to tell me there was a possibility I could interview this man, he had just testified against his friend. However, his friend was fully acquitted. The verdict was returned somewhere along the man’s police-escorted route from the courthouse to the substation. His friend would walk away free. My interview subject would go back to prison for life.

Originally, he had pleaded guilty in anticipation of a lighter sentence. It didn’t happen.

Bad lawyering? Bad judgment on his part? Well, you see what I was walking into . . . an angry man who had just been further angered by what he had to perceive as terrible injustice.

Nederland’s substation for Jefferson County was a fairly new structure – linoleum tiled with white walls, clean and safe in the suburbs.  The jailers were usually smart men (all men in this ’70s era) on their way up in the criminal justice chain. They were taking night classes at Lamar University, down the street, and showing potential to either be professional police or lawyers. They wore jackets and ties and looked like detectives instead of street cops.

I went by or phoned this substation every day that I was on the beat, and my office itself was only a few blocks away.

I remember some finagling between the jailer and me and me and Sharon and then transportation of the interviewee to the substation after his testimony. I was waiting when he arrived. He already had been told his friend was acquitted, so I was not the one to bear that news. Lucky for me.

To say the least, he was pissed by the time I first laid eyes on him.

Now, here’s the part I taught at UH: You have to have a good gut to be a good interviewer. Your job is to make the subject comfortable and trusting. This is your first job and how you determine how you will get your notes for the story. Some subjects are comfortable with you taping the interview. In those days, most were not. Most subjects are comfortable with you taking notes, but there was a trick to writing or not writing to help with the interviewee’s comfort level. In this story, the subject was not comfortable with anything.

I sensed right away that he was no longer interested in talking to me about his experience, thoughts or anger. If I had pulled out my pencil and skinny reporter’s notebook from the pocket of my jeans skirt, he probably would have broken my Ticonderoga No. 2 in half — maybe over my head.  So, we just talked. I took absolutely no notes. I never pulled out my notebook or put pencil to paper.

I didn’t have to ask “how he felt.” Such a stupid, stupid question.

I didn’t have to ask if he wished he’d stood trial instead of pleading guilty.

I didn’t dare ask about his guilt.

I didn’t have to ask anything. All I did was listen.

He felt railroaded and betrayed, of course. Prison sucked, of course. His life was over and he hated everyone and everything. Couldn’t blame him.

I walked away with very little in the way of new information. It was just a story to say the Enterprise had gotten the story. And, indeed, I had gotten the story. But I didn’t have a single note.

He was dragged away into a police car for transport back to Huntsville; I headed for the quiet of the Ladies Room. (And yes, it was the “ladies” in this day.)

I took out my notebook and began to scribble – every single word I could remember. In those days, my shorthand was still good. Today, my aged and feeble mind can still see my tan reporter’s notebook on my jean-skirted lap, writing away – at least some brief forms.

The story itself when it was published the next day may have been eight inches; I hope it was 12. Not long. Not worthy. But certainly worth the experience and the experience of telling it over and over again for the next few decades.

And the ending? I lived.

Saying goodbye to saying goodbye

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As someone once said to me, “You should be a lot more rich or more famous by now.” Thelma has plenty of time for both.

This week, one of my all-time favorite co-workers left my side for a new and wonderful adventure. I am melancholy, of course, but it’s been far easier than many of my past goodbyes. I give credit to the internet for that change in my emotions. She’s a pretty regular Facebooker who reads my blog, texts me, sends me photos of her girls as they are growing up and who routinely shares interesting and exciting ideas with me.  She will be in my life every day just as many of you are.

I wake up and check my Facebook to see what’s going on with my friends and my family. I comment often and “like” even more. I see my Facebook friends daily, I know them intimately and I tell them what I’m thinking frequently. They are in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and California, and they travel often to more states and countries, leaving me messages and beautiful pictures. They do not live on my block. I have no Millie and Jerry Helper to John’s and my, Rob and Laura Petrie, something I’ve always longed to have since the first days when, as a dreamy girl, I fell in love with the lives I saw on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

Then I go to Twitter to get my news from selected sources who also happen to be my friends. Because of my newspaper background, I’ve chosen writers and sources who I know personally and trust some, depending on how many late night war stories we told in the golden days of the Fourth Estate. I look at YouTube for laughs for the day.

I have an iPad, a smart phone and a husband who has tried all the notebooks before landing on the iPad, too. I have two kids who were born in the techy era and who take photos and videos far easier than they write letters or even thank you notes.  I keep up with them via text, knowing that my son won’t respond unless I ask a question and that my daughter will respond always.  My niece sends me shopping and fishing photos and another co-worker texts me photos of her new baby’s smiles.

As a former columnist for the Houston Chronicle, I once wrote that I never intended to be the type of parent who kept my children locked in my generation. I would embrace their music, their movie heroes and let them live in the world as it is today and not as it was “in my day.”

As an adjunct professor at the University of Houston, I argued with the tenured professors that “yes” our students should be allowed to use spell check and grammar check.  Why not let them start here, I said, using my hands to indicate a higher mark than where we started when we had to be accurate spellers and grammarians. I argued they would go much farther in the theoretical learning cycle when they started with the tools of today. P.S. I lost that battle and the spell check was turned off for Reporting I and Reporting II classes.

I propose a new experiment for the neuroscientists of today who study memory. How is this new generation of communications affecting our remembrances and the health of our brains?  My memories are keener because I have my friends from the past along to remind me of details they remember that I don’t. My stories are more complete when I start a post on Facebook and someone who was there who is now my Facebook friend fills in the details from his or her perspective.

This happened recently when I recalled the toughest interview of my life with Karen Silkwood’s father, back in the ’80s.  The photographer who was with me began filling in the details, and my mind expanded to think of more and more images from that dark living room in Nederland that had the single adornment of her driver’s license photo blown up one thousand times as large as possible. I still wonder, if they were as so close as he said, why this was the only photo of his daughter he had.

Today, I work on a team and recently passed on to our team leader the differences in how I reach my fellow teammates after work hours. Two are by Facebook, one is by text and the fourth is by telephone. They are all pretty available if you know their preferred communication technique.

So before I post this blog, I will message Thelma that I am writing about her . . . again. I will tell her it’s not smarmy and she will like that because Thelma is not the sentimental marshmallow that I am. I won’t even say she has been the Ethel to my Lucy because she has been far more effective than Ethel ever was at keeping Lucy out of trouble. She has been my rock — an excellent foil for my high strung and creative soul. I’d say she’s helped channel my energy and intelligence for good instead of evil, and the world has been a safer place because of her.

She will be fine with being the subject of this blog because she knows me and knows how much I admire her and how much I wish her well. My co-workers are in my life because my life is so much about my work. I don’t separate the two. And when they become friends, they can now be friends for life — no matter where their office or home is located.

Just because I have left the newspaper business or Michigan or even my hometown of Port Neches, doesn’t mean I’ve said goodbye. The only thing I’ve said goodbye to  is saying goodbye.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 20, 2012 at 9:04 am