It’s been nearly four years. But all things come to an end.
I won’t bury the lede: today is my last day at RVANews.
Over my three years and seven months as editor and lead reporter, I’ve written stories about all things Richmond, including many people that are shaping the city for the better. Yet writing about myself makes me uneasy. I don’t like being the center of attention; I’m much more interested in learning about other people than in me opening up.
But I’ll take advantage of being able to say goodbye publicly and note a few things worth sharing before I pack up my things.
I drove my Corolla to Shockoe Bottom in May 2011 on my first reporting assignment. I had no journalism training. I had no journalism experience. Just a notebook and a pen.
Boom Boom Burgers had just closed, and its owner had publicly blamed the Bottom’s thriving “… nightclubs and bars catering to the lower class urban population of Richmond”1 for the business’ mere three-month lifespan.
The story was thus: was Shockoe Bottom really a bottomless pit for non-nightclub enterprise? That’s what my first story addressed, wherein I spoke to local business owners who seemed to be making things work just fine for themselves. People enjoyed what I wrote.
It was my first writing ever published: words I had written, available for the public to read, with my name attached to it. Man, I can’t overstate how thrilling it was. Even today, having published hundreds (thousands?) of pieces, that same thrill still dashes up my spine whenever anything I write gets published.
Stories, I’ve got ’em
I’ve been lucky to get a continuous, almost behind-the-scenes look at the people and events that’ve affected the city. I’ve profiled a local tattoo artist who tattoos nipples on breast cancer survivors, learned the history of Halloween on Hanover, found where the city’s recyclables end up, followed the Occupy Richmond movement,2 was at the State Capitol during the 2012 women’s right protests, and more. I’m lucky (and proud) to have relayed many important stories to readers.
But by far the most fun I’ve had on a story was when I wrote about my balls.
In October 2011, I wrote a three-part “Going South” serial about my foray into Brazilian waxing. It’s the kind of story you didn’t find in the Richmond Times-Dispatch or even Style. I like that. The article was fun, smart, if not a tad gross.3
Not many people get the chance to cover such a breadth of topics for a living. I’m one of those people. I’m lucky.
People along the way
I’ve also met and gotten to know Richmonders who are, without a doubt, worth meeting and getting to know.
Here (in no particular order) are some of the people that have impressed me most:
- Tracy Thorne-Begland • I don’t like mentioning someone’s sexuality–why should it matter? But it matters here. Not only is Tracy Thorne-Begland gay, he was also a Navy pilot who publicly fought the now defunct Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy not once, but twice. I profiled him in 2011 when he was Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney. He’s now a judge, and the state’s judiciary is the better for it.
- Helen Rogers & “Nicole” • Helen spoke candidly about the two times she was raped, events that motivated her to bring SlutWalk, an organized protest calling-out the “you were asking for it based on what you wore” mentality, to Richmond. I also spoke to “Nicole” who was raped by two boys when she was 16. I can’t imagine what both of them went through, but their courage in talking about it gave me and readers at least some idea of what they endured.
- Tim Skirven • There’s this idea that creative people are selfish jerks with egos the size of planets. Tim is the polar opposite of that idea. What needed only to be a 60 minute conversation between us for a profile turned into a two-and-a-half-hour chat. He’s one of the coolest people in town.
- Mark Smith • If all business owners ran their business like Mark Smith runs his, the world would be so much better off. If you need auto work done, think about going to one of his local Midas stores and supporting him.
- Jakob Helmboldt • No, not all City officials are corrupt bureaucrats with no interest in the public good. Richmond’s first-ever Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Coordinator is someone who truly wants to make this city bicycle friendly and has the long-term vision, patience, and resolve to make it happen. He’s also smart and friendly. The city’s lucky to have him.
- Roseanne Cash • Yeah, I know she’s not a Richmonder, and say what you will about her music, but wow, she’s arguably the most delightful, divine person I’ve ever interviewed.
- Mickael Broth • Putting aside any bias I may have that results from us having attended high school together, Mickael is a unique guy. You may not like his past work, but he’s someone who cares about the city. Richmond’s made better by having him around.
- Tim Laxton • Owner of Early Bird Biscuits (who you can read about in my upcoming profile next week), Tim’s in the running for most charming man in Richmond. Not only that, he makes one hell of a biscuit.
Mind your language
As Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre writes in his book, The Old Editor Says: “People glory in catching mistakes, and the little ones are particularly easy to feel superior to.” I can testify to that. I’ve been on the receiving end of public excoriation in the comments section.
Grammar martinets (who I doubt are professional writers themselves, because professional writers know it’s a rough job and wouldn’t dare publicly besmear a comrade) love feeling superior to us scribes when they can. Bottom line: writers should strive to make their work error-free. But as with all human endeavors, we will sometimes fall short of perfection. Simply point out our errors without lording them over us, OK?
Here are a few language faux pas I learned the hard way, as well as a mishmash of thoughts on language.
- RVA is not an acronym • It’s an initialism, as is the PGA and NFL. An acronym is an abbreviation you sound out: NASA, FIFA, POTUS, etc.
- Don’t pour over • When reading something intently, you pore over it. But you can still brew coffee with one of the pour over methods.4
- Free reign? • Equestrians know a rein as the strap that controls their horse. Hence the phrase rein in means to control and the phrase free rein means uncontrolled. Reign refers to royal office, and so “free reign” doesn’t make much sense.
- You don’t end sentences in a preposition • This idea came in the 17th Century when people like poet John Dryden fawned over the resplendent sensibilities of Latin. Since Latin is built in such a way that you can’t grammatically end a sentence with a preposition, it therefore became improper to do so in English, even though English allows for prepositions to end sentences. English also allows us to split infinitives (“to boldly go”) whereas Latin’s structure does not (“to go boldly”). In summary: freely end sentences in prepositions, and split infinitives with impunity.
- Where’s the apostrophe in Farmers Market? • My recommendation: avoid the apostrophe all together. We use ‘s to convey possession and ownership (Mary’s lamb, Peter’s ball). But, these days, farmers markets are seldom owned or run by the farmers themselves, ergo it’s not their market. That makes the apostrophe unnecessary (whether its farmer’s market (singular) or farmers’ market (plural). Of course, the reader is probably going to understand what you mean no matter what you use, so don’t get your undies in a knot over this.
That’s a wrap
Although today is my last day, look out for two profiles coming soon. One is on the man behind Early Bird Biscuits and the other about the Nonprofit Learning Point, a great resource for local nonprofits with a cool story.
Alas, I have no wise words to leave you with. I’ll only say that over these last few years I’ve delighted in telling some of Richmond’s stories. I hope you enjoyed reading them.
Photo by woodleywonderworks