Saturday, January 21, 2017

Man about Willits: Why I love books

Man about Willits: Source: The Willits News 1/19/2017

 I love books. I especially love older volumes and the musty, used variety. Back in 1981, Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and famous media mogul, was quoted saying newspapers would be gone in 10 years. I am guessing his assessment was probably based on the emergence of new technologies at the time, and on the rising popularity of cable television. Now, cable TV is all but dead, replaced by streaming services and other technologies.

 I am a newspaper print guy and I realize that compared to the younger generation, I could be equated with a dying breed, the traditionalist who prefers the printed page to the shiny new gadget, tablet or e-reader.

The last few months have been pretty busy professionally for me, I am still getting acclimated to Mendocino County and to Willits specifically. There has been no shortage of significant events to cover since my arrival in the fall, but in the wake of last week’s storms and before this week’s ongoing precipitation, there was a lull in the weather. I stepped out of my office to stroll down Main Street, take in the sliver of sunlight and to walk to a favorite new destination: The used bookstore. After a filling lunch at the Mexican restaurant near my bank, I popped into the bookstore to briefly disappear into the stacks for the balance of my lunch break. It was the perfect respite from the deadlines, interviews, emails and the other responsibilities of the typical work day.

Whenever I find a new bookstore I always make it a point to scope out the section on games looking for tomes on chess. Willits is pretty well stocked when it comes to the books I enjoy reading.

I have heard it said that there are more books printed on chess strategy, history, tactics and tournaments than any other topic, except perhaps religion and the Bible. I probably read that bit of trivia somewhere.

 When I visit a library, I always head to the section labeled .794 under the Dewey Decimal system first, because I know that is where all the chess books are hidden, like rare gems in a buccaneer’s treasure chest. I also love biographies and screen writing books. Maybe my movie script will be completed in 2017. Sadly, bookstores have been going the way of the dinosaurs, brick and mortar stores and mom and pop businesses replaced by Amazon, Google gadgets and technology. According to the illiteracy statistics compiled by the Static Brain Research Institute, based on research undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy last year, there are still 32,000 adults in our country who cannot read; 14 percent can’t read above a basic level.

A staggering 44 percent of U.S. adults can only read at an intermediate level of proficiency and studies have shown close to 20 percent of high school graduates are illiterate. I remember sitting in my high school French class reading “The Little Prince” in its original French and in my A.P. English class pouring through the works of Shakespeare, Orwell and other classics. I cannot fathom being in a classroom without the ability to understand the printed page.

 I have always believed there is something irrefutably sad about a society where anyone can tell you the latest exploits of the Kardashians, but are at a loss when asked who wrote “Moby Dick” or to recite a line from Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet without pulling out their iPhone or asking the all-mighty Google.

Then again, I am “old school.” I sat in a freshman high school class learning to type the “home row” keys and just yesterday was having a conversation with a co-worker about the days when we needed a landline to be able to use the Internet.

 I love books, the tactile nature of their texture and feel, and I even love the way an old book smells. The fictional librarian in the old Buffy show Rupert Giles said “books smell like knowledge.” He said the problem with computers is they don’t smell. I think he was absolutely right. Conversely, I think my college journalism teacher was wrong when she adopted the mantra “print is dead.” Print and newspapers are alive and well in Willits, California and in Lake Jackson, Texas where I worked as a reporter two years ago and they are also still viable in Northern New Mexico where they are sold on street corners, much like they were a century ago. It looks like books and newspapers have some life in them yet. Ted Turner was dead wrong as a prognosticator, fortunately for us old souls who still love curling in a corner with a favorite book.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Man about Willits

Here is a link to my first column for TWN: Man about Willits

source: The Willits News, January 6, 2017

It must have come as a surprise to some of their members when I walked into the North County Women in Business Network’s latest meeting at the Willits Center for the Arts upstairs gallery Wednesday morning.

As I clutched my trusty battered briefcase and Canon digital camera and signed the attendance sheet, I overheard one of the ladies say in a concurrently bemused and astonished tone, “It’s a man.”

As a reporter and city editor working in the community of Willits, I have gotten to know a few of those in attendance, like former Mayor and City Council Member Holly Madrigal and Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Epstein, but the bulk were still new faces. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to accomplish other than networking and listening in to the group’s plans for the new year. It was perhaps just a good opportunity to attach faces to some of the names making their way into my inbox on a periodic basis.

On the agenda was a discussion of best practices and goals for businesses in 2017. The network’s Co-Chairwoman Jenny Senter, owner of Celtic Heritage Destinations travel agency, and Patricia Baumann, former network chairwoman, acted as facilitators. Senter asked the members what they were looking to leave behind from the previous year in 2017 by way of an introductory ice breaker, and each took turns around a circle providing various responses.

One member told me in jest that I should come back to a subsequent meeting wearing a dress. Others half-jokingly pointed out they were wearing pants or business attire. If my camera and notepad had not given away my profession, if not my intentions, a brief introduction took care of any uncertainty or potential awkwardness. There was little I could do about my gender.

Denise Rose, Brooktrails Township general manager, said she hoped to leave behind a playground, a project she has been working on for some time. Baumann, design principal at Design Cafe, said she was looking forward to having more time for herself in the new year and volunteering less.

Introductions were followed by break out sessions consisting of three or more members sharing ideas about best practices and how to improve themselves personally and professionally. These women in business forced me to think about what I wanted to leave behind in 2017, and after a brief period of reflection, I came up with this: I want people to shed their misconceptions, prejudices or preconceived notions about those in our community.

In addition to being more visible by stepping away from my desk and from behind the computer, whenever deadlines allow, it is one of my goals to shed any ignorance of the various groups operating in our coverage area, to better inform and serve the members of the community, while walking the line between informing and ferreting out corruption or waste.

Others in the group said 2016 taught them huge lessons, such as not worrying about disappointing people in business or as a volunteers. Saprina Rodriguez, newly-elected city council member and president of Willits Youth Soccer, said she underwent major surgery for a spinal injury recently, which slowed her down a bit. Rodriguez said she used her recovery time to gain perspective, and she feels excited about the tasks she is taking on in 2017.

Some of the best practices shared by members include taking time to plan, doing things one enjoys, networking, learning to be better listeners, learning more about online marketing, continuing with education, and not being afraid to ask for help.

These are challenging times for the local business community and property owners. In addition to the untimely death of former Chamber of Commerce Director Lynn Kennelly, city officials are in the midst of making the transition to new city council members, while coping with the reality of the post-bypass era. Most of the members embraced the notion that, as a collective, they were up to the task of dealing with their individual concerns.

A number of members have ambitious goals for the new year. Madrigal for example, has expressed desire in taking over the post recently vacated by former Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, in order to advocate for Willits and Mendocino County. Others set more modest personal goals such as swimming and getting fit or meditating regularly.

I was invited to come to another meeting to visit with the group in the near future, with one caveat: I don’t anticipate wearing a dress.