This year, man, 2020: What a ride. A ride, because we were, us all, helpless passengers as it tore through the spring, more recklessly deliberate maniac than indifferent calendar date.
Everything happened; pestilences plummeted from nowhere. In March, a hemorrhagic stroke at age 47 landed me in the hospital for 40-plus days, forcing me to recalibrate my career, a professional path I’d followed near-exclusively since 1991, when I was too young to put stock in grownup considerations.
My stroke weirdly coincided with the pandemic, and the world I re-entered was vastly different to the one I’d left behind, when you could sit unmasked within cootie distance of strangers, before “Zoom” and “social-distancing” entered everyday language. Who knew when the ball dropped in January that we’d fall just as far?
Things changed in 2020 for my former colleague Brad Fuqua as well. Then as now, we were both of the same tribe: editors and journalists at the Albany Democrat-Herald/Corvallis Gazette-Times. I left in June primarily for my health. The industry overall has changed immensely over the last 30 years, very little of it for the better, and it’s no place for someone forced to alter his diet and live at less-panicked speeds, and who spent the better part of April wondering if that numbed-red extremity on his right side would ever be an arm again. Brad was laid off a few months following my voluntary departure after he singlehandedly transformed a series of mid-valley newsroom discussions into a long-form beacon of community trust, the Philomath Express.
I get the need for layoffs in today’s climate, but it seems silly, especially in the post-pulp age, to unshackle journalists into the wild. In the old days we’d disappear, retreat to other papers or give up the craft, weary, disillusioned. Now we stick around, become voices for a chosen niche.
Back in October, I launched Mid Valley Noise, which devotes itself to local entertainment. On Nov. 30, Brad went one better, and all he had to do was continue doing what he’d done so successfully for a half-decade: cover the city that welcomed him. I don’t know how he does it; the pace at which the Philomath News publishes would put me in traction for life. It illustrates what’s true of any place: life and news are always in motion. Stories unfold everywhere.
In that spirit, Brad asked me to contribute a monthly column. With palpable stage fright, I said yes. Some months later, I’m still not sure what this space will be. I live in the mid-valley, though not in Philomath. I am, however, a huge fan of its culture — its music, its art, its food, its history. I’m a former attendee of the long-gone BurntWoodstock festival in nearby Burnt Woods, its welcoming barn faded with the hues of summers past.
The whole region has music bursting from colorful seams, a rich bloodline that runs from Highway 20 to the coast. When I find myself in its environs, I feel like I’m home, caped in scenery and unfettered imagination (“less fetter, the better,” like my grandpa used to say).
So, if you have something you feel I should see or hear, or an event that needs a loving push, let me know at [email protected]. I look forward to getting to know you and watching the Philomath News grow with the town it calls home.