Big shoes to fill and giant steps to take

It’s been a dark month for journalists. We’re losing our mentors and teachers and friends.

I’m not talking about Brian Williams’ fall from grace because of alleged fabrications. That will sort itself out soon enough. And while I will miss Jon Stewart behind the desk of The Daily Show, I wish him well in new endeavors. Hopefully he’ll direct more movies and get to spend time experiencing his family growing up. Newspeople tend to miss those things when they chase a story. Some of us don’t realize it until the therapist brings it up.

But I digress.

In the last month, an alarming number of giants – people who thrilled me with their literary finesse and inspired me to take this winding path of words – have shuffled off this mortal coil. Their lessons shared, it’s now up to those left behind to keep the goodness going. Hopefully we will be able to bring ourselves up to and over the bar they set and not shamefully limbo beneath it.

It all started January 12, when Al Martinez, a columnist I read in the Oakland Tribune as a kid and followed to El Lay, when I found him writing for the Los Angeles By God Times. I was going to name one of my pets Elmer, as he said people thought his name was when he said it too fast. I loved his look at life and credit him for helping me develop my own edge when I became a Southern Californian, working in a city that was so much more intense than the suburb where I grew up. I loved his spirit and tenacity to stand up for himself when the corporate bean counters tried to downsize him out of his rightful place in the public pulpit and celebrated when he started writing for the Daily News, LA Observed and AARP. Simultaneously.

Three weeks later, one of my colleagues from the Daily News died; Rick Orlov, who had a unique take on City Hall, where he was a trusted reporter and a selfless supporter of anyone who wanted to better themselves as a journalist. The end of his reign as the king of the press room means that a new regime will take over; one that will have to build from the ground up to earn half of the respect that sources had for Rick. It may completely change how politics are covered in Los Angeles and not necessarily for the better.

Bob Simon of CBS’s 60 Minutes, who survived torture at the hands of the Iraqi army, died Wednesday night when his livery car crashed in New York. A correspondent for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Simon was a trusted source who reported from locations all across the globe. He earned 27 Emmys for his work and after being released from captivity, went on to write a book about it.

Simon told the LA Times in an interview (noted in LA Observed) that he wrote the book “Forty Days” about his experience in captivity because “This was the most searing experience of my life. I wrote about because I needed to write about it.”

Catharsis. The need to write. Every writer can relate.

On Wednesday, New York Times columnist David Carr died after collapsing in the newsroom. He’d just come from a panel discussion and, like most of us, went back to the office to finish off the day, or organize notes for the next morning or just decompress from the information hustle. His unique take on the world of media will be missed.

On Sunday, the world lost Gary Owens, best known for his work on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In,” a show that helped us keep our sanity in the ’60s. His greater body of work included inspiring voice actors and being an example for those of us who occasionally took to the airwaves to announce the news. Timing, tone and timbre were things I took away from his school of life.

And my heart simply sank when I learned this morning that one of the pillars of LA news, Stan Chambers, had died. Stan was an innovator who persisted when challenged, inspiring more than one generation of reporters. His autobiography is one of my favorite books and his example of professionalism and leadership drove me to do better whenever I could. I’m even going to miss him on New Year’s morning. When I covered the Rose Parade several years ago, I was more thrilled to be standing near him as he did an interview than I was by the stunning floats. There’s something about being in the camera light of a legend….

There is a some comfort in writing about my feeling of loss, because it helps me deal with my fear of how my field will change without the responsible ones – the old timers, the people who knew traditions, had institutional memory, could tell it like it was in much more than 140 characters, breathing life into cold facts and making them stories you wanted to read and learn more about.

I feel like I’m one of a group of kids who just graduated from school and were thrown the keys as the revered faculty drives off, leaving us in the dust. Did we learn enough? Can we do them justice? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, raise a glass to some ass-kicking journalists and start the round of stories anew. We have a very high bar to hit.

Third time’s the charm, right?

February 11, 2015

Beginning again.

It’s like getting back on the bike or the horse or behind the wheel after a disastrous crash in which you were the casualty. But the muse within can only stay inside so long.

I am a writer. Not just because I have this uncanny ability to make fingers match keys that make things found in dictionaries and more often than not, fall into an AP style cadence.

Not because I made a living (kind of) as a working journalist and news director for 20 years.

Not because I embrace sayings like “punctuation, then quotations” or “people who, things that” as my mantras.

No, it has something to do with my love affair with words. They express. They embellish. They soften. They comfort. They confront.

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” is another literary tattoo. That and “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Yeah, I’ve always been a skeptic, long before my English teacher in high school said that I was a pretty good wordsmith. That character trait helped me when I embarked on a non-writing career arc of trying to be a cop. I studied law enforcement when I started college in 1971. Worked for LAPD for a while as a police cadet (the first female to do so, btw). Added pre-law to my studies when the physical part of trying to be a cop challenged me. Stopped chasing sirens and dead bodies for several years as an academic and instead pursued them with a reporter’s notebook. Decided to finish the college thing after a 32-year hiatus and got a degrees with a focus on writing.

Yup. Took that long to come to my senses.

This isn’t my first blog. I used to despise bloggers because I was a newspaper columnist, which I thought held me to a pretty high standard. I had followers. Some have become close friends. To me, bloggers had no accountability and I was responsible for my media outlet’s credibility. Captain America wasn’t the only one with a big shield and superpowers.

I softened my stance when my daughter became engaged the first time, launching a blog named “MOB Mentality” – as in Mother of the Bride. It was a way for me to wax poetic about a special time in our lives and hopefully let others know that if I could laugh at my experience, so could they. You might think that it was a freeing experience and in many aspects, it was, but it was also confining. In difficult situations, I refrained from expressing my true feelings so as to spare those people creating the problem. I found that to be more confining than enjoyable, so when the nuptials took place, I closed down the blog.

The kids divorced a year and a half later. Thankfully, the blog had nothing to do with it.

I stayed out of the blogging game with two subsequent engagements – that of my son and my daughter’s second engagement. Both of them are now married to people who make them blissfully happy and that’s how I want it to be.

During my degree pursuit, I had to blog for a class (a limited audience). Being fond of attention, I didn’t get nearly enough to make it worth my while, so that one was abandoned too. What can I say, sometimes I can be like the people I used to cover.

That’s not what I have planned for this blog. Bring on the world.

Thankfully, blogs today have evolved into credible and helpful sources. As newspapers, radio and television resources consolidate, thanks to America’s corporate greed, blogs have risen to fill the void. I find myself reading many of them daily, taking bits and pieces of knowledge, humor and life.

The title, Rockbottomreminders, is homage to my former newspaper column, which was entitled Rock Bottom. The reminder part is another attempt to let people know that my observations aren’t too far off from what they might be thinking or believing. It’s also close to the name of a defunct musical group, the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose musicians have included amazing writers Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Matt Groening, among others. They played their last gig in 2012. Their rock and roll lives forever on YouTube.

That said, I hope this gives me a little more discipline, something freelance writers struggle with constantly. At least I do. It will give me a chance to poke the bear with the proverbial stick while letting the muse pour forth her thoughts, opening the common jugular vein that pounds life into every writer. Hopefully people will comment. I promise not to use bad language if they don’t.

To this table, I bring the perspective of a baby boomer; raised in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I am AARPs favorite target. I am poised at the corner of Reinvention and Renaissance and know now how my mother’s perspective changed when she reached her 60s. You tend not to care quite as much about being careful, filters don’t work as well as they had to in the past and your audience learns more about the real you.

I’m going to cover politics, arts, consumerism, lifestyle and, one of my favorite phrases from junior high civics, “man’s inhumanity to man.” Sadly that’s still a daily dilemma.

I may make peace with the Oxford comma.

I might touch on religion (disclosure: lapsed Catholic with some great stories), will definitely mention Disney and I am an unabashedly proud pittie mama.

I abhor breed-specific legislation, discrimination and lima beans.

I believe we should have a reasonable expectation that our elected officials will do what we ask them to and be held to the consequence of being removed from office if they don’t.

And I can’t wait to hear what interests you.

Let’s make this a mutual learning experience, shall we?

Here we go……