Lunch. Free? Sure.

Guy Unangst, early 1998, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newsroom, Little Rock. Photo by Sandra Wyman
Guy Unangst, early 1998, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newsroom, Little Rock.
Photo by Sandra Tyler

I have one good story about the recently departed editor Guy Unangst but didn’t know it was a story until a new reporter in around 2004 asked me, “Did you have a fistfight with Guy Unangst in the middle of the newsroom?”

“We did? What, us? Nah, there was no –.

“Wait a minute. You must mean the time –”

Who was I? In 2004 I was on the night universal desk of the Northwest edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In 1997, the year of the story, I was the new Sunday editor, overseeing the newsroom end of producing the Sunday and Monday editions. Print.

Who was the previous Sunday editor?

Gruff Guy was.

In October 1991, Gannett Inc. closed the Arkansas Gazette, and the Arkansas Democrat bought its assets and became the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The Demzette management was determined to not grow complacent as merged papers seemed to do. It helped that Gov. Bill Clinton was elected president and the state newspaper had become relatively prominent. We used that clout to attract better talent.

The Democrat had hired me in 1985 as a news copy editor. A year or so later I became assistant wire editor and a year or so after that wire editor, in charge of national and international news, pulled from wire services and the syndicated arms of papers like The New York Times and Washington Post. After 10 years, I begged for a change.

Guy, who had worked at some major dailies, was hired as special projects editor to oversee enterprise reporting including investigative pieces. The Demzette around the same time hired another top editor for investigative reporting, and Guy proposed a new job he could also do, Sunday editor.

Reporters appreciated Guy, his meticulousness and his fierce loyalty to them. The newsroom’s midlevel editors, however, disliked answering to him on the biggest edition of the week. If there had to be a Sunday editor, make it someone else.

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The Indian and the Jew

Kevin Dawes
Kevin Dawes, about 2016
Photo by Carly Hamilton, with permission

“The Indian and the Jew.” Kevin loved saying that about us. This is a man I’ve known since we were 6 or 7 years old, meeting and becoming fast friends in first grade at Ballman Elementary in Fort Smith. That’s in the vicinity of five and a half decades.

I have not seen Kevin in the last four of those decades. He moved away, although not all that far from our hometown. I moved away, not that far, either.

The Facebook tributes to Kevin Dawes, who died on the 17th following a long illness, are uniform in how many of his school buddies and adult friends admired his kindness. The childhood friends in particular haven’t shared large anecdotes, just everyday ones. That is key. Ann related that her first dance date was with Kevin. David noted that he, Kevin and Brian rushed to enjoy off-campus lunches in high school.

My clearest memory is the zillion times he’d walk the three blocks from his house on Wolfe Lane to my house on Valley Lane for us to play h-o-r-s-e using my driveway’s basketball goal. That would be latter grade school and a good chunk of Ramsey Junior High. Continue reading

Bad-bad and Bad-good Choices

Insight on waking today: We daily make bad-good decisions and bad-bad decisions.

These are common calls, far milder than “Should I drop out of school” or “Should I marry this person.”

Logo of Tofutti BrandsBinging on chips and dip — make mine vegan if you please — is a bad-good decision. Dwelling on grim news that is more than a couple of steps distant from you is a bad-bad decision.

Wouldn’t sound better to write good-bad not bad-good? Certainly. Both pairs, however, are bad decisions, so “bad” is the primary modifier.

Junk food you can digest your way out of. Well, a few extra pounds might grow on you, but in moderation snacks won’t be what kills you in the end.

Obsessing on grim news outside the closer circles of one’s personal space radiates through the rest of the day like fountain pen ink on Kleenex.

Someone I know well just learned of a tragedy on Facebook. It’s not the closest connection nor a distant one, in the middle, more near than far. It’s a person whose day-to-day life is full of all sorts of lame luck and bad choices, according to their frequent social media posts. More a sad sack than schlemiel. One cringes when one hears in conversation or from posts the latest to befall them.

The bad-bad decision comes from considering the latest catastrophe (not ironic but indeed tragic disaster) longer than a moment. If you reflect or investigate on it further, your whole day, your thoughts and even activities are infected with the gloom of fate.

If you’re not in a position to help, it’s just poisoning yourself.

I realize in drafting this that I have been making a bad-bad choice for 14 1/2 months. Unintentionally infecting myself.

Several times a day I read on reliable news sites the latest chicanery of DJT (pronounced digit) and his administration. I’ve been steaming not just since Inauguration one year six days ago but his election in November 2016, when everything he said and did began to have a calamitous impact on my beloved country. Continue reading

Got My Back, Background?

Although it’s only been a year, I’m back in the job market. Heck, some people resume sending out resumes in weeks. New in 2015, with the positions for which I qualify, are third-party background checks.

Fortunately, I am an angel.

Earlier this summer, R— S— (hereinafter known as “Auld Acquaintance”) applied at T— U— (hereinafter the “Company”). That job description stated a criminal background check and a sex offender registry check would be performed. Understandable: No crooks or perverts. (Now, if they only could weed out the psychos.)

A third-party “consumer reporting agency” emailed a form a couple of weeks ago to Auld Acquaintance seeking basic information such as full name, any former names (maiden), current address and phone — and the applicant’s authorization signature, created on one’s computer by moving the mouse (or finger if a smarter device) as one would with a pen.

Auld Acquaintance was pleased, because it meant the Company thought enough of the interview to pay for the investigation. It was closer to an offer!

The first four paragraphis of the authorization.
Click the following phrase for a PDF of the authorization.

I just got a similar email. Whoopee, they like me, they really really like me!

Then I read the multipage document. If I wanted to move up in consideration, I had to follow course. I did. In confirmation, the Agency emailed me a PDF of the authorization.

In a nutshell: “The background report may contain information concerning your character, general reputation, personal characteristics, mode of living, and credit standing.”

And the Agency [“(or another consumer reporting agency”)] isn’t done with you when you take the job: “These background reports may be obtained at any time after receipt of your authorization and, if you are hired or engaged by the Company, throughout your employment or your contract period, as allowed by law.”

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Transcendentally Minded for 40 Years

We have a 50-plus-year-old house, and the closets are consequently small. I am 50-plus years old, also with cramped storage.

At the start of the month I contracted with a publication for a couple of articles on major business figures in Northwest Arkansas. One story fell through; that happens.

I’ve been told that’s that company’s way, for its executives avoid media. Still, maybe someone “Googled” me.

While a full-time newspaper guy I kept political opinions private — that’s ethical and standard company policy. That’s frustrating, here in First-Amendment America. As I’ve departed from full-time journalism, now taking any writing gig, the least I could enjoy is mouthing off about big subjects. Yet as a freelancer, I’ve found that you bumper-sticker yourself at your own revenue risk, so I still leave little exposed.

A vocation opportunity opened in October, when I taught a three-class series in vegan cooking. The course was publicized online, and I’ve posted my recipes on my website. I brewed no tea at this party, but given that most of the big corporations in the Ozarks trade directly and indirectly with foods outside strict vegetarian guidelines, one wonders. Am I poaching the Golden Egg, whether or not I eat it?

Yes, I am stepping outside the box every so often, ducking shirt hangers.

I don’t trumpet my diet, though it works for me. Evangelizing is no act of friendship, and I treasure friends, including ones I have not yet met. If the subject comes up, I aim for careful enthusiasm, leaven facts with compassion, and not too many details. Still, my talking and writing about cooking well is the beginning of a revenue stream, so the word’s out.

• • •

With November being National Novel Writing Month, I have written “Morning Pages” — three pages in a journal, about 750 words — nearly every day, as a “10-finger warm-up” to storytelling. Personal writing long has been out of my closet. I’ve explained this exercise, from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, in a 2008 Brick.

One thing I’ve learned this month is counterintuitive. The daily desk work is more productive when I do the “pages” before I meditate rather than afterward.

"Illustration of the mental process called "transcendence" during the practice of Transcendental Meditation."
“Illustration of the mental process called ‘transcendence’ during the practice of Transcendental Meditation.”
From Wikipedia

My 40 years of practice — I was initiated in the Transcendental Meditation technique on this very day in 1973 — have made me more creative and better able to integrate whatever inventiveness I have into daily life.

Meditation for me, while a method of unique and deep relaxation, is so much an energizing preparation that afterward I cannot wait to get moving on the morning (and jump on the evening following the afternoon session). When I write a bit then meditate, however, returning to the white page later is much easier and more productive.

Maybe I am closeting a few more oddments, but now is the moment for TM to bust the door.

On Saturday, Nov. 24, 1973, I had just turned 16, a sophomore (10th grade) at Southside High.

A “child of the ’60s,” as the phrase goes, I was long fascinated with subjects like Kabbalah and yoga. My rabbi sent me articles on Jewish mysticism. A local bookshop had a volume illustrated with basic postures from which I learned poses.

I had been reading about Transcendental Meditation for some time, in Time, Life and the Arkansas Gazette. The Beatles and other pop stars had learned TM from its proponent, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

We were visiting my older sister and new husband for Thanksgiving in their apartment in Atlanta, which had a major TM center. My parents gave me the class as a birthday present. I begged for it, showing them articles I found. (TM tuition was much less then, and there’s a discount for youths.)

Doubting my memory, I asked my sister a year ago what she remembered. She emailed: “Yes I remember the TM! And I vaguely remember some house [the TM center] in Atlanta! That was Thanksgiving of ’73 when we were all together and I cooked the 22 lb turkey! … Glad the TM is helping you now.”

The initiation often is on Saturdays so that is how I’ve extrapolated the 24th being my big day.

I continued to practice Transcendental Meditation twice a day through high school and college nearly till graduation. When a senior, I took a little class in Jewish meditation offered through the campus’ Hillel chapter. The teacher was a fairly Orthodox young man.

He taught a variety of techniques, including guided fantasy, visualization, candle-staring, mantra, breathing and walking methods. I took decent-enough notes. They’re around here someplace.

I wanted to be more authentic to my heritage. In the years that followed I gradually dropped TM and took up the most similar Kabbalistic technique.

They weren’t that similar.

Increasingly I did no meditation at all, except sometimes on bad days. At some point after we moved to Fayetteville in 1999, I resumed Jewish meditation but just in the mornings.

It was not enough. Work began getting weird in 2008. Home life was fine. Work would get worse, but I didn’t know that at the time. I needed help de-stressing.

I recalled the energy and relief that TM provided. Its technique is so simple we practitioners tend to over time complicate it. For that reason, the movement’s onetime fee includes lifetime free “checking” where any certified TM teacher reviews the process with you. That 20 minutes stands as a refresher, which I needed.

Fortunately, I had a trip to Los Angeles in spring 2008 so I contacted the TM center there for checking and have sailed through smooth mental waters since.

It’s cut my stress and kept me sane. My analogy is that Transcendental Meditation feels like defragging a computer — thoughts and memories get sorted and lie neatly. That’s a representation of the clarity felt. GQ magazine of all places recently published a witty look at TM.

Arkansas has a married couple who are experienced TM teachers. They live in a small, central town and teach here in the Ozarks every few months. I’ve gone there for checking and sometimes see them when they come up.

It should be needless to hide a practice as helpful as Transcendental Meditation, but people take bits of knowledge and get weird with you.

I’m tired of that game.

Maharishi University of Management is in Fairfield, Iowa.
MUM is in Fairfield, Iowa.

Back in August, on a trip to see her family in Iowa, my wife dropped me off in Fairfield, the U.S. headquarters of the TM movement. I took in a weekend retreat. It was my second, the first being in late 1975 and held at Fayetteville’s Mount Sequoyah Retreat (my town at the time had its own TM center). In October, the state’s teaching couple hosted a fundraiser in Little Rock to pay for teaching meditation to stressed veterans and others in hard straits — where I met other meditators, a fascinating and diverse group.

Maybe I’d have been fine these four decades just waking up and starting the day. I am not my own control group so who’s to say? I am, that’s who. Years without Transcendental Meditation comprise a baseline.

I keep my psychic wardrobe dust-free, but it’s far easier to breathe when out.