Dear Time: Thanks for nothing.

June 6, 2014
I guess transpeople are trendy, now that Time says so.

I guess transpeople are trendy, now that Time says so.

One of the big buzzes at the beginning of last week (the day after Memorial Day) was that a transperson was to be featured on the cover of Time — Laverne Cox, one of the co-stars of Orange Is the New Black. Time teased us with a Q-and-A with Ms. Cox but kept the online version of the cover story behind a subscriber paywall. Some of my wonderful and extremely supportive friends were excited about this and messaged me on Facebook and sent links to the Q-and-A and offered me their copies of the issue when they were finished with it. And I, too, was somewhat excited, cautiously curious at how Time would play this story.

I finally got a copy in the mail at the beginning of the week (courtesy of my friend and former Fresno Bee colleague, Diana Ramirez-Simon), and, well, I wanted to read it and let it swirl around a little bit before I added my two cents to what I’ve been calling the last frontier of civil rights for some time now.

Okay, I’ve read it, all nine pages — actually, four pages, after you take out the photos and the half-page of air on the lede page — and, well, I’m not happy. Time, thanks for nothing. I’ll explain …

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Why I do cry, or all good things do have to end (Chip Damiani, 1945-2014)

February 24, 2014
The Remains in their first prime. From left: Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian and Vern Miller.

The Remains in their first prime. From left: Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian and Vern Miller.

How I got through the last three hours of work this past evening and remained something resembling productive while being emotionally numb is beyond me.

I’ve written tributes to deceased musicians many times, both for newspapers and here on this blog. But until now, I had never been written one about a friend.

As in any instance when a friend dies suddenly, totally unexpectedly, it’s awfully hard to articulate. It’s hard to even say it.

Okay, I’ll just get the hard part out and let the rest flow. After jamming through a whole bunch of work, I stopped around 9 p.m. to have a bite and check out my Facebook messages. A writer from Westport named Dan Woog posted a link to his blog on my page: Chip Damiani, the drummer for one of the best rock’n’roll bands America ever produced, The Remains — and, what is really important to me, a good friend and former neighbor-of-sorts — died yesterday afternoon of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 68 going on 35.

Go figure — trim, in a fighting shape forged from all those years as a roofer, in the best physical shape by far of everyone in the band, their backbone and fiery, no-bullshit, you-knew-where-you-stood presence. And he’s the one who went first.

And it was Chip who provided me with one of my favorite stories in two-plus decades as a music writer. And introduced me to the band that provided me with two of my favorite moments as a music fan.

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Almost old enough to drink (the blog turns 20), almost old enough for kindergarten (my blog turns 4)

January 30, 2014

Birthday cupcakeNormally, I would just post a news item to the Book of Faces and be done with it. But this one? Nah! That wouldn’t do it justice. It has to be answered in the form of a blog post:

Not sure of the exact birthdate, but the blog turns 20 this year. And all of us who have used this medium to share some of ourselves should give credit where credit’s due.

Until I read this story from the Guardian this morning (and thanks to Jim Romenesko for tipping us off via his blog), I hadn’t given much thought to how the weblog began or who invented it. I mean, do you think of Gottlieb Daimler when you sit behind the wheel and turn the key? I wouldn’t be able to pick Justin Hall or Meg Hourihan or Dave Winer out of a lineup if my life depended on it, but wherever you are, thanks much. Maybe my life would be a little different, and not for the better, had there not been a blogosphere.

Read on …

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 29 (the back-to-work edition)

January 26, 2014

fortune20cookieWell, last time I posted was four days back, the day before I headed into the office — at my old haunt, the New Haven Register building, where I was starting my new job as a Northeast design hub for the Register’s parent company, Digital First Media. There, I’m paginating (electronically laying out) pages for the company’s seven Connecticut/upstate New York dailies and some weeklies, and proofing some pages.

No, I didn’t lose my job; hardly. Just groping my way through the frustration of the learning curve, as was/is to be expected when working with new tools. Give it a

Just before walking into the Register building for my first day of work, 1/23/14.

Just before walking into the Register building for my first day of work, 1/23/14.

couple of weeks and the training wheels will be off. Meanwhile, it’s throw the baby into the deep end and let ‘er learn how to swim. But the crew — none of whom I’ve worked with before — seems pretty cool and pretty helpful and patient with the newbie.

Come dinner break the first night, I didn’t want to deal with traffic and parking downtown, so I went out to State Street for Chinese takeout at Blessings II Go. (I have to get used to the late dinner breaks and readjust my eating schedule.) Picked up a mediocre sesame chicken combo and cold sesame noodles.

But good fortunes, or at least ones that are weirdly to my given situation at the time, make up for mediocre food.

I actually was given two fortune cookies. As I sat at my desk and quickly nom-nommed my dinner, I smiled at what the first one said:

“Today is an ideal time to water your personal garden.”

And then, if that wasn’t enough:

“Keep in mind that home is where the heart is.”

Wow. Just wow.

I look at my second go-round in New Haven as a totally different experience — while the building and much of the furniture and quite a few of the people there are still the same as when I lefty nearly 10 years ago, it’s a new job, with new management up top, a new immediate boss, a new way of doing things and, as mentioned, a new crew. I don’t spend a lot of time — or any, really — dwelling on “Well, this isn’t the way we used to do things.”

But yeah, in a weird way, I am, most definitely, home. Kinda sorta. Time to go do some more watering …

Is this really it this time? The light at the end of the tunnel?

January 22, 2014

light at the end of the tunnel

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything — the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from this here blog of mine — for a number of reasons:  severe loss of mojo, having to dig into the job hunt again and dealing with a very sick mother. Let’s see if I still know how to write …

I know I’ve written a similar story before.

I thought my employment hell — which began nearly five years ago, when I was let go the first time by The Fresno Bee, in a mass purge by the McClatchy chain — was finally over last July, when I landed a contract job as a part-time copy editor at MSN.

It was my first time working in New York (doing the beast of a commute from home to Midtown Manhattan, at least 2 1/2 hours each way, between the drive to Stamford and the train to Grand Central, which I would have to do until I got the computer access card that would let me work from home). It was the largest company for which I ever worked, which never looks bad on your permanent record. (Technically, I worked for a worldwide staffing company, and my manager was based in Seattle, but you get the picture.) And it was my first time back in the work world as Frannie 2.0 in a place where I was a total stranger. (I returned to the Bee for 10 months, from September 2011 to August 2012, as an on-call copy editor, and was met with nothing but open arms by my now-formerly formerly-former colleagues.)

And it went wonderfully. The commute sucked, but I absolutely thrived on the energy in the City. (And I made the most of my Fridays after work; since there was no way I hell I was gonna sit in the 20 miles of Friday-afternoon traffic jam on 95, especially in the summer, they became Linger Longer Fridays, full of adventure and meeting and befriending a lot of new people.) I passed well and encountered no bullshit along my commutes — just another of the 8 million trying to get by. The work itself was cake. I was starting to break the ice and fit in and make friends in the newsroom, And my supervisors really liked me — so much that they were planning to give me more hours. And come September, I was eligible for benefits — for the first time in three years, I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Anyway, I was supposed to have been able to work from home by the second week. It took 6 1/2 weeks to get the computer card I needed to telecommute. And then, the morning of 9/11 — my first day working from home — my manager from Seattle emailed me at 10 in the morning. That would be 7 a.m. her time.

“Can I call you?”

Oh, shit. This can’t be good.

It wasn’t.

Some nameless, faceless beancounting scumbag at Microsoft with absolutely no news sense decided that it was time to gut MSN. Which, on the surface, made — and makes — absolutely no sense, as the company was, and is, between CEOs; it was only two weeks before that Steve Ballmer announced he would be stepping down within a year. How do you make such a drastic change without a new person at the helm?

And with that, all the freelance writers were discarded. So were 15 of the 18 us contract copy editors. Including one of my supervisors, who had come on board a week or two after me and had just spent two weeks out at the mothership in Redmond. That really didn’t make sense. (And if I could ditch my Microsoft operating system and office software right now without losing anything or going through a hassle, you bet your ass I would.)

We were all blindsided, even the staffing company; when I asked the manager when she first found out, she said, “This morning.” Our last day was Sept. 30. And just like that, I was Charlie Brown, and Lucy was pulling away the football once again.

Yet more stress.

Anyway, fast-forward to Sunday afternoon. I got a call from the director of the Northeast design hub for Digital First Media. He offered me a job as one of his deputies; I’ll be part of the design hub, which paginates (electronically lays out, for the layperson) stories for the company’s seven Connecticut and upstate New York dailies, plus some community weeklies. Once I’m up to speed on the software, it will entail laying out at least 15 pages a night, plus proofing pages.

And Thursday afternoon (Jan. 23), I go back to yet a second place where I once worked — The New Haven Register building, where the hub is located, and where I worked for 11 1/2 years as the entertainment editor/music writer before moving to Fresno in March of 2004. I returned first thing Monday morning for my orientation. It felt kinda weird, to tell you — the building is the same, as are quite a few of my soon-to-be-formerly former colleagues. But the situation is radically different. It parallels my homecoming nearly a year and a half ago — things are the same, yet things have changed a lot.

So, Frannie, back to work. And now, the $64,000 question:

Is this finally — after all these years of wandering around in a sea of uncertainty and questioning my worth and worried about falling off figurative and sometimes literal cliffs and plunging down an economic hole of no return — the light at the end of the tunnel?

*****

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 28

November 10, 2013

fortune20cookieWell, I guess the timing of this one is pretty good — though I seem to have heard this before.

If you believe in the whole Mercury-in-retrograde thang — which supposedly impacts us Geminis, and Virgos, more than anyone else — well, tonight is the night we come out of the third and final one of these frustrating and aggravating phases this calendar year.

It has, indeed, been a frustrating period — dozens of resumes out since the start of my last layoff with nothing to show for them, a car that’s been a little screwy of late, some emotional strains that come with the double-whammy of joblessness and a mother who’s been in the hospital. So something has to change, right?

Right?

RIGHT?!?

So this evening, I ordered takeout from the Golden Wok, the Chinese place up the street from me. And I shouldn’t be surprised about getting messages such as this at this point:

“The path is getting easier from here on out. Luck is helping.”

I mean, I’ll believe it when I see it, but any word of encouragement at this point is greatly appreciated. Let’s see if a job materializes this week.

10 years ago: What if I had said ‘No’?

September 29, 2013

Ten years ago Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 25, 2003. A drab and dark day in New Haven, as I remember it. A Thursday, which meant I was in the midst of wrapping up another Weekend section at the New Haven Register, where I had been the entertainment editor and music writer since September of 1992.

And somewhere in between putting out one fire or another, I took a breather and checked my personal email. Since the evil Yahoo has chewed up and spit out a lot of my early emails, the exact wording is long lost to the ether (and possibly the NSA). The subject line read something like

The Fresno Bee/Assistant Features Editor Position

And the message, from the then-features editor at the paper, pretty much read:

Dear Fran:

Hello. I’m the features editor at The Fresno Bee. I saw your resume on journalismjobs.com and was wondering if you would be interested in discussing an assistant features editor position with us.

And for the first time — and certainly not the last – I heard the inner voice, loud and clear. The same voice that came to me a little over four years later and asked me if I could transition genders.

All of a sudden, the busy newsroom (straight out of the ’70s Lou Grant School of Newspaper Interior Design) became quiet. And things got very calm — a state to which I certainly was not accustomed, especially working at a fanatic’s pace all the time with little downtime. And I was introduced, at long last, to my inner voice — the creepy whisper from within that sounded an awful lot like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And HAL simply said:

Okay — it’s Fresno.

And six months later, minus two days, I was on a plane out of Bradley International, headed to the heart of the San Joaquin Valley to start a new life. In more ways than I could ever have imagined.

I listened to the voice.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I not listened, or had I been too scared to do anything.

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Pre-first-day-of-school jitters, mixed with much gratitude

July 28, 2013

Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up a little after 4 (meaning I better get to bed soon), jump in the shower, then get in the car and drive the hour or so to Stamford to beat the I-95 rush-hour traffic and get a decent parking spot at the Metro-North station garage, catch a train to Grand Central, perhaps read the paper and find a place to get a decent breakfast bagel, then, at 9, show up at MSN’s offices in Midtown to begin my first steady job in nearly four and a half years, as a copy editor. (It’s actually the start of two weeks of training, most of which will take place in Manhattan; after that I’ll telecommute.)

The clothes aren’t laid out, but the adult version of the really cool pencil case with all the geegaws and gizmos — a new work laptop, which was overnighted to the house Friday afternoon — is ready to go.

And you know what this feels like? It’s the jitters and eagerness and anxiety the night before the first day of grade school all over again. Except a few things are different.

Well, for one, for the first time, I’ll be going to class in a skirt. (That shit wasn’t gonna fly in my goober hick hometown of Prospect growing up.) And unlike grade school, where I was the subject of much abuse, I won’t have to worry about that with my new classmates. I’ll wonder how I’ll get along with the new classmates and the new teacher(s), and what new and exciting surprises are in store for me.

And I’m going back as Frannie 2.0 — which, as I’ve learned, hasn’t been a problem. It hasn’t hindered me from getting interviews … and now, it certainly hasn’t hindered me getting a job, a contract job working with a major corporation.

It almost seems surreal to know I’m actually going to work.

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 27

July 28, 2013

fortune20cookieI’m guessing this is a going-back-to-work gift.

I came down to Orange to do some writing before I head home early, go to bed early and wake up godawfully early to head to Manhattan to start my first day on what I hope is my first steady job in four-plus years.

As a mini-celebration, I stopped at Shanghai Gourmet, across the street from here, to pick up a little dinner. And with my meal came a bonus fortune cookie.

And wouldn’t you know that both fortunes are pertinent to my situation? Well, at least one of them. This one, I hope, is a prelude to something that turns into something wonderful:

“One who admires you greatly is hidden before your eyes.”

The other, I hope, is a summation of all I’ve been through these nearly four-and-a-half years, five-and-a-half if you count the little gender trip:

“Those who endure most are rewarded the most.”

And there are some out there who have endured a lot longer, believe me. And I hope for much, much better for them soon, like yesterday.

But I do also realize that I’ve also been clueless most of my life about people admiring me. That one could certainly be true and I wouldn’t know it.

Oh well, back to writing …

We interrupt this unemployment again — hopefully for good this time …

July 24, 2013

Monday was one of the most rollercoaster days I’ve had in a long while. Actually, it was more like seven-and-a-half hours.

I hadn’t posted anything about this anywhere until now, but my mom has been in the hospital since last Wednesday night with pneumonia — and, as you might possibly know firsthand, it’s painful to see one of your parents laid up and suffering, especially if they’re elderly. My family and I have been visiting her daily. On Saturday, the color was back in her face, and she was animated, and we had a great heart-to-heart.

But Monday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave the house for a checkup, my father and youngest brother came home from the hospital, and they told me she had taken a turn for the worse. And they’re not alarmists by any stretch. Naturally, visions of mortality come at you like bats at twilight when you hear something like that. I did my damndest to keep calm while suddenly confronted with the thought that maybe, just maybe, I’m about to lose my mother.

Well, imagine my surprise when I walked down the hospital hall two and a half hours later, and I heard her voice coming from inside the room, talking with a doctor. I was expecting tubes and a respirator and maybe a coma. Nope — she’s pretty tough.

Came home a little after 8 and was cooking a small bowl of pasta when the phone rang. It was a job recruiter calling from the suburbs of Seattle.

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