Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Undercurrents: Notes, thanks & condolences

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Some random thoughts as Thanksgiving permeates the atmosphere:

  • If you’re keeping count, on the day this appears in the paper there will be 29 days remaining until the end of the world, or possibly until the end of the Mayan “long count” calendar, depending on your point of view. Question: What would you do if you believed the world would end in a month? I’m betting Black Friday would be farthest from your mind.

  • Speaking of which: By the time the sun was rising last Black Friday, I was trying to go to sleep after a night of shopping beyond my means with my family. I upset some people by posting a photo tagged “Occupy Walmart” just before the frenzy started on the DVD aisle.

I don’t think we’ll be doing that this year, though I might be unpleasantly surprised before it’s over. Question: Do you try to hit the after-Thanksgiving sales (or this year, the actual Thanksgiving Day sales)?

  • A highlight of the season last year was attending the improv-heavy performance of “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some)” at the Seaside Repertory Theatre. The REP is once again putting on the show every weekend in December. You never know quite how it’s going to go, kind of like the actual holiday — and also like the actual holiday, there will be laughter and tears.

  • The election is over. Get over it. Unless you think it’s a sign the Mayans were right, in which case it doesn’t matter any way, so get over it.

  • We have been house hunting for some time now, despite the impending end of the world, and it looks like we’re close to closing on one at last. I have enjoyed renting for the past few months, because the honey-do list shrinks significantly when you don’t have to worry about home maintenance so much. But now I’m looking forward to having a place to call our own again — and to having a place for all my books again.

If all goes well, and the world doesn’t end, we’ll be there before Christmas. If you don’t mind, I’m going to give thanks ahead of time for the continuation of life as we know it, and for a place to share with my family.

  • Finally, please join me in extending condolences to the family of Tony Jordan Simmons (no relation), who died Saturday after a long struggle with COPD. When I first came to work for The News Herald in 1993, I received several phone calls from people who thought he had taken a job with the paper after retiring from his career as an officer with the Panama City Police Department. He even called me once to say hello, after he got some calls at his home from people who thought he might be me.

Now my thoughts and prayers go out to his family as they must say goodbye.

(This was my Undercurrents column this week.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Something someone said once

I'm feeling a bit off today. My name (sort of) was in today's obituary page. It wasn't me, but it was about as close as I'd ever like to see.

So I wondered what people might say if it was me; what eulogy would I receive? And that reminded me of one of the nicest things a coworker ever wrote about me. It was upon the release of my book, "Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents," a collection of my better columns at the News Herald in my first 10 years of employment there.

The writer was Claude Duncan, at the time our Editorial Page Editor. Here's what he wrote, as taken from our electronic archive at the paper:

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bay County perspective: Words as flashes of light

By Claude Duncan Editorial Page Editor

Tony Simmons is a journalist in, for newspapers, a post-journalistic age. With family to support, he thus also practices the bread-and-butter craft of editoring and has during his decade at The News Herald been beat reporter and columnist.

Simmons is good at all that. But he was born a journalist, with fingers connected to the mind’s eye. By training, intent and design, modern reporting in that respect is mindless work, albeit hard work.

Journalism was born of travel writing when much of the world was new to much of the world, and everything — everything — was about discovery. The writer inescapably was a part of his journey, as was self-discovery.

The poet Sarah Manguso, referring to the 18th century French philosopher most remembered for his encyclopedia, wrote that to Diderot, "the word is not the thing, but a flash in whose light we perceive the thing." Journalists like Simmons invoke masterfully what Manguso calls "codependent impulses" with readers. His new book, Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents, is nothing if not flashes of light exposing this eternal co-dependency.

"Despite what you may have heard, you can go home again," Simmons writes in one entry, from 1995, "but you probably won’t enjoy it very much. … The faces I recall sometimes recall mine. In the Piggly Wiggly, we pass and they ask where I’ve been, what I’ve done with myself. I ask the same. Smiles circulate around uncomfortable silences. Then: a parting with promises to keep in touch."

Simmons often refers to himself on these visits home as "the prodigal." In morality tales, a prodigal is a rejecter who comes to happily embrace that which he rejected. So it is with Simmons, eventually.

Early on, though, Simmons can’t even remember his high school graduation ceremony, presumably as his mind already was in flight from town. When he returns for a niece’s graduation, he connects old slights to newly aging faces. Yet, by then, he also has written of a boyhood friend injured as an adult in a car wreck, perhaps for life. Simmons titled the rumination, "Now is the time to look up old friends."

In one visit home he found, "I am no longer familiar with the landscape of the hamlet where I wandered in my childhood. Trees have grown and grayed. Roads have widened. The houses of old friends have burned or fallen to disrepair or had their stiff, wooden skins covered by synthetic transplants of aluminum and vinyl." By this fall, too late for this volume but memorable to readers of this newspaper, upon seeing a photograph of his grandmother’s house, Simmons "thought of how he missed that front porch, and those days of play and work, and the old woman who had lived there, who always had been an old woman in his memory."

This is journalism eternal. Made peculiar to the time, it could have been written centuries ago, or centuries hence. Something like it was, and will. Self-discovery is human nature at its most unchanging. Simmons’ words are flashes of light for the reader to perceive things. His fingers are connected to his co-dependents’ mind. That is his art.

Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents, as Simmons notes in his introduction, "is not just a collection of columns. It also is the story of a life — an unwitting autobiography composed as it unfolded." Rather little is nostalgic. It is full of observations about the ordinary modern world’s technological and cultural facets that Simmons, like his co-dependents, inhabits with dizzying degrees of confidence and confusion, skepticism and satisfaction. Always, though, Simmons seems not bored.

This is a book for the excitable who want to feel understood, and for the bored curious who want to understand the world outside their door. Always, it is about Simmons, the journalist, and therefore, always to some extent about the reader.

Claude passed away suddenly on Oct. 29, 2008, after retiring from his position at the News Herald. He was 62.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Video Post (Catching Up, Part 1)

Here is part of how I've been spending my time recently: