Friday, August 15, 2014

Middle Class Squeeze

Here we are in August already, the summer flying by. What with vacation and all, I have been absent for a few weeks from here (though not @gwaynemiller and Facebook!)

Readers of The Providence Journal have been reading our latest year-long series: Middle Class Squeeze, about the economic ground that the middle class has lost over the last two decades. This is a look the economy through the prism of personal stories and an election year and it follows Reinvent Rhode Island, our 2012 year-long look at the overall Rhode Island economy, which remains sluggish in 2014. As with all of our major efforts, this one has been expertly illustrated and designed, and supported online with innovative interactive graphics, polls, photos and video.

I wrote the lead-off story in the series: FRACTURED, a profile, supported with data and great graphics, about Cumberland's Danielle and Josh Maziarz and their three young sons and and their struggles to get by on Josh's blue-collar salary. The Maziarzes are illustrative of so many families today.

Josh and Danielle Maziarz and their sons.

I have written several more stories already published (with more to come), among them:

-- A mix of empathy, anger and frustration: readers speak out, May 24.

-- As incomes slide, voters check out, June 7.

-- Millennial flight, Aug. 3.

John DosSantos: Native Rhode Islander, now in Vermont

Several colleagues, including Kate Bramson, Paul Grimaldi and Paul Parker have also written stories and supplied other support, all under the leadership of project editor John Kostrzewa, and Karen Bordeleau and Sue Areson. And as always, the online and visuals people have pitched in nicely. For the full series, visit the Middle Class Squeeze page. For all of our recent special reports and series, visit the special reports page.

Stay tuned for more #MiddleClassSqueeze as the election season heats up...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My response to responses to 'The Princeton Privileged Kid'

Several people have weighed in on my posting a link to “To the Princeton Privileged Kid,” which more eloquently than I ever could makes the case that white men enjoy an edge soley due to the circumstances of their birth (born white, born male).

Let me respond to their responses.

First, regarding advantage v. privilege, let’s not split hairs or play word games. We all know what we’re talking about here. I’ll use privilege, as the nom-de-plumed Violet Baudelaire did in his/her essay.
I could cite many professions where people of color and women are under-represented. Medicine, for example (for women, start with the data at; for people of color, start with the data referenced in Or Hollywood filmmaking (see: Spike Lee or Kathryn Bigelow).  

I'll discuss the area about which I can speak most authoritatively: Journalism, my profession for virtually all of my adult life. Along with my first-hand experience, I have been a student of the field for more than four decades.

There was one woman editor at my first newspaper, The Transcript, in Berkshire County, Mass., when I was hired in August 1978: she handled society events and gardening. The notion of a woman editor handling “hard” news would have been laughable to many. There were no people of color anywhere on the news staff of The Transcript.

There was one woman editor at my next paper, The Cape Cod Times, when I was hired in April 1979: she copy-edited four days a week, and on the fifth was the Saturday-night editor, a dead-end job. There were no people of color anywhere on the news staff of The Cape Cod Times then and when I left, in October 1981 for The Providence Journal, where I remain a staff writer. 

On a news staff of some 200 or more people when I joined The Journal that year, there was one person of color: a reporter. There was one woman editor: the great Carol Young, who made history in 1979 when she was named assistant city editor, the first woman at a newspaper that has been continuously published since 1829 to join news management. When she began at the paper, as a reporter in 1965, she was the only woman of 23 news hires that year. She brought to three the total number of women on the news staff.

Have things changed? Yes, but only to a degree. 

The two top news people now at The Journal are women: executive editor Karen Bordeleau and deputy executive editor Sue Areson. This remains an anomaly in the profession, however. According to hard data compiled by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Media Matters, and other reliable sources, both women and people of color remain greatly under-represented in the media. A Poynter Institute staffer references the data in a recent column, writing: 

“An ASNE newsroom census cited in the report showed that newsrooms were 63.1 percent male and 36.9 percent female in 1999. In 2012, those percentages were exactly the same. For 2013, it was actually worse: 63.7 percent male and 36.3 percent female… the percentage of minorities in newsrooms is far smaller than their representation in the United States population.” Google “women in the media” and “people of color in the media” to find many similar reports.

I come from a blue-collar family that never had a penny to spare; looking back, I see that we could be classified as working poor. I caught a break when I was admitted, on merit (neither of my parents graduated from college, let alone an Ivy League school), to Harvard. Did my degree – my privilege – help in my career? Now that's a silly question. 

Hard work helped, too: working as a hospital orderly and then a baggage handler for Delta Airlines as I struggled to turn free-lance writing into full-time employment.

And what also helped was the fact that, by luck of the birth draw, I was a white male, seeking entry into a profession that was and still is dominated by similarly lucky white men.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Story Day II: Moving Images. Some highlights. More to come!

Our second annual Story in the Public Square Story Day, held on Friday, April 11, at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., was by all accounts a great success. The theme was Moving Images: Screen storytelling in its many forms, including Hollywood, animation, short-form documentary, TV and long-form documentary. We will soon have much more on our Story in the Public Square website, but for now, a few highlights.

First, for an overview of the day, read the fine story that my Providence Journal colleague Andy Smith wrote for the Saturday, April 12, Journal. The link will also bring you to a slideshow. And you will be able to get the gist of the powerful remarks from our keynote speaker and second annual Pell Prize winner: Danny Strong, actor, producer and screenwriter of Recount, Game Change, Lee Daniels' The Butler, the Mockingjay Hunger Games finale, and more.

Salve Regina University president Sister Jane Gerety and Danny Strong.

Our presenters included:

-- Jim Taricani, founder of Rhode Island NBC Channel 10’s celebrated I-Team, winner of five regional Emmy awards, an Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism, and a number of other journalism awards who became a champion of press freedom when a federal judge in 2004 sentenced him to six months of home confinement for refusing to disclose a confidential source.

-- Kendall Moore, associate professor of journalism and film media at the University of Rhode Island.

-- Agnieszka Woznicka, animation artist and associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.

-- Teja Arboleda, an award-winning documentarian, writer and educator.

Kendall, Agnieszka and Jim are members of the SIPS Story Board.

We also honored the winners of the 2014 student contest, whose theme was childhood poverty. Meet them and watch their videos here.

We also had a lot of fun with our Story Booth. As noted, we will have much more detail soon at Story in the Public Square, which I confounded and now direct as a visiting fellow at Salve.

Follow Story in the Public Square on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The shade of a copper beech

 While writing The Providence Journal feature "A Remarkable Life" and the biography An Uncommon Man about Nuala and Claiborne Pell -- and on numerous other occasions -- I spent many hours with this wonderful woman who died on April 13. Fittingly, I wrote Nuala's obituary.
This was one of many memorable occasions with Nuala, and it became the epilogue of my biography. I will have more memories to share soon.
The sun was breaking through an overcast sky as Nuala Pell left her home and rode down Bellevue Avenue past her father-in-law’s former estate, now the headquarters of the Preservation Society of Newport County. A writer was at the wheel.
It was Veterans Day, 2009.
The car passed the Tennis Hall of Fame and First Beach and continued into Middletown. St. George’s School came into view as the car traveled past Hanging Rock, a massive outcropping of ledge in the woods below the school that has been a favorite destination for generations of young people. A memory brought a smile to Nuala’s face. In the summer of 1944, not long after they met, Claiborne took her on a date here, Nuala said.
The writer suggested that perhaps the 25-year-old suitor was proud to point out his alma mater.
Nuala laughed.
“He wasn’t talking about St. George’s,” she said.
North on Indian Avenue the car continued, past Eastover, where Claiborne spent part of his childhood with his mother and stepfather. The car turned off at Saint Columba’s Chapel, a stone church built during the 19th Century in old-English style.
            Ten months before, Pell’s final worldly journey had ended here. His family had gathered around a freshly opened grave beneath a grand old copper beech tree as Episcopal Bishop Geralyn Wolf led them in the Lord’s Prayer. Coast Guardsmen fired a 21-gun salute, a bugler played taps, and the American flag that draped the mahogany casket was folded and handed to Vice Admiral Clifford I. Pearson, Coast Guard chief of staff, whose father served with Pell on a cutter. Pearson gave the flag to Nuala. The casket was lowered, and Nuala and her family threw spades of earth on it. All was silent for a moment, and then the Pells disappeared inside black funeral-home limousines.

 Snow had frosted the cemetery grounds on that cold January day -- but now it was decorated with fallen leaves, a blanket of yellow and gold that extended up the chapel steps. Nuala pointed out her husband’s tombstone, recently erected. It was a simple gray tablet, like the stones marking the graves of Bertie and Julie, who lie next to their father. Inscribed on it were Pell’s name; dates of birth, death and Senate service; and the epitaph he had written.
“Statesman, legislator, champion of education and the arts,” it read.
Nuala walked through the churchyard, pointing out other graves she knew. There was Ollie O’Donnell, her father, who had found little time for Nuala and her brother after his divorce from their mother. There side-by-side were Claiborne’s mother, Matilda, who died in 1972 at Pelican Ledge, and her husband, the mysterious Commander Koehler, whose death in 1941 had left Matilda in financial difficulty. There in front of the Koehlers was their only child together: Hugo Gladstone Koehler, who died in 1990 at the age of 60. His premature death had moved stepbrother Pell to tears, one of the few times in his life that he cried.
On the drive home, Nuala talked of Claiborne’s obsession with death.
“He couldn’t accept the fact that there wasn’t anything,” she said. “I told him it was what you believed it to be -- but you had to believe strongly that it would happen. But if you were doubtful, there was nothing.”
 Claiborne, she said, went to his grave without ever telling her if he had reached any conclusion in his quest. No one would ever know if this man who had worked so long for peace had found it for himself.

One of the last public appearances of Nuala: at the Jan. 28, 2014, announcement that grandson Clay, here with wife Michelle Kwan, is running for governor of Rhode Island.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Second Amendment gun rights rally: Providence, R.I., 1/19/14

A crowd of hundreds braved a punishing winter wind Sunday to demonstrate on the front steps of the magnificent Rhode Island State House in support of second-amendment rights. The rally, which I covered for The Providence Journal, was one of 50 such planned for every state by Gun Rights Across America.

Scenes from the rally:

Atop the State House dome stands The Independent Man, a monument to Roger Williams, father of Rhode Island, first in America to espouse freedom of speech and religion

A broader shot of the rally

Exercising 1st Amendment rights.

The view from behind the speakers, Providence Place Mall in background.

Another view.

The State House steps are popular for wedding photos. This party posed before the gun-rights rally began. What a bitterly cold day to marry!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Volume 3 of my collected short stories: The Beach That Summer

Thanks once more to my good friends at Crossroad Press, the esteemed David Wilson and David Dodd, the third volume of my collected short stories is now in print. Yay!

Fifteen horror, crime, post-apocalyptic and science-fiction stories -- most never before published, including "The Feeling," my latest, written in 2013. And several personal favorites: the very strange "Every Step of the Way," the religio-dystopian (my specialty) "Christmas in the Year of Our Lord Ten," the seriously demented "The Overseer," and the title story, a twist on Jaws.

Available from Amazon, and in other digital formats and read-online, at Smashwords.

Volumes 1 and 2 (and the rest of my books)? Read more here.

Here is my introduction to the third volume, which tells some of the early story of my other-writer half (yes, the dark side). As always, enjoy -- and heed the last line of the intro, my friends! It all goes so fast, trust me...


So here we are. The third volume of my collected short stories. My thanks once more to David and David.

I remember fondly when this long, fulfilling journey of writing horror, mystery and dystopian fiction began. I was in high school – a freshman, I believe – and I had started reading Edgar Allan Poe, who, I assure you, had not been on any reading list at my parochial grammar school, or recommended by my unbending Irish-Catholic mother, whose demons have served me well in my dark fiction in these later years. I loved Poe immediately. He opened a new world to me.

Those early stories, some of which were published in my high school newspaper (easily enough, since I was co-editor!), were not my first tries at fiction. Those came earlier, when I began to scribble vignettes and dribs and drabs of stories. If memory serves me, the very first story I wrote was in fifth grade: a fantasy set on the bottom of the sea, the characters an octopus and a fish. 

So writing has been pretty much in my blood forever, for better and for worse (trust me, there is plenty of worse, but we’ll save the psychoanalysis for another time).

After college, I became a journalist, with non-fiction my bread and butter. Reading my first Stephen King Book, Salem’s Lot, in 1980, brought me back to horror. I started writing fiction seriously again, on an old electric typewriter. I sold some stories and my first horror novel, Thunder Rise. And while non-fiction remained – and remains – my meal ticket, fiction is my true love.

And so, I am delighted to present The Beach That Summer, fifteen explorations of horror, mystery, madness and more. A couple appeared in magazines a few years back, but the rest are new. Several rank among my personal favorites, if I may be immodest for a moment.

“Christmas in the Year of Our Lord Ten” harkens to that ’60s Catholic upbringing that many of us endured, and it belongs firmly to a treasured sub-genre of my fiction – religious madness, as it may be called – many examples of which you will see in my other collections. 

“Every Step of the Way” is a tidy little tale of insanity – or is it? 

“First Love” is a most unconventional coming-of-age story, “Labor of Love” a twist on Rosemary’s Baby. The aging mother in Momma” seems to suffer from Alzheimer’s… seems to. In “Something for Heidi,” a creepy misogynist gets what he deserves. “The Overseer” demonstrates that while you may be able to run, you can never, ever hide. “The Place He Was In” was inspired by “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the best Twilight Zone episode ever, in my view. 

Title story “The Beach That Summer” is near the top of my personal favorites – a noir tale of a serial killer loose in an idyllic setting. In that one, I took the basic premise of the great summer movie Jaws and turned it human. Or, more accurately, inhuman.

And I offer several more dark stories in this volume, including one I completed just a few weeks ago: “The Feeling,” about a young man with a haunting connection to his dead father.

As always, enjoy. Be well. 

And give someone you love a hug. That’s the best kind of feeling.

January 5, 2014
Providence, Rhode Island