Some Reading

Lane Degregory: SARASOTA — Every morning, Susan Stanton wakes early and takes three pills. They help her suppress who she was and become the person she believes she should be.

At 9 a.m., still in her pajamas, she climbs the stairs in her Sarasota bungalow, clicks on her computer and goes to work. Looking for a job.

“I miss the 16-hour days, working with so many bright people, leading the city. I still love Largo,” she says.

“I think I’m suffering from ‘Pretty girl syndrome’: People assume I’m making tons of money, traveling around speaking. But the truth is: I need help. I’m starting to approach people I know in the area, which I never thought I’d be doing.

“Maybe that’s the last part of the transition: Losing my male ego.”

John Barry: LARGO — Tall masts angle skyward at Table Marina. Sailboats nestle in a turquoise cove beside charter boats, trawlers, shrimp boats and double-decker party boats. Time has bleached and bent the masts and outriggers, all made of soda straws, beaded kebab skewers and plastic swizzle sticks.

Grovie Dalzell began building Table Marina and every boat in it 35 years ago. Each vessel has a whimsical name painted crookedly on its weathered stern: Salty Dawg, Ocean Spray, Blow Tail, Lady Love. By their looks, they’ve all ridden a blow or two. So has their maker.

Libby Copeland: There are few better places to witness the messiness of democracy than at the Iowa caucuses. After months of campaign stops and ad wars, after millions of dollars spent, Thursday night will come down to the tiniest of details:

A plate of cookies.

The state of the sky.

A guy named Terrence.

This is democracy by inches. It’s not easy, like pulling a lever or pressing a button; it’s messy, because it’s public and because it varies from precinct to precinct and because every little thing matters.

His Battle Was Hers

Erin Sullivan: SAN ANTONIO — David Roth had a simple Christmas; at home with his mom and dad andhis older brother who flew in from New Jersey, sharing good food, playing outside with his golden retriever, Callie. The Roth home is set far back off a dirt road in San Antonio. It’s serene and smells of burned leaves and earth. David, who is 14, likes being outside, breathing deep under a blue sky. It’s pure, he says.

He doesn’t want people stressed over the holidays. There will be burned turkeys. There will be casseroles that slip and crash to the floor. There will be old anger, old resentment.

None of that really matters.

“It’s all just noise,” David says.

David is about 5 feet tall and weighs less than a hundred pounds. He has thick, wavy brown hair, a dimple in his chin and blue eyes that look at you in a way a psychologist many years his senior would: piercing, studying, patient. He listens. He expresses his thoughts sincerely and with eloquence beyond his age. He feels very old.

When David was 9, he went to the doctor because of an aching leg. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that invades one child out of 50,000. He spent a year in and out of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, an hour’s drive from home. During that year, he learned of pain and God and love.

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Vision Of Truth, Guided By God

Thanks to Baird for passing on the following essay by James Lee Burke, whose recent book, The Tin Roof Blowdown, is supposed to be pretty good.

Check it out: I have never thought of my vocation as work. I never had what is called writer’s block, nor have I ever measured the value of what I do in terms of its commercial success. I also believe that whatever degree of creative talent I possess was not earned but was given to me by a power outside myself, for a specific purpose, one that has little to do with my own life.

The previous statement is one of fact and not meant to be a description of virtue. I believe creativity is a votive gift, presented arbitrarily by the hand of God, and those who possess it are simply its vessel. Those who become grandiose and vain about its presence in their lives usually see it taken from them and given to someone else. At least that has been my experience.

Some Stories From The Middle Of The Country:

Lee Hill Kavanaugh introduces us to a woman who escaped a death sentence in Iraq.

Shawn Windsor profiles the new man at Michigan.

Reid Forgrave goes for a narrative on deadline.

Maura Lerner finds the family that fell when the I-35 bridge collapsed.

J. Brady McCollough on faith and a famous athlete.

Jim Tankersley, an accomplished narrative-writer-turned-political-reporter, takes a look at a transformed John Edwards.

An Inconvenient Rock

Back in my Jacksonville days, I used to play poker with a rookie reporter named Brad Schmidt. He was the smartest player in our group, although, for some reason, that rarely translated into victory. Funny how games of chance work. (He also played for the Times-Union Freebirds, a spirited but outmanned rec-league hoops team, and I seem to recall him hitting a baseline jumper or two.) Anyway, Brad’s at the Oregonian now, and I think he’s beginning to hit his stride. Check out this piece:

CASCADE LOCKS — Along the most traveled hiking path in the Columbia River Gorge, there is a cliff, formed more than 10 million years ago from lava and mud, that was home to one big rock.

The slab of rock was perhaps 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 13 feet high. It weighed some 17 tons and was part of a ledge directly overhanging Eagle Creek Trail.

Nature has challenged it time and again. Flooding. Freezing. Rain. Wind.

This fall, Nature brought landslides, knocking down the big rock’s neighbors and exposing a 4-inch crack.

Still the big rock remained. Shaken, perhaps, but intact.

Enter Man, with his contraptions to move otherwise immovable objects.

Man — in the form of officials from the U.S. Forest Service — worried that the rock could fall on unsuspecting hikers.

Rather than wait for the rock to fall when it would, forest personnel began working to bring it down.

But the big rock was stubborn.

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Mike Levine Workshop

Please consider making a donation to this fundraiser to help get the Mike Levine Journalism Workshop off the ground. And spread the word. (The site accepts donations via PayPal).

Beloved newspaper columnist and former Times Herald-Record editor Mike Levine died suddenly in January of 2007. The Mike Levine Column Read-a-Thon is a special event in memory of Mike and it’s the first major fundraiser for the inaugural Mike Levine Journalism Workshop – a workshop aimed at keeping the principles and passions of Mike Levine alive in the craft that he loved.

Staying Married Was The Hard Part

Andy described writing this gem of an obit thusly: “Like trying to put a playing card between two wood blocks. The one wood block is easy praise of the dead, the other is being unnecessarily catty. And you’re trying to find something in between.”

Did he succeed?

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David Ferrara: This is a collection of stories from the sometimes cyclical world of consumerism. Stories about getting what you paid for, about what it means to have something other people want. It’s also about letting go of memories. Stories of change, family and home.

They were found in the Press-Register’s own classified section.

Writing Too Much

Clark Kauffman (thanks, Nigel): Unbridled lust! Unspoken passion! Unemployment!

A Sioux Center woman has been fired from her job at an industrial equipment manufacturer for working on a romance novel on company time.

In August, Tanja Shelton, 35, began working at Sioux Automation in Sioux Center, where she was given a desk job as a production control scheduler. After a few weeks, her supervisor, Cindy Altena, noticed Shelton was typing almost constantly.

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