My youngest will go west to Oregon in a few weeks for another year of school. Schedules will shift to accommodate the autumn equinox. My husband’s bicycle commute will become darker in the morning just as my body clock will remain loyal to the beating of my circadian heart.
I will rise before the sun, my mind racing ahead, like the seasonal aisle at CVS, where flip-flops and sunscreen have been replaced by colored pencils and notebooks, soon to make way for Halloween masks, then horns of plenty and finally stocking stuffers.
But for this day I find my place on the front steps and steal an hour in the filtered blaze of an August sun to study the tired dance of the bees, pollen wrapped like bandages around their legs as they flit from marigold to mum.
My purple echinacea petals, sun-bleached and pale, have lost their will to live. My winter squash crop has depleted every umbilical vine and hang by waning threads. The fate of my straggling watermelons and green tomatoes, still uncertain.
A friend told me yesterday that his last child has left the roost. He and his wife have downsized. They look forward to traveling more, working less. It is the soundtrack to my generation: the next hurrah.
Meanwhile, my college graduate is questioning his immediate future. What was it all for?
I don’t even try to humor him. I have no assurances for him because everything changes.
Dreams, American or otherwise, really make no sense once you wake up and try to analyze them, or explain them to a friend. They are as vivid as they are elusive. I can’t tell my son not to worry. I can’t promise him that he will land a great job and save lots of money and fall in love and get married and buy a house and have some kids and find his purpose and be happy.
And even if I could, I’m not sure that’s his dream.
The few apples in the back that have survived predators and pests are almost ready for picking. My grapes are starting to blush and should be enough for some juice, or jelly.
I noticed some crows have been gathering by the pond as the sun winds around to meet them there, in the tall purple grass behind my house at dusk. Soon enough they will tire of the grass and will flock to the bare birch branches instead. And clinging there, just before the autumn light fades, they will join in a woeful crescendo until, on cue – some internal cue that is only clear to the collective of crows – they will all at once disperse, like someone tipped a bottle of disappearing ink.
They will flow away from the trees in a chaotic swirl and a violent swoosh, a sudden rush of change that takes my breath away. Every time.
(Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com, an independent news site covering Manchester.)
I met Dan in 1998, his senior year of high school. He applied for a spot writing for reality, this newspaper’s teen section, which incidentally is celebrating its 20th year.
My job at the time was to determine which aspiring writers from area high schools had sufficient sea legs for the rite of passage that is reality — where the Love Boat meets the Titanic when it comes to smooth sailing in an angsty sea of adolescent uncertainty.
But for two decades it has stayed the course and mostly been an honest testament to teen life. Dan served it well. I like to think that it served Dan well, too.
He arrived in the office with some writing samples. He was lanky, soft spoken, serious. We talked about his other interest, running — a way for him to focus his thoughts or clear his head. He listened as much as he spoke, and was eager to be part of the group.
Dan was one of the best young writers I’d encountered, before or since.
Timing is everything, it seems. That Dan died two days before a reality anniversary celebration in Bensalem — Dan’s hometown — is coincidence.
But it feels like something more.
I was just getting ready to walk out my door for the six-hour drive to Levittown from New Hampshire when I found out Dan was gone. I had to re-read the post about his passing twice. The first time I was sure I misunderstood. The second time, my heart and soul felt the utter and absolute loss one feels at the news of the passing of an innocent child.
I wasn’t able to stay in town for this past Monday’s memorial service, but Dan has been with me in spirit, even since before the news of his death. In fact, a few weeks ago I urged him via Facebook to hurry back from San Francisco so we could catch up during the reality reunion. I didn’t know for sure he was coming, but I had a feeling he was going to try.
That was his way. He had a knack for being everywhere.
After graduating from Bensalem High School in 1999, Dan went on to earn a trifecta of collegiate diplomas — first Ursinus College, then a master’s from Temple University, then to Ohio University for his doctorate. From there, Dan became a student of the world. His Facebook photo albums are like a travelogue — Paris, Spain, Singapore, New Orleans, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, for book tours, speaking engagements, NBA games, interviews with student editors, therapeutic road races to clear the cobwebs.
By 2010 he had penned his first book. Three years later, a second book, both of them focused on college media and the evolutionary field of journalism. He was a Fulbright research scholar and taught over his brief career at five universities in two countries. He remained humble, if not understated over his achievements, and yet his topical expertise and easy way with words earned him an uneasy celebrity status. Dan was an endlessly quotable source for international media outlets and contributing columnist for major publications, including the Huffington Post, USA Today, Neiman Media Lab and Poynter.com.
But Dan’s long-form writing is where he shined.
He launched College Media Matters, an online storehouse of information. He posted constantly about the state of media education, cranking out blogs and podcasts and Twitter updates. Often Dan was embedded, like a war reporter, providing colorful first-hand accounts of the battles being won and lost in the field of journalism.
He represented the future of our industry because he was the chronicler of change, how technology and political correctness, censorship and shifting sensibilities, were creating a new blueprint for the way news is created, delivered and consumed.
One of the things Dan did right, which made him so successful, was he knew how to get out of the way of a story.
He gathered information and became the conduit for others’ best practices. He observed the trends, trials and tribulations, and then offered insight and context, usually drawing experts into the mix. He could have been the Han Solo of a journalistic empire, if he wanted to. But the force was strong with Dan because he was a born Yoda.
Dan traveled the globe speaking to student groups and advocating for the need to keep building a relevant collegiate curriculum for future journalists. He spent quality time with student editors picking their brains as fodder for future fires he would light through his writing; sparks meant to illuminate, inspire and ignite passion in others.
Dan was a writer because he couldn’t help himself. One of the first pieces he wrote for reality was one in a series filed under “Brainstorm.” The first one was titled, “After Hours at the Inkwell,” in which Dan describes what I can only imagine was a typical night for him, burning the midnight oil, transcribing the flow of thoughts from brain to pen to journal.
“Midnight. My sensory-fed stream-of-consciousness flows, lead-stained and ink-blotted, onto a parched blank page. Words like reflex pour unending inside the college-ruled container. At half past it’s half full. Of thoughts, ideas, muses and would be forever lost without my script-filled hiatus from slumber…”
Dan left so much unfinished. He was out there in the trenches, lighting fires and leading the charge for all of us — students and seasoned journalists alike. If anyone was going to do something to shape the future of news delivery, chronicle its evolution, and then pick it apart for our edification, for better and worse, it was Dan, whose epic six-word Yoda-like memoir says everything we need to know about him: “Dream Big. Create. Learn. Teach. Repeat.”
All that’s left now for the rest of us is to find a way to keep his fire burning.