Oh the places we’ve been

Now that we’re all more or less armchair travelers it’s fun to reflect upon the places we’ve been before things went to hell. Who knows, maybe we’ll get there again one day.

Oh what a great cycling city. And a surprisingly vital metropolis for a town whose motto is “It’s not cold all the time.”

Speaking of cold. Reykjavik in December is both cold and dark. But it’s an amazingly artsy town to wander around in. ‘Course you’ve got to mind your footing because the sidewalks can be quite slippery.

True story. I once sat across the table from my son in a Castro District restaurant and casually remarked “This is a great city, I believe I could live here.” He went pale. Maybe the first time I ever shocked the kid. He’d come all the way across the country to get away from home.

The Andy Warhol museum, the Steelers and fire hose art that looks like a skyscraper. What’s not to like?

One day a week a stretch of Thames riverfront becomes a massive used book buyers paradise. Plus 007.

It’s not just the giant spider, although that’s pretty cool. A world class arts museum and a canal system that turns into a giant ice skating highway in the winter.

Flights are regularly canceled due to low lying fog. But once you get here and the sun comes out it’s quite lovely. And quirky; hence the drooping light poles.

As Bob Dylan said “I’m going back to New York City I do believe I’ve had enough.” This after being lost in Juarez in the rain and it’s Easter time too.

The Dalmatians are haunting. The architecture ranges from Ancient Greek to Napoleonic French (depending on which empire was occupying which island at the time). And the blue haired lady standing sentry over a medieval village alleyway was just the icing on the cake.

Remembering Florence

When you’ve been spending a lot of time home-bound in these COVID-19 times, you begin to think about the places you’ve been and wondering if you’ll ever go there again. In 2014 my wife and I visited Florence, and I’d hate to think that I’ll never go back. So here are some Firenze impressions for the armchair traveler.

It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it. They all call it a river, and they honestly think it is a river, do these dark and bloody Florentines. They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it. I do not see why they are too good to wade. Mark Twain

And when I thought of Florence, it was like a miracle city embalmed and like a corolla, because it was called the city of lilies and its cathedral, St. Mary of the Flowers.” – Marcel Proust

Through these old streets I wander dreamily. Around me Florence sweeps her busy tide of life. William Leighton

Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine. Henry James

In Paris, you learn wit, in London you learn to crush your social rivals, and in Florence you learn poise. Virgil Thomas

In America, Walt Disney opened an amusement park.
And in Florence, someone was savaging the remnants of a Tuscan nobleman’s family. Chris Bohjalian

Tonight I watched the sun set at Ponte Vecchio. I think its safe to say I have finally found the place that feels right to me. I just can’t believe I had to come halfway across the world to find it. Jenna Evans Welch

Whether it was a street artist showing off his work or an old Italian man playing the accordion, something new caught my eye each day as I explored the city. Emily Kearns

Rejoice, Florence, seeing you are so great that over sea and land you flap your wings, and your name is widely known in Hell! Dante

The stones are infused with history and culture and knowledge: I feel it. I feel the presence of generations, I feel the weight of giants. Emily Kyle

Firenze is magnetic, romantic and busy. Its urban fabric has hardly changed since the Renaissance, its narrow streets evoke a thousand tales, and its food and wine are so wonderful the tag ‘Fiorentina’ has become an international label of quality assurance. Lonely Planet

Sure, Florence is touristy. But where else can you stroll the same pedestrian streets walked by Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli while savoring the world’s best gelato? Rick Steve

We are fortunate: Florence isn’t just the cradle of art—it is a city that celebrates the art of living well. National Geographic

A poet in Florida

I learned that Shakespeare really lived

so scholars have decided.

Though quite a few have studied me

they’re not as sure that I did.

Peter Meinke

This is a piece I wrote for FORUM, a publication of Florida Humanities. It appears in the summer 2020 issue.

Memo to scholars: Peter Meinke lives, thank you very much. And there is an impressive body of work to back up the essential heartbeat of his literary existence.

Start with 18 volumes of poems and short stories produced over the span of half a century. Throw in frequent submissions published in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Poetry…and not to forget Creative Loafing, the St. Petersburg leisure magazine for which Meinke writes a column about…well, life, the university and pretty much whatever else pops into his head.

All this followed up by then-Gov. Rick Scott appointing Meinke Florida’s Poet Laurette.

For which appointment, Meink has written, he did not receive the traditional “barrel of sherry the way the English poets did.” But it was quite an honor nonetheless.

Oh, and did we mention that, to top it all off, the Florida Council for The Humanities has selected Meinke as the latest recipient of its Lifetime Literary Award For Writing?

“One of my childish first thoughts was, how happy my mother would have been!,” said Meinke about receiving the news. “She was crazily proud of my being a writer.”

Not bad for a late starter who set out early in life to be a poet but would have settled for a career in baseball.

Poetry won out, as it happens, but his was far from an smooth career trajectory.

In 1950, when he graduated from Mountain Lakes High School, in New Jersey, his school yearbook predicted: “Peter Meinke: Wants to be: Writer. Probably Will be: Censored.”

“That sounded good to me,” he recalls.

Still, 15 years and a decade’s accumulation of rejection slips would grind by before a Meinke poem “In Gentler Times,” would garner first prize in the Olivet Sonnet Competition, which happened to be judged by W. D. Snodgrass.

‘This was inspiring for two reasons,” he recalls. “I loved Snodgrass’s book “April Inventory,” and”I remember feeling that however I’d be judged from then on, I was a writer.”

In 1966, Meinke moved to St. Petersburg to start a creative writing program at Florida Presbyterian College, later to rebrand as Eckerd College. He would remain on faculty for 27 years until his retirement.

And now, 70 years beyond high school, the 87-year-old poet reflects, “there’s something so final about receiving the Florida Humanities Lifetime Literary Award for Writing. I don’t exactly feel finished, but more like having completed a marathon. It’s very satisfying.”

Previous honorees have included such Florida literary luminaries as Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan, Patrick Smith, Randy White, Mike Gannon, Enid Shomer and Jeff Klinkenberg. “The dignity and reputation of the Council and the quality of the writers chosen over the years, give the award a gravitas that surprised me,” he said.

Steven M. Seibert, executive director of the Humanities Council said that when this year’s selection committee’s discussion “turned to Peter, it grasped how influential his work has been. This influence isn’t just felt on St. Petersburg, where he’s been a longtime resident and an invaluable teacher to innumerable writers, but across and beyond our state.

“Bestowing the Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing is another way to once again remind thousands of Floridians about Peter Meinke’s incredible body of work.”

Meaning (call it M3) is the increasingly invisible

odorless, tasteless element in our universe long ago

slipped by someone’s god into our water…..

Peter Meinke, “M3”

Like most Americans in these perilous times, Meinke greeted the spring by hunkering down in his home, waiting out the coronavirus, with his wife, Jeanne, an artist and frequent collaborator.

“As an older person who happens to be a poet, I am very moved by the number of friends and neighbors who have called to check on how Jeanne and I are doing, asking can they help in any way,” he says. “They think, correctly, that poets and artists aren’t very practical, and haven’t stocked up on anything useful.

Ah, but what a house of refuge his is! Although they have traveled the world, the Meinkes always return to their beloved if aging cottage (“the plumbing system just collapsed”) situated on two-thirds of an acre in the heart of St. Petersburg close to downtown.

“It’s very lush, with five or six live oak trees and a couple of fruit trees, totally shaded,” he said. “We both love this house and the kids (two sons and two daughters, all grown now) would never let us sell it. And we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

The house provides “a sense of place that is very real. It has roots like a good poem.”

Speaking of which, although Meinke writes frequently about faith, politics, everyday life and so on he has refrained so far from writing about the virus that has been sweeping the world.

Rather, he has spent much of his time reading “The Mirror and the Light,” the final volume of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. And he highly recommends it: “The trilogy may carry you all the way through this pandemic.”

He also has been reflecting on the lessons from Daniel Defoe’s “Journal Of The Plague Year.”

“There were some similarities,” he said. “It came over to London from Holland as coronavirus came from China. It was played down by authorities as it swept through one neighborhood after another, and its most awful effects hit the poor, as the rich ran to their country houses, taking their doctors with them.

“Those are some thoughts I’m having,” he continues. “I haven’t written anything about coronavirus really. That will come later, if I’m lucky.”

The apple I see and the apple

I think I see and the apple

I say I see

are at least three

different apples…

Meinke “Apples.”

To be sure these are strange times in which to be a poet. In an era when leaders and celebrities communicate to the world in 280-character tweets, is there still a place for the poet, long-form or short-form?

“Some writers think that Americans no longer can read long books,” he muses. “And because of the tweeting there are poets who sometimes think Americans can’t read long poems.

“I do think that one of the problems with poetry is that even though they are shorter than novels you can’t speed read poems. You’ve got to linger over poems, and people aren’t used to doing that. You have to take a poem bit by bit.”

On the other hand “poetry is the kind of reading that, if you like it. you will always read it more than once. You’ll read it over, and then you read something else into it.

“People always say to poets ‘why didn’t you say what you mean?’ Well, you sort of mean a lot of things. I like the idea that poems have more than one level. It makes more interesting when you read it again.”

And that’s certainly true. Consider Meinke’s poem “Elephant Tusks”…“which we grind down into dice and key, earring and toothpick to capture the spirit of the elephant….” At first blush it reads as a condemnation of our crass consumer-obsessed culture. On further consideration one may read in it an almost spiritual reflection on the sheer weight of everyday living: “the huge stomping of elephant shakes the floor until the roof collapses.”

The trick is to live your days

as if each one may be your last…

…but at the same time, plan long range.

Meinke: Advice To My Son

“They know the poem,” says Meinke of his sons. “They’re good kids doing very well, now in their late fifties. One is the CEO of a chemistry conglomerate and the other works for USAID.

That poem, one of his most popular, “was just common sense. I didn’t start out to write any advice. It took me quite a while, with a lot of rewriting. I often let my poems sit for a while and the next week they always change.”

And that’s the thing about being a working poet that readers may not grasp. “If you want to be a poet you have to like rewriting,” he says. “I don’t think ‘this is finished.’ I think I have to work on it again today.

One definition of poetry, he says, is “The best words in the best order.

“And that’s the perfect advice for a writer…the best words in the best order.”

Looking toward his 88th year, Meinke acknowledges that he has “definitely slowed down…I certainly write less.” Still he has been finishing up another yet volume of poems.

“I believe that poets are citizens. They don’t have to write about everyday events, but over the course of life you ought to see what’s going on. You want people to be able to think big thoughts by reading a little poem.”

Because poetry, like life, ought to be constantly evolving and changing and shifting in previously unimaginable ways.

“Every morning I’ll look at the blank page feeling eager and uncertain,” he says. “Maybe I should start with ‘Hi Mom,’ and begin typing.”

Who’s sick of sonnets?  Iamb  Iamb…


Discarded monuments

I originally wrote this piece in the summer of 2017, when I was traveling in Russia. It seems a good idea to revisit now that confederate monuments are coming down all across the U.S. Give the Russians credit where credit’s due. RC

Stalin’s got a busted nose.

Shattered in transit, it makes “Old Joe’s” legendary scowl even more pronounced.

His cold granite visage once stood sentinel at the Bolshoi. Now he resides in more humble digs – a leafy park near the banks of the Moscow River.

In truth, Stalin – let’s call him the Soviet Robert E. Lee – has nothing to smile about.

He is surrounded by a phalanx of grotesque figures – some kneeling, some writhing in pain, some with empty eyes and twisted mouths.

Collectively, they resemble nothing so much as demons of the fiery hell Old Joe has surely been consigned to.

And lest anyone forget the “heritage” this man wrought, just over Stalin’s left shoulder is a boxy, cage-like affair containing scores of stone heads – anguish written on each face.

“Victims to the Totalitarian Regime,” we are informed.

Not too far away, Lenin – we’ll call him Russia’s George Washington – enjoys somewhat more generous treatment. Behind him are large aluminum symbols of the USSR – a giant hammer and sickle, a colorful “CCCP.”

But even Lenin doesn’t get off scott-free in Art Muzeon Park – AKA the Park of Fallen Memorials.

Arrayed around him are four gaunt, painfully thin and twisted figures by the sculptor O.N. Garkushenko. One is titled “Descent Into Hell.”

In Muzeon, the gang’s all here. There is a bust of Brezhnev and a marble of Marx. Kosygin looks queasy, Serdlov dispeptic and Dzerzhinsky depressed.

Their proximity leaves little to interpretation – however well intended Lenin’s revolution, Russia’s 70-year experiment in Soviet communism went horribly awry.

Each is accompanied by a disclaimer: “This work is historically and culturally significant, being the memorial construction of the Soviet era, on the themes of politics and ideology.”

The Russians are nothing if not pragmatic.

And in Muzeon they can teach Americans something about how to memorialize people and events that many of us would just as soon forget.

I was visiting Russia when Charlottesville burned with rage, Trump excused the nazis and Gainesville said no to Richard Spencer’s bid for a University of Florida podium. Watching these events from afar, I searched for Russian parallels that might lend context to my own country’s current flirtation with the politics of racism, polarization and discontent.

Not many clues in St. Petersburg. That historic city on the Neve seems these days to be infatuated with all things Tsarist (from Ivan the terrible one to Peter and Catherine the great ones.)

The good and bad of it all being good for tourism, they say.

But Moscow is 400 miles and seemingly two centuries removed from Tsar Peter’s city. If there is anything like a mass infatuation in evidence, it is surely with Putin’s “strong” leadership. His stellar popularity polls must make The Donald green with envy.

Moscow, a bustling city of 12 million, is reinventing itself at warp speed. New money is everywhere – in modern glass skyscrapers, sleek sports cars and luxury condos. Grim, gray Kruschev-era apartments are being renovated to resemble Miami high-rises. Immigrants from breakaway republics flock there in search of jobs. And a baby-boom is afoot – helped along by generous government subsidies to encourage procreation,

After the fall of communism in 1992, Soviet statues and busts were torn down by the hundreds, mostly to be left in crumbling piles. But some have since been “rehabilitated” in Muzeon Park.

Not to be glorified, however.

Nor are they alone. And that is both the genius and the beauty of this park.

Muzeon is a sculpture garden, and Joe and Vladimir and the rest rank as little more than sideshows in the larger context of this magnificent public space.

Not 200 yards from Stalin is a serendipitous tribute to Old Man Mazoy, who, we are told, saved Russia’s rabbits by plucking them out of a flood with his rowboat. Within Lenin’s disapproving line of sight is Shtok’s “The Lying,” a graceful bronze nude shrugging off her nightgown.

Next to the aluminum Soviet symbols are hundreds of small statues in a cluster. Angels and bears and children, oh my. Some are cracked and flawed. Some whimsical. Some sobering.

And then there’s the giant hand.

Maybe it’s just me, but the giant hand seems to be waving a merry bye-bye to Old Joe and his gang of thugs.

Moscow does not believe in tears.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor for The Sun.

Between the signs

Some people like to take photos of grand monuments or sweeping vistas when they travel. But I like signs. What they say, what they don’t say, what they say between the lines and what they really mean. Here’s a sampling of my Signs Of The Times collection from hither and yon.

I found this quote from Andy Warhol painted on a street in Chicago.

The photo display was taken out front of City Hall in London.

Flamingos in Iowa? Took that one at the end of a RAGBRAI (bike ride across Iowa).

A bank in Greenville, S.C. says nothing doing to gunnies.

Buskers and beer in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Dream, work and beer banner…can’ remember where I took it.

I was intrigued by this fashion ad I found on the wall in the ancient seaside town of Hvar, in the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia. Wondered why she looked so sad.

The bike week photo came from nearby Trogir. Can’t help but feel that she would be smiling if she only had a bike.

You can’t climb the walls in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Don’t run in front of cars when you are in Ireland.

No spitting in Smith Falls, Ontario.

Snapped the aristocracy is doomed sign in New York City.

And algae alert, sadly, comes from Florida.

All from San Francisco. I love that town.

The smoking horn is from Florence.

Live Music was on the sidewalk in downtown Greenville, S.C.

Konoba, home of the Flintstones, is in Omiš, Croatia.

Napoleon Vagrant was shot in Halifax.

The folk dancers were in London.

And Hamlet complements of Thornhill, Scotland.

My friend Otis Chandler was freaking out over the wild oysters in Palatka.

Whatever you do, don’t step on the microbes in Sedona

Stay away from the coyotes in Nova Scotia

And don’t feed the condors coins in the Grand Canyon.

Or flirt with zebra mussels in Page, Ariz.

If you are looking for unity, go to the Eau Gallie arts district in Melbourne, Fl.

Want lights on your path? Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Contemplate a nice cuppa tea? Yaroslavl, Russia.

Life of the grasses reflected through the window of the Reykjavik airport in Iceland.

Russia’s most discredited sign now reposes in a park set aside for yesterday’s symbolism in Moscow.

Snapped this yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag in Palace Square, St. Petersburg.

Warren Nielsen and I found the place where Dostoevsky used to get drunk in St. Petersburg.

This poster emblazoned concert hall in St. Petersburg used to be a refuge for bureaucrats.

And this tribute to the victims of political oppression looks out across St. Petersburg’s Neva River to focus on a prison that is still in use.

Found this tribute to Trump in Buena Vista, Virginia.

American Sector sign was in a museum in Ottawa.

Love was in the air, and everywhere else, in Woodstock, Virginia.

Peace, love and beer in Philly.

Local market bankrupt by big box in Woodstock, NY.

And you can get any spiritual thing you want in Casadaga, Fl.

Assembly point, maturing whisky, unhappy chocolate lovers, handout sign, Bloody Stream and strong Guinness all taken in Dublin.

All these photos taken during a bicycle tour of southern Scotland, where they are apparently terrified of red squirrels and have lost their bull.

Gotta love Venice. They want the Mafia out and have no use for homophobes.

My favorite Ontario town, Perth, is a happening place.

The four hundred steps

It is a climb of 400 steps to the top of San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill.

Through vertical neighborhoods of quirky Art Deco buildings and cozy bungalows tucked away amidst lush vegetation.

The trek is stimulating and the views fantastic. But the real reward for making the assent is to be found hidden inside the tall, spiraling Coit Tower.

Built in 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, the tower’s expanse of stark, blank inner walls seemed a too dismal reflection of the hopelessness that gripped the country.

And so under the auspices of the Roosevelt-era Public Works of Art Project, 26 local muralists were hired with the charge of covering those stark inner walls with scenes of everyday life in San Francisco.

How people worked.

When there was work to be had.

Together, to feed a city.

Most of the artists were left-leaning socialists, many of them disciples of the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

And their work reflected a city that was as diverse as it was teeming with life and activity…and chaos.

And like Rivera they preferred to apply their paint onto still-wet, fresh plaster, so that the very walls would absorb the colors.

Unveiled to the world, some of the works were deemed objectionable because they reflected crime, unflattering depictions of city life, or, worse, liberal views.

And because this was a public works project, it had to be periodically reported to the federal government that the artists involved were all “very moral and conscientious, not drunken, promiscuous” or “orgiastic.”

San Francisco today remains a city of startling sights, sounds and experiences.

But tucked away in that tower, 400 steps up from the bay, are the images of a bygone city of industry, despair and hope. It is a feast for the eyes and not to be missed.

How to borrow life

A World War II pilot burned beyond recognition, two surgeons honing their skills while tending to wounded warriors, a young English scientist who resolves to cheat death after witnessing a gruesome plane crash…and the women who loved them.

A tender love story? A gripping war epic? A tale of risk, redemption and renewal?

Well, yes, yes and yes.

But above all, “Borrowing Life,” the latest offering from Gainesville’s most prolific author, Shelley Fraser Mickle, is an eminently readable and impeccably researched history of the quest to achieve the “holy grail” of surgical procedures – the successful transplant of an organ from one human being into another.

To tell that story she assembles a cast of fascinating characters:

Charles Wood, the pilot whose body was so disfigured by burns that he would endure years of suffering and dozens of surgeries to rebuild his face and hands. It was Wood’s uncanny, and inexplicable, ability to tolerate skin grafts not his own for long periods of time that would launch the quest.

Physicians Francis Moore and Joseph Murray whose experience treating Wood and other badly burned victims made them resolve, sometimes at the risk of their own careers, to overcome the medical and biological barriers, first to skin grafts and, finally, kidney replacements.

And Peter Medawar, England’s “boy professor” whose experiments on cows, chickens, mice and dogs led to the understanding that “the immune system had a memory,” and that figuring out how to “trick cellular memory” would be key to success.

But if Mickle has the eye of a trained observer she also possesses the heart of a romantic, which is why she weaves in lively accounts of the wives who helped keep these men grounded and, yes, sane. “Will you love me like Mariam loved Charles,” she poses.

At the outset of “Borrowing Life” the conventional wisdom asserted that transplantation could never happen because of the human body’s refusal to accept what is essentially a foreign object.

And indeed, from the end of World War II and on into the 1960s it would require years of experimentation, false starts and failures before scientists and surgeons finally figured out how to “bamboozle the body’s system of defense,” Mickle writes, thereby founding “a new field of science” that has made possible the routine transplantation of skin, kidneys, hearts, lungs and more.

The path to success wasn’t just blocked by biological barriers but also thorny legal and ethical conundrums: “What would it mean to injure a healthy body by borrowing an organ to give to another?” In a profession that vows to “do no harm,” is it ethical, even with the donor’s consent, to take a functioning organ out of one twin brother so as to implant it into the other?

And while the war wreaked untold devastation it also provided clues that helped unravel some of the mysteries of medicine. In Nazi-occupied Holland a young physician fashioned the first prototype dialysis machine – of necessity out of sausage casings and tomato cans. And the discovery that atomic bomb victims had weakened immunity systems led to experiments with radiation as a possible means of lowering the body’s natural resistance to transplants.

Ultimately, however, the answer was not to be found in splitting the atom, but rather in an immunosuppressive drug first developed to treat cancer patients. When a beagle mix named New Hampshire was able to tolerate a new kidney with the help of the right drug, Mickle writes, the “friendly yellow and white mutt inspired the transplant field worldwide.”

“Borrowing Life” arrives by way of wrapping up long unfinished business for Mickle and her husband, Parker, a retired University of Florida pediatric neurosurgeon.

In 1968, fresh out of Vanderbilt Medical School, Parker was recruited by Francis Moore to be a general surgery intern at Boston’s Brigham Hospital. He also helped care for some of Joseph Murray’s transplant patients. And recognizing that the newly arrived young couple would have trouble making ends meet, Dr. Murray once offered Shelly a secretary’s job…which Mickle declined because she was already pursuing a writer’s career.

In writing “Borrowing Life” all these years later, Mickle reflects, “I have finally become the secretary they all needed to step into our world.”

Borrowing Life” is an Imagine Book published by Charlesbridge and sells for $24.99. I wrote this review for the Gainesville Sun. It was published on May 31.

Life in the ‘human rut’

Your thought for the day:

“They would fail. We would always fail. We weren’t built to do anything but fail. We had the wrong kind of motives and we couldn’t change them. We had a built-in short-sightedness and an inherent selfishness and a self-concern that made it impossible to step out of the little human rut we traveled.”

All Flesh Is Grass by Clifford D. Simak

Flirting with algorithms

Spark wonder, invent possible
Sheltering the past
Waiting for a return to normal
Be a superhero: Stay home!
Art parked here
Through the looking glass
Ode to the Chitlin’ Circuit
This space reserved for creative loitering
“When in doubt go to the library,” J.K. Rowling
Only Gators get out alive
Queen of the winter flowers
Like a bridge over troubled asphalt
“Knowledge is good,” Animal House
“Aaron DaCosta is happy over the receipt of a fine dog, which recently arrived from New Orleans”
History of Gainesville: Jess G. Davis
Where Lake Alice goes to pray
Originally called Sunkist Villa: Was that a great name or what?
“The train you have been waiting all your life may not stop at your station,”
M.M. Ildan
“Embrace the power of little things and you will build a tower of mighty things,” I Ayivor
“I really learned to sing in church,” D. Parton
“You can’t just hoard your ideas inside the Ivory Tower” G. Church
Gateway to Gatorland
All the world’s a stage
Fifty years…and hit pause
Remember and Reimagine
(Hipp’s 2020-21 theme)
“I felt like I might as well have been living in another part of the solar system,” B. Dylan
“You belong among the wildflowers,” T. Petty
I came, I saw, I cycled: R. Cunningham

So now I’m a digital guy

Hold my beer while I commit a little newspaper heresy.

I’m a newspaper man. It’s how I made my living for nearly 50 years. My veins might as well corse printers ink as blood.

I have subscribed to my daily newspaper for more than 40 years.

Every day I read the Gainesville Sun, the New York Times and USA Today, and I browse selected other news sources.

But I haven’t held an actual newspaper in my by-now un-inkstained hands for nearly a year.

No, I didn’t drop my subscription to the Sun. I just read it online.

At first I did it for the sake of expediency. My wife and I were doing so much traveling that we were frequently having to stop and restart home delivery.

Now we’re finding that we can read the Sun wherever in the world we happen to be without constantly bothering the circulation department.

And no, I don’t miss the feel of a physical newspaper in my hands. I believe that the true purpose of a “newspaper” is to feed our intellects, not give us yet one more reason to wash our hands.

And I’ll admit this, too. During my long career in journalism I often pondered the irony of cutting down whole forests so we could tell our readers about, oh, deforestation, climate change, environmental degradation and such.

Digital journalism means never having to say you are sorry.

I only bring this up now because, thanks to the coronavirus, some unsustainable newspaper business practices are becoming ever more unsustainable. Because of a drop in advertising the Tampa Bay Times just announced that it would only print an actual paper edition twice a week, while reporting the rest of the week’s news online.

Says Times CEO Paul Tash “while we are in the depths of this pandemic, we simply cannot afford to produce the ink-and-paper version every day.”

I’d like to believe that once the COVID19 thing ebbs, everything can go back to normal. But newspapers were losing advertisers and shedding staff long before the virus arrived, and I suspect they will continue to do so when it’s gone.

So what to do?

I think readers will always turn to their most trusted local news sources. And in most communities that means their local daily newspaper.

But I also think that the switch to all-digital-all-online-all-the-time news is probably inevitable and not a bad thing. Ink on paper is so last century.

I actually have two Sun apps on my devices. One is the app that allows you to read The Sun, page by page, just as though you are reading the honest-to-goodness newspaper.

The other app allows you to read constant updates as they are posted.

In other words you don’t have to wait for tomorrow to read today’s news. And we’re certainly learning how important that sort of immediacy is.

Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist, believes the survival of news gathering may depend on moving “as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms.”

Smith’s main question is whether the future of news gathering should be left to for-profit or given over to non-profit hands. But either way the future of news is almost certainly going to be digital