Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It has been more than three years since my last blog post, which is as much a testament to my attention span as it is to my dedication. In that time, I have continued to teach high school newspaper and yearbook classes and I experienced economic downsizing when my job at a small-town weekly newspaper was eliminated. This first, "I'm back" post is meant to get the writing portion of my brain working again. Though I love teaching about media, writing and editing, I miss putting my fingers to the keyboard and expressing myself. I love to Tweet (follow me at @AdamPBreen) and I am proud of creating a separate handle @BalerNews that has more than 600 followers. My goal now is to start anew. A story of 1,000 words starts with the first word. So here I go ...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This just in ... I'm an election winner

I'm an election junkie, meaning that I actually look forward to the wall-to-wall media coverage of local and national races. Between checking websites and clicking between Bay Area and national television stations, I'm soaking up every tidbit of information that scrolls across the screen. CNN reporter Ted Rowlands, in fact, just reported on California Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, by standing next to a plate of marijuana baklava. The network then came back to studio analyst Jeffrey Toobin who pointed out that brownies are the food of choice when marijuana is an ingredient. Fascinating and important stuff. Some of my election choices -- both in people and propositions -- were winners and some were not. Still, though I am not a candidate, I feel like a winner simply because tomorrow is Nov. 3 and I have to believe that I will no longer receive junk mail from candidates and television stations will quit showing wall-to-wall ads about Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman and Anna Caballero and Anthony Cannella and on and on. The signs littering local streets and stuck in lawns around the community will be coming down; soon I hope. Regardless of who is in power nationally, we should expect more of the same -- gridlock, partisanship, vitriol -- on the national scene. Four out of 10 Americans who were eligible to vote were expected to turn out today, according to NBC News. That is sad, but that is the way it is. I voted, for good or for bad, and I couldn't imagine why anyone would pass on that opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fear the Bud?

The Texas media's fascination with "pot-smoking San Francisco Giants fans" is, well, fascinating. Watching some of the coverage from media-types during this week's two World Series games in The City, one would think AT&T Park sold joints next to the garlic fries and gave away "Fear the Bud" shirts to the first 20,000 fans. TV guy Newy Scruggs gained some national recognition when, during his live report from McCovey Cove, he actually saw people smoking weed. This is outside the park, mind you, not in the kids' Whiffle ball area beyond the left field bleachers. Rangers' left fielder Josh Hamilton told reporters that he could smell marijuana smoke wafting through the air during Game 1. Some media outlets gave the impression that the whole park was passing around a roach clip during the seventh inning stretch. There is no denying that some fans sneak cannabis into the game, which is both inappropriate and illegal, but come on Texas media, YOU are the pot (pun intended) calling the kettle black because Hamilton is, admirably, a recovering crackhead and Manager Ron Washington this year admitted to cocaine use. Yes, Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum was caught with marijuana in his car. There's no defending that. But because of that, we all need to watch which stones we throw -- especially at stoners.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's autumn, so why not fall?

One of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened when I was a senior and was late for English class. All of the other students had settled in and the teacher was taking roll when I stepped up into the portable classroom and caught my foot in the doorway. Not only did I tumble big-time, but my backpack flew over my shoulder and landed in front of me. The commotion caused everyone to turn around and burst out in laughter. I could only sheepishly smile as I made my way to the front of the classroom, second row, where I sat red-faced for all to see. Even my teacher -- my kind, sweet teacher -- could not help laughing at the tumble, which did not result in physical injury but certainly injured my pride. I didn't blame my classmates for laughing, as I would have done the same. The fact that the laughter continued on and off for about half an hour didn't help, but I deserved it. I heard the "have a nice trip? see you next fall" line about half a dozen times. So that stood alone as my most embarrassing tumble for about a quarter-century ... until this morning. My wife and I were enjoying a leisurely walk in our neighborhood when we passed by (ironically) the house of my former high school biology teacher, who was outside with two other people. We exchanged pleasantries as I turned my head with a smile, and suddenly my left foot caught a raised portion of sidewalk and I took a tumble worthy of my high school days. There were only four witnesses for this fall, not a whole classroom, but I was just as embarrassed. I bounded right up and kept walking as our neighbors asked if I was alright. I joked that I should sue the homeowner as my wife began suppressing her laughter while trying to look sympathetic. I bruised my left knee and scraped both palms, though the injuries were minor. I couldn't move on and turn the corner quickly enough. At least I could walk away from the scene of the tumble this time; no sitting at the front of class listening to the snickers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

At least he wasn't anonymous

I have written a weekly "slice-of-life" column in local newspapers for the past 15 years or so, with topics ranging from the excitement about the birth of my son to the trepidation I felt the first time that son got behind the wheel of a car. I write about what I know best -- being a dad of two teenage boys and the husband of a woman who has to put up with my corny sense of humor and my maddening habit of procrastination. I don't apologize for the content, because I hope that the stories I tell can relate in some small way to the lives of those who read it. Maybe one week I'll give a reader a laugh and maybe the next week I'll make them get choked up. Either way, I hope people will spend three to five minutes with the column, because that means they read the whole thing. I generally get positive feedback about what I write, perhaps because most people aren't bold enough to criticize me face-to-face -- unless they are a relative. It makes me happy when someone tells me they enjoyed my column. Last week, a reader took the time to hand write a two-sided note and mail it to my home. I'm not sure how he got my address, but I give him credit for including his return address on the envelope. Too many people these days hide behind the anonymity of online comments, so I can respect this man for identifying himself. His note, written in a fairly legible script with a few phrases highlighted in yellow for some reason, essentially was a dressing down of my column's approach. He wanted to advise me in a condescending way that my column, which is titled "Breen Damage" and features a picture of me, is too much about me. He wanted to tell me "something you have never learned in life," that I should "learn to get away from (my) self-centeredness and the number of I's and we's" in my articles. Zing. "It seems as though most of your articles are about the 'Breen' family," he continued, which is a fact seemed pretty obvious to me, since when I write about a slice of life, it's going to be about the Breens. The majority of people who read the paper, he said, "are not interested in the Breens" and "should best be kept for family use." Double-zing. He said there is so much more in our community to write about -- and he is right. He apparently doesn't read the two or three other articles I write each week as a reporter for The Pinnacle. I cover city government and education and environmental issues. I write features and captions and news briefs, none of which have to do with me or my family. "Get off your family and Breen kick," he advises. "Grow up." Wow, this guy is full of zingers. As brazen and denigrating as his letter is, I actually didn't mind receiving the criticism. Like anyone, I love getting praise for my work. But there is something energizing about being critiqued. It's a reminder that not everyone thinks I'm as witty or insightful as I might feel when I get a slap on the back from a faithful reader. It's a reminder not to get lazy or too full of myself. We all need to be humbled now and then. My wife wasn't as understanding about or appreciative of the letter; she wanted me to send him a letter of my own telling him that he was rude and "how dare he complain about an article in a free paper." It's OK, I told her. Though he may speak for others, I'm a big boy who can handle the zingers. Perhaps his criticism will remind me to branch out beyond my family when coming up with a column idea. It's called "Breen Damage" for a reason. I'm a Breen and I'm going to write about what happens to me and my family as long as the editors allow me to do so. Maybe one of my upcoming columns will win this guy over and I'll get another letter from him saying I've matured as a writer. Or maybe he'll continue to open up the free paper every Friday and curse my name. Bottom line is, newspapers want readers who care, and this guy clearly does. Like me or hate me, just don't stop reading me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

T.P. makes me P.O'd in the a.m.

Waking up at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning is a terrible thing. The weekend is the time to sleep in, not to rise before the birds and the sun. But my sons were going fishing with their uncle bright and early, I woke up as they were leaving to wish them well. My plan was to fall back into bed, fall back to sleep and waste a good part of the morning getting some shut-eye. Then my wife noticed through the blurred vision of recent sleep that our front yard was all white, like it had just snowed. This was August and this was Hollister, so it was not snow. This was August and this was Hollister, so this was a toilet paper prank perpetrated by someone who knows one of my sons. There were rolls of paper in six different trees in our yard; paper on the bushes; paper on my roof; paper in the shape of a heart on the lawn (it was a message to one of our sons, we assumed, but we didn't love it.) At 4:15 a.m., my wife and I went to work cleaning up the mess, hoping not to wake the neighbors while cursing our fate. Toilet paper on a wet lawn becomes a lumpy mess that is difficult to pick up. But it was easier than the rolls that were thrown over the 15-foot tree in our front yard, because those rolls rolled up onto the roof, making them unreachable until I brought out a ladder. Climbing on a ladder at 4 a.m. when you are half asleep is not the smartest thing a guy can do. Climbing from a ladder onto a dewy roof when you are half asleep is even dumber. But I did it because I wasn't going to be able to sleep knowing that the toilet paper strands were dissolving into my landscaping and onto my roof. Forty-five minutes later, about an hour before sunrise, my wife and I had filled a trash bag with every last toilet paper remnant that we could find. We eventually put the ladder away, jumped back in bed and hoped to wipe this toilet paper incident from our memories.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What about the Canadians?

After all of the controversy over Arizona's strict new immigration law, which gives law enforcement officials broad powers to stop and question people suspected of being in the country illegally, I'm hopeful -- but doubtful -- about the chances that it will be enforced equally. While I'm all for protecting our borders and making sure that people are following the rules, I can't help but wonder if Arizona police will pull over a car full of people in a Volvo with Canadian license plates. Maybe those Canucks are here illegally, trying to take away American jobs or smuggling drugs into our country. Oh wait, apparently only Mexicans do that. If the authorities hear a couple of people speaking with British accents, will they ask them for immigration documentation as well? If this law is to be applied fairly they will. If it will be used for racial profiling, they won't.