Talking to Texas teachers

The Texas Legislature is meeting again, and this time, I hope they’ll finally focus on what really needs to be done. No bathroom bills. Focus on what needs immediate attention: school finance reform.

If you watch the news or read the papers, you’ll hear of property-rich school districts lamenting how they’ll play tens of millions into Chapter 41 “Robin Hood,” only to be able to barely balance their budgets through cutbacks or, to avoid running a deficit, have to borrow from their general funds.

Bills have been presented that would limit Robin Hood, or reform the state funding formula. Some teachers would like to see an end of STAAR testing, arguing that it forces teachers to teach to a test instead of achieving real learning. This is an opinion I’ve heard from teacher friends who range from as conservative as President Ronald Reagan to as liberal as Senator Ted Kennedy.

I asked a few of my teacher friends what they would say if given a few minutes to address the Texas Legislature. (For their privacy and safety, I have given them fictitious first names and have withheld their last names).

Monica, a teacher in San Antonio: “I would ask for the STAAR test to be halted in order to take back real teaching. The STAAR test ties student results to funding. This forces schools to abandon good teaching in order to prepare students for testing, which is not a measure of whether a student has learned.

“I would demand curriculum reform to allow all teachers to go back to teaching all content and not just tested content

“If I had extra time, I’d ask for better retirement programs and medical since most teachers have a bleak future even though we are state employees.”

Monica added something I found particularly poignant: “Teaching students to love reading is the most important thing. Our country lacks critical thinkers because nobody knows how to read.”

John, a teacher in Houston: “Get rid of relying on testing to decide if schools are succeeding or if teachers are doing their jobs. Quit trying to focus on charter schools as the solution when the most recent studies suggest they aren’t and that they just bleed money from the schools. Actually find the mandates if they won’t get rid of them. School funding needs to be the priority this session since they haven’t even gotten back to the funding levels pre-recession but as long as Dan F’ing Patrick is in charge of the senate it won’t happen.”

Lee, a teacher in South Texas: “NCLB [No Child Left Behind] has its roots in Texas and mostly I’m proud of what Texas is today, but NOT that. Sandy Kress, George W. and Ted Kennedy… Two Texans and a New Yorker. I’ve got nothing against bipartisan legislation, but expecting 100% of kids to be passing by 2014 or 2114 is ridiculous on its face… In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.  If we were willing to toe to toe with Obama’s sequel to this educational train wreck, then why are we working so hard to prove his argument about state education standards being inadequate is right? How so? You ask. By decreasing the performance of our public schools, by the siphoning of students into charter schools. We only further invite a national standard for not only testing, but also teaching. Texas is pushing so hard to convert our public education into a charter/private school format, that they are cherry picking our best kids out of public ed and into charter ed. It’s fine to have private schools but it’s not okay to use public money as a means to segregate public schools by… not race… not class, but effort. Segregation by effort already happens within the campuses by having different levels of classes like AP or Dual Enrollment. But this internal segregation serves the students, the school, and the community. Our schools are judged and penalized for their students’ performances, and when a school that serves low income students shows that it and it’s community are capable of producing adults with skills that allow them to be financially independent and productive citizens, then politicians and other communities give them respect. Conversely, they judged as low performing and a waste of tax dollars when their students do not perform well. This will inevitably lead to shutting down schools and leaving those most needy of structure, supervision, patience, and positive motivation out in the streets like before public ed was mandated by FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]. We see the highlights of gangs like the Texas Syndicate or MS13 and we see how much they already conscript and corrupt our youth. It is healthy public education and law enforcement systems that slows their ability to grow while nurturing our communities to grow.  If we truly do not want federal involvement in our educational system and we truly do not want more gang violence then we need to support true public education and maintain quality teachers.

“It might be a bit preachy or dramatic, but my basic point is that I think charter schools are the bane of public education. If we want public education to improve we definitely don’t want to do the opposite of NCLB.”

Post comments here or email them to: richardzowie@gmail.com

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New Year’s resolutions

me writing

Since I will be turning 45 in February, I have decided to keep my New Year’s resolution simple this year.

Publish one short story.

I plan to start looking at the Writer’s Market 2018 to see if there are any potential markets for short Christian fiction or for a few unpublished, Twilight Zone-style stories I’ve completed.

Perhaps “completed” is too optimistic a word. Any writer will tell you no story is ever perfectly written. I’m sure Stephen King sometimes looks at his early stories and wishes he could change this or that about them. He once wrote about the pleasant surprise he got when his short story, Sometimes They Come Back (which I’ve read, it’s in his Night Shift collection of short stories), was published. He was paid $500 for a story he admitted that he didn’t think would sell anywhere.

Perhaps I should try to get an agent.

Among my short stories that are either completed or need a little more tinkering:

Garth, Texas: A fugitive and scam artist’s car breaks down in rural West Texas during a heat wave. He walks to a town to get help–and wishes he’d kept on walking.

No Experience Necessary: A former Army soldier with a dwindling bank account accepts a job that pays well and says “no experience necessary.” You know what they say: “If it’s too good to be true…”

Dear Billy: Sincerely, Billy: If you love to write science fiction or Twilight Zone or Outer Limits-inspired tales, you’re bound to try your hand at time travel. In this, set in 1983, a teenaged boy visits a library and is told there’s a letter for him. It’s written by a man who claims to be him, and it’s dated 1859. The boy learns one decision done differently can change everything.

David’s Decision: What went on during the mental tug of war that led to King David deciding to sleep with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers?

What If…?: I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened had Adam and Eve not sinned and had resisted the serpent.

Renaming a mysterious Arkansas town ‘Garth, Texas’

In the summer of 1980, if I remember right, we traveled from Kansas to northern Arkansas to visit my Dad’s older brother, Uncle Don. He, my Aunt Mary and my cousins lived in Harrison, near Dogpatch. I also remember something about getting some Cavender seasoning, since it’s made in Harrison. (I still use it today, although I prefer the salt-free form).

As we traveled to Harrison, my seven-year-old mind seemed to record us being on some sort of mountainous hill. One road went to Harrison while another road seemed to lead to another town down in a distant valley. A look at a map reveals it might’ve been Omaha, Arkansas.

To this day, 32 years later, I still wonder about that town. What was its name? What secrets did it hold? What stories did it tell? Or, did it exist solely in my imagination?

I have resurrected and transported the town approximately 800 miles southwest into West Texas in a short story I am working on, titled Garth, Texas. In this lengthy, in-progress short story, a road goes up a hill, reaching a zenith; what lies on the road beyond the zenith is completely unknown to anyone seeing the road from the main road it bisects.

But to those who travel to the top of the road, they will see a sharp, gradual decline as the road slopes downard for about five miles. And in the distance is a tiny speck of a town.

Garth, Texas.

Stay tuned.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Richard’s endless reading list

We all have our pleasure activities. I have a few, myself. Venturing into bookstores and libraries. Going into cooking supply stores and admiring all the utensils I’d love to have for the day I can afford to have a fully-equipped kitchen. It can also be fun to go out on walks into the woods to just relax, let your thoughts run free and look for any interesting items. I remember long ago taking a walk along some dilapidated train tracks near my home in Beeville, Texas. Just my Dad, me and my brother-in-law. We found lots of power line insulators, which my Dad loves to collect. (I have a few of them myself today).

And here’s another thing I love to do: go to a library, get their monthly popular reads magazine and make note of all the books in there that interest me.

So far, there are about 100 books on my list. And growing. My problem is most of the books I really want to read aren’t at my local library. They have to be ordered from other libraries, and that takes time.

Still, the pursuit is very fun.

Maybe someday I’ll be stuck for 50 years in the San Antonio Central Library. Ahhhh.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Thoughts on acting and creating a new word

We did eight performances at the Clio Cast & Crew of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, a musical that in second reference we all like to refer to as The Forum. For two months we rehearsed, sang, practiced, studied lines, blocked, laughed, had costume fittings, chatted and did everything imaginable. It was a wondrous time for me as I got to meet new friends, such as Carmen, Juliet, Brenda and Ed and hang out at the theater. My sons also got a chance to see what their Dad likes to do as a hobby and what he plans to continue doing as a hobby.

In the play, I was Protean #2, which means that I and Carl and Seth were the 200 B.C. equivalent of the Three Stooges with the Keystone Kops thrown in for good measure. Our job was to entertain and pretend to be slaves, citizens, eunuchs, sailors, soldiers and do our best to ham things up when possible. For me, it was a very fun occasion, and having makeup on during the play wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. I explained to my sons that under the bright lights, when you don’t wear makeup, your face gets washed out. Interestingly, I learned that having a big nose meant not having to wear as much makeup.

Four things I learned as an actor: 1) Show up on time, 2) Know your lines, 3) Do what your director tells you and 4) No matter how good you become, don’t let success go to your head.

This play has also inspired me to create a seldom-used word: theaterography, which I’ve put as a page on my blog so folks can know what else I’ve done in theater.

Richard is a writer and, now, an actor. Someday he wants to get into dramatic roles, such as 12 Angry Men. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Writing out of sequence–blasphemy or bold?

In my fiction writing, I am working on two projects: a novel called Randy and Rhonda (a Christian romance that has some frank looks at relationships and sex and how some Christians prefer isolation over insulation) and a thriller/suspense short story called Garth, Texas.

In both, I hit snags where I didn’t know what to write. Especially in the novel, since part of it deals with a segment of America that I know very little about (I’d rather not say what at this point, except that a friend is trying to set things up for me to interview someone from there). So, what to do?

Write out of sequence.

A friend who studied broadcasting at college told me that movies are very seldom shot in sequence. Sometimes the very first scene to be filmed is one of the movie’s final scenes. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the opening scene where they drive to the restaurant in the morning was one of the very last filmed. And, I understand that the opening rig scene in Armageddon was actually the final scene filmed.

Why not do the same with creative writing?

So, I do this in the novel and will probably do so in the short story: if you hit a snag in the story, skip over the scene and write later scenes. Perhaps somewhere down the road the creative juices will flow and you can fill in the gaps.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Writer’s Block strikes me again. Grrr!

I am currently working on a few short stories, most notably a Twilight Zone-style fantasy thriller tentatively titled Garth, Loving County, Texas. Then there are two books I’m working on: a Christian thriller The Game Show and a Christian romance novel Randy and Rhonda. All three of these are really good stories, but I’ve run into the same problem with each.

I have no idea what happens next.

It’s an annoying case of writer’s block as I try to ascertain what happens next.

I’ve also found it an excessive challenge to keep my blogs updated. Am I just hitting a dry spell where I don’t have the energy to write?

As of this writing (October 28), I have about six unpublished blog postings.

I can think of two things I’ll have to do: re-read that essay by Lois Duncan on Writer’s Block and consult with a former creative writing teacher of mine.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Finished reading ‘Friday Night Lights’

It took about a week to read this. Not a bad read.

Before I read this book, I thought I had an inkling of how much Texans love their high school football.

Not even close.

The writer of this book, H.G. Bissinger spent a year of his life living in Odessa, Texas as he observed Permian High School football and conducted countless interviews. I suspect before this book was even published he had already moved back to Philadelphia at his old job with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Friday Night Lights is often a blunt portrait of West Texas football, one where the win-at-all-costs mentality is very prevalent, where academics takes a distant back seat to athletics and where today’s stars become injured and rapidly become yesterday’s news. There are also the racial tensions, and Bissinger remarks that many in Odessa (as of 1988) used the n-word the way writers use punctuation.

For me, the book is a reminder that high school football is probably most prevalent in rural areas of Texas where sluggish economies and having few forms of entertainment give them little more to be encouraged or entertained about. One thing about the Panthers that really surprised me is despite their football prowess in 1988, only one of their football players was offered a college football scholarship (Ivory Christian to Texas Christian University, where he subsequently dropped out and transferred to another college). It makes me wonder if many of these players, instead of seeing football as a ticket to a college scholarship or to a lucrative NFL career, were simply burned out. Their Class 5A semifinals rival, Dallas Carter, had many players offered scholarships (one of which, Jessie Armstead, would later play in the NFL). A lot can be said for a small West Texas town that drills football into its players and motivates them to greatness.

It truly is amazing just how little job security there is in high school football in certain areas of Texas. Coach Gary Gaines’ Panther team lost to their biggest rival, Midland Lee, and there was talk of firing him. (In Michigan, one nearby high school football coach “resigned” after five seasons where his teams did no better than 1-8). One high school classmate told me of his brother, who was coaching a high school in West Texas it’s along Interstate 10 and how his brother had the support of 99 percent of the town. But that one percent consisted of the movers and shakers, and his brother was terminated.

Here’s the most disturbing story from Friday Night Lights: a player suffers a nasty groin injury and continues playing in a game because he doesn’t want to come out and it would be considered wimpy to go to the hospital. After the game, he sees a doctor who examines him and sees that one of his testicles has swollen as big as a grapefruit. The doctor then tells him it’s too late to treat the injured testicle and that it must be removed. The player’s mom is furious but he begs her not to make a fuss out of fear of being kicked off the team. This player later makes All-State.

I have no idea who this player was, but I suspect very strongly now he doubts making All-State was worth losing a testicle.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Longer version of my Writer’s Digest My Story #23 First Date Bizarreness submission

This is a longer version of the story I sent to Writer’s Digest for its Your Story #23 contest. As you can see below, I had to say goodbye to some background on the story. The trick to the 750-word contest is to keep the action to a few snapshots of storyline and then give your reader a vivid image of what’s happening. My creative writing teacher at Pensacola Christian College, Ms. Raymond, used to preach “Show, Don’t Tell.” Hopefully, I’ve picked up on that.

As is the case with the shorter version, Janet is based on a girl I knew at PCC.

The Russian Miracle

By Richard Zowie

I sat at the dinner table, nervously taking sips of water, oblivious of how horrible the tap water tasted. Across from me sat Janet. She wore a blue dress. I never pictured her as the makeup type, but now she wore bright red lipstick. She smiled, but seemed nervous, as if late for an urgent appointment. Her long, curly, dark-blond hair, normally pulled up, cascaded down well past her shoulders. Every so often, Janet would absently brush away the locks when they’d get too close to her face.

My attempts at conversation resulted in short answers:

“What does your Dad do for a living?” I asked.

“He’s a pastor.” Hearing her say this made me cringe. My Dad’s a mechanic whose last visit into a church was when my older sister, Kimberly, got married back in 1984. No pastor would ever consider me fit to marry his daughter.

Janet didn’t ask me what my Dad did.

“Where did you grow up?”

“Pennsylvania,” she replied, her bright sapphire blue eyes darting briefly at mine and then away, as though she’d rather be back in the Keystone State.

“I grew up in Los Patos,” I said. Los Patos, where South Texas University is located, was built around a large lake. They say the settlers who first came there called their new town “Los Patos” because of all the ducks swimming in the lake. Duck, in Spanish, is pato.

Even long before our food arrived (she ordered a Cobb salad while I ordered spaghetti and meatballs), I could see this was going to be a “mercy date.” A beautiful girl goes out with a geeky guy out of pity, hoping he’ll get the hint and not ask again. Most of the time it works but some friends of mine are as oblivious as they are intelligent, so it takes a friendly-but-terse “I just want to be friends” for the guy to get the message. And then the guy spends a month or so acting depressed unless one his friends talks him into guzzling a few Tequila Sunrises at a local bar.

As I asked her a few more casual questions, I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment. The problem was, I really thought Janet was The One. Janet was beautiful. Very beautiful. Janet also wasn’t too heavy or too thin. When she smiled, dimples appeared on her cheeks. She was about 5’3″ with those blue eyes that were so easy to get hypnotized by. I had to work hard not to stare into those caring eyes too long or I’d get real nervous and start acting goofy–something I often do when I’m around a pretty girl.

I first met Janet three years ago at the Baptist Student Union. She was a Christian and a Baptist, like me, which wasn’t very easy to find at STU. I’d often see her in the student union reading her Bible, praying and talking with others as she shared her faith. With her smile and with her godly ways it was easy to fall in love with her even without getting to know her very well.

A few months after meeting Janet, I asked her out. “I like somebody else,” she replied, putting me into a depression that lasted the rest of that month. I tried to avoid going to the BSU during that time. I let things go for a while, only to see her a year later wearing a large gold class ring on her right index finger. Its ruby stone seemed to mock me, as if saying, “HA ha! This girl’s mine! Get someone else.”

Finally, a few months ago, I noticed the ring gone from Janet’s finger. A quick glance on her left hand showed no engagement ring. A friend of mine, Monica, happened to be Janet’s acquaintance. Good news, Kevin! Monica told me. Janet broke up with her boyfriend from back home and isn’t dating anyone!

I waited those two months to ask Janet out, worried she’d realize I’d had Monica act as my private detective and be turned off. Janet accepted my invitation for a date, and we went to the Los Patos Diner, a restaurant on the north side of town where the rich families lived. It has an upscale feel but serves many types of cuisine. You don’t have to wear a tie to get in, but other patrons there look down on you if you don’t. So, to be on the safe side, I wore one despite the hot, dry South Texas climate.

As I sipped more water and tried to think of another question to ask, a young girl at the table next to us started groaning and holding her stomach. She started to cry and grabbed onto the table cloth, yanking at it as some painful spasm shot through her body. Her father’s glass of red wine tipped over, spilling onto his steak and forming a scarlet island around it. It also sprayed onto the white table cloth. Everyone in the restaurant gasped and turned towards them. After all, public commotions couldn’t possibly happen at such a nice restaurant.

The girl, who blond hair and blue eyes, was around 12 while her parents looked to be in their forties. She spoke to them, and I recognized the language as Russian (having remembered Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie White Nights) but didn’t understand anything. The girl kept crying, this time louder, as if someone had turned up the volume on the pain.

I looked at Janet, bewildered. That distant, vacant look was gone and was replaced by deep concern. “Do you know what’s going on?” she gasped, turning towards me.

“I don’t know, but it sounds like they’re speaking Russian,” I replied.

The father, mother and daughter all continued speaking frantic Russian. The daughter’s cries turned into thin, squeaky shrieks as she writhed in her chair and clutched her abdomen. The father looked around the restaurant and screamed something like, “Pa mosh nam! My-ya doch bolna!” over and over again.

Everybody stared, but nobody moved. Everyone looked concerned, but there was the language barrier. Even in the college town of Los Patos, you don’t find a lot of Russian speakers in South Texas. I wondered if these were tourists or visiting relatives of one of the Russian professors at STU.

Janet was about to get up, but before she could I was already over at the table, wondering if I could be of any help. “Can I help you, sir?” I asked, speaking slowly.

He looked at me, his eyes a pale blue, a smile of gratitude spreading across his round face. His sweaty bald head shined in the overhead lights. “Yes, yes, you can!” he said, speaking English in a Russian accent. “My daughter very sick. She said she have pain near her stomach but just to the right of it. She also say it hurt very badly.”

“It sounds like her appendix might be infected,” I said, remembering my nephew, when he was nine, had those exact same symptoms and needed an emergency appendectomy.

I pulled out my cell phone and dialled 911. “Would you like to call for an ambulance?”

“No, my friend,” he said. “Nobody else seem to understand me tonight.”

So I called and explained where I was and that a little girl needed to be rushed to the hospital. In five minutes an ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians took the little girl (whom I learned was named Svetlana) to the hospital. The father and mother, named Vladimir and Zhanna, thanked me continuously, their Russian accents growing thicker. The mother hugged me and briefly cut off my air supply. As they left, she said to me, “Doe svee don ya!”

Which, I guessed meant “goodbye.”

I went back to the dinner table where Janet was, sat in the chair and exhaled a deep sigh of relief. “That was a close one!” I said, shuddering and trying to make a joke out of it.

Janet stared at me, her mouth locked into a wide, shiny red O of surprise. “That was amazing, Kevin!” she said, a smile growing on her face. Her eyes were locked on mine. The minute she spent staring and smiling at me equaled the amount of attention she’d given me in the past few years, it seemed.

“I know,” I replied. “The little girl apparently has appendicitis, and they got her to a hospital. What amazes me is that nobody else in the restaurant seemed to understand–”

“I didn’t know you spoke Russian!” Janet interrupted. “Where did you learn it?”

“Learn it? What are you talking about?”

“You spoke a few minutes with that couple and it sounded to me like you were speaking Russian.”

“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “I don’t speak Russian. I grew up in Los Patos, and about the only foreign language you hear here–outside the college’s foreign language departments– is Spanish.”

“You’ve never been to Russia?”

“Never.” The only time I’d ever been outside America was to Matamoros, Mexico, to the markets. And there, it’s easy to find people who speak English.

“But I just heard you speaking Russian to that couple,” she said, smiling and pulling out a handkerchief from her purse to wipe away a few tears that had formed.

I started at her as she finished with her her handkerchief, looking for signs that maybe she was teasing me. “You said you heard me speak Russian?”

“Yes,” Janet said.

“Janet, the only foreign language I’ve ever studied in my life is Spanish. I don’t speak Russian. In fact, I couldn’t understand why everybody else in the restaurant seemed to be ignoring the father as he kept saying ‘Help us! My daughter is sick!’ over and over again.”

She shook her head. “Kevin, all I could hear is you speaking Russian. When you first spoke, I heard you say something like ‘Pa-moch’ and ‘doch’ and ‘bolna’.”

I later learned those words meant help, daughter and sick.

I shook my head. “Janet, I spoke English to them. As God as my witness, I don’t speak Russian.”

She stared me for a long time, a smile on her face. Monica told me once that Janet had this uncanny ability to read people and tell when they’re lying. But instead of getting nervous from her smile, I just stared back at her.

Finally, Janet said, “Well, it sounds like I just witnessed something out of the second chapter of Acts.”

“When Peter speaks in one language and people from many other countries hear him in their own language?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I can’t wait to tell my atheist roommate about this. She probably won’t believe me, but this could help to plant a seed.”

It turned into a nice date that night. I’m thinking of asking her out again.

© Copyright 2010 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.

Writer’s Digest My Story #20: Journalism is Dead

This is the 1,200-word or so version of the 730-ish version I sent to Writer’s Digest. In a few weeks, I’ll post the shorter one.

Journalism is Dead

By Richard Zowie

Kevin Ballard loved his job.

For the past six months he’d worked as a reporter for the Los Patos Star, a weekly publication in Los Patos, Texas (a town of about 15,000 and an hour’s drive south of San Antonio). Kevin carried two beats: the local schools and their sporting activities. That meant sitting in on school board meetings, talking to teachers, students and coaches and digging to discover what happens behind the scenes. Armed with his digital audio recorder, pens, notebook and modest digital camera (the paper was too small to afford the thousands of dollars needed to buy a camera that took great pictures that would’ve made Annie Leibovitz widen her eyes in professional admiration), Kevin did his best to write 10 or so stories a week. Sometimes he even got to write a column.

At first, he was nervous. Kevin wasn’t from Los Patos, and it was one of those Lone Star State towns where most of the longtime locals’ families went back not only to before the Civil War but even before 1836, when Texas gained its independence from Mexico. It could take years, if ever, for an outsider to gain trust and respect. Especially if it was someone like Kevin, who had subtly tried to shake his Michigan accent by changing his pronuncation of vowels, going from saying byalance to balance. When he wrote, he made sure he did so fairly and accurately. He always got both sides of the story.

There was that tense moment when the Los Patos School Board held an issue of teaching both evolution and intelligent design in the classroom. Representatives of the Texas State Board of Education were against it, as was the lawyer of the ACLU threatening lawsuit. Many parents and, of course, the local Christian clergy, supported it. The science teachers at the high school, the ones who would speak on the record, told Kevin they did not support the measure. The others supported it but wanted nothing to do with the debate, fearing it would cost them their jobs.

Wanting an intelligent design quote from a professional instead of just parents and clergy and pushing against the demands of his editor Joseph (who loved H.L. Mencken and the endless muckraking he did during the 1925 Scopes Trial), Kevin found a science professor at the local college, the University of South Texas, who was a proponent of intelligent design. Dr. Ellington, who always wore a white lab coat even when eating breakfast tacos in his office, flatly told Kevin that in his field of neurology, he couldn’t understand how anyone could blindly swallow Darwinism and believe the human body evolved out of “pure, dumb luck.”

Another Dr. Ellington quote became the article’s secondary headline: “‘The human body screams of intelligent design’, local science professor says.”

Kevin expected the worst, wondering what the editor and the public would say. When the calls came in, he was surprised. For the most part, even the state board rep and the ACLU lawyer thanked him for being impartial in his reporting.

That had been three months ago, and Kevin was preparing to send that story to the Texas Press Assocation in hopes of winning a prize that would look great on his resume.

At 3 p.m., he returned back to the Star office after having spent much of the day at the high school. A math teacher was resigning to open his own engineering firm, the football team’s star quarterback was about to break the town’s heart by signing a letter of intent with the University of Oklahoma and two sources told Kevin the high school was planning to start teaching Mandarin Chinese to go with its Spanish and German classes. Many parents, especially those who despise “Made in China” products, will not be happy, they warned him.

He sat, ready to scribe his notes and then call it a day when Joseph, the editor, called him into his office.

Kevin sat in the editor’s office and noticed Joseph closed the door, something he didn’t do unless there was something very private to be discussed.

Joseph sighed deeply and sat in his chair. Kevin could never tell what color Joe’s eyes were because Joe always had a strange habit of never making eye contact. He especially seemed evasive now, glancing at his desk, at the ceiling and at Kevin’s breast pocket. Opening up a drawer, Joe reached in and pulled out a long, folded rectangular piece of paper.

“Joe, I already received my paycheck today,” Kevin said.

“I know,” Joe replied, quietly. “This is your severance check.”

For what seemed like 10 minutes neither spoke. Kevin didn’t know what to say, and Joe twitched in his chair and constantly refolded his hands as he waited for Kevin to talk.

“I’m being fired?” Kevin finally asked, his voice hoarse. He’d already been laid off from four newspapers in the past two years .

“No. Laid off. We’re having to make cutbacks, and since you’ve been here the shortest, they’re letting you go. With two weeks of severance.”

“But…I thought I did a good job. In the six months I’ve been here, I’ve only had one error in my reporting and I get calls from people all the time saying they like my work.”

Joe nodded. “I know, Kevin, and I fought like hell to keep you here. I don’t like this either.” He paused and sighed again. “What I’m about to tell you stays between us. If you tell anyone I said it, I’ll deny it and won’t give you a letter of recommendation for your next job. Got it?”

“Yes.”

“Truth is, Kevin,” Joe said, still glancing at the walls, the door and at Kevin’s folded hands, “the company has this bullshit new business model where they save money by getting rid of higher-priced help and bringing in younger, cheaper talent. They’re looking to hire some kid straight out of college who will work for about five dollars an hour cheaper than what you will. I’ve seen this kid’s work, and, to be honest, he can’t write worth shit.”

Kevin Ballard cleaned out his desk, deleted any unnecessary files, e-mailed his best photos and stories to a private e-mail account and drove home. Before he left the driveway of the newspaper, he called his wife and told her the news. She sounded too shocked to be angry. He deposited the check and drove, wondering how they’d pay the rent, their utilities and where the next job would come from. He’d been laid off three times in the past five years, all for the same reason: cutbacks.

Half an hour later, when he arrived home, he expected his wife to give him a hug and tell him everything was going to be fine, as she’d done before. This time, she handed him a sheet of paper that contained the names of institutes with medical professional careers like pharmacy assistant, front office assistant and x-ray technician.

“All of these jobs pay great, and the medical field’s in high demand,” Sarah told her husband. “Sweetie, I know you love to write, but let’s face it: journalism’s dead. We can’t live like this anymore.”

As Kevin called, he knew his writing career for the time being would consist of one thing: blogging.