FAREWELL OCTOBER – Marilyn Armstrong

END OF THE AUTUMN – ANOTHER YEAR PASSES

It’s the last day of October and most of the trees are bare. It has been raining all week and last night’s wind and rain finally finished off the trees. So, in this vintage version of the old Inn around the corner, we say gooodbye and hope that winter is more kindly this year.

Photo by Garry Armstrong, processing by Marilyn Armstrong.

The 1700s Inn at at the end of our road. It has been added to, but the basic building remains. Until recently, it was a restaurant. Maybe it will be again.

WHO SAID LIFE IS FAIR? – Marilyn Armstrong

With shock and grief, I hear the wailing of betrayed youth. They have made the awfulest Big Discovery.


Life is unfair.


You work hard, perform brilliantly yet wind up bruised and forgotten. Then again, you might find yourself famous, rich, and covered with honors. It’s not cause and effect, though we like to think it is … until the economy, health, or other people betray those beliefs.

The younger me knew — with 100% certainty — that work, talent, ambition and determination were magic. The older me learned you can do everything right, follow all the rules and then some, and it still doesn’t work out.

bankruptcy

I did it all. I worked hard and with more than due diligence. I smiled when I wanted to snarl to keep that critical positive attitude. I was creative. I gave it my all.

I did okay, but while I worked hard and put in overtime, I watched the suck-ups, second-raters, and those who worked cheaper if not better, move past me. I came in early and stayed late while they went to meetings and took long lunches. If I’d gone to more meetings, would that have changed the outcome?

Somehow, I doubt it. I can’t be someone I’m not, though I sure did try. It’s out of my hands. I’m a passenger on this bus and it’s a long ride ahead of me (I hope).

Former belief: Play by The Rules, give it your all. You are bound to “make it.”

Current belief: Do the best you can and hope for a bit of luck and a boss who really likes you. Oh, and a company that won’t go bankrupt before you get paid. If not, enjoy life. It’s the only one you’ve got.

We tell our kids if they do it all right they will get that pot of gold. We don’t tell them that work sucks. Most of their bosses will be morons who know less than they do and have less talent.

But we also were right. They will earn a reward: the satisfaction of knowing they did their best. It’s a big reward. Everyone can count on it and no one can take away.

We have to try. If we succeed and for a while, we get a piece of the good stuff, at least enough to feel it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s great. For some, it just doesn’t happen. Bad luck? Wrong attitude? Crappy economy? Not quite enough talent?

And you have to know that trying may not be enough. You also need talent and luck and good timing.

Sometimes, you need a better agent.

I no longer believe in inevitable triumph. There’s always a chance you’ll make it to the top and it’s fantastic if the magic works. For me, realism has replaced optimism. Everyone’s best achievement is living up to our best self. If this also turns into a success, I’ll wear your t-shirt. If not, this is an achievement no one can ruin. You can’t control the world, but you can control yourself.

Life’s a roller coaster. You’re up and then you’re down. Screaming, crying, laughing … you go where the rails take you. Life will surprise you and sometimes a loss becomes a winner and will give you moments of unimagined joy.

Rejoice when times are good, but if you must, cope with the darkness. You can learn a lot in the dark.

WHOLE BODY HEALTH: I KNEW IT! – Marilyn Armstrong

I was sure that the damage to my heart was related to the drugs they gave me for cancer which had been dealt with just four years earlier.

Tonight, on CBS News, they are finding a direct link between breast cancer and cardiomyopathy. The wrong chemo, an incorrect amount of radiation, the wrong drugs and what has kept them from making the connection before was that the heart damage often doesn’t show up for years following cancer … as long as a decade. My time was 4 years.

I had been saying to other people I know who are having heart issues … specifically myopathy … involving damaged valves and thickened ventricle walls which make pumping more (and more) inefficient who also — earlier — had cancer. Asking them if they think the treatment they got for cancer may have been the starting point for their heart issues. The answer is a long pause and “I don’t know. I always wonder about that.”

I have always said that the problem is that we are not pieces that you put together like a jigsaw puzzle. Everything is connected to everything else. I’m sure of it and no, I don’t have statistics to prove it. It takes dozens of years for these stats to finally be proven, but you know. You are just sure, but you’re not a medical professional and you don’t have the facilities to run the tests.

I did put the idea to my oncologist and all three of my cardiologists. While no one would confirm my feeling that these issues were not separated, they were also unwilling to tell me “no way, can’t happen.” Because they see how many people who have previously had cancer show up with cardiomyopathy. You don’t necessarily need years of testing to spot a trend.

Meanwhile, as more of us sense the increasing tendency of the medical community to use smaller specialization, the rest of us are sensing this approach is inconsistent with reality as we feel it.

I have been saying for a long time that there aren’t a lot of things wrong with me. There’s one thing and all these other issues are merely a part of a much bigger picture.

I can’t prove it, but I believe it. Doctors need to look at us as a unit. They need to look at all of our working parts. Not just look at our hips without making sure the spine is functioning. To not look at one’s hands without understanding how the wrist is coping or for that matter, the shoulder and elbow.

It is incredibly frustrating to know in your gut that there’s something important happening in your body, but no one is LOOKING at your whole body.

SHARING MY WORLD – OCTOBER’S END AND WINTER BEGINS – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – and a Happy Halloween!

Questions:

Where’s the line between respectful disagreement and being downright mean (bullying) to someone?

There’s no official line, but I think you know it when you hear it.

Would you prefer to live in a world where alcohol was free or where politicians were honest?

Aw, c’mon. I don’t even drink.

What’s one habit you have that your family or friends think is rather childish?

Staying up all night reading a book. I’ve never managed to entirely break the habit, but I’m not allowed to complain how tired I am the next day. I made the decision, I bear the consequences.

Would you rather go to a big party and rub shoulders with the rich and famous or go to an amazing quiet Garden that hardly anyone has ever visited?

Ironically, because of Garry’s job, I’ve gone to a lot of rich and famous parties and pretty much all of them were expensive (you had to get clothing, right?) and when you got there, dull. Almost ANYTHING, including watching old TV shows, has got to be more exciting. A quiet garden sounds fine. Maybe with a bit of background music, too.


Halloween Question:    What do you think of the idea of “trick or treat or money for a charity” as a way of making Halloween more useful?

Nice idea. I don’t think it would really work, but it’s always worth a try.

SYWSkeletalHand

MASSED SQUIRRELS ATTACK RURAL HOME SLAUGHTERING RETIREE – Marilyn Armstrong

Gazing out of her bedroom window, she nothing that each feeder had two or three squirrels clinging to it and there were more of them on the deck and on the railing.

“This,” she said to herself, “Is ridiculous. How many of them ARE there?” She opened the window and yelled out the window, but the squirrels ignored her. They didn’t even twitch a tail.

So, barefoot and lacking eyeglasses, she trundled to the kitchen, opened the back door and yelled at the squirrels. There was a wild reaction as squirrels appeared from behind the rails, under the rails, under the deck, on and atop the feeders … and it turns out there were half a dozen chipmunks there, too.

One big one, the biggest, fattest, most hostile of the squirrel gang stood his ground. She finally opened the door and tried pushing him off the railing. That was when the cadre of apparently karate-trained squirrels came at her from every direction.

Only white bones were left on the deck, left for the sun to whiten and the heat of next summer to bleach. Alas, there will be no one to contract with the gutter installers on Friday.

The manager has been consumed by squirrels.

GREEN GREEN, IT’S GREEN THEY SAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Green

Memories of summertime along the river. And now that autumn is ending, the next color will be white!

Green trees and reflections of green in the river

Quietly afloat down the river – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Summer by the Blackstone

A bright green day for the grazing cattle

Green by the bridge

Za’atar!

NEWS ANCHORING: LOOKING INSIDE – Garry Armstrong

The handsome guy who sits at the main newsdesk on your television newscast is more than a guy who just sits and reads. He delivers the script, knows when to pass the baton to a reporter, live or on tape. In the old days, he was the “anchorman” because no one could imagine a woman doing the job. Given the recent discoveries about what a lot of anchors were doing in their “spare” time, there are suddenly a lot of women at the anchor desk.

Make no mistake: they aren’t “anchorwomen.” They are anchors. They pull the news broadcast into a coherent whole and make sure all the pieces show up in the right spot during the broadcast.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. A very big deal. Most reporters would love to be anchors, but don’t have the talent. I was one of them.

Edward R. Murrow

The title of this piece perhaps should thus be News Anchoring. Doing the job. It may be something of a revelation for those who have no idea what it’s like working inside a newsroom. Maybe if you watched “Newsroom” (Jeff Daniels) you have a bit of an idea … but the real deal is a lot more intense.

Walter Cronkite

Plans go awry. News happens while you’re already in the middle of a broadcast and the crew and anchor need to be ready to ditch all the planned material and cover a live event. As in “it’s happening right now.”

Dianne Sawyer

News anchors were really the first television celebrities and stars, both nationally and locally.  You saw them every day and every evening. They were the voices of truth. They told you what was happening in the world, the nation, your state, and your neighborhood. The promotional blurbs assured you that they were giving you. “the straight truth.”

Chet Huntley and David Brinkley

Depending on your age, you may remember Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds, Douglas Edwards, and Harry Reasoner, just to name a few of the many famous faces who held down the network anchor desks in TV’s early formative years.

Dan Rather

You probably have clear memories of the folks who anchored your favorite newscasts. They were smooth and believable. For years, Walter Cronkite was regarded as “The most believable person in the United States.” I think maybe the world.  Political leaders, even Presidents wanted Cronkite’s trust.

John Chancellor

As a young newsie, I thought anchoring was top of the hill in “the news biz.” It looked easy. You just sat there and read the news. A piece of cake, I thought.

Leslie Stahl

I didn’t have much TV experience at the time I made that evaluation of news anchoring. I was still a 20-something with a future of rapid advancement from college, to local news, to ABC Radio Network in 1967.

Norah O’Donnell

My first assignments at ABC were strictly low level, grunt stuff, even though my first day on the job was also the first day of the Middle East 6-day war. Talk about being thrown into the pit!

Peter Jennings

I had to receive incoming phone reports from correspondents around the world and transcribe them — verbatim — for our in-house reporters. Step two was producing and editing copy for those reporters. This gave me more of a hands-on look at the work of the “talent” as on-air reporters and anchors were known.

It still looked easy although some of the scripts needed work. That was my job. I absorbed the good and bad of news-writing quickly. Network reporters were under tremendous pressure to collect the information, write their scripts, then dash into the studio for their broadcasts.

Lester Holt

From my “outside” view, it still looked easy. The movie “Broadcast News” shows more of this.

My few network TV jobs didn’t test me. I was the grunt, filling in for the veteran reporters. These jobs were filmed and I made no live appearances.  Taped was a whole different experience from doing the same material live. It still looked easy.

My brief tenure with a small Hartford TV station provided experience with cameras. I wrote half-hour news scripts and co-anchored with my boss — the other guy in the small newsroom.

This was late 1969. We had teleprompters. They seemed easy to use. Just read the script as it appears. Look at the prompter, read and only rarely look down at the script. No one said anything except “Good work, kid.”  Piece of cake, right?

Fast forward to Channel 7 in Boston, my first “major market” television gig. It was 1970 and I was one of a very few minorities (nonwhite) faces on Boston’s TV stations.

For many years, channel 7 was regarded as the “also-ran” station among the “big 3” TV stations network affiliates in Boston. The others were channel 4 (WBZ) and channel 5 (WCVB today,  but back then, it was WHDH — which later became the letters for channel 7). It’s easier to remember the numbers!

Channel 5 was the most prominent local affiliate and had the best-known news personalities working there.  Channel 7, an RKO-General affiliate was mostly known for running old movies in prime time.

Channel 7 wanted to get into the battle for news viewership and gain some critical respect. Talk about opportunity and timing. I came through the door at exactly the right time. A reporter of color who looked okay and spoke well. Almost immediately, I was given good assignments and received a lot of air time. I loved it. Like the Edward G. Robinson movie villain, “Johnny Rocco,” I wanted more.

I wanted to become an anchor.

No problem. Channels 4 and 5 already had morning newscasts. It was the dawning of popularity for morning news shows while Channel 7 had “Sunrise Semester” reruns.

After some huddling, channel 7 decided to join in the morning news fray with “Daybreak.”  They needed two young, strong personalities to counter the established anchors at the other stations. I don’t recall if there was much newsroom politicking for channel 7’s new show. The veteran reporters, as I recall, turned their noses up at the project. The hours were ghastly. Moreover, it seemed unlikely to have a chance against the other well-established morning news shows.

Garry Armstrong

I don’t think there was any celebration when channel 7 announced that “Daybreak” would be co-anchored by two of it’s new “exciting young talents,” Steve Sheppard and Garry Armstrong.  There was some newsroom jabber about “ebony and ivory,” which was not complimentary.

There was a divide in those days between veteran reporters and “the kids.” as we were known.  We were hungry for success. The vets didn’t want anyone to stir their soup with new ingredients.

Steve and I were excited about “Daybreak” and what it might mean for us. Yes, we were bright-eyed and bubbling with enthusiasm as we did our first shows. Steve had a nervous habit of tapping his toes throughout the newscast. I used to fiddle with the contact lenses I was wearing for the first time.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience. The contacts would slip. Everything would go blurry as I read. I’d squint, tear up and plod on. The contacts would invariably fall out and I’d frantically hunt for them during commercial breaks. Steve Sheppard, covering for me, would move on with the script as we came out of commercials.

After I got the contact lenses under control, I had a new, unexpected problem. We finally got teleprompters. At first, we were enthusiastic. We could finally look like real network anchors.

We could just stare into the camera and, occasionally, look down at our copy and back up to the camera. Steve did it very well. I didn’t. I kept getting lost. Almost every time I looked down at my copy, I would lose my place when I returned to the teleprompter.

I was awkward and clumsy. Not smooth.

I was angry with myself. It had always looked so easy. A piece of cake. I used to practice with the teleprompter between shows. Techs would set me up, give me suggestions and I’d practice. Nope. An assistant director who became a director and later a long-time friend tried his best to guide me through the nuances of the prompter schtick. I had a few decent shows but in the end, I welcomed being “reassigned” to field reporting.

I accepted the “too bad” consolation from co-workers but knew I was not going to be an anchor. It was not a piece of cake after all.

The late Tom Ellis was one of the best TV News Anchors Boston has ever had. Tom was almost a cult figure during Boston’s golden age of broadcasting. The native Texan had a fresh, engaging way of anchoring.  He didn’t seem to be reading. It was more as if he was talking to viewers, sharing the grim “if it bleeds it leads” stories as well as the feel-good features.

“Texas Tom” as he was known, riveted your attention and held you as he delivered the news. I always admired his style and understood he was doing what I couldn’t do — and doing it very well.

Years later, Tom and I became colleagues when he joined Channel 7 as its prime time anchor. He brought that same “Texas Tom” expertise to our floundering newscasts as he had for the competing stations. Tom was even nicer off-camera than on camera. Ironically, he sought my advice on reporting which I gladly shared.

In retirement, our friendship deepened. Tom laughed when I told him about my anchor aspirations, as well as my opportunity, and ultimate demise.  He chuckled, “Garry, it ain’t as easy as it looks.   I sighed and smiled.

These days, I look at the current generation of TV news anchors. I have my likes and dislikes. However, I have a deep appreciation for their job.  It is even more complex with the addition of new software applications they have to smoothly blend into their delivery along with the teleprompter and script.

No, pilgrim, it’s not a piece of cake.