Because I wished to live deliberately


This morning, I walked down the sidewalk of my favorite street in America.

Home. Main Street, Cleveland, Oklahoma, USA.

I strolled down the sidewalk painted with tiger paws as I waved at friends through storefront windows. South Hill was in the distance — the cross lit up and the giant Stars and Stripes waving in the wind.

Nothing new about that scenery since I live here, except I was walking to work at the Cleveland American.

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Some things just make sense, right?

And small-town journalism always makes sense to me.

For at least the last 10 years or so, I have freelanced for my small-town weekly paper in addition to my job in the city. The newspaper’s publisher has tried for several years now to lure me away from the Tulsa World and Channel 6 to give the American a boost full-time.

I always put it off because the timing wasn’t quite right. 

Good thing timing always comes back around.

Processed with Snapseed.

When you have the choice to do anything or go anywhere you want, but you choose comfort and familiarity — that’s not a lack of courage. It’s an abundance of love.

I may be going from 400,000 people reading my words to 4,000, but that doesn’t matter a lick to me. I just want to do something that matters. I don’t say that to take away from any of the other opportunities I have been given over my career, because I truly have had the greatest platforms for amazing companies, and people I love and respect still work at those beacons of journalism.

But sometimes, something is so obvious to your own soul that you have to say a prayer and shout YES.

Working for a wonderful family I consider friends and passing lifelong acquaintances on the sidewalk every day is a huge positive. And for the first time in 20 years, I have weekends off, no swing shifts, and I won’t have to work around the clock during severe weather or while everyone else is enjoying holidays with their families. I will have a 9-5 life and get to spend more time with those I love. I now will be able to put in more time with the nonprofit I founded, blogging and making jewelry. I will get to experience life like folks with “normal” jobs get to do.

Most of all, I get to write stories I want to write, about the people and places that matter the most to me.

No morning pitch meetings in an attempt to be the one small-town story that gets reported in the evening news. No key demographics. No “hot zip codes.” No “Internet gold.” No sweeps. No story limits. No millions of other things on a checklist a day that take away from storytelling, which is what I love to do most.

Now it is just stories – long and short and happy and sad and silly and important. Community journalism is the only place you consistently can get that kind of coverage of a small town.

While they have their own strengths, TV newscasts are only 17 minutes, and big papers can’t cover every town in all 77 counties. It’s impossible.

Community papers are the backbone of the news pyramid. They are the ones documenting history in towns that don’t have stories sexy enough to draw attention from the bigger outfits. But those stories mean everything to the people who reside there and in towns like them.

I’ve freelanced for the American for a decade, stepping in to help when my schedule would allow. I’ve also done so when my schedule didn’t allow because I believed in the product and wanted to lend a hand. But now, it is my goal, as the new associate editor, to take a load off the publisher so he can focus on other areas of running the publication. As the publisher, he has many duties that go unnoticed if you aren’t in the business.

Sheila, Natasja and Caleb will continue offering instrumental support in the roles they have perfected over time. The place wouldn’t run without them. And I will do what I can to help pack the paper with more content every week.

In return, I hope you will see the added news and appreciate the effort by all of us. You can do that by renewing your subscription or picking up a copy at the store on a regular basis, or most of all, advertising your services. All those things ensure that the newspaper — the oldest business in Cleveland — will continue recording history and life as it unfolds in Pawnee County. While other outlets are important supplements that help us all be informed of the state, nation and world, no other entity except the Cleveland American will tell you about matters important to Cleveland, Oklahoma, just like a newspaper has been doing here since 1894.

Like when I worked in the city, I’ll still be writing about the kind of news that makes us cringe when we have to hear it (or when we have to report it). I’ll also keep records at city council meetings and school board meetings, watching your tax dollars at work. But I’ll be helping to make sure you know about the chili supper and the score to the big game. I’ll make sure your kid gets in the paper for making the honor roll and your grandma is mentioned for her 100th birthday. I’ll write features about the lives of people who make up our river valley – the farmers, ranchers, police officers, oil patch hands, nurses, business owners, clerks, mechanics, waitresses, moms, dads, retirees and veterans.

That means so much to me because those people comprise a town full of friends and neighbors I’ve known my entire life.

Those people are home. Those stories are home. And that feels really good.

And believe it or not, after five years in the TV world, it feels really good to have my shellac manicure stained with newspaper ink again, too.

While some might think a cityscape view is pretty unbeatable, I beg to differ. It’s beautiful in its own way, yes. But through my eyes, you can’t beat a small-town newspaper under your arm, walking down tiger paw sidewalks with a view of the cross and flag atop South Hill in Cleveland, America.

Home.

Because, like Thoreau, I wish to live deliberately.

 

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How a blonde wig saved me

From a very early age, I had hair that would make even D.J. Tanner swoon. My blonde mane was a Candace Cameron/Farrah Fawcett hybrid. I was a blonde Brooke Shields.

Well, maybe not. But I sure felt like it.

The women at church would ooh and ahh over its thickness. My friends would express their jealousy. The ladies’ restroom was always a spot where the good-natured hair envy flowed freely. Strangers in line behind me at the grocery store would ask to touch it. It was as if, in a crowded supermarket, my hair was the equivalent of a pregnant tummy. People would invade my personal, intimate space just to cop a feel, all in the name of compliments. My hair was shiny, wavy, thick and bouncy. It was the one thing my teen angst couldn’t deny. Self-esteem has always been clearly perched atop my head.

It was my badge of confidence. No matter how I felt about my naturally muscular thighs or the amount of concealer it took to cover that creepy vein under my right eye, I always had great hair to drown out the beauty critic who lives inside my soul.

My hair was everything to me.

Until I got sick. Until I started carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. Until the stress became too much. Until all my hair started falling out.

Until I had to buy a wig.

Now my badge of confidence is honey-blonde synthetic fibers, stamped with a Raquel Welch label.

I am still losing enough hair to make Donald Trump a toupee. Daily. Something had to be done. I needed a day of renewal in more than one sense: With my sick days making their way to the rearview mirror, my doctor finally released me to return to work. But I couldn’t interview people for the newspaper with hair that seemed to jump out of my head and onto anything in its path. Judi’s World of Wigs to the rescue. Except that day, the greatest loss to stare me in the face was not my formerly lustrous locks. It was when an executive at my company left a voicemail letting me know that I would not be welcomed back after my leave of absence.

He fired me.

My mission was altered just like that. I now had to find something to cover my sick, mangy-looking head because, for the first time in years, I was an out-of-work journalist who was hitting the job interview circuit in a bad economy. The economy doesn’t care if you’ve won any awards, gotten any scoops, or even if you are a friendly person with a reference letter from an ESPN news editor or a minister.

When I first walked into the wig shop, I was shaking all the way from my toes up to my bald spots. The woman at the counter looked like Flo from Mel’s Diner, which did very little to allay my fears. As she smiled and walked about the store, it became clear to me that Dennis Rodman would have looked less inconspicuous wearing the same strawberry-blonde short stack.

So I cried. I was convinced that buying a wig meant that I, too, would end up looking like I stepped off a cheap ’70s sitcom.

The first one I tried looked like a squirrel attached to my crown. Scratch that – it looked like a dead squirrel attached to my crown.

“Flo” saw me crying. She walked over and kneeled next to my beauty shop chair. She gave me an “It’s OK, Hon” pat on the back and, with a straight face, tried to calm the situation. Very gently and sweetly, she leaned in and whispered, “Can you tell I have on a wig?”

Crickets.

Um, ahem.

I put on my polite face and said, “You have on a wig?” She cackled and snorted and looked so proud, because she thought she was fooling everyone into believing it was real. So I laughed. My mother laughed. Everyone laughed. Flo thought she made me feel better about buying a wig, but really, she made me feel better about the entirety of the situation. Flo helped me realize that it was what it was, and I couldn’t do anything about it. In the darkest of times, laughter is God’s nectar.

After what seemed like 50 Eva Gabors and Raquel Welchs later, I found the one. It looked surprisingly similar to my own hair’s thickness, cut and color. So I did the only logical thing. I cried again.

For the first time in four months, my tears were those of joy and of healing.

Don’t underestimate the devastation of hair falling out. Sure, it will probably grow back to its former glory in a couple of years; I even have a few seedlings sprouting up. But for a woman – a young, vibrant, happy, single, career woman – hair loss is a tragedy worthy of a Daniel Defoe novel.

I’m convinced, thanks to Raquel Welch, that my new mass of curls will give me the strength to be a modern-day Robinson Crusoe. My life has been shipwrecked by illness and job loss and medical bills that have reached six figures. If the shoe fits…

But just like Defoe’s Crusoe, I’ll craft art out of mud. I’ll plant crops without a plow. I’ll find a way to build a house with only items I find in my wilderness.

My wig is already a good start on the foundation. It already has given me more comfort than I could have imagined. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to keep a photo of D.J. Tanner on the mirror, either.

Oh, and the world and its obstacles? Kiss. My. Grits. Because I have a head full of doubt, but I’ve also got a road full of promise.

“Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise”
Avett Brothers

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
And in the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

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Brandi Ball is now an unemployed journalist who is living and blogging in Oklahoma.

Email: brandiball.ok@gmail.com

Resume: https://www.linkedin.com/in/blball