A bit about … me

This isn’t meant to be a confessional, nor is it intended to be a place where I casually reveal secrets. Those deserving of any secrets I bear already regularly receive them.

But before we can have any kind of meaningful discussion, and I’d like for this to be a place where meaningful discussion happens, it’s fair to talk a bit about who I am, at least at a basic level.

There’s a public persona that I regularly adopt, a sort of “gee-willikers!” kinda fella who’s designed, more or less, to disarm. I like people to feel comfortable with me when I interview them, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that.

Those of you on Facebook with me get “Geek Brian” with both barrels. That’s the second public layer of personality, and one that I enjoy sharing with people.

There are other masks, worn or discarded, as needed. Think about it a bit, and I’m certain you’ll find many you wear, as well.

And then, there’s the Brian of His Most Private Thoughts. Most people never get there, and that’s not going to change today, I’m afraid. Or even tomorrow. But here we can establish a bit of foundation for whatever comes from this point.

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I was born February 24, 1972, in Wichita Falls, Texas, at a military hospital. My dad was in the Air Force for a brief stint, a place where he found and fostered a love of photography that he would carry all of his life. I was a bit premature, and I bear a number of health issues that probably have their origin in that fact.

We lived, briefly, in Lubbock then moved for a short time to California before returning to Texas.  We came back “home” around the time I turned three, my family briefly living with my maternal grandparents in Coleman before establishing its own, permanent home there.

My parents grew up largely in this part of West Texas, though my Dad wasn’t from here initially. Born in Indiana, he moved with his family to Lawn, Texas, at the age of five. Mom was born in El Paso, on the day a UFO was seen hovering overhead. Later, my dad would often kid her about this, claiming it explained a lot. Maybe it does. I’ve always felt a little bit alien.

I went to school in Coleman all of my growing-up years, attending the same Baptist church for the majority of that time. In a town of 5,000 people and 23 churches, where you go to church is as much a part of your identity as anything, and there wasn’t much cross-pollination, as I recall, between “brands.” On occasion we First Baptist folks might visit our Catholic neighbors across the street when they had one of their famous enchilada dinners, but that was the end of ecumenical discourse.

I was not one of the popular kids. Growing up in a town of 5,000 people also means that everyone knows you  – and that everyone has decided who you are, with or without your input, by the time you’re 10 or so.

I spent my time in Coleman doing well in school grade-wise, being largely ignored by the fairer sex and getting regularly pummeled, at least verbally, by an endless sea of hometown heroes and would-be gridiron champions. I came into this world with the speed and coordination of your average sea slug, a detriment in a place where athleticism tended to be venerated above intellect. The cliche about the kid who’s always picked last for sports? No cliche here. I remember accidentally catching a fly ball during one of the interminable softball games we had to play in fourth grade physical education. It was regarded by the wide-eyed witnesses as some sort of damned miracle.

In short, I had the same experience I bet a lot of other people had in high school, the kind of experience that keeps one from willingly attending high school reunions. Judie and I have been discussing our high school experiences a lot lately, and I’ve decided mine probably deserves a separate posting, especially in light of some things going on in her niece’s life right now.

I wouldn’t say growing up was all bad. I met some people in Coleman who are still my friends today: the real kind, the bullet-taking kind. I found several people who served as mentors, from teachers to neighbors, that I still regard as key in my development.

But growing up where (and to some extent, how) I did mean that I was a fairly solitary sort, and in my desperation for something to do, I found the local library. More than anything, it was books that saved my sanity.

I can remember the first time I went to Coleman Public Library. It had not yet moved to its eventual, now-permanent home on main street, its holdings instead being ensconced in a tiny brick building next to the courthouse. In those cramped shelves, among dusty and forgotten stacks, I found salvation.

I can still recall the very first set of books I checked out: A book on ghosts and ghost stories, a book on the supposed lost continent of Atlantis, a book about UFOs, and a collection of Peanuts cartoons. I was already a fan of Snoopy and the gang, but the others …

Well, I remember thinking Atlantis was silly. My verdict was (and is) still out on UFOs. But the book on ghosts — now that, for whatever reason, was something. 

I read the book. I read it again. Later, I checked it out a few more times. Believe it or not, a few years ago I tracked down a copy on eBay. It was that important.

I had always suspected that there was some sort of unseen world. I’d had several weird experiences as a kid (preludes to weird experiences as an adult) that predisposed me to believe in some sort of supernatural realm. For some reason, this book on ghosts, with its garish illustrations, barely-cited “factboxes” and hodgepodge of collected lore and photographs attracted me like no other book of my then-current acquaintance. It transformed me, opened me up to new possibilities. The book, in retrospect, is fairly balanced, showing both fakery (and how to detect it) and anomalous items and accounts that still defy easy explanation.

Thus began a lifelong hobby of studying the lore of the supernatural, much to the concern of my parents, a variety of youth ministers, and several teachers. I attempt to not be credulous in such matters, and there’s much out there that can — and should — be debunked and put to rest. But still, there are manifold accounts that remain compelling, and the Internet provides folks interested in such with a plethora of stories worth reading and topics worth exploring.

Enough of that.

I got into journalism  somewhat by accident, somewhat by blood. My father became a freelance photographer in his spare time, and he often shot football games for the Reporter-News and the Brownwood Bulletin. I would go with him at times, and I remember many a late night run to the Bulletin, especially, from Coleman. He would drop off his film, and there were a few times I went inside. I was fascinated by the presses, the reporters I met, the idea of putting out a newspaper day-to-day.

So I started reading the three newspapers we subscribed to — the Abilene Reporter-News, the Coleman Chronicle & Democrat-Voice (no, really), and the Brownwood Bulletin, at a fairly young age, partially because of the occasional current event assignment growing up but mostly because I thought it was interesting. And it was something else to read, another way to learn.

My respect for the craft aside, I had not intended to go to college to study journalism. My first degree (I have two) was in English. I worked on the college paper as a hobby, more or less.

It wasn’t until I started tallying my class hours that I realized I could pretty easily snag an “extra” journalism degree with just a few alterations to my schedule. I did so, and more or less accidentally found what would become my career.

School ended. I graduated in three-and-a-half years with two degrees, one in English, the other in Journalism. One qualified me to ask people if they wanted fries with their order, the other qualified me to ask people annoyingly pointed questions and then write down what they said. I picked the latter over the former. Sometimes I still wish that I had continued on with my original plan of becoming an English professor, but I don’t agonize over that much anymore.

Anyway, I needed a job, and it was sort of strange how I found one.

In my final days as a college student, I happened across a posting on the journalism department cork board. It offered a chance to work in glorious Stephenville, Texas, for the small daily newspaper there. Having no other prospects, I applied for the job. I graduated Dec. 17, 2000, and I started my job at the Empire-Tribune Dec. 20.

I worked at the Tribune for a year and a half. While I was there I wrote stories, shot my own photography, and even did page design. Pretty much everything. I remember writing seven stories in a day once, and I regularly worked from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. (no typo there) just to get things done.

The Tribune had a small staff, but I still remember most them fondly, from a sports editor with a genuine gift for profanity to a couple of early mentors with fascinating life stories of their own.

Barbara Lancaster, in particular, probably deserves her own blog entry at some point, but she was an amazing lady. She’d lived all over the world through her husband’s military career and had worked at newspapers the whole time. Barbie was the sort that — if she found herself in, say, Japan — would teach herself Japanese so that she could write for the local audience (among the many amazing things she actually did in a long, varied career). She was in her 80s when I met her, but was still passionate about journalism and an important link to the Abilene Reporter-News, where I’ve worked now for almost 17 years.

I learned a lot while at the Tribune, but I wanted a change. Barbie, who freelanced for the ARN in addition to work she did for the E-T, told me there was an opening in Abilene for a police writer. My first day at the ARN was April 24, 1995, the police beat the first of many, many roles I’ve had here.

I never planned to stay in Abilene as long as I have. I had originally intended to stick around a couple of years, then move on. I kicked around the idea of graduate school, etc. But then my dad got diagnosed with cancer shortly after I arrived. After an extended, five-year battle with the disease, he died in March of 2000. (Again, that probably will get its own entry — maybe more than one — in time.)

The same year Dad died, I met Judie. What can I say about that? Finding her has been the most deeply important experience of my life. Do we get along perfectly? Who does? Can I imagine my a day without her?

No.

There are plenty of frustrations in my day-to-day life. I work in a field that, to be perfectly honest, is remarkably unstable. The future of the sort of writing and reporting I do is in question, and I don’t think anyone in the business would disagree. I’ve considered changing careers from time to time, but I do enjoy the service I provide to the community and the idea of starting over while pushing 40 scares me. This is literally all I’ve ever done for a living.

A great partner, good friends and some fun hobbies — board, card and role-playing games, video and computer gaming, reading, composing the occasional song, studying numerous topics — help me cope with the day-to-day stress of work, finances, etc.

I’ve always had an abiding interest in science, so I try to keep up with what’s going on in that world, at least as far as my limited training in such matters allows. I’m particularly into astronomy, and Judie and I can bore you with dozens of details about every major constellation and star in the sky. :D I study the history of religion fairly extensively, and also delve deeply into the world of mythology. I particularly venerate Carl Gustav Jung and Joseph Campbell for their work in understanding the human psyche and how mythological themes shape all of our lives. And I’m a font of useless (and at times, not-so-useless) knowledge on all things strange, mysterious and otherworldly.

I’m an unapologetic devotee of the dark fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Otherwise, if I’m reading purely for pleasure, I tend to love genre fiction — fantasy, sci-fi, slipstream, etc. I’ll read the occasional popular novel to see what all the fuss is about, but I’m usually disappointed.

I love movies, too, and I pride myself on the number that I’ve seen. I’ll admit a weakness for horror, but I prefer the (generally) more cerebral ghost story to the more common slasher flick. Film is an area in which I roam fairly free, and I’m a big fan of both foreign and domestic product. I’ve got a weakness for documentaries, largely because of my journalism background, but I love everything from contemporary drama to effects-laden flights of fancy. As I’m sure everyone has, I’ve even kicked around a few screenplay ideas in my day.

Of necessity, this has been fairly dry. (Almost) forty years of life is quite a stretch when you’re trying to summarize. But I hope it gives you at least a sketch of who I am, what I do, a bit about what I like, and a hint of some topics that might appear here.

Questions welcomed. Thanks for reading.

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3 Responses to A bit about … me

  1. Janis test says:

    Am really enjoying your blog, Brian. I knew you were a fan of libraries, but glad to have it confirmed here.

  2. Chris says:

    Just curious, are you the same Brian Bethel of the Black Eyed Kids story?

  3. S. Dalton says:

    May I encourage you to write about your interest in the unknown and any experiences you may have had. I also am a big fan of the supernatural and UFO stories and different documentaries on the subjects. There are a few good Podcasts on the subjects too. I’m sort of the opposite of what you think of the subjects. See, I am a believer in the UFO phenomenon, but for me, the jury’s still out on the idea of ghosts being real. Still, it is all very, very interesting.

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