Where I’m from

Graduate school at Drake University starts Monday. These days the professors issue assignments before a first class is held. I’ve got to read some executive summaries about climate volatility for a contemporary American literature class focused on post-apocolyptic novels. One of my education professors assigned a poem for our education methods class. The poem is supposed to be autobiographical in the style of Georgia Ella Lyon’sWhere I’m From.”

I thought I’d take a break from knee surgery and recovery updates and share with you my homework.

Where I’m From

By Daniel P. Finney

I come from

Secrets and mistakes

Heavy burdens chosen to carry,

Then given away to the

Crackling hellfire of good intentions.

I come from adoption by

A woman addicted to babies

With no use for children

And a man who just wanted sanity

For the bride whose joy faded decades before.

I come from madness

Innocence stolen by orange and white pills

Spilled from translucent bottles that

Wiped Mother’s memories of

Her constant cruel words and actions.

I come from escape from harsh reality with

Trips to Korea to serve with the 4077th,

On Rescue 51 with Roy and Johnny, and in

The TARDIS, with the Doctor, who

Saved the universe with a pretty girl and robot dog.

I come from a wire worm-infested red-brick ranch in

Madison County that smelled of what

Farmers call “money,” but is really

Hog shit or chicken shit depending

On which way the wind blew.

I come from weekdays

Construction paper cuts with

Betty Lou at the “House with the Magic Window;”

Learned why the man put the car in the oven

From a balsa wood puppet named Floppy.

I knew how to get, how to get t0

“Sesame Street” and walked

“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”

With peanut butter and grape jelly

On both breath and fingertips.

I come from Saturday mornings,

I ran with Road Runner,

Punched with Popeye and

Foiled the Legion of Doom

With the Super Friends.

I’m from Friday dinners at Knox Café

Fried chicken and and rainbow sherbet

Nervously devoured while desperately

Hoping to get home to in time to

See somebody make David Banner angry.

I come from comic books and movies where

Adventure awaits in every four-color panel

Onomatopoeia is defined in colorful splashes

Things blow up and Han shoots first, but

The good guys always win in the end.

I come from battles against the forces of evil

Fought with plastic heroes and villains

On the blue shag carpet of my bedroom.

Toys served as talismans meant to say

“I love you” when the adults could not.

I come from checkers games with

My Dad as his dying heart turned his

Skin gray and he warmed his hands on a

Cup of coffee while we talked about

Hawkeyes, history, and the promise of heaven.

I come from Little League baseball diamond

Dirt rubbed into bare hands, step into the box

And pray for a walk because I was

Afraid of the ball and only in it for

The free cap, comradery, and concessions.

I come from funerals

Parents gone before I was 15;

Dad from a sick heart and Mother from a fall downstairs.

Sometimes the good guys don’t win and

Nobody gets out alive.

I come from romances that fail

When the chemistry of lust and love fades and

The negotiations and compromises begin.

Still, I remember a gentle kiss at the door after the dance,

And misty eyes whenever “Lady in Red” plays on the radio.

I come from second chances made

Corporal by an east-side hairdresser and

Her husband, the printer, who

Couldn’t have their own children,

But chose to love a second-hand son.

I come from mental health care;

Two salmon colored pills in the morning with

Three whites at night and a

cocktail of behavioral therapy to

help me be me despite brain chemistry malfunctions.

I come from feelings projected onto food and

Devoured in great gulps, wearing trauma in

Pounds of flesh hanging from my body for all to

See, judge, point, whisper, and mock while

I manage with my doctors, therapist, and cane.

I come from newspapers.

Box scores, agate type, Sunday color comics,

Picas, pixels, paragraphs, and inverted pyramids.

To seek and publish truth and

Defend democracy.

I come from timid knocks on the

Doors of strangers who

Suffered terrible loss and stumbled into the news

And I stood on their stoop begging them

To tell me their stories.

I come from short sentences with

Specific nouns and action verbs,

Creativity and accuracy with the

Clock running, racing toward deadline

before those mighty presses rolled.

I come from the end days of journalism like

Living in a hospice without a morphine drip.

A middle-aged veteran reporter runs like an

Endangered species actively hunted, finally skewered

By layoffs served by greedy corporate hustlers.

I come resilience and hope that

I can rebuild my life and purpose to

Trade the pilcrow blues for the head of the class.

Help the young find their voices, sling their sentences

Stack their paragraphs, keep moving forward.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Dear Jon from Alaska, F— off.

Jon from Alaska comments on one of my recent columns about my troubles with Iowa’s unemployment office:

“You could get a job. Just a thought.”

First, fuck off, Jon. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Let’s keep it that way.

I can say things like that now. I don’t work for media companies and probably never will. I don’t have to pretend every troll’s eyeballs are sacred to my survival.

So, again, fuck off, Jon from Alaska.

But let’s consider Jon from Alaska’s suggestion that I get a job.

I apply for at least two jobs every week just to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The problem is that between 1990 and 2020, half of all journalism jobs were eliminated by the greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund operators who systematically sacrificed news coverage in the name of the United States of America’s favorite deadly sin: Greed.

The skills I spent developing since I was 15 years old are no longer in demand.

There are job postings for writers, of course. But what they really want are webmasters with design skills who can turn every story viral and spell most of the words right. The craft I practiced is practically extinct.

There were pretty good signs this was going to happen when I was in college nearly 30 years ago.

The internet was a new and mesmerizing curiosity in 1995, when I was a junior at Drake University. Now even my 72-year-old parents have Facebook and email.

My dad used a computer for the last few years of his career as a printer. He sends texts with GIFs now.

That’s like being born in a well and later living on a space station.

There were signs journalism was doomed before AOL started giving away 500 free dialup hours on compact discs jammed in the mailbox each week.

The movie “Network” seemed like satire in 1976, with poor Howard Beal shouting, “I’m mad as HELL and I’m not going to take it ANYMORE.”

But Beal died for daring to speak too much truth.

If I showed that movie to my classroom, the kids would probably think it was a documentary.

So, Jon from Alaska, the best place for getting a job would be in journalism. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m good at.

But journalism is hardly practiced anymore by the remaining news outlets.

What you see in markets big and small is a kind of burglary passed off with a good cover story about being overwhelmed by changes in technology and babbling about social media.

I worked in St. Louis for a while. It didn’t go well. I was an asshole in a town where you could only be an asshole if you grew up there.

They had a saying about the old newspaper owner while I worked there.

Joe Pulitzer was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer II was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer III was a great art collector.

Pulitzer III’s widow sold off the paper to Lee Enterprises, an Iowa company.

This was a little bit like a guy who owned a few fishing boats buying a battleship. They both go on water and you can fall out and drown, but that’s where the similarities end.

Lots of people fell off the St. Louis paper and drown over the last 15 years. More will before it’s done.

Somewhere, a couple of bag men drop off a few more suitcases of $100s in unmarked, nonsensical bills at Lee executives’ houses.

The cases get lighter every year and so too does the payroll at the paper, which exists mostly to cover the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Eventually the suitcases will be reduced to some pocket change and whatever is left of the newspapers the corporations have wrecked, mostly used furniture, will be auctioned off.

Jon from Alaska is right. I should get a job. I’ve applied for a job at the local Gannett outlet store several times. They don’t bother to respond. That’s probably for the best.

After two layoffs in a dozen years, I’m beginning to think they’re serious about not wanting me around.

I wonder if they’ll even be around each other anymore. They’ve been out of the office since the pandemic started and they aren’t considering a return until fall.

This could be the moment Gannett says, “Do we really need an office?” They issue laptops and smartphones. They have instant messaging. Why bother paying rent for a combo fax machine and printer?

I digress.

I hate to disappoint Jon from Alaska. But I am trying to get a job.

I’m retraining in graduate school to become a teacher.

That’s right. I’m going from the beloved highly respected field of journalism to the carefree and lucrative field of public education.

When I write it down like that, I get that feeling the Coyote in Road Runner cartoons must get when he realizes there’s no ground beneath him, only a long fall to the desert bottom with a giant rock landing on his head.

So, sadly, Jon from Alaska, I’m going to need those state benefits for a minute.

Some folks would tell me not to bother with Jon from Alaska. He’s a troll. He’s beneath my contempt.

I disagree.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that the cruel things people — even strangers — say about us don’t hurt.

They do. They absolutely do.

We do a disservice to our emotional well-being to pretend we’re invulnerable to cruelties cast so casually at us by others.

Jon from Alaska’s snark did hurt my feelings. It made me mad enough to stack all these paragraphs.

But Jon from Alaska doesn’t define me.

I’m gonna fight for my benefits allowed.

I’m gonna fight for my career.

And, one more time, fuck off Jon from Alaska.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

The story of falling down: ‘It’s just a lot of shit right now, Bob’

The Rogers-Finney clan about 24 years ago, from the left, Bob Rogers, Joyce Rogers, and their second-hand son, Daniel Finney.

My right knee buckled and I fell off the back stoop to the driveway. Arthritis plagues my knees and lower back. Weather changes exacerbate the already maddening condition. My obesity makes it even worse.

The fall came at the end of a visit to the home of Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my first set of parents died.

Parents 2.0 are vaccinated. I’m half vaccinated, with the second shot to come early next month. We decided we’re comfortable visiting.

We ate lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad. Dessert was strawberry shortcake.

We chatted after dinner and we all took naps. Afternoon turned to early evening and I decided to go home. Mom 2.0 gave me a hug and plastic sack with a quart of homemade chili and a leftover piece of lasagna.

I stepped off the back step and something went wrong. I don’t know if I missed the step or seized up because of the pain in my right knee.

It felt as if I was falling down forever, caught between the moment I knew I was going to fall and the impact with the cold concrete driveway. The chili and lasagna took a flight. I landed on my left side.

My friend Megan Gogerty is trying to win a rolling skating contest by skating every day in 2021. She posts funny videos on Instagram about roller skating and reading “War and Peace.” Megan has diverse interests.

In a recent video, she mentioned that it’s better to fall on your side than your back or front. Maybe I had that in mind when I crashed, but I landed on my side. I don’t know if it hurt any less, but I walked away without any broken limbs. So, Megan, if you’re reading, thanks.

I rolled over on to my belly and then my right side. My right shoe had come off. This must be how turtles feel when they’re stuck on the back of their shell.

My parents came out to help me up. This embarrassed me. I’m 45 years old and weight more than a quarter ton. Here two 72-year-old people were trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

I rolled on to my belly, got one leg under me and kicked another one behind. My folks each wrapped their arms around arms.

They both have a pretty good grip, especially Dad 2.0. They raised me to my feet and quickly sat me down on the picnic table. Mom 2.0 collected the scattered leftovers sack and went inside to repackage them.

Dad 2.0 sat with me on the bench, his grip like a vice on my right arm.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

I knew he was asking about my physical condition. That’s not the question I answered.

The long virus year hurt us all in multiple ways. I lost my job. I lost two jobs. I was basically housebound for a year and my body suffered because of it. I was trying to get through school and become a teacher.

Some asshole stole my identity with algorithm and now I can’t get my unemployment check because the government leaders take six-figure salaries to make sure their offices make dealing with them as difficult as possible.

I’ve applied for rental assistance from the county. If things don’t work out soon with the unemployment office, I may be visiting food banks instead of Hy-Vee for groceries.

I could lash myself a billion times for every penny I wasted on comic books or treats instead of building up an emergency fund that everyone says you need and almost nobody does.

Nearly a year has passed since I was a practicing journalist. Most days I’m glad. I don’t want to go knocking on doors of the people who suffered tragedy to ask them to tell me their secrets anymore. I don’t want every paragraph I write to be subjected to the hideous system where my art is put on a spreadsheet and its value decided by how many people clicked on a goddamn link.

Yet, being away from the newsroom, as battered and empty as it was when they kicked me out, still burns. And that makes me angry.

I don’t want it to hurt that I got laid off by the one institution I ever wanted to work for, but it does. I know the place isn’t what it used to be, and it’s never been what I fantasized it would be.

But I always loved having my byline in the newspaper – even in the last few years, where I started to hate what our company had become.

They told us in college, way back in the early 1990s, that our generation would not work in one place. I was going to prove the exception and get a job at the local newspaper and worked there until I died.

It didn’t work out that way. The teachers were right. I was wrong. I don’t know why I’m still upset about it.

But in that moment, sitting on that bench with Dad 2.0 by my side, I felt more frightened and more vulnerable than I had at any point during these recent personal disasters.

I cried. Not much. But a tear in each eye that streaked down the cheek, hot on cool skin.

I know I have many blessings, Parents 2.0 chief among them. I have a handful of good friends who love me as I love them. I have shelter and TV and comic books and toys stacked floor to ceiling. I know I’m not the saddest case in the world. But that’s a fallacy of relative privation, the rhetorical concept that just because your problems aren’t the worst in the word does not mean they are not significant problems for you.

So, when my dad asked me if I was OK, I said: “It’s just a lot of shit, Bob.”

He still held my right arm. He looked at me through his bifocals and I could feel his sadness and worry.

“I know,” he said.

And we sat there together on the plank of the picnic bench, father and son, with the cold wind blowing across our faces on an early spring evening.

My mom joined us. I started to jabber about being a failure. She stopped me.

“It will work on,” my mom said. “It always has. It always will.”

I make a practice not to disagree with my mom. She’s right more than any of the teaches I ever had. They helped me stand and gathered my cane. They walked me out to my car and told me to be careful.

I thought again of my roller-skating friend, Megan. She recently wrote a lovely essay titled “A Reminder That This Is Impossible: And yet we’re doing it anyway.”

I find it best to avoid disagreements with Megan. She is right a lot, too.

My parents helped me to my feet. I leaned on my cane and waddled out to my car. I drove off to try and keep on keeping on in the age of impossible.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.