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.
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Meet the guardian angel of my parking lot

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney, Des Moines, Iowa.

The acrid smell of hot tires filled the air, accompanied by the futile roar of my car’s engine and the squeal.

Once-white snow sullied by exhaust fumes and tire rubber sprayed the vehicles behind me in my apartment parking lot.

I rocked my body in the driver’s seat and the car joined my rhythms, but still the rear wheels failed to climb the pile of plowed snow that entombed my car in the space.

Nine inches of snow fell on the city overnight. I knew this trouble well. I bought my car, a 2012 Dodge Charger, because it looks cool.

And it does.

But it handles poorly on snow and ice, especially in the apartment parking lot where the plows clear the main paths but leave small mountains of snow behind the occupied spaces.

I was stuck.

I would be late to my new job that I still struggled to learn. Panic bubbled in my gut.

Then a young woman knocked on my door. She offered to push while I pounded the gas.

She appeared fit, but even the strongest of CrossFit athletes would be at a disadvantage pushing my two-ton car with my girth in the driver’s side.

I suggested she drive while I push. I leaned into the car with my hip, one of the few times my obesity helped. We freed the car in about three hard tries.

I thanked her.

“No problem,” she said.

I went on to work.

The snow melted and refroze over the next few days. A light snow fell one Sunday morning as I made mincing steps to my car.

A voice behind me said, “Did we need more of this?”

I didn’t look up, but grumbled, “No, definitely not.”

I biffed it on a patch of ice hidden by the light snow cover and crashed hard on my right side.

I stayed down for a minute. I wanted to assess if I had broken anything. I had not.

The ground was very slippery in a wide swath around me.

I managed to twist myself around to sit on my butt, but efforts to stand might have reminded observers of a Donald Duck cartoon.

Except one onlooker. I heard a familiar voice in my ear. It was the person who had walked out ahead of me toward the parking lot.

“Are you all right?” she said.

I looked up. It was the same young woman who helped get my car out of the snow a few days before.

She’s apparently been appointed my guardian angel.

“I’ve been better,” I said.

She offered a hand. I worried that my girth would pull her down. I slid over to my car.

I took her hand and used the car to steady myself. I was upright. I thanked her again.

“No problem,” she said.

“I never asked your name,” I said.

“Maddie,” she said.

Maddie, it turns out, is Maddie Smith, a rower on the Drake University Women’s Crew team.

I don’t know how many people would stop to help an obese man who fell on the ice or to push someone out of snow.

But Maddie Smith was there for me twice.

She is from Des Moines and a graduate of Dowling Catholic High School. She is a credit to her faith, family and herself.

We talk a lot about how terrible everything is in the world. This story doesn’t make those things any less true.

But this story does contain one of the few proven remedies for things to improve: unselfish kindness.

Daniel P. Finney apologizes to neighbors for any tremors caused by his recent fall.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

HOT SHEET: Hey, Finney finally got a job!

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, Paragraph Stacker-at-large, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: I got a job.

The last of the “onboarding” paperwork went through this morning. I start as assignment editor for Local 5 We Are Iowa at 9:15 a.m., Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

This ends an employment drought that dates to May 1 when the local paragraph factory eliminated my job amidst corporate cutbacks during the coronavirus pandemic.

That WOI-TV wooed me back to daily journalism surprises me only slightly more than they convinced me to try a new medium.

I started stacking paragraphs for pay when I was 17. I thought that part of my life was over for good.

But the people at Local 5 seemed to want me at their shop even after I explained that all I know about TV is how to turn one on.

I don’t know what “assignment editor” means yet. I know it means I will be behind-the-camera, which is exactly my preference. I know it involves writing, story idea generating and working with reporters and anchors.

Hell, I’ll get people coffee if the pay deposits on the regular and I can afford to get cortisone shots for my arthritic knees.

I plan to continue my graduate studies at Drake University. I’ve laid out money for next semester already. I will teach someday. As my old friend Don Adams, the retired Drake vice president, always says: “Preserve your options.”

This week, I’m finishing up the semester work. I’m off school until Feb. 1, which means I’ve got two full months to learn my job, get to know people and immerse myself into the new gig’s culture.

Family, friends and readers, I thank each and every one of you for your support of this blog and me personally. This year tested all our souls.

I am blessed to know so many people who showed the love for me even as they carried their own burdens.

I promise to reward your faith in me by being the very best journalist I can be for Local 5. You may not see my byline, but know that I’m there trying my hardest to make sure you know what’s going on in your hometown.

As for this blog, the future is uncertain. I may keep writing. Some topics will be verboten, especially media criticism and politics.

That’s OK. There’s lots of good stuff to type about.

For now, though, I’m going to take a break to finish up the semester and get ready for my new adventure in journalism.

With love and hope,

dpf

Daniel P. Finney works in TV news now is a sentence he never thought he’d type.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.