Are Local Stories Being Overshadowed by National Spectacles and Scandals?

I cannot remember the last time I tuned in to my local radio stations. It used to be an every-day thing, surfing through AM and FM channels that carried a multitude of stories and opinions of the people and places right in my own community. All that has changed, however, in the constant drama swirling around the three branches of government.

Regardless of which side you align with, it is both polarizing and paralyzing. The news breaks faster than it can be covered, and many of us are afraid to turn away in fear of missing the latest remark or revelation.

If we do choose to somehow turn away, it’s not to our local news. Instead, we’re binge-watching our favorite TV shows to numb the outrage and frustration, or we’re listening to music that carries us away to simpler times, or transcends us to calmer ways.

As a result, our local news suffers. I used to be a news junkie for Baltimore (hence the title of this site as “The Baltimore Writer,” but now I find it hard to dig deeper into the essential stories that are changing lives around us in the state of Maryland. We’re neglecting the people who are making a difference for others, and we’re not staying tapped into the deeper stories of the local scandals and attacks that we must be mindful of.

We need to strike a stronger balance in the time we spend between the local and national stories. I can contribute to this effort by using this space here to share more of those local stories.

We must be encouraged to stay rooted in our local news, our community contributors, and our regional matters that most directly affect us. While the hourly drama coming out of the congress and the white house might be engaging and, in the darkest sense, entertaining, we must not neglect the news of our neighbors.

I’m going to dig deeper right here in Baltimore to find the stories of the people making a real difference and present them to you here.

Should I begin with you? Drop me a note at rus.vanwestervelt@gmail.com. Let me know what you are doing (or somebody else) to make Baltimore a better place for all….

Here’s to a good day embracing your local communities…. Rus

When Fire Reigns: Season 1, Episode 1 Published

On January 1, I set out to develop and publish an 11-episode podcast called, “When Fire Reigns.” It’s about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and the mayor who died just three months later, reportedly by his own doing. Today, I published the first episode, just one day before the 115-year anniversary of the great conflagration.

You can listen to it on Podomatic HERE. Or, you can check it out now on Spotify or (fingers crossed) on Apple’s Podcasts very soon.

It wasn’t easy to do this. Venturing into the world of podcasting is all very new to me, and I wanted to just throw in the towel more than a few times. I pushed on, though, thanks to my daughter’s pep talk and the support of my around-the-world friends.

Here’s what made it so challenging.

I’ve got all of the equipment (Blue Yeti mic, laptop), but I just don’t have the sound-proof space to do the actual recording. I ended up turning my car into a makeshift studio. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it got the job done.

When I started editing, I wasn’t terribly happy with the quality of sound, but I decided to go forward with it anyway. I know I need to solve this little dilemma before I record next week’s episode. I’m committed to doing it, so I will find a place to record.

The other challenge was that I know how I want it to sound, much like a beginning guitarist knows how she wants a particular riff to sound, but just can’t seem to get there yet. That’s me. I could spend a full year trying to get each note just exactly perfect. But then I hold back a year’s worth of content that I could have shared with my community. What’s the sense in that? Get it out there, learn, and do it better the next time.

Anyway, enjoy. I plan on publishing an episode every week or two. I want to establish a routine and try to build up a little following. We’ll see. Right now, I’m just having a blast doing this.

So: Thanks for listening, if you get the chance. I do appreciate it.

Building a Podcast: The Baltimore Fire of 1904

Now that Fossil Five is in the hands of my editors, I have decided to devote the month of January to building a podcast series on the Baltimore Fire of 1904. It was my thesis project in grad school, and after listening to a bunch of podcasts this past week, I think it is the perfect story to tell over 6-8 episodes.

The only challenge is that I’ve never done a podcast before. I had to dive in and decide what I wanted to do, and how to share it with the world.

The Plan

The first step, for me, was to figure out how many words each episode should be. I did a timed reading from the manuscript, and I read about 700 words every 5 minutes. I want my podcasts to be between 20 and 30 minutes each, so I subtract about 5 minutes for front and end chatter (ncluding intro and outro music), and I am left with anywhere between 2100 and 2800 words per episode.

A little more simple math: My script is already over 30,000 words. so 6-8 episodes is not going to cut it. I’m going to need about 10-12 episodes, even with a good edit of my script.

The Structure

Now that I know I’m going to be working with about a dozen episodes, I divide my manuscript into rough episodes. I look for the cliffhangers, the teasers, the time shifts — all the things essential to a complete episode. I decide that I’m going to have to trim it back an episode or two, and I see plenty of places where I can edit out some superfluous material. Not a big deal. I can add it in later if I need to.

The Music

One of the coolest discoveries I made last year while teaching speech was copyright-free music. I went to my favorite site, Epidemic Sound, and searched through their huge database to find the exact track I was looking for. You need to establish a free account, but it is simple and fast to download the audio track to use for your intro, interlude, and outro segments. And, because it is copyright-free, you have no worries at all about having your podcasts blocked for copyright infringement.

The Web Host

I did a quick search through the various podcast hosting sites, and I fell in love with Podomatic. They have several kinds of accounts (including a free one, which I opted for in the early stages of podcasting). Upgrading to their pro account seems seamless and simple, and you have the option to pay monthly or annually. These are the kinds of options I’m looking for as a novice. Your podcast gets pushed to all of the most popular sites, and you don’t have to spend a penny to get it up and running.

The Podcast

I am building my podcast episodes on GarageBand, another free software program with Apple. It’s intuitive, easy to use, and exports your file to an MP3 format. I’ve used GarageBand for other projects, and it’s never let me down. I use a Blue Yeti microphone to record the audio in any low-sound area I can find (no air conditioners or heating units, no refrigerators, no external announcements or interruptions). I break up the episode into 3-5-minute chunks and record each sub-segment, knowing that I will be placing short clips of interlude music between them. And, because I am not trying to record the whole episode in one block, I usually need just one or two recordings for each sub-segment. For a 30-minute episode, I’m usually done in under 90 minutes.

The Edits

Good audio recorded in one setting means clean editing. It’s really more of a splicing of music, introductions, and segues with the main story. It takes another 90 minutes to 2 hours to edit, and then I export the file and upload to the podcast server.

I plan on launching my first episode by January 15, and then release new episodes every week (this includes through the anniversary of the Great Fire in Baltimore that started on February 7, 1904).

Stay tuned! I’ll be announcing its launch soon.

In the meantime, don’t be intimidated by the how’s of podcasting. Just jump in and start recording. It’s the only way to push through the full process and create a publishable product!


Officer Caprio Community Memorials Continue A Month After Her Death

by Rus VanWestervelt
Exclusive for Baltimore News And Events
June 21, 2018

A month ago, Laura Joy Rode and Erinn Patrick, third-grade teachers at Seven Oaks Elementary and residents of Parkville, sat in their classrooms with their students until 9 p.m. as police wrapped up their initial investigation of the death of one of their own, Officer Amy Caprio.

In those dark hours, however, their students were thinking less about the fear of a lockdown and more about what they could do for the police officers in their precinct who were mourning the loss of their partner.

“The very next day,” wrote Rode in a Facebook post, “my third grade students asked if they could have some time to write thank you cards to the police officers who kept them safe. . . .Not one complaint of being tired or worried. . . just wanting to thank the brave men and women who serve.”

The desire to give back, to support the Parkville and surrounding precincts, has only strengthened since May 21 when Officer Caprio was killed in the line of duty.

Rob Williams, a resident of Rodgers Forge and Citizens on Patrol leader and volunteer for the last ten years, decided to create a memorial display in his front yard on Regester Avenue, honoring all ten Baltimore County officers who have died in the line of duty.

“I was deeply moved, said Williams. “I wanted to do something to remember her and her ultimate sacrifice.”

Williams contacted a company called Flagology that had the specific hero flag template he was looking for. He gathered the photos of the other officers and completed the display on June 10.

“The memorial will continually be in place,” said Williams. “Several neighbors have already commented to me about how moving the memorial is to them.”

Such memorials are on display in other neighborhood communities, including Carney and Loch Raven Village.

Other residents around the area have used their creativity to raise money for various funds.

Maria Greenwood has formed a group that makes police survival kits, which are delivered to police stations all over the state of Maryland. According to Lisa Westervelt, one of the members of the group, Greenwood has been awarded for her community-building efforts and recognizing officers for their hard work.

“When Parkville experienced its tragedy, Maria ran around getting donations needed for the kids and delivered a ton of them to the station in support of the officers who had lost their sister in blue,” said Westervelt.

According to Greenwood, they delivered 200 police survival kits after the death of Officer Caprio.

“Praying that it brings much joy to all the officers at Parkville Precinct!” wrote Greenwood in a Facebook post. “Your community loves and supports you!”

Kim Lyons, founder and owner of An Etch Above, created Memorial Cups in Officer Caprio’s honor. For each cup sold with the memorial design, Lyons is donating $10 to the FOP 4 Memorial Fund.

“As a graduate of Parkville High School, former resident in Parkville and Perry Hall, and business owner in Parkville, Maryland, I have felt a deep sadness over the recent loss of Officer Amy Caprio from the Parkville precinct,” wrote Lyons on her website. “After much discussion with local law enforcement and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, I have decided to offer these Memorial Cups in her honor.”

According to Lyon’s website, they have raised over $750 in Caprio’s memory.

Others from around the state have created fundraisers built around their hobbies and organizations. One such effort to raise money was done by the Chesapeake Jeep Club, among others, who hosted a ride to honor Caprio.

The ride, which took place May 26, was organized by Prince George’s County K9 Officer Mike Cicale.

In the description of the event, Cicale wrote, “Join us as [we] pay our respects to Officer Caprio, her friends, family, and members of the Baltimore County Police Department . . .[for] a memorial ride to honor her life and sacrifice.”

Although Ellicott City resident and Jeep owner, Sunny Yoo, could not participate in the event, he is mindful of the work that Cicale and others do to honor fallen heroes.

“[Cicale] sets up most rides to honor the fallen officers throughout Maryland,” said Yoo. “I think it’s nice to see Jeep clubs participating in these events. It just shows how much respect they have for people who serve and enforce the law.”

Yoo witnessed the tribute of K9 vehicles lined up along 695 and was touched by the what he saw. “It was very emotional to see people come together to honor her,” said Yoo. “I felt chills and had to turn my music off and have a moment of silence. ”

The tributes and memorials will continue throughout the summer. Both Towson and Cockeysville organizers of their respective Citizens On Patrol (COP) programs will be honoring Officer Caprio on August 7, which is National Night Out and recognizes those who serve their communities to keep them safer.

“We are honoring her at this year’s National Night Out for the Cockeysville precinct,” shared resident Tracey Daniels. “I think more people will come support the police at this event because of her.”

According to Pat France, Vice President of the Towson-Area Citizens on Patrol (TACOP), they will hold a moment of silence for Officer Caprio at their event on Washington Ave. at 6:20 p.m.

Even with school being out, Seven Oaks Elementary teacher Laura Joy Rode is still touched by the actions of her third-grade students.

“It has been truly inspiring to see the kids react with love, concern, and empathy,” said Rode, reflecting back on her children’s desire to act. “These young children wanted to take action, to do something, to show the police officers and first responders not only that they are needed and appreciated, but that they are sad for their loss. We all can learn from these big hearts!”

So, let’s talk

Earlier today, I had a little sit-down with myself to figure a few things out. You see, my inner critic has been working overtime in the past month or two, absolutely convincing me that the following were completely, and without question, true:

  • My words were no longer meaningful, and they no longer mattered with the masses;
  • Blogs were dead, stupid, antiquated, washed up, and no longer read (hey! just like me);
  • Your audience is sick of you;
  • You are pathetic to think otherwise; and
  • Hell, you are pathetic.

These thoughts stopped me from writing anything. I did not even write in my daybook. It was a ridiculous, self-piteous period of wallowing in negativity and doubt.

So, as I said, I had that little sit-down convo with me-truly, and I’m not going to lie, I let the expletives fly, as Seinfeld’s Kramer says.

It felt good. It really did. I needed to hear myself fight back against all that fake news that I have been self-spewing. I made the commitment to blog tonight, but with a purpose:

To not teach, preach, or inspire.

Gasp!

So, not only did I throw myself back into the fire, I threw away the crutches and dove in head first without a safety net.

Which brings me to what I’ll be doing here at The Baltimore Writer for the foreseeable future. Many years ago, I started writing “Rus Uncut” entries, and they were well received because they were so raw. I’ve tried a few times to get back to that, but I kept falling back into the teach-and-preach model.

Pathetic, right?

So here we are tonight, willing (desperately) to give it another shot.

What does that mean? Probably some really boring blogs, some out-there thinking, and maybe some pretty pictures to keep you coming back to see something shiny.

It means all of this, maybe none of it, maybe some Franken-mix of a bunch of different things. And I’ve opened comments for you to join in with the uncut-ness of the whole thing.

But what I can promise you is that it will be raw, uncut, and authentic. All Rus.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I need to do this for me, though, so there. You are welcome to follow along, share your thoughts, or unsubscribe entirely and vote to have The Baltimore Writer completely scrubbed from the interwebs.

We’ll see how this goes. Thanks for whatever choice you make (except for the web scrubbing. That would suck for sure).

Yours, sans teaching and preaching,

Rus

Baltimore’s Nasty Press Holds Fundraiser, Provides Platform For Local Voices

It all started last summer with a cool sticker at Open Works in Baltimore.

For five consecutive Fridays, I had the good fortune of working with 25 teens in Baltimore City through the Bloomberg Arts Internship Program. We met at Open Works, a collaborative space for creatives. In the main lobby, between the classrooms and the Greenmount Coffee Lab (highly recommended), local literature rested on a small wooden table. Sipping the daily roast, I walked over to see what literary opportunities were happening in Baltimore.

A small sticker, with the words “NASTY PRESS,” stood out. I picked it up out of curiosity, stuck it in my pocket, and returned to the workshop.

That night, I did a quick search on Facebook, and there they were. I was immediately drawn to their quick surge in Baltimore providing what I call “Literary Advocacy.” In just a few short months, they had created a space for locals to share their stories that, until now, had no real platform to be heard.

How appropriate to discover them in a place called Open Works.

I reached out to the founders of Nasty Press and asked them three simple questions. Here are their responses, just as they supplied them. Any attempt on my part to paraphrase would be ridiculous and, quite frankly, rude.

They’ve got a fundraiser happening at the end of the week as well. See below for more details.

The need for these voices to be heard cannot be overstated. I support Zoey, Em, and XoChitl in the work they are doing for all of us.

The Baltimore Writer: Please tell us the origins of Nasty Press, the purpose for starting, and its current state.

Nasty Press: After the election last November, the three of us separately noticed a shift in Baltimore’s creative energy. It felt almost like a power-outage. There were expressions of rage, sadness, fear, and joy all over social media, but it seemed like the artistic communal hub that we’ve each grown from was at a stand still. We each separately concluded that artists needed a push to re-direct their energy; that maybe they needed an unbiased, open and inclusive place to showcase their emotions and artistic responses about what was happening socially and politically, instead of only ranting on the internet. There needed to be a place without labels that doesn’t exclude anyone, but which uplifts the creative voices of Baltimore, no matter who you are or how you feel. We wanted to generate constructive discussion, even if that meant pissing some people off.

We are in the throes of formatting our second issue which tackles mental health and mental illness in the Baltimore community. We were blown away by the submissions we received and we can’t wait to release this issue to the public. Our FundRager will help fund the printing of the zine along with raising donations for select local non-profits.

TBW: What kind of space are you providing Baltimore citizens, and how might publishing their works further your mission?

NP: Much like collectives before ours in Maryland, we are cultivating space and time for voices that feel and are unheard. We provide a space for visual art (illustration, painting, drawing, etc.), poetic and creative writing, film and photography, and live music and performances. Our collective exists in print format as well a literal venue for local artists. We cater events toward current socio-political issues aiming to benefit the people that are directly affected. This past September, as a result of the potential ban on trans people in the military, we hosted a mini art fair in which we showcased visual art, poetry, and music from our POC and trans/queer family in Baltimore. This event was entirely free to participate in and to attend, and the artists kept 100% of their earnings. We are planning a similar but larger event in April 2018.

TBW: Your work is important, even essential. But you are just one opportunity where we need many. How might you encourage others to do what you are doing to strengthen your larger mission?

NP: We are transparent and tangible. We are open about the way that we operate, and we are accessible to all communities. We never have a cover charge at our events and no artist is ever charged to submit work to the zine nor to participate in our events. We are showing people in our community that it isn’t difficult to get the ball rolling; all you need is passion, drive, and friendship. You don’t need a degree or money, you just gotta stand up and speak up, and people will listen. Recently, we’ve met with organizations, such as Planned Parenthood of Maryland, to discuss future collaborations in hopes to generate more active socio-political dialogue in our community. 

Their upcoming event, FundRager², will be held on Friday December 15, from 8pm to 1am. For more information, including the venue address, please visit their Instagram at @nastypress, email them at thenastypress@gmail.com, or find them on Facebook at Nasty Press.

 

 

Hungry Harvest: A Healthy Choice That Helps Many

It started with a poolside conversation with a friend of ours who teaches in the Baltimore City school system. Hungry Harvest had partnered up with the schools in her area, and she was sharing — quite supportively — Hungry Harvest’s mission and the healthy impact they were having with children who lacked the finances and resources for a balanced diet.

My wife and I are no strangers to healthy eating. We’ve ventured on many vegetarian journeys (and for me, a few stints as a vegan), over the last few decades. We did it for ourselves, though, and it didn’t go much further than that.

Two things of importance here. First, we’ve also struggled with the lure of quick foods and the decadent experiences of some of the taboo delicacies. It’s easy for us to get sucked into that routine of convenient and tasty meals.

Second, we’ve looked at a lot of Co-Op deals with local farmers. Most of them are pretty good, if not outstanding. Nearly all of them, however, are asking for a full-season (usually 20-24 weeks) kind of commitment. And, the variation of fruits and vegetables you receive each week would leave us a little worried that we would be getting too much kale and not enough peaches, cantaloupe, and peppers.

When we did a little research into Hungry Harvest, however, we were immediately attracted to the work they do to support families in dietary needs in and around Baltimore. As well, you are on a week-to-week schedule with them, and you can modify your orders to supplement with fruits, vegetables, and even breads that are not in the package we ordered (they have everything from Mini Harvest, Full Harvest, to Super Harvest with conventional or organic options). You can even specify a full-fruit or full-veggie order. Their produce packages begin at just $15. So many options, and all of them are healthy and yummy.

The story behind Hungry Harvest is simple.

According to their website, Hungry Harvest has delivered over 3 million pounds of food, provided access to over 50,000 pounds of reduced-cost produce, and donated over half a million pounds of produced to their partner organizations, including SNAP.
Per their website, “Produce in a SNAP is a partnership between Hungry Harvest and Baltimore City Public Schools to bring fresh, affordable produce to food deserts in order to promote healthy eating and fight hunger. The goal is to allow food-insecure families and individuals who could benefit from affordable produce, including those on government assistance programs such as SNAP/EBT, WIC, and SSDI, to stretch their food budgets and put nutritious produce on their dinner table.”
To be honest, they exist because the statistics cited on their website are startling and speak for themselves.
  • 40% of food in the US goes to waste.
  • 16 million children in America struggle with hunger.
  • 6 billion pounds of fruit and vegetables go wasted each year in the US.
  • Each year, American consumers, businesses, and farmers spend $218 billion, or 1.3% of GDP, a year growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten.
  • If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind the US and China.
  • If one-quarter of the food wasted were saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people globally.
And the list continues, but that was enough for us to realize that what Hungry Harvest is doing for our communities right here in Baltimore is making a difference.
By ordering food from them, we are supporting their mission:
“We believe that no food should go to waste and no person should go hungry. That’s why we source 🍐, hand pack and securely deliver delicious boxes of recovered produce a weekly and bi-weekly basis. For every delivery, we subsidize 1-2 lbs of produce for families living in food deserts through our Produce in a SNAP sites. We currently deliver in Maryland, DC, Northern Virginia, Philly, South Jersey, and South Florida.”
Amy and I just finished our first meal with Hungry Harvest produce, and we are excited to continue to support them every way we can. They have many volunteer and staff options available to be a part of their mission. As we continue to improve our health, it’s good to know we are helping a worthwhile organization like Hungry Harvest improve the lives of others as well.

Hungry Harvest offers many discounts and incentives. If you are interested in ordering produce from Hungry Harvest and want to save on your first order, let them know that you heard about them from Amy VanWestervelt. We are excited to do everything we can to spread the word of how they are helping so many in our own communities.