Back in Stride Again

I’m back behind a text editor. For a long time now, my mantra has been “write every single, blessed day,” but I had to learn some new truths about writing. Sometimes, it’s good to step back for a while and get your head, get your feet back underneath yourself. With the relocation to Baltimore, the back and forth to NJ, figuring out work and a bunch of other things, I needed some time to think. Breathe some. But I’m back. It’s spring. It’s time to create again. So watch this space.

Still, I couldn’t tear myself completely from writing. While I was “away,” I beta tested a class meant to help writers do better with their submissions to literary magazines. It was a great course. I learned quite a bit more about the process, so hopefully, I’ll be able to do better in the coming days with sending my writing out to be published elsewhere.

I’ve also started a newsletter on TinyLetter. I have had folks interested in keeping up with my writing and other creative work. I plan on sending out updates every couple of weeks or so with what I’m working on and other things going on in my world, including my latest blog posts. You can subscribe here or below.

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Thank you for your interest and support and I’ll see you here again soon.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 1 (Hopefully, this will be different)

Doing NaNoWriMo again. Taking the rebel path, writing essays instead of a novel or memoir other long-form narrative. Some folks are writing poems just like the PAD contest over at Writers Digest. I think I even saw some folks planning on writing plays this month. I should do that, but I’m committed to this idea of writing a book. Perhaps next month.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve started, but I’ve completed the novel once. That year, I “blogged” the novel by posting it piece by piece on my then-website. Since I didn’t give much thought about whether I was participating until about 9:30 last night, I haven’t thought about whether I’d post the book-in-progress here.

Doing NaBloPoMo, too, which is why this post is showing up when I also need to be average 1,666 words per day to finish the “main” project. I figured, if anything, that I owed a blog post per day, I’d have to sit down and make sure I wrote enough words to reach 50,000 by the end of the month for the “main” project.

This year, I have a huge advantage that I didn’t have in previous years — I have a desk. An honest-to-God desk where I do nothing but writing. In previous years, I’d fire up my laptop at 12:00 A.M. and get to it. But I’d be sitting at the dining room table or on the sofa with my laptop on my lap desk.

I once read there’s some psychological advantage to having a dedicated writing space. That when you’re in your dining room, your mind goes into the space of it being time to eat. That when you’re sitting on your sofa, your mind gets ready to relax. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not, but I do know that for me, it was hard to be productive sitting on the sofa. The dining room table wasn’t comfortable aside from writing my morning pages.

Now that I have a dedicated desk and a comfortable office chair, I don’t have environment as an excuse to not make a go of NaNoWriMo and complete. I want to win this year. And even if I don’t finish a complete, more or less, unified work, I’ll have much material to send out to places. Having fewer and fewer excuses is a good thing. And if there’s anything I want to change from my previous attempts, it’s that. I don’t want excuses and other BS to stop me from making what will hopefully be, some big gains this November.

I did start last night, but not at 12:00. I started around 12:25, when I felt like I’d have enough energy to write at least half of the words I needed for the day. And after I got done watching a bunch of YouTube videos.

I got there by 1:45. I’m going to write the last 800 or so, in an essay I’m liking so far, in the next couple of hours after I write this.

One day almost down.

(Update: 2418 words)

Dispatch from Home

I sit in a plastic chair on the porch.

A sweet scent. Maybe sausage on a grill. Beef. I smell fries and my mind tricks me into believing I can also smell the gravy about to be doused over them. The whole concoction will go into a box, fried wings in the next. There’s now a new carryout where the old banquet hall used to be. The Chinese food store is still there. I have my stories. About the store and gravy fries and cheese fries and wings and chicken boxes. Salt, pepper, and ketchup on my wings and fries.

Ka-joom. Clack-a-lack.

A trailer banging, tripped by the imperfections in the asphalt. The truck’s motor growls, yanking the still reverberating metal box up the road. And then another, probably headed South this time, maybe to Washington or somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina, maybe even to Florida or even somewhere out West. The road jabs and pitches these hulks all day and night. They always have, same as the #36 bus that stops across the street. The cars whose drivers, free of Downtown’s one-way-street grid, take liberty to fly towards the County line, a few corners away.

There’s a soul food store at the gas station, now.

Someone once shot at that gas station from the block, then ran. Altogether both stupid and smart.

Kids run down the block. There’s a fight at the bus stop. I run in, open the back door and it’s spilled all the way across the parking lot. The alley between the shopping center and the apartments keeps the kids in their khakis and powder blue and navy blue uniforms from dribbling over to the #44 stop.

In my day, fights transferred from line to line, line to neighborhood, line to block. I even got myself caught up in one once. But there was never more than that. We didn’t wear uniforms, either.

As soon as it heated up, it died out. When the cheering stopped, I knew.

Any out-of-towners driving by, perhaps hoping for a Wire-esque performance, complete with blood and the wailing of an ambulance and another brown-skinned mother, would have gone home disappointed. The police didn’t even show up. At night, they drive through the parking lot with lights flashing to show they’re there. Perhaps they want to own the night and have ceded the day to the kids.

The two boys at the corner watch excitedly for a moment, then as they probably have more than once, leave.

They’ve replaced me.

The hide and seek places — the bushes and trees I’d try to hide my husky frame behind; the knoll on the side of the apartments around the corner where we played minimally organized football and baseball games, against other neighborhoods and each other, where we coached ourselves and each other, patted ourselves and each other on the back; the blocks in the street where we used to jump and bounce balls and throw water balloons, all belong to these kids now. They own the bus stop and the Chinese store.

This is their time.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever be back here. Not to live. Visit? For sure.

I had finally found some peace with used to being from here, with someone else’s son or daughter taking the story over. I’d gone on to adventures elsewhere. Made some plays. Toured Harlem on foot. Driven the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I’m not settled, yet. I’m still learning the new, like the Qdoba on York Road, the building on 33rd Street that replaced the frat house with the shoe tree in front; remembering the old like the Giant on York Road, how to get to White Marsh. Harry Little’s sub shop became a frozen yogurt store and now it’s about to become a juice bar.

It’s often slow going like when I first went to Jersey, but I learned it. Learned in some ways to love it.

Still, I don’t know if I can ever stake the same claim I had before. How much of this city, this area, can be mine like it was. While I’m figuring it out, I’ll watch the trucks from the porch. Eat a few coddies. This city made me who I was, but being away, letting go, helped make me who I am now.

Five Things – 2 June 2016

1.

I was right about Matt Harvey. Kinda. He has “snapped out” and at least in his last start was the old Matt Harvey. But, instead of the issue being something mental, it was a flaw in his mechanics. Hopefully, they’ll keep him on track the rest of the way through because they’re going to need the starting pitching to do well as Jeurys Familia and the Met bullpen haven’t been lighting the world on fire lately. Aside from Addison Reed. He’s locking the 8th inning down right now.

2.

Ray Lewis must, without the help of anything mechanical, achieve flight and ascend directly into Heaven or Low Earth Orbit one day soon.

It came out this week that not only did Ray come back from a torn triceps in 2012 (see, 2012!), he also re-tore the triceps the night before the Super Bowl. And played anyway. And prayed over Jacoby just before his touchdown. He must be touched or it was all 100% Concentrated, 125 Proof Deer Antler Juice. At least that’s what I hear on the Internet.

I’m going to make a pilgrimage to Ray. I’ve already been to the statue. That was just the first part.

Seriously, though, I need to stop talking about football while the O’s are just 1 game behind Boston in the AL East after splitting this week’s series. They also mashed 7 dingers earlier. Baseball jargon.

3.

Pretty much done with the infection. Took my last hit of antibiotics earlier. I’ll be taking my probiotics after I click the publish button in WordPress. And some vitamin C as I think I got a summer cold the other day. Sniffles, some sinus/throat soreness. Don’t worry, though, it’s gone.

And with my skin healing, I will get back to throwing my bell and possibly lifting some next week. I’ll definitely be throwing the bell. I love how thoroughly drained I feel when I’m done. Feels like I was running without having to run. I wish I’d discovered the bell when I was in high school.

4.

Been doing some writing and editing at work this week. Playing surprisingly well with others involved in the process, too, considering how much I hate that (I like collaborating in Theatre, but not when I’m writing). I appreciate the opportunity, though. I’m a writer, even if I’m doing something else for pay there.

And even if my name isn’t going on the work. I don’t even care, which is also strange for me. I’m engaging my biggest passion in the office and besides, the work is for something important to the organization. I appreciate that my input is so valued.

And before you say “they’re taking advantage of you,” I’ll have you know that I’d much rather spend that hour or two editing and rewriting something than having to walk around and reboot something for somebody (which you should do before calling IT anyway), climbing under a desk, or moving a workstation for the thousandth time. It really is like a small vacation. The workstations will be there when I’m done.

5.

Baltimore Metro is infested with rats.

Amalgamated Transit Union held a protest at Mondawmin, complete with folks in rat masks. Video is above. I often talk about how different we are from folks in other cities, but in this case, I kinda hope we get a New York style video of a rat hauling a cookie from The Great Cookie down the concourse.

(I haven’t been to The Great Cookie in so long. I need to go over there. Often, when I smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, I think of Mondawmin. When I was younger, the smells from Great Cookie seemed to fill the entire mall. Whenever we went over there, I always knew where I wanted to go. I hope the rats are indeed enjoying those treats as much as I want to. Until they get gassed or something by MTA.)

In Love With TIF

In middle school, some of my classmates insisted I had a crush on a girl named Tiffany. Though this Tiffany was indeed cute, I did not have a crush on her. One could say I was in the initial throws of falling in love –as much as someone 13 years old or younger can– with someone else.

Some twenty-five or more years later, someone has indeed fallen in love with Tiff. Or rather, TIFs. That someone is the very City of Baltimore.

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Tax increment financing. What is a TIF? How do TIFs work?

Back in the Land of Pleasant Living, the most recent TIF, as I alluded to in my last post, has gone to Michael Beatty’s Harbor Point development. In a nutshell, the City floated $107M in bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements at Harbor Point, which, among other things, is the new home for Exelon, the owner of the local electrical utility.

Beatty himself bought a bunch of the bonds, therefore he’s benefiting from the interest paid on said bonds. So the City is, in a sense, taking out a loan to pay for infrastructure from his project, and by purchasing some of the bonds, Beatty has become one of the loaners of this money. Baltimore will be paying him back with interest for infrastructure the City has paid and will be paying for, on this project.

Well, not all. Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Brew are reporting that there have been even more payments made from the City to this project. $29M worth of cost overruns. And the talk among those in charge is that the City will have to dip into General Funds, or in other words, straight up taxpayer dollars, to cover shortfalls in the TIF.

I say straight up taxpayer dollars because ultimately, the property taxes generated by the Harbor Point development are supposed to cover the principal and interest payments on the bonds themselves. But until and unless enough property taxes are generated, somebody has to be on the hook to bondholders and it is the issuer of the bonds. The City of Baltimore. Or, more bluntly, the taxpayers of the City of Baltimore.

And again, Beatty is a bondholder.

Imagine that Baltimore is instead playing stocks or options. It’s low on cash (or so it says). So, it buys some stock or options on margin, betting that sometime in the future (in the case of this TIF, by 20 years out) the value of the stock or options will go up and they’ll make money for the whole city.

That’s the expectation. They’re borrowing now with the belief that the future ship will come and cover the floated bonds and eventually, contribute money to the City for the usual other things that the City pays for. But if they’re wrong; if they don’t take in as much as they’re expecting, they still owe the brokers, the bondholders. And in this case, Beatty is one of the brokers.

They also baked in some language to demand that the project pay for some general civic improvements that don’t necessarily benefit the project, but we’ll see how that goes.

Still, the project was sold on the premise and promise that no taxpayer dollars would be used. That’s certainly true, if the future property tax projections pan out.

That was, until the cost overruns and while it’s appalling (yet not surprising) that they’re talking about dipping into general funds, they’ve now assumed so much risk that they can’t turn back. They’re in too deep. The City needs the project to work because it has an expectation that somehow, dollars will come in to cover the initial outlay paid for by the bond generation. In a sense, the City has become a partner with no equity, just a need for everything to work out and hopefully go as smoothly as it can in the future with minimal additional cost overruns.

We’ll see about that.

Here’s the crazy bit. They want to do it again.

The Port Covington TIF. Just like the Harbor Point TIF, but on the proverbial steroids, because this one weighs in at a hefty $535M. As the Sun reported, with interest, all told, it could cost over $2B. And in this case, Sagamore Development, the development arm of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, would buy some of the bonds itself and thereby benefit from the interest on said bonds.

The vote is up to City Council at this point. The Mayor supports it. The quasi-governmental Baltimore Development Corporation supports it. Of course BDC would certainly put its stamp of approval on the TIF. They’re not elected, so they’re not responsible to the taxpayers and voters of Baltimore. If things don’t pan out with the property taxes on Port Covington and the City is on the hook and has to cover parts of bond repayments (because who else is supposed to? The state? That’s funny), nobody at BDC has to go into districts and neighborhoods one day and explain why there’s no money for parks or rec centers.

Again, they plan to bake language into the TIF so that there will be public benefit. And yes, the renderings look amazing, but looking at recent history with Harbor Point, it looks like the City is going in way over its head. It looks like the City is about to partner again with no equity. And if cost overruns occur this time, will the City have to dip back into general funds to cover?

Plank has sold this project on, among other things, the number of jobs it’ll bring to Baltimore (and specifically to Baltimore residents) as well as on improving Baltimore’s image. The price tag on Baltimore’s image is listed above.

To put it into perspective, in 2014 dollars, the City and Baltimore County pledged $280M ($230 and $50 respectively) towards the building of the since-cancelled Red Line light rail project (with Maryland and the Feds picking up the rest of the nearly $3B project). So the City is willing is thus-far willing to float bonds in excess of double that amount for a project in one section of the city.

Sure, Sagamore is floating jobs projections now, but other cities like Denver are realizing actual development gains from the increased mobility. I’m not saying the Red Line was cancelled because of Port Covington (or Harbor Point) because it wasn’t, but if the City is interested in borrowing money they think they’ll be able to pay off with future property taxes, wouldn’t projects like light rail that have had the effect of creating new development and raising the value of pre-existing property, especially in places like Minneapolis, be more preferable to ones like the ones they’re financing?

(It’s also not Beatty or Plank’s fault that such an idea would never get off the ground because of the classism and racism through which public transit is viewed in the Baltimore area, making new projects hard to support. Look at the amount the County was willing to contribute to the Red Line. Shows exactly the degree to which their citizens value mass transit. Also Google “baltimore loot rail” if you really don’t believe me.)

People around the City government like to throw around the name Freddie Gray, but when will the economic conditions that created the overall situation he lived and died in, be reasonably addressed? When will the people of Freddie Gray’s neighborhood see the benefits from Harbor Point or Port Covington? 20, 40 years from now? Ever?

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It’s not all doom and gloom, though.

I enjoyed the article in City Paper concerning the idea of developing a City-owned retirement fund for people, using interest paid on some of the Port Covington bonds. Start a special benefits corporation, buy the bonds, collect the interest.

I like the idea.

I like the idea of regular Baltimoreans who can afford to do so, buying the bonds. If the City is going to float them regardless of the will of the citizens, the only thing left is to buy them and receive whatever benefits you can. Which, even though they’re running ads everywhere, seems like it’s going to be the case.

Relatively not that many would be able to take part, but what else is there, if you’re not an “insider”?

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I was 14 when I really first fell in love. I didn’t get the girl, but I got the lessons. Those were free. I loved again, several times over.

I hope Baltimore gets their proverbial girl in the form of property taxes sometime 20-40 years from now. I’ll be nearly 80 towards the end of the Port Covington TIF, so hopefully they’ll put some old folks stuff up with the money.

If the City doesn’t, the lessons will be infinitely more painful. A much lowered bond rating. The City on the hook for whatever amounts of money. And the things that were supposed to be paid for, not there. Maybe they’re thinking they’ll do some development in Sandtown with the money one day. Will they be able to? (And we won’t even talk about the supposed “game-changer,” the Horseshoe Casino and the money that was supposed to contribute to Baltimore. I’ll admit to not doing my part, since I haven’t gone there and played video poker, yet. They have that in there, right?)

If it doesn’t work out, what will the City do to recover? What lessons will it learn? What do they say when the next developer wanting a TIF shows up to 100 North Holliday? Will it fall in love with someone other than TIF if TIF doesn’t work out?

Well, someone other than PILOT . Been there, done that.

Five Things – 26 May 2016

1.

Another possible staph infection. Thankfully, no hospitalization.

My first trip to the doctor, she did tell me that if the condition didn’t improve by the first couple days of antibiotics, then she wanted me to go to the emergency room. Not sure if the implication was that they’d give me a stronger antibiotic or a few incisions, but I’m guessing it was the latter.

I’d pretty much decided I wasn’t going to do that, so I’m glad it didn’t come to me having to say those words. Or, rehearsing saying those words as I likely still went out there.

Mostly, I’m glad that I didn’t have to lay there as doctors and others funneled into the room, asking me how I felt, perhaps talking some football, and submitting a bill I’d later curse at in the HR office at work.

Then, there was the whole “getting sicker in the hospital” thing.

2.

I did look up some alternative “stuff.” After last time, one of my coworkers gave me some interesting information about staph and antibiotics and alternative treatments, since the antibiotic apocalypse is coming. Phages sounded most interesting. Copper kills MRSA on contact, but I thought better of ordering some 999 copper rounds and touching them to the wound. Maybe next time, if there is one. I found colloidal copper online, but I wasn’t feeling that, either.

I did settle on some antiseptic cream and some extra probiotics. Last time, I waited until after I’d finished my course of antibiotics to begin taking probiotics. Not this time. I feel much better.

3.

Ironically, I haven’t written as much this week that I’ve been fighting this infection. When I was in the hospital and didn’t have notebook, pens, paper, Chromebook, anything, I couldn’t wait to get out and write again.

This time around, I’m right with all of my writing tools and utensils and I’m not writing as much. Maybe I should have packed some clothes and notebooks and gone to the hospital. Had I gone, I wouldn’t have had to take the call that like half the staff at work couldn’t get into the terminal server.

4.

It was bound to happen eventually. Not sure how it happened, but not everyone is ready to share the road. However, the train always wins. Remember. The train always wins.

I’m glad their streetcar is doing so well. If Baltimore can’t get a new light rail, because … buses … then I’m glad KC can have one and that it can be a success.

I’d love to go out there and take a ride, just not on a day like today.

5.

Ravens:

Big fine for breaking offseason rules. Perhaps they should put in for a TIF to redevelop some land around the stadium and help pay for fines for stuff like that.

Ray Rice was back at the Castle. They did say he’d be welcome back after he was done playing to help guide rookies.

Perhaps the NFL or even MLB should bring him in.

O’s:

They’re attracting more orioles.

But the players are strking out alot. The extra-inning game the other day was pretty brutal.

We’ll always have those 2012 and 2014 playoffs. Those were magical.

Mets:

Hope this doesn’t get any messier.

Five Things – 19 May 2016

1.

Liking Gotham alot right now. In Hugo Strange, they’ve created a character whose next action, I always want to see. He embodies a very Gotham-esque ethos, a mix of science and junk science and odd religion that they’ve toyed with in different characters like Mr. Freeze, Ed Nygma, and Theo Galavan.

Plus, I just flat out enjoy B.D. Wong and Tonya Pinkins’ performances. They play really well off of each other. But they’re both damn good veteran actors. What else would I expect? Besides, the show in general has featured some great acting. Don’t forget Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin.

David Mazouz’s performances have also been better. Since he’s grown up a little bit, he embodies more the ongoing grief and bitterness that pushes Bruce Wayne. I’m enjoying it.

How much longer until Harvey dies and Jim Gordon has to take over GCPD because there’s literally nobody left who can run the department?

2.

I still think Elizabeth Keen faked her death and she’s going to show up on the season finale. I think she faked it and Mr. Kaplan helped. Outside of that, I don’t know what to think. Tom’s headed into another show.

3.

Preakness Weekend. Sun reporting that horse racing is doing better financially in Maryland, but I’m not sure if that means anything for keeping the race in Baltimore. I’ll believe any talk of a Pimlico renovation when I see dirt on West Belvedere Ave. (there was once something else horse related that they claimed to not to want to move before. Can’t remember what that was. Oh well).

Regardless of what may happen in the distant future, it’s supposed to rain all Saturday, so the race should look like last year’s. And there should be plenty of alcohol and partying, as usual. I’m expecting there to be a rain slip and slide in the infield or something.

4.

I need to go to Barnes and Noble. Haven’t been in a long time. I’m going to take my Chromebook up there and write one of these days. Perhaps I’ll take a day off for this instead of waiting for a weekend.

5.

Disastrous West Coast trip for the Mets. Nats series hasn’t been any better. I’m also happy to forget the O’s series vs. Seattle.