The COVID Chronicles — Unpacking the Writer

I still call myself a writer, but I’ve barely done any in almost 2 years. Aside from posts on the facebookery or THE [Twitter Hate Engine™] — short, concise, and generally angry bursts of energy — I’ve not written anything of any length since There Will Be Hell Toupee, on December 27, 2018, and mostly because it is a topic (to lean into the cliché) near and dear to my heart.

Six days previously I published my very last gasp on Coconut Grove, Bulldozing History in Coconut Grove. The Grove was a topic that burned at me from the day I first discovered it 12 years earlier. At the time I was still disguised as Aunty Em Ericann, having launched Aunty Em’s Place in 2006. It was my very first ‘Merkin blogging experience. I had only recently moved from Canada and was trying to make as big a ripple as possible in what I knew to be a huge media ocean. The nom de troll was part of that plan. For a time, it worked, but that’s another story for another day.

Aunty Em’s very first post about The Grove was published on February 24, 2009. Presciently that post, The Shame of Coconut Grove, promised to be “Number One in a series”. Little did I know how right she would be…I mean…how right I’d be.

Over the years I have written dozens of investigative articles about Coconut Grove. The Grove consumed untold hours of my time in research and writing. Then there were the absorbed costs of multiple FOI requests, not to mention the gas needed to drive the 70 miles to The Grove and back, when I needed to be on the ground.

I’m proud of my work on Coconut Grove. During that time I broke some important stories about The Grove before the so-called Miami Media: Trolleygate and Soilgate were being ignored until I kicked up a stink. It was gratifying to see my stories picked up by the Miami-Herald and local newscasts, even though I wasn’t being credited. I knew who got there first.

If links are your thing:

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins:
Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three

The Coconut Grove Playhouse Trojan Horse:
Part One, Part Two

How Will the Playhouse Redevelopment Hurt West Grove?

No Skin In The Game:
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

Who Is To Blame For The Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?

Say Goodbye to the E.W.F. Stirrup House While You Can

Interview With District 2’s Ken Russell

EXCLUSIVE: Are Valet Companies Stealing From Miami Taxpayers?

My last really important investigative story on Coconut Grove (at least in my mind) was published on August 8, 2018. It ended with the words “Because, make no mistake, at the core of every story about Coconut Grove is a story about Racism”. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood was both a summation of my time in Coconut Grove and my swansong on the topic. I didn’t figure that out until later.

After I dropped that article, I started compiling/composing a new Freedom of Information request for all the properties I would need to track for the proposed Charles Street hotel. Officially called The Charles Avenue Grove Inn, immediately across the street from the E.W.F. Stirrup House I failed to save from Demolition by Neglect. There were at least 6 properties — possible 8 depending, on anticipated sales — but there were also several other issues I had been tracking, which I knew I needed to FOI the fuck out of. I started adding up the costs in my head and could see that I was faced with a bill of several hundred dollars because the City of Miami charges for that shit. And, that would have only been Step One. Once one gets the documents [if you even get the documents], they invariably lead to other documents and another FOI. These things can expand exponentially quickly. I didn’t have that kind of money. I had an occasional sponsor/patron/unnamed source, but wasn’t sure I could get them onboard for this much.

I’m building you a chronology.

Between those last 2 stories on The Grove was my very last Unpacking The Writer, a monthly feature of the Not Now Silly Newsroom. Quite unironically, considering the general topic of this post you’re currently reading, Kick That Block; Block That Kick ► Unpacking the Writer began “I am in the middle of the worst case of Writer’s Block in my lifetime.” It might be worth reading in full, but here’s one data point from the article:

That’s when I turned my back on The Grove. Why should I bust my hump, and spend good money, trying to help a community that didn’t seem to want to help itself? It made me recall the words of Al Crespo. To my mind the Crespogram Newsletter is Miami’s best muckraking site. Early on I tried to get him interested in my crusade to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House. His response shocked me at the time. “Why should I care about a neighbourhood that it doesn’t care about itself?”

If I learned one thing in all the years, it was that Crespo was right about West Grove’s apathy. While I recognized it more and more as I wrote about West Grove, it still ate away at me.

I had a ready excuse for that apathy. The folks who lived in that historic Black enclave were used to being ignored by the city, White folks, and the banks. Their concerns were more direct and immediate than saving a house at the end of a block that once belonged to a man who was — to put it bluntly — considered a slumlord in his lifetime. Or, fighting developers that were gentrifying their neighbourhood, replacing the affordable housing that was only affordable because it was in a Black neighbourhood. The ghetto.

Their bigger concerns were putting food on the table, keeping the young ones out of trouble, and avoiding the Miami Police, who could make their lives miserable if they got too far out of line.

Yes, I had a ready excuse for the apathy, but I was no longer willing to accept it.

The realization that I seemed to be the only person who cared, took my Writer’s Block and constructed a full-blown concrete block building, metaphorically like those that line Grand Avenue in West Grove. Impossible to escape from.

I stopped researching. I stopped thinking about articles. I stopped writing.

Which is odd because there was a time in my life that I just wrote to write. I had no place to publish my writing. I had no readers. I had no blog. I wrote merely to put my thoughts down and get them outta mind. It was cleansing, like a brain colonic. I wrote for the pleasure of the writing.

Eventually, I made somewhat of a living at it as a freelance investigative journalist and, later, toiled for a decade as a news writer on BreakfastTelevision [sic] on Citytv [sic]. Even then I still hammered words into particular configurations for my own enjoyment … and to clarify my thought processes. I need to start doing that again. Desperately.

To quote myself again from Kick That Block:

As much as that was true then, maybe enough time has passed that I think I might be able to finally get this down in digital form. I need to get it off my chest. I need to explore the problem deeper in order to see whether riffing on the topic with words will allow me to find what I’m looking for. It’s still going to take a while before I have anything in a finished form that I’d be willing to publish. If at all. Psychiatry might be faster, but who can afford that? They charge more than Miami FOIs.

For me it will be a relief to just get it ‘out there,’ because it’s a secret I’ve held on to a long time. Only one person on earth knows and they only learned in the last few weeks. I blurted it out while we spoke long-distance during one of my long walks during The Time of The COVID. I was explaining the various things that have turned my anhedonia into full time [find]depression.

It will be the most personal thing I will ever write. In fact, it’s so personal that all my previous attempts at getting my thoughts down were deleted from my hard drive so they could not be found.

That’s not something I normally do.

I still have every draft of every analog article I ever wrote during my magazine freelancing years. Some of them still have editors’ notes for further … err … edits. Electronically, I have an external hard drive (so that I don’t lose anything precious if a PC fries, as has happened many times over the years) with separate folders for each article, where I toss pics, links, notes, and, eventually, numbered drafts, until I have an article I am willing to release into the wild.

Having destroyed all my previous work on this deeply personal article, I’ll be starting from scratch. I saved nothing. I just looked.

Because it’s not something I can just ‘dash off’ — like this thingie you’re reading f’rinstance — don’t expect it any time soon. However, having finally told 1 person, I’m hoping it will be easier now.

However, to circle back to where I started, I need to get back to writing if I am going to continue to call myself a writer.

The COVID is a pretty little bug

Expect the Not Now Silly Newsroom to sputter back to life. It’s not like I got anything better to do. Today is my 44th day of self-imposed social distancing. I’m going wrangy, just like everybody else.

P.S. I was asked why I call it The COVID. I am harkening back to my childhood when elders spoke in hushed tones about The Cancer or The Polio when they didn’t think children were listening.

We now live in the Time of the COVID.

With all my love,
Aunty Em

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

1 thought on “The COVID Chronicles — Unpacking the Writer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *