My inbox at the newspaper contains emails from people who are dead.
I wouldn't say this type of communique is disturbing as much as it is peculiar. The emails seem to have the potential for continued interaction; the voices feel alive. Unlike with letters, I can click "reply" and hope the message is received. Perhaps it would be, in more ways than one.
Having met thousands of people the last five years here, and especially on a beat that involves gunplay and horrific human behavior, it's expected that a few email correspondents would have died. Five years sees many folks expire. The lost voices are those of law enforcement officers, ambitious business people, grieving spouses. I'm lucky to have known them.
This week I'm wrapping up five years of full-time employment with the Daily Post. Occasions like this bring sentimentality, reflection and in these high-tech times, a clearing out of in boxes, which is how I stumbled upon these talks with the dead. I like to think I learned something from them, and they from the stories I did with them, or about them.
Five years ago, the first column I wrote for this newspaper was axed. Killed. Shot down like a silly little lunatic at the prison fence. Not a word of it was published.
Why? It was dreck. Why was it dreck? That's complicated.
If I recall, the writing was a blathering collection of nonsense about how red the soil of Georgia is, how busy Gwinnett County's roadways seem, how the hills around here sure are pretty. The column, in other words, was 600 words bereft of insight or worthwhile information. It was a guy from Indiana waxing complimentary about that which he did not understand. A guy committing what writing professors call a cardinal sin: Telling people what they already know.
In five years, I've gotten to know the amorphous, eclectic beast that is Gwinnett County reasonably well, though sometimes it seems I've seen only a fraction. Optimistic news people like to say we are swimming in a sea of stories. If that's the case, Gwinnett is perpetually at high tide. Tragic, wonderful, aggravating, befuddling, hilarious, evolving stories -- they live here. I hope you, as consumers of the news, continue to appreciate the professionals who deliver these stories to you. And especially the ones who take the time to give the stories heart.
It's funny. I used to write nothing but puff pieces for a living -- fluffy features, journalistic cupcakes. Shortly before moving to Atlanta, I became intrigued by grit, struggle and human triumph over tragedy. Gravitating to the realm of crime and justice, I have met a remarkable cast of strong and honorable people here, and I've brushed elbows with pure human cancer.
Aside from dour crime, I've covered dog shows, hockey tailgates, wedding anniversaries, remarkable barbers, flourishing festivals, ancient mysteries, the ravages of war and one megalomaniac football player riding a bull. The goal of each assignment was to attune this community to itself, if only for a day.
Community journalism is a service that should never be allowed to wither away. In one form or another it has to live on, given that humans are a curious species by nature, and one that appreciates reliable truth.
Going forward, I'll continue to contribute writing projects to the Daily Post and to various other places. And in May, Parkgate Press in Washington, D.C., will be publishing my book of short fiction stories called, seriously, "Dirtyville Rhapsodies." That, friends, was a shameless plug.
Meanwhile, if you have a terrific story from anywhere in Gwinnett County that's hankering to be told in these pages, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm obliged to your hospitality, Gwinnett. I'm lucky to have landed here, to have gotten to know you. This isn't goodbye, so much as see you around.
Josh Green covered cops and courts for the Daily Post.