“from away”: a person or thing that comes from outside of Maine; the phrase is most usually spoken with distain and a shake of the head.
About this blog
Hey there! My name is Keith Michaud and this is “Letters From Away,” a blog written by a Mainer living outside the comfortable and sane confines of New England. The blog is intended for Mainers, whether they live in the Pine Tree State or beyond, and for anyone who has loved ’em, been baffled by ’em or both.
Ayuh, I am “from away.” Worse still, I live on the Left Coast – in California, which is very nearly as far as you can get from Maine and still remain in North America. But I don’t think I am alone in being a native Mainer now “from away.” There are others who were born and raised in Maine and have ventured north of Fort Kent, south of Kittery, west of Fryeburg and east of, well, Eastport. So, I think it is OK to be bold enough to offer my views of how the world views Maine and Mainers and how Mainers view the world. This blog will be part analysis of Maine’s place in this world, comments on Mainers worth commenting on – which is all of them, of course – and part reminiscing on my childhood, but only if those reminiscings help make a point.
Of course, being “from away” means any person and thing that is not from Maine. It is a regional phrase that can be spoken with equal portions of good humor and deadeye distain. Actually, usually always with distain and the shake of the head.
I have lived in California since I came here in 1983 to attend the California State University, Chico. As I tell people, I came for a semester … 26 years ago.
But without a doubt, Maine remains at my core. It is who I am. It is what I am. It is what I will be always. My Maine milestones remain at the center of things for me, right down to using Maine place names for my computer passwords. (Um, I suppose now I have to change my passwords. Drat!)
The rest of this stuff is my life story (abridged), so click over to the blog entries or to Lots O’ Links for some Maine fun if you are not terribly interested in reading my life story (abridged). Heck, I’m not sure I would read it if it were not my own life story (abridged). It will not hurt by feelings. Really, I swear. So, read on if you have time to kill while the laundry is in the dryer or click on over to something else on the blog.
The early years
I was born June 21, 1962, in Fort Kent, Maine, very nearly as far north as you can get in the Pine Tree State. It may be almost a cruel joke to be born on the first day of summer in a place like Maine where it is often recounted that there are only three seasons in Maine – winter, mud and June. My deep love for summer months may come from being born on the first day of summer and having lived in the frigid climate that Maine can be. And perhaps that is why I have stayed in California so long.
My parents, Louis and Diana, settled in Portage, Maine, on Portage Lake in Aroostook County, along with me and my baby sister, Sheri. Portage is a tiny town on state Route 11. It is a place that might have been the model for “the village” in the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” Neighbors and strangers watched out for children and children respected adults. It is pretty much the same place today. It is a great place to be raised and a great place to be from. Summers were filled with baseball, golf, bicycling, swimming, sailing, lawn-mowing, barbecues, camping, and clambering over mountains and through hay fields. Fall and winter were filled with school, soccer, basketball, snowmobiling, sledding and shoveling snow … lots and lots of snow.
I attended Ashland Community High School, M.S.A.D. No. 32 in Ashland, Maine. (I seem to recall that Ashland used to be called Dalton after a relative of the members of the Dalton Gang. And when much of the town burned down, townsfolk took the opportunity to change the name to Ashland. Yeah, the town named after a relative of Wild West bank robbers burned down and the folks named the town after what was left behind. Mainers know their irony.) My high school class was small – 49 teens from five or so surrounding communities. Social networking has allowed me to reconnect with some of those people, which has been pretty cool, even if they continue to refuse to acknowledge that they know me at all.
Today the school district is building a new high school, and that is a good thing.
I was an OK high school student. I was in the school’s concert band. I was an OK percussionist, I suppose, although I gave up drums and such pretty much at the same time I graduated high school. I played soccer, baseball and basketball. I was an OK soccer player, baseball player and basketball player, I suppose. Those are things that helped form me and I appreciate those activities to this day.
The not-so-early years
The University of Southern Maine, part of the University of Maine system, has campuses in Gorham and Portland, and I studied communications there for a couple of years. At the time, it was a pretty typical New England campus – broad, green grassy common areas, tall conifers and other trees, and lots and lots of brick buildings. I lived in a residence hall built in the 1800s that was supposedly haunted. I do not know – it might have been. The rumor helped when we held a haunted house in the attic of the place.
It was a good time and looking back I realize I did not appreciate it as much as I should have.
I felt a bit rudderless at the time, as young adults are bound to be from time to time. So, I participated in the National Student Exchange, where college and university students are able to go to other campuses in the United States to experience college life elsewhere for a semester or academic year. I went to the California State University, Chico for a semester – but ended up staying.
Journalism seemed to be a good fit for me in college and I studied journalism at Chico State. I ended up on the campus newspaper, The Orion, and one of the very first stories I did was on a police raid of the apartment of college students who mostly had burglarized vending machines. It was a pretty big deal for a campus newspaper. Later, we learned that the tip for that raid came from Steven Crittenden, who later was convicted of murdering a prominent elderly Chico couple. He currently resides on California’s death row.
Later, I was editor of The Orion for two semesters. It was good training for what would come later in my career.
The real world
My first job out of college was as editor of The Mendocino Beacon, a small weekly newspaper in the quaint California coastal community of Mendocino. It was a one-person editorial operation and just too much to handle for my first job, but the lessons I learned there gave me skills I use to this day.
Ukiah Daily Journal and the Woodland Daily Democrat – where I mostly covered crime, police and fire departments, and local government – were my next two career stops before moving onto The Reporter in Vacaville. Vacaville and the rest of Solano County is what we called a “target-rich environment” when it came to news. Something was always happening locally, and if it was not something local, some national or international news story would invariable somehow involved someone from Vacaville or Solano County. Vaca Man, the near-iconic image of growth and prosperity in Vacaville, also became a symbol of locals’ engagement with the outside world and their desire to see what was out in the world. And their inevitable involvement with one of those national or international news stories.
I also covered two state prisons in Vacaville and went to Africa, Europe and Haiti with Air Force crews from nearby Travis Air Force Base on humanitarian missions. Those are experiences that I still use today as a journalist and a human being. Many of us have little or no idea what it is like to lack very basic necessities – food and water free of contamination, adequate clothing and shelter, education, freedoms – that we in this country take for granted. I went very briefly to Africa in 1994 during a revolt and famine there. People – people who had run from their country because of ethnic cleansing – were drinking water taken from lakes where bloated human and animal bodies floated just down the shore. It was sad and disgusting and life-changing.
The same with the very brief Haiti visit. Haiti is the only Fourth World nation in the Western Hemisphere. Yeah, FOURTH World nation! The United States, Canada, Mexico and other industrial and emerging countries in the Western Hemisphere should be doing more to give that nation and its people a hand up.
After a few years chasing cops, fire engines and bad guys around Vacaville and Solano County, I became a copy editor at The Reporter. I helped designed news pages, edited copy and began writing a weekly column. My responsibilities broadened to include the newspaper’s auto section and other special sections. I also took on copy editing the comment and opinion pages. I became the assistant news editor in charge of special sections and then the opinion page editor.
Being an opinion page editor has to be the most fun job there is in newspapers. It is the most challenging, rewarding, frustrating, exasperating, enjoyable job in newspapers. I would love to be an opinion editor at a newspaper again.
After more than 13 years working at The Reporter, I moved on to The Record in Stockton where I was assistant city editor. I directly supervised five staff writers, helped develop stories and staff, helped maintain the story budget, handled staff scheduling for a newsroom and five bureaus. A cost-cutting newsroom reorganization resulted in me becoming a staff writer for the newspaper’s website, recordnet.com, where I wrote breaking news and posted local and wire stories, photos and other information on the website.
Unfortunately, the cost-cutting effort was not enough and on March 5, 2009, I became another in a very long list of hardworking journalist who were laid off in the past few years.
I was out of work for about two and a half years. It was a crazy time, right in the middle of the Great Recession. I worked nearly every day of that time to find work, either in newspapers or outside newspapers. Most days I went to a local coffeehouse to use its WiFi to search for jobs, prepare resume packages, send out resume packages, and keep track of what is going on in the world and with my friends. It took much longer than I expected to find a job, but I remained optimistic that something good would happen and that I would find a job.
What’s going on now
Eventually, I did find a job. I was hired as the editor of the Central Valley Business Journal. I did that for about a year and in time I was hired as the media relations coordinator for University of the Pacific (www.pacific.edu). The job is very interesting and challenging, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I write stories for the university’s website, pitch stories to media, help media find the sources they need for stories, pitch in when it comes to social media, and a few other things. Each day is a new experience and I hope to be at Pacific for years to come.
To see Keith Michaud’s portfolio and professional profile, visit:
I have a little fun on the Coffeehouse Observer, too.
The Other Keith Michaud
There is a talented guy named Keith Michaud living in Florida, I think. I am not THAT Keith Michaud. He – the talented Keith Michaud – has his own indie band and you can find out more about him here:
Originally posted, give or take, on: 10/28/2009