Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One Year Later... A New Life In Virginia

In “The Book of Questions,” there’s a query that goes like this: “Which would you prefer: a wild, turbulent life filled with joy, sorrow, passion & adventure, intoxicating successes and stunning setbacks—or a happy, secure, predictable life without such wide swings of fortune and mood?”

It’s a question that has remained in my mind’s eye since I discovered the book in 1987. Ultimately, when I moved to New York City in 1995 for my dream job at Billboard magazine, I experienced the former. Life was crazy cool: so many highs amid a career that allowed me to prove my moxie as a writer in a forum that mattered—and apparently made a difference to the many artists I supported.

Among my roles there, my calling card was Singles Reviews Editor. I was the geeky pop guy that championed acts that seldom garnered kudos from the mainstream press. From Celine Dion and Jim Brickman to those 90s’ pop boom acts (‘N Sync, BSB, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees, Christina Aguilera, BBMak, Hanson), I became the de facto champion of “great melodies.”

I also had the opportunity (and the real estate) to amp newbie artists that deserved press from the industry’s “music Bible.” I recognized the power that BB’s team of veteran journalists possessed in an era when the mag still mattered—and man oh man, was it paid forward—through a lifetime’s worth of awesome memories (not to mention a robust Starfucker wall of grab & grin photos).

In 2009, when Nielsen was looking to sell the company, the recession presented an ideal excuse to excise Billboard’s veteran writers and lean up its bottom line. One by one, the talented scribes were laid off. March 25 was my D-Day. I was called in, fired—and yet had two interviews scheduled for the afternoon: a video
interview for billboard.com with Ashely Tisdale and a phoner with Lionel Richie.

Buck up, baby! I walked around Billboard’s East Village neighborhood for an hour after getting canned, shared the news with my work besties Kristina, Christa & Donna, whimpered a bit, and then put it aside to get on with business.

After the Lionel interview, I got an email from the label’s publicist that went something like this: “I don’t know what just happened, but Lionel said he had one of the best interviews of his career with you. Obviously, you got him—and he surely got you.” Well, then, a fitting finale.

The point of all this is to define life since then… and the details matter, because life was profoundly different in the years following. Suddenly, I was a “freelance journalist.” I know meeself: Give me an assignment and a deadline and I’ll deliver. I’m the ultimate minion. As a self-starter, um, not so much. I’m a fine writer but unfortunately, a less enterprising entrepreneur.

Thankfully, the U.S. Census came to my rescue. For nine months in 2010, I had the time of my life working with wickedly smart folks and learning to love my Brooklyn in a brand new way. I was there long enough to gambol through snowdrifts and then trod the streets with a summer flop sweat. Indelible. I also met Suzanne, a lifer friend.

In 2013, I finished renovating my Brooklyn Heights apartment. It took more than a decade and suddenly, I was… listless. Meanwhile, I tossed my own 50th birthday party the year before and recognized that… the times are a’changing.

Folks move on, lives change and friendships fade. Not to mention that NYC was no longer my bounty: no more wining & dining, free concerts, countless glamorous events or… most important… a concrete reason to be in the most expensive city in the nation. It didn’t help that my 10-year relationship came to a rather disastrous end in 2011.

And so: What the hell am I doing here?


In the summer of 2013, I began fantasizing about a new chapter. I sniffed out Las Vegas, Austin, San Diego, parts of Florida… I wanted warmth (the endless New York winters were exhausting) and space and a car and the ability to stretch out both arms without smacking a wall (in my 950 square foot apartment). I wanted my doggies Abby & Spencer to be able to RUN.

When I came to Hampton Roads that fall with life-long pal Trix in tow—staying with 20-year friends Bill & Mary—I was only “exploring” the area. I never expected to FIND MY FOREVER HOME. On September 13, 2013, I walked into this house in Norfolk and said: “I want to die here.”

On January 15, 2014, I began to LIVE here. That was one year ago today. And this is where I return to “The Book of Questions.” Highs and lows, indeed. First, this house is ridiculous… a 4,000sf mid-century modern “estate” that has maintained its aesthetic since it was built in 1962 (the year of my birth!). I am madly in love.

As soon as I hit Hampton Roads, I got busy: I’ve gutted two bathrooms, replaced all windows & sliding doors, installed a new HVAC system, ran a gas line, filled in a huge but sadly decrepit concrete pool… oh, and painted the front door red. That was among my only DIYs (I’ve learned over so many years to depend on the experts; I can’t cut a straight line with scissors).

I’ve worked the land, growing tomatoes, planting bulbs and harvesting sunflowers, I observe geese, seagulls, raccoons, squirrels, so many birds… and have witnessed sunrises & sunsets that foster a physical reaction that’s so warm & fuzzy you’d think I was experiencing my first kiss. Oh, yeah, and there’s that, too. I’ve even reignited that pitifully lacking aspect of my life (here in lil’ ole Norfolk). I've met new friends… and lost 25 pounds. (I’m particularly fond of the latter.)

Over the past year, there have also been challenges (here come the lows). Losing my beloved Schnauzers Abby & Spencer within three months, in August and October—with different illnesses—is the most difficult life event I have ever dealt with. I cannot understand it. My heart is still broken and I continue to cry.

In addition, when you’re 50, it’s not so easy to connect with newbies. And god knows when you work from home, it’s pretty much impossible to connect (duh). I’ve worked to put myself out there (I could do better, but couldn't we all?)—and there are a handful of wondrous new friends—but everybody has their established lives. I get it.

The good thing is that I am a writer. Is there any career that is more solitary? I think fellow journos will understand this: We are the ultimate extroverted introverts. Writing is wholly solitary. All of my life, that has been joyful. It’s just me and my beautiful words. We get along fine. And so… if I occasionally feel isolated in my new life here in Virginia, I step back and say to myself (not out loud… I haven’t reached that point yet)… “Damn, Chuck, you entertain the hell out of yourself.” So I guess we’re... uh... I’m happy enough. I happen to enjoy my own company immensely.

In all, ONE YEAR LATER, I am filled with joy each day to wake up with the sun rising through my bedroom window (drapes? hell, no!). Over coffee every morning (in the winter months), I open my iPhone weather App and compare Norfolk & NYC and utter a big “heeee.” Blissful weather!

Getting in a car on a whim and going anywhere… wheee!! Freedom! Taking a road trip to the Eastern Shore or Williamsburg… wowsah! Sniffing around Walmart, Dollar General, Big Lots, Dollar Tree and gargantuan grocery stores and paying next to nothing compared with $$$ in NYC... rah rah!! Even though I left NYC, I still live like a "depression baby."

And I have family here: my beloved Francie, and Mary & Bill, and that handful of new friends that I adore (more to come in 2015? I’m a fun guy, right?). My parents are now a 4-hour drive away.

Yes, I am fortunate to have this crazy cool home that I dig, indulge and truly treasure as a blessing. It's just plain fun. I know this is the kind of place that will "never be done," which, to me, is a beautiful thing. God knows I love a project. And right alongside, I am still in the midst of the grand evergoing project known as life. This still feels like a new beginning, with all hope for so much good to come. *

"Now my story has been told, time for the future to unfold..."—Junior Turner