MeIBMA.JPGIt’s coming up on seven months since I left the News & Observer, and the week just past was my most bittersweet yet. Late September is when the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass shindig returns to Raleigh, and it looked like last week’s 2019 edition went just fine other than lightning shutting down Friday night’s outdoor shows an hour early.

Near as I could tell, the usual huge throng turned out, although it will take a few weeks of number-crunching to determine if 2019 set another attendance record. But for the first time since IBMA set up shop in Raleigh six years ago, I won’t be checking on that in any sort of official capacity.

This was the first Raleigh World of Bluegrass where I was just another attendee rather than the N&O’s coverage point person. I did some previews elsewhere, but no live coverage during the week. And on the surface, sure, it was nice to just go and enjoy it rather than have to work it. But there were also intermittent pangs of strange, disorienting feelings.

I actually made a point of not doing my customary early-morning-to-late-night marathon, and there were even a few days when I put aside my FOMO and didn’t go down at all. The paper has moved on from me, farming out coverage duties to others. So it seemed like I should do the same and put a modicum of that effort into other things.

LABF.JPGAll the same, the place the festival once occupied in my professional life was very much on my mind, never moreso than Saturday morning — when I was actually all the way on the other side of the Triangle. Piedmont Laureate emeritus James Maxey (who held the post in 2015, in the area of speculative fiction) helped organize a Local Author Book Fair at Hillsborough’s Orange County Public Library, and I was first up to read.

Since the last book I published came out in 2015 and my next one won’t come out until the fall of 2020, I didn’t really have an obvious work to focus on. So I chose to look forward by reading a few selections from that next book, a history of North Carolina music. Wish I could tell you the title, but right now that is still being debated.

Along with the book’s introductory preface, I read the concluding epilogue, which I only recently finished. It’s a coda that ties the whole thing up with a scene from Raleigh’s first World of Bluegrass in 2013, bringing together different threads of the story, and reading that aloud in public for the first time was an unexpectedly emotional experience. I’m going to have to work on my composure if I read that one out loud in front of people again, because I’m afraid I got choked up enough for it to be a bit of an embarrassing scene. I am thankful the attendees were kind about it.

Why was it so emotional? Probably because it made leaving my previous life at the paper, which had been home for 28 years, resonate on more of a deep-down unconscious level. Intellectually, I don’t really miss life at the N&O because it hadn’t been the same for a long, long time. Nevertheless, parts of my lizard brain still seem to be processing my departure from newspaper journalism. And if it was kind of a shock for that to come roaring back and leave me awash in the feels, it felt like a good thing. This cycle is probably akin to grieving the death of a loved one, a process that involves peaks and valleys rather than straight lines.

Reading my book’s conclusion aloud and revisiting that first bluegrass festival, and how hard I worked to cover it over the years, really did perfectly sum up that chapter of my life. Put a period on it, and maybe even an exclamation point. I am curious if other people will find it moving, or simply overwrought. Either way, that’s okay. I wouldn’t change a thing.

There remains a mountain of detail work to do before this book is completely finished — acknowledgements, pictures, captions, permission forms, proof-reading and more. But now it feels like the journey it’s taken me on really is done, for better or worse. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, the book will be out in the world in time for next year’s World of Bluegrass. My closing-address farewell to the daily-paper grind in all its good, bad and ugly glory.

I’m thankful to have had the opportunity.