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Tom Robotham has written hundreds of articles for national and regional magazines and newspapers. Below are links to some of his work. 
Behind the Music
A week with the Virginia Symphony

A vigor more than earth’s is in thy notes. ~ Walt Whitman


AT THE MOMENT, I AM ENVELOPED BY SILENCE. I sit in Chrysler Hall, alone, on a Wednesday evening, looking out across the rows of empty red-cushioned seats arranged in gentle arcs; gradually, I allow my gaze to drift upward along the walls’ soaring, sound-polished wooden panels. The spaciousness, the imposing stage, the white, gracefully contoured side-balconies draw forth memories of concerts past and anticipations of concerts yet to come. And so, I close my eyes, at peace, not simply because all is quiet, but because I dwell, as Emily Dickinson once said, in possibility.

Soon the musicians of the Virginia Symphony will arrive, and slowly they will take their seats onstage. The silence will not be broken. That is too harsh a word. I prefer to think instead that all of the instrumentalists, as they gather in groups of two or three, will begin to harmonize with the silence and build upon it with their purposeful warm-ups. READ MORE




Searching for the Heart and Soul of Baseball in the Minor Leagues


I see great things in baseball. It’s our game—the American game. ~ Walt Whitman


It’s all over now. Harbor Park is as quiet as a church, the Norfolk Tides having left town this morning  for a two-game series in Louisville. I’ve chosen to come here again today, just the same, to reflect on the eight days I spent with the team during their homestand against the Ottawa Lynx and the Columbus Clippers.

In many ways this homestand was like any other. Each day, groundskeeper Kenny Magner, who has missed only one game in  23 years (he was attending his daughter’s graduation ceremony), tended the field with the quiet dedication and solid expertise of a master craftsman. Each afternoon, with the exception of Thursday, when the Tides played a day game, the team took batting practice. And each evening, the vendors, ushers and administrative staff went through their familiar pre-game rituals in preparation for the arrival of several thousand fans.

But within this framework of familiarity, the homestand was full of surprises for players and fans alike. There were moments of pure elation—Mark Johnson’s 10th-inning, game-winning shot into the picnic area comes to mind—and there were moments of pain and bitter frustration.

Such is the nature of baseball. It is a game of rules and routines that have been in place for well over a century. And yet each day brings with it its own curiosities, its own setbacks, its own moments of grace. READ MORE



Way of the Warrior

Why I Got My Black Belt at the Age of 52--Part I




That’s what the direct-mail flier assured me as I stared at it one evening last September while I sat slumped in my favorite easy chair with a beer in hand.


I promise to make you a martial artist!


I have to admit, I was intrigued. I’d always been drawn to the martial arts. I like the combination of grace and power that are at the heart of karate, judo and related disciplines. I have a long-standing interest in Eastern philosophy. And, as silly as it may seem, I still harbor the boyhood fantasy of being able to flatten two or three bad guys with ease, at lightening speed.


But I also had two good reasons to doubt the claim.


First, I’m a skeptic – especially when it comes to ads promising personal transformation of one sort or another. Chalk it up to experience with those Charles Atlas propositions in the back pages of 1960s comic books – the ones that appealed to the 98-pound weakling cowering inside most of us – and to the self-help books that became so popular a decade later. In the end, I concluded long ago, they are all the same – big on motivational language but short on substance. READ MORE

Whatever Happened to Common Courtesy?


A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein.


Recently in a class I teach at Old Dominion University called “Sex, Culture & Media,” my students and I discussed an episode of Sex and the City—the one where Carrie’s boyfriend of the moment breaks up with her via Post-it Note.


Before I continue, let me say this: I never really liked Sex and the City. Yeah, it had witty dialogue and clever puns and all. But it also traded in gender stereotypes. Indeed, for a show that purported to celebrate independent career-minded women, the characters spent an awful lot of time cooing over shoes and engagement rings or comforting themselves with chocolate—you know, the stuff “women do.” All the while, men were depicted as insensitive lugs.


That said, I think the Post-it episode may be one of the most prophetic half hours in the history of television. READ MORE



Born Identities
Encountering the Transgender Community

If you were to see Ethan Cusick walk into a public men’s room, you would think nothing of it. The 41-year-old Norfolk resident is of average height, for a man, and average build. Nothing about him—his clothes, his haircut, his voice or his mannerisms—would suggest that he didn’t belong there. Read More

Smack Down 

A Look at the Heroin Epidemic in Modern Suburbia 

Ron* remembers vividly the first time he felt “the warmth of the opium embrace,” as he puts it.

“I was 23 at the time,” the now-33-year-old Norfolk resident recalls. “I’d been doing a lot of cocaine and pills but had always been afraid of heroin because I didn’t want to stick a needle in my arm. My friend, who’d offered it to me, said I didn’t have to—that I could snort it. I sort of faked it, taking a light snort, but I still got high. I felt like I’d taken some Percocets or something. So it did pique my interest.”

His curiosity notwithstanding, Ron—who was raised in an upper-middle class home in Norfolk—didn’t touch heroin again for another year. And when he finally did, it wasn’t for recreational pleasure.

“I got really sick,” he recalls. “It turned out I had pancreatitis from drinking so heavily. Pancreatitis is really painful, so they were pumping me full of Dilaudid (a strong narcotic pain reliever), and I loved it. I didn’t even want to leave the hospital. I just wanted to lie in bed all day because I felt fantastic.”Read More

Paris, Je T'aime 

When I visited Paris for the first time in 1999, I was instantly smitten with the city. I promised myself I would return as soon as possible. But year after year, I came up with one excuse or another for postponing the trip. You know how that goes—you have a dream, but you can’t pursue it just now. Someday soon, though, when you have more money, or more time. The next thing you know, the years have turned into decades, and you begin to wonder whether that dream will ever become a reality. Read More

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