Lessons from a mother

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Since I began teaching in late September, I’ve had no time for a book and very little time for  magazine articles.

So when classes ended last week, I treated myself to a simple pleasure: a morning cup of joe, my recliner and The New Yorker. Flipping through the latest copy of the magazine, I was drawn to an article headlined “The Teacher.”

How could I resist?

Although I still have a final exam to give this week, I was feeling pretty good about how things went during my first stab at teaching an 11-week course in communications.

What insights might I gain from a first-person essay written by the son of a teacher?

At least three, it turns out.

The author, James Wood, opens with a scene from his mother’s funeral (she was 87), then segues to a discussion of how teaching ran in his family (his father also was a teacher and his mother’s grandfather was in charge of a small school in the Scottish countryside) and of what he learned about his mother after her death.

It’s clear-eyed prose, written with the precision of a New Yorker staff writer and book critic who also teaches literary criticism at Harvard. Drawing on childhood memories, Wood recalls the selfless sacrifice his “perpetually impoverished parents” made, each working multiple jobs, so that their three children could attend expensive boarding schools. An unnecessary sacrifice, he says, because a grammar school not far from town sent kids every year to Oxford and Cambridge.

But his mother was determined that her two boys and one daughter would have nothing but the finest private education, even if it meant she worked a Saturday job at a bookstore cash register in addition to teaching English at a girls’ high school.

My three takeaways?

1. A glimpse of a Northern European culture I know little of. Wood describes his mother as a hard worker from the lower middle class with a demeanor reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher.

In many ways, she was an almost stereotypically Scottish mother (the goyish version of the Jewish caricature)—passionate, narrow, judgmental, always aspiring. Her children were her artifacts, through which she created the drama of her own restless ambitions. These ambitions were moral and social. She wanted us to be morally successful, to get the best possible grades from the Great Examiner.

It’s uncanny that the description popped up at the same time Lori and I were laboring through a Netflix film about a young Scottish girl in the early 20th century, overcoming hardships in a household headed by a father whose disciplinarian ways spilled over into physical and emotional abuse. Not that I’m saying all Scots are this way…

2. A reminder of my own mother. Wood describes receiving an email from one of his mother’s former students, an accomplished poet who was one of her great success stories. He writes:

All sons adore their complicated mothers, in one way or another. But how powerful to encounter, from someone else, the beautifully uncomplicated statement “I adored her.”

As a young boy and continuing into my mid-20s, I thought the world of my mother. In my mind, she was the standout among six sisters in a family of migrant farmworkers — smart, funny, feisty, pretty, a hard worker, and utterly devoted to my two sisters and me. Deprived of the opportunity to attend even high school, she encouraged me at a young age to do well in school and go to college.

After Lori and I became parents, complications ensued and things were never the same. Differing views over religion and child-rearing were exacerbated by distance. Toward the end of life, she became more reclusive, less physically active, and focused on a variety of ailments, both real and imagined.

I loved her, of course, and I knew she adored me. But “complicated” hardly begins to explain our relationship.

3. An even greater appreciation of the teaching profession. Having just concluded a course that demanded of me far more time than I imagined, I am fully aware that one goes into this line of work not for the money, but to have an impact on others’ lives. Wood writes:

I had a sense that my mother was a good teacher, but I had no idea that she had been such an influential one, and in the very area I had chosen, and struggled to succeed in, often in the face of parental doubts. She had been not just a good teacher but a crucial literary encourager, and I had not been able to see this well enough…

Through the eyes of others and only after her death is Wood able to see the gift his mother gave — not to just her students but to him as well. I can only hope to have the same positive influence on the young men and women who come through my classroom.

Read Wood’s essay: “The Teacher”

Illustration: Gerard Dubois

On the mend with Charlotte

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The Little Peanut waits for a morning treat.

It was just 10 days ago that a visit to a local dog park nearly ended in tragedy.

You know the story: Two unleashed pit bull mixes came after our little Charlotte, intent on mauling her, but got me instead.

Dozens of you expressed concern and for that I am deeply grateful. I’m happy to say our physical wounds are nearly healed. And I’m optimistic Charlotte will be back to her rambunctious self once she’s back to 100 percent.

A week ago today, I saw a nurse practitioner. She examined the bites around my right elbow, said they appeared to healing on their own with no issues, and submitted a report to the county animal control department. I wasn’t eager to undergo any kind of antibiotics regimen and she agreed it wasn’t necessary. The scab on the most prominent cut fell off earlier this week and I suspect I may have a one-inch scar to show for it.

The following day, we took Charlotte in to see the vet. A day earlier, the day after Thanksgiving, Lori discovered what we had both missed — an open wound near Charlotte’s tail. It wasn’t evident at first because of her black fur and the fact that it had already begun scabbing. Only then did I realize that one of the pit bulls must have bitten her as I was clutching her to my chest, trying to keep her safe from the leaping dogs.

The vet put our little terrier on antibiotics and gave us a soft-cloth cone to put around her neck so she couldn’t reach the wound. All went well for 48 hours. Then, one afternoon as she snuggled at my feet, I noticed a bright red spot and realized sneaky Charlotte had licked the scab off when her cone was temporarily off. We applied an ointment and on went the cone again.

At this point, the wound seems well on its way to being completely healed. Charlotte has a shaved patch near her tail but eventually her fur will grow back.

If I ever encounter the dogs’ owner, I’ll be sure to give her an earful and demand she reimburse us for the vet bill. Pretty irresponsible of her to leave the scene without giving her name and contact information.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Psychologically, the unprovoked attack was upsetting for all of us.

The idea that a romp in the park would turn into 30 seconds of chaos was pretty disturbing. I honestly didn’t know whether either of us would be severely injured. Afterward, I faced the reality that little Charlotte most likely would have been killed if either dog had latched onto her.

Charlotte shivered that night as she laid on our laps. If I’d only known she’d been bitten too, we would have given her immediate medical attention.

In the days since it happened, I think it’s fair to say we’ve only grown closer to Charlotte. Certainly, more protective.

Twice a week when I drive downtown to teach a class at Portland State, my route takes me past The Pixie Project, the animal adoption center where Charlotte was placed after being picked up off the streets.

We will never know what she endured in the first year of her life, but I do know she won’t lack for love or attention as long as she is with us. Our Little Peanut, as we have begun calling her, may be not much bigger than a cat but she may as well as be a St. Bernard when it comes to filling our hearts.

The talented Liz Longley

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Liz Longley: Five CDs and still in her 20s.

I’d circled Nov. 29 on my calendar several weeks ago, waiting patiently for the return of singer-songwriter Liz Longley to perform live in Portland.

The date finally arrived and I was delighted to be part of a small but appreciative crowd that showed up at the Alberta Rose Theater for a Tuesday night concert. (Lori doesn’t attend midweek concerts owing to her early-bird hours as a personal trainer.)

Liz is most likely under the radar for most people. But no matter. I think she’s equally talented as a lyricist and a performer, toggling back and forth between acoustic guitar and piano and singing with delicacy or verve, depending on the song.

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Liz Longley performs Nov. 29, 2016, at the Alberta Rose Theater in Portland, Oregon.

My longtime friend, Mike Granberry, is the one who first told me about Liz. He’s a music critic for The Dallas Morning News and sees plenty of acts come through that city.

I checked her out at a May 2015 show at Mississippi Studios and was suitably impressed. She was touring then in support of her self-titled CD, her first since relocating from Philadelphia to Nashville.

This is the first track from that album:

Last night Liz played several songs from her newest album, “Weightless” and made sure to perform a few older favorites, including “Camaro” and “Bad Habit” — both songs about ex-boyfriends — and “Unraveling,” a ballad about her grandmother’s battle with dementia.

She was joined on stage by Brian Dunne, a classmate from the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, who performed a solo set and then came back for a few songs with Liz.

***

Tuesday was my first time at the Alberta Rose Theater, a renovated movie theater in Northeast Portland known for presenting live music, comedy and vaudeville. It’s an intimate space with general admission seating and a bar serving beer, wine and snacks.

I was four rows from the stage, maybe 30 to 40 feet away, so I had a great view. After the hour-long concert, Liz came out to the foyer to meet with fans, pose for photos, and sell her merchandise. She’s released five CDs and she’s still in her 20s.

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A selfie after the show with Liz.

As I approached after a short wait, Liz stopped me in my tracks and said, “Wait, I know you.”

“You have a great memory” I said. “I’m Granberry’s friend. I saw you at Mississippi Studios.”

“Oh, yeahhh!” she said with a smile. “I remember that show.”

***

Liz performed in Dallas in October and, according to my friend Mike, put on a great show. You can read his review right here.

An excerpt: “Bad Habit” chronicles her failed relationship with a chain smoker: “The night we first kissed/on the balcony alone/Well, he tasted like trouble/But he felt like my own bad habit.”

Tuesday night was the first date on Liz’s West Coast leg of her national “Weightless” tour, which began in mid-September. She performs tonight in Seattle and finishes up in southern California on Dec. 10.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next visit to Portland.With any luck, it’ll be a weekend show and Lori can join me. And maybe by then, Liz Longley will be a better known name.

Giving thanks at Thanksgiving

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Proud parents Jamie and Jordan with their animated daughter Emalyn.

Technically, it was just a four-day break from Thanksgiving through the weekend. But it felt longer — and for good reason.

We had not one but two visits during the break from youngest son Jordan, daughter-in-law Jamie and granddaughter Emalyn. The trio arrived Tuesday night, marking the first leg of their roughly 400-mile road trip to see Jamie’s family in southern Oregon. They hit the road early the next morning but on their return home, they stopped in again Saturday to spend the night.

In between, there were movies and a board game, trips to the doctor and a veterinarian, a fabulous holiday meal for two, a visit from other family members, and lots of “homework” for yours truly tied to the near end of my first term teaching a full-time class at Portland State University.

All of this activity made for a stretch of days marked by relaxation and good eating, medical peace of mind, and a last burst of effort needed to prepare for my last two classes and final exam in Media Ethics.

Where to begin? I suppose a chronological approach will do just fine. And if this is TMI, my apologies. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and being around people I love is the reason why.

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Jordan and Jamie were married Nov. 22, 2009, on a brisk autumn day.

Tuesday: The kids arrived late at night, following a long day at school for Jordan. (After final exams next month, he’s just one semester away from completing an undergraduate biology degree and entering the world of work.)

Tuesday also was the anniversary of Jordan and Jamie’s wedding seven years ago. (So proud of these two.)

Believe it or not, Tuesday also was the day Charlotte and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed dogs at a local dog park. (See below for status update.)

Wednesday: Lori and I both worked, but treated ourselves to a first-run movie at the Hollywood Theater. “Moonlight” has been getting rave reviews for its portrayal of the humanity not often seen in films about African Americans. I can see why.

moonlightThe director, writers and cast are all black, and the film crackles with emotional authenticity.

Imdb.com distills the plot well: “A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.”

It’s a serious movie about bullying and survival, relationships and resiliency, and the yearning to be seen and loved for whom one is. I liked it a lot.

Thursday: Lori worked her magic in the kitchen, roasting a turkey and preparing delicious side dishes that provided meals for the next few days. I helped, but all credit goes to Lori, who is a wonderful cook, just like her late mother.

We hauled out Blokus, a board game we hadn’t played in a long time, to help pass the time on a rain-soaked afternoon. After dinner, we watched a movie in the comfort of our home — “Jobs,” the biopic of Steve Jobs’ rise from college dropout to business/technology genius as the head of Apple.

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Rum-infused egg nog always helps when you’re playing a game of strategy.

Ashton Kutcher was surprisingly good in the lead role, capturing Jobs’ brilliance as well as his unlikable, uncompromising personality. This movie was the 2013 version. Not sure I’m all that interested in the 2015 version, but who knows?

Friday: I went to the doctor to see about these dog bites I incurred three days earlier. The cuts on my right arm and left hand seemed to be healing just fine on their own, the nurse practitioner said. She filed a report with the county animal control office about the bites, but since we have no idea who the owner is, there’s no one to hold accountable.

I dove into two stacks of papers written by my students. One, a mandatory assignment; the other, an extra credit option. Both kept me busy through the day and into Saturday.

Saturday: We took Charlotte to the veterinarian’s office to get her checked out, too, a day after Lori discovered what I had missed. Turns out Charlotte sustained a bite just an inch away from her tail. We hadn’t seen it because of her black fur and because it had begun to scab over so quickly.

The vet prescribed some antibiotics and another medication to help the wound heal, and called our little dog both healthy and lucky to be alive. As you can imagine, Charlotte got some extra love these past days, along with more than a few morsels of turkey.

Sunday: After a nice breakfast with Jamie and Jordan, we had Lori’s brother, Jim, and our sister-in-law, Judi, come over to see the kids and meet Emalyn. It’s hard to imagine a baby that’s happier and easier to care for than Em. She smiles all the time, sleeps soundly and regularly, and travels well, her parents say.

Jim and Judi, who have six grandchildren themselves, were suitably impressed by Miss Emalyn, as was our next-door neighbor Monica, who also came over and declared herself “smitten.”

I spent the afternoon tackling my next assignment — preparing the final exam for my 35 students. The two-hour final is scheduled for next Tuesday, December 6.

Once the tests are scored and the grades are officially submitted to the university, I can look forward to a break before diving in again with a new class on Media Literacy in January at PSU and two more communications classes at Washington State University in Vancouver.

I will be a busy man.

A walk in the park turns ugly

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Charlotte romping on the grounds of the former Washington High School.

Thirty seconds is all it took.

I arrived a little after 2 pm Tuesday at the Southeast Portland dog park where Charlotte and I have become regular visitors. The skies were overcast and the grassy field next to a former high school appeared to be ours alone. As we drew closer, we could see two large dogs probably 50 to 60 yards away, chasing a ball and each other while a woman, their presumed owner, stood nearby.

I let Charlotte off her leash and she began trotting towards the pair. The dogs looked up and Charlotte sensed something wasn’t right. She did a quick 180 and began sprinting back toward me. I scooped her up and she let out a yelp just as the two dogs arrived simultaneously.

Just that quick, things turned ugly.

The dogs leaped at Charlotte but got me instead. I yelled. I turned in circles, facing one then the other. I felt a tug on the sleeve of my windbreaker. And another tug. And another one.

The dogs kept leaping.

I kicked at one dog and got it in the head. .

I yelled at the woman to get her dogs away.

I kept turning, shielding my little terrier from this sudden attack.

Eventually, they stopped. I felt something warm and wet near my mouth. I put my fingers to my lip and bright red blood appeared. I realized it was me — not Charlotte — who was bleeding.

All I could figure was that in clutching her tight to my chest, her teeth had pierced my lip.

The dogs were gone.  A woman who saw the ruckus asked if I was OK. I said I was and headed into the former high school building to find a washroom.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw the dogs had ripped open tears in both jacket sleeves. When I got home and peeled off my shirt, I discovered a gash above my right elbow and puncture wounds nearby. I also had small cuts to two fingers on my left hand.

(Click on images to view captions.)

In that half minute of hell, I realized just how easily a dog can flip the switch from playful to aggressive. I have no doubt those two — pit bull mixes, I’m sad to say — would have hurt Charlotte badly if they’d gotten to her. In the moment, I feared they wouldn’t stop and would latch their powerful jaws onto me.

During those 30 seconds, I heard the woman yelling at the dogs and saying something about one of them belonging to her sister. Whatever. All I know is they were completely out of her control. I couldn’t identify her if she were sitting next to me. All I know is she was white and maybe in her 40s or possibly her 50s.

***

I drove Charlotte to another part of town where they have three separate fenced-off areas for large, medium and small dogs. Charlotte was the only bantamweight, so she and I had alone time in the play area at Normandale Park. It was raining lightly but the thick tree cover kept us mostly dry as we walked among the leaves, twigs and bark.

I felt badly for Charlotte, but thankful that she wasn’t traumatized. Every other visit to the Washington High School dog park had been safe and fun. Not a single dog had been remotely aggressive toward her. We had come to view the open field as our own little refuge in the city.

I won’t stop taking her there because of the attack, but I will be much more cognizant of big or potentially aggressive dogs. And I hope that woman has the sense to keep her beasts away from public places. It wasn’t hard to imagine the damage they could inflict on a child or even an adult, let alone a small animal.

 

Finding release at a dog park

Charlotte looks longingly at the grassy field where she's become a regular visitor.

Charlotte looks longingly at the grassy field where she’s become a regular visitor.

Like everyone else in my blue circle of friends, I was devastated on Election Night. Until now, I’ve not written a thing about my take on our new president-elect and the ugliness unleashed by his campaign, now amplified by his victory.

Suffice to say that as a lifelong civil libertarian, a person of color, the father of a gay daughter, and a progressive who expected our first female president would build on the policies of our first African American president, I was aghast that America instead chose an aging reality TV star to lead our nation.

The thought of this pretentious gasbag occupying the most powerful office on the planet for the next four years was appalling enough. But when I heard the names of Giuliani and Gingrich, and of Christie, Palin and Bannon being floated as Trump appointees, I got downright depressed, even fearful at the thought of what damage these hacks could do to our country.

And so it was that I found release in the most unlikely of places: a dog park.

***

Since Friday, I’ve visited the grounds of the former Washington High School four times with our little dog, Charlotte. It’s in Southeast Portland, about two to three miles from our home, but it’s become something of a refuge for us.

The big grassy lawn is bordered on three sides by a cyclone fence. There’s no play equipment, no ball fields. Just a big open area for canines and their humans to mingle in small groups or spread out for a game of fetch.

Closed in 1981, Washington High School in Southeast Portland has been redeveloped into commercial office and event space.

Closed in 1981, Washington High School in SE Portland has been redeveloped into commercial office and event space.

The high school closed in 1981 because of falling enrollment. It sat there for years, vacant and neglected, until three years ago, when the school district sold the building to a private developer with a vision for transforming it into a mix of commercial office and event space.

These days, a local grocery store chain is the anchor tenant, with administrative offices and community meeting rooms in the remodeled classrooms. The auditorium has become a concert venue — the much-acclaimed Revolution Hall — and creative agencies have moved in as well. There’s also a restaurant on the ground floor, aptly named Martha’s Cafe, with a few outdoor tables on a patio facing the dog park.

***

The first time we came, Charlotte found a fellow terrier named Sybil to run and play with. Sybil, a Humane Society adoptee, shagged the ball while Charlotte, a rescue dog herself, ran alongside, the two of them racing as if they were greyhounds.

The second time we visited, Charlotte made friends with Moose, a four-month-old pit bull with a wrinkled face and a clumsy puppy gait. Moose was no match for our Terrier-Chihuahua-Pug mix as Charlotte literally ran circles around him, occasionally darting between my legs as I stood chatting with Moose’s owner.

The third time, on Sunday, is when I realized this ordinary park had become a restorative place. There were no dogs around, just Charlotte and me. I unhooked her leash and we walked along the perimeter of the fence abutting Southeast 12th Avenue.

Charlotte, in her spiffy new harness, gets ready for the ride.

Charlotte, in her spiffy new harness, gets ready for the ride.

Like so many other places in Portland, there are homeless people camped out here on the sidewalks adjacent to the old school. It occurred to me that with all the bombastic talk of eliminating ISIS, dismantling Obamacare and building a wall, Washington, D.C., is the last place we can turn to for help dealing with our shortage of affordable housing, rising rents and increasing homelessness.

Our walk turned into a side-by-side trot, and then we moved to the middle of the field, with Charlotte zigging and zagging and romping with me as if I were a four-legged playmate. That’s when it dawned on me that she’d lifted my spirits and gotten my mind off the election.

The thought that this scruffy little creature, who was picked up on the streets two years ago, is now so happy herself and such a part of our lives made me appreciate the moment. Whatever darkness I was feeling about our nation’s drift to the right dissipated that afternoon.

It may not have been church, but I left the grassy dog park that day feeling as though things will be OK. Who knows if our president-elect will be a disaster or a stunning success? Either way, I know life goes on…and there’s nothing wrong with a small pleasure like running with your mutt, free of tension and focused on the moment.

***

I made time again this morning to take Charlotte to the park. There we ran into Diesel, a brindle boxer with a gray muzzle and a playful nature. I smiled again watching our little girl having a blast running with a dog four times her size.

My baby’s due date is Inauguration Day

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Editor’s note: After the inevitable became the inconceivable and the nation awoke to the reality of a ludicrously unqualified president-elect, social media was flooded with howls of anguish from progressive people all over the country. Few were as eloquent as Sharon Tjaden-Glass, a writer and educator pregnant with her second child in the swing state of Ohio. I’m pleased to give Sharon’s splendid post, originally published on her own blog, a second home here on Rough and Rede II.

By Sharon Tjaden-Glass

The timing of this is not lost on me.

I started this pregnancy in May 2016 to the devastating news of the measly 3-month sentence of Brock Turner, a “man” from my own hometown of Dayton, Ohio. A man who raped an unconscious woman.

Then, the Harambe the Gorilla madness.

Then, the Orlando mass shooting.

All of this set against the backdrop of this shitty election, the Syrian refugee crisis, and constant shootings of unarmed black Americans.

Now imagine having a full month of nausea day in and day out while living through this.

Once a Bernie Sanders supporter, I swallowed my pride and embraced Hillary.

I believed that Donald Trump would certainly crash and burn.

I think we all thought that.

And when Pussy Gate happened, I breathed a sigh of disgusted resolve.

Certainly, now, there is no way enough people can stomach the reality of voting for this numb-nuts. Look! Every decent Republican is withdrawing their support! They are finally saying he has crossed the line. They are showing that they care about women. 

And then Election Night 2016 happened.

***

We bought pizza and champagne to usher in the first female President. We invited our friends over and we were festive. It’s like Christmas morning! we cheered.

And then Ohio was called.

We shouted. We felt betrayed by our own neighbors. We looked at the electoral map by county. The only blue counties were the ones with the major cities. Clear as day, you could see Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo.

And then we understood.

***

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I’ve cried a box of tissues since this news broke.

I’ve had to look my international students in the eyes and tell them, without totally losing my composure: “No matter what anyone else says, I welcome you. am not afraid of you. I think you matter. This is not the message that I am sending to the world. Please do not think that the way that Donald Trump acts is the way that Americans are.”

I’ve sat in my colleague’s cubicle, spilling my fears about the future, so thankful that she was willing to listen to me and tell me that she still believes in the goodness of people. (I love you, Jeri.)

I’ve cried all the way home from work, listening to gleeful Trump supporters on All Things Considered share their excitement that Trump was going to bring their jobs back (yeah, right) and build the wall (you seriously believe that?) and stop abortions (whatever).

I’ve cried on and off for hours, while my husband listened.

I told him that what hurts the most is that multiple facets of my identity and my values have been insulted by this man who now wants to lead me.

The pain is not coming from a different political party having power.

The pain is coming from being told that who I am (woman, academic, teacher) and what I value (diversity, humility, inclusivity, compassion) are worthy of insult.

I told my husband that I could barely keep from breaking into tears in front of my international students because I realized that I could no longer pretend that our country is the chief beacon of shelter and protection for those who are persecuted. For those who are striving to attain the civil rights that so many of us take for granted.

Canada is stepping into the shoes that we’ve kicked off and tossed into the face of the world. They are becoming the new face of a country of immigrants–and they’re doing it with compassion and community.

It’s ironic to me that so many white Americans are proud of their immigrant ancestry–yet they cringe at the thought of extending a warm welcome to today’s immigrants. They create these untrue historical narratives about our own ancestors. They say they gave up their culture and their language to become Americans. They say they came here “legally.”

But the truth is, we didn’t even have the vocabulary to consider immigration legal or illegal during the great immigrant influx of the 19th and early 20th centuries. (See Episode 47, “Give Me Your Tired…”) People just came. And we just took them. Because we needed them. The Civil War decimated our population. So did World War I.

And those immigrants took a long time to “Americanize.” They kept their home cultures for one or two generations. They spoke their native language. And they were scapegoated for problems in America, just like so many of us are doing today.

So “Make America Great Again?”

That’s a knife to my heart.

Should we go back to before women’s suffrage? Or forcing Native Americans off their land? Or Japanese internment camps?

Or how about those Leave it to Beaver days, which white Baby Boomers keep referencing with sweet, untainted nostalgia. You know. The days when black Americans were lynched for voting in the South and the Freedom Riders were attacked and killed.

“Make America Great Again” makes sense if you are a white Christian–and if you cannot imagine this country through the eyes of someone who isn’t like you.

Donald Trump’s plans for “making America great again” creates a vision of America that looks like this:

  • 20 million Americans stand to lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed.
  • 11 million undocumented immigrants stand to be deported from their families and the lives they have built here.
  • 3.3 million Muslim-Americans have been told that they are responsible for reporting “suspected terrorists” to the proper authorities. (Do we ask Christian-Americans to do the same? Did you just do a double-take of the word “Christian-Americans?” Did you stop to think about why?)

And this land of immigrants wants to completely shut its doors to 11 million Syrian refugees who are fleeing from ISIS. We’re completely content to turn our backs on our European allies who are struggling to figure out how to integrate millions of refugees.

***

I told my husband that I’m working through such immense grief about this election. That the last time that I can remember it being this hard to teach through my pain was on the day that my dad died.

And I still went in to teach.

I told my husband that our baby deserves better than this.

Better than sexism, racism, and xenophobia. And better than the rationales and excuses that his supporters make on behalf of this man who cannot control himself. (You’re the puppet! No, you’re the puppet!)

Better than fear-mongering and blaming and ignorance and hatred.

Childbirth is painful. Fucking painful. And I’m familiar with every bit of that physical pain because I did it without drugs.

But believe me when I say this: The physical pain of bringing this child into the world under this next American leader does not compare to the emotional pain that it brings.

Physical pain wanes. Emotional pain scars.

Emotional pain changes the landscape. It can make you callous and cynical. It can leave you hollow and numb. It can drive you to recklessness and disengagement. It can drain your expectations and your faith in others.

But there’s another side to emotional pain that survivors of trauma will unanimously tell you.

It can make you a fighter.

And every time I feel this baby pummel me in the ribs or the stomach, I know that I’m carrying a fighter.

***

My body, and thus this child, have been put through the wringer since the beginning of this pregnancy. At times, my anxiety has been high, but nothing like what I’ve experienced in the last two days. I can only imagine how much cortisol has been coursing through my system.

This morning, I strapped on the pregnancy belt and when for a third-trimester walk/jog. I was still hurt. Still pissed. Still angry.

Then, I started to notice something.

All the political signs were gone.

All the Trump signs that lined our street had been taken away.

And replaced with American flags.

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Old Glory, listless on a Dayton street.

I do not have words for the emotion that I felt in that moment.

But let me draw an analogy.

It was like being punched in the face. And then as my vision returned, seeing an outstretched hand for a handshake.

In the cold, morning light, I started sobbing.

Again.

I thought I was through the pain. But no. It’s still very much there.

Do you mean it? I wanted to ask my neighbors. Does your patriotism extend beyond self-preservation? Beyond white Christian America? 

I wanted to kiss those American flags and set them on fire at the same time.

How could we all love this country so much and understand it so differently?

This is the complexity of living in a pluralistic democracy. This is the love and this is the pain. There are setbacks, but hope lives on.

I kid you not, as I walked this path of flags, crying into my hands, not caring if the neighbors saw, perhaps even hoping they would see, this song came up on my Pandora feed.

I’ve never heard it before. It’s called “After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons. Let me share the lyrics with you.

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
On my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won’t rot, I won’t rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won’t rot.

And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true
But oh no more.
That’s why I hold,
That’s why I hold with all I have.
That’s why I hold.

I won’t die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I’ll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and man so small.
Well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

***

Today, I have finally reached my enough point.

Enough crying. Enough sadness. Enough frustration and disillusionment.

Because my baby doesn’t deserve any of that either.

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Sharon Tjaden-Glass, one fierce mama.

I remember what I once told myself on a desperate January morning in 2014.

When I woke up sick again.

For the third time in a month.

And my 6-month-old baby was sick.

And I still had to go to work.

And there was three inches of snow on the ground.

And I had an 8:00 a.m. class.

And my voice was gone.

Get up, I told myself. You are fucking fierce. You’ve been through worse. You’ve felt worse.

Get up. 

And I did.

But honestly, this time, I cannot do it alone. I’m going to need help. From my family. From my friends. Even from readers of this blog whom I’ve never met in person.

I’m going to need to feel your hands, pulling me up from the thick mud of this grief. I need to feel reassurance that many, many of us are still standing after this massive blow to all the American values that I hold close to my heart.

I need to hear you out there.

I need to know that we’re in this together.

That we are still moving forward.

To all current Millennial Parents out there and all those Millennials who will be parents in the next ten years, I say to you this:

We. Are. Next.

We are responsible for raising this next generation of children. What we teach them matters. How we talk about people who are different from us matters. Whether we are serious or joking, our children hear everything. They see what is acceptable and what is completely unacceptable.

And if our kids’ history textbooks whitewash away the pain and oppression that the ancestors of so many non-white Americans have suffered, it is our responsibility to tell those stories. Those stories matter. Those stories are America, too. Even if these stories are painful, we must tell them so that this next generation is equipped with the empathy that this country needs to engage in effective communication in a globalized world.

Let’s raise these kids to once and for all value everyone’s voice, not just the voices of those who have always been the loudest and most heard.

Let’s teach our kids that the road to our own prosperity shouldn’t be paved with the suffering of others.

And to White Millennials specifically, I say to you this:

Let’s stop churning out entitled white children who never interact with anyone of a different religion or race or language. That shit matters. It matters that our kids have friends who are different from them. Because when you have friends who are different from you, you stand up for your friends.

You don’t let people tell your friends that they aren’t what makes America great.

In 20 years, when the Baby Boomers have lost their political power and the Millennials shift the political landscape, let’s make certain that our children will not have to face an election like this ever again.

Are you with me?

Sharon Tjaden-Glass is the author of “Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity” available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. She is also teaches English as a Second Language in the Intensive English Program at the University of Dayton. You can read more of her writing at http://becomingmotherblog.com.
Photograph: Sharon Tjaden-Glass

 

The Midwest awaits you: One perspective from a Millennial in Dayton, Ohio

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Editor’s note: Unless I’m overlooking someone, I know all of five people who live in Ohio. Recently, I became acquainted with a sixth: a talented writer who came to my attention when I bought her book (“Becoming Mother”) as a gift for a daughter-in-law. I complimented her writing and soon enough Sharon Tjaden-Glass and I became friends on Facebook.

I thought of Sharon when I read a terrific piece in The New York Times that pointed to Dayton, Ohio — where she lives — as a place that typifies the trend of college-educated millennials moving away from red states to blue ones, leaving less educated, less mobile residents with diminished employment prospects and few cultural offerings.

Would she consider writing a guest blog from the perspective of a Dayton resident in her 30s? To my delight, she said yes.

By Sharon Tjaden-Glass

I don’t live in a glamorous city.

The only time you’ll see tourists around here is during the annual Dayton Air Show or some anniversary related to the Wright Brothers. We are very proud of the fact that Orville and Wilbur lived and worked here in Dayton, Ohio. And we loathe that North Carolina proclaims that they are “First in Flight” on their license plates.

Punks.

Dayton, Ohio isn’t a city where people try to live. We were born here or we end up here through circumstance.

My husband was born here. He is a third-generation Polish boy, on both sides. His grandparents settled in the Dayton area in the early 1900s.

I ended up here through circumstance. My Minnesotan parents moved here because my father got a job as a bakery supervisor with a chain of grocery stores called Supervalu.

This isn’t to say that Dayton is a bad place to live.

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Sharon Tjaden-Glass

House prices are very reasonable. Our $200,000 four-bedroom house would go for $1 million in the posh suburbs of Washington, D.C. If you work and live in Dayton, the commute is pretty much always twenty to thirty minutes. We have plenty of places to shop and dine. Plenty of movie theaters and a few performing arts centers. If you want a good public education, I could recommend at least five different school districts. We have at least six institutions of higher learning, including private and public four-year colleges and two-year community colleges.

I get why people move away, though.

The largest employers in this area are Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Reynolds & Reynolds, Lexis Nexis, two local hospitals, our public school systems, and a few universities. Read: jobs for engineers, business, health care, and education. Certainly, those are robust fields. But there’s not much diversity of jobs.

And here’s where we struggle.

American millennials—especially college-educated ones—are looking for more out of their jobs than just a steady paycheck. Maybe it’s because we know that the likelihood that we’ll be able to stay in a job for longer than ten years is pretty slim. We know that we need to be thinking about the next job as soon as we take the one in front of us. And no, it’s not because we have trouble with loyalty. It’s because we’re generally distrustful of corporations. (We know that they too often undercut their own employees in order to post profits for their investors.) So we’re looking for places to live where we can imagine Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D.

Having only a Plan A can be a bit risky.

When it comes to providing opportunities where people in their 20s and 30s can imagine mapping out some kind of career, however meandering it might be, it’s hard for cities like Dayton to compete with larger metropolitan areas.

***

dayton-mapIn his recent opinion piece for the New York Times (“Go Midwest, Young Hipster,”), Alex MacGillis reflects on how this phenomenon of millennials clustering in larger cities is affecting our political landscape. When all the college-educated voters, many of whom are Democrats, move to a blue state like New York or California, the power of their votes takes a dive.

MacGillis points out that their votes would be more powerful if they stayed in their home state. He even goes so far as to name some of these millennial voters and their circumstances around moving away. Several of them were from—where else?—Dayton, Ohio.

Okay, I admit. That makes me feel good about staying in Ohio. Every time an election comes around, I know that it matters that I show up to vote.

Looking around my neighborhood provides all the evidence that I need.

On the street next to ours, one house sports a Clinton-Kaine sign. The next one advertises Gary Johnson. And then comes the Trumped Up house. I kid you not, two ladies, one in her 60s and one in her 80s, have set up shop in their driveway. Selling Trump-Pence merchandise. Nearly every day. Their lawn screams Lock Her Up! and Make America Great Again with no fewer than seven signs.

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Political lawn signs sprout from the “Trumped Up” house in the author’s neighborhood.

Dayton, Ohio, has an interesting mix.

Former blue-collar workers who long for manufacturing jobs to return. The good ol’ days.
Highly paid white-collar government employees who insist that they are self-made champions of their own universes. Did this all myself! Why should anyone else have more help?

Military personnel who wonder if most Americans have even the faintest idea of what it means to serve their country.

College students who are working part-time jobs to defray some of the costs.

Public school teachers who wonder if they can survive another year of state-mandated testing while fighting to convince their local communities to pass school levies just so they can do their jobs.

That’s life in a swing state.

***

But sometimes I wonder, how much longer will Ohio be a swing state?

What will happen when millennials turn 50 and the baby boomers are nearly gone?
Are we looking ahead to a country where white Christians are no longer a majority demographic in this country?

https://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/504065/

Or perhaps that is the exact scenario that strikes fear into the hearts of those who want to Make America Great Again.

But I am hopeful.

Because, as a millennial, I look forward to a more diverse America. I’m okay if Christianity doesn’t stay the most followed religion in this country. (And I am Christian). I like the idea of my daughter being a part of a classroom where more than just one or two kids are not white. I hope that she speaks out against bullies who insist that someone isn’t worthy of respect because of who they are.

I’m okay with white Christian Americans becoming a minority in this country—because that demographic doesn’t define what America is.

Thank God, America is much bigger than White, Christian, English-speaking, Straight.
America isn’t a face.

America is a set of values.

America is Equality. Hard work. Innovation. Honesty. Freedom. Respect. Self-reliance.

But America is also Empathy and Compassion.

Values don’t have a face. But they have a heart. And from the bottom of mine, I welcome a United States where we see diversity as an asset rather than a liability.

***

So to all those Midwestern millennials who have moved to Chicago and New York and Miami and San Francisco: When you’re ready, you’re welcome to come home.

We need your vote. We need your voice.

It might not happen this year.

But when you get tired of the high rent, the long commutes, the small spaces, and the razor-thin margins of disposable income, we’ll be here waiting.

With plenty of parking.

Sharon Tjaden-Glass is the author of “Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity” available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. She is also teaches English as a Second Language in the Intensive English Program at the University of Dayton. You can read more of her writing at http://becomingmotherblog.com.
Photograph: Sharon Tjaden-Glass

A legacy of courage

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Gordon Hirabayashi was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle when the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, plunged the United States into World War II.

Barely two months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the imprisonment of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

FDR’s order, signed February 19, 1942, sanctioned the rounding up of thousands of families up and down the West Coast who were sent to camps in ten states and held until after the war’s end.

Hirabayashi, born and raised on American soil, refused to go, believing he and his family posed no threat to the U.S. government. Two others, Minori Yasui of Hood River, Oregon, and Fred Korematsu of Oakland, California, also resisted the curfew order  All three men took their battle to the U.S. Supreme Court and all three lost.

President Gerald R. Ford issued an official apology for Executive Order 9066 in 1976, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the trio of dissenters received justice in the form of overturned or vacated convictions.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Hirabayashi’s story came to life. Lori and I and four friends saw the play “Hold These Truths,” produced by Portland Center Stage at The Armory in Northwest Portland. It was a one-man play, a 90-minute performance with no intermission, and it was splendid.

Ryun Yu was marvelous as Gordon Hirabayashi. From the opening scene to the last, Yu channeled the intelligence, humor, wisdom and fortitude that characterized the young man who stood by his principles in the face of racial animosity.

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After the war, Gordon Hirabayashi continued his education at the University of Washington, earning his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D degrees in sociology  .

Simply by donning one pair of eyeglasses versus another, and by wearing a sport coat or a cardigan sweater, a bow tie or a necktie, Yu seamlessly moved in and out of time, with only two wooden chairs as props. He drew us into his character and into his lonely fight against an executive order that led to the forced removal of nearly 120,000 people from their homes.

An estimated two-thirds of those who were rounded up were U.S. citizens, including our friend Nancy, whose family was among the 9,000 people sent to live behind barbed wire at the Minidoka internment camp in south central Idaho. She and her husband attended the play with us.

In the program notes, Director Chris Coleman said of Hirabayashi: “His story is one of immense courage and moral conviction, as stirring as it is infuriating.”

So true. And to that, I would add “inspiring.”

I can only admire the sense of right and wrong that compelled a young man, then 25, to defy a wartime order that sent people to camps in 10 states across the country.

Decades later, hindsight allows us to condemn the camps as a horrible civil rights violation.

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 Gordon Hirabayashi taught at the American University in Beirut, the American University in Cairo and in Canada at the University of Edmonton, where he lived.

The U.S. government eventually paid reparations to those who were imprisoned. And all three of the wartime resisters received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States — Korematsu in 1998, and the other two posthumously in 2012 and 2013.

In a 2012 obituary that followed Hirabayashi’s death at age 93, The New York Times noted, “The Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu cases were revisited in the 1980s after Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, found documents indicating that the federal government, in coming before the Supreme Court, had suppressed its own finding that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were not, in fact, threats to national security.”

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One of 432 World War II internment barracks that were located at a county fairground and returned to Minidoka, about 130 miles southeast of Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Aki Mori)

It was somehow fitting that Lori and I would see this play one day after we had participated in a Saturday night discussion of what the American Dream means to us.

With the presidential election now only a week away, the timing also could not have been better as a reminder of what harm can come from demonizing an entire class of people based on their race, religion or national origin. We all know which one of the candidates has singled out Muslims, Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants as threats to the U.S.

The play continues through November 13. If you live in the Portland area, I urge you to go see it. Ticket information is here.

Photographs: Densho Encyclopedia

Related reading from Voices of August: American internment in the shadows of Yellowstone by Aki Mori; My visit to Heart Mountain by Midori Mori.

The American Dream reconsidered

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The American Dream has different meanings to different people. What’s your definition?

On a recent Saturday night, eight thoughtful adults from different walks of life gathered around a dining table to discuss what the American Dream means to us.

Sounds simple enough, right? But maybe not, with rising housing prices, uncertain job prospects and structural economic changes causing ripples of concern from millennials to boomers.

Countless movies have been made, books written and speeches given about the American Dream. But how often do we stop to think about, much less articulate, what the term means to us individually as well as to society as a whole?

epic-of-americaJames Truslow Adams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian, coined the term in his 1931 book “The Epic of America.” Adams wrote that his  American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

Politicians are fond of conjuring gauzy notions of upward mobility that revolve around home ownership, typically a suburban ranch home with a lawn and a white picket fence, occupied by a married couple with two kids, and a car or two.

Those with a more critical view take issue with this image of conformity and complacency, often pointing to socioeconomic and cultural divides that keep many Americans from achieving their own version of the idyllic life.

Dictionary.com offers a contemporary definition of the phrase:

1. the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.
2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S.

As the eight of us went around the table, I looked forward to hearing how each person framed his or her understanding of the American Dream. Call me a nerd, but I thoroughly enjoy discussions like these that shed light on our personal histories, illuminating our  differences and commonalities, and offering new perspectives to consider.

***

Even before we began, I could see we were hardly a representative group: Three professors with PhDs, two medical doctors, an advertising professional, a small businesswoman/personal trainer (that would be Lori) and myself, a lifelong journalist now doing adjunct teaching and part-time work in communications for an education nonprofit.

All (or nearly all) of us live in Portland’s eastside neighborhoods, eight college graduates nestled in the city’s liberal cocoon, ranging in age from the mid-30s to the early 60s, and not a single one of us born in Oregon. All of us were raised in cities, or at least near them. One of our hosts lived abroad for several years but moved back to the United States to attend college.

I’d be hard pressed to fairly summarize each person’s take, but I’d venture to say there was general agreement with the idea that the American Dream is malleable, capable of being pressed into different interpretations without losing its original meaning.

Predictably, many of us first viewed the American Dream through the eyes of our parents, some growing up in the middle class with college-educated moms and dads and others aspiring to get there from the working class.

Lori spoke of her dad, the son of Slovenian immigrants and the only one of his siblings to attend college, and her mom, the quintessential ’50s housewife of mostly Italian heritage who also worked outside the home in various retail jobs.

I shared my perspective as the son of Mexican-American migrant farmworkers who didn’t have an opportunity to attend high school. My father became a factory worker and a stationary engineer, operating the boilers and other mechanical systems at an inner-city hospital. My late mother raised my two sisters and me while working as a seamstress and, later, as a taxi driver.

Each had eight siblings. To their credit, they were the only ones in their families to move away from the Salinas Valley to make a life for themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. We grew up initially in a blue-collar town with a large Latino population, then moved to a white, middle-class suburb where the schools were better, the streets wider and cleaner, and the community character was pretty bland.

 

So what does the American Dream mean to me?

I offered a modest vision, couched in terms of financial security, physical safety and psychological freedom. I want for Lori and me to be comfortable now and in retirement, knowing we can pay our bills and have something left over. I want to be healthy and secure in our home and neighborhood. And, I want to know I am able to think, read, travel and act as I please.

But I also realized that definition was incomplete. I was being too selfish. I wasn’t accounting for anyone else’s well-being other than my own and Lori’s.

We’d been invited weeks earlier, so I knew the topic would arise. And in the days before the dinner, I reached out to a few friends and family members for their take.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

“It’s about a comparative level of comfort in this world — financially, ideologically and otherwise — and being afforded great opportunity….Even at my weakest points in life, I’ve had relative comfort and opportunity simply because of my birthright.  I think that along with comfort and opportunity comes the responsibility to help create opportunity and comfort for others — even if that’s as simple as doing our best with what we have so we can reserve resources for others in true need.”

“When I think of my American dream, it is one of collective prosperity–not one where you just earn enough to take care of yourself. [My spouse] and I talk frequently about the inherent selfishness of our economic system. That kind of thinking (and behavior) leaves others behind….I want a fully integrated and prosperous society where there is no single model of success, but rather, endless ways to contribute.”

“After years of pursuit of the elusive American dream, I have come to believe that it is a  utopian pursuit and a self-destructive ideal. It elevates self as a deity, and leads one to using people as objects and relationships as a means to an ever moving destination. I choose to pursue God and Love instead. The pursuit of love sees people and relationships as the destination.”

And then there was Lori, asserting that her version of the dream calls for racial harmony and tolerance for all.

***

I was humbled by these perspectives and grateful for the chance to reconsider my own notions of the American Dream.

As a homeowner, college graduate and white-collar professional who climbed from the working class into the middle class, I’d hasten to say I’ve already realized some aspects of the dream on a personal level. But I also know without the love, support and sacrifices of my parents — and my wife of 41 years — it surely would not have been possible.

Their gifts, coupled with the recent conversation, remind me to think outside myself and to rededicate myself to the cause of helping others achieve their dream.

I’m thankful that I have two platforms for this. One, by working directly with college students, many of whom, like me, are the first in their family to attend university. Two, by working on behalf of Portland-area high school students, particularly those at high-poverty, high-diversity schools where many are first-generation immigrants.

Not everyone is so lucky as to be in position to have an influence on their future.

Photograph: H. Armstron Roberts/CORBIS