Voices of August 2018

August-2018-Calendar-Landscape

Voices of August is taking a break this year.

If this were a normal year, I’d already be editing early submissions from friends and family around the country, setting the stage for Year No. 8 of my annual guest blog project.

But this ain’t a normal year.

Tomorrow I leave for London, England, to teach a two-week Communications class. Six Portland-area students will join me as we explore differences in media in the U.S. and the U.K. I will return on July 30, no doubt jet-lagged.

That leaves too little time to get things done before I leave and virtually no time after I get back home.

And even I, so accustomed to multitasking, wouldn’t think of working on VOA while I’m overseas. No, my priority has to be — and will be — my students.

top 10 london guide bookWe’ve got a jam-packed itinerary from July 16 to July 30, including day trips to the BBC and the Houses of Parliament, plus site visits to television and newspaper offices and a public relations agency; guest speakers on assorted topics; and a panel discussion on immigration and women’s issues.

In our free time, there will be no shortage of attractions in a culturally diverse city that rolls all the features of New York, Washington and Hollywood into a single place.

I’ll be sure to write all of it upon my return. In the meantime, keep an eye on Facebook or follow me on Instagram to see an occasional photo or two.

A year from now, I’ll reach out again to a diverse set of contributing writers and we’ll pick up again with Voices of August 2019.

Here’s the VOA 7.0 archive for your reading pleasure. So many wonderful pieces that resonate so strongly a year later.

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Kickin’ back at the coast

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Nature in all its beauty. Looking north along the Pacific Coast from a residential street in Manzanita.

Simple pleasures come in all forms. Last weekend was proof that you don’t need much to enjoy yourself.

On Friday, Lori and I headed to Manzanita on the northern Oregon Coast to spend a couple of days and nights visiting our longtime friends, Steve and Kelly Kern. Ours is a friendship that began about 25 years ago, when their oldest child, Matt, and our youngest, Jordan, were classmates in a neighborhood preschool.

The friendship has endured through years of play dates, sleepovers and summer camps; middle school and high school; and, now, that phase when all our kids are grown adults and living in different states.

That shared history makes for a relaxing visit, especially when it’s reinforced by the Kerns’ welcoming vibe and lack of any agenda.

We visited the local farmers market on Friday and had a leisurely walk on the beach Saturday morning. Steve and I did some impromptu crabbing at nearby Nehalem Bay on Saturday afternoon, and we all played a favorite board game (Wits & Wagers) that night.

In between activities, we ate well. Steve and Kelly are vegans, so we had healthy homemade meals. (I was glad to see them make a dietary exception for the fresh-cooked crab that we had Saturday night.)

The night before, another longtime friend and fellow preschool parent, Rebecca Bauer, joined us for dinner following an early-evening walk on the hilly neighborhood streets above the Kerns’ home.

We spent less than 48 hours in Manzanita but the respite felt twice as long.

When you grow accustomed to city life as we have, it’s a pleasant experience to find yourself in a place that’s ultra-quiet and just one short block away from the beach.

Our little dog, Charlotte, came along and enjoyed herself, too. It takes her about two minutes to make herself at home.

We ended our visit with Sunday lunch on an outdoor patio at the historic San Dune Pub, a local institution that made at least one reviewer’s list of 10 Best Bars Outside of Portland. After wolfing down a Po’Boy with Prawns, I concur.

A few images to remember the weekend:

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About those resolutions

Fruits and Veggies

How simple can this be? Follow through on a resolution to eat more fruit and veggies. Improve your diet and health at the same time, right?

When the year began, I vowed to K.I.S.S. — Keep It Simple, Stupid — when it came to making New Year’s resolutions.

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Lighten up on the iPhone.

So how am I doing halfway into 2018?

Honestly, not as well as I’d hoped.

I started off fine — in fact, I’d even say very well — in the first couple months. But if I’m being honest, I’ will acknowledge that I’ve had some slippage in all three areas.

Oh, it’s not like I’ve utterly failed. I’m aware of all three of these pledges. It’s just that I’ve let old habits creep in. You know, going straight to the coffee pot in the morning instead of starting the day with a glass of water — or even a few sips.

resolutionsI’m eating a decent amount of vegetables, thanks in so small part to Lori’s positive influence on my diet. But I could consume more fruits, especially now that summer is here and there’s plenty of fresh, seasonal selections such as watermelon and cherries.

As for the iPhone, I made a conscious effort to leave it behind on neighborhood walks or simple errands, figuring — correctly — that almost any news or personal communication could wait until I’d returned.

I also was very aware of Oregon’s distracted driving law, which prohibits drivers from using any function of a cellphone that requires holding or touching. The new law took effect last fall and raised the penalty for first-time offenders to $260.

But texting or making phone calls while driving isn’t the real issue. It’s simpler than that. It’s being aware that the phone’s mere presence can have a negative influence in situations where my attention ought to be focused on the person or people I’m with, or the event I’m experiencing.

Having a conversation? Put the phone down. Better yet, put it away. Be present. These are the things I need to keep telling myself.

Handheld devices are incredibly useful and helpful. But six months into this year, I’m reminded that I can do better by putting it aside more often when it’s not needed for work.

Photographs: www.active.com; www.thewritelife.com

“Slide!”

On this Fourth of July, I’ll pass on the fireworks and the patriotic fervor that has flipped our country upside down and cleaved a great divide among red- and blue-state Americans.

Instead, I’ll celebrate a delightful book about baseball, a boy’s adolescence, and a universal story of hope.  (And, boy, could we use some of that now.)

The book is “Slide!” and the author is Carl Wolfson, a neighbor of mine who was host of “Carl in the Morning” on two of Portland’s progressive talk radio stations from 2007 to 2016.

slide coverSlide has two meanings. One, the physical act of a runner sliding into a base. Two, the figurative act of a gradual decline.

In this case, Carl writes about his boyhood idols, the Philadelphia Phillies, and their historic collapse in the waning days of the 1964 season, when they suffered through an inexplicable losing streak (or slide) and squandered a chance to play in the World Series.

Several weeks ago, I attended an event at our neighborhood bookstore where Carl read from the book, took questions, and autographed copies for one and all. I’d just come off reading two books with pretty grim content, so I welcomed the respite offered by “Slide!”

I wasn’t disappointed. This coming-of-age memoir is fun, light reading, crafted with skill and wit by a guy who knows a thing or two about writing (he was a Communications major in college) and humor (he was a professional comedian before going into radio) and baseball. The subtitle hints at Carl’s tongue-in-cheek approach: “The Baseball Tragicomedy That Defined Me, My Family, and the City of Philadelphia — And How It All Could Have Been Avoided Had Someone Just Listened to My Lesbian Great Aunt.”

***

Though the event at Broadway Books was in mid-May and I read the book in June, it’s no accident that I’m writing about the book now. I’ve always associated the Fourth with baseball, the sport that truly was our national pastime when I was growing up. Inthe years since, Major League Baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL and the NBA, particularly among younger fans.

But in 1964, Carl and I would both turn 12 years old, cheering for teams on opposite sides of the country. Despite living near San Francisco, I was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan then. Carl was living in southern New Jersey, rooting for the underachieving Phillies. With just 12 games to play, the Phils had a seemingly insurmountable lead on their closest rivals in the National League and felt confident enough to print World Series tickets.

All of a sudden, they couldn’t win. They lost 10 of their last 12 games and finished in a second-place tie, one win short of the league championship. The St. Louis Cardinals, not the Phillies, would go on to play the New York Yankees in the ’64 Series.

Adult Carl writes about Young Carl and how the season unfolded for him against a backdrop of national tumult and change, amid a family filled with memorable characters, including his bickering parents, his staunchly Republican grandmother (who refused to carry a Roosevelt dime), and his mouthy lesbian great aunt, whose deep knowledge of baseball and strong opinions about the Phillies prompted her to write many a letter to the team’s front office about what they should do about this player or that one.

Though the book is undeniably about baseball, it’s also a broader look back at the early Sixties, when Young Carl is coming of age at a time of the Kennedy assassination, the Johnson-Goldwater campaign, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights Movement. Race riots flared in several cities and Communist paranoia caused schoolchildren to dive under their desks during air raid drills.

Growing up with three sisters and as the new kid in town following a move from northern Virginia, Carl didn’t find much success on the playing field (his Little League nickname was “Lead Bottom”). But he did find in the Phillies a team to root for and bond with along with his parents and other family members.

In 1964, the Phillies were a newly and fully integrated team, with black and Latino players like Richie Allen, Cookie Rojas and Ruben Amaro taking their place in the lineup and on the bench alongside whites. That made a big impression on Carl.

“As a kid, my heroes were the Phillies — of all races,” he said at the May reading. “That was a very important lesson for a kid.”

The other lesson was one of hope, of holding onto optimism even as the defeats piled up. The Phillies had enjoyed a remarkable season, with star pitcher Jim Bunning throwing a no-hitter and outfielder Johnny Callison crushing a home run to win the All-Star Game. But they fell short, depriving Carl and his dad a chance to see the World Series, and breaking a city’s heart.

“The 1964 Phillies, though, had forever won my heart,” Carl writes. “If they finished in second place, they also gave me enough thrills for a lifetime. They were the team of my youth.”

You don’t have to be a Phillies fan or even a baseball fan to enjoy this book. It’s a refreshing take on the role sports can play in bringing people together, on the worldview of a suburban adolescent, and on the life lessons one can take away from disappointment and loyalty.

Well done, Carl.

Postscript: For me, this book was like a time machine. I remember my confusion trying to make sense of national politics and race relations at the same time, like Carl, that I found refuge in the sports section of the newspaper. I also vividly remember many of the ballplayers whose names are sprinkled throughout this book: Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson. They were the luminous stars of the early ’60s, when I played Little League, and fantasized about succeeding Maury Wills as the Dodgers shortstop.

Decluttering ahead of ‘death cleaning’

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My first Hawaiian shirt at age 6. Kindergarten, Decoto School, in Union City, California.

OK, so spring has come and gone and we’re a few days into the summer of 2018. At least Lori and I have begun acting on a pledge we made to each other earlier this year: to start ridding ourselves of unneeded, unwanted possessions.

If your garage looks like ours, you’ve probably accumulated more stuff than you need. In our case, plastic bins and cardboard boxes line two sides of our single-car garage, reaching toward the ceiling. Most containers are stacked neatly on top and next to each other, but some are leaning over like a drunk.

A lot of this we brought with us when we moved out of the home we lived in for nearly 30 years, the place where we raised our three children. We downsized big-time when we made the move to this brand-new townhouse in the fall of 2009. But now we’ve been here nearly nine years and not only have we hung on to what we brought, but we’ve managed to add to the clutter.

Do we really need four bicycles? Why do we keep shoes and clothing we haven’t worn in years? And who knows what’s in some of these boxes anyway?

***

Americans are known for being pack rats. But there’s another approach that’s caught my attention.

Several months ago The Washington Post published a feature article about a Swedish woman in her 80s who’d just published a book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

As the article explained, “The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called ‘dostadning,’ is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) ”

The main message from author Margareta Magnusson is this: “Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair.”

Or, put more bluntly, “If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.”

 

Fair enough.

Just to be clear, we’re not decluttering because we see The Grim Reaper on the horizon. No, we’re doing so with a simple objective: to reclaim some more space for ourselves.

We started two Saturdays ago with several boxes and continued this past weekend with an overdue assault on a closet and a trunk in a spare bedroom. It’s amazing how much paper one can collect in the form of back taxes, canceled checks, and all manner of work-related materials. I plead guilty in the first degree.

Read about Swedish ‘death cleaning’ here

***

Magnusson, the Swedish author, suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age. And she suggests that you don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything.

I’ve heeded that advice for the most part. Still, going through all this stuff, you’re bound to come across things that give you pause, spanning the years from childhood to parenthood to empty nester. So many items that reflect your status as son, husband, father, as well as student, employee and professor.

For example:

  • Family photos depicting changing hairstyles and fashion choices.
  • Grade school photos, book-ended by my gap-toothed smile as a kindergartner and my dorky high school graduation portrait.
  • A book of autographs from Major League Baseball players, including one from Hall of Fame inductee Willie Stargell.
  • Hard copies of the news stories I wrote for a beginning journalism class at San Jose State and for which I earned an A (whew!). And by hard copies, I mean typewritten words on old-school plain copy paper.
  • Business cards from The Argus, my hometown newspaper in Fremont, California, where I began as a part-time prep sports writer while attending college. Phone number only; no web address, of course.
  • A huge cache of yellowing newspapers and glossy materials relating to my three-decade career at The Oregonian, including: Stories and columns that I wrote. Sunday Opinion cover stories that I conceived and edited. Slick pamphlets that I used to recruit top prospects to Portland. Binders full of tips and best practices that I picked up at training conferences from California to Florida. Tip sheets from various speakers at our in-house training sessions. Programs from job fairs, journalism conventions and writing workshops that I attended and sometimes organized.
  • A treasure trove of documents relating to the newsroom internship program I ran for 10 years. In one folder, bios on a couple of interns who were starting work on the same day (hello, Esme Bermudez and Yvonne Ngai). In another folder, a roster of the 2004 summer intern class (including Melissa Navas, Sophia Tareen, Niki Sullivan, Shannon McMahon, April Simpson and Christine Yee.) In yet another folder, students’ autobiographical essays that resonate as powerfully today as the day I first read them 20 years ago.
  • Payment stubs for an array of prescription drugs and medical services — hospitals, physicians, ambulances, nursing homes — that piled up in the waning months of my mother’s life. As her financial representative, it was my responsibility to keep up with those obligations.

 

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Sifting through all the above and much more felt a little like an archaeological dig. It unearthed feelings of pride, seeing how rich my personal and professional lives have been; of sadness, knowing some family members and co-workers are gone forever; and of regret, seeing so much valuable journalistic content get tossed into the recycling bin.

All in all, I have no complaints. This decluttering will be cathartic. It will take us the rest of the summer, I am sure, but the time and effort will be worth it. A little more breathing room for Lori and me will be nice, even if we’re still years away from a serious “death cleaning.”

Teach in London this summer? Yes!

london students

Looking forward to exploring London this summer with these six students: Clockwise from left: Rainshine Heffner, Ella Fredericks, Anna Nelson, Yohana Lewis. Rachel Jones, Samantha Thomas.

It’s really happening. Next month, I’m heading to the United Kingdom to spend two weeks teaching a communications class in London, England.

I’ll be leading a group of six students from the Portland area to one of the world’s most influential cities to study Media Literacy, using London as our classroom.

On Friday, July 13th (no superstitions for me), I’ll fly nonstop from Portland to Heathrow Airport. Arriving mid-morning Saturday, I’ll take the Tube to the furnished apartment waiting for me in the Kensington district and await the arrival of my students over the next couple days.

We’ll start off with a walking tour of the immediate neighborhood walking tour, a formal orientation at our classroom, a doubledecker bus tour of key sights and sites, and a traditional British afternoon tea.

From there, we’ll launch into a jam-packed schedule of guest speakers, site visits to advertising and public relations agencies, an online-only newspaper office, a local television station and (fingers crossed) a nonprofit agency that trains low-income minority youth for jobs in the TV and movie industries. We’ll also take the train one day to tour the BBC studios in Birmingham, west of the city.

We’ll visit the Houses of Parliament, tour the Museum of Brands, meet with a group of U.S. journalism students who are also studying in London this summer, and take to the streets to document our learning experiences through photography. We’ll also make time for group dinners, some sightseeing, and whatever else comes our way through serendipitous cultural experiences.

I will do all this while getting paid as if I were teaching a summer session class on campus. Sounds too good to be true, right?

And to think that this trip has its roots in a popular Midwest game known as cornhole.

***

I wrote about the possibility of teaching internationally late last year, after I’d put together a syllabus and daily schedule at the invitation of Portland State University’s Education Abroad office and then gained the necessary approval of the Department of Communication.

Read “Media Literacy in London” here.

I had expected that recruiting 12-15 students would require a lot of time and energy and follow-up, but I never imagined the process would have so many ups and downs and discouraging moments.

Initially, dozens of students expressed interest and asked for more information, and a handful of them immediately opened a formal application. As the months went by, the number of serious applicants rose and fell as students backed out, some out of concern over the program cost and others because they landed a summer job or internship.

It was touch-and-go, but ultimately Portland State and a partner organization called CAPA, a Boston-based company that works with universities on international programs, gave the go-ahead with 6 students in late May.

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The students — four women, two men — met each other for the first time at an orientation session last week and we have another meeting planned in early July. I can see now that having a smaller group than originally planned is going to be just fine. Even with just six, there are enough challenges coordinating schedules and communicating among ourselves.

Five of the students are from Portland State; one is from Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach. Though some have previously traveled to Canada, India, Peru, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic, it’s the first time in London for all of them — just like me.  We’ll be there July 16th to July 30th.

***

I’m still tweaking the syllabus and daily schedule of activities, but the overall purpose is clear. This will be an immersive experience for both students and professor as we roam the city, meet with experts in all communications fields — journalism, PR, advertising, entertainment — and compare what we know of U.S. media to what we don’t yet know about the U.K. media.

None of this would be possible without the people in PSU’s Education Abroad office who provided encouragement, support and guidance at every step along the way.

Hannah Fischer is the Faculty-Led Program Coordinator and the one I’ve worked with most closely on matters ranging from recruitment to program budget and travel.

Adrienne Bocci is the program’s Graduate Assistant. (Well, actually she’s just finished her masters in Educational Leadership & Policy and is moving on.) She sat in on some student interviews and information sessions with me. and was a big help to students as they filled out their applications.

Jen Hamlow is the director of the Education Abroad program. And this is where the cornhole connection comes in.

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Hannah Fischer, left, and Jen Hamlow of Portland State’s Education Abroad office, provided encouragement and support for my London teaching proposal.

Four years ago, a mutual friend, Leroy Metcalf, recruited both of us and another woman to join his four-person coed team during a six-week season played at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Northeast Portland.

Cornhole is basically an indoor version of horseshoes. Instead of pitching metal shoes at an upright post, players toss beanbags, filled with raw corn kernels, at a small, sloping target made of wood and set on the floor. Just as you earn points in horseshoes for a “ringer” or a “leaner,” you get points in cornhole if your beanbag drops into a hole cut into the wood or blocks your opponents from doing so.

We all had fun and went our separate ways. But then last year, when I was preparing to begin a new job as internship coordinator in the PSU Communication Department, I heard from Jen. We met for coffee and she explained how her office helps students obtain international internships — and then she went on to ask if I’d ever considered teaching internationally.

“Huh? Me? How? When? Where?”

Jen told me that it was pretty much up to me. Along with regular professors, adjunct instructors like myself can submit a so-called faculty-led proposal for whatever and anywhere they want to teach, including course title, location and duration. And just like that, the seed was planted. Now it’s borne fruit and I’m preparing for a two-week adventure like nothing I’ve experienced before.

Thank you, Leroy, for inviting me to play cornhole. Never would have met Jen otherwise. Never would have had this opportunity.

 

Celebrating Som Subedi. Celebrating immigrants.

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Som Subedi: Refugee, community activist, ‘force of nature’

Ten years ago this week, Som Subedi arrived in America with $10 and change in his pockets and a big plastic bag for his belongings. He was a refugee from the Kingdom of Bhutan and had spent years in a camp in Nepal with his parents and three siblings.

On Tuesday, June 19, this brown-skinned man with a huge heart and energy to burn, celebrated his 10-year anniversary of living in the United States.

And how did he do that? By giving back.

Som hosted a community dinner for 100 guests at a Cambodian restaurant in Northeast Portland. I was honored to be among them.

While the food and drinks were appreciated, and we all joined in celebrating Som’s many accomplishments and contributions to the community, there was something bigger to the event. In truth, Som’s gift to all was providing a venue for Portlanders of all races and ethnicities to celebrate the presence of immigrants in our community.

The event could not have come at a better time.

During a week when President Trump was shamed into signing an executive order to stop separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, Tuesday’s dinner was a grand opportunity to recognize the contributions that immigrants make to the political, social and cultural fabric of our city, state and country.

In Som’s case, it’s an amazing list.

But, first, let me set the scene at Mekong Bistro:

In this spacious restaurant just off 82nd Avenue, you had community elders, families, educators, political activists, college students and friends coming together as if it were a mini United Nations.

I met people from Togo and Russia and Thailand while drinking beer produced in Cambodia and Laos. People from all over Southeast Asia and Africa mingled with North Americans and Central Americans. We listened to music performed by individuals from Nepal and Vietnam.

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Poster boards displayed photographs of Som with Gov. Kate Brown, both of Oregon’s U.S. senators, and several local politicians, as well as from protests, rallies, soccer tournaments and other community events that Som has had a hand in organizing.

Senator Jeff Merkley appeared on video from Washington, D.C., saying, “It’s important to celebrate the important work that immigrants do when they come to this country.”

A representative of Senator Ron Wyden shared her personal tribute and then presented Som with a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Two Portland city commissioners, Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly, were among those who took a turn at the mic. as did some of Som’s co-workers and mentors. Called upon unexpectedly by the moderator, I did too.

A mutual friend, Ronault LS “Polo” Catalani, whom I’ve known since we played basketball at the Salem YMCA three decades earlier, had also moved to Portland. Polo, a Spanish-speaking lawyer and activist from Malaysia, invited me to a lunch with a handful of community leaders in the S.E. Asian community at a time when I was The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion editor and looking to tap into new voices and new perspectives.

Of the group, only Som stayed in touch. He wound up writing a couple of poignant op-ed pieces that we published, starting with this one in December 2010: Bhutanese refugees: American dream tantalizes, deceives

He also wrote this in November 2011:  America’s proud tradition of generosity to immigrants.

In time, Som would also be published or written about in The Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and Oregon Public Broadcasting, plus many more times in The Oregonian and OregonLive.

I commended Som on his record as a community ambassador and wished him well in his next 10 years.

***

As for the man of the hour, he’s accomplished — and given back — more in just a short few years than most people do in a lifetime.

Arriving in 2008 with a limited grasp of English, he met a volunteer ESL tutor with a nonprofit organization that helps newly arrived refugees find work and a level of self-sufficiency with everyday tasks like shopping, banking and using public transit.

Within seven years, Som had not only found work but also bought a home and a new car. He and his wife are raising a young daughter and twin boys.

Som’s first job meant working the night shift at a Popeye’s. He later became a case manager for a social services agency assisting refugees. More recently, he’s worked for the city’s Parks for New Portlanders program, part of the Bureau of Parks & Recreation. Last year, Som was honored as Park Champion of the Year by the National Recreation and Park Association, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award.

A fellow employee at Parks & Rec described Som as “a force of nature” in terms of what he brings to work — uncommon enthusiasm, a legendary work ethic, and a constantly growing network of politicians and community contacts who can help refugees and immigrants adjust to life in their new country.

His ideas aren’t too bad, either. In 2010, Som organized the first Portland World Cup, a soccer tournament conceived as a way to bring together young immigrants as an alternative to the allure of gangs. It’s grown to include two dozen teams and players speaking at least 23 languages.

In his remarks, Som displayed both a sense of humor and a continued commitment to serve. Laughing, he recalled his confusion over going to Papa Murphy’s and buying a to-go pizza that was unbaked. He said he’s figured out the difference between “hippie” and “hipster” and “realized that ‘Portlandia’ is an exaggeration.”

In the next 10 years, he vowed to sleep more, take care of his health, write a movie script (“I feel strongly I have a story to tell”) and, of course, give back to the community. He called attention to the PDX World Refugee Day celebration this Saturday and, in closing, urged us all: “Vote this November and make a difference.”

In sum, Tuesday was an occasion to celebrate a remarkable man and his personal milestone. I felt privileged to be invited and left with a sense of gratitude to celebrate not just Som but all immigrants who make our community a better place.

 

Gliding to graduation

PSU Comm programJune is a month for graduations — from kindergarten and fifth grade to middle school, high school and, of course, college.

On Friday, June 15, it was my pleasure to be in the room for a Communication Graduation Celebration sponsored by the Department of Communication at Portland State University.

Faculty, parents and friends turned out to show their support for more than 200 students — 180 undergraduate majors, 30 minors and 15 master’s degree candidates — at a Student Recognition Ceremony honoring them and a select group of scholarship winners.

Commencement exercises for most PSU students are scheduled for this Sunday, Father’s Day, but some schools and departments are holding their own, smaller ceremonies in advance of the big event. Such was the case with the Communication Department.

On a campus teeming with 27,000 students, the Comm Department has about 550 majors. Perusing the Class of 2018 list, I was pleasantly surprised to realize I knew almost half of the new majors and minors either from teaching them in class or supervising their internship during the past fall, winter or spring quarter.

There were plenty of star students to celebrate, including:

  • A graduate student who went back to school at age 47 and completed her masters this year at age 55. She is set to teach three classes next fall as an adjunct instructor at a local community college.
  • Another master’s student who inspired her grandfather to return to school this term and take a 2-credit class so he could obtain the bachelor’s degree he’d fallen short of decades earlier.
  • A scholarship winner with an interest in journalism who’s already just completed his junior year at age 19.
  • A home-schooled student who graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and is set to marry her fiancé this summer.
PSU jeff robinson

Jeff Robinson, chair of the PSU Communication Department, announces a scholarship winner during Friday’s graduation celebration.

In addition, I was delighted to see a student who labored to get a C- in the first class I taught two years ago as she took on both full-time school and full-time work while struggling with depression. She came to me in near tears when she lost her textbook (they can be expensive, you know) so I loaned her mine to get through the rest of the term. She gave me a handwritten thank-you note back then, and on Friday she recalled the loan of the book. Degree in hand, she has lined up a summer internship and a job at a local construction company. I’m so happy she prrsevered

***

Friday’s program was the first of its kind I had attended since joining the faculty two years ago. As the last day of the spring quarter, Friday also marked the end of my second academic year at Portland State. As milestones go, I suppose that’s pretty modest. But, coupled with a similar two-year milestone at Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach, it feels pretty damn good to be at this point. And as I look ahead to what comes next, I can’t help but feel excited.

But let’s not get ahead of things. Indulge me with a quick look back at the past year.

Fall 2017:

At PSU, I taught my bread-and-butter class, Media Literacy, while also taking on a new role as internship coordinator in the Comm Department.

People often ask me what I mean by media literacy. It’s not the study of journalism, per se, though it certainly involves the goal of better understanding the historic role of the U.S. press; the enduring news values that fuel the mainstream media; and the changing technology that has ravaged newsrooms and revolutionized the way content — yes, content (text, photos, videos, audios, graphics) — is delivered.

 

Where media literacy once meant being able to read the written word, it now means being computer literate: specifically, being able to access, analyze, create and distribute a message.

It means being able to follow a narrative and character development on TV or in a movie or podcast. It means being able to grasp the meaning of logos, symbols, emojis and hashtags. It means creating your own media — a Facebook post, an Instagram photo, a YouTube video, a tweet, a meme — and sharing it with others. And, lastly, it means being able to discern who is sending which message for what purpose — not such an easy task in a world where manipulation lives side-by-side with the pursuit of the truth.

My class of 50-plus draws a mix of students, mostly Comm majors who take it for credit toward their bachelor’s degree, but also a fair number of others who take it as an elective. Having those extra perspectives — from folks who are studying film, business, criminal justice, advertising, etc. — is what makes for richer discussions and fascinating assigned essays.

Winter 2018:

Along with another section of Media Literacy at PSU, I taught Sports and the Media at WSU Vancouver, a dual load that meant I spent two mornings a week on each campus.

As someone who broke into journalism as a high school sports writer, and someone who follows sports of many kinds, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching Sports and the Media. Again, it’s not a journalism course that’s meant to turn students into novice reporters, photographers or broadcasters.

Rather, it’s a course that I teach from a sociological perspective, with sports as a reflection of society at large. There is no aspect of modern culture that doesn’t touch sports and that’s what it makes the course so compelling. Think of it as sports and the intersection of (fill in the blank) civil rights, feminism, athlete activism, sexual and racial discrimination, crime, technology, economics, politics, Title IX. The list is endless.

In this class, we spend far less time discussing wins and losses and statistics and far more drawing connections from past to present. Examples: The Black Power salutes on the medals stand at 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the take-a-knee movement that spread from the NFL to backlash from the White House. Pioneering athletes like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and Colin Kaepernick. Old-school print media coverage of athletes as heroes versus 24/7 coverage in the age of Twitter, where athletes speak for themselves, break their own news and exercise their rights as free agents.

 

WSUV operates on the semester system, so I had a 16-week term versus 11 weeks at PSU. The extra weeks meant I could invite seven guest speakers to educate my 30 students on what it’s like to work in journalism, media relations, broadcasting or for a professional team. Short version: You need to have curiosity, passion, self-initiative, a multimedia skills set, excellent writing and interviewing chops, a tremendous work ethic, and a very thick skin. Students were shocked, though they shouldn’t have been, by the meanness and sheer volume of vulgar insults hurled at women journalists by irate fans and online commenters.

I owe a big thanks to this semester’s all-star lineup: Lindsay Schnell, USA Today; Jamie Goldberg and Tyson Alger, The Oregonian/OregonLive; Tom Goldman, NPR; Chris Metz, Portland Timbers and Thorns; Rich Burk, Hillsboro Hops and NBC Sports; Casey Holdahl, Portland Trail Blazers.

Spring 2018:

I didn’t teach this quarter at PSU, so once classes ended at WSUV in late April, I was able to take my foot off the gas for the past six weeks. Compared to peak busyness in the winter, it felt like a gentle glide to the end of the term. Still, there was plenty to occupy me as the Comm Department internship coordinator.

During the school year, I had a total of 40 students who registered in the internship-for-credit class. The number rose from 8 in the fall to 14 in the winter and 18 in the spring. Supervising these students was a pleasure because I could see how they were applying lessons learned in the classroom to the workplace. At the same time, I could see their personal, as well as professional, growth develop as they gained insights into their own personalities and working styles, as well as their ability to adapt to supervisors’ expectations and widely differing office cultures.

PSU interns

From left, 2018 winter quarter interns: Laurel Zarcilla, Joryn Harris, Mabinty Olson, Samantha Garcia and Emilee Caldwell. All except Sam are graduating this year. Joryn won the Communication Department’s Outstanding Academic Achievement Award.

The options that are available with a Communications degree were pretty evident as students fanned out across the city to work in public relations, marketing, event planning, social media, video editing, web site design and more. PSU has no journalism major, but that’s fine so long as students leave with a solid foundation of writing, research and communication theory.

Fun facts about the interns: Of the 40, 31 were women (78 percent) and 18 were students of color (45 percent). For the summer term, at least 7 are signed up and there may be two or three more before classes start again June 25.

None of the work I did with the interns this year would have possible without the support and guidance of my Canadian-Ukrainian colleague, Tanya Raomaniuk. She is the Comm Department’s academic and career advisor, and during the previous school year kept the internship program going until it could be handed off to me.

In turn, I am handing off the program for now to Marisa Miller, a well-regarded and newly minted master’s degree candidate with an outgoing personality. Marisa will be supervising the interns during the summer quarter because I will be away from campus.

PSU marisa miller

Marisa Miller knits unicorns for family and friends when she’s not working on her thesis.

And where will I be? Across the pond, teaching Media Literacy in London for two weeks beginning in mid-July.

More on that in an upcoming post.

Thanks, Dream Team

PWA Dream Team Expo

The PWA Dream Team (sans our leader, Kevin Jeans Gail) raises a glass following the NW Youth Careers Expo in March 2018. Clockwise from left: Kristen Kohashi, George Rede, Sherri Nee, Susan Nielsen and Kari Smith Haight.

If it’s true that all good things must come to an end, then today is as good as any to face that bittersweet fact.

After two years of working alongside some of the smartest, most creative and dedicated people around, I’m getting ready to close the books on my time at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

I started there in the fall of 2016, just nine months after I had taken a buyout from The Oregonian/OregonLive, intending to transition into semi-retirement. Instead, I wound up getting an adjunct teaching gig at two local universities and falling into a wonderful part-time opportunity at PWA, where I worked in service to a great organization with a great cause: helping local high school students prepare for college and career.

As I explained a year ago on this blog:

“With literally a handful of employees, [PWA] builds relationships with local employers and educators to serve up a steady diet of career-related learning experiences that introduce area high school students to jobs and careers that might have eluded them otherwise. The school year calendar is loaded with career days, field trips, job shadows, internships, mock interviews, classroom visits — and the NW Youth Careers Expo, a signature event that brings 150-plus employers and 6,000 students together for a day of career exploration at the Oregon Convention Center.”

The two years have passed quickly and I’ve been enriched, professionally and personally, by my time with PWA.

Today marks the final meeting of the board of directors during the 2017-18 calendar year. The board will elect new officers, say hello and goodbye to new and departing board members, and welcome a slew of guests to a year-end gathering at a downtown architectural firm.

I’ll wrap up my work in the following days, clean out my desk, return my laptop, and turn my attention to other things, including a busy summer calendar and several loose ends related to my college classes.

But first, a look back at some of the work and all of the people at PWA — our self-described “Dream Team.”

My September 2016 blog post:  “My other job”

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I was hired as the communications coordinator, the only part-timer in an office with three other employees: Kevin Jeans Gail, the founding executive director; Susan Nielsen, the program and communications director; and Kristen Kohashi, the program manager.

While Kevin and Susan worked constantly to create and nurture partnerships in the education and business communities, Kristen focused on graphic design (both print and web) and served as a one-woman IT department in addition to managing an after-school mentoring program.

I played a supporting role in the areas of grant writing, social media, database management, and writing for our blog and newsletter. Occasionally, I’d get to represent PWA at local schools and colleges, and other times I’d recruit friends and former co-workers to attend and/or help out at the NW Youth Careers Expo and other events.

Last fall, we were thrown for a loop when Kevin had to take an extended medical leave from work. Susan stepped up as interim executive director and essentially did two jobs  (her own and Kevin’s) for the next several months.

Sherri Nee, a former journalist who helped start two nonprofit projects in Portland, had just joined our team in September, primarily helping with Career Days and recruiting employers to participate at the Expo and a related breakfast event. Shortly after, Kari Smith Haight came aboard as program coordinator, assisting with grant writing and helping Kristen manage the after-school mentoring program.

Sometime during my first year with PWA, we dubbed ourselves the Dream Team. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the nickname really did embrace two things — the fact that we accomplished so much with so few people and resources; and the happy reality that our personalities meshed so harmoniously.

As a group, we tend to be extroverted introverts (except for Kevin, whose outgoing personality and passion for kids makes him among the most well-connected individuals in the city). More importantly, we work efficiently, without ego and in total support of each other and our target audience — the kids.

That dynamic continued with the hiring of Sherri and Kari, who fit in seamlessly with their self-deprecating humor and outstanding work ethic. My personal bonus? Being the only guy in a room with four other women and hearing so many stories about husbands, children, pets, food, fashion and personal foibles, real or imagined.

As for the work, my favorite memories include:

  • Seeing the diverse faces of Portland teenagers light up on a field trip to the PCC Swan Island Trades Center, where they worked in teams to wire a simple electrical circuit, and at Oregon Health & Science University, where they learned about potential careers in radiology, speech therapy and other areas other than medicine and nursing.
  • Speaking to a journalism class at Parkrose High School with Molly Harbarger, a former newsroom colleague who’s half my age and still working as a reporter at The Oregonian/OregonLive.
  • Recruiting caring adults of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer in various capacities, including as writing mentors, classroom speakers, mock interviewers or Expo exhibitors. Some friends came to show their support simply by attending the PWA Expo Breakfast and then making generous financial contributions afterwards.

For all of the above, I am thankful. I’ve had the privilege of working with great people, of  meeting a lot of great community leaders who serve on the PWA Board, and of hanging out with energetic high school kids and their teachers and principals.

george-susan

George and Susan during a Career Day visit to The Oregonian/OregonLive, where we worked together for several years in the Editorial Department.

I’ll miss driving out to the PWA office in Southeast Portland three afternoons a week. But I know I’ll also welcome the opportunity to claim that time for myself. With another year of teaching ahead of me at Portland State and WSU Vancouver, it will do me good to let go of one thing in order to focus on another.

Thanks, Dream Team!

 

Dazzling day in Tracktown USA

Former prep athletes George and Eric enjoy the action at Historic Hayward Field.

So there we were, sitting side by side in the West Grandstand at Historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.

On my left, Eric Wilcox, a former school record holder in the javelin at The Dalles High School in Oregon. And myself, a former All-League cross country runner at Washington High School in northern California.

We’d come down from Portland for the afternoon to take in Day One of the NCAA Track & Field Championships, a four-day competition featuring the most accomplished athletes in Division I.

Eric is an architect and works for a Portland firm that is working with the university on a massive project to turn Hayward Field into a world-class track and field stadium by 2020. Check out the project here.

Eric snagged the tickets, which put us in a prime viewing spot for the 12 running events held on the first day of the meet. Except for the finals of the 10,000 meter run, all of the events were preliminaries, so we saw multiple heats of each event stretching out from about 4:30 pm to 10 pm.

We also saw preliminary and final competitions for each of the five field events, including Eric’s specialty. All the events featured men. Tonight’s preliminaries feature the women. Finals will be held Friday and Saturday and the size  of the crowd will grow quite a bit for those two days.

To say I was excited for this event is a huge understatement. Aside from attending the first two games of the 1990 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants (yes, the one disrupted by the earthquake), this was the most prestigious athletic competition I’d ever attended.

And because it involved student-athletes rather than veteran professionals in a sport I’d actually competed in myself, it was all the more satisfying.

 

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Quick aside: On the drive down, Eric told me he broke the school record in the javelin as a senior, only to have the very next competitor at the same meet throw the stick even farther. Turns out he held the school record for about five minutes!

As for me, I’d run a 4:38 mile as a junior (a decent time, but not good enough to land me on the varsity) but discovered I did even better at longer distance. As a senior at the league championship meet, I covered the 3-mile cross country course in 15:22, averaging 5:07 per mile, and finished ninth. The top 10 finishers were deemed All-League and our school won the league title.

***

We arrived in Tracktown USA (aka Eugene, Oregon) on a spectacular Wednesday afternoon — warm, dry, blue skies and a faint breeze — and walked into a scene that took me back to the days of regional high school competitions and weekend invitationals.

Only this time I was mingling with college athletes, coaches, family members and other supporters from across the United States. Wherever we went — whether to find our seats, grab a snack or just stroll the grounds — we found ourselves in a sea of Cougars, Trojans, Badgers, Spartans, Hawkeyes, Aggies and more.

T-shirts, baseball caps, backpacks, school flags and other logo-branded items made clear the diversity of institutions: Nebraska, Houston, Cornell, Columbia, Grand Canyon University, BYU, Stanford, Baylor, Coppin State, etc.

The competition itself was amazing — in fact, inspiring. We had great seats near the finish line with a clear view of what Eric described as a three-ring circus: a running event taking place in front of us at the same time that athletes were scattered across the field — long jumpers on near side, pole vaulters on the far side, and shot-putters and javelin thrower in between.

I’ll save some of the details for the photo captions, but let me just say the two biggest highlights were these:

  • Watching Ben Flanagan, a University of Michigan senior, sprint like hell on the last straightaway to catch and pass a Kenyan-born Alabama runner in the 10,000 meter run.
  • Seeing the sheer delight of Denzel Comententia, a University of Georgia junior, after he’d accomplished a rarity — winning two weights events (not just one) in the hammer throw and shot put. The big man bounded joyfully across the field as if he were a Little League player who’d just hit a winning home run.

 

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The dedication and skill of these athletes is something to behold. Whether sprinting, hurdling, running a relay race or competing in the jumps or weights, each of them has found time to be a genuine scholar-athlete on their campus. How rewarding to come to the Northwest and test themselves against their peers, many of whom no doubt will be future Olympians.

I would love to come back to attend the Finals come day. Or maybe the Olympic Trials. Or maybe an international event, once that new stadium is built in 2020.