London stories: Oxford

Lasker Rose Garden at the Oxford Botanic Gardens was once the site of the city’s Jewish cemetery. This gorgeous view belies the reality that Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and not allowed to return more than 350 years.

Exactly one month ago on a Saturday morning, I boarded a train at London’s Paddington Station and settled in for the 60-mile trip to Oxford.

It would take little more than an hour to reach the city in south central England, home to the world’s oldest English-language university, dating back to the late 11th century.

In a word, the experience was surreal.

Centuries-old structures are breathtakingly beautiful, both imposing and elegant. Along with university buildings. museums and churches, even pubs and a certain coffeehouse have been here for hundreds of years.

Magnificent architecture is everywhere in Oxford.

As in London itself, I was amazed how the old exists alongside the new. In a city with cobblestone streets, you’ll find wireless electronics stores, souvenir shops, high-end retailers, and a covered shopping mall with 125 stores and rooftop restaurants all sharing the public space.

I’ve been thinking about Oxford lately because I’ll soon be in England again to teach a communications course through Portland State University’s Education Abroad program. The two-week class begins in early July, and this time Lori will join me toward the end of the course so we can enjoy a few days as tourists. Our tentative plans include a visit to Oxford.

Coincidentally, The New York Times recently featured “the ultimate British college town” in its Travel section: “36 Hours in Oxford.” And just last week I watched David Letterman interview Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, on her life as a student at Oxford. (The interview on Netflix is here.) Seeing Malala, now 21, leading a tour of prospective students brought back pleasant memories of my own visit a year ago.

***

Arriving at mid-morning, I walked through a church graveyard past weathered headstones that had cracked or toppled over. I passed by the Oxford Castle & Prison, a tourist destination, and ventured into the city center, where I ran into groups of teenagers from around the world wearing Oxford University gear. Armed with a simple map and a sense of adventure, I decided against a formal tour and instead wandered the city on my own for hours.

I make no attempt to be comprehensive here in retelling what I did, when or in what order. Suffice to say there was plenty to see and lots to marvel at. A few highlights:

The university. According to the official web site, “There are 38 Oxford colleges, which are financially independent and self-governing, but relate to the central University in a kind of federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which are similar to colleges except that they tend to be smaller, and were founded by particular Christian denominations. The colleges and halls are close academic communities, which bring together students and researchers from different disciplines, cultures and countries.”

Strolling through the grounds of the colleges was a serene experience. I felt a twinge of envy for the 24,000 Oxford students (divided equally between undergraduates and graduate students) admitted to study in such historic, prestigious surroundings.

The Weston Library. Built in the 1930s and formally opened in 1946 as part of the Bodleian Libraries, the Weston was hosting a special exhibition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous works, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” I was out of luck. Free tickets had been snapped up well in advance, so I made do with a souvenir book and checked out Ethiopian and Eritrean art in the lobby.

A moment of solitude. Stepping off the busy streets, I enjoyed a brief respite inside a small church, where I was alone with my thoughts. Here in the silence, I could appreciate the stained-glass windows and pristine interior of St. Michael at the North Gate Church. Even more so, the reverence with which parishioners had put together memorials for Oxford residents killed in the First and Second World Wars. I had a pleasant conversation with the woman who was cashiering in the gift shop and went on my way.

Food and drink. I ordered lunch from a Lebanese food cart and plopped down on the sidewalk with a hefty lamb gyro. Later, I spotted a place advertising itself as the oldest coffeehouse in Europe, established in 1654. Still later, I came upon The Bear Inn, the city’s oldest pub. Can you imagine a place that’s been serving up pints since 1242? Weirdly, that’s 777 years of continuous operation. Thanks to the low ceiling barely a foot from my head, I felt like a 7-footer who’d wandered in from the future.

Soapbox Science. Resuming my wanderings after a surprise thunderstorm, I came upon a small crowd gathered on a sidewalk in front of a young woman in a white lab coat standing on a small platform. Turns out it was a local professor who was participating in “Soapbox Science,” a national initiative to bring science to the masses through a grassroots outreach program. The professor was one of several, all women, who were giving presentations in the public square just outside Westgate Centre, the modern shopping mall I’d just come from. Read more here: London Stories: Soapbox Science.

Such a cool thing to do: Take science education to the streets.

With so much to see, I’m looking forward to coming back to this marvelous city with my wife. Perhaps we’ll take a Harry Potter walking tour. Maybe we’ll float on a canal or visit the 400-year-old Covered Market. Whatever we do, I think a return visit to The Bear is a must.

View of Oxford from the rooftop deck of Westgate Centre shopping mall.
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Woody Guthrie Place: a home for dignity

Named for the famous folksinger, Woody Guthrie Place will soon be home to 64 families in the Lents neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

Most weekday evenings you’ll find Lori and me at “yappy hour” — a time when our little Charlotte can run around with her fellow terriers and any other dogs that show up at our neighborhood school.

On Thursday, I deviated from the routine for a good cause. I attended a grand opening celebration of an affordable housing project in Southeast Portland and a fundraising dinner to benefit the nonprofit agency that led the way in developing it.

The development is called Woody Guthrie Place, named for the famous Depression-era folksinger who once lived two blocks away from the site in the Lents neighborhood. The agency that made it happen is ROSE Community Development.

A ROSE staff member I’ve come to know through my work invited me to attend as a way of becoming more familiar with the organization, which has provided valuable work experience to several Communications students I’ve had in an internship class at Portland State University.

Jami LeBaron, communications manager at ROSE, organized Thursday’s grand opening celebration. She also mentors Portland State student interns.

To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I came away with a handful of positive takeaways about the great work being done by the public, private and nonprofit sectors to provide affordable housing — and dignity — to people who live in a part of the city that really needs it. My takeaways:

***

No. 1. Rose CDC rocks. For nearly 30 years, this nonprofit agency has been a beacon of hope to residents of outer-Southeast Portland through development of good homes, youth and family programs, and community support. With a 9-member staff, a volunteer board, and a dozen partnerships with public agencies and community organizations, ROSE CDC typifies the vital work that small nonprofits do, often flying below the radar.

The agency is perennially honored as of the Best 100 Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon Award as named by Oregon Business magazine, and its work has earned recognition from the governor’s and mayor’s offices, as well as other state and local awards.

No. 2. Meeting a basic need. With the completion of 64 mixed-income units at Woody Guthrie Place and 48 fully affordable units at Orchards of 82nd, another ROSE development recently opened in the nearby Jade District, ROSE is providing more then 100 families with a safe, affordable place to live. Most are seniors, single moms and people of color, all of whom are on limited incomes. The two new projects will bring to 465 the number of rental units, including single-family homes and and apartments, managed by ROSE.

For all these tenants, affordable housing means more than just a roof over their head. It means a safe place to call your own and raise a family.

I joined a tour of Woody Guthrie Place near the intersection of SE 91st Avenue and Foster Road and was impressed with what I saw: a four-story building offering 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units with brand-new appliances, fresh carpeting, ceiling fans in every room, and a laundry room on each floor. Amenities include a community room, rooftop patio, an outdoors play space, car and bike parking, and ADA accessible units. The building is LEED Gold certified, has a solar rooftop and electric car charging stations.

No. 3. The right kind of housing in the right kind of place. As the third affordable housing development to open in the past year in this area, Woody Guthrie Place is the latest manifestation of the city’s plans for the urban renewal area known as Lents Town Center. Long disparaged as a mishmash of sketchy and outdated businesses just off Interstate 205, the district is taking on new life as a hub for affordable housing, brewpubs, restaurants and retail businesses. (Never imagined I’d see a Planet Fitness in this long-struggling area.)

Thursday’s fundraising event was held at the Asian Health and Service Center, a gleaming three-story building that is also a new addition to Lents Town Center. From the covered third-floor deck, you can look across the street to Woody Guthrie Place or further south toward Oliver Place, a two-building development comprised of apartments and ground-floor commercial space.

All of this development is the result of public investment led by Prosper Portland, the city’s urban renewal agency, and supported by the Metro regional government, Multnomah County and Home Forward, the city’s housing authority. Private sector involvement has come from a variety of construction companies, architectural and engineering firms, banks and utilities, notably Portland General Electric.

Bob Stacey, the elected official representing Metro’s District 6, which includes Lents, was among a half-dozen speakers Thursday night. He called Woody Guthrie Place “an amazing asset” for the region and the community. He said because it is close to public transit, it will serve the new residents well and make it “the right kind of housing in the right kind of place.”

No. 4. Why Woody Guthrie? The new development is named in honor of the prolific songwriter who lived briefly in the area while writing songs for the Bonneville Power Administration about the benefits of hydroelectric power being developed on the Columbia River. Originally from Oklahoma, Guthrie moved from Los Angeles to Portland with his young family in the spring of 1941 and wound up writing 26 songs in 30 days, including “Roll On, Columbia.” During that month, he lived with wife and three children in an apartment on SE 92nd Avenue.

Woody Guthrie and his family in 1941 (courtesy of the Woody Guthrie Museum)

Guthrie wrote more than 1,400 songs during his lifetime, including the famous ballad “This Land Is Your Land.”

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

And all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

According to a 2018 magazine article, it was during his time in Portland that Guthrie wrote a song that many view as his masterpiece: “Pastures of Plenty,” about poor migrant farm workers leaving Oklahoma to look for work picking fruit in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s clearly drawn from Grapes of Wrath, a book Guthrie read for the first time in Portland, but the fact that he wrote it while tromping around Oregon in the springtime reveals the masterpiece in a new light,” said the writer, Isaac Peterson.

No. 5. The music and message of Simon Tam. More than one speaker at Thursday’s event invoked the spirit of Guthrie’s work as a voice for justice, equality and civil rights. Among them was keynote speaker Simon Tam, an author and musician best known as bassist and founder of the Asian American dance-rock band, The Slants. In his remarks, he skillfully touched on music as a connector of people and places, and on dignity.

Keynote speaker Simon Tam with Travis Dang of SERA Architects, project designer of the Orchards on 82nd apartments.

Tam recently moved to Nashville but lived in Portland “just two blocks from here” for 15 years. In 2006, he founded an all-Asian American band and later applied to register a trademark for the band’s name, a move that triggered an eight-year legal battle with the federal government that ended in June 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had rejected the band’s name as “disparaging” but Tam said he and his bandmates “were re-appropriating this term and injecting it with our own power.”

If that fight over a racial slur was about self-identity, it was also about justice and dignity.

Tam said he loves ROSE precisely because of the sense of dignity that permeates its work, whether it comes from staff, board members, volunteers or donors.

“Music is both a ceremony and a time capsule,” tied to specific events and memories, Tam said. When you support ROSE, he declared, “you’re helping write that song of justice, community and dignity.”

***

Want to know more?

Here is the ROSE CDC web site: https://rosecdc.org/

Here’s a Washington Post story about Simon Tam and his memoir “Slanted: How an Asian-American Troublemaker Wound Up Before The Supreme Court.” https://wapo.st/2ZAez0g

Here’s a piece from 1859 Oregon’s Magazine about Woody Guthrie and his time in Oregon: https://1859oregonmagazine.com/think-oregon/history/woody-guthrie-oregon/

3 down, 1 to go

In early July, I’ll be back in London with a new group of students to explore the British capital inside and outside the classroom.

Final grades have been turned in and I’m officially done for the spring quarter at Portland State University. That means I’ve racked up three full years of part-time college teaching, and I can now set my sights on one more year.

Next fall, I’m moving into a full-time position at Portland State, an opportunity that fell into my lap when it became apparent the Department of Communication was in need of some short-term help.

With one professor leaving for a job at another university, a second one going on sabbatical, and a third one recently retired, yours truly happened to be in the right place to take on an expanded role during the 2019-20 academic year. It’s for one year only, and that suits me just fine.

Starting in September, I will move to a 3-3-3 course load from my previous 2-1-2. That means I’ll teach three classes each during the fall, winter and spring quarters. As an adjunct instructor during the just-completed school year, I taught two classes in the fall and spring, and one during the winter.

The new teaching load isn’t as onerous as it seems. One of the three courses is the online internship class I oversee during each quarter, typically with anywhere from 12 to 15 students per term. The other two courses will be of the traditional butts-in-the-seats variety, totaling about 90 students per term.

I will teach Media Literacy (all three terms), Media Ethics (two terms) and Mass Communication and Society (one term). When June 2020 arrives, I will be done.

Though I’m excited by what lies ahead, accepting this full-time gig means having to cut the cord with Washington State University Vancouver, where I had also taught during the past three years.

So long, WSUV. Hello, PSU.

With summer arriving this week and the books officially closed on this school year, you might think I was kicking up my feet and getting some R&R. That’ll happen, but not right away.

In less than three weeks, I’ll be in the United Kingdom again to teach a study-abroad course to a group of 10 students from PSU and WSUV. It’ll be my second time teaching Media Literacy in London, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in British media, culture and politics for two weeks.

The course runs from July 8 to July 22 and we’ve got a daily schedule packed with visits to the BBC and other media organizations; several guest speakers; guided tours of the city — on the bus, on foot and on a boat; and a handful of group meals, including a traditional British afternoon tea to welcome the students.

We also plan to sit in on a session of the Houses of Parliament at a momentous time in the UK’s history, with politicians still struggling to find an answer to the leave-or-remain Brexit question that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May.

This year, Lori will join me toward the tail end of the program so we can tack on a few extra days and enjoy as much as we can of the British capital. I know she will love the city as much as I do, and having her there is one small way of repaying her for all the support and encouragement she offered me last summer — and, frankly, all that she has tolerated during my three years of adjunct teaching.

Lest I get caught up in what lies ahead, I also need to look back and say thanks.

Andrew Swanson was my teaching assistant during the just-completed spring quarter at PSU.

First, to Andrew Swanson, who served as my teaching assistant in Media Literacy during the spring term. Andrew is a super-smart dude with an interesting past and an even brighter future. He was a professional motorcycle and race car for many years in Europe and the U.S. and later worked in the music industry.

In addition to his pursuit of a bachelor’s in social science, Andrew is program manager at Oregon Recovers, a Portland-based nonprofit that lobbies for improved treatment and support for Oregonians suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Hannah Fischer, of Portland State, and Darin Smith-Gaddis, of CAPA, have been staunch allies in my endeavors to teach abroad.

Another tip of the hat is due to Hannah Fischer and Darin Smith-Gaddis. Both have been instrumental in paving the way for me to teach in London.

Hannah works in Portland State’s Education Abroad office, where she coordinates faculty-led programs like mine. She helped me fine-tune my syllabus, developed the program budget, publicized my course and helped recruit students, and served as a liaison between us and CAPA, a Boston-based organization that offers global education programs in London and other leading cities.

Darin works for CAPA as a regional institutional relations manager. Based in Los Angeles, he works with colleges and universities in eight Western states, including Oregon, to develop study abroad programming. Darin provided expertise and enthusiasm as a program partner that I greatly appreciated when we launched the inaugural UK program.

Last week, he flew up to Portland to join me in a pre-departure orientation session for my London-bound students, offering tips on culture shock, British vocabulary and packing light, among other things. Afterwards, he and I and Hannah grabbed lunch and we kicked around some possible destinations and course topics should the stars align and I do this again in the summer of 2020.

It’s fun to fantasize about taking this summer gig beyond London, but my lips are sealed for the time being. In the meantime, enjoy this short video:

London Stories: An Agatha Christie masterpiece

“You have been summoned for jury service.”

Date/Time: Sun 29 July 2018 15:00 (3 pm)

Location: London County Hall, Central Gallery, Row B, Seat 24

Jury service? Yes — and I went willingly. The occasion? I had bought myself a ticket to see Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” while in London last summer. The play, then 10 months into its run, was being staged in the magnificent London County Hall on the south bank of the River Thames.

July 29 was to be my last full day in London before flying home after teaching a two-week course in the city. I wanted to end on a high note, with a dose of arts and culture. I could not have asked for a better experience.

The setting was grand. The production was fabulous. It was one of those moments when I had to pinch myself and appreciate the circumstances that had brought me here: I was teaching a study-abroad class for the first time and exploring the British capital with six students from the Portland area. And now I was watching live theater in a nearly century-old building.

London County Hall, opened in 1922, sits on the south bank of the River Thames, flanked on one side by the London Eye.

After a farewell dinner on Friday night, my students and I went our separate ways on the final weekend of the program. I wound up here. Not in the West End theater district, but several miles away at the elegant London County Hall, which began construction before the First World War and opened in 1922, The building originally housed the London County Council government offices, but today it is home to two hotels, several restaurants, apartments and tourist attractions.

County Hall is next to the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, and across the Thames from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Little wonder that this photogenic building in a tourist hot spot attracts so much attention.

Approaching the building from the south side, you enter a spacious foyer and climb a marble staircase which takes you into the theater. My seat was in the second level, perfectly centered and looking down at the stage. I was at the end of a row seated next to a friendly woman my age. Her name was Laura, as I recall, and she had come with her husband and grandchildren. She said they were retired and came in from the suburbs regularly for performances just like this.

The production itself was superb. Agatha Christie was a master storyteller, and this play was adapted from one of her short stories published way back in 1925. When she died in 1979 at age 85, she had written 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels, more than 20 plays and upwards of 150 short stories. With more than 2 billion books published, she was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

In “Witness for the Prosecution,” the story centers on themes of justice, passion and betrayal in a courtroom setting. A young man, Leonard Vole, is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. Leonard is brought to trial and we, the audience, quickly lose ourselves in the gripping drama as he and other witnesses, including his callous wife, are called to testify. At stake is a possible death sentence if he is found guilty.

Even some 10 months after I saw the play, I have fond memories of losing myself in a world-class production featuring British stage actors at the top of their craft. Along with sharp dialogue and crystalline acoustics, there are white-wigged jurists and swift set changes that keep the story moving to its climax — and then to a surprising, alternate ending.

When I came home, I was excited to share the experience with my wife. I rented a DVD of the 1957 film adaptation starring Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich and directed by Billy Wilder.

The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but watching it six decades later, I had to wonder why. Viewing it on the small screen in black and white, I was put off by the appalling sexism embodied by Laughton’s character. Did I miss all that in London? Or was the dialogue toned down for a modern audience?

In any event, catching this matinee performance was a highlight among highlights during my short stay in London. In just five more weeks, I’ll return to teach the same class, this time with 10 students in tow from Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver.

Lori will join me toward the tail end of the program, so we can have a few days together to explore the city.

We definitely want to see a play or two. I just may try to talk her into seeing this one. It’s scheduled to continue its run through March 2020. #SeeYouinCourt

Rip City

The 2018-19 NBA season came to a dramatic end this week for the Trail Blazers with one final loss to the indomitable Golden State Warriors.

With this souvenir from Tuesday’s game, I now have enough Blazer T-shirts to wear one every weekday.

Count me among the tens of thousands of Portlanders who enjoyed this joyride of a season and felt only a smidgen of sadness that it ended how it did. On the contrary, this team was fun to watch. They overcame adversity caused by a string of injuries and the death of the team’s owner, and in doing so they brought the city together in a way we haven’t seen for nearly 20 years.

Losing in four straight games to the two-time defending champions was nothing to feel badly about, considering that the Blazers easily could have — and should have — won at least two, if not three, of the games.

Enes Kanter and Maurice Harkless: Two of the good guys.

I think back to a year ago, when I shared in the despair of a four-game sweep by the underdog New Orleans Pelicans, and there’s no comparison.

I saw the Blazers lose Game 2 of that series at home, wondering how the wheels had fallen off. This year, I saw the Blazers win Game 2 of the Oklahoma City series before seeing them fall, valiantly, to Denver in Game 4 and to Golden State in this week’s season-ending overtime loss. (Ain’t no one gonna stop Stephen Curry and Draymond Green from another title.)

Even though the last two games resulted in losses, the competitive fire was there and the entertainment value was sky-high. I nearly went hoarse after the GSW game, but every minute was a blast.

I grew up in the Bay Area going to Giants and A’s games as a young baseball fan, but I’ve got to say there’s something special about an NBA playoff game. The intensity ratchets up and every possession seems to carry extra weight. Little wonder that bodies fly for rebounds or loose balls, that dunks resonate to the upper sections, and the breakneck pace of the game showcases all the finesse, grace, power and creativity of the players. It’s like watching ballet in fast-forward mode.

Larger than life image of CJ McCollum.

Like every other Blazers fan, I look at the team’s two stars, Damian Lilliard and CJ McCollum, as representing the best qualities of today’s modern athletes. They are not just supremely talented on the court, but they are involved in the community, natural leaders in the locker room, and thoughtful and well-spoken in their media interviews. I admire their paths from lesser-known colleges (Weber State and Lehigh) to the pros, and I appreciate that McCollum majored in journalism.

But it’s not just those two. The whole roster seems full of guys I wouldn’t mind having a beer with — or maybe a Gatorade in their case.

I attended seven regular season games this year and the Blazers won them all. Add in the OKC win and they were 8-2 in games I saw. I’m only able to do this because I’ve purchased one-third of one-half of a pair of season tickets through a friend of ours. Sharing the costs this way not only makes it affordable but it gives me reason to look forward to seven games a year — enough to take Lori or my kids or friends to different ones. If I want to attend an occasional extra game or two, I can do that too.

I don’t know if the Blazers will be able to recapture some of this season’s magic next year but I’m grateful for the memories created during this one.

Who could have predicted Meyers Leonard would go from the end of the bench to leading scorer against the Warriors?

We’re living in a time when our attention is divided, our societal cohesiveness is fragmented and our political culture is toxic. I appreciate having an outlet for pure entertainment and a bonding experience with strangers that’s all too rare in everyday life. And if I can sip on a beer while cheering for someone instead of rooting against someone, so much the better.

Come next fall, I’ll be ready for another edition of Rip City.

Unfurling a flag with Portland’s nickname: Rip City all the way.

Shot in the Heart: A Portland story

People of a certain age might remember Gary Gilmore as one of America’s most notorious criminals. Sentenced to death after murdering two innocent men in Utah, he was executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977, just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty.

I was living in Bend, Oregon, at the time and, as an opponent of capital punishment, I still remember being shocked when I learned from a radio news report that he’d been put to death.

These days, I have another reason to remember Gilmore and, frankly, it’s hard to shake. Turns out that Gilmore not only grew up in Portland, but one of his crimes was committed about a mile away from where I live. As a teenager, he raped a 14-year-old girl in an apartment on a street that I drive on virtually every week.

Creepy? To say the least.

I learned of that sordid crime and much, much more from reading “Shot in the Heart,” a sad but beautifully written memoir by Mikal Gilmore about his brother Gary and their dysfunctional family. I read the book last year and found myself drawn into it despite the dark subject matter, but I’ve never written about it until now.

Picking it up again, I was startled to realize it was published in 1994 — some 25 years ago. And thumbing through it, I am reminded of the powerful, honest writing that propelled me through 400 pages of a book that one reviewer called “mesmerizing…riveting and immensely moving.”

“You were Gary Gilmore’s younger brother, weren’t you? What did it feel like, having him die like that?” he was often asked.

“I was never really sure how to answer that question,” he wrote. “But I hated it every time the questions were asked. I tried for years to be polite or thick-skinned about it….I felt that nobody would ever forget or forgive me just for being that dead f—— killer’s brother. I learned a bit of what it’s like to live on in the aftermath of the punishment: as a living relative, you have to take on some of the burden and legacy of the punishment. People can no longer insult or hurt Gary Gilmore, but because you are his brother — even if you’re not much like him — they can aim it at you.

“It’s as if anybody who has emerged from a family that yielded a murderer must also be formed by the same causes, the same evil, must in some way also be responsible for the violence that resulted, must also bear the mark of a frightening and shameful heritage. It’s as if there is guilt in the simple fact of the bloodline itself.”

Gary Gilmore in Portland Police Bureau mug shots.

Gary Gilmore’s death ended a virtual moratorium on capital punishment that had lasted nearly 10 years in the United States, and it spawned a novel and a movie that both won critical acclaim.

Norman Mailer wrote a fact-based novel (The Executioner’s Song, 1979) about Gilmore that won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Mailer then adapted the book into a movie (1982) that starred Tommy Lee Jones as Gilmore and won the actor an Emmy Award.

Twelve years later, Mikal Gilmore wrote his memoir.

I already knew Mikal was an accomplished journalist as a music writer for Rolling Stone. What I didn’t know was that he was born here and grew up with his family in Southeast Portland (in the same impoverished neighborhood where Lori and I first lived when we first moved here) and in suburban Milwaukie (where I got my first reporting job in Oregon). Mikal attended Milwaukie High School and later graduated from Portland State University, where I now teach.

Author Mikal Gilmore (rollingstone.com)

But “Shot in the Heart” is not about Mikal. It is about his mom and dad and three older brothers, all of whom were scarred by the violence that defined their everyday life. The father, Frank Gilmore, was a petty criminal who beat his young wife, Bessie, and did the same to his sons, Frank Jr., Gary and Gaylen. Mikal, the youngest by seven years and born when his dad was 61, escaped that treatment.

Gary suffered the worst of those beatings, and he rebelled. As a young teen, he began ditching school and staying out late, drinking and smoking weed. Soon enough, he turned to the criminal life, stealing cars and robbing stores. To my astonishment, I found the book riddled with references to streets and places I know: 82nd Avenue, 52nd and Division, Johnson Creek Boulevard, Northeast Weidler Street (where the rape occurred).

Gary did time at MacLaren’s Reform School for Boys in Woodburn, the Rocky Butte Jail in east Portland, the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He was arrested in Washington, Idaho, California and Texas before making his way to Utah, where he fatally shot a gas station attendant and a motel manager while on parole. He was 36 when he was executed — shot in the heart by a firing squad.

Nothing can excuse Gary Gilmore’s life of crime, culminating in the murders in Provo, Utah. But it’s also obvious that his father’s brutish, violent behavior helped set him on that path and, likewise, contributed to the death of his brother Gaylen, at age 27, from complications from a stabbing.

Sad to say, hope for any semblance of normal life was snuffed out at an early age for young Gary.

“My family’s ruin did not end with Gary, because it had not started with him,” Mikal, now 68, concludes. “…I realized I had grown up in a family that would not continue. There were four sons, and none of us went on to have our own families. We did not go on to spread any legacy or dynasty, to extend or fulfill any of our needs, kind or cruel, damaged or conscientious, through children. We didn’t even have kids in order to beat or ruin them as we had one been beaten or ruined…

“It’s as if what had happened to in our family was so awful that it had to end with us, it had to stop, and that to have children was to risk the perpetuation of that ruin.”

“Shot in the Heart” is hardly uplifting reading. But it is searingly honest and infused with empathy and insight. It truly is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

So long, WSUV. Hello, PSU.


Lights are off. Semester is done. Time for a new chapter as a college instructor.

After class last week, I went through the usual routine. Turned off the A/V projector. Grabbed my dry-erase markers, textbook and file folders and zipped ’em into my shoulder bag. Turned off the lights and shut the door.

Wistfully, I headed off to the parking lot. I had just given the final exam in my Sports and the Media class, and it would be the last time I would go through this routine.

After three years of teaching at Washington State University Vancouver, it was time to close the book (literally) and look forward to what comes next.

I’ve been offered a one-year, full-time faculty position at Portland State University for the 2019-20 academic year. In order to accept the job, I had to say no to further employment at WSUV.

While I’m excited to step into an expanded role at Portland State, I regret that it comes at the price of giving up the good thing I had going at WSUV. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mix of students and small-college feel of this public university in southwest Washington, where many, like myself, are first-generation college students.

What does all this mean?

First, it means I can take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr. Narayanan Iyer, director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV, for hiring me as an adjunct instructor in January 2017. Known affectionately to students and staff as Nanu, he gave me the chance to teach three different courses over my time there, stretching across the spring, summer and fall semesters.

Read “Cougartown” for a look back at my first semester at WSUV

I had no idea what Integrated Strategic Communications meant when I began. But I now know it includes a broad-based curriculum that touches on public relations, advertising, multimedia content creation, social media and digital content management, and a whiff of journalism.

I wasn’t there to teach journalism, per se. But through my Sports and the Media class and others that I taught — Media Ethics and Reporting Across Platforms — I sought to introduce students to the multimedia reporting skills and industry challenges facing digital-era journalists.

Second, I can say “thank you” to a host of professionals who gave generously of their time and expertise. Students heard directly from these guest speakers about the skills and attributes it takes to be a front-line journalist; about the professional relationships one must build with sources, including athletes and coaches; and about the ethical quandaries they encounter almost daily in the course of doing their jobs.

These talented men and women opened students’ eyes to the nasty trolling one puts up with on social media, most frequently aimed at women journalists. And in a couple of cases, speakers talked about the mental health issues that confront athletes, as well as what it feels like to be the subject of media coverage.

Here’s a heartfelt “thank you” to all who spoke to my students over these past three years: Lindsay Schnell, Jamie Goldberg. Tom Goldman, Casey Holdahl, Rich Burk, Chris Metz, Tyson Alger, Gina Mizell, Taylor Ricci, Nathan Braaten, Brenda Tracy, Mark Mohammadpour, Dianne Danowski-Smith, Chris Broderick, Beth Nakamura, Stephanie Yao-Long, Lillian Mongeau, Steve Woodward, Katy Sword, David Lippoff, Will Ulbricht, Kate Lesniak, Anna Griffin and Kyle Iboshi.

Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten came up from Corvallis this year to talk about mental health issues facing student-athletes, citing their own experiences at Oregon State University.

A special thanks goes out to Evelyn Smith, who was the only and one teaching assistant I had. She was a rock star during the Media and Society class I taught last fall, and graduated in December.

So what’s next?

Next school year, I’ll be teaching two courses each during the fall, winter and spring quarters at Portland State, while continuing to coordinate the academic internship program in the Department of Communication.

I’ll begin in September with Media Literacy, my bread-and-butter course, and Media Ethics — two very timely and essential topics.

Before then, I’ll head off to the U.K. this summer to teach Media Literacy in London. It will be my second time leading this study-abroad course through Portland State, and I’m looking forward to having 10 students this time, up from 6 last year.

It’s a two-week course that runs July 8-22. This time, Lori will join me at the tail end of the program and we’ll enjoy being tourists for a few days.

It’s been a great ride, Vancouver. I look forward to more of the same, Portland.


Though I’m excited about what comes next, I’ll miss the small-college feel of WSU Vancouver.

Sunshine and softball

Pink ribbons symbolizing cancer awareness flank the Portland State logo at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro.

As a sports fan and member of the Portland State University faculty, I’ve always wanted to be supportive of our school’s student-athletes. Friday afternoon gave me a chance to do that, with the women’s softball team holding its final home stand of the season in nearby Hillboro.

I set aside a pile of papers I was grading and made the 20-minute drive to the Gordon Faber Recreational Complex, where I took a seat behind home plate and settled in for a couple hours of exciting action on a sun-drenched afternoon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to show up.

— The Lady Vikings were taking on Weber State, the first-place team in the Sky West Conference in which PSU competes. The visitors from Utah had a 12-1 record in conference play compared to Portland State’s 7 wins, 7 losses.

Handmade signs show support for family and friends during the StrikeOut Cancer game.

— The Viks were wearing pink jerseys because they were hosting a StrikeOut Cancer game. The outfield grass featured two giant pink ribbons on either side of the school logo, and two cancer survivors — each related to a Portland State player — threw out a ceremonial first pitch. On the receiving end of the pitches were the daughter and niece of those respective cancer survivors.

A breast cancer survivor prepares to embrace her niece, a PSU player, after throwing a ceremonial first pitch.

— Coincidentally, one of the players was a former student of mine. I had Kaela Morrow in the very first class I taught at PSU, when she was just a sophomore. She earned all-conference honors last year as a junior, and on Saturday she was one of three players honored during Senior Day at the final home game of the season.

Kaela Morrow, star athlete and star student, between games of Friday’s doubleheader.

— During the just-completed winter quarter, Kaela was among a group of Communications majors I supervised in an academic internship class. She got a taste of journalism by writing a blog for the PSU Athletic Department called Kaela’s Corner, which she used to interview teammates and provide an insider’s view of the season’s ups and downs.

The game I watched Friday was well-played and closely contested. Weber State took a 3-2 lead into the final inning and scored 4 more runs, only to have Portland State rally with a two-out, 3-run home run that cut the deficit to a final score of 7-5. (I didn’t stick around for the second game of the doubleheader, but Weber State won that one, too.)

What I saw was plenty entertaining. These young women are superb athletes. I saw outfielders make diving catches, and infielders make back-handed stops and sharp throws. The pitchers for each team zipped the ball hard and fast, resulting in an audible “pop” every time it landed in the catcher’s mitt. Batters whacked the ball or laid down bunts, and displayed considerable speed running the bases.

The Lady Vikings gather with their coach after a tough 7-5 loss.

The atmosphere was as casual as could be. The players on each team served as their own cheerleaders. Sporting ribbons in their hair and paint on their faces, they cheered, chanted and clapped, and exchanged elaborate high-fives during pre-game introductions. You could sense a real camaraderie among the players.

As a spectator, you could sit on metal bleachers behind home plate or either side of it, or stand wherever you liked. (Weber State had a rooting section of its own along the first-base line.)

You could also watch from a grassy berm beyond the outfield fence, and plenty of spectators chose to do that, sunning themselves in the process. I made my way out there during the last inning and was pleasantly surprised when the Vikings’ clean-up hitter bashed a fly ball that sailed over the left field fence. The yellow ball landed a few feet away from me and I scooped it up, thinking what a cool souvenir it would make. A member of the PSU game crew came out to get it, however, and I gave it up without a second thought.

A home run by Rachel Manlove landed a few feet away from me.

In my three years of teaching at PSU, I’ve had various athletic team members in my classes, ranging from football, basketball and soccer to the most recent, tennis, cross country, and track and field. I’ve managed to see two men’s basketball games, but nothing else.

Teaching Sports and the Media this year, I’ve gained a greater respect for these young men and women who compete at the NCAA’s Division I level. Not only must they put in long hours of practice and travel time, they often have to deal with injuries, high performance expectations from coaches and fans, and mental stress — all while keeping up with their studies.

Friday was a chance to show support for the softball team while taking a much-needed break from my own workload. I’d call that a win-win, no matter what the scoreboard said.

London stories: The journalists’ church

St. Bride’s Church and its magnificent steeple can be found just off Fleet Street, where print journalism began in the early 1500s.

One of the most indelible memories of my trip to London last summer was the visit to St. Bride’s Church, also known as The Journalists’ Church.

The church is situated just off historic Fleet Street, where the British printing press was established in the early 1500s. My Media Literacy students and I were there on a field trip to learn more about that history when our tour guide led us into a quiet courtyard and pointed out the elegant structure designed by the famed architect, Sir Christopher Wren.

The entrance to St. Bride’s Church

According to historians, St. Bride’s roots go back to shortly after the Roman invasion of 43 A.D., making it one of the oldest sites of worship in Britain. This is the eighth church on the site, succeeding others lost over the years to fire, World War II bombs and other causes.

Little did I know of what awaited us inside — a pristine interior with lit candles and an altar dedicated to the memories of journalists who have died in the course of their duties around the world. 

Seldom have I been moved as much as I was by this tribute to the men and women who work so selflessly and courageously to cover wars and other events around the globe, as well as happenings in local communities.

On the day we visited, there was a newspaper story that recently had been added to the display — an account of the four journalists and a sales associate who were killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, by a gunman upset by coverage of his failed defamation lawsuit against the newspaper.

Less than a month before our visit, 5 people were killed at the Capital Gazette in Maryland in the deadliest attack on journalists in recent U.S. history.

I was reminded of their deaths — and of my visit to this hallowed space — when the Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this month. Along with honors bestowed on leading organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, the Pulitzer judges awarded a special citation to the Capital Gazette for its “courageous response” in covering the deadly shooting at its own offices, coupled with a $100,000 bequest to further its journalistic mission.

I was reminded, too, by the death of a young journalist just days ago in the United Kingdom. Lyra McKee was killed April 19 while reporting on a night of violent unrest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She was 29 years old.

Around the world, 54 journalists were killed in reprisal for their work in 2018 — three times as many as the year before — according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The tally includes Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder allegedly was ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. As we all know, President Trump refused to cast blame despite a CIA assessment that the prince had ordered the killing.

My students were touched just as I was during the half-hour we spent inside McBride’s. Though it was sad for all of us, I was heartened to see them move slowly through the pews, taking in the names of reporters, photographers and others who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their profession and the public.

In a class discussion afterward, one student said through tears that the visit had forever changed his perception of the news media and his appreciation for the First Amendment freedoms we enjoy in the United States.

It was a profound experience for me as well, and one I look forward to repeating with another group of students when I return to the U.K. in July.

Life after graduation from WSUV

Spring semester is winding down after 16 weeks at Washington State University Vancouver, and I’ve got to say it’s a very satisfying feeling.

I gave my last lecture on Thursday, a day after attending an event that recognized the 17 graduating seniors in the Integrated Strategic Communications program at WSUV, and I’ll spend part of this weekend preparing next week’s final exam.

I’m sure students are relishing the end of the term. So many of them are working in addition to their coursework, and I know they’ve dealt with various stresses along the way.

Me? I won’t mind at all having a lighter teaching load along with more leisure time, but I will miss the regular interactions with students and seeing their intellectual growth.

Fortunately, there are events like Wednesday’s end-of-year event to recognize graduating seniors and look ahead with them to what lies beyond.

For starters, the Strat Com program, which prepares students for careers in public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism, honored one of my students, Brendan Nuzum, as Communicator of the Year.

Dr. Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer with Brendan Nuzum, winner of the Communicator of the Year award.

Also, my colleagues, Program Director Nanu Iyer and Assistant Professor Liz Candello, facilitated a panel discussion featuring five recent Strat Com grads who are working as communications professionals or pursuing a masters degree in the field.

They shared some familiar advice: Develop a versatile skill set. Get some internship experience before you graduate. Network like crazy. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Turn your inexperience into an asset by emphasizing the fresh perspectives you can bring. And don’t underestimate the value of likability. No one wants to work with a difficult person.

Lastly, I was able to congratulate a handful of students in person. The list of 17 Strat Com grads includes 11 students I’ve had in my classes, including three in the Sports and the Media class I taught this spring.

Among those in the Class of 2019 is Billy Gordon, one of the most outgoing and popular students on campus. At age 64, Billy is finally getting his degree. I so admire Billy, who overcame an inferior public school education in the Jim Crow South and contributed mightily to our class discussions in Sports and the Media as a former track athlete himself.

Another is Bailley Simms, who took my Reporting Across Platforms class as a sophomore and rose to become editor of The VanCougar student magazine while securing a PR internship this summer. She’s handing off the editor’s chair to Anna Nelson, another former student who also was among those traveled to the UK last summer to take my Media Literacy in London course.

As a final note, I made sure to include this interview with baseball writer Claire Smith as part of the last class meeting this week. https://youtu.be/TP7_RJHRWAw

Don’t know her? You should.