Jordan’s journey

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A journey that began 11 years ago produced a college degree and a big smile from Jordan.

This time of year is commencement season at campuses all across the United States. Like proud parents everywhere, we celebrated when our youngest son stepped onto a stage inside a small gymnasium and accepted his hard-won college diploma.

Hard-won? To say the least.

It’s one thing to graduate from high school, enroll in college in the fall, and emerge in four years with a degree.

It’s another thing entirely when you embark on a path that takes to you to multiple states and one foreign country, includes marriage, parenthood, home ownership and military service; and culminates 11 years later with high academic honors as you receive your degree.

That’s the path our son followed — and we couldn’t be prouder. Call it Jordan’s Journey.

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Proud parents flanking our youngest son, Jordan.

***

When Jordan graduated from Grant High School in 2006, with a full-ride ROTC scholarship to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, we figured we knew the script. Jordan would put in four years, get a degree and graduate as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

A few weeks into his first semester, he wanted out. The physical challenges weren’t a problem, but he’d burned out on the classroom and couldn’t stomach the thought of even more.  He withdrew, gave up his scholarship and came back home, trying to figure out what to do next.

He worked for a while and, after a time, he enrolled at the local community college. He did well in the auto repair program and won a scholarship. But, again, his heart wasn’t in it.

When he turned 21, he shocked us both by announcing he wanted to join the Army, specifically to serve in the infantry. He’d always wanted to be where the action was, he told us, and he had a sense of public service dating back to the September 11th attacks in 2001, when he was still in middle school.

When Jordan enlisted, the United States was deep into the Afghanistan War under President George W. Bush. We were hardly stoked by our son’s decision, fearing that he might be called to serve abroad in a dangerous part of the world.

Sure enough, he was, in the last year of his enlistment. You can bet we held our breath and said our prayers while he was deployed for a year. Thankfully, he made it home physically and mentally sound in December 2012 and received his honorable discharge the following spring.

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To Afghanistan and back.

Before all that, however, came a series of transitions. Boot camp in the Deep South. He did basic training at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Initially, he was stationed at the ironically named Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He put in for a transfer and got moved to Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington, about 150 miles north of Portland.

While still a soldier, he came home to Oregon and married his sweetheart, Jamie Lynn. They moved to Texas and then to Washington. Using his G.I. Bill benefits, they bought a house on a culdesac in suburban Spanaway and he enrolled in school, a freshman again at age 25.

***

For the next four years, he would commute about 25 miles each way to Saint Martin’s University, a small Benedictine school with a reputation for being veteran-friendly.

After meeting all the physical challenges the military could throw at him, Jordan did the same in the classroom. He majored in biology but also took chemistry, physics, calculus and other rigorous courses, earning high marks in every one.

When baby Emalyn was born last July, Jordan had just completed his junior year. His final year of school would mean adding a layer of responsibility as a young father.

Well, he did it.

He graduated magna cum laude, meaning with a grade-point average between 3.7 and 3.89. As a rising junior, he was selected for a federally funded summer research fellowship in cellular and molecular biology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Now, with diploma in hand and Emalyn already 10 months old and crawling, Jordan’s life path is taking him and his young family to the American Heartland. They are moving to Columbia, Missouri, where Jordan will do science research in a fellowship program designed to help students prepare for the rigors of graduate school.

It’s the next phase of Jordan’s journey, one that could take several years and culminate in a Ph.D., there in Missouri or elsewhere. Obviously, we will miss having Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn three hours away — now they’ll be 2,000 miles and two time zones away. But we are excited for all three of them as they embark on this new adventure and we are already making plans to visit.

This weekend, we are paying them one last visit in Spanaway, helping them to pack up their belongings and their animals for an anticipated four-day drive in a U-Haul truck and trailer. Jordan and I will split the driving. Jamie and Emalyn will come down to Portland to stay with Lori for a few days, then fly out to Missouri to join Jordan.

***

On Graduation Day a week ago, we were thrilled that our other children could share in Jordan’s accomplishments. And we were struck by the oddity of one number all three have in common.

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How uncanny that Nathan, Simone and Jordan all would receive a college degree at 29.

Nathan, the oldest, started at the University of Oregon, dropped out, found himself, and returned to school at Portland State University. At age 29, he graduated with degrees in business and marketing.

Simone, the middle child, graduated from Vassar, studied in Mexico and worked in Portland before returning to graduate school. At age 29, she graduated with a masters from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Now comes along Jordan. He, too, just graduated at age 29.

If this pattern holds, Lori and I will be somewhere in the year 2046 watching Emalyn receive a degree of some kind at age 29.

 

Losing things, losing a father

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Illustration by Bianca Bagnarelli/The New Yorker

For a while, it seemed that if I wasn’t writing about my father’s recent death, I was thinking about it. I didn’t want to seem preoccupied with death, so I held off calling to attention to a marvelous essay I read the day after Dad’s funeral.

It was purely coincidental but the piece could not have come at a better time. Authored by Kathryn Schulz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New Yorker, the essay was like an emotional salve. It gave me perspective and it gave me pause — literally — to appreciate the elegant prose.

With six weeks now passed since we paid our final respects to Dad, it’s time to share the author’s reflections and mine, too.

***

The essay begins on a humorous note. Schulz recalls spending a summer two years in Portland and inexplicably losing things — keys, clothing, a wallet, a cell phone, a bike lock, even a truck she drove downtown to attend an event at Powell’s, the famous bookstore.

Schulz, normally one of those people who organizes things by size and color, consults her sister, a cognitive scientist at M.I.T., to discuss her sudden propensity for losing things. Turns out her sister is “the most scatter-brained person I’ve ever met.” And her father would be the runner-up. having once spent an entire vacation wearing mismatched shoes.

From a discussion of how to find missing objects and why we lose them in the first place, Schulz pivots to self-blame, the failure of memory, and the relative weight we put on these missing objects.

“Part of what makes loss such a surprisingly complicated phenomenon, then, is that it is inextricable from the extremely complicated phenomenon of human cognition,” she writes. “Beyond a certain age, every act of losing gets subjected to an extra layer of scrutiny, in case what you have actually lost is your mind.”

From there, it’s another transition — from the loss of things to the loss of a loved one.

Here, Schulz writes tenderly about losing her father in late September after a decade of poor health. Her scatter-brained father is also someone who immigrated from Germany in 1948 at age 12 on a refugee visa, learned to speak six languages, and made a successful life for himself and his family in the United States..

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With my dad, Catarino Rede, during a 2011 visit to Silver City.

Here I thought of my father, born into a family of nine children, the sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants who moved from the Southwest to California, where they picked lettuce and other crops. My dad grew up learning the value of hard work and urged my sisters and I to pursue the educational opportunities he didn’t have. He joined the Navy at 18, served in World War II, raised a family, became a homeowner, married twice and provided love, encouragement and support along my path from adolescent to college graduate, husband and father.

Schulz even discusses the origin of the verb “to lose” and how the contemporary meaning of “loss” has come to encompass everything from mittens to life savings to loved ones. Ultimately, we will lose everything we love in the end, she observes, so maybe we should spend more time appreciating what we find.

“You meet a stranger passing through your town and know within days you will marry her. You lose your job at fifty-five and shock yourself by finding a new calling ten years later. You have a thought and find the words. You face a crisis and find your courage.”

***

I read this masterpiece as I was riding shotgun in a rental car hurtling at 75 mph across the desolate stretch of interstate highway from Silver City, New Mexico, to Phoenix, Arizona. My daughter Simone was driving us back from where we had spent time grieving with relatives in the last place my dad lived before passing at age 91.

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The scene at the funeral home in Silver City, New Mexico.

I read more than one excerpt aloud as the miles flew by. It was pure coincidence that I happened to choose this essay rather than the other compelling material in this late-February issue — the legacy of James Baldwin, a profile of Anthony Bourdain, a review of a new book called “The Refugees.”

Had I chosen one of those articles instead, I would have missed Schulz’s extraordinary essay. And it would have been my loss.

Read the entire piece here: “When Things Go Missing”

 

Tuxedo

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Mayer Hawthorne on vocals and Jake One on keyboards epitomize “cool” during a show at the Wonder Ballroom in Northeast Portland.

It’s hard to say exactly when I became aware of Mayer Hawthorne. But I loved his sound — a Motown-influenced R&B — when I first heard it a few years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed his evolution as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer.

I got to see Mayer (born Andrew Mayer Cohen) and his band in concert in February 2014 in the company of my oldest son, Nathan. He was terrific, playing to a sold-out crowd at the Wonder Ballroom.

Read the “Man Date” blog post here

Last night, I got to see Mayer again at the same venue. This time he had a new band, Tuxedo, a collaboration with Jake One, a hop-hop record producer and keyboardist from Seattle.

Together they put out some great, high-energy music that’s been called neo-soul and funk. Think Fitz and the Tantrums, just a little more amped up and a lot better dressed.

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Mayer Hawthorne and his backup singer synchronize a move.

Mayer and Jake came out in black tuxedos, white shirts and big black bow-ties. They had a guitarist and another keyboardist in white shirts, white pants and the same black bow-ties. There was a backup singer, too, someone with an enormous Afro that made me think of Angela Davis, except this woman was shimmying and shaking in a snug, glittery dress.

Tuxedo played for an hour to an all-ages crowd that drew the under-21 kids to one side of the room and a range of adults on the other. It was refreshing to see black, brown and white people all grooving together, some in their 20s and 30s, others in their 40s and 50s.

Oh, and then there was me.  Lori doesn’t do weekday concerts because she rises so early for her personal training job. Nathan couldn’t go either because he was working last night, but he did predict I’d like Tuxedo. A recommendation from him, a professional DJ, carries a lot of weight.

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Mayer Hawthorne changed into a shiny tux for the two-song encore.

Lori would have loved the concert. Very danceable music. Or, in my case, head-bobbing music.

I had a good view from the middle of the room and enjoyed all Tuxedo had to offer. Constant motion, a few choreographed moves, infectious beats, and a sense that the band members were truly enjoying themselves.

It’s pretty remarkable that a Jewish kid from the Detroit suburbs would become such a polished performer. But Mayer Hawthorne shows that where there’s a passion for certain genres of music, there’s no limit to what a dude can do.

Check him out:

Mamalogues

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Simone reads a Mother’s Day tribute to Lori.

Mother’s Day began with a 90-minute wait for a table at Portland’s premier dim sum restaurant. It ended with a 90-minute concert by women of all ages that was both moving and meaningful.

First, the food.

In the morning, Lori and I arrived early at HK Cafe, thinking we’d get a little ahead of the crowd while waiting for our two older kids and their partners to join us. Think again.

With an overflow crowd on the sidewalk and the entrance to the restaurant stuffed like sardines (sorry, obvious food reference), I squeezed in after 30 minutes to check on the waiting time for our table, clutching the paper slip with our No. 90 on it.

“Number 27?” the hostess called out.

Yikes.

Yep, it was a long wait but worth it. We’ve been there before and always enjoy the variety of plates brought to us the moment we sit down. Never again, though, on Mother’s Day.

Second, the music.

I’ve written previously about Lori and Simone participating in the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir. They sing together in the midst of a group whose members range from about 8 to 80. The choir is comprised of mothers, daughters and grandmothers, many if not most of them with no musical training and a few who’ve served time in prison.

mamalogues posterIn fact, Sunday’s performance was a fundraiser for the group’s sister choir at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. Credit the choir director, Crystal Akins, for creating and leading both groups. Credit the women in each choir for setting status and judgments aside to perform alongside each other for the joy of singing as one.

And so it was that Simone’s wife, Kyndall, and I joined a supportive crowd at the Mission Theater in Northwest Portland. What used to be an old movie theater has been transformed into an intimate performing space under the entrepreneurial hands of the McMenamin Brothers.

Arriving just before the show, we grabbed pizza slices and a drink and found ourselves at a front-row table just behind the choir director. And what an inspiring show it was.

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Lori and Simone sing side-by-side in the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir.

This was the third annual Mamalogues — a program that mixed nine songs with a dozen readings from choir members honoring their mothers. The stories ranged as much as those telling them, touching on themes of loss and love and the special bond between mothers and daughters.

  • A teenager, taken from her drug-addled birthparents as an infant and placed with a loving adoptive family.
  • A middle-aged mother, recalling the scorn from classmates at her high school graduation, her pregnant belly making her a social outcast decades ago but her mom’s support making her feel “legitimate” nevertheless.
  • A woman laughing at the silly songs and inside jokes they shared on long weekend drives, now tearing up at her mother’s recent death.
  • A self-described member of the “sandwich generation,” recalling the difficulty of caring for her young child while also caring for her aging, ailing mother. She told a tender story of giving her mother a shower, feeling her skin as soft as a baby’s.
  • A formerly incarcerated woman boldly asserting that anyone judging her by her past mistakes was missing out on who she is now — a confident, imperfect but rehabilitated individual, with much to offer the world. So powerful.

And then there were two pairs of mothers and daughters, one of them the Redes.

Lori and Simone read their “Side by Side” compositions, each thanking the other for her love and support through the years, and then joining the choir in singing Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me.”

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Simone and Lori with Stephanie, another choir member.

I enjoyed every one of the songs, some of them originally performed by Sinead O’Connor, India Arie, Michael Jackson and Pharrell Williams. (No surprise that the women would sing “Happy.”)

Mamalogues was a wonderful way to spend a Mother’s Day afternoon. As much as I love my wife and daughter, it’s even more heart-warming to see how the two ladies in my life cherish each other so. How sweet that they’ve found this choir to share some creative energy together.

El dia de los madres

On Mother’s Day 2017, it’s my honor to recognize five important women in my life.

My late mother, Theresa, who brought my sisters and me into this world. Scrappy and feisty? Oh, yeah. Fiercely loyal and loving? Oh, yeah. That, too.

My wife, Lori, who has raised three amazing children — two sons and one daughter — with me. Today and every day, she is the heart and soul of our family.

My stepmother, Ora, who entered my life when I was a teenager, after my parents had divorced. Vibrant and well-rounded, she is and was the best thing that ever happened to my late father.

Shoutout to Ora (2015)

My mother-in-law, Virginia, who gave life to the woman I married. Sweet and always accepting of everyone she met, she modeled what a mother should be.

My daughter-in-law, Jamie, who is celebrating her first Mother’s Day today. She gave birth in July to our granddaughter Emalyn.

Oh, but wait. One more…

Our rascally mutt, Charlotte, was a mother, too, before she got picked up off the streets. Her bark is louder than her bite — quite a bit louder, actually — but we love our little rescue dog.

Cougartown

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The instructor’s view in the classroom where I taught two courses at WSU Vancouver.

Last Thursday, I gave final exams in my two classes at Washington State University Vancouver.  On Monday, I entered final grades for a combined 45 students in those classes.

And then I exhaled.

Since January, I’ve been teaching three Communications classes — two at WSUV and one at Portland State.

Splitting my time between two campuses — two mornings a week at each one — has been the easy part. Preparing weekly lesson plans that include a mix of lectures, readings, videos, writing assignments, and guest speakers has been more challenging.  Even more so, the time and mental energy involved in grading dozens upon dozens of essays, media diaries, and other assignments.

But all that’s done. (Well, most of it anyway. I’ve still got the one class at Portland State, where my 50 students and I just passed the halfway point of the spring quarter.)

It’s time for a few fist-bumps and reflections on my first semester at WSUV.  And if you’re wondering about the headline, it’s a reference to the school mascot, the Cougars.

***

The list of thank-yous starts with Narayanan Iyer, the man who hired me to teach the just-completed classes.

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Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer, my No. 1 cheerleader and all-around support at WSU Vancouver.

Nanu is director of the Integrated Strategic Communications program within the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, named for the legendary CBS News broadcaster. The college is headquartered in Pullman, home of the flagship campus, but WSU also has branch campuses in Vancouver, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

Nanu invited me to give a guest lecture to a Sports and the Media class last fall. He liked what he saw and hired me to teach the course this semester, a 16-week haul from January to early May. He offered a second course, Reporting Across Platforms, a hybrid course in communications and journalism. The emphasis was on writing for digital, broadcast and print — mostly news but with a nod to public relations.

The sports course went beautifully, as more than a few eyes were opened to how sports mirrors every aspect of society on issues of race and gender, technology, economics, branding and marketing, political activism and sexual assault, just to name a few.

The second course went pretty well, too, although it required more adjustments on the fly. WSUV doesn’t yet have a journalism minor, let alone a major. Students have to go to Pullman for that. So, without an actual newsroom set-up and only a handful of class members seriously interested in journalism, it required some finesse.

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WSU Vancouver, located just across the Columbia River from Portland, has an enrollment of about 4,300 students.

In both classes, I called on an array of guest speakers, talented people that I’ve been privileged to work with or get to know over the years. (More on them below.)

Nanu was indispensible. He provided encouragement and support, guiding me through WSUV’s online learning management system (how to post and receive class assignments, send email, etc.) and even filling in for me as a guest lecturer when I had to miss two classes. Most of all, he made me comfortable and valued as an adjunct instructor — something you can’t put a price on.

The other big thank-you goes to Lori, whose patience (understandably) resembled a roller-coaster depending on whether I was partially or totally consumed with prepping for classes or plowing through a stack of papers that needed grading.

During 40-plus years of marriage to a journalist, Lori has put up with too many late dinners to count; evening, weekend and holiday work; out-of-town travel; interrupted vacations; and, in recent years, the nearly 24/7 demands of news and reader engagement in the digital age.

Lori in Tucson

Lori and I met in journalism school in the days when print was king. She’s put up with my shenanigans for more than 40 years.

I’m very aware and very appreciative that I’ve been able to put so much of my time into these three classes only because Lori has enabled me to. Our free time together has taken a big hit and I’ve had to give up regular exercise except for the weekends. But the worst of it is behind us now. From here on out, I’ll be teaching either one or two classes — not three — and I’ll be able to refresh material I’ve used before rather than build a course from scratch.

***

As for other thank-yous, let me start with five guest speakers in the Sports and the Media class.

Lindsay Schnell, a Sports Illustrated staff writer who covers college sports, and Gina Mizell, an Oregonian/OregonLive beat reporter who covers Oregon State football and women’s basketball, talked about having to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as women journalists in a male-dominated industry. It wasn’t that long ago that female journalists and their employers had to go to court to force teams and leagues to provide equal access to locker rooms, where so many coach and player interviews happen, so they could do their jobs on equal footing with men.

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With undergraduate training in broadcast and print journalism, Gina Mizell is a double threat covering Oregon State athletics.

Tom Goldman told students of his career path in radio, starting at Alaska Public Radio in Anchorage and leading to his one-of-a-kind job as a Portland-based national correspondent for National Public Radio. His show-and-tell of assorted microphones and digital recorders captured students’ attention and focused their attention on an underappreciated way of delivering the news.

Chris Metz, vice president for communications with the Portland Timbers and Thorns, pulled back the curtain on the hectic life of a front-office executive. The job entails traveling with the teams; establishing and protecting their brands; helping manage coaches and players, who present a range of egos and personalities; dealing with local and national media; and responding to fans in the nation’s most popular soccer market.

And then there was Brenda Tracy. The victim of a gang rape by Oregon State football players in the late ’90s, Brenda has become a leading spokeswoman on sexual assault and rape culture, meeting with coaches and athletes across the country. Her story of redemption, beginning as a young single mom with no self-esteem, going public with her story, and subsequently becoming a registered nurse, victim advocate and national speaker, visibly moved the young men and women in my class. “Inspiring” doesn’t begin to capture the power of Brenda’s presence.

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Brenda Tracy cites her own experience as a victim in calling out rape culture.

***

I had five other guest speakers in the reporting class.

Kyle Iboshi, an investigative reporter at KGW and a Murrow alum himself, walked students through one of his stories, emphasizing that good reporting combines a nose for news, digging through public records, and holding public officials and institutions accountable. Like reporters everywhere, he’s producing video, writing for digital as well as broadcast, and engaging with readers on Twitter and Facebook.

Steve Woodward, a former colleague at The Oregonian, introduced students to “The new ‘New Journalism'”.  With an entertaining slide show full of hyperlinks, Steve moves across the spectrum of new and mostly innovative web sites that have sprung up as alternatives to the traditional mainstream media. While most students were familiar with HuffPost and BuzzfeedNews, fewer knew about Vice, Vox, Mic, Fusion, and Rare. Same goes for ProPublica, Five Thirty Eight and The Young Turks. An innovator himself, Steve has taught journalism at three colleges and universities and is newsroom director of a Portland-based startup that’s producing one-minute videos for an increasingly international viewership.

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Steve Woodward, speaking during the winter term to students at Portland State University.

Another former colleague at The O and OregonLive, Anna Griffin, introduced the class to multi-platform journalism as practiced by her employer, Oregon Public Broadcasting. Known for its sober, solid reporting on public affairs and other topics such as education, environment and diversity, OPB delivers content online, on the radio and TV. That means reporters today, regardless of age, must know how to write for different mediums, as well as shoot video, capture audio, and live tweet.

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Anna Griffin has made a smooth transition from print to multimedia journalism at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Beth Nakamura, a staffer at The Oregonian/OregonLive, shared her perspective as a photojournalist who broke into the business in an era of still photography, darkroom chemicals and once-a-day print deadlines and has had to adapt to a completely flipped reality. Weighed down with cameras and lenses of all sizes, Beth now shoots live video, writes her own stories, downloads photo galleries in minutes, and transmits from anywhere she can get an internet connection. Beth’s images depict ordinary people experiencing both tough and tender moments, reflecting not just their hopes, interests and challenges but her own dedication: “to enable people to be heard.”

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Beth Nakamura: photographer, videographer, storyteller.

Dianne Danowski-Smith, a vice president with Publix NW,  wrapped things up with an energetic presentation that covered “the other side” of the media. As a longtime public relations pro, she explained the differences in producing in-house and external communications, in working for corporate and government employers, and in preparing for crisis situations, where some kind of response is always needed to limit damage to the client.

Each and every one of the professional journalists brought something intangible but yet very important to the class — a passion for their work that has guided their career development while also delivering compelling stories that inform, entertain and occasionally enrage readers.

I am grateful to all of them for sharing their time and expertise, indebted to Nanu for hiring me, and ever so appreciative of my wife for going through this extra-busy stretch with me.

Up next: Summer session starts June 6 with a class on Media Ethics.

 

Chiho!

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George and Chiho at dinner.

The “friend request” came in on Saturday. I was stunned.

Chiho Hayamizu?

Our Japanese exchange student from so long ago?

Yes, indeed.

I accepted the request, racking my brain to estimate how long ago it had been since Chiho had lived with us for a few months when our three kids were still in middle school and grade school.

The next day I spotted some photos on Chiho’s Facebook wall. There was picture of an airport sign with the words “boarding” and “Portland.” And another one showing a group of five women gathered in front of a sign that read “Portland State University.”

“Are you in Portland, Chiho?” I wrote.

Indeed, she was.

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Chiho, at far left, with friends and their group host, Judy Van Dyke, in the rear.

Through an intermediary, we quickly learned she was in town for just a few days for an unofficial reunion with friends who’d also been exchange students in Portland. She was eager to see us. Could we meet?

And, so, roughly 24 hours ago, Lori and I had a hastily arranged but much appreciated reunion with our long-ago guest.

We met at an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood, exchanged hugs and tried to catch up over a gap that spanned 24 years. Amazing.

Chiho was just 20 when she came to live with us. She and other peers from Osaka attended classes at Portland State during the week and engaged in group activities. But we made the most of our time with her evenings and weekends.

Turns out our kids were just babies back then. Nathan was just 13. (Coincidentally, he turned 37 today. 37??  Yeah, I can’t believe it, either.) Simone was 10 and Jordan just 5.

At 44, Chiho could pass for the young adult she was when she arrived in Portland, full of smiles and halting English. She’s single and still lives in Osaka. Works the front counter at a pharmacy, owns a Pug named Kiki, travels widely (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Italy, just to name a few) and speaks pretty darn good English.

She told us she almost never speaks English anymore, but she did just fine at dinner. Gotta admit there were times I didn’t catch the details because of the background noise at the restaurant, but we powered through with the help of a few iPhone photos.

***

Going back in the time capsule…

In 1993, Bill Clinton succeeded George W. Bush as president. The Chicago Bulls, with Michael Jordan leading the way, won their third consecutive NBA title while the Buffalo Bills lost their third consecutive Super Bowl — this time to the Dallas Cowboys.  The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” won Song of the Year at the Grammys. Best Picture at the Oscars? “Unforgiven,” directed by Clint Eastwood.

***

Before Chiho arrived in the spring of ’93, we’d had just one experience with an exchange student. A Japanese girl of about 10 or 12 years old, stayed with us for not enough a full week. Chiho spent six months with us.

It was such a good experience for all of us, especially as a way to open our kids up to other cultures, that we did it again. And again. And again. And again.

In succeeding years, we had boys from France, Costa Rica, Taiwan and Spain. Each one brought a personality all his own — and maybe a quirk or two. I have no doubt that if things had gone badly somehow with Chiho, we never would have been repeat hosts.

Instead, she was a low-maintenance member of the household, happy to try different things, and we all her missed her very much when she left.

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Lori and Chiho: Radiant smiles, no matter the location or the year.

We wondered why she hadn’t given us advance notice of her visit. She had. Chiho told us she wrote a letter and mailed it in early March and was surprised we hadn’t received it.

It dawned on us that she wrote to us at our previous address. Of course, the letter hadn’t been delivered, considering we’ve been in our new place for more than seven years. D’oh.

This week’s weather turned from rainy to sunny-and-warm today, just in time for Chiho and friends to explore the Columbia River Gorge.

I’m glad they had great weather and I’m grateful we had the chance to see our dear Chiho again. Fond memories.

 

 

2017 Oregon Book Awards

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George and Jennifer outside the Gerding Theater.

It wasn’t the Oscars and it wasn’t the Grammys. But it was my first time attending an awards event and it was pretty cool.

On Monday night, I joined my friend Jennifer Brennock at the 2017 Oregon Book Awards, held at the Gerding Theater in Northwest Portland.

No red carpet in sight. But in the lobby there was a pop-up book sale going on staffed by the folks from Broadway Books, my neighborhood book store. Also, there were plenty of animated conversations going on among book nerds of all ages, young adults to retirees.

For those of us who love words, it was a night to celebrate seasoned pros, first-time authors and everyone in between who strives to inform and inspire us readers with works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. If you’ve ever written seriously — whether for work or as a hobby — you know the feeling of facing a blank screen and wondering when or how the first words will materialize.

If you’re patient, they will come. Eventually.

Knowing a little something about what that’s like, I felt nothing but admiration for these accomplished writers who faced the blank screen and won the stare-down. These are the diligent, creative folks whose characters, plots, scenes and dialogues — imagined or real — come to life on the page, often after years of research. Such work is impressive and every one of the Oregon Book Award finalists deserved the whistles, whoops and hollers they received.

***

Before the event, I met Jennifer at a coffee-and-wine bar a short walk from the Gerding. We met several years ago when I attended a writing workshop she was leading on Orcas Island. I was impressed by the way she led the class and since then I have been dazzled by her writing.

Read Jennifer’s contribution (“Baby Shower”) to my Voices of August guest blog project.

She’s taught English at the community college level and I’m now teaching communications classes at two universities, so we have that connection, too. Jennifer’s students are blessed to have someone whose writing prompts challenge them to think and feel deeply and whose own intelligence and passion explode off the page.

The awards program, sponsored by Literary Arts, itself was entertaining — probably more so than you’d think given the absence of live music, video clips or other such stuff that you see at the Academy Awards.

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The Portland nonprofit Literary Arts sponsors the Oregon Book Awards.

A California author, Lysley Tenorio, was a charming master of ceremonies, filling the same role as Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres and others have done at the Oscars.

Anis Mojgani, a spoken word artist based in Portland, performed a poem. Téa Johnson, a Grant High School senior, reprised her winning entry in the citywide high school poetry slam competition known as Verselandia.

Read a profile of Téa Johnson in Grant Magazine.

Finalists were announced in eight categories, and the judge for each one read an excerpt from the winner’s book before calling that person to the stage.

Turns out that I had met — ever so briefly — the winner in the first category. Kate Berube took home the award for Children’s Literature for her book “Hannah and Sugar.” Last summer, I took part in a fundraising trivia contest sponsored by a nonprofit that provides books to low-income children. Kate, an author and illustrator, was at that same fundraiser and donated a portion of profits from her sales that night to the same cause.

Even better, Jennifer knew the woman who won the Creative Nonfiction award. That would be Walidah Imarisha, who is currently a lecturer at Stanford but also has taught at Portland State and Oregon State universities. Walidah was honored for “Angels Without Dirty Wings,” a book about life behind prison walls that weaves together the stories of three people — her incarcerated brother and his fellow inmate and herself..

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Reunited: Jennifer Brennock and Walidah Imarisha

Jennifer and Walidah have known each other since graduate school. In the lobby afterwards, the two embraced and Walidah autographed the book I bought on the spot. Gotta make room for it on my always crowded bookshelf.

***

Two quick anecdotes that illustrate what a small world we live in:

Walidah’s companion that evening was a young man who had participated years ago in a summer journalism program for minority high school students that brought him to The Oregonian, my former employer  John Joo, then a student at Beaverton High School, remembered me from the program — probably one of those times when I popped into a room of teenagers wolfing down pizza and soda during a visit to the newsroom and said a few words. What a great memory.

Before leaving, I introduced myself to Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, the only Latina/o among the Oregon Book Award winners. Cindy is a poet who’s worked with Milagro Theater, the bilingual theater group where my wife and I saw a recent production. Her new book, “Words That Burn,” dramatizes the World War II experiences of three men, including Lawson Inada, a Japanese American internee who later taught at Southern Oregon College, where Jennifer met him as an undergraduate student.

Cindy chatted warmly, jotted her email address on a card, and invited me to get in touch. I think I’ll do just that.

All in all, a fun evening spent in the company of someone who loves words as much as I do. Who needs the red carpet anyway?

Season-ending selfie

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Blazermaniacs: Deborah and George during the first half. Smiles went away during second half.

You can stick a fork in the Trail Blazers now. After last night’s gut-wrenching loss to the titanic Golden State Warriors, my favorite basketball team is one loss away from having its season come to an official end.

That should happen Monday night when the Warriors seek to put the finishing touch on a 4-to-0 playoff sweep of the home team.

On Saturday, I went with my friend, Deborah Heath, to see Game 3 of this Round 1 matchup between the Blazers and the Warriors, the defending Western Conference champions.

The Blazers played beautifully in the first half, inspired by the presence of their injured big man, Josuf Nurkic, and brilliant play by their star guards, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Deborah and I wore giddy smiles as the Blazers took a 67-54 halftime lead.

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A fellow fan shows her support of the Blazers’ new center, a 7-footer from Bosnia who’s only 22 years old.

Unfortunately, Golden State is loaded with talent and the visitors came back to steal a clutch 119-113 win that tore the hearts out of the Blazers and their fans. So much for those halftime smiles.

The loss meant that I went winless as a spectactor. Yep, all six games that I attended this season ended in a loss.

LA Clippers. Dallas. Golden State. Boston. Washington. Golden State, again.

What a contrast to last year when every game I saw produced a win and a shower of confetti. I didn’t expect a repeat of last season but even one win — especially last night, when the stakes were higher — would have been nice.

Predictions: No. 1, Golden State is going to win it all this year. And why shouldn’t they with four All-Stars on their team? No. 2, if Nurkic is healthy next season, watch out for the Blazers.

Lab Girl

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Hope Jahren in her research lab.

Science has never been my forte. High school chemistry and biology were challenging enough, so I never went near physics. In college, I took a single general science course and was thankful I wasn’t required to do more.

So why would I put “Lab Girl” on my list of hoped-for Christmas or birthday gifts?

Two reasons: 1) I spotted the title late last year on a New York Times list of notable books and the thumbnail review sounded interesting; 2) I thought it might give me better understanding of the kind of work our youngest son wants to do.

I recently finished the book and I’m happy to say it’s a gem. It’s beautifully written and it’s illuminated the path that lies ahead for Jordan, who’s graduating next month with a bachelors degree in biology and hopes to become a research scientist.

One critic says of the author: “Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.”

Indeed.

Jahren is one of those people who is multiply talented, almost astonishingly so.

lab girl coverHer academic credentials? She’s received three Fulbright Awards in geobiology, has a Ph.D in soil science from UC Berkeley, has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech, and has been named by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.” Still in her 40s, she is a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and currently is a fellow at the University of Oslo, where she studies fossil forests. She’s fluent in Norwegian, by the way.

Her writing chops? Impressive. It’s hard to believe this collection of essays is her first book. Part memoir, part introduction to the science of trees and plants, she has the ability to explain concepts and procedures in lay terms that even I can grasp. And her prose at times is downright dazzling. (You’ll see for yourself in the excerpts the follow.)

She writes with authority born of expertise, with wisdom born of experience, and with self-deprecating humor born of perspective. Binding it all together are the passion that she brings to her work, and the determination and discipline that have fueled her success in a male-dominated profession.

As a female scientist, she has been the only woman in a college class, the only woman at a professional conference, one of few women among a university’s science faculty, and certainly one of few among her colleagues who’s had to take a career break to give birth.

“My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard of a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television.

“As a female scientist I am still unusual, but in my heart I was never anything else. Over the years I have built three laboratories from scratch, given warmth and life to three empty rooms, each one bigger and better than the last. My current laboratory is almost perfect — located in balmy Honolulu and housed within a magnificent building that is frequently crowned by rainbows and surrounded by hibiscus flowers in constant bloom — but somehow I know that I will never stop building and wanting more. My laboratory is not “room T309” as stated on my university’s blueprints; it is “the Jahren Laboratory,” and it always will be, no matter where it is located. It bears my name because it is my home.”

How did she become a scientist? Raised in a small Midwest town with three older brothers, she essentially grew up in the lab where her father taught at the local community college. As a young girl, she became acquainted with the workbenches, the equipment, and the drawers full of magnets, wire, glass, metal and other stuff that all proved useful for something.

Culturally, she was born into a Scandinavian home where silence and emotional distance between family members were the norm, something that, for better or worse, contributed to her self-reliance.

That’s a trait that she had to rely on early in her career as she sought to establish her credentials and find stable employment in her chosen career. She describes several instances of sexism (no surprise) and early on introduces us to a quirky fellow named Bill, who she met as a grad student at Berkeley. The two formed an exceptional bond as fellow scientists and later as friends, and he continues to serve as Jahren’s senior research lab manager in Oslo. He’s instrumental to her telling of the larger story of “Lab Girl.”

Jahren describes the life of the research scientist as one that is both esoteric and often lonely. People don’t know what you do or why, and they don’t have the foggiest idea of how precarious the funding is for such work.

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Hope Jahren, scientist and author.

***

As I write this on Earth Day, thousands of scientists are marching in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities on six continents to draw attention to the value of science and to their worries that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Read The Washington Post’s story: “Why scientists are marching on Washington and more than 600 cities”

In one essay, Jahren explains that there is just one significant source of support for the kind of research she does — the National Science Foundation, which is funded by our federal tax dollars.

In 2013, the NSF’s budget was $7.3 billion, a sum that sounds large until you learn that the Department of Agriculture’s budget is about three times that amount, the Department of Homeland Security’s budget is five times as large, and the Department of Defense’s “discretionary” budget alone is more than 60 times that sum.

Jahren points out that the U.S. government spends twice as much on its space program as it does on all of its other scientists put together. Little wonder that those specializing in other fields are left scrambling to apply for three-year grants and additional university funding to pay for salaries and benefits, student help, chemicals, equipment, travel and administrative overhead charges.

“Ask a science professor what she worries about,” Jahren writes. “It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: ‘Money.’ ”

***

As informative as the book is, the writing itself is superb. The author has a website called hopejahrensurecanwrite.com, where she maintains a lively blog. She also credits her mother with instilling in her an appreciation for reading and writing.

As a high school senior in the 1950s, Hope’s mom was awarded an honorable mention in a prestigious national science competition and hoped to study chemistry at the state university. But lack of money forced her to drop out and she moved back to her hometown, where she married, became a mother and homemaker, and some 20 years later took correspondence courses in English literature to get her college degree.

The daughter learned her lessons well. Consider this excerpt, where Jahren recalls her days as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota (the same place her mom, dad and brothers attended) working in the university hospital during the 3-to-11 p.m. shift as a “runner” hand-delivering IV pain medications to the nursing stations where they were needed.

“That night in the hospital I walked in and out of the hospice ward ten or twenty times, and my eyes and hands moved through the necessary tasks. Well into the night and deeper into my brain, it came to me that as hospital workers, we were being paid to trail along behind Death as he escorted frail, wasted bodies over difficult miles, dragging their loved ones along with him. My job was to meet the traveling party at its designated way station and faithfully provide fresh supplies for the journey. When the weary group disappeared over the horizon, we turned back, knowing that another agonized family would be arriving soon.

“The doctors, nurses, and I didn’t cry because the bewildered husbands and stricken daughters were carrying enough for all of us. Helpless and impotent against the awesome power of Death, we nonetheless bowed out heads in the pharmacy, injected twenty milliliters of salvation int a bag of tears, blessed it again and again, and then carried it like a baby to the hospice and offered it up. The drug would flow into a passive vein, the family wold draw close, and a cup of fluid might be temporarily removed from their ocean of pain.” 

Wow. Gives me chills.

“Lab Girl” is a great book for the young scientist in your life, and even better if that person is a girl. It’s also a great book for yourself, especially if you’re one, like me, who would have benefited from Science  for Dummies. At 282 pages, it’s a fairly fast read and one that will leave you with admiration for the work and life of a remarkable research scientist named Hope Jahren.

(Click on images to view captions.)