Celebrating the Mediaocracies

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We’re No. 11! We’re No. 11! From left: George Rede, John Killen, Brian Wartell and Tony Hernandez.

Bowling + Burgers + Beer.

Some might call those items an unholy alliance of a blue-collar sport with blue-collar grub. I call it a well-deserved splurge for four guys named Brian, John, Tony and George.

After all, we came together last fall to form a new bowling team called the Mediaocracies and consequently surged (OK, more like sank) to an 11th place finish among 16 teams in our league at AMF Pro 300 in Southeast Portland.

Had there been playoffs among the top 8 teams with winning records, we would have missed them with a final mark of 30 wins and 34 losses. But since this is a just-for-fun league that rewards every team with a cash prize based on their final standing, we wound up with enough cash to treat ourselves to dinner at TILT in the Pearl District.

By now, many readers of this blog know of my fondness for TILT. In a city that knows how to do burgers right, TILT soars above the crowd. (I’ll let the menu speak for itself: tilt-menu)

None of my three teammates had been there before. So when one of them suggested a team dinner in lieu of splitting the money four ways, we all got on board.

And a good suggestion it was.

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Clockwise from top: Key Lime, Marionberry, Bourbon Pecan, Marionberry (again). Yum!

Over a couple of pitchers, 2 Woody Royales, 1 Mad Andy, 1 Groundhog, and a large serving of fries, we talked a little about bowling and a lot about everything else — politics, movies, urban redevelopment, the Harney County standoff and more.

With dinner out of the way, we realized we still had enough for dessert so … what the heck, we ordered pie, too.

No, we weren’t the best team. But neither were we the worst team. I guess you could say we were middle-of-the-pack, with averages of 110, 129, 136 and 156. But wasn’t that the point when we gave ourselves that name? With three team members who worked for the “media” and an expectation that we’d be a “mediocre” team, I think we lived up to it just fine.

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From left at the bowling alley: Bernie Sanders (aka Brian), George, John, Tony and photo-bomber from another team.

We had a lot of fun bowling on 16 consecutive Monday nights –and the good vibes continued Friday night, knowing we’d earned ourselves a nice little reward.

Note: John and Tony were unable to continue when the new winter league began this month, but I recruited two new teammates. I’ll introduce the new team– Mediaocracies 2.0 — in a future blog post.

 

Friday Flashback: ‘They call me Dime-bag’

I’m going back into the Voices of August vault each week to fetch some favorite posts.

This one is from 2014, written by John Knapp, who lives across the river in Vancouver, Washington.

normlWhat he wrote about Washington state’s nascent recreational marijuana industry made me laugh out loud, both then and now.

Two summers ago, the state had just opened the door to retail sales. “It’s legal, it’s for sale,” John observed. “And it’s unavailable.”

You have to know John and his understated personality to fully appreciate the wry humor in this piece.

They call me Dime-bag

Exploring my own city

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A former service station on SW Capitol Highway in the heart of Multnomah Village.

With a full belly, a bottle of water and a first-rate guide book, I set out today under concrete skies to establish a new routine: a weekly walk or hike, preferably in an area unfamiliar to me.

I had with me a copy of “Portland Hill Walks,” a guide to 20 explorations in parks and neighborhoods written by Laura O. Foster. Filled with maps, photos and short essays detailing the history and landmarks of each hike, it is an indispensable resource and one I plan to refer to regularly.

pdx hill walksWhen the year began, I resolved to do more of two things: 1. Get out of town. 2. Try new things.

Well, I didn’t leave the city limits but I did cross the river to a destination 8 miles from home and I did try a new thing.

Today’s walk took me to Southwest Portland, a 3-mile route beginning in Multnomah Village and looping through the Vermont Hills.

The walk started and finished in Gabriel Park, 90 acres of open space with baseball, softball and soccer fields; basketball, tennis and volleyball courts; a skatepark, off-leash area for dogs, walking paths cutting through a grassy meadow and, most surprising, a wetlands area with western red cedars and a footbridge over a creek.

SW-scenery

Looking west from SW 32nd Avenue.

(Full disclosure: Actually, the morning began at Marco’s Cafe and Espresso Bar. Hey, the book recommended it under nearby Food and Drink. What’s an obedient reader to do?)

Anyway, it was a great start to my new weekly activity.

In a city with nearly 300 parks and natural areas, most residents can probably name their own neighborhood park as a favorite. By using “Portland Hill Walks” as a guide, I can not only familiarize myself with these little gems, but I can also get some up-and-down exercise too.

Today’s walk took me up and down residential streets, curving through quiet, well-maintained neighborhoods with signs of whimsy, creativity and casual comfort.

This being Oregon, I walked in a mist or light drizzle some of the time, dodged several mud puddles and spied other people out for a run or walk.

I also met one four-legged resident, a big ol’ Black Labrador named Louis, who was taking his human for a walk on Southwest 32nd Avenue.

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Louis, a 12-year-old Black Lab, takes his human on a walk.

Typical of his breed — and reminiscent of our own Max — he was friendly, wagging his tail as he approached.

“Oh, look,” his owner said. “He thinks you’re his new owner.”

Fresh air. Low-impact exercise. New sights and scenes. What’s not to like?

Abuelos

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Some life-changing news from our youngest son and his wife.

“So, when are you two going to become grandparents?”

The question would surface from time to time from well-meaning friends and relatives.

Always I would respond: “Well, you know, that’s something that’s really beyond our control.”

Now I have another answer: “Sometime this summer.”

After sitting on the news for a few weeks, our youngest son, Jordan, and daughter-in-law, Jamie, went on Facebook yesterday to share the ultimate “status update.”

And because of their changed circumstances, we too can look forward to uncharted territory as abuelos.

As grandparents, we are told, our lives will change just as much as our kids’. A few months from now, when Jamie and Jordan take on the scary-but-exciting responsibilities of parenthood, Lori and I will take on the multiple roles of helpers, entertainers, supporters and mentors.

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Jamie & Jordan in May 2014

We’ll be separated by about 140 miles and 2 1/2 hours of interstate freeway, but that’s a good thing, I think. As young parents, they will be far enough away to raise their child as they see fit, yet close enough for Grandma Lori and Grandpa George to visit — and vice versa — as regularly as feels comfortable for all.

Together, we’ll share new experiences and learn from each other while making room in our lives and hearts for this awesome little person.

Mortality

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Natalie Cole, 65. David Bowie, 69. Alan Rickman, 69. Glenn Frey, 67.

Four entertainers known for their musical and acting talents. Each of them suddenly gone, their deaths coming in a span of less than three weeks since New Year’s Eve.

Though their deaths shocked and saddened fans around the world, I took their passing in stride. Partly because I wasn’t a fanatical follower of any of them and partly because none of them died at an exceedingly young age.

On Sunday, I attended a celebration of life that carried much more meaning. A longtime friend and former employer of Lori’s died earlier this month after a short but intense battle with cancer. She was 67.

She wasn’t a celebrity — far from it. But dozens of people who knew her gathered for a private event at a Portland restaurant to give her a sendoff worthy of one. Those who knew her best — childhood friends, friends made through work, the woman’s husband — shared memories and thoughts that were tender and heartfelt.

She was a remarkable woman, all agreed. Someone who rose above the turbulence of family dysfunction to lead a vibrant and principled life. Someone who married the love of her life (Friday would have been their 32nd anniversary). Someone who owned a fitness studio and a restaurant and sold real estate. Someone who loved art and poetry and dealt with people honestly and directly.

One person said of her: “She was like a streak across the sky.”

Another said: “It is a blessing to have a good friend; it is better to be a good friend.”

A quote, one from Maya Angelou, embodied our late friend: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

***

Celebrities’ deaths always seem to come as something of a shock. We often don’t realize how long they’ve been with us and we don’t want to accept that they are gone for good.

In contrast, the passing of someone we know packs a bigger emotional punch. These are people we knew, warts and all, whose words and actions and influences stay with us.

I remarked to Lori that our friend’s death — someone just four years older than us — seemed to signal the start of a new phase in our life. Sunday’s service, as uplifting as it was, nevertheless served as a reminder of our mortality — more so than the deaths of four famous entertainers.

We and our peers have gone from young newlyweds to parents to empty-nesters to retirees. We’ve become in-laws as our children have married. Some among us have become grandparents. Some have a lost a mom or dad and some have lost both. And now our friends are dying.

I don’t mean to sound morbid and I certainly am not suggesting the Grim Reaper is lurking nearby. After all, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is now 79 years (up from about 70 in 1955 and about 76 in 1995) and I am in good health. Plus, my mom lived to nearly 86 and my dad is about to turn 90.

But I do know that more of these celebrations of life lie ahead. After all, time is the great equalizer. No matter how rich or poor, happy or sorrowful, long or short our lives are — in the end, death takes us all.

When it comes in the years ahead, I hope to hear more tributes like those expressed for our friend. How inspiring to be remembered in such a positive way.

Photograph: The Associated Press

What Makes a Place a Home: Guest blogger

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For nearly all of her adult life, Simina Mistreanu has lived apart from her mom and Little Bear.

Editor’s note: Simina Mistreanu is a Romanian journalist I had the pleasure of knowing when we worked together for more than a year at the Hillsboro Argus, a suburban newspaper owned by the Oregonian Media Group. Sitting alongside each other, she covered Washington County government while I wrote editorials — often on people and issues that were central to her beat. Simina brought a gentle demeanor, a great work ethic and rich international experience to the newsroom.

By Simina Mistreanu

I had planned on writing this post last summer and then again in late fall (Thank you, George, for the extensions!) Had I written it at any of those times – as I was being reunited with my family in Romania, or settling into my new life in China, respectively –the results would have been different than today.

So what makes a place a home? We each have personal images associated with this concept: it could be the house where we grew up, our family around the table for a special dinner, or the long-awaited hugs after we’ve been away. We also have media-constructed images that we might or might not aspire to: the house, the perfect family, and maybe a level of wealth and social acceptance that we imagine will rid us of all future worries.

Home are the special groups of friends who have been tremendously important, close and constant to us in different periods of our lives. Home could be one person, in particular, or a pet.

The bottom line is that “home” is an umbrella for a sense of security, familiarity, the faces of people you love, and the chance to unwind and shed your work and socializing skins.

simina-goats

Goats by the Black Sea in Romania.

It used to be that people could have all these things physically close throughout their lives. Even today, an American lives on average no further than 18 miles from his or her mother. That is a gift afforded to most of us in the Western world by the way we’ve built our communities: we can learn, work and play close to where we live, if that’s what we want. (I think I used to take this for granted until I came to China and realized that the hundreds of millions of migrant workers have little choice but to leave their homes and work in big cities hundreds of miles away, with the possibility to visit once or twice a year, on national holidays.)

But we also increasingly have the privilege of living in different cities, countries and continents from where we grew up. As we become more global, what does that do to our sense of home?

(Click on photos to view captions.)

I’ll tell you a bit about my trajectory. I grew up in a village in western Transylvania. When I was 7 years old, our parents decided to send my sister and me to a nearby city to attend better schools. Our grandmother moved to live with us. When I started high school, my sister moved away for college, my grandma returned to her village, and I lived by myself in the city, with frequent visits from family and friends.

I moved to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, for college and worked there as a journalist for almost five years. Then I got a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Missouri-Columbia for my master’s program. I interned in Wichita, Kan., on my first summer and in Portland, Ore., on my second. I ended up staying to work in Portland for almost 1 1/2 years.

After three years in the United States, I had to leave the country (Thanks, Obama!) I returned to Romania for a few months then followed my partner to Beijing, where I now live and work.

So where is home to me? I would say it’s everywhere I’ve lived. I feel at home in my mom’s house, and I certainly love all the cities where I’ve lived. And for some strange reason, I always feel at home when I’m by the ocean. But I don’t think the place matters that much. The place is just the end result of the thoughts and emotions we associate with it. A house, a street or a city is not intrinsically home. We instill in them those qualities based on what we’ve experienced there.

There are three elements that I think help to make a home:

Friends. I think friends are God’s solution to almost everything. They can appear anywhere and for no apparent reason. I think I’m not great at making friends – I’m sometimes nervous about building new relationships – but I’m pretty good at being a friend. What I know for sure is that when I’m trying to adapt to a new place, everything starts to change once I’ve made my first true friend there.

Friendship can make a place like Beijing feel like home because it all of a sudden creates a space of familiarity, trust and care. But I’m talking about friendships that go together through the days. These are not friendships that exist just for partying or work. So these true friendships are rare and take time to build. But they make all the difference.

The bittersweet part about moving around is that you make new friends but leave old ones behind. You constantly miss someone, even if you stay in touch, and you realize there’s little chance you’ll be able to have all of your friends in the same place again. Which brings me to:

simina-great wall

Simina, left, and her sister, Anda, along the Great Wall of China

Family. We sometimes talk about how technology, including Skype and Whatsapp, helps us stay in touch with our families. That’s true but on a superficial level. I think we’re trying to minimize, to ourselves, the enormous fact that we live thousands of miles away from our families and visit once or twice a year, in some cases.

There’s no real substitute for spending A LOT of time with your family. I’ve realized that this summer, when while waiting for my Chinese visa to process, I spent about six weeks in my mother’s village – the longest I had been there since middle school. Nothing compares to spending day after day with your loved ones and being there beyond special events and Christmas dinners. Only time will allow you to see your loved ones blossom slowly in your presence, which is one of the most rewarding feelings you can have.

In a nice opinion piece in the New York Times, Frank Bruni explained why he and his family insist on spending no less than seven days and seven nights for their annual family reunion. He says people open up in unplanned moments, and you just have to be there for it.

Tim Urban of WaitButWhy.com wrote this post about how we’ve most likely already used more than 90 percent of the time we had with some of the most important people in our lives, including our parents. Freaky, right? It makes considering new arrangements that allow you to live closer or together worthwhile.

Which leads me to the most essential part of this list:

simina-david

Simina and her boyfriend Dave at Pittock Mansion in May 2014. The couple met in Portland.

Yourself. This globalized world comes with incredible gifts and with aches. On one side, many of us have the possibility to explore, live and work in many different places in the country and the world. These are experiences too exciting and too valuable to pass. But in order to do it, we need to pull our roots out of whatever ground they were initially planted in. We’ll likely never replant them in the exact same spot.

Does that mean we are rootless?

Having thought a lot about this, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that the main, if not the only, entity that can make us feel at home once we’re grown-ups is ourselves. Deepak Chopra talks about the “inner self”: consciousness, a field of unlimited potential, which we can connect to through gratitude and awareness, sometimes in meditation.

This sounds abstract, but I think it takes very concrete work to learn to listen to ourselves, check in regularly and lead our lives accordingly.

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Simina and Little Bear. “I love the dog.”

It’s perplexing but also kind of cool to realize that the sense of security, familiarity and comfort that we associate with “home” can and should come first from within ourselves.

So I think in this new world we carry our own roots. They are within us, not in some exterior place. And that’s fine because it allows us to make decisions that are true to ourselves and are not based on fear and outside expectations. It’s a great exercise in creativity to define our own home.

Simina Mistreanu has worked as a journalist in Romania, the U.S. and China for the past nine years. She loves dogs, stories and being in nature. She now lives in Beijing, where she wants to tell stories — and eventually learn to carry a basic conversation in Mandarin.

Friday flashback: ‘No pretenses at 30’

I’m going back into the Voices of August vault each week to fetch some favorite posts.

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Alana Cox

Here’s one from 2013, written by Alana Cox, the middle child of our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa.

In this piece, Alana writes of the perspective that comes with a certain milestone birthday. Her refreshing insight resonates across the decades:

No pretenses at 30

A corner of contrasts

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Selling newspapers for one dollar per copy.

Leaving my dentist’s office late yesterday morning, I walked eastward a few blocks, staying parallel to the MAX tracks where the light-rail trains run. I hadn’t been downtown in a while but I came upon a scene that seemed so ordinary, yet struck me as emblematic of our times.

On one corner of Southwest Third and Morrison, there was a scruffy guy in a weathered Pittsburgh Steelers jacket selling copies of Street Roots, a newspaper focusing on homelessness and poverty.

On the corner directly south was an equally scruffy guy, playing the cello and hoping for donations from passersby.

Nothing out of the ordinary, right? We’ve all seen variations of this scene in cities across the United States.

But yesterday I seemed to take it in with fresh eyes.

Steelers guy was standing directly outside Starbucks, a name synonymous with global retail sales, and Sephora, an upscale purveyor of beauty and skincare products.

Cello dude and his instrument case were set up outside the entrance to Pioneer Place, a shopping mall with four blocks of street-level and underground retail shops and restaurants, and across the street from a spendy six-screen theater complex.

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Street corner musician in downtown Portland.

Each was hoping people could spare a buck or two. That they were doing so in such close proximity to places that sell $4 coffee drinks, $10 movie tickets and who-knows-how-expensive perfumes struck me as at once ingenious and ludicrous.

Here you have two guys, obviously down on their luck, doing something positive to earn themselves a little money. Neither one a panhandler, but each of them wisely set up at an intersection where they might benefit from the generosity of downtown employees, shoppers or tourists.

At the same time, it seemed more than a little sad that folks are reduced to doing this to get by on a street corner with corporate logos representing American capitalism. This isn’t a diatribe against any particular company or even against a political and economic system that favors private enterprise. Rather, I suppose it’s nothing more than a reflection of a moment in a time and a recognition that there are “winners” and “losers” in every society.

I have no idea what circumstances put those two guys on the corner. But I can say I got my money’s worth when I bought the newspaper from one and paused to listen to the other.

Thanks to Street Roots, I learned about a Portland author who has written about “The Iron Riders” — an all-black 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps commissioned in 1892 to travel the West and Midwest collecting geographic and topographical information for the military. Thanks to the cellist, I caught a glimpse of one man’s talent.

Welcome to the bright side

memorabilia-retire

Markers of a journalism career.

As Week Three of my new retiree status begins, I can’t help but look back with fondness at the Saturday night celebration that just passed.

Friends, family and a few co-workers gathered in our snug little home to join Lori and me in marking my transition from working journalist to retired journalist. It was wonderful to see everyone — not just those I’ve known since college and the earliest days of parenthood, but also those I’ve come to know through decades of reporting, editing, recruiting, teaching, learning and mentoring.

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George & Lori met on the Spartan Daily student newspaper at San Jose State University.

For the occasion, Lori surprised me by hauling out a batch of old photos, newspapers and other memorabilia. And our two oldest children, Nathan and Simone, delighted everyone as quiz show hosts during a trivia exercise that recalled key events in my career spanning three states and the District of Columbia.

It’s a humbling experience when you hear folks offer testimonials to the contributions you made in the newsroom and the impact you had in influencing others’ careers. All I know is that I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some of the most talented and decent human beings you could ever ask for and to remain surrounded by such loyal friends.

whatever-clock

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

Our dear friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney, whom we’ve known since college and who’ve known us longer than anyone in Portland, are both retired. They were among those welcoming me to what they call “the bright side” — a phase of life where I will find freedom, flexibility and many new opportunities.

If I can get the little details right — like pouring coffee into a mug instead of a cereal bowl, like putting my sweatpants on correctly — I think this retirement thing just might work out.

 

George: Be who you are

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

Is that synopsis enough to tell you where this is going?

“George” is a book about a fourth-grader with a secret and it’s written for young readers. An old-fashioned chapter book, it’s the kind of story that I remember my own grade school teachers reading aloud to the entire class while we laid our heads down on our desks.

Except that this particular story never would have been told back then. It’s about a “trans kid” struggling with issues of identity, acceptance and self-esteem.

And it’s delightful.

GEORGE_final-200x300Thanks to my daughter Simone — who has a talent for picking out material that enriches my understanding of the complexities of today’s diverse world — I received “George” as a birthday gift. It was an engaging and fast read and one I would recommend to any adult, as well as to any middle school student.

How could I not be intrigued? Aside from the title, the story itself revolves around George’s yearning to play the part of Charlotte the spider in a school production of “Charlotte’s Web.” His teacher won’t consider the possibility, saying Charlotte is a role suited for girls and, really, shouldn’t George be more interested in the role of Wilbur the pig or Templeton the rat?

Like any other novel casting light onto a character’s aspirations and inner conflicts, this one puts you in George’s place as she tries to keep her secret from her mother and older brother, her best friend and the class bully — all the while wanting to be her true self.

The transgender author, Alex Gino, spent 12 years working on the story, one of half-dozen novels published last year in a variety of genres, including science fiction and young adult romance, that feature transgender children and teenagers, according to The New York Times.

According to reviews I’ve read, the book is being well received by its intended audience — 8- to 12-year-olds — and many parents and teachers, though it also has been criticized by some as inappropriate for young readers.

To which I say, B.S.

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Alex Gino: A radiant debut

Just as a majority of Americans have come to accept that same-sex marriage is all about the love between two people rather than who those people are, it’s important to extend the same empathy to transgender individuals. They are, after all, a group of seriously misunderstood people only who want the same thing as any of the rest of us — the opportunity to be themselves.

I say we set aside the celebrity spectacle of Caitlyn Jenner and think about the ordinary men and women — and the boys and girls — who feel trapped in a body that doesn’t reflect your true self to the world.

Gino said he originally wanted to call the book “Girl George,” as a homage to the ’80s-era pop singer Boy George. But he (they) agreed with his (their) editor’s suggestion to go with just “George” even though his (their) fictional character, after coming out, likely would prefer to never hear herself called that again.

“But,” Gino says, “I think that gives the audience a little extra insight into the discomfort of being trans in a world that expects you to be someone you aren’t.”

Read an interview with Alex Gino and listen to a clip from the audio book.

Photograph: Blake C. Aarens