My second act

psu-welcome

Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor.

Who would have imagined at this point in my career that I would undergo not one but two orientations as a new employee?

Few people, I’m sure. But, then, sometimes things just fall into place better than one can imagine.

Yes, I’m back at work again. Nine months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive as part of a buyout offer extended to senior employees, I’ve been hired to teach in a college classroom and work for a educational nonprofit. The two jobs allow me to draw on my journalism experiences in pursuit of twin interests in education and career development.

I’ve enjoyed the time off I’ve had since Jan. 1 to relax and recharge, to sample the early-retiree lifestyle of regular exercise, lots of reading and writing, and a steady diet of coffees, breakfasts and happy hours with assorted friends. There’s even been some travel to new places.

But all the while I’ve kept open the possibility of returning to work if the right opportunities were to come along. I’m happy — no, delighted — to say that’s the case.

Last week, I started a part-time job as communications coordinator at Portland Workforce Alliance, a small but influential organization that works with employers, teachers and students to expand career and technical education opportunities for high school students.

pwa_logo_home2Along with a board of directors and hundreds of volunteers, the staff helps to arrange career days, job site visits, mock interviews, internships and more, all with an aim of exposing students to the world of work and what it takes to break in and sustain a career, whether it’s in the trades or as a professional as an architect, graphic designer or software engineer.

I love that the organization makes an extra effort to reach kids at public schools where diversity and poverty rates are higher, where students are most likely to be first in their family to attend college.

I’m working with three other full-time employees, led by executive director Kevin Jeans Gail, a former neighbor and all-around good guy who was instrumental in founding the nonprofit in 2005. I’m also working again with Susan Nielsen, a marvelously talented former colleague who was an editorial writer at The Oregonian when I was the Sunday Opinion Editor.

portland-state-university_416x416This week I also started as an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Portland State University. I’m teaching Media Ethics this fall and Media Literacy next winter. Both are lecture/discussion courses looking at the spectrum of mass media — journalism, public relations and advertising — rather than hands-on journalism.

Yesterday was my first class and it went very well. I’ve got a diverse group of about 30 communications majors, nearly all of them juniors or seniors. Many are in their mid-20s and many are working and/or raising a family. I’m confident we’re going to learn a lot together.

(Click on images to view captions.)

I’ve previously worked with young adults in the classroom. Twice before I’ve taught weekend courses at Portland State. Years earlier, I was a guest faculty member at summer training programs at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona that helped prepare people of color for entry-level journalism jobs. Along the way, I also worked as as an editor on student newspaper projects at national conventions of minority journalists.

Some people might think I’m crazy to give up the leisurely schedule I’ve enjoyed these last few months. But I’m excited and invigorated by the twin opportunities that have come my way. (A big shout-out here to Professor Cynthia-Lou Coleman, who hired initially me to teach at PSU and encouraged me to apply again as an adjunct.)

My hours vary during the week, but my Fridays  are free — and I’m already looking forward to an additional teaching gig during the spring semester at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.

Am I a lucky man? Damn right.

 

Race, class and romance

I’m a little late to the party, but I have no hesitation adding to the mountain of praise for “Americanah,” the lush and captivating novel by Nigerian author Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

Published in 2013, the novel won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award and landed on the “best books of the year” lists of NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other leading publications.

I can see why.

At 588 pages, the novel toggles back and forth between Nigeria, the United States and the United Kingdom in telling the story of a young couple who fall in love as high school students, then fall out of touch as they travel to separate countries for education and work. Years later, Ifemelu and Obinze reconnect in their native Nigeria, drawn to each other once again but facing utterly different life circumstances that stand in the way of their being together. Can they rekindle what they once had, even after they’ve pursued relationships with other people?

It’s a love story, yes. But it is so much more, as so many critics have noted.

adichie_macarthur_large

The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Lagos in 2008.

“Americanah” is a book that explores race, culture and class from the African and African-American perspectives, touching on skin color and stereotypes. It’s a book about identity and how it is shaped and tested in ways both obvious and subtle. It’s also a book about family and how those complicated relationships can variously generate feelings of support, frustration, estrangement and belonging.

Adichie writes with such clarity and nuance that you can absorb the meaning of little details at the same time you’re fully cognizant of the book’s overarching themes. Pitch-perfect dialogue and descriptive writing make you feel as if you are right there with her main characters in Lagos, London, New Haven and anywhere else the story goes

On the surface, the novel pivots on the question of what it means to be black in America and Nigeria. It’s not until Ifemelu arrives in the United States to attend college that she realizes she is being judged by the color of her skin, something that was never an issue in her homeland. She struggles to find work and an apartment on account of her race. Later, she takes up with two boyfriends, one white and one black, all the while striving to establish an identity of her own.

Likewise, the book examines the challenges faced by Obinze as an undocumented immigrant in Britain. Where his future seemed bright and limitless in Nigeria, he is forced to live in the shadows in London, dealing with all the fears and indignities that come with the territory. For lack of a passport, he is rendered vulnerable and powerless, forced to conceal his identity and unable to control his destiny.

americanahAdichie, 39, writes with authority, verve and great empathy. She won a McArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2008 and has written two other books and a short story collection. I’d love to read more of her work but my bookshelf is overflowing with novels waiting their turn.

I close with an excerpt. In this scene, Obinze is at a dinner party at the fashionable north London home of his old classmate, Emenike, and his wife, Georgina, a successful lawyer. Flush with red wine, their guests are discussing whether refugees should be allowed to settle in Britain.

“Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.”

That is powerful prose.

Photograph: George Osodi, Associated Press.

Orcas to Spanaway

oi-dawn2

A magnificent view of Mount Baker at dawn.

Aahh. Nothing like a getaway week to our island cabin to let the urban stresses melt away.

We traveled up to Orcas Island last week to spend a few days decompressing. We did some work around the house initially and went out one day to play nine holes of golf, but mostly laid low rather than go out hiking or kayaking. And that was just fine.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Except for one dinner with friends and a glass of wine with neighbors, we did no socializing. Nothing wrong with just relaxing, reading, watching a movie and playing some Scrabble. Especially when you’re sitting on the perimeter of pristine Eagle Lake.

This was our first trip to the island since our faithful companion, Otto, died. We scattered some of his ashes in the garden and took comfort in knowing he loved the island as much as we do. In his absence, we spent quality time with Charlotte walking on the roads and trails above our house.

At the end of the visit, we headed down to Spanaway, outside Tacoma, and spent a couple days and nights visiting our youngest son, his wife and their infant daughter. Our grandchild, Emalyn, turned eight weeks old on Sunday and we were glad to be there. The only previous time we’d seen her was right after her birth.

She’s a charmer — a happy, healthy baby who’s growing up incredibly fast.

In Spanaway, it was more down time. We went out to breakfast Saturday morning — a first for Emalyn; Lori went shopping with Jamie; and Jordan and I went to a local theater to see the latest “Star Trek” movie. All in all, a very satisfying week away from home.

Whose baby is it?

Over the Labor Day weekend, Lori and I ventured out to our neighborhood theater for what has become a rare experience — seeing a first-run movie on the big screen.

In this age of streaming, which allows viewing virtually anything anywhere anytime, it’s still a treat to see a motion picture as it’s meant to be seen. Especially when the film is good enough to justify the steep cost of admission.

“The Light Between Oceans” isn’t a perfect movie, or even a great one. But I liked it well enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who’s drawn to a story centered on vulnerable characters and compelling moral choices. Add in lustrous cinematography and a talented, international cast and you’ve got a winner.

light_between_oceans_ver2

The movie is based on a novel by M.L. Stedman, an Australian author. I was unfamiliar with the book, so I walked in with no expectations. I left pretty impressed, though a review in The New Yorker I read a few days later faulted the film for being “nonsensical” and “rather prim.”

Michael Fassbender, the Irish-German actor who played a sadistic slave owner in “12 Years A Slave,” plays the lead role of Tom Sherbourne. Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “The Danish Girl,” plays his wife, Isabel. Rachel Weisz, the British actress who won in the same category for her work in “The Constant Gardener,” plays Hannah, a young widow. The director is Derek Cianfrance, whose previous films include “Blue Valentine.”

The story takes place just after the First World War. As a veteran of that conflict, Tom has seen too much death, so he welcomes the opportunity to accept a position as a lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia, a job that would seem to guarantee isolation and ample time for introspection and possible healing.

Before leaving the mainland, however, he meets Isabel. He goes off to work on the fictional island of Janus, but they correspond and when Tom returns to the village where Isabel lives, they quickly fall in love and get married. The couple move to Janus, where they are the only humans, and agree to start a family. Poor Isabel has not one but two miscarriages.

lightoceansSo when a small boat comes ashore one day bearing a dead man and an infant girl, with no sign of who they are or what brought them there, the couple must decide: Do they keep the child and pretend it is theirs? Or do they make an effort to return the child to its mother? That is, if the mother is even alive?

Isabel argues strongly for keeping the child. Tom acquiesces. They name her Lucy.

Four years later, on a visit to the village, Tom figures out that Hannah is the biological mother and that she believes her daughter Grace was lost at sea. His conscience tells him that returning the child is the right thing to do.

But is it? Doing so would crush his wife and thoroughly confuse the little girl they’ve raised as their daughter. Isabel, too, must decide. Can she bear to part with the little girl who came into her life, seemingly as an act of providence?

And what about Hannah? Initially incensed upon learning that Tom and Isabel made no attempt to reach out to her, she now can see how tightly bonded her daughter has become with the couple.

Whose baby is it? With whom does the child truly belong? Is the morally correct action the best option?

These are gut-wrenching questions, and the answers have life-changing consequences for all three adults as well as for little Lucy/Grace. Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz all deliver excellent performances as they convey pain, heartbreak, confusion and sacrifice. Husband and wife are pitted against each other as are the child’s biological and adoptive mothers.

It’s a gripping film. Moral choices are never easy and in this film, you can feel the tug-of-war within each character’s mind and heart. Go see it and consider what you would do in their situations.

Return to Healy Heights

HH keller house

A 1956 Colonial once owned by Portland businessman Ira Keller is a prominent sight in the Hessler Hills neighborhood.

In April, a friend and I set out on an urban hike that was supposed to take us on a 4-mile loop from Hillsdale to Healy Heights, a posh hilltop neighborhood in Southwest Portland.

I screwed up. What should have been a 2-hour hike became 5 miles and 3 hours because I didn’t pay close enough attention to directions in my guide book and we veered off course. Making matters worse, light drizzle turned to steady rain as we plodded along, culminating in a steady downpour at Council Crest Park, where supposedly unrivaled views of Portland were obliterated by cloud cover and a pounding rain.

I scolded myself and vowed to come back on a sunny day.

On the last Thursday in August, I did just that. And I was amply rewarded.

This time, the hike did take just two hours. Although I saw plenty of familiar sights, following the correct route took me into areas of Healy Heights I’d missed before. Plus, I made it to the 1,000-foot summit of Council Crest, trekking to the end of a dead-end street where you come to the locked gatehouse of the Stonehenge radio tower. The antenna rises 607 feet and is easily visible from Portland’s east side.

Enough chatter. Here are the highlights of my second trip:

Keller Woodland: Reached via a dead end on Northwood Avenue, this beautiful greenspace is owned by the Three Rivers Land Conservancy, according to Laura O. Foster, author of my well-worn copy of “Portland Hill Walks.”

Portland businessman Ira Keller originally owned the nearly 40 acres, but sold it to the Nature Conservancy, which later gave it to Three Rivers, Foster says. It’s too bad it’s so secluded. Then again, light foot traffic is what keeps the forested area so lovely.

Hessler Hills: The woodland trail leads into what Foster calls “the isolated and tony” Hessler Hills neighborhood. Except for the forested path, there’s only one way into this area of gaudy homes and panoramic views of the Willamette River, stretching from the Fremont Bridge to Ross Island.

Walking here and along Fairmount Boulevard, another forested route in this hilly area, I spotted a handful of “for sale” signs with asking prices ranging from $1.1 million to $2.2 million.

Not for sale is the spectacular home once owned by the aforementioned Keller. It stands alone across a ravine on Northwood, with a commanding view of the Willamette and the Cascade Range. This is the same Keller who served as chairman of the Portland Planning Commission and for whom a fountain across from Civic Auditorium is named.

Fairmount Boulevard: This 4-mile-long, two-lane road without sidewalks is popular with joggers and cyclists. Sure enough, I saw people on foot, more with and without dogs, and on bicycles.

If anything, the homes along this road are even more ginormous than in Hessler Hills, with three- and four-story homes built on stilts on wooded hillsides.

Healy Heights: Unlike the April hike, when I lost my way and wound up at Council Crest Park, this time I walked up steep residential streets with constantly changing views of the city.

From Foster’s book, I learned that the area was developed in the 1930s by Joseph Healy, who called it “the Switzerland of America.” A bit of an exaggeration. Healy named the streets after various family members: Carl, McDonnell, Patrick and Bernard. A nice gesture, I suppose.

On one street corner, I saw a number of crushed cardboard boxes spilling out of a recycling bin. Hmm, I wondered, does a Nike executive live there?

Further up the bill, a funny coincidence. I had just started up Carl Place, the dead-end street, when I heard a Spanish-language commercial for a local car dealer, Carl Chevrolet, coming from the vicinity of one of these big-ass homes. One Latino laborer was on the ground using a leaf blower while another above him was tossing roof shingles and other materials into a trailer. They were, of course, listening to the radio as they worked.

Descending the summit, I came across more of the same: Latino men cutting tree limbs by hand, mowing lawns and building new homes for even more well-to-do owners. Where would this country be without the myriad skills provided by mi gente?

Healy Heights Park: If anything symbolizes the isolation and exclusivity of this area, it’s the neighborhood park. It’s owned by the city but it has the look and feel of a private playground.

Barely more than an acre, it has climbing equipment, a soccer goal, a baseball backstop, and a basketball court with a surface made from recycled shoes donated by Nike. Sure enough, the trademark swoosh is found at center court. Signs advertising a neighborhood potluck added to the private vibe.

Hillsdale: The trek back down to flat land took me back along a previously traveled route, from Fairmount Boulevard to a series of hidden staircases descending to a range of midcentury homes along SW 19th Drive and Sunset Boulevard.

Even after two visits here, I still have unfinished business. Gotta come back one more time to hike the Marquam Nature Park trail connecting Council Crest with the Oregon Health & Science University campus.

 

Walking among the dead

MP entrance

Hard to believe you’re in the middle of a city when you’re all alone on this path.

I didn’t know what to think when I leafed through my urban hiking guide and spotted the 4.5-mile route called “Marshall Park Canyon and Cemeteries Loop.”

I’d never heard of Marshall Park. Walking through multiple cemeteries, let alone one, seemed like an odd wrinkle. But after completing the hike in Southwest Portland in mid-August, I’ve got to say it ranks among the most interesting I’ve done this year.

This particular route, outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks,” has a little of everything going for it:

  • A spectacular urban park with giant trees, shaded paths and pristine creeks tumbling over rocks.
  • Quiet streets off the beaten path in neighborhoods with few sidewalks.
  • Cemeteries offering solitude and a space to reflect on the thousands of lives represented by so many graves.

Since January, this gold mine of a book has led me into neighborhoods I never knew before, enriching my appreciation of a city I thought I knew rather well. My recent hike revealed yet another major gap in my knowledge of Portland.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Let’s start with Marshall Park. It’s east of I-5 and south of SW Terwilliger Boulevard as you head east toward Lewis & Clark Law School and Tryon Creek State Park. More specifically, the park lies just east of SW Taylors Ferry Road in the South Burlingame neighborhood. The western entrance to the park is on SW 18th Place in the middle of a residential area.

From the moment I left the parking area and stepped onto the trail, all I could hear was the sound of my own footsteps.

It’s a magnificent space, smaller than but reminiscent of Lower Macleay Park and Balch Creek Canyon. Here in Marshall Park, you have Douglas fir and maple trees, and a tributary of Tryon Creek. There are foot bridges, a children’s play area and trails crisscrossing the park and its 400-foot-wide canyon. It’s hard to believe it was once a quarry.

According to Foster, F.C. and Addie Marshall donated the land to the city in 1951 and additional acreage was later purchased. Good call.

Emerging onto SW Maplecrest Drive, you head east toward Terwilliger Boulevard, crossing at SW 2nd Avenue,  located just west of the law school.

It’s a steep climb into the Collins View neighborhood. Like the homes on Maplecrest, each house up here is decidedly different from the other. No bland sameness at all.

At the top of the hill, turning right onto SW Alice puts you an unpaved stub of a street. And here, to my delight, was the Ahavai Sholom Cemetery, established in 1869. Its name means “lovers of peace.”

It was a toasty afternoon so I made my way to a shaded bench and quietly admired the gumption that Portland’s earliest Jewish immigrants must have had — to settle here, establish businesses and synagogues, raise their families, and acquire a site to bury their loved ones.

One grave marker, with a running water feature, caught my eye with a small plaque bearing these words:

We determine how we are remembered

By the way we live our days.

MP. Ahavai water

A grave marker with a water feature offers a profound thought about our legacies.

I left the cemetery, headed one block north and one block east and found myself at the southern  entrance to Riverview Cemetery. Unlike the modest, crowded Jewish cemetery, this vast, sprawling site offered a park-like setting with rolling green hills of manicured lawns, a huge variety of trees and an eastward-looking view that included a distant Mount Hood.

Except for two bike riders barreling through and the occasional maintenance truck, I was all alone. Hiking through a cemetery on an urban walk might strike some as creepy. But, honestly, it was a calming experience. Surrounded everywhere by silence, I felt respect for the dead and reverence for life.

Where the Jewish cemetery was chock-full of headstones bearing the Star of David, Hebrew characters and names like Kaufman, Sherman and Schwartz, Riverview was filled with names like Smith, Gardner and Stevens.

One particular feature of the cemetery gave me pause. Beneath a massive oak tree there was a section dedicated to babies. Some who died when they were days or weeks old, others a few months, still others the day they were born. Seeing those rows of grave markers set flush with the grass, with dates going back to the ’50s and ’60s, made me keenly aware of the losses endured by so many families. Imagine all those lives cut short and the enduring heartbreak.

In the midst of all this, another thought came to mind: how death truly is the great equalizer. Rich or poor, young or old, accidental death or not, all these people were now in the ground, where status didn’t matter.

***

Winding through the cemetery, I emerged at the northern exit from the cemetery — within shouting distance of three more cemeteries — and crossed SW Taylors Ferry Road into another cluster of homes largely free of sidewalks and, on this hot summer afternoon, people.

The route took me south toward Terwilliger, where I crossed again and found myself in the South Burlingame neighborhood, a more affluent area of single-family homes. Continuing south, I worked my way down to Taylors Ferry Road and then Taylors Ferry Court and SW 12th Avenue, yet another area of the city short on sidewalks but long on character.

Once again, I felt as if I were taking a walk down a country road. Yet, I was very much in the heart of a city of 600,000 residents. SW 12th led me into the eastern entrance to Marshall Park, where I escaped the heat on trails that led me back to my car.

I literally paused in disbelief. Here I was in the middle of a forest less than a mile from the roaring I-5 freeway. How had I not known about Marshall Park? What a jewel on the city’s west side.

***

I’ll end with this quote from the naturalist John Muir, displayed in a poetry post on SW 2nd Avenue. Seems to perfectly capture my experience on this hike.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Mediocre once again

mediaocracies

Team selfie in the bowels of the bowling alley. From left: Joel Odom, Mike Slama, George Rede, Brian Wartell.

Our summer bowling season came to a merciful end last month. A blazing start that had us in first place for a week or two was followed by a mid-season meltdown and a tepid comeback.

Add it all up and the Mediaocracies finished with a record of 21 wins, 23 losses — good enough for a 9th-place finish among 16 teams in the Average Joe’s League at AMF Pro 300 Lanes.

We’d come into the season with great momentum, tying for 4th place among 22 teams competing in the spring league. (The proof? “Mediocre no more”) And though we got off to a good start, the wheels fell off while our best bowler was away on an extended vacation.

We hit an ugly patch where we lost 12 games in a row. This is a coed, non-sanctioned league and we know that camaraderie trumps competition in this Monday night league, so we couldn’t get too upset with ourselves. Still, you want to do your best and actually win once in a while.

Joel Odom led the way for us with a 178 average. The rest of us — Mike Slama, Brian Wartell and myself — had our moments but in the end we all finished in the low 140s.

team payout

Strong start + weak finish = 9th place.

On Monday, we came together for the season-ending “fun bowl,” when you play for free and team winnings are distributed according to your finish. Our haul — just short of $75 — covered the cost of a post-bowl happy hour at a nearby brewpub and helped fuel some brainstorming.

Two changes are in store when we come back for the fall season:

  1. A new lineup. We’re changing the order of who bowls first, second, third and fourth.
  2. A new nickname. We’re retiring the “Mediaocracies” and moving on to something more fun.

Stay tuned. We’ll see how we do.

Voices of August 2016: Your faves?

vote in color

And…it’s a wrap.

We’ve just completed Year Six of the guest blog project known as Voices of August.

As the creator and curator of this online literary event, I readily acknowledge that this exercise is an annual highlight for me. What an honor it is to reach out across the city, across the country — even across the ocean — to solicit guest essays from friends, neighbors, relatives and past co-workers.

That so many people from all walks of life are willing to make time in their busy lives for Rough and Rede II warms my heart — and I hope you, as readers, have come across one or more that have really stuck with you.

This year’s guest blog posts were every bit as entertaining, informative and eye-opening as years past.

And now comes the reader participation part. It’s time to vote for your favorites. Just three. Your deadline: Saturday, Sept. 10.

Here are the rules:

  • Who can vote. As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog (this year or previously) or who is simply a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces.You decide if you’ve read enough of this month’s contributions to cast a ballot.
  • Criteria. There are none other than your own. What grabbed your attention? What resonated with you? What made you laugh or cry? What challenged your assumptions? What made you see things differently?
  • How to vote. Take some time to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 6.0 index page and then send the titles of your three favorites to me at ghfunq@msn.com. (Please do NOT list your favorites on Facebook.)
  • Deadline: Saturday, Sept. 10.

As you revisit this year’s contributions, please take the opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. Be generous with your feedback, both on Facebook and especially on the posts themselves. Writers love feedback.

Let the voting begin!

Image: rgbstock.com