Live from Portland!

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A Washington, D.C., crowd settles in for a performance of Pop-Up Magazine. (Photo by Jon Snyder. Courtesy: Pop Up Magazine)

As much as I enjoy books and movies, there’s something special about seeing a story come to life in real time, right in front of your eyes.

Twice in recent weeks I was able to take in a live performance. And both experiences left me wishing I had the time and budget for more.

Three weeks ago, I went with a friend to see a touring show called Pop-Up Magazine. It was exactly as advertised — a live version of traditional magazine content, presented in Portland by the authors themselves as part of a five-city winter tour.

A week earlier, Lori and I went to see a play performed in a spare, intimate space by a cast of two. The story revolves around a Latino teenager who leaves home to get away from his homophobic father and encounters another boy at a LGBT homeless shelter, sparking an unexpected relationship.

In both cases, the motivation to buy tickets came from the Media Literacy class I’ve been teaching at Portland State. I’ve encouraged my students to broaden their media consumption beyond favorite websites and social media feeds — and many of them have done just that. So it seemed only fair that I should do the same. Much to my delight, two shows popped up at the same time on my calendar.

The Pop-Up Magazine provided an opportunity to finally see a show at Revolution Hall, a renovated space that once was the auditorium at now-closed Washington High School.

Meanwhile, the two-man play gave me a chance to get reacquainted with Teatro Milagro (Miracle Theater), a company that’s been producing bilingual works for more than 30 years in Southeast Portland.

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Teatro Milagro was part of a date night.

Lori and I had a light dinner during happy hour at a neighborhood restaurant, then motored over to the theater. We had plenty of time so we checked out a nearby place called Lantern, which bills itself as a French Vietnamese cocktail bar.  Nice!

Back at the theater, it was closing night of “Swimming While Drowning,” written by playwright Emilio Rodriguez and directed by Francisco Garcia. A small but appreciative crowd got into the story of teenagers Angelo (Michel Castillo) and Mila (Blake Stone), both estranged from their families and seeking a way forward.

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Original postcard artwork for “Swimming While Drowning”

What follows is a coming-of-age story, with touches of humor, romance, spoken word poetry and self-revelation. It always amazes me how a static set and minimal props, combined with skilled acting and the willingness to suspend disbelief, can all add up to a captivating story brought to life.

Pop-Up Magazine was, by contrast, a much larger production in a much larger space.

My friend David Quisenberry joined me on a Tuesday night as we caught the one and only Portland performance of 11 pieces billed as “A night filled with bald eagles, bad grades, blind dates” and more. The evening showcased the work of journalists, filmmakers, photographers, poets and other storytellers.

Instead of flipping through the pages of a magazine, you had these storytellers coming out solo or in pairs to read their work aloud, often with blown-up photos or videos above and behind them. The effect, for me, was one of authenticity.

Who better to deliver a tongue-in-cheek essay about one’s unattractive facial features than the owner of that “Picasso-esque” face? Who better to testify to the annoying presence of bald eagles in a remote Alaskan fishing port — where the locals refer to our majestic national symbol as “Dutch Harbor pigeons” — than the writer and photographer who spent some time up there on a reporting trip?

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In a review for PBS NewsHour, Elizabeth Frock explained Pop-Up’s genesis:

The magazine began in 2009 in San Francisco as a sort of experiment. Could a series of shows, structured like a magazine and performed live by journalists, pack performance halls across the country?

It turns out it could. It’s filled auditoriums and theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, among other places. A physical magazine, California Sunday, has also grown out of the show.

Read the article here: How a pop-up magazine experiment is turning journalism into performance art

There was an added incentive for me to catch this March 7 show. One of the performers was Kelley L. Carter, a senior writer at ESPN whom I’ve known since we met on the recruiting trail in the ’90s. She was a promising journalism student at Michigan State and I was representing The Oregonian when our paths crossed at the Spirit of Diversity job fair in Detroit.

Kelley did a powerful piece entitled “1991” —  a year that she contended was both the best and worst year ever for black America.

I got a chance for a quick hug and hello after the show. Kelley, after all, had flown into Portland that day and was operating on East Coast time, so I knew her energy was flagging. Still, it was fun to see her and also offer congratulations to a couple other performers who happened by.

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After the show with Kelley L. Carter

The next morning, I gushed about this novel way of multimedia storytelling. Where my boomer generation grew up primarily with two-dimensional media (print, TV and radio), today’s college students and other consumers, for that matter, are blessed with an abundance of video and interactive material on digital platforms. And now this — live storytelling presented within a journalistic framework. Genius.

Back to PBS’ Frock for a final insight:

It’s important to note that Pop Up Magazine is gaining ground as most national magazines are struggling for readers, forced to slash newsstand prices or shut down all together. But in many ways it seemed that it wasn’t just format of the night that made the magazine something special, but the quality of the stories it put out. Almost every performance was carefully-structured, deeply reported and, in some way, surprising.

Can’t wait until this tour comes through again.

Twin Lakes

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Looking north toward Big Twin.

Six months had passed since I last set foot on Orcas Island. Too long.

Halfway through a five-day stay, I can say the restorative qualities of this place are once again at work.

It’s 1 pm on a tranquil Sunday. The on-and-off misty rain is off for the moment and I’m enjoying the jazz music of Heather Keizur, a Portland vocalist who Performs at our neighborhood block party every summer.

Lori and I arrived on Friday, knowing we would overlap with our youngest son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter for two days. They packed up and left today at mid-morning to catch the ferry back to the mainland, leaving us to enjoy the tranquility of our cabin for the next three days before we, too, return home.

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Yesterday, I joined Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn on a 4.2-mile hike in Moran State Park. (Lori stayed behind to meet with a handyman who was coming up to finish a job at our place.)

It was a nice respite from the urban routine and the first time I’d been out to Twin Lakes in a long, long time. It’s an easy hike, following the western shore of Mountain Lake and then a spur at the north end of the lake.

You’re at 1,100 feet elevation when you arrive between the two bodies of water, but it’s not like it’s a vertical hike. The drive up Mount Constitution Road brings you to a parking area next to Mountain Lake and the well-groomed path has only modest ups and downs.

Even on a short hike — an hour out, an hour back — it was enough to awaken the senses. Cool, fresh air. Still lake waters. Humongous, overturned tree stumps. An occasional breeze whooshing through the trees. Snow melt tumbling over rocks.

And in spots along the trail where we paused for a sip of water? Absolute silence. The kind where you almost feel guilty disrupting the stillness to resume your hike.

Check out the Moran State Park map

Moran State Park has five lakes — Cascade, Mountain, Summit and Twin Lakes. I still haven’t hiked around Summit Lake, but I can vouch for the beauty of the others.

With this most recent hike, on the eastern flank of Mount Constitution, it was wonderful to reacquaint myself with Big and Little Twin Lakes, a couple of jewels.

Celebrating 35 years of voluntarism

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A nice way to spend a Friday night, in the company of people who help kids who come to The Dougy Center.

Lori is way too modest, way too selfless to call attention to her volunteer activities, so leave it to me to do so.

Friday night, we attended The Dougy Center‘s annual Volunteer Appreciation Celebration, an event that marked 35 years of this Portland nonprofit providing peer support groups for grieving children and their families.

Lori was among a roomful of big-hearted men and women — and, by the way, they are mostly women — who work with these children as they deal with their feelings after the death of a parent, a sibling or other loved one.

There are 31 peer support groups who meet at The Dougy Center’s headquarters in Southeast Portland or in satellite offices in Canby and Hillsboro. Children ages 3 to 18 meet every other week in age-appropriate groups with a professional facilitator and trained volunteers. Young adults, ranging from 19 to 35-ish, have their own groups.

As a past member of the center’s board of directors, I underwent the training too and volunteered for less than a year before outside commitments got the best of me and I had to quit. So I know what these volunteers go through and fully appreciate the love and care they provide as these kids heal, each in their own way and on their own time.

Some of those honored Friday night were celebrating 5, 10 and 15 years of service. Remarkably, two were celebrating 20 years, five were celebrating 25 years, and two were celebrating 30 years. Amazing.

Lori has been with the same Esperanza group for six years. Esperanza is Spanish for hope — and the name fits because these are the children of Latino parents, many of whom speak little or no English, and it’s the one group out of the 31 that caters to their language and culture.

Of the eight volunteers in Lori’s group, two others joined in the celebration Friday. We shared a table — three female volunteers and three of us male partners — and enjoyed a fun evening that included a catered dinner, speeches, raffle prizes and a silly photo session with props.

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Highlight of the evening? No question, it was when a former participant in a Young Adult Group shared his story of loss and healing. John spoke of the devastation he felt when his older brother died at age 26, leaving him at age 23 to sort through the pain and confusion.

Now 35, John became a first-grade teacher, a husband and father of a young daughter. Last year, when he and his wife welcomed a second child into the world, death struck again. Their daughter was born with severe brain deformities and died in their arms just an hour after being born.

Another person might have been crushed by despair. But John said the self-healing that occurred at The Dougy Center, with the unconditional love and support provided by adult volunteers, made all the difference in getting through his brother’s death and gave him the strength and the tools to both celebrate and accept his daughter’s short life.

In all my years being affiliated with The Dougy Center, I can’t recall a speech that was more profound than John’s. His moving testimonial was a gift to all in the room that evening, for these are people who are either retirees or else already-employed men and women,who give three to four hours of their time every two weeks to be there in a child’s time of need.

Knowing Lori is among this caring group of people made me, once again, very proud of my wife and her giving spirit.

Eight years and still laying bricks

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

In January 2009, Barack Obama took office as 44th President of the United States.

A month later, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in the 43rd Super Bowl and Bruce Springsteen performed during the halftime show.

Back then, our oldest son, Nathan, was a few months away from getting his bachelors degrees in business and marketing at Portland State. Our daughter, Simone, was working with low-income students at alternative high schools in Portland and applying to graduate schools on the East Coast. Our youngest son, Jordan, was a newlywed and and stationed with the U.S. Army in El Paso, Texas.

Lori and I were empty nesters, still in the Grant Park neighborhood where we raised our kids and living with our dogs, Otto and Max, and our cats, Rudy and Mabel.

And so it was that on March 1, yours truly launched the Rough and Rede blog. I’d been hired to teach a weekend seminar at a local college called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” (How quaint that word “blogosphere” seems now.)

My first blog post, written in the wee hours of March 1, 2009, was comprised of a single paragraph:

It’s about time…I’m going to teach a weekend seminar on “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” Shouldn’t I have a blog of my own? Even one that has more bones than skin? It’s about time…It’s after 1 in the morning, that transition time between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I find I do some of my clearest thinking and clearest writing in the wee hours. Fewer distractions that way. It’s about time…How will I sustain this? I’m already on Facebook; don’t wanna do MySpace. I’m online every day, much of the day, owing to my job as editor of the Sunday Opinion section at The Oregonian. It’s about time…It’s about getting started, as the title of this post says. Choose an image: dive in, dip your toes in the water, take the first step, just do it. So I’m doing it. I have no illusions about this, by the way. Just one guy on the Left Coast laying the first brick of what I hope will be good for the soul, good for the mind. Welcome, friends and new readers.

Well, here we are, eight years later. President Obama is president no longer and our nation threatens to pull itself apart under the policies of the Cheeto-in-Chief.

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl (again).

Nathan is following his passions of music and food, working as a DJ and a cook at a Thai restaurant. Simone is married and working for Metro as a senior auditor. Jordan is a young father, living near Tacoma, Washington, and closing in on a biology degree at nearby St. Martin’s University.

Lori and I are in a condo, sharing our living space with our slinky feline, Mabel, and our rascally little mutt, Charlotte.

And I’m celebrating the eight-year anniversary of the original Rough and Rede blog.

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How appropriate that this milestone would fall on the same date that I just gave my Media Literacy students their midterm exam in COM 312 at Portland State University.

Eight years ago, I was still employed at The Oregonian and just dipping my toes into the waters of higher education.

Now here I am, 14 months removed from taking a buyout at The Oregonian/OregonLive, and teaching not one college course but three.

In addition to my class at Portland State, I’m also teaching two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’ve written about the transition from newsroom to classroom before, so I won’t go into yet again, although I fully expect to reflect on my teaching experiences when the quarter (PSU) and semester (WSU) are done at each campus.

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I’ve got some more thoughts on this personal milestone and I’ll share them before the week is through. In the meantime, thanks to one and all for following the original R&R blog or this newer version, Rough and Rede II.

Photograph: AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran