Voices of August 2018

August-2018-Calendar-Landscape

Voices of August is taking a break this year.

If this were a normal year, I’d already be editing early submissions from friends and family around the country, setting the stage for Year No. 8 of my annual guest blog project.

But this ain’t a normal year.

Tomorrow I leave for London, England, to teach a two-week Communications class. Six Portland-area students will join me as we explore differences in media in the U.S. and the U.K. I will return on July 30, no doubt jet-lagged.

That leaves too little time to get things done before I leave and virtually no time after I get back home.

And even I, so accustomed to multitasking, wouldn’t think of working on VOA while I’m overseas. No, my priority has to be — and will be — my students.

top 10 london guide bookWe’ve got a jam-packed itinerary from July 16 to July 30, including day trips to the BBC and the Houses of Parliament, plus site visits to television and newspaper offices and a public relations agency; guest speakers on assorted topics; and a panel discussion on immigration and women’s issues.

In our free time, there will be no shortage of attractions in a culturally diverse city that rolls all the features of New York, Washington and Hollywood into a single place.

I’ll be sure to write all of it upon my return. In the meantime, keep an eye on Facebook or follow me on Instagram to see an occasional photo or two.

A year from now, I’ll reach out again to a diverse set of contributing writers and we’ll pick up again with Voices of August 2019.

Here’s the VOA 7.0 archive for your reading pleasure. So many wonderful pieces that resonate so strongly a year later.

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Kickin’ back at the coast

manzanita view 1

Nature in all its beauty. Looking north along the Pacific Coast from a residential street in Manzanita.

Simple pleasures come in all forms. Last weekend was proof that you don’t need much to enjoy yourself.

On Friday, Lori and I headed to Manzanita on the northern Oregon Coast to spend a couple of days and nights visiting our longtime friends, Steve and Kelly Kern. Ours is a friendship that began about 25 years ago, when their oldest child, Matt, and our youngest, Jordan, were classmates in a neighborhood preschool.

The friendship has endured through years of play dates, sleepovers and summer camps; middle school and high school; and, now, that phase when all our kids are grown adults and living in different states.

That shared history makes for a relaxing visit, especially when it’s reinforced by the Kerns’ welcoming vibe and lack of any agenda.

We visited the local farmers market on Friday and had a leisurely walk on the beach Saturday morning. Steve and I did some impromptu crabbing at nearby Nehalem Bay on Saturday afternoon, and we all played a favorite board game (Wits & Wagers) that night.

In between activities, we ate well. Steve and Kelly are vegans, so we had healthy homemade meals. (I was glad to see them make a dietary exception for the fresh-cooked crab that we had Saturday night.)

The night before, another longtime friend and fellow preschool parent, Rebecca Bauer, joined us for dinner following an early-evening walk on the hilly neighborhood streets above the Kerns’ home.

We spent less than 48 hours in Manzanita but the respite felt twice as long.

When you grow accustomed to city life as we have, it’s a pleasant experience to find yourself in a place that’s ultra-quiet and just one short block away from the beach.

Our little dog, Charlotte, came along and enjoyed herself, too. It takes her about two minutes to make herself at home.

We ended our visit with Sunday lunch on an outdoor patio at the historic San Dune Pub, a local institution that made at least one reviewer’s list of 10 Best Bars Outside of Portland. After wolfing down a Po’Boy with Prawns, I concur.

A few images to remember the weekend:

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About those resolutions

Fruits and Veggies

How simple can this be? Follow through on a resolution to eat more fruit and veggies. Improve your diet and health at the same time, right?

When the year began, I vowed to K.I.S.S. — Keep It Simple, Stupid — when it came to making New Year’s resolutions.

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Lighten up on the iPhone.

So how am I doing halfway into 2018?

Honestly, not as well as I’d hoped.

I started off fine — in fact, I’d even say very well — in the first couple months. But if I’m being honest, I’ will acknowledge that I’ve had some slippage in all three areas.

Oh, it’s not like I’ve utterly failed. I’m aware of all three of these pledges. It’s just that I’ve let old habits creep in. You know, going straight to the coffee pot in the morning instead of starting the day with a glass of water — or even a few sips.

resolutionsI’m eating a decent amount of vegetables, thanks in so small part to Lori’s positive influence on my diet. But I could consume more fruits, especially now that summer is here and there’s plenty of fresh, seasonal selections such as watermelon and cherries.

As for the iPhone, I made a conscious effort to leave it behind on neighborhood walks or simple errands, figuring — correctly — that almost any news or personal communication could wait until I’d returned.

I also was very aware of Oregon’s distracted driving law, which prohibits drivers from using any function of a cellphone that requires holding or touching. The new law took effect last fall and raised the penalty for first-time offenders to $260.

But texting or making phone calls while driving isn’t the real issue. It’s simpler than that. It’s being aware that the phone’s mere presence can have a negative influence in situations where my attention ought to be focused on the person or people I’m with, or the event I’m experiencing.

Having a conversation? Put the phone down. Better yet, put it away. Be present. These are the things I need to keep telling myself.

Handheld devices are incredibly useful and helpful. But six months into this year, I’m reminded that I can do better by putting it aside more often when it’s not needed for work.

Photographs: www.active.com; www.thewritelife.com

“Slide!”

On this Fourth of July, I’ll pass on the fireworks and the patriotic fervor that has flipped our country upside down and cleaved a great divide among red- and blue-state Americans.

Instead, I’ll celebrate a delightful book about baseball, a boy’s adolescence, and a universal story of hope.  (And, boy, could we use some of that now.)

The book is “Slide!” and the author is Carl Wolfson, a neighbor of mine who was host of “Carl in the Morning” on two of Portland’s progressive talk radio stations from 2007 to 2016.

slide coverSlide has two meanings. One, the physical act of a runner sliding into a base. Two, the figurative act of a gradual decline.

In this case, Carl writes about his boyhood idols, the Philadelphia Phillies, and their historic collapse in the waning days of the 1964 season, when they suffered through an inexplicable losing streak (or slide) and squandered a chance to play in the World Series.

Several weeks ago, I attended an event at our neighborhood bookstore where Carl read from the book, took questions, and autographed copies for one and all. I’d just come off reading two books with pretty grim content, so I welcomed the respite offered by “Slide!”

I wasn’t disappointed. This coming-of-age memoir is fun, light reading, crafted with skill and wit by a guy who knows a thing or two about writing (he was a Communications major in college) and humor (he was a professional comedian before going into radio) and baseball. The subtitle hints at Carl’s tongue-in-cheek approach: “The Baseball Tragicomedy That Defined Me, My Family, and the City of Philadelphia — And How It All Could Have Been Avoided Had Someone Just Listened to My Lesbian Great Aunt.”

***

Though the event at Broadway Books was in mid-May and I read the book in June, it’s no accident that I’m writing about the book now. I’ve always associated the Fourth with baseball, the sport that truly was our national pastime when I was growing up. Inthe years since, Major League Baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL and the NBA, particularly among younger fans.

But in 1964, Carl and I would both turn 12 years old, cheering for teams on opposite sides of the country. Despite living near San Francisco, I was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan then. Carl was living in southern New Jersey, rooting for the underachieving Phillies. With just 12 games to play, the Phils had a seemingly insurmountable lead on their closest rivals in the National League and felt confident enough to print World Series tickets.

All of a sudden, they couldn’t win. They lost 10 of their last 12 games and finished in a second-place tie, one win short of the league championship. The St. Louis Cardinals, not the Phillies, would go on to play the New York Yankees in the ’64 Series.

Adult Carl writes about Young Carl and how the season unfolded for him against a backdrop of national tumult and change, amid a family filled with memorable characters, including his bickering parents, his staunchly Republican grandmother (who refused to carry a Roosevelt dime), and his mouthy lesbian great aunt, whose deep knowledge of baseball and strong opinions about the Phillies prompted her to write many a letter to the team’s front office about what they should do about this player or that one.

Though the book is undeniably about baseball, it’s also a broader look back at the early Sixties, when Young Carl is coming of age at a time of the Kennedy assassination, the Johnson-Goldwater campaign, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights Movement. Race riots flared in several cities and Communist paranoia caused schoolchildren to dive under their desks during air raid drills.

Growing up with three sisters and as the new kid in town following a move from northern Virginia, Carl didn’t find much success on the playing field (his Little League nickname was “Lead Bottom”). But he did find in the Phillies a team to root for and bond with along with his parents and other family members.

In 1964, the Phillies were a newly and fully integrated team, with black and Latino players like Richie Allen, Cookie Rojas and Ruben Amaro taking their place in the lineup and on the bench alongside whites. That made a big impression on Carl.

“As a kid, my heroes were the Phillies — of all races,” he said at the May reading. “That was a very important lesson for a kid.”

The other lesson was one of hope, of holding onto optimism even as the defeats piled up. The Phillies had enjoyed a remarkable season, with star pitcher Jim Bunning throwing a no-hitter and outfielder Johnny Callison crushing a home run to win the All-Star Game. But they fell short, depriving Carl and his dad a chance to see the World Series, and breaking a city’s heart.

“The 1964 Phillies, though, had forever won my heart,” Carl writes. “If they finished in second place, they also gave me enough thrills for a lifetime. They were the team of my youth.”

You don’t have to be a Phillies fan or even a baseball fan to enjoy this book. It’s a refreshing take on the role sports can play in bringing people together, on the worldview of a suburban adolescent, and on the life lessons one can take away from disappointment and loyalty.

Well done, Carl.

Postscript: For me, this book was like a time machine. I remember my confusion trying to make sense of national politics and race relations at the same time, like Carl, that I found refuge in the sports section of the newspaper. I also vividly remember many of the ballplayers whose names are sprinkled throughout this book: Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson. They were the luminous stars of the early ’60s, when I played Little League, and fantasized about succeeding Maury Wills as the Dodgers shortstop.

Decluttering ahead of ‘death cleaning’

george kindergarten

My first Hawaiian shirt at age 6. Kindergarten, Decoto School, in Union City, California.

OK, so spring has come and gone and we’re a few days into the summer of 2018. At least Lori and I have begun acting on a pledge we made to each other earlier this year: to start ridding ourselves of unneeded, unwanted possessions.

If your garage looks like ours, you’ve probably accumulated more stuff than you need. In our case, plastic bins and cardboard boxes line two sides of our single-car garage, reaching toward the ceiling. Most containers are stacked neatly on top and next to each other, but some are leaning over like a drunk.

A lot of this we brought with us when we moved out of the home we lived in for nearly 30 years, the place where we raised our three children. We downsized big-time when we made the move to this brand-new townhouse in the fall of 2009. But now we’ve been here nearly nine years and not only have we hung on to what we brought, but we’ve managed to add to the clutter.

Do we really need four bicycles? Why do we keep shoes and clothing we haven’t worn in years? And who knows what’s in some of these boxes anyway?

***

Americans are known for being pack rats. But there’s another approach that’s caught my attention.

Several months ago The Washington Post published a feature article about a Swedish woman in her 80s who’d just published a book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

As the article explained, “The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called ‘dostadning,’ is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) ”

The main message from author Margareta Magnusson is this: “Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair.”

Or, put more bluntly, “If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.”

 

Fair enough.

Just to be clear, we’re not decluttering because we see The Grim Reaper on the horizon. No, we’re doing so with a simple objective: to reclaim some more space for ourselves.

We started two Saturdays ago with several boxes and continued this past weekend with an overdue assault on a closet and a trunk in a spare bedroom. It’s amazing how much paper one can collect in the form of back taxes, canceled checks, and all manner of work-related materials. I plead guilty in the first degree.

Read about Swedish ‘death cleaning’ here

***

Magnusson, the Swedish author, suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age. And she suggests that you don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything.

I’ve heeded that advice for the most part. Still, going through all this stuff, you’re bound to come across things that give you pause, spanning the years from childhood to parenthood to empty nester. So many items that reflect your status as son, husband, father, as well as student, employee and professor.

For example:

  • Family photos depicting changing hairstyles and fashion choices.
  • Grade school photos, book-ended by my gap-toothed smile as a kindergartner and my dorky high school graduation portrait.
  • A book of autographs from Major League Baseball players, including one from Hall of Fame inductee Willie Stargell.
  • Hard copies of the news stories I wrote for a beginning journalism class at San Jose State and for which I earned an A (whew!). And by hard copies, I mean typewritten words on old-school plain copy paper.
  • Business cards from The Argus, my hometown newspaper in Fremont, California, where I began as a part-time prep sports writer while attending college. Phone number only; no web address, of course.
  • A huge cache of yellowing newspapers and glossy materials relating to my three-decade career at The Oregonian, including: Stories and columns that I wrote. Sunday Opinion cover stories that I conceived and edited. Slick pamphlets that I used to recruit top prospects to Portland. Binders full of tips and best practices that I picked up at training conferences from California to Florida. Tip sheets from various speakers at our in-house training sessions. Programs from job fairs, journalism conventions and writing workshops that I attended and sometimes organized.
  • A treasure trove of documents relating to the newsroom internship program I ran for 10 years. In one folder, bios on a couple of interns who were starting work on the same day (hello, Esme Bermudez and Yvonne Ngai). In another folder, a roster of the 2004 summer intern class (including Melissa Navas, Sophia Tareen, Niki Sullivan, Shannon McMahon, April Simpson and Christine Yee.) In yet another folder, students’ autobiographical essays that resonate as powerfully today as the day I first read them 20 years ago.
  • Payment stubs for an array of prescription drugs and medical services — hospitals, physicians, ambulances, nursing homes — that piled up in the waning months of my mother’s life. As her financial representative, it was my responsibility to keep up with those obligations.

 

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Sifting through all the above and much more felt a little like an archaeological dig. It unearthed feelings of pride, seeing how rich my personal and professional lives have been; of sadness, knowing some family members and co-workers are gone forever; and of regret, seeing so much valuable journalistic content get tossed into the recycling bin.

All in all, I have no complaints. This decluttering will be cathartic. It will take us the rest of the summer, I am sure, but the time and effort will be worth it. A little more breathing room for Lori and me will be nice, even if we’re still years away from a serious “death cleaning.”