Shot in the Heart: A Portland story

People of a certain age might remember Gary Gilmore as one of America’s most notorious criminals. Sentenced to death after murdering two innocent men in Utah, he was executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977, just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty.

I was living in Bend, Oregon, at the time and, as an opponent of capital punishment, I still remember being shocked when I learned from a radio news report that he’d been put to death.

These days, I have another reason to remember Gilmore and, frankly, it’s hard to shake. Turns out that Gilmore not only grew up in Portland, but one of his crimes was committed about a mile away from where I live. As a teenager, he raped a 14-year-old girl in an apartment on a street that I drive on virtually every week.

Creepy? To say the least.

I learned of that sordid crime and much, much more from reading “Shot in the Heart,” a sad but beautifully written memoir by Mikal Gilmore about his brother Gary and their dysfunctional family. I read the book last year and found myself drawn into it despite the dark subject matter, but I’ve never written about it until now.

Picking it up again, I was startled to realize it was published in 1994 — some 25 years ago. And thumbing through it, I am reminded of the powerful, honest writing that propelled me through 400 pages of a book that one reviewer called “mesmerizing…riveting and immensely moving.”

“You were Gary Gilmore’s younger brother, weren’t you? What did it feel like, having him die like that?” he was often asked.

“I was never really sure how to answer that question,” he wrote. “But I hated it every time the questions were asked. I tried for years to be polite or thick-skinned about it….I felt that nobody would ever forget or forgive me just for being that dead f—— killer’s brother. I learned a bit of what it’s like to live on in the aftermath of the punishment: as a living relative, you have to take on some of the burden and legacy of the punishment. People can no longer insult or hurt Gary Gilmore, but because you are his brother — even if you’re not much like him — they can aim it at you.

“It’s as if anybody who has emerged from a family that yielded a murderer must also be formed by the same causes, the same evil, must in some way also be responsible for the violence that resulted, must also bear the mark of a frightening and shameful heritage. It’s as if there is guilt in the simple fact of the bloodline itself.”

Gary Gilmore in Portland Police Bureau mug shots.

Gary Gilmore’s death ended a virtual moratorium on capital punishment that had lasted nearly 10 years in the United States, and it spawned a novel and a movie that both won critical acclaim.

Norman Mailer wrote a fact-based novel (The Executioner’s Song, 1979) about Gilmore that won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Mailer then adapted the book into a movie (1982) that starred Tommy Lee Jones as Gilmore and won the actor an Emmy Award.

Twelve years later, Mikal Gilmore wrote his memoir.

I already knew Mikal was an accomplished journalist as a music writer for Rolling Stone. What I didn’t know was that he was born here and grew up with his family in Southeast Portland (in the same impoverished neighborhood where Lori and I first lived when we first moved here) and in suburban Milwaukie (where I got my first reporting job in Oregon). Mikal attended Milwaukie High School and later graduated from Portland State University, where I now teach.

Author Mikal Gilmore (rollingstone.com)

But “Shot in the Heart” is not about Mikal. It is about his mom and dad and three older brothers, all of whom were scarred by the violence that defined their everyday life. The father, Frank Gilmore, was a petty criminal who beat his young wife, Bessie, and did the same to his sons, Frank Jr., Gary and Gaylen. Mikal, the youngest by seven years and born when his dad was 61, escaped that treatment.

Gary suffered the worst of those beatings, and he rebelled. As a young teen, he began ditching school and staying out late, drinking and smoking weed. Soon enough, he turned to the criminal life, stealing cars and robbing stores. To my astonishment, I found the book riddled with references to streets and places I know: 82nd Avenue, 52nd and Division, Johnson Creek Boulevard, Northeast Weidler Street (where the rape occurred).

Gary did time at MacLaren’s Reform School for Boys in Woodburn, the Rocky Butte Jail in east Portland, the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He was arrested in Washington, Idaho, California and Texas before making his way to Utah, where he fatally shot a gas station attendant and a motel manager while on parole. He was 36 when he was executed — shot in the heart by a firing squad.

Nothing can excuse Gary Gilmore’s life of crime, culminating in the murders in Provo, Utah. But it’s also obvious that his father’s brutish, violent behavior helped set him on that path and, likewise, contributed to the death of his brother Gaylen, at age 27, from complications from a stabbing.

Sad to say, hope for any semblance of normal life was snuffed out at an early age for young Gary.

“My family’s ruin did not end with Gary, because it had not started with him,” Mikal, now 68, concludes. “…I realized I had grown up in a family that would not continue. There were four sons, and none of us went on to have our own families. We did not go on to spread any legacy or dynasty, to extend or fulfill any of our needs, kind or cruel, damaged or conscientious, through children. We didn’t even have kids in order to beat or ruin them as we had one been beaten or ruined…

“It’s as if what had happened to in our family was so awful that it had to end with us, it had to stop, and that to have children was to risk the perpetuation of that ruin.”

“Shot in the Heart” is hardly uplifting reading. But it is searingly honest and infused with empathy and insight. It truly is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

Advertisements

So long, WSUV. Hello, PSU.


Lights are off. Semester is done. Time for a new chapter as a college instructor.

After class last week, I went through the usual routine. Turned off the A/V projector. Grabbed my dry-erase markers, textbook and file folders and zipped ’em into my shoulder bag. Turned off the lights and shut the door.

Wistfully, I headed off to the parking lot. I had just given the final exam in my Sports and the Media class, and it would be the last time I would go through this routine.

After three years of teaching at Washington State University Vancouver, it was time to close the book (literally) and look forward to what comes next.

I’ve been offered a one-year, full-time faculty position at Portland State University for the 2018-19 academic year. In order to accept the job, I had to say no to further employment at WSUV.

While I’m excited to step into an expanded role at Portland State, I regret that it comes at the price of giving up the good thing I had going at WSUV. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mix of students and small-college feel of this public university in southwest Washington, where many, like myself, are first-generation college students.

What does all this mean?

First, it means I can take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr. Narayanan Iyer, director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV, for hiring me as an adjunct instructor in January 2017. Known affectionately to students and staff as Nanu, he gave me the chance to teach three different courses over my time there, stretching across the spring, summer and fall semesters.

Read “Cougartown” for a look back at my first semester at WSUV

I had no idea what Integrated Strategic Communications meant when I began. But I now know it includes a broad-based curriculum that touches on public relations, advertising, multimedia content creation, social media and digital content management, and a whiff of journalism.

I wasn’t there to teach journalism, per se. But through my Sports and the Media class and others that I taught — Media Ethics and Reporting Across Platforms — I sought to introduce students to the multimedia reporting skills and industry challenges facing digital-era journalists.

Second, I can say “thank you” to a host of professionals who gave generously of their time and expertise. Students heard directly from these guest speakers about the skills and attributes it takes to be a front-line journalist; about the professional relationships one must build with sources, including athletes and coaches; and about the ethical quandaries they encounter almost daily in the course of doing their jobs.

These talented men and women opened students’ eyes to the nasty trolling one puts up with on social media, most frequently aimed at women journalists. And in a couple of cases, speakers talked about the mental health issues that confront athletes, as well as what it feels like to be the subject of media coverage.

Here’s a heartfelt “thank you” to all who spoke to my students over these past three years: Lindsay Schnell, Jamie Goldberg. Tom Goldman, Casey Holdahl, Rich Burk, Chris Metz, Tyson Alger, Gina Mizell, Taylor Ricci, Nathan Braaten, Brenda Tracy, Mark Mohammadpour, Dianne Danowski-Smith, Chris Broderick, Beth Nakamura, Stephanie Yao-Long, Lillian Mongeau, Steve Woodward, Katy Sword, David Lippoff, Will Ulbricht, Kate Lesniak, Anna Griffin and Kyle Iboshi.

Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten came up from Corvallis this year to talk about mental health issues facing student-athletes, citing their own experiences at Oregon State University.

A special thanks goes out to Evelyn Smith, who was the only and one teaching assistant I had. She was a rock star during the Media and Society class I taught last fall, and graduated in December.

So what’s next?

Next school year, I’ll be teaching two courses each during the fall, winter and spring quarters at Portland State, while continuing to coordinate the academic internship program in the Department of Communication.

I’ll begin in September with Media Literacy, my bread-and-butter course, and Media Ethics — two very timely and essential topics.

Before then, I’ll head off to the U.K. this summer to teach Media Literacy in London. It will be my second time leading this study-abroad course through Portland State, and I’m looking forward to having 10 students this time, up from 6 last year.

It’s a two-week course that runs July 8-22. This time, Lori will join me at the tail end of the program and we’ll enjoy being tourists for a few days.

It’s been a great ride, Vancouver. I look forward to more of the same, Portland.


Though I’m excited about what comes next, I’ll miss the small-college feel of WSU Vancouver.

Sunshine and softball

Pink ribbons symbolizing cancer awareness flank the Portland State logo at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro.

As a sports fan and member of the Portland State University faculty, I’ve always wanted to be supportive of our school’s student-athletes. Friday afternoon gave me a chance to do that, with the women’s softball team holding its final home stand of the season in nearby Hillboro.

I set aside a pile of papers I was grading and made the 20-minute drive to the Gordon Faber Recreational Complex, where I took a seat behind home plate and settled in for a couple hours of exciting action on a sun-drenched afternoon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to show up.

— The Lady Vikings were taking on Weber State, the first-place team in the Sky West Conference in which PSU competes. The visitors from Utah had a 12-1 record in conference play compared to Portland State’s 7 wins, 7 losses.

Handmade signs show support for family and friends during the StrikeOut Cancer game.

— The Viks were wearing pink jerseys because they were hosting a StrikeOut Cancer game. The outfield grass featured two giant pink ribbons on either side of the school logo, and two cancer survivors — each related to a Portland State player — threw out a ceremonial first pitch. On the receiving end of the pitches were the daughter and niece of those respective cancer survivors.

A breast cancer survivor prepares to embrace her niece, a PSU player, after throwing a ceremonial first pitch.

— Coincidentally, one of the players was a former student of mine. I had Kaela Morrow in the very first class I taught at PSU, when she was just a sophomore. She earned all-conference honors last year as a junior, and on Saturday she was one of three players honored during Senior Day at the final home game of the season.

Kaela Morrow, star athlete and star student, between games of Friday’s doubleheader.

— During the just-completed winter quarter, Kaela was among a group of Communications majors I supervised in an academic internship class. She got a taste of journalism by writing a blog for the PSU Athletic Department called Kaela’s Corner, which she used to interview teammates and provide an insider’s view of the season’s ups and downs.

The game I watched Friday was well-played and closely contested. Weber State took a 3-2 lead into the final inning and scored 4 more runs, only to have Portland State rally with a two-out, 3-run home run that cut the deficit to a final score of 7-5. (I didn’t stick around for the second game of the doubleheader, but Weber State won that one, too.)

What I saw was plenty entertaining. These young women are superb athletes. I saw outfielders make diving catches, and infielders make back-handed stops and sharp throws. The pitchers for each team zipped the ball hard and fast, resulting in an audible “pop” every time it landed in the catcher’s mitt. Batters whacked the ball or laid down bunts, and displayed considerable speed running the bases.

The Lady Vikings gather with their coach after a tough 7-5 loss.

The atmosphere was as casual as could be. The players on each team served as their own cheerleaders. Sporting ribbons in their hair and paint on their faces, they cheered, chanted and clapped, and exchanged elaborate high-fives during pre-game introductions. You could sense a real camaraderie among the players.

As a spectator, you could sit on metal bleachers behind home plate or either side of it, or stand wherever you liked. (Weber State had a rooting section of its own along the first-base line.)

You could also watch from a grassy berm beyond the outfield fence, and plenty of spectators chose to do that, sunning themselves in the process. I made my way out there during the last inning and was pleasantly surprised when the Vikings’ clean-up hitter bashed a fly ball that sailed over the left field fence. The yellow ball landed a few feet away from me and I scooped it up, thinking what a cool souvenir it would make. A member of the PSU game crew came out to get it, however, and I gave it up without a second thought.

A home run by Rachel Manlove landed a few feet away from me.

In my three years of teaching at PSU, I’ve had various athletic team members in my classes, ranging from football, basketball and soccer to the most recent, tennis, cross country, and track and field. I’ve managed to see two men’s basketball games, but nothing else.

Teaching Sports and the Media this year, I’ve gained a greater respect for these young men and women who compete at the NCAA’s Division I level. Not only must they put in long hours of practice and travel time, they often have to deal with injuries, high performance expectations from coaches and fans, and mental stress — all while keeping up with their studies.

Friday was a chance to show support for the softball team while taking a much-needed break from my own workload. I’d call that a win-win, no matter what the scoreboard said.

London stories: The journalists’ church

St. Bride’s Church and its magnificent steeple can be found just off Fleet Street, where print journalism began in the early 1500s.

One of the most indelible memories of my trip to London last summer was the visit to St. Bride’s Church, also known as The Journalists’ Church.

The church is situated just off historic Fleet Street, where the British printing press was established in the early 1500s. My Media Literacy students and I were there on a field trip to learn more about that history when our tour guide led us into a quiet courtyard and pointed out the elegant structure designed by the famed architect, Sir Christopher Wren.

The entrance to St. Bride’s Church

According to historians, St. Bride’s roots go back to shortly after the Roman invasion of 43 A.D., making it one of the oldest sites of worship in Britain. This is the eighth church on the site, succeeding others lost over the years to fire, World War II bombs and other causes.

Little did I know of what awaited us inside — a pristine interior with lit candles and an altar dedicated to the memories of journalists who have died in the course of their duties around the world. 

Seldom have I been moved as much as I was by this tribute to the men and women who work so selflessly and courageously to cover wars and other events around the globe, as well as happenings in local communities.

On the day we visited, there was a newspaper story that recently had been added to the display — an account of the four journalists and a sales associate who were killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, by a gunman upset by coverage of his failed defamation lawsuit against the newspaper.

Less than a month before our visit, 5 people were killed at the Capital Gazette in Maryland in the deadliest attack on journalists in recent U.S. history.

I was reminded of their deaths — and of my visit to this hallowed space — when the Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this month. Along with honors bestowed on leading organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, the Pulitzer judges awarded a special citation to the Capital Gazette for its “courageous response” in covering the deadly shooting at its own offices, coupled with a $100,000 bequest to further its journalistic mission.

I was reminded, too, by the death of a young journalist just days ago in the United Kingdom. Lyra McKee was killed April 19 while reporting on a night of violent unrest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She was 29 years old.

Around the world, 54 journalists were killed in reprisal for their work in 2018 — three times as many as the year before — according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The tally includes Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder allegedly was ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. As we all know, President Trump refused to cast blame despite a CIA assessment that the prince had ordered the killing.

My students were touched just as I was during the half-hour we spent inside McBride’s. Though it was sad for all of us, I was heartened to see them move slowly through the pews, taking in the names of reporters, photographers and others who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their profession and the public.

In a class discussion afterward, one student said through tears that the visit had forever changed his perception of the news media and his appreciation for the First Amendment freedoms we enjoy in the United States.

It was a profound experience for me as well, and one I look forward to repeating with another group of students when I return to the U.K. in July.

Life after graduation from WSUV

Spring semester is winding down after 16 weeks at Washington State University Vancouver, and I’ve got to say it’s a very satisfying feeling.

I gave my last lecture on Thursday, a day after attending an event that recognized the 17 graduating seniors in the Integrated Strategic Communications program at WSUV, and I’ll spend part of this weekend preparing next week’s final exam.

I’m sure students are relishing the end of the term. So many of them are working in addition to their coursework, and I know they’ve dealt with various stresses along the way.

Me? I won’t mind at all having a lighter teaching load along with more leisure time, but I will miss the regular interactions with students and seeing their intellectual growth.

Fortunately, there are events like Wednesday’s end-of-year event to recognize graduating seniors and look ahead with them to what lies beyond.

For starters, the Strat Com program, which prepares students for careers in public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism, honored one of my students, Brendan Nuzum, as Communicator of the Year.

Dr. Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer with Brendan Nuzum, winner of the Communicator of the Year award.

Also, my colleagues, Program Director Nanu Iyer and Assistant Professor Liz Candello, facilitated a panel discussion featuring five recent Strat Com grads who are working as communications professionals or pursuing a masters degree in the field.

They shared some familiar advice: Develop a versatile skill set. Get some internship experience before you graduate. Network like crazy. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Turn your inexperience into an asset by emphasizing the fresh perspectives you can bring. And don’t underestimate the value of likability. No one wants to work with a difficult person.

Lastly, I was able to congratulate a handful of students in person. The list of 17 Strat Com grads includes 11 students I’ve had in my classes, including three in the Sports and the Media class I taught this spring.

Among those in the Class of 2019 is Billy Gordon, one of the most outgoing and popular students on campus. At age 64, Billy is finally getting his degree. I so admire Billy, who overcame an inferior public school education in the Jim Crow South and contributed mightily to our class discussions in Sports and the Media as a former track athlete himself.

Another is Bailley Simms, who took my Reporting Across Platforms class as a sophomore and rose to become editor of The VanCougar student magazine while securing a PR internship this summer. She’s handing off the editor’s chair to Anna Nelson, another former student who also was among those traveled to the UK last summer to take my Media Literacy in London course.

As a final note, I made sure to include this interview with baseball writer Claire Smith as part of the last class meeting this week. https://youtu.be/TP7_RJHRWAw

Don’t know her? You should.

Coming of age in a poor Texas border town

You know those little free libraries that you find on city streets? The ones that people stock with books to encourage passers-by to take one or leave one?

I helped myself to one earlier this year in my neighborhood and it turned out to be a gem.

“The Boy Kings of Texas” is a memoir by Domingo Martinez. It was a 2012 National Book Award finalist and I can see why. He is a gifted storyteller.

I recognized the author’s name, having come upon it two years ago when he wrote an essay about Brownsville, titled “How Scared Should People on the Border Be?” It’s the same south Texas city that would burst into the international spotlight a year later as immigrant families were separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

With sardonic humor, brutal honesty and luminous prose, Martinez writes of growing up poor with his Mexican American family in Brownsville, a place he describes as miserably hot and humid and devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Bored, uninspired in school, at odds with his womanizing, macho father, and feeling left behind when his older brother enlists in the military, Domingo despairs of being stuck in his hometown hugging the Rio Grande River.

He escapes eventually as a young college dropout and moves to Seattle, where he welcomes the rain and marvels at the “sincere and institutionalized absence of racial prejudice” in the Pacific Northwest city. It’s a far cry from what he knew in Brownsville: small minds, dead-end jobs, racial prejudice.

In 33 chapters spilling across more than 400 pages in this gently worn book, Martinez writes with a range of emotions — love, hate, hope, resentment, heartbreak and angst — as he describes growing up between two cultures in a house too often filled with violence, family drama and put-downs.

I could relate to a certain degree as Martinez reminisced about his barrio childhood, referring to curanderas (folk healers), Catholicism and his domineering Gramma, a pistol-packing, take-no-crap character that reminded me of my late mother. I could see myself in the same uncomfortable position as him, someone who stood out among the Mexican kids in grade school as someone who was bright and spoke fluent English.

But our experiences diverged wildly as we reached our teenage years. Whereas Domingo drank, used drugs and rebelled against his perceived lot in life, I walked a straight and narrow path to a four-year degree and after graduation moved to Oregon from my native California. Though I grew up in a Chicano neighborhood in a blue-collar town, I came of age in a middle-class, predominantly white suburb of San Francisco at a time when assimilation was the order of the day. No reckless behavior for me during my teen years.

Domingo Martinez with his grandmother Virginia Campos Rubio, a central figure in his “Boy Kings of Texas,” a National Book Award nominee. (Photograph by Brad Doherty)

Not so for Martinez. At one point in the book, he rages: “Seventeen years I’ve lived my life in this outpost, alone, isolated and with an eroding sense of wonder about America at large. I can dream of nothing but getting out of here and exploring the rest of the country, watching leaves turn color and following the winter; I want out of this shit hole of a border down at the bottom of Texas, out of this racist, ignorant, locus-eating, lower Texas toxic hell pit. I’ve endured my father, my grandmother, years of pathetic education, beatings, berations, concentrations of shame, and this heat most hellish. All I have to do is graduate high school in a few weeks and I can leave, I’ve been told. And I have listened. I don’t care what the means are. The military, a bus ticket, this “college” thing other people talked about, stowing away — I just want out. Out of here.”


The current border fence between the United States and Mexico runs along the road directly across from a residential area in Brownsville. (Photograph by Daniel Borris for The New York Times)

I sense that my praise for Martinez’s work falls short, so let me share a couple of quotes about this “lyrical and gritty” book from others.

“Martinez has a gift for storytelling, with alternately good-natured and sardonic wit, and quirky pop culture reference points.” — The Seattle Times.

“His stories are as eye-poppingly and bruisingly painful as they are funny.” — The Washington Post.

And then there is this, from author Carlos Eire, a National Book Award winner himself: “Domingo Martinez writes like an angel — an avenging angel who instead of bringing wrath to a fallen world redeems it by using beautiful prose to turn the most awful and gritty realities into transcendent gems. This is also a significant historical-document, a first-person account that reveals one corner of America as it has seldom been seen. What a voice, what a story, what a testament to the transforming power of self-knowledge and the right choice of words.”

Damn. Wish I’d written that. At least I had the good sense to pick this memoir out of the free little library a few blocks from my home.

Spring break in Ithaca

Granddaughter Emalyn with our son Jordan at breakfast in Ithaca, New York.

Earlier this month, I reached the midpoint of the spring semester at WSU Vancouver. Along with a break from classes, this meant the opportunity had finally arrived to travel back east to see our youngest son and his family.

A six-day visit to Ithaca, New York, and its surroundings went by quickly and smoothly. Lori and I got to spend time with Jordan and Jamie, but also with our beautiful, whip-smart granddaughter, Emalyn.

Emmy is a golden-haired, blue-eyed bundle of energy, talking at the top of her voice out of sheer excitement to be alive, awake and in the same room as her Noni Lori or Papa George. She loves books, animals, insects, walking, talking, hiking, playing with dolls or toys, playing make-believe — heck, just about anything.

During our time there, we got hugs and smiles, giggles and belly laughs. Emmy turns 3 in July and it’s wonderful to see her growing up in such a healthy, wholesome home. That’s due to the wonderful parenting of our daughter-in-law Jamie and youngest son Jordan.

They’ve made a lovely home for the three of them in a small but cozy two-bedroom rental in a rural area south of Ithaca, the college town in Central New York that is home to Cornell University, where Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D in microbiology. Ithaca, with about 30,000 residents is about four hours northwest of New York City.

They moved there last summer. Lori and I flew back for a few days to help them move in, and Lori paid a solo return visit in November. The Finger Lakes region of New York is known for its cold climate, so we packed our warmest clothes on this trip, anticipating we might deal with late-season snowfall.

The weather gods cut us a break. We had light snow on the first morning after we arrived and brief snow flurries on the day we left. In between, it was mostly temps in the low 30s, dropping into the teens at night; one day, it even warmed up to the high 50s, allowing Emmy and me to take a sunny afternoon walk on the property.

Ithaca is located on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, one of 11 long, narrow, roughly north-south lakes that resemble outstretched fingers. We went into the city a couple times for meals and another time for errands and grocery shopping. On one of those days, we also visited the Sciencenter, a wonderful place to explore for kids and adults.

Otherwise, we hung out at home, warmed by a woodstove fire while trying our best to keep up with Emalyn and enjoying the company of their well-behaved dog, Jax, and their cat, Sage, a gray furball who makes herself at home on any and all laps.

We made time for an outing one day while Jordan was at the lab. It was a half-hour drive to Watkins Glen State Park, a scenic wonder that was still encased in snow. According to the tourism website, “An almost two mile hike will take you past 19 waterfalls and up over 800 stone steps.”

The main Gorge trail was closed but we still had great views of frozen waterfalls and the icy-blue water snaking through the middle of everything.

Later that day brought unexpected sunshine. I had a choice — get my running gear on to jog along a country road or take a walk with my granddaughter toward a wooded area with a creek and small waterfall. I chose Emmy. She’s a good hiker, very agile and determined to scale a small slope on her own rather than take a helping hand.

The evening before we left, I picked up Jordan from campus and we had father-son time at the Ithaca Beer Co. brewpub. Two pizzas and a couple of frosty mugs later, it was time to wrap up our conversation and head back to join everyone for some TV.

We ended the visit Saturday morning with breakfast at a place with a view of Cayuga Lake, said our goodbyes, then headed to the airport. It was a nice visit, long enough to settle in but not long enough to not overstay our welcome. Already looking forward to our next visit.

Mental health: End the stigma

Oregon State student-athletes Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten, co-founders of the #DamWorthIt campaign, on the WSUV campus.

When I sat down earlier this year to review plans for this semester’s Sports and the Media class, I knew I’d be raising issues of race, gender, politics, economics and technology. This year I decided to add a new topic: mental health.

After back-to-back classes this week on the subject, highlighted by two student-athletes who came in as guest speakers to deliver a powerful peer-to-peer presentation, I could see the value of adding it to the syllabus. My only regret was not doing it sooner.

Think about it. If you’re a college athlete, you’re trying to balance your academics with the demands of grueling practices, traveling to games, and the expectations of performing at a high level in your sport, in front of screaming crowds and national television audiences. Throw in concerns about injuries and playing time, and that’s a whole lot of pressure on your young shoulders.

Taylor Ricci, a gymnast, and Nathan Braaten, a soccer player, endured those experiences during their athletic careers at Oregon State University. Further motivated by the deaths of teammates who died by suicide 11 months apart, they co-founded a campaign, using the platform of sports, to spark conversation about mental health issues at universities around the country.

Their campaign is called #DamWorthIt — a play on words involving the school’s Beaver mascot — and the Twitter hashtag #EndTheStigma is at the heart of it. Since launching the initiative a little over a year ago, their campaign has received national recognition and the Pac-12 Conference has awarded them a $60,000 grant to take their message — that “It’s OK to not be OK” — to student-athletes and coaching staffs at all the member schools.

On Thursday, the two of them drove up from Corvallis to speak to my students at Washington State University Vancouver. Taylor and Nathan presented a slideshow and a video, and told their individual stories of facing mental health challenges as scholarship athletes and top-tier students expected to maintain a facade of perfection.

Taylor, originally from North Vancouver, British Columbia, began competing at age 4 and committed to Oregon State’s nationally ranked gymnastics team as a 14-year-old, rising to become team captain at OSU. A Kinesiology Pre-Med major, she graduated last spring and is awaiting word on her applications to begin medical school in the fall.

Nathan, from Littleton, Colorado, was recruited to play midfielder. He is a Business and Finance major who interned for Nike last summer and will return to the company as a full-time employee after graduation this spring. Both he and Taylor were named Academic All-Americans.

Needless to say, they stand out as shining examples of smart and successful young people. But there’s the catch. As they note, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental health illness in a given year — and the proportion is even higher among college students.

Taylor and Nathan spoke with honesty and conviction about their stresses and what drove each of them to see a therapist. The implication was clear for my students. If high achievers like these two can ask for professional help, any of them should feel free to do the same — or, at least, check in with friends who might benefit from similar encouragement.

In three years of teaching at two campuses, I have seen many young adults in my classes struggle with challenges involving family and finances, academics and health, romance and roommates, car troubles and work schedules, as well as incarcerated siblings, and immigrant parents facing deportation. No wonder a good many of them are stressed out or experiencing depression.

The #DamWorthIt campaign launched in January 2018, the same week that Tyler Hilinski, a universally admired WSU quarterback, took his own life on the Pullman campus. Because of that tragic coincidence, our guest speakers said they have felt a special bond with WSU.

On Thursday, it was gratifying to see Taylor and Nathan connect so powerfully with a message designed by students for students.

One student wrote to me later to say: ” (T)his week I made a big step to see a therapist and after my visit I realized that it wasn’t a form of weakness but of strength. The timing of this topic could not have been better.”

Another one said this: “Their presentation made me want to stop and be more present for the people in my life. I know that we all get busy and we carry our own lives, but it is important to be present and in the moment for the people important to you. By being present, we are able to hopefully notice signs of the people in our lives and notice that they might be struggling.”

I am indebted to Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten for sharing their stories and bringing light to a subject that’s still shrouded in shame. Had I not noticed a short story on their efforts in a Sports Illustrated article in January, I would not have been aware of their trailblazing efforts to address a hidden epidemic. They responded graciously to my emails inviting them to come up to Vancouver and left having made a lasting impression on my students and me.

#DamWorthIt, all right.

London stories: A feast for the eyes

George at the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of London’s finest.

I don’t want to jinx myself, but things seem to be ramping up quite nicely for the 2.0 version of my Media Literacy in London course.

As of Tuesday, when I held the last of four information sessions about the course, a total of 14 students on two campuses have opened applications to be part of the class this year, with a couple more expected in the coming days. Six students participated last year in the inaugural year, and I hope to register 10-12 for the two-week program in July.

While Portland State’s Education Abroad office has been amazingly supportive with suggestions and resources, it still falls upon the individual faculty member to market a study abroad course like this one. So, in addition to getting the word out by speaking to several Communications classes since September, I’ve been sharing photos from last year’s trip during the info sessions.

And, hey, that gives me a good excuse to share some of my favorites here.

From the moment I landed at Heathrow Airport, I knew I was in for an amazing experience in London. It’s an incredibly diverse, dynamic city where centuries-old buildings can be found alongside modern structures, and the history and traditions are everywhere you go.

Thanks to a panoramic bus tour on Day Two and a walking tour of Fleet Street on Day 8, both led by professional guides who were born and raised in London, my students and I got a wonderful introduction to the city and its history and many of its most famous landmarks.

With my students outside Buckingham Palace, the principal residence of Queen Elizabeth.

In between, on a Sunday morning, we also enjoyed a narrated tour of the city skyline as we floated along the River Thames toward Greenwich, a borough in southeast London that is a World Heritage Site and offers spectacular views from Greenwich Park.

I can’t possibly name them all, but I can say that I still remember fondly seeing such attractions as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here are some of the images from the summer of 2018. I’ll follow up with more, tied to specific themes, in the weeks and months to come.

Click on an image to move easily through the photo galleries.

Spacey Kacey in Portland

On Monday night, I was among the lucky fans who filled the Schnitz to see the remarkable Kacey Musgraves.

When tickets for Kacey Musgraves’ Portland show went on sale last fall, I wasted no time getting mine. I’d missed her on a couple of previous visits to the city, and I didn’t want it to happen a third time.

Well, talk about great timing. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall brought Kacey to town riding high on her Grammy Award-winning laurels of the previous weekend: Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, Best Country Solo Performance.

During a 90-minute set, she drew heavily from “Golden Hour,” her third and most accomplished album yet. She was great, almost effortlessly so.

I’ve been a fan of Kacey since she burst onto the scene in 2013 with “Same Trailer Different Park,” the debut album that earned her Best Country Album along with Best Country Song (Merry Go ‘Round) at the 2014 Grammys. It was a track from that same album, “Follow Your Arrow,” that I especially liked — a song that’s as un-country as you can imagine, with references to marijuana and a girl-on-girl kiss.

Kacey hails from a small town in Texas, and her voice is unmistakably country. Yet she continues to evolve as a songwriter with a sound that ranges from classic country to pop to ethereal to disco — yes, disco.

On Monday, I found myself appreciating several songs with lush melodies built on layers of instrumentation.

During mid-show introductions of her excellent band members, there were the usual ones on guitar, drums and bass, but also on banjo, pedal steel guitar, cello and keyboards.

Kacey says of her music: “Undeniably, I’m a country singer; I’m a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music and for people who don’t.”

If you’ve never heard Kacey Musgraves, give a listen to the videos below, recorded live in Los Angeles, London and New York. All are from the new album. “Wonder Woman” is mid-tempo. “Golden Hour” is mellow. “High Horse” is a throwback to the days of disco. It’s the song she saved for last Monday night, the one that got everyone out of their seats.



From my seat in the upper balcony, I could hold my thumb and forefinger an inch apart and squint toward the stage, where I could see Kacey: a distant, slender figure in a shimmery outfit, with long dark hair and a relaxed stage presence that invited everyone to enjoy a golden hour and a half of wonderful music.

There she is. A tiny figure as seen from Section 1, Row V, Seat 1.

She calls herself @spaceykacey on Instagram, but she came across as pretty down-to-earth to me, relaxed and relatable.

At just 30 years old (yikes, one year younger than our youngest child), Kacey Musgraves has already collected six Grammys and won a worldwide following. I don’t know what she’ll do to top “Golden Hour,” but I’m pretty sure she’ll find a way.