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.

***

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.

***

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

 

Ohio on my mind

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On the Cincinnati riverfront in May 2016.

The Buckeye State and the Beaver State have so little in common that it’s hard to think of a logical start to this post.

Ohio is a typical Midwestern state stretching from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River, a political swing state with a big industrial base but also a big chunk of poverty-stricken Appalachia. With 12 million people, its population triples that of Oregon.

Oregon has the Pacific Coast, the Cascade Mountains and Crater Lake, and is a reliably blue state, one of just five left where Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses in the legislature. We’re so predictable that neither Trump nor Clinton campaigned here last year, knowing that our few electoral votes would go to Hillary.

So I’m just going to dive in and say that as a longtime Oregonian, it’s odd to realize how much the state of Ohio has intruded on my consciousness during the past year.

The connection took root last spring when I spent some time in Ohio at the tail end of a whirlwind trip whose main purpose was to see four baseball games in three cities in the space of five days. I began in Pittsburgh, then shimmied over to Ohio.

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My rental car and airbnb rental in the Ohio City historic district of Cleveland.

I saw one game in Cleveland and spent the night there, then drove to Cincinnati and did the same there.

Before then, I’d passed through Cleveland twice before in the mid-70s as a college student heading to summer internships in Washington, D.C., and again more recently on a road trip with my daughter to get her settled for graduate school in Pittsburgh. We made time to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Years earlier, Simone and I also got a look at Oberlin College, on the outskirts of Cleveland, as she was considering where to go for undergraduate school. (Thank goodness, she didn’t choose Oberlin.)

In any case, here’s how Ohio has burrowed itself into my mind:

— When I visited in May, the first highway sign that greeted me upon entering the state bore the name of Governor John Kasich. Hey, remember him?

— Arriving early for the baseball game in downtown Cleveland, I was dazzled by Progressive Field, one of the most beautiful stadiums I’ve seen. In the fall, the Indians would return to the World Series and lose a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs.

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Progressive Field is a great venue. It was ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.

— A short walk away is Quicken Loans Arena, bearing larger-than-life images of LeBron James and his teammates. In June, a month after my visit, the Cavaliers would win the NBA Championship in a thrilling Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors. In July, delegates to the Republican National Convention would nominate Trump for president.

— In Cincinnati, I got to attend a Reds game with Anne Saker, my former co-worker at The Oregonian. A native Ohioan, she’s now working as a reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Peter Bhatia, my former boss in Portland, is now the editor at the Enquirer. The newspaper made the news last fall when its editorial board endorsed Clinton for president — the first time in nearly a century that it had backed a Democrat.

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— Before the game, I had lunch with Rachel Lippolis, a regular contributor to this blog over the years. Though we’ve been online friends for several years, this was the first time we’d met in person. Rachel, another native Ohioan, was pregnant then and became a mother in October. For some odd reason, her alma mater, Denison College, is represented among the college and university banners lining one wall of the entrance to the building where I work for an education nonprofit.

— That afternoon, I also explored the Queen City’s riverfront. Looking south into Kentucky, I hadn’t realized the Ohio River had served as the dividing line between the free North and the Southern slave states. It was a powerful, wrenching moment that stays with me still. Part of the reason why is that I spent some time in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, learning more about the region’s history and viewing museum exhibits that included an actual slave pen with shackles chained to the floor. Chilling.

— Back in Oregon, I became a grandparent in late July. Looking for a suitable gift for daughter-in-law Jamie, I stumbled upon a wonderful book and blog titled “Becoming Mother.” I  bought the book and sent off a complimentary email to its author, Sharon Tjaden-Glass.

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Sharon Tjaden-Glass

We became Facebook friends and soon enough, Sharon landed in this space as a guest blogger, writing about life in a swing state and then about the horror of discovering her baby’s due date was Inauguration Day. She lives in Dayton, a place I came nowhere near during my 2016 trip. I don’t imagine we’ll ever meet, but it’s still nice to connect with a millennial who’s a kindred spirit. (Her newborn son delayed his arrival until early February.)

— Two books I read during the latter half of 2016 were set in Ohio. One, by Celeste Ng, is titled “Everything I Never Told You,” and takes place in the late ’70s in the fictional small town of Middlewood. The novel is centered on the tensions within a family made up of a Chinese American father, an Anglo mother and their three reclusive children. The other, by J.D. Vance, is “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir of growing up amidst generational poverty and low educational expectations in Appalachia, first in eastern Kentucky and then in southwest Ohio, in the now-decaying steel town of Middletown.

— A Netflix movie that Lori and I rented was filmed on location in Ohio. “Liberal Arts” stars Josh Radnor as a disillusioned New Yorker who returns to campus at the invitation of a retiring favorite professor. The scenery at Kenyon College is breathtaking, reminiscent of Oregon’s many hues of green. And the movie, also starring Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister to the Olsen twins), is actually pretty good.

— Before the year ended, I met with another former co-worker, Steve Woodward, when I was looking for ideas to incorporate into my college teaching this term. Steve was a guest lecturer in two of my classes last week and, wouldn’t you know it, he too is from Dayton and a graduate of nearby Wright State University. Once a reporter and editor at The Oregonian, Steve is now CEO of his own online news startup and one of the most forward-thinking individuals I know.

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The “Sing the Queen City” 3D Art Sculpture, is the signature piece and part of the ArtWorks urban public art project known as “CincyInk.” (Photography by Brooke Hanna.)

I could go on about my discovery of a little indie band called Over The Rhine, named for a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Or about my newfound love of Cincinnati Chili, a no-beans chili made with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate that’s paired with spaghetti and shredded cheddar cheese. But that might make a person wonder if I’m thinking of moving to Ohio.

No. Way.

From the newsroom to the classroom

 

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The classroom where I teach two courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m five weeks deep into the 2017 winter quarter at Portland State University, already halfway done with the 10-week term. Across the river, five weeks in means I’m a third of the way though the 16-week spring semester at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m teaching one course at PSU on Monday-Wednesday and two at WSUV on Tuesday-Thursday and, yes, that’s keeping me plenty busy. (I also work four afternoons a week at a local nonprofit, but let’s not go there right now.)

As I write this on a Saturday morning, I’m struck by how fast the time goes, particularly when snow days force cancellation of classes — two at each campus — during the first two weeks. Throw in the King Day holiday and that’s another day we didn’t hold class at PSU.

But who’s complaining?

Fourteen months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive, I’ve got plenty on my plate.

***

Here I am this weekend with nearly 70 essays to grade, three chapters to read in three textbooks, two guest speakers to prepare for next week, and dates and times to confirm with a half-dozen more guests I’ve lined up in next couple of months.

Surely, this is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who teaches full-time or even as an adjunct. Classroom time is just part of the deal. Planning and prep time take up a lot of intellectual energy, too, but the many administrative tasks involved — grading papers, maintaining a grade book, posting weekly schedules and lecture notes online, emailing students — account for far more time.

But, again, who’s complaining?

When I agreed to teach three classes at once, I knew I was in for a challenge. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

There is no better time to be teaching Media Literacy than now. When you’ve got a new administration declaring war on the press, throwing out phony accusations of fake news, and offering “alternative facts” as a diversion from verifiable facts that show Trump and his minions in an unflattering light, well, it’s the perfect time for a course like this.

My students at PSU have eagerly engaged on the subject, admitting their own shortcomings when it comes to digital literacy but also getting quickly up to speed in understanding who is providing what content (news, opinion, advertising) on the internet and for what purpose.

In Vancouver, I’m having a great time teaching Sports and the Media, holding up organized sports as a mirror of society. Coverage of sports has gone so far beyond just games, scores and hero worship to an era of athlete activism and self-marketing and wart-and-all coverage of coaches, players and programs. I present sports as a mirror of society, touching on racism, sexism, politics, entertainment, marketing and campus sexual abuse, among other topics. (Great timing to have Super Bowl 51 come along to illustrate the intersection of so many of these themes.)

I’m also teaching Reporting Across Platforms, traditionally a writing-intensive course designed to prepare students for producing words and images for print, broadcast and digital. I’m going at it somewhat differently, in light of the fact that many students are non-communications majors (let alone non-journalism majors) and have never done journalism in their life.

Accordingly, I’m trying to provide more context about the challenges facing today’s multimedia journalists in an era of 24/7 news and social media rather than emphasize basic skills of reporting, interviewing, writing and tweeting. The students are taking baby steps, but they’re also getting introduced to media ethics and the realities of a profession under siege.

I’ll check in again when the quarter and semester are done.

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I met for coffee recently with Gosia Wozniacka, a former reporter at The Oregonian and the Associated Press, who is now teaching a journalism class at Clark College in Vancouver. We compared notes on teaching.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m making a difference in how these young people are seeing things more clearly now — and even putting actions behind their words.

At least three students have let me know they have begun subscribing to The Oregonian/OregonLive or least committed to buying the newspaper two days a week as a sign of their support for local journalism. Several more made it clear to me, in emails or in class discussions, that they now understand the importance of a free press in a democratic society and are changing their media consumption habits accordingly.

What more could a teacher ask for?

 

A bird, a bagel and a baby

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Early morning quiet on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

In the midst of our daily routines, little moments sometimes present themselves when you least expect them, leaving you with a sense of appreciation of what’s good in life.

That’s what happened to me on a single day this week. Three random things involving nature, a conversation with a stranger, and news of a child being born. Each thing was disconnected from the other, but every one came as a salve at a time of angst about our deep political divide.

***

Thursday morning, I left home earlier than usual to arrive in plenty of time to greet a guest speaker in my morning class at Washington State University Vancouver. I was walking from the parking lot to the edge of campus when a sweet sound caught my ear.

I looked up to the right and spotted a little bird perched in the bare branches of a tree, singing his morning song. It was a sparrow, I think, and in the stillness of the morning, before most students had arrived, there was nothing but that sweet sound to serenade me to the front door of the building where I was headed..

In the distance, the flattened white top of Mount St. Helens came into view, combining with the songbird to remind me of nature’s beauty.

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Can you see it? Just above the treeline, it’s Mount St. Helens.

***

I taught two classes that day and hustled out the door, destined to my afternoon job with a nonprofit in Portland. I was running a few minutes ahead of schedule, so I decided to exit the freeway and grab a snack.

I walked in the door of a Panera franchise and the woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile.

I ordered a coffee and bagel to go and, in less than two minutes, it was ready.

“Here you go,” she said. “Have a great day.”

“Thanks. That was fast. Where do I pay?”

She froze for an instant, then laughed.

“Oh, yeah. I totally forgot.”

Her name tag identified her as “Carrie” and “Manager.” No doubt she’s one of those overworked, underpaid managers who hire and train employees, keep things on track in the kitchen and on the floor and, during slack times like this one, run the cash register.

“Well,” I said, “you can’t say you don’t offer great customer service.”

She smiled.

“Come back for dinner and I just might give it to you free!”

***

Back in the parking lot, I checked my phone. On Facebook, a new acquaintance was announcing the birth of her second child, a son.

This was Sharon, someone who lives in Ohio and someone I’ve never met in person. I learned of her last year when I purchased her book, “Becoming Mother,” for our daughter-in-law. I emailed her to compliment her on her book and she responded warmly.

A couple more emails led to a Facebook friendship and two recent guest blog posts on Rough and Rede II. In one of those, written just after the November election that shocked the world, she despaired at the realization her baby was due on Inauguration Day.

So I was delighted to learn her baby had arrived — and to read, in a blog post she’d mostly written ahead of time, of the perspective she’d gained while her son took an extra two weeks to come into the world.

Today, I simply say that life is unpredictable and messy. No matter how much we like to pretend that we have things under control, we very much do not. We don’t like the storms that plow through our neatly plotted lives. They uproot what we’ve planned. They can undo our hard work and make it irrelevant and meaningless.

But a lot of beautiful things can emerge from the storms of our lives.

Like rainbows.

Her piece is beautifully written and I recommend it to one and all: “Finally, We’ve Had the Baby.”

To all those who’ve become mothers in recent months, here’s a special wish for you and your son or daughter, that you never lose sight of the moments that bring you happiness, peace and calm. I’m talking to you, Jamie, and cousin Monique, and all the rest of you — Mary, Jen, Rachel — scattered from Washougal to Portland to Cincinnati.

 

Taking a break from bowling

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Good times on Monday nights. The fab four from left: Mike (Spud) Slama, George (The Professor) Rede, Joel (The Dude) Odom and Brian (El Chapo) Wartell.

They say all good things must come to an end. Even bowling.

After seven years in a Monday night beer league, I’m zipping up my bowling bag and putting my shoes and ball away for the next few months. Now that I’m teaching three classes on two college campuses, I’m going to need every available night during the week to keep on top of all of it: lectures, readings, exams, student work, emails, etc.

It’s been all fun since this Monday night activity got started in January 2010. I’ve bowled with a changing cast of friends and co-workers who’ve come and gone due to work and personal commitments.

We’ve bowled at two venues — the venerable Hollywood Bowl (now a hardware store) and AMF Pro 300.

We’ve bowled under five different names — Broken Taco Shells, Steamin’ Chalupas, The Cheeseheads (when I was the only guy with three women who were Green Bay Packers fans), the Mediaocracies (when my teammates were primarily former colleagues from The Oregonian/OregonLive) and, most recently, Bowling 4 Goats.

A teammate came up with the latter name during a Happy Hour brainstorming session. Silly? Of course. Why goats? Why not? Portland is one of those places known for urban chickens and urban goats – and, in fact, even has a resident herd, The Belmont Goats, with their own Facebook page and Instagram account.

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Portland’s own Belmont Goats.

We’ve bowled well (league champs one season) and we’ve bowled poorly (last-place finish another season).

Through it all, the weekly routine has provided a place to unwind. A place to celebrate strikes and spares, and to shrug off life’s gutter balls. A place to talk about work, family, books, sports, movies, music, travel, politics and (this being Portland) food — all while socializing with average joes and jills from all walks of life.

Last night, my teammates and I celebrated the end of our fall 2016 season. Out of 19 teams, we finished in third place with a record of 42 wins and 22 losses, 3 games behind the first-place team. I averaged 151 for the season –which was a personal best and one pin above my goal..

As before, we celebrated at Tilt, home of the biggest and baddest burgers in town.

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Clockwise from left: George, Mike, Joel and Brian raise a toast to Bowling 4 Goats.

I told my teammates I was dropping out temporarily and hoped to rejoin them next summer or fall. Until then, thanks to my bowling buddies — Brian, Joel and Mike and so many more — for the memories of the past seven years.

Photo montage: The Belmont Goats

A hillbilly’s memoir

Don’t know about you, but I’ve always been drawn to novels, memoirs and non-fiction narratives that unlock the key to unfamiliar places or people.

That was my thinking when I picked up “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” a New York Times bestseller.

hillbilly_elegyI hoped I might gain insight into a subculture of Americans who’ve lately become the focus of national attention. I hoped I might understand a little better just what it is about being poor, white and rural in one of the country’s most economically depressed regions that makes people want to place their future in the hands of a wealthy, fear-mongering businessman and reality TV star living in Manhattan.

In fairness to author J.D. Vance, that’s not the reason he wrote “Hillbilly Elegy.” The idea for the book had already come together before the presidential primaries had begun and had nothing to do with Trump. Yet the book does provide a window into the psychology of the struggling white working class in Appalachia and neighboring Rust Belt states.

“There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself,” Vance says in the introduction.

Vance concedes the absurdity of writing a memoir at just 31 years of age. But as a Rust Belt refugee who escaped the cycle of poverty and violence in his extended family in Kentucky and Ohio and went on to the Marine Corps, Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he brings a fresh, clear-eyed perspective:

“I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it.”

I  think the book has great value in these times. Vance is a good writer, honest and prescriptive in his analysis. He’s not arguing that poor whites deserve any more sympathy than anyone else. He’s not excusing the brawling, drinking, drug-taking ways of his dysfunctional family. He’s taking a hard look at social class from both ends of the spectrum — from poor folk living in the hollers of Kentucky and the industrial Midwest to Yale classmates born into a life of privilege and a sense of entitlement.

And in doing so, he holds the people in his world accountable for a litany of shortcomings:

***

Vance paints a grim portrait of himself — a Scots-Irish hillbilly — and others who inhabit the Greater Appalachian culture stretching from Alabama to Georgia in the South to Ohio in the North.

They don’t value education and their kids do poorly in school. They scream and yell and hit and punch each other. They smoke and drink too much and become drug addicts. They spend money on giant TVs and other luxuries, often using payday loans and high-interest credit cards, and declare bankruptcy when the bills come due.

They drop out of the labor force. They get fired for stealing or absenteeism. They choose to not to retrain or relocate for better opportunities. They live in social isolation, resentful of outsiders. And they point the finger at everyone but themselves.

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The author J.D. Vance.

“We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some unperceived unfairness,” Vance writes. “Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance –the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.”

It’s not hard to see why folks like these would rally around someone, a fellow blame-shifter, promising to take them back to the days when jobs were easy to come by.

Vance spent his early years in Jackson, in the hills of impoverished eastern Kentucky. He moved with his mother, sister and grandparents to Middletown, Ohio, a now-decaying steel town filled with so many other Kentucky transplants they called it “Middletucky.”

His mother was hooked on drugs and went through several husbands and boyfriends while stealing family heirlooms and selling them to support her habit. J.D. credits his older sister and maternal grandparents for helping raise him amidst the chaos and instability.

He, too, was headed toward a life of underachievement in a community suffering from social and economic decline but was saved by three things: the encouragement provided by teachers at his public high school; the cocoon of love and support provided by his grandparents Mamaw and Papaw after he quit living with his mom; and a cousin’s advice to consider the Marine Corps.

The Corps instilled in young Vance a sense of discipline and self-worth and, for the first time, exposed him to people unlike himself. It was the key to enrolling in college and, from there, applying to Yale Law, a place where 95 percent of students come from the upper middle class. It was the place where he would marry a fellow Indian American student; land prestigious internships in Washington, D.C.; launch a successful legal career; and wind up in San Francisco working for a Silicon Valley investment firm.

***

So, Vance asks, why did he make it out when so many others don’t?

In short, it’s because he had a handful of individuals in his community who empowered him with a sense that he could control his own destiny. And, it’s because government offered plenty of resources in the form of public schools and universities, federal financial aid for college, and Social Security benefits for his grandparents.

Toward the end of the book, Vance cites a study that revealed there is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites about their chances at bettering themselves economically. More than half of blacks, Latinos and college-educated whites expect that their children will do better than they have, the study found. But among working-class whites, only 44 percent share that view.

economic-mobility-word-cloudIn the aftermath of Trump’s improbable victory, Vance provides a timely counter-narrative to the rhetoric of modern conservatives. He’s seen friends from Middletown blossom while others succumb to drugs, prison and premature parenthood.

“What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their lives.” Vance says. “Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

Imagine that. A young conservative from the Midwest refusing to join in on the government-bashing and willing to point to individual responsibility as a key to rising above life’s circumstances. We’ve seen generations of immigrants do it. Let’s see if the white working class, unburdened by skin color, can do it.

Vance has done a remarkable job in writing “Hillbilly Elegy.” With a tone of humility throughout, he offers hope that others might also escape the legacy of violence, poverty and despair that characterizes his part of America.

Photograph: Naomi McCulloch

Wordcloud: 123rf.com

Read an excellent review of the book in The New York Times.

 

Barack, Michelle and a foot of snow

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Heavy, wet snow accumulated rapidly in Portland overnight.

Woke up precisely at 4:21 a.m. today. It was dark and it was quiet. It was also gorgeous. A lush carpet of freshly fallen snow blanketed everything I could see up and down the street.

Never in my 30-plus years of living in Portland have I ever seen this much snow fall in a single day or night. It’s like a holiday greeting card: treetops and limbs wrapped in white, parked cars buried under the stuff, not a soul stirring in the silence.

At this hour, I’m alone with my thoughts:

— President Obama’s farewell speech is still resonating in my heart and soul. His simple yet forceful call to keep working for the common good, to guard against threats to our democracy, was masterful in its simplicity. I’m sad to see him leave office but I hope his parting words inspire millions to action.

“Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

— I’m equally sad to see Michelle Obama come to the end of her eight years in the White House. A piece in The New York Times asked whether she will speak with a fuller voice after she is freed of the confining role of First Lady.

” As first lady, she used hints, invitations, art, sometimes even clothing to convey her viewpoint. If she mostly avoided controversial topics, her mere presence spoke volumes, and was there really any mistaking the fundamentals of what she believed?”

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One of a kind: Michelle Obama.

I, for one, hope this Harvard-trained lawyer and “mom-in-chief” will unleash the power of her intellect and empathy in continuing service to her values and to the ideals that make us better. As the Times’ Jodi Kantor points out: ” The world has only one observant, original, wildly popular African-American first lady, and for her to hoard her ideas and views would be a waste.”

— I’ll confess that one of the first things I did at this hour was to reach for my iPhone to see if the internet connection was working. I clicked onto OregonLive and there I saw the headline “Storm drops up to a foot of snow on Portland: 8 things you need to know.”

Sure, the headline is formulaic. But those 8 things gave me all the information I needed to know about accumulation, melting, school closings, bus service, etc., in a simple and concise format.

 

More to the point, I wondered how many people would pause to consider that two journalists — my former colleagues Jim Ryan and Margaret Haberman — were up ridiculously early pulling together the information for that 4 a.m. post. Readers often don’t give a thought to what’s involved in presenting timely and useful information, no matter the hour.

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View from our living room at 7:30 am.

I know from experience there’s an expectation that no matter what the weather, the newsroom stays open and people get there one way or another to cover the news of the day. It’s entirely possible that in this case Jim and Margaret did their reporting from home.

But, still, on a day when schools and colleges are shuttered, when city bus service is cut back, and all kinds of businesses close for the day, journalists at OregonLive and in other newsrooms around the city will be rising to the challenge, bringing us another day of news that we consume in the comfort of our homes.

Photograph: Lora Huntley, The Oregonian/OregonLive

Photograph: The Associated Press

Scrounging for empties at 5 a.m.

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Making end meet by collecting cans and bottles before the sun comes up.

Yesterday’s unexpectedly blue skies inspired me to greet 2017 with an upbeat mantra: “New day. New year. New attitude.”

Today’s encounter with a tall stranger challenged me to back my words with action.

***

I was wheeling our recycling bin to the curb early this morning when I came upon a tall guy, layered up and wearing a knit stocking cap, running his flashlight over the contents of what my neighbors had already put out the night before.

“You looking for cans and bottles?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he nodded.

“I’ve got some for you.”

I’d planned to redeem them myself this week, being someone who doesn’t mind spending time feeding them into the bins if it’ll help knock a few dollars off the grocery bill. But who needed the empties more? Me or him?

I hauled a couple of bags from the garage and set them next to his

“You doing any kind of work?” I asked.

“I deliver The Oregonian.” A slight pause. “And The New York Times.”

Well, how about that? I thought to myself. I know these folks don’t make a lot of money, whether paid a commission or an hourly wage. It made sense that he’d be on the streets at 5 a.m., trying to supplement his income.

I peered into his car, a weathered, four-door sedan, as he was placing more empties in the trunk and saw he had filled the entire back seat and front passenger area, from floor to ceiling, with as many bags and boxes as he could cram in.

I didn’t see any newspapers. But it dawned on me that The Oregonian is home-delivered just four days a week these days, and Monday is an off day. It made sense that he didn’t have any papers.

I grabbed a couple more 12-pack boxes and gave them to him.

“You got any work for me, mister?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” I answered. “Where we live now, we don’t have to worry about yard work.”

“Well, thanks anyway.”

“You bet. Good luck to you and have a good year.”

***

With the dawn of a new year and new administration, several friends and family members have vowed to do what they can to preserve the progressive policies of the Obama years. As I think about my own values and personal responsibilities, I know I will have to find ways to contribute that feel comfortable to me.

As a lifelong journalist, I am accustomed to refraining from overt political involvement. Though no longer an employee of The Oregonian, I’m still likely to tread cautiously into area of direct action. Somehow, it feels more authentic to me to act on my values one person at a time.

And there’s plenty of opportunity.

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Time to be less selfish, more giving, in redeeming empty bottles and cans.

The consequences of income inequality are easy to see, in my neighborhood and in other parts of Portland. Virtually anywhere you go in this city, you’ll see tents and tarps housing the homeless, and people hustling outside coffee shops, grocery stores and Goodwill.

Undoubtedly, every person has a story. I don’t know what circumstances put this particular stranger on my street this morning. What I do know is that it felt much better to engage with him than to just set the empties out at the curb for anyone’s taking. What I also know is that I’m more inclined to help those who help themselves.

In lieu of a short list of resolutions, and with today’s encounter in mind, I will seek to hold myself accountable to this new mantra.

“New day. New year. New attitude.”

Photographs: nybottlereturn.com; hopewelloasis.com

Bonus video from one of my favorite bands:

2016: What a year

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Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

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Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

***

hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.