2020: A year for new perspectives

On this final day of a year like no other, I struggle to find the right words for a headline above this piece.

Millions of people are eager to say good riddance to 2020, but I’m neither despondent nor depressed. In fact, in many ways I know I’m blessed and have little reason to complain after seeing our world turned upside down by an invisible enemy — the novel coronavirus.

Was I inconvenienced by off-and-on lockdown orders that restricted our movement and customary socializing? Of course.

Was I disappointed that my wife and I, newly retired together, couldn’t travel domestically or abroad as we’d planned? Of course.

But was there ever a moment when I felt a sense of dread, not knowing whether we’d be able to pay the mortgage, keep the lights on or put food on the table? No.

After June, I didn’t have to work anymore. At no point was I saddled with the responsibility facing many younger parents, that of helping their school-age children with remote learning. And while I could no longer visit the neighborhood gym to swim in a heated pool, I got out into the outdoors more than ever before, just as I had resolved to do at the start of the year.

***

What stands out to me about this year is that it’s brought the opportunity to gain new perspectives on life itself.

In a practical sense, I am more grateful than ever to enjoy good physical health and mental health. I’ve spent more time on my bicycle than ever before, not just working my legs, lungs and heart but enjoying the feeling of seeing the city of Portland from a different vantage point. I’ve also explored the city on foot, venturing several times into Marquam Nature Park, completing the last of 20 urban hikes I’d begun four years ago, and occasionally running at some of my favorite wooded parks.

From an intellectual viewpoint, I’ve gained new insights into history and cultures as a result of reading several outstanding works of fiction and nonfiction; watching high-quality television series set in different countries; and taking an introductory course on international relations at the university where I used to work. Envisioning the world as if it were turned upside down (as depicted in the image above) was a great catalyst in that regard. As the year ended, I was delighted to make personal connections with smart, interesting people on three continents that helped make the world feel like a smaller, friendlier place.

From a societal and political perspective, I’m appreciative of all those doctors, nurses and other medical workers who’ve labored heroically to save lives and provide comfort during the pandemic, as well as grocery store workers, farmworkers, first responders and other essential workers who’ve kept us fed and safe. And I am so relieved that we have a new administration taking office Jan. 20 that can get to work undoing the damage of the Trump years and speed up the effort to get the Covid vaccines widely distributed.

But the biggest takeaway is the most personal one: knowing that family relationships matter more than anything. Lori and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary in September. Our love and respect for each other has only grown during this past year, when we have been around each other 24/7, and found things to do together and individually that allow us to keep our heads up.

We’re lucky to have our two oldest children living nearby: Nathan and his girlfriend, Erin, are 10 minutes away on foot. Simone and her wife Kyndall are 10 minutes away by car. And though our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife Jamie and daughter Emalyn are on the East Coast, they are always just a video call away.

Not a single one of us has been infected by the Covid-19 virus. For that, I am eternally grateful. As the calendar turns to another year, I hope that all of us will continue to enjoy good health and that Lori and I will have an opportunity to visit Jordan and family when air travel is safe for us to do again.

***

In past years, I’ve taken a look back at favorite concerts, sporting events and destinations. That’s not possible this year, given that our lives were turned inward and often onto a computer screen. But still, here’s a quick review:

On a muiltuse trail with Charlotte at Seaview State Park in southwest Washington.

Travel: In early February, Lori and I visited our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa, at their place on the Oregon Coast. In late October, we snuck in a two-night stay at the Sou’wester, a funky trailer park resort on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington.

Retirement: Since July, I’ve had the luxury of easing into the life of a retiree: rising without an alarm clock, few obligations on the calendar, and diving into whatever book, movie, TV show or podcast I like. I miss the interaction with my students at Portland State, but I have no regrets of walking away after the spring term ended.

Pets: Our sweet cat, Mabel, died in September after 17 years with us. Her passing leaves us with feisty Charlotte, who turned 7 years old in October, not long after she had survived an attack by a larger dog at our neighborhood school.

Friends: Like most everyone else, Zoom has become a part of our pandemic life. I had to quickly learn how to use it during the spring term, my final one, at PSU. Since then, we’ve used it to connect with friends on both coasts, as well across town. During the summer, we were invited by two of my former students, Roy and Chris, to join a happy hour group that began in-person and then turned into a virtual get-together.

Through Roy and Chris, I learned of the Senior Adult Learning Center (SALC) program that allows Oregon residents 65 years and older to audit PSU courses at little or cost. I wasted no time enrolling in a terrific summer course, “American Families in Film & Television,” and an eye-opening fall class, “Introduction to International Studies.” Next week I begin a new class, “Arab American Literature,” that’s sure to expand my horizons.

More recently, I’ve connected online with Anna, an aspiring actor in London; Jina, a writer living near Ramallah, Palestine; and Elsa, an academic reseacher in Johannesburg, through an assortment of serendipitous circumstances explained here. I look forward to nurturing these fledgling relationships in the new year.

Friends, Part 2: An annual highlight is Voices of August, the guest blog project that allows me to feature the writing of friends and family from around the country. This year, we got a bonus. Voices of April gave several new contributors, as well as regulars, a chance to talk about how they were dealing with psychological and economic challenges posed by Covid-19.

Music: Sigh. No concerts this year, but hoping to see a postponed show with Steely Dan and Steve Winwood this coming summer.

Books: Where do I begin? Since I’m no longer working, I finally have the time to catch up on a long list of books I’d set aside, plus several more I’ve snagged from free lending libraries in our neighborhood. I’ve read 20 books this year, all but one of them since retiring. You can read my reviews here, if you like: https://georgerede.wordpress.com/category/books-literature/

Among my favorites: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi; “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” both by Colson Whitehead; “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong; “Preston Falls” by David Gates; “While The City Slept” by Eli Sanders; “Pizza Girl” by Jean Kyoung Frazier; and “It Came From Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump into Office” by Dale Beran.

The latter is a book, published in 2019, that would have been useful in teaching Media Literacy. As I wrote in November: “Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel so much better able to understand so many things: the origin of 4chan, the alt-right website that became an internet cesspool for young, disenfranchised males; the toxic stew of despair, resentment, hate and irony expressed by so many of these trolls; and the intersection of this bubbling-below-the-surface culture with national politics, including the 2016 presidential election and the white nationalist march in Charlottesville.”

Entertainment: Where would we be without the ability to stream movies and TV shows whenever we like? No, I didn’t get sucked into “Tiger King.” But I loved “Pose” and “Schitt’s Creek” and enjoyed many more: Ramy, Dead to Me, The Handmaid’s Tale, Little Fires Everywhere, Atypical, Normal People, Love on the Spectrum, Woke, Mrs. America, Broadchurch, Doctor Foster, Nanette, The Queen’s Gambit, and The Crown.

Four of the amazing cast members of “Pose”: From left, Dominique Jackson (Elektra); MJ Rodriguez (Blanca); Indya Moore (Angel); Billy Porter (Pray Tell).

I also got my act together and finally jumped into the world of podcasts. I loved “Dolly Parton’s America” and enjoyed two seasons of “This Sounds Serious,” featuring a fictional podcaster who delves into 9-1-1 calls and investigates true-crime cases, all of it done as comedic parody.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for your time. I hope your 2020 has brought at least some positives along with the stresses that everyone has faced. May we all experience relief and recovery in the coming year.

Global studies from my home

Finals Week came and went last week at Portland State University — and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

For the second term in a row, I had the luxury of auditing a class without having to worry about a final exam or paper. Such is the life of a new retiree.

During the just-ended fall quarter, I took an Introduction to International Studies course through the university’s Senior Adult Learning Center, commonly known as SALC. It’s a great program that offers Oregon residents 65 and older the opportunity to enroll in undergraduate and graduate classes at little to no cost. As an auditor, you’re given the same access to course materials as tuition-paying students but without the obligation to turn in any of the assigned work.

The course gave me just what was I was hoping for — a broad overview of issues that would help me better understand key historical events and global trends, and deepen my knowledge of the modern world and the challenges that lie ahead for a planet projected to have 10 billion people by 2050.

***

INTL 201 was a well-organized course that explained the forces of economic, political and cultural globalization by stepping back several centuries to examine both the rise and disastrous legacies of colonialism, imperialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

We gave a lot of attention to global topics such as food, health, development, tourism and the environment, and we did so from the lens of nationalism and the perspective of countries in the Global North and Global South.

Our textbook, written by PSU professors Shawn Smallman and Kimberly Brown.

We studied globally traded commodities such as coffee and bananas not just to see how prices set in New York affect the lives of growers and workers elsewhere, but also to understand the geopolitics that explain why they are primarily grown in certain countries in Africa, Asia, Central America and South America yet primarily consumed in North America and Western Europe.

We also studied recent instances of land-grabbing in Africa, where foreign investors buy up huge tracts of land in places such as Kenya and Tanzania in order to grow crops for export back to India, China or Saudi Arabia. Such practices typically displace indigenous people, cause extensive environmental damage and provide little economic benefit to the host countries.

The same forces and same results can be seen when foreign investors acquire oceanfront land in Honduras, Nicaragua and other poor countries for the purpose of developing expensive resorts for international tourists. We could have spent a whole term examining these issues as they affect the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil and neighboring countries, but even a cursory look at the multiple threats to that precious part of the world was illuminating.

In all these instances, we examined the roles of national governments, the private sector, NGOs and international organizations such as The World Bank and the International Monentary Fund. In doing so, it was impossible not to focus on capitalism, which indisputably prevailed over communism to become the world’s dominant economic system.

***

The course was taught by Stephen Frenkel, an assistant professor in the Department of International and Global Studies. His expertise lies in social/cultural geography with a focus on Latin America and Africa. He’s a genial guy, a lover of coffee, hiking and bicycling.

Prof. Frenkel explained important concepts simply, offered a good variety of learning materials, and presented interesting examples from a variety of continents and countries. He assigned an excellent textbook written by two PSU colleagues, and I liked that he began the course by presenting a series of world maps that invited us to view the world differently — even flipping the globe upside down so that North America was below the Equator.

Prof. Stephen Frenkel

But there was something missing, I have to say.

As with the first course I audited during the summer, there was no live instruction whatsoever. Frenkel uploaded his lectures — a series of narrated slideshows — and assigned supplementary readings and videos for students to access whenever it was convenient.

I “attended” class at my leisure, logging on to the university’s online learning platform on whatever day and whatever time I wanted. This is nothing out of the ordinary, of course, because higher education during the pandemic is largely offered through remote learning,

However, during the summer course I took, the instructor at least had us share our thoughts on the changing ways that American families are depicted in movies and television. We posted our takeaways for all to view and reacted to each other’s comments. In this fall class, there was none of that.

When I taught my last classes in the spring, I chose an opposite approach. I had my classes meet at a specific day and time and I did my lectures live on Zoom, and invited students to learn from each other by participating in the discussions that accompanied each topic. I understand, though, that this isn’t necessarily the way that other professors want to teach.

I’m already looking forward to my next class. During winter term, I’ll be taking Arab American Literature from Diana Abu-Jaber, a professor and author who’s written five books. I’ve read two of her novels and have her new memoir, “Life Without a Recipe,” on my bookshelf, waiting its turn on my get-to list.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan and enthuastic supporter of the SALC program. You can learn more by attending either of two 30-minute Q&A sessions this week:

Monday, Dec. 14 from 10:00 am – 10:30 am.
Wednesday, Dec. 16 from 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm.

Please email salc@pdx.edu to register if you’re interested in attending a session.

The surprising thing about retirement

Five months into this new phase of life, I’ve developed a concise response when someone asks how retirement is going.

My answer goes something like this: “It’s going well, except for Covid restrictions. I’m doing lots of reading, bike riding and hiking, plus some cooking, baking and blogging. I’m enjoying a variety of entertainment: TV, movies, sports, music, videos, podcasts. And, I’m spending more time with Lori and our little dog Charlotte.”

Had I not retired in June, I’d be gearing up right now for the end of the fall term, this being Week 8 of the 11-week quarter at Portland State University.

Instead, I’m on the other side of the computer screen, taking an international studies class for free as a so-called “senior auditor.” (Any Oregon resident 65 and older can audit a class at PSU without paying tuition if the instructor agrees and space is available. More to come on the Senior Adult Learning Center program in a future post.)

So, yes, retirement has been good.

I’m still an early riser, typically up no later than 6:30 a.m. But every day is like Saturday. Low stress, no work and rarely anything on the calendar.

I had imagined retirement would include hanging out with a book from time to time at neighborhood coffee shops. Although the pandemic blew up that plan, I can’t complain. Life is good.

But there is one aspect of retirement I hadn’t fully anticipated — and that is the fact that Lori and I are now together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

***

That might strike you as a no-brainer given that we’ve been married 45 years. But, honestly, the realization didn’t sink in until just recently.

Consider this:

We became parents in 1980, five years into our marriage, and we became empty nesters in 2010; that meant 30 years of cohabiting with one or more kids. In the past decade, living on our own, we still worked; that meant one-third of the day (8 to 10 hours) spent with clients or co-workers instead of each other.

Day trip to the Columbia River Gorge in 1977, before kids and, apparently, before haircuts were invented. (Photo by Brian McCay)

Lori retired last fall but I continued to work for nine more months. And when Covid precautions required that I teach remotely during my last term at PSU, I was often unavailable for hours at a time, holed up in a downstairs room on Zoom.

Now, fully retired, with neither one of us tethered to work, it dawned on me that Lori and I are around each other like never before — just the two of us, with no distractions. And it’s been great.

Sure, I still say and do things that annoy or irritate her, and we’ve become overly familiar with each other’s habits, preferences and pet peeves. But in this new chapter of life, it feels as though I’m rediscovering my spouse and appreciating her all over again.

Lori has always been the more creative, more active one of us with a broad array of interests and hobbies: gardening, knitting, cooking, exercise. She’s continued those and, now, is learning to play the cello, too.

Charlotte romping on the sand at Winema Beach in Tillamook County.

With virus transmission concerns limiting our socializing, our lives have turned inward to an even greater degree.

During the summer, we got out on bike rides and neighborhood walks. With the change in weather, we’ve hunkered down like everyone else. We have lunch and dinner together every day. Most afternoons, we take Charlotte to the neighborhood dog park. At night, we can sit down together and watch whatever appeals to us. This calls for compromise and accommodation, achieved simply by taking turns and trying something new.

But all this talk of activities obscures the more important thing — and that is appreciating all over again the fine qualities that attracted me to Lori in the first place. She is kind and generous, considerate of others and eternally optimistic. She is someone who lives up to her progressive values of inclusion and empathy. She still finds humor in my corny jokes and, thankfully, she continues to forgive my foibles and failings.

Had I been more thoughtful, I would have recognized that retirement would mean spending virtually every hour of the day together. Now that I realize this, I look forward even more to what lies ahead with my wife — separate activities for each of us, combined with travel and other shared experiences.

Snug in a bug

The Potato Bug, suitable for two.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d do an online search for the best travel destinations for seniors and retirees.

Among the results that came back? Miami Beach. Santa Fe. Sedona. Portugal. The Caribbean.

Um, not what Lori and I were thinking. Certainly, not for our first vacation together as a newly retired couple.

Instead, Lori and I packed up the car with our little dog and headed out to the Long Beach Peninsula in Southwest Washington. Our destination: the funkiest, friendliest trailer park resort you could ever imagine

We’d heard of the Sou’wester Historic Lodge and Vintage Travel Trailer Resort in Seaview from our two older kids, who’d both stayed there. It’s just across the Columbia River, 15 miles north of Astoria, nestled into a grove of Douglas firs in a residential neighborhood just off a busy highway.

Scattered on the grounds are a hodgepodge of cabins, vintage travel trailers, RV spaces and campsites. There’s a main lodge with a small store, a common area for outdoor cooking and grilling, a Finnish sauna, a vintage store in a trailer, and a tiny teahouse, also in a trailer.

Established in 1892, the resort is two blocks away from U.S. 101 and a 10-minute walk to the ocean, where you can stroll along a smooth, sandy beach or explore the Discovery Trail’s miles of paved paths that run parallel to the water.

We stayed in a two-person trailer called the Potato Bug, which was snug as a bug. Actually, more than snug.

Imagine a living space with a double bed at one end and a couch at the opposite end. Along one side, there’s a three-burner stove (but no oven), a small sink and a vinyl-top table. On the other side, a narrow closet and a bathroom (with toilet but no sink or mirror) with a ceiling low enough that I barely had enough room to stand up straight.

That’s it. No chairs. No shower. No TV.

But, then, that’s what we expected — a quiet, rustic place where we could settle in for three nights and decompress.

Willamette Week’s Matthew Singer says it’s become “the go-to spot for artsy Portland scenesters looking to feed off the energy of the Pacific.”

“The Sou’Wester is an inn, campground and trailer park, all conforming to an aesthetic of thrift-store kitsch. It’s ramshackle enough to scare off daintier types, but cozy enough to feel like you’re staying at your grandparents’ house in the country. It’s quirky and earthy, romantic and rusted, silly and charming—like a frontier junk shop you wouldn’t mind honeymooning at.”

The Rusty Magic of Sou’Wester Lodge – Willamette Week

When the year began, we planned to visit our youngest son and his family in upstate New York during spring break. Didn’t happen. The pandemic forced us to cancel the trip, and wonder when and where we might travel once I retired from college teaching in June.

We were leery for some time, considering the health risks of staying in a motel or Airbnb, but convinced ourselves that we’d be OK at the Sou’wester, a place with strict mask requirements and sensible protocols relating to use of common spaces. We weren’t wrong.

Three days and three nights went by awfully fast. We slept in every morning, thanks to the utter stillness, and fixed all but one of our meals in our little trailer. We used the sauna on our first morning and that set a relaxing tone for the rest of the visit.

Seaview is tucked beteen Long Beach and Ilwaco.

That afternoon we enjoyed ourselves with Charlotte on the wide-open Seaview State Beach, even as pickup trucks occasionally drove past between us and the water. (It’s beyond me as to why any state would allow motor vehicles on a public beach.) We also saw a group of horseback riders and a couple of fishermen who bravely waded into the surf.

The next day we walked south on the Discovery Trail toward Ilwaco, enjoying views of the surf and woolly caterpillars along the path, before turning back to town. We drove north into Oysterville for a quick look at the historic town at the north end of the peninsula, then turned around and headed back into Long Beach for a late lunch, followed by a visit to Banana Books, an excellent used bookstore.

Back at the Potato Bug, we fixed dinner, read a little bit, played Scrabble, and went to bed early.

Next morning it was time to head home, rested and relaxed, and taking in scenic views of the mighty Columbia.

I don’t know when our next opportunity to travel will come. I’m hoping the spread of Covid-19 will come under control enough to allow us to visit New York or maybe California. More likely, we may have to settle for mini-trips like this one to other spots in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps Astoria? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

A fresh take on American families

Families aren’t formed solely from blood relations, as shown in the award-winning TV series “Pose.” Four of the amazing cast members, fom left: Dominique Jackson (Elektra); MJ Rodriguez (Blanca); Indya Moore (Angel); Billy Porter (Pray Tell).

When I retired from my college teaching job in June, I didn’t waste any time making the transition from instructor to student.

I signed up for a summer session course called “American Families in Film and Television.” It turned out to be a great class and, hopefully, the start of something more as a lifelong learner.

During the 8-week class, we examined how families have been portrayed from the 1950s up to the present day; how our definition of family has evolved over the decades; how families move through different stages of life (or don’t); and how the entertainment media depict families and their individual members as they cope with traditional gender roles and contemporary issues of race, class, culture, privilege and representation.

Serious issues, yes, but all very engaging when viewed over time through TV shows like “The Simpsons,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Pose” and documentaries and movies like “Babel,” “Paris Is Burning,” “Grey Gardens” and “The Hunger Games.”

***

Some quick background: My former employer, Portland State University, allows people 65 and older to take classes free of charge through a Senior Adult Learning Center program known as SALC. As a so-called “senior auditor,” you can enroll in any course you like with the instructor’s permission. You don’t pay tuition but you do pay a $35 per credit fee if the course is offered Web-only.

I learned about the program last fall, when a senior auditor asked to enroll in one of my classes, and I vowed to check it out for myself once the 2020 spring term ended.

I found just what I was looking for with the above-titled course, taught by Jennifer Robe, an adjunct instructor in the Child, Youth and Family Studies program. The content was engaging, relevant and timely, and the workload was easily manageable. As an auditor, I wasn’t required to do any of the graded work. But I jumped into the assignments anyway, as I wanted to contribute to online class discussions and express my takeaways in the reflection papers following the readings, movies and TV episodes for each unit of study.

Jennifer Robe

Jennifer taught the course asynchronously, meaning we could watch her pre-recorded videos any time that was convenient, and submit our work within an extremely flexible deadline schedule. All the readings were posted online, which meant no one had to buy a textbook, and most of the movies and TV shows could be found at no cost on YouTube or some streaming platform.

***

I fully expected I’d be the only student who’d actually grown up during the era when TV shows like “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” presented an idealized notion of the American family as white, suburban and middle-class, with a working husband, stay-at-home wife and two biological children.

What I didn’t anticipate was that some of my younger peers weren’t even born when programs like “The Cosby Show” and “The Golden Girls” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” aired during the ’80s and ’90s. The age difference was illuminating, though, in seeing how younger generations viewed those TV series as cultural artifacts, so far removed from modern technology and contemporary sensibilities.

In today’s multimedia milieu. we not only have a wealth of material to choose from, but we can watch almost anytime and anywhere we want, on a mobile device, a computer screen or even a traditional television set.

Differing perspectives came to the fore in discussing how families themselves are constructed, and many students spoke from personal experience.

We still have plenty of nuclear families featuring two parents and biological children, but nowadays many households are led by a single parent or by two moms or two dads.

Extended families that include multiple generations and blended families produced from second marriages are more common, as are adopted and foster children. One or more family members may be gay, lesbian or trans — but not all, unfortunately, will find acceptance from the others.

There are interracial families and childless families. And then there are families of choice, where unrelated individuals come together around a common goal, shared interests and long-term commitment to each other. This was best illustrated by the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning.”

Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, the movie chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the Black, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it, and explores issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America.

The award-winning Netflix show “Pose,” featuring five transgender actresses, brings that same scene to life in a two-season series that revolves around the “houses” that provide a home, love and support to the most marginalized of Black and Brown people in NYC. (Watch it here: https://www.netflix.com/title/80241986)

We’ve come a long way, thankfully, from the black-and-white era of The Fifties, when American families were depicted in much the same way, with cardigan-wearing sensible dads and apron-wearing moms as the faces of moderate, mainstream America.

Fast forward to the aptly named “Modern Family,” which debuted in 2009 with a cast of three very different but related families and ran until this year. Just about every aspect of family was represented: a heterosexual couple with biological children; a second marriage with stepchildren; same-sex parents with an adopted daughter.

It’s that type of variety that today’s young people have grown accustomed to — depictions of blended, adopted, gay, immigrant, interracial and working-class families — as more screenwriters and directors of color tell their stories.

There’s a real satisfaction in seeing people on the screen who are relatable. I say that as a child of the ’50s and ’60s who grew up yearning to see someone — heck, anyone — who was Latino in a recurring role on TV or as a featured character on the big screen.

Regardless of how families are constructed, it’s illuminating to see how common challenges are confronted. We spent much of our class time looking at what similarities or differences may emerge when dealing with customs and traditions; the effects of trauma and grief, triggered by divorce or death or some other event; and how children and parents embraceor resist developmental stages of independence and letting go.

***

Bottom line: I was a real fan of this course and the instructor. Things went so well between us that Jennifer even suggested I consider co-teaching a course with her. (Wait, didn’t I just retire?) I learned a lot while being entertained at the same time. And being able to bring a media literacy lens to these family-centered issues made the content all the more meaningful.

Can’t wait to see if I can get into another class this fall.

‘Homegoing’: Historic and timely

How fortuitous that I chose Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing” (2016) as the first novel I would read in retirement — and, in fact, the first novel I’ve read in nearly a year.

During my first week as a new retiree, I settled into my favorite chair and promptly lost myself in a rich, multilayered story about slavery and its corrosive legacy through the centuries. Spanning eight generations on both sides of the Atlantic, the tale begins in the late 18th century on Africa’s Gold Coast, shifts to the United States, then returns to modern-day Ghana.

I could not have picked a better book to provide context for today’s political and societal convulsions unleashed by the videoed murder of George Floyd and given purpose by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The call for reparations to make amends for America’s racist past is wholly justified when you consider not just the evils of slavery itself, but the systemic second-class treatment of Black people which extended well into the post-World War II era and continues even today.

In “Homegoing,” Gyasi tells the story of two half-sisters who are born into different villages, unknown to each other, and whose lives — and those of their descendants — are defined by opposite sides of the slave trade.

Effia marries a British officer and moves into a life of privilege in the Cape Coast Castle while Esi is captured in a raid in her village and imprisoned in the very same castle, destined for the same, wretched existence as other men, women and children caught up in the evil trade of human trafficking As the story plays out over the next 200-plus years, Gyasi introduces us to their descendants, with one side of the family tree free to follow their pursuits, the other side shackled and deprived.

The book alternates between descendants of each matriarch, with each of 14 chapters devoted to telling one character’s story, initially rooted in the tribal villages of west Africa and then expanding to various locations in the United States.

We come to know these men and women as they fight to survive on a plantation in Mississippi, in the shipyards of Baltimore, the coal mines of Alabama, and the streets of Harlem during the Jazz Age. The last two chapters focus on Marjorie and Marcus, both college graduates living in Northern California but with different experiences and attitudes toward their ancestral homeland.

While the horrors and depravity of the slave trade are made painfully clear, the real impact of the book comes in exploring the psychological and emotional damage inflicted on the matriarchs’ children and the succeeding generations.

For some, those born into the side of the family with a white father and black mother, it’s white guilt and matters of conscience that they must deal with. For others, those descending from two black parents, it is coping with the anguish of separated families, the threat of real or implied violence, the limitations imposed by their skin color, the unfulfilled yearning for a better life. It’s no surprise when one character’s mental illness results in her own people calling her Crazy Woman.

“Homegoing’ is an ambitious work, especially considering it’s the debut novel by this talented young writer. The book won numerous awards, including the PEN/Hemingway Award and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book.

Gyasi was born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Alabama, and educated at Stanford. She went on to get a MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where so many famous authors have honed their craft.

Just 31 years old, she’s due to speak in Portland in December as part of the 2020-21 Portland Arts & Lectures series. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to see her in an auditorium rather than on Zoom.

By that time, her second novel will have come out. “Transcendent Kingdom,” due out in September, is said to be a “a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.”

“Homegoing” had been waiting for me since March 2019, when I bought it at a used bookstore during a visit to Ithaca, New York. What a perfect book to launch me into retirement.

Get to know Yaa Gyasi here, courtesy of The Vilcek Foundation, a New York City-based organization that raises awareness of immigrant contributions in the United States and fosters appreciation of the arts and sciences.

The mother of all thank-yous

Ever since I started teaching college classes four years ago, I’ve made it a point to recap the just-completed quarter or semester with an eye toward cementing what I learned from my students, as well as looking ahead to the next term.

Typically, I’ve used these blog posts to also say thanks to my guest speakers and others who lent a helping hand.

Today I offer The Mother of All Thank-Yous.

It’s my way of expressing gratitude to a slew of about 80 people who contributed to whatever success I had teaching mass communication courses after spending four decades as a working journalist.

My list begins with two pairs of people who helped swing open the door of opportunity at both places I taught until this year.

At Portland State University, it was Cynthia-Lou Coleman and Jeff Robinson, both professors in the Department of Communication.

It was Cindy, a former department chair, who served as a first contact when I inquired about adjunct teaching possibilities after I left The Oregonian at the end of 2015. Years earlier, when she was the chair, she hired me to teach two weekend mini-courses that went quite well. Cindy put me in touch with Jeff, who succeeded her as chair and subsequently brought me on to teach Media Ethics in the 2016 fall quarter.

As I gained experience and the budget allowed, Jeff hired me to concurrently run the Comm Department’s internship program. Last year, he was able to bring me on full-time, which meant teaching two classes and managing the internship program all three terms of the academic year.

At Washington State University Vancouver, it was a former neighbor, Lori Callister, who provided an initial tip that led me to Dr. Nanu Iyer, director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program.

Lori knew someone who was serving on a professional advisory board at WSUV and looking to spread the word about an assistant professor position in the Integrated Strategic Communication program. With no advanced degree and no background in advertising or public relations, I knew I had no shot at the job.

Nanu gave me an interview anyway, asked me to do a guest lecture, and then hired me to teach two classes in the 2017 spring semester: Reporting Across Platforms and Sports and the Media. I wound up teaching there for two fulfilling years, giving up the job in May 2019 in order to accept the fulltime gig at Portland State that just ended.

I am grateful to those four folks and to dozens more who directly and indirectly influenced or supported what or how I taught. So here is a big thank-you to:

My Comm Department colleagues at PSU — Cindy and Jeff; professors Lee Shaker, Brianne Suldovsky, Erin Spottswood, Lauren Frank, David Ritchie, Kenny Bagley, Giselle Tierney, Tanner Cooke; and retired professor David Kennamer.

Tanya Romaniuk, another Comm professor who transitioned from teaching to a critical role as Academic & Career Advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She, more than anyone, helped me understand the Comm Department’s recent history; keep track of who was who and what was what in related programs; and make sense of a long list of acronyms for university buildings and programs.

Marisa Miller, a graduate student who later became Internship Coordinator in the University Career Center. She managed the Comm Department’s internship program each of the past two summers while I was teaching abroad and became a trusted ally in steering students to career opportunities.

Bailey Acord-Becker and Aurora Leichty, who coordinated all the administrative and front office work for the Comm Department, including scheduling and payroll and supervising work-study students who staffed the reception desk.

My guest speakers at WSUV — PR practitioners Mark Mohammadpour, Dianne Danowski-Smith, and Chris Metz; advertising executive Will Ulbricht; digital strategist Kate Lesniak; sports announcer Rich Burk; former Oregon State University athletes Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten; and the remarkable Brenda Tracy, a gang-rape survivor who’s become a prominent speaker in the fight against sexual and relationship violence in college football.

Current and former journalists who also spoke to my WSUV students — Lindsay Schnell, Gina Mizell, Tom Goldman, Casey Holdahl, Anna Griffin, Beth Nakamura, Lillian Mongeau, Kyle Iboshi, Stephanie Yao Long, Steve Woodward, David Lippoff, Katy Sword, Jamie Goldberg, Tyson Alger and Chris Broderick.

My guest speakers at PSU — From the worlds of PR, advertising, integrated brand promotion and digital strategy: Alberto Ponte, Emma Barnett, Brittni Busch, Kate Lesniak, Jean Kempe-Ware, Mark Mohammadpour, Kelly Bantle and Maureen O’Connor; fellow professors: Antonia Alvarez, Mike Caulfield and Will Ulbricht; and nonprofit leaders: Susan Nielsen and Sankar Raman.

Current and former journalists who also spoke to my PSU students — Therese Bottomly, Mark Katches, Samantha Swindler, John Schrag, Beth Nakamura, Kyle Iboshi, Andi Zeisler, Nigel Jaquiss, Jeff Mapes, Chris Broderick, Lillian Mongeau, Stephanie Yao Long and Steve Woodward.

My wonderfully talented and indispensible teaching assistants — Evelyn Smith at WSUV; Becky Kearny, Tullia Fusco, Andrew Swanson, Cole Eakin, Tristina Bumgarner and Margarita Maligaya at PSU.

The outstanding staff at PSU’s Education Abroad office, who made it possible for me to teach a summer course in London in 2018 and 2019 (and plans for another one in Berlin in 2021) — Jen Hamlow and Hannah Fischer; and graduate assistants Adrienne Bocci, Adriane Bolliger and Hannah Marrs.

The outstanding staff at CAPA Global Education Network, who provided additional support for my study-abroad course — Darin Smith-Gaddis in Los Angeles, Zion Griffin in Boston and Sheriden Kuech in London.

And three others — Sandy Rowe, my former editor at The Oregonian, who graciously loaned me a boxful of files and notes from her own college teaching and thereby enriched the content in my Media Ethics course this year; Elizabeth Hovde and Len Reed, former colleagues at The Oregonian who both went on to teach as adjuncts at WSUV. Meeting one-on-one with Elizabeth or Len for coffee or breakfast provided an opportunity to talk about the transition from the newsroom to the classroom and to lay bare our shared experiences, whether it was about lesson plans and teaching styles, or about our frustrations, breakthroughs and small victories.

It’s often said it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, it took several villages to prop up a single adjunct instructor. The hours were long but the rewards — reflected in the quality of work and insights gained from my students — were always worth it.

Back to blogging

Credit: Hover.blog

If there’s one thing I plan to do more of in my second retirement, it is to get back to my blog.

From last October through May,* I’ve averaged a measly two blog posts per month, a far cry from when I used to post seemingly every other day.

* I invited friends and family to contribute to a “Voices of April” idea intended to share stories about how we all were dealing with the first few weeks of coronavirus quarantining. Eighteen people contributed guest blogs to that effort, which not only sparked some great conversations but also expanded the network of people who’ve written for this blog over the years.

It’s exactly that kind of experience which keeps me going after several years of managing the original Rough and Rede on Blogspot and its successor, Rough and Rede II, on WordPress.

When I dipped my toes into the ocean of blogging, it was March 1, 2009. Barack Obama had been inaugurated as our 44th president just two months earlier. I was still at The Oregonian, working as Sunday Opinion Editor, and I’d been hired by Portland State University to teach a two-credit class over a single weekend called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.”

I figured I should have a blog myself, my own virtual space to serve as a personal diary to record thoughts, ideas, experiences, emotions, etc.

Little did I imagine I’d still be at it 11 years later, writing about everything under the sun — our children’s weddings and college graduations; travel to Europe and Mexico; career and work; family pets and family reunions; favorite books, movies and concerts; and everyday scenes and moments all around Portland.

A highlight, surely, has been seven years of hosting Voices of August, the annual guest blog project that has pretty much taken on a life of its own. VOA has become a platform for friends, family, co-workers and even some people I’ve never even met in person to come together in the digital space and then meet up afterwards over food and drink at a local brewpub. Some terrific friendships have developed because of VOA.

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, anyone can become a blogger without even having to set up their own website. We are all publishers now, free to share original posts, photos or videos, poetry or rants, or whatever strikes our fancy.

In my case, Rough and Rede II is one of an estimated 500 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites in the world. Their authors account for over 2 million blog posts daily, according to hostingtribunal.com.

I’ve posted relatively little since last fall, owing to the amount of time and energy I’ve devoted to my college courses. But now that I’m officially retired as an adjunct instructor, I’d like to get back in the rhythm of regular posting, maybe three to four times a week.

For those of you who’ve been along for some or most of the ride over the past decade-plus, I thank you for reading and commenting and contributing.

Although this is an election year, I have no plans to flood R&R II with political content. I’ll share whatever comes to mind and I’ll make a point of dusting off some of my favorite blog posts from time to time.

And if anyone’s got an itch to scratch, you know I’ll be happy to publish a guest blog anytime.

My second retirement — after teaching in the Age of Trump

This time it’s for real.

Back in January 2016, shortly after I took a buyout after 30 years in The Oregonian’s newsroom, my wonderful wife threw a retirement party for me.

I had every intention of becoming a member of Sweatpants Nation. But life and luck intervened. I had an itch to scratch.

Eight months later, with the help of a longtime colleague, I wormed my way into a classroom at Portland State University and launched a second career as an adjunct college instructor, specializing in Media Literacy and Media Ethics.

That first, solitary class in the fall of 2016 turned into a four-year run that ended this week. For most of it, I taught part-time at two campuses in the metro area; for the last year, I eased into a full-time gig, teaching two classes per term while also coordinating an internship program for Communications students at PSU.

It was an experience that I quickly grew to love, engaging with young adults, sharing my personal and professional experiences and perspectives, and together making sense of the fast-moving world around us.

For all that I taught them about contemporary issues in Media Literacy and Media Ethics, they taught me even more. Not just about how they how, when, where and what media they consumed (or didn’t), but why — and how they defined “media” in the first place.

As a lifelong journalist, I defined the term as the news media in all its forms — print, broadcast, cable, digital. Most of my students tended to think of it as entertainment — movies, television, video games. Now, the youngest of them (born in 2000 or 2001) use “media” and “social media” interchangeably.

Clearly, all of us are right. “Media” today encompasses all of that: news, advertising, entertainment and social media. Equally clear is that these digital natives can access any or all of that with a single palm-sized device that also serves as their mobile computer, camera, phone, alarm clock, GPS guide and streaming channel for music, videos and podcasts.

But who knew that in my final quarter of teaching, we would not even meet face-to-face? Instead, because of the coronavirus and a mostly shuttered campus, we would log on to Zoom and engage with one another for two hours at a time, peering at inch-tall headshots splayed across our screens.

And looking back on it all, who knew that my four years in the classroom would be defined by teaching in The Age of Trump?

***

When I began teaching in September 2016, the polls were united: Hillary Clinton was on track to become the first female president of the United States. Donald J. Trump was written off by the mainstream media and widely scorned by mainstream Republicans. And this was before the Access Hollywood video was released and before Stormy Daniels became a household name.

Turns out there could not have been a better time to teach Media Literacy and Media Ethics than in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election and the ensuing chaos of the new administration.

My students and I discussed the real meaning of fake news, the presidential debates, the microtargeting of dark ads to unsuspecting Facebook users, the purpose of the Electoral College, and the news media’s failure to fully grasp what fueled Trump’s stunning victory in November — the extent of resentment toward so-called coastal elites that galvanized the white working class. Of course, immigrant-bashing that stoked fear and racism played a yuge role, too.

In January, Inauguration Day brought with it a cascade of lies, beginning with an absurd claim that Trump’s swearing-in ceremony drew a larger crowd than Obama’s, and a new phrase: “alternate facts.”

From there, it was nonstop nonsense and turmoil that continues through the present day, all of which provided “teachable moments.”

Charlottesville. The wall. Children in cages. The Muslim travel ban. The Mueller Report. Kavanaugh. Khashoggi. Russia. Ukraine. Impeachment. Coronavirus and COVID-19. And masks. Friggin’ masks.

And still the chaos continues. With conspiracy theories and middle-of-the-night presidential tweets now normalized, Trump has the audacity to demand a Bible photo op when our streets are seething with Americans of all ages and races demanding justice for George Floyd and other African American victims of racism and police brutality.

Today’s absurdity: A campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, coming one day after Juneteenth, that’s certain to be a superspreader event as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.

Were I to continue teaching in the fall, the course content would have completed a four-year cycle, with the 2020 presidential campaign coming into focus with a new round of conspiracy theories, doctored photos and videos, and a steaming pile of distortions and outright lies spread via social media.

***

To be sure, my students have learned plenty in the past few years about a host of other topics known simply by their hashtags: MeToo, OscarSoWhite, Parkland and BlackLivesMatter.

In addition, the important role of journalism in a democracy; how algorithms and self-constructed filter bubbles determine most of what we see and hear; how technology and digitization enable time-shifting and global sharing of all forms of media; and how we as human beings are being affected mentally, physically and socially by our exposure to addictive technology.

But not everything was so damn serious these past four years.

To my surprise, unexpected media exposure and opportunities for personal and professional growth fell in my lap.

I was interviewed twice by local television stations on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections about young voters. I was invited to be a guest commentator multiple times on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s News Roundtable. I spoke on panels at a public forum in Vancouver and at a journalism conference in Portland. Best of all, I was recruited to teach a study-abroad course in London each of the past two summers. I hope to teach a similar course in Berlin in 2021, if the pandemic has abated by then.

But enough about all that.

Today marks the first day of my second retirement. I’m ready for whatever life brings in the way of old and new friendships, experiences and travel. I’m ready to downshift into a daily routine with no obligations. No longer do I have to think about lesson plans, school calendars or work emails.

I’m free to read, run, write, cook and blog as I see fit. And I’ll do much of that with Lori, my partner in marriage for 45 years this fall. None of what has transpired in my second career would have been possible without her encouragement and support — and tolerance.

Books: A good place to start

“What’s next?”

Though I won’t be officially retired for a couple more days, the question is already popping up.

If life were normal, it would be simple: hitting the gym, meeting friends for coffee, traveling with Lori. I’d also like to get back to simple pleasures like bowling and poker, movies and concerts, and Blazers basketball.

But life is anything but normal right now.

So Plan B means diving into a stack of books that’s been building up while I’ve been consumed by teaching.

First up: “Homegoing” the highly acclaimed debut novel by Yaa Gyasi. Three chapters in, I’m absorbed by this multigenerational novel that begins with two half-sisters raised in opposite circumstances — privilege and captivity — during the slave trade in 18th century Ghana.

I bought the book 15 months ago during a spring break visit to Ithaca, New York, the last time I saw our youngest son and his family. Lori and I had scheduled another visit in March, but that got canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Interesting coincidence: Just as I started reading the book this week came the news that Yaa Gyasi will be speaking here later this year as part of the 2020-21 Portland Arts & Lectures season.

I’ve got plenty more books lined up. They’ve come to me as gifts, book exchanges and pick-ups from neighborhood lending libraries.

What else is on tap?

Well, a mix of entertainment media and a return to the outdoors both sound good.

I’m planning to explore the expanding world of podcasts along with lots more of the content available on streaming services. Totally enjoying the British crime show “Broadchurch” right now, after having recently finished “Schitt’s Creek” (hilarious) and “Doctor Foster” (gripping).

I want to resume the day hikes that I used to do so regularly before my part-time teaching job turned to full-time.

And I want to spend more time just hanging out with Lori and Charlotte, our feisty little terrier mix.

Once travel becomes safe and normal again, I’m hoping that can become a regular thing.