Friday flashback: ‘Lucky number 13’

isaac-camo

Isaac, 13, and Camo, 8, in 2014

Orlando. Dallas. Istanbul. And now Nice, France.

We don’t even have time to properly grieve anymore before the next mass killing assaults our senses and heightens our sense of the world unraveling before our very eyes.

At a moment like this, it’s good to roll out a guest blog piece that is all about the positive.

My friend Tammy Ellingson, in a 2014 essay for Voices of August, wrote about her good fortune as the mother of a 13-year-old boy who goes against all stereotypes of a snarky, surly teenager.

“I feel privileged that my son wants to be around me and actually enjoys my company, or at least is kind enough to make me feel like he does,” Tammy writes.

As a fellow parent, it’s heartwarming to read Tammy’s take on her only child, Isaac:

“I notice his growing independence every day; coupled with his love and compassion for his father and me. There are times I know he has more patience with us than we have for our own parents. He spouts old soul practicality and wisdom, and exudes a grace that makes me realize I have a lot more growing to do.”

Read the piece right here: Lucky Number 13

Friday flashback: ‘Drowning in technology’

Technology is awesome. So says Nike Bentley.

With a simple handheld device, she can Skype with family, send messages to friends, take pictures, watch a TV show, listen to music, call her grandparents, map directions to a destination, take notes, and play Tetris.

social-networksBut with so many applications and places to explore — Blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and more — it’s easy to get distracted. And easy to become disconnected from real life.

” I can’t remember the last time I had an honest, thought-provoking conversation with anyone outside of my inner-circle,” Nike admits. “Why should we when we have nearly constant access to the inner-workings of everyone’s heads? … Possibly because everyone has their noses in their phones…”

Sound familiar?

I thought so.

Read Nike’s contribution to the 2014 Voices of August guest blog project: Drowning in technology

 

 

Crossing the bridge, becoming a cultural translator

Protesters gather near Saint Louis University as demonstrations over Michael Brown's death and other police shootings in Missouri spread.

Protesters gather near Saint Louis University as demonstrations over Michael Brown’s death and other police shootings in Missouri spread.

It’s been nearly three months since a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, shot an unarmed black teenager under circumstances that even now remain muddled. The fire hose of news out of that St. Louis suburb has gushed almost non-stop with reports about rallies and protests, autopsy findings, a U.S. Justice Department investigation and much, much more.

As I write this, I see where CNN is reporting that the Ferguson police chief is expected to step down as part of the effort by city officials to reform the Police Department.

Under the proposed plan after the chief leaves, city leadership would ask the St. Louis County police chief to take over management of Ferguson’s police force.

‘It would be one step in what local officials hope will help reduce tensions in the city as the public awaits a decision on whether the St. Louis County grand jury will bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown,” according to CNN.

***

Parfait Bassale

Parfait Bassale

In the days following the August 9 shooting, when national interest in Ferguson was surging, my friend Parfait Bassale wrote an exquisite post about the events in Missouri. I had the good fortune to share his piece — “Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant” — as part of my annual Voices of August guest blog project.

“As more facts about the incident in Ferguson surface, passions will rise, opinions will form and positions will polarize,” Parfait wrote. “My question to everyone is the following: How can my neighbor not fear me when he or she does not know nor understand my story, my hurt, my triggers and my fears? How can the police who are supposed to look after me, protect me when they are programmed to be suspicious of me, my language, my walk and my expressions?

“What I am arguing for is a need for White America (anyone with the complex of racial privilege) to cross over into the Black American experience.  Maybe then, she would think twice before holding tight to her purse because a black man stepped into an elevator. Maybe then, she would verbally discipline a derailed teenager rather than criminalize him. Maybe then, she would not use lethal force as a last resort when dealing with an unarmed teenager.”

***

One of the best things about Voices of August is that other contributors react in the comments, with honesty, humility and grace — and I was gratified to see that Parfait’s piece triggered so many responses. Generally speaking, people thanked Parfait for sharing his perspective while admitting they felt at a loss to truly deeply understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of a black American.

One commenter, Lynn, said in part: “As a white American, I simply cannot have that crossover experience. It is not possible. My skin is white. I do not think it matters in what class of white Americans I was raised … my skin is white and my experience is as a white American.”

Tammy, another commenter, wrote: “Parfait, this resonates with me on several levels. As a white woman, I hope you won’t think less of me when I admit to having at one time or another been that gal who holds their purse closer, or locks their doors – but it happens no matter the color of the man approaching – it’s a different fear that women live with sadly that makes men seem potentially menacing in certain circumstances. Also, it would be dishonest of me to say that I could remotely feel the same fear and anxiety about what my son will encounter in the world as a white child.”

Parfait has been doing quite a bit of traveling lately, so it was only recently that he had a chance to dive back in and address each and every one of the comments left on his original post. Reading them all again, three weeks after we had our VOA 4.0 meetup, I was struck by the honesty of the comments and the wisdom of his responses.

I encourage everyone reading this post to set aside 5 minutes to read Parfait’s piece (“Ferguson…”) and then scroll down to the comments.

I do so with the hope we can all find something to take away from this important conversation about race and how we might — just might — gain a better understanding of ourselves and of each other. In turn, maybe we can help others see the big picture and grasp the nuances too.

***

As one example, this is what I’m talking about:

Lynn:

“An African American couple is one of my family’s closest friends (Fred, a pastor, refers to my family as his white family) and he and his lovely wife, Evelyn, have one child, a son. They fear for their son’s life solely because of the color of his dark skin, in spite of his higher education, based on their daily experience as black Americans.

“I can feel empathy about this, but I cannot share this experience in my worries about my adult daughter. These worries are different and something perhaps others do not understand as you argue that we (white Americans) cannot understand your experience. My daughter experiences discrimination as well solely because she is very obese. She suffers daily from the thin among us glaring at her with no respect for her as a human, but merely disdain for her fat. In the end, they suffer by missing the chance to know this amazingly kind, gentle soul.

“It makes me terribly sad that we live in a world where people are still judged by factors other than their character, whether it be race, gender, age, sexual preference, etc. As a woman, I have experienced issues associated with my gender (first as a young woman dealing with daily unwanted harassment in the form of catcalls, etc., and now as an older woman, dealing with becoming invisible as elderly people do)…”

Parfait:

“Sister Lynn, thanks for your comments. They are pertinent on many points. I could not agree more that one’s experience will never be identical to someone else’s experience. However, let me try to address your statement “As a white American, I simply cannot have that crossover experience. It is not possible.” I think the key is how we unpack the construct “crossing over into another person’s experience.”

brooklyn-bridge-green-md“I like to use the analogy of a bridge. A bridge allows a pathway between two spaces which otherwise would remain separated. By crossing over, we are not claiming to become someone else (it would be arrogant to pretend so). Instead we are getting access to the other space and therefore hearing, seeing and smelling what it is like on the other side of the bridge. As a result of crossing over regularly, one becomes familiar with both spaces and become a guide for others. Some have referred to it as becoming a cultural translator.

“I am sorry about your daughter’s story. That is a very hard place to be. I wish her strength and lots of love from family and community to hold her spine through this.

“Despite man’s ability to be cruel, I do believe that the human race is a special race because of its God given potential to love a degree higher than any other race. Unfortunately, such potential has not yet been realized. Hence, we are operating from a purely reptilian and carnal mind.”

Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

Clip art: ciker.com

VOA 4.0 meetup

From left: Sue Wilcox, Eric Wilcox, Aki Mori, Raghu xxx, Lakshmi Jagannathan

From left: Sue Wilcox, Eric Wilcox, Aki Mori, Raghu Raghavan and Lakshmi Jagannathan

My guest blog project, Voices of August, is now four years old and running. What began as a tentative experiment inviting friends, co-workers and a few online acquaintances to contribute to a month-long collection of essays has evolved into a robust community.

Jennifer Brennock and Lakshmi Jagannathan

Jennifer Brennock and Lakshmi Jagannathan

The annual exercise is something that we all look forward to — in the same way that a sprawling family comes together at the holidays. The comparison is apt because when we come together physically, as we did two weeks ago, it’s an occasion to renew friendships and welcome first-time attendees into the fold.

I hesitate to say that we are a collection of professional and amateur writers because it’s not that simple. VOA is defined more by the friendships that have taken root amongst people who range in age from their 20s to their 60s, whose professions vary widely (a pastor, an architect, a nonprofit executive, an app developer) and whose politics mostly lean left but also tilt right in some cases.

We mostly live in Oregon, but others reside in Washington, California, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. This year, we added friends and a couple of relatives from Alaska, Texas, Slovenia and France. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Starr Flavin, Michael Granberry, Natasa Kocevar Gabric and Patricia Conover.)

David Quisenberry and George Rede

David Quisenberry and George Rede

We write about anything and everything. Travel, exercise, joy, despair, music, technology, life and death. Whatever moves us.

As the blog coordinator and comments moderator, I am doubly fortunate as am I the first to lay eyes on each person’s contribution and to view the feedback each post generates. It’s so gratifying to see expressions of support for someone going through a hard time or embarking on a new adventure. It’s also satisfying to see a person view things in a different light upon reading someone else’s piece.

Most of all, it’s just fun to see these online connections come alive in person.

And so it was that 19 of us, including spouses, gathered Oct. 3 at Kern’s Kitchen, the same place as last year, with new ownership and the same great menu. It was a summery Saturday night and we sat at picnic tables under strings of light as darkness fell.

Jason and Alana Cox

Jason and Alana Cox

As always, we took time to recognize those whose essays we voted as our favorites, simply because they resonated with us. Last year, four women swept the honors. This year, it was five men and one woman, including two first-time contributors. Each received a gift to a bookstore or coffee shop, though only two of them could attend.

The VOA favorites, in no particular order:

Jennifer Brennock, “Baby Shower.”

Parfait Bassale, “Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant.”

David Quisenberry, “The dance.”

John Knapp, “They call me dime-bag.

Jacob Quinn Sanders, “Almost the bad guy.”

Tim Akimoff, “Chicago’s mind-numbing numbers.”

Nike Bentley with husband Jason and daughter Remington.

Nike and Jason Bentley with daughter Remington.

Already, I’m looking forward to next year. As of this post, there are only 287 days until 8/1/15 and the start of Voices of August 5.0.

In case you missed any posts, here’s the VOA 4.0 index page. (Never too late to add a comment on any of them.)

Let the voting begin

Badge - 2008 electionAnother year, another success.

Voices of August 4.0 was every bit as interesting and illuminating as the three iterations before it. No wonder I look forward to it every summer with great anticipation.

As usual, we had 31 different writers participate in VOA, an annual guest blogging project inspired by a friend who asked me to contribute a piece to her blog.

As curator and host, I have the privilege of inviting a changing mix of people to the party — friends, relatives, neighbors, past co-workers — and the pleasure of previewing each person’s essay.

Without exception, I am entertained and delighted by each one. I love the variety of topics, the intimacy of the writing and the compelling thoughts that stay with me after reading such thoughtful, and often highly personal, pieces. I love that everyone brings his or her unique perspective to the project and, in doing so, effectively contributes a square to our digital quilt.

Most of all, I love seeing the sense of community among writers (and readers!) reinforced each year. As disparate as the topics may be, people find common experiences among themselves, prompted by ruminations about work, travel, food, health, parenting, music — and much more. The support and feedback offered in comments here on Rough and Rede II and on Facebook are a wonderful testament to the bonds created among regular contributors and the welcoming embrace of new writers.

Now we come to the bonus part: voting for our favorites.

As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog or who considers himself/herself a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces. We’re not necessarily talking the “best” from a technical writing standpoint. No, I’m talking about whatever resonated with you. What made you laugh or cry? What surprised you or made you see yourself? Who taught you something or made you rethink what you believe?

Please take no more than a week to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 4.0 index page and then send me the titles of your three favorites at ghfunq@msn.com.

Based on the top vote-getters, we’ll narrow those to a handful and have a second round of voting to determine our favorites.

It goes without saying that as you revisit the body of work, it’s one more opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. As human beings, we thrive on feedback.

Deadline to vote: Saturday, Sept. 13.

VOA 4.0 index page

Mist in the woods

An archive of who wrote what during this month of guest blog posts:

Aug. 1 — Oregon’s tallest town is sinking | Jason R. Cox

Aug. 2 — Know when to fold ’em | Lillian Mongeau

Aug. 3 — The girl on the treadmill | Taylor Smith

Aug. 4. — Chicago’s mind-numbing numbers | Tim Akimoff

Aug. 5 — Camera shy | Elizabeth Hovde

 

Aug. 6 — They call me Dime-bag | John Knapp

Aug. 7 — Ten weeks and counting | Al Rodriguez

Aug. 8 — Fakin’ it while makin’ it | Alana Cox

Aug. 9 — Sarah Grimke’s moral courage | Rachel Lippolis

Aug. 10 — The dance | David Quisenberry

 

Aug. 11 — Lucky number 13 | Tammy Ellingson

Aug. 12 — Helpless | Lynn St. Georges

Aug. 13 — The power of culture | Aki Mori

Aug. 14 — The cadence and the sting of the jellyfish | Andrea Cano

Aug. 15 — The need to escape and create | Eric Wilcox

 

Aug. 16 — Grateful for my yoga practice | Monique Gonzales

Aug. 17 — Almost the bad guy | Jacob Quinn Sanders

Aug. 18 — Drowning in technology | Nike Bentley

Aug. 19 — A time-honored tradition | Leroy Metcalf

Aug. 20 — Nervous Nellie | Heather Lalley

 

Aug. 21 — Musical interests circle back to Dylan | Bob Ehlers

Aug. 22 — Confessions and reflections of a personal trainer  | Lori Rede

Aug. 23 — Comfort zone | Starr Flavin

Aug. 24 — Baby shower | Jennifer Brennock

Aug. 25 — Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant | Parfait Bassale

 

Aug. 26 — Tiger lady | Lakshmi Jagannathan

Aug. 27 — Genesis of the magic | Natasa Kocevar Gabric

Aug. 28 — This song’s for you | Michael Granberry

Aug. 29 — Riding the NYC subway | Lauren Dillard

Aug. 30 — From Portland to Paris | Patricia Conover

Aug. 31 — A magical island wedding | George Rede

 

Image: John Hoaglund, III

A magical island wedding

Kyndall Mason and Simone Rede are married by their friend and officiant Paul Sayko on a deck overlooking Eastsound, Wash.

Kyndall and Simone are married by their friend and officiant Paul Sayko on a deck overlooking Eastsound, Wash.

By George Rede

Three weekends ago, our fabulous daughter, Simone, and her equally fabulous partner, Kyndall, stood under an arch overlooking a shallow inlet in Eastsound, Washington, and got married.

People have asked me since our return to Oregon, “So, how was it?”

There’s a short answer: Fabulous. Just about perfect in every way.

There’s a slightly longer answer: It felt like a party. Just under 100 friends and family came from a dozen states, some from 2,500 miles away, to a destination wedding that was thoughtfully planned and beautifully executed.

The weather was perfect, the venue was comfortable, the vibe was informal, the sit-down dinner was delicious, and people who had never been to Orcas Island off the Washington coast were dazzled by its beauty.

It was a gorgeous, sun-kissed evening that began with a poignant exchange of vows and led into a nightlong celebration of song, dance and food that lifted everyone’s spirits.

And then there is a fuller answer.

Honestly, I could gush forever as a father of one of the brides. But I’ll try to exercise a little restraint and share just a few favorite memories and observations.

Kyndall and Simone, sharing a moment in the spotlight.

Kyndall and Simone, sharing a moment in the spotlight.

First and foremost, I’ve seldom been as proud and happy as I was that Saturday, August 9. Seeing our middle child, our darling daughter, radiant in her white wedding dress and with a miles-wide smile on her face made my heart sing.

Seeing the love of her life, standing tall, looking stylish and bursting with joy, filled me with pride.

Seated next to my wife and sharing the same bench as our two sons and their sweethearts, Lori and I could feel the love between Simone and Kyndall – as well as the love for Simone and Kyndall among their friends and family.

Stealing a glance at those gathered around, I felt the bonds of friendship and a sense of pride in knowing so many people, young and old, who made the commitment to travel hundreds of miles or more to be there on that special day. Getting to Orcas means giving up a day just to get there via car, airplane or ferry. But once you’re there, what a salve for the soul.

A collection of items arrayed on the table where guests signed their names and picked up party favors, including small bags of organic coffee beans.

A collection of items arrayed on the table where guests signed their names and picked up party favors, including small bags of organic coffee beans.

Second, there’s a huge difference between a wedding where you’re invited by the couple’s parents and one where you’re invited by the couple themselves.

Often when parents are heavily involved, you find yourself feeling like you’re playing a part in someone else’s ideas of tradition and how things should be. I know I felt that way when Lori and I were married at 22, swept along with little sense of our own imprint.

Not so with two strong young women in their 30s, who have lived independently of their parents for a decade or more and took responsibility for planning and financing their big day. This event took months of research and coordination; a spreadsheet or two to track costs and tasks; and lots of thoughtful attention to details that would make the day special and unmistakably their own.

Two examples: In lieu of a wedding cake, guests were asked to bring a homemade pie for dessert. As a late-night snack, several giant take-and-bake pizzas emerged from the oven as the perfect fuel to keep people dancing toward the midnight hour.

OK, three: The girls planned the menu with our friend and lifelong island resident, Juliana Capdeville, as chef, knowing she’d include vegetables from her own garden and bake her own bread as part of a healthy dinner served family style.

A chorus line of friends who graduated from Grant High School with Simone. From left: Katie Dickman, Dida Valenzuela, Makinna Ridgway, Eddie Vaught, Shannon Jones, Margaret Dean, Erin Donnelly.

A chorus line of friends who graduated from Grant High School with Simone. From left: Katie Dickman, Dida Valenzuela, Makinna Ridgway, Eddie Vaught, Shannon Jones, Margaret Dean, Erin Donnelly.

Third, from the standpoint of marriage equality, it was a big deal. We’re living through an historic time in our nation’s slow but steady acceptance of same-sex marriage.

State by state, whether by court decision, legislation or popular vote, Americans are coming to realize there is no reason one person should not be able to marry the person he or she loves.

Washington state voters last year approved a ballot measure extending the same rights and privileges of marriage to gay couples. Oregon joined the crowd this year when a federal judge overturned a voter-approved ban as unconstitutional.

Many older Americans – and residents of more conservative states in the South and the Midwest – continue to resist the inexorable change. Thankfully, younger people get it. And so it was enormously satisfying to see Simone and Kyndall’s friends – male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, married, single, whatever – coming together to celebrate their love.

Final thoughts:

Three Saturdays ago, the Odd Fellows Hall transformed from a nondescript hall on a dead-end street to a vibrant, raucous place for a party. It was a place where you could be yourself and reach across the generational or geographic divides. It was a place where you could meet someone who had gone to grade school or high school with Simone or to college with Kyndall; someone who had lived with one or the other in Poughkeepsie or Bellingham; someone who knew them from Portland or Pittsburgh.

Marriage is a rare event that brings together parents, siblings, friends and relatives from both sides and tosses them together like so many ingredients in a salad. On this day and night, everything and everyone blended beautifully and harmoniously.

You might even say it was magical.

Photographs: Anna-Lee Fields, Lori Rede, George Rede

George Rede married Lori Rauh on Sept. 6, 1975, in a church in San Jose, California 18 months after their first date as San Jose State seniors. That was the first and only time George wore white patent leather shoes … to match his white tuxedo and bow tie. Lori, of course, looked radiant with long brown hair to the middle of her back.

From Portland to Paris

An American girl near the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris.

An American girl near the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris.

By Patricia Conover

The school year was just beginning in 2005. Kirk and I had lived in Portland for a little over ten years. Our three children attended three great schools. We had wonderful friends we loved and meaningful work. We owned a house and a car and furniture and all the stuff middle-aged married people are expected to own in America.

But the adventurous spirit that originally drew us together in a Manhattan bar sometime in the murky nineteen-eighties and then propelled us nearly 2,500 miles to Portland was reawakening. We dreamed of new vistas. We talked endlessly about where to move next on long scenic drives to Neskowin or Seattle, but we couldn’t figure out whether to return to New York or venture forth to a whole new country.

Kirk is an architect and I am a writer. While daydreaming about our next great place I occasionally checked out the employment ads in other countries. The ugly economic slowdown was just beginning to show signs of arriving, but there were still jobs to be had. An ad caught my eye: Architect Paris.

I smiled. My husband and I had spent our honeymoon in Paris and we had returned several times since then. We were both Francophiles and dabbled in French history and culture. Two out of three of our kids even had French names.

But Kirk loved his job at a Portland architecture firm known for its collaborative work and outstanding design. I knew that he would have a hard time leaving it. And it had taken me more than ten years to build a reputation in the northwest. I was finally being hired for writing gigs in California, Oregon and Washington.

Sigh. I emailed the ad to Kirk and immediately forgot about it.

Paris2006

Kirk and the girls on a 2000 visit to Paris.

Several weeks later, Kirk told me that he had scheduled a job interview for the position I spotted. We were beyond thrilled, but we agreed not to talk about it with anyone until arrangements were finalized. Sometime in the spring of 2006, Kirk was hired and we began planning our move to Paris.

Family and friends were surprised but supportive, although one friend lectured me about how selfish we were to take our kids abroad while they were still in school. She was the only naysayer:  Everybody else was delighted by our news, especially our children.

The next months were spent packing, collecting documents, procuring passports, requesting long-stay visas from the French consulate, renting our house, finding a place to live and applying to French schools.

The day drew closer. We gave away most of our possessions and furniture, and, because our first apartment did not permit dogs or cats, our sweet pets went to stay with generous animal-loving friends.

We boarded our flight to Paris and never looked back.

Until.

Until we realized that we had traded our real life, a life that we loved, for a fantasy life in Paris.

Paris is beautiful. To my mind, it is the most beautiful city in the world. But during those early days, living in Paris was like dating the most handsome man in the room and finding out that he couldn’t carry on a conversation.

We missed our family and friends. We had traded a four-bedroom house for a tiny apartment. The girls were absolutely miserable. Many of their French teachers were strict and seemingly without sympathy. The whole educational system was completely different and difficult to fathom . Our level of French was abysmal. The red tape bureaucracy to stay in France was never ending. Everything was strange: The language, the food, the culture, and the people.

But then something clicked.

We had been told repeatedly that one is not truly “at home” in Paris until a French person extends an invitation to dinner. This invitation may take years to materialize. Sometimes, it never arrives at all.

The French adore writing angry notes. They tack them up in the apartment hallway, push them into mailbox slots, or tape them to the front door. We began to receive hand-written notes complaining about how noisy we were. The neighbor who lived directly above ours signed the notes.

In truth, we weren’t that noisy by American standards, but three teenage girls lived in our apartment. That tells you everything you need to know.

Kirk-conover-girls

Kirk Conover with daughters Madeleine, Genevieve and Cameron in Gordes, France in 2006.

I was afraid that we would be deported. Every time the doorbell rang, I thought that it was the police. I constantly shushed the kids, forbade loud music, pleaded with them not to shriek every time they got a facebook “like” and harangued everybody about taking their shoes off as soon as they came inside.

One day, someone pounded on the door at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday. I looked through the peephole.  It was our note-writing neighbor, red-faced and angry. I cautiously opened the door.

In rapid fire French, my neighbor asked me why I was moving furniture all day and torturing cats at night. He swept past me and into the living room. Our seventh grader was sprawled out on the couch, watching a video. Our high school freshman was creating a masterpiece omelet in the kitchen. Our college girl was working on a paper at the dining room table.

All three girls began speaking to him in French at once. They apologized profusely for any inconvenience. They promised to be more quiet and subdued. They promised be more French.

Charmed, his cranky face broke into a toothy smile.

“I love Americans,” he exclaimed. He forgave us for all our imagined sins. He told us that he would return in a moment and rushed out the door. In a few moments he returned to introduce his wife, son, and daughter.

“We would be honored if you would have dinner with us tonight in our apartment,” he said warmly.

A herald of acceptance had occurred, and we had only been in the country a few months.

Thus, our real life in Paris began. Slowly, with effort and determination, our French improved. We made friends and confidently explored the gorgeous architecture and the landscape. We shopped at the outdoor markets and drank black coffee with our croissants. We arranged to bring our dog to France. Although the education was rigorous, our kids began to thrive. I wrote more and it became easier to publish my work. Our family traveled inexpensively to more countries than we could ever have imagined because the whole of Europe was accessible to us.

We had turned our lives upside down, but we had opened our hearts and minds to fresh experiences and opportunities. With that open spirit came disasters as well as successes. There were growing pains, but we learned to be adaptable and flexible. We learned how to improvise and be resourceful. At a time in our lives when many people become set in their ways, we moved ahead into uncharted territory. We never again accumulated “things.” We accumulated experiences.

We fell in love with Paris all over again.

Time here lurches forward more slowly because every day is full of new and unexpected lessons.

Patricia Conover

Patricia Conover

Ultimately, the best part moving to France is the fact that we’ve all learned to keep learning all the time. As difficult as moving from Portland to Paris was, we feel as though we would do it all again.

We gave up our roots but we gained wings.

Now that our youngest child is attending college, Kirk and I are contemplating our next move.

We regret nothing.

Watch a video of Edith Piaf singing France’s unofficial anthem,Non, je ne regrette rien” ( “I regret nothing”):  http://youtu.be/Q3Kvu6Kgp88  

Patricia Conover is a writer.  Her work has been published in numerous publications, including The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Oregonian. She has taught writing and communication courses at several French universities, most recently at EFAP Paris, L’École des métiers de la communication.  She is currently working on a book about the expat experience in France. 

***

Editor’s note: Patricia’s first career was in publishing. After moving to Portland from New York, she pitched three story ideas to me when I was an editor working in a suburban bureau for The Oregonian. I didn’t know what to make of this young mom who had no journalism experience and wore a Snugli carrying her youngest child (now off to college). Soon enough, her work gave me the answer: “You’re a writer.” Indeed, she is.

 Tomorrow: “A magical island wedding” by George Rede

Riding the NYC subway

 

Knowing the etiquette is essential as a New York City subway passenger,

Knowing the etiquette is essential as a New York City subway passenger,

By Lauren Dillard

As a farmer’s daughter from just outside of Portland, Ore., I rushed to the DMV on my 16th birthday to test for my drivers’ license. Before moving to New York, I had driven a car nearly every day for the subsequent 11 years.
Now, with my 2007 Toyota Corolla parked at my family’s farm just outside of Gresham, I am committed to mass transit on the East Coast. Twice each week, I take one bus and two trains to get to work in Brooklyn. The journey takes about 90 minutes each way.
Riding the New York City subway with any regularity is the most impersonal personal experience I have ever had. While standing directly over someone, I try to avoid eye contact or touching them in any way.

I don’t always succeed.

For those who make mass transit part of their daily commute, it’s a religious experience. Brendan Truscott makes a three-hour (each way) commute from Connecticut each weekday.“You know the tricks, right?” he asked me one day as we shared the start of our journey home. Instead of walking the length of the train to make a connection, it’s smart to position yourself for the connecting stop. If you’re riding rush hour, heading toward the front or back of the train will give you a better, though not guaranteed, shot at a seat.

Lauren Dillard

Lauren Dillard

I pleaded with him to leave me behind as he sprinted to make our connection. I’ve worn athletic shoes and carried a change in my backpack ever since.

Without cell service underground, you are subject to your own preparedness. Whether or not I’ve downloaded a podcast for the trip, I cram headphones into my ears signaling that I’m not available for conversation or cash. I can politely ignore the preacher shouting at Manhattan-bound morning passengers or the gentleman playing his music out loud — again.

Once we arrive in Manhattan, the passenger demographics change. Black and Latino passengers disembark and a wave of mostly-white, clearly affluent passengers board for a few stops.

A friend who grew up in Queens — riding the subway when her parents thought she was staying with friends — advised riding in the first car near the driver during late-night travel.

“White girls won’t help you,” she said. She advised finding a clean-cut Black man if I need help.

According to the Metro Transit Authority, there were 677 million boardings at 421 subway stations in 2013. New Yorkers are very serious about Subway etiquette and safety, dedicating whole websites to the cause. Solicitation is not allowed. Neither is gambling.

Rail-InfoConformity is a virtue in such a densely populated place.

I have been doused in sticky sweet coffee as an exiting passenger shouted and threw her cup toward another passenger. I have made abrupt decisions to change train cars when exiting passengers left me alone with another passenger. I have walked many miles after mistakenly boarding the wrong train.

There’s something about shared vulnerability that makes the subway authentically New York. Even in coffee-stained pants, I’ve always made it home. Lauren Dillard is a Portland native who recently moved to NYC to pursue her interest in product development (read: mobile apps and more) and to be closer to her recently relocated partner, Andy. Her hobbies include hiking, science fiction, knitting (poorly) and sour beer.

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Editor’s note: Lauren was part of the inaugural group of writers who helped me launch Voices of August four years ago. Back then, she was 18 months removed from The Oregonian newsroom, where she had done an internship following her graduation from Oregon State University. Aside from being a smart and witty young woman with experience as a search and rescue volunteer, she’s also something of a human Swiss Army knife, with writing, graphics and multimedia skills well suited to the digital age.

Tomorrow: “From Portland to Paris” by Patricia Conover

This song’s for you

By Michael Granberry

A little more than a decade ago, I made a discovery. I interviewed Janis Ian, a 1970s pop icon who was playing a cool little venue here called Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse.

I had long been a fan of Janis, who in 1975 released one of my all-time favorite albums, Between the Lines, which contained the unforgettable single, “At Seventeen,” about the pain of adolescence. I had first become aware of her in 1967, when she bravely released “Society’s Child,” a single about interracial romance. As a teenager, she endured racist heckles in venues around the country in singing her song live.

Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

Janis’ show at Uncle Calvin’s was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It also provided a gateway to many other shows and allowed me to embrace Uncle Calvin’s as a sanctuary, a quiet corner where I retreat on Friday nights to hear some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

At 62, I am a few months younger than Janis and part of the demographic that comes to Uncle Calvin’s on a weekly basis. We go there to hear singer-songwriters who touch our hearts, whose ballads don’t climb to the top of the charts but who leave us with unforgettable stories that remind us of the best in life.

Don’t get me wrong. I have long been enamored of Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and many others who long ago achieved white-hot commercial success. At Calvin’s, I get to hear people who are talented to the max but who harbor no real hope of ever achieving a similar Platinum-studded career.

Uncle Calvin’s introduced me to Jimmy LaFave, a terrific singer-songwriter based in Austin, who delivers one of the best cuts on the newly released Jackson Browne tribute album. LaFave mixes his own finely crafted songs, such as “Only One Angel” and “River Road,” with such dynamite covers as “Walk Away Renée,” first recorded by the Left Banke in 1966.

I have gone there to hear John Gorka, whose searing ballads leave a lasting impression, and Gretchen Peters, who has written numerous big hits for other artists (Martina McBride and “Independence Day” come to mind) but whose own songs, sung in her own voice, leave me in awe. Gretchen’s “Idlewild,” named for the airport now called JFK, is a work of art unto itself, a story of her parents’ marriage breaking up and her grandmother nearing death, set against the backdrop of the Kennedy assassination and the racial unrest of the 1960s.

Uncle Calvin’s, like similar venues around the country, is set in the fellowship hall of a church, although nothing about it is religious in nature, except for the music, which is often heavenly. Volunteers book the shows and make the coffee and desserts, which alone are worth the trip. Alcohol and cigarettes are not allowed. It’s a listening room, where lyrics go straight to your ear without the distraction of a drunk at the next table interrupting a tug on your heartstrings.

In recent years, a new phenomenon has surfaced at Calvin’s. The crowd remains attached to the senior demographic and yet the performers are increasingly younger. Many are women. I have heard such twenty-something stars as Liz Longley, who reminds me of Joni Mitchell more than any young female singer I know; Emily Elbert, Liz’s classmate at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, who so wowed a crowd of Palestinians and Jews in East Jerusalem that they ended the night holding hands and singing along to Bob Marley’s “One Love”; and Natalie Gelman, who started out singing in the subways of New York but now tours the country with her own poetic magic packed in her suitcase.

These women thrive as anachronistic angels giving us gifts that come without the promise of bullets on a Billboard chart. Sad? A little, I suppose, but I have spent time with each, and none appears the least bit melancholy, except when they’re singing a breakup song.

Like Allie Farris, a gifted singer-songwriter from Dallas, they travel the highways of America, in sheer solitude, moving from one outpost to the next. Allie and Liz now live in Nashville, harboring the hope, I suppose, of selling one of their gorgeous songs to a country artist whose version may sell millions. I, of course, prefer to hear them sing their own songs. It’s a gift I would love to share with you, urging you to attend and support the Calvin’s clones in your cities.

Enjoy. These heavenly voices are bringing us one of the best gifts of life and asking so little in return.

Michael Granberry is an arts and feature writer and a Sunday arts columnist for The Dallas Morning News. 

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Editor’s note: Mike and I met as college students when we were summer interns at The Washington Post in 1973, when the Watergate investigation was at its height. We hit it off amazingly well — he is a superb storyteller and wickedly funny. When Lori and I were married two years later in California, I asked Mike to be my groomsman. As the years passed, we fell out of touch but thanks to social media we have recently reconnected and I am planning to visit him in Dallas next month.

Read more: Michael’s recent story on 20-something female singers (includes four videos).

Tomorrow: “Riding the NYC subway” by Lauren Dillard