Monday, April 28, 2014

Be a Drip!

This commentary was originally posted and aired on Portland Radio Project.

Okay folks, cue the music...or just go to this YouTube of the Manhattan Transfer singing my theme, song, "Java Jive..."

I love coffee. I don’t mean that in the generic way that most Portlanders say, “I love coffee.”  I mean that I refuse to get out of bed until someone brings me a cup of coffee. Fit the paper cone into a funnel, put in two scoops of Stumptown, pour hot water over it.  And you can even compost the grounds.  How Portland can you get?

Portlanders recycle, we bike, we compost, we garden, and we drink coffee.  A lot of coffee.  Pour over, lattes, grande decaf skinny mochas with double whip, single-cup…whoa.  Back up.  Single-cup?

The Harris poll reports that the market for single cup brewers doubled in the last year alone.  You know, those machines that use a little teensy plastic container with two tablespoons of coffee and flavoring to make just one special cup of coffee?  According to the Oregon Business Journal, even our very own Boyd Coffee is now making single-cup coffee pods.  They use less packaging than other single-cup brewers, so I guess that’s good, the Oregon reduce/reuse/recycle aesthetic meets crazy-individual-serving-waste.   But really, people!  Even John Sylvan, the founder of Keurig, says that coffee made the single-cup way creates ten times more garbage than the drip method!
We’re talking hundreds of millions of pounds of coffee-pod trash going into landfills every year.

So I say, don’t be a derp, be a drip!  


Monday, April 21, 2014

Teenagers Are People Too

This post originally appeared and was aired on Portland Radio Project.

Hey, can we stop treating teenagers like they’re nuts, dishonest, or predatory?

Where did this COME from? I’ve taught a lot of middle and high school kids here in the Portland metro area and this seems to be one of the last legit biases.  Most young people I know are loving, funny, they work hard, and they have personal integrity to burn. At first it just made me tired to have people say things like, “And you believed him?” or “I’m sorry, I can’t trust a boy to babysit my children.” Well, now it just makes me mad. According to the class in Adolescent Psychology, adolescents are inherently idealistic, not dishonest. Yeah, they are a bit self-centered, and wouldn’t you be if you were doing all the grown-up things for the first time and hoping that you were doing them right? Most teenagers I know are trying as hard and as anxiously as they can to please the adults in their lives, and they’re running scared because they don’t think it’s possible.  

Cut ‘em a break, folks.  You were there once, remember?

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I woke up crying this morning.

I have a new way of crying…it doesn’t involve sobbing, or diaphragmatic contractions, or really any physical sensations at all.  My throat doesn’t even get tight.  I’ll just become aware that my sight is blurred.  It gets hard to see, and then I feel water spilling down my cheeks from my eyes.  They just fill up with water and then overflow.

Where is this coming from?  There’s a lot of undifferentiated Weltschmerz going on, I know.  Or maybe not so undifferentiated.  The New York Times estimated that between 7,000 and 17,000 people will die each year because of Republican governors who have repudiated federal dollars to extend Medicaid to their constituents, just to vent their political spleen. 

That kind of thing used to make me mad.  But now I don’t have the energy that anger takes.  It just makes me sad.
The recent reports provided to the U.N. on global warming – I’m sorry, climate change – which was accompanied by the conclusion that we really have just about ten years in which to make the huge changes in carbon emissions necessary to avoid catastrophic events such as the “collapse of ice sheets, a rapid rise in sea levels, and difficulty growing enough food,” -- which said that 95% of the world’s scientists are convinced that not only is global warming real, but it’s much worse than the worst case scenarios for this spot in the apocalyptic timeline had envisioned in the last report – has me feeling a little bit blue.

That’s an understatement.  A little blue?  I feel like I’m Spock.  Remember the Star Trek movie, “The Search for Spock,” where his aging was tied to the aging and death of the Genesis planet?  I’m almost 58, and I keep hearing doomsday predictions of what kind of case this ol’ planet will be in, in the year 2050 – about the time I’ll be 94.  Not the age you want to be about the time the Earth starts to resemble the set of Waterworld.

So there’s that, and the propensity of the Supreme Court to redefine corporations as individual human beings, at least in terms of freedom of speech and religion, and don’t even get me started on the NRA and how many more freedoms we have to bear arms in the wake of the slaughter of five-year-olds at Sandy Hook.  What happened to the evolutionary adaptation of taking care of your tribe?

No.  What’s really got me lately is that for the first time in thirty years, this was the first Easter that I didn’t sneak into a kid’s room with an Easter basket.  Last year, I snuck into my nineteen-year-old son’s room at six a.m.  Why in the world would any teenage boy be awake then?  I have the weight of dozens of scientific studies that say that teenagers’ bio-clocks are set on a time zone from another planet completely.  Well, my son must not have kept up with science because he sat up in bed, pointed at me and said, “I KNEW you were the Easter Bunny!”  Finally.  He was elated at having evidence, PROOF, at last.  I guess after that he could move out.  Mom is the Easter Bunny.

But this Easter, we got up, Ed went downstairs to work because he’s trying to meet a deadline, I went outside to do battle with the dandelions and then we went to brunch with my mother and father-in-law. We didn’t even dye eggs. Happy Easter.

If I were to be completely honest, I would have to say that I think the real reason I’m sad is that my job of parenting is done.  My job of mothering a daughter is over – she’s thirty, so this isn’t big news.  That job has been replaced with a relationship, and it’s a happy one, so good.  My job of mothering a son is over.  He’s twenty, so again, it was time for him to join the Navy or the Peace Corps or go to college.  It doesn’t matter which one he chose. What matters is that for the last year, instead of cuddling a little warm body in a blue footie sleeper or following around a chortling two-year-old or mentoring a clueless middle school boy with out-of-control-hair or driving around a popular high school music star, I got nothin’.  When I want someone around who gets my sense of humor and dishes it back effortlessly, I got nothin’, and when I want to hug my kid, feeling a little bit of soft fat over hard muscle and a big heart, I got nothin’.

And during this seismic shift, my best friend decided that for some reason she doesn't want to talk to me anymore…so now I don’t have her to gripe to.

So I’m sad.  And the big question now is, what to do about it?

Hey, this is me.  So what I did was write a 340-page novel.  And get involved in local independent media and learn to write commentary and edit audio files.  But at the end of the day – and eventually you have to acknowledge that the day is over and it’s time to do something other than work or sleep – what I’ve got is sadness.

So I’m feeling sad right now.  And that’s just a fact.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Feel the Pulse

Everyone in my family is a musician and performer and our son is no exception, so when we chose a neighborhood to move into years ago, we were careful to choose one with a school that had a performing arts program. We bought a house that would let Robin go to Cleveland High, a large inner city school with one of the three good music programs left intact in the city's public schools.

At the end of Robin's Junior year, we learned that the district was cutting the music program in half and replacing the full-time teacher with a half-time middle school teacher who had mostly taught band. In case you're wondering (and you may not be), music teachers are not interchangeable. Middle school kids are not high school kids, and teaching students to play a musical instrument is an entirely different skill set from teaching choral singing. As far as the community could tell, this meant that our wonderful music program was going down.

And this is a school where parents send their talented young musicians, because they believe that the arts is an important part of a culture and that their children should have a musical education and that the creation and enjoyment of music is as important to our quality of life as, say, learning calculus.

So far, kids at Cleveland are still receiving music instruction and having the opportunity to learn and perform in a nationally recognized music program, but it's because we were lucky enough to be assigned a teacher who is energetic, optimistic, smart, skilled beyond her credential and was willing to spend her first year at Cleveland working a 60 hour week for 20 hours of pay, while retraining herself by taking classes in choral literature, vocal production, and conducting, and because there were and continue to be many volunteers, parents of kids in the program, who put in close to another 40-50 hours each week to raise money, communicate with parents and kids, organize the choir retreat and tour, and keep up with the music library.  (That was three years ago, by the way, and the story has a happy ending -- our marvelous choir director is up to speed and is now being paid what she's worth, there are hundreds of kids in the choral program, and volunteers keep signing up, thank goodness.) 

I've been curious about why it seems to be okay with us, as a society, to treat music as a profession and as an academic offering in this shoddy way.   Would we put up with having to run an MBA program on volunteers and contributions?  We seem to believe that music itself is important.  Who among us could get along without hundreds of songs loaded onto our phone or iPod? But we still think of music classes as one of those peripheral things, easy to drop when the funding gets tough. We don't have to pay musicians. They should just make music for free. And it's true that most musicians will sing or play for free, because we just can't help it. But we need to pay the bills too.

There's more to say about this, and someday I'll write a post about the "sacralization of art" -- that is, imbuing the arts, and music in particular, with a mystique that is, for some of us, reality -- the reality that music touches our souls, and therefore doesn't fall into the category of something that has to be paid for, any more than you pay to go to church.

But just for those of you who want or need one more example about the power of music, here's a little story from a few years ago.

Robin was admitted into the hospital for a heart procedure. It was  his third one, so you'd think we would have gotten used to it, but you never entirely get used to the idea that a cardiologist is going to thread a catheter into your son's carotid artery and down to his heart, look around and maybe cauterize a troublesome electrical pathway in there. Robin was anxious, shall we say. It was 7:00 a.m. and his pulse rate was 100 beats per minute. And he was just lying there waiting for an IV.

Then his dad started singing a British pub song, "Country Life," and Robin joined in with some harmony. Then they sang a camp song about a sailing ship, "The Golden Vanity." Robin's pulse dropped to 72. They started to wheel him down to the operating room and Robin sang "We're Off to See the Wizard" all the way down the hall. Just before they took him in, Robin took my hand and said, "I'm okay, Mom. I'm not afraid any more."

They wheeled him into the room and the nurse, who had noticed that Robin had brought his ukelele with him, turned on the stereo with Izzy Kamakawiwo'ole singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Through the door, I could see Robin smile. Then they closed the double doors and his Dad and I went upstairs to wait.

Six hours later we talked to the surgeon. They had found two pathways that were creating odd heart rhythms, one right on the AV node. They were successful in ablating the pathways. We were able to go in and see him, once he was awake enough to pay attention, and could tell him that the procedure was successful and that he could enroll him in a driver's education program now.

And although I don't have any scientific reason for knowing this, I am sure that one reason why he did so well is because of singing harmony in a hospital room and listening to his favorite singer and having his ukelele with him, right beside his bed.

And I know why his parents did so well, too.
Music heals hearts.

It's a Choice

This post originally appeared and was aired on Portland Radio Project, the brainchild of the friend of my youth, Rebecca Webb -- a very cool pastiche of radio, digital newspaper and social media.  Check it out in all its glory!

Here in Sellwood, we’re getting a groovy organic non-GMO food store, the Moreland Pantry.  My neighbors and I were all excited about this.  Then we learned that the owner had posted on her Facebook page that she believes homosexuality leads to pedophilia and bigamy.  Now, she wouldn’t refuse service to homosexuals, although she believes that businesses should have the right to do so.

Now I know that just because someone agrees with me about food, they may not agree with me about religion or politics.  That’s Thanksgiving in a nutshell.  And they might not approve of some of my friends’ marriages, because they’re both men or they’re both women.

And I understand that for some people, it’s an article of faith that people who have similar plumbing shouldn’t have sex, and religious freedom is a right protected by the First Amendment. And they have the right to express those beliefs  – there’s that First Amendment again.

But if you want to open a groovy store in a neighborhood full of tolerant straight people and married gay people, then you might not want to go Facebook with those beliefs.  

Because now a lot of my neighbors and I don’t want to shop at the Moreland Pantry.  And that’s our right too.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Seize the Day

Well, sports fans, since I'm going to hike the Dolomites when I'm 100 years old (and you wouldn't just do that once, right?) I realized I've got another forty years ahead of me, so that's another whole adult lifetime, starting now.  So I've decided to re-set my age to thirty.  Which is a little awkward, since my daughter is thirty, but hey.

So I had to come up with a new career.  Obviously, it’s gotta be writing!  Well, and a little music.  You know my new mission statement, “Saving the world through words, music, and not looking before you leap.”

 I just finished my first novel, Baltimore Daze.  Cool beans.  But even cooler is that I'm making a foray into being a Radio Personality.  You may catch my new weekly commentary, Carp O'Diem, at the Portland Radio Project.   I even get groovy theme music!

Here's my first "Carp," which was originally aired on PRP on April 7, 2014.
Have you heard about the “Hobby Lobby” case now before the Supreme Court?  Here’s the question:  If an aspect of health care violates an employer’s religious beliefs, should they be able to deny those aspects of health care to their employees?  Even if those employees don’t share those beliefs.  

This could have an effect on a huge number of U.S. citizens.  And we could be talking about not just contraception.  Could employers opt out of funding vaccinations, blood transfusions, or mental health care?  Never mind that MSNBC reported Thursday that Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) plan is heavily invested in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptive drugs.  They could have divested those holdings instead of attempting to turn the First Amendment into Silly Putty, to justify yet another attack on the Affordable Health Care Act.

I used to teach the Constitution.  The point of religious freedom as protected by the First Amendment, as I understand it, was to keep a minority from imposing their religion upon others as a mandate.

Which is what this sounds like to me. The Supreme Court could decide to give private employers the right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees to the point of restricting their access to health care.