Coronavirus Diary: Funeral

Today I “attended” my first online funeral. I would have stood graveside and sat shiva if not for the Coronavirus crisis. My friend’s father passed from an illness that preceded the pandemic.

He was a beautiful man, praised this morning by his widow, with whom he raised three outstanding children. My friend and her siblings all tearfully spoke on my screen, followed by all six of their children, sharing memories of their Papa.

They told tales of his love of family, sports, dirty jokes, and Dewar’s. I also love his family and sports, and we shared more than a few dirty jokes over many more than a few Dewar’s. I raise one to him now while writing.

It hurt not to be there for my friend today. This is the week I usually spend in Milwaukee with my family, and I would have driven to Detroit for the funeral. But I cancelled Midwest plans because my family fears infection so deeply they would not let me visit.

Pandemic protocol also might have kept me from my friend’s family. Even if not, hugs and handholding would have been out of the question.

The only good that comes from most deaths is a heightened sense of the preciousness of life. Mourning together, supporting each other, we are more mindful of what’s important.

It’s an evil irony that we’re deprived that now – at least in the flesh, face-to-face, literal and metaphorical masks lowered – in a time when so many die alone and so many more seek solace. Still, I give thanks for the life we celebrated today, so well lived that whoever knew him at all will follow his lead in making the most of our time, breathing deeply of life, even knowing that any breath we draw, even in the company of friends and family, may prove fatal.

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Firewords

Most Independence Days it would be time for fireworks. This Fourth of July, it’s time for firewords.

I have always loved this holiday. I was raised to be a patriot. One grandmother was born on the Fourth of July. The other belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution, tracing her lineage to the Revolutionary War financier Haym Salomon.

I drank the same red, white and blue Kool-Aid that most of my peers did. I loved this country and celebrated it every Fourth of July.

Ordinarily at this time of night, I would lie back on a blanket beneath the fireworks at Klode Park in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, where I graduated high school and where my parents still live. I would have spent the day following a parade of stilt-legged Uncle Sams and cheerily oblivious families through the streets, drinking beer sold by Rotary or Kiwanis, and “dancing” to a Tom Petty cover band.

Tonight, July 4, 2020, fireworks sound distantly through my Foster City, California porch door. It’s not a scheduled show. Those are all canceled due to the Coronavirus crisis, as was my annual trip home. Air travel is unsafe while this virus rages, and anyway my parents fear infection too much to let me in the door.

So, any fireworks I hear now are set off by the people. By morning. we’ll learn that some of those fireworks were gunshots. Beyond the Coronavirus crisis there is anger in the streets and a reckoning still to come for the recent police murders of unarmed Black folks George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks.

It’s just as well that I did not have a normal celebration today. We’re not free. We are captive to the Coronavirus crisis and the failed government that flouts it — at our expense and deadly danger — even while flying a fake freedom flag. We suffer from centuries of systemic racism, now fanned by 45.

Maybe it’s best that instead of my normal celebration, I spent today on my porch close-reading Frederick Douglass’ “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” One-hundred-sixty-eight years later, his question remains unanswered. So, this Fourth of July, what’s to celebrate?

Coronavirus Diary: Re-Opening

It’s been more than two weeks since my last diary entry. The main reason is that news, thinking, talking, and writing about protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd have consumed my days and nights. I’ve also focused on selling copies of Az Der Papa and worked extensively with students from my “On Point” class at The Writing Salon.

I could not have imagined anything usurping my mindshare from the Coronavirus crisis, but because of who I am, where I’ve lived, and how my friends are, the anti-racism concerns take precedence. I won’t comment further here on anti-racism to keep this diary as purely as possible about Coronavirus.

As to that, signs (or lack thereof) indicate that much is re-opening. Most importantly, the stairs at my running hill shed their police tape and detour signs about a week ago. It has been a blessing to return to running, now mixed in with cycling as much as 20 miles at a time, to keep me as physically and mentally healthy as possible.

Some live televised sports have resumed, notably boxing, golf, and European soccer. More restaurants, shopping, and other services are now available. We have even seen a few friends in recent days as well as light at the end of the tunnel…at least for now.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Diary: Funeral

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Black Out Tuesday

The Black Out Tuesday social media campaign makes little sense. At best, it’s an easy way for people, brands, organizations, and institutions to express solidarity. But it seems too easy.

Black Out Tuesday is a handy excuse for some people, especially white people, to avoid the necessary difficult conversations about race at the precise moment when those talks are most important. At the same time, perhaps some people, especially black people, need a break from the barrage of messages about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, the Coronavirus crisis’ disproportionate toll on black people, and the President and some of the news media twisting all those stories to defend the racist systems underpinning “America.”

Even if grief moves people to engage in Black Out Tuesday, I hope others remember earlier messages in this current protest movement, such as “silence=violence.” So, today seems the perfect day to raise my voice. Below are links to my work on race, starting with a piece that explains the childhood roots of today’s message, followed by others roughly in reverse chronological order.

Comment on Donald Sterling and Doc Rivers
Opinion and memoir of my childhood in race and sports
Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, 4/28/14

I #RunWithMaud
Commentary, video and shoutouts for the reasons I ran

Speaking of Donald Trump
Video and poem used to introduce my poetry class to middle-school students I teach within the Citizen Schools program

Long Shot: Conversation with Craig Hodges
Video interview of former Chicago Bulls star and activist and author

Voices We Need to Hear
On watching “Black Panther” and the importance of black voices in media

First and Lasting Visions of the Late Jimmy Webb
Remembrance of my friend from Sojourn to the Past, an original “foot soldier” on the Bloody Sunday march over Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge (includes Jimmy’s hilarious remark from the pulpit at Oakland’s First African Methodist Episcopal at the 2:55 mark of this recording).

Our Sojourn
Narrative and photos from a journey with Sojourn to the Past, the civil rights education nonprofit

Coronavirus Crisis: Service

With business slowed by the Coronavirus crisis, recent Inkflow activities focused on serving however possible. For Fit Kids and its partner, Galileo Camps, I wrote this perspective on organizational partnerships.

In collaboration with Citizen Schools, we completed our creative writing apprenticeship. Several remarkably attuned middle-school students continued to show up for distance learning and produced some stunning works of reflection on the pandemic, such as Jeremy’s acrostic poem, and other topics, such as Angel’s longing for homeland.

I even chanced into a Zoom consult with the Tasmanian Tigers Women’s Cricket Team. Don’t ask. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Diary: Re-Opening

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: The Last Dance

Though many of us thirst for live sports on TV, yesterday’s trickles of the Bundesliga, NASCAR, and a golf exhibition did not satisfy. To drink in the beauty and drama of sport, even though the results were known, “The Last Dance” was a full-on firehose guzzle.

Whether you loved or hated Michael Jordan in the era the TV series covered, changed your opinion based on his interviews in “The Last Dance” or even just learned about him for the first time, the show compelled. A glimpse inside a force of competitive greatness slakes the sports fan’s thirst.

Back in the day, you might have wanted to “be like Mike” without knowing what that meant. Now you know a little more and have new perspective on what price you are willing to pay in pursuit of your goals.

Would you want to “win at all costs” like Mike? Or is that approach now so strange that when you consider the apocryphal Vince Lombardi quote — “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” — you think that winning is nothing?

Answers to those questions have profound implications for how you live your life and others live theirs. That’s what keeps sports interesting, more than the action or athleticism, more than the score. That’s what “The Last Dance” gave us over the last five weeks when we needed it most.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Crisis: Service

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction.

Coronavirus Diary: Busy Week

When the Coronavirus crisis closed classrooms, it seemed my work for Citizen Schools would end abruptly. But the organization asked all of us volunteer Citizen Teachers to create a three-minute video about our career paths and another, shorter video wishing students well and sharing some brief guidance.

To my surprise, Citizen Schools featured my videos in their national e-newsletter!

As the above video mentions, this week also marked the introduction of my new novella, Az Der Papa. Here is the second video from the Citizen Schools newsletter.

This week, I also led a three-hour online Writing Salon course for a group of design professionals, plus my new online writing program for Citizen Schools. It’s a thrill to re-connect with students and colleagues, but “distance learning” feels so distant from what we experienced when I introduced this class in February with words that seem even truer today:

Speaking of Donald Trump

Have you heard the new word
From absurd orange bird?

The cock of the walk
Who can squawk
But can’t talk

Who frowns
On the brown
Holds them down
What a clown

Whose wall-building bombast
Blasts outcasts
He thinks he outclasses
But can’t outlast

Vile defiler,
The liar, denier
Of climate fire
Heats our air
Doesn’t care
It’s not fair

We can’t bear
But we swear
We will tear
Your orange hair
If you dare to declare
You are heir to the rare

You are square
So prepare
And beware our despair
When it’s time to compare
We’re the real billionaires

Next in series: Coronavirus Diary: The Last Dance

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction.

I #RunWithMaud

Today, I #RunWithMaud in solidarity with the movement to call awareness to the murder of Ahmaud Arberry, who would have turned 26 today. Today, the movement called for a 2.23-mile run, referencing the date, Februrary 23, that Ahmaud died for running while black.

Quoting from http://www.runwithmaud.com: “Ahmaud Arbery, a fit athlete, was out jogging near his home on a Sunday afternoon in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020, when two white supremacists saw him, got their guns, got in a truck, chased him down, pulled up next to him, shot him at least two times, and killed him right there on the spot. Ahmaud was unarmed, broke no laws, and did nothing wrong. He was only 25 years old when he died.

“The attackers were Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and retired investigator for the DA’s office, and his son Travis. When Gregory saw Ahmaud running in his neighborhood, Satilla Shores, a predominately white community, he and his son immediately armed themselves with a shotgun and a 357 magnum, hopped into their pickup truck, chased him down and shot him.

Thanks to Craig Brown, who alerted me to #RunWithMaud and who hooked me up with the t-shirt that pays homage to a neighborhood where I lived in Milwaukee for part of my childhood and first came in contact with the beauty and tragedy of black America. In addition to expressing solidarity with Ahmaud, my run was dedicated to Craig; to Doug Glass; to basketball budddies Mark, Willie, and Syd; and to Rep. John Lewis and another of the original Selma foot soldiers, Rev. Jimmy Webb, RIH.

Coronavirus Diary: Signs of Life

The 24 hours since the self-inflicted debacle of watching yesterday’s Korean Baseball Organization debut have revealed new signs of life. The middle-school poetry apprenticeship I run for Citizen Schools resumed on Zoom (actually it was Google, but these days “Zoom” is to online meetings as “Xerox” was to photocopying).

The students were spectacular! We started slowly with introductions, as the Coronavirus crisis has changed my class participants, and moved into a five-minute free-writing exercise. Each student produced beyond my expectations. During general discussion, one of the students typed into chat: “I made a new poem.”

Quarantine poem
During this quarantine I always feel bored
The best I did was watch my brother as he snored
I can’t go outside, I can’t go and play
I can’t do much, so here I lay
I’ve seen all the shows, I’ve played all the games
I’ve read all the books, and tedious they became
So now I’m looking for something to do
I’m trying to find something new I can do.

It was moving to know that these kids still want to achieve, still go want to go above and beyond. That was the first new sign of life.

The others occurred today during my (almost) daily bike ride. I ran into Sydney, my brother from another mother, just walking down the bike path. I’d last seen him at the basketball gym in early March, when it was still normal for us to swap sweat and bang bodies in the fight for rebounds. Today, I told him to give me six-feet, but he leaned in for the elbow bump.

A bit further up the path, the golfers had returned to Poplar Creek Golf Course, so named for its two key physical attributes: one edge of the course fronting on Poplar Street, and the concrete run-off ditch that winds majestically through the back nine. It never smelled sweeter.

Next post in series

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction