Coronavirus Diary: Back to School

My friend and collaborator Gino DeGrandis — photographer for our mutual client, Fit Kids — snapped this photo of the near-unprecedented thunderstorms that rolled through the San Francisco Bay Area on August 16. One of Gino’s photographic specialties is stormchasing all over the world. He’s seen a few, some too close for comfort.

This one was not so threatening in and of itself, but its 10,800 lightning strikes sparked hundreds of fires in the Bay Area, plus a phenomenon new to me called a “fire tornado.” The three major “fire complexes” — named the LNU, the SCU, and the CZU — have burnt a half-million acres. The CZU, in my county of San Mateo, is 0% contained and threatens more than 24,000 structures.

For now, I am safe other than inhaling the occasional floating ash while running or bicycling, which I must, even more than usual, to stay centered during the Coronavirus crisis, let alone this latest shit-rain. An August thunderstorm, a delightful staple of my Midwestern days, but never experienced during my quarter-century in the Bay Area, contained next to none of the actual rain our region needs to prevent fires.

What to do? Keep working. After all, it’s back-to-school season.

When Gino emailed me his photo, he mentioned that he missed Fit Kids. Pre-pandemic, he shot many of the non-profit’s free after-school fitness trainings for under-served elementary school students. Of course, COVID canceled those for the foreseeable future, and as Fit Kids continues its pivot to distance learning via Home Workout videos, we shoot more footage of scenes like these.

In addition to Fit Kids work, I am re-configuring my Creative Writing curriculum for Citizen Schools to meet their Distance Learning needs and just wrote a back-to-school perspective for St. Thomas Academy: Why Troubled Times May Make this the Best School Year Ever.

My new one-on-one writing instruction clients in Chicago get the Zoom treatment, as do students in the two classes I am teaching for The Writing Salon this month. One of those launched on August 16, about four hours after our thunderstorms passed. After the class, one of my Chicago clients emailed apologies for canceling her August 10 session due to losing power when near unprecedented 100-mile-per-hour gusts tore through the city.

I replied: “Thanks, and no worries. We all do the best we can. Ironically, we lost power out here on Friday when PG&E implemented rolling blackouts because of our ‘heat wave’ and then about 3am today we had a thunderstorm, with lightning strikes that ignited some blazes. At the start of my Writing Salon class today, I had to say, ‘Just log back in to Zoom if we get disconnected due to blackout, fire tornado or plague.’ “

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Swine

About this time, Larry would be pulling the pigs off their spits. The ’82 Project Foundation Swine Social would reach full swing. Along with fellow board members from the Whitefish Bay High School Class of 1982 and our 100 or so guests, we would eat and drink together, pulling cold beers from Beth and John’s ice-filled canoe on the back lawn and toasting our organization for its effort to fund-raise on behalf of our community.

We would heap our plates with pot-luck side-dishes and salads and desserts. We might take a final look at the silent auction items that raise funds, like our $25 food and beverage bracelets, for the scholarships we grant each year to a graduating senior from our alma mater and for the reserve we keep to help community members in need.

We WOULD be doing this right now, but we are not, thanks to the Coronavirus crisis.

Instead, the best I could do today, stuck in California when I was supposed to be at home in Milwaukee for this event, was to bike to the nearest bbq joint for some symbolic swine, meditate on what I was missing, then bike home to refresh myself with a can of Quarantine Beer shipped to me by the co-founder of The ’82 Project, and make a donation equal to my two tickets for admission to the event that SHOULD have been.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Diary: Opening Day

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 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.

Coronavirus Diary: Fit Kids

Inkflow client Fit Kids released its new series of Home Workouts via the e-blast below. School closures during the Coronavirus crisis limit even further the scant fitness resources in the disadvantaged communities where Fit Kids operates.

Each workout uses bodyweight only, providing a fitness solution for underserved youth who live in crowded housing conditions. The pursuit of fitness — with its physical, mental, and social-emotional benefits — is critical to people living in the most vulnerable communities, where COVID-19 has disproportionate impact.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Diary: Streaming Consciousness Bay Path Bike Ride

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Anniversary

What a day! Probably the best one since the start of our shelter-in-place order.

8 a.m.–Led a webinar for Sports Philanthropy Network titled “Content and Communication in the Coronavirus Crisis.”

10 a.m.–Zoom workout with Lori Fhima, my dear friend from University of Minnesota days.

noon–St. Thomas Academy work resumed with an interview of Jackson Najarian, nephew of Peter Najarian, whom I used to interview when he played football for the U.

1 p.m.–Phone call with Arabella DeLucco, Founder of WeXL, followed by shooting video selfies for WeXL.org.

1:30 p.m.–Phone call with my son, Sam.

2 p.m.–Another St. Thomas student interview.

And all day, the one-month anniversary of the Coronavirus crisis, I celebrated my 27th wedding anniversary, thanks to the spectacular Valerie Liberty!

Next post in series: Coronavirus Crisis: Fit Kids

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Week Four

When last week’s gradual closure of parking options limited access to my running stairs, I started biking there instead. But the inevitable occurred, and the stairs shut down completely. Now my go-to outdoor exercise is a 20-mile bike ride along the bay.

Other activities during the Coronavirus crisis include standing in line to get into Trader Joe’s and wondering why major TV networks don’t replay more classic sports. While I wandered the TV desert on Easter Sunday, Willie texted, asking if I planned to watch the H-O-R-S-E competition.

Hell, no!

He texted back wondering what had happened to me. What has happened is that I won’t settle for junk “sports.” If the games don’t matter, I’d rather work, read or write. When it’s TV time, a quick channel check occasionally turns up a classic, such as this one that aired on Showtime last night.

Even without the suspense of the original fight, the athleticism and courage still inspire. A meaningful story still unfolds. That’s why the next bit of appointment TV sports will be Sunday’s debut of “The Last Dance.”

Can’t wait!

Next post in this series: Coronavirus Diary: Anniversary

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Weekend One

In the days before the baby shower we were hosting on March 14, we started receiving reverse RSVPs. Some of the 40 friends and family who had planned to attend changed their plans.

Shaky voicemails wondered whether we might cancel, some concerned for everyone’s health and safety, others perhaps wanting off the hook from making their own decisions. Sometimes my view of human nature veers toward darkness.

Anyway, the show went on. After all, we had plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Some of our guests brought their own. Hand sanitizer, that is.

As each guest arrived, we did a strange dance, negotiating in body language from hug to elbow bump to foot-five. We altered or abandoned the traditional baby shower games that would have involved touching or even passing objects hand-to-hand.

Still, love filled the room, in keeping with the occasion. Conversation remained cheerful, though we sometimes heard worried murmurs. As the shower wound down, our closest friends and family couldn’t help but hug.

The next day, the Ides of March, with Val’s gym closed, she invited her Zumba instructor to lead class on Facebook Live from our living room. When five classmates showed up at our door, I ventured out into the rainy morning.

My stops included a bookstore for a copy of Hanif Abdurraqib’s “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest” and then a walk through the mist past the masked faces, their eyes suspicious of my uncovered mouth and nose, to Cheesecake Factory. There, a Mexican soccer match with no fans in the stands played live on TV.

All the men in the restaurant watched, knowing this could be our last look at live sports for who knew how long. Most, including me, had no idea which teams were playing or any of the players’ names. But it was sports. Live. So we watched.

Afterward, I hit a neighborhood bar our daughter had recommended. The door was locked. Through the windows I could see a few people having a silly string fight. The notice of closure taped to the window mentioned local government’s unofficial reaction to Coronavirus, effective about the time I’d left Cheesecake Factory. I started back to my car.

“Hey,” I heard over my shoulder, “yawanna drink?”

Chasing me through the drizzle was a woman so cartoonishly silicon-and-collagen-inflated that I wondered if she was real at all. “We’re officially closed, but we just finished our staff meeting and decided any customers who stopped by would get free drinks.”

Sold. An NCAA Tournament game from about 15 years ago played silently on the TV. But my attention stayed with the friendly bar owners and employees. We made our connections – talks of travel and sports and ways the neighborhood had changed – and had a few laughs. Soon after Val texted me the all clear, I slipped a twenty onto the bar and stepped out.

“Hey,” I heard over my shoulder. She was running toward me again, this time clutching the twenty. “We can’t take this.”

“You sure?” She nodded yes and held out the bill.

“OK,” I said. “I’ll spend it here whenever this Coronavirus crisis is over.”

Next post in this series: Coronavirus Diary: Workweek One

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

My Adidas arrived by FedEx on Tuesday, just as the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order took effect. Ordinarily, I would have been watching the “First Four” games of March Madness, but the tournament was canceled, supplanted by serious madness and sadness.

The new Dame 6’s — left out front without a doorbell ring, reducing risk of infection — would replace my Dame 2’s, whose four years of mileage and worn tread worsened the chronic, morbid soreness in my knees, anles and feet. Of course, this is nothing to complain about in the age of Coronavirus, but it signaled to me that, as Cardi says, “Shit is getting real!”

Every March that I can remember, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has inspired me to ball as much as possible, and that heats up even more with the start of the NBA playoffs. Whether imagining myself as Norm Van Lier, Butch Lee, Dr. J, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or now, Damian Lillard, the fantasy fuels me.

This March, the confluence of tourney time, my friend Willie’s invitation to join his gym’s over-55 run, and Dame’s dope drop delivered cosmic reassurance that these new shoes would carry me into the next, and probably last, phase of my basketball life. But the night of March 11, it became apparent that televised basketball was ending. Two days later, Friday the 13th, Willie’s run ran its last even before the shelter-in-place order.

In troubled times, since childhood, I turn to family and friends, basketball, and writing. Without basketball, as long as friends and family stay fine, more time and energy will go toward writing. It’s the best way for me to process the Coronavirus crisis and maybe the only way I can contribute to anyone else’s comfort.

That’s what I’ll do here most days – writing about sports or even more important personal and professional topics – at least until the return of Dame Time.

Next post in this series:

Coronavirus Diary: Weekend One