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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
I love the smell of free coconut shrimp at Outback Steakhouse in the morning after the Minnesota Golden Gophers beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It smells like…victory.
Like crazy Colonel Kilgore, zealotry infused this historic Minnesota football season. For me that stemmed from an unusually spiritual visit with clients at Saint Thomas Academy.
My travel to the Catholic, boys, military, college-prep school was timed for the final home football game of the season. The purpose was to gather material for future alumni magazine and website stories from, among others, Coach Dan O’Brien, whom I had interviewed by phone for an oral history of the football program.
But before meeting O’Brien, there was other business and pleasure to pursue during this homecoming. First was a fantastic walleye dinner at Hazelwood with my friend Mary Hickey, who provided a primer in Catholicism during our childhood in a way that feeds my work with Saint Thomas Academy.
Life doesn’t get more Minnesota than a meal of the local lake delicacy and conversation spiced with Mary’s soulful, rooted values. That talk left me even more prepared for the next morning to finally set foot on the gorgeous grounds of the Academy.
Deborah Edwards — my direct client, and herself a former Gopher Sports marketer — had a full day of interviews and campus touring planned. Walking the halls of this institution, albeit in newer buildings on a different site than its 1885 founding, a sense of history and honor pervaded. You could see how kids would want to live out the Cadet Creed.
That also reflected in the “formation” ceremony, which the Cadets run with precision, formality and fun. They report their news, make announcements, present colors, pledge allegiance, accept competitive honors, receive the daily Senior Speech required of all graduating students, and exhibit the spirit expected on a Football Friday.
Even within the constraints of both the Catholic church and military hierarchy, many aspects of the Academy’s curriculum and social structure are very much of, by and for the students. Whatever else they learn, and that’s a lot, they learn how to make decisions and live with them.
Impressed by the History Room, with its century’s worth of medals and badges, the Innovation Center, with its student-built electric vehicles, the pool, the gym, the ceramics studio, the chapel, and most of all the people, I still welcomed the end of the school day. I wanted to roam the Academy’s acres in solitude and soak in more of its spirit, including a trail that contained the Stations of the Cross and led down to Rogers Lake.
Soon the sun set. The air chilled. The wind picked up. It started snowing sideways. It was a perfect night for football in Minnesota.
Mercifully, Deborah had arranged for a seat in the press box. That added yet another layer to my sense of homecoming and made the Cadets’ 40-3 defeat of Hill-Murray School even more enjoyable.
On my Lyft ride to campus Saturday morning to meet with Coach O’Brien, the driver’s chatter turned to football. Hearing of my years at the U, he asked if I knew Darrell Thompson, who still holds most of the major Gopher rushing records. Assured I’d interviewed Darrell several times back in the ’80s, the driver unspooled a string of his own memories about what a great guy Darrell was and still is and how they used to do non-profit work together to benefit youth in Minnesota.
That driver put me in the way-back machine, which may have been the best place for me, because the chat with Coach O’Brien (not to be revealed until the next article comes out), was even more old-school than the first. We concentrated on quality of character, covering every throwback value imaginable. Given that he was not quite two years removed from coaching for the Gophers, I came away confident that they would do what they did yesterday.
The rest of that day and night, I was walking on air, from hiking Minnehaha Falls to visiting David and Lori Fhima (a past partner in crime around the 1980s Gophers football scene) at their restaurant. It was October-in-Minnesota brisk outside, just as invigorating in the present as it was in the past.
Athletes’ autographs long ago lost their meaning for me. But authors’ autographs still have value, as though the signature itself, and perhaps a personal note based on a moment’s discussion, affirms my connection to the writer’s work.
“There There” by Tommy Orange is such a work. You’ll never read anything else like the brilliant, brutal 10-page prologue, which alone stands as capital L Literature, crashing the canon with its naked depiction of all that has befallen Native Americans.
The San Francisco Public Library named “There There” its One City One Book selection for 2019. The library’s website says, “One City One Book: San Francisco Reads is an annual citywide literary event that encourages members of the San Francisco community to read the same book at the same time and then discuss it in book groups and at events throughout the City. By building bridges between communities and generations through the reading and, most importantly, the discussion of one book, we hope to help to make reading a lifelong pursuit and to build a more literate society.”
I couldn’t wait to discuss this book with Tommy Orange. He so thoroughly inhabited all dozen or so of his chapter-named protagonists that the chance to ask him how he did it could supplant a lifetime of learning how to write.
Held in conjunction with Litquake, the event was scheduled for the library’s main branch on Wednesday, October 16 at 6 p.m. Given the mass public’s appreciation for literature and concern with the Native American plight, plus the sidewalks near the library being littered with needles and human feces, I figured I could show up and get my book signed at 5:59.
But all seats were filled, and so were the aisles until the ushers said we could sit on the floor at the foot of the stage. After some pomp and circumstance, the MC introduced San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck, herself a Cherokee citizen, “in conversation with Tommy Orange.”
Minutes later, it was apparent that this event was no book group writ large. Between long silences and Kim wondering aloud what to talk about, it was an awkward, meandering non-conversation, covering such topics as their discomfort on-stage.
An audience member raised her hand and was called upon. She rose from her seat to suggest they discuss the book. “That’s some privilege,” said a voice from over my shoulder.
Tommy Orange asked her what she wanted to know. She mentioned that the book’s prologue was hard to read and wondered why he chose to write it that way. His head collapsed into his open palm.
Someone else asked if he could repeat the question. “No,” he answered. “We don’t need to repeat the question. Her privilege is showing, and she just needs to cover it up.”
The woman who asked the question and some others who looked like her left the building. While we waited for what was next, another woman raised her hand and was called on. She chastised the author, saying he had “shat” on the first woman. Tommy Orange asked for a moment of silence in memory of those women’s shattered beliefs and “Please, no more white hands raised.”
A few more people walked out. I felt criminal for being white, which kept me mindful of how everyone red — or yellow or black or brown — had suffered so much more for their skin. I genuinely wanted to discuss the book, but if Tommy Orange did not, that was his privilege, and of course it should not be my privilege to determine his privilege. That was part of the point of his book.
For another forgettable hour, the authors muddled through until the MC mercifully called time. I learned little of what I’d hoped to know, but I thought a lot. I thanked Tommy Orange for that from my seat in the front row of the shitshow, and I asked him not what I wanted to know but simply to sign his book.