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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Coronavirus crisis is both slowly and suddenly squeezing out my sustenance. Most immediately, as seen in the sign of the times shown above, government-ordered park closures limit access to my running hill.
Even before the park closed, a motorcycle cop patrolled the bike path at the bottom of the hill to check for social distancing. Then, the parking lot shut down. Then, when too many people walked in, the nearby street parking turned into a towaway zone.
Granted, this is a first-world problem. Especially now, I appreciate my privilege. But, this being a personal diary, it’s worth noting that the gradual limitation of access to this workout — which has been my saving grace during shelter-in-place — starts to feel, at least metaphorically, like a noose tightening around my neck.
The less I can use that hill run to deepen my breath and blast my lungs to gasping each morning, the shorter and shallower my breath becomes throughout the rest of the day. Short, shallow breath is a symptom of anxiety, a natural reaction to the stress of the Coronavirus crisis, given that in week three:
– Coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. surpassed 10,000 and the Trump Administration estimated that number would reach anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000.
– Today’s election in Wisconsin, where I spent much of my childhood and still have family and friends, carries the stench of dying democracy.
– Although unrelated to Coronavirus, Bill Withers died.
After leading a creative writing apprenticeship for Citizen Schools last spring, I wanted to try something new. The non-profit, which places volunteer Citizen Teachers into under-resourced middle-schools, agreed to my running a class using the curriculum of my client, Fit Kids, which provides structured fitness programs for under-served youth.
This cross-client collaboration would impact the students through physical activity that promotes better health and social-emotional learning in areas such as teamwork and communications that are among the 21st Century Skills that Citizen Schools emphasizes. The collaboration also would serve Fit Kids by infusing a new level of front-line experience into the marketing communications services I provide.
Campaign ideas stemmed from the journal each student kept, which helped identify those who were most engaged and articulate. Early in the series of classes, Miguelito showed himself both as a top athlete and remarkably attuned to social emotional values. In just a few minutes with my voice recorder and Fit Kids’ go-to photographer Gino De Grandis, Miguelito made our work easy on this piece of fundraising collateral.
From the jump, leading the class was a blast — and a challenge. Citizen Teachers usually pair with an AmeriCorps teaching fellow, but logistics at McKinley this fall occasionally left me alone and without access to a gym, trying to teach 25 students, including several who spoke only Spanish. Years of coaching youth sports often reminded me how much I still had to learn, never more so than this year.
One way to confront the discipline issues that arose was to promise end-of-semester awards tied to the fitness testing within the Fit Kids curriculum. I often reminded students they could earn prizes not just for raw feats of fitness but also for showing the greatest improvement.
That approach encouraged greater focus and effort from both the best athletes and the less-talented. Most, on one level or another, seemed to strengthen their social-emotional character traits, such as determination and persistence.
For each of Fit Kids’ four fitness measures, we awarded medals to the boy and girl who performed best and who improved most. Some students won both medals in a given category. The top medalists were Diana, who proved her versatility and consistency…
…and Miguelito, who performed an astonishing 301 sit-ups.
Perhaps the biggest winner was the student whose journal entry committed himself to a longer fitness journey.
That student’s enthusiasm, expressiveness, and room for improvement in his writing may lead me next semester to run classes in both fitness and creative writing.
Summer – which I have defined not by solstice and equinox but by “school’s out” ever since attending kindergarten in 1969 – was cool this year. Inkflow’s workflow made it so.
Summer started with a Fit Kids event at Levi’s Stadium on the last day of school for the students we serve in East Palo Alto, continued with gaining new Inkflow clients, and ended with amazing back-to-school initiatives. As usual, returning to my roots in Chicago and Milwaukee nourished the blooms and fruits of these labors.
In early July, The 82 Project Foundation’s annual Swine Social pig roast and fundraiser reminded me why I love serving on the non-profit’s board. Named “82” for the year our board members graduated from Whitefish Bay High School, the organization funds a scholarship for a senior graduating from our alma mater and aids community members in need of financial and emotional support.
During that visit, Inkflow linked with the Milwaukee area’s Concord Chamber Orchestra and contracted to advise the non-profit classical musical group on marketing communications strategy. A slew of stakeholder interviews, an online survey, and observations in and around CCO’s community will inform Inkflow documents that provide the organization a map for its future outreach efforts.
Also while in Milwaukee, preliminary talks from earlier weeks with San Francisco-based real estate concern Andersen, Jung & Co. turned into a short-deadline assignment to write a 90-second speech that Principal Broker Monica Chung delivered to a group of business executives.
Back in the Bay, Inkflow sealed a deal to deliver writing coaching and marketing/business development consulting for Ferox Yoga, the brain-child of yoga instructor Claire Ngoon.
Soon after, the latest issue of Saint Thomas Academy’s Saber Magazine dropped, with several of my articles, including the cover story, “Profiles in Service.”
July closed out with the launch of a new promotional video for Fit Kids, including my first voice-over work…
…and August started with a return to Chicago as a panelist
on the topic of “Telling Your Story: How to Engage Your Donor Base” at the
inaugural Sports Philanthropy World Congress.
Back in the Bay, Inkflow forged an alliance between Fit Kids and Citizen Schools, which will have me leading Fit Kids classes for underserved middle-school students at Redwood City’s McKinley Institute of Technology. The chance to merge my passion for both non-profits into a single project that directly impacts youth and advances both organizations’ goals is a dream come true.
Then this other dream came true:
Minda, whom I informally and occasionally advised in the last several years, read from The Memo, sold and signed scores of copies, and led a rousing panel discussion with several other women of color that infused the packed room with equal parts anger and hope.
Twenty-four hours later, some of Minda’s “Memo” continued to hit home in another room of multi-culturalists, as “summer” ended with students back in school, including those who last night completed the class I teach at The Writing Salon, aptly titled — in light of Minda’s message — “On Point.”