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

Coronavirus Diary: Week Three

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.

Next post in this series: Coronavirus Diary: Week Four

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Speaking of Donald Trump

At the start of a Citizen Schools semester, we Citizen Teachers pitch the students on the Apprenticeship we will lead. Above is my pitch for my Poetry Apprenticeship.

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

Cross-Client Communications

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.

Last night’s Wow! event for Citizen Schools included this collage re-capping our Fit Kids apprenticeship at McKinley Institute of Technology.

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.

Inkflow’s Cool Summer

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.

About 100 delegates gained information and inspiration from the panel, including moderator Nicole Fisher (Founder of Health & Human Rights Strategies, Co-Founder of Brain Treatment Foundation and a Forbes contributor), Katie Wilkes (Freeheart Creative), and Marianna Whitehurst (Board Member for Georgia Playworks, Foundation Board of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl Advisory Board).

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.”

Highlights of 2018

Inkflow Communications saw so much action in 2018 that the topics of our annual review are best categorized by verbs.

Writing…A script for this Wolfpack Ninjas video featuring Kristy Swanson in a reprise of her role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Plus, creative consulting briefs to support Positive Coaching Alliance’s Character Initiative and articles for St. Thomas Academy’s Saber Magazine, covering everything from chaplains to commandants to philanthropists to mothers’ clubs.

Mentoring…young creative talent in the audience for this WeXL panel discussion

Plus, adult students at The Writing Salon for On Point — a class on short-form persuasive pieces, such as op-eds, blogs and newspaper columns — and middle-school students participating in Citizen Schools’ 6 Degrees of the Bay Area career fair at Oakland’s Greenleaf Elementary School.

Collaborating…on conception and creation of these two videos promoting Fit Kids

Learning…in a training workshop hosted by the Solutions Journalism NetworkVolunteering…as an MC at the Napa Valley Film Festival…and Networking at Summits from Coast-to-Coast.

After such an action-packed 2018, we hope for much the same in 2019 and also for much different.