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Blog

Welcome to my journal.

Big Brothers Big Sisters: Growing Up

I've been a mentor and volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters Columbia Northwest (BBBS) for the last eleven years. Of all the nonprofits I've worked with, I have to say I have found this agency and its work with local children to be the most emotionally rewarding.

I've watched as the organization has transformed. Its messaging is now centered around a single critically important outcome in our society: high school graduation.

Many people aren't aware of Oregon's most embarrassing statistic: we have one of the nation's lowest high school graduation rates -- practically dead last. What are the costs to us as a society for this failure of our educational system?

Recent graduation rates for students with BBBS mentors offers proof that mentoring works: 91% of children with a Big Brother or Big Sister volunteer mentor graduated on time in 2016.

My father was Vice Principal of Thurston High in Springfield, Oregon for 22 years. Many of the problems we see in today's schools are the same as those he lamented nightly at the dinner table.  

In the intervening decades, with the decline of the middle class family, the problems facing teens have only grown worse. Parents who might normally have had the time to be actively involved with their child's education find themselves working multiple jobs just to keep the household afloat.

Today's children face more stressors than we had in the 1970's. These include things like childhood obesity, school shootings, gang violence, social media bullying, cutbacks in arts education, athletics, and many others.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest has accepted the fact that today's Mentor has to be more than someone who takes a kid out for ice cream once a week. Today's children need something more like a life coach or a systems navigator. An at-risk child in foster care or a kid with a single parent often needs a caring adult willing to help with things like:

  • Maintaining communication with teachers or school counselors
  • Encouraging attendance and assisting with homework
  • Arranging for participation in athletic events or community activities 
  • Cheering them on at athletic events or programs
  • Finding appropriate career or job fairs, exposing them to career options 
  • Locating summer educational programs or internships

Today's kids absolutely need a Mentor who is a friend, but they also need a hero. They need someone helping to champion their success. Today's news programs, many of their friends, and naysayers are constantly telling them what they "can't" do. These kids need people in their lives who can show and tell them that "they absolutely can."

Think of someone in your life who helped you survive middle and high school. Was it an aunt or an uncle, an elderly neighbor, or a grandparent? Many of today's high school dropouts lack any connection to close family friends, relatives or the mayors of the local cul-de-sac.

If someone mentored you once, maybe one day you can pay it forward?

When you're ready, I can think of a great place to start.

Rico and Me. A Mentor's Memoir. The Story Begins. . .

INTRODUCTION                  

I was 40 years old when I had my first seizure. It took place as I was having coffee near a courtyard fountain with some friends one sunny Sunday morning in Eugene, Oregon. I stirred my coffee, took a sip and then began shaking violently before falling back in my chair. I blacked out and the next thing I knew, I was lying face up on a stretcher being carried to an ambulance by paramedics. It turns out I inherited a type of epilepsy.                               

Since then, I’ve taken two pills every morning to keep myself out of danger. I tried to stop taking them once but that didn’t go so well—I ended up having three grand mal seizures in one day. Afterward, I had panic attacks for a while—afraid the pills wouldn’t work as I was driving or walking through traffic. Eventually, I came to accept the fact that whether they worked or not was out of my control. The truth is, whether you take pills or not, an accident or death can happen anytime. What’s important is making the most of every moment. I think about that every morning just before I swallow those two pills.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for the meaning of life—probably because it has sometimes felt so cruel. At any bookstore or library, I instinctively find myself in the stacks of books on spirituality and religion. I’ve read hundreds of books covering Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, astrology, numerology, palmistry, alchemy and meditation. And although I have studied things ranging from mundane to magical, mentoring Rico has taught me the most. What I had always heard was true: I seem to have found life’s meaning right in my own back yard.

Me and Rico (2010)

Me and Rico (2010)

Look Around, Portland!
Portland on a recent morning

Portland on a recent morning

Do you ever really look at people, or do you look past them?

Today I was on an early-morning grocery run... er drive... and as I drove up a major thoroughfare I decided to take a good look at the people on the sidewalk and at the bus stops. I was surprised at what I saw: one woman's face was filled with anxiety; another elderly woman was sitting and talking to herself. One young man walked down the sidewalk alone, talking out loud. He wore earbuds.

Next I spotted a "millennial logger," a scruffy 20-something looking like he was on his way to a coffee shop to log some Internet hours.

May your Friday be enjoyable. And remember if you get lonely, you can always log some Internet hours at a coffee shop or just have a nice conversation with yourself!

Throwing Away the Crutches
I left  my crutches in the hotel in Atlanta. I bet they find someone who needs them.

I left  my crutches in the hotel in Atlanta. I bet they find someone who needs them.

One year to the day of the date of my father’s death, I had a serious sports injury.  As soon as it started I pretended it was a message from beyond. He had always liked to lecture. Perhaps he wasn’t done teaching me things? If I needed any proof that I’m not getting any younger, it had arrived.  One Saturday in late February I injured myself weightlifting and ended up in the emergency room in the middle of the night in horrible pain.

It turned out to be an avulsion fracture. I was given some oxycodone and my doctor's nurse told me to drink a lot of water and take metamucil.

My trip to the ER made me wonder: what if I had just been told my days were numbered? Would I be ready and happy with all I’ve done in life? Would you? 

Just after my trip to the hospital I left for vacation.

Here’s what I learned:

  • I never want to use crutches again, I got more bruises and scrapes from using them than going without.
  • People at airport security are really nice to people in wheelchairs
  • Oxycodone requires that you take 2x the amount of Metamucil specified on the label
  • Oxycodone gives you painful constipation and cramping, compounded by extreme pain, if you will need to fly in an aircraft above 30,000 feet.
  • Flight attendants are very nice about letting you use the bathroom if you tell them you are about to wet your pants.

I’m getting rid of the crutches, and the oxycodone.

They both have awful side effects.

Welcome.
Wedding Day, 2003

After spending years on websites and blogs of all types, I suddenly realized it had been a decade since I updated my own.

So much has happened in 10 years. Here are some things I learned:

  • Be Pioneers...Sometimes.
    In 2005 we shot "Freedom State" on HD. Once we started we realized the closest HD deck was only available in Seattle. Good times!
     
  • When It Rains... It Pours.
    My first doc project Monster Camp led immediately to two more projects happening all at once! "The Man You Had in Mind" and "Veer." They were great fun and my only disappointment was that I didn't get to spend more time helping on them both.
     
  • A Musical Play is Like a Good Wine.
    All my spare time during my teen and college years was spent acting, singing, or both. After leaving that behind (mostly), I decided put my heart into creation of a stage musical. My amazing collaborator, Kurt Crowley and I have held seven public staged readings of our work over the past three years. We continue to work on the show joined by book writer Travis Zariwny.
     
  • Wait! I've Got This Book Idea...
    I spent a fair amount of time with my dad the last couple years of his life. While out of town, I had a chance to organize hundreds of notes, reports and emails relating to my seven-year mentorship of a young Latino. My (neurotic?) penchant for being organized led me to complete a painstakingly complete a 36-page subject/date/event summary topical spreadsheet covering every important moment in our relationship. I used the spreadsheet to create several detailed outlines and chapter topics which were reviewed and rewritten after feedback from volunteer readers. You know what? I was afraid I wouldn't be able to write 60,000 words for a 10 chapter book. Then I sat down and wrote 25,000 words for 3 chapters. Needless to say, I am cutting things down with the help of my dear readers. I am currently completing a draft of Chapter 2.
     
  • Still reading? Great! Click through the site for samples of my work and to meet the people I work with when it's time to get things done!