One Year Ago

One year ago, everything changed.

After months of nervousness, excitement, preparation and labor Tobias arrived and we each got to hold him in our arms, and the experience was like none I’d never felt before.

Holding your newborn child is simply a revelation. It feels perfect, and sweet, like you were meant to comfort and carry this tiny person whose beautiful eyes look up at you and all around, taking it all in. You feel so many emotions. Of course he cried and needed comfort and endless diaper changes and late nights, and the first several weeks (or several months, who knows) were a fatigue-streaked wreck of 3am rocking, song-singing, endless laundry, chaotic bath times, and many many tears (from all parties involved). But when you hold him and comfort him and see his eyes drift closed, you feel that all is going to be fine, and you just might be up to the task.

Little Toby grew so swiftly! He learned to laugh with us. We noticed which things he loves the most- being read to, seeing people dance or act silly, and hearing music, which he enjoys as much now as he did in the womb. But a true highlight has always been simply to hold him. I became much better at comforting him to sleep over time and with practice, and learned how he best liked to be cradled, and I’d hold his hand and support his head and he would drift away and sleep deeply enough that I could just manage to transfer him to the crib without waking him up. Success!

I feel a profound responsibility and good fortune, knowing that I have the opportunity to teach and comfort and care for Toby as he grows more and more. Maybe I’ll be as important to him as my Dad was to me. I expect he will push us to grow too, and the parenting life will be even more frustrating and enlightening and challenging and surprising and complicated in the many years to come. But the first year has been an inexpressible delight. Really… challenging but delightful.

As Toby turns one year old, I’ll be cheering for him and cheering for myself and Marion Edgemeyer to keep up the hard work. We’re actually doing it! He’s such a sweet kid, with an infectious smile and a curious nature. I’ll never forget the firsts we’ve experienced, like his first visit to the ocean- the sunset in the distance as we walked closer and closer to the surf, slowly approaching the infinite expanse. His first words, from “apple” to “mama” and “dada” to made up words like “zizzazz” and the ever-so-versatile “bap” and “bap bap bap”. The first time he sat up, and the first time he rolled over. His first steps, still to come.

I’ll be right here for him, cheering him on.

Excerpt from “How 7 Civil Rights Activists View the George Floyd Protests”

…Bernard Lafayette, 79, who, like Mr. Young, accompanied Dr. King on the 1968 trip to Memphis where he was assassinated, has spent recent years training young activists in nonviolent social change. He traveled to Ferguson, Mo., to advise protest leaders there, and has spent the past weeks fielding phone calls from young organizers…

“Oh, I’m very hopeful, but also excited, because I see some very strategic things happening. The only thing we have to be concerned about is the sustainability.

I am more or less thinking about strategy, and that’s where I’m turning my energy. They call me on the phone all the time. I get 15 to 20 calls a day. I answer their questions. Mainly they need training. They need to build coalitions. I prepare folks to take different roles in the movement. You can’t do everything. People have different roles.

Now what I’m looking for is leadership among the young people. I’m looking for a new Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The next thing that we need if we’re going to have a movement that is going to sustain itself — we need music, OK? Once you get those artists singing songs about change and the movement, that helps to stimulate people and bring them together. There is nothing like music to bring people together.

The other most, most important thing, you got to get people who are ready to register to vote. You have got to have people in power who represent you. You’ve got to be negotiating and talking to the people who will make decisions. You can’t just put it out there and be screaming in the air. The air can’t make the change.”

Link below: https://nyti.ms/3hxXRbQ

Photo from NYTimes - Floyd Protests

Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military suppression of protests is dangerous

On June 3, the New York Times published an opinion piece by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton calling for the use of the United States Military to suppress the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the country. I am writing to express my disappointment that the editors, including James Bennet, chose to publish this appalling perspective.

Mr. Cotton’s editorial is a derogatory and inflammatory argument for violent suppression of citizens’ voices and the establishment of an oppressive military state. As a lawmaker, Cotton should have more respect for American citizens’ right to assemble and to express themselves freely. Use of military force on a country’s own citizens in response to scattered rioting amongst primarily peaceful demonstrations would be a disproportionate response, and would amount to the suspension of the Constitution. It would surely result in more loss of life among both protestors and law enforcers, and escalate the already tense situation.

The choice to circulate this opinion is more than a matter of “considering alternate perspectives.” By lending Cotton the voice and wide circulation of the “paper of record”, Bennet and his colleagues have deliberately contributed to creating a more dangerous environment for Black people in the whole country as well as for their supporters in America’s cities, and for Black journalists.

As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, who hold dear the testimonies of peace, community, and equality, it runs counter to my convictions. A truly free, democratic government should not even consider exerting the inordinate violent potential of its own military against its own people, especially in such a situation which would single out and cause greater violence to a minority group that is already suffering from police brutality.

There is a good reason why the New York Times’ Black reporters have uniformly joined in protesting the publication of this editorial. I request that the op-ed be retracted and call for Tom Cotton to immediately resign his Congressional seat for advancing this kind of anti-constitutional, inflammatory rhetoric.

A Letter to Portland

A Letter to Portland

Dear Portland,

Nearly five years ago, when I set out westward for the longest solo road trip I’d yet undertaken, I had no idea what I would find when I arrived. No idea whether I would land the job I came all this way to interview for (I didn’t), where I would stay, or what I would find when I arrived. It was less an act of courage and boldness than one of desperation. After having applied at every opening I could find in my tiny Midwestern hometown and received one acceptance only to have my hopes crushed quite thoroughly just a week after starting, it was too much to take. Portland offered refuge and possibility, community, and potential, in comparison to a little town that just didn’t seem to want me.

Portland, Oregon, home to the quirky and incorrigible, the proudly weird alternative to normal (so-called) society. Marion and I were talking about this the other day… you don’t feel bad here, to just be, and people don’t cast judgmental glances at you for failing to meet the standard of so-called ‘normal,’ as they might elsewhere. You can walk down the street on stilts in a clown costume (and people do) and no one will cast you a second glance.

I hope you will allow me to regale you with genuine adoration and deep sympathy for the particular challenges and thrills you embody. Your neighborhoods hug the slopes of ancient mountains and you are a short drive from the impressive expanse of the nearby Pacific Ocean. Your personality toes the line between silliness, absurdity and creativity… the very same realms I prefer to inhabit as often as I can. It feel it in every last sip of your much-better-than-midwest coffee, your delicious and plentiful restaurants and food carts, your magnificent cocktails and home-tested craft beers, and your numerous music stores, marijuana dispensaries and sex-positive vegan strip clubs. It hasn’t been easy to get established here, and it hasn’t been perfect by any measure, but what is? But now, nearly five years later, I’m in so many ways a completely different person, and I feel exactly the same way about this city.

I feel like a writer in a city of writers, a creative in a city of creativity, an activist in a city of activists, and a seeker in a city of seekers. Dear Portland, I found others like myself here,  others like my wife Marion, who craved a new life and new lifestyle, steeped in drama and music and good food and a marked rejection of so-capitalistic self-seriousness.

IMG-0279

I found Marion, and married her, and now Marion and I have just welcomed our first child to the world, born right here in Portland. I can’t really describe all the joy and fatigue, late nights and early mornings, satisfaction and exhaustion that I feel about having this new person in the world, and helping him grow up in it. He seems a product of the happiness and struggle it took on my part to build this life I’m living, and now to see it embodied in the eyes of this tiny child who looks so much like me.

When Tobias first arrived and I first laid eyes on him, it was so clear that he was perfect. He was everything that I’d imagined and dreamed of, and more. A dark whispy patch of copious brown hair, tiny little hands, dark and soulful eyes, and a contagious smile. He has been with us nearly three months now and I am seeing more and more of the person that he will be – silly, smart, loving music, playfully dancing, and totally into books and new people. I’ve never seen a child so happy to find himself the center of attention in a crowded room.

me with toby

I’m so happy here in this unique, beautiful town and to now be lucky enough to have this opportunity to build a family to share that happiness with. Thank you for accepting me, Portland, and for serving as the ideal home for the beginning of something so new, and so exciting, and so full of promise and joy.

love, Justin

Coffee and contemplation

After one of the busiest and most momentous years in my life so far, I am settling into the rhythm of a new year and nervously preparing for new things to come. I’m excited to say I will be starting work next week at the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the single most beautiful and culturally rich local treasures I have discovered since moving here. I graduated and will be receiving my diploma soon, and I’m happily settling into married life. But I’m also sad to be leaving behind my part-time jobs that have sustained me through the masters program, especially my work on Saturdays at the Farmer’s Market at PSU. After so many years, being a barista has ultimately, finally come to feel like a truly positive and rewarding craft, especially since I have come to know the local market community so much better. There’s been so much I’ve experienced this year and over the course of earning my degree and preparing for the wedding and honeymoon, and saying farewell to a beloved grandparent, and transitioning towards what the future holds, that a brief space of peace this first month of 2019 has felt so gratifying. And now I steel myself, to move onward, with hopes to create more space in my life for writing, photography, music and creative pursuits, and perhaps even for more travel.

japanese garden tree

Nature at the Portland Japanese Garden

Summer of ’17

The seasons have turned once again, and summer is here in Portland… I take the bus downtown and back daily, seeing the peaceful quiet pace of my Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood contrasted to the movement and energy of downtown. I am working at a hotel just off Pioneer Square called the Nines most days, parking cars again as I did years ago in Atlanta and earning the resources I’ll need to get through one more year of graduate school and to pay for past cross-country road trips. In the meantime I am willing my way through the deep and expansive research aspect of my thesis, reading articles upon articles on vignettes and narrative design, perspective-taking, stigmatization of mental illness, and experimental design.

The cool breeze, the greenery of this town’s neighborhoods, the long daylight and energetic rhythm of the summer days… If only this season lasted far longer. There is so much I wish to do with my hours and I must be happy to finish all that I can in the time that I have, and perhaps sneak a few moments here and there to watch a Shakespeare play in the park, or binge Game of Thrones, or to work on a craft project, or to write for a few stolen moments, or to snap a memorable photo. I will tentatively re-awaken my voice; my thoughts will stir and I will allow them to remain on the page;  and all is okay.

A trio of songs to seek meaning to

I dearly enjoy those pieces of art that eschew any obvious meaning or message. The ones that leave me questioning, the ones whose dominant emotion is a vague but powerful feeling of thoughtfulness, heartache, or wonder. The ones with no simple logic, and certainly no clear-cut explanation.

Art seen near the Lloyd Center in Portland.

Art seen near the Lloyd Center this summer in Portland. “In the Tree Tops” by Margarita Leon.

They are few and far between, but I live for them when I do find them, and for me, it’s usually those very feelings of abstract questioning that make this frustrating venture of creation, writing, and self-expression worthwhile in the end. I know my regularity of writing has been flagging lately, so I thought I’d do something special this week, in part because I’ve been needing to write more, and in part because I’ll be attaching my name and portfolio in applications to various cool potential employers this week, and I’d like for them to see me with my best foot forward, if and when they decide by some twist of good fate to explore this portfolio.

So, starting tomorrow and continuing through Saturday, I’ll be posting selected new video reviews to my music blog that I’ll share at some time in the course of each day. I’ve selected videos with a consistent theme, videos that impart a certain feeling of abstraction, bewilderment, and hopefully wonder.

#1 “Champagne Coast” is funky and delightfully weird, like nothing I’ve seen!

#2 Breathless ’90s life filtered through cameras fuels Semisonic’s “Secret Smile”

#3 This surprise music video for “Ooo” is simple, sweet, uncomplicated, and pure

The reality is that many of us are facing very challenging times. I read so much in news and social media about the extremes of income inequality, the steep challenges of prevailing institutional prejudice and division, the seemingly insurmountable challenges awaiting us due to climate change, wars that seem ongoing, and a false economic recovery that I, at least, have not yet significantly benefited from. But through the hardest of times, I’ve always felt that my personal brand of enjoyment often springs from those rare slices of ingenuity, those examples everywhere of the persistently creative, thought-provoking, and often frustratingly meaningless pieces of written and visual self expression. It’s this indescribable joy persistence that I admire, this unflagging hope, this willingness to strive quietly in spite of it all that I try never to leave behind.

It’s those instances we manage to make the time, in spite of the ongoing bustle of life so culturally obsessed with working really really hard and still just barely paying the bills, to escape for a bit and see what beauty and fascination the world has to offer, that I personally feel most satisfied. Nearly always it’s a matter pushing ourselves, of finding comfort in that state of holy discomfort, as someone I know so poetically put it recently, that reaps the most rewards. And it’s a something that I find myself having to consistently recommit myself to, with mixed results. But learning is in the doing, and joy is in the journey. So here goes.

Check out the cool videos I’ll be sharing in the next few days, starting tomorrow! I promise to do my best to show you things that will strike you as revelatory at best, and at least, confusing and weird but kind of thought-provoking. As always, thanks for reading, lovelies!

An Overhaul For the Music Blog

I’ve been wrestling with this sustained near-complete cessation of writing lately…It’s been a while! This writing break-time for me is drawing to a close, though, and as July starts, I’m re-committing myself to building more disciplined habits of writing, both online and off, and perhaps to submitting my ideas and my posts to publications that might be interested.

I’ve been enthusiastic and overjoyed to re-ignite my music blog, The Needle on Vinyl. It has always been a personal project, so far, and worth the experience of searching for great music and writing about it, and the elusive joy that has given me. I’ve always used proprietary photos pulled from Google and songs streamed via Spotify, and felt a bit sketchy about those practices. But, since I’ve always self-produced this endeavor on my own time and dollar I don’t feel terribly bad about that aspect of the project. At best, it’s essentially been a channel of free publicity for select musicians, and oftentimes for ones who hardly need the word-of-mouth… Not to mention that it’s also been a dearly-needed and valuable release of tension during the challenging time I had getting started in the Northwest. I’ve had fun with it, so I’ve decided to start it up again. For fun, mainly, though.

Launching today, I’ve totally refashioned the landing page, with a far more visually-grabbing look. Check it out, and check out my first new playlist, Hearts and St@rs, on the fully remodeled site, at www.needleonvinyl.wordpress.com.  Hope you like it, even you House-Music-Haters out there!

Love, life, tech, and scraping by in the Evergreen State

It’s been a few months since I posted here on my portfolio website, but there have been big developments in my life recently, so I thought it was time I wrote here again. Expect to read about some of my personal developments, other professional developments, and a few updates more frustrating and demoralizing, but still.

Unbelievable sunrise photo I took overlooking the Willametter River this spring.

Unbelievable sunrise photo I took overlooking the Willamette River this spring.

First for a piece of really cool news! I was invited to comment on a Huffington Post Live segment on Friday! An academic doctor (read… phd) and author named Emily Nagolski who I heard about on Twitter did an interview to promote her new book, “Come as You Are,” about how science can inform your sex life. A HuffPost producer had tweeted at me, wondering if I had questions, so I sent her three, and she got back to me saying I could ask one of my questions to Dr. Nagolski on their livestream if I wanted. It was a pretty cool experience, if a little bit cringe-inducing at times. The nearly hour-long segment included some pretty in-depth conversation about the mechanics of female sexuality, and for a naive nerdy guy like myself, I could barely contain my giggles at some of the things they talked about. I don’t show up in person until the end of the segment, but still. Check it out! Another blogger and I were in on a Google Hangout in the lead-up to the interview. I asked her about how a straight white male like myself, who wants to actively support feminists, ought to try to help the movement. She gave some really constructive answers, and seemed pleased to hear that I wanted to help.

Second, I’ve been suddenly swept away in a whirlwind romance! I met a beautiful and intelligent fellow Quaker named Marion, and we’ve been dating since February. It’s completely transformed my world. She’s intelligent, loving, supportive, and basically the best. You know that book “The Giver”, where a boy who grew up in a dystopian society suddenly is able to see the world in color? That’s what it’s like. Yesterday, after a Twilight Zone marathon and day-long Memorial Day date with her, we stepped out of my house and the world seemed bright and new and shiny and clean. It was sublime.

Third, more on my professional status. I am still looking for work. Safeway briefly moved me to the bakery, after working in their Starbucks kiosk for about six months, while supplementing my income overnights delivering the Oregonian. The Safeway bakery promotion was supposed to be a full-time gig, which was huge! Safeway Starbucks are bound by policy to only employ people part-time, meaning I could never have afforded their health plan. The brief glimpse of hope I had when I started working full-time in the bakery made me feel comfortable enough to wind down from delivering the Oregonian… but I was honor-bound not to just leave my news delivery job right away. Paper delivery people are supposed to give three weeks notice.

As it turns out, newspaper delivery, even for a great paper like the Oregonian, actually IS like a modern-day sweatshop job. On average, I made about $4-5 an hour and worked ridiculous long hours, nearly killing myself from overwork and fatigue. But if that was what it took to get started in the Pacific Northwest, fine. On the bright side, I did learn a lot about the news industry and about how these print newspapers manage to stay alive in the face of the merciless tech sector, where people  believe that information ought to be universally accessible free of charge, and what’s more, seem content to make deals with our government allowing the NSA access to ALL of it, with no concern for individual privacy. So, I worked 60-65 hours a week for an old-school print newspaper AND in the bakery for three weeks… and that was when my manager at the bakery took me off the schedule without a word of explanation. Once again, I was out to sea, thanks to lovely management! RARGH.

So I applied for a Starbucks job at the airport, and they offered 35 hours at Oregon minimum wage and benefits. Now I’m just desperately awaiting my background check to clear, so I can start making money and buying food with my own money again. In the meantime, let me know if you hear of any OTHER openings.

I’d been extremely excited about an application I’d sent to a Quaker advocacy organization in D.C. I thought the interview went really well. But I guess they decided to pay other people to work for them, and that they didn’t need another advocate for the environment in the Portland area. It really broke my heart, but at this point, FCNL could stomp me in the face with a steel-toed boot and I’d still think they are a better organization than half what I’ve seen in the D.C area. So I guess I’ll just have to deal with the disappointment… again.

The Northwest is so beautiful! I’ve taken some of the most stunning photography since moving here, and I love how accepting and inclusive the culture is here. Not only that, everyone here seems pretty tech-savvy. And that’s definitely cool, I think. I heard someone call us the “Silicon Forest.” That’s awesome. It’s about time that stupid famous Valley in California faces some real competition.

That’s all that I want to share right now! A friend who works for LinkedIn travelled north from the Bay Area to visit Portland yesterday, and that was pretty cool! I may be broke and likely to starve, but I’m happy! And who knows what life has in store for me next. Love and light, my family, mes amis, et tous les autres.

Leave our Journalists Alone!

Cartoon by Mohammed Saba'aneh in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

Cartoon by Mohammed Saba’aneh in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

Long ago, I used to produce podcasts with my college radio station. Loved it. The attack this morning on a satirical publication in Paris called Charlie Hebdo had me thinking about the importance of journalistic freedom, and I wanted to put those thoughts into a podcast. (excuse a few hiccups, this is my first in a long time.) Holding in the light the victims’ families and their loved ones.

Music is “You Can’t Outrun the Radio” by Jonathan Byrd. Support good musicians, buy the album!

[transcription below]

I’m not really a journalist. No one pays me to report news, to ask tough questions, write articles and editorials, or keep deadlines. I have known people who are light-years better than I am at that game and have been doing it for years. Me, I managed to write a community newspaper in a poverty-stricken community for three months, and did student news for a bit. I’ve long fancied myself a journalist at my core, but I’m too shy, and intimidated by the standards and sheer output required by professional journalists. If anything, I’m a two-bit blogger and perpetually under-employed hack who writes as much as he can in his free hours. But damned if I don’t respect the real deal: the ink-stained truth-seekers with one hand on a pen and paper and the other on a bottle of stiff liquor, the tellers of true tales and chasers of horrifying realities in far-away lands, where the wars never seem to come to an end, whose role is to convey that to us civilians on our couches at home.

If you’ve known me a while, you know I used to do radio. These were in the starry-eyed days of college, before my reality came spinning apart. This’ll be the first time I’ve produced a radio piece for many years, and it feels good to be recording my voice again. It’s symbolic, really. Like, I’m officially reclaiming my voice again by recording it and streaming it into the aether. Best of luck to you, voice!

~~~

But, right now, it feels pretty important. There was an attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo this morning. This, coming off a year of executions of journalists, suppression of free speech, and countless lost lives in pursuit of the right to making unheard voices heard. It feels like where we in the U.S. have declared “War” on concepts as diverse as drugs, terror, and communism, folks elsewhere have taken up arms against expression.

It’s probably just the fact that I’m an absolute media junky, lost in the meandering corridors of the web, but events like this seem to blur together. I’m the modern equivalent of a HAM radio operator with aluminum foil on my head, tracing one conspiracy disaster after another from the safety of my home. But, the right to express myself freely is a pretty big deal to me, and these clear and explicit attacks on that right are far from victimless. I do not believe that violence creates productive solutions, and it is so many light-years away from my conception of religion that I can hardly even conceive what might inspire an attack like this. However juvenile the piece of writing, and whatever the depths of poor taste these writers’ jokes may have explored, no way is it worth shooting up the place. My feeling is that faith is a thing of joy and gratitude and peace. And something is awry if faith results in persecution, division, or subjugation. I’ve been through some tough stuff, and faith is what carried me through that. Never, ever, ever would I want my religion to justify brutality, even when the media can get pretty offensive.

[While studying at journalism school in Kansas, I had some experience with religious extremism.] Boasting a long history of radical politics, Kansas today is moving toward the reactionary. One of my interviews [as a student journalist] was with the guy behind a display of 20-foot-tall dead aborted fetuses. Turns out this guy was not a raving nutjob, much to my surprise and chagrin. We had the stations of the cross acted out on campus, we had evangelists screaming guilt-trips at students on the regular. Not only that, we were a mere 30 minutes away from the ultimate test of free speech, the Westboro Baptist church, only half an hour away in Topeka. Mind you, these guys have values that are about as far away from my own as it is possible to be. But grudgingly, I’ll give them their ten minutes to spit vitriol in the public space. I do have beliefs of my own, but I am also a huge believer in the power of the public forum. I have been told that that makes me ideologically cowardly. Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as being open-minded. You of course, can say and think what you want about me. I’ll do the same. Only I’ll try to be polite.

Later on, in Georgia, I was asked to say a few words at a community ribbon-cutting for refugees from Darfur that I was reporting on. Seriously, though, can you believe that? I was writing an article on the event, and had the proceedings translated to me by a friend. It was one of the greatest honors I’ve had, thinking back on it. And I remember, my speech was awful. I said the first words that came to my mind, something garbled related to making people’s voices heard. A simple enough concept. But, then again, not simple at all. Folks from Darfur in the U.S. experienced diaspora, or a forced migration and loss of a historic homeland. They described it to me as a feeling of restlessness, of deep sadness, and loneliness in the face of an unknown future. A loss of identity. A loss of cultural agency, and ultimately a shattering of community. I’ve been thinking about it, and I feel like that parallels what we’re facing here with the attacks in Paris. These attacks make people fear to speak their minds.

A friend’s son [had a close friend who] was taken captive in Yemen. He was a journalist, and I recently found out that he lost his life. Eleven more people lost their lives today. More than that, they lost their futures, their stories, their identities, their cultural agency. I may not be a real journalist, but I hold most dearly and close to my heart, the right, privilege, and responsibility, to express who I am, and to do so even when who I am, and what I believe, is less than popular. So, I’m gonna say it once, and I’m gonna say it a million times: Leave our journalists alone.

Thanks for listening,

Justin

Committee to Protect Journalists is a great organization working to protect journalists’ safety and freedom of speech around the world. Here’s a some information they put together on journalists killed around the world in 2014.

Also, check out this defense of satire by former Onion editor Joe Randazzo. He says, “The most responsible thing we can do is be aware that the most likely threat to freedom will now come from within. We cannot, should not, police our own thoughts – or the thoughts of our fellow citizens. Because the First Amendment does not just protect our free speech; it protects all expression, including religion.”