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Archive for the 'On Oregon' Category

Oregon History Comics

Not long ago, I had the unpleasant experience of observing students study — if study is the word — for their U.S. history finals at Newport High School, where I teach English, journalism, photography, and creative writing.

The great cram was on. Cramming to vomit names, dates, wars, acronyms, and received myths on a multiple choice test.

A month later, students wouldn't remember any of it. No, make that a week. But they would remember hating history.

How depressing. How typical. As a history major in college and a former history teacher, I know the subject doesn't have to end up being taught as something rote. In fact, it shouldn't end up that way, especially modern Oregon history, an unprecedented era boasting some of the most far out stories imaginable. Stories, I might add, that most Oregon public school students will never learn because


The Newport High Senior Walk

Monday, June 4. 5:10 a.m. I sit in my truck parked in front of the Fishermen's Memorial in Newport and watch a clammer gearing up to depredate the low tide. My black coffee tastes good. Light is coming. Rain threatens. A few sprinkles reconnoiter for an imminent invasion.

A mix tape from the Analog Stone Age blasts some classic rock through the speakers: Who are you? asks Roger Daltrey with such urgency that it compels you to answer... unless you can't.

I think about the lyrics from "Who Are You?" by The Who and how it embodies my philosophy of teaching writing to students. Virtually everything I do in class at Newport High School, where I teach, orchestrates young people to ask the question Who are you? of themselves and to try to answer it through as many modes of communication as possible: essay, poetry, fiction, memoir, music, photography. I join them in the process and derive virtually all of my writing from the experience.

A car passes and parks in front of me. A vintage Mustang. That would be Matthew, a senior at Newport High, on the last Monday ...


Finding Changes at the Beach

Sonny the husky and I wandered the wrack line of our local beach after a fierce storm. We were cruising south, inspecting the interesting detritus when we encountered an immobile cormorant apparently in the final stage of life.

The bird saw us, whipped its formidable beak our way, and discharged a savage warning hiss. We got the message and gave it a wide berth to die in dignity and perfect concert with nature, say, unlike how most Americans demise.

Creatures die and beget other life, other notions. The same is true with once-entrenched, sacrosanct, but now dead, beliefs held by humans. You can find these beliefs resting at the metaphorical wrack line, washed ashore, dead: slavery, segregation, the divine right of kings, a geocentric universe, and, most recently, homosexuals as immoral people undeserving of legal marital status or protection from discrimination.

Many Americans still refuse to accept the death of the latter belief, but if they paid better attention, they would already know it had washed ashore, in broad daylight, decomposed, and then returned to the sea, where it birthed something new, something vastly more democratic (and I'm not talking ...


Seeing the Powell’s Look Again

I can't wait to see the Look again, the "Powell's Look," as I defined it a few years ago after taking my high school students from the Oregon Coast to the epic downtown Portland store. I swear some of them almost pass out when they walk in the main entrance.

But, that's not when the Look occurs. That happens after I tell them to get lost in the store and later come across them with a dazed countenance somewhat similar, I imagine, to Moses after the burning bush or anyone who saw Hendrix play the national anthem at Woodstock.

The Look means they will be a reader for life, a book reader, a paper book reader. The Look also means they understand in a tactile way the vast beauty of the literary universe. Sometimes the Look even means: I'm going to be a writer too.

I couldn't teach that in a million years in a classroom. Powell's City of Books can teach it in one hour.

This Friday night, May 25th, I'll see the Look again, because I'm bringing 35 of my students from Newport High School to accompany me ...


Limpet Madness

She zigs, she zags, darts left, darts right. She backpedals better than a lot of NFL cornerbacks. She virtually never walks straight ahead, and she never looks out to the ocean, only down to the sand. She always carries a plastic bag laden with treasures she finds at the beach.

I call her the Manic Collector, and our paths occasionally cross at my local beach. I use the term "cross" loosely here because never once in our encounters has this somewhat elderly woman ever looked at me, much less uttered a greeting, even though we often pass 10 yards from each other. She's also totally indifferent to Sonny the husky, refusing to acknowledge her presence. I can understand the indifference to humans on the beach, (I practice it all the time) but a friendly old dog?

No contact. What matters is the mission — the mission to collect things washed ashore. In all my rambling down Oregon ocean beaches I have never seen such unmatched zeal to collect or such an eccentric way of moving down the beach.

Who knows why she collects. OCD? Crafter? Artist? Lunatic? Purveyor ...


Fort Sex

Whenever I ramble the beach with the husky and encounter an abundant supply of driftwood, I immediately size up the potential for a good fort and imagine what my friends and I would have constructed in our youth.

Forts excited our passion. We built them anywhere and everywhere. I remember the summer days of riding our bicycles (without a helmet) to the woods near the edge of Oregon City (without bottled water, a cell phone, music, or energy drinks). There we played war and nothing but war. It was always World War II, never Vietnam, an epic catastrophe nearing the light at the end of the tunnel.

We fought the Nazis and Japanese and dug trenches and bunkers. We built forts so tight they could've withstood a bazooka round. We executed basic squad tactics and stole butter knives from home to affix as bayonets on our toy M-1s and lied to our mothers about inexplicably missing tableware. Somehow, we all owned entrenching tools, flints, and canteens.

There was never an adult around to supervise. We came home at dusk, starving, exhausted. Then we'd get up in the morning, throw down some ...


Sometimes a Great New Book

Dear Powell's Customer and Sometimes a Great Notion fanatic:

Four years ago I issued a limited hardback edition of Oregon's sesquicentennial anthology (Citadel of the Spirit) to help finance its publication and further hone my model of producing sustainable Oregon literature, which entails publishing books about Oregon, written by Oregon writers, printed by Oregon printers, and sold exclusively through independent bookstores or out of the back of my truck. Since 2003, Nestucca Spit Press, my publishing company, has sold close to 15,000 books using this unique model.

What it all means is that readers make an important choice where they choose to purchase their books.

The special hardback edition of Citadel of the Spirit proved successful and I want to replicate it with my latest book, Sometimes a Great Movie: Paul Newman, Ken Kesey, and the Filming of the Great Oregon Novel. Nestucca Spit Press will publish 200 hardback copies and offer them in a tiered pricing system with different amenities. I invite you to buy the special edition and assist me in publishing a book about a fascinating and entertaining chapter of Oregon's cultural history.

Sometimes A Great Movie jacket cover

Which was... in June ...


The Standards of Rock

Just outside of Seal Rock, I looked out the window of a yellow, magic bus loaded with 30 students from Newport High School and caught a glimpse of the ocean. A pacific feeling swept over me — but only for a few seconds — because we were cruising south down Highway 101 to Yachats to stage a spectacle that I envisioned as a cross between The Partridge Family, Glee, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and School of Rock.

The good people of Yachats had asked me to bring ace performers from my Friday Lunch Jam club and put on a show that also included stunning black and white images from my photography class. Naturally, I said yes! What else did I have to do on a Friday night on the Oregon Coast in the middle of winter?

The Friday Lunch Jam began three years ago in my classroom as an open mic event. It features music and spoken-word performances by students (and some staff) and has become a campus sensation that provides a supportive and democratic atmosphere for teenagers to exhibit their talents.


An Oregon Coast Dog Rescue Story

Mist eroded into January dusk as I left my house to walk to the beach and see the day's last light diffusing over the ocean. Sonny, the old husky stayed behind, exhausted from an earlier ramble down the sand.

Fifty yards from the house I saw a dark mass moving in the street. I came closer and soon found myself kneeling on the asphalt and petting a rather runty and rotund black lab with a distinctive white forepaw. She was gray in the muzzle, well groomed, and without a collar.

The mist turned to rain. I know all the dogs in the neighborhood but didn't recognize this one.

Long ago when I dated the woman I eventually married, a stray dog crossed our path as I drove us to a movie. She told me to pull over, but I objected because arriving late to a movie used to rank as my top pet peeve (that is, until I moved to the coast and stopped seeing movies altogether).

She raised her voice, commanding me to stop. I did. She said: "There are two kinds of people in the world, ...


Ken Kesey’s Surrender

"The sea is surrender. Not the sea itself. No, it is a conqueror. It is giving into it that is surrender."

Ken Kesey wrote this arresting passage and I don't think I've ever come across anything truer written about the ocean. If you give yourself over to the ocean and its limitlessness, which I do three times a day, a willingness to acquiesce can arise and help you properly temper yourself and your ambitions in the world run by people who can't see the ocean even if they stand inches away.

These lines do not originate from Kesey's two classic novels set in Oregon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, which I've read a combined total of 10 times and always find something new to reappraise when I do.

Last spring, I found these wonderful words in the marginalia of one of Kesey's manuscripts in the collection of his papers at University of Oregon. Before reading Kesey's words on surrender, I hadn't associated him with the ocean. In Cuckoo's Nest, the dominate image from nature is the dead and entombed Celilo Falls.

In ...


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