Art + Journalism + Science

after water
After Water Series

I always hated the inverted pyramid, that news technique of speed and convenience meant to give the audience a jumping off point once they reached peak information in a story.

It felt cheap and like giving up on the power of telling story.

My career in journalism happened at an unfortunate time in history. A time when the once captive audience of print discovered the Internet and the entirety of human knowledge available at their fingertips for the price of a little portable, wireless technology.

I realized this early on when I wrote a controversial story about scarification for my hometown newspaper in Salem, Oregon.

Whereas my editors saw some gritty news about unregulated tattoo and scarification artists essentially performing surgery on people, I saw an interesting cultural discussion about body modification and self expression in young people.

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Why you shouldn’t Google yourself

googling oneself

I didn’t mean to.

It just sort of happened.

I was perusing the usual tabs this morning in an attempt to see how everyone’s day will be better than mine, (I’m moving today) and I came across an interesting article referencing a story I worked on many years ago as a reporter at The Oregonian.

After reading the sad story, I wanted to go find my original story, so I Googled Tim Akimoff, Oregon State Hospital, Urns.

In and of itself, that search is fairly tame. I learned not to search for things like Tim Akimoff, scarification or other such search terms that lead me down very depressing pathways filled with haters and trolls.

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A Friday Evening with Mr. Bridgeport

Paulie Walnuts
Paulie Walnuts

Our favorite bartender was on duty, mixing up killer $5 martinis as big as fishbowls.

The bar wasn’t crowded, and we landed our favorite seat against the window where I could catch the White Sox and she could watch the cops pulling people over on Harlem Avenue.

This is our Friday night, like it or not.

Friday is our date night.

Sometimes we talk a lot. Like crazy stuff. Heavy duty relationship stuff.

And sometimes we just people watch.

This little barbecue joint in the burbs is good for that. So is our relationship.

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Things not to text your parents when you travel

China Daily

This is not a post I ever imagined writing.

I took my first solo trip when I was 13, flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco unaccompanied and absolutely sick to my stomach through the entire flight.

I used two barf bags, which I held in my lap because the passengers next to me were both deaf and sleeping. A kind but ultimately doomed flight attendant disposed of these for me when she realized my predicament.

To top it off, upon our descent into San Francisco, our plane hit a downdraught and lost nearly 5,000 feel of altitude in a single moment. We dropped so fast the flight attendant actually hit the roof of the plane about a dozen seats in front of me.

I took my first big foreign trip when I was 15, traveling with a youth performing group to Austria, Romania and the Soviet Union.

I got in trouble for stealing a blanket from Austrian Airlines, and for a little while, I fell in love with a blonde girl from New Jersey named Pamela.

This past Saturday, I took my 16-year-old son Cole to Chicago’s O’Hare airport at 3:45 a.m. Perhaps the earliest airport run I’ve ever made.

It was the first leg of a two-and-a-half-week journey to China. He would join his grandparents in Oregon, before making the Pacific crossing to Beijing.

The 45-minute run up 294 to O’Hare was uneventful. I tried to pass along every tip and piece of advice I could remember, and he responded with his typical, Ya, ok, ya.

I felt the pressure of the waning miles as I tried to squeeze in every last trick and tip I’ve learned on my own journeys.

We arrived just shy of an hour before his scheduled departure, so I walked him to the security line.

I checked his tickets and his ID, and we asked the security guard if this was the right line. She quickly waived him into the line.

I was left standing there with a million thoughts going through my head.

I realized I did not give him a hug, because he had stepped into the security line so fast. I suddenly felt very guilt.

Then I started to wonder if I had done enough to prepare him for this trip. Did I tell him how to navigate the trains at SeaTac? Did he know how to manage getting on and off a flight on his own.

I walked slowly back to my car and texted him to tell me when he made it to his gate.

He still hadn’t texted me by 5:30. I started to worry that he was going to be late to his flight. At 5:40, he said he was halfway through security. I started looking up Alaska Airline phone numbers.

I was pacing in the parking garage, realizing he hadn’t even taken his first flight, and I had failed him completely. I should have had him there two hours before his flight.

At 5:50, he texted me saying he missed his flight.

I walked back into the airport toward the Alaska Airline gate angry and prepared to fight a ticket agent about the long security line. But I already knew how futile it would be.

At 6 a.m. he texted me again, telling me that he made it to the gate along with an elderly couple. The gate agent felt so bad for them, that she held the plane.

I texted him the only thing I could think of at that point.

Have a good flight, I love you.

He replied: Love you too.

Text from Cole

If you know me, you know I’m pretty easy going, and I give my kids a lot of space, a lot of trust and a lot of independence.

I’ve been working towards an empty nest based on the idea that I will easily turn them loose on the world to begin their own adventures.

Now I’m not so sure of my plan.

I couldn’t help but feel that the family was incomplete after only a day without him. We’ve traveled separately for years, and recently we have let Cole stay home by himself when we’ve taken weekend trips around the Midwest.

But this was different. There as a distinct feeling that something was missing. Setting the table for dinner was strange, and I found myself wanting to tell him something about my day or the World Cup matches, but he wasn’t just not there, he wasn’t available.

It really is a strange feeling, one I’m not used to, and one I’m not sure how to deal with exactly.

When he arrived in China, the first thing he did was text me a picture of the front page of the English-language newspaper China Daily, complete with a headline that read: “Hundreds held in Xinjiang terror blitz.”

Xinjiang is where they were headed.

There are things you don’t text your parents on your first solo international trip.

For me, there is also the envy to contend with.



The Resident’s Curse

Our house in Palos Heights
Our house in Palos Heights

Last night my wife and I tallied all the places we’ve lived in our nearly 20 years together.

In that time, we’ve moved more than 20 times. And the longest we’ve spent living in one location was a little over three years in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Salem, Oregon while I attended the University of Oregon.

That was 13 years ago.

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Is This Seat Taken?


The commuter trains in Chicago run like radial arms from the city’s center out to the suburbs.

They pass through the rich mosaic of neighborhoods and suburbs that make Chicago everything it is or seems to be.

They pass by quiet neighborhoods, gridlocked freeways and sports stadiums that rise out of flat expanses of concrete like dark steel fortresses.

They pass by white neighborhoods and non-white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods and mixed neighborhoods.

Polish, Irish, Italian, Croatian, German, English, South Asian, Goral, Czech, Ukrainian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Puerto Rican, Palestinian, Korean, Cuban, Chinese, Indian, African and many other neighborhoods and communities too numerous to count.

If you look out the window, you won’t be able to tell that you’re passing through all of this. You’ll see tree-lined avenues and streets with the houses all boarded up.

You’ll see Dunkin’ Donuts, mom and pop stores, tire stores, playgrounds, high schools and empty lots. ]

There are so many stories that come from riding the trains every day. So many little facets of life that come bubbling up to the surface in that claustrophobic little world between our home life and our work life. But this one has been weighing on my mind for awhile.

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What would your father do?
Bob Bergdahl

My father once told me that if one of us – his children – ever got sick with cancer, he would stop what he’s doing and sell everything he owns to help pay for treatment.

That’s what fathers should say.

It was not unexpected to me. It was not a surprise. It was just my dad being the kind of father he is.

Recent national news got me thinking about this idea again.

Shortly after news of Bowe Bergdahl’s release after being held captive by the Haqqani, a Taliban organization in Afghanistan, the media did what it does best.

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Looking down from the rotunda in the Illinois State Capitol

Welcome to the Middle Ground

Springfield, Illinois
End of the legislative session. Springfield, Illinois

“Where y’all from,” asked the big bouncer at a nightclub called Stella Blue.

“Chicago,” someone replied.

“Welcome to the middle ground,” he said after checking our IDs at the door.

Upstairs, the club was an ironic polar opposite of its “Dead” namesake.

American-flag-themed Budweisers, a dance floor with bad dance music, a digital disco ball, five public radio employees and a whisky-voiced, bleach-blond bartender with electric-green-tinged contact lenses.

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Remembering to forget our dreams

In swimming under water to make a circle

Mostly I don’t remember my dreams.

I feel as though I have gone months, maybe years without dreaming. Certainly without remembering having dreamt anything.

I’ve wondered if I’m odd in my dreamlessness. If I’m alone in this world with a quiet head full of nothingness in my sleep.

And then there are nights like the movies. Nights without a break in the action. Nights where the dreams come like waves, ceaseless and relentless.

Where you wake up with your head underwater and you gasp for air between the troughs only to be submerged again.

Like opening your eyes in the depths to the sting of salt water, the disorienting dark and the shapes like monsters in the deep.

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The First Hot Day in Chicago


There was no spring, apparently. I was wearing a jacket on Tuesday, and by Thursday, it was 91 degrees.

The first hot day in Chicago is uncomfortable, for sure, but it holds so much promise.

In the working districts, men forego their coats for button-down shirts and no ties. Women lose the pantsuits or tights and boots for dresses that billow in the lake breezes.

In the douchebag district, where I happened to find myself this afternoon, the tourist bros flock to the rooftop bars in starched Cubs jerseys and t-shirts with inappropriate, misogynistic sayings that make me wonder if actual shops sell them.

We have a meeting in the air-conditioned comfort of a corporate brewery, complete with mini tacos and chicken strips, and then I head out into the jungle.

Chicago is awesome. Remember that as I write these words.

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