Friday, December 18, 2015

Then we came to the end

After eight years of sharing stories, photos and videos here, I have decided to close the blog. I started Seconds and Decades in a different generation of journalism. I was in my mid-20s with nothing but time. These days, every minute is spoken for. I started because I wanted to be better, because I wanted to produce work that was meaningful to me. Back then, I was deep in small town city council coverage. These days, I am writing the stories that matter to me. Work can be a tough slog, but it's fulfilling.

Thanks to all who let me photograph their things or video them talking about chin hair, baking or coming home from war. I have a new website now! It's light on bloggage, but I'll be posting my favorite songs and albums there soon. Check it out.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I want to be good to myself.

We're working on a few-years delay here, but Ryan Kost and I are releasing a short film inspired by a Matthew Dickman poem. As a preview, here are three character sketches based on the poem's final stanzas.

"In the morning I get out of bed, I brush
my teeth, I wash my face, I get dressed in the clothes I like best.
I want to be good to myself." - Matthew Dickman

Good to myself: Nancy Wong from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Good to myself: Bonden Lyons from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Good to myself: Luc Smith from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pray the gay away?

Portland Fellowship

"My continuing passion is to part a curtain, that invisible veil of indifference that falls between us and that blinds us to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight.” - Eudora Welty

My role as a journalist is to introduce readers to people they may not see. Usually that means 'parting the curtain' on marginalized communities, but occasionally it also means delving into the lives of those on the other end of the fringe. Right now, Oregon and other states are considering a ban on conversion therapy for young people. As people in Oregon testified, they frequently spoke of one local group, Portland Fellowship. I called them up, and they were very open to having a story done. They shared their workbooks and personal stories. The result is a story that's a different focus for me. Check it out:

The world has changed since Portland Fellowship, a nonprofit that aims to deliver people from homosexual desire, first opened a quarter century ago.

Gays and lesbians are more widely accepted across the country. Other "ex gay" leaders have given up the fight -- and in some cases apologized for their earlier work. President Barack Obama has called for an end to conversion therapy for children.

And Oregon lawmakers are poised to ban the practice. Although the bill they're considering wouldn't impact Portland Fellowship, much of the testimony in favor of it has focused on the Southeast Portland organization.

Executive Director Jason Thompson does not care. Business remains steady, he said, and the need is still there.

"Even if the world goes completely pro-gay and gay marriage is the law of the land, people will still come here because they live according to a different system, a different faith, a different priority, worldview than the world," Thompson said.

Portland Fellowship doesn't promote hate, he said. It promotes love.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Team of Dreams

East African All Stars 16

I spent six months following a group of Somali teenagers around. They've been fighting to build a community, to do good even as bad stalks their neighborhoods. Of course, choosing the right path isn't one decision. It's a daily commitment. Sometimes they falter. The story ran a few weeks ago in the Oregonian. Here's a preview:

Mohamed Juma stormed away, memories of sand and civil war still burning inside him.

Back in Kenya, where the Somali teenager lived in refugee camps for 16 years, other boys used to huddle around a cellphone watching YouTube videos of LeBron James. They told Juma, who towered over them at 6-foot-5, that he should go to America and play basketball.

He did. Juma and his family moved to Portland in 2013, and he was soon discovered by the East African All Stars, a makeshift team of teenage boys who played on an elementary school court with rusted rims and tattered nets. Juma's new teammates bought him hamburgers and tennis shoes. Together, they won a city championship and earned support from nonprofit and civic leaders, adults who understood how easy it was for African immigrants to feel adrift in their new homeland and how disappointment can lead boys down dangerous paths. The All Stars, Portland's mayor and police believed, were an answer to the threats facing Juma and other young men.

Yet for Juma, every victory seemed to bring new frustrations. The desert should have been a distant dream, but the good fell away so easily.

This winter, after a squabble about respect and possession time, Juma decided he’d had enough. Later, none of the boys could explain precisely why they had been fighting. All Juma knew for sure was that his best friends had disrespected him.

“If this team doesn’t need me, I quit,” he said.

He trudged home to the crowded East Portland apartment he shares with his mother and seven siblings. He washed and folded the uniform Nike had donated to the team at the mayor’s request.

In the end, adults can do only so much. A boy’s friends define him and his future path. They’re the only choice a young man such as Juma gets to make.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

If I am lost, it's only for a little while

Portland Mercado

She started at Taco Bell, her hands shaking every time an order came in. In El Salvador, her mother had taught her to use the hands to shape masa into little discs called pupusas. In the United States, the hands had to work quickly, stuffing hard tacos with meat and lettuce, sticking those tacos into bags then out windows -- all under a minute.

She worked at the fast food chain long enough to fix a rhythm. But the job never felt right. Her hands were meant for pupusas. Finally, she took a shot and opened a food cart. The trucks were supposed to be the great equalizer, merging an immigrant's dreams with a hipster's appetite. But she didn't know how to run a business. It closed after six months.

Now, Maria Lizama is trying again. This time, the 48-year-old has an entire community behind her. This time, she has gone through business classes and run drills with her employees. The pupusas -- 2 for 1 on opening day -- will come out fast and hot.

As opening day nears, Lizama worries if her hands will shake again. Or will they remember what her mother taught them?

Read Lizama's story on Oregonlive.