My Issue With Vaping

Recently, I presented a collaboration with colleagues on the dangers of vaping. Alongside we also explored rhetoric in advertising. An examples was a fifties picture of a pack of Viceroy cigarettes, with a dentist promoting the idea of using filters to protect our teeth and body. The premise was meant to identify safety in ingesting tobacco. We live in that time again of false representation, or we might easily acknowledge the practice has never gone away.

I remember as a child, or young teen, cigarette ads were banned from television commercials because somewhere along the line, someone with influence managed to convince the producers this method a dangerous precedent, especially given the impact on teenagers.

I was a heavy smoker from my late teens until around 15 years ago. There have been many gifts to my life that have occurred because of my decision to stop smoking. I can breathe again, without rasp, without a chronic cough, without the fear of blackening my lungs. I had a medical procedure nearly a decade ago. I had quit smoking a few years before hand, and so during the testing I feared they would find spots on my lungs. I was fortunate to live with the resiliency of our body’s capacity to recover their full health. Certainly not always the case. No spots, no memory of years of cigarette smoking.

So what does all of this have to do with vaping in today’s society? In my own personal life I feel fortunate to have quit smoking years before the trend began. Had I been a smoker I would have been one of the first to buy a vape device. I’m a trend junkie, and it would have been the right transition because it might have seemed and looked rather cool. I feel fortunate as I read the increasing evidence of its damaging impact on society, people, our teens.

I write about this today, because I came across a picture of this young woman laying in a hospital bed with tubes, diagnostics and oxygen at her nearby. The commentary to follow the photo is sad, supportive, hopeful and at times cruel. The idea of a person in a hospital clinging to their lives as being weak is reprehensible. The very nature of what we do not know about vaping and its unknown ingestion of chemicals just in simple terms scares the hell out of me.

So, two things pop into my mind about this picture. One, my immediate compassion for this young woman’s welfare. The very fact that even if the picture is photo-shopped or exaggerated, the truth is there are people in her position in hospitals across the country experiencing her condition as we speak. The evidence exists. This cannot be considered weak, it needs to be understood as dangerous and fact.

The other piece even more frightening is the practice of using pot, or THC to be hidden inside the wonder of a Juul. People laugh about it – they can walk anywhere and hit their Juul without being detected. The reality their body is impacted matters far more than a hidden treasure in the midst of a public audience.

So today, as I watch this phenomena in its still early stages, not even peaking with intrigue, I think of the young people whom are so easily drawn to the dangers of vaping. We know lung cancer is what it is, rather than directly connected with smoking or not. Imagine what will become common knowledge or memory for the lives of so many people caught up in the seemingly safe and potentially life threatening rave that is vaping.

Yes, as much damage as cigarettes did and do over the long term, vaping in any regard frightens me to no end. Those that have lost their livelihood, their health due to such an unidentified habit, my heart goes out to all and I only pray for their strength to overcome the medical consequence that may lay ahead of them.

We just don’t know.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

juulclaims.com

 

 

My Dear Friend, Our Inspiration

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Coffee with Antonio Elias

Ah summertime. It is true. Many times in our lives, as a teacher, we would like to retreat toward that which would make life easier. Perhaps we choose to fall into a string of Netflix series, or our favorite crime show rather than take care of the busy work of maintaining our home, both the physical and mental. I’m guilty of that as I find myself in mid-summer, recognizing only too soon a school year ahead, whereby my focus will be on new students, new projects, new ideals. I feel fortunate that I have moments of clarity that are provided in my world to allow such priority to return.

Not a day ago, I was imagining the coming year, and felt great trepidation, a sometime normal response from a teacher sitting on their deck on a hot summer day watching the birds. The sun finally dropped, and I moved from the natural habitat of a backyard to my home, and turned on a baseball game, watched a Netflix series, flipped on my favorite crime show. Are you following the pattern? The reality is, I was actively trying to ignore the coming school year, knocking at my door as it does every summer right around the end of July. Today is July 27th, such perfect timing to have a coffee with one of my favorite alumni. That young man on my left is a former student who by his own actions  truly helps me and many of my colleagues recognize exactly why we chose our profession as teachers.

Since graduating high school in 2013, I have been fortunate to enjoy a coffee with Antonio at least once, maybe twice a summer. To give you a little background, this gentlemen was an exceptional student in the classroom, earning a modest scholarship to help solidify the start of his post-secondary education. Once out there, he realized a world existed that he needed to adjust to rather than let it mold him. He made difficult choices, took on wonderful challenges and today finds himself reaping the rewards of genuine effort and perseverance in ideal and dream.

When I first met Antonio he was a student in a writing class I had the honor to teach. We over the course of the semester became friends, he shared pieces of his life that were remarkable to me given the current state of our political demographic. I showed a movie in class once, and he later came up to me afterward, and in his polite demeanor, looked at me with a nervous smile and said, ‘Mr Amundsen, this movie, it is about my life.’ I was stunned. What began from that day was an opportunity.

I am grateful this young man was the product of a burgeoning English Learning program at Shakopee High School, whereby he would touch the lives of many over the years to come. I could not speak upon his merits without lauding such an incredible EL team that guided his education along with many other students under their tutelage the entire way.

Fast forward to today, a young man who has given graduation speeches both in our high school, and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, taken on non-profit projects that have only been met with success to together with a partner starting a challenging Spanish language only podcast that supported honest discussions around social justice and education. Currently he holds a position with the largest school district in Minnesota, Minneapolis Public Schools,  that continues to support growth and success in measures that are designed to provide educational and societal benefit to student and family alike.

When I first met Antonio, his main goal was to finish his education so that he could provide for his own family. He wanted to be that person to right the wrongs, or simply engage people’s lives in a positive direction. As we drank coffee today, it was evident in his smile and candor that that work in progress continues forward, as does his own idyllic outlook on life. What a delightful annual conversation with an intriguing and optimistic young man. I continue to be grateful to his willingness to share his life choices, and have an ongoing dialogue together around purpose and philosophy.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

photo permission – Antonio Elias

A Canyon Rite of Passage

the reality of time

outtakes and fantasy

easy climbs sheer cliffs

human mortality

tested in a tourist

manner of conceit.

 

One afternoon,

a quiet gentleman

decided his time

an essential promise

reached its end

how easy the edge.

 

Standing alone

he imagined

just how far

might be the land

would they even know

those that had …

 

A silent reckoning

No one would speak

again of the torturous

nature of losing hope,

and instead,

instead.

 

He walked away

head held high.

Trials Defining 45’s Racism

Racism 

noun

Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.                    – Oxford English Dictionary

A friend of mine asked me recently to give a good definition of racism and what it means in our society. So I went to the best source I could – the Oxford English Dictionary. When I read the definition itself, I thought about my own prejudice, and wondered about my own bias, and then tried to translate that to the point of this commentary.

I only have to look as far as the first three words and I have found enough evidence to attach this derogatory practice to 45’s exploits over the last year and a half, and evidence would suggest we include the many years before he even imagined the highest position of office in the United States.

In the word ‘prejudice’ it is defined as ‘preconceived opinion’ not based upon reality. We are all familiar with the original stump speech that introduced a philosophy toward Mexicans with the following words, “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Donald Trump 2016) Now any number of people will qualify that and say he did add the ‘good people’ in the end of the insult. Is that well enough? Or should we look more closely at the greater influence of the sentence – drugs, crime, rapists – and focus on how the words themselves impacted the response to his description of Mexican people to a crowd of supporters.

I want to say lathering supporters, but it took a few months for us to really begin to see his method, and today his campaign rallies time and time again, have become venues for spewing toxicity. I know this personally, because I did attend a rally earlier this year in Duluth MN and was appalled by the general pitch of the speech and crowd reaction. In that particular speech, there was no presentation of substance, only the same rhetoric we have grown accustomed to – hostility, isolation and blame. Therefore, his ‘preconceived opinion’ became the center point of his words and the crowd loved it. They relished it, and if anyone was in opposition, well they had better well keep their mouths shut, or have it shut permanently by rabid supporters. Incidentally, those rabid supporters would also receive direct support from the POTUS at the podium jeering them on.

See I find a problem with that. To me that is a clear case of bullying, and this is something that Donald Trump is the master of in his current position. If he doesn’t like someone, or they go against his own personal agenda, he will rip them apart with a lacking social decorum that leaves a lot of people feeling fear. Trust me when I say to all of those readers that are jumping on the bandwagon to pummel liberals, it is not simply a democratic issue. It is a national crisis that clearly blurs all party lines. To state it simply, 45 uses other people’s weaknesses to bolster his own agenda. That is prejudicial behavior.

Next word, discrimination. How many readers just suddenly had this wave of ‘this is too easy’ come over them when they associate that word with the POTUS? How about we begin with the NFL? Wait too easy, ok let’s talk about Maxine Waters and ‘low IQ.’ Not satisfied, well then moving on, how about Lebron James and education for youth versus cages on the Southern border. Oh, hot point, ok, well, then let’s just wrap it with calling a former White House aide, a woman, a dog. Fill in the missing blanks please.

Finally, when I first looked at the definition of racism as it applies, the word antagonism just lit a fire under me because there is so much evidence out there that Trump has expressed, suggested, mandated to describe his personal agenda with antagonizing people of a different social status, a different political background, a DIFFERENT color of skin. Quite apparently, Donald Trump ran his candidacy and now his current office on a platform of outward antagonism.

Remember, he did say, ‘fire the (s.o.b.) player’ that protests at an NFL game. Ignore the whole idea of free speech and the ability to demonstrate a peaceful protest. Hell, this is a person of stature and they should be held accountable. Paint it however way you like it, but the message that 45 is putting across is that the color of your skin in the NFL has merit to be criticized and thrown out with the trash. Yeah, that’s my opinion, and I say it clearly because the whole idea of supporting this man’s ignorance just makes me sick.

So we can do two things with the definition as it stands. We can take out the word ‘race’ and exchange it with ‘status’ for those of you that genuinely believe that Trump is not racist, but do have misgivings of how he treats people of a different stature than his own. Or we could leave the word ‘race’ in the definition of racism where it belongs.

The fact is, our leader of our country uses racist language to persons of color to antagonize and lather his crowd of supporters. While he stands before us and suggests he is cleaning out the swamp, what he is actually doing is lining his own pockets with the finest opportunity to create a financial network towards his benefit with not just the nation but the world, the global economy. He really could care less about race unless there is a benefit for him.

That said, I am not letting him off the hook. He has made far too many declarative statements toward people of color in so many capacities, and yes, he has lumped certain white people into his analogies and disgusting rhetoric. But right now, I don’t really care about the white people, because they don’t have to operate on a different level to make sure their lives are safe and fulfilling. They just, like me, will go out the door in the morning and begin their day without any worry of profiling or discrimination while a person of color walking down the street with them side by side will experience mental and physical roadblocks completely out of their control throughout their entire day.

Think about it for just a minute. This isn’t political. This is reality, and the sooner we begin to acknowledge it is NOT about us, and it is more about the people in our society that have been oppressed for the ages, the sooner we can begin to carry out a realistic and healing dialogue. The sooner we accept that just maybe the words coming out of this president’s mouth can be construed planned, methodical and easily perceived as racist, nothing ‘fake news’ about that – only a reality.

( to be sure I wrote this after a weekend blues festival – my apologies for rambling. )

A Reaction of Feeling

A young boy has been shot,

he’s dead,

a police force became another list,

not the boy,

no list attached,

a living human being,

now dead,

shot to death,

after wielding motive suggests

he was suicidal,

didn’t want a recital,

simply wanted to die,

or at least in the mind of a boy,

thought it might work,

wanted something,

wanted someone

to know,

his hurt,

and now …

nobody knows,

but we all realize

he’s dead.

Why I attended a Trump rally

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AMSOIL arena – Duluth


I was recently given tickets to attend the Trump rally in Duluth, Minnesota last night. Given the controversy around the issues occurring on our southern border, I felt like this was my closest opportunity I might have to put myself in a place to show resistance to his actions and the impact he is having on our society and populace. I thought just being part of the gathering of protesters would be sufficient to try to get my point across. I brought a couple of signs with me, that I wanted to hold in rallying support of the opposition. IMG_9316

This billboard stayed in my car because attendees were not allowed to bring signage into the convention. I actually had visions of someone taking a bat to the back window of my car where I had it visually placed, but we parked quite a distance away from the rally so it was not noticeable. I believe that merits the experience I had at this, my first presidential rally. I brought a former student of mine, a decade past his graduation, someone I knew had similar views to my own. We talked about what we were about to experience, but really frankly had no idea what we were about to encounter.

In all honesty, I genuinely believed if I found myself in the arena I would find similar minded people to rally around as we listened to 45 spout the same rhetoric he has for the entirety of his presidency. I was never so wrong in my life. We encountered protesters along the way, in fact, delightfully I ran into another former student holding a wonderful sign of protest – a biblical verse – Matthew 25:34-46. I made it clear to her I had tickets to go inside, but I was on the side of the protesters. We caught up for a few moments, I took her picture and told her there would be a lot of people back home, happy to see her posture on this day. The response from social media indicated I was correct.

This morning, in reflection on the experience, I do believe if I had just driven up to protest I would have been completely satisfied on one level. Having tickets to go inside the arena and experience the rhetoric from 45 is one thing; however, the greater takeaway as my companion pointed out was the mob-mentality of the audience.There was absolutely nothing this leader of our country could say that would diminish the rabid nature of the crowd’s reaction to his every word.

I suppose in reality that is a normal reaction to a crowd of supporters. There was just something different about this energy, and that is what I struggled with for the entire time we were in the convention. We left about fifteen minutes before the end because I frankly could not stomach any more of the speech. Again he talked about similar topics of his concern – numbers in attendance, creating more jobs for African-Americans, the fake-news media section that he encouraged his audience to provide a unifying roar of boos and catcalls, and of course a chant of ‘lock her up’ to get the crowd on the same page. In addition he was adamant toward making a point of isolating any protesters that he then had promptly escorted out of the convention.

At one point he criticized a long-haired protester, asking whether he was a man or woman, telling him to go back home to his mom and get a haircut. I was a little concerned the people I am close to in my life, might fear it was me because I presently have long hair, but it wasn’t me – I was the one standing nearby that kept my eyes down for the majority of the speech and occasionally would clap three or four times so those around me wouldn’t get a sense that I wasn’t there for the right reasons. He once asked the news media to pan the crowd, and I diligently stooped down and pretended to tie my shoes. I was wearing sandals.

That is what I was truly most nervous about, becoming exposed. This was no environment to oppose the speaker, I mean, even a look in the eye felt like exposure, and I did fear for my safety. This is the first presidential convention I have ever attended, but I do not think that is a normal attendee reaction no matter the side of the fence their views might land. (Perhaps people will now reference the Democratic convention of 1968 in Chicago and rightfully so, but was that about party or their angst toward the police at the time? I was nine years old, I only remember the television coverage and some horrific story about Dan Rather’s behavior in a taxi ride.) I watched the room lather with 45’s constant berating nature and bully tactics that were not presidential in any regard.

His speech was about him and his accomplishments thus far. Yes, one can argue that he has made strides with North Korea, but we really don’t know the long term impact, outside of the hostages being released, that is huge. But beyond that what is the impact? There were no reassuring words on his part, in fact at one point he said, ‘maybe it won’t work, we just don’t know.’ My student at that point  said to me later I think that is the first time he had ever heard Trump go back on a declarative statement. I couldn’t argue.

We decided to leave around 10 or 15 minutes before he finished, partly because I was feeling anxious and partly because we weren’t hearing anything new, and we knew the crowd control was going to be crazy leaving. I said to my companion, I could feign a heart issue in the event people questioned our departure but beyond specific glares and questionable expressions, we were free to leave early.

We got outside and found a good amount of protesters awaiting the end of the convention. I won’t say thousands because that wouldn’t be true, but there were numbers, and despite feeling like that is where I should have been standing, a part of me was glad I did stand inside to experience the speech. Here’s why.

I’ve always believed it is important to listen to both sides. I was raised in a family that supported both sides of the ticket and were always able to dialogue about all the relevant issues no matter the stance. I don’t believe in the vision of Donald Trump. I think it is a sham and he has no idea what the ramifications of his rhetoric have on our society. Or maybe he does, and if that is the case, that is an even scarier prospect. He made a comment last night about no families being split up at the border last night, and I haven’t read the news today, and I have no comment on that, all I can do is think about the weeks before hand – the damage is done.

In conclusion, it was the mindset of the people walking into the arena that frightened me more than anything else. I saw a young woman of no more than twenty wearing an American flag that blended into a confederate flag. Why?!? IMG_9321What is it we are trying to create in our society today? What is it this man is doing to the sanctity of our country that is built around the tenet of supporting everyone, no matter their background, or religious affiliation or color of their skin?

 

 

I’m generalizing now, so it is time to finish my point.  Ironically, I’m listening to David Bowie’s ‘This Is Not America’ as I write my last words.

So why did I attend this convention? I was given tickets. I live less than 200 miles away. I wanted first hand to see how we are reacting to this man’s hand on our country’s rewards and ills, and last night I experienced that fraction of populace that supports his ideals. Correct, he is our president, my president and as an American I am asked to respect the office of the POTUS, but listening to a man simply try to lather a crowd with ill meant rhetoric and sad commentary on our society while constantly patting himself on the back is not what is going to lead us in the right direction. The reality of this movement leaves me scared and bewildered.

I can only be grateful that I was in the audience with a mindful companion, because quite frankly I don’t know how I might have handled being in the AMSOIL arena in Duluth alone.

Thanks for listening, and for anyone questioning my loyalties or political leaning, trust me they haven’t changed, if anything they have been strengthened. Let’s go forward … somehow.


Pictures are my own

Different Set of Eyes

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Yesterday morning, while sitting in a writing lab with a student, we both received notifications at the same time, about the Houston tragedy – Tragedy in Texas – and we talked for a minute or two of our sadness. We exchanged the usual, it keeps happening, oh that’s scary, terrible, any number of coined phrases that are now attached to school shootings. But then I turned to her and I asked her,

“How do you feel about that?” and I looked her directly in the eye.

She paused for a moment, and then replied, “I’m sorry, but the first thing I think about is White people,” and she tried to restrain a natural smile, not one of happiness but one of timid reality that she lives in every day. See this young woman is Latina, and her mindset does not comprehend such an acceptance of school shootings. She believes the ‘mental health’ attachment is just another way of protecting the White community.

I looked at her and said, “You’re right.” But I was just beginning to think about the reality of her words. I couldn’t get past it the rest of the day. In my class later on in the morning, when the subject came up, there she was again, and this time her response was that society just allows it to happen because they can wrap it around a ‘mental illness’ label. I wondered if the rest of our society might see it as clearly as she does. I thought about her world.

In her scope of reasoning she has other concerns. Number one, she lives in a world where ICE is constantly knocking on her door, her friend’s door, family, acquaintances who every day wake up wondering if this is the day – will someone today lose their rights and feel the anxiety of having their family, lifestyle ripped apart. Certainly, it is a different measure than the immediacy of a school shooting leaving the slain to disrupt the lives of their family and friends, but hers is a unique pain.

I honestly don’t believe there is a concern in her world that anyone she is close to would ever resort to bringing a weapon to school and gunning down anyone in their presence. But I do think she walks around school, with her observant insight, wondering what next. What will be the next offense that will bear down on her society.

I’ve thought about my conversation with this young woman for the last 24 hours. She has given me new insight into what it is each of us thinks about every day, what are our central concerns, who do we worry about, and rather, when we think of an emotional commitment, what end holds confidence in our survival? Where she might be in constant motion trying to balance her world, her education, her work life all in a genuine effort to survive in America as a Latina woman, I’m on the other hand thinking about what plans I have for the weekend, and how can I pace my grading through the end of school year.

I don’t worry about losing my family to an immigration sweep. I do worry about school shootings, and I am constantly confused by how it continues to occur and how our society is gradually hypnotized into this absurd level of acceptance. She on the other hand holds a very sharp and poignant answer that when the rest of us stop and think about it, reveals a posture in our society that seems easily put aside.

Perhaps we are erring when we simply call it mental health rather than privilege.


photo taken from Pinterest