By David Michael Newstead.

Kevin was a friend of my mom’s when I was growing up. I don’t remember many details about him. I was too young to. But there are certain parts I can’t forget either. Kevin had a convertible. Kevin took us all sailing. Kevin was pretty cool. Kevin was gay and, before I had any concept of anything, Kevin would die from HIV/AIDS in 1992. It’s strange to think about now, because it was so long ago. I’ve been told that when he was losing weight towards the end I drew Kevin a picture of a pizza thinking that would help. And it did a little I suppose, because it cheered him up. After he died though, years went by before I really asked any questions about Kevin. It hadn’t occur to me to. Then, just after I turned 34, I learned that Kevin had only been 33 when he passed away. As a kid, all adults seem inconceivably older than you are. Now, Kevin didn’t seem old at all. Over the years, I find myself struggling with the same question again and again. What’s left of us once we’re gone? Maybe a few stories among friends. Some photographs. No doubt a pile of bills and paperwork. But do we leave behind something more? Something lasting? I can’t say for sure. The fact is, I’m no closer to an answer now than the day I started wondering. All I know is Kevin Abend-Olsen died a lifetime ago, but I still remember him. For whatever that’s worth.

My Annual Journal

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By David Michael Newstead.

One thing I’ve aspired to do for sometime, but always struggled with, is to have a journal. Like a physical pen and paper journal. It seems like a good way to organize your thoughts and it’s the kind of activity that was probably common once upon a time before binge watching and all the rest. The trouble is, an actual journal would take more commitment and energy than most people have. Also, when it comes down to it, what am I really going to write about on a daily basis, you know? Anyway, those are just some of my hang ups, but I didn’t want to abandon the concept either. This is when I came up with the idea of starting an annual journal a few years ago. So, what does that mean exactly? It means writing a short entry about your life at the end of each year. You can reflect on your experiences in a concise way without it feeling like just another chore, making it easy to start and to maintain. This can also help provide some context to your life when events begin to blur together. By that I mean, I probably had very tangible opinions about 2005 or 2010. Skip ahead a few years though and I remember what I was doing then, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what I was thinking or feeling at the time. And as it turns out, those things are pretty relevant to look back on. So as I sit down to make my latest entry, reminding myself why I started this thing in the first place is the simple part. The hard part will be putting 2017 into words.

From NPR: Later That Same Life

Thinking about another year going by, this is a personal favorite from awhile back.

In 1977, an 18-year-old Peter “Stoney” Emshwiller filmed himself asking questions meant for his future self. Emshwiller tells NPR’s Ari Shapiro, “I was going through what I think a lot of 18-year-olds go through — where you’re leaving high school and you’re about to start sort of your real life — and felt like I wanted to ask somebody who knows. And of course there isn’t anybody, but I decided to pretend there was and sit down and talk to a blank wall asking every question I could think of and responding to every answer I thought I might get back.”

Thirty-eight years later, the writer and voice actor sat down to answer his young self’s questions. The result is Later That Same Life, a film cut together to look like one seamless interview.

Listen at NPR

A Nation of Immigrants, Revisited


By David Michael Newstead.

Before his presidency, John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants. The book discusses the different origins, motivations, and numerous social contributions of immigrants arriving at different points in U.S. history. It’s a short book, but a meaningful one since Kennedy himself was a descendant of Irish immigrants. What’s especially noteworthy though is that later in the book JFK advocated for more open immigration policies and an end to the discriminatory national quota system which had been put into place in 1924 to limit immigration in general and non-white immigration specifically. And while Kennedy would not live to see his proposals enacted, America today is much more diverse because of them.

I bring this up for several reasons. First, to underline that contributions to American society by recent immigrants have only continued since Kennedy’s time. Second, this increase in diversity going forward is an asset, not a curse. And third, the racial makeup of the United States was kept homogeneous for so long through means which were blatantly racist at the time and would be completely unacceptable today. This includes things like the Chinese Exclusion Act and as soon as such policies were abandoned, America became more multicultural.

The other reason I mention A Nation of Immigrants is that I have my father’s copy of it sitting on my bookshelf. He was an immigrant to the United States. And while there’s nothing harrowing about his story compared to Syrians and others, it makes it pretty hard not to sympathize with a group that practically everyone’s relatives belonged to once upon a time.

Abel Meeropol Remembered

By David Michael Newstead.

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of Abel Meeropol. Meeropol passed away at age 83 in a retirement home in Massachusetts, having spent the last years of his life struggling with Alzheimer’s. Professionally, the songwriter is best remembered for his works Strange Fruit and The House I Live In, which have been performed by artists like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Paul Robeson, and others. In his personal life, Abel and his wife Anne were famous for adopting the orphaned sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after the couple was executed in 1953. Today, Abel’s legacy is rooted in having guided his adopted sons through the worst days of McCarthyism and in the enduring significance of the song Strange Fruit as America continues to grapple with violence and racism in our society. Abel Meeropol was born in New York City in 1903, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He is survived by his adopted sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.