How Does Change Feel in Your Body?


Guest post by Natalie Fraver, co-instructor of Resilient Hearts in Times of Collapse: The Art of Self-Regulation and Navigating Complex Trauma in Community.

Just about an hour ago I got off a call with a dear friend who lives on the East Coast. We have weekly support calls, during which time we talk about whatever is most alive for us at that moment; what body sensations are present, the emotions connected to those sensations, recent occurrences, struggles, celebrations, etc.

Before entering into my share, I had no idea what was there for me. I began by breathing deeply into my stomach. I noticed my heart was pounding, there was a hollowness in my chest, and I felt overwhelmed by an experience of the world moving at a pace that my nervous system could not keep up with. I’ve recently moved house, the items I brought with me not even out of boxes yet. This move meant a transition from living with a life partner whom I have been with for the last four years; a close friend of 19 years; and her baby, whose birth I was present at. I was a bit frozen facing all this change. Making even the simplest seeming decision felt totally undoable.

My friend was there holding space for me on the call as I explored the nooks and crannies of this experience, supporting me by making guesses as to what I might be feeling and what the underlying needs could be. It became clear that my body was needing stillness and time to integrate all the changes that had happened, the changes that are continuously happening. I believe strongly that, as a species, we need to slow down, take pauses, and really look at what is happening within and around us. There is so much urgency and so many reasons why we need to move fast, to move on to the next thing. Cradled by the warm accompaniment of my friend, I was greeted by something a teacher I work with calls an impossible dream guess. This is an expression of resonance that acknowledged my heart’s deepest desire: I wish that for just one moment every human on the planet would pause, take a breath, and feel their bodies; feel their essential mattering, the mattering of all the beings around them; and the impact that each of us has. I wept as I spoke these words, feeling so much hope for widespread transformation should this actually happen, along with despair that this could never happen.

Many other emotions followed, such as rage, contempt, and playfulness, as I ping-ponged between these two seemingly opposite poles. Now I am in a time of reflection. I’m able to acknowledge how stuck I can be in this type of binary thinking, which I see as an inheritance from generations of humans impacted by systemic oppression and privilege. My body can feel the edges of my windows of welcome for my own grief, joy, and vulnerability. And, with every breath, I can feel myself expanding to hold more and more of life’s complexity.

Processes and experiences such as this are what we will be exploring in the course, Resilient Hearts in Times of Collapse: The Art of Self-Regulation and Navigating Complex Trauma in Community. We invite people to join who are ready to feel into what their bodies are holding, knowing you can choose the intensity of how deep you go, and to be present for the experiences of others in the room. We also ask that people show up with a commitment to sharing as honestly as you are able and be aware that we are stepping into one another’s energetic “fields”, meaning that we will be influencing each other’s experiences. Kevin and I will do our best to hold dynamics in the room with care and acknowledge the impact of living with different identities/experiences of violence under the different systems of oppression. Our hope is that people will leave the class having felt a deep connection to others and themselves, as well as a greater sense of choice and energy around how to engage with the massive challenges that we must continuously face being alive at this time. 

Photo credit: Elizabeth M

Take Two or More Courses This June and Save

Here at PUGS, we know a lot of Portlanders are struggling to find the best way to engage with the issues that are impacting our lives.

So during the month of June, we decided to let the activists take over to run courses on decolonizing wealth, mass incarceration, environmental justice, and propaganda.

And we know you might want to go to two or more of them, so we're offering a limited-time discount of 20% off two courses of your choosing.

The courses are:

Add two or more courses to your cart, then use the discount code ACTIVIST to unlock your 20% discount before May 25 at midnight.

PUGS is about lifelong learning. Get the skills you need to engage in conversation around these vital topics, and bone up to change the world we live in.

May Light Life Planning: Join Us!


Has 2019 taken a few twists and turns you didn't expect? What if you gave yourself the gift of a few hours to reflect and look forward?

We've got you! Join us for one of our informal free Light Life Planning workshops, two nights in this merry month of May in southeast Portland.

During this time, you'll:

  • Take part in a short reflective writing and roadmap exercise,

  • Build your personalized plan in the style of Passion Planner,

  • Discuss your plans with other PUGGERS who will have ideas for how you can stay on track, and

  • Remember to breathe.

Sessions are on Wednesday nights, and will be led by PUGS Dean Steph Routh. For full details and to register (it’s free, but we can only fit so many humans in a room), please choose the date that suits you:

How often do we take time to reflect on the last season of our lives, consider lessons learned, and then take a chance and put our near-term hopes to pen and paper?

Join us and make 2019 your year. You’ve got this.

New Head PUGGER, goodbye from Douglas



After four years, this is the last time I'll get to write to you as Head PUGGER. In four years, it’s grown to about 1,000 students and 80 courses a year. This is bittersweet.

I'm pleased to announce the new owner and leader of Portland Underground Grad School: Steph Routh! She takes over December 1. Steph, a born and raised Oregonian, is a longtime activist, agitator, and organizer. A partial list of her amazing background: she's been the Executive Director of Oregon Walks and communications director of Community Cycling Center, as well as a host of the Why Isn't Anyone Talking About This and City Club podcasts. If you look at her resume, I think you'll agree that she's uniquely qualified to take over PUGS and make it better. I'm super excited to see where she takes us in the coming years.

Steph will be back to you with her own message next week! 

I'm so grateful for the chance to lead PUGS. I got to create the thing I wanted: learning and community for everyday life. A quote from Charlie Jones encapsulates it: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  Because I've met so many new people and learned so much from so many amazing instructors and students, I'm a very different person than I was four years ago. I'm more aware, creative, flexible, fulfilled, generous, improvising, inclusive, informed, initiating, rooted, self-aware, strategic, + wild. Because of you. I'm grateful to you. 

And I hope we all continue learning and growing together in the coming years.

So what will I be doing next? 

1. I'm starting another school! It's called Mycelium and it's a five month business school for small business owners. In nature (learned in Mulysa Melco's Decoding Plants course!), the mycelium is the network of nutrients and relationships underground that lets the forest grow. My new school Mycelium is essentially that: a network of knowledge and relationships that will help small businesse owners serve the community better and become more profitable. It's the thing I wanted myself when I was running PUGS, so again I'm building the thing I wanted. If you're a small business owner and might be interested, sign up for the newsletter and get a sample of the curriculum. 

2. I'll continue teaching at PUGS! In fact, two of the three December courses are mine. I've discovered real joy in teaching Financial Freedom. The most recent cohort just finished up on Sunday and every time, I'm honored by the feedback students have at the end. The next group starts December 1 so if you're interested, sign up soon. There are about 5 spots left.

This course has been so empowering and eye-opening. I’ve been slowly getting my head out of the sand around my finances for a few years now, but this course really changed my trajectory. I used to hate talking about finances and thought that I wasn’t good at it-- but I love that I’m choosing to read more, seeking out knowledge and books on the subject-- for fun!! It’s like I’ve uncovered a whole new me!  - Student in fall FF1 cohort

I'm excited for Steph to take over PUGS. I think she what it takes to make it an institution of radical learning and self-improvement in Portland. That's the thing I loved most: PUGGERS are people who want to improve their status quo. And THE status quo. We need more people who want to learn how to make this world a better place. We need places for them to convene and to learn together. I hope PUGS does that for you in the coming years.

Stay in touch! I can be reached at

With gratitude,


Building Resilience for the Resistance by Wendy Willis

I woke up last Friday morning—the morning after the Senate Judiciary hearing considering whether to confirm President Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court—with a cold knot in my stomach. When I first opened my eyes to the still-dark morning, I couldn’t sort out why I would feel that way, that sickly combination of sorrow and dread. And then I remembered. I remembered the bravery, the spectacle, the posturing, the cravenness, the struggle, the whole thing.

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After hours of rage-weeping and manically texting with my friends while I tried to get at least a modicum of work done, I calmed down enough to ask myself not just why I was so upset about it, but what I could and should be doing about it.

And the answer is, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure railing to my friends and eating piles of pasta isn’t it. Or at least not all of it. But even during these cataclysmic times, I still believe in the power of moral citizenship, in the power of deep community. And I believe that there are things we can do to reconnect to the sacred in citizenship even when the broader culture seems to be embracing the profane.

I have long admired the spiritual training undertaken by civil rights leaders and activists to prepare themselves for moral clarity and right action in the face of cruelty and depravity. This class is a cousin to that training—a place for us to both look inward and to one another for steadiness and succor.

Over the course of four weeks, we will discuss how to bring our own particular gifts to political and civic life, discernment of right action, how to build deep community, and how we might find joy amidst it all. We will examine the lessons of other times and other places as well as learn from one another.

I can’t think of a place I would rather spend Monday nights in October. I hope all of you will join me.

Building Resilience for the Resistance meets on Mondays, October 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th from 6-8 pm at SE Uplift. Register for the course here.

Amanda Rain on the Power of Effective Communication

PUGS course you’re teaching and why:

The Art of Effective Communication is designed to bring students through an experience of discovering their most bold and unspeakable self while empowering their self-expression to fuel their lives.  Communication is the external expression of our internal world, therefore it is simultaneously a process of internal self-growth, training to build capacity and competency, and strategy to be fully self-expressed while honoring the interconnectedness of our relationships.

I teach this course because we are in a time of intense transformation.  The stakes are high and our ability to be effective in our relationships, professions, and lives is critical.  Communication is the foundation of our ability to connect as humans.  We commonly lose immense energy to miscommunications, poor language choices, projections, assumptions, and other unhealthy communication patterns.  In order for us to truly make the shifts that are needed to transform our lives and world, we must transform our communication to foster respect, compassion, and success. 

Who’s the target audience of this class

People who desire…

·       A strategy tool box for communicating more effectively

·       Confidence in speaking

·       Professional success

·       Healthy relationships

·       Co-empowerment in our interconnected world

Join us in October to cultivate the power of your voice, strengthen your relationships, and transform your life and business. 

Best thing about PUGS:

At a time when higher education institutions are becoming increasingly inaccessible, PUGS is providing access to valuable knowledge and skill building to support a thriving community of learners.  We need people who are continually building capacity and honing skills to have greater positive impact on the world we are co-habiting.  PUGS makes this possible and is an invaluable resource to the Portland community.

I care about lifelong learning because:

Lifelong learning is a way to stay young, keep the mind fresh, and continue to evolve.  There is always value in learning new skills, tools, and understandings that improve our lives.  May we be the half-full cups that has wisdom to share and a willingness to learn and grow.

I'm stepping down from running PUGS to teach more


As you know, the PUGS motto is that "we're half learning and we're half community." In the last four years, we've grown from offering a single course to offering 60-70 courses and 1,000 students a year. I'm proud of how we've been able to serve so many people over time. 

I've decided to step down at the end of the year. The reason is two-fold. The first reason is I'd rather spend my time teaching at PUGS. If someone else was leading PUGS, I could focus on just teaching, which is where my heart really lies. I just love being in the classroom. 

The second reason is that PUGS needs someone else to take it to the next stage. PUGS has a chance to become a real institution that creates learning and builds community for many more Portlanders.  Our mission is to provide education and community for everyone in Portland, no matter their income. Again, we serve around 1,000 students a year.  I think someone with the right combination of mission, business skills, and organizational experience could grow it to serve 5,000-10,000 in the coming years. We want everyone in Portland to have the opportunity to learn and grow throughout their entire lives. We believe learning is a human need and a human right, so we need institutions that provide access to that.

So I'm going to step down from PUGS on December 1 and help transition someone else into leadership with me staying on as a teacher. I'll be back next week for more thoughts on that, but, for now, I just wanted to thank you for being part of this journey. So many smart, interesting people have come to class to learn from each other and contribute to each other's intellectual growth. If you've come to PUGS, you know what I'm talking about. It's been so much fun to meet you all and I hope we all can continue building something amazing for this city and this community. 

Douglas - Founder of PUGS

p.s. As I focus on teaching, check out my upcoming courses:  Financial FreedomThe Appreciation ProjectManager's Toolkit 1: How to Train, and The Catalyst Course for Small Business.

Education Needs to be Inconvenient

Excepted in full from the excellent Seth Godin:

Education needs to be inconvenient

It seems as though people now spend more time with their smartphones than they spend with other people, and the smartphone and app makers are working hard to make every interaction we make online ever more convenient.

Convenience sells.

It’s the dominant driver of our culture, and has been since the 60s. How can I get something that’s just good enough in exchange for it being more convenient? Hence the drive through fast food window, the microwave oven, the remote control, shrinkwrap licenses and 140 characters as a stand in for exchanging ideas.

It turns out that the quest for convenience also drives many of the choices we make about education. It’s more convenient to have standardized tests and rigid curricula, so we don’t have to treat every student differently. And it’s more convenient to imagine that continuing education for adults might involve reading a summary of something instead of actually doing it.

Alas, we’re confusing the convenience of physical time-saving with the convenience of not extending ourselves in the quest for something better.

Education needs to be inconvenient because it relies on effort and discomfort to move us from where we were to where we want to be. The internet gives us more access than ever, and if we care enough, we can use that convenient access to explore the inconvenient places that we know we should be exploring.

Here’s my annual link to my rant on education entitled, “Stop Stealing Dreams: What’s School For.”

And here’s the 18 minute video, which is a little more convenient.


And here’s a new viral video on the topic. Related to Ted Dintersmith’s new book.




Announcing PUGS Community Dinners

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In the 1970s, almost 2/3 of Americans attended some sort of club meeting. By the late 1990s, the figure was 1/3 of Americans. The average American invested about 1/3 less time in organizational life between 1965 to 1995. Even the number of picnics went down 60 percent from 1975-1999. According to a recent Senate report on civic health, between 1974 and 2016, the percent of adults who said they spend a social evening with a neighbor at least several times a week fell from 30 percent to 19 percent. The report concludes, “The connective tissue that facilitates cooperation has eroded, leaving us less equipped to solve problems together within our communities.”

At PUGS, we talk about being half learning and half community. And while we know we do learning well, and each of our classes coalesce as self-contained communities, we're really interested in how we can stitch our broader learning community together more intentionally. That's why, starting in September, we're initiating what we're calling PUGS Community Dinners. It's a chance for you to meet other people in Portland in the most ancient form of community: having fun by eating together. This is how it will work: a PUGGER will agree to host dinner at their house for 8-10 people. There might be a dialogue question to tie the evening together. That's it! That's the whole plan. It'll be loosey-goosey and fun. 

We need people to volunteer to host and we'll need people to volunteer to eat. Hosts will provide the space and cook the dinner. In return, they will get a free PUGS course. Guests come with empty stomachs and contribute  to the PUGS Scholarship Fund which fuels our Radical Pricing Policy. Willing to join us? Fill out this form!

Jesse Friedman Wants To Help You Take the Greatest Trip of Your Life

PUGS Instructor Jesse Friedman is teaching Better Travel for Less Money on Tuesdays this month (8/7, 21, 28, 9/4). Here he is explaining why travel planning is his happy place and how you can learn to love the process too:

For the most part, I love travel for the same reasons many others do. It’s exciting to see new and beautiful things, to experience and learn about different ways of living and being in the world, and of course to eat great stuff and maybe even relax.

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Yet there’s an aspect that many dread, or at least barely tolerate, but which I find one of the most exciting aspects: planning. I get giddy when researching flight itineraries (especially that holy grail, getting business class seats with miles!). I love doing the math to figure out whether to buy passes or single tickets for transit months before I arrive at a city, and I’ll merrily spend hours clicking around maps and reading up to compare where precious time might be best spent. I love it so much that I’ve eagerly planned trips for several friends and family members; booking for others has exposed me to a wide variety of comfort and activity preferences. 

Beyond my zeal for logistics, everyone is chasing the thrill of crafting a truly great trip. I apply a lens of value to all my travel planning: often you can save a whole lot of money with a bit of knowledge and strategy, or get great experiences you wouldn’t have sought if you didn’t know to look for them. But sometimes it’s worth it to pay face value for an experience or a convenience that’s important to you.  There’s also a whole dimension of cultural norms, travel apps, figuring out whether it’s worth getting insurance, and a slew of other bits to know about that can make a big difference. And if you’re traveling with others, a little communication and expectation-setting can go a long way in making everyone happier — I have first-hand experience in how to do it both really poorly and really well.

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I’m really excited that, after a few decades of booking experience and visiting over three dozen countries, I’ll finally be sharing the knowledge and techniques I’ve come by to help people like you improve every trip they take for the rest of their life. I’m also expecting it to be a lot of fun: we’ll be able to help each other plan better adventures, and I’m sure that I’ll learn plenty of tips, tricks, and stories from those in the room. 

Oh, and where’s the next big trip for me? My wife Laura and I are going to Australia and New Zealand, marking our sixth continent, using miles from Alaska Airlines and the signup bonus from a credit card!

Along with his wife, Laura, Jesse hosts United Noshesa series of 194 dinner parties, one for each member of the United Nations, in alphabetical order. The most recent dinner, the Republic of Moldova, was the 140th in the series. Jesse and Laura research authentic cuisine of each country and do all of the cooking while guests are invited to contribute by making a donation to Mercy Corps, the international humanitarian organization. In a similar spirit, Jesse has committed to donate all of his earnings from this class to Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO).


Civic Saturday Sermon: The Sin of Haughty Eyes

On Saturday, we partnered with Citizen University, Oregon Humanities, Healthy Democracy, Kitchen Table Democracy, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and the Attic Institute to produce a great event called Civic Saturday. Essentially, a bunch of people gathered together around the idea of envisioning a better citizenry, meeting new friends and sharing songs, readings, and sermons along the way (Civic Saturday is loosely based around the format of a traditional (Western) religious gathering).  

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Wendy Willis of Citizen University gave a really beautiful sermon springing from a meditation on civic pride. If you weren't able to join us on Saturday, give it a read and perhaps ponder the two questions Wendy left us with: do you feel "extremely proud" to be an American? And, to which communities do you feel most cleaved?

The Sin of Haughty Eyes: A Civic Saturday Sermon
Portland, Oregon

By Wendy Willis

I began this Independence Day like I begin every other morning—reading political tip sheets and scrolling through Twitter. It’s a perverse ritual of sorts. I grab my wrap and my glasses, put water on  to boil,  then turn to my phone or laptop to see what fresh outrage awaits. I know. I know. I read the same advice you all do—I am supposed to be meditating or reading an important piece of literature or writing down my intentions for the day. But instead—at 6:00 am on this July the 4th—I was hunkered down in my kitchen rocking chair, wrapped in a shawl and staring at my phone. One of the things I ran across was a new Gallup poll. The take away was that only 47% of citizens of this country are “extremely proud” to be American. It’s apparently an all-time low, down from the three quarters who called themselves “extremely proud” in the months following 9/11.

The reporter who shared the poll—Mike Allen, mastermind of the Axios tipsheet—didn’t just offer it as a tidbit of interesting or useful information. He used it as a shame grenade. He used pride as a proxy for patriotism, for gratitude. His point was that we—and by that I mean we Americans—have a whole lot to be proud of—there are more job openings than job seekers at the moment, we enjoy absolute freedom of travel in our own country, we are part of the 39% of world citizens who are rated “free” by Freedom House, violent crime has plunged precipitously in recent years, and on and on about how good we have it.

And it worked.  I did feel shame. All those listed blessings—most of them entirely unearned by me—are indeed at my disposal. Yet, I have to be honest with myself—and now with you—if one of you outed yourself as a Gallup pollster and asked me on the way up here this morning whether I was extremely proud to be an American, I can’t imagine I would jump in with an enthusiastic yes. My mind would go to toddlers separated from their mothers at the border, to the travel ban affecting many, many of the world’s  citizens, to the quiet discharge of immigrants from our armed services. My mind would go to the nastiness and disregard we show to one another in comments in the newspaper and on Twitter and when we meet each other in our cars and on our bikes in the streets. I would think of slavery and incarceration of Japanese Americans and Native American genocide. None of those things makes me feel proud.

And still, Mike Allen—bless his heart—is right. There is still much to celebrate. I cannot forget the time when President Obama chastised us all—and rightly so—reminding us that things are better and that it is disrespectful of our forbearers—our ancestors, the generations of activists before us—when we suggest that this country is not more just than it once was. But pride? I don’t know if I can go that far.

I mean, I don’t think I’m dispositionally opposed to pride. I love pride month. I love a good rainbow flag. I love the idea that we can take deep joy in who were are and who we love.  Celebratory bumper stickers give me a little spring in my step— Proud of my student, my Marine, my vegan, my Eagle Scout, my dog. I love that.

But there is no question that pride has always been a mixed bag. Pride—let us remember—is  one of the seven deadly sins. It is, in fact, known as the “sin of sins”—the source of all the other sins—lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, and envy. Pride in that sense is a preoccupation with the self, an elevation of the self to the level of God. It is that elevation that makes us bold enough to try out all the other sins. Pride is sometimes referred to as the “sin of haughty eyes,” which I have to admit I do love. But that form of pride sets up a system in which there is always a winner because there is a loser.  That is not a value I think we should run a country on.

There is something else that niggles at me about “pride.” It is, in the end, entirely conditional. I may like a particular policy decision—say, signing the Paris Climate accord—and that makes me feel proud of my country. But then, we withdraw, and that makes me feel---what is the opposite?—I guess, not proud. And maybe that’s what a poll like Gallup is trying to measure—the current conditions. Do we like who we are in the world at this moment?  And that is important, for sure. It gives us a yardstick with which to measure our behavior against our values.

But that pride like that is necessarily ephemeral.  We swing wildly back and forth between proud and not proud. It is not the basis for building a resilient community. Or a resilient country. We can’t rely on it to get through the hard times. Let me put it in the context of my own family. Right now, I am very proud of my daughters. Both of them finished the school year with a 4.0. They worked hard, I want to recognize that. I want to tell you about it. I want to tell my parents about it. I want to tell checker at the grocery store about it. But it isn’t  pride that gets us through the hard times. What if next year there are Ds? There are Fs? What if there are decisions I don’t agree with? It is not pride that will get us through. Because pride is a feeling. And it is conditional. And almost certainly, if things were to get tough, I would feel fear and worry and humiliation more than any sense of pride. But, I wouldn’t abandon my daughters. I wouldn’t withdraw my support or affection from them. I wouldn’t threaten to move to Canada. Because it is something else that sustains our connection. It is a fierce commitment and a stubborn love.

I wonder how that applies to us as we pass through this particularly bumpy era of our history. Maybe there is just something odd about thinking pride is the thing that binds us together. I am reminded of this often-repeated quote from James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Baldwin is right, isn’t he? There is something weird and entitled to suggest that, if we don’t like how things are going, we can just opt out of our country. Or our city. Or our neighborhood.

In fact, if we are really honest with ourselves, it is not all about some remote government behaving cravenly or unjustly. There is no one else. It is all us. And none of us are living up to the standards we set for our country and for our fellow citizens. And if we look those shortfalls direct in the eye, we don’t feel a surge of pride, but rather a wave of shame followed by an abiding sense of humility.  We are some flawed and fallible humans---all of us—and that means no matter how hard we try, we will always fall a little short of perfection, a little short of the American creed of liberty and equality that we claim to hold sacred. There is humility—not pride--in knowing that we will never live up to the ideals we have set for ourselves.

And in that humility—the humility borne of striving but perpetually missing the mark—we find the space to do our work.

One of the blessings (and responsibilities) of a true community – is that it is not earned. Friendship, in many ways, is transactional. I didn’t like your attitude in the cafeteria yesterday, so today I don’t sit with you. Community isn’t like that. It is not a quid pro quo exchange. Community is a web that extends the circle of care beyond preferences and personalities. You don’t have to earn your place in it. You belong when you are kind and you are belong when you are a jerk. You may be punished for your behavior, but you still belong. You take the family with a new a baby a tuna casserole whether you particularly like them or not. And they do the same for you. In fact, it is when we are at our most ragged that we have our best chance to create a true community. Rebecca Solnit—in her incredible book, A Paradise Built in Hell, describes the communities that arise—between relative strangers—in the midst of natural disaster. As she puts it, “It's tempting to ask why if you fed your neighbors during the time of the earthquake and fire, you didn't do so before or after.”

We need not wait for the big one, however. If we open our eyes, there is plenty to drive us into one another’s arms. Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, took up Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of creating the beloved community and tied it to the Bantu term—ubuntu, the notion my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. As he put it: “We are living in an historic moment. We are each called to take part in a great transformation. Our survival as a species is threatened by global warming, economic meltdown, and an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor. Yet these threats offer an opportunity to awaken us as an interconnected and beloved community.”

So here is something else to consider in our flawed and ragged state. . . I love contranyms – verbs that mean two things that are entirely opposite. Consider dust and dust. As in dust the piano and dust the strawberries with sugar. Or clip and clip. Or one that is particularly relevant in today’s climate--sanction and sanction. Weather and weather.  But the one I treasure the most is cleave and cleave. To split apart and to hold closely and faithfully.

Right now, it feels like one of our most essential questions is which form of cleave we will choose. So many forces are working to tear us apart. Plenty of cynical operators out there maintain power and wealth by keeping Americans pointing fingers and sniping at each other. And as long as the ephemeral scale of national pride is how we judge our civic health, we are free to wallow in accusations and recriminations about how other people are failing to live up to our values. But, we—all of us here—are well aware of our own imperfections and shortcomings. And it cannot be that those short-comings are a deal-breaker. Or are a nation-breaker. We can be disappointed in one another and in ourselves, for sure. And I am certain we will be. Probably before dark tonight.

But alongside our disappointments, we have our aspirations to be better. To be more just. To come closer to the values we hold dear. And so, starting today, let’s approach one another with humility and honesty about our failings. Let’s seek forgiveness and try again. Let’s ask for and accept a little grace. Let’s stretch the circle of care. Let’s decline to make belonging conditional. Let’s refuse to turn away from our interdependence. Let’s open our eyes to the possibility of the beloved community envisioned by Dr. King and Archbishop Tutu. And, today, right here, let’s choose the cleaving of togetherness over the cleaving of separation.

Half Learning and Half Community

“People must belong to a tribe.” - E.O. Wilson

Our catch phrase at PUGS is that we’re half learning and half community. That means we believe in learning through community and community through learning. This note is about why community is so important to us.

In the last 30 years, our civic life has collapsed. As Robert Putnam wrote in the seminal book Bowling Alone, “In the ten short years between 1985 and 1994 (alone), active involvement in community organizations… fell by 45 percent.”

I just read a book called The Art of Community by Charles Vogl. In it, there are a wealth of statistics about the decline of civic space and the alarming implications of that:

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  • Since the 1980s, the number of people who say that they have no one to talk to about difficult subjects has tripled. The size of the average person’s social network has decreased by ⅓.

  • In the 1970s, almost 2/3 of Americans attended some sort of club meeting. By the late 1990s, the figure was 1/3. The average American invested about 1/3 less time in organizational life between 1965 to 1995. Even the number of picnics went down 60 percent from 1975-1999.

  • Social scientists have been asking a cross-section of U.S. citizens a simple question for years: “How many confidants do you have?” They wanted to know how many people you could turn to in a crisis, or when something really good happens to you. When they started doing the study several decades ago, the average number of close friends an American had was three. By 2004, the most common answer was none.

  • And loneliness is harmful. People who are socially connected are happier, delay health declines, and live longer. Having weak social ties has been shown to be as harmful as alcoholism or smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day!

All these statistics are pre-internet. I suspect that the explosion of the Internet was partially in response to these trends; we spend more and more time online as a reaction to not feeling connected in person. However, this is a viscous cycle, continuing to lower our participation in civic life and real life engagement. Senator Mike Lee of Utah’s Social Capital Project reports that, between 1974 and 2016, the percent of adults who said they spend a social evening with a neighbor at least several times a week fell from 30 percent to 19 percent. “The connective tissue that facilitates cooperation has eroded,” the report concludes, “leaving us less equipped to solve problems together within our communities,” and more likely to turn to the state (or cynicism).

I don’t want to sound alarmist. At the same time, I think this issue is critical. At PUGSfest last year, PUGS instructor Wendy Willis led a session on civic loneliness. I’ve been thinking about the implications of civic loneliness ever since, both for our personal lives and for our politics as well. What happens when we don’t feel connected to each other anymore? What happens when we don’t trust the people around us? What happens when we don’t invest time and attention to the civic life of our community? In many ways, I started PUGS as a way to address some of that. Again, PUGS is half learning and half community. I think we do the learning very well: our instructors are spectacular and people seem really satisfied with what they take away from the courses. I don’t think we’ve done community very well. The classes themselves are fantastic little communities, but have we created anything deeper or longer lasting than that? I’m not sure.

Charles Vogl has a great definition of community: “when at least two people feel concern for each other’s welfare.” That community of mutual concern is what I want to build at PUGS. But, under that definition, building a community isn’t the job of the leadership, it’s the task of the people in it. Mutual, continuing concern for each other is what YOU bring to a community. The collective sum of individual care and concern is what makes community successful and repairs our civic fabric. I’m hoping that there’s a group of people who want to build that.

We’ll be focusing on building community for the next year in all our courses and workshop. It starts this weekend with Civic Saturday. One of our favorite PUGS instructors, Wendy Willis will be leading it. Civic Saturday is a project from Citizen University, in partnership with Oregon Humanities, Healthy Democracy, Kitchen Table Democracy, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and the Attic Institute. This event is FREE so if you’re in town, we hope you come participate in the building of our community here in Portland. Bring something to eat; we’re going to have a picnic after!

Warm regards,


John Poelstra on Why Podcasting is for Everyone

John Poelstra is teaching Podcasting Jumpstart on Mondays in July. Here's a bit more about John and his passion for podcasting.

Why I'm Teaching This Course: Creating a podcast can be unnecessarily mysterious and complex. I want to change that for you by showing you a simple path to get you from "idea" to actual episode quickly.  It's possible to get something basic up using just the computer you probably already own, and you can make really quality episodes with some small investments in inexpensive software and an external microphone.


Years ago I was drawn to podcasts and knew that one day I wanted to have my own show with no idea how I would get there.  Over time, I managed to figure it out by cobbling together information on the internet, attending conferences, and experimenting. I want to help you cut through that tedious journey I took.

This course is hands-on by design because I want you move past the "ideas" and "theories" and make this a reality. You will graduate from this class by creating your first episode.

As the podcasting space has matured myths have grown up around the "right" and "wrong" ways to do a podcast. There are certainly unwise approaches, but I believe too much emphasis has been placed on perfection which discourages people from starting.

Who is the target audience: This course is for people who don't have a podcast, but have always wanted to have one or understand the process. It's also for people who are comfortable with a computer and curious to invest in learning more about podcasting.

This course is probably not for you if you have an established podcast or are hoping to learn advanced audio production techniques. 

What's My Podcasting Experience: I've produced over three hundred episodes for clients, including the Productivityist Podcast,  and two hundred of my own, the John Poelstra Show.

Why I Want to Make Podcasting a Reality for You: Creating and running my own podcast continues to feed one of my most important personal values of life-long learning and personal growth. Podcasting helped me to find my voice in uniques ways while also increasing my self-confidence. I believe it can do the same for you.

A Shift to Tiered Pricing

It is a core philosophy of PUGS that everyone should be able to learn without having to go into debt. That is why we allow everyone to pay tuition based on their earned wage, and we also place a high-value on providing our instructors with healthy compensation for their time and expertise - PUGS profits with instructors, not from them.


All of this may be old news to experienced PUGGERS who are familiar with our core values, but we're not sure our Radical Pricing and Generosity Policy is always readily apparent to someone hearing about PUGS for the first time. We've developed a hypothesis that some prospective students come to our website, see the listed cost of a course at, say, $200, and don't dig deeper to understand that the cost is tied to the median Portland wage of $32 per hour and would cost less if they have a lower wage.

To help bridge this information gap, we've decided to make our pricing simpler. We aren't changing our Pricing Policy, mind you, just making it more readily apparent. Instead of listing one price and hoping folks know that our pricing is flexible based on wage, we're simply going to list three prices - Standard, Middle-Income, and Low-Income.

Standard pricing will continue to be tied to the Portland median wage. Low-Income will be for people who make $15/hour or less. And Middle-Income will be for people who make between $15-30/hour. And on top of this three-tiered system, we'll continue to work with anyone who wants to take a course but doesn't fit neatly into these three boxes.

We hope that this shift in how we frame our pricing policy will mean more learning, a bigger PUGS community, and more money for our instructors. But we won't really know until we try it for a few months - our PUGS students aren't the only ones who never stop learning.

Please feel free to share your feelings on the shift in the comments or email!

Meet Morgan: Our New Operations Manager

PUGS is excited to announce the arrival of a new member of our team! Morgan Fitzgibbons will be taking over as Operations Manager, replacing Jess Kibler who is headed to the University of Iowa to pursue an MFA in Nonfiction Writing. Jess has played a big role here at PUGS and, while we’re sorry to see her go, we’re excited to see what Morgan can bring to our community. Let’s learn a little bit about him!

What’s your connection to PUGS? I’ve only just moved to Portland from Ohio in February, so I’m grateful to step into the role of Operations Manager despite not having a ton of direct contact with PUGS prior to being hired. I think PUGS chose me amongst a bunch of other qualified people because I have a lot of experience with organizations that are like PUGS - community based, radical, fun, even a little defiant of the what people thought was possible. I’ve led or co-led various organizations over the years, from a neighborhood resilience organization to a competitive underground community dinner to a weeklong community festival to a month-long activation of a 14,000 square foot warehouse to the non-profit area of a major music festival. Plus, I taught courses on community organizing, the Hippie movement, and even a course on the history of the Universe for four years at the University of San Francisco, so I think having that background in formal academia was a bonus as well (although I like to think my courses would have been right at home at PUGS too).

What will you be bringing to PUGS? First and foremost, I’m going to be working my hardest to fill Jess’ shoes - helping to curate courses, lining up classrooms, marketing, logistics, web design, etc. My head is spinning a bit, but it’s starting to slow down and I’m grateful that we have a month of overlap so I can learn the ropes. We’re also going to be consolidating the Operations Manager  and Coordinator positions, so I’ll be adding all of the coordination with students to my task-list. But once I get all the to-do lists lined up, I’m really excited to work with the PUGS community to dream up fun ways for us to connect with each other, both inside the classroom and out. We have great instructors at PUGS and we also have great students, and every successful endeavor I’ve been a part of has been built on tapping into the creativity of people around me. I know I want to help create things that are 1) fun and 2) continue in the great PUGS legacy of building something provocative largely because no one else dared to try it.

What does lifelong learning mean to you? I think a lot of people are more informed than they have ever been - indeed, the human community has never had more ready access to information, and it’s not even close. But it doesn’t feel like it’s really amounting to much - every day we watch in horror as clearly bad and wrong things happen and we feel powerless to do anything about them. I’m not sure the tide is turning quite how I once assumed it would. I want to figure out how my insatiable desire for more and more information can be used to create the world that I want to live in and pass down. I don’t think I have the answer, but, as I get older, I’m realizing more and more that learning this trick is going to be a lifelong endeavor.

Megan Leatherman on How to Know What Kind of Pivot You Need in Your Career

Not everyone who’s unhappy at work needs a major career overhaul. Sometimes we just need to make small pivots along the way, tweaking here and there as our situations and feelings about the work change.

When we’re in the work every day, it can be tough to know if we really need something big to be different, if it’s just a small change that’s needed, or if something else is at play in another area of our lives.

In my experience as a coach, I’ve seen a few sure signs that a career tune-up is needed:

  • You constantly feel overwhelmed and mentally "flooded" at work

  • You feel tension in your body when you walk through the office door or even think about going to work

  • You find yourself getting anxious, angry, or sad at the end of your weekends

  • You're exhibiting physical symptoms that weren't there previously, like a racing heart, excessive sweating, headaches, etc.

Other important signals might be things like boredom, feeling drained at the end of each day, or just sensing a tug toward something new.

Megan Leatherman, PUGS Instructor

Megan Leatherman, PUGS Instructor

None of these signs mean you're bad or that you've done something wrong, they're simply your intuition trying to send you a message.

If you see your experience reflected in any of those points above, then you probably need a little professional realignment, and knowing what kind of tune-up you need is immensely helpful.

When we're in that space of sensing that something's not quite right, we can ask two powerful questions that are posited by Chris Guillebeau in his fun and accessible book, Born For This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do.

The first question to ask ourselves is: Is it working?

Is the work you're doing actually working, as in: Is it bringing in enough money for you? Are you able to produce quality work? Is what you're creating resonating with the people it's meant to resonate with? Basically, is your career functional?

The second question is: Do you still enjoy it?

You might be getting promotions left and right, but do you hate the work? That's a red flag. In order to create a career that's energizing, meaningful, and a reflection of your unique giftedness, it's critical that you actually enjoy the day to day work.

Try to determine whether you enjoy the work itself or the fruit of the work, like praise from others, the "status" it gives you, industry accolades, etc. While all of those things might be fun results, if you don't feel a connection to the work itself, you may not be operating in alignment with your strengths, which can eventually feel really draining.

If your answer to both of those questions is "yes," then you're probably in the right spot professionally, which is great!

If you answered "no" to one of them, then maybe it's time to make a career pivot or switch some things up in your current environment so that you feel more aligned with the how and the what of the work. This might mean that you need to take on more responsibility, foster more connection with your peers, or commit to doing less each day. Your first step if you answered "no" to one of the questions above will be to try and optimize the aspects of where you are right now.

If you answered "no" to both of them, then something bigger needs to shift so that you can be expressing your gifts in a way that's more fulfilling and in a way that actually works. If you're in this bucket, there are a lot of amazing resources available to you, including career coaches, helpful online resources like this one, and the upcoming course, Intuitive and Intentional Career Development.

While it can be an overwhelming place to be in, my work with hundreds of professionals in transition tells me that you absolutely have what it takes to navigate the transition in a good way. Career development is a lifelong process, and you have important gifts to share with the world - it’s just about finding the right environment in which you can flourish.

A very important note: going through this exercise will only be helpful if we can be completely honest with ourselves as we answer those two questions.

If there's any part of you that hesitates to admit that things aren't working, or that tries to convince yourself that you do still enjoy it when deep down you know you don't, notice it.

It can be really hard to admit to ourselves that something we've worked at for so long just isn't fitting for us anymore. I've been in that place myself, and I know how uncomfortable it is.

I say this because while Guillebeau's questions are elegantly simple, our egos can over-complicate things in order to try to protect us from the truth.

The truth will feel clear and expansive to you.

If you're seeing the signs that something isn't working for you anymore, it can be an amazing opportunity to practice authenticity. You can choose freedom and answer those questions in a way that resonates deeply with you - the way that only the truth can.

Mic Crenshaw on connecting hip hop, spoken word, and anti-fascist activism

mic crenshaw

mic crenshaw

PUGS: Hip Hop, Spoken Word, and Anti-Fascist Organizing? How are these things related?

To me it's not a stretch to see theses things as related because in a very real and personal way, these cultural, political, and artistic forces have shaped my life. I have spent the majority of my life using spoken word and hip hop lyricism as a professional emcee to ask questions to an audience that consumes my art. I ask these same questions to classrooms full of students in my city and across the U.S. as well as across the globe.

The questions I ask are related to the potential and capacity for us to create a more just society. In asking these questions I am taking history into consideration as we examine the scientific evidence of processes are at the root of the oppressive systems of dominant culture. What consciousness lies at the root of the attitudes of individuals and groups of individuals who are currently being mobilized toward fascism?

I want to look at the history of fascism in the U.S., Europe, and locally, in recent decades and of course currently. I want to explore the movements to confront, fight, and hopefully end fascism in our communities, historically and currently.

In April's Hip Hop, Spoken Word, and Anti-Fascist Organizing, we will explore how art plays a role in cultural and political movements. There is so much to explore! Let’s listen to powerful hip hop and poetry that isn’t afraid to express with clarity what politicians and media pundits fail to recognize. Let's learn some techniques for writing our own creative works that speak truth to power and inspire each other.

Shot and edited by Elijah Hasan with additional drone footage shot by Kunu Bearchum. Directed by Mic Crenshaw and Elijah Hasan. Earthbound is a Hip Hop song about the Ecological crisis we face as Earthlings. Skin, scales, fins and feathers, we're all in this together, fire and ice, changing weather, here we are now, Earthbound.

Stella Harris, on sharing accurate and shame-free information about sex, sexuality, and bodies

PUGS course you’re teaching and why: I’m teaching Sex Ed for Adults. I’ve been a professional sex educator for the past six years, although accurate and shame-free information about sex, sexuality, and bodies has been a life long passion. I’m dismayed by the lack of good information people receive in school, or even as adults if you turn to the internet with your curiosity, and I’m excited to help people learn how to find more pleasure in their bodies, and with their partners, as well as information about how to be safe - without resorting to fear-based teaching. 


When I worked in animal welfare we used to say we wanted to put ourselves out of a job. As a sex educator I feel the same way. I wish young people got so much good information from their families and their schools and their libraries that the notion of adult sex education was redundant. But I don’t see that happening any time soon. And that’s just for the basics; for information that covers health, safety, and pleasure. Add in some of my specialties, like intimacy and BDSM, and I think I’ll have more than enough work to do for a very long time.

Who’s the target audience of this class: Any adult who is curious about sex and sexuality or who wants to find ways to level up their own sex life. 

Best thing about PUGS: I absolutely love that PUGS give people the opportunity to keep learning far after their school days. They have so many interesting topics, and being able to enroll in only the classes that appeal to you makes it easy to fit life-long learning into any schedule. 

I care about lifelong learning because: There is so much to know! Continuing education is essential to living a full and informed life. There is always more to know, and more is always being discovered. We can’t be fully engaged in society or in our communities without keeping ourselves informed. 

How did you get into sex education: I became a sex educator out of necessity. At the age of 13 I had to teach my grandmother about female anatomy – specifically the hymen. It didn’t take long for my grandmother to discover [my] tampons, and when she did she pitched a fit. She was convinced using tampons would break my hymen. At thirteen years old I wasn’t yet equipped to have a discussion with my grandmother about women only being valued for their purity, or about the harmful (and irrelevant) concept of virginity. But I did know enough about female anatomy to set her straight. First I told her that having engaged in gymnastics and horse back riding it was entirely possible my hymen was already torn. (As advanced as I was for 13, I didn’t yet know that the notion of tearing a hymen is just one more way violence against women is steeped in our language, and that stretching is far more accurate.) This did not comfort her. So off I went to grab the appropriate edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (a gift from my other grandmother, who had passed only a year before my mother.) I turned to the blessedly complete and accurate section on female anatomy and read her the passage on the hymen and well as showing her the picture, and made it clear there was more than enough room for a tampon. Read more on Stella's blog.