It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Another year, another Boston Marathon. I first published this last year as part of my goal to fight Cheeto flea by getting more involved in racial justice. My progress has been slower than I would prefer, but like the marathoners, I try to stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I am reading a book called “Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era.” The author, Ashley Farmer, is a professor at my alma mater, Boston University, and I learned about her and her book from an email from the school — sometimes those annoying emails are actually useful! It is a bit more academic than I’m used to, but that’s OK. She talks about how Black women were working right alongside Black men to gain racial equality, reframing it and adding a female perspective. And she talks about women activists who make the case that it’s not just the big names like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth that we need to think about, but also all of the mothers and grandmothers who held the family together, often by cleaning white women’s houses, and who “found ways to financially and emotionally support [their] family in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and discrimination.”

So in addition to remembering Marilyn Bevans, the first Black woman to run in the Boston Marathon, I am also remembering her mother and grandmother and all the women standing behind her as she crossed that finish line. 

As a side note, I decided to Google “first Black women to run the Boston Marathon” this year again to see if we had made any progress on the topic in the past year. Guess what came up first? This blog post, followed by the same references from last year. If that doesn’t show that we all have something to contribute, I don’t know what does. Step by step, people. Step by step.

Today is Patriot’s Day in Boston, aka Boston Marathon Day. There will be an estimated 30,000 runners who have either a qualifying time, are part of a team running for charity, or are simply a handful of rogue folks who find registering and qualifying a bother, and good for them.

At 122 years, the Boston Marathon is the oldest, and is 26 miles and 385 yards, which reminds me of the Mass Ave Bridge’s measurement in Smoots — 364.4 and one ear to be exact. For some reason we Bostonians like our precision, even if it means adding yards or an ear. Oliver Smoot, by the way, was a 1962 graduate of MIT who stood 5 feet, 7 inches. You can well imagine how he was used as a measuring stick and that there was most likely alcohol involved. Perhaps the 385 additional yards in the marathon came about in a similar way. We can only hope.

Last year they retired the number of the first woman to officially register and run, Kathrine Switzer. In 1967 she registered with only her initials — there was this pesky thing where women weren’t officially allowed to run until 1972, so they gave her a number assuming she was a man. I guess that’s some progress. Mary Ann Evans had to take an entire man’s name of George Eliot to get published. Kathrine was inspired by the 1966 rogue run of Roberta Gibbs, who apparently jumped out of the bushes near the start and ran and finished the race. Wanting to run 26 miles is crazy and hard enough, without having to concoct a surprise way of joining in. A year later, Kathrine may have made more than 26,000 steps for herself, but also she made a giant leap for women athletes everywhere — at least the white ones. Marathon official Jack Sempe tried to take her bib, yelling, “Get the hell out of my race, and give me those numbers.” Her boyfriend, who was running with her, body checked Jack out of the way, but not before the whole thing was photographed and went the 1967 version of viral. There’s a well-done piece about the story in the Boston Herald.

Cool story, right? It made me wonder about other firsts, like the first African-American man and woman to run the Boston race. And that’s where that little ole thing called racism creeps in. Granted, Kathrine’s story was splashed all over the news because of the retired number thing. And there was that 1967 viral photo by a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, no less.

However, it should not have taken as many Google searches as it did for me to get to those other firsts. I mean isn’t that what Black History Month is all about? Digging up historical stuff that we’ve been covering up/not caring about for, like, ever?

I found two sources, and the second one, the National Black Marathoners Association history project gets credit for actually including a — — woman. Both sources say Aaron Morris was the first Black male runner in the Boston Marathon in 1919, 47 years before a white woman. The first and only reference I can find of the first Black woman to run in Boston is Marilyn Bevans in 1977; and she placed 2nd. That’s pretty amazing right? Where are the stories about her? Granted once I knew her name, more came up in the search, including that she is considered the first lady of marathon running. But doesn’t that warrant her coming up in the more general searches of first women/first Black woman to run the Boston Marathon?

Maybe in running circles this is common knowledge, but let’s face it, most of us think marathon running is crazy, unless it’s a big event in your city and you get the day off. Or you do it to celebrate a milestone birthday. I personally try not to be friends with people like that, but one tries to be open and flexible to others’ obvious lack of judgment.

So today, I salute you, Marilyn Bevans and Aaron Morris. I like you, too, Kathrine and Roberta, but you’ve been saluted enough. You all remind me that marathons take time, effort, and preparation. That sometimes people don’t want me to accomplish a goal, so I have to jump out of the bushes or avoid getting my bib grabbed. That sometimes remarkable accomplishments go unnoticed because of skin color or gender or both. That many times I need to remember that and be curious beyond the story of a white woman’s amazing accomplishment.

Happy running.

 

 

 

Nay-chuh

It’s been another week of the no-way-in-hell-is this-an-appropriate-temp-for-Boston-in-April: teens and 20s at night, highs in the 30s, snow every other day. The one day it got above 40 degrees didn’t count because the accompanying 50-mile-an-hour winds made my face hurt. So, I’m still a bit cranky. When I reviewed all the random notes I have jotted down as possible posts, none of them spoke to me, and one was clearly an unfortunate auto-correct accident. What exactly is “Waging. Nonviolence George lakes Betsy leondar-right”? Ya got me. Not only can you not make that up, you actually can’t do anything useful with it.

We no longer have a hamster who can save me in these moments, but I do have urban  wildlife. So this week, I present to you the dozing squirrel. He’s a bit fuzzy, but I kid you not, last week when I looked out my back window I saw the squirrel laying still on a branch. It was so weird for a squirrel to be motionless in the middle of the day, it caught my eye; I watched him for a bit. He was in a sunbeam, and he was definitely dozing in it, cat-like. It was, of course, not a warm day — winter seems to have had one too many at the bar and can’t get up and leave. But the squirrel was making the best of it.

So here’s to sleeping squirrels, sunbeams on a cold day, and a hope that next week will bring warmer temps and an interesting blog.

squirrel dozing 1

Sometimes It’s Better to Keep Your Mouth Closed

I’ve been trying to write this one over a period of weeks, struggling to add masterful flourishes to impress you all with my writing prowess. Ha ha ha, I’m such a dork! The cold, hard facts are that this story is so funny, there is really nothing I can add to it. So here it goes, the uncut version of, “Pigeons, Beware.”

I was on my way to work as usual. I got off the train and climbed the 62 steps up to the surface. Yes, I’ve counted them as a way of justifying that I’m not totally out of shape, it’s just that there is a lot of them. I am always huffing and puffing at the top of those blasted stairs. I will say it has motivated me at the gym, but 62 is a lot of stairs. You try it and let me know how you do, unless you are training for the Boston Marathon or an athlete, then, suck it. Or rather, don’t.

As I made my way across Government Center plaza, I recovered fairly quickly from the heavy breathing and was down to a half-open mouth and a medium huff and puff. The plaza is a large, rather unfortunate architectural outgrowth of the unfortunate Boston City Hall, built when concrete was a thing in the 70s. It’s not ageing well, but I must cross the vast, empty brick plaza to get to work. I was staring straight ahead, thinking random thoughts when some movement of two pigeons on the ground appeared in my peripheral vision to the right. This is not unusual. They mill about all over Boston and tend to scuttle away when you come near them, or if you want to vacate them more speedily, encourage a young child to run dead on toward them. There were no young people around, so I was confident they would scuttle away.

They didn’t.

Suddenly, one of the pigeons flew up and hit me with its chest, hard in the mouth, which as you may recall was open from those 62 stairs; and then he flew off. It really hurt, like when a baby or toddler bumps you in the mouth with his head. If there were a meme/gif, of me, it would go like this: My face is first surprised, then pissed off at the impact, then my helpless hands try to brush the nasty thing off my face, even though it is long gone by then. This would be followed by a look of disgust as I work my tongue in and out of my mouth trying to rid myself of pigeon. The scene finishes with me brushing off my coat with my hands (why? What good did I think that would do?) and looking around for either confirmation of what just happened or hoping someone had “Pigeon Yuck Be Gone” spray I could use. My friends are convinced there is security video footage of this

Effin pigeons.

I was still a good 10-minute walk away from work, and I had nothing to clean off whatever the thing had left behind, so there was nothing for it but to keep walking and accept that I already swallowed whatever might have been transmitted. I also sent a fervent note of encouragement to my digestive and immune systems to get whatever that bastard might have left me.

Once at work, I washed my face, and my boss gave me some mouth wash. As I was entertaining my coworkers with the story, one of the doctors I work with walked by and heard me. Then he laughed and said, “That’s disgusting! You know they are rats with wings, right?” See, the thing about working with doctors is if there isn’t any real danger they will make jokes and make fun of you.  I retorted that he could forget about getting me to do any work for him because I’d be Googling “pigeon diseases” all morning.

“Psittacosis,” he said with a smile.

“Is it bad?” I asked.

“It’s fatal,” he responded with a huge grin.

Ha ha. I really hate doctors sometimes.

After about 3 tries to spell that darn thing, I came across this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Psittacosis is a disease caused by infection of the respiratory tract (throat, windpipe, and lungs) with a type of bacteria that can infect all types of birds. Psittacosis in people is most commonly associated with pet birds, like parrots and cockatiels, and poultry, like turkeys or ducks.

I would add errant pigeons to that list.

The symptoms are flu-like, and the CDC disagreed with my coworker’s prognosis, declaring it curable with antibiotics. although it did caution that some people need to be treated in the hospital. Great, I work in a medical academic center, so all my coworkers and people training can come laugh at me.

Not to be outdone, another doctor I work with, a neurologist, heard the story and explained, also while smiling, that since pigeons generally have a good spacial sense, there was probably something really wrong with that pigeon to have run into me. She seemed a little too delighted when she assured me she’d keep an eye on me for any symptoms. Then she said something about the infection disease specialists writing up scientific papers.

Effin doctors.

Well, I’m happy to report I disappointed the doctors I work with and did not come down with psittacosis or any other bird-borne disease.

I used to think pigeons were rats with wings, and I recently read a book read that talked about how interesting, adaptable, and cool they are. I don’t recall the author getting smacked in the face by one. I almost fell for it, but pigeons better stay out of my way. My mouth is closed and my eyes are wide open.

Photo Credit: Disaffected Scanner Jockey tells a pretty horrifyingly funny story about pigeons.

We Still Have to Pitch In

I’ve been sick the past 4 days, so I need to make this short. I wasn’t able to go to the March for Our Lives event in Boston,  but many of my friends did. This picture is from the gathering at the Boston Commons, courtesy of Becky.

I hope I’ve been misunderstanding many of the adults’ comments about the young people leading this movement. Yes, we are proud and cheering them on. But every time I see a quote or post along the lines of “This generation will be great leaders” and “These kids will lead the way,” it sounds to me like the adults are breathing a sigh of relief that we are somehow off the hook. Or that we were/are helpless to change anything, and a new sheriff has arrived in town to save us. I hope I am wrong.

Instead, I hope their voices have inspired you to start engaging to help change things you think are wrong. If you have been doing that already, I hope they inspire you to do more. If you’ve become discouraged, I hope their voices lift you up and keep you going. The more of us who wake up, keep going, join in, the better chance we have to make real, lasting change.

Yes, let’s cheer them on, and let’s dig in.

 

 

It was a Slow Day

We’ve had 3 nor’eatahs here in Boston in the last several weeks, and we’re all kind of over it. Yes, we are tough and can take it. And yes, the time of the old, tough, reticient, New Englander is past. New Englanders 2.0 are tough, and we are also crabby, loud, and proud of it. So yeah, 3 storms in March are going to produce a lot of bellyaching — deal with it.

At least that’s how I was feeling. December’s sub-zero wind chills had sucker-punched me right out of the winter gate, and I never really recovered. So, to drag me through January and February, toss in a couple of 60-degree days just to be an asshat, and then lob at me 3 storms with snow, well, that is just poor manners. And while I know better than to sit up like an expectant puppy waiting for spring to come in March, 3 storms? Seriously? With a 4th and 5th on the way? What is this a freakin’ a Catholic family?

So that was the mind set I rolled into yoga class with on Sunday. But I’ve been at it for awhile, so I worked to stay in my body, stay in the moment, and do the poses as best as I could. But one by one the class, which is usually pretty good at pushing ourselves and going along when Patrice gives us the next harder move to try, started to poop out. The young man who usually can power through just about anything collapsed into child’s pose after three-legged dog pose. Another woman struggled with a relative easy pose, and when Patrice asked if her shoulder was bothering her, she just said it was the overall effort that was getting to her. And that’s when the class underwent a subtle shift as we all exhaled with relief at it being named. She added, “It’s a slow day.” Nods and silent agreement.

And being the rock star teacher that she is, Patrice shifted the class, just like that. We’d been doing upside down poses, so instead we sat and held quieter poses longer, just sitting with our slow day. Savasana, when you lay down at the end, came with blankets on our bodies and sandbags on our foreheads (sounds weird, feels great) and lasted longer than usual.

And that was it. It wasn’t a day to fight nature, winter, yoga, myself, or anything else. It was a slow day that got better by just. Being. Slow.

Photo credit: Marije Paternotte yoga.

 

 

 

 

It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

I’ve been thinking lately, which frankly, tends to get me in trouble. From more than one area of my life, I keep hearing from and about people who are having to push against family or societal pressure to succeed or define their life success in the very narrow way of school, career, marriage, house, kids. There may be stuff to achieve after this, I’m not sure. Or maybe once you get all that stuff, society leaves you alone to your mid-life crisis. The whole thing leaves me scratching my head. Although does it? That’s where the thinking comes in.

If you are an English major or other humanities major or an artist/creative of any kind, your career path will most likely be rather interesting, not terribly lucrative, and it will follow the beat of its own drummer. Mine certainly has, and it’s only been in the last 5 years that I have landed in a comfortable spot, where I actually get paid decent money to write things that matter most of the time and have a personal life too. I fell into the trap of sitting back and thinking, how do all these people get caught up in that narrow definition of success?

And then the bad movie special effects kick in, the calendar pages flip back, and the ominous narrator intones, “It was the 1980s — the height of the Ronald Reagan years and Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street declared that ‘greed is good’ … ”

My honor student status in high school made it seem like I was just as good at math and science as I was at English. But that says more about the quality of the school than my academic achievement. I do remember an emphasis on the practical, which translated to studying science in college. And that’s when I was exposed as a science and math fraud. My ass got consistently and sequentially kicked in Bio 101, 102, Chem 101, 102, and Calc 101, 102. This honor student was suddenly looking at C’s and Ds and a GPA that hovered around 2.5.

Sure, I got an A in my writing class, but that had been fun and easy. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the idea that fun and easy was wrong. I thought life should involve suffering and be a hardscrabble scramble in order to “count.” This may be a stab in the dark, but I wonder if being raised Catholic and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross every week, which I was made to understand I was responsible for, had anything thing to do with that?

Nahhhh.

The idea that something being easy is not always the right way to go only makes sense if you’re trying to train for a marathon by running one fast mile and stopping. That’s too easy, and you ain’t gonna cross that finish line before dark.

So there I was at the end of freshman year, with a GPA on life support, but still invested in the idea of life being practical and hard. So I did what any dumb, sensible person would do and took up accounting. This turned out to be just as bad as the science classes and I was suffering, so I knew I must be on the right track. I did enjoy the guy I sat next to who loved accounting and was making methodical plans to work for what was then the Big 8 — although I think they are down to 4 now. I could have listened to his confident plans all day long, but I should have been paying more attention to the connection of his accounting joy and his success in the subject. Instead, I wrote poetry in class while the professor droned on about first in, last out, or last in, last out. I got another D.

As a super ironic aside, a number of years later I was the sole administrative person for a tiny nonprofit and got put in charge of the books with monthly help from an accountant. It took me a year of her visits to truly understand what happened to the numbers when I put them in the accounting software columns and they popped out on the balance sheet. I always came out of those day-long sessions with a huge headache. Once when I was really discouraged, she told me I understood the process better than most of the college accounting graduates they hired. That is a rather frightening thought, but I’m guessing these were not my joyful Big 8 guy, but people who were trying to be practical and pursue the narrow definition of success.  I wish them the best and no headaches.

At the end of sophomore year, with my GPA still in the toilet, I had no practical place left to go. I threw up my hands and gave in and became an English major. I suppose if I had gone to a small school with advisors who gave a flip, I would have clued in sooner, but what fun would that be? There’s something to be said for failing rather spectacularly to teach you something. And once I switched, for the first time school wasn’t a grim struggle, it was actually pleasant and even fun sometimes. Who knew?

And then I also learned the more valuable lesson not to care what people thought, because I knew I had tried and was confident that this was the only thing I was good at. Oh to be sure, I endured a fair amount of sneering. “English major! What are you going to do with that? Teach?” Which is actually also snubbing teachers, BTW. Journalism was also not my thing, so I concentrated on my own writing and fell into nonprofit administration as a source of income. Then I had to endure the “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?”

Did I always feel confident? Of course not, when you get that 5th, 10th, or 80th publication rejection, you kind of think, what the hell am I doing? But now I’m starting to understand that I had a couple of key advantages, which seemed like disadvantages at the time. One, early on in life, I learned I did not have strong enough skills in any area that would have put me on the society-endorsed path. Also I’m allergic to gray corporate cubes. So I had no other option than to figure out how to succeed with the writing skills I had. Two, I come from a working class background, which I tried to run from in college and after. It came with high expectations in the moment — do your chores, do well in school (or don’t bother me with teacher notes that you’re screwing up). And it also came with low expectations for a future life. And that turned out to be an extraordinary gift, that I am only now fully appreciating.

Benign neglect combined with being kid number 4 (which one are you?) allowed me to find my own path and define success in my own way. I do recall my father pressing some rather random career choices on my siblings, so here is a formal thank you to them for wearing him out first. By the time he got to me, benign neglect has set in.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what path you choose — even those who pick the society- and family-sanctioned path will struggle at some point, so you might as well put your effort towards the skills that are fun, easy, and worth your while.

To paraphrase a Catholic call at the end of the Mass, go in peace to love and serve the skills you have. It’s much better than a headache.

Photo credit: Still from the Talk Talk video, “It’s My Life.”

Snow Beautiful

I’m doing a random blog today because the snow storm yesterday gave us such a beautiful wonderland today! I’ve been crabby this week, and this time of year — betwixt and between winter and spring — tends to wear on my last nerve. But today. Oh, so beautiful. So I’m going to celebrate it with you! My walk to the train and then to work. Wishing you all a great peaceful day.