Monthly Archives: April 2017

Unblinded by Science

This weekend was Earth Day and also the March for Science around the country. My friend Mike and I went to the march in Boston, which was transformed into a rally for safety reasons. That might sound suspect, as plenty of other big cities managed to have marches without mishap, but Boston is so chock full of hospitals, universities, and businesses engaged in scientific research of all kinds that marching around is probably fairly redundant. We just gathered at the Boston Common and swept our arms in a broad circle to call out the all the science going on around us.

You might ask, what is a one-time failed biology major doing at a science rally? A one-time bio major who eventually accepted herself and became a word girl, that is. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to mid-life. My ex is a nurse, I have science and math kid, and I work in communications at a hospital. And while my kid can render me inert by flashing his calculus notebook with derivatives, slopes, and tangents, I have come to appreciate the importance of science and math. I have also come to appreciate all the people who do it much better than I do and actually enjoy it, leaving me to play in my word sand box. So, thanks for that. Also, thanks for creating all of the vaccines that prevent small pox, chicken pox, and all the other poxes Shakespeare liked to insult people with. Not having to battle preventable, contagious, deadly diseases leaves more time for my writing and yoga and, you know, that crazy thing called living.

At the rally, school kids from across New England who had won an essay writing contest read their work, and they were all about cleaning the air and the water and needing science to find cures and look for other planets we could live on — clearly these kids aren’t betting on us to fix this in time. I can’t say I blame them; they are way savvier than we were at that age. When we were in school, we used stone tablets, ate bark off of trees, and called this Earth stuff ecology. Remember this symbol?

ecology

I have clear memories of coloring this on many purple-inked mimeographed handouts, oops, I mean stone tablets. I also remember the message being simpler; mostly it seemed to involve not littering. I drew a lot of pristine landscapes with full trash cans, and I picked up a fair amount of litter; although back then it was mostly soda cans and paper bags. But the general idea has stayed with me all these years, even though I didn’t even like science for a good number of them. That’s what education is supposed to do, so how come it hasn’t sunk in for some people? I’m talking to you, Cheeto Flea and your minions. Maybe a little more coloring in Cheeto’s youth might have helped us out here. Or we can just stick a Crayon in his eye now.

If science teaches us anything it’s that evolution is not always a progressive process, so here we are some 40 years later having to explain why science and the environment are worth protecting. I get that there is a lot more we should do — we need more social justice-informed funding; we need to figure out how to make the cures we do find more affordable to everyone who needs it; we need to make the information about science discoveries more accessible to everyone and be able to say why it matters. Science is a long game of patience and persistence, which is kind of a drag in our very impatient society. After discovering penicillin in a failed bacteria experiment, it took another 10 years before it was actually usable as a treatment. Many discoveries take longer than that.

So, yeah, science needs some defenders, and that’s why I was so excited to see another part of my childhood at the march, Beaker, from The Muppet Show who is the long-suffering assistant of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. I know Beaker is a true man of science because only a scientist would have the patience to get waylaid by a grinning middle-aged women who busted in just after a kid got his picture with him. OK, maybe he was a little scared too, but the point is we all have something to contribute — as users of science, practitioners of science, or fictional characters based on science. Eyes wide open, we’re watching.

 

 

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

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 121 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. Perhaps the 385 additional yards in the marathon came about in a similar way. We can only hope.

This year they are retiring 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 this year 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.

 

 

 

Flashback

This week I had a flashback to when my kid was a baby. He is now an 18-year-old senior, and even with teenager shenanigans, I’d still rather have a teen than a baby. Babies turned out to be not so much my thing, and you won’t see me hanging creepily around families with babies, staring too long. If I’m hanging around, it will be for some other completely different creepy reason.

But that’s another blog post.

So there I was Friday afternoon, focused solely on my offspring, making sure he was packed for our overnight trip to visit a college for accepted student day. Yes, we’re on the home stretch of Collegepalooza, and I love the dean who said while polling the kids about the other colleges they were deciding on, “And how many of you can’t decide and are driving your parents crazy?” My kid raised his hand. See? Better than a baby.

I had already packed, so my stuff was in the car. I asked a few more “Did you bring your [fill in the blank]” questions and it seemed we were ready.  We were going to stop at my sister’s house for dinner as a driving break and then drive for another hour or so and head to a hotel near the college. This was my attempt to recover from the previous week’s accepted student day at a college closer to home. It turns out you can shave 30 minutes off the drive time in Boston if it’s a Sunday morning. Since I try never to be awake early Sunday morning, this is not something I would know. And now that I do know I don’t have to wake up at 6:30 am on Sunday, I was hell-bent on not doing that again. So, we were booked at a hotel well within roll-out-of-bed-grab-coffee-and-get-to-the-event distance.

So on Friday, I did a last check in on the kid, he grabbed his driving learner’s permit, I had my coffee in hand, glanced around the house for anything being obviously forgotten, and did the little mantra, “Well, whatever we forgot, we’ll just buy another one,” and off we went. As I was overly pleased with my cleverness, it wasn’t until we were two hours into the trip that I realized what I forgot.

My wallet.

I don’t carry a purse because I find them annoying. Also the name is stupid, second only to pocketbook. If the garment industry would actually make all women’s clothes with pockets, we wouldn’t even need the darn things. In the winter, I mostly use what my friend calls a coat purse. I put the three things I need — phone, keys and wallet — in the pockets of my coat. In summer, they go in my pants pockets, unless I’m wearing a cute sundress, and then I have compromised with a crossbody bag, which is absolutely not a purse. It fits only those three things, and if I’m feeling spatially up to it, I can squeeze in my sunglasses.

But on Friday, I had switched coats and as I was focused on my offspring, I’d left my own important thing in the old coat. This happened a lot to me when my kid was a baby. On trips I’d make sure he had everything he needed because the price for leaving behind the favorite toy, or the baby wipes, or the kid himself was rarely worth paying. The Department of family Services can be a real bitch about that kind of thing.

On the highway, I realized the only ID we had between us was the driving learner’s permit, which clearly stated it could not be used as a form of ID.

Now the real fun began. Do hotels ask for ID when you check in? I could recollect handing over my driver’s license and my credit card at a counter, but I couldn’t tell you in what circumstances that had occurred — the airport? Renting a car? Buying Sudafed? Were hotels in that mix? Then of course was the paying part. Would they take Apple Pay on my phone? Did I even know how to use Apple Pay on my phone? Did my sister have a couple hundred bucks in cash lying around I could borrow?

I called my sister and gave her the heads up. She did have cash, but other than that there wasn’t much we could do until I got to her house. When I did I called the hotel. The front desk person said they did accept cash (rather snootily declining to even answer the question about Apply Pay, I may add). However, that was moot because they needed an ID to check me in. That’s when I wondered, what do people who are sneaking around having an affair do? Losing all the dark outdoor spaces for secret trysts is bad enough, and now you have to identify yourself if you take it indoors. What is this world coming to?

The hotel woman did say they’d accept a photo of my ID if someone was at my house and could take a picture and send it to me. Somehow, that seemed even more stupid than requiring one in the first place. How serious is this requirement if you’ll accept a photo of a photo ID?

So I sat in a small puddle of self-pity for a few minutes, but then within the next hour, my sister had procured an airbed so we could sleep over, she had cash to give me and coffee, and the hotel didn’t charge me for canceling late — clearly the right thing to do since I was physically unable to check in, but the “right thing to do” and “payment policies” rarely rub up against each other, so I was grateful for that.

All that was left was not attracting any police attention and the fact that I had to do all the driving. I was pretty sure I’d be able to talk my way out of not having a licence if I got pulled over, but if my son got pulled over, with only one form of unacceptable ID between us,  we were pretty much toast. But I drove the speed limit, a novelty for sure, and no one did anything stupid near me on the road, also a novelty.

Sending a big thanks to my sister and the universe for getting us to where we needed to go. My kid still doesn’t know where he wants to go to school, but at least I know that next time, I’m letting him forget something.

 

Cheeto Has Even Ruined Dating

So, I thought Republicans liked small government and to stay out of people’s lives, but maybe that only applies to rich white men or white women who look like Kellyanne Conway. All the rest of us got Cheeto flea and the Republicans peeking into our windows, trying to wrestle away our health care, and tweeting at us 24/7. To add insult to injury, Cheeto flea has even managed to make dating more chaotic than it already is. I am a frequent peruser of and an infrequent responder to the Craigslist dating ads. It’s really more entertainment than an actual dating site, but it doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t require understanding what swiping left or right means. Which really sounds more like a Mr. Clean ad than dating, but what do I know?

Anywho, there amongst the earnest souls looking very specifically for big women, fit and athletic women, or women open to “everything,” whatever that might mean, I saw an ad by a very sane-sounding, intelligent guy. We exchanged a couple of emails and seemed like we had enough in common to meet. About 5 minutes after agreeing on a day, time, and place, he emailed me back to say he had Googled me and found my website. He sort of apologized for doing it, but I’m a big fan of Googling strangers, so that didn’t bother me in the least.

But what he next said floored me. He read a lot of my posts (points for not making assumptions after 1 or 2 blogs), he said I was a really good writer (double points for stating the obvious), and that he also feared we disagreed on a number of issues that would make us incompatible. I’m pretty sure he was not talking about the blog I wrote against skinny suits. Even worse was I had asked him what made him interesting, and he said he always tries to do the right thing. So, here he was, actually doing the right thing by telling me we were not compatible in the most straightforward, respectful way.

According to my friends who date, this is unusual. Like unicorn unusual. Many people in that situation would have just stopped responding or stood me up. To quote Liz Lemon, “Blurgh.” No, wait, even more worse was he was so respectful and articulate about it, he made me rethink my attitude towards Cheeto supporters. So there was already a moment of introspection and growth with this person, and I hadn’t even met him yet. Double blurgh.

Would this have happened before Cheeto? Maybe, but I’m pretty sure I would have at least gotten a decent first date out of it, and it might not even be a deal breaker if we had enough other things in common. OK, who am I kidding, I could never seriously date a Republican. But I could totally have dinner and a make-out session, which would hold me over until the next unusual post by a sane-sounding, intelligent guy. But now, you can’t even get to first base without knowing someone’s political leanings. Fighting racism, sexism, and orangeism is really stressful enough and now there’s this.

But like everything else Cheeto flea has done in the past 73 days (only 1,387 left!), it only makes me more determined to carry on the fight: for social justice, health and reproductive rights, the environment, and our inalienable right to date.