Category Archives: Boston

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.





Tell Them We Are Rising

I had decided last year to fight the Cheeto flea and his chaos by working on racial injuctice — the lack of Black faces during the women’s march more than a year ago and the idea that white women have left Black women to fend for themselves still haunts me. But last year turned out busier than I thought, and I needed to educate myself before I try to help. Ain’t nobody want a white woman to show up with her guilt and then have to help her figure out her racial junk. That’s on me to learn about my own biases and what I do consciously or unconsciously that keeps systemic racism alive.

Interestingly, a mere 6 hours after writing the above, I got a mini lesson. I was at a Museum of Fine Arts event and got called out for having white privilege. As in, a Black woman came up to me, put her arm around me and said, “Congratulations on your white privilege.” Being a bonefide member of the snowflake, lefty liberal club, I was confused and stunned. My transgression was walking between her and her friends while they were trying to take a photo in front of a bank of elevator doors decorated with art from one of the exhibits. I had kind of noticed before that people were doing that. But it was a loud event with a lot of people, and Mike and I were just making our way to a set of stairs by the shortest route available. So, sure, I would describe it as being clueless, rude, and not paying attention to my surroundings. I would have walked in front of a bunch a white people, no doubt, because I am pretty clueless. I am, after all, the woman who did not notice when her college roommates short-sheeted her bed. The comment upset me, so I turned around to her group, said I was sorry and did a bow with namaste hands. Maybe that offended them too, I don’t know. Mike dragged me off and wisely said that I don’t know what her experience was that lead her to that comment. I remember one diversity training I took that explained how all the small micro aggressions that people of color encounter on their way to work can add up so that when they do get to work, one small thing could set them off. We’ve all been there, but as white people we don’t have to go there every day like people of color do. So maybe I was the 4th, 10th, or 20th that day. It did show me that I need to be prepared for that kind of response as I get deeper into this. Buckle up buttercup, lower the defences, keep your piehole shut, and listen.

So with that auspicious start, I present to you what I hope to be a series of reports and observations as I go through an organic DIY project. I’m trusting I will find the resources and teachers I need, and I already had my first lesson, so I must be on my way.

February being Black History Month helped bring a few things to my attention, except that I got annoyed by the whole, “let’s only pay attention to this once a year” thing. I watched and recommend a documentary on PBS called “Tell Them We Are Rising.” You can stream it on the website until March 21. It chronicles the history of what are known as HBCUs — historically Black colleges and universities — from their formation shortly after the Civil War ended through today.  My only previous experience with HBCUs was Spike Lee’s movie from 1988, “School Daze.” It’s a good movie that presents a full range of Black personalities and the disagreements Blacks can have among themselves about their destiny — I recall that at the time it received some criticism from the Black community that it showed too much internal “dirty laundry.” But I agree with Spike Lee that’s exactly what we need to see. Black people just being people, fer cryin’ out loud in their own safe space, which many of the students interviewed in the documentary commented on as reason why HBCUs are still essential.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow review of the documentary, but I wanted to share a couple of things that struck me. The first colleges started as industrial arts type schools to teach the newly freed slaves skills. Remember before this, teaching slaves, especially things like reading, was not just illegal, but was also somewhat lethal. By the late 1800s there were more than 80 schools founded by the American Missionary Association, the African Methodist Episcopal church, and the federal government. Of course, the white landowners didn’t especially appreciate that, so between 1866 and 1872, they ran off countless teachers, set schools on fire, and killed more than 20,000 students and teachers. For having the audacity to learn and teach.

Fast forward to WWI, and the Black soldiers who went to Europe and fought were thinking they could come home and reap the benefits of the freedom they had just fought for. Not quite. They were often beaten by white mobs, including white veterans, at the train stations coming home from the war. The summer of 1919 was called the red summer because 28 cities burned in a series of what the documentary calls “small-scale race wars.” The difference between this time and the school killings previously is that these Blacks had been to war and learned how to fight back. Part of that fighting back is taking more control over their education. At the time, the HBCUs were primarily run by white men. So this is a period where Blacks try to get control of their schools.

The schools prevailed and the graduates and students of HBCUs help take control of their destiny, not to mention create a middle class. The 50s and 60s bring us the first lunch counter protests, thought of and executed by Black college students at HBCUs. And then guess what happened? Pissed off/scared white people commit acts of violence against the protesters, etc., etc. Are you seeing the pattern?

This one step up, two steps back thing, feels very much like what we’re in now, don’t you think? We had the audacity to have a Black president for 8 years and now, we’ve got the similar violent reaction against it. Cold comfort, but the documentary reminded me there are ways to address this, fight it, and keep moving the ball forward.

Another highlight for me was learning that Howard University specifically started a law school in 1869 to train black lawyers to legally challenge the system of segregation and discrimination. And guess what they ended up achieving? Among the students was Thurgood Marshall, and the first vice dean of the law school was Charles Houston, who was a graduate of Harvard Law School and the first Black person on the Harvard Revew; they and others created the legal precedents that eventually led to Brown v. the Board of Education: On May 17, 1954, the US Supreme Court struck down racially segregated schools as unconstitutional in a landmark ruling. That is some kind of kick ass long-range planning.

There’s plenty more interesting information about these still important schools.

Watch Tell Them We Are Rising  on PBS, available until March 21.

It’s in the Dance

Dancers of the waltz, foxtrot, tango, cha-cha, salsa, and others will laugh at me for this, but after dancing to primarily disco music for the several years, I just realized that dancing to music of different eras requires different moves. The dance goes with the music, Astaire. Because I don’t dance formally and instead let the music move me, I think of my dance moves as just that — moves in sequences that match the music.

But the place where we dance on Sundays has changed, and where it was 95% disco and 5% other, it’s now about 50/50 disco/80s music. A recent night was more like 30/70, disco to 80s. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 80s and danced away my 20s worshiping at its music altar. I don’t think I’ve ever danced side-by-side with both kinds of music, though.

It took me a while to notice this, because I was still getting over the change of the music and the addition of 3 big screens and videos in a fairly small venue. Why do club owners think videos are a good idea? If I wanted to watch videos, I’d stay home and drink for a lot less. Not to mention, the total hacked transition between songs that videos necessitate. I will admit that the subtleties of a really good DJ are lost on me, but I sure know when a song is ripped from me mid-beat and mid-move, and the next thumper is shoved down my pelvis. Plus, isn’t there enough change in the world right now? Do you really need to mess with my Sunday night dance traditions?

But I digress.

The day after the 50/50 night we commented on how hard we had danced. I didn’t think much about why until the next week when it was almost all 80s music. My friend and I talked about how disco is a happy kind of music that encourages free-flowing movement. It lends itself to a prop, say like a scarf that one might twirl around and let float to the beat. On the other hand, a lot of 80s music has a harder sound. I realized that I haven’t been using my scarf as much lately. 80s music doesn’t seem to have the same kind of call for it. Or its uses are less floaty and more, say, tie my hands up or slap my butt. That’s Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty.

My friend and I were still on the dance floor, trying to sort out the more nuanced differences between the 2 types of music, when Ms. Jackson came on. As we watched her on the damned big screen whip her arms, legs, and body around in unison with her dancers, my friend said triumphantly, “80s music is more choreographed!” And suddenly all the other 80s videos and songs flashed through my mind: hard beats and tight arm and leg moves. No free-flowing motion or twirling partners. Just an organized group of people doing identical rocket shots that burn calories and leave different muscles sore the next day.

A light dawns ovah Mahblehead, as they like to say around these parts. It’s a nod to the actual seacoast town of Marblehead and also a word for a person who has mahbles for brains. For the record, I don’t live in Marblehead. But now that I have been enlightened, watch out, all you formal dancers. I got the waltz, foxtrot, and tango on my mind, and I’m coming for you — me and my scarf.


A Snow Adventure

You may have heard we got hit with 12+ inches in Boston last week. Ah….there’s nothing like that first big snow fall, the dazzling snowflakes…blowing horizontally in the shrieking wind of the “bomb cyclone.” Someone needs to give the weather people more to do — they have way too much time and fun at work making up scary adjectives for storms, which we in these parts are happy to just call a naw’eastah, thank you very much. The rest of us don’t get to make up words at work, so why should they have all the fun?

Despite the storm’s doomsday descriptions, I survived with heat and electricity intact. However, it wasn’t until the next day that I understood the real terror of the storm… The Space Saver.

Now that I am in a new neighborhood in Boston proper, suddenly all those stories about saving shoveled out spaces with broken toilet bowls and vacuum cleaners stop being “cute” and “funny,” and take on a menacing tone. In most areas, moving the saver is a really bad idea. Silly me, the real test of storm endurance was just beginning. Not for nothing, in my previous neighborhoods, even though I had a driveway, my visitors had to park on the street and I’ve had non-snow parking situations where people left a nasty note, flattened tires, and once keyed a car. You break the unspoken rules of your neighborhood, and you take what’s coming to you.

Oh, sure when I moved in this fall, these were the nicest people. Saying hello, organizing neighborhood leaf raking, even checking on my sister and elderly mother when they were out for a walk and taking rest.

But the first spacing saving chair had sprouted; Boston winter’s equivalent of a warning volley shot across the bow. And with another 3 days of ridiculous temps from 7 to 14, there was no luxury of having the bright, day-after 35 degrees and sunshine helping me shovel out with a little snow melt. My monkey mind went into overtime. I didn’t want to get involved with saving a space. If I left and couldn’t find a space when I came back, what were my options? Where could I park my car? I was starting to miss the “snowmageddon” of 2015 (another made up weather word!). At least then I was master of my own domain and could shovel out on my own schedule, or at least when work demanded I show up in the office.

I had managed to get as far as thinking I could take time off from work to dig out my car during the day, which was allegedly supposed to be warmer at 35 degrees. And if I couldn’t find parking when I got back, I could park in a pay garage in the next town and take the bus back to my house. But then I realized something. Something profound.

I didn’t need my car. I take the train to work, I get my groceries delivered, and anything else can be walked or cabbed to. So I let it go, and then in the way the universe likes to mess with you, I went to check on my car on the weekend, still cold as you-know-what, and saw that the spot behind me was open. This gave me some space to start phase 1 of the digging out, and I cleared in front of, behind, and next to the driver’s door of the car. Then, when the kid come home later, he suggested that we clear off the snow on the car. Of his own volition. So we did. Now all that left is the snow pack three feet wide and 1 foot high between the car and the road. But I’m looking at above 35 degree highs for the next week, so ha on you, Winter!

In the meantime, I learned that the worst that happens is people just move your space saver and take your shoveled out place. The city may also come by in the night and take the space savers because they technically aren’t allowed. That’s unconfirmed, but yeah, and naming snow storms isn’t supposed to be allowed either. People do it anyway. What? No nasty notes? No flat tires. How the heck am I supposed to blog with all this civility?

Oh, I guess I just did. Just 53 more days until spring!

Top 6 Posts of 2017

Well, kids, looks like we made it through year 1 of the Cheeto flea, and that alone is worth celebrating. But even better would be to forget about him altogether. As you run the highlight reel of the past year in your mind, acknowledge the not-so-great stuff, but give priority to the good things — the people, places, and events that gave you a lift. I’m reminding myself as much as you on this one. I think of myself as a positive person, but I’ve been noticing that I can get focused on the one bad thing sitting amongst all the good stuff. So I’m going to try to keep an eye on that in 2018. I’m also feeling like my tank is empty, and, yes, I had a big year (as the posts below will attest), but most of the big things are past, so I also wonder if it’s real or a habit? I will keep an eye on that, too.

But for now, it’s time to look back a bit, take a deep breath, and head out to 2018.

6. The big news of the year was getting the kid launched, and it was official with this post. In the process, there were highs, lows, lots of wine, and a few moments of full-blown panic. But the deed got done with Mission Accomplished.

5. I reread this one, and thought, damn, that’s good! I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately to write. In keeping with my positive theme, I’m going to recall the words of a painter friend many years ago, when I was hit with my first case of writer’s block. I had just finished a bunch of essays and thought, now I’m ready for the next thing. But I wasn’t. The faucet had nary a trickle. He told me not to worry — I was merely filling up again. So, I’m going with that. Don’t know how long the filling will take, so be prepared for reruns if you’re a long time reader and for cool old stuff if you’re new. In any event, this piece reminded me that, yeah, I still have some writing mojo. Happy Anniversary.

4. That this one is in the top 6 makes me laugh. I thought it was just me, but apparently this was something a lot of people could relate to. For the love, Leave the Curtain Rods.

3. Because I have memory issues, er, I mean, I live in the moment like Eckhart Tolle. I’m a super advanced human, I swear. Anywho, I thought this one was about Cheeto flea, but it was more subtle than that. Either way, it never hurts to remember It’s a Marathon not a Sprint.

2. I just reread this one, and it reminded me I have a blog to finish about bystander intervention. Also, it reminded me that Life moved with me to my new apartment and is still sitting in my chair, giving me the look, and motioning me to get her another drink. Happy new year, bee-atch! Dammit!

1. Oh, Celine. I hope where ever you are, you have all the happiness you deserved when you walked among us. Goodbye My Friend.

So there it is, friends. I wish you all you healthy, hopeful new year. We can totally do this. We always do.

Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

It’s Easy to Miss the Inspiration Around You

A few weeks ago, I went to see Kitty Dukakis discuss her book, Shock, about how electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) saved and continues to save her from debilitating depression. For any young ones out there, she is the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, (1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991). He was the governor when I first came to Boston in 1983, so I feel a nostalgic connection to them both. I was devastated when his bid for the White House in 1988 went down in flames, and George Bush, elder, won. Of course, time and perspective are everything, and I would not consider Bush that bad a thing right now.

But that’s a different post.

I thought it would be interesting, but I wasn’t dying to attend. A friend invited me, and at the last-minute he got stuck at work and couldn’t go. He asked me to go anyway and tell him about it. I’d had a hectic day myself, and I was tempted to go home to a cocoon of wine and binge watching “Will and Grace” reruns. But I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I decided to go, even though I left with just enough time to get there at the start, if nothing went wrong with the train.

Like that strategy ever worked.

I got a seat on the train and checked my watch — there was a good possibility I’d make it, so I turned contentedly to my book and settled in. Not long after, however, the lack of movement started to seep into my peripheral consciousness. I looked up and could see we were stuck in between stops. I wasn’t worried yet, as I knew this line often stopped briefly.

“Attention passengers, we’re standing by because of traffic ahead.” Actually it sounded more like, “crackle, hiss, pop, crackle standing pop, hiss, crackle, traffic crackle, hiss, pop, crackle.” But I’m fairly fluent in Boston subway speak, so I got it that we weren’t moving anytime soon.

Crap. Deep breath. Maybe it wouldn’t be too long. But we continued to stand still, and with each minute ticking away, I added a minute onto my arrival time. I began to hear the siren call of  wine and “Will and Grace” again. What’s the point of going if I’m going to miss half of it? I’d like to say that I put my big girl pants on and stayed the course. I did stay the course; however, it was more because waiting on the train was less work than figuring out how to get home from the line I was riding without having to backtrack or get out and walk to a different line.

Finally we lurched forward and moved along, and to my surprise, I was only 10 minutes late. Kitty was talking about her book, while I found a single seat in the filled up room. And in the next 50 minutes I was unexpectedly moved and inspired.

Kitty is turning 80 next month and he’s 84, but you’d never know it. In addition to writing two books and working on a third, she is also a tireless advocate for demystifying and destigmatizing ECT. She says most people equate it with electric shock in the 1975 movie, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While she doesn’t deny it was used indiscriminately back then, in the past 40 years, the treatment has been refined and targeted to the point where Kitty goes in every 5-6 weeks for a maintenance 15-minute treatment. She discovered the hard way that if she stops, her depression comes back just as deep and devastating as ever. She and Mike run an ECT support group in their home, and welcome people who have had ECT treatment and those who are thinking of having it. It’s usually a last resort for deep depression that won’t respond to other types of treatment.

Kitty’s passion for helping people navigate ECT came through clearly, and I was happy to see Michael there too. I had a moment of “it’s cool being in the same room with well-known people” feeling. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I did not expect the amount of tenderness and respect that passed between them. She’d turn to him to help her find a word or remember a fact, and he did the same with her. They finished each other’s sentences. All this with the back drop of what they had both suffered, mostly in the public eye, due to her alcohol addiction. Before she received ECT, it was the only way she could blot out the depression. When he described coming home one day and finding her passed out from alcohol on the floor, I welled up. He said he was at heart an optimistic person and kept hoping each treatment they tried would be the one. She experienced this depression for 17 years. That is some kind of badass optimism.

He said that he is still an optimistic person, even now, in our current political climate. “We’ve been through worse, and we’ll get through this.” Hearing an elder politician who’s been around the block or two and is still so clearly committed to service to others made me believe he could be right.

And he is committed. He is just as passionate about ECT as Kitty. You could see how disturbed he was when he noted that 20 military vets commit suicide a day, many with depression. He and Kitty have been working with the VA to offer ECT as a treatment option, and they are very close to setting up a pilot in Massachusetts that they hope could be a model for the rest of the country. During Michael’s 1988 presidential campaign he was made fun of because he still had a 20-year old snowblower that he used himself, he took the train to work as governor, and to this day he can be spotted in his neighborhood picking up trash. These may have played some part in his failure to reach the White House, but from where I sat, they were hallmarks of a life lived with intention.

Being in their presence was very powerful:  in their 80s, over coming alcoholism, depression, bitter political defeat. And still passionately working together to make things better for others, both one-on-one and on a bigger scale. Thank you to both of them for reminding me that we have been through worse, and we will get through this. And the way to do to it is head down, doing what you can small and large every day that makes a difference for someone. Some days you have to get off the delayed train to wine and Will and Grace. But when you can, it’s better to stay on the train and make use of where it leads you.

Visit Kitty’s educational ECT website to learn more.