Category Archives: Boston

Talk a Walk on the Quiet Side

The weather finally cooperated enough that I could get out and explore my new neighborhood a bit more. A few weeks ago, I went for a long rambling walk in the Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston. Established in 1848, it was conceived and designed as a cemetery and a public park, one of the first in Boston. To quote the brochure:

“Horticulture was an important scientific movement and economic driver in 19th century America, improving commercial agriculture, landscape design,and the quality of life. The Cemetary’s founder, Henry A. S. Dearborn, was one of the leaders of this movement and his design of Forest Hills … marked the culmination of his career.”

I don’t know why people of that era felt the need to use all their initials, but I do thank Henry for his work and vision. While the brochure has a detailed map and a self-guided walking tour of many of Boston’s leaders in government, art, medicine, activism, and entrepreneurship, I just felt like wandering wherever my interest took me. I have plenty of time to be more methodical later and see who’s who. This first trip out in spring, was about feasting my eyes, ears and nose on the green trees and plants, the art work, and the art-inspired headstones.

One of the first things I was drawn to was this unusual spherical stone:

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I’ve never seen that in a tradition cemetery. Not that I spend a lot of time with them, but you know how you look over as you’re walking or driving by one and remember to be thankful you’re still on this side of the sod. Yeah, never saw a round stone. It’s such a cool design, and there were family names printed around, so it’s also very efficient. This one belonged to the Sawyers. I know that old grave designs are highly symbolic, and it took me a while to find what the sphere might mean, one website said the circle usually represents the unending circle of life and eternity. I like that. Maybe I’ll take an official tour and ask.

In the meantime, just like when you learn a new word and start seeing it everywhere, my eye started to find other spheres, perched precariously, on these bases, and yet still so soothing to look at — wishing your clan peace, Kendigs:

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Or more solidly anchored into eternity — peace to you Connors:

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And after walking among the sea of primarily English, Irish, and Western European names, this was a beautiful stone to come upon — diversity ha! Not just the name, but a colorful stone and beautiful Chinese writing:

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Since those who have passed on can’t speak for themselves, and I don’t want to make assumptions about any of them, I will give the last word to this little fellow, who like me was just hanging out and enjoying a beautiful sunny day in a quiet peaceful place.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.