Category Archives: Mid-Life

How did I get to be this age?

Forgive Me Pink Blanket, for I Have Sinned

I’ve been so busy with the kid and life transitions, I have committed 2 summer Boston sins: The first was I forgot to look up the Free Friday Flicks list, as in, forgot it existed. Thanks to dancing Mike for picking up the slack! The 2nd was worse: once I was alerted to the movie list, I actually forgot about it again. This past Friday night was the first one. We were not there. Mike mentioned it when he saw me on Saturday night. Ugh.

I know there are far worse things, but right now these traditions feel even more important to help keep us grounded, so forgetting them seems really bad. But If I’ve learned anything during my 50+ years on the planet, it’s get over your damn self and keep going freak. Or maybe that’s what I yell at other drivers. Anywho, the movies take a 2 week hiatus to make way for the Fourth of July Pops festivities and I will be there on July 14 when they return.

While I sit in a corner to think about what I’ve done, here’s a post from a few years ago about how it should have happened. It will happen, but  just a little late. Unless I forget again. Middle age can be a real pain in the ass.

I walked to the Hatch Shell in Boston for my first Free Friday Flicks of the season—it’s my 29th year of watching movies there; the first one I remember was “Batman”— not the one with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. No, this was the made-for-TV Batman movie with Adam West (who has recently moved on to the bat cave in the sky) and Burt Ward, complete with the “Pow,” “Bam” and “Smash” hand drawn exclamation bubbles. (Young ones, Google it or just watch the SpongeBob episodes with Mermaid Man—same diff). Back then they also showed lots of classic movies. FFF, as we like to call it, was where I first saw Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Citizen Kane. I’m sure they were cheap for the city to get and the crowd was easy to please. It was a handful of mostly people like me—broke post-college and college students who were happy to find something—anything—free to do on a Friday night.

I’ve seen a lot of things come and go at FFF. But nearly always, at the core has been my pink blanket, aka F*cking Pink Blanket. For years, it has been the centerpiece, nay, the very FFF raison d’être, welcoming newcomers and seasoned attendees alike. Until last night. As usual, I had arrived early, unveiled the FP Blanket and secured the area. Something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until my friends came and pointed out, there were not one, not two but at least THREE other pink blankets around us. Of course, they were not nearly as amazing as the FP Blanket, but still, they were not pastel posers. I was concerned. I see you are puzzled; let me explain.

The FP Blanket, pictured above on Friday night, is at least 40 years old, and like all good things from the 70s, it’s made from an indestructible synthetic material that defies physics and logic. It hasn’t gotten any more worn, nor has the color faded. It’s just as f*cking pink now as it was when it was on the bed of whichever of my unlucky family members had it. Or maybe it was a guest blanket, which would explain our lack of guests growing up.

Before cell phones, meeting up with friends at the Hatch Shell was a challenge, as most of us left our carrier pigeons and tin cans with string at home. Thus, the neon pink blanket became an important feature for spotting our group amongst the sea of particularly unremarkable, yet confusing blankets. In the 90s, I met my friend Becky and invited her to FFF. She’s the one who dubbed the blanket the F*cking Pink Blanket. She‘s not profane, mind you—other than the blanket, I’d be hard pressed to tell you that last time I heard her swear. But she is an excellent story teller and that summer, on the blanket, she told a story about her friends who were trying to buy a tandem bike, an unusual item. They found an ad for one (in a print publication no doubt) and called the number (this was before the internet and before there were readily available photos. If you think it’s tiresome to keep reading about these stories that happened before the internet, imagine how tiresome it was to live this way — barbaric!) When they reached the seller, he said,in his pure Boston accent, “I gotta warn you, it’s f*cking pink.” The rest, as they say, is history, and ever after the blanket became the F*cking Pink Blanket.

So, you must understand, there can be no others. Because of my longevity and good nature, I have decided to give you, Other Pink Blanket Owners, a friendly warning.  I understand you must be new to FFF, so please know that I own the FP Blanket and you need to find another blanket to bring. I’m sure you will. Your flimsy, natural fiber blanket won’t last anyway, so I’m saving you a lot trouble. Maybe you can use yours for a sick dog or to cover up your IKEA furniture when you move out of Boston. Need some hints of what else you could bring? Low chairs, sleeping bags, and really any kind of blanket is acceptable. Except pink. That’s my blanket and how people find me, not you. No one wants to sit with you, who has the fake, non-F*cking Pink Blanket. And don’t think for a minute little girl with the square pink blanket that I’m going to go any easier on you than I will on the others. Cute doesn’t play in my town, sister, and make no mistake, this is my town and my FFF. Thank you for attention to this matter, and I look forward to not seeing you next week.

Sincerely,

Sandy, owner of the true and only F*cking Pink Blanket.

Paying It Forward

Another quick one, my chickadees. Yours truly had too much fun this weekend, and you know what that means. The facade I like to cultivate that I’m a dedicated, organized blogger gets blown to Cheeto land. I did get to see my best friend from childhood and her delightful, funny husband. They live in the desert, and I don’t get to see them very much, so that was completely awesome.

Back at work today, I got a text message from the kid to tell me his friends were over again and that they’d used my card to get food. I sighed heavily. They have been frequenting my house several times a week for the past few months. I get it, this is their last summer together before college changes everything. But today I got crabby. Where are the other parents? I muttered to myself. Why is my house where everyone gathers? No one offers to pay for anything. We end up driving everyone one home. Grumble, bitch. I checked my account for the food delivery damage. $60 bucks. Sigh.

But then I thought about my childhood friend. Her house was the gathering house. It had a yard all around it and had the advantage of not having a dad who yelled, like I had at my house. In the summers, we practically lived at her house, showing up before lunch and staying way past sunset to play hide and seek. And all day we inhaled immeasurable amounts of ice cream, Popsicles, sandwiches, snacks, and Kool-Aid. True, there were 7 kids who actually lived there, so what was a couple more, but still. I never heard her mom complain about us being there, sprawling all over the furniture, running around the yard, or consuming mass quantities of food.

So as I sit and listen to the kid and his friends laughing and talking trash (OK, it’s Dungeons & Dragons trash talking), I realize, I’m paying it forward for all those summers of freeloading as only kids can do — freely, without malice, and with gusto. Thank you summer second mom, I’m honored to carry on your tradition.

Active Bystander Intervention Workshop in Boston Area

I want to spread the word about a great active bystander intervention workshop that I took a few months ago. I’ve been trying to make a clever blog out of what was a very insightful and useful experience. But with the kid graduating, and end of the year school activities, and teens hanging about the house more, I’m more scattered than usual, which is actually a little frightening. I’ve been sitting with my computer on my lap for 2 and a half hours, and this is what I’ve accomplished so far:

  • I was compelled to obey an urge to listen to The Motels — the entire “All Four One” album — on my record player.
  • I moved two big boxes out of the way to search for the vinyl, but didn’t find it.
  • Instead, I found Loverboy’s first album, David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust,” and the Cult’s “Love” album, and plucked them from the bin to listen to.
  • I spent 5 minutes looking for the power cord to the record player, cursing freely until I found it right next to the player.
  • I put the Cult record on turntable, only to walk away and download “All Four One,” on my iPhone.
  • I listened to every song and sang every single word.
  • I listened to “Only the Lonely” twice.
  • I then finally put the needle down on Cult’s “Love.”

Okay, so I’ve actually accomplished quite a bit. But this still isn’t a clever blog, so I’ll just be practical and helpful instead. The bystander class reversed a life-long feeling I’ve had that as an introverted person (when I’m with strangers — if I know you, I’m a big loudmouth), I could never be useful in this kind of situation. Rona Fischman is a terrific facilitator and taught me how to work with my natural reserved inclinations and that everyone has something to contribute to help keep our world respectful. That’s pretty damn amazing.

Active Bystander Intervention

This is a two-part class, given on two consecutive Monday nights, June 19 and June 26, from 7 pm to 9 pm. Learn active bystander intervention techniques to reduce the impact of aggressive social behavior. If you see someone being bullied, how can you help? How can you do it safely? How can you help without the risk of making things worse? The program also includes techniques for interrupting everyday social aggression with people you know, as well as preparation for acting with strangers. The cost is now $60, but you can get a 20% discount to friends of past participants (that’s me) with the promotional code “B_friend”. Click here to register.

I have to go listen to Loverboy now.

 

 

Thank You, Mrs. Gerzanick

This week is national teacher appreciation week, and by a sad coincidence, my very favorite teacher passed away last week at the age of 90. She was one of those teachers who changed the lives of many kids, including mine, and I was lucky to have her for English my sophomore and senior years in high school. I sent her random thank yous well into my adulthood; the last one in 2007 included a copy of my just-published book, and I was so proud to send it to her and thank her again.

I had no idea how old she was when I was in her class, but when you are 16 you have no idea how old anyone is nover the age of 20. Her hair was fairly gray by then, so I placed her age-wise somewhere between my mother and my grandmother, leaning more towards my grandmother. When I did the math today, though, I realized, it must have been all that teaching that had made her gray; she was only a few years older than I am now when I had her.

Remembering her in that lens makes her even more remarkable. She had this boundless, restless, passionate energy in the classroom that I can’t even come close to on my happiest, most well-rested, excited day. It kept her in constant motion during class, from one side to the other, front to back, to the blackboard and back around. She challenged, cajoled, gently chided, and encouraged us to be better, stretch further, think clearly. She inspired me to make her proud. The day she said, “What does this word mean? Who had the intellectual curiosity to look it up?” was the day I vowed to have the intellectual curiosity, and it’s remained with me to this day. Even now when I’m reading a book and curled up on the warm couch, maybe getting sleepy, I am occasionally tempted to steamroll past that word I don’t know. But I hear her voice, and I damn well look it up. Actually remembering it a few pages later is the greater challenge, but that’s not Mrs. Gerzanick’s fault.

She did give out praise when we earned it, and if we didn’t get it a lot, it was our fault for not working hard enough. Her bar was high, but it was not impossible. B’s were pretty standard. Dialing it in got you a C (and you never did again). And on a miraculous few occasions, you worked hard enough to get the A-. One friend remembered her statement of praise, “Very guuud” when you made an insightful comment or had the intellectual curiosity to look up a word. She’d draw out the “good,” and it felt like winning a gold medal.

She drilled good grammar and style into us, and the bible was required reading — the grammar bible that is: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (yes, the E.B. White who wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). I still have my second edition copy from that class. I haven’t used it as a reference for a long time because it’s a part of my writing DNA — she made sure of that. Her mantra, “be succinct” became mine, and the way she chirped, “If the letter C you spy, put the E before the I!” made you remember the rule.

But she was much more than a gray-haired grammarian. While she was pushing us to be more than we thought we could be, she also captivated us. Her constant movement dispersed the smell of her particular perfume and created a constant jangling of the 3 or 4 bracelets she wore every day. But the best days were when she wore what we dubbed the green leather biker dress. By today’s standards it would be a conservatively cut dress, but the fact that it was made of leather, green leather, stopped us pretty much in our tracks. We had never seen its like, and living in working class town, we generally associated leather clothing with bikers.

There are so many things I could say about how good a teacher she was, but the story that stands out most in my mind was the paper I wrote about Joseph Conrad. I could not get my head around Heart of Darkness. I hated that book and I hated him for writing it so that I was forced to read it. This was coming from a girl who loves to read and was willing to struggle though Shakespeare and wrestle with the Canterbury Tales without complaint. I dreaded having to write the paper on the book, usually something I looked forward to. Miserable, I went to the library for research on Conrad to see how I could possibly pull this off. This was the college-level English course offered in high school, and I knew better than to dial it in. She had drilled into us you couldn’t simply say you hated a book or didn’t like it. You had to say why and it better be good. Mostly I hated how he went on for pages describing a sunset or an afternoon sky. Strunk and White would definitely not approve. But how do I write a paper on that?

And there, amongst the stacks of reference books and my despair, I hit pay dirt.

I learned that his publisher paid him by the word and English was his second language. Ah-ha! I had him. I wrote in a fever, arguing that the payment had encouraged him to write more than was necessary. With gleeful detail I provided examples of how his awkward wordiness was due to writing in his non-native language. When we handed in our papers, everyone was groaning about how hard it had been — the book hadn’t won many of us over, and I regaled them with my tale of vanquishing this unpleasant writer with his own life story. My classmates were generally impressed, but the euphoria soon gave way to anxiety. I clearly had gone out-of-bounds of the assignment. It was less a critique of his work and more a justification for why I hated Heart of Darkness. Granted, a researched justification, but still. There was a general consensus that my gamble might not pay off.

When she handed back our papers a week later, everyone was waiting to see what would happen. Would I get the C for dissing a writer and a lecture about going off the grid? Would I just get the B and call it a day? Every week when she handed back the papers, she called out one or two as examples — mostly good, but occasionally she used one as a cautionary tale. That week she called out my paper — I wonder if she knew she had us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. When she proclaimed it a good paper, very original, and worthy of the coveted A-, I was euphoric and felt like I had gotten away with something. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had accomplished her goal. I had still made a trip to the library and actually worked to learn more about him, even though it was more like a private eye trying to dig up dirt. Indeed, I probably worked harder than if I had just shoveled words to support a more basic “man vs. man” or “man vs. nature” theme. Even later I learned that Conrad was one of her favorite writers. So not only had I gone off the grid, I had uniformly dissed her favorite writer. And she gave me the A- anyway.

So here’s to you Mrs. Gerzanick and to all those like you out there, working to inspire us to be better human beings, to have the intellectual curiosity to look up the word we don’t know, and to show up and do our best. Thank you.

 

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.