Category Archives: writing

It’s Quite Vivid

I’m all about making things fun and easy, but I amaze even myself sometimes. If you are a regular reader, you may know I’m struggling with how to wrap my arms around getting more involved in social justice and learning more about racism and white privilege. You know just small, little things like that to help beat back the Cheeto flea and his turd minions.

Part of the problem is that I think I may have used up most of my intellectual curiosity and prowess in my 20s and 30s, what with my subscriptions to Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s (no, not Harper’s Bazaar, the smarty pants Harper’s). Then family duties called. Lapsed subscriptions were replaced with other reading. While I firmly believe that reading to your children gives them an excellent foundation for being a functioning adult with critical thinking skills, there is also a small part of me that also believes reading the Berenstain Bears 100 times over the course of several years causes permanent damage to a functioning adult’s critical thinking skills. You do your best to pick only the books you can stand to read that many times, but inevitably, the Berenstain Bears book and its kin come into your life, and like the dog who goes right for the person who dislikes dogs, your kid will pick the crap book every time.

So where was I? Right, fun and easy. So the related other part of the problem is that when I try to decide, should I read a depressing book about how messed up institutional racism is? Or the book for my book group, which is non-fiction and usually not quite as depressing as racism, but still serious and requires concentration? Or that trashy historical romance novel I just downloaded for free on Hoopla?

Guess who wins? I know. I’m the worst. Blame the Berenstain Bears.

But I’m nothing, if not wily and persistent. I had read the last historical novel by the white writer I liked and when I tried several new ones, based on Hoopla suggestions, I couldn’t get through them. I may read historical romance novels, but I do have some standards. The heaving bosoms need to belong to a strong female character and need to be part of an interesting historical plot that is based on truth. I went through many lists of writers, and one of the suggestions included a Black historical romance writer, Beverly Jenkins.

Well, hey now. Could I get a two-fer out of this? I need to learn more Black history anyway, and the book I’m currently reading Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, is quite educational, and I’ve been stuck on page 36 for a while now. I know, I know, I’m the absolute worst. But I have a mission to fulfill, so I downloaded a book called Vivid. Vivid is a female physician of color who travels from California to a Black community in Grayson Cove, Michigan; they need a doctor and no one else will hire her in 1876. They also only hire her because they think she’s a man–she uses the “no first names” trick.

(As a side note, I just saw “On the Basis of Sex,” the movie about the early career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who nearly 100 years later after Vivid, made it into Harvard Law School and was top of her class, only to also not get hired. So, you know, there’s that. But the movie is good, so go see it, my fellow snowflakes!)

Vivid is well-written, entertaining, and not only chock full of historical details of Black people in the 1876,  Beverly also lists pages of resource material at the end of the book. Paydirt! There really were Black women doctors in the 1800s, and there were all-Black communities being established in the U.S. Sadly for my gay friends, they are no gay characters in these books, but if I find any good gay historical romances, I’ll let you know. Most of Beverly’s books I’ve read take place in all-Black communities, or in cities like Philadelphia because, as she notes in the end of one of the books, it played an important role in the Black race’s history. I’ve read about the 1800s and the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal church, middle class households, ranching out west, poets and writers, and more. In other words, I’ve read about human beings being human and their specific struggles because of their color.

One of my favorites, Midnight, is set in Boston on the verge of the Revolutionary War. In it the main free male character talks about being captured by the British navy and being forced into naval service–it’s called impressment and was legal in Britain at the time. And you know those Brits–they like to carry their rules around with them to other countries, whether the other countries agree or not. Not long after reading about it, I was able to tear myself away from fascinating Beverly to my read book group book, Heirs of the Founders, by H.W. Brands, about the second generation of American politicians. An early chapter describes how in 1812 two elder statesman, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, were trying to persuade their congressional colleagues and President Madison to wage war against Britain in response to many transgressions against American sovereignty, including, you guessed it, impressment.

So, I rest my case. And I know I can’t be satisfied with just Beverly and her meticulously research novels and heaving bosoms, sigh. I’ve got more reading to do, and I also signed up for class in January called, “White People Challenging Racism.” But for the moment, I need to find out what is going to happen in the next installment of the Grayson Cove, Michigan town. Seems were going to learn more about Dr. Vivid’s brother-in-law, Eli.

And, thank you Beverly, for your wonderful books. Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia: “Beverly Jenkins (born 1951, Detroit) is an American author of historical and contemporary romance novels with a particular focus on 19th century African-American life.[1] Jenkins was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee and, in 1999, was voted one of the Top 50 Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by the African American Literature Book Club.[2] Jenkins’s historical romances are set during a period of African-American history that she believes is often overlooked. This made it difficult to break into publishing because publishers weren’t sure what to do with stories that involved African-Americans but not slavery.[3]

150430_blog-photo_bev-jenkins

 

Of Kavanaugh and Colonoscopies

If you haven’t had a colonoscopy yet, you may want to skip this week’s blog. The thing about being middle-aged is that you get this glorious perspective on life and new-found confidence and you give way less fucks about a lot of things. And just when you’re really sailing along, the medical establishment sneaks up behind you and throws a colonoscopy net over your happiness and says, ah ha! Got you! This junk makes wish for your mammogram, and that isn’t any fun either.

So, this week I was getting it from all sides, it started with the colonoscopy and ended with a colonoscopy, aka Krybaby Kavanaugh. So what’s a blogger to do? Go back to her English Comp 101 roots and do a compare and contrast, with a side of metaphor and simile.

Kavanaugh is like a colonoscopy.

  • You follow the preparation rules, like a liquid-only diet for a day and calling your senators every 10 minutes to say “hell no!” But it doesn’t actually make the colonoscopy any better, nor does it seem to send Krybaby back to the sewage pipe he crawled out of.
  • Following the prep gives you a headache. Actually the colonoscopy headache from no solid food only lasted 36 hours. I still have a headache from Krybaby.
  • Even really good drugs can’t save you. Yes, during the procedure I was in that white haze of sedation, but oh, yeah, I still felt a few points of pain, which interrupted my haze.  With Krybaby, it’s the opposite. I’m mostly in pain from his existence, with only a few points of white wine haze of sedation.
  • The end of the screening/hearing really isn’t the end of the ordeal, and all told, you’ve pretty much lost a whole week. For a colonoscopy, there was 2 days of prepping to endure, a day of the procedure, a day after where I was still fuzzy and only partially productive, and the day after that I still wasn’t feeling quite right. For Krybaby, there were days of hype to endure before the hearing, the day of the hearing, and in the days after the hearing, I was fuzzy and unfocused, and days later I’m still not feeling quite right.

Krybaby Kavanaugh is a colonoscopy.

I don’t really have to explain that except to add that he isn’t even good enough to be associated with my fecal matter. I’m really hoping the FBI will be like my doctor’s little Mars rover-like scope that has a light and little clippers to cut out polyps and what have you. Please FBI, snip, snip, snip this cancerous polyp from our system, and flush him down the sewer.

Photo credit: BBC News

 

Random Photo Round Up

As I go about my life, I often come upon random things that make me pause or laugh or think it would make a good blog. And then weeks later when I’m looking for the alleged good blog idea, I realize it’s a one-second gag that even my superior BS skills can’t spin into something more substantial. But that’s OK — these are short and to the point. No sustained attention needed! And let’s face it, this week the bubble got pummeled more than usual. Enjoy!

  1. We fished this out of a small stream on our canoe camping trip on the Delaware River. We were walking and saw something clearly man-made. My friend said “I see boobs!” And I saw a high-heeled shoe. This could be interesting, I thought. He had to wade into the river to free her from the rock she had been pinned under, and then we were like…whoa. I flashed back to curse Tiki statue from the Brady Bunch and every other bad TV show about weird cursed objects that lay in wait for some poor saps to fish them out and then they wreak havoc on them. This one also had a high school tassel from 2014 attached to it, so now I was adding a bad teen horror movie to the mix. Or, maybe she was just a wise old woman with eclectic fashion taste. Sure, we laughed, but nether of us wanted to take her with us, so we told her we liberated her from the water and gave her a better view from a tree. Please don’t come get us.

scarywitch

2. The second entry in the “Yikes, what the hell?!?” category is this guy or gal. I was writing at my computer, which looks out a second story window. As I was staring out the window, you know working very hard thinking about what I wanted to write (you can’t prove I wasn’t), I happened to notice a beautiful spider’s web. I congratulated myself on being present to the world’s beauty and thinking about the miracle of life, and how amazing spiders are, until she/he suddenly scuttled into view, and I screamed. That sucker is 2 inches long, front leg to back leg. Gaaahhhhh! Why does the miracle of life have to be so creepy and scary??

giantspider

3.  And now for something completely petty. I’ve done this round up before, and I almost always have a fashion photo. Or what shouldn’t be fashion. My only defense is that I’m pretty clueless about fashion, so if I notice what you’re wearing seems off, you are either too cutting edge to live in Boston, or it’s really, truly bad.  However, this little number took me in a whole philosophical direction while waiting at the crosswalk. Exhibit A:

My first thought was, I see fishnets, did you forget those when you were changing out of your dominatrix outfit this morning? Or has the stereotypical sexy fishnet costume, like much fashion these days, de-evolved into too much casual comfort? Or does she have black lace and leather under that frumpy outfit? And because the walk sign still hadn’t come on at this point, I thought, or am I the weirdo for thinking you can only wear fishnets as an accessory to a sexy scenario. Who am I to say that fishnet stockings don’t go with sensible work attire. I mean, you know, the zebra flats are kinda working. Maybe this is her way of saying who she is from the safety of being tucked under her desk. Who am I to judge? Well, I really tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but as the walk sign came on, I had to accept I’m just too old-fashioned; fishnets should always be in the presence of a whip, high heels, and an outfit containing no more than a cup of fabric.

4 & 5. To make up for my shallow, one-track mind, here are photos from a cool outdoors exhibit called Fog x FLO, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. It’s by a well-known Japanese artist, Fujiko Nakaya. There 6 spread out along the Emerald Necklace Parks in Boston. I’ve seen 2 so far. They are really cool. Nozzles on scaffolding spray fog into a natural area. These two are from Jamaica Pond. Light gray version of the Smoke Monster in Lost, anyone?

smokemonster

Then it envelopes you…

fog

I saw the second one last week at Franklin Park. It’s set up in the Overlook Shelter Ruins, and the fog moving over the stone is very ethereal and peaceful, even though there were two ladies chatting away the whole time. The fog in this one appears more frequently than the one on the pond, so I saw it multiple times in about 20 minutes. The pond one only goes off on the hour and half hour, just for a few minutes. And sorry for the video. I can’t really say what I did towards the end, um, fancy camera work? But you get the general idea.

And here is more info about the ruins: “Sitting lonely and overgrown in Boston’s historic Franklin Park, these puddingstone ruins were once one of the only buildings ever designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture, whose egalitarian ideals set the standard for public parks as a place equally accessible to anyone and protected from private interests.”

6. And because my stats always go through the roof when I post pictures of animals (and really it seems like any animal — you people are indiscriminate on this topic!) Here is something to humble anyone who does yoga and who may be getting to attached to comparing themselves favorably against others in the class. So, you can do badass down dog pose? Can you do down squirrel pose, upside down, on the side of a tree? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Namaste!

downsquirrel

 

Don’t Fall Asleep in the Snowdrift

This is a really bad time to be a person who tries to find humor in everyday life and write about it. It’s also a bad time to be a person of color, an immigrant, a woman, or  basically anyone who is not in agreement with the Cheeto flea and his minions. Or maybe he is their minion. It’s hard to tell — this shit gets confusing.

The current crisis of the immigrant children warehoused like, well, let’s just say it — the prelude to Jews and gays and other non-Aryan people sent to the Nazi death camps, is wrong on every single level. It scares the hell out of me. It exhausts me with pain and anguish. I can’t imagine what these families are being put through. And it also pisses me the hell off.

Hey, Cheeto asshole, you know what you get when you treat children like worthless animals? The ones who survive learn to hate, and they find acceptance in groups like ISIS and other religious extremists. And then they find ways to hurt the people and the country who made them. This is so basic, I get paralyzed thinking how Cheeto and the minions cannot know this. And by the way the Bible is not a tool for making policy, but if you want to quote shit, how about this? “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” And the kids will come back and give you back 10-fold what you gave them.

I want to go numb. This new, next level of WTF-ness  is so relentless, and seems to be getting worse.

So, I have very little humor for you, but rather, I hope I can give you inspiration. I receive email once a week about practical things to do, put together by Jen Hofmann called Americans of Conscience Checklist. You can sign up for it here. 

In this week’s email she talks about being overwhelmed by this whole putting kids in cells thing, and included an inspiring article about why we can’t go numb now. The writer Dahlia Lithwick writes, “And this is the scene in the movie where even though you want to fall asleep in the snowdrift, you need to get up and walk around. … Because “going numb” is the gateway drug to acceptance.”

So hang in there. The article also calls for us to “Choose for yourself. Sure, tune out that which makes you feel hopeless. But hold onto what motivates you to act. Find all the humans you can find who agree with you and make calls and register voters.”

I’m focusing on social justice. I’m trying to do it in with honey, rather than vinegar. But maybe at this point, all that really matters is that you do something.

Photo credit: Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Association.

 

 

It’s a Cute Hamster Week

Hi all, I was away this weekend visiting Sonia, my fellow U2 fan and friend extraordinaire. We had an awesome time and wondered why we had waited so long? The visit had started with us trying to see the band again. Then we realized we didn’t have to wait for Bono to croon to us for $300 a pop to see each other. Love you, Bono, but we’ll maybe catch you next time around. So instead we talked non-stop and had a lot of fun. It was a great antidote to a couple of stressful weeks, so while I’m feeling much more balanced, I had no time to polish any of the blog drafts I have. The 5-hour train ride was filled with great hopes of writing several blogs and finishing a book.

I fell asleep for the most the ride. Ah, well. Some times you just have to sleep.

Which brings us to: all I got is the cute hamsters. These are not ours, but they made me laugh.

This one just looks like Einstein and the way his hair is sticking out, he also looks harried. with a side of frantic. That’s pretty much what I’ve been feeling.

einstein hamster

This is is just about hanging in there. Have a good week!

Cute Hamster Animal Desktop Wallpaper

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.

 

 

 

It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

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

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

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

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

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

Nahhhh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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