Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Bird Brain Edition

1. birdbaths
2. birds, bathing
3. the idea of tiny bird-head-sized shower caps
4. flying (theoretical)
5. waking up singing

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Rainy Thursday Edition

1. muffins
2. coffee
3. the prospect of being caught up with grading
4. dogs that let you make a babushka while you're drying them off after a rainy walk
5. Milk Bones (apparently)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Escape Edition

1. pina coladas
2. getting caught in the rain
3. being into champagne
4. cutting through all this red tape
5. omitting any reference to the dunes of the Cape so as not to permanently damage younger relatives

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Not Quite but Almost Random Editon

1. tadpoles
2. open fields
3. the puppy that was on campus yesterday
4. how clearly happy the puppy's guy was to be surrounded by cooing undergraduate women
5. Wonder Woman

Monday, April 22, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Clear Progression Edition

1. whatever that insanely cheerful bird in the rhododendron is
2. having that bird pick a weekday to be insanely cheerful because I'm already awake
3. being able to spell-check words like rhododendron
4. rhododendrons
5. lists that pretty much write themselves

Sunday, April 21, 2013

OK, I Get it Now

My earliest memory of Boston is of a rooftop restaurant terrace in Downtown Crossing—on Bromfield Street, I believe, but don't quote me on that. My parents owned a jewelry store in the center of our small town, and for some reason I went to Boston with my dad to…what? Buy some stones or chains or something? I don't remember that part, because it wasn't important to me. I do remember how cool it was to sit outside in a restaurant with my dad, eating cheese ravioli and—I'm guessing, since it was a special occasion and my dad hadn't stopped drinking yet—drinking a Shirley Temple.

When I got older, I went back to Downtown Crossing with friends to shop—we'd take the commuter rail to South Station, and walk towards the Common, browsing through the art stores, bookstores, and T-shirt shops, and eventually make our way over to Quincy Market for more shopping. We went to the Fourth of July celebration on the Esplanade. For several years in a row, many of us made the 20-mile Walk for Hunger, starting and ending at the Common and winding our way through several sections of Greater Boston. During the four years my husband and I were dating, I spent most of my free time in Boston. And I worked in Boston for a few years, most recently on Federal Street, but before that, in a camera shop in Copley Square—on Boylston Street across from the Boston Public Library, that same section of Boylston that we've been seeing on the news since Monday.

I hated Marathon Monday when I worked in Copley Square. They set up the stands in front of the store, for one thing, making it impossible to see the finish of the race (I haven't been to the Marathon since then, but it looks like they've moved the stands to the other side of the street in recent years so that they block the BPL, which makes more sense than blocking all of the businesses along that stretch). It was a zoo—difficult to get to work, difficult to get anywhere to find food, difficult to go anywhere on break, difficult to get home. The trains were crowded and the sidewalks were crowded and I wanted to call in sick but nobody would have believed me.

The crowds then were just crowds. I was young, and I didn't much care about any kind of sports, much less running. I certainly didn't understand the idea of a marathon as a spectator sport—why the hell would anyone want to stand around waiting to watch people run past them? Sure, running 26.2 miles was impressive, but you'd only see a few hundred yards of that at most. If I'd known about the "worst parade ever" T-shirts at the time, I probably would have worn one, and not in a funny, supportive way.

Yesterday, I ran in my first race, a 5K fundraiser for the fight against ALS—a terrible disease that takes a person's body but leaves the mind intact. I don't know anyone with ALS, and I probably would have run the race for any charity that wasn't somehow abhorrent to me, but my sister-in-law and her husband own an orthodontics practice and were sponsoring the race, so a small group of us ran, and I was certainly happy to support the cause. It was damp and cold, but the runners and walkers didn't seem to mind much. We also didn't much mind when the course leaders passed us going in the other direction while we were still somewhere along the first mile or so—this is the way it goes, and all of the runners I could see around me were clapping and cheering three incredibly fast guys who were basically kicking our asses but for whom we weren't even really on the map. They were running their own races, the same as we were.

And I had a good day—I came in just 2 women under the 50% mark in my age group, which I think is pretty impressive for a first-timer who wasn't even running at this time last year and who, when she started, ran 1-minute intervals interspersed with 90-second walk breaks. I was running about a 13.3-minute mile last May—4.5 miles per hour, and even putting it that way is generous since I don't think I ran a continuous mile until sometime in mid-June. Yesterday, I ran exactly the race I wanted to, starting out slow and speeding up at each mile marker. I averaged just over an 11-minute mile—5.5 miles per hour. I think that's pretty cool. My husband ran with me, which I also think is pretty cool. (He did, I should note, pull away in the last tenth of a mile or so, which I'd like to say is not cool at all, but is—he registered for that race to support me, and he's been running for me this past week, putting in more miles than he thought he could. He started that race believing there was a good chance he'd end up having to walk part of it.) And while we passed a bunch of people in the last mile or so of the race, nobody passed us. Not bad for a couple of middle-aged first-timers.

What I really noticed was the people who came out just to be supportive—the man calling out times as we passed the 1st mile marker and again at the 2nd (same man—the course was looped that way), the group of guys staffing the water station somewhere around the 3K mark, the people with flags and signs pointing us in the right direction on the course. People we had never seen before were standing out there on a Saturday morning in the cold and wet for the sole purpose of telling us what a great job we were doing. Think about that for a bit. Volunteers and spectators are possibly the most awesome people involved in running. I did my best to thank them all as I passed.
We have a tendency, when things go terribly wrong, to put ourselves in harm's way—I used to live there, I was there a month ago, I bought a slice of pizza there, my brother met his wife there—and then pull ourselves out again. I used to think it was because something in us was looking for drama, or looking to be recognized somehow: I matter in this world. But I've come to believe that's not it at all. I suspect that what we're really doing is reassuring ourselves that we're safe: I escaped tragedy. I think when we connect to something like the Marathon bombings, we're doing so because we have trouble processing them if we can't relate to them, and reassuring ourselves of our own safety by speculating on how we avoided danger might be part of that. I joked to my mom on Tuesday that it was a close one because I managed to get out of that particular store on Boylston Street in 1989 or thereabouts. I knew as I said it that it was an attempt to understand by connecting, then disconnecting.

I have been, in general, pretty horrified by the events of the past week—by the bombings themselves, by the xenophobia, by the spreading of misinformation in the guise of news. I was horrified to find out that George Stephanopoulos had asked an acquaintance of the younger bomber if he'd had an accent, and further horrified to learn that her response was basically, "No, he was normal," as if having an accent in this country would somehow make him abnormal, or make him more reassuringly other, because if the people who do these kinds of terrible things have one thing in common it's this: we need them to be different from us. I've been horrified by the attempts to use these events for political gain or to score some sort of rhetorical point in a tangentially-related argument or to paint the bombers (both before and after we knew who the suspects were) as one-dimensional evil people, completely incapable of being loved by their relatives. I have, several times, unplugged myself from the news and from social media because I couldn't bear another word of speculation or unkindness or, later, that sort of "Fuck-yeah-we-got-him" celebratory attitude when so many lives were lost or forever changed.

But I kept coming back—to Facebook, to the news—because it was also full of stories of support and love and the actual potential that we as human beings have. Everything from the various baseball teams who played "Sweet Caroline" for Boston to the runners in Austin, Texas with "Baustin" printed on their T-shirts in Red Sox font to messages from friends and relatives from basically everywhere, telling their stories about the city and its people—all of it, all over the place, signs of the basic good and empathy that humanity is capable of when we spend just a second or two to recognize that other people are important and that we can, in fact, be kind to them just as easily as we can dismiss them. I love that Neil Diamond got on a plane on a whim and flew out to Boston to sing just before the bottom of the 8th at Fenway. I love the Boston-tough fuck you attitude that so many of us adopted shortly after the bombings, the don't-mess-with-Boston messages, the stories of bravery and love. Mostly, though, I loved the running community.

It's been good to be a runner this week. It's been good to have something to do with myself. It's been good to have a positive outlet to focus my energies on. It's been good to be getting a little Spring sunshine, encouraging Jed to run a little farther one day than the last and encouraging myself to run a little bit harder to keep up with his longer stride. And it was good today to be out in the kind of seeping, bone-level Spring chill that New Englanders know so well, doing a little good in the world and running with other people who were doing the same. Yesterday, though, I finally understood what it is to be a runner—the camaraderie of the other runners; the spectators and volunteers giving up a chunk of their Saturday to support family and friends and strangers; the knowledge that I can use my body in exactly the way I planned and have it respond the way it should. Yesterday, I became a runner, my feet hitting the pavement, and the pavement—and the uncertainty and sorrow of this past week in Massachusetts—falling away behind me.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Another Random Edition

1. long Sunday mornings
2. cows
3. warm towels
4. popcorn
5. recycling