Wednesday, June 04, 2014

on a run in DC











On May 29, I had to drive the kids to school, across DC, from Prince George’s County, which is to the east of the District, to the far NW of it, in the damned rush hour traffic. (Their dad usually drives them because he works there.)  I decided I wanted, needed to cover 13.1 miles, my private half marathon, in downtown DC, for kicks. Actually, I was due for a long run, and the area is blessedly flat compared to my hilly suburb. I parked on Ohio Drive in West Potomac Park. The weather was cooler than usual for late May in this swampy region. I was grateful.

Over the course my two-hour run, the city offered sights and sounds that struck me and have stuck with me.

1. I was maybe a mere mile into the run, which had wrapped under the Memorial Bridge and climbed up to the Lincoln Memorial. I was on the wide shaded path between the Reflecting Pool and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On my right, a bunch of adorable, heart-melting ducklings, maybe six or seven, waddled off the path, toward the pool. Their mother herded them. As I approached and passed, she hurried them, then turned on me, beak open, and lunged toward me. I knew I was faster and would escape unscathed. Really, how much damage could she do to my lower leg? I confess, however, that I was a bit scared of mama duck in protective-threatening mode.








2. (Preamble: When I was in eighth grader at Bank Street in New York City, the whole grade visited DC in May.) The month of May seems to be the “school visit to DC” month. Damn: Hoards of school groups covered the Mall area. They were in my way, with their matching T-shirts or caps (a modern paranoia of losing kids; my eighth grade didn’t wear matching neon tees). I noticed that one spot on the far side of the Capitol Reflecting Pool seems to be the preferred class photo stage. A group in white tees was arranged on the few steps there. At least two other groups waited for their chance. Who knew?

I made my way up Capitol Hill. At the top, I dodged school groups waiting in line for the underground Capitol Building Visitor Center. When I was 14, I wondered why DC was so interesting. Still do. I know, I know, American history, the federal government, blah, bah, blah. 

As I returned along the south side of the Mall on the gravel, one group of kids showed off by making fun of the local runners, me included. The boys tried to outpace me and each other, pointed, laughed, “There’s another one!”  Dude, you all are, like, 14, and I have already run at least seven miles. Are there no runners where you come from? Shut up, youngsters, no one is impressed. Yes, I know you are bored. Come up with something else.

3. Taking into account at least 24 hours of heavy rain the previous week combined with high tide on the tidal Potomac River, the cement walk around Haines Point was mostly flooded. Park benches were standing in at least a foot of water, the base of many cherry trees were engulfed as well. The asphalt of Ohio Drive was fine until I nearly reached the point. I now know the lowest point of the road around Haines Point. Even as tried to avoid the many inches of standing water by veering into the interior grass, my sneakers were soaked.

4. Realizing that I needed to run the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia to the Mount Vernon Trail to make my distance goal without having to drag myself past my parked car, which is demoralizing, I ran up the steps up at the end of the Haines Point portion of my run, and turned onto the bridge’s footpath. A cyclist passed in the opposite direction. He said either “congratulations” or “evacuations” to me. Hm. I was wearing a Marine Corps Marathon tee, and the Pentagon was in sight. No one has ever congratulated me when I wear a race tee. I remember cycling to the Mount Vernon trail on September 11, 2001, and seeing the smoke rising. Evacuations did and still do happen in this town. Damn. I didn’t bring my smart phone with me to check. Was he warning me? I looked for smoke, listened for sirens. Nothing. Perhaps he just said “salutations,” but that’s just silly. I have to assume “congratulations.” Thanks!

Friday, May 30, 2014

dialogue with my mother's journal

So often, I want to call my mother and commiserate about having a different, outlying kid. This is not just about Iz, but also a selfish desire to know my own history through her eyes. I remember being so unhappy in elementary and middle school. Those eight years helped shape who I am now and reveal things about me that are both interesting and uncomfortable. But I do not know how my mother saw my unhappiness (and she saw it, for sure) or how it affected her.

My Iz, now 10, is more social than I was, though he can be deeply both anxious and sad. He is as quirky, awkward and as much in his own head as I was (am?), but he attends the Lab School of Washington, which is for "bright students with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences." He has friends of equal and ranging quirk. (I love it.)

But I cannot call my mother; I have not been able to for almost seven years. Again, I turn to her journals, those journals she wanted me to burn and never read. I find I need them. Her real, personal voice is still accessible, there to reassure.

Her journal pages from 1982 are typed on pages of lined, yellow legal paper. These pads were a staple in our house, in her office, by the phone, on the kitchen table. I turned 11 that May, near Iz’s age.

She does not write tons about me, which I respect because I cannot stand the thought of my own life revolving around my children, and I wouldn't want hers to have, though I know she loved me more than anything (no exaggeration). I do, however, pop up here and there. On May 2, she writes:

“Today is one of the most wonderful days of recent years. I feel alive again, as if I can indeed realize what it is my mind. It’s a funny, powerful feeling of utter satisfaction and possibility. So that this apartment, this life, which I see as never changing, sometimes confined and imprisoning, seem trembling with newness. First of all, it is well and truly spring. Lovely, lovely. Campus is beautiful, instead of being this dreary place along whose walk I carve a furrow with my footsteps. Classes will be over Wednesday, and I have practically four months to myself. There’s the MacDowell Colony, and I think I shall go to Ireland in August, if I finish The Woman Who Said Mouse. Caity has had a splendid school report, Lisa telling me Friday that she is particularly bright and has become one of the class, a person to whose birthday party children want to go. (Sometimes strikes me as a strange criterion for adjustment and success, but Caity is very happy.) Her summer arrangements seem good.”

My favorite phrase: “along whose walk I carve a furrow with my footsteps.” That woman could write, even when the words were to be private. I love that image of the furrow along the Columbia Campus walk; I close my eyes and can imagine a surreal image of the walk and a dark figure walking an actual furrow. I recall that real walk in an instant. I made my own furrows, walking to Bank Street every morning for five years, then to the 116th Street subway station when I went to high school in Brooklyn, to St. Ann’s, then again as a 20-something, returned to my city after college, for various jobs and grad school on that very campus.

But, oh, my poor young Caity self. (I will still answer to that name.) How I hated elementary and middle school. I do remember the year with Lisa (teachers went by their first names at Bank Street), and it was one of the better ones. But it sounds as if it took me a while to “become one of the class,” implies that I was an awkward outsider for at least the beginning of the year. I am not at all surprised. How my mother worried. I would have, too.

(Aside: my summer plans “good”? Was that the summer of that disastrous, hated first year of camp? I certainly was not “part of the cabin” that year. I pretended to be sick all the time to be in the nurse’s cabin. I begged my mother to take me home, but she was obviously booked. Was I also doing something with my father? I cannot exactly recall.)

On my 11th birthday, May 8, my mother’s mood was dampened by an uneasy last class (she taught fiction writing at Columbia) and the arrival of the author copies of Games of the Strong: “An ugly little book. Tiny print, out of proportion acknowledgements, and ugly red printing on that beautiful blue photograph. It looks crude, amateurish…So there is something of a letdown.” I did not know she disliked the cover and layout. Hm.

Maybe it wasn’t the class or the book, but rather her worries about me. She writes:

“And perhaps it is Caity’s birthday. Today. I am glad that Gordon is giving her her birthday picnic. I couldn’t have done it alone. But I am worried that the children won’t turn up, and that she won’t have friends there for the sleepover. At least Katarina and Christina are sleeping over. Sarah and Lola refused the invitation at the last minute. Lola said she had something else to do. Sarah said she had a friend coming over after all. Caity said that meant Lola was going to Sarah’s. She said Sarah hasn’t been all that nice to her recently. I asked her if her feelings were hurt, and she said they were. She really doesn’t talk about that kind of thing. And I can’t bear her to be hurt by other children. Am I uneasy because I have given her so many presents, and it isn’t the presents that make her happy? She loves the little unicorn and Pegasus best, and the $1.00 headband from Woolworths. The bike, well, the enthusiasm has waned, but that’s because I have frightened her about safety, about getting mugged.”

Where was I going to ride my bike nearby West 116th Street in Manhattan without at least some threat in those New York days? Anyway...

I do not remember Sarah or Lola fondly, so I now don’t care that they rejected me. They were run-of-the-mill mean girls. For example, the next school year, in a moment of wildly misplaced trust, I told Sarah I was “in love” with Adam, and she promptly told him, and he avoided me from then on. That sucked and further cemented my outsider status.

I marvel at how aware of the social dynamics I was. I was sensitive but not savvy enough to fit in or navigate. I have frequently used the same phrasing to describe Iz: “sensitive but not savvy.” He is a darling, but he has had some social issues over the years, been hurt or confused. He does not navigate easily in large groups. At least he does not face the constant social challenges at school that I did. I do, however, recall that something went on earlier this school year when his declared “best friend” was being cruel to him for a few weeks. Iz was so confused by the turn of events, but they are buddies again.

My mother was sensitive. I am the apple to her tree in that and other ways, and I can imagine my hard times, my quirkiness, my sadness, affected her deeply. Iz’s do me. Now I know a little more; I am not alone. I wouldn't have it any other way, though. I want to be tuned into my children, but the connectedness is also very hard sometimes. Like my mother, I also want to be caught up in my own life, have my own things going on, and not just be focused on my offspring. I do my best. Like my mother, I need my own space, and I do not write only about my children. That would be dull.


(For another time: I wonder about how being the only child of a single mother has shaped me, and how her caution affected me. My mother was always very aware of the possibilities, dangers, of New York City living in the 1970s and 1980s. Hell, the car battery was stolen from her Dodge Dart twice when she risked parking on Morningside Drive. She pulled the curtains of the street-facing windows in our fifth floor apartment at night, so no one could see in. But she didn’t hover; she was not a helicopter parent. I don’t find myself overly fearful, perhaps that is my reaction. I often don’t pull the curtains or drop the blinds, and I live in a house. Something to think about.)

Saturday, January 04, 2014

being bullied

I spent many years of my life being bullied. I have not recently dwelled upon it, but I have not forgotten. (I know I am not alone or special here.)

Listening to the TEDRadio Hour from January 3, 2014, I was caught up by the theme of “overcoming.” But I was especially struck by Shane Koyczan'stalk about being bullied as a child.

On any old day, I will remember that, yes, I was teased and criticized, felt pretty much a total outcast in elementary school. I don’t often use the word “bullied,” but, yes, I was. From 1st grade through 8th grade, I faced all sorts of bullying: having my baseball cap taken off my head and tossed around the school bus as the horde laughed in 1st grade; being called freckle faced and fat in 3rd grade by a boy who himself was freckled and actually chubby (I had not yet hit my chubby phase and was still lean); being challenged to a fight in 4th grade by a boy who thought I was not enough of a girl to be covered by the social prohibition against hitting girls; having my secret crush revealed to the boy by a popular girl I mistakenly trusted in 6th grade; being ridiculed by the “mean girls” in 8th grade for wearing a vintage 1950s pink satin ball gown with an Army surplus green pullover and grey slouchy boots. (“Did you make that dress?” *Sneer.*)

I was safe and even outgoing and social in nursery school and kindergarten. And I was fine and found my own way in high school. I was not always happy during these earlier and later phases, but I was not bullied. High school actually offered me relief, which is not true for many.

But eight years of all sorts of bullying left their mark. I, like Shane Koyczan, remember begging to stay home, crying about going to school, faking being sick to avoid school. Like him, I still always take the side of the underdog because I relate.

I have strengths and weaknesses influenced by my experiences: I embrace being myself, whether I fit in or not (which does not always mean I am confident, but I am myself); I am open minded and don’t tend to judge others (I have not been kind every moment of my life, but I have not bullied); I can react with unintended anger when teased by a loved one; I have some social anxiety and do better one on one or in small groups; I am sensitive to criticism.

I think being bullied has shaped me more that I have recognized. Yes, it seemed part of my past, but listening to this TED talk opened the memory gates up. I can see how I was shaped and damaged, but also how I recovered, for better and worse.

Bullying is clearly powerful and damaging. It is not "nothing," "only words" or "just how kids are."

PS: If you are interested in following Shane Koyczan on Twitter, here he is

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston: finishing a marathon


I have not actively aspired to run Boston, though I have run five marathons and am an avid runner and racer of shorter distances, for 15 or 16 years now. The only time I came close to qualifying was in 1999, during my first marathon, the NYC one, in my hometown. And the BAA has gone and made the times even harder to reach. Now that I am in my 40s, I can aim for the old time of 3:50; the newer one of 3:45 is a much iffier. I am aware of the possibility, but I am not scrambling to make it reality, and I am shy about trying to raise thousands of dollars from friends and family for an alternative charity entry.

So I was not running in Boston yesterday, April 15, 2013, tax day, Patriots’ Day, mere days before the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the day gun control legislation was reaching some sort of milestone in Congress. I don’t think I know anyone who was running, either.

If I were running Boston, I would likely have finished a tad before the explosions, in around 3:55. The finish clock read 4:09 and change. I probably would have been in the post-finish area, walking, sweaty, relieved, even euphoric, wrapped in a mylar blanket, drinking water, eating a banana. I would have heard the booms and the screams. Seeing the videos over and over, I can put myself there all too easily.

When I finish a marathon, I may be in some pain, but I am elated. I love seeing that finish line. I feel tough, and I feel safe. The bombing in Boston has shaken me more deeply than I can express; it is tapping bits in my subconscious that I cannot extract.

Of course I can imagine myself or spectating loved-ones being in that very kind of spot. What really panics me is I know how those runners felt--safe and happy.

This is terrorism, whether domestic or international. (I lean toward domestic, though I have little evidence to back up that gut feeling.) This was an attack directed at innocents, targeted to gain media attention, determined to make us scared.

I am out of words for now, though there is so much more to learn, sort out, feel, say, write. I am thinking of all those who were there. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

how my atheism works


My essay, "The Atheist and Her Soul," is up on Pavarti K. Tyler's blog in her Roots of Faith series. I may work it into something longer and more detailed. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

dream (combining a toilet and a washing machine?)


Last night, I dreamed about traveling to Sydney, Australia, with my sons, to see my mother. The travel was, as it usually is for me in dreams, confusing, last-minute, fraught with mix ups.

My mother’s apartment was dark, with rooms off of a long hall (but it was not my childhood New York City apartment on 116th Street, which had a super-long hall). My mother was there the whole time, but, as usual, I cannot remember anything she said (if anything).

I tried to have dinner with my stepbrother’s partner (a step-sister not-in-law?) the night before I was to return home to the States, but we could not find each other in the city. Mobile phones and texting failed us. I ran through unfamiliar and dark parks, feeling like I was always going to long or wrong way.

After the failed dinner, I returned to my mother’s apartment and the boys were asleep. When I had to do a load of laundry in the toilet, I questioned the wisdom of combining the two appliances (if you can call a toilet an appliance).

We were to leave first thing in the morning. My bags were not packed, and I was trying to dye my hair fire-engine red (which I have actually been wanting to do for a while). I worried as the flight time approached, my clothes were still in the toilet, the boys were still asleep, and I was running out of hair dye.

Friday, December 30, 2011

my mother's ski sweater

In honor of what would have been my mother's 72nd birthday, today, I wanted to write something thoughtful to honor her. I wrote some notes about what she called the "clothing museum." It included clothes of hers and mine that were special in some way. I have not finished this piece for many reasons. I will get to it, soon. For today, I will post one photo of one item from that museum: my mother's ski sweater from the 1950s. It was handmade, tiny and wool.
I would never have worn it--even if it would fit me--because wool makes me itch. And I never saw my mother wear this sweater. But I picture her in it when I read her short story, "The Circle," in The Hottest Night of the Century, which revolves around a skiing trip.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

yet another...

As I wrote in my last post, I rarely see things that are my style in the NY Times, though everything presented is usually in fabulous taste of some sort or another. But today I again saw a dress I would wear. I am shocked. Am I getting old? Or is style NY Times style finally catching up with me? (I will fess up that I don't know who Zoe Saldana is.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

ads, airbrushing and clothes I want

(Was it more than a month ago that I collected these photos? Damn. At least the topics—advertising and fashion—are not especially time-sensitive.)

I was reading The New York Times Magazine (or is it actually, really T Magazine now?), probably not on the Sunday (April 17) it came out, rather during the week following. A few photos caught my attention.

The first set of photos fall under the “ads and airbrushing” category. As I flipped through the mago, I immediately noticed a contrast between two ads featuring “older” women and how they employed airbrushing. Sure, Lauren Hutton (67) has more than 10 years on Kim Cattrall (54), if I have my math right, so Hutton should look older. But I am also sure the Cattrall has some wrinkles, or at least pores. Need I say, I like the Hutton ad better. Of course, both women are lovely, I just wish Kim was not so willing to submit herself to such heavy, obvious airbrushing. Should Alexis Bittar be credited and Olay not? Both have chosen not-young women as centerpieces for their campaigns. I suppose that is a start. But I love that we can see Hutton’s cleavage wrinkle.

The second set of photos accompanied fairly vapid articles on Charlotte Dellal (“Footprints”) and Cate Blanchett (“Vanishing Act”). I love the latter, but I don’t really know who the former is. Here, I saw clothes I actually admired, coveted for myself, and I usually see little of my own style in the NY Times.

I WANT these clothes (putting any possible airbrushing aside).







Tuesday, February 15, 2011

god discussion with Iz

Iz and I have our best discussions in the car.

Iz has decided he wants to create a city out of boxes for his Godzilla-themed birthday (which is two months away). He discovered a new way of painting windows—with a single vertical brushstroke. But he wanted ideas for other types of windows so his building would look different. I picked him up at school a few days ago, and, on the 30-minute drive home, I pointed out the wide variety of window types in downtown DC through Capitol Hill. While none are Godzilla-city skyscrapers, they offered inspiration.

We passed a small church on Independence Avenue with arched stained-glass windows. I have always loved how you can see the leaded lines, darkened colors and vague forms from the outside of a stained-glass window. I pointed and said to Iz, “Look at the arched windows of that church.”

Iz asked, “What is a church?”

I paused, stumbled over some words, “On Sundays, some people meet at the church to talk about god. It is like a school where you learn about god, for those who believe in god.” I know, a simplistic description, but functional.

I can’t actually remember if Iz asked, “Why don’t we go to church?” But I knew he was thinking it.

So I answered, “We don’t go to church because I don’t believe in god.”

Iz said, “I kind of don’t believe in god and I kind of do.”

I asked, “That’s cool. If there is a god, what is he or she like?”

Iz replied, “Big. Much bigger than people, and god is a girl.”

I appreciated that, “I do think that if there is a god, she would be female—or like a female.”

Iz said, “And god would live in the clouds.”

I said, “I think god wouldn’t really have a body like we do—I think she would be something different. I do believe there is power in nature, a way that things work that makes sense, that seems to be come from a thoughtful being. Some people call this ‘Mother Nature.’”

Iz said, “Mother Nature is a girl.”

“Yes, she is.”

We then merged onto Kenilworth Avenue and probably started talking about whether he could have a doughnut when he got home.

Friday, September 24, 2010

maybe painting is more my thing

Considering that I have struggled with the writing, and this painting (in progress) feels much stronger, I may be a better painter than writer.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

introverts

We know who we are, and according to the Psychology Today article, "Revenge of the Introvert," we make up 50 percent of the population. 


I have no question that I am an introvert. And this article explicitly explained two of my biggest pet peeves about how non-introverts treat us: 1) pressuring us to "be happy" as if pursuing happiness is the thing to do (it is a very American ideal) and 2) trying to help us become more extroverted, as if that were the desired state. 


An introvert is not necessarily shy, but recharges alone, thrives with time to consider problems and questions, and even likes this kind of rumination. But, and I know this feeling well, introverts often feel alien in the U.S. culture that values extroverts: "As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture." 


Yes. (Though I've not minded feeling different for a long time now.)  

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

chucking it all

I am covered in yellow (washable) paint. That should teach me to wear a smock when painting murals in my son’s kindergarten class.

I have decided to chuck it all these past couple of months. I’ve been following up on academic concerns about my older son, Iz, which has required taking him to and from testing, going to preliminary and follow-up meetings, and being in his kindergarten class often. (He will be fine. He’s just not skilled at following teacher-directed tasks, remembering names of his classmates or the letters and sounds of the alphabet, or following classroom routines. It’ll come.) And I only have 16 hours a week with no children in the house. So I still have almost-3-year-old Az much of the time. I don’t have a lot of time to work.

I signed on to be the flexible parent. It made sense. I work from a home office, so I can control my own hours. But then my main client went bankrupt (more than a year ago now), and I’ve been editing online content for meager pay. So I had less and less work.

And I am lousy at marketing myself (possibly the worst lack of a skill for a freelancer).

So, with all the recent demands, I’ve done little to no work the last couple of months. Yet I am not independently wealthy, so the financial side worries me a lot. But what can I do? I have mostly let the worry go, or buried it so it can give me an ulcer. I can’t be sure which.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

my mother's day

I was born at 9:06pm on Saturday, May 8, the day before Mother's Day. My mother relayed that fact to me every birthday, with affection. She died in 2007; this is my third birthday without her. I remember her reminding me to remember her. How complicated. Happy Mother's Day to my mom, wherever she might be. Love you!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

my purple tutu

I am going to try being one of those runners, one who pulls on a tutu over the running tights. I have bought myself a purple one -- seemed the best color choice. (I'm not such a pink person.) And I am excited about the whole idea. I enjoyed picking out my ensemble for the race more than I usually do.

I am wearing it for the St. Patrick's Day 8K tomorrow. The race is a festive dress-up kind of one, though a green tutu might be more appropriate -- but I don't have one of those. And the race is a shorter distance, so I can test run the tutu for next weekend's National Half Marathon. That's the ultimate plan, people! 


My time goal? Around 40 minutes. But I have not run a race since November 2009, and I've had an injury, so we'll see what I can pull out, especially in a tutu. But I also don't care so much about being faster and faster anymore. Though I still like being kind of fast. And, in a purple tutu, kinda fast will also be fun.


Look for me if you are in downtown DC on Sunday morning at 9am -- Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street!


The next question: How do I wash the tutu?