Wednesday, October 18, 2017

one thing

(my teaching "blog")
When the metoo hashtag started spreading, my initial reaction was, “oh shit, this is on point and really appropriately uncomfortable for men,” instantly followed by, "nothing will come of this."  This was right around when I first heard the Zeynep Tufekci TED Radio Hour, about the paradoxically self-defeating nature of social media based movements, and it helped me justify inaction.  And even though I am writing this and pushing back on the preceding emotion, a majority of me still believes it is futile to try.

So for me, the first #metoo I saw was a woman I used to date, and it wasn’t contextualized, so when I learned what it meant the next morning I reconsidered it, and thought “what a brave move” but I had already known since we, you know, talked about shit, so it wasn’t really a shock.
Then more flooded in, and my reaction was “well, this is a good thing to be happening and still doesn’t come as a shock to me; I like to imagine I’m a feminist, and enough of my female friends have shared being sexually assaulted that I understood the magnitude of the problem, even if I couldn’t process it (sort of how I understand that our galaxy has 200,000,000 stars). But, like all internet conceived movements, it is destined to die, because it is not tied to physical action, and it is only circulating in the echo chambers."  

Using a random best guess, what like 90% of men have committed something that constitutes sexual assault?  Many likely regret it, but the lion’s share, I have to believe, are committed by repeat offenders who don’t even acknowledge that their behavior is problematic.  I say this not to suggest “not all men” but because these people are likely not inside of the #metoo social media echo chamber, and so to highlight the futility of this effort because so many offenders are either never going to see this social movement, or quite frankly aren’t going to care. 

Okay so then a couple more posts came up, which finally got me to contribute to an online political conversation for the first time.
First, a male friend posts:
The response on thefacebook was largely positive, and I thought, well this is a good step and it is on point with many self reflective men's past experiences, but really he is describing sexual harassment, not admitting he has assaulted or raped someone, and I have my doubts that anyone ever will come out and admit that.  He is right that it will never be a trending hashtag.  The ubiquity of the experience I am seeing women share includes this sort of problem behavior, but is far more extensive and disturbing.  His next post was

Now, I added this for the juxtaposition, but I actually think there is something positive to be said for being willing to engage in political advocacy and also do normal everyday b-side comedy routines.  Whether you come from a lens of privilege or you live with an inequitable reality every day, we are all complex real people and more than the inequities we face, so I like the idea that he or anyone could post about more than just politics.  Upon re-reading, this is sort of just a non-sequitur. 

The next event I encountered was the most graphic and visceral of the #metoo posts I saw:
If this doesn’t incense you, you’re probably one of the millions of people who will likely never read this, and never care- aka the fundamental problem both with sexual assault and with social media movements.

I wanted to reach out to this person, and I wanted to say:
“I hear this and I understand it is fucked up.  I want to do something, and consider myself an ally.  I can and do stand in solidarity, and encourage men to have conversations in the open and to check their behavior when I see it, but this is too small a step.  The rate of return is too low, and we don’t have 600 years to see this change happen.  It needs to happen now.  Please tell me what I can do, how I can help.”

But this is problematic for many reasons. 
1) it is genuinely hard to do- it is uncomfortable, which is a root issue here, of course.
2) it puts the impetus on women to tell men how to fix the problem.  Also, why in the world should they even know the answer to this?
3) if I were a woman getting that message I might think “sharing a story like this is hard enough, step off.”
That last one is more subjective I suppose.  But again, from my perspective, is part of #1 for men, that it is hard, because I don’t know how another person may react and thus don't want to risk it.

Okay the next thing that happens is a third friend reposts this:

I’m not tech savvy enough to know how to do the crediting bit (I can try to hyperlink it) but it is worth reading.  Her post had a lot of good ideas, but as I read it I kept thinking, yes try I do these things already.  I read Rebecca Solnit (who incidentally has a lot to teach me about being a feminist, writing beautiful prose, all while embodying a diverse and multifaceted array of interests mentioned above); I buy science toys for my little female cousin, and will also for my niece to-be.  

2 of them gave me pause:

Yeah I don’t really do this very often, but I should.

Have I done this?  I wasn’t on the lookout for it, so it is nearly impossible to say, after the fact.  I hope not, but genuinely maybe, if not probably.  Well fuck.

Okay, but really the takeaway that I had from reading this was that yes, this was a thoughtful and solid list, but the audience it hits is the audience who is willing and interested in change, and the suggestions it gives are essentially to change people one at a time.  One at a time needs to happen, sure, but what makes
stop?  It is not enough that I would not remain silent, or that I work to be that same influence on men I know and students I teach.  It just isn’t enough.

Er, conclusion?:
I hate when things I read bring up complex issues and have literally no constructive solution.  If you’re still reading, this is one of those.
But I think maybe the answer lies where I started, with Zeynep Tufekci.  Labor rights, women’s lib, civil rights, Stonewall, the successful movements of the last century happened without social media, and they happened both with painstaking legwork as well as emotion fueled catalysts, but their success is unified in that people were deliberately pre-organized, with human relationships at the center (oh for sure also see Solnit on this).  Someone is doing that work right now.  But it is hard to know who.  Social media is the tool, but a viral hashtag is not the answer, we need organization.
And this is true of everything all of the social media-borne social causes.

I have never contributed to a political movement on social media because it feels inherently frivolous.  I probably won’t again because it still does even as I write.  This may seem like a statement of privilege, and I can see that it is in some ways.  But at the same time not all people of color, and not all women need to post on social media as their form of activism, so it not incumbent that forward thinking people with privilege need to contribute to social media as their medium.  And I want to contribute more, only somewhere else.

Okay I have an idea.  Again, after this post I’m stepping away from social media, and I am encouraging you to also.  To me, that doesn’t mean not to use it, but it means it should be part of a strategy.  The Keystone/Dakota pipeline protests feel like a good example of this.  Whether they succeed or not, the movement uses social media as a tool, not as the basis or nerve center.
I have a thing I’ve been meaning to do, and I’m going to do it in the next three weeks.  Feel free to message me privately or ask me in real life if I get it done, to hold me accountable.
That’s where I’ll start.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


That is to say, you all raised over $4000 to help students in Boston Public Schools, and I, somehow, finished the Boston Marathon!!!

So, for all those who dare, here is the extended version of my Boston Marathon experience.

First, I have a confession to make. I didn't tell anyone, but two weeks ago I went for a 12 mile run and pulled my IT Band in my lower left leg, resulting in terrible shooting pains whenever I took a step or bent my knee. After the run, I could barely walk for 2 days, and I saw a physical therapist who told me to ice it and not run, but that it would probably be fine by marathon day.

I set out on Monday from Hopkinton feeling fine, but after Mile 1, I could feel my knee start to ache again, and by Mile 3 it was full blown and I had to hobble into the medical tent at Mile 4. They gave me ice and asked me to sit, but I told them I wanted to keep going, and they taped the ice to my knee so I could walk with it.

Keep in mind, over 6 months I had run over 400 miles in training for this, so pain at Mile 4 was essentially both unheardof and crushing. All I could think was, 3 weeks ago we did a 21 mile training run along the course; it was grueling but manageable. And here I was at Mile 4, hurting to walk the same steps I had confidently run so recently.

With the ice, and 6 Advils, I got a second wind and managed to jog the 3 miles to the next med tent. They wrapped my calf with an Ace bandage, taped on some new ice, and I was on my way again, walking and hobble-running.

The next med tent gave me fresh Motrin and ice, but the real thing that kept me going was knowing the promise I made to all of you that I would finish. The bulk of runners were long gone, and even the famous screaming girls of Wellesley were but a dull roar by the time I hit them at mile 12. I kissed a baby on the head and vowed I would make it to the finish line run walk or crawl, even if they were picking up the cones around me (which in fact they did, a few hours later).

This dragged on, until at Mile 15, my family appeared to cheer me along! Rachel ran about a mile with me, feeding me grapes and lifting my spirits. But the time I started up Heartbreak Hill, most fans were gone and the rope/fence barriers to the course were down, so I was running along with spectators headed back to their cars, but the remaining few were great, still cheering on the runners who probably needed it most.

It was around this point when I realized that not only was I slowing, but my split time was too slow to finish in the required 6 hours, although I was still close to this goal. This fact spurred me on for the final 10 miles, knowing that, maybe just barely, I could still finish within the maximum allotted time (before they stop timing and giving medals) Every mile and every few km, a clock was set up with the official time, and ever so slowly I started gaining on it, pulling into the lead, pushing my pain to the background.

I rounded the turn at
Cleveland Circle, Mile 22, and finally the crowds started to increase. By this point, they had reopened many of the roads, and taken down all but one table at the water stops. The runners were spread pretty thin, but people would look you in the eye as you passed to say "you can do this." I smiled and said thank you to each person right back. And I meant it each time. I was power walking 1 minute, running 2-3.

At mile 24, my thigh cramped. I nearly buckled over with 2 miles to go. I couldn’t walk, I could only run (running being a loose term), which was awful because at Mile 24 you're pretty tired even without extra injuries, but good because I couldn’t afford to walk anymore if I wanted to stay under 6 hours. Under Mass Ave, right on Hereford, left onto Boyleston, three blocks to go. Smiling ear to ear, I let out what was later describing as a terrible sounding war cry, and the crowd responded.

All those people were cheering for me (I know this because there were no other runners left on the road) as I victoriously ran the final blocks. I saw my family cheering for me one last time, and happily crossed the finish line.

I could barely move, it took 15 minutes to hobble to the water, food, and trophy stations, before I could stop at the medical tent for a good icing. I stumbled into the Weston hotel for our team after-party, to discover glorious free beer and a few patient souls who stayed to greet me.

I ran the Boston Marathon in 5 hours 56 minutes, among the last 100 finishers. A good time to beat, but maybe I’ll wait a couple more years before I try again.

Thank you everyone who donated, you are amazing!!! not only did you help a great cause, but you really did keep me going, especially those first 15 miles when I wanted to quit from the pain, but couldn’t let you down.

Thank you Sherman tribe, for surrogate taking me in and helping me, financially yes, but with kindness and support most importantly.

Thank you, Boston Partners and all my teammates, for this amazing opportunity, and for being so great to train with for the last 6 months. Jess, for being my adopted running partner. Erin, for modeling determination and work ethic. Kelly, for motivating me with our friendly rivalry, which once pizza money comes in, I think I won. Laura, no thanks for getting so many dang individual donors… just kidding… Pamela, Judy, and Wendy, co-team mom's, you all were wonderful. I need to stop naming people because if I leave only one person out they'll feel bad, but everyone was just great!

Thank you Sope, Dave, and Tommy, my roommates, for coming to my events, putting up with my whining all the time, and all that.

Thank you Mom and Dad, for everything, basically. You helped me raise so much money with your efforts, and more importantly you supported me every step of the way, and seeing you along the course and at the finish was an amazing gift!

Thank you Rachey! GP, for being there at every step, convincing me to do this, helping me along the way, giving me foot massages (albeit often begrudgingly), buying me congratulatory breakfast this morning, and so much more, but mostly for being amazing.