Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cutting in Front of Black Men in Lines

So, I'm racist.

I'm only slowly wrapping my brain around what that actually means. I don't burn crosses, use racial slurs, or kick small children of any skin tone. I try my best to be polite whenever I can. But something has become painfully clear to me in the last month: all these things are true and I am still a racist. The fundamental assumptions of racism are in my very bones. I don't wear Confederate flags or wear White Power t-shirts, but you know what I DO do?

I cut in front of black men waiting in line. 

I probably would never have noticed except that I've done it twice in the last two weeks. The first was at the post office. The post office in my town is pretty small, and the "line" is an anomalous concept when there are only a couple of people there. When I entered, there was only two clerks working, both assisting someone. Standing roughly at where the line might be, if there was one, was a black gentleman doing something on his phone. 

Being the polite, considerate white girl I am, I walked up to this gentleman and asked, "Are you in line?"

He responded, but I didn't quite catch what he'd said. Maybe he had an accent I wasn't expecting. Maybe he mumbled. In any case, I heard "Svlsndlfkser," unaccompanied by any clarifying gesture as he still had both hands on his phone. 

"Okay, thanks!" said I, politely, and stepped up to the edge of the counter that is where the head of the line is when there's a line. I didn't really plan to. My brain went into awkward-social-situation panic mode, the thought of saying "Sorry, what was that?" made me want to die, and my feet had just stepped me forward with all the polite urgency of stepping through a door that someone is holding open.

And then, as I waited, I started second-guessing myself. What HAD he said? Had he said he was in line? Surely not, because if that were the case, he'd be correcting me, right? He'd be saying "Hey, miss, I said I was next!" And there are lots of reasons for people to NOT be in line at the post office. He could be looking up an address, or waiting for someone, or any one of a hundred things.

He was doing none of those things. I stepped up to the next available clerk, and thirty seconds later, he stepped up to clerk number 2 whose last customer had just left. 

I was horrified. I'd gotten it wrong. My mind reeled with analysis. Was this just one of those silly misunderstandings not worth mentioning, or was it a manifestation of my white privilege? How should I make it right? Had he noticed?

I screwed up my courage, and as we were both leaving the post office, I apologized for misunderstanding and cutting the line. He gave me a look--a very eloquent look of "Are you now going to waste MORE of my time with your white guilt, lady?" and left, uninterested in standing around to listen to my self-flagellating post-colonial analysis of the situation. 

Well, lesson learned, right? 


Because last week at Ikea, I freaking DID IT AGAIN.

I was coming up to the checkout line with my arms full of a picture frame, a frying pan lid, and several bottles of sparkling juice (you know how Ikea is). Coming up from the opposite direction was, you guessed it, a young black man (not the same one, thank goodness) pushing a cart with a flat-pack box on it. We converged. 

And without thinking, without hesitating, with a polite smile, I hustled quickly into line ahead of him. Every bone in my body knew that the polite, the courteous, the ladylike thing to do was to move quickly and get my shopping done and get out of his way as soon as possible, to minimize the inconvenience to this other person. 

"Hey," said the checkout clerk, "I'm going on break, so I need to close this line after you guys."

"Oh!" said I. "Well, I'll just go to another line, then." I turned and smiled at the man behind me. "You can go ahead."

"Yeah," said he, pointing to the black woman in line ahead of me, "Because I'm with her."

The bottom dropped out of my stomach. 

I didn't even check. I didn't make so much as a ceremonial gesture towards the "After you . . . no, after you" game of which Minnesotans are so fond. I just expected that man to yield to me, the way I expect an escalator stair to move up as I step on it. I was polite, I was courteous, I was smiling and friendly, but I expected him to yield to me and acted accordingly. 

It's a funny word, "expect." We hardly ever use it in the right context. In school, I mostly heard it in terms of behavior: "I expect everyone here to be quiet and attentive while I'm talking." What those teachers all meant, of course, was that they didn't expect anyone to be quiet and attentive--they just wanted that to happen. If they had expected it, there'd have been no need for the announcement. The teacher expected all the students to continue being stuck to the floor in accordance with the laws of gravity, to keep breathing, to blink on a semiregular basis. The teacher was ordering them to be quiet precisely because quietness could not be expected and needed to be enforced.

I have never in my life given a black man a lecture on how I expect him to step back and let me go first in line. But I do expect it. My foot goes forward automatically, on the assumption that this is how people interact in the world. I don't stop to think "Hey, is this guy joining his wife, who is already in line ahead of me? Is this man just passing the time waiting for a post office clerk by playing a round of Candy Crush? Should I maybe step back and let someone else go first, in a politeness that feels to me to be extraordinary but might actually just be the baseline, ordinary, normal politeness that this man should be able to expect me to show?" I've never stopped to think. And now I've left wondering how many times in my life I've cut in front of a black man in line and don't even remember doing it. 

I am white. I am privileged. My sense of what is right, proper, appropriate, and normal is skewed by those facts. I don't get to fall back on a sense of my own politeness as a defense against accusations of racism. I've got to do more than that. Part of me wants to blame those guys for not calling me out--Why didn't you just say "Hey, Lady, I was here first!"?--but I know that's not fair. I know what might happen to a black man calling out a white woman in public for being racist and rude. I might protest to myself that I wouldn't have reacted badly, fought for my stolen spot in line, cried 'reverse racism' and 'unreasonable' and 'mean' and 'harassment' . . . but even if I wouldn't, how is he to know that? By the 'I'm Not One Of THOSE White Women" t-shirt I'm always wearing? (Just kidding. I don't own such a shirt. And if I did, I wouldn't be entitled to wear it, as I clearly AM one of those white women--the ones who cut in front of you in lines and think it's totally normal.)

The burden of observation and correction is on me alone. This is my problem to solve. My racism to observe and address. This month I noticed it. Next month I get to start trying to fix it. And on the way, let's hope I notice other unkindnesses that I inflict upon the world without conscious thought. I know they're there. After all, I am racist. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Trump Era; or, The Reign of the Bullies

I remember being bullied.

Anyone who thinks that bullying is just a normal phase of growing up, part of the process of learning to navigate society, never had to endure it. It’s hard to articulate to adults what bullying is, because it’s part of the invisible social fabric that kids weave among themselves. These kids exist to succeed and rejoice, and these kids exist to be ridiculed. Everyone in the middle is scrambling to get into the former category and stay away from the latter. Laughing at a bullying victim is a demonstration of one’s own superiority: See? I get the joke. I am not like that pathetic victim-thing. I am powerful. See how I laugh.

The victim-thing isn’t human, as such. Its feelings do not elicit empathy, but scorn. Getting it to cry is like winning at Pop Goes the Weasel—a gleeful release of built-up tension as the group watches its self-control crack. A truly skilled player can get it not just to cry, but to rage. That’s extra points: anger is seen by adults, and punished. The overarching authority in its ignorance reinforces the abusive, profitable social order. It’s hilarious.

Adults, at least when I was a kid, just did not get it. My teachers were in my classroom every hour of every day, and didn’t see what was happening to me. They saw an awkward girl unable to play well with others, like this was an inherent quality, part of my temperament. She just cries all the time. She can’t seem to make friends. They didn’t see the steady diet of dehumanization and provocation I got fed to elicit that behavior. Like poking a dog with a stick until it bites you, my classmates poked at me until I broke, over and over and over again.

Metaphorically. They never hit me.

Oh, how I wished they would hit me.

I used to fantasize about it. A bunch of them ganging up on me at recess, stealing my glasses, tripping me when I went to retrieve them, kicking me in the stomach and the head. That would have been so wonderful. Because violence would have been real, tangible, something the adults could see as evidence of what I’d been trying to tell them: I’m not safe here. They might have believed me. They might have taken me seriously.

Of course it never happened. There were just words. And, as I was repeatedly informed, although sticks and stones could break my bones, words could never hurt me.

And of course they didn’t hurt me. My bones were fine. It was my spirit that got broken. I just curled into myself every time I was spoken to. I just kept my eyes on my shoes when I had to interact with a classmate. I just submitted, broken and docile, any illusion of my own equality thoroughly shattered. When I was seated next to a popular boy who didn’t want to be my tablemate, he told me to talk out of turn until one of us got moved. I did it. When I had to be the third person on a bus bench seat, I rested only half of one thigh on the cushion, effectively crouching in the aisle so as not to crowd my higher-status seat companions. On one occasion when a teacher caught another student kicking the trash can full of dodgeballs I was bringing in from recess, and gave the kid a brief lecture on (I paraphrase) not being a dick. I stared at the teacher in astonishment. He clearly didn’t get it. That was what I was for. I knew my place. So did the kicker. The teacher didn’t get it.

The teacher dwelt in a magical world of basic human decency. That, I learned, was adult conduct. I adored adults. Adults were always kind and polite. Patronizing at times, sure, but they never demeaned me and then laughed in satisfaction at my tears the way my peers did. Adults lived by a different code, one in which petty cruelty was a major faux pas, where a fit of crying indicated a failure of the community, where empathy was expected from everyone. I wanted so badly to make it out of middle school and into a world of adults, where I’d be safe.

Well, now I have. And for the most part, it’s been a blessed relief. Adults are sometimes cruel or hurtful, but usually it’s accidental, and often they apologize. Adults are often comfortable with announcing “We shouldn’t do that; it’s mean,” and their words are mostly heard and respected. Adults who fail to follow these rules are quietly, restrainedly shunned. Bullying embarrasses no one but the perpetrator.

But now . . .

But now, now, now . . .

Donald Trump has been elected to be the president. And all the bullies who never discovered the tranquility of adulthood, who still endeavor to make themselves powerful by making other people cry, have emerged from their online lairs to impose upon society their sixth-grade model of how it ought to work. And the President of the United States, the teacher in this national classroom, the authority figure, the standard-keeper . . . he is a bully, too. Go ahead and cry. See how he laughs.

This feels exactly like middle school. I can feel it in my bones—an uncomfortable, humming tension as I ache to hit something and struggle to restrain myself. It’s in my stomach, too, as the nausea of terror, and in my spine, which tries to curl down towards my feet in defense and submission.

Do you know the desperate panic that floods your bones as you scream “I am human! I have feelings! What you’re doing to me is wrong!” at a crowd of people who simply do not care? If you don’t, you may soon. We are entering the Reign of the Bullies.

Are there still adults out there? Are there enough of us to stem the tide of violent words? Do we have the numbers and the collective will to assert that honor is for the compassionate, that dignity is included with admission to the human race, that picking on people is about as acceptable as picking one’s nose?

Please say we can do it. I can’t face sixth grade again. Not alone.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Ten

So remember how I said I wasn't going to run hour-plus sessions anymore? Kinda lied, a little.

This morning was the Fargo Mini Marathon, the last big running event in the area before the cold well and truly sets in. I signed up for it because, well, I did 10K that one time at Katy's house, I might as well get a medal out of it, right?*

Except last night I had a whiny freakout (see Facebook for further details) that extended into morning in the form of weird dreams, from the very plausible (set alarm for 8:45 instead of 6:45, missed race) to the very far-fetched (tidal wave drowns runners, self escapes with a mermaid). So from about 4 a.m. onward, I was waking up, talking myself down, and getting fitfully back to sleep. My bedmate was not pleased.

When 6:45 actually happened, after non-actually happening about five times, I crawled from bed, popped in lenses, braided hair, and put on running tights and race shirt. The weather was supposed to be nice: 62 and sunny. However, the race was starting at 8 a.m., at which point 62 is not feasible. Temp outside was 31. I put on an extra pair of pants and my heavy jacket, whining and grumbling, while the cats whined and grumbled about not getting fed.

Cats fed. Me not fed: there was no breakfast food in the house that didn't require cooking, and anyway I didn't fancy such a long run with an omelet sloshing in my belly. Glass of water. Out the door.

Driving through downtown Moorhead I realize I am, in fact, hungry. And there's a train in my way. I pull through a convenient McD's and grab an egg McMuffin. Train has still not passed by the time I reach the crossing, chomping away on my hot and tasty non-vegetarian non-local non-good-for-me breakfast.

When I reach parking, on the Moorhead side of the river, it's actually no more than deeply cool outside. I swap my heavy jacket for the sweatshirt that lives in my car, grab my phone and headphones and car key, lock up, and head across the river, stuffing the key down my shirt as I haven't any pockets.

The Fargo Civic Center, which is not very big, is packed with that fearsome breed: Spandex-wearing runny-people. I hide in a corner and try not to be noticed by the massive muscly men and whippet-thin women. Many are in blazing pink: apparently, this race is to fund breast cancer research. I feel a little selfish for not having "Running For X, Who Beat Breast Cancer" emblazoned on my clothing in Sharpie. I decide I am running for myself, in honor of the breast cancer I will be developing any minute now (thanks, genetics). Feeling warm and overdressed, I strip off my hoodie and extra pants and stuff them behind some rolled-up mats in a corner. Then, suddenly, the crowd (that a minute ago seemed to be made of nothing but people in skin-tight shirts and capris) is made entirely of people in windbreakers with fuzzy earwarmers. I work harder on hiding. Am I overdressed? Underdressed? Gaah!

I am, as far as I can see, the only person carrying her phone in her hand instead of on an arm strap. I wonder if I will be disqualified. Also my lips are feeling chapped and maybe I have to pee and I forgot to wear a headband and was that Egg McMuffin really a good idea? Man, I am such a wuss.

Gradually, the crowd thins as first the half-marathoners, then the 5K folks take off. I maneuver to the back of the 10K crowd, where I hope the other slow people are congregating. When we start, I feel almost exactly like I'm on the first climb of a roller coaster that I am now seriously regretting. But too late now! We're through the loading bay doors and out on the streets of Fargo. I turn on my zombie run for the day, which is an expedition to someone's garage to collect power tools.

We cross the bridge I just walked over and veer north into the park that edges the Red on the Minnesota side. Even sulky and cold, I can admit that the river, covered in mist and edged in frost, is just beautiful and well worth waking up early for. Maybe not waking up early five times, but still . . .

I'm mostly keeping pace with the folks around me, many of whom are running and walking by turns. I'm using my at-least-I-can-keep-it-up-more-or-less-indefinitely shuffle-jog, which determined walkers can overtake without much effort at all. Oh, well. 2K down; 8 to go.

Then on the path, what do I see? A lost glove! I scoop it up and yank it on, exulting. In addition to being a convenient way to keep my poor sorry fingers at reasonable temp, the glove will also serve very well post-race to be chopped up and made into little sleeves to wear over my toe rings, so I don't scratch the poles during pole class. I've been waiting for one of these gloves to cross my path for weeks now. Ha ha.

We all clomp over a wooden foot bridge onto the North Dakota side as I listen to the Abel Township radio coordinators and the New Canton radio coordinators squabble in my ear. In this park, we pass Mile 2 and its accompanying water/Gatorade station. I slosh down some Gatorade. Then I pass a guy handing out those little packets of energy goo. I've never had one, so I grab it as I go by.

Energy goo, as I learn when I tear the packet open and squeeze a little into my mouth, tastes like all the nauseating regret of a post-candy-binge sugar hangover without the actual pleasure of eating any candy. It tastes like artificial honey and Red 40. I make a face, but swallow anyway. I've already passed all the trash cans, so I'm stuck with it for now. I take a little dollop at a time and let it dissolve on my tongue. This isn't pleasant, but at least it's something to do as I clomp along through the park past Kilometer 4 and listen to the New Canton runners make snide remarks about the living conditions at Abel. The sugar actually keeps me salivating, so my mouth doesn't take on the feel of old packing tape, and makes me keep my tongue down so I don't inhale it and choke.

The zombie mission finishes by Kilometer 5, and the airwaves are taken over by an extremely awkward New Canton DJ. I'm now encountering dozens of folks who have finished the final loop and are on their way back.

By Kilometer 6, I'm being overtaken by people whose level of fitness is weirdly high for people who've been behind me all this way. Then the pacer goes past, and I realize they are the first of the half-marathoners. Sigh. I settle in and keep plugging away at my shuffle-jog.

I've only finished half the goo by the time I hit the aid station again, and throw it away without regret.

Somewhere along here I find a discarded headband. Score! I pull it on and mop the sweat from my face with the glove. New headband. Awesome.

Back through the Moorhead park, now encountering scads of people from the other races headed north. One more dang kilometer. I feel like I should be speeding up, but most of this distance is for getting out of the river basin and back up into downtown, so I figure just not walking is victory enough. And really, my left foot hasn't fallen asleep and I'm not freezing to death, so I'm not doing half-bad really.

I make it across the finish line just inside the Civic Center door at a little over 75 minutes. I snag water and a medal as I pass by and just keep on going, because I know if I stop moving forward my lungs and throat will lose the rhythm they were keeping with my feet, and trip all over themselves, and give me hiccoughs, which at this point would probably kill me. So I walk briskly back outside the building and do a few quick laps around the lawn while I wait for my heart rate to come down. Then, when I feel capable of standing still without choking to death, I head back inside for a peculiar but well-appreciated second breakfast of chicken noodle soup and chocolate milk. My stash of extra clothes is still where I left it. And that was my Saturday morning.

The Zombie tracker informs me that I did every kilometer in somewhere between 7 and 8 minutes (7:01 for the first one! New record!), which is a very good pace for me, for that distance (overtaking half-marathoners be hanged). I want to add some self-deprecating commentary about my slowness and general unfitness to be running, but if now-me made those kind of comments in front of last-February-me, last-February-me (who could barely shuffle-jog for ninety seconds at a stretch, but did it anyway) would be very entitled to kick now-me in the face. So I will forbear, and take the liberty of being proud of myself.

And now I am home, resting my sore self and watching the cats dismember my number.


*Yes, I wanted a medal. Yes, I am a millennial. So sue me. Except don't, because all my disposable income for this month went into registering for this race. Again, because I'm a millennial.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Running . . . From Zombies

Is this a product review? This might count as a product review. Be warned.

Anyway, in my journey towards more reliable foot-based forward propulsion, I have been using two apps: C25K and 10K, both by ZenLabs. These two apps have served me well and faithfully, giving me helpful instructions in my ear to walk, jog, turn around, and quit for the day. And hey . . . free is good.

These apps believe that you should be running 5km in about thirty minutes. HA. No. So when I say I "finished" the 10K app, I mean that I completed its final 60-minute run. I did not actually traverse anywhere near 10 kilometers of ground. Or treadmill track, in this particular case. I happen to know I was going a steady 3.8 mph, because the over-informative treadmill computer told me so and now I can't un-know it.

Anyway (again), I've decided that for right now, 60 minutes is about as long as I want to keep running at any one go. I would, however, like to get batter at covering more distance during that time window. Not much more distance. Just some. Baaaaaby steps.

My original plan was just to start over at the beginning of these apps and step it up a notch: jog where it said walk, run where it said jog. Reasonable plan. I may still adopt it. But just to shake things up, I decided to test something different: zombies.

Zombies, Run!, by Six to Start, is like a Choose Your Own Adventure audiobook with an added twist of GPS stalking/surveillance state. You run. It tells you a story in your ear to explain why you are running. I'm only one chapter in, but I'm guessing the reason is usually going to be zombies.

I was expecting great things from this app, having encountered many positive reviews and junk. Since the app has an actual storyline with some dialogue and stuff worth paying attention to, I jettisoned my usual audio book (Casebook of Sherlock Holmes; nearly finished with the whole collection!) and turned on Pandora for that muzik stuff I keep hearing so much about. I picked the Murray Gold channel. I figured, dramatic, sci-fi, kinda creepy -- perfect zombie music, right?

And really, it all went pretty well. As I wandered through the neighborhood at sunset, I got informed that my helicopter was shot down (by whom? Floating plot thread) and that I needed to get to Abel Township (which is somewhere in England, judging by the accents), but as long as I was passing the hospital, I should pop in and grab some medical supplies and records (what records? Floating plot thread). I got all this handy background information from Sam, our friendly neighborhood radio guy, who talks when he's nervous. He designated me Runner 5, as the previous Runner 5 (with whom, it's implied, he'd been romantically involved) just got infected, so the jersey was up for grabs I guess.

I've got only two complaints with this app so far. The first is that it didn't give me a halfway point, even a coded in-character one, so my dumb self might have gotten halfway to Pelican Rapids before realizing I had no way home. In future, must set my own timer.

The second complaint is, um, that, well . . . It didn't let me cheat.

Let me explain.

Okay, so I'd stumbled across a CDC file (note: why was there a CDC file in England? Or why are all these British people in the US? Does the UK have a CDC, and if so, do they call it that?) that could be very important. Someone hovering over Sam's shoulder hinted strongly that this file was my ticket into the protection of Abel township. I also knew that if I got caught by zombies, they'd take some of my stuff, as app technology has not yet advanced so far that my phone could actually infect me through my headphones. I had lots of stuff to take--I'd found a food, a water, some medicines, an ax (BOSS!), some bullets (but no gun), some underwear, a pair of pants and a pair of shorts (but no shirt, poor me). But I had no way to know if the zombies would take all that stuff, or take my CDC file. And I wanted that CDC file. I wanted it bad.

Last stretch of land to the safety of the town. Sam's telling me they're sending out an armed patrol to cover me. Just gotta outrun the zombies . . .

I'd already outrun some zombies earlier. I'd kicked into a sprint for about thirty seconds when the app informed me they were on my tail. Yaay. Good for me. Except you know what's really hard? Getting your breath back, at a jog, after a sprint. So I was still at two steps to the breath when I reached this climactic finale, which is faster than I want to be breathing.

And guess who's the lead zombie after me? You guessed it . . . The Late Runner 5.

Okay. So the character whose place I am taking in the narrative is chasing after me, no doubt to steal the file that is my ticket to community acceptance, watched nervously by her grieving lover, while unnecessarily creepy Dalek-related music plays in the background and it is now well after sunset, people. Good storytelling, certainly. But good storytelling doesn't necessarily mean good running, particularly if my huffing puffing self suddenly goes into vivid-imagination-induced fight or flight mode, and I just cannot . . . (gasp) . . . flee (gasp) . . . fast enough.

But dang if I'm going to let her get that file.

So I hit pause.

I slow to a walk. I get my breath back. Then I hit play and take off sprinting again.

There's no Sam on the radio.

There's no alert of how close the zombies are behind me.

There's still creepy soundtrack, but I put that on there, that's my fault.

The clocks are all running, but there's no indication that I got back into the story when I hit play. So after a while I slow to my usual shamble. I run past my building and turn around at the corner, in case I just need to wait longer for something to happen. Nope. I walk a couple laps around the complex to bring my heart rate down and wait for news from Sam. Or zombies. Or anybody. Nothing.

Maybe I was just so slow I just died.

Anyway, I make it home, take a shower, feed the cats, and go poking around the app to figure out what went wrong. I'm still not sure what, but eventually I find a big "RESUME" button that was not there before and hit it. Thankfully (because I didn't fancy running laps around my apartment in a towel) the story resumes just as I make it into the gates of Abel township. I get a "Next Time On . . ." teaser, and the episode is marked complete.

So . . . is the previous Runner 5 still alive? Jeez, I hope so. Shame to waste a good foil. Who shot the helicopter? What's in the file? What's my secret mission in this place? (Oh, yeah, I have a secret mission too . . . the chopper pilot told me so before she died in horrible gruesome wreckage.) What is the CDC doing leaving important documentation all over the United Kingdom? And will I ever find a shirt?

Find out next time . . .

. . . when I will set a halfway-point timer, play something in the background that WON'T send my imagination into overdrive, and try not to cheat again.

Or at least try to try.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Further Thoughts On The Running

I have thoughts to add to my previous thoughts on the self-torture that is The Running.

Since posting that last one, I have:

Finished the 5K trainer app
Actually run (very slowly) an actual 5K
Finished the 10K trainer app
But have not yet run 10K

And over the months, some things have changed. Here are some additional little insights:

--If you are doing hills, firstly, you poor thing. Secondly, don't try to go slow on the downhill. It's actually more work. Just fall, and let your feet keep up with you. It will hurt less, and as an added bonus, you will go faster.

--If you are bringing water with you when you run, I highly recommend tossing a tablespoon of lemon juice in your water bottle. Don't even need sugar: just water and lemon is very nice on a dry throat.

--If your brain tells you these words: "Surely we can get this run in before that storm hits", go inside and stay there, you idiot.

But there's one variable that I had not yet encountered at last posting, and it needs to be addressed at some length. I speak, of course, of HEAT.

Formerly, we spoke of cold. Cold is very unpleasant, and a powerful deterrent to doing The Running. But Heat is a different monster entirely. Heat will probably not send you screaming back indoors--at least not at first. Heat is so pleasant-looking. It's bright and blue and cheerful. And it isn't even a little bit cold! How lovely!

I first encountered Heat at the beginning of April. Following my own wise counsel to never run the same route twice, I decided I would start from my place of employment and run through downtown Moorhead and over the pretty bridge up there into downtown Fargo. It was bright and sunny and cheerful outside. All was well.

Except it wasn't.

The thing about most downtowns is: there are no trees.

This is also a major design flaw of most bridges.

By the time I reached my turnaround point, I was gasping like a dying fish. Not because I was running any faster than I'd run last time, or very much farther--It was just the Heat. Weaseling into my lungs and skin and brain and slowly shutting everything down.

About seven minutes from the end of my run, a luckless friend called me.

"Luckless Friend," I gasped, "Tell me . . . a story!"

"What, right now?" asked Luckless Friend.

"YES! Any . . . story. Just . . . keep . . . talking."

Luckless Friend's phone call was much longer than anticipated as the poor faithful soul recounted to me an entirely improvised tale of discovering a ladder to Hell to keep me distracted from my imminent demise. I could relate, as I dragged my only semi-functional body through the last few minutes of torturous, listless jogging. Then I gave my frantic thanks to Luckless Friend, returned to my place of employment, and sat in the break room for twenty minutes sucking on ice cubes until I was reasonably sure I wouldn't vomit all over the inside of my car.

Because yes, Heat will make you vomit. It will do all kinds of nasty things to you, subtle things that you think you can muscle through and are probably just your imagination. They are not. Cold is unpleasant, yes, but when it comes to the Running, heat is downright dangerous.

So if you engage in the Running in a season or location that is susceptible to Heat, please heed this wise counsel:

--First: Do not play chicken with Heat. Do not convince yourself you are tough enough to beat it. You are not. That sun of ours isn't a very big star, in the grand scheme of things, but it is still much bigger than you and is not intimidated by your posturing. You are flammable. Don't forget it.

--Try altering the time of your Running. Go early in the morning or late in the evening. I've discovered that putting my midpoint right at sunset is very useful and comfortable. If you sleep through your early morning and are busy in your late evening, do NOT try running somewhere in the middle of the day anyway. Don't do it. Not safe.

--Find shade. If you have tree-rich neighborhoods, wild forests, river trails, go for those. Again, this is not you being a sissy: this is you having a teaspoonful of common sense.

--Try migrating indoors. No, not on a running track: those are insanely boring (round and round and round) and are populated by Spandex-wearing runny-people. Go for a treadmill instead. Treadmills are kind of weird. The whole "the floor is moving" thing is pretty disorienting, and will make you fall over if you think about it too hard. And treadmills give you WAY too much information about how far you've run and how fast you're going. But they are a space of sacred isolation: no one will challenge you to a friendly race on a treadmill. You can watch a show or something. Put a piece of paper over all the numbers, turn on the X-Files, and chug along. It's dull, but survivable.

--Accept that even with these precautions, sweat will ooze out of every orifice of your skin and make you disgusting all over, no matter how easy you're taking it on yourself. Drink much water. Do much laundry. Embrace the gross.

--Cut yourself some slack. If Heat causes you to miss some runs or cut runs short, GOOD. You should not be out raising your body temperature in that crap. Keep yourself out of the hospital and you can get back to your mighty Running Schedule of Doom (if you have one) when autumn settles in.

--Sunscreen. Duh.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How To Do The Running, Which Sucks

Running sucks.

Let's just get that out of the way right now. It is the least pleasant form of exercise known to modern humans, outside of sportsball. It's painful, boring, lonely, competitive, and often cold or wet or both. It cannot be done in the privacy of one's own apartment.

I have been most determinedly anti-running since my one disastrous year on the cross country team. I joined up because, in my ongoing quest to observe and successfully mimic the behavior patterns of adolescent humans, I noticed a correlation between "people who run cross country" and "people who have much social capital." What I got, instead of an infusion of social capital, was months of runs far beyond my undeveloped capacity and a mix of shunning and humiliation from the team's actual members. Nope. Nope nope nope. Never again. No mas. Done.

And yet, here's the thing. Running may suck, but the ability to do it is dang useful. In an emergency situation several years ago, I tried to run for help and ended up puffing and wheezing and gasping 75% of the way to my goal. My lungs did not care that this was an emergency. They were weak and flimsy, as were my leg muscles and my floppy lazy heart, and could not have gone any farther if there had been a dinosaur after me. My thoughts would eventually have been "Heck with the dinosaur, I need a breather." And then the dinosaur would have eaten me.

So now, after what, nearly twenty years, I, me, my particular run-hating self, am learning to run again. And am discovering that, much like many activities introduced to me in the public school system, the activity itself is not what made the experience hellish. School is just really, really good at presenting everything in such a way that you will hate it forever.

So, as the sun has started creeping back over chilly little Moorhead, Minnesota and "outside" has been launching its annual ad campaign ("Outside! A Nice Place to Be!"), I downloaded a couch-to-5K app onto my phone and began to learn to run on MY terms.

I am now three weeks into this experiment, and the purpose of this blog post is to share with you, dear Reader, insights I have gained on How To Do The Running when The Running is a horrible thing to do.

I am writing this because most of the How To Do The Running articles I have encountered are full of lies. Lies like "Running is awesome! You totally get in the zone, and you get this runner's high, and it feels soooooo cool, dude!" This is untrue. There is no zone. There is no high. There is only the running. There is a sense of satisfaction, but it is akin to that of scrubbing off the grime on the metal things that live under the stove burners--a sense of "I did a boring, unpleasant, but useful task! I get ten adult points!"

So here are my thoughts on How To Do The Running.

1. Get an app. The phone app provides goals that are more reasonable than the goals you think you can set for yourself. "I'm gonna go out and run for a while!" you say, full of righteous optimism. No, you won't. You will run for a third of a block, and then you will walk, and then you will go home and remind yourself you're bad at this running thing and never try again. The goal of The Running is not to be good at The Running--it is to be good at making yourself do The Running repeatedly. The app will tell you to run for a little, then walk for a lot, then run for a little, then walk for a lot. Do not disobey the app: the app knows you better than you do. If the app says "This is not a running day. Do not run. Do not run again until tomorrow," obey it. The app knows you will get sick of running if you decide it is fun and you should do lots. You should not do lots. You should do a little. Trust the app.

2. Get some gear. Yes, I'm sorry, you need the gear. You need running shoes and headphones and a hair tie if your hair is long and something to cover your nakedness. Most of these you should already have in some form. The running shoes, maybe not. You must go and purchase them. They will be most comfy on your feet, reducing the amount of pain inflicted by The Running and thus its overall suckiness. The running shoes will be expensive, and if you only run with them once before giving up, that will be a very expensive run. My new running shoes cost sixty dollars. It cost me sixty dollars to run in them the first time. But the second time I ran in them, they only cost thirty dollars per run. Then twenty. Feed your inner cheapskate and watch your price-per-run go down.

3. Get some entertainment. Running is an inherently boring activity. Get an audio book or some of that music stuff or some of those podcast-thingys. Give yourself something, anything to listen to other than the sound of your throat trying to choke you to death to get you to stop running.

4. Get warm. People will tell you "Oh, you'll warm right up!" as they go out to do The Running in spandex shorts and a jog bra in January. These people are liars. You will not warm right up, because if you go outside in such a getup you will be freezing, and you will immediately go inside and drink three cups of cocoa instead of running. Ignore these people and their spandex. Be warm. If it is cold, put on enough clothes for you to go outside comfortably. If you don't, you won't go outside at all. You may be too warm after running for a while, but this is much better than being too cold and writing off the whole endeavor.

5. One thing you should not get: other people. Other people are awful. They say things like "Come on! I'll race you to that tree!" and "Keep pushing! Come on! You can do it!" Maybe you can do it and maybe you can't, but trying to do it will completely suck and then you will not want to do The Running ever again. Get rid of people. Stick with the app. The app will not let you fizzle out.

6. Never run the same route twice. If you run the same route twice, then you are automatically in a race with the last version of you that ran that route. You will think, "Last time I came this way, I made it to that mailbox. This time, I must make it farther. I must go past the mailbox." And then the next time, you have to go past the next mailbox, and then the next time you lie in bed shuddering at the thought of making yourself go all the way to the corner, and you do not go out to run. It is too hard. It gets harder every time. You stay inside and watch mediocre romantic comedies instead. Take a different route every time. See a different part of your town. Start from work instead of your house. Start from the grocery store parking lot instead of work. Please remember: your goal is not to go faster. Your goal is to go at all.

7. Do not work on speeding up your feet. First, focus on slowing down your breathing. Breathing is nice, and you enjoy doing it. Taking big, slow, deep breaths is good for you. When you start running, try to breathe in for six steps and out for six steps. When you need more air (which will be almost immediately), go to five steps per breath. Give yourself more air as you get tired. Air is good. Lack of air is a horrible feeling. The worst feeling is taking a breath every two steps and still not getting enough air. If you are doing this, you are running too fast, and it will suck, and you will quit.

But, you might say, if I never push myself to go faster, how will I get faster? How will I improve?

Here is the freaky secret: you will improve anyway. If you do The Running over and over again, you will get better at The Running. You do not have to make the experience awful in order to accomplish this. Pushing yourself might make you improve more quickly, but then you will be miserable and you will quit and you will un-improve and then not improve at all. Do not worry about going faster. You do not get a medal for going-faster-ness.* Your goal is not to go faster, remember. Your goal is to go at all. Faster will come. It will not feel like "RAAARR! I FEEL THE BURN! PUSH THROUGH IT!", which is the definition of success in some circles. It will feel like "Why am I going so slow? I feel fine. I could take longer steps and still be fine. Look at my longer steps! Yaay! Oh, time to walk now, says the app. We must do what the app says." This success is better because it will not result in, forty-eight hours later, saying to oneself "Why did I run so fast? It felt horrible. I hated it. I won't do it today." and then never doing it again.

This is my advice. It seemeth to me to be good advice, after three weeks of trying it out. That's right: I, me, my run-hating self, have been doing The Running on a regular basis for Three Whole Weeks. Last week, I measured of of my Runnings and discovered that I had traversed 2.2 miles. If you are a spandex-in-January-wearing, burn-feeling, zone-into-getting runny-person, this distance is laughable. If this is the case, I say: heck with you. Shut up. Go run away. You're good at that. Show us how good you are.  No, keep going. We're not impressed yet. Off with you. Shoo.

To all the rest of you, I say: good luck. I can recommend some audiobooks if you'd like them.

*They do give these out, but not to the likes of you and me. They give them to people who think the point of The Running is to go faster than everybody else. These are the kind of people who will double the cost of their own plane ticket so they can get on the airplane before you do. They are mean  and stupid people. Ignore them.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Quantifiable Analysis of Why I Am Still Single

I've had this conversation more times than I can count.

Me: Hey, hi! How are you!
Well-Intentioned Other: Oh, just fine. How about you?
Me: Just great!
W-I O: That's wonderful! So, are you seeing anyone?
Me: Nope.
W-I O: Well, how can that be?

There are some variations on this last line. Sometimes it is an expression of incredulity ("Oh, come on. That can't be true.") as though it's obvious that I must be going on dates; I'm clearly just too stupid to notice them when they happen. But often it's the question: Nobody's asking you out? What's wrong with you?

Laying aside the sub-surface rudeness of this question, it's counterproductive. Asking a person why no one will date her is like asking her what that thing is on the back of her head: the person you're asking is in the worst possible position to be able to answer the question for you. Ask almost anyone else, and you will get better information.

There are certain things that are Simply Not Done, even in our permissive modern society. One of these things is to inquire of a person, "Excuse me, but why are you not sexually attracted to me? If you could give me three or four specific reasons, that would be very helpful." This is Simply Not Done because there is no possible answer that could be considered polite, and we try not to force our friends into acts of breathtaking rudeness if we can avoid it.

But the question still haunts: what's wrong? If the normal, expected course of events is for a person to be actively pursued by at least a few others, then why is that not happening in (Person X's) case? The knowledge would be intensely helpful, either for making changes or for washing one's hands of things that cannot be changed, but it remains elusive.

Until now.

I've heard the joke tossed around many a time amongst single people: "Someone should just take a survey!" "I know, right?" This week, I decided to up'n'do it. The crucial obstacle to obtaining useful data (fear of being rude on the part of those surveyed) can be mitigated by the anonymity of the Internet. Accordingly, I wrote and distributed an anonymous survey. 

The survey was divided into two parts: What's Wrong With You?, including possible reasons a person might have for not dating me that have nothing to do with me, and What's Wrong With Her?, a list of my traits and perceived traits that might discourage a person from pursuing a romantic relationship with me. First, I will discuss the What's Wrong With You? data.

In this category, there were three clear leaders: persons of my acquaintance are not sexually attracted to women (a category including heterosexual women, homosexual men, asexual persons, and possibly demisexual persons who don't know any women very well), those who live too far away for a relationship to be feasible, and persons already in monogamous relationships. The 'monogamous relationship' response was easily the most popular, with 53 persons out of 98 total responses. Yes, well over half of those polled decline to pursue me because they already have spouses or partners. This finding, I think, adds significant strength to the idea that legalized gay marriage damages traditional (heterosexual couple + biological children) families, as the greatest obstacle between me and my future traditional family is clearly other people's marriages. The numbers don't lie.

Beyond criminalizing gay marriage, the only other actionable option in this category is that of living too far away. I may need to either move closer to most of the people that I know (which might be complicated, as some are in Korea, some in England, others in New Zealand, and at least two in west Africa) or invest heavily in a global public transportation network.

Of note is the rather dark horse category of "I have a dark and tortured past . . ." (indicated as "Byronic archetype" on the graph above). This category was much more popular than expected, with 14 responses. I evidently know more Byrons than I'd thought.

One further category of note is "She already has turned me down (indicated is "Previously rejected"). According to the prevailing theory that single women in their late twenties are "too picky," this category should be quite robust. Instead, it received only 3 responses. Moreover, these responses were 67% correlated with "I am in a monogamous relationship" responses. This would seem to indicate that of the persons whose advances I have spurned, fully two-thirds of them were already married/spoken for (in which case, good for me) or have since become so (in which case, my rejection clearly did them no lasting harm). (The remaining respondent also indicated that he/she was a Byronic archetype, so my rejection was probably wise, if not kind.)

The "What's Wrong With Her?" data was more difficult to analyze. At least one set of responses clearly indicate that the person surveyed (Respondent 5) was not taking this seriously. We know this for two reasons: 1. Respondent 5 indicated several pairs of self-contradictory options ("Too feminist," "Not feminist enough") and 2. Respondent 5 selected "Her breasts are too small." As this opinion is clearly untenable, I have chosen to disregard that person's input.

Dismissing Respondent 5 left several categories empty, including: "brunette," "too fat," "too thin," "breasts too large," "breasts too small," and "smells objectionable." These data (or lack thereof) clearly indicate that the entire beauty industry is a futile waste of effort and resources.

The chart below shows the results of the survey once Respondent 5's results were discounted, and the resulting empty categories dismissed from the analysis.

The data presents us with several problems of analysis. For example, "Too confident" and "Lack of self-esteem" each received 4 responses, despite being antithetical. Thus, I am unable to decide whether I should attempt to attract more suitors by being more confident or less so. "Taller" scored reasonably high (pardon the pun), but less than expected, tying with "Vegetarian" at 8 votes, and lagging behind such unexpected results as "Too physically attractive" (9 votes) and "I think she is a witch" (11 votes).

Other high-scorers included "Too feminist" and "Too Mormon", though these responses were almost entirely mutually exclusive (the only exception, Respondent 49, also indicated "I don't know who she is or remember how she got on my Facebook," so we will not lend too much credence to his/her input). This may indicate that in attempting to please everyone, I have ended up pleasing no one, or possibly that Mormon feminists in general are just caught between the proverbial rock and hard place when it comes to dating.

"I don't know who she is or remember how she got on my Facebook" gained unexpectedly high marks (13) indicating that I don't know enough of the people that I know, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.

"She is smarter than me" and "I think she is straight" also performed well, at 17 and 19, respectively. The latter concern is not terribly helpful, since to the best of my knowledge I was born straight and will continue to be so at least until scholars conclusively determine the fundamental nature of human sexuality (which may take a while). The "she is smarter than me" problem might be more easily rectified, either through determined acting or the judicious use of inhaled cleaning solvents, but I fear that in this case the cure may be worse than the disease.

The two most telling results, though, are these: "I can't articulate why, but I'm just not physically attracted to her" (15) and "Other" (the clear leader at 22). These responses imply that the impenetrable fog that surrounds human attraction may not be entirely due to our desire to be polite; it may simply be that we don't know what attracts us to other people. Uncovering motivations below the level of the conscious mind, while a fascinating prospect, is beyond the scope of this study.

In any case, the next time a kindly, well-intentioned person demands to know how it can possibly be that I am not currently the object of anyone's sexual desire, I'll certainly have plenty to say on the subject.

The research team would like to thank Respondents 1-4 and 6-98, Google Forms, Google Spreadheets, and the National Science Foundation for their invaluable assistance with this project.