Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Get Well Keytar Bear

This is Keytar Bear.  He's a musician who plays around Boston (mostly at South Station, Downtown Crossing and Harvard Square) in a bear suit on a keytar.  Kind of goofy but he's a good musician and I always smile whenever I see him around town.

Unfortunately some people are jerks and some jerk punched him in the face and broke his nose and broke his keytar which leaves me wondering, why would someone do that?  Seriously?  Why would anyone think it's OK to do something like that?


Here's the thing about musicians, most of them don't make a whole lot of money.  So to have to take time off because some moron broke your nose is also painful financially.  Enter the Boston community.  A bunch of folks who know and see Keytar Bear on a regular basis got pissed off and put the word out via social media.  As word leaked out today about what happened, two fund raisers immediately started up.  The first fundraiser is on line via Indie Go Go and the second is night at  The Workbar in Cambridge.  The idea is to not only show support for a local musician but to also make sure he's supported because... well, this is Boston and we don't take nicely to punks trying to ruin things around here.

Which brings me to my thought of the day: why are people mean?  This wasn't funny, it was a physical assault on someone making a living.  It may not be conventional but it makes people smile and in a world where we all need to smile just a little more, this act is doubly mean.  Maybe I've been working with kids a bit too long (or just long enough) to realize that we need to smile more, we need to find more joy and when someone is a jerk, you need to tell someone.

If you know the idiot who punched Keytar Bear, turn them in.  If for no other reason than assault and battery is a crime and the perpetrator needs to face his responsibility for that action.  But also turn them in because they tried to rob us all of some joy and that's not OK.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Walks of Shame

Do you know any of these people?  If so, please let them know they suck:

While back of the pack numbers are a time honored tradition in Boston (you used to buy them from the guy who ran the race dressed as Groucho Marx), they were never a real number and they were never a number stolen from a qualifier/registered runner.  There was always someone near the finish to shunt those guys through a side chute so they wouldn't get the perks of running Boston, like photos or medals, but could get any medical attention they might need.

I get it, people wanted to run Boston this year and the BAA was cracking down on bandits for security reasons. A number of other things that made Boston fun, like costumes and flags and props and things went away this year too; however, you don't take a real person's number like that.  Perhaps these folks were just clueless in that they were looking for a Boston number on Craig's List or something and didn't realize they were buying a real person's number that had been stolen.  I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If that is the case, they should come forward and talk to the BAA about how/where they got the number to make sure it doesn't happen again.  If any of them accepted a race medal, they should send it back because it really sucks to be a registered runner, struggle your way through the race and find out the one literal badge of honor are all gone because some idiot who didn't deserve it took yours.  (Talk to me about my Ras Na Heirrann medals some day and the year the kids gave them out to everyone asking for one because of the bottle opener on it so anyone finishing after the 40 minute mark didn't get one.  Paulie made good on it but it really wasn't fair to a bunch of folks behind me in their first 5k that didn't get the reward they deserved.)

Then came the incident at the Sox game last night:

Classy, just classy.  I post this here so you start getting a walk of shame as well.

Let me tell you first hand what it's like when a grown up like you steals a ball from a kid like that: you kill their trust in adults just a little bit faster.  It stings and it becomes a thorn in your side as you grow up.  In 2005, Jason Varitek tossed a ball to my son during batting practice and another jackass like you snagged the ball before he could catch it.  Tek yelled at the guy saying, "It was for the kid."  The guy, instead of giving it to my son handed it to the kid he was with saying, "Now you have 2 balls and you can sell one on eBay."

My son, who is now an adult, obviously never forgot that moment.  He never quite enjoyed batting practice the way he did before that moment.  In fact, on opening day he turned to me and said, "Remember when the guy stole Cap'n Tek's ball from me?"  You have now turned that child's memory of a Red Sox player tossing a kid a baseball forever into, "Remember the time that jackhole Red Sox fan stole a ball from me?"

Good going jerkface.

I don't care if the kid's a Yankees, Royals or even Blue Jays fan, the ball goes ALWAYS goes to the kid.  End of discussion.  

I hope that kid now does what my son used to do after that, he always carried an extra sharpie with him to batting practice so when kids who didn't have a pen or something for a player to sign their hat, ball, program, whatever in Canvas Alley, my son would hand them his extra pen so they wouldn't go home disappointed.

To give you an idea of why I adore Jason Varitek, he later took a moment from warming up the pitcher in the bull pen and signed my son's cap.  Tek is a hero in our home for that reason (and many others).  Because the other thing my son said to me on opening day this year as we were freezing our butts off in the right field grandstands?  

"Remember when Tek signed my hat that day...."

My son is no longer the kid that wants to get there early to get a player's autograph on his hat (which has Johnny Pesky, John Halama and many others along with Tek from years of asking politely), but he still remembers that asshat who stole his baseball from Tek.  Not only that, he also sincerely thanked players for signing his hat and he never asked when they weren't making an appearance.  We saw players out with their families having dinner, etc.  He never crossed that line because he knew he wouldn't like it if that was his dad and all their playing time was interrupted by strangers asking, "Hey, would you sign...."

So Boston, time to start remembering we're on the world's stage and stop acting like insensitive jerks.  If for no other reason than the one your mother probably used to give you: I'm watching.  Better yet, just start being nice to people.  The world has too many jerks and we don't need to be on that side of the equation.  We need to be on the solution side.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More than I ever wanted to know about black bears

I am developing a math/science game for 2nd-3rd graders about bears.

A month ago, when I received the assignment to develop a math game, it seemed like a great idea to combine some science (facts about black bears) and math (word problems at a 2nd/3rd grade level) because well black bears are just generally cool.

Right now I'm struggling with coming up with more and more and more word problems because what fun is a game if you know the answers already?

The real reason I'm thinking about taking this game beyond my graduate classroom has a lot to do with more and more reports of bears walking through suburban neighborhoods and the crossover between people and wild animals as a result of sprawl.  I want kids to understand some really important concepts: most wild animals don't seek out to attack humans.  A lot of times they will walk away.  In fact, bears are shy solitary omnivores that prefer a more vegetarian diet (berries and such), but are highly adaptable and will protect themselves and families at all costs.  So if that as more suburbs expand out into former farmlands and forests, there is less space for these beautiful creatures to attend to their basic needs of food and shelter.  Human garbage can be pretty tasty and that beautiful view you have backed up to conservation land... guess what, that's home to furry creatures that don't understand the concept of property lines the way we do.

So if kids have the option of learning a little math while learning some basic facts about bears, maybe they'll understand that we all need our space and need to find a way to make this work.  I don't have all the answers - no where near that reality; however, maybe one of the kids coming through a classroom of mine will and what will inspire them will be, "What?!  Bears are nearsighted but have an acute sense of hearing and smell to compensate for that?  What if we did this to keep them out of human back yards?"  Or maybe it will be that kid who looks at abandoned buildings in a city and figure out how to convert it into viable housing and commercial projects that include sustainable food growing options rather than spreading further out.

You never know.  But it has to start somewhere and right now it means writing about 50 more questions about bears so I can turn this board game in tonight for a grade.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Winding down, gearing up

 The Boston Marathon is full of inspiration.  Not just in people who run 26.2 miles on their day off for fun, but in their stories.  Back in 1972, when I was a young girl in a changing world being told "girls don't," I had heroes like Katherine Switzer who responded, "Says who?"

Switzer entered the Boston Marathon as K. V. Switzer because it was a men's only race.  When the race director, Jock Semple, realized there was a woman running, he tried to push her off the course and out of the race but her boyfriend and other runners came to her defense and she finished the race.  Not that much longer, she was able to join the field legally as one of the first women runners.

People overcome so much to add the title "Boston Runner" to their lives, it's hard to explain to people who are stuck on, "Why would you run 26 miles?  I can't even run one...."  But it's like anything in life, you run one mile at a time.  Sometimes you fall, sometime you push away the haters but no matter what, you push yourself to your limits and beyond to finish the race.  Don't let people tell you what you can't do, that's your call and no one else's.

There will be lots of "we reclaimed the finish line" talk, but mostly I look at the photo from yesterday that summed up the Boston Marathon I have known my whole life: a runner falling near the finish line in Copley Square and 4 runners around him picking him up to carry him over the finish line.  That is Boston, that is how we roll here.  It's the reason why at 4:30 in the afternoon when the course was being shut down, people were still along the road cheering on the stragglers who were determined to finish.

Yesterday I cheered on my older sister running her first Boston and my oldest brother running his 32nd (and possibly) last Boston.  They lined up in Hopkinton and finished in Copley Square.  It wasn't easy for either of them, even though they have been training and training and training some more since January.  They both finished and are stronger people for it and truly an inspiration for me.

I may never run Boston.  I'm training for my first half marathon (the inaugural Heartbreak Hill Half in June) and starting to feel a bit less scared about things after watching the parade of runners yesterday.  Today I will be able to buckle down to finish the last of my work due tomorrow night.  I will enjoy the couple of weeks off between semesters as I ramp up running and think about writing.

I'm not talking about the whole "Life's a marathon, not a sprint...." metaphor.  I'm talking about a reminder that happens every 3rd Monday in April here in Boston: people are tougher and more resilient than you may think and you only need to look at all those folks running in your neighborhood to remind yourself of that truth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Today approximately 36,000 runners will take to the streets to run the Boston Marathon.  From Hopkinton to Boston, there will around 15,000 volunteers to make it all work.

Think about that for a minute, around 15k strangers giving up their day to hand out water and gatorade, rake cups and GU packs and such out of the road, provide medical services, link up runners with their families, and a million other chores to make sure those runners are able to go the distance.

Not to mention the folks that have been behind the scenes all year long leading up to this past weekend and today.  So many eyes will be on Boston today, that those strangers will be more than the kind helpers making it just a bit easier for the runners, they will be ambassadors representing the best of who we are as Bostonians (and beyond).  As you go forward today, please honor these runners and strangers by performing an act of kindness.  It can be as simple as holding the door for someone or buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line or something as important as giving a pint of blood for some stranger in need.

Then carry that feeling forward.  This world runs on the kindness of strangers and, as Eek the Cat always used to say, it never hurts to help.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Hate You Asthma

Ask someone to describe what they think it feels like to not be able to breath and they will most likely think of hands wrapped around their throats.

Not me, I think of a cage around my lungs, not allow them to expand.

This morning I was reminded, once again, why asthma sucks.

I was excited to run.  I have new running shoes that I'm itching to break in, I had the day off from work - extending April Vacation for a day and just knew this would be a good morning to hit the hills of Brookline with November Project and kick off Boston Marathon weekend on a strong note.

I was lacing up my shoes when it happened.  The stiffening of my chest, the filling of my sinuses, the struggle for air.  Rescue inhaler at hand, I took a few puffs and waited the moments until my chest could move freely again.  But going for a run?  I can do that so long as my inhaler in my pocket but then the weather report came on and it was 30* out, below freezing.

Had it been in the 40's or higher, yeah I could do that but below freezing... not gonna happen.

I looked at the shoes on my feet and sighed.  They would have to wait until tomorrow to touch the pavement and begin to find their purpose in this universe and so would I.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Have you ever had so much stuff to do at once that you get paralyzed?

This semester I felt like I have been in quicksand all semester long.  I started behind the eight ball spending the first two weeks of the semester sitting with my dad as he died and then the funeral.  I have been spending the past four months trying to process everything, work, go to school, finish all the work I have to do and I feel like I'm drowning in quicksand.  The more I try to do to get out of it, the deeper I sink.  And each time I feel like I'm almost even, I realize that maybe I'm just not flailing in quicksand for a bit so it feels like I'm doing well but I'm really just stuck in place.

Over the weekend, I was watching one of my favorite movies, "The Replacements," and remembered one of my favorite scenes:

I have another week left in this semester, even if I wish I could have one beyond that just to get things done.  I wish I had at least one more day to work on school work vs going to work, but that's not how it works unfortunately.

I look forward to the summer when "all" I'm doing is taking grad classes and pulling together my comic "Data the Number Cat" as I prep for my student teaching.  Maybe I'll get a chance to breathe then.... finally.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Sun Never Shines on Closed Doors

I went for a run this morning.  I promised myself I would run from Mile 18 to Mile 19 for all those that ran 25.2 last year.

I ran that mile for personal reasons - mile 18 water stop was my station the last 5 marathons.  I like 18 because from mile 17-19 are pretty sparse when it comes to cheering crowds.  Sure there are folks there, but not like the thundering throngs of folks at the fire station, Newton City Hall or BC.  It's a lonely stretch and I took my job of taking care of the runners intensely seriously.

My job: rake up the cups before the Comm Ave turns into a slippery paper maiche carpet.

So running from 18 to 19 was important to me.  It's where I would walk runners to the med tents who were hurting.  It's where I would walk along with people to keep their spirits up as they faced the worst of the hills coming up over the next couple of miles.  I thought of all the people I walked through there last year and wanted to run strong for them.

Stupid, but there it is.

I listened to Flogging Molly this morning as I did my run and the selection along Comm Ave was interesting.  As I came up on 18, "The Sun Never Shines (on Closed Doors)" came on.  I looked at the daffodils starting to bloom at that point and smiled.  I remember this road during hurricane force winds, it was nasty but Boston runs no matter what - hurricane? Pshaw! These folks were training in blizzards six weeks earlier.  We're Bostonians.

It was followed by "May the Living Be Dead (in Our Wake)."  Wow, that was  little close to home today.  We are left in the wake of those that went to watch a marathon, the triumph of human spirit.  They weren't even watching the Kenyans, they were watching the normal folks that were out in the snow and rain and Boston weather for the past four months.  There were no special trainers, no prize money, just people who raised money for others and those that took up the gauntlet to show they could.  It's up to us to show why we deserved to be left in the wake of those smiling faces that are now just memories.

As I came up on Newton City Hall, "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" came on.  I flashed on Sean Collyer, a kid who showed up to do his job and lost his life.  I know MIT and Harvard cops are sworn Cambridge Police Officers (did you know that?), but I don't think even he would have expected to leave this world that way.

Finally I stood and turned off my music to look at the statue of Johnny Kelley.  The daffodils planted last fall are blooming, the ray of sunshine in the gloomy morning.  The old standard "Rare Old Times" came on as I ran back up Comm Ave.  The line "Dublin keeps on changing, nothing stays the same," struck me.  I've heard that song countless times, but it's true.  Boston has changed, it can't say the same, nor should it.

So moving forward, I think I will try to honor Adrianne Haslet-Davis's request: stop talking about the bombers and talk about the heroes.  Talk about the people who pulled together to make the phrase "Boston Strong" more than a couple of words scratched into the cleats of a member of the Red Sox.  Maybe if we talk about the heroes, when someone wants to be on the news it will be for doing something good, something worth reporting and not something that rips us apart.

So let's start being heroes.  Today, commit a random act of kindness.  Do it tomorrow to and, if you have it in you, the day after as well and keep doing it as long as you can.  Maybe one day, when you need the most, someone will do that for you.  Maybe not.  Heroes don't do it for the payback, they do it because that's what we should do.  Maybe, just maybe, if we keep lighting the light of kindness, we can hold back the darkness evil needs to thrive.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moving (right?) Along

I'm sitting here watching the local news waiting for weather and to see if there's anything important to know when I get the relentless "Tuesday is the anniversary...." In case you've  been living in a hole, a year ago a couple of kids blew up the Boston Marathon and I think I can finally say, "I'm not OK."  More than that, I don't need a whole day of coverage It is punctuated with stories of people who didn't finish last year's race and how they're coming back this year to remind me of how much I'm still hurting over everything.

I tell people I chose not to volunteer because I know people need to do something and let them jump in this year and I'll come back next year.  The truth, I don't know if I can stand there the way I always have without crying early and often.  I didn't go to the photo shoot yesterday because, even after 5 years of supporting runners at the mile 18 water stop, I don't feel like I belong in that photo shoot.  Leave it for the real runners, like my brother who will run his 32nd Boston this year.  It's a decision I made, in spite of being a Boston runner, and I'm good with that call.  I know not all people gave it that much thought or came to the same conclusions I did, and I'm good with that as well.  We have to do what works for each of us.

Last year I went to the gathering at Newton City Hall to acknowledge what happened and ran into an old student.  She hugged me and said she was worried about me because she thought I might have been running instead of working the marathon.  (Me?  Run a marathon?  Not likely.)  I was nervous wearing my jacket on rainy days because I didn't want to upset kids.  Recently I realized how much everything hit me because I just can't wear the 2013 jacket comfortably, so I've fallen back to my 2012 jacket as my default and the other previous years when that one's in the laundry.

More stories about increased numbers of police, check points and increased surveillance doesn't make me feel safer.  It makes me afraid.

So what would it take to move forward for real?  Normal would make me feel a lot better.  Not these acts of sadonecroequinebeastiality (beating a dead horse) to tell us we're "Boston Strong."  We're not, we're still Boston under siege.  Boston Strong is giving the middle finger to those that would harm us and celebrating our bandits in costume and other characters who are crazy enough to lace up their sneakers and run 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston on the third Monday in April.  It's not clamping down on the weirdness, it's celebrating it and embracing it as something that makes us who we are.

That siege mentality has crept in around us and we're wrapped up in it without realizing it and people like me keep feeling hobbled by it all.  So Tuesday, I will acknowledge my feelings.  Like far too many people, I will head into Copley Square to leave something that marks the end of my mourning.  After Tuesday I will be able to comfortably live again without fear and remind myself that Boston Strong isn't just words written on a ballplayer's cleat that triggered a slogan that carried us through the darkness, but it's now time to step back into the light.

I hope others follow me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Clean Body, Clean Mind... Take Your Pick

This morning is the second week I got up to walk up and down the flights of stairs at Harvard Stadium with the November Project folks.

This is normally a summer activity; however, I recently altered my work schedule so I would have time to get back into things before July.  In fact, my goal is to reach a full tour (all 37 sections) by the time in July I'm normally getting started again.  But I'm about 30 sections away from that goal right now.  Last week I was content to do five sections and stop just as I got jelly legged.  As a result, I was sore the next couple of days, but I wasn't a hurting pup like I usually am when I start up.  I am trying to be realistic in terms of my approach at the stadium in that when I get jelly legged, no more than one section beyond where I am and stop.

This morning I made it 7 sections in.

Not bad, not good but not bad.

So why is this here instead of over on my working out with Tek blog?  What does it have to do with writing.

People always ask about why do I join up with Nanowrimo each year if I'm not going to publish what I write?  For the same reason I haul my rather large posterior up and down the stairs at Harvard: because sometimes you need to make yourself get back in the habit of doing something that might be painful at times but good for you in the end.

I'm 16k into Camp Nano - over halfway to my goal and about 5 days ahead of myself and a funny thing happened, a story began to emerge.  It's not the one I loosely planned.  It's not the style I've been focusing on at any level.  It is; however, a story that wants to be told and may be the base for a decent YA fantasy novel.  It started its life as something else but quickly wanted to be more.

I know it's a YA novel because it's not particularly clean enough for middle grade fiction - which is my comfort zone.

Is it because I hauled my but up a bunch of flights of stairs while rocking out to Balkan Beat Box (who are sampled in a current Hip Hop song... so weird to hear a favorite of mine, "Hermetico," in the middle of the song "Talk Dirty" - and I recommend people look up the original by BBB)?  Perhaps.

Perhaps that's what's clearing my head for the story to jump up and down yelling, "I'm over here!  Time for you to write me down!  You're cleaning up your body, so it's time for me to muck up your mind until I'm out of your head!"

It happens.  Maybe by the beginning of July, I'll not only be able to do a full tour of Harvard Stadium but maybe Ailish and Aidan will have fulfilled their destiny in the deserted town on Achill Island in Sliabh Mór, County Mayo in Ireland.  You never know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1400 Down 28600 To Go

I started off my morning writing.  The story unfolded itself between 5:30 and 6:30 am and I realized where it was going to go.

It is also what happens when you fall asleep on the couch with the news on.

Had you asked me a couple of days ago about what my story was going to be about, I would have told you about the dream that woke me up at 3 am and I wrote down before it could leave.  This morning, fingers to the keyboard, it became something entirely different because yesterday there was a local car jacking that spanned several communities and a variety of cars.  It was coupled with "Why I am running the Boston Marathon" this year stories and a set of stories about two firefighters who died in Boston last week - one of whom was someone my son knew.  A bit of discussion in there recently about Amanda Palmer's views on the bombing with a pinch of a viewing of "Frozen" yesterday and... well, ding fries are done.

Somehow all those things swirled together in my sleeping brain and came up with the story of a young girl who deliberately puts herself in the line of fire and how that changes the lives of the community around her and how she comes to see exactly who she is as a person.  I'm not sure of the ending yet.  I think I know what it will be, but I know it will be unexpected.

Either way, 1400 words this morning (400 over goal) and counting.  I may write more if I finish up my last paper and lesson plan drafts - we'll see.  However, I'm off to a good start and now my day is calling me.