Sunday, December 15, 2013

Boxing Day Bash--you're invited!

It's almost time for our annual Boxing Day Bash. If you're reading, you're invited. Great company, yummy food and mulled wine, laughter, music, maybe stories and poetry, maybe dancing--it turns out differently every year, but it's always lovely.

Boxing Day is traditionally the day, back in the old country, when the lords of the manor would serve the people who spent all year serving them. It's a national holiday in England, but hardly anyone remembers why. For me, it's a time to celebrate my wonderful friends!

If you can bring one thing, bring your lovely self--and a friend or partner, of course. Two things? Add something for the table. Three things? Bring something canned for the North Texas Food Bank.

Boxing Day is December 26, 8 till late, but come and go as you please. Thank you for being part of my whirled. (Pic right, with daughter Joy. Lizzy misses Boxing Day this year because she's in England visiting her gran.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Scarlett is not good at PE"

"Scarlett is not good at PE."

So read the damning indictment on a high school report way back when, as my mother, still laughing, reminded me on Skype just the other day. (The English never really bought into that whole positive reinforcement for the kiddos and give 'em all a trophy American thing.) And yes, I was that girl, the one the teams fought over NOT picking and then banished to an esoteric corner of the playing field known as "Left Wing" where I paced miserably in the rain for an hour or more, twice a week, hoping for as little action as possible and generally getting it.

You see, I have a natural reaction when a ball comes flying towards me: I duck. It has always seemed the sensible course to take. Ditto people with rounders bats and hockey sticks. So high school PE was a miserable time for me before I learned to skip class and head down the woods behind the playing fields to think existential thoughts and smoke soggy Woodbines bought from the sweetshop on the corner for 5p a go.

I had not been prepared for the horrors of phys. ed. at Holmfirth High School by my mentors at Nabb where the formidable Miss Bland (who was anything but) had us run about barefoot in our knickers and vests in the school hall twice a week while she praised us from behind her lorgnettes in what I now recognize as execrable French. During a five-minute freestyle session at the beginning of each class, students would show off their individual prowess--climbing ropes, juggling, balancing on their hands, running fast around the room... It was at this time that I perfected the one physically impressive feat of my childhood: standing on one leg motionless. I believe that year's report read: "Scarlett is quite good at standing on one leg!"

All of which is just to say that this running thing I've fallen into lately has taken me by complete surprise. I began training in August, completed my first 5K in October, and two weeks ago, at the age of 47, won my first ever trophy.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I began with health and fitness goals in mind, but I've pretty much already left those dreams in the dust. Now I run because it feels a part of who I am. I run before dawn and after dark. I run in the sun and in the rain. When the thermometer shows temps below freezing, I put on a hat and run. On the good days--and there are so many!--I run for the sheer joy of it. Yes, that's me with the maniac grin, rounding the corner by the boathouse, feeling like I'm flying and caring less and less how it looks. On the hard days--and, of course, there are a few--I tell myself, "You come from a family of dogged people. Anyone can put one foot in front of the other, and then another, and then another..." The sense of accomplishment that comes from the hard runs spills over into other, more complicated parts of my life. "You can do this because you could do that," goes my internal monologue. And it helps.

Yesterday, I ran 10 miles straight--it doesn't even sound to my own ears like it can possibly be true, but there it is. My marathon training plan called for 9.4 miles, but it was so close to 10 that when my app. intoned, "You have reached your goal," I answered back, "Like hell I have!" and sped up. At the disapproving 10-mile alert, I careened off the trail into the grass and flopped onto my back to the amusement of several passers by out for a stroll at the lake.

In the month of November, I ran a total of 93.67 miles, so at this point, I would like to add an addendum to those long-ago school reports. Let the record now show:

"Scarlett is not bad at running."

Please consider a donation to my Doctors Without Borders fundraiser:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

$13 for 13 miles: Fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders

Looking at the suffering in the Philippines and wondering what on earth you could do? 
Emergency teams from Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been in Cebu city since Saturday. MSF is strengthening its team (currently 23) and there will be a total of 102-107 staff – including doctors, nurses, surgeons, logisticians, psychologists and water and sanitation experts – on the ground in the next few days.
Please consider donating $13 for the 13 miles of the April '14 Big D Half Marathon I'm training for. Funds donated at my MSF page (see link below) go directly and immediately to Doctors Without Borders.

Friday, October 18, 2013

On graduating from the couch

Today I graduated from's Couch-to-5K running program. It feels like something worth celebrating. When I started, I could barely run to the end of our road without getting winded. Last Saturday (and the Saturday before), I ran for more than five miles without a break.

I began my early morning sweat-and-stagger routine in the middle of August when the air was hot and thick like treacle. As the mornings turned cooler and the sun rose later, I learned to run with extra layers and a light at my back so pre-dawn cyclists didn't curse as they nearly collided with me in the dark.

This is the third time I've tried the program but the first time I've finished it. A hilarious but painful roller skating accident on Easter morning put paid to my initial attempt (and my figure-skating dreams) as I came hurtling over the bridge by the dog park, zooming round the corner, only to land in an ignominious heap by a group of holiday picnickers. I was in too much pain to continue running for some time after that. The second time, I abandoned the program to fly to England and be with my mum who was very sick. I guess the third time really is a charm.

When I began all this, running was just the method; the goal was to get fitter, leaner, and healthier. In the last nine weeks, I've logged 78 miles and dropped a lot of pounds, so I guess I'm well on my way to "Mission Accomplished." Along the way, though, I've fallen in love with the feel of feet pounding on pavement in the dark as the sun hits its snooze button and then rises, sometimes a little reluctantly, over the smokey lake. These days fitness is just a happy by-product of what I'm doing; I've graduated from the couch. Next week I start training for my first 10K, but this time the journey and the destination are one. This time, I'm running just to run.

October 19 Postscript
2013 Komen-Dallas Race for the Cure. My very first race: placed 410th overall, 20th in my age group, running 5K in 32 minutes, 49 seconds. Not too shabby!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On fighting the metaphor

I dashed out of work at the earliest opportunity this afternoon and headed down to the Crow Collection of Asian Art with a friend to watch visiting monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in Tibet creating a beautiful sand mandala.

I felt a certain urgency since the exquisite artwork, which takes a painstaking week to create out of colored grains of sand, will be destroyed in just a couple of days, the sand swept up and poured into Turtle Creek, a startling and beautiful symbol of the impermanence of all things.

For a silent definition of irony, go stand there as the monks build this beautiful work of art grain by grain, calmly, unattached, knowing it won't last beyond its completion. And then notice the visitors--myself included--fighting the metaphor as we take our pictures, seeking to make the impermanent permanent...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A woman from hell and a helluva woman

"All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful."
(From Russell Brand's eloquent article in the Guardian on the passing of Maggie Thatcher)

Yep. That's what I remember.

I keep hearing retrospectives about how strong and wonderful our fearless leader was, but I remember covering the miners' and seamen's strikes as a young reporter. I remember picket lines and soup kitchens, angry rhetoric on both sides, violence, tears, stubbornness, and betrayal. Margaret Thatcher didn't just break the unions; she broke the people. A million of them never worked again.

I remember the cliché in all its ugly reality: the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and all of us got a little more selfish--even if we called it something else.

I also remember standing outside the South African embassy with protesters at a time when Nelson Mandela was still rotting in prison and Thatcher was steadfastly refusing to condemn apartheid.

A woman has died, and that's a loss for those who knew and loved her, so for the last couple of days, I've held my tongue and said sorry to the universe each time something snarky rose to mind. But I can't listen to this nonstop outpouring of flattering eulogy anymore without comment.

Does no one remember the hunger strikers that she actually allowed to starve to death? 10 of them? They had families too, but I didn't hear much about them. I only heard the Iron Lady was not for turning.

My point is not to celebrate Mrs Thatcher's death like those who are campaigning to get "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" to number 1 in the British charts. My point is to offer a little qualification to all the eulogizing, a few reminders of the way things were. Our society tends to clean up its dead and whitewash their history, and it's happening again, right before our eyes. The trouble is, if we don't allow history to be what it really is, in all its messy inconsistency, how can we learn anything from it? How can we do better next time a victorious leader offers us fast ways to climb to prosperity on the backs of the very poorest among us?

Margaret Thatcher came to power as I was turning teenage. She stayed in power long enough for her policies to be the focus of some of my work as a young journalist covering the miners' and seamen's strikes. I wasn't watching policies at play in those days. I was watching families go hungry on the picket lines, proud fathers who had been lifelong breadwinners become broken versions of their former selves--sold out both by their own leaders and their government.

It's true, as my friend John points out, that things couldn't go on as they were back in the late seventies. There was a need for more fiscal restraint in government if the country wasn't to go completely broke, and Thatcher turned a tide that likely needed turning. It wasn't popular, and it was probably, in some respects, pretty brave. But my problem with Thatcher's reign (and it was a reign) was a lot to do with the way that she did things--so harshly, so uncompromisingly, even cruelly. I wonder if some of that was possibly fallout from trying to prove herself in such a male world, even though she never admitted that was an issue.

I have been remembering back to those days of riots and strikes. I was the newest reporter on the Dover Express in the early eighties--and for a while the only woman in the entire office who was not a secretary. Some of those men put me through hell trying to find out whether I was up to the job, and it never occurred to me to complain about sexism or harassment. In those days, you just sucked it up and got on with it if you wanted to be in the game. That was the Thatcher way, and though I never saw her as a role model, I went about building my own career pretty much the same way: ask no favors, give no inch, win on merit alone. Though I was never much of a mover or shaker like Mrs T., who rose through the ranks of the Old Boys' Network with a speed and surety that angered and astonished them all, several of those men who put me through hell eventually did answer to me. The very faint parallels were certainly unconscious at the time, but I can see them today, however unwillingly.

Let's be clear: Thatcher never broke the glass ceiling for her sex, whatever the eulogizers may say, and she certainly didn't pave much of a way for the women of my generation in terms of equalizing legislation. What she did was simply refuse to acknowledge the ceiling was even there. She rose right through it like an unsmiling Mary Poppins doppelgänger on steroids, and whether you liked the Iron Lady or loathed her, you couldn't help but assume if she could do it, so could you.

Margaret Thatcher was a woman from hell and a helluva woman. She ignored terrible truths and wrought miraculous change. Though many will speculate, no one but she will ever really know what drove her. People are complicated, motives are messy, and history is an inconsistent muddle. Let's pay it--and Mrs T--the compliment of acknowledging all of it.