Ready to Run

running-by-patrik-nygren-on-flickr-editMidway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path

And the reason I had wandered off from the straight path, Brothers and Sisters, was because—for the first time in my forty-eight years on this weary earth, I started doing something I sworn up and down I’d never take up:

I have started running.

I can’t even begin to imagine the level of cognitive dissonance that this revelation must be inducing in my longtime friends. Even before there were European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that said “0.0,” with the tiny legend below “I Don’t Run,” there were the “26.0,” “13.5” and heaven forbid, “70.0” European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that smarty-pants athletic overachievers put on their Suburus.

And I scorned them all. I not only didn’t run; I was The Anti-Runner.

From infancy to middle age, I was an advocate of cars, air conditioning, and general immobility. Why was this? you ask.

Say what you will about today’s spineless “everybody gets a trophy” youth sports culture, but I would have delighted by such a thing in 1978 (the year that my fourth grade P.E. teacher in public school paddled me for talking in class, in front of about 100 other kids).

In 1978, if you were not at least passably athletic, you were in for it. I was awkward and clumsy, and I was always, always, always picked last for kickball. [Read more…]

Martin, Everett, and Me

caroline-langston-imageI am writing this essay on the fortieth anniversary of my father’s death, so my immediate thought about Martin Luther King, Jr. this morning is of those four precious small children left fatherless on April 4, 1968.

There are two things I’m thinking about fathers: The nimbus of their influence continues to fall across your life, no matter how early they’re taken from you. Whether it’s shimmering or shadowy depends upon them.

When those fathers are departed, you have to go in search elsewhere for substitutes to replace them. There’s an ancient tradition of spiritual/intellectual fatherhood: Socrates taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, goes the saying.

And this is where I have to jump in to say this: There was not much said about Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was growing up in Mississippi in the 1970s and 80s. It’s hard to explain this to people outside the South, but this was true even among folks who were racial moderates, like my parents, who supported public school desegregation but were otherwise limited by their time and place.

Of course, whole volumes of history regarding the Civil Rights movement were just not mentioned among white people when I was growing up—even when they took place in near walking distance from where we lived. All I recall was my mother’s mention that a country church was “where the Freedom Riders” stopped for the night, and that my oldest sister—already, things were changing—had asked to be driven out to see them arrive. [Read more…]

I Miss Gwen Ifill

20161219-gwen-ifill-on-wikimedia-creative-commonsFor Kate Keplinger

It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret that you mourn for…
–“Spring and Fall,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my friend Dionne posted in response to a note I posted on Facebook.

I’d just come back on the redeye from the West Coast that morning, and stayed home from work to catch up on some sleep. I was puttering around in the kitchen in my nightgown, my mind in a fog, when I heard on the three o’clock newscast that journalist and news anchor Gwen Ifill had died.

I immediately called my husband, who was picking up the children from school, with the news.

Suddenly I felt even more at loose ends than I had on the morning after Election Day, stunned by yet another instance of how, overnight, the landscape around me had shifted. Except in this instance, the feeling of being unsettled hit me more forcefully.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook: “Memory eternal, Gwen Ifill. Our whole family will miss our Friday pizza nights with you.”

It didn’t occur to me until I saw Dionne’s response that it might appear that said Friday pizza nights might be with Ifill in person—as opposed to a picnic on Mommy and Daddy’s bed watching Washington Week. [Read more…]

The Resurrection Volvo

ljubljana_car_crash_2013Just about nine months ago—the Tuesday after Valentine’s Day, to be exact—I hit a carload of nuns.

It’s not like I was trying to or anything, though: It was the middle of the morning, a misty winter day. I was driving on a quiet street in the part of Washington, D.C. that’s sometimes called “Little Rome,” owing to the number of monastic institutions surrounding the Catholic University of America. From the right lane, the carload of nuns made an unexpected wide left-hand turn passing in front of me, and my Honda ran right into their left-side passenger door.

With a pop and the faint burning smell of sulphur, the airbag exploded into my face, like a kind of giant, surreal mushroom.  I put the stick shift in park and—amazingly collected—turned the radio and then the car off, and got out calmly.

These were young nuns, twenty-something, in long habits—one of whom came running over with: “Oh my gosh, that’s not cool.” [Read more…]

Thank You, Black Southern Belles

southern_magnolia_tree_drawingIn the twenty-plus years since the Internet became a feature of our lives, there have emerged a couple of articles of conventional wisdom that I, for one, find pretty dubious.

First, there’s the claim that “everything on the Internet lasts forever,” usually made in reference to warnings about the dangers of teen “sexting,” or work emails that are discoverable in lawsuits.

I can personally attest that the “Internet is forever” claim is less true than you would think: once when I was leaving a job and was told I could have a copy of my archive of 75,000 emails over eight years, the task was somehow botched, and the day-to-day record I’d assumed I’d have forever—the trail of messages marking my wedding planning, mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and the birth of my first child—was lost forever.

Another trope that has grown more recently—as folks’ awareness about algorithms has grown—is to remark on the uncanny way that digital ads so perfectly match our demographics and interests.

Sometimes, though, that “perfect matching” can yield some pretty unexpected—and in my case, thought-provoking results: A few weeks ago, an ad popped up on my Facebook page inviting me to like a website called BlackSouthernBelle.com. [Read more…]