Monday, December 13, 2010

Quinn Will Save the Baby Polar Bear

Quinn is a 3 year old girl at the new school that I just started working in. This job came up unexpectedly as a colleague at school approached me timidly after class asking if I was interested in a temporary teaching position. For the first time in two years, despite long bouts of unemployment-related anxiety, I was very tempted to decline. It was the last week of the semester at grad school, and the pressure was on to perform in presentations, case studies, and a dreaded four hour teacher certification exam. I reluctantly told my friend I would be happy to speak with the school, and the next day after a thorough interview, I met the new set of students. Though the youngest group I had ever worked with at 3 and 4 years old, there was a certain toughness about these tykes that was a little unsettling. Quinn's face in particular remained in my mind hours after I left their classroom. She had a very intent look on her caramel-toned face, with set, slightly knit eyebrows. Her expression seemed to say, 'I'm very angry, and I'm not getting over it.' My first day of working with the children, I noted her combative approach to the slightest resistance or barrier. When skinny little Lizette blocked Quinn's view of the story I was reading, Quinn shoved Lizette with such a force, that the child flipped over some books backwards, and got up with a perplexed expression on her face. I was very relieved that no blood was shed. Quinn showed me the same defiance whenever I challenged her point of view. I started noticing a pattern in fact, that many of the children were not really taking me or my gentle attempts at classroom management very seriously. Ms. Ramos, the assistant teacher, announced that the children were playing with me, and that I needed to control them. This did not bode well with me one bit. But I knew that she was right. How do children know how to do this so adeptly? It was as if they had conferenced during lunchtime, and concluded that they would simultaneously disregard anything I asked them to do, and further, if I was occupied with calming one disruptive child, then another one would instantly engage in his own disruptive behavior. I think this is the moment in the classroom where many adults make the definitive decision that classroom teaching will never be their cup of tea. As much as I dislike being disrespected, I respect that children have reasons for their behavior, and I was determined to overcome this obstacle to get through to the fun part of this job. So the next day, while the same group of preschool hooligans were making a fool of me, I asked Ms. Ramos for some advise. She raised her eyebrows and had a look on her face that said, 'I doubt you will ever learn this trick', and said, "You're the teacher." Undeterred, I asked her how she dealt with this behavior. She smiled and said, 'They don't do that with me.' Then she walked over to them and with a very stern voice picked out the ringleader of bad behavior and said, 'Lizette, do you want me to call your mother?! You listen to Ms. Tamar!' And then I got it. Threaten with calls home. I thanked Ms. Ramos, and felt my teacherliness kick into that higher gear as I persisted with the firm/persistent yet caring role that I had lacked the day before. The rest of the day, the kids were mine. It doesn't matter how interesting or creative your lesson plans are, if you can't control the kids, you can't teach them. I had those kids quivering in their boots (well, not quite- but they were sitting on their spots for once during story time, and all 17 were paying attention). And as I started reading to them Claudia Rueda's 'My Little Polar Bear', and asking them questions like, 'Who is going to take care of the little Polar bear cub if his parent disappears?' tough little Quinn calls out, 'Me!' And so goes another day working with the little cubs in the big city.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Tale of The Tape

Well, I don't give up very easily. In anything. But sometimes, you just have to say, 'It's OK, this isn't exactly what I wanted to do.. not really even very close, but it's OK.' After all, I'm only talking about formatting- how much sleep can a person lose over this? You really don't want to know.

So miraculously, all 33 of the Chilean miners have been rescued. I remember before I registered to run in a four mile race in Van Cortlandt Park, I asked my friend Wendy who was running her very first race- if she and her four relatives that she managed to talk into joining her- if they all wanted to run as a team in support of the miners. This was back on August 29, when the miners had already spent 24 days trapped underground. I thought we'd call our team 'Mucha Fuerza' to encourage them. Turned out you couldn't just make up a team on the spot. So I ran that race thinking about those guys, and thinking about how any pain I was enduring was nothing compared with their situation. Then I thought about the estimated rescue timeline of four months. I thought about how it would be November, and the New York City Marathon would be taking place, and those guys would still be stuck down there. A whole season without natural light. I didn't want to think about that too much, because it's a little too much to fathom. Then I got a call from Wendy, a couple of months later. The rescue mission had begun. By October 13, all 33 of the miners were safely above ground. Only the week before I had made up my mind to run in the upcoming marathon. I had been accepted a while ago, but felt unprepared to run it, so I hadn't trained for it at all. Then one day I came across a runner with a prosthetic leg who was slightly ahead of me. I caught up with him, and we completed one loop of Central Park together. I was fascinated with his stories and plight, and inspired by his positive attitude. I finished that loop in a faster time than I'd run all year. That run decided it for me. A month is not a lot of time to prepare yourself to run a marathon. So here I am, a week before the big day, and I have only run one long run, which was only 18 miles. Today I found out that there's another guy who wasn't really able to prepare properly for this endurance race, but he's not letting that stop him either. And for you boxing fans, please excuse the lack of proper competitor stats formatting text-this is the no-frills version due to lack of options on blogger. No one's perfect.

Home Town: New York, NY; Weekly Mileage from 8/05/10 - 10/13/10: Around 30; Races Run from 8/5/10 - 10/23/10: X-Country 5k 25:31 Thetford, VT 8/17/10; X-Country 4M 31:53Bronx, NY 8/29/10; Half Marathon 1:42:50 Staten Is, NY 10/10/10; RunTheRiver 5k 22:21 Randall’s Is, NY 10/23/10; Special Challenges Leading Up to the Marathon: Forced to reprimand teen male truants in the middle of a track workout (note: did not slow down in process); Expected # of Fans To View Race 11/7/10: Not as many as Peña, but a well timed, ‘Go, Tamar!’ would be worth a lot

Edison Peña

Home Town: Copiapó, Chile; Weekly Mileage from 8/05/10 - 10/13/10: Around 30; Races Run from 8/5/10 - 10/23/10: Triatlón Piedra Roja 2:36, Chicureo, Chile ;
Special Challenges Leading Up to the Marathon: Trapped in a copper-gold mine for a record 69 days 700m beneath the ground- completed 3-6 miles of training a day in the minimal tunnels available; Expected # of Fans To View Race 11/7/10: The entire population of Chile, and likely the rest of the world

Addendum: Apparently, David Letterman has been reading my blog, and decided to book Peña.. or maybe he couldn't resist the opportunity to host a guest who has more charm in his right eyebrow than half the celebrities saturating the media today. Here is a fantastic five minutes of that show:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rocking the Crayolas

Tuesday is my Art Education graduate class, a very hands-on, practical course with little controversy save for the continual din of side conversations. Until today. Several of us students had just finished sharing our clay lesson plans with the rest of the class. The subject of play therapy came up, and somehow our professor wound up discussing the large number of kindergartners failing. Belinda from my table laughed to herself at the absurdity of calling a five year old to task on lack of studiousness, and the lone white male in our class, Connor, (who happened to be sitting next to me) said in an incredulous and forceful tone, 'How do so many parents send their kids to school ill-equipped?' The professor, who herself had been an art teacher in public schools for many years, enlightened this gentleman as to the many valid reasons why a child would not be prepared to pass kindergarten, which is not even a mandated grade, as another student pointed out. After listing reasons such as lack of English language fluency, lack of previous experience in formal early childhood programs, and lack of time from economically strapped parents whose priority is putting food on the table, Connor came back with, 'I don't understand how parents can't take one hour out of the day to teach their kids the basics, like the alphabet.' The classroom mood swiftly alighted with the wrath of parents being directly accused of denying their children the best education. These comments hit home for many of these people- a mix of multi-cultural adults who had themselves struggled to not only survive a biased school system that denied the merits of their own rich heritages, but are currently either parents or teachers of children struggling with these same challenges. It was unfortunate that this young man was white, because it is nearly impossible to view his comments as anything but race directed when the inequalities which children in inner-city schools face are inherently attributed to their race. Had a person of color made the same comments, though naive in content, I doubt the class reaction would have been a defensive one. After several passionate responses addressing the inappropriateness of the man's words, I glanced at my scissors sitting on my desk ready for today's construction project. I hoped they wouldn't get used prior to our scheduled assignment. The guy was up against the wall, with the rest of the class completely disgusted with him. He told them that he did not intend to target any culture, and that his comments were directed at children in general, which includes Anglo-Saxon white children. The damage was already done. I had that sick feeling in my stomach that you get when you know there's nothing you can do to save anyone. When that happens, I talk about Rafajella, the six year old student I have been tutoring for the past year. She's an English language learner, but she's Eastern European, so she represents both sides of the coin. Maybe she had the neutrality to diffuse the pressure.'Globally, we have one of the poorest education systems amongst other industrialized nations. The parents of the Serbian student that I tutor want her to be able to keep up with her classmates, but they've admitted to me that it's their believe, as well as the belief of their homeland education system, that children should not be taught to read until they are seven years old. Maybe we should stop looking at the U.S.'s model of education as the right standard.' The professor said that she was glad we had this discussion, and released us for a much needed break, after which we would come back and start our construction projects. Belinda and I headed for the bathroom. We were both surprised at the reaction of the class to the initial comments about lack of school-readiness in our children. Sometimes it's hard to relate to comments that don't directly speak to your own personal issues. Amelia, who moved here from Malaysia five years ago and works very hard to keep up with the graduate courses with her continually evolving English skills, joined our conversation. Belinda asked her if she was upset by the comments. She said at first she wasn't, but then she became very angry when she realized what was being said. Anger is a very powerful force, and once it was ignited in our little art room, it was difficult not to get swept up in it. I felt it sucking me in too, before I had a chance to analyze what the two sides of the issue really meant. It was good to talk about this thing before re-entering the class. When we returned, we each worked on our construction projects. I was doggedly trying to make an old egg carton into a lizard. Belinda was making a free-form play structure (with advent calendar windows). Connor was silently making what looked like a machine gun. After a few minutes, the professor asked us to go around the room and talk about our work. Someone made a cute subway rat. Another person made a cheerios box vacuum cleaner. Connor lifted his piece and told the class it was a telescope. I wonder if he was sending subliminal messages for us to take in the whole picture? I think we could all benefit from capturing a realistic viewpoint. None of us is free from bias, and we all have much to learn. As current and future educators, let the lens of clarity first be pointed inward.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Isla Negra, Chile

"Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera"

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda

I am one of those people whose emotions are fully embraced by the quotidian chiens écrasés appearing in the daily newspapers. Mothers drowning their children to flee responsibility, wives dousing abusive husbands with acid causing the victims to be totally ostracized from society, and so on. The acid attack article stuck with me a little longer than the others. Yesterday, walking home from a loop run in Central Park, I heard a man in a distant apartment screaming bloody murder. As I passed the friendly community garden which brought up fond memories of relaxing with Dakota and the local neighbors last summer, I tried to pinpoint the exact apartment the distressed screams were coming from. Cautious to appear indifferent to his cries, lest the perpetrators witness and later seek retribution, wearing a blank expression I maintained my gaze directly in front of me. After I crossed Manhattan avenue, and was safely off of any one's radar, I started to think. Some innocent guy could actually be in the final stages of a homicide attempt, and I had an opportunity to save his life. Now would be a good time to have a cell phone. A couple walking quickly and holding an umbrella (it was raining), passed me. They were having an intense conversation in Spanish. I plunged right in. 'Excuse me. I heard a man screaming across the street. Do you think we should do something?' They stopped their conversation and looked at me intently. The man was short and stocky, with thick, dark eyebrows. His eyes were fully focused on me. 'Do you want to call 911?' He asked me. I told him I didn't have a cell phone. He took his out, dialed 911 and handed me the phone. Both he and his female companion were watching me. I didn't realize he already dialed, so I started pressing buttons, unsure if they were alpha or numeric. 'I already dialed', the man told me. I listened and heard nothing. Then the dispatcher's tired voice tinged with a slight Brooklyn accent came through. '9-1-1, hello?' 'Oh sorry,' I said, embarrassed by everything that had transpired since finishing my run. 'I was walking home from a run in the park, and I heard a man screaming bloody murder.' I thought about that expression. Did people still use that expression? It sounded like something Ralph Kramden would have said to his wife. 'Jeez, Alice, I'm five minutes late, and you're over there screaming bloody murder!' The dispatcher repeated my words. 'So he screamed bloody murder?' I panicked for a second. Was I calling in a bogus report? A guy screams and I call
911. Maybe he stubbed his toe. No, it was a bad scream. A person being tortured kind of scream. 'Yes, he was screaming in pain.' The owner of the phone crossed the street to get the exact address. He came back and told me the building was housing a religious cult. My fantasies of being a hero were vaporizing before my eyes. The dispatcher asked if I wanted to leave my name and number. I told her I could, but I really didn't have anything else to contribute. I returned the phone to the guy, and the couple continued walking and holding their umbrella. I walked awkwardly next to them, since I was going the same way. The guy made a little small talk about running. He told me to have a nice day, and then turned to his companion. We were still walking inches away from each other. It was really awkward. I was glad when they crossed the street.

The news story I read the day before of acid attacks in Cambodia clearly fueled my imagination when I heard that man's screams. But the story that got to me that day was of the 33 trapped miners in Chile. Few of us can imagine with any authenticity what it is like to be trapped below civilization, in the heart of the earth, where the total absence of light is a constant reality. And then, like a Rabbi Boteach joke, the bad news got worse. The rescue effort that was estimated to take four months (four months in darkness!) can not be disclosed to the trapped miners. According to former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger who survived degraded conditions as a result of a fire on his 1997 space mission, 'Psychologically, you need to know the end point.' Upon further reading, it seems these miners know a thing or two about survival. They likely already know the time frame involved in drilling a rescue tunnel. After my bloody murder saga, I don't think there is much I can contribute to this rescue effort either. But my thoughts are with the miners. One is named Jimmy Sanchez. In 4th grade I had a crush on a Jimmy Sanchez at the Starr King School in San Francisco. For months we exchanged millisecond glances. Then one day he talked to me. He was wearing his turquoise cardigan sweater, and his wavy, sandy brown hair was parted on the side. We were the last ones to leave the classroom for the cafeteria. He said, 'What's for lunch today?' And I told him, 'I think grilled cheese sandwiches.'
Sometimes a few words can bring you out of the darkness.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Boomerang Effect

Interesting gifts have been coming my way lately. It all started when I went out to my favorite bar with a classmate. My friend had just revealed that she'd never been out of the country, and I was listing distant places for us to travel to. When I got to Australia, my friend said she wouldn't feel comfortable going there, as she had heard that minorities are not welcomed. Hearing the mention of racism sober always brings on a visceral response from me. After a Blue Moon or two, unprecitable things can occur. Half joking, I announced 'Well, we can just forget about Australia, then!' And my dramatic accompanying arm gesture sent my fresh pint of Blue Moon flying off the table. The liquid that had been occupying my full glass had now darkened the powder blue back of the shirt of the unfortuate man sitting at our table. I didn't give him a chance to fully express his anger, I just kept apologising, thinking about how thoroughly annoyed I would have been if our roles were reversed. Then I thought I'd explain that the reason for the mishap was related to racism. Instantly, the beer-soaked man took up our cause and started vigilantly decrying every potential country that would dare to ruin the future vacation in discussion. Inebriation is an amazing thing, I thought as I smiled at his attempts at flirting. Magically, a brand new Blue Moon pint made its way in front of me the next moment. Some bystander had witnessed the drama, and wanted to assist in the losses. I smiled at my friend. She now understood why this was my favorite bar.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Go To Sleep Tamar!

Beautiful low humidity day. I went out for a short test jog to loosen up before a 1/2marathon I am doing tomorrow. As I start my jog, each fiber in each leg is tight and resistant. As my friend Mike would say, this does not bode well. I really didn't need another excuse to bail on this Brooklyn race. It starts at 7:00 am. In Brooklyn. That's kind of insane, and means I should be going to sleep around 8 at night to get enough sleep. So I'm not taking it too seriously. I finish my jog, and spot one of my building neighbors. A very tall Asian woman who is almost always walking two blond dogs. She is dogless today. We always say hello and only hello as we pass. I'm feeling really bold, and think how nice it would be to find out her name. I look up and she's already crossed the street. I have to jog to catch up to her. She's going to think I'm stalking her. I don't care. Her name is Yu-Chen and she walks five days a week. She was impressed with the fact that I may finish this 1/2 marathon in under 1:40. I have lived in this building for two years and we never said more than hello. I think that's how most New Yorkers tend to be. After I showered, I had a whole agenda. I swung by an old school I worked in when I first moved here. A small group of 2nd graders in Summer school still remembered me when I passed by their school last year coming home from work. They all ran to the playground fence and screamed out 'Ms. S.! Ms. S.!' One girl in particular, Lakshmi, would not let me leave until I gave her my phone number. I'm not sure why she wanted it, but I gave it to her. Flash forward another year, and our community bulletin told me their school was having a festival open to the public. I knew she'd appreciate a visit, so I stopped by. It was in the school yard, and the sun was so strong I started tearing. I looked all around, and didn't see any of my kids. Then I saw Felipe. He looked exactly the same, just a foot taller. He was the one who looked so tough in school, but when the cooperating teacher yelled at all the kids to put their bag lunches away before she counted to ten, he offered to put my lunch in his backpack. I wanted to say hi to him, but thought he may not remember me. I walked around, disappointed that Lakshmi wasn't there. Still I sensed she was there. I walked over to this huge inflatable house where children were jumping inside and could be seen through this mesh window. I saw a jubilant dark girl with straight black hair. That was her. When she came out, I called her name. She turned around and smiled, and gave me a big hug. 'What's your name again?' she asked. I reminded her. She had a worried look on her face as she looked around for her friends. She ran away to find someone, then ran back and gave me another hug. She was distracted by all the things she wanted to play on. She looked beautiful, and she was wearing the same dress she wore on my last day when all the kids gave me a special presentation. Her cousin had made it, and it was a very unique design. She ran off again to get on a line for a ride. I walked around to see if I could find anyone else, but didn't. I thought I'd say good-bye to Lakshmi. I went up to her. She told the girls waiting in front of her who I was. I asked her how school was going, and what she was going to do this Summer. I told her that I was going to run a long race tomorrow. I told her how I'd run an even longer race last month, and that it caused me to lose one of my toenails. Kids love that stuff. I was wearing sandals, so she was able to observe the situation. She studied my foot with concern for a full minute. I told her I had to go. She made me promise to write her a letter. I told her I would, but she'd have to send me one back. She said she would try. I left and trekked over to NYRR's office to pick up my race number and goodies bag. They're so organized over there, I guess they have to be, their events are so huge. As the woman assigned to the R-S box was searching for my number, I was chatting with this other volunteer whose name I can never remember. The other woman handed me my number, and I continued chatting with my friend. I asked her if there was anything else I needed, and she turned over my race packet and said I just need to affix that sticker to my bag. I'm really glad she turned over my envelope, because it belonged to some 31 year old man who wasn't me! He had some similar crazy Eastern European name. I told the woman who handed it to me, and she was a little flustered as she had confirmed it with me. I apologised since it was my fault for not paying attention, but assured her that I am not a 31 year old man. Some other runner picking up his packet looked at me and said, 'I can vouch for that'. That was presumptuous of him. What am I doing still writing?? I have to go to sleep. Wish me luck getting up at 3:30 :-(

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A belated thank-you

My creative writing skills have been beaten out of me with the advent of graduate school participation. No one cares about interesting narratives, apparently. It's all about facts and citations and correlations. And correct formatting, let's not forget. So I'll leave the creative stuff for now to someone whose well of talent never runs dry. Here is a great video my sister put together of some highlights from the Boston marathon. This turned out to be a great family weekend for us, with my niece Hailey celebrating her graduation from culinary school in Boston, and then on Monday, both my niece Alex and I boarded the school bus in Boston for the long ride to the start of the race. Alex is an amazing person (as are all of my nieces!!)and an amazing runner. She only recently got into marathon running, and within two tries qualified to compete in Boston- a feat that most runners can only hope to one day accomplish. She definitely has the heart of a runner, devoting most of her life to service for underprivileged and neglected populations around the world.
I was undecided about running in this race until the last few days, but despite my own indecision, I felt the support and caring of many people. Thank-you to everyone who shared in the excitement, I'm not naming names, but you know who you are. Some agreed to drive there and arrange the whole trip, some sacrificed beds to keep the snorers from the racers the night before the race, some created goody baskets with gourmet foods, some provided a selection of Gatorade during a final leg of a long run (a SELECTION, mind you, not just yellow or green- yellow AND green). OK, I have a paper to finish, and I didn't intend to get all sentimental; but I did forget to say thank-you. THANK-YOU, GUYS!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Vain Indulgences

I'm taking a coffee break from writing this paper for school on correlations between course readings in historical educational ideologies with children in cinema. It's as bad as it sounds.
So I hopped on to New York Road Runners website, and viewed a cache of photos of me from a race this past winter. I made a fascinating and previously undisclosed discovery about my appearance: during a run, when my left leg is forward, I look reasonably pretty and free of deformities; but when my right leg is forward, the tables are turned. My features take on a grotesque demeanor caused by gravitational pull, whose appearance is comparable to the expression one makes upon viewing the results of a smashed cockroache. (I can imagine that one pretty well, since I put such a creature out of his misery on my way out the door this morning).
Back to real writing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vexatious Requester

The office of vital records in Hawaii is getting inundated with repeat requests from parties with ulterior motives for copies of the birth certificate for Barack Hussein Obama II. The state is looking into putting a two year restriction for receiving governmental records to individuals who make the same request more than once.
Can I adapt this ruling for my own personal use? Maybe it's the pedagogue in me, but I feel there has to be a reasonable limit to the time given to grasp a new concept. After all, there is such an enormous body of knowledge expected of us humans to incorporate into our social constructs, that we have little time to waste dwelling on the concepts that elude us. We can change the language of the ruling to restrict offenders to a two year ban from further contact with me, at least in regards to the issue in question.
So without further ado, here is my top-five wish list of people who would benefit (in my favor) from this restriction:

5. My favorite radio station- I'm sorry, your membership drives are driving me insane. I realize listener support is what keeps your station commercial free, but why do paying members have to be subjected to the two week long round-the-clock request for new members?

4. People on the street telling me to gain weight (!)
I know, this is a weird one. It doesn't sound all that offensive at first, but trust me, when a stranger approaches you and suggests you gain weight- rather than compliment your amazingly toned runner's legs- it just takes the wind out of your sails. (As my old friend Dick Vincent used to say, 'If I look emaciated, that means I'm running well.') Still. Two years, NO SOUP FOR YOU!! (maybe a little more for me)

3. My friend Mike the Pervert- caveman comments when viewing new Facebook photos of me. Come on now, you've been warned enough over the past ten years. Grow up!

2. The man on a street somewhere whose chants vibrate through my apartment every night with the words, 'Glory, glory, hallelujah, I love you! I love you! I love you!'
You've been doing this for two years. Time to take the act downtown.

1. And the number one repeat offender- you guessed it- those pesky people who just don't get it! Despite multiple blog stories of my low tolerance for social exchanges during strenuous runs, people are still coming up to me and asking for directions! In Central Park, where there are hundreds of leisurely walking bodies, just waiting for an opportunity to assist! Double fines for offenses committed during a race.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Little Pieces

Wrapped tightly in my cocoon of warmth and darkness, was I really prepared to face the harsh elements of this post-snowstorm morning? After 24 hours of complete seclusion, I was anxiously looking forward to feeling some signs of life on my skin. My block was an interesting study in snow-removal techniques. Someone (thankfully not me) ploughed the sidewalks East to West, and the roads were, after two days of neglect, clean. The parked cars did not fare so well. Mountains nearly three feet tall enveloped most of them, with one or two lucky ones parked under partial sunlight having the advantage of auto-car clean-up as large chunks of snow fell in sheets off of them. As I walked up the street, I was thankful for no longer being a car owner. Entering Central Park, I discovered the hill I walk up to start my runs was unshovelled. That surprised me, as the maintenance of this park is so consistently thorough. As I approached my running route, I was relieved to see that it was snow-free. I thought about the pedestrian who was killed in the park this week by a falling limb. There weren't as many people as normal for a weekend, and I was able to really appreciate the views of the park. The temperature was a bit warmer than normal without those frigid winds to ruin your mood. I felt like I was running in the midst of a fairy tale setting- all the trees were rimmed with glimmering white snow outlining their delicate branches. A huge pile of snow fell inches in front of me. Then a hard ball of ice grazed my temple. That hurt! I thought about the penny my friend dropped out of our second story apartment building when we were in middle school. The guy it hit didn't believe it was a penny. He said 'OW!' loud enough for us to know he would be running up our stairs and banging on our door in the next minute. Thanks to that incident, I was now preparing to defend myself from the gravitational properties of these falling chunks of ice from above. Every time I passed an overhanging branch, I put my hand over my head. I figured a broken hand is preferable to a cracked skull. My commitment to this uncomfortable maneuver was pretty low, as I knew that if I was to get hit by a chunk of ice, it would undoubtedly occur when I was too lazy to guard myself. I looked up at the sound of children playing in a huge fort made out of snow. Someone had created a portrait of snow on a tree. It looked like a man climbing a rope, only the rope portion that was between his legs had melted in intermittent stretches, giving the appearance that the man had a bad case of the runs. I saw a tall couple ahead of me running. They were passing a horse and carriage. The woman was waving her hand in front of her face as she turned to her man. It looked like she was teasing him about having bad breath. As I passed them, I said it wasn't his breath, it was the horse. She laughed, appreciating that I understood what she was miming. I then told her to be nice to the guy, as good running partners are hard to come by. She thanked me, but I'm not too sure she understood what I said. Then I passed two older gentleman shuffling along in comfortable looking clothes. I overheard one say to the other, 'One little slip, and I just want to turn around and go home.' I could relate. Then a couple passed me running, and the woman called out 'Hi, Tamar!' I said a staccato 'hi', turning around and realizing I had no clue who she was. She solved the mystery and said 'Susan!' I'm always so impressed people can figure out what's going through your mind and accommodate your confusion, all while running in the opposite direction. Maybe it's me, but I'm really kind of amazed with that kind of talent. Then I look over, and see this Blue Heeler with a big stick in his mouth, running ecstatically through very deep snow. I got caught up in his heroicism, and heard the soundtrack to 'Chariots of Fire' playing in my head. I ran through a sunny patch of road and CRACK! A chunk of ice whacked me on the head. It didn't hurt, but the crack was so loud, I knew that either the ice ball or the skull had to have permanent structural damage. I guess I have a hard head, because I didn't think about it again during the run. I finished my loop, and anticipated a slow time, since my legs felt very tight, and everyone seemed to have passed me today. To my surprise, my time was decent. I walked home, surveying the crosswalks to avoid plunging my feet into deceptively deep puddles of slush. I passed by my favorite cafe, and imagined an old friend enjoying a cup of coffee, and then spying me pass by, run out and surprise me. A few blocks later I arrived on my block. A car parked on the corner had a bumper sticker of a picture of a native American. Then another that said 'Official Vehicle of the Native Americans', and a last one saying 'Native Americans-We're Still Here'. Not all in that Toyota RAV4, I hoped. As I took out my key, I thought it was really nice to share little pieces of people, and maybe we get greedy when we think we need big chunks of them.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Setting the Bar Beyond Your Grasp

How high are your expectations? Of yourself? Your friends? Your family? If you set up goals for yourself that you know you will not reach, is it less of a failure? It's a great idea, when you think about it. If I am never really fully vested in a goal in the first place, perhaps because I knew it was unrealistic to expect success in it, how can I possibly blame myself for not reaching it? For me, my unrealistic goal (the main one, as I have numerous pseudo goals), has always been associated with running. When I first started running after leaving Israel, I loved it. I loved the fact that despite being a little overweight, I could still experience the physical high of athletic movement. My very first goal was not to complete a mile, since I was still not there yet. It was not to run a 10 minute mile, since I was still only capable of 11 minute miles. It was not to lose weight, or even enter a local 5k race. My first goal back then was to be the fastest woman in the world. I wanted to be accountable for this goal too, so I went public. My sister published a school yearbook for inhabitants of Woodstock, NY. Under my 2x2 photo was my life's ambition: To be the first woman to break 30 minutes in the 10k. Now over 10,000 people would know that I was serious. How serious is it to run a 30 minute 10k? Well, it means that you have to run a mile in less than 5 minutes. And then do six of them back to back, and then kick a little more until it's all over. Several Olympics have passed since that goal, and I still have yet to break 40 minutes for a 10k, let alone 30 minutes. But this goal has served me well. It has ensured that I will dedicate myself to the sport, and strive to get the maximum gains that my body is capable of in any given day. It has required a fierce dedication and passion, that has yielded great improvements in my athletic abilities. But it would have been just as easy on that first day on the track in Berkeley, for me to say, 'I am no good at this, I'm too fat, and I feel like I'm going to pass out. Running is not for me.' What is the deciding factor between quitting and persevering? I don't have the answer to that question, but I think it is more important to look at the act of motion. We often engage our brains so much that we rationalize getting out and doing anything at all. Don't think. Just move. Do it. Move it. Live it.
Prenatal brain development shows us that we might be doomed if our parents didn't love us enough. Or neglected us, or abused us. What happens is, the connections in our brains are developing for only experiences that are present. If nurturing is absent, we don't have any response to it when it appears in later life. What does this have to do with unrealistic goals? A lot. If your brain is in survivor mode, it needs to set up 'feel good' situations for its host (you). There's a great comfort in setting yourself the task of becoming the next American Idol, because you likely are older than 28 and can't sing very well (in others' opinions), thus the disappointment of not being able to fulfill this goal can be easily justified. But sometimes you really do want certain goals, and despite being presented with multiple barriers to obtaining them, you somehow find the strength to continue pursuing them. When these barriers are internal, the pursuit can be trickier. And to trick a trickster, you have to implement the element of surprise. Don't let your brain be a bully and dictate what you can and can't achieve. You know what you want. Don't let some faulty wiring come between you and your dreams.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thirteen Miles of Friends

Things to avoid doing the night before a race: drinking coffee after 4 pm; listening to Rachael Yamagata's 'Elephants' CD; I was wide awake at 3:45 a.m., wallowing in sadness.
Things to avoid doing the morning before a race: relying on any subway on the weekend. To my surprise, I was looking forward to running this morning's half marathon in Central Park. I hadn't done a half in over a year, and felt it was time to test the endurance of this speed-chasing dreamer. Waiting on the 1 train platform, it didn't dawn on me to check the weekend subway schedule. I felt reassured by the sight of other race-ready people waiting too, easily identified by their funky orange D-tag looped and looming around their shoelaces. I heard a train, and prepared to board. Strangely, the top half of the train was missing, and in the spots normally occupied by strap hangers were sitting dozens of bags of city garbage. Well that was a dirty trick. One anxious runner exited the turn style and then turned around and asked if any of the runners wanted to share a cab. I thought I'd test my luck, and wait a little longer. The start of the race was a little over half an hour away, which means I was mildly frantic. Well, actually normally I would be in a state of near hysteria, but somehow, it just didn't seem to make sense to worry about something out of my hands. Besides, I had to take off my track pants in front of a car full of strangers to save time. I didn't realize how much talent was involved in changing into race-gear during a subway commute. Most people were sleeping anyway, and the rest somehow knew to avert their stares. I think I've picked up this teacherly look which commands lots of power when it comes to fending off unwanted behavior. When we got to the 72nd st stop, I broke out into a slow jog. The park was only a few blocks away. I checked my bag, and jogged to the port-o-potties. With less than twenty minutes before the gun would go off, the lines were amazingly long. I heard a female voice call out my name. Heidi! I love Heidi. She was one of the first runners I met in the city. She's from the Mid-West, and just a very good person. She was about three places away from her turn on line. I ran up and gave her a hug. I remembered that she had sent a 'friend request' about a year ago to me on Facebook, and I had not responded to it. I always hoped she wasn't offended by that. As I ran off to find a shorter line, I told her, 'I think about you all the time!' She smiled, and must have thought I was crazy. I do really like her though, and thought there's nothing wrong with letting her know. Then I see Julio on line! This is really funny. He works in a Running Store, and he runs every single race in New York City, and I know him casually through an old running club. I was in a more anti-social mood than I'd been aware of when I walked into that store two days ago. I didn't know he worked there, and was so not in the mood to be friendly. He seemed to have enough friendliness to cover for both of us. We briefly exchanged that we would both be running in this race. As I exited the store, he said, 'I'll see you Sunday!' I smirked as I told him there was no way he would see me Sunday, there would be over 5,000 runners. And there he was, standing on that port-o-potty line, living up to his claim. OK, fast forward to the main event: I always have goals for races, but was having a tough time gauging what to expect today. The hills in the park had been taking their toll lately, and I was not running up to par. So the race begins, I am in the second corral, and I feel like most of the runners here are running a lot slower than I was. So I get this boost of energy in an effort to catch up to the main field, and pass about 100 people. My third mile is actually under seven minutes! I'm so ecstatic I make some crazy face and do a little cheer on the spot for myself. A short, very blonde woman and I keep taking turns passing each other- she me on the uphills, I her on the down. At one point I decide to grab some gatorade at one of the aid stations, and she happens to be right next to me. I offer her the rest of my cup. She takes it after considering if this is a good idea. Clearly it restored her energy, as she whizzed past me going up one of the many hills. She cheered me on as she did, which was such an unusual and nice gesture. At one point I saw my friend Joann standing on the sidelines with her dog Scout. I screamed out hello to her, and then hello to Scout too. That seemed to sap any residual energy I had, and I made a mental note that focusing on the race takes precedence over greeting friends' dogs. With three more miles to go, my quads felt like they were being ground up in a meat grinder. My hips and legs felt so tight, I was wondering if everything would just buckle as I got to the descent portion of the hill. Finally mile thirteen was in sight, Heidi had finished, and was sprinting the course in reverse to greet people. 'Great job, Tamar!' I smiled and fed off of her positive energy; I guess I picked a worthy person to stalk. I finished the race, elated that I'd run under 1:37. The blonde from earlier came up to me to chat. She looked so calm and relaxed, like she'd just finished a 2 mile jog, and not a grueling 13 mile race. I went off to put some warm layers on. I didn't see anyone that I knew. I felt content to stretch and contemplate my experience in my own little corner.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Uptown and Downtown

I have to admit, after three years of intuitive living, sandwiched between small intervals of behaving as a sensible employed adult, the latter lifestyle can really frazzle my zen. Or my laziness. Whatever it is, I make a funny grown up.
My friend Liza called this morning, sheepishly asking to borrow some survival money. I had blacklisted her from further loans due to proper follow-up repayment, but she had been a good friend to me these past few years. And how can you turn someone down who doesn't know if their train card will go through en route to work? You would have to be pretty heartless. We tried to figure out the logistics of her picking up said funds. I had to take a complicated trip to the Bronx that morning, and she too was on a deadline. She was thinking of people in my neighborhood that I was friendly with where I could leave it for her. Given my freakishly strong desire for privacy, that was an interesting exercise. 'What about the guy at the bagel place? You said he was nice.' I laughed under my breath. 'Yeah, he's not talking to me. I didn't smile at him one day, and now we just don't say anything to each other. It's OK, I hardly go there anyway.' Then I remembered Justin. He worked at the stationary store a few blocks away. He was from Senegal, and we got into a conversation when I first moved into the city. I was struggling to accept how much more expensive everything was in my new urban home, including his overpriced notebooks. I thought he would give some pat excuse and be annoyed that I was disparaging his wares, but he was genuinely empathetic, and even gave me some tips on where to shop. We became friends. I'd stop in and we'd chat about running, my progress in the teaching profession. I developed a platonic crush on him, and one day brought him a lavender butter cookie that was made in the local bakery. He was pleased, not shocked at this obvious show of affection. Unfortunately, he couldn't identify the floral essence in it, so my crush dissipated. So Justin would be the recipient of Liza's money envelope. I sealed it, and considered putting a sticker on the seal, in case there was a different guy in the store, I imagined this would prevent him from opening the envelop. I realized that was absurd, because Justin was one of those people who you could trust your life savings with, and he wouldn't have anyone like that working for him. I was running late for my Bronx excursion. I walked into the stationary store, and Justin's face lit up upon seeing me, as usual. 'Hey, Tamar, how's it going?' I tried to be brief, but after accepting my favor request, he started telling his helper about my marathoning prowess. I chatted a few minutes, and then began my long journey. I was heading to the FedEx location in the Bronx that was holding my important item. Money for school! I had to dip into a retirement fund finally. A worthy cause, if ever there was one. This trip somehow involved taking four separate subways. Shady characters seemed to be strategically placed in the cars I entered. Red eyes giving me the once over, baggy jeans and over sized leather coats. I wanted to read but realized there were too many fast and confusing train changes to do both tasks successfully. Besides, I may need to fend off a purse-snatcher. When I finally ascended from the final train, I looked around, and felt like I was in the middle of a gritty transient industrial town with nothing more than factories and highways. As I started the foot portion of the trip, I discovered that drug dealers were part of this scenery. I felt lucky that I listened to my instincts and waited until the daytime to do this. After getting lost a few times, both on my way to and back from FedEx, I started losing my gateway skills as well. I saw an above ground train, and felt relieved that I was near a station. But after walking another ten minutes and not finding Cypress Avenue, I felt a little hopeless. I turned around, and there was one limping little guy coming towards me. He looked mean. I went right up to him. He pulled out his earpods, I said 'Hi' cheerfully, and asked him where Cypress Avenue was. He stopped looking mean. 'Oh, it's right back there. You see that check cashing place on the corner? Just figure out which way you're going, and that's where it is,' he said, now smiling as though to an old friend. I thanked him profusely, and started heading in that direction. My mind had temporarily forgotten that most subway trains operate underground. In the absence of overhead trains, I wondered how I would ever make it home again. He was right, I did need to figure out which way I was going. One of these days I just may.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


She was running late to meet her date. She really didn't consider this a date, because in their short phone conversation, it was apparent that he was already fumbling for words and coherency, revealing an over eagerness to be liked. She couldn't think of him as anything more than a potential friend. She noted with annoyance that he left her a message an hour before their appointed meeting. He stated exactly three times during the message in one form or another, that he was looking forward to seeing her. She wondered if he had some type of social disorder. She started feeling a tug of compassion for the guy. It can be very stressful meeting new people. She left the house determined to be kind, regardless of any impulse to behave otherwise.
When she finally arrived at the coffee shop, she easily spotted him in a bright purple sweater sporting a boyish smile at her presence. He looked sweet, like someone's little brother on a first date. She wanted to start shedding some of her many layers of winter-wear as the heat was blasting, but she thought better of it. This man did not have custody of his eyes, and they gazed steadily in the region of her chest. She was not too sure how to deal with this bit of Neanderthalism. She tried to distract his attention with conversation so she could at least remove her coat without feeling violated, but his gaze remained chest-height. Her physical comfort took precedence, and off came her coat. His eyes remained transfixed. 'Maybe he's too shy to look into my eyes,' she reasoned. She really wanted to remove her sweater too, but couldn't imagine what might occur in that event. She decided to wait until they were seated. She didn't know what they were talking about, but her companion was laughing heartily at her jokes. Good time to take off the sweater unnoticed. As soon as she did, to her surprise, he adjusted his glance to her face, and left it there until they parted two hours later. Conversation flowed, she felt comfortable with this person. Then he pulled an awkward maneuver. She shared some recent coup she had achieved, and he put his hand up for a high five. That alone was unpleasant enough, but when she complied out of politeness, she felt his small dry hand try to linger into a handhold! This guy must have been out of his mind. A handhold?! A handhold! She couldn't believe the gall. She quickly retreated her paw, and buried it underneath her leg to ensure protection from future ambushes. Mind you, this was all done in her subtle manner, never missing a beat in the warm conversation. At one point, the talk got depressive. She shared a recent sadness with him, and immediately regretted it, as she knew this would illicit another attempt at hand-holding. She wedged both hands under her legs this time. Then he looked down and confessed he had never been in a relationship, and she could see tears welling up in his dark brown eyes. She told him he was better off, but he didn't seem to think so. She wondered why men were always crying around her, and told some more jokes to lighten the mood. Then she decided it was time to end this meeting. They walked to the corner, and exchanged niceties. She walked up St. Marks street and remembered the night when she was 15 and had a crush on David Hinchman, a gay actor. He lived on that block, and she spent the night on his roof once. It was too cold to walk around she decided, and she ducked down into the warmth of the subway. On the semi-crowded train, she noticed a gay couple. The more effeminate of the two caught her attention. At first she wasn't sure why she couldn't stop looking at him. He was making a dramatic expression with his eyes. But when he relaxed his features, she understood. His face reminded her of someone she had once cared about. The slanted brown eyes, the strong handsome nose, the sullen pout. As long as he wasn't smiling, she could imagine it was him. Suddenly he noticed her staring at him. She looked away. She started remembering things she wanted to forget. She looked back, and saw him whispering to his partner. The partner glanced at her. She looked away, but then had to look once more. She felt an overwhelming longing. One tear rolled down her cheek. She looked away, this time for good.