Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Wasn't There: Boston Marathon 2013

Preface: I originally published this on my Facebook page, a bit after 8PM EST, on April 15, 2013. I somewhat regret having done so.

I was not at the finish line, nor a runner this year. I was not in harm's way. I have run Boston only once, ten years ago, and haven't watched in person, prior to yesterday, for a few years. No one I know personally was harmed, though a few had terrifying close calls. In light of their experiences, and of those injured and killed and those who care for them, I have a great sense of impropriety over having put these thoughts into the public sphere. Though I work in communications and generally know better, like many of us I sometimes use social media to "process" my thoughts and feelings. Like everyone in the Boston area yesterday, I had no shortage of either, though the former were often incoherent and the latter were often unhelpful.

But post it I did. And it started getting shared. More than 200 times at last count. That's fine--despite my ambivalent feelings, if others find some value in it, I'm glad. Some people, kindly, reached out to me to say, "You should try to publish this, somewhere."

With respect to them, thank you, but--no. Not in the context surrounding these events and my second-hand experience of them. As alluded to above, I know at least two former students who were there, one of them very much in harm's way (he's fine, Thank God), and know others who had "near misses" of the kind we always read about: a slower pace here, a faster pace there, a last minute decision. I have been in that crowd, on both sides of the fences, but I was not there yesterday. I don't have a dead eight-year old son and a gravely injured wife and daughter. I have all my limbs; I saw no one lose theirs. It would feel unseemly, literally not my place, to try to "publish" this in any way that might bring money or recognition to me as a result.

So, why put it here, on this blog that I currently never update and that, I assume, no one ever reads? Because I've seen enough examples over the years of widely-shared posts coming back in altered or even distorted forms, or misattributed in ways that have created unfortunate outcomes for many involved. And, I'll admit, because it seems to have resonated in some way for many, so this gives it a "home" should I ever want to share it more formally. So this post is intended to record the original, on a verifiable source, one not (yet) owned by Facebook. I've corrected one typo but have otherwise left it as it first appeared. Comments and backlinks have been switched off for this post; thank you for understanding.

--George Grattan, April 16, 2013

It's the oldest in the country, and often one of the most crowded. It's hard to get into: a guy my age, for example, has to run better than a 7:30 minute/mile pace --for 26.2 miles--in another qualifying marathon just to be allowed to run, or be willing to raise thousands of dollars for charity, in a town where lots of other people are doing the same, every year. (That's how I got to do it, a decade ago today.)

It starts on a crazy downhill. It has strange turns. It can be a blizzard or a scorcher or a monsoon or, like today, pretty close to perfect. (Because it's New England in April, it can come close to all of those in one day, actually...) It requires you to train through a New England winter, if you're a local.

It has motorcycle tribes in Ashland, screaming women in Wellesley, those infamous Newton hills, and boisterous Budweiser enthusiasts at BC. It has that sneaky graveyard hill and those awful trolley tracks on Chestnut Hill Ave. (I remember you, Coolidge Corner, I remember...) It has terrible headwinds at the moments you least need them: crossing a highway, and looking down the final mile or so to the finish.

And because it's Boston, it starts at a small town New England school and finishes next to the library of the self-described (damn right!) "Athens of America."

Today it took a hit, and staggered, and even dropped to its knees, with shock and sorrow.

But like many thousands of runners who do it, every year, when they don't think they can, it's going to find its stride again. And it's going to be beautiful. This marathon is too tough--and this tough city loves it too much--for any other response. No punks get to shut this down, or fundamentally change it, or stop even one person who wants it hard enough--see all of the above--from lacing up next year, and beyond.

Because this year, in Boston, everyday people ran 26.2 miles and then kept running another mile and half to donate blood...or ran back into the dust to help.

Here's to Hopkinton, 2014.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

10 Things NOT to Do for Earth Day's 40 Anniversary

1. Ride your bike on a busy city sidewalk without bell, horn, or the recognition that you're the one causing the problem, not the pedestrians.

2. Put every organic item generated by your household into your back yard compost pile, upwind from your neighbors, including your child's allegedly biodegradable and certainly full diapers.

3. Buy a hybrid SUV just for the occasion.

4. Insist that everyone you're walking with stop while you identify each bird, plant, tree, and flower you see as you consult various guides.

5. Say "Gaia" more than twice. (Actually, once.) (Corollary: Say, "Wouldn't it be great if every day were Earth Day?" with any trace of sincerity.)

6. Snicker sophomorically every time you hear "Senator Gaylord Nelson" in a news story about the origins of the first Earth Day in 1970.

7. Skip your shower to save water. (First corollary: Suggest co-showering to those clearly not interested or likely to be interested, ever; Second corollary: Overdo it on the non-flushing.)

8. Hector. Anyone. About anything environmental. (Corollary: Exceed more than two fawning references to any of the following: Rachel Carson, Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, Al Gore, John Muir, David Brower, Paul Ehrlich, Bill McKibben, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Captain Planet, Woodsy the Owl, the Crying Native American Man, or James Cameron and/or the Na'vi.)

9. Drive your car out of the suburbs or city so that you can experience "real" Nature on Earth Day, then drive home and pop "LIFE," "EARTH," or "BLUE PLANET" in the Blu-Ray to watch more "real" nature on the 60 inch plasma.

10. Detox. (That's New Year's Day, dumb ass.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

500 Days of Summer=95 Minutes of Charming Deconstruction

Yes, 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is contrived. Complaining about that, however, is a bit like complaining that King Kong is a movie about a big ape.

The film knows it's pushing the clever-n-cute mix, perhaps past its breaking point, from its non-linear narrative structure, to the titular pun (Deschanel's character's name is "Summer Finn"), to its faux-stentorian and intermittent voice-over, to at least two uses of split screen for no particularly compelling reason, to a Disney-meets-Bollywood-meets-Hall & Oates dance number by Gordon-Levitt in the middle, to a final joke on a character name that makes you groan while smiling.

But if you think writers Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber or director Marc Webb are trying to present any of this as deep, ground-breaking stuff, you've misread the film's tone as much as Gordon-Levitt's character Tom Hanson misreads The Graduate's message about romance and lasting love--and the usual, real-life, disconnect between them.

For although a cartoon Bluebird of Happiness does alight on Tom's shoulder in the aforementioned "I spent last night with the girl of my dreams" dance number, it has the good sense to wink at us--broadly. The bird is in on the joke that life, especially the lives of those falling in love, can be a wonderfully cruel farce. As Tom has to do with love itself, in order to enjoy this film you've got to learn not to take it too seriously, not to force deep meanings onto things or assume the profound hand of Fate where the lighter touch of happenstance may be all that's at work.

In love, as in film making, there may be an Director calling the shots, but moments of grace might be best experienced by not looking at them too closely.

Admittedly, that's hard to do in some cases with these two leads, each of whom fills the screen with believable good looks, charm, and, in Gordon-Levitt's case, some fantastic comedic presence. I've been a big fan of his since catching 2005's unique high-school noir Brick, and have been utterly enchanted with Deschanel for a while, primarily for her work with M. Ward as the distaff half of She and Him.

As good as Deschanel is here, bringing Summer alive just enough to avoid falling into the usual nice girl/bitch complex that's usually the fate of the girls who break cute boys' hearts in this genre, the movie's strengths rest mostly on Gordon-Levitt's decidedly (and refreshingly) non-buff shoulders. (Dude's in G.I. Joe this summer too, though. Go figure...)

In fact, one of the film's best accomplishments--and its creators' best decisions--is to unapologetically tell the story of these two 20-something greeting-card company employees who meet cute, become lovers-at-different-levels, and fail to live happily-ever-after from Tom's point of view. But they do so without reducing Summer to a cipher. I'd just as happily watch this story again told from her point of view, but am relieved to have been so completely immersed in his.

Unlike the Judd Apatow film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 500 Days doesn't need to portray Tom's romantic yearning--and the dissolution he falls into after learning he's loved far more deeply than he's been loved--as inherently pathetic and absurd in order to get its laughs. It's content to simply show the pain that can occur when affections run on different frequencies, but it doesn't mock the concept of feeling--or even wanting to feel--deeply in love. And, though Tom is absolutely shown at his most emotionally vulnerable state here in front of a woman who doesn't love him, there's no Apatowian move to cover up psychological vulnerability by going for a full frontal.

(What, you mean you didn't know that's the dirty little trick at the heart of all of Apatow's films: affect a studied nonchalance about the male body's absurdities in order to avoid having to look at the abusrdities of the male psyche too closely?)

In that earlier film, Jason Segel's character is, truly, a besotted, lazy schmuck--but the emphasis is on the lazy schmuck, at least until his third act transformation. Here, Gordon Levitt's Tom is simply a fool for love at the start and an only slightly wiser fool (a more self-aware one) at the finish. His problem isn't that he takes love for granted, it's that he finds it precious. At first he assumes it's unattainable for a guy like him; after he meets, falls for, and loses Summer, he assumes it's irreplaceable, that he only had the one shot at true happiness.

Yes, Tom's 13 year old sister tells him--much too precociously--not to wallow, but she doesn't tell him that he shouldn't want to fall in love again that deeply. It's nice to see a film that doesn't portray a man being head-over-heels--and enjoying it while it lasts--as essentially giving up his best self, compromising, giving in to some inevitable, unavoidable--if pleasant-trap. Here, Tom's in the desiring role that's usually given to women in movies: he pretty desperately wants to find the love of his life, to pair off, to marry and get that happily-ever-after. And the movie doesn't spend too much time, aside from a few obligatory bits with Tom's obligatorily neanderthal buddies, painting him as pitiable, perverse, or less of a man for wanting to do that.

Part of the reason it pulls this off is the focus on interpersonal affection and intimacy rather than on sex. It's clear that Tom and Summer aren't just cuddling in bed, but we don't dwell on it--their compatibility (or lack thereof) isn't primarily about what's going on between the sheets. There are funny bits about Tom briefly misunderstanding Summer's college nickname, and an amusing recitation from her--at Tom's stupid insistence--of the various attributes and endowments of her previous lovers.

But the real tensions in this movie aren't about how couples connect--or fail to--with various and variously skilled or sized body parts. Rather, they arise from an honest, wincingly funny, sometimes achingly painful articulation of the ways that hearts and minds sometimes just don't find true intercourse.

The major reason Tom avoids coming off as merely pathetic, though, is the actor bringing him to life. Gordon-Levitt simply owns this movie--and he knows it without being obnoxious about it. There are few actors his age I can imagine in this role who wouldn't make me want to punch this character in the neck. He moves from self-deprecating to timorous to astounded to giddy to morose to vengeful to scarred to cautiously hopeful, all without coming off as mannered or inauthentic.

Admittedly, his finest moments are at the extremes of Tom's journey: singing karaoke while a bit too drunk, trying to impress a girl he's sure he can't ever really impress, dancing through the streets after that first night together, giggling with her on the phone in the office (yeah--there are lots of echos of Pam and Jim in these scenes), fleeing a party in rage and humiliation after a devastating revelation, or, best of all, serving up a killer "You got a problem with this?" eyebrow-raise to a convenience store clerk while buying more supplies for his post-breakup bender.

His performance alone is enough to recommend 500 Days of Summer, but it's got many other things going for it. It's not every rom-com that comes along and gently deconstructs the usually-unexamined assumptions about love and romance underlying the genre. That it does so without leaving the reconstructed romantics among us feeling like total fools for wanting to believe--at least a little--in some of those myths is exactly the kind of contrivance I can live with.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Content unique to this blog space coming this weekend, I promise. (I know you've all been waiting.) But, for now, another of my blogs for Earthwatch over on Treehugger, giving you some sense of what I've actually been working on rather than writing here.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's So Nice to Be in the 1990s

So, I've heard about this thing..."blogging"? Sounds interesting. Wonder if it'll catch on. Guess I'll start by posting some of the entries I've written for the Treehugger blog to get some content going, but have no fear: this space won't be all about my environmental work. Except when it is.

Otherwise, I'll blog about politics, movies, comics, novels, theater, health, neighborhoods, TV, music, and whatever else tickles my fancy. It'll be fascinating and funny and provocative except when it's really, really not.

So, to kick off, here are some of those Treehugger entries, most recent one first: