Stupid Spin Class

I definitely have another 5 paragraphs to write about stupid spin class. If the goal is to stay on the beat of the music, but only 7 super fit front row people can actually do that and the rest of us are out of sync but trying our best (well “our” is used loosely, because I’m not working that hard for anyone), WHY GO SO FAST? I spent one class stomping on every other beat during fast songs, and afterward overheard a woman say to her friend (about me… it’s dark in there and they didn’t realize it was me), “Sorry there wasn’t someone good in front of you.”

SORRY THERE WASN’T SOMEONE GOOD IN FRONT OF YOU. Nice, Soul Sisters.

I will never be a whoo-hooing exerciser. Even at my peak of athleticism as a 12-year-old state champion-winning gymnast, my coaches would chastise me for having zero stamina. I would try to stifle my gasps for air after one floor exercise routine like some sort of preteen smoker. If the coaches noticed, it would land me 10 minutes of jumping rope or terrible sprints between leg lifts and pull ups. And it never worked. My body prefers rest. I’m endorphin-resistant.

Last night I made Kyra’s jerk chicken dinner for 5 yummy-sound-making boys. (Secret recipe shared only with those in her lucky inner circle.) Handsome Bernie drove 2 hours to spend 10 with me and I am loved. I woke up with the birds completely energized and happy, and I mounted that bike with all of the best intentions. But after only 10 minutes of hellll yeaahhhhs from a tattooed 20 year old shouted over frenetic club music and I was outta there. Am I the only nutcase whose mood is crushed by cardio? Maybe not. Maybe that’s why they keep it so dark in there. One shared FUCK THIS look with a fellow cycler, and I could Pied Piper a whole gaggle of moms out of the studio and over to Dunks.

I’ll get back on that bike again. I’ll never love it, I’ll never whoo hoo, and I certainly will never pair skin tight leggings with a half shirt and call that an outfit. The adorable, taut-belly-baring desk girl asked me if everything was OK as I was ripping off the Velcro sneakers (and gasping and sweating) after only three songs. It took every bit of restraint not to say…

“There wasn’t someone good in front of me.”

Left right left right left right LEFT SPIN CLASS EARLY…

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I sat down immediately after this leap.

 

 

Patrick gets married

My brother got married last weekend. After a few glasses of wine, and with a bunch of tears, I delivered this speech to a patio of people who love Patrick and Jenni as much as I do.

For over a decade Patrick has only ever referred to Jenni as “the love of my life” or “my best friend.” We Stocktons will admit it took us longer than it should have to realize that maybe that was, well, enough. In fact, it is probably much more than many have after a decade of traditional marriage. But because we are lame traditionalists, and Patrick never seemed to be ring shopping, and maybe he was dating Joel or Shane and that would also be fine, or just because it’s, you know, PATRICK, we kind of aborted any notion that we would ever be here in a room full of people who love both of them fiercely… with the white dress and the snazzy suit and the vows and everything.

But here we are.

Only Patrick and Jenni can tell you how we got here. I have my theories. For sure Paige and I have only suggested this yearly, and then more frequently after they bought a freakin’ house together and we could assault him with more practical arguments about tax advantages. But for these two, for Patrick in particular, this moment was all about romance. And on his terms, but on her birthday, my baby brother gave Jenni a ring and his heart, which frankly, she’s had all along.

This wedding is a joyous proclamation of love that already has roots, a history, a mortgage. This celebration is also a unique time when our muddled assortment of family that are friends and friends that are family are thrown together for the first time, or the first time in a long time. For me, half the excitement of flying out here was to meet all of the fantastic weirdos Patrick has been talking about for 20 years. Because growing up, Patrick’s friends were the funniest, scene-stealing characters of my high school days. Half of them were half in love with all of my girlfriends, and there was always one or five hanging around. Even more during the Band Practice Era as Symptoms of Hate, Appetite for Destruction, and finally the mellower Roger’s Tribe irritated all of the neighbors. Patrick has always attracted smart, zany, talented, and almost universally super attractive people into his orbit.

And look at all of you. All gorgeous and whatnot. Typical Patrick.

On our hearts and in our minds today are those that would be here, but cannot in any sort of chicken-or-fish RSVP way. The Stockton side aunties and Walter and Gertrude. Grandma Mid. Uncle Ray. Joe Burke. Chris Horn. To know what stories Chris could have told, to hear Joe’s booming laugh as he made fun of west coast weirdness. To watch Patrick sneak out for a smoke with the cousins or hear Aunt Billie call the bride just the cutest thing west of the Rockies. While we keep them in our hearts in this moment, we get them for a second or two. Or maybe they’re a little bit here for us, because we’re loving and missing them especially now, when there is this huge news to tell:

PATRICK AND JENNI ARE MARRIED!

(Chris is doing his can’t-see-his-eyes smile, I’m sure.)

And now, I will leave you with a funny story from our youth so that we’re not crying into our cocktails. And this one is called Pizza in the Tree and is mostly about how our mother is bonkers.

Back in high school for a year or two, Aunt Sharon, mom’s twin, was living with or near us in Pennsylvania. This meant, when mom and dad went out of town for a conference or long weekend with the Coys or whatever, Aunt Sharon would come over after school to make sure we didn’t burn the house down. If you know Karen Stockton, you know she was absolutely certain we would burn the house down. Too many boxes in the basement or attic? It’s going to burn the house down. You’d better get rid of that stack of magazines or it’s going to burn the house down. Those Jenn-Air grills that work indoors? No way. Plus, the counter splatters would require her to Bounty roll paper the entire kitchen… and all of that paper toweling? Well, that’s going to burn the house down. Teenage Patrick smoking furtively in flammable corners of the home gave her nightmares. You see how this goes.

Naturally, mom’s strict rule when she was away, and frankly mostly when she was home, was that we were NOT allowed to use the kitchen. Ever. And she had kitchen hours, like, if you wanted a sandwich at 10pm, you’d better be crazy stealth about it. It’s like Mom could literally hear crumbs. But when you are a teenager, if you’re not full, you’re hungry. And so one day after school when our parents were away, we made the insanely insubordinate decision to bake a frozen pizza. This was breaking a bunch of rules. The oven? We totally could have burned the house down. Also, crumbs. But we were starving and really wanted that DiGiorno’s.

It was an uneventful pizza baking and eating event. But there were leftovers that no one could eat and now Aunt Sharon is calling saying she’ll be home in 15 minutes. We stuffed the uneaten pepperoni slices into a Ziploc bag and immediately decided it would be too obvious in the trash. There was no time the bury it. Patrick made the bold decision to hurl the plastic bag of contraband off of the deck. Into the woods. Where it immediately gets snagged on a branch and ends up dangling right in front of the family room window. It’s like oh look Days of Our Lives and to the left, Pizza in a Tree. Only 6 minutes to Aunt Sharon.

We start launching everything we can to knock the ziplock-ed bag of our sins out of the direct view of anyone watching TV. Mom, if you ever wondered why you were missing so much silverware… we’re coming clean. But nothing worked. Still it dangled there. Finally… the hose. We hooked up the garden hose, pointed, aimed, and Aunt Sharon pulls into the driveway. A well-directed spray dislodges the arboreal pizza and it disappears into the woods just as Aunt Sharon is sing-songing through the kitchen, steps out onto the porch, and sees her nephew pointing the nozzle of the garden hose into the thick of the woods.

“Kids? What are you doing?”

“We’re, um… watering the trees?”

Patrick and I then collapse into fits of laughter we could no longer contain nor explain and Aunt Sharon tells us to stop being silly, to put away the hose and come inside already. If she ever smelled the pepperoni, she never told. And I don’t think she did, because the next thing she said threw us into another spell of mouth-gaping, soundless laughing:

“Do you kids want to order a pizza for dinner?”

These are the stories of my youth with my little brother who found all of the same things funny that I did. Many times we exasperated our older sister, Paige, who told us repeatedly on long car trips that we were not funny at all. Our inane nicknames for everyone, inside jokes carried forward through so many years I cannot remember their source, and always our shared inheritance from Dad: the inability to keep a short story short. And to be fair to mom, both of us now act like total Karen Stocktons in the kitchen. I buy those enormous packs of Bounty paper towels that don’t even fit in the cart.

Today, we raise a toast to Patrick and Jenni, who found in each other a best friend, a life long love, and someone to laugh with…. someone who will host impromptu dance parties and would definitely help you dislodge pizza from a tree. We are so happy you found each other and invited all of us to share in it. Congratulations and cheers!

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My baby brother before the bride…

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Patrick gets a wife… I get another sister. 

Vibing

Most mornings this summer, I’m up with the birds. In order to be on time for the OR, Bernie often needs to leave the Cape by 5:15am. This means Bernie’s alarm is set at 5:12. So I groan out of bed, assemble some sort of sad breakfast he eats over the sink, hand him an overlarge travel mug of coffee, and kiss him goodbye. Because he voluntarily extends his daily commute by 3 hours to see me (us), it feels a bit unfair to go back to bed after he pulls out of the driveway. So, I’m up with the birds.

The 4th was Bernie’s birthday, and you know, America’s. Summer birthdays cannot be beat, and when yours lands on the 4th of July, even better. Every year we say the fireworks were the best we’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because everyone is a 5 year old under fireworks. This was the first year I noticed everyone standing with hand over heart for the national anthem. Here, in Massachusetts, where every other Prius still endorses Hillary and encourages us to Resist, citizens are concerned and angry and fearful and waiting out another two years, but we still love this land. Maybe we still love each other. Or maybe it was the little kid anticipation of a past-your-bedtime light and sound show. But we stood: proudly, reluctantly, defiantly, impatiently, or resolutely, but probably as some sort of mixed cocktail of these.

The 4th of July feels like the true start of summer here in New England. It’s finally hot. The light lasts so long that dinners are delayed. More lingering happens. I forget to check door locks, read emails, and check toothbrushes for signs of use. My boys, however, are acting like Labor Day is right around the corner and are trying to fit in a gazillion activities and movie nights and sleepovers before that friend goes to camp, or that one to visit relatives, or the other kids to pre-season sports practices. This year, in particular, my boys are very keen on time.

In response, these boys are begging us to let them be. It’s easy for me: they want to be at my house. But for the other moms also trying to make summer memories (and prevent cavities), fetching their boys from the Lee’s to drag them home might be a bit exasperating. Mostly, we let them spend every minute together and acquiesce to an umpteenth Fortnite marathon sleepover. And occasionally, like last night, all of us lounge around the dining table sharing stories, making fun of each other, and challenging Alexa to play the most sing-along-able song. As one of my fave Cape kids put it: “We’re totally vibing.” And we were.

Next summer, half of these kids will be driving. In a handful of years, they’ll be in college. Last night we talked about all of the embarrassing stories we have memory banked for Markie’s rehearsal dinner, certain we’ll all be together for that faraway life milestone, and (for the moms) maybe getting a little teary about how lucky we are to still have singalong nights now, in these moments… fleeting in the lingering light.

Happy Summer, friends. Hope you’re vibing.

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Nostalgia

My kid graduated from middle school. This is, like, a thing. I know I know I know, it’s not high school graduation or any sort of milestone that we ever celebrated with sheet cake aplomb way back when, but Brodie has been at the same school for a decade. It was his last day there. I guess I wanted to cry, because I dug up those first day pics when he was posing with a nervous bus stop smile in his little Velcro shoes. Oof. That boy is now almost 6 feet tall. I’ve been writing about being in the sweet spot of parenting for a number of years, and somehow, it keeps getting sweeter.

You know that scene in Lost in Translation? Bill Murray’s monologue about his kids? I’ve always loved it. These small people do get more interesting with every year and inch. They become the best people you know. Brodie crossed a stage and became an official high schooler. But the night before, he fell asleep next to me on the couch after poking fun of my inability to SnapChat. (I’ll never get it.) Teddy asked me if I was one of those moms in texting threads with tons of emojis. I lied. As I find them ever more fascinating, I become infinitely more embarrassing. This is, I’m told, the natural order.

I’m practically pickled in end-of-year nostalgia. I used to think I romanticized teenagers because I didn’t have them, myself. And now that I do, I love them even more. They seem so much more exciting than my own Laura Ashley, white pump memories of being on the cusp of… something. I guess I wanted to cry (again), so I watched the Parkland kids sing “Seasons of Love” that had been shared oodles of times by moms annotating with heart eye emojis. It has been The Year of the Teenager in my own house and in the world.

I am a volunteer teacher for a rather incredible immersive Biology course taught to high schoolers at Harvard Medical School. MedScience uses an interactive mannequin to simulate ER settings to teach basic systems in a clinical setting. Last week’s topic was addiction, and I summoned my most dramatic teen persona and gave them a coked up 17 year old having a heart attack. Behind a one way mirror, I voiced the dummy and answered their questions peppered with drug-addled songs, paranoia about the whereabouts of my boyfriend, and a bunch of 80s movie references for my own amusement. They didn’t giggle when I told them my name was Julia Gulia or when I busted out my best Claire when they asked me if I was sexually active with Johnny:

“No. NO I NEVER DID IT!”

But they were super protective of me. Even after the diagnosis had been reached—that my tombstoning EKG was the result of a line-snorting afternoon– they were sure that my boyfriend was the peer-pressuring culprit. They held my hand and called my mom and told me they would take care of me. Medical schools and residency programs had just begun teaching empathy and sensitivity training when I was a fourth year. Are teenagers today tuned in a bit better? After the year they have had, perhaps.

Just as I’m feeling all mushy about teens in general, and mine in particular… they are gone. A week without children is how Bernie and I are beginning the summer, knowing Brodie is having fun with his cousins (and praying Teddy doesn’t tumble into the Grand Canyon). I’ve already purged their bedrooms of a semester of Latin tests and so many pants and shirts that didn’t keep up with their limbs. And then there it is. Brodie’s pre-K class picture. He dug it out to post on Instagram after Prize Day. Brodie never posts on Instagram. Do teenagers feel nostalgia, too? I guess so.

Seasons of Love (sniff sniff). Enjoy the milestone moments, friends.

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Boys in Velcro shoes…

 

**For those who found us through Steve Safran’s wildly shared and well-received essay about suicidal ideation and a rather wonderful message of empathy… welcome to Blooms and Bubbles. 

Depression Isn’t Sadness and Suicide Isn’t a Cry For Help… by Steve Safran

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Two gut-punching suicides that have people asking “Why them? They had it all!” Sure, Bourdain lived a hard life, but Kate Spade, the queen of whimsy? She was wealthy, adored and…

Depressed.

We need better words. One of the biggest disservices to the field of mental health is to call the diagnosis of “depression” by the name “depression.” Everyone “gets depressed.” It’s a commonplace word: “I’m so depressed the meeting I planned fell through.” “The ending of that show was too depressing.” “He’s too depressing to be around.”

None of these examples has anything to do with the psychological definition of Depression.

People who live with depression are wired differently. Our brains perceive life differently than those who do not have depression. Let me put it another way.

Suppose you were born left-handed in this predominantly right-handed world. Suppose that was considered OK from time to time, but generally not an excuse to use your dominant hand. Righties would say “Why are you using your left hand? Your right hand works perfectly well.” Or, “I had a cousin who was left handed, but with a lot of work, he forced himself to use his right hand.” Or, “Why not just use your right hand? You wouldn’t need the special scissors.”

But I’m still a lefty, you’d say. I’d like to be a righty, but everything comes out all wobbly and it’s so uncomfortable. Can’t you just understand I’m part of the 10 percent of the population that is left handed?

Depression is exhausting. And it’s cruel. It tells you terrible things about yourself. That’s why Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain died. I can’t speak for their experiences, but I can speak for my own and what I know to be true from many other patients with depression: our minds become ruthless bullies. They tell us the meanest things about ourselves. They stockpile ammunition and open fire. And we have to sit there and take it because, well, it’s coming from our own brains.

45,000 people committed suicide in 2016. Suicide rates are up 30 percent just since 1999, according to NBC news. Only about half of those victims were known to have a mental health diagnosis. We do not talk about this issue enough, and when we do, we don’t really know what we’re talking about, or when we do, Depression is conflated with “feeling depressed.”

News organizations have taken to posting suicide hotline numbers when they run stories about suicide. That’s a responsible act of journalism, but it’s like running the number for 911 in an article about a car accident. People with depression know there is help, but their brain is telling them it’s time to die. The evil mix of ill-behaving neurotransmitters and whatever they have been through in life lands on a singular message: You must kill yourself.

Even in that moment, they know they have friends they can call. They know there are hotlines. But they are not interested in anything other than stopping that message, stopping the pain.

I suggest much more empathy in this area. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression since the days of mixtapes, I’ve heard lots of well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) people say it all: “You’ve got a great life. What do you have to be depressed about?” (I don’t know. What do you have to be left-handed about?) “There are lots of people who have it worse off than you.” (Yes. And I still have depression.) “Just smile. How hard is it just to be happy?” (As hard as it would be for you to become left-handed while people insisted you use the regular scissors.)

My personal experience with this rotten condition has been horrid. I am certain I would have been more successful in my career without depression. For years, especially when I was younger, I wasn’t treated properly. As I got older, I was blamed for the illness that gripped me, as though it was a choice I made. I was called “lazy,” and put on meds that had me gain a ton of weight. People I loved mocked my illness, likely out of discomfort they may have it themselves. (They’re not much in the picture anymore.) In any case, there was not a lot of empathy.

We can’t stop suicide and depression. But we can understand it a lot better. I raise money for Movember, which supports research for men’s cancer and also the depression that can accompany it. This is something tangible I feel I can do. But all of us can do this: we can stop telling people with depression to “cheer up.” We can be more sensitive to this very real, very misunderstood disease.

Those of us with depression do not want to be treated as a protected class. We don’t want special rights or to be treated gently. You can’t make me depressed any more than you can make me a lefty. Empathy and acceptance are an enormous gift to those struggling to ignore the mean messages from their own minds.

Think about Robin Williams. Think about Kate Spade. Think about Anthony Bourdain. Think about the joy they brought you in their unique ways. Think about what you would have said to them, knowing they were going to take their lives. “Don’t do that” would not have worked. Instead of shameful, head-shaking whispers, let’s acknowledge suicide as the growing epidemic it is, and insist health care do more to support mental health.

Depression is not about what we have; it’s about what has us.

Ice cream… by Dan Hines

Guest blogger, Dan Hines hopes you enjoy the warmer months. Savor his words, and maybe a vanilla cone, dipped in butterscotch.

Ice cream isn’t just ice cream.

Right? Follow along… you know this.

A scoop next to your slice of birthday cake? Joyous. A scoop at 1am, watching reruns of shows that were awful the first time around while sleeplessly pondering life choices? A little sad, a little soothing. It’s nearly a weapon, the power ice cream holds for me. A weapon with Hershey’s syrup. As a kid, we rarely had ice cream in the house. Ice cream was birthday food. But then summer would arrive: ice cream season! For me, ice cream has always been about people, places… and Dad.

I spent most of my life in Southern PA. But for 4 long, dark years during middle school, I lived in Bath, Ohio. It was a beautiful area with great friends, but I was bullied. A lot. I don’t know if my folks knew, but was it a coincidence that during the bleakest times Dad would suggest, “Miniature golf?” Ice cream included was understood. My father is a man of few words. He’s a man who speaks through actions. But he’s a magician. He just knows. You don’t need to say a word, he just knows. He knows when ice cream needs to appear.

Yesterday, my father came to town. He visits twice a month to offer assistance, given my current condition. We visit the doctor, run errands, get haircuts… I’m 10 all over again. 10-year-old Dan. Only the 47-year-old version with the cane can’t keep up. Across the parking lot we see it at the same time. Dairy Queen.

“Want some DQ?”

“Yes!”

I won’t lie, it’s been an especially rough patch lately. But there it was…ice cream. And so I’m sitting across the table from Dad, and we’re talking. But I don’t hear a word he’s saying. His lips are moving, but my mind is somewhere else. I’m having ice cream in Bath, Ohio. I’m licking drips from a cone at a picnic table at Lake Winnipesaukee. I’m ordering a Blizzard at the DQ in Kennett Square. I’m in the parking lot eating ice cream in Winchester, VA. I’m 10 years old with Dad and a new haircut. And I know how lucky I am.

Ice cream is just ice cream. Right?

Nope. Just like Dad….it’s always there, and it’s magic. (You know this.)

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News Without Noise…by Steve Safran

Remember what it was like to get the daily news back before it was terrifying or held in your very hand? Before the wrong combination of likes or dislikes or posts or comments could brand you as UNCLEAN for billions to mock or deride, even though you might have only accidentally landed on cut/paste/post while searching for car keys or spare change? Remember when an essay masking as “news” couldn’t be immediately discounted by snopes.com, or when journalism itself was a noble profession assumed to be grounded in a search for truth?

This is my life right now, and I completely enjoy it.

There’s very little I like about Life Without Screens, mind you. My DVR is bloated with episodes I’ve missed, and is now groaning with repeats of shows gone by. My fault. I never envisioned a two-month hiatus from must-see TV. But I am actually improving: up to about an hour of screen time a day now, nearly as much allotted to a well behaved first grader. While moving video will still hurl me into dizzy fits and land me back in my bedroom cave, to Britt’s enormous relief, I’m not sending badly-typed copy either.

I broke my typewriter. And this wasn’t in a fit of frustration. I really meant well, and threaded a c.1930s style ribbon quite expertly, I thought. But maybe not so expertly since all of the keys to the left of “V” now strike the paper in concert, sticking there like so many commuters stopped at a locked turnstile. I may be excellent at fixing electronics, but I’m a hopeless handyman.

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What I have discovered in my forced vacation from screens is the news. A journalist discovering news? Yes. The news that lured me into this field in 1992 is back, at least the way I consume it. I have an Amazon Echo (“Alexa? What’s the news?”) which gives me frequent national and local updates from NPR and WBUR. I read honest to God newspapers when I can tolerate the light. I discuss current events with Kim and kind friends who have been coming by to visit. It’s 1989 up in here.

I’m a digital media guy, and I wouldn’t like to live this way forever. I’d prefer to get news from a variety of sources around the world. Due respect to our city’s newspapers, but I prefer many different points of view. And I’ve always been the social media guru, traveling from station to station to lecture the importance of a strong social media presence. Photophobia kept me, until this past Sunday, from more than a minute in the light without severe pain. But one glance at a simple news story after a two week break, and I was reminded why I don’t read Facebook comment threads anymore.

News has become, in large measure, a kernel of truth surrounded by outer shells of noise. The networks are all the same:

CNN: TRUMP SAYS A THING, COULD END HIS PRESIDENCY

FOX NEWS: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HILLARY STILL NOT IN JAIL

MSNBC: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HERE’S A MEANDERING HOUR THAT WILL NOT MAKE IT ANY CLEARER IF IT’S A THING AT ALL

I love digital media. But I have to tell you, it’s like I’ve been chasing a runaway ticker tape for 20 years, and I finally just get to linger over some clean copy in Courier. Take my advice. This summer, even for a few days or a whole week, do this:

Go dark.

 

Seaweed Lover

Never meet your heroes, they warn. Their real world persona will never match up to your imagined excellence, and the effect will be a staggering disappointment. The only thing that can murder a hero is ordinariness. And because most of us are afflicted with that, even the best of us cannot keep our capes pinned to our shoulders in real life. Maybe a few can. Maybe Beyoncé. But better to never meet your heroes, they say.

I saw mine last night. Professor Craig Schneider, “Doc” to everyone who has ever taken his class was in town as an invited lecturer. When his son told me Doc would not only be in Boston, but would be holding court with slides and everything, I was all in. So was my friend, Lisa, who also partially credits Doc for putting her on a path to a PhD. Rooting through old photos to share with them at the event, I found my favorite shot from graduation. In this picture, Doc is younger than I am now.

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Me and Doc, May 1993

 

Texting with Lisa, we wondered if he would look any different. Probably not, we mused. We figured everyone at the lecture would fall half in love with him and decide to study seaweed tomorrow. Just like old times. I mean… it’s Doc.

Twenty-five years later, I’m sitting in an audience of prep school faculty watching Doc school us on conservation snafus in Bermuda and how DNA sequencing of algae is changing the field of Biogeography. As soon as he loads up the first slide, I’m 19 again. My first feeling was muscle memory panic that I wasn’t taking notes. Then middle aged me took a sip of Pinot Grigio, and I just enjoyed marinating in nostalgia.

Everyone has a favorite teacher: the one you wanted to impress the most, who could hold your attention for the entire 48 minutes, whose class you wouldn’t miss for even the worst hangover or the cutest boy. Doc was that teacher for me, likely for many of us. And listening to his lecture, I was transported back to those days when I could name every alga washing up on the shore of the beach in late spring. Ulva, Vaucheria, Fucus… I remembered a boy in the dining hall scribbling “Seaweed Lover” on my notebook, which made me giggle, but also filled me with a bit of pride. Apparently, I talked about algae more than the average co-ed. More normal undergrads acquired titillating memories of after-hours frat parties and naked quad antics. I kid you not, a true highlight of my college days was visiting a bog. Naturally, by senior year, I was one of Doc’s kids, an honor student doing her senior thesis under his direction.

Though he taught me how to succeed in the lab, and also to learn from failing, Doc didn’t care that I would never be more than an armchair phycologist. (Aside: Autocorrect knows how to spell Beyoncé, but does not recognize PHYCOLOGY.) I was gunning for medical school, but another year of murdering large rats in the Physiology lab left me with enough dread to switch majors entirely. This fear landed me in Doc’s office, terrified that Prof. Simmons would shun me for abandoning his projects in favor of pond scum. Plus, everyone knew if you wanted to get into med school, you had to kill those rats.

But Doc led me to a different path–one that led to a pond in a cemetery, the Long Island Sound intertidal, a publication, acceptance at a handful of medical schools, and ultimately a funded MD/PhD position. I’m not sure he knew that I credit him for all of that. But last night I got to see him, to tell him.

All these years later, Doc memories are still recounted any time I’m asked about my academic background. High school and college students—and quite often, their parents–wonder if there is some foolproof path to the kind of academic success that leads to the white coat. There isn’t. It’s usually a slog of hard-earned A’s, missed parties, and a million pots of coffee.

But if you’re lucky, there are heroes along the way. And if you’re really lucky, one day you get to meet them, tell them, and call them “friend.”

 

Who are your heroes?

 

 

 

 

In the Dark… by Steve Safran

For the past two weeks, I have been living in a Hell that feels especially designed for me. The staff at Dante’s Fitting Punishments were inspired when they green-lit this one for Stevie: I can’t look at a screen without getting sick. Yes, your faithful computer-addicted correspondent, status updater, and occasional blogger is writing this on a 1936 Royal Portable typewriter, fitted with an ancient ribbon that makes this draft a bit of a challenge to read, and more than a pain in the ass for Britt to transcribe.

A fortnight without screens has been—forgive me, for “fortnight” and this pun—an eye-opener. Make no mistake, this isn’t one of those Author Unplugs and Discovers Life essays. No, I’m way behind on a lot of important work. Among other pressing tasks like taxes, kid graduation, and wedding planning, there is a softball team to organize. Not that there’s any danger we’ll ever play, with incessant nor-easters making fools of our Opening Day.

I have, however, rediscovered books—the bound and print kind!

Side note, on the 1936 Royal Portable, typing that exclamation point required period, backspace, apostrophe. With an economy of keys, a capital “I” subs in for a number one. And though this trusty, 30lb “word processor” inside of its carrying case was the war correspondent laptop of its day, it would easily topple a tippy Starbucks table. If I want to write, I’m stuck right here at home.

Luckily, I can tolerate sound and I’m searching through the free audio plays at archive.com, though I need to have my faithful fiancée or son Simon queue up “Henry V” for me. Any more than a quick glance at a screen makes me dizzy and initiates instant, blinding headaches. I can only use them briefly, in the dark, with the “Night Shift” setting that takes out the blue light.

Part of the reason I’m sharing (typing) this is to query others about similar experiences. This is scary. I’m worried. The doctors I’ve consulted have ruled out the terrifying possibilities I might find on WebMD if I could look at a damn screen, but they have no diagnosis yet. Until they do, I feel like an outcast, alone in the dark, bumbling through a non-screen life in an all-screen world. And as much as I love my loyal 1936 Royal Portable, I really miss my Mac.

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My “laptop,” the I936 Royal Portable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREAK US OUT… a message to our awesome teenagers, by Steve Safran

We have heard from our secondary principals that many of our students have reached out to them to collaborate on how best to address the student desire to walk out and express their opinions but do so in a safe manner… We are proud of our student leaders at all levels for the collaborative, thoughtful advocacy they have demonstrated.

This planned walkout, as we see it, is the “lab” experience for the teaching and curriculum we bring to our students. Teaching our students how to lead, think, propose ideas, disagree and take respectful and forceful action on issues is what we do; our students are indicating to us that they have learned and want to take action.

– Massachusetts Town Email to Parents

 

This is nonsense.

As a parent, I don’t want an email from my town explaining– in much longer detail than above– how a school-condoned walkout from classes will be arranged. I don’t want the town organizing with students. I don’t need a “heads up” that my kids are going to walk out of class.

I want them to get up and go.

Where goes youthful rebellion if it’s into the arms of those against whom they are rebelling? This is an angry generation and they have every right to be. They’re being shot at in their schools. We have let them down. We have failed to protect them in what should be a sanctuary. Don’t ask us for permission. The school is on fire and we’re offering you a hall pass for the water fountain? No wonder you’re pissed. (No wonder nothing has changed.)

I’m all for young rebellion. That’s what our country is about; it’s American in the best kind of way. Lobby for change, and let the marketplace of ideas decide. I take no issue with student protest and, in fact, I support it. At Wayland High in the ‘80s, we’d “walk out” in order to demand soda machines. IT’S NO JOKE! WE WANT THE COKE! IT’S OUR RIGHT… TO HAVE A SPRITE! (This may explain why my parents transferred me to private school, where I was once sent home for not having a close enough shave.) As a conservative, wholehearted support of youthful protest might seem out of character. As an anti-gun, pro-choice, anti-religion-in-schools, pro-women’s-rights, free-trade, anti-Trump conservative, however, these days I guess I’m what’s known as a “Democrat.”

But you can’t stick it to the man if the man sends gentle emails with sentences like, “We support this and find it a fine learning experience and we’re going to make it a lab.”

A lab?

Way to take the fun out of it, grown-ups. I officially protest the administration’s support, and will occupy their building. I will, of course, be alone, as the administrators will be outside, patting themselves on the back for being progressive as they make sure students do not wander outside of the “designated protest area.”

Personal politics aside, I think most of us recognize that this generation is creative in ways we do not understand. They are seriously skilled. I mean it– they really are. They make movies and music better than any big screen scene from the ‘90s… and they make them on a device in their hand. The best these Internet, gaming, and video wizards can do is…  walking out with permission? That might make Grandma and Grandpa Hippie sentimental, but today’s teenagers can do better.

Here’s my message to them: don’t walk out, freak us the fuck out. We’re 50. We get spooked by a 1% drop in our IRA. We’re easily panicked. You’re going to need to scare the status quo out of us. Be creative, make movies, share them with your zillion followers. Show us you’ve got more game than a supervised walkout. Take a page from your ‘60s forefathers and put a tech twist on it. Walking into a field while the principal says “Yes. Good. You get an A in civic engagement studies” sure as hell wouldn’t have ended any war. A VR vision of what it’s like to be helpless as you are slaughtered in your own homeroom, even as you have a gun that’s useless against an attacker’s armor? Now we’re talking. Get coding.

Me? I hate the damn guns. I truly believe this is the generation that will do something about it. Every generation that grows up in fear is the one that brings about change. We hated the day-to-day worry of nuclear annihilation. Anti-nuke protestors took to the streets, while conservatives encouraged Reagan just to spend the Soviets into oblivion. Whatever your macro-political view, it worked. The people who grew up watching their older brothers and classmates die in Vietnam put an end to that. These teens have grown up watching a non-stop war and “Hamilton.” They KNOW they can do something. And they’ll probably make it catchy.

So protest, kids. Skip class, but take the detention. You can’t change the world if you can’t take the hit. Don’t walk into a field and hold a sign. March in the streets. Go to state capitals. Make and share videos that answer the NRA like the Parkland Students did so poignantly and slyly. Be subversive. You have the tools to out-media the media. You can podcast and VR-simulate and disseminate your message virally. You can be so much more creative than we can imagine (we still don’t understand SnapChat stories). Where justified fear and anger meets youthful peak creativity is where change happens. We’re watching. We’re listening.

So go ahead. Freak us out. That’s how you change the world.

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United, they stand. #NeverAgain