Gloria Steinem celebrated her 80th birthday this month, still fighting the good fight.
I became aware of Steinem probably in the fall of 1978. I had just started my first semester at UMass Amherst, at the ripe old age of 23. Let’s just say I took the scenic route to college. I snagged a work-study job at what was then called the Everywoman’s Center, a five-year-old haven for women of all kinds, but especially the atypical UMass student, the single moms returning to their education, people like me who took the scenic route to college, and women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
And here I am, obviously influenced by her style, around the time I was working at the women’s center. A newly awakened, if self-conscious and inarticulate, feminist, I lived in one of the women’s movement’s Ground Zeroes: Northampton, Mass.
I wasn’t the most ardent of nascent feminists, falling somewhere between poser and bra-burner, but I did embrace some of the ideas sincerely. I helped organize Take Back the Night marches, hung banners in the student union, went to plenty of meetings. I met friends I have to this day, and still embrace those ideas. The lot of women globally is still abysmal, even with the progress we’ve seen in the industrialized world. But at a time when the Boston media crackles with talk about Jared Remy, the son of a popular Red Sox commentator, who stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, it’s apparent that attitudes die hard. More to come.
Just saw this opinion piece in today’s NYTimes. I am a huge Bittman fan, and I know that he will say things to provoke thought and discussion, something he is able do from his high-profile perch.
When I first heard of Beyoncé’s deal with Pepsi, I agreed with Bittman that she has a responsibility to her fans to refuse certain types of promotional involvement. But as I thought about it further, I came to think that Beyonce has no such responsibility as a celebrity.
As I put it in my comment on the article, “Why should we expect high-wattage celebrities to do what our government won’t? Pepsi has an obligation to make money for its investors, and Beyoncé has an empire to run. While I wish she had said no to this deal, she had every right to say yes. Regulation of food marketing is the only thing that will make a difference, but the political will is just not there.”
Anyone who knows me probably wouldn’t list patience as a defining quality of me. Neither would I. Patience is, for sure, something I value and marvel at. A good storyteller or joke-teller (not that different, right?) who can measure out each piece in digestible chunks; a singer who is a master of phrasing and pacing; a writer who knows what’s going to happen but is not going to let you know. A recent nonpareil example of this skill is contained in Hilary Mantel’s books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Mantel lets out the thread of the story so finely and with such subtlety that you can forget that the events she writes about are in the historical record. We know what will become of Thomas Cromwell, but the story we’re being told so absorbs our attention and excites our senses that the outcome is not the point.
Another use of patience is in sports. I admire baseball players who have plate discipline, who can just wait for their cookie instead of leaping for some unknown treat. It’s not easy. In rowing, my main sport, I have fought my impatient nature for as long as I’ve rowed. While things have improved somewhat, I still “rush my slide” and apply stroke power before my oars are fully immersed. I just want to get it done, dammit! Not smart. Since I’m rowing against type (not much athletic ability, not the typical rower’s body), good technique would go a long way toward the finish line. Which brings me back to baking.
Cultivating patience, then: the next apple pie will flow in the making because I will not rush to roll out the dough; the slow-rise sourdough will look halfway decent because I will pay attention to the day’s moisture; and the time to write two to three blog posts per week will materialize.
I’ve been listening to Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. Murakami is a far more serious runner than I am, logging 30 or more miles a week, compared with my average of, say, 15. He talks about the rhythms of running and how the discipline involved in running regularly mirrors the kind of discipline you need as a writer. He loves the simplicity and freedom of running, and the fascination of watching your body change shape as your running speed and style evolve. Today, as I ran in the 36th Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, I thought about a few things myself.
The Tufts 10K, a Boston institution, takes place every Columbus Day. The course runs through downtown, and loops over the Charles River. Thousands of women run/walk/wheel the USTAF-sanctioned course. Today, Joan Benoit Samuelson came in second in my age group, with a pace of 6:11/mile. Let’s just say I’m a tad slower.
So, what did I think about today?
Mile 1: Way too crowded. Lots of elbowing. I can’t get any speed going. Still, fun to be in the pack. Legs a bit tired. Sciatica. Quads.
Mile 2: Yep, I’m tired! Heart rate and pace decent but not up to what they were my last 10K—the Lone Gull in Gloucester. Running over the Mass Ave bridge is less intimidating than rowing under it. Sciatic pain goes away at about Mile 2.5. Yay. On to quads…
Mile 3: I’m warmed up now. Should be hitting my stride but not quite there. How can people actually be carrying on conversations at this point? About party dresses? Aieeee! The cut-through on the Mem Drive median strip looks very tempting. Did not do it! Did I have the optimal breakfast? Too long ago? Not long enough ago?
Mile 4: Am I really going to toss my cookies? Why did I have that beer last night? Will I ever write a book? A decent blog post? A good shopping list? More than one woman is wearing a tutu. Pink, as if there were another color.
Mile 5: OK. How is this woman, looking about my age, just sailing on past me like I’m standing still? Did she start at Mile 4? Trying to sprint a bit as I notice the heart rate going down. Little kids extending hands for high fives. Too zoned out to play.
Mile 6: Almost there! I am not going to break 1 hour. Recording of a girl-group singing “We Are the Champions”! Whoa…
Post race: Lost my bearings looking for the Park St. station. Why not walk around an extra half hour?
I guess what I have in common with Murakami is a real appreciation of running, and how it can build a structure, a foundation. When I run on my everyday solo runs, I solve problems without meaning to, remember things I said I’d do but haven’t, think of people I need to see or talk to, imagine what I’d like to do when I have time/money/opportunity. As Murakami said in his memoir, he doesn’t really think about anything in particular when he runs, but somehow the rhythm, the habit, and the love of it gives him something to put in his pocket for later. You don’t remember it, but you remember it.
Mark Bittman’s topic in today’s New York Times Magazine, “Short and Sweet,” presented a basic recipe for shortbread cookies, with a bunch of variations, from sweet to savory and in between. This is one thing I appreciate about Bittman’s approach: he gives you a base and several ideas on how to make it to suit your mood, your preferences, and your pantry contents. It’s learning to cook instead of just following a recipe.
I love shortbread–who doesn’t?–and this column reminded me of the pepper-cumin cookies I have been making since I first saw the recipe in the TimesMagazine in 1996. I’ve been a recipe clipper for many years, and here’s what this one looks like now. These cookies really are fantastic, by the way. Easy to make, they have been a surprise hit at parties.