Sunday, April 14, 2013

My First Half Marathon

This morning I ran the Bucks County Half Marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes, and 43 seconds. It was my first half marathon; actually, it was my first race of any kind. I had been training for it since February, and at that point, I really didn't think I'd be able to do better than 2 and a half hours, if I would finish at all. I was running very slowly, and I had never run more than 7 miles. But I was able to do so well today because I am lucky to have some great people in my life.

My friend Liz, whom I went to college with, was the one who suggested doing a race. She ran her first half marathon last year, in Brooklyn, and her second earlier this year, in Los Angeles. When I told her I had been trying to get into running since last summer, she said we should do a race together at some point this year. The Bucks County race is about halfway between where we both live (she in Brooklyn, I in Reading), and the course looked beautiful (Tyler State Park--quite lovely).

My friends Tim and Michael, who have been running for years and years, gave me all sorts of advice over the past months about what gear to wear, how to avoid injury, how to build my endurance, and how to improve my pace. Tim's tip about some fancy socks (Feetures!) proved particularly useful, as I had been getting some annoying blisters on my toes. (Stealthily, Tim also snuck onto the course around mile 9 and ran the last 4 miles with me--he was great company.)

Here's a picture Tim took of me at some point during those final 4 miles:

(Please forgive my bad form, goofy headband, and mittens. I hope I wasn't landing heel first too often!)

Finally, Yuriko, the love of my life, sat around in the cold waiting for me to loop back around, just to cheer me on and congratulate me. She also got up at 6am on a Sunday for this. I can't imagine a less exciting sport to be a spectator of (oh wait: golf), so I deeply appreciate her love and support.

With such wonderful people in my life, running 13.1 miles feels just like a walk in the park.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Three Tales of Dreams Deferred

On Saturday, Yuriko and I went to see a production of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, at the Arden Theatre in Old City, Philadelphia. My viewing of the play just happened to coincide, thematically, with two texts that I am teaching this week. Today, my American Lit students and I will be finishing up our discussion of Chester Himes's 1945 novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go. In ENG 100, we will be looking at the introduction to Michelle Alexander's study of mass incarceration in contemporary America, The New Jim Crow.

The protagonist of If He Hollers, Bob Jones, is driven to the brink of madness by the day-to-day prejudice he encounters in 1940s Los Angeles. After being demoted for cursing out a white woman at work who called him a "n****r", he feels emasculated, and desperate to reassert his manhood in some way such that the white world must recognize it. While much of this desperation ends up expressing itself in fantasies of violence and sexual domination, Himes shows his reader that these destructive impulses are a result of Bob's thwarted ambition. He wanted to be somebody, and America told him "No" because of his race.

A Raisin in the Sun features a similar male lead (though not nearly as extreme), Walter Younger, who works as a chauffeur and lives in a crowded, roach-infested apartment with his wife, son, sister, and mother. He dreams of being a business owner and a better provider for his family, and his failure to do so makes him feel like a failure as a man. In a reckless move to try to realize his dream, he invests $6,000 of his family's money--half of which is supposed to go toward paying for medical school for his sister, who wants to be a doctor--with a "business partner" who turns out to be con-man. While this dream is lost, Walter manages to reclaim his manhood at the play's end, by standing up to a white man who wants to pressure him not to move into a white neighborhood in Chicago, and by acknowledging and supporting the professional ambition of his sister.

In The New Jim Crow (which I've taught and blogged about previously), Alexander argues that although the explicit racism highlighted in works such as Raisin and Hollers is no longer common or accepted in American society, there still exists a system of racialized social control: the system of mass incarceration. By labeling a vast subset of people of color--especially black men--as "criminals," our so-called "justice system" effectively enables profound legal discrimination, creating a permanent "under-caste" of individuals who are unable to find a place in mainstream society: people whose dreams are permanently deferred. What can we do to pull this system apart--before it explodes?