ginny: on gender stereotypes

This topic came about because of last Sunday’s sermon.

Little boys, the pastor said, play with trucks and Army men, and as they play they make noises.  Little girls, on the other hand, play with Barbies and tea sets, and they have whole conversations with themselves.   With a wink and a nod to the men in the audience, he continued on about how men should listen to their wives because they are the talkers, and you can’t stop them from talking, right?  And women, don’t try to get your husbands to open up because they are used to grunting and giving no more than one syllable responses to questions.  This wasn’t the point of the sermon, but merely a “and that’s just the way God makes us” bit of information.

And then he went on with the rest of the sermon.  As if this nonsense were a fact.

It got me thinking, and wondering about the boys in the audience who love to talk.  I thought about the girls who are more physical and less verbal.  What were they thinking about themselves?

“Am I less of a boy because I like to have conversations?”

“Am I less of a girl because I don’t like Barbies or sharing my feelings?”

It made me angry.  I wanted to write to the pastor to tell him what I thought, but it was his first time preaching so I gave him a pass and decided to vent here.   I want to say that in this day and age I have a hard time believing that people still think this way, but unfortunately evidence to the contrary is abundant.

I don’t honestly think that the pastor meant any harm at all in what he said.  Truth be told, if I were to ask him about it he would probably admit that he was using it as a generality and didn’t mean it literally.  It was just stretching the truth to make a point or to get the congregation to relax a little bit and laugh with him.  Somewhere in the joke is the insinuation that talking is a cute, laughable thing that women do.  Ha, ha, women talk and men don’t.  We all know that to be true, right?

The point is, even if it is true in many many cases, it doesn’t make it right to say it as if it were fact.  Men are this and women are that.  No.  Just no.

You know, when someone makes a public statement like this I tend to think about who might take it in a different way than what it (supposedly) was intended.  At another church  years ago the pastor put up a photo of someone “walking” their dog by holding the leash out of the driver’s side window as the dog plodded along beside the car.  There was immediate laughter and he talked about this being the high point of laziness.  I thought “What if the person has a broken leg and can’t walk but wants their dog to get exercise?”  “What if they have cancer and have no energy to walk but don’t want to disappoint their companion?”  “What if …?”  I mean, seriously, why not give the benefit of the doubt to what is going on in someone’s life instead of judging them immediately?  I did write to that pastor who told me it was a joke and, basically, I should just lighten up.  I never went back to that church.  Assume the worst?  I don’t think so.

In the current case, I can’t get over that he said it as if it were fact.  There was no discussion, no “your experience may be different”, just a statement of this is how God made men and women.  It absolves you, as a man, from all responsibility for trying to “talk”.  It says you can’t help it if you don’t listen, it isn’t your fault if you can’t open up, it’s not in your nature to be a partner in a discussion.  It’s the biggest cop out there is.  So the harm was two-fold.  Little boys in the audience wondered what this meant about them and husbands in the audience were given a pass.  “Hey honey, you heard what Pastor Dan said.  This is how God made me so quit complaining.”


I am well aware that part of this undoubtedly comes from the fact that I am not a stereotypical woman.  I was called a tom-boy all through my growing up years and I chose a profession that, at the time, was male dominated.  It is also possible that my personality was shaped by a childhood where, it seemed, boys were more important than girls. I am sensitive to comments about women being less than men, no doubt about that.

Case in point.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a young woman who knows that I am an air traffic controller.  She asked me if I would get off an airplane if I saw that the pilot was a woman.  What?  I told her “of course not” and she replied that she thought she would.  She said she doesn’t trust female pilots.  She said she had known some in the Air Force, and the female jet pilots just seemed ditsy, they didn’t appear as competent as the male pilots.  I must have sputtered I was so taken aback.  I tried to make some sense of it, but absolutely couldn’t.  Then I wondered, and I asked, if someone had put her up to it!  That seemed more likely than her actually thinking this, but no.  I still shake my head over that whole conversation.

And that’s part of what bothered me about the sermon.  It reinforced absurd gender stereotypes.  People who were only half listening still heard it, it was still encoded in their brains, and they probably didn’t even give it a second thought.  Now it is just something that they “know” to be true.  Little children, teenagers trying to figure out who they are and where their place in the world is, married couples trying to work on their relationships – everybody heard that day that men don’t talk and women do. 



julie: on gender stereotypes

I’m pretty sure this is the only purely “pink” thing in my house.  There are a few things that are a sort of fleshy color that is close to pinkish, and there are a few cups and saucers in a very old set that have a pink trim, but that’s about it.

When I was  four  I had a pink ballerina princess costume with a leotard and tights and a tutu for my birthday. It had a wand and a head thing that wasn’t really a crown but more like a fancy headband.  After that I had a couple dresses with some pink in the pattern, but they didn’t really have a pink “feel” to them.  Luckily, there was my little sister who loved the little girl dresses with pink flowers and ruffles that my mother loved to make for her.  She had a closet full of little dresses that she loved to be all ironed and in a neat row and she wore them with little Mary Jane shoes and ruffled socks.  She looked like one of the many dolls she had lined up in her room.  She liked that.

Once I got to pick my colors, pink was pretty much done.  And once she had someone else to stick in dresses, I was pretty much done with those as well.  It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like pink, but more that I liked other colors better.   Pink got too dirty too fast.

Here’s another view of the pink thing.

I saw this on the corner of a display with some really incredible and  beautiful things and I was positive that it was something someone had picked up to show someone, not to purchase, but just to kind of be amazed and amused, and then had just set it down anywhere.  That happens a lot with things that have very little “face” value or are just “that” strange,  at shows and in life…they just sort of get gawked at or used in whatever way they can be to provide others with a moment’s laugh or a few seconds of cruelty, and then are just dropped right there, not even given the dignity of being taken back to a place where they might have some sort of sense of, if not being wanted,  at least belonging.  Sometimes when I see that I pick the piece up and see if I maybe pass the place that it may have come from, usually it isn’t far, that kind of thing is usually quick;  grab, point, stare, laugh, drop,  move on.

I had a pink turtleneck cashmere sweater that my son’s father gave me that I loved.  I wore it until it couldn’t be worn anymore.  It was the only pink piece of clothing I had had in years and I haven’t had many more since; maybe five, of which I maybe wore two and those two not very often.  For a couple of my teenage years,  my father did this really,  let’s say annoying and leave it there, thing at holidays;  my sister and I would receive  an identical article, a shirt or a sweater, but in different colors,  hers would be brown, burgundy, dark greens or black; mine, orange or pink,  red or yellow, generally having the appearance close to what could be described as “pastel-colored.”  I can still clearly see one set of two that he got from Abercrombie and Fitch.  They were both really nice, they had great colors at that store, but there is a difference between recognizing the beauty of a particular thing and wanting to wear it.   That shirt sat unworn in my drawer for years until I finally gave it away.

I worked for several years for a company where the wife was the owner and the “Big boss,” but the husband spend a great deal more time in the stores.  She mostly came out for reviews and holidays.  One year she suggested that I wear more bright colors, “like pink would be great” and if at all possible,  “a little more make-up maybe.”  She seemed equally unable to process both the fact that I had not just said “okay” and  my response that I really didn’t own anything that was pink.  The District Manager, who was sitting next to her, seemed perplexed when I asked if they would be making the same suggestion during any of the other GM reviews that week.  And everyone was obviously annoyed when I said that I hadn’t ever seen him or the husband in a pink shirt and pointed out that in fact one of the managers at the Hyde Park store did wear sort of  “Salmon Pinkish” colored shirts sometimes and that maybe I would see if he wanted to give one to me or the District Manager.  We moved on with my review.  I moved to another place of employment about a year later.   I bought two pink shirts which I wore while I was interviewing for that new position, just seemed like a fun thing to do.

The topic of gender stereotyping is actually really important to me.  It really has had a great impact on my life in many ways.  I was going to try to do a really very deep, serious,  and revealing piece on it because I think there are some aspects of it that really are important for people to look at and at hopefully stop participating in or,  at the very least, really realize and begin to be aware of.   But then I was in the emergency room early this week and I saw part of a show on which they were talking about the book, “50 Shades of Grey,” and that got me thinking about some of the really serious sides of this topic that don’t but I think  should get much conversation.  When I do hear some of it discussed, those conversations often seem to end up as a form of stereotype.  But I haven’t read that book so I can’t be sure that what I heard people talking about is everything in it and so I need to read it first and was going to order it when I got home but was so annoyed about the whole reason I was in the emergency room that I forgot until it was too late to have time to read it carefully enough to use it as a catalyst for comment in this entry.  So I had to not do any of that because I would have gone too near something I wasn’t positive about because once I get something like that in my head I either have to talk about it or leave it totally alone.  But I am going to read it and then I will comment about it.

So instead of all of that I thought of my little pink poodle.  I did find the table and I paid $2 and brought him home.  He is part of a small collection I have of things that are just so strange, kind of hideous almost but at the same time riveting.  This mold was maybe made with the thought of little girls or women who like little girl things or of collectors of some kinds of something?  Okay.  I have tried to imagine it in other colors and maybe there are some out there that look great.  But here is the thing about this little guy…he has gold sparkly here, and white lacey stuff there, and long eyelashes on cute eyes, but ends up looking so sad because they didn’t give him a smile.  Really not right for a pink poodle with a gold collar, something is just all wrong.  So this one ended up with me, someone who never really liked a whole lot of “little girl” things when she was a little girl, and still doesn’t.  But is a collector of some kinds of some things.

(Oh, and I would just like to point out that last week Ginny pondered why I would pick blue jeans, a rather harmless and interesting/fun thing to muse about on a Sunday morning….and then picked “gender stereotyping.”  Maybe she would care to explain why that is not at least equally, if not more, something of a ponderance?)

ginny: on blue jeans (and road trips)

I’ve tried getting into Julie’s head to see if I can figure out why she chose this topic but I keep coming up empty.  Not that she’s empty headed, not by a long shot.  She has so much stuff percolating around in her brain, so many connections between this thing and that thing, that when I’m with her I can barely keep up.  Take our recent road trip …

I love road trips.  I think about taking one just about every time I fill up my car with gas.  There is just something about taking off and leaving town that is … oh, all I can think of are ordinary words like “exciting” or “interesting”.  One thing about Julie is that she can come up with the perfect word in conversation.  I can do it, most of the time, when I am writing and I have time to contemplate the word, mull over options and choose the best one.  But when I am in a conversation often times I struggle to find the word that conveys exactly what I am thinking.  Julie doesn’t seem to have that problem.

When we were planning this road trip I was nervous, for just that very reason.  I noticed during our last two visits that I have a difficult time explaining myself when I am with Julie.  Maybe that’s the problem right there.  Maybe I feel the need to explain more than the need to just converse.  And the more I’ve learned about Julie through this project the more mundane and shallow my life seems to be in comparison, which makes it difficult to feel like I have anything of value to add to the conversation in the first place.  You see my dilemma here.  Long car trip with very little by way of conversational supplies.

As an aside, I did the same thing with a new friend (Hi Connie!) last year.  We took a seven hour road trip to visit mutual friends and I was worried about not having enough to talk about.  Uncomfortable silence when you can’t keep a conversation going can be a really painful thing, and I had not spent enough time with Connie to know what to expect.  I had no idea what we were going to talk about for the seven hours there, much less the seven hours back home two days later.  Fortunately for me, Connie is a talker, and an entertaining one at that.  Not only did she keep the conversation going for those fourteen hours, but I am pretty sure she kept up most of the conversation while we were visiting.  That trip was fun and comfortable and all of the best things about a road trip, up to and including a great visit with a lot of laughter in the middle of all of that driving.

I’m pretty sure I spent most of the drive to and from NYC  being stunned by Julie’s family history.  The things that she takes for granted, that were just the way things worked in her family, are so outside anything that I have experienced that, once again, all I could do is marvel that we are friends.  I don’t believe that you have to be exactly alike to be friends, but our backgrounds are so radically different that it makes our friendship remarkable.  And part of that for me now is wondering what I contribute to the relationship.  I think I know myself pretty well, and I know what I bring to the party, so to speak, when I am friends with someone.  But with Julie I am uncertain.  Oh sure, every once in awhile I can cut through her meanderings and bring her back to the point that she is trying to avoid with a pointed question or observation.  I get that I do that for her, but not nearly as often as she cuts through my bullshit.

Those of you who know Julie personally know what I mean.  I can see it coming a mile away.  I’ll be talking and she’ll get that “uh-huh” look on her face, and I’ll know that she is about to call me out.  My heartbeat slows down and my whole body goes still as I wait for the “You know, Gin …” that begins a revelation of something I am being completely blind to.  During the road trip I didn’t even have to see the look on her face, I swear the air in the car changed when I approached a subject that I knew was dangerous territory.  And I mean dangerous in that she makes me look at things from a different angle, she draws parallels and make connections between long ago things and today.  I like to think of myself as a fairly, and possibly to a fault, introspective person but when Julie brings something to my attention it’s like I haven’t spent a moment thinking about what something that I’ve done or that I accept says about me.

That was the car part of our road trip to NYC.

Sharing a hotel room with someone can be a little difficult too, or at least cause for negotiating or compromising.  On other road trips with a friend (Hi Briget!) I’ve been accused, and rightfully so, of being the party pooper.  Once I am tired and ready to go to sleep, that is what I want to do.  You can do what you want, but I am turning out my light and going to sleep.  Fortunately Briget and I have shared enough hotel rooms that we each know the other’s habits pretty well by now – one of us snores (:::cough cough her cough cough:::) – and one of us doesn’t get the concept of partying all night long.  That would be party pooper me.

But that first time you’re sharing a room with someone it can be dicey.  Turns out, it wasn’t for Julie and me.  We disagreed in the beginning about what we wanted in a hotel room.  As we searched the internet I turned to my buddy Trip Advisor and nixed a couple of her very economical choices based on their reviews.  Sorry, but mold and stinky carpets aren’t my idea of a good time.  Fortunately she agreed.  We ended up at a very nice place in Newark near the airport.  It was a great location because we could take the hotel shuttle to the airport and from there catch a train into the city.  Julie did all of the work figuring out our transportation once we got there.  And I let her.  I know that sounds kinda weird, but I am someone who has just a wee bit of trouble letting other people make plans for me.  I didn’t double check the shuttle times or the train number we needed to be on.  I had no idea what bus we needed to take once we got to the city or where we needed to wait for it.  Julie had it covered.

I did add in one quick stop to see Mood, the fabric store that is featured in the tv show Project Runway.  It was fun, for me, to wander around the aisles a little bit and I picked out something for my daughter to use in her sewing.  It was great because I got to haggle over the price.  Stupid stuff.  Anyway, we ended up not quite where Julie thought we were going to be to catch the bus, so we had to walk around for a little while to figure out where to we needed to be.  Julie left me in her dust.  I had completely forgotten how to walk on a city street and I couldn’t keep up with her.  That was embarrassing.

So we took the bus to, um, someplace, and met up with her friend Cathy.  We changed our minds about where to eat lunch, and ended up at a nice little cafe in a church.  We sat outside drinking coffee and talking.  Let me add in here that another thing about me and road trips and other people is that I have found that I eat much more frequently than the rest of the world.  During that trip with Connie to see friends I was always the one to say “It’s time to eat”.  Our hostess (Hi Laura!) had set out snacks in the late afternoon which we munched on while we talked.  Around 6:00 she said “oh we’ve been eating all day, do we still want to go out to dinner?”  What?  We had eaten a late breakfast and had an ice cream cone in addition to these snacks … and that was it!  I said that I totally wanted to have dinner and, fortunately, they all agreed.  Whew!  My motto is “eat often and eat well.”  Anyway, that morning with Julie I had taken a banana from the hotel breakfast area … and that was it!  It was lunchtime and Julie and Cathy weren’t hungry yet.  What is it with you people?  So while they had coffee, and later on split some sort of pastry, I had a panini and it was yummy.

After that we wandered around MOMA for a little while before Cathy had to leave for another appointment.  It was really fun meeting her and listening to them talk about childhood stuff.  I’m usually uncomfortable meeting new people, but she was easy to be around and by the time she left I thought we could be friends.  Too bad she lives in Paris.

Then it was time to meet up with Julie’s cousin, whose name, I am embarrassed to admit, has completely slipped my mind.  No offense intended.  We met him in Central Park, where we sat for hours while they talked.  It was a beautiful day and, once again, I learned a lot about Julie’s family, more of the extended family this time.  Afterwards we met up with his wife and two sons and we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner.  Julie and her cousin sat at one end of the table and talked.  And talked.  And talked.  His wife and I carried on a conversation for awhile, and she was a very nice woman, but after awhile it was truly time to go.  And still they talked.   Julie and her cousin talked on, neither of them throwing so much as a glance down towards our end of the the table.  At long last the oldest son picked up his backpack from under the table and put it on.  Finally, finally, they took the hint and asked for the check.  Obviously they need a lot longer to catch up!

It was an uneventful ride back to the airport and then to the hotel.  I did, however, once again not double check the subway train that her cousin told us to catch.  I just went down the stairs, bought a ticket, and got on the train he said would take us to where we wanted to go.  Odd to some that this is a proud moment for me, but letting go of control is hard.

I did indeed leave Julie at my house the following night so that I could go to a concert with my husband.  I had told her before we started the road trip that I already had the tickets, and VIP meet-n-greet ones at that, so I only felt a little weird about it.  It gave her the opportunity to hang out with my daughter for the first time, so there was a definite upside to it.  I  must say it was not as odd as I thought it was going to be to have Julie in my house.  A juxtaposition of two of my worlds so to speak.  She is such a symbol of my “old life” and Chicago that I thought it would be strange to have her here, but it wasn’t.  I liked showing her where I work and visually giving her a glimpse of how things turned out for me.  She was there at a crucial point in my life and she helped me make decisions that led to where I am today.

So that was our road trip.  After all of the hours listening to her in the car I still have no clue why she picked blue jeans as a topic.  Even after 27 years of friendship I am still not sure what goes on in that head of hers.  And that makes for an interesting friendship indeed.

Blue jeans.  I like to wear them.

julie: on blue jeans

In preparation for this entry, I googled a couple of things, including “blue jeans and the destruction of civilization.”  I’ve read articles about how blue jeans have done everything from ending the Cold War to being a catalyst for “The Women’s Movement,” as well as contributing heavily to the rise of lawlessness all over the world.  There’s a lot of “evidence” that can be shaped to make blue jeans responsible for almost everything.  I actually got to thinking about that part of  the whole idea of blue jeans when I saw a picture of Mitt Romney in blue jeans.  I won’t comment on that much except to say that some things are just wrong.  And if you can make blue jeans look like a bad idea, well.

I was going to talk about some of that, the effect blue jeans have had on history, the ways  I saw some of that in my own little world.  But that thinking also brought up something I want to comment on more:  girls jeans.  I own a few pairs, and I like them alright, but they really aren’t actually blue jeans.  They are just what the signs on their racks say, “Girls Jeans,” or “Women’s Jeans.”   They are like “slacks” or “pants” that are made out of a denim-like material which is thinner and doesn’t fade as well and just are really not “blue jeans.”  And because they are thinner and not the right kind of denim, once they wear away at various places, it is really hard to patch them and so you end up having to just throw them out.

For the first half of my jean-buying life, I wore 28 or 29-31.  I like my jeans to sit right below the bottom of what I later in life discovered would be considered “the waist,” and right above what would be considered “the hips.”  And I like a cuff;  not huge, somewhere around an inch and a half, give or take.  And I am really partial to 501s.  For a long time, there were just 501s.  I remember when the firs “501 for Women” came out.  I bought one pair and that was it. 

I was partial to Levi’s, although there were two cuts of Lee’s that I liked pretty well.  I bought all my blue jeans at a place called Bailey’s and one day when they were out of the right size Levi’s I got the Lee’s and after that I had almost as many Lee’s as I did Levi’s.  Lee’s had a plain pocket with no stitching and it was just a little bigger that Levi’s.  It depended on my mood, sometimes one just felt better than the other.

Part of the reason I tried any of the “women’s jeans” was that Bailey’s closed and I had find somewhere else to buy blue jeans.   I tried a variety, Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein, that kind of thing.   I did have two pairs from the Gap that I loved, they were “baggies,” men’s, and they were perfect.  I see “baggies” advertised every now and then but it’s not what I am looking for.  I would wear “Women’s Jeans” all the time if they would make baggies, which actually fit how a whole bunch of women are really made.  I can’t explain it right,  but those jeans that come up to your belly button and are made out of some stretch material and then are wider at the hips, those are not baggies and they are ugly.

I was just amazed watching the price of blue jeans go up.  More and more money for things that were thinner and thinner and didn’t fit right.  The one exception I found was Girbaud and I only really knew about these because they got big around the time my son started being involved in picking his own clothes.  At first I was like, “Hell no, no way I am paying that much money for some damn blue jeans.”  But I went and looked and finally found a good sale and so we got a couple of pairs.  And I later got myself a couple pairs.   I still have them.  They have lasted all these years partly because they were really good quality and partly because I have only been able to fit into them about half the years I have owned them.

I think part of the reason I don’t like “Women”s Jeans” is that aside from the fact that you really don’t know what you are getting, you have to try them on.  I like to know not only that I am getting just what I want, just pick them up and go,  but what they will be like after many, many washings.  I like to know they aren’t going to shrink and that they will fade, not fray.  I found a cut of Lee’s Women’s Jeans that weren’t bad.  They were relatively inexpensive and the fit wasn’t annoying at all.  But then one day they were on sale and I bought a couple without trying them on and then they didn’t all fit the same and on some the material was a little thinner.   So that was the end of that.  Because blue jeans, for me at least, are like a second skin.  They have to be dependable.   They need to fit exactly right no matter what position I am in. They need come out of the wash the same size.  They need to not rip at every little nick.  And they need to age well. 

I just recently threw out a pair of jeans that I have had since I was 17.  I had patched and studded and stitched those jeans for so many years.   I couldn’t begin to list all the places they had been and all the secrets they could have told.  I hadn’t worn them for a long time and when I found them in a box I was really surprised; I thought I had thrown them out at some point.  I guess I just wasn’t ready until now to completely shed that particular layer of skin.

I still wear mostly Levi’s, and I am still partial to men’s 501s.  I have a newer pair that I just put a patch on.  I am up there enough in years that if these last as long as the ones I just threw out,  I might just end up dying with them on.   And that would be a really comfortable thing.  

ginny: on quitting

The inspiration for my blog topic came from ten mile obstacle course/mud run called the Super Spartan that I did two weekends ago.  I’ve finished three of these races, along with a couple of shorter three to five mile ones, in addition to more than a dozen half-marathons, two marathons, and one triathlon.

I came in dead last in the triathlon.  It was my first endurance race: a 1/2 mile ocean swim, 17 mile bike ride, and 5K run.  My group was the last one in the water, and I was last of the last in the water, and it never got much better than that.  When I got off of the bike and tried to run, my legs gave out.  My shins were on fire and my quads were like tree trunks.  As they picked up the traffic cones behind me I stumbled, walked, jogged, and possibly even crawled to the finish line, where I immediately burst into tears.

I didn’t quit.

My first marathon was on the hottest day ever recorded for the end of October.  I’m making that up, and I’m not going to Google it.  It was the hottest day.  Ever.  I hate running in the heat.  The only thing worse than running in the heat is running hills.  The marathon started by running up hills for approximately 100 miles.  My first marathon.  Heat.  Hills.  This was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., and you have to be across a certain bridge around mile 20 by a certain time because they open it back up to traffic after that.  If you get to the bridge after the time cut off they had a bus to take you to the finish line. The last two miles before the bridge were torture.  I couldn’t breathe.  I didn’t want to walk but I couldn’t run.  I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I made the bridge, where I immediately burst into tears.  The bus pulled in before I was fifty yards away.  In the end I ran through the finish line corral just ahead of a guy who had run the whole thing backwards.

I didn’t quit.

The half marathon stories are too many to mention, but often as I crossed the finish line I thought “How the hell did I just do that?”

And so back to the Super Spartan.

Gary and I finished one  in Miami in February, and from that I got a stress fracture in my left foot.   Needless to say, I was not running for most of the summer.   When the foot finally healed and I got back in my running shoes I developed plantar fasciitis in my right heel.  This is an incredibly painful inflammation of the band that runs up the back of your heel.  Whatever.  For weeks I ran through it one day, and suffered the next day, but I kept going.  I considered not doing the Super Spartan in August, but I couldn’t convince myself that I was really injured “enough” to say I couldn’t do it.

It wasn’t long into the race before my heel started throbbing.  The running and jumping and climbing and scrambling made my heel feel like it was on fire.

I didn’t quit.

The course looped back towards the start line around mile 4 and I could have easily walked off there.

I didn’t quit.

In compensating for my right foot I developed a pain in my left knee.

I didn’t quit.

At mile 8 we looped back towards the finish line and I could have walked off there, but I thought we were closer to the finish line than we actually were and thought “I’ve come this far.”

I didn’t quit.

Having shed tears numerous time on the course I didn’t burst into tears at the finish line.  By then I was dehydrated.  I hosed off the mud and waited while Gary got our stuff from the bag check.  The wind picked up.  Wet and exhausted, I shivered as the wind whipped through me. I shuffled to our truck, every step sending shock waves of pain, bursts of fire, through my foot.  When we got back to the house, I had to lean on Gary to get from the truck to the house because I couldn’t put any pressure on my foot at all.

I had finished the race.  I ran through the pain and the tears, and I crossed the finish line just as I have done in every race I have ever entered.

I didn’t quit.

Why didn’t I quit?  This could be a post about perseverance and guts and determination, about how you have to keep going, keep moving, no matter what the odds or how much it hurts.  But that night after the Super Spartan I asked myself “why didn’t I quit?” and none of that came to mind, none of it made any sense in comparison to how much pain I was in.  It was an endurance event.  It wasn’t life or death.  It doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life.  While there were no permanent repercussions or no life changing injuries,  there could have been.  I could have seriously hurt myself by refusing to quit when my body was screaming at me to stop.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t quit and I didn’t seriously injure myself.

And so it came to be that the very next weekend I found myself contemplating running a half marathon.

My husband and I have run a half marathon in Virginia Beach every Labor Day for more than ten years.  The first year I signed up for it I had to bow out because I was experiencing periods of light-headedness and my doctor had advised against the run.  I realized this year that if a doctor told me something like that now I wouldn’t listen to her, but that year I did.  I remember how sad I was at the start line, watching Gary line up for a race that I had spent the entire summer training for.  I didn’t want to feel that way again, but by Wednesday of last week I made the decision not to run the half marathon.  It was the right decision.  It was the smart decision.  And yet … when we went to the Race Expo the day before the half marathon I almost convinced myself it was okay to run it.  It took every ounce of everything I had to keep on remembering how much pain I had been in during and after the Super Spartan.  It also took everything not to focus on how the day after the Super Spartan I was walking almost normally again.

I may be too stupid or stubborn to quit, but this time, knowing that, I was smart enough not to start.

I chose this topic because I wanted to figure out why I don’t quit during an endurance event.  I thought that if I could live my life the way I finish a race I would be unstoppable.  When I started this blog post I was thinking about all of the ways that I quit on myself, all of the times I have taken the easy way out.  The times where I’ve given up and let the bus take me to the finish line.

But in writing that last line I realize that’s not quite the true picture.  What has happened every single time I’ve quit on myself is that I have taken the bus back to the start line. 

John Bingham bills himself as The Penguin, an adult-onset athlete who runs races from the back of the pack.  I am paraphrasing his famous quote here:

The miracle isn’t that I finished.

The miracle is that I had the courage to start … again.

So I quit, sometimes for weeks on end, but then I start again, just as I always have.  Just as I always will. 

julie: on quitting

I think we have quitting as a topic at least in part because Ginny had to make the intelligent and reasonable decision not to take part in a race last weekend.  It was the right thing, she really had to not do it.  Sometimes it’s hard, no matter what the reasoning, to make something not feel like a quit, and quitting is something Ginny does not like to do.  

Quitting is something I have mixed thoughts on, to say the least.

When I first started considering this topic, trying to organize my thoughts, one of  the things I kept thinking of was the show title, “The Biggest Loser.”  I don’t know.   Introducing someone as “the biggest loser” and having that make them happy and the audience clap, I get the idea, people lose a lot of weight,  but the whole thing is just weird, who the hell wants to be a “loser.”  Because the truth is that except in that instance, except for the winner of that particular, who wants to be called a loser in front of millions of people?  Nobody likes losing much of anything.  How often do you hear anyone say. “Wow, I am thrilled, I think I am losing my hair!”   And shouts of, “Yes! I lost my job!” are not really common.

One interesting aspect of the whole losing thing, and one of the places where quitting and losing intersect,  is that people spend a lot of time talking about what others need to lose or quit, things like  a boyfriend or girlfriend or an attitude or a job or a habit.   And there is just as much time spent by those same people or the people they were talking about going on about things they don’t want to lose or can’t lose or would give anything not to lose, or, sometimes, would do anything it takes to keep.    Quitting is very similar.  Nobody wants to be a quitter.   And while for a huge number of people quitting and losing are seen as being weak, not finishing, not being strong enough and giving up, there is something a little different about quitting: quitting is something that seems controllable, a distinct choice one makes,  whereas losing is often framed as something out of our control, a matter of chance.

There are times when some or all of that is probably the exact way to describe a situation or a person’s actions.  And sure,  if it’s the way to describe their actions over and over then maybe at some point they deserve to be called ” a loser,” or “a quitter.”  But here’s the thing:  there are losers and then there are losers and there are quitters and then there are quitters; it’s about context and inflection.  I am a pretty good quitter, something that, for the most part,  I am proud of.   The part I am not so proud of is that many of the things that I probably should have done differently, things that cost me because of which I lost a lot, those actions were almost always a result of not being a good quitter.

You win or you lose, in the big picture, fairly cut and dry.  You either keep going or you quit, not nearly so easily defined.  For me, losing or winning is a whole bunch of decisions about quitting, like a series of negotiations with myself.  Very often for me, it’s been about being able to see quitting as both a good or necessary thing or the worst possible choice and knowing the difference at the right time.  Employment or business or things that are clearly very much like business, logical and are easy to see,  not hard.  You look at the pros and the cons and you decide how to get the best outcome.  People who know when and how to quit in those situations very often are the ones who will eventually come out ahead, “cut your losses” is a really good decision making guide;  knowing when to negotiate and what to negotiate with are more often than not the difference between winners and losers.  When the bottom line is tangible, facts and figures, that’s just that.

It seems cold to look at emotional things like that, that’s where quitting gets messy.  The real problem I have had, that I have struggled with, is that very often it has been easier to quit on myself than on others.  Long process.  Lots of decisions.  It took a long time to really see that too often, not quitting on someone else was just an excuse to quit on myself.  And then there is that momentarily unbearable moment when you have to decide not to quit on yourself.  Unfortunately for me, although it has become less uncomfortable, that decision is almost never-ending and something I  struggle with on some level on most days.  But that’s how you get it right; every one of those unbearable moments and then every hour, and then one day at a time.  The key for me has been knowing when to quit and when not to.

I guess the thing about “The Biggest Loser” that I just don’t get is that maybe, momentarily, that number of pounds or that “accomplishment” is what’s shiny, but it’s the decisions to quit or not to quit so many things; to commit to yourself or not to commit to yourself; learning to define winning and losing and accomplishment on your own and not for others and really not for some television audience.  Oh well, how anyone or everyone defines all that is their own decision and it’s not my place or responsibility to tell them otherwise.  Not being cold, not that I don’t care, just not my business.   In the end, one of the best things I have learned is when to quit worrying about when and if anyone else does or doesn’t make a decision or if someone else does or doesn’t quit something or everything.  It’s not easy, and even when you know it’s not true, it feels like you are quitting on people.  But that’s what they say, right, the best decisions are sometimes the hardest.  That’s true of this one.  In the end,   it works out pretty well. 

But the truth