Sunday, April 13, 2014

The F word

It's not the f-word you're thinking of. ... "fudge".

No, I mean "feminism". That word that has been made political. That word that has become associated with some kind of bizarre notion of denying differences between sexes. That word that has come to mean something like "bra burning" or "man hating".

Let's talk about that word.

Ten years ago I graduated from high school. There were 500 people in my class. It was a great school in the the suburbs of Fort Worth, TX. Like nearly everyone else in my graduating class, I was excited about closing the chapter on high school because it meant opening the chapter on college.

College was 690 miles from home, in Nashville, TN. I went without knowing anyone there. I was a stranger in a strange land, and even though I felt a little homesick some days, I knew I was doing something good. I was giving myself an invaluable gift. Lots of invaluable gifts, actually. There was the education, and the chance to live in a world outside of Texas, and the friends from all over the world who taught me about different ways of thinking. I knew then that I probably wouldn't be like my high school classmates who moved back to our little suburb after college. I had lived outside the bubble and I liked it.

The next move was to Arizona. I earned a masters degree. I met my husband. I grew into my own person. I became even more convinced that I was doing myself a favor.

It's not that I was always smiling about living far from my family. Often I was quite sad. The homesickness I felt in college has, even to this day, come swelling up in my heart like a balloon about to burst. I have missed seeing my cousins grow up. I missed the birth of my nephew. When I go home, I often don't recognize the place because it has transformed in my absence. But I have an adventurous spirit and an undying need to learn and mixed in is a decent amount of smarts. I couldn't ever stay in that town. The world is so big and I want to touch it all.

When I enrolled at Princeton, I moved farther away than I had ever been. New Jersey is like a different country compared to Texas. Completely different culture. We can't even pump our own gas in NJ (full service only! It's the law!). I've been here for four years and it's still hard on me. It's not just the pain of being physically distant. It's also the pain of my family not knowing about this part of my life. How do you explain what it's like to be a graduate student at Princeton to people who have been farmers all their lives? I don't know how to do it. I've never been able to find the words. That, more than anything, constitutes the great divide. Plane rides are easy. Understanding different ways of life is so very difficult.

So how does this relate to feminism?

Well, it's in the fact that people in my life, even in my family, have doubted whether or not I should be doing what I'm doing. In fact, I've been told not to do it by my very own grandmother. That I should be back in Texas with my family. My "morality" has been cast into doubt--whatever the conception of morality might have been at work there. And I've been told that one day I'm going to have to give it up so that I can follow my husband to whatever job he secures.

It's as though these people believe I'm just bidding my time or preoccupying myself in something unimportant. When a man lands a job, everyone congratulates him. It doesn't matter what he's doing. Even without knowing what the job is, no one would tell him not to do it. Certainly no one would question his "morality". And I seriously doubt that anyone would tell him he will have to quit the job one day so he can support his wife. It's laughable to even imagine those things happening.

But they did happen to me. And it's not funny at all.

I had the good luck of being raised by a father who taught me math. That's feminism. In a world where kids are taught that shopping and baking are for girls and math and science are for boys, I sat down with my father for a couple of hours every evening to work through algebra problems several years before I ever took an algebra class. And I had the good luck of having a loving mother who, though she still protests that she doesn't understand my work, asks me what it is that I'm writing about and tells me every day that I make her proud and that she loves the life I'm living. That is feminism. And I managed to fall into the greatest luck of all when I married a dude who tells me "I love that you are a philosopher, but I would love you even if you did something completely different". That is the best feminism. For the record, he was dismayed to hear that a friend of ours suggested I should quit and follow him for a job.

I wouldn't be here without the great feminists who have been nearer and dearer to me than all of the anti-feminists. If those diligent feminists hadn't lifted me up and encouraged me to pursue my dreams, then I might have shaped my sense of self according the words of my grandmother. Or according to the sentiments of people who have quite old fashioned conceptions of "morality". Or according to the advice of stalwarts of patriarchy. Instead, I'm earning my PhD in a field I love. I'm already giving the gift of a chance at higher education to my yet unconceived children. And I'm the very first person in my extended family to do it. The odds were against me. But loving people enabled me to believe in myself. In fact, they believed in me so greatly that I never doubted what I could do.

A friend and I were recently discussing the fact that we would not ever have been able to study philosophy at any other point in history. Philosophy has always been male-dominated--purely male, actually--dating back to Socrates and beyond. "Well, in ancient Greece we could have made our way into male inner circles by being prostitutes," my friend laughed. Yeah, I'm living in the right era. I'm a female philosopher. To the extent that such a thing can be part of someone's true self, then my true self can only be expressed in the present. And it's thanks to a (relatively) recent breed of feminists that I have that luxury. If you think about your life, then you might say the same. If you are female runner and you imagine that being so is part of your true self, then you certainly have feminists to thank. The men who love us should thank them too.

So I really wish we could stop thinking of "feminism" in a bad way. It's really the best thing that could happen to any of us.

Let us just be mindful of what our children hear. Let us teach our daughters math. And let us always tell them that they are living the lives we want to live. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Haiku

Words without color
Shine light. Shaping my future
around the best dream.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014



There's this crazy company called NUUN, and I once went on the greatest adventure of my whole life with them...

I'm on the far right there, sporting some long rogas and wicked cool Sauconys.
It was Ragnar Vegas. It was my first ever long-distance relay race. And it changed my life.

Seriously, I had so much fun running with Nuun, getting to meet the fabulous Megan Fay, and forging the deepest but weirdest friendships (come on, van friendship is weird friendship--but also the best), that it made me see running in a new way.

Hey, it's about the people, not the numbers. 
-Something I learned from Nuun

And you know what? I wanted to do it again. I have been waiting... just wishing and hoping... since the last time I tagged another team's car with "#keepittight"... 

...since I last hung out with these weirdos...

...since I last smiled THIS big...

....and had a chance to draw on cars without getting arrested...

I've just been wanting a chance to apply to be on Nuun's Hood-to-Coast team.

But I just found out that I can't! 

I'm not a Nuun Ambassador--Nuunbassadors, as they are so cutely called--and so I can't even submit an application.

To everyone who does have a chance to apply.... DO IT! Running a relay with Nuun was the BEST THING EVER. You won't regret giving it a shot.

I'm still not taking off my hat, though. Maybe there's hope for next year?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Solo Flight

I've been pretty selfish lately.

It all started when I cut off my hair.

It's like cutting off all that unnecessary hair was all I needed to push off a bunch of other unnecessary pressures.

All for my own satisfaction, I've been pouring my heart into my dissertation, dragging my husband up mountains just to get a good view, going out for sunset runs, and eating my weight in Mexican food.

Mt Lemmon, Windy Point
Mt Lemmon, Windy Point
Mt Lemmon, Windy Point
"A" Mountain, view of Lemmon
People often say that in order to take care of others, you have to first take care of yourself. I think that's true. But I also must confess that my aim is not to take care of others. At risk of sounding like a monster, I have to say that I'm doing all of this stuff just for me.

How often do we let ourselves say that?

Just for me.

I think women have a really hard time saying those words. I mean, I'm supposed to be thinking about my husband, right? And even if I weren't married, I'm supposed to be investing in my future self, not just tending to my present self. That's why we make sacrifices by taking the less joyful job or holding off on that dream vacation or whatever.

I'm just not doing those things. I'm giving myself what I want. The "myself" that I am right now. I'm doing things just for me.For just me.

What's so great about this is that, even though my aim isn't to live up to the adage about taking care of yourself in order to take care of others, I find that I just am a better wife, student, friend, daughter, and sister when I am just plain selfish. I do a better job of prioritizing, and it turns out that my priorities are my relationships and my love of philosophy, my health and a good dose of adventuring.

My selfishness took me to an observatory this last weekend where I got to look through a telescope and see craters on the moon, a supernova, and a dying star. While pondering galaxies far, far away, I found myself thinking about Aristotle and how he thought that the most divine activity possible for human beings is contemplation of the heavens. And that made me appreciate my whole life... the fact that I have somehow landed in this amazing situation where people pay me to read about and know about Aristotle. My place in the cosmos is small, but it is glorious. And I may be selfish, but I am so thankful and I'm not unmindful of my great luck.

Two days later my selfishness also took me underground to a cave where I got to see cave bacon (seriously!) and learn (for the millionth time) the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Claustrophobia be damned, I decided to to face my fears. What a pay off! I roamed the sometimes cramped and sometimes roomy and magnificent chambers of a cave that has been active for tens of thousands of years. Again, my time in the cosmos is brief, but how lucky that I get to live at this time, when I even can be selfish and pursue my dreams. What luck.

Photo by Adam Block (
My selfishness finished my first chapter of my dissertation. It makes me assertive in defending what I think is the correct interpretation of Aristotle, and it makes me--generally--a more committed, more passionate, and more fun philosopher.

I'd describe the ways that my selfishness makes me a better wife to my husband, but you can probably guess.

I think, at root, I'm not a servant. It's not in my make up. I think some people are greatly fulfilled by living a life of serving others, by seeking and meeting other people's needs. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's wonderful to see people living that way and fulfilling their own needs in doing so. But I don't thrive like that. I need to fly. I have to spread my wings wide and soak up all the sun, and only when I'm fully saturated with light can I reflect good back onto others. It's just the way I operate. It's pretty crazy that it's taken me 28 years to know this about myself--to fully understand it and embrace it--but 28 years isn't all that bad.

At the end of the day I'm not exactly a lone bird--because I derive so much happiness from my friendships, my marriage, and my family. But I'm out there flying solo much of the time. That's what's best for me. That's what makes me best.

What kind of bird are you?

"A" Mountain sunset

Monday, March 3, 2014

Good things

I just saw the best gif in the history of forever, so I'm putting it here. For future smiles, ya know?

Oh, and so you can love it too.

Think you have a better gif than this? Link it or email it to me. If I love it enough, I'll add it to this post. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Making Progress: Just a Simple Life Update

After two weeks of nursing a back injury, I finally ran again today. It was only one and a half miles, but it made my lungs burn and that spot behind my knees ache, and it gave me a rush to feel that feeling again. You all know what feeling I mean. That feeling that fills up your whole heart and opens up your mind and puts you in touch with your body, right down to your toes. It's that running feeling. 

Now I'm singing "You've lost that *running* feeling... whooOa that *running* feeling.... bring back that *running* feeling..." You know, Top Gun style.

Well, my running feeling has been brought back.

So how did I hurt my back, you ask?

Shoveling snow.

Despite the acute pain, I managed to make my flight to Tucson (thanks in part to my mama bird, Jen Found) and now I'm basking in sunlight and enjoying gorgeous views.

It probably doesn't need saying, but this is so much better than being in the snow globe.

The real shame is that I hurt my back right after my second ever workout on the indoor track at Princeton. I didn't even know the glorious facility existed until my sweet fellow Oiselle birds brought it to my attention.

After a month or two of outdoor runs in freezing temps, there's something so delicious about being able to work up a serious sweat during a workout. Instead of just getting sticky inside a sweatshirt, I actually delight in that slight burn that comes from getting salty sweat in the eye. 

Granted, I had my fair share of fun with snow running this year.

I even ventured out to run on the frozen lake.

But now I'm settled in Tucson for a few weeks. I'm writing a lot--this place is like a writer's retreat. In fact, I've already met my 2014 resolutions goal of submitting papers to 5 conferences. I also secured a spot as live-in mentor-type person at one of Princeton's residential colleges (it's like getting to live in Gryffindor or Hufflepuff at Hogwarts), and I've sent off an application for a super fancy dissertation fellowship. I've really stepped up my game, and I'm already feeling worlds more confident than I was when I wrote my resolution. Hard work pays off. Who knew?

Oh, and I cut all my hair off.

Life is good.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

That time I fell in love with Brazil

Last November I got a surprising email from one of my advisors.

Dear Brennan, We'd like you to come to Brazil for our Aristotle reading group.


To tell the truth, I didn't jump for joy when I received the email. See, the dates of the reading group landed right on top of the Arizona Rock 'n' Roll half, a race I had been looking forward to as a goal race.

So my first impulse was to say... no. But after saying all of this out loud to Keith, I realized the error of my reasoning. 24 hours later, I had a flight booked for São Paulo.

Last week I made the trip. Actually, it spanned a weekend. Wednesday night direct flight (10 hours) put me in São Paulo on Thursday morning, and I stayed until Monday evening. 

The trip was short. Too short.

My first impression of Brazil was this.

Rainy, urban, international, and just... busy.

But after taking a short walk from my hotel, I found this.

This is real rainforest. Granted, it's an urban-style rainforest, but it is the only bit of rainforest left intact within the city of São Paulo. Entering the gates of the rainforest park (Trianon) and leaving the hustle of São Paulo behind for a little while, I finally felt like I was seeing something totally different from home. Totally different from anything I've seen before.

Then came the food.

Of course, they have some things that we eat.

But they have lots of beautiful things I had never tasted before.

Bananas pratas. We don't have these in the States.
Banana Prata, Banana Nanica, Banana Maca, Banana Terra
Grenadilla, Buddha head, two kinds of Pitaya, Mango, Cashew Apple
Yellow Pitaya
I also ate steak (okay, I ate Argentinian steak, not Brazilian), grilled salmon with passion fruit sauce, farofa (manioc powder stuff), risotto, empanadas, açaí, and I drank a lot of Caipirinhas (a classic Brazilian cocktail).

I had a chance to go running only one day. But I tried to make up for the lack of running by packing in a lot of exploration. I think I ran about 8 miles (the most since my last half marathon in November). 

I explored the neighborhood where I was staying. It's called the Jardin Paulista and it's a cute and safe neighborhood full of shops and restaurants. I ran south to Ibirapuera Park and discovered why it's sometimes called the Central Park of São Paulo.

The park is closed to traffic, creating a haven for runners and cyclists. I saw just as many runners/cyclists in Ibirapuera as I have regularly seen in Central Park.

Fave tree!
These roots will continue growing down until they can actually
take root and stabilize the tree as it grows ever larger.
I took a break for some legit coconut water. I decided it's not coconut water that I don't like, but that crap that is packaged and sold in America.

I really think São Paulo is a healthy city, both in its enthusiasm for activity and for food. I can really imagine myself living there and continuing good habits. 

Bonus: black swans.


Now I'm home again. It looks like this.

I miss the southern hemisphere. I miss Brazil and all the lovely Brazilians. 

I really can't wait to go back.