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Jacqueline Alnes

Never Again: A Reading List About School Shooting Survivors

Students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

I don’t remember anything of the day leading up to the moment when, in Spanish class, the schoolwide PA system crackled to life. There was a brief moment of static. Then, an administrator — maybe our vice principal — said something like lockdown, lockdown, this is a lockdown, this is not a drill. There was a terse quality to his voice. My teacher turned out the lights, crawled toward the windows I suddenly realized spanned from floor to ceiling, and closed the blinds. I, along with the rest of my classmates, crouched in the corner of the room. We kept close to one another, closer than we ever would be again, the rise and fall of our shallow breaths like a subdued chorus of fear.

The PA system remained silent. We looked at one another with eyes wide open, ears pinned back. My phone off and in my backpack, I sent mental messages to my parents and brother: I love you. I hope you can hear me somehow. Just days before, on the news, an expert on how to protect yourself during a school shooting had said that throwing textbooks or scissors at a shooter when they first stormed the classroom might help disrupt their shooting patterns. I whispered the idea within the huddle, and our teacher crawled to retrieve a box of Fiskar scissors, ones that were “safe” enough to be approved for classroom use, meaning the blades were dull, the plastic light. We pulled textbooks from the baskets beneath desks and held them. My palms sweated.

I do not know how much time passed. I do not remember if I heard the shot or if I only heard about the sound in the hallway in the days that followed. I do not remember if I cried. The thuck-thuck-thuck sound of a helicopter broke the silence, and we peeked through the blinds to watch it land somewhere near the school. My classmates texted messages to their families. We whispered about what might be happening, whether we were safe. No sound emerged from the PA to relieve us. Instead, as time passed, we watched as cop cars and news vans arrived. Parents texted classmates to say we were on CNN. From messages, we learned that someone had been shot on school property. In my mind, I sent another slew of silent messages to my family: I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.

Long after the whir of the helicopter receded, someone, over the PA, told us we would have an early release from school. They didn’t say anything about what had happened, only that we were now safe. I retrieved my phone, called my mom, and wept when I heard her voice on the other side of the line.

The next day at school was supposed to be the statewide standardized test. I thought the administration might find a way to cancel the test, or even school. But they didn’t. Instead, in the halls before the first bell rang, rumors swirled: the student with the gun had ammunition in his backpack; there had been a chase; he had committed suicide because a girl he liked turned him down. I stress that these are only rumors — they have always remained rumors to me, because no administrator ever spoke openly about what happened. Even now, when I look at newspaper clippings of the event, nothing much is said other than that a student shot himself on campus and later died after being Life Flighted to a hospital. I can imagine that part of the reason why information was suppressed was because I went to a school that was only two years old in an affluent part of town.

That morning, instead of handling the subject with sensitivity, instead of reassuring the student population of our safety, instead of pausing standardized testing to talk about gun control, instead of taking time to mourn a member of our school, the administration sent us to our alphabetized classrooms, where a package of off-brand goldfish rested upon each clean desk. And over the PA, the same system that had carried the sound of a breathless warning the day before, James Brown’s I feel good (whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now) began to play. I bit my lip to stop myself from crying.

Then, and still now, that song blaring over the speakers strikes me as abhorrently insensitive, as does the way the administration failed and refused to openly discuss the incident with students. We had all crouched in dim corners. We had listened to each other’s shallow breath. We had murmured prayers and sent messages to who we loved. But we were expected to move on as if nothing had happened. To pass our standardized tests. To forget the fear of those moments when we didn’t know who might barge through our classroom door.

In the years since then, I have felt in some ways as though part of me is still there, frozen, like an animal of prey. When I teach, I survey each room for exit points or furniture I might use to block the entrance. I want to tell each student in my class that I will protect them, but I want more safety for all of us than just the promise of my own words. I do not want to see any more school shooting headlines. I do not want students to have to show their bravery after unspeakable horrors. I do not want them to carry that trauma.

Rather than ignore what has happened — and is still happening — to students in too many high schools as the administration at mine did, I believe in the importance of stories of students, teachers, staff, their families, and communities who have borne witness to tragedy, who will carry the weight of their experiences with them for the rest of their lives, and who are advocating for stricter gun laws as a means of sparing others from the same. We must listen.

1. Columbine, five years later (Peter Wilkinson, April 20, 2004, Salon)

At a news conference held just shy of the five-year anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy, all evidence, “every bomb and bullet,” was placed on display. Peter Wilkinson maps the trajectory of the investigation in this piece, but emphasizes the experiences of survivors such as Brooks Brown, a student who experienced PTSD after the shooting, and Richie Castaldo, a student who was paralyzed because of a bullet that struck his T4 vertebra and “shattered his spinal cord.” Wilkinson chronicles how their lives — and others at the school — were impacted by that traumatic day.

“Ireland was paralyzed on his right side for months after the attack. He walked again in June 1999, though he’ll always carry a bullet in his brain from Klebold’s shotgun.”

2. After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet (Eli Saslow, June 8, 2013, The Washington Post)

Six adult staff members and 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, 2012, their families left to grapple with unspeakable loss. Eli Saslow tells the heart-wrenching story of Mark and Jackie Barden, whose Daniel was killed that day.

“Nobody had touched the foosball table, because Daniel had been the last to play. His books and toy trains sat in their familiar piles, gathering dust. The basement had always been Daniel’s space, and some days Mark believed he could still smell him here, just in from playing outside, all grassy and muddy.”

3. Chardon, Ohio (Libby Copeland, November 18, 2018, Esquire)

Six years after a school shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio, Libby Copeland shares the stories of Danny Day, a high school student at the time whose best friends were killed, Brandon Lichtinger, a teacher, Jen Sprinzl, the principal’s secretary who confronted the shooter in the hallway, and others within the community in order to convey the myriad ways that trauma can warp and change a life.

“That was when I started to understand just how deeply something like a school shooting could affect people—people who weren’t even in the school or who didn’t lose someone close to them. That it could be a kind of earthquake that still reverberates, six years later. That a whole town could be marked by this day and could send its young into the world marked, too—some of them drinking, depressed, cutting, suicidal.”

4. The Class of 1946-2018 (As told to Jared Soule and Amelia Schonbek, October 28, 2018, New York Magazine)

Through a portfolio of photographs and a collection of testimonies from survivors of school shootings, Jared Soule and Amelia Schonbek “wanted to conduct an exercise in remembrance…What, we wondered, could their memories teach us about our inattention? The people whose bodies — in many cases — won’t let them forget.”

“There was a girl who was praying in Spanish, and I thought maybe I should pray too. This is a time when you pray. So I did, and then I looked over and saw one of my classmates with her head down. Then I sort of realized that she wasn’t alive anymore.” –Isabel Chequer

“Somebody was running past me and I asked them real quick, “Whose blood is this?” And they said, “It’s yours. It’s yours. You have a bullet hole in your neck.”” –Rome Schubert

“Fragments of bullets are still getting pulled out of my body.” –Colin Goddard

5. The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough (Charlotte Alter, March 22, 2018, Time)

Charlotte Alter writes about how, after the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a group of students organized in the hopes of decreasing gun violence.

“How a movement catches fire is always a mystery, but the Parkland kids seem matched for this moment. They’re young enough to be victimized by a school shooting, but old enough to shape the aftermath.”

Alter notes that the “U.S. only has 4.4% of the world’s population, yet it accounts for roughly 42% of the world’s guns.” Up against startling statistics such as that, through social media engagement, meetings held at a pizzeria or the windowless rooms of the #NeverAgain headquarters, and with a fervent desire for change, Emma González, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Alex Wind, and others hope to change the current state of gun violence in the U.S. through reform.


Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and illness.

The Need for Distance: Jaclyn Gilbert on Writing and Running

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Jacqueline Alnes | Longreads | December 2018 | 11 minutes (2,773 words)

Early in the morning, the light soft and warm and the air cool after yesterday’s thunderstorms, Jaclyn Gilbert runs a new route. From Grand Army Plaza she makes her way toward the Green Wood cemetery, hugging it through the second mile. Around the fifth mile, she passes over a parkway through a cylindrical barbed-wire tunnel, peering down at cars whirring by on their morning commutes, before continuing down Tenth Avenue back toward the park, finishing at Grand Army for a clean seven miles.

“New routes are always my favorite for the maps they form inside me: a series of sense impressions that filter through my memory as the day passes on. When I sit down to write again, these impressions reappear as remnants of light, color, or feeling, making their way into the imaginings of my characters,” Gilbert writes to me in an email. Though we live half the country apart — she in New York, I in Oklahoma — I feel a connection to her. Both of us are former Division I athletes turned writers. And both of us still run, frequently testing our limits; our writing processes are informed by our fastidious need for distance. Read more…

From the Sidelines: A Reading List on the Need for Female Coaches

Arizona Cardinals training camp coach Dr. Jen Welter poses for photographers after being introduced, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, at the teams' training facility in Tempe, Ariz. Welter is believed to be the first female to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL and will be member of the Cardinals coaching staff throughout training camp and the preseason, working with inside linebackers. AP Photo/Matt York

After playing one season for the Dallas Cowboys and one for the New England Patriots, I huddled up for a third season with the rest of my flag football team wearing a uniform that simply read “NFL Flag.” The uniforms were relics of a world far from mine. I lived in Indonesia at the time; what I knew of football came from my dad wearing his Packers shirt around the house after work, where he discovered the scores of games played twelve hours and nine-thousand miles away from our dial-up computer.

As little as I knew about the NFL, my participation in flag football was never a question. I loved sports so much that I joined soccer, baseball, basketball, the swim team, and a running club where we ran at least five kilometers every Tuesday night. Because our school was so small, each team was co-ed. Athletes were known for their skills rather than separated by gender, which is a quality of those early years that I still treasure. Looking back, perhaps I idealized athletics, believing that sport could erase the expectations of gender placed upon me in other ways. On the field, I imagined myself not as a girl, but as a twirling blur of muscle and breath.

This illusion was punctured in a huddle during my third year of flag football. My coach that year was a man with a reputation for calling his sons “sissies” if they showed any sign of exhaustion on the field. He glanced around the gleaming faces of our team, signaling off starting positions. When he got to me and another girl, the only other on the team, he said “bench” to us both. I stood on the sidelines, cheering my team toward a touchdown, and waiting for the signal to tag in. There was an unspoken rule within our league that teams should be fair to both boys and girls by giving them equal playing time, and my coach gave a chance to the other girl, who was older, but quickly took her out again when he thought someone else could do better. When his son showed up to half-time sweaty and lagging, I thought I might have my chance, but he told him to “man up” and sent him back in. As the game stretched on and the lowering sun colored the sky a dusky blue, I remained sidelined. When I got home that night, I wept. I knew I was fast, knew I could hold my own — as I had for three years — against anyone in the league, and knew I cared enough about my teammates to run fake routes without a chance at the ball. But none of that was enough. To that coach, I was a girl. Someone who could watch the game, but not participate.

I won’t say that after that moment I began to negotiate gender and sport, but something in me shifted. I quit playing flag football after that season. Wondering if I would always be categorized as a “girl,” I pushed myself to the absolute brink of what was possible in every other sport I played, ensuring, for example, that when I crossed the finish line of the mile first, before all the boys, that I was acknowledged for my prowess and not my gender.

I competed in multiple sports for almost all of middle school and high school, and then went on to run for a Division I team. When I look back now, I’m amazed to realize I can count two female coaches across a lifetime, plus a handful of female assistant coaches. I’m not the only one to experience this inequality. The 2017 College Sport Racial & Gender Report Card, which assigns grades to sports based on a comprehensive evaluation of gender and race, notes that white men “dominated the head coaching ranks on men’s teams holding 86.5 percent, 87.8 percent, and 91.6 percent of all head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively.”

I’m not insinuating here that female coaches are superior to male coaches or vice versa, but I’m wondering where these discrepancies come from. Are the factors that lead to highly disproportionate numbers of white male coaches somehow related all the way back to childhood athletics, during which young female athletes are told that they belong on the bench? Or are there other factors at play? Female coaches are earning positions in sports previously coached only by men — Jen Welter became the NFL’s first female coach in 2015, and, in 2016, the Arizona Coyotes hired Dawn Braid as the first female coach in the NHL — but the fact that these titles are newsworthy indicates that we have a lot of work to do to diversify coaching staff not only by gender, but also by race.

1. College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches (Pat Griffin, March 8, 2015, Huffpost)

In 2015, Shannon Miller, who coached women’s ice hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth, was notified by the university that her contract would not be renewed at the end of the season because of concerns that she was being paid too much for her work.

“Placed in the context of a disturbing trend in the diminishing number of women coaches and the treatment of the women in athletics over the last several years, this decision has more far reaching consequences for college women’s athletics.”

Pat Griffin summarizes a list of troubling action taken toward female coaches from 2007 to 2015 and argues that “the public rationale offered by athletic administrators for their decisions in each of these cases masks a deeper and more fundamental problem in college athletics: misogyny, sexism, and homophobia.”

2. An Open Letter About Female Coaches (Pau Gasol, May 11, 2018, The Players’ Tribune)

Pau Gasol of the San Antonio Spurs, in an open letter, not only successfully dismantles others’ arguments as to why Becky Hammon should not be head coach of an NBA team, but also urges the NBA — and fans of the NBA — to advocate and work toward a more inclusive league as a whole.

“Let’s recognize that one protest does not mean we have solved the problem of racial inequality in this country. One parade doesn’t mean we’re doing everything we can for the LGBTQ movement. And one coaching interview doesn’t mean we have solved the issue of gender diversity in our workplace.”

(Related: read Sidelined by Matthew J.X. Malady in Slate.)

3. American Running Needs More Female Coaches (Erin Strout, September 14, 2018, Outside)

By examining the sport of running as a focal point in this piece, Erin Strout illuminates the reasons why women are less likely to become coaches, interviews women in coaching positions to understand their challenges, and wonders about the future of women’s coaching and how more women in coaching positions could impact sport.

“Whether at the professional or collegiate level, Hogshead-Makar says that adding more female influence within the sport is crucial—not only to advance gender equity but also to provide a safer environment where athletes can thrive.”

(Related: read Reem Abulleil’s Why aren’t there more female coaches on tour? published by the Women’s Tennis Association.)

4. Where Are The Women? (Rachel Stark, Winter, 2017 NCAA Champion Magazine)

“In 1972, women coached more than 90 percent of collegiate women’s teams. Today, they coach fewer than half.”

In this 2017 piece for NCAA Champion Magazine, Rachel Stark investigates the effect that female coaches’ visible representation has on younger athletes who play sports, and also provides a number of resources such as “How to Support Young Coaches on the Rise,” “How to Strengthen Your Contacts,” and “How to Deepen the Candidate Pool” as a way to encourage more women to apply for coaching positions, and to open the conversation about gender, race, representation, and coaching within college sports.

(Related: read Number of Women Coaching in College Has Plummeted in Title IX Era by Jeré Longman published in The New York Times.)

5. The Field Where Men Still Call the Shots (Linda Flanagan, July 28, 2018, The Atlantic)

In this deeply researched essay, Linda Flanagan argues that a dearth of female role models in sport can negatively impact female athletes in several ways, such as leadership styles, lack of participation in sport, and an inability to visualize themselves as future coaches.

“According to a 2009 study by the sociologists Michael Messner and Suzel Bozada-Deas, men typically coach, and women typically serve as “team moms”…In the researchers’ view, this imbalance stems from “institutional gender regimes” that divide the work between men and women based on traditional roles.”

6. The Rise of Women Coaching Men (Michael LoRé, April 26, 2018, culture trip)

When Natalie Randolph tells a man at the bar that she’s a former football player, he barrages her with questions.

“Wait, you played football? Did you wear pads? A helmet? Was it the Lingerie Football League? And you coached? So then, what’s a spread offense? Do you know the 3-technique?”

This instance, as Michael LoRé reports, is representative of the kind of frustrating and discriminatory reaction Randolph encounters frequently when she talks about her experiences as a woman of color who is both a football player and female coach of a male football team. And her story is not an anomaly. LoRé, using Randolph’s experiences as a thru-line throughout the piece, discusses the current state of coaching and weaves in stories from other female coaches.


Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and neurological illness.

Home Again, Home Again: A Reading List

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“Home, I began to feel, was the half-formed beliefs you fashioned in the middle of all you didn’t and couldn’t understand, a tent on a wide, empty plain.”

-Pico Iyer

Nine or 10 months after I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, my parents packed up all of our belongings in a Mazda 323, and drove us away from my natal home. My parents took the Alcan highway through Canada, and then made their way down to Texas, where we lived for a couple of years before moving again. There are photos from that initial journey. In some, I am lolling on a viewing platform in Yellowstone National Park, and in others, I’m bundled up in a snowsuit, unnamed mountains behind me. My parents tell me I remained watchful in the backseat, my eyes trained on the scenery as it flushed from snowy white to green.

After Texas, we maintained a peripatetic existence, moving to Louisiana, then back to Alaska again. Though I learned early on in my life that we didn’t live anywhere long enough to change the walls from sellable beige, the idea of home didn’t concern me until my first-grade year, when my parents suggested we move to a small seaport city on the edge of Borneo, the second-largest island in Indonesia. We spent six years in Indonesia, only moving once from Borneo to Java. It was the longest I lived anywhere. Not knowing as an elementary schooler the layers of privilege that complicated my presence there, I allowed myself to feel as though I had found a home. I learned to pull nectar from the pink flowers outside my front door, speak Bahasa Indonesia, and scooter past the monitor lizards on my way to school. America — the country people often reminded me I was from — became the other end of infrequent long-distance phone calls, during which I’d listen to the crackling, faraway voices of people I loved. When we returned to the States once a year, well-meaning family and friends would always say, welcome home or I’m so glad you’re back. I felt, in those moments, as though there were two of me, both versions shimmering and illusory. I didn’t fully belong in Indonesia, but I also couldn’t understand how I fit into the landscape of technicolor grocery-store aisles and the dazzling suburban asphalt streets of a country that others called mine.

My family found out we were moving from Indonesia while on summer leave in the U.S., so I never got the chance to return or say goodbye. My memories from the formative years I spent there are buried somewhere deep within me — for years, I have felt too homesick to let myself remember. It is only in certain moments — the voice of a woman speaking Bahasa Indonesia rising from a crowded venue in Oregon, the echo of an adzan from a mosque — that I allow my memories from those days to unfurl like lush rainforest leaves, broad and green and glossy, beading with dew and bursting with song.

I move every two to four years now, and I am always filled with anticipation, hoping for a place that will hold me. I feel rootless, capable of fitting in anywhere, but not truly belonging. Most of the time I carry these thoughts quietly within myself, but I have found comfort in the way others voice complications with the idea of home. How much of who we are stems from the places that bear us? What does it mean to long for a home that doesn’t exist in the way it once did? What memories rise to the surface when you return to a long-forgotten place? What does it mean to be unable to return?

1. Reading ‘The Odyssey’ Far From Home (Azareen Van der Vliet, March 10, 2018, Electric Lit)

When Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi moves to South Bend, Indiana, she feels unmoored.

“Given the disorienting cartography of my life, there isn’t a singular home for me to return to. I am from nowhere; or, perhaps, I am from a constellation of places which habits and social codes violently contradict one another, leaving me empty handed.”

Van der Vliet Oloomi reads The Odyssey in Indiana, which helps her better understand her own nostalgia for an intangible place. Her encounter with the tale serves as an example of the power that literature, like place, has in offering an intersection between reality and possibility, solace and hope.

2. Baby Boy Born Birthplace Blues (John Jeremiah Sullivan, December 6, 2016, Oxford American)

When John Jeremiah Sullivan was young, a local paper in his hometown of New Albany, Indiana, ran an article about a boy who discovered a passageway that had once been part of the Underground Railroad. By researching old newspaper clippings reporting on runaway slaves, instances of racial violence, and the origins of blues music, Sullivan unravels myth to reveal truths about the complex and rich history of the place he “was raised in and where occurred the events that most shaped and damaged me as a human being.”

3. A Map of Lost Things: On Family, Grief, and the Meaning of Home (Jamila Osman, January 9, 2017, Catapult)

While watching salmon return to the site of their birth to lay thousands of eggs of their own, Jamila Osman feels a pang of jealousy at the certainty of the fish, their ability to find their way back to a point of origin. In this lyrical, haunting essay, Osman chronicles her parents’ journey from Somalia to Canada to Portland, Oregon, and reckons with grief after the death of her sister, the shortcomings of maps, and how her own identity has been shaped significantly by loss and place.

“A country is impossible to contain; a people are impossible to boil to the silt of parchment. A map is only one story. It is not the most important story. The most important story is the one a people tell about themselves.”

4. Enduring Exile (Alia Malek, October 15, 2013, Guernica)

When Anto’s neighbors warn him that he’s no longer safe in northwestern Syria, he heeds their warning, quickly shuttering the windows of his restaurant and inn, and selling what possessions he could. Alia Malek not only tells the story of Anto’s displacement in this harrowing journalistic essay, but also writes about the devastating effects of the Armenian Genocide and the way Anto’s family’s relationship to the idea of home was permanently altered as a result.

“He was curious to visit Armenia, even if it wasn’t really Armenia, and he wasn’t really from this Armenia.”

5. Fountain Girls (Samantha Tucker, Fall/Winter, 2016 Ecotone)

“There are Fountain girls who try to leave, but cannot outrun their hometown legacy; there are Fountain girls who never even stumble upon the chance to try.”

By deftly weaving together her own personal narrative about her upbringing in Fountain, Colorado and the death of her brother Ronnie, with the death of a “Fountain girl” named Tara, Tucker illuminates how a place can hold you in its grasp, even after you’ve physically left it behind.

“Where, in our reach for something better—an enlistment, an education, a steady job, a family, the dream—where do we, instead, cycle back, or discover our beginnings have inevitably been our end?”

6. Looking for Home in the Palestinian Diaspora (Marcello Di Cintio, September 24, 2018 Hazlitt)

Over 70 years have passed since Palestinians were first displaced by the Palestine War in the late 1940s, and many of the refugees living in UNRWA-administered camps have not been able to return to their ancestral homes. After Palestinian author Mona Abu Sharekh guides Marcello Di Cintio through Shati refugee camp in Gaza, Di Cintio begins to wonder “about the descendants of refugees who live far from the villages their grandparents lost — not just across a fence, but across an ocean.” Di Cintio meets with several Palestinian poets in Brooklyn in order to bear witness how both literature and heritage inform their conceptions of home.

“‘My father infected in us a nostalgia for Palestine,’ Hala said. Though she’d never seen Palestine, she came to love the place because of her father’s love.”

7. A Woman’s Choice — Sexual Favours or Lose her Home (Jessica Lussenhop, January 11, 2018, BBC News)

Broke and homeless, newly released from prison, Khristen Sellers was offered an abandoned trailer under the condition that she’d clean it herself. She did, but when the inspector came by, he “asked her if she ‘gives head’” and implied that “his signature on the inspection was the only thing standing between her and a place to live. Sellers is not the only one to experience this kind of harassment.

“In a post-Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo world, most people are well aware sexual harassment occurs in the workplace. But across the US, women are subjected to it in a far more intimate setting – their homes.”

In this piece, Jessica Lussenhop chronicles the experiences of sexual harassment that many women tenants have experienced, the flaws in the system that allow for such egregious incidents, and related legislation.

8. Home by (Chris Jones, Jaunary 29, 2007 Esquire)

After the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated before re-entry in February, 2003, Donald Pettit, Captain Kenneth Bowersox, and Nikolai Budarin were left stranded in space. Through interviews with the crew, and research about the surrounding circumstances, Chris Jones, in this moving piece of longform journalism, writes about what it means to be suspended far from Earth’s comforts and minutiae, not knowing when — or how — you’ll be able to return.

“And sometimes you’re no longer a month away from home–you’re suddenly much farther, although you’re not really sure how far, because the miles are meaningless.”

* * *

Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and illness.

I Believe Her: A Reading List

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On September 27, 2018, I sat home alone at my kitchen table, my laptop open to Christine Blasey Ford delivering her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Outside, the neighbor’s dog barked and a truck throttled down the street, but as Dr. Ford uttered the phrase, “but his weight was heavy,” the world around me, the one I have built for myself here and now, seemed to dissolve. As she testified about Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge’s laughter, “pin-balling off the walls,” I wept. My body tensed. I was no longer seated at my kitchen table, but waking up instead on the cold hard tile of my college dormitory, my assaulter and my best friend both standing above me, laughing.

During the second semester of my freshman year of college, my mattress had been placed directly on the floor because a neurological illness had stolen my ability to safely climb into my lofted bed. The man who assaulted me was a friend. The night of, he kissed my roommate goodnight before making his way down the ladder of her bed. He crawled on top of me, using his body weight to pin me down. His breath smelled like beer. With one of his hands he pressed hard against my collarbone, and with the other he groped me beneath my shirt. When he at last fell asleep on top of me, I squirmed away. Not knowing where else to go, I found a spot on the tile floor and curled up there for the rest of the night.

There are more details but, even in saying this much, my voice quakes. I have seen what happens to women who offer testimony. Leigh Gilmore, in her book Tainted Witness, writes about “how women’s witness is discredited by a host of means meant to taint it: to contaminate by doubt, stigmatize through association with gender and race, and dishonor through shame, such that not only the testimony but the person herself is smeared.” Women who report sexual assault are asked, what were you wearing? Why didn’t you tell someone? How hard did you fight back? During her Senate testimony, Dr. Ford was asked, “So what you are telling us, this could not be a case of mistaken identity?” “You would not mix somebody else with Brett Kavanaugh, correct?” “You do remember what happened, do you not?” And in 1991, when Anita Hill faced the Senate Judiciary Committee to offer her testimony of Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment, she was asked, “Are you a scorned woman?” and “Do you have a martyr complex?”

Watching Dr. Ford on the stand, and remembering with respect Anita Hill who testified before her, it is clear to me that both women’s testimonies represent much more than simply the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. In their stories, I hear my own, of which I am usually reluctant to speak. And in the voices of people who disbelieve both Ford and Hill, I hear my worst fears vocalized. In the days that followed Kavanaugh’s confirmation, all that held me were the words of writers who skillfully dismantle harmful rhetoric, expose systems of privilege and power, illuminate the stories of vulnerable others, and bravely voice their own.

I believe Dr. Ford. I believe Anita Hill. And I believe in the power of our collective witness as a way to make change. As Tarana Burke, Amanda de Cadenet, Glennon Doyle, Tracee Ellis Ross, and America Ferrera wrote recently in their open letter to Dr. Ford,

“You’ll see it when we march, when we walk out, when we show up.

You’ll see it in the voting lines that go on forever.

You’ll hear it in our reawakened voices.

You’ll feel it in our strengthened siblinghood.”

1. “One Year of #MeToo: The Legacy of Black Women’s Testimonies”(Allyson Hobbs, October 10, 2018, The New Yorker)

By writing about the fragmented nature in which memory of her own sexual assault emerges, chronicling historical incidents of black women such as Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Simril, and Betty Jean Owens bearing witness against their attackers, and examining the context surrounding Anita Hill’s testimony, Allyson Hobbs illuminates why it is so difficult for women — particularly African American women — to share incidents of sexual violence. She emphasizes that to move forward we need to stop privileging the voices of white women, and create a narrative that’s more inclusive.

“To do better by all women, we must listen and recognize the historical and contemporary circumstances that shape their experiences and have real consequences on their lives.”

2. I Rewatched Anita Hill’s Testimony. So Much Has Changed. So Much Hasn’t. (Liza Mundy, September 23, 2018, Politico)

Liza Mundy writes about Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, providing valuable context for how incidents within the 1991 hearing can be reframed based on our current knowledge of sexual harassment. This piece was published before Christine Blasey Ford testified, but Mundy offers insight as to how Dr. Ford’s testimony might be received differently based on changes in the digital age, the presence of female members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the influence of the #MeToo movement.

“Even now, even given the remarkable climate-change wrought by the #MeToo moment, we are seeing in real time how women can be intimidated by everything from the attacks they face to the constrictions placed on how they can tell their stories.”

(Related: read Exclusive: we re-ran polls from 1991 about Anita Hill, this time about Christine Blasey Ford by Dylan Matthews at Vox.)

3. And You Thought Trump Voters Were Mad  (Rebecca Traister, September 17, 2018, The Cut)

Studying historical instances of rage in relation to both race and gender, Rebecca Traister examines the ways in which anger can be progressive or a means of maintaining harmful institutions of power.

“This fight has been against an administration with virtually no regard for women, for their rights, or for the integrity of their bodies, either in the public or private sense. The point should be obvious, yet the anger of the female protesters has repeatedly been cast — as Ford’s story quickly was — by those threatened by it as desperate and performed.”

4. What Do We Owe Her Now? (Elizabeth Bruenig, September 21, 2018, Washington Post)

On September 21, 2018, Donald Trump tweeted, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed,” which immediately resulted in a viral #WhyIDidntReport hashtag on Twitter. There are a slew of reasons why women don’t report, one of them being the way that sexual assaults are treated by both authorities and communities.

Elizabeth Bruenig, in a tour de force of literary journalism, writes about a woman named Amber Wyatt who reported her rape 12 years ago to both friends and authorities in Arlington, Texas, only to be harassed and shunned by her peers to the point that she had to leave school. Authorities, even though they were in possession of a rape kit and Wyatt’s testimony, chose not to prosecute, saying “it was a ‘he said, she said’ thing.”

“Making sense of her ordeal meant tracing a web of failures, lies, abdications and predations, at the center of which was a node of power that, though anonymous and dispersed, was nonetheless tilted firmly against a young, vulnerable girl.”

5. What Kind of Person Makes False Rape Accusations? (Sandra Newman, May 11, 2017, Quartz)

On October 2nd, 2018, to the cheer of a crowd in Southaven, Mississippi, Donald Trump mocked Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, saying, “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember.” He lamented, saying Kavanaugh’s “life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered,” insinuating that Dr. Ford contrived her story of sexual assault.

While I am reluctant to engage with Trump’s abhorrent mockery of Dr. Ford, his unfounded claim that Dr. Ford made up her assault feeds into the extraordinarily harmful narrative that men’s lives are being ruined by women. Sandra Newman addresses this claim in her extensively researched essay, “What kind of person makes false rape accusations?” Point by point, she breaks down commonly made claims such as innocent men facing rape charges, false reporting, and who falsely reports, and counters each with data from a variety of unbiased studies.

6. Speak Truth to Power  (Lacy M. Johnson, September 24, 2018, Longreads)

“It seems impossible to speak about rape precisely because this threat of violent retribution is real, whether explicit or implicit, but also because of the widespread belief in our culture that rape is an aberration: a violence so unthinkable, so unfathomable, so taboo as to render it unspeakable.”

Through examination of Philomela’s rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial, Bill Cosby’s trial, the 1 is 2 Many campaign, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, among others, and by integrating her own experiences as a survivor of rape and sexual assault, Lacy M. Johnson, in an excerpt from her book The Reckonings: Essays, elucidates how women’s testimonies are perpetually ignored, silenced, shamed, trolled, and threatened. Johnson advocates for women to speak their truth — and publically — even in the face of fear.

7. Gabrielle Bellot: The Story I Kept Hidden (Gabrielle Bellot, October 11, 2018, LitHub)

Gabrielle Bellot, in addition to voicing her own experiences with sexual assault, writes about the history of trauma women have endured as a result of harmful patriarchal systems, and emphasizes the importance of telling true stories as a way of fighting back.

“When I hear the President of this country ask, dismissively, why women would wait to come forward and call women who make allegations “really evil people,” it feels like a slap in the face. And then it reminds me why so many women never speak up at all, even now, but instead let our memories curl up into a deep place inside us, until we can almost believe we’ve forgotten them.”

* * *

Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir of running and illness.

On Being an Ill Woman: A Reading List of Doctors’ Dismissal and Disbelief

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Just months after I turned 18, I sat on the white crinkly paper of a patient bed, waiting for my first neurology appointment. I repeated, I am a Division I athlete, as if reminding myself of my athleticism would somehow erase the strange symptoms of fainting, blurred vision, and dizziness that had plagued me for the previous few weeks. The illness, like a flower from concrete, seemed inconceivable. I had been healthy my whole life.

The doctor rapped on the door, entered, and shook my hand before taking a seat. “The doc at your school called. Thinks you had a bad reaction to medication,” he said, referencing antibiotics I’d been prescribed for bronchitis. “He says you’ve had blurry vision, vertigo, two episodes of syncope.”

“Is syncope fainting?” I asked, feeling as though the language of my body had been translated into something incomprehensible. I wanted to snatch it back.

“Yeah, yeah,” he crooned. “You been running?”

“I’ve been trying,” I told him. Each attempt ended in a swell of vertigo and subsequent collapse. The assistant coach carried me to my trainer, who took my blood pressure and pulse, always murmuring, “you’re fine.” The athletic doctor assigned to our team, after performing several tests, had told me that I presented no abnormalities; he encouraged me to run.

The neurologist pulled out a mallet and tapped my knee. My lower leg reacted as it should, swinging forward like a pendulum. He told me to walk, and watched as I made my way from the bed to the door, and back again. “It’s fine for you to run,” he said, scribbling down notes. “I don’t see what’s holding you back.”

I left the appointment with a sense of unease. If the athletic doctor, a trainer, and a neurologist had seen me and told me I was fine, then was I really sick? At the time, I didn’t know how to advocate for myself while in the position of patient. I felt alone with my illness, scared of my own body.

Eight years have passed since then and, in my own continuing journey toward a diagnosis, I have felt a strange mix of emotions when reading narratives of other women being discredited by medical professionals. I feel outraged when I read about their attempts to voice symptoms, only to be silenced. Guilt — and a desire to work toward reforming our current medical system — washes over me when I am reminded of the extent of my own privilege.

The essays below are both a salve to the years of dismissal from doctors and a call to action. I’m inspired by other women’s efforts to advocate for themselves, practice radical empathy, change policy, and create resources so that other patients don’t endure the same harrowing experiences. When I hear my voice in chorus alongside them, I feel as though I’m somehow part of a community, or at least not alone anymore.

1. “PCOS. POC. Poetry. & Pilates” (Tiana Clark, Lenny Letter, April 13, 2018)

Tiana Clark tries to ignore symptoms of panic attacks, hair loss, brain fog, and more, until her ovary throbs with an excruciating pain that forces her to the walk-in clinic. There, a doctor waves Clark’s symptoms away with painkillers and, at an appointment with a white female gynecologist soon after, Clark’s self-diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is initially belittled.

Her casual dismissal of my problem reminded me of what I’d so often seen living as a black woman in America: an erasure of my distress.

In this incisive, empowering essay, Clark highlights researched material about black women’s health care in the U.S., relays her own harrowing experiences with medical professionals, and emphasizes the importance of learning to advocate for herself.

2. “Memoirs of Disease and Disbelief” (Lidija Haas, The New Yorker, June 4 & 11, 2018)

By examining female narratives of illness ranging from Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill, Jennifer Brea’s documentary film Unrest, Susan Sontag’s canonical Illness as Metaphor, and Christina Crosby’s book A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain, among others, Lidija Haas reviews Porochista Khakpour’s Sick with an eye toward how storytelling can affect treatment, act as a form of escape, and undermine dangerous expectations of what a patient should be.

(Related: read an excerpt of Porochista Khakpour’s Sick here at Longreads.)

3. “Doctors Told Her She Was Just Fat. She Actually Had Cancer” (Maya Dusenbery, Cosmopolitan, April 17, 2018)

After experiencing coughing fits for three years, Rebecca Hiles visits the doctor, only to be told her condition is “weight-related.” Hiles is not the only one to be dismissed in this way; in this insightful and eye-opening essay, Dusenbery collects stories of women who have been fat-shamed by doctors rather than being treated with care, resulting too often in dangerous downward spirals in illness.

4. “The Reality of Women’s Pain” (Rachel Vorona Cote, The New Republic, March 7, 2018)

Rachel Vorona Cote situates Abby Norman’s Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain, a book about Norman’s arduous experiences receiving treatment for endometriosis within a long history of “wild theories about female anatomy” such as the “wandering womb” theory of Ancient Greece, Freud’s dismissal of patients as hysterical, and others.

As Norman communicates so powerfully, a woman’s relationship to her pain is a snarled coil of memory and socialization.

(Related: read Abby Norman’s Women’s Troubles, from Harper’s.)

5. “On Telling Ugly Stories: Writing with a Chronic Illness” (Nafissa Thompson-Spires, The Paris Review April 9, 2018)

Nafissa Thompson-Spires not only chronicles the emergency room visit and appointments that led to her initial diagnosis of endometriosis, but also writes about what it means to be a woman with an invisible chronic illness, and her identity as a black woman within the realm of the medical world.

In Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism and Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, bell hooks problematizes the persistent myth of the strong black woman. This myth contributes to real-life consequences in medicine and elsewhere.

6. “Checkbox Colonization: The Erasure of Indigenous People in Chronic Illness” (Jen Deerinwater, Bitch Magazine, June 8, 2018)

When Jen Deerinwater visits the doctor, her identity as “a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma” is erased by problematic intake forms that only include the options of “American Indian” or “Native American,” and she is often asked “degrading and humiliating questions” by medical professionals. Deerinwater lists a litany of ways in which Native people are ignored and mistreated by the healthcare system, resulting in lack of access to resources and treatments, shortened lifespans, and a host of other harms.

(Related: read other essays from the 15-part “In Sickness” series from Bitch Magazine.)

7. “Health Care System Fails Many Transgender Americans” (Neda Ulaby, NPR, November 21, 2017)

As of November 2017, 31 percent of transgender Americans lacked regular access to healthcare, due in part to how difficult it is for transgender people to find jobs. Neda Ulaby notes that “insurance companies and many medical professionals still treat them as though their bodies don’t make any sense,” which causes anxiety for trans people when visiting physicians, something Planned Parenthood is trying to ameliorate through staff training.

(Related: read Making Primary Care Trans-Friendly by Keren Landman, from The Atlantic.)

8. “A Matter of Life & Death: Why Are Black Women in the U.S. More Likely to Die During or After Childbirth?” (Meaghan Winter, Essence, September 26, 2017)

When Fathiyyah “Tia” Doster was pregnant, she began to feel bloated late one night. Luckily, she visited the hospital, where she safely delivered her baby. A diagnosis of hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count (HELLP) syndrome left her hospitalized for more than three months, but alive. Other pregnant women are not so lucky. Meaghan Winter explores the historic backdrop of healthcare for black women, the current political climate which is threatening women’s access to insurance and clinics, and bias within hospitals, all of which have contributed to rising rates of maternal mortality.

The complex web of causes — which includes genetic predispositions, chronic stress, racial bias and structural barriers to health care — contributes to the racial disparity in maternal health.

In the end, Winter offers strategies for health providers, reformers, and patients and their families to implement necessary change.

Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir of running and illness.

Going the Distance: A Reading List on Running

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As the sun washes the sky pastel, my feet clip in an even rhythm down the street and my breath settles into a ragged cadence. Swallows dart out from beneath a bridge, swooping through the new morning. When my Garmin lights, notifying me of a mile, I press forward. As the time stretches on, the sear in my hamstrings heightens and my lungs seek air. Hunting down the same elusive times I do nearly every morning, I run until I hit the six-mile mark where I ease up, allowing my legs to rest.

When I return from my runs, I record the distance and splits from each individual mile. I have been doing so for 13 years. When I line my records up on the floor, a profile of my former self takes shape. When I was merely 13, for example, I recorded that I started running at 7:11 AM, and ran eight miles in 59:21, averaging a pace of 7:25. My records sometimes list complaints: “Legs felt like bricks,” “legs hurt,” “windy,” or “toe bled a lot,” and still the mileage remains consistent with my training plan, the splits even.

There is a theme in my journals — and in my daily pursuit of distance — of the identity I’ve found in running, one that thrives on equal parts pleasure and pain. Running requires diligence that often borders on obsession, and, in chasing faster times and longer distances, I perpetually push my body to the brink of what is possible, until I teeter on the precipice of harm.

I used to find community in my high school team, and, for a short time, as a Division I athlete, but now alone, I find solace in several exceptional essays that open conversations about the limits of the body, of developing an identity through running, and, mostly, why any of us run in the first place.

1. “Running Towards My Father” (Devin Kelly, LitHub, June 2017)

Devin Kelly opens his essay with a description of his father, who is out for his daily three-mile run.

When he runs, my father’s breathing hustles to a rhythmic grunt punctuated by each footfall, accompanied by the swish of his nylon jacket. I have never seen my father bend or stretch. Before he runs, he takes off the clothes he does not need and begins, simply, as if a bird did not have to flap a feather before flying.

Kelly deftly weaves together his father’s running habit with his own pursuit of long distances, exploring failure, connections between running and writing, our identity as “creatures of longing,” and accepting pain, describing the sensation of “knowing how to dance along the thin line that is where your mind meets your body, about listening and being generous to yourself, about adjusting and re-adjusting, about, like so much else, trust.”

2. “How Running Ruined my Relationship, Killed My Faith…and Saved My Life” (Allison Stockman, Narratively, April 2018)

Allison Stockman, at 15, meets her first boyfriend who, while running, “had transformed from a skinny, seemingly weak, invisible kid to a lithe, powerful athlete who ran with the joy and abandon of Pheidippides and the irresistible style and charisma of Prefontaine.” So begins their romance, one complicated by her Mormon faith.

I had to explain that, as a true believer and follower of the faith, I was 100 percent committed to: no drinking, no smoking, no coffee, no tea, church for three hours every Sunday, and, of course, no premarital sex.

Throughout this essay, one that opens with a doctor prescribing Prozac and a 20-minute daily run in an in-patient psych ward, Stockman makes clear the ways that religion, running, and identity are linked in complicated — and often heartbreaking — ways. Running becomes both a lifeline and a metaphor, a way of making sense of an arduous personal transformation.

I knew I had to find some way to will myself back out there, even if there wasn’t a heaven anymore, no finish line to cross, no reward to be won from all that self-denial and sacrifice to live a “good” life.

3. “This Man Expects to Run a 2:50 in the Boston Marathon on Monday” (Lindsay Crouse, The New York Times, April 12, 2018)

Tim Don, at 40, had spent the majority of his life pursuing excellence as a competitive athlete, which not only gave him sponsorships and a career, but also much of his identity. When he was hit by a car during a pre-race bike ride, he suffered a hangman’s fracture, breaking his C2 vertebrae. Immobile and in pain, he made it clear that “a return to competition was his only option.”

In this harrowing story, Lindsay Crouse chronicles Don’s will to not only run the Boston Marathon, but run it in under 2:50. In order to reach the starting line, Don’s doctors equip him with a halo device, one in which titanium pins are screwed directly into the skull. Don’s story is one that raises questions about how far a person can — and should — go to pursue a sport:

Is his drive to compete again — the same drive that enabled him to record the world’s fastest time in one of the world’s most grueling races — fueling an incredible comeback? Or is he risking his health in pursuit of athletic feats that may no longer be attainable?

4. Amelia Boone is Stronger Than Ever (as told to Marissa Stephenson, Runner’s World, June 19, 2018)

Amelia Boone, who won the “World’s Toughest Mudder — a 24-hour nonstop obstacle course race – in 2012, 2014, and 2015,” was known as the “Queen of Pain” in endurance running for pushing the limits of bodily discomfort, course difficulty, and distance. There seemed to be no end to what Boone could accomplish with what she describes as a vicious internal pressure to never let herself fail:

I felt so much external pressure to keep winning. You have to keep winning, Amelia. You have to keep winning. What happens when you don’t win anymore? I felt like I had to put on this persona: Amelia’s a badass. Amelia will power through. This was an image I lived in for years, and it never felt comfortable to me.

After suffering a femur fracture, Boone attempts to return to competition by cross-training with unmatched intensity. But instead of finding herself back on the starting line, she ends up with a stress fracture in the base of her spine, and is finally forced to reconcile the disparity between the voice in her head telling her to chase perfection and the limits of her body. In this candid, moving essay, she addresses the importance of dismantling her own veneer of perfection to find true, lasting strength.

5. A Marathon, a Goal Time, the Sublime, and a Wolf (Jeanne Mack, Medium, November 2017)

Jeanne Mack, in an essay chronicling her training for the New York City Marathon, articulates the way in which long distance running asks us to press against the borders of everything we believe possible.

In literature, the concept of the sublime is something equally beautiful and terrifying; it is awe-filling. It’s something so great, infinite, or obscure that it’s inconceivable. This fall, that, for me, described the marathon distance. It towered somewhere in the sky, above anything else I’d tried to accomplish before.

Mack, who trains mostly in solitude, explores the tension between the recommended splits she hits during training and the inherent knowledge of her own potential. In isolation, she proves her strength time and time again to herself, communing with her body and the world around her during runs. Always, even in light of too-quick splits or a wayward GPS, she finds a way to surge toward her goals, what she terms “the edge of the sublime.”

6. The Immortal Horizon (Leslie Jamison, The Believer, May 2011)

Set at the Barkley Marathons, a race notorious for its difficult terrain, length, and mysterious entry procedures, Leslie Jamison illuminates how myths and stories are created while asking, why do we run? Jamison explores obsession, redemption, control, willpower, and pain, circling the idea of long distance running as if she was a hawk, wheeling closer and closer to the heart of the sport as this eleven-part essay progresses.

The persistence of “why” is the point: the elusive horizon of an unanswerable question, the conceptual equivalent of an un-runnable race.

Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir of running and illness.