Mile markers

· Speaking,Media,Writing,Public health

The New York City Marathon winds through all five boroughs, and the Bronx is the last one you hit. It comes around mile 20, the toughest point of the 26.2-mile distance, the “Wall” that everyone must scale to get to the finish line. The cheering crowds along First Avenue are a distant memory by the time the runners arrive at the Willis Avenue Bridge leading out of Manhattan.

But as they reach the other side there is—or at least was in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, when my husband and I were running the race—a man sitting on a folding chair, with a static-ridden megaphone, shouting over and over, in the finest of New York accents, “Welcome to the Bronx! Welcome to the Bronx!”

My life feels a lot like a marathon these days. I run, eat pasta, hydrate, then do it all over again. My mood vacillates between giddiness and despair. There’s lots of self-talk, of anxiously watching the pace of others, of realizing that the road is hillier than expected.

I’m ready to be welcomed to the Bronx. Yet the Covid-19 marathon, at least the way America is running it, has no mile markers. We don’t know if we are on mile 3, mile 7, or mile 20.

The Bronx now is no longer only the fifth borough in the marathon. It is the hardest-hit borough of the American city hardest-hit by this pandemic. The curve mercifully is trending downward in New York City now, but it is spiking elsewhere, including states that are opening back up after weeks of shutdown.

Even here in Washington State, early to the pandemic and early to respond, we are restless, itching for normalcy, frustrated with not knowing when and how this will end. “Will we be stuck at home for a year?” our 11-year-old asks at dinner. We tell her no, of course not, but we really don’t know. We have flyovers and tweet storms instead of testing kits and contact-tracing campaigns. A vaccine is months, years away. How on earth does this marathon end?

My answer to my own uncertainty is to look backward. I read about the depths of the Great Depression, listen to Roosevelt’s fireside chats, write about the immense mobilization of World War II. I search for the light in dark moments.

Change is indeed possible, I tell people. Crisis lays bare hard truths. It is an accelerant, an opportunity for profound transformation. We already can see how some things must change fundamentally, permanently. University lecture halls. Air travel. Handshakes. Marathons of 40,000 runners strong.

Even as I say these things, though, I’m still not sure how change will come about this time. Nor do we know whether it will be for the better.

All that is certain is that change will be up to us, not just by enduring the toughest stretches of this race, but making sure our fellow racers are making it through as well. The essential things that bind together society cannot simply be tweaked. To endure, they must be reimagined.

broken image

At the finish line, 2003.

Here's some of what I've been writing and talking about recently.

The Coronavirus Could Rewrite the Rules for Silicon Valley. The economy is going sideways but large tech companies are roaring ahead. What will the future hold? My most recent op-ed looks for some answers in the history of Detroit's Big Three.

Silicon Valley Runs on Immigrants. I told NBC Bay Area about the ways immigration policy has fueled the growth of American tech, and the chilling effect of new immigration restrictions.

The Defense Production Act is Being Underutilized. I argued for the motion in this debate convened by Intelligence Squared.

Seattle's Inventions and Reinventions. My keynote speech at this year's annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians had to go online because of the coronavirus, but that made it accessible to a far wider audience. The pandemic also prompted a slightly different twist on my subject.

How the Coronavirus Will Change the US. My comment on tech is part of this cover story by Peter Grier in the Christian Science Monitor.

Daredevil Startups are Finally Exposed for What They Are. Is the age of the American maverick over? Not quite, I tell Steve LeVine in Medium.

And one of my favorite conversations over the past month was the chat with someone I've known a long, long time: Sarah Staley, who invited me on her new podcast Workship to talk about life, work, mentorship, lucky breaks and momentous choices. Watch and listen below.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and thank you for reading, subscribing, and supporting!

Zuka in hammock

Relaxation is important in these unsettled times. Zuka recommends getting a hammock.