Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Response to the Violence in Norway

Where to begin, when this has no actual beginning but for my own slow realization that the world can be a terrible place, full of grief and horror and pointlessness? Of course it contains other parts, but the informed world has been once again shaken by an act of violence perpetrated upon a defenseless and unexpecting group of human beings, who contained the hopes of their families and who were loved, and for all purposes, innocent--an act certainly small in the grand scheme of things but crushing for all who were touched by it.

This is not a eulogy but rather hopefully a lens by which I hope we would all intensify self-scrutiny. 

I was on a plane the other day, and without being asked a man offered to give up his seat in the front so I could sit next to my partner. To get to it, however, I had to travel opposite the flow of other travelers to their seats. The seats being only three across, the dimensions of the plane barely allowed for comfortable seating much less a two-way path down the aisle. The young man I faced in front of me was sympathetic, apologetic even, for being unable to step aside to let me pass so as to get only three rows further, as the seats were full all around us and there were a few people stacked behind him. The woman directly behind him, however, was worrying angrily aloud about me, saying, "What is she doing? We can't go back! What is wrong with her?" as if what I was asking was equivalent to flying the plane into a tornado. I understood the small fix my reversal was causing, but the complete negativity which she responded was ridiculous to me. Within fifteen seconds the man in front of me said, "Wait, everyone's backing up now, you can pass," and he smiled and then apologized again for the process being so difficult, though of course he was not in the least at fault, and I felt bad for causing any stress. After I took my seat, Brooks said, "Did you hear what that woman was saying?" It was a small incident, but odd and surprising due to her refusal to see other options in the most simple of circumstances. How was she when she faced real challenges, or when people truly needed her help?

So today the small, peaceful country of Norway is rocked by the deaths of almost 100 of its citizens, many of whom were only teenagers, away at a summer camp for kids of Labor Party youth. The Labor Party, Norway's largest and currently ruling political party, is known for its sympathies toward immigrants, those seeking political asylum from violence in their own countries, and for its social services.

The killer is a 32-year old man, Norwegian-born, and his purpose seemed to be to avenge the damage he saw as bred by the Labor Party, by which I mean the long-standing policies that tax those with more to serve those who have less.

Though this man is no doubt a sociopath, the principles that propelled him to plan and effect yesterday's horrors lie not only within his own mind. They were the unlikely but not unheard of result of a lifetime spent in cultivation of antipathy, hatred, disgust, and separatism. He found fodder for his beliefs everywhere, not only in extreme religiosity and conservatism but also in the individuals who surrounded him on a regular basis. These people did not share his extremism, probably, but we have all been around those who would rather disperse negativity and confer blame than look for ways to better understand those who appear different from themselves. I know of no one, including myself, who is not guilty of at one time or another of encouraging (rather than stanching) the dispersal of negative stereotypes, even if they are directly relevant to my own description, be it white, female, a U.S. citizen, younger, Southern, and so on. All the while, I have often been sickened by any proximity on my behalf to discrimination, closed-mindedness, or simple negativity toward a single individual, especially if that individual is me. 

This murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, is a product of modern culture. We in the United States see Norway as a peaceful country, and justifiably so. Our own culture has far more failings in the area of civility, historically fighting tooth and nail for the sustained privileges of the few who have far more than they need already, and our denial of personal guilt is simply a guilty reflex, and a window into a legacy of shame that we all carry as survivors of any part of history's violence. Each race and religion has its demons and disgraces, even if only due to the actions of a relative few. Perpetuation of this guilt without understanding its roots, however, only directly serves to fuel hatred in order to excuse us from blame. Breivik would not have felt nearly as potent were it not for having run with the views of those who came before him, from being supported within online forums, hate groups, and conservative politics.

This is not an appeal for welfare benefits, for immigration reform, for non-violent responses to cruelty. This is simply a request that each person who has a problem with yesterday's murders and the countless that came before it decide from now on to try harder to act out of love instead of fear, paranoia, jealousy, refusal to change, or unwillingness to see humanity in spite of difference. If this seems difficult, act first out of love for one's own children, friends, fellow citizens, even environment. Any form of violence will carry on if you allow it, and will find its way back to you or those you love. Pre-emptive condemnation will not save you from future suffering. Would you not rather suffer the pain of the innocent than wonder if something you have said or done stole enough joy from another human being that they passed the pain onward until it found you again?
It is that culture that mocks love and empathy and praises violence in whatever form, from unkind words to machismo to enslavement to war, that allows for the construction of human monsters at all. Be a part of recovering from violence like this and simply stop participating. You don't need to be a beacon of positivity, just stop being part of the problem, and stop letting it pull you down with it. 

Profile of Anders Behring Breivik:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Let Them Eat People Food!

I share my food with my cat, and I think it's the right thing to do. I sincerely cannot stand when people tell me that they don't give their pets "people food." The only thing that I define as people food is processed, shelf-stable, fortified junk that people shouldn't eat, anyway. All animals, including us, deserve to eat fresh, healthy food. Whether there is enough to go around or not is moot in my opinion, because the majority of us here in the States are stuffing ourselves while our dogs sit, quivering and drooling, staring at us as we lick the bacon fat and egg yolk off our plates, or worse, as we throw away perfectly good scraps right in front of them.

Most people justify their choice to feed their pets only processed, shelf-stable, petrified, byproduct animal slurry compressed with corn, gluten, or other filler grains foreign to their digestive systems because it's easy, cheap, and they don't want their pets to beg at the table (like the rest of us). Domestic animals must know their place, and that is by their food bowls, eating crunchy bits of tasteless and nutritionally devoid junk food. Why not every once in awhile put those meat scraps in the fridge and mix them in with your animal's kibble when it's time for them to eat? Take one forkful of tuna out of that can and put it in your pet's dish when you're making your own tuna melt.

Stop wondering why dogs and cats get fat and smelly and itchy and cancerous when they don't have to, and start feeding them real food, even if only occasionally. Of course they want your food more than their own--because it's actually food. All of us animals evolved eating what was available in our immediate environments, or what we could hunt down and kill. We grew stronger, smarter, and faster eating plants, roots, berries, eggs, meats. Every species diet is slightly to vastly different, but pet food is still a humanmade product. Even humanmade (processed) food made for us is killing us, and we have a multitude of choices, unlike our animals. We are becoming weaker, softer, and dumber than our predecessors because of our certainty that easier food is just better, and that's simply not the case. Not for us, and not for our beloved animals.

Do I expect you to start preparing every meal for your pet, even if you don't prepare the majority of your own meals? Hardly. I certainly don't (though I feel guilty most days about that). But why not give your dog a carrot or some raw cabbage mixed in with her crunchies? Why not throw your cat some chicken or raw fish when you have it around? It's not like you're starving (and if you are, stop reading this blog right now and go dumpster diving ASAP).

With cats it's a little more complicated, because often if they've been eating kibble all of their lives they don't know what to do with anything else, even just another brand of kibble. So start small, and mix it in. Know for yourself that even if they don't know it's better for them (and of course tastes far better) that they will ultimately benefit from it. A commonly cited experiment is one in which cats were fed only cooked food, but the experiment had to end early because by the third generation none of the cats could successfully reproduce. There are flaws within the study (see Pottenger's Cats) but it's hard to deny that the vast majority of our housecats come from strays that had access to a rodent diet, and then (I HOPE) we neuter or spay them, anyway. There are books out there with recipes for nutritionally correct meals for both cats and dogs, but to keep it simple, just add a little meat to your carnivorous cat's diet whenever you have some to spare. Research what not to feed them and what's good for them, and seek out multiple opinions.

Dogs are more suited to an omnivorous diet, but there are some things you shouldn't share with them, like grapes (can cause renal failure), eggs, avocados, nuts, dairy products, et cetera, but just like humans, they need fresh vegetables and quality protein. If you want your animals to live long, active, and disease-free lives, treat them as you would yourself were you to be concerned with the same thing (and you should be). The dry and wet food you feed your pets should be grain-free whenever possible, i.e. no corn, wheat, barley, etc, as well as free of soy, any kind of byproduct (often simply cartilage, bone, lungs, spleen, even cancerous tumors, essentially all "meat" deemed unfit for human consumption), and brewer's rice. Know that by choosing to feed your pet packaged food without these fillers that your pet will require less to eat overall (plus, as a side benefit, they will poop less since more of their food is usable), so the extra dollars that higher-quality food costs is an investment that immediately pays off as well as benefits your wallet long-term in fewer vet bills--though, of course, if you have your pet around a few more years you'll have to feed them then, too...

Remember that we live in a nation of fat, malnourished human beings. This is only possible because we have access to cheap, fast and easy food that is virtually empty of nutritional value. Our bodies are starving because they need nutrition and we are giving them unhealthy, rancid fats, sugars, grains, and processed food instead. Don't fall into this trap, and don't throw your animals into it even as you decide to save yourself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Focusing is difficult...

Which is why I'm not so good at this regular posting thing.

Quick summary of the past few months: Went to nutrition school. Drove to New York and back to WV 7 times. Got towed, ticketed, smarter, faster, stronger...maybe. Became a certified health coach.

Learned how to drive the tractor and operate the brush hog attachment. I can say with certainty that riding a tractor across the property and its hidden holes, with its hills and rocks, is one of the most exciting things I've ever done. Also, I found a lot of blackberry patches and chanterelle spots. There are few things like finding wild food and EATING it to make you feel one with nature.

Also, our garden went off with a few hitches - the kale was devoured by caterpillars, the eggplants lost all their leaves, half the tomato plants died, but it was a learning experience, for sure.

 (Subway tomato, garden tomato)

Went on a successful three and a half week road trip with B-Money. We had an amazing time, saw lots of old friends and made new ones of each other's, ate at Ben's amazing restaurant in Oakland (Dopo), partied with Jess and Alexa and Kira and Aaaaaron and Spilt Milk in Oregon, hung out in hot springs and watched the Perseid Meteor shower, did lots of rock climbing (in Ten Sleep, City of Rocks, Yosemite, The Devil's Postpile, Rifle, San Francisco, Boulder Canyon, Portland), and received an amazing haircut from stylist Kira and acupuncture from osteopath Kathy. It was incredible hanging out with those girls again for the first time in eons.

We picked up tans and scabs and scars, made awesome food every day, sat by campfires and swatted flies, and B and I came back all the closer for it. Wow, refreshing. I have been on six or seven cross-country road trips now that were on the verge of being nightmares because (from my perspective) my traveling partner lost his effing mind. The trips always seemed like a good idea at the time, and even though I often had mild reservations, there's always a shortage of quality people who are willing to pick up and take a month off to drive everywhere on a whim. Either way, I'm sure my maturity or lack thereof had absolutely nothing to do with their behavior. At this point, I've figured out that most boys are insane. Maybe the girls are, too, but I don't date them, and dating/road-tripping brings the crazy out, it seems.

I started working at the bar at Smokey's again, which means I get to see the sun set over the gorge every night I work, just like old times.
Now that Gauley season is starting back, too, a bunch of the old river guides are back who I haven't seen in a few years, and they make me feel really good, telling me I'm the best bartender ever (that can't have anything to do with my drink-making skills, because they're pretty mediocre) and it's just like old times again (like I said). It's so nice to hear it I almost want to pick up more shifts. Believe it or not, though I got some flak for being a health coach and a bartender at the same time, it's been a great place to meet potential clients. I didn't really know how to respond to the criticism. I mean, sometimes I eat ripple chips and french onion dip, and I offer it to others. Sometimes I don't exercise for a few days. Sometimes I (!!!) drink alcohol, and sometimes I share it with people in my very own house. Should I be a health nun now? And if I do, then how the heck do I leave the cloister to meet people who want to get healthier?

Also, I've been working more and more on my friend Steve's company work, doing voiceover, Flash, editing, writing, and that kind of stuff.

Anyway, I'm still gluten-free since last summer and proud of myself for sticking with it. It's made me a lot more creative in the kitchen, a lot less likely to eat sugar (because the floury foods I avoid often contain it), and most importantly, a lot less worried about my potential for developing chronic disease (like diabetes, alzheimers, heart disease, auto-immune disorders,  and so on). The smaller but still important side benefits of fewer headaches, less brain fog, and easier womanhood (if you know what I mean) are still pretty motivating, too. Some people live without arms or legs, I can live without sampling the crusty bread or pizza or layer cake or brownies or . . . whatever at parties. I can make those at home, anyway.
There you have it. No matter how much I try to fix the spacing on this post, it persists in misbehaving. You get the picture, anyway, probably.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Longest Winter

Every time the thought of writing drifted through my brain cavity this winter it just as ephemerally drifted right back out, along with whatever residue of creative energy might have even prompted the thought. This season of oppressive yuck in the form of snow, ice, rain, cold, gray dimness practically turned me into some withered exoskeleton, a dry brown cicada shell clinging to a barren sapling.

Mid-December the snow began, two days after I put a hole in my oil pan navigating my driveway. I was borrowing my friend's Subaru for several hours trying to get my only Christmas shopping at least halfway taken care of, and the flakes started falling, and sticking, and soon the wipers were sweeping heaps of it off the windshield. I drove the vehicle back to Keith, its owner, and sat down with him and his dad for a few minutes to have a drink and then be driven home. An hour passed before we made it out the door, and we stepped out in the snow, now well past ankle-deep. An attempt at reversing out the driveway spun us out sideways, so the three of us pulled our puffy-jacketed selves back out of the car to do some kicking and shoveling while the car warmed up some more. After a couple of minutes we tug on the doors to find them all locked. The car purred gamely away, heater cranked, windows closed tightly.

A few hours later found the car still running outside and me still in Keith's living room, knowing that because two feet of snow had now fallen that the aid which AAA summoned wasn't coming. There were hundreds of people stranded on the side of the highways tonight. My housemate Erin had finally decided to spend her first night at our new place, and after having been there a couple of weeks alone here I was going to miss having a celebratory breakfast with her in the morning. At midnight I figured I may as well take a hike, and Keith gamely agreed to walk me partway home. I knew it was about three miles of winding country road between our houses, and the snow had made the roads as quiet as the forest, and for once I was unafraid of walking outside alone in the dark here.

West Virginia scares me for a few reasons, which I'll go into some other time, I'm sure, but that night I felt a lot more connected to the world around me because everyone in the area was also stuck inside their houses or, like the deer and the possums, wandering around through the powder. Keith and I built a snow caterpillar dead center of the road, wondering to each other how long it would last before a tow-truck would annihilate it. After two miles a tow truck pulled alongside us and asked if we needed a ride. Keith said he would head back home, happy to stay out of the house for awhile.

I leaned in the truck and asked the pair of men, "You're not axe murderers, are you?" They both laughed and the driver said, "There's only one way to find out." So I climbed in, laughing, too, but also wondering if I should have them drop me off at my actual driveway or at somebody else's, because I'm paranoid.

A few minutes later they let me out at the right place, and I hiked another fifteen minutes through the snow down the driveway, thus setting a theme for much of the winter, that of hiking down and up and down again, through snow and cold and later, rain and sleet. There would be icy puddles covered in fluff that I would step into on every trip, accidentally, and sore shoulders and backs from carrying all I could up and down it as I and whoever else I was with needed to. There would be my house, practically empty half the winter because I had no way to move my stuff in.

And, of course, there would be me feeling depressed and useless because I couldn't play outside, because I was trapped, usually alone, in a desolate spot in the woods with no means of defending myself, in a cold house, mad at myself for moving here, for buying this place, for jumping into something without thinking about it long enough, for being stupid.

Erin was busy falling in love, and I was busy thinking all the time, feeling regretful, worrying about him moving in because he was a critic and because they were a couple, worrying about me and her and us not feeling so compatible after all and not knowing how to vocalize it, and simply becoming more and more withdrawn. What was I thinking? I asked myself over and over.

And one day she made it all easier by saying that he didn't want to buy into a house that wouldn't be theirs and that was outside of town, and I said what I was thinking and the fears I had, and after a bit she moved in with him. I was sad to be alone in that house, but happy that I would be putting my energy into something entirely my own now, in the ways I wanted to. I had also realized I didn't want to do anything like this with someone I wasn't in love with. She and I seemed to both be happy, most importantly.

So the winter has been so long, and still depressing, but we've had patches of sun over the past few weeks, and they've been enough to send my mood soaring. I've remembered why it is I wanted to live here, though I still ask myself regularly, "What was I thinking?" I still wonder how I can make it through winter after winter like this, and there's a lot more that worries me than that about living there, but there is light again. I have never been so happy to see the end of winter. I had no idea, either, that I needed sun so much to be happy. I had other big reasons to be happy this winter, luckily, or I may have gone crazy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Begin It Now

A lot's happened in the past couple of months. I started heading back to WV to rock climb as soon as I came home from Denmark, and somehow enough wacky things fell into place that I've now bought a farm right there in the New River Gorge with one of my best friends, Erin. She and I figured we were of like enough mind that we could collaborate on some projects, and so now we have thirty-three acres on the edge of Fayetteville, complete with a house, a barn, a John Deere tractor, a creek, and a pond stocked with fish. For the past several years I've known that I wanted to have pretty much all of the above, i.e. land, water, and a shelter to call my own (even a shared one). I ultimately want to build a little house all my own, off the grid and super energy-efficient, fueled by renewable resources, and shaped by my own brain.

Erin and I are both going to nutrition school starting in February so we can become health counselors, and now we're in a community that desperately needs exactly that. We're both excited about starting a community gardening project, and maybe even a co-op a little further down the line once we get the hang of growing food. I know I want to build all kinds of things so I know what I'm doing when I start in on an actual house, so once we finish some basic house projects (like ripping out carpet and laying down some reclaimed hardwood flooring) I can run off into the woods and start building my first treehouse. We have ideas for health clinics for pregnant and new moms, people with chronic disease, for working on better food in schools, hospitals, prisons, and the homes of everyone we know, and we are both most happy because we know that doing this kind of work will be amazing for our own health and happiness. Not enough people can say that about their work, but we want to be two of them.

Today in Mother Earth News magazine (the best mag maybe ever), I read a piece on the company Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard is its founder and a pretty mind-blowingly cool individual. When asked about his feelings on the future, he said, "Why should I be optimistic? You tell me. There's no reason to be optimistic. I think society is going to go into survival mode, because there's going to be a crash. The only thing people should be working on are products that people need, not products people want because they are bored. Things like food, alternative energy, and land for agriculture, those are the only safe investments. It doesn't depress me because I'm doing what I can. I'm active. The cure for depression is action. There's no difference between an optimist who says, 'Don't bother, it'll all be fine,' and a pessimist who says, 'Don't bother, it's all hopeless.'"

I just read an amazing quote that I have been finding more true every day:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Goethe

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Difference Between Laughing and Crying

 I think (I hope) that every one of us has laughed so hard that tears come to our eyes. I've had this happen several times over the past week, and it's reminded me that sometimes the tears threaten to take over. It's a bit bizarre, but it's as if I'm laughing so desperately I could literally start crying my eyes out. I can remember a bouldering trip at Rumbling Bald in North Carolina that about eight of us went on, and we were all were sitting around under a giant overhanging boulder talking about nothing in particular. Someone said something that made me giggle, and then someone else added to it, or I did, who knows--but after a minute I was laughing so hard I was completely controlled by it. I couldn't stop if my life depended on it, and began to wonder if this was what insanity was like. Tears were streaming down my face. Everyone else had stopped after a couple of minutes, but at the sight of me on the ground crying my eyes out they fell in again, too, soon enough. No one was as unhinged as me, though. I couldn't even control my face. I knew it looked more like I was in pain than anything, and by this point it was merciless. Laughing, laughing, laughing, gasping for breath. Ten minutes later I had forced it down enough that heavy breathing could mostly take its place, but it had left its mark, and for the next hour I had to resist any urge to let a giggle escape lest I be forced to surrender completely again.

My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TV Can Be Good for You


When I was in Chile earlier this year I had a conversation in English with a local teenager at my hostel while she folded laundry. Her grandfather Jaime owns the place, and though he seems to understand a lot of English, his speaking is terrible. Many Chileans don’t speak any at all, though, so I asked her how she became so fluent.

“I just watched all the English TV shows and movies here when I was a little girl. I remember when I was about eight years old, my mom finally said to me, ‘¿Por qué estás viendo eso? No puede entenderlo.’ But I could understand. Once I had started learning how to read, picking up English became even easier, but I had probably understood a good bit even before then, just like any kid does from just watching.”

Of course, I thought. If we had all had constant access to foreign language shows growing up, we could already have a solid understanding of a second language by the time we graduated elementary school. If only I had grown up in a country that imported much of its best media from a country with a different language . . . well, obviously this is a lot less likely to happen in the U.S. But wouldn’t it be great if there were one channel on standard issue free television, like an alternative (non-profit channel) that has only shows in Spanish, with English subtitles? Or, though to a less effective extent, at least one that offers Spanish subtitles on every kid’s show and a few of the adult shows, too? It would still be a matter of encouraging a child to prefer that station over others, but something that is well within the grasp of our powerful corporate station owners. Not only would this take advantage of the wired-in ability of young children to pick up language more easily than learning to tie their own shoes, it would also help them recognize the validity of another culture. This is pretty much the opposite of what the U.S. does right now.

The last time I watched a TEDtalk I noticed that I could choose to have this particular one subtitled in 14 different languages. Though it was already in English I chose Danish since I’m in Denmark, and the majority of words I’ve learned have been through watching English movies or shows translated into Danish text. I'm aware this isn't even close to a new idea, but it's well worth emphasizing--why not watch TV and learn a language at the same time?

As an adult with a brain every day looking more like pumice than sponge, I can of course opt to watch every DVD I see with its available subtitles or buy cable (doubtful, seeing as how I haven't had a working TV in several years) and watch foreign language channels. I can also now go to the TEDtalks website and find the ones that both interest me and offer subtitles in the language I want to pick up. Since I want to work on my Spanish I have more options than those who are attempting to pick up Cantonese, but the options are growing quickly. TED is enlisting volunteer translators as part of their enlightenment army, and anyone can join and turn in translations (which will of course be reviewed by another fluent speaker before they attach it). Sounds like something teachers could encourage students to do for extra credit—translate your favorite not-yet-subtitled TEDtalk or any favorite speech into your studied language, and not only do you make Teacher happy you can literally help educate others when the translation is uploaded to the web. Fantastic.

From TED’s website:
“Along with subtitles, every talk on now features a time-coded, interactive transcript, which allows users to select any phrase and have the video play from that point. The transcripts are fully indexable by search engines, exposing previously inaccessible content within the talks themselves. For example, searching on Google for "green roof" will ultimately help you find the moment in architect William McDonough's talk when he discusses Ford's River Rouge plant, and also the moment in Majora Carter's talk when she speaks of her green roof project in the South Bronx. Transcripts will index in all available languages.

The interplay between the video, subtitles and transcript create what we call a Rosetta Stone effect. You can watch, for example, an English talk, with Korean subtitles and an Urdu transcript. Click on an Urdu phrase in the transcript, and the speaker will say it to you in English, with Korean subtitles running right-to-left below. It’s captivating.”

With statistics like these below, a lot of kids could probably be performing the translations themselves by high school:

  • Approximate number of studies examining TV's effects on children: 4,000
  • Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
  • Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
  • Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours
  • Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500
                              -- California State University

I’m a huge fan of Academic Earth as well, the website that offers actual university classes for online public viewing, where I can see brilliant professors from schools like MIT, Stanford, and Yale that some families are refinancing homes to let their kids listen to while I watch for FREE. Academic Earth has yet to offer translations, though, so I save those talks for when I am working on something a little mindless like assembling an Ikea TV stand or cleaning house, and can simply listen while only occasionally watching. No, you can’t ask questions or ask for feedback from these professors, but if you need to you can play their words over again until you get the gist of their subject, or you can simply switch them off should you not enjoy it. Who hasn’t wanted to do that in class before?