I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Whatever happened to compassion?

December 23rd, 2016

There is a lot to be said for the trepidation felt among the American citizenry right now. This is especially true for the sensitive individuals who abide by a moral code which includes compassion for others. Through compassion, we come to see how each of us is connected, not just to other people but to every living thing on earth. Thus, through compassion we come to care about life. Soon to take our highest office is a man whose compassion, whatever may exist, is smothered by ego, ego being one of the greatest enemies of tolerance, clemency, sympathy, lenience, and courtesy. As a result and now more than ever, it's up to each of us to stay true to the compass which guides us instead towards morality and humanity.

Whatever happened to compassion?

The more we know about the impact of our day-to-day actions and words, the more willingly we put aside luxury, convenience, and personal gain whenever those goals may bring harm. Ironically, in doing so, we come to develop the most luxurious sense of appreciation and wealth. As others thrive in the conditions of our restraint, we benefit even further, like the gardener and the bee. After one refrains from picking the blossoms the other comes to feed, and so yields fruit.

Yet, as if faced with some desperate need to stay alive, the culture of America seems to have given in to self indulgence. “What’s in it for me” reigns supreme. Like drowning swimmers, citizens grab at whatever means is necessary to save themselves and maybe their loved ones. They're tired of waiting. They pick what they want and justify the action with a flippant notion that there will be more tomorrow. Prudence has been replaced with entitlement. This unfounded recklessness has washed over every class and generation. Best get what you need now before some pest comes along and eats it first.

The charm is subtle and clever. Even the most kind creatures among us have begun to display hints of it within themselves. Yet for those of us who have successfully resisted--for any who still cling to ideals of prudence--the evidence rests in our discordant position among the majority. We are at odds. Outcasts. Fools.

How so?

Most hunt for bargains online oblivious of the workers and resources the cheap product harms. For instance, they let discounters dictate the true value of a book, ignoring the contributions of the writer, the publisher, or the tree. Saving money, winning the deal, finding the shortcut: these are the virtues rewarded.

They applaud and tweet with glee after the award winner glides across the stage to accept the highest achievement of her life while wearing a dress befitting a high-priced prostitute.

They get in line to pre-purchase the “game” with the most life-like graphics, the one that splatters even more realistic blood to indicate a win.

They tune in nightly to the big network news, happy to let journalists investigate the real-feel temperature on a really cold day, removing the burden of truthful discovery that can only be found by stepping outside the front door.

Why not then allow our most powerful leader to dedicate himself to personal gain? Why is it so atrocious that he should profit from the hardships of others? Is it just because he is so much better at it than we? He got the Taj Mahal; I got a new table at the going-out-of-business sale. Shall we not both be rewarded for our savvy economic prowess?

Is it because he degrades woman, too?

Whatever happened to compassion?

Is it because he supports violence? Is there really any psychological difference between shrugging off digital violence as entertainment and passing off real violence as security?

Whatever happened to compassion?

Why shouldn't he lie to increase his popularity? Instead of investing a few dollars a year to support public-media journalism, do the ratings not show that we'd rather buy the lies sold on the mass-market news?

I have spent the better part of my adult life learning about innovation and progressive ideas for products, services, policy, and infrastructure that would position the United States as a world leader in intelligence and benefit all living things on this beautiful planet. Yet, during that entire time, I’ve had to listen to rhetoric against it. We can’t afford it. It won’t work. The technology is not there yet. In everything from parking lot materials to electricity transmission, legacy greed has held a tight grip on our advancement, and instead of fighting for new and better, we’ve somehow come to accept that the sharks know best. To cope with the ensuing boredom from perpetually standing still, we escape by entertaining ourselves with sex, violence, scandal, and shopping, which further suits the sharks just fine.

And so, here we are: stuck with a representative of greed and self interest as our most powerful leader-to-be. This week, valiant attempts to remove him from this electoral position failed. They were unsuccessful in suppressing this single symptom of a country-wide plague. With our country's highest honor in shambles, we must remove the mask that covers what really ails us. The voter's choice dwindled to the very bottom of the dried-up political bucket for a reason, and we have to find it in ourselves to heal this ourselves.

tattered flag

I believe strongly in the power of strong leadership. But as I see, if our leaders aren’t taking us where we want to go, we should STOP FOLLOWING. And just because we should have turned around long ago doesn’t mean we can’t turn around now. To do this we must demand quality, peace, ethics, and respect not just from them, but first from ourselves and our culture. Then, before you know it, proper, ethical leaders will emerge, invigorated by the positive momentum of the crowd.

Until then, where do we start? With compassion. Let us remember that it is inherent in each of us. Let us remember the true power it brings. Let us consider it’s long-term value. Let us remember how easy it is to lose. And let us reward those who act upon it. Don't be fooled into thinking it doesn’t exist. Reserve judgment, explore the facts, buck the trends, reject wickedness, and defend kindness. Continue to do the right thing even when . . . especially when . . . it's most difficult or uncomfortable.

In a world seemingly gone mad, your concern for others is shared by more people than you might think. Your positive actions and words make more of an impact that you might realize. Your intention to do the right thing is matched by more neighbors than you know exist. Your distaste for big box stores, giant media conglomerates, violence- and sex-crazed entertainment, and scandal-ridden political campaigns is far from reserved for you alone.

There is good reason for that constant feeling of trepidation. And you are most certainly not the only one to feel lonesome, hopeless, or distrustful right now. Let this current situation not further tear us apart but compel us to act. Let us plant a new garden, one in which we can once again be free to imagine, dream, and grow the fruits of compassion so that we may all come to care about life once more.


Fission or fussion? A look at the science of social change.

November 16th, 2016

I’ve been silent, I know. For one thing, I felt this blog would get lost in the election chatter. For another, I couldn’t come up with much to write, at least not much besides expressions of sadness or fear, and I was pretty sure you've had enough of that. But today I'm ready to challenge myself to look for the best in our current situation, despite the discomfort, pain, anger, and sacrifice that will likely come during the process. I'm ready because the future of this planet depends upon it.

Clouds can sometimes indicate change.

The fact remains that, now that the votes are in, I am even more saddened with the fear of grave danger. However, I’m also no longer forced to wait for choices of strangers. I can move back to thinking about today's reality in terms of what is or what surely will be, not what might hopefully happen. And in the vein of such knowledge, let me attempt to explain my analogy of what I see is the best, universal action for people like me by stripping it down to the atomic level.

The characteristics of any element is greatly defined by the makeup of the center of its atom. The usefulness of any one chemical element to a goal is often determined by the combination of neutrons and protons in its nucleus, its center. An example is uranium, particularly uranium-235, the stuff of nuclear energy.

The number of neutrons (neutral charge) and protons (positive charge) present determines how the element behaves during a change such as a nuclear reaction. When scientists forcefully introduce an overabundance of neutrality into U-235, nuclear fission . . . or division . . . occurs. This releases energy, but the result is also radioactive.

Meanwhile, crush enough "positivity" together (using hydrogen atoms) and the protons fuse, releasing a huge amount of energy in the process without evoking cancer. Positive charges that would typically repel each other are held close together in the presence of a super strong force such as gravity. This brings about fusion. . .or union.

What does this have to do with social change? Consider that we too are a product of our atomic makeup. And remember that the United States seems ready to split when we really need to fuse.

It is my position that individual Americans need not give up their positive, energized charges–-whatever the characteristics of their personal makeup–-in order that we come together. Neutrality, in fact, could be toxic. However, we do need a whole lot of gravity to force us to unify. Yes, apologies are required to clear the field of the relentless negative energy that keeps spinning around us. But I still believe we can unite, if for no other reason than to protect our future.

Most of us are in this emotional fight because of a positive reason. On both sides there is a quest for improvement. This might include safety, prosperity, or opportunity. Clouding our ability to see that is the curtain of negative disagreement on how to achieve those results.

Thus, fusion requires a strong force to emerge, one able to drive repellent charges to congregate. Of course not all elements are appropriate for achieving this goal. But among those willing, there are mentors and non-governmental leaders who commit to protecting the people and the planet with hope and ethical purpose. They can be that force. Or it might come from each of us adjusting our focus, our conversations, our outlooks. Whatever it takes, we don’t get our non-radioactive power back until things change.

What's that smell?

March 31st, 2016

Yesterday I cut some hyacinth blooms and brought them inside. Pretty as they looked, my real intention was to enjoy the smell while I worked at my desk. Now, the office is absolutely lovely.

Fragrance is an important part of nature. No matter how good manufacturers have gotten at mixing up concoctions that smell like beautiful things, the fact remains that scents--real, honest, natural scents--are crucial to life.

Flowers are the best example. The purpose of the smell is to attract pollinators; reproduction depends on it. Or in the case of the Venus fly trap, to attract a nutritious meal.

Good scents attract humans, too. Fresh peaches, clean air, a shady pine grove, or our partner's pheromones draw us in.

Bad scents keep us away. Toxic chemicals, moldy cloth, infected bruises, and rotting meat stink because they are dangerous conditions to be avoided or corrected and never inhaled.

Fragrance can also orientate and foretell. Have you ever smelled rain coming? Smelled smoke and discovered fire? Smelled salt and realized you were almost there?

Meanwhile, fragrance has become a serious problem. Its pervasive use to sell products is making us sick and narrowing our quality of life. Not only are the artificial, smell-mimicking mixtures harmful to our skin and lungs, they mask warning signals that would otherwise tell us to stay away, and they rob us of the instinctual attraction to the truth.

I once took the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep® guide into my bathroom as I cleaned out my toiletry closet. Using the database, I searched for the products to see how they stacked up on the EWG's hazard score. Any that raised a red flag did so because of the fragrance-related ingredients in them.

When a manufacturer adds a feature that does nothing to enhance the product's effectiveness or improve its performance, you can bet it's there to increase sales. Consider your favorite moisturizer. Does it work better because it smells nice?

We owe our smelling ability to cells in the nasal cavity. It's always moist there, because chemical receptors can only detect odors that are dissolved in water. Signals are then sent to the brain, where the processed information is stored in memory. When we meet the smell again, it registers as familiar.

The relentless exploitation of the body's remarkable sense not only fools the central nervous system, it dulls it. Who really knows what rain smells like after living with a manipulated alternative day in and day out? Lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste aside, what about candles, air fresheners, room sprays, cleaning products, detergents, and perfumes?

At what point does the brain figure out that the flowery chemical air freshener is bad? Could this have anything to do with why so many people are allergic to the outdoors these days? And what are we missing--what signals do we now overlook--because our sensitivity has been dulled by this hyper-infusion?

Still, the more we buy, the more they add. Meanwhile, fragrance-free products are labeled as being for people with sensitive skin. Don't they know we ALL have sensitive skin?

If you want your laundry to smell like fresh air, hang it outside to dry.

If you want to smell the spring rain, then go get wet.

If you want your house to smell like flowers, grow and clip flowers? Or take advantage of the wealth of organic essential oils on the market today.

If you want your husband to smell like musk, let him get a little sweaty.

If you want your toxic bleach to smell like lemons, well, then you've lost your mind.

Another Big Storm

February 19th, 2016

I had to figure out what was bothering me so. Why was it that, if I heard the word “snowstorm” one more time, I thought I might explode? Normally I favor snow. I’m one of those people who believes, if it has to be winter, we should get pretty and playful precipitation. I needed a little soul searching. Otherwise I might be cranky until spring.

First, like a nagging blister, the media wouldn’t shut up about it. Okay already; a big snowstorm's coming. I got it. They’d been at it all week. On the seventh day, I was looking for a hole to crawl in. There, I'd cover my ears and wait 'til it was over. It was the only way to escape the chatter. Every public place I went, the small talk was decorated with the clarifying statement, “Before the big storm tomorrow.”

“I’m returning this purchase, before the big storm tomorrow.”

“I’m mailing this letter, before the big storm tomorrow.”

“I’m filling my gas tank, before the big storm tomorrow.”

I’m all for being prepared. What I dislike is hype, worry, and anxiety, all of which lingered in the air like the smell of a chain smoker, to be inhaled by the next person in line.

Second, Nature has the ability to put miraculous kinks in our routine every day. Haven’t we learned by now that we should buy snow shovels in the fall?

Third, why is that, when it comes to a winter storm, the forecasters go from being the target of “they never get it right” remarks to the “word of the lord” Armageddon soldiers who shall be followed with such intensity, hourly updates just aren’t enough? What would we do if we couldn’t charge the devices that keep us tuned in? How else would we find out about the sky falling down?

Like I said, I was aggravated and I knew it, so I stopped to think about it.

That’s when I realized the hype wasn’t about worry and anxiety; it was about hope. Those people were rushing around like shoppers excited for Christmas. They WANTED to be stuck inside. I realized that each big storm holds some measure of promise that we could go back to a time when we adjusted our routines to the weather. Like a schoolchild glued to the five am radio, we all wanted a day off to play.

Finally, the Blizzard of 2016 came. For a few hours I enjoyed a cozy fire and watched the white fluff fall. I cooked lunch and worked on some simple chores and the time flew by. Since it was the weekend, I needn't worry about traveling. It was lovely.

My car.

Needn't worry? At middle age, you would think I would remember what it takes to keep a driveway open. After just a few hours, all my snowstorm shut-in plans melted into the endless task of shoveling, a task that had to begin before the storm ended and the sun made it heavy. Plus that was the only way I'd get it done by Monday.

Admittedly, I did find it enjoyable to have an excuse to face the blizzard—to bundle up, trudge through, and simply BE outside—but minutes turned to hours, and before I knew it, the sun had set and my hopes for other things had vanished. It was clear that the entire next day wouldn’t be about snuggling inside, it would be about shoveling a ton of show.

The start of a path.

Too exhausted to cook the heartwarming meal I had planned, I ate a microwaved dinner on a tray table in front of the television set. All the major networks were covering the big storm. “Stay home if you can.” “Don’t drive.” “It’s a mess out here.” The only reason I continued to watch was because each alert felt like a new promise: maybe we would have off on Monday.

But no. If there is one thing American society will absolutely NOT tolerate, it's a sputter in the economic engine. By Sunday morning, newscasters had already calculated the estimated revenue losses from the storm. Empty restaurants, empty movie theaters, and empty stores? That simple would not do.

And so we, the employees who turn that wheel worried and fretted and shoveled the day away to ensure arrival at work the moment the morning bell rang. There would be no tardiness, no excuses. Be there or be unemployed.

My husband making progress on Sunday.

All our hopes for a cozy, winter holiday then turned into a rage against the plow. For the next week, journalists flipped rocks for stories of side streets that weren’t yet opened. “My street's not done! Where is he!?” Town leaders took heat as if they’d launched a conspiracy to get residents fired. And the ecosystem drank salt, tons and tons of salt. The more the better. Spread it on thick, just to be sure.

It’s the same scenario every time one of these nor-easters comes around, and I'd finally realized this whole emotional roller coaster was what I wanted to avoid: Scurry around before the deadline only to find that on blizzard morning, there’s no time for hot chocolate and movie watching and book reading and game playing and cuddling. All hands must suit up and get the transportation corridors cleared. Free every inch of concrete and macadam from its snowy prison, and be quick about it, before it melts. There’s no time to enjoy it, only time to make it go away.

They're calling for a big storm next week. And the moment I heard about it, my hopes got in line for another ticket to ride.

Would the Real Terrorist Please Step Forward?

January 15th, 2016

With the world under attack as it has been, we're rightly worried about stopping the terrorists. We may have different opinions on how to do that, but we're unified in that they must be stopped.

Dissent comes when we start talking about a craftier terrorist. It lives here, at home. It's been living here for ages. And the terrorist is so cunning, we've been funding its endeavor, sending it money ... regularly ... every month for most of us. This terrorist is the Energy Giant.

I'm not just speaking of the BPs, Enrons, and Exxons of the world. I'm talking about every commercial enterprise that has gotten so fat from sucking the insides out of the earth it cannot roll over and see the warning clouds in the sky. I'm talking about the perpetrators of durable pollution who can't tell a rainbow from the steam plume of nuclear reactor. I'm talking about the generators, distributors, regulators, lawyers, marketers, and spin doctors who steal from under the feet of humanity and then sells it back the loot. I'm talking about an industry that brings such things into my world as NOAA's Gulf Oil Slick Forecast or Limerick Nuclear Generating Station's community-preparedness siren that blares so loudly for so long during its six-month test that I'm sure all the birds that nest nearby are deaf.

I'm talking about court cases and backhoes and mudslides and access roads and obliterated mountaintops and wastewater pits and acid mine drainage and exploded bats and cancer clusters. The Giant that covers a desert in mirrors, a vista in turbines, and a riverbank in concrete is the same cold-blooded bully as the one with the fossil straw.

Consider that...

Isis (today's enemy number one) chops heads off in front of the camera.
The Giant hides behind an oversized veil, then administers poison slowly.

Isis radicalizes fearmongers to obtain support for its way of thinking.
The Giant deceives kind people, making them think it keeps them safe.

Isis kills those who might believe differently.
The Giant manipulates what everyone believes.

Isis launches an extremist jihad.
The Giant launches a political career.

Now, be sure, I am not making light of the evil in religious terrorism. What I am doing is poking a hole in the curtain so that we might see the dark warning clouds that the Giant has summoned for us.

Once we realize how manipulated, beaten down, held back, controlled, and walled in we are by the same people who tell us the impact of their work is worth it for the ravishing benefit of more power, how do we change anything? We can unleash our military on Isis, but what can we do about a virus that has infected every corner of our culture and way of life?

What do we do? We make it so that it doesn't matter if the lights go out. We figure out a way -- a dozen, hundred, million ways -- to make it so that it doesn't matter if the lights go out. We build, test, and use every strategy necessary to make it so that it DOESN'T MATTER. Then, we roll up our sleeves and unplug the lights; we tell the Giant to go away. It's not so absurd, you know? Just as unsettled countries have used our military aid, supplies and training against us, colleges and technical school graduates can use their education to pursue a future that deems us independent, not just from foreign oil, but also from The Giant and its Grid lock.

As for tactics the military should use against Isis, as I said, we have different opinions. Most importantly though, the enemy has been clearly identified.