Welcome

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.

Messing with the Time

March 6th, 2015

One great example of man's manipulative ways is standardized time. Timekeeping -- the incremental measurement of the position of the sun -- was created to support bureaucratic, religious, and social activities nearly 6,000 years ago. It partitioned day from night, morning from afternoon, and a year's shortest day from its longest.

Since America's pioneer beginnings, we have been messing with the time. Although the sun does not peak at the same moment across the continent, time was standardized in 1883 so that railroad companies could organize their schedules. Later, since the majority of us are awake longer into the evenings than we are earlier in the mornings, Benjamin Franklin determined that moving the time to accommodate our summer schedules would result in healthier, more productive lives. In 1973, when oil was scarce, Congress decided to extend this Daylight Saving Timeframe from six to eight months, reportedly saving 300,000 barrels of oil each year. And in 2007, it was moved again, with the intention of saving even more.

Our waking hour, eating hours, meeting schedules, birth records, and death records have all become dictated by man's clock, distancing our connection to the fact that time is what it is because the earth and the sun ARE. May we never forget that, like all technology, our inventions were created for societal reasons. They can measure, mimic, and adapt to natural law, but they cannot -- and shall not -- try to change it.

Want to know a few more facts about time, Daylight Saving Time in particular? Check out my most recent post at Today's Walk Outside.

Detaching Prejudice from Racism

February 6th, 2015

America is once again being tested. However uncomfortable, the conversation is open, the questions are still demanding answers, and the mirror is still reflecting back upon us.

Are we prejudice?

The answer is yes ... and it shall be yes.

Do prejudices cause pain?

The answer is yes ... and it shall be no.

I believe that, at the most basic level, we rely on prejudice for survival. This is why society's call to end prejudgement of each other in the name of racial equality fails, despite the best intentions.

Imagine you are in immediate danger and need help. You scan the crowd. Who will come to your aid? Your brain calculates a lifetime of experience to guide you toward someone who reminds you of safety and protection, using mental associations, using prejudice.

The bird in forest does the same. With little to go on but a song and a feathery display, she chooses the father of her next child. She listens to an urge that says, "avoid him," "pick him," or "give that one a try."

The way a person looks (dresses, grooms, postures) signals to us who he or she is. The sound of one's voice (inflections, phrases, and pronunciations) affect our temperament, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Examples:

A piano tuner left a message on my answering machine about his service. He ended the message with a simple, "bye bye." Aside from his masculine voice, he sounded exactly like my Nana used to when she closed her telephone conversations. It made me smile and think of her. This was a man I could trust.

A dark black man walked up to me at the library yesterday and asked me a question. His melodic and soft African voice transported me to a land -- learned of through movies, documentaries, books, and stories -- where there is a deep connection to nature and a tremendous regard for spirit and kindness. This was a man I wanted to help.

A radio host interviewed a guest about personal health. The doctor spoke with a strong, inner-city accent and closed his opinion with "Know what em sayin'?" laughing a little. This was the lingo of "too cool for school" guys on the street, people who don't value the kind of learning required to practice medicine. This was a man I questioned.

These are associations, however fair or unfair, that I make. They are learned and then delivered without evaluation. They are my brain's way of protecting me in those moments when I don't yet know the truth.

Yes; this fails me when I cling to my prejudice and close off all further evidence. I must continue to look for clues to prove or disprove my judgment. I kept the radio tuned and found the doctor's advice to be sound and his concern to be authentic. Had I turned off the program without giving him a chance, I wouldn't have learned about his schooling, his experience, and his professional perspective. I'd have left with the deeper prejudice of maintaining an unfounded opinion, one based on past experience with no regard for the current truth. Would he one day be my doctor? No. Should the inner-city youth he cares about seek out his care? I believe so.

A New Angle

Racism cannot be broken by eliminating prejudice, for we need to be free to -- to be encouraged to -- rely on our instincts. Instead, we must focus on the real scourge to be banished: the notion of superiority of one race over another.

The lion who sleeps in the shade is not superior to the zebra on which he preys. The blue jay that steels territory from the cardinal may be more aggressive, but he is not the better bird. Every animal contributes to the existence of all, no matter what its position on the food chain. And each has its own talents, its own tricks, and its own characteristics.

The conversation has matured. People of all colors are seeing each other for who they truly are, beyond the exterior veils. Some refuse. They are racist. Do not compensate for the ignorant by questioning yourself. Don't ignore personal experience in the name of healing this national wound.

Then, bravely thrust yourself into new experiences to learn more. Do not let your judgments remain unreasonable. Strive to give every stranger -- man, woman, or child -- the benefit of a favorable opinion and equal standing. He deserves that, just as you do. Do this and you can stop questioning your part in the image being reflected in that mirror.

A Sense of Accomplishment

January 23rd, 2015

New ideas give me a rush. They flood in and overwhelm all other thoughts, consuming my ability to focus on whatever task I was doing at the time. To make the most of a good idea when it comes, I drop the mundane and chase the possibilities.

"That would make a fantastic website."

"This is a story I need to write."

"Why hadn't I thought of that sooner; I must get started RIGHT NOW."

New ideas make me feel alive, as if I might still have something to contribute to this old world. Why keep plodding through an unfinished task, a report about yesterday, that letter I'm tired of writing, this data-collection scheme weighing down my eyelids? Finishing things is boring; I want to devour freshness.

Why? Because a sense of accomplishment never gets stale. In fact, it lets me sleep at night. After I finish a task I hear things such as, "take a break," "time to celebrate," and "good job." And because every idea is virtually worthless until it reaches completion.

So, what to do?

There is a way to trap the ideas so they don't get away, without having to act on each one the second it develops:

Write them down.

For those who get explosive torrents or regular good ones each day, take this advice to the next level: Start an Idea Journal. A simple spiral-bound tablet will do. Record the date if you want, but more importantly, document your thoughts. Write down enough information so that you can recall not just the concept but also the enthusiasm and emotion and the reason for the urgency.

Put the paper aside and go back to what you were doing. Then, on those days when nothing comes, open the journal and be inspired.

Humans are losing their sense of accomplishment because our brains are evolving with technology. This is especially true for the brain that grew up with computers. We are increasing our ability to process multiple streams of information at once, but we are decreasing our ability to focus. This is great for starting things, but not so great for finishing them. Still, we need to close the books, tie up the lose ends, and put the laundry away.

This blog post is an example of the "save it for later" technique I am suggesting. The premise originally flashed through my brain in October 2014, while I was updating the html code on my Website (boring). A few days ago, knowing it was time to post to the blog, I was burned out and empty. I opened my folder, plucked out a concept, and suddenly I was back on track. Not only did I successfully finish updating the navigation links at www.thewritebeat.com, I have completed this post, and thus can now celebrate two minor-but-mighty accomplishments.

Clearing the Road to Hybrid Car Ownership

January 8th, 2015

Gas prices are down. Drivers are celebrating. But does that mean we can slacken the conservation reins? Not as far as I'm concerned. For me, prices have no effect on my quest to burn less fuel. The cost of consumption is almost immeasurable when you factor in the associated environmental damage, corporate gluttony, health impacts, and spiritual conflict. I conserve because it's the right thing to do.

Which I why I jumped on my friend's suggestion when she said, "Your readers should know what I learned about buying a hybrid car. It's more affordable than you think."

I've known Judy for 15 years. She has always impressed me as a goal setter, a smart shopper, and a caring person. Plus, she has mechanical knowledge. I figured the best way to share her car-buying information was to let her explain it in her own words. Here is my interview with her:

Question: Why did you want to buy a hybrid? 

Answer: For better fuel economy and to help encourage industry to find better ways to be more environmentally friendly.

 

Q: Describe yourself as a shopper. Impulsive? Thoughtful? Unimpeded? Budgeted? 

A: All of these.  I know I can be impulsive, so I stop myself in process and start analyzing. I have a budget; it's small.

 

Q: Why did you initially think a hybrid wasn't an option for you? 

A: I assumed it was way out of my price range before I ever even looked into it.

 

Q: What changed? 

A: While shopping for a new car, the sales people explained to me that there are many incentives from our federal government to buy or lease a hybrid, so that it was not only affordable, but more affordable than a regular non-hybrid car.

 

Q: What kind did you buy? 

A: 2014 Ford C-Max Energi

 

Q: How do you like your new car? 

A: Absolutely love it!

 

Q: What is it like to maintain compared to a traditional car? More expensive? Less expensive? Bothersome? 

A: Easy, no different than any other new car.

 

Q: Do you have any hybrid-car-buying online resources you'd like to share?

A: No, just Google

 

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the experience? 

A: Don't rule out hybrids if you're thinking of buying or leasing a new car. Explore all options.

 

Q: Please describe yourself.

A: I am retired from two careers, military and civilian, living on a strict budget, and totally enjoying life. I garden, do a lot of volunteer work with veterans and animals, and I support environmentally friendly businesses, especially small businesses.
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There you have it; hybrids are worth a look. When doing your research for tax incentives, add the syntax "site:.gov" to your search to obtain links to government websites.

Earth-caring people get a lot flack about burning fossil fuels whenever they speak out against the companies that produce it. "Hypocrites," the antagonists yell. But Americans have been victims of a manipulated market, one that has blocked meaningful, affordable gas and oil alternatives from getting beyond the prototype stage. That's changing. We've passed the point of such alternatives being "right" and reached the point where they are "critical." Today's options may not be perfect, but if you dig a little you will find more are becoming available, ones easier to acquire than in the past.

Thanks, Judy, for reminding us of that.

Everybody's Talkin'

December 5th, 2014

When Fred Neil released "Everybody's Talkin'," the stuff on his mind was different than what's on mine. Forty eight years later, I sing his lyrics because I too often hear:

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Buy. Buy. Buy.

"You need..."

"Isn't it time..."

"Aren't you ready for..."

"This is the most revolutionary..."

"How did you ever do without...."

Blah. Blah. Blah.

It's gotten worse. Advertising voices are everywhere. They break in at a frequency and volume that has become unbearable. Why?

Is it because there are more of us on the planet, so more of us have to shout to survive? Is it because so many of us already have what we need that sellers have to work harder to convince us to buy what we don't? Is it because our economic engine is straining from the weight of the billionaires, the new millionaires?

The Christmas holiday takes a lot of heat for its role in turning up the volume. I too must wonder if Santa isn't some ploy in a commercial conspiracy, planting a message in kids minds at an early age, "Life is about getting stuff."

However, I don't blame Christmas, because this is the one time of year when commercialism is exposed, like catching Santa with his pants down. Truthfully, I always enjoyed the magical mystery of the North Pole story. And now, being older, I realize that the presents were only a part of what made Christmas morning so great. (Sorry faithful ones; going to church for a birthday celebration wasn't it either.)

To me, the morning was about getting up before dawn (mom's groaning), sitting around a pretty tree and an old train set in our cozy PJs and smiling in the company of family. My brother wasn't mean to me. My dad wasn't yelling. My mom laughed easily. Christmas morning was daily strife interrupted by happiness.

Sure, the presents rocked, but the anticipation was bigger than the receipt. I tried to open slowly, to savor the moment. And it never failed, Christmas night sucked. What did I have to look forward to then?

Whether it's Christmas, a birthday, some Hallmark holiday, or just your daily routine, I'd like to suggest ways you can help tone down the selling chatter? I'm not talking about grinding our economic engine to a halt. I'm simply talking about changing the channel.

• Stop buying junk -- particularly gadgetry junk. Challenge: this Christmas do not buy a single electronic gift. Why? It's too easy and, next to car sales, electronics represent the noisiest babble of all.

• Use your purchases as a vote. Send a message that you will only buy inventions that solve real problems. The inability to lock your car door while flying over San Francisco is not a real problem. That you still need to fuel your drive through town with fossils is.

• Shift anticipation away from materials toward experiences. Extend the happy family time by doing something inexpensively fun.

• Buy from local small manufacturers whose budgets for product development exceed that of product peddling.

• Be creative and give of yourself. Make your gifts. Share your possessions. Offer your time.

• Consider all that you have when analyzing what you need.

• Stop counting billionaires. Who cares anyway?

• Sacrifice low, low prices for high, high quality.

And finally, when they start talking at you, put in some earplugs and say, "I can't hear you."

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Tell me, how do you deal with the noise?