Monday, February 22, 2016

The End of Control

The End of Control

The End of Control

Posted by Kyle Cease on Sunday, December 27, 2015

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why we are leaving America for Uruguay - Part 1

So many people have asked me when hearing about our life plan: what made you want to leave America? and Why Uruguay? I feel it's time I sit down and explain the process from my perspective, in several parts. By the end, I hope to bring the process up to the present and explain where we're at in terms of making the decisions of how and when exactly to move.

Let me say from the outset, from a young age I never had much interest in travel. I was always afraid to go to camp, and really enjoyed being home in my bed after any family vacations. I like stability. I like the feeling of home. That is, when home felt like a safe and wonderful place to be.

The whole idea to move out of the US started for me with study abroad in Rome. I had never spent any time outside of the US, and this trip certainly changed the trajectory of my life. Not only did I meet people with whom I ended up having some of the closest relationships of my life on this trip, but I also saw the world anew. I saw that winter doesn't have to be hell, food doesn't have to be bland and highly processed, life isn't merely about working and consuming, but about enjoyment, experiencing a wild array of feelings and sensations. In other words, it opened me up to the idea that living in another place would make my life significantly different, and that it is actually possible to live somewhere besides Chicago, which had not really occurred to me up until that point.

When I returned -- well, pre-Rome me never did return. I was depressed being back in Chicago, and heard from others that was a common result in returning from study abroad. It became so clear to me that I was depressed because of Chicago in the winter, and because of the lifestyle I was missing out on in Rome, not because of some individual problem I was having. I realized that I can be happier in other places, and probably would not be happiest in Chicago. Not just happy, though. The goal was to find a place where I felt I belong, where I just fit.

The last two years of college was a barrage of bad news: environmental crises, political crises, global warming becomes well-known through An Inconvenient Truth, Hurricane Katrina wipes out New Orleans, crises in health care and education, debt rising astronomically. Then, a global financial meltdown and billions of dollars forked over to bankers in a back room deal. Imagine what it does to the psyche of a young person graduating into this disaster of a world. It makes you reconsider what you've been told to do. Get a job, a house, a mortgage, have kids, retire, die. All of that assumes stability. It assumes that maintenance of the status quo. I am not going to buy into that mess. I am not going to put my eggs there just to see it all taken away by some environmental or financial disaster. Doing what I've been told is, in other words, too risky! In these few formative years, I have seen too many people screwed by the system they so diligently and faithfully participated in. No, no, no. I need to find a life that's more stable, not able to be so easily overturned by environmental disaster or power outages or financial ruin.

Okay, so what else could there be? What alternatives exist to this accepted trajectory? I mean, this accepted trajectory is what got us into this mess, so what kind of life can I lead that takes me somewhere new?

Next time, travelling the world to find the answer.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

30th birthday reflection

I feel pretty good about turning 30. It marks some important milestones in my life, as well as excites me for the next series of life stages. My twenties were not easy for me personally. Despite that, I accomplished a whole lot. By my 30th birthday, I travelled to over 30 countries on my own babysitting-earned dime and nearly every U.S. state. I earned a CDL Class A driver’s license. I lived in Rome, San Francisco, near Yosemite National Park, Tuscany, in Chicago, Eastern and Western Washington. I got engaged in a cloud forest in Costa Rica and I got married! Patrick and I bought and own outright nine acres of gorgeous, productive land in an entirely different hemisphere. I had a baby and raised her into a beautiful, charming 2-year old. I earned my master’s degree in a field I had never before studied, and am about a year away from my PhD.

I herded goats in the Chianti Valley of Italy. I made wine in Montalcino. I swam in the blue grotto in Capri. I snorkeled the second greatest barrier reef in the world in Belize. I learned how to scuba dive in the Indian Ocean west of Thailand. I then dove deep into the Red Sea. All over the world I swam with so many unbelievably beautiful fish, living coral reefs, sting rays, sea turtles, an octopus, and eels. I escaped a sinking sailboat in the Caribbean Sea. I witnessed Bengal tigers and a cheetah in the wild in India, an Asian elephant in Thailand, so many species of monkey in Costa Rica. I swear I heard a jaguar in the cloud forest there.  I fed a rescued baby gibbon with a bottle in Thailand. I saw melting glaciers in Montana.  I saw sights that may not exist for my children to see; only in my stories and photos and books.

 I travelled overland from China to India, from Turkey to Morocco to Sweden, from Mexico to Guatemala, and from Egypt to Jordan. I saw the ruins of ancient civilizations in Ankor, Tikal, Greece, Italy, Thailand, India, Israel, Jordan. I studied the buildings that were slowly returning to the Earth, and asked, “What went wrong here?” and “How can I, as an individual, avoid societal collapse?” I learned how most people in the world live: simply and without much. But they’re happy. I learned why: deep community, exposure to nature, enjoying limited pleasures. I learned how little I need to survive: a warm bath, dry sheets, clean clothes and food. I learned how to bake bread from scratch, how to make beer and wine at home, how to cook food from around the world. I learned how to give birth to a gigantic baby with no drugs, how to feed her with my body, and what kind of parent I want to be.

I learned what kind of life I don’t want for myself and my family, and am pursuing the one I do want. My twenties were spent asking questions. My thirties will be pursuing the life that comes with the answers I found.  I feel much more secure now in myself and my own goals. Gone are the days when I am hurt by disapproving comments. I care less and less what others think about my life. Despite that, I am more open than ever to people and what I can learn from them. The chip on my shoulder is being worn away with time. I am overcoming barriers in order to share a laugh, an insight, a beer.  

In my thirties I plan to accomplish even more than my twenties - especially considering the restricted freedom that comes with settling in one place and having children. I hope to complete my PhD, to write and publish a book, to have a few more children, to build a house in Uruguay entirely without a mortgage.  I want to learn how to use a compost blackwater system and a greywater system. I want to be off the grid, to learn how to raise bees, pigs, goats and cows and truly husband them. To teach my children (and myself) how to notice the cycles of plants, water, energy and animals and how to care for it all as it cares for us. I need to take my big city upbringing and live off the land with very few incoming resources.  Jesus, I will learn to live my life in Spanish in an entirely different culture! 

More than all of that, I want to begin to leave a legacy in my thirties. I want to create a field school in order to expose a network of people (as well as my own children and family) to this particular life choice. I want our home to be a place where those travelers, life hackers, or searchers can come and be and learn. Like a monastery, or a refuge. I want to have a library and extra food and a warm place to bathe and sleep for these adventurers, so they can feel loved and cared for during their time passing through our home. And I want them to stay or go as their lives move them. But if they go, I want them to take a piece of us with them, so that they may see that they can live simply and promote healthy biological and social diversity wherever they choose to settle, as this is the mission we plan to promote. This world is too vulnerable without all kinds of diversity, and we hope to strengthen it by the work we do to make our corner of the world more diverse in terms of: plant and animal life, language, culture, agriculture, ideas, food production and so much more. 

It’s not so bad to turn 30. I feel so proud of my accomplishments and very driven to accomplish so much more in the decades to come. Plus, Patrick says women are the most attractive in their 30s. ;) It’s nice to think that some of my life’s most beautiful days – ones filled with the laughter of children, community, nature, and abundance – are the ones to come.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Michael Pollan on Psychadelics

Amazing article. What if you could take medicine one time that would permanently alter you for the better? Making you calmer, more at peace, addiction-free. There's some evidence that those drugs already exist, if we just open our minds to the benefits they provide.

I miss the village

I came across this article today, and love how it's written. Except, I envision this future where it's not just women, but the men, the boys, the old folks who live in the village together. Maybe we can find a way to make this work in Uruguay? Have some cabins and a common space where the kids run free on the farm and the adults work and play and laugh together all day. Having a child made me much more keenly aware of the isolation of the way our current society is set up. The single-family home and no one knows their neighbors. Ugh. It is many years away a lots of work in the making, but I think we can re-make the village. I know we can. I agree with the author that this is what we all actually want, but we don't know how to get there. I'm going to try.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bars and Babies -- or Isolation, part two

I've been starting to get into the groove of motherhood. I usually know what Isa wants, I'm getting a sense of my own mothering style, and I am starting to know how to get on with my adult life with Isa in tow. But this past Tuesday I hit a major road block, one that really infuriated me and made me feel inferior again.

A friend of ours is leaving Pullman for good and moving back home to the Bay Area. He invited a bunch of people out to have a celebratory meal and drinks with him -- so we all decided on a bar that serves tacos, burgers, etc. to meet up. We came to this bar before when Isa was a little baby in the Summer when most of the students were out of town. They have a really good burger and a beer special, so we came for that. We ate and drank without incident over the Summer when the bar was mostly empty.

On Tuesday, we got to the door at 7 pm, and the bar had a decent amount of people in it, but everyone was mostly sitting and eating at tables (it's Taco Tuesday). The bouncer comes to the door and tells us, as if to chastise us, "You can't bring your baby in here. No." I asked, "Even if we're just coming to eat?"

"No, you can't come in here."

The large group had to scramble for ideas. I suggested just going home with Isa and letting Patrick stay out and about with the group. Everyone decided that we'd just go somewhere else without a problem. And we did, we went to a restaurant and everyone got to eat and drink there, but of course drinks were much more expensive at a restaurant, which I'm sure most people weren't happy about.

This whole experience left me feeling like I am inappropriate, a bad mother, or irresponsible in some way. Why would I ever want to bring my child to a bar? What was wrong with me?

I don't understand why having a child, in this society, makes you isolated from adult activities. Why, in this culture, is there such a puritan attitude toward drinking that children should not be allowed to see adults in this hedonistic state? In most of the UK, pubs (or public houses, called that way for a reason), let in children and you can even order a pint for your child as long as they're over 14 years old. What does this breed? An attitude toward drinking that is MODERATE instead of this idea that drinking is always something to be hidden from the view of children.

I am finding that it seems to be that the reason so many mothers experience depression is the intense isolation they experience once they have children. There are only so many places you're allowed to go with children, and they mostly suck (McDonald's Playplace? Mommy groups? 'family' restaurants?). Why can't children be a part of larger society and go where their parents go? Ugh. I've got to get out of this place.

loneliness, addiction and getting out

the real cause of addiction

the age of loneliness is killing us

I ran across a couple of articles today that impacted me. Ever since I began studying sociology, and even before, I have come to realize the power society and social institutions have over individuals. We are not the masters of our own universes, and are (mostly) not to blame for many of our individual problems. C. Wright Mills calls this having a sociological imagination. It is the ability to decipher between personal problems and public issues. It is the main message of the Sociology 101 course I teach.

However, this lesson is difficult for many of us to grasp, as is it so ingrained in us to think so much of what we experience is our individual problem. I keep on learning this lesson for different parts of life, and the two articles above continue to teach this same lesson.

The first makes the claim that addiction is not an individual's problem, and it's not even the problem of chemical impact on the brain. If you look, for example, at gambling addiction, it surely can't only be chemicals causing addiction. The author argues that it is in fact our loneliness and isolation (among other aspects of our society) that drives so many to addiction. And the solution to all this isn't to isolate addicts, but to love them and provide them with healthy relationships.

The second article is a treatise on the current century, calling it the Age of Loneliness. The statistics are dire. We are a lonely people and it is killing us.

These two articles are connected (the first cites the second) in that it is really the structure of our society that causes so much of what we think of as individual problems. Are you lonely because no one wants to be your friend or because no one sees each other anymore? Are you addicted (even to caffeine or alcohol or television) because you're lonely? Well, you're lonely because of how our society is set up.

I am reminded of something one of my favorite authors once said. He was attempting to live happily in American society and was finding it difficult. He told himself to simply be "a lotus in a cesspool." That is, even if the society is unhealthy, he could attempt to rise above it and be happy despite his surroundings. What he found, he says, is that he just ended up being "a dirty lotus" ( I like this anecdote because it captures the essence of the above articles and sociology in general. You cannot rise above your environment. Your environment makes you up. So, if you want to be different (or you don't want to become who this unhealthy society will make you up to be), then you have to find a place that you think aligns better with who you want to be, and move there. And this is not just the U.S. As the article states, it is at least in the U.K. and probably many other industrialized societies. Get out. Before you die of loneliness or addiction or both. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

We are blues people

Cornell West on America

"It’s not pessimistic, brother, because this is the blues. We are blues people. The blues aren’t pessimistic. We’re prisoners of hope but we tell the truth and the truth is dark. That’s different."

I am a blues person. At once accepting fate and reveling in truth, no matter how dark. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Goodbye Aunt Donna

Today I lost my godmother Donna. Here is a video of her at my wedding -- with all of her shining light, her beautiful energy, her hilariousness, her joy, her love. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that this wonderful person is no longer with us. But her love and support will shine through me for the rest of my life.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feminists were wrong, part 2

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on this blog entitled "Feminists were wrong," and I have recently had some new thoughts on the issue and I'd like to amend what I wrote earlier. In that post I argued that the reason women felt dissatisfied with their roles as housewives and mothers in the post-WWII era was that so much of their meaning was meant to be obtained through their role as consumer. So many of what would be their daily activities of running a household were being subcontracted to corporations (i.e. no more cooking, now there are TV dinners) and so the only decision they had to make was what to buy. They lost a lot of the efficacy you feel from actually cooking a meal or tending a garden or nursing a baby and felt the solution to this is to go into the workforce.

I think that this is where they went wrong. The solution was not to be away from their homes and then further subcontract their roles as mother to lower-paid women. I think in this recessionary economy women are beginning to realize this and are re-embracing their role as mother or wife in a way that really makes them feel good.

Okay, so that's what I argued in that earlier post, and I still believe it. What I have learned in becoming a mother myself has changed this a little bit. Being alone in the home with this baby can be frustrating at times, and not simply because my role as mother has been subcontracted out to corporations. I nurse my baby, cook dinners myself, bake bread, tend a garden, among other things. Yet, I long for conversations with other adults, for jamming out to music, for time to tend to the garden or go to the store or type a paper. My day is so baby-centered, I am not able to be a part of the world I once inhabited -- the world of normal social and economic activities.

So, I started to look into what other societies have done with child-rearing and found that among hunter-gather societies. I found that not only is child-rearing a shared activity among many adults, but most women resume normal adult social and economic activity very soon after a baby is born. That is, they continue spending time with other adults, many of whom cared for their child for them, and resume activities such as gardening, weaving, et cetera right away. It is only a phenomenon of sedentary societies, especially those societies that have private households (rather than living in a tribal, communal setting), that experience what might be called "professional mothering" (a term I stole from Morris Berman's book Wandering God). Professional mothering has an isolating effect.

All of a sudden, once you are a mother you are banned from some adults-only activities (think: going to the movies, work) and are banished to "mommy-and-me" type activities, the thought of which make me want to gag. Not only are stay-at-home mothers isolated, but the children of working mothers are isolated to daycare centers and schools. This is why so many women lack experience with children before becoming mothers themselves -- children are allowed only in child-friendly settings.

What would be better? A world where children and parents are welcome and tolerated at work and at play -- any place adults are welcome. I'd also like to see other non-parent adults feeling free to care for a child when it is in these settings, without some explicit paid babysitting arrangement. I'm going to try to implement this myself, but as usual I am swimming against the tide in this society and will be met with resistance (as I was when I went to the movies with Isa when she was only a few weeks old and making some very small cooing noises as she slept).

So, in reference to my previous post, I want to give a little more credit to these post-WWII women. They lost the usefulness they felt in keeping a house because corporations were doing many of these things for them. But, maybe more importantly, they were isolated from other adults and left alone with this intense focus on their kids. Being isolated in that way can be very difficult. Again, I don't think the solution was to go to work and leave kids in their own isolated institutional settings (daycare and state-run education), but instead to incorporate their kids into a world that contains adults. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

medical 'progress' in pregnancy and childbirth

Now I am almost at the end of my pregnancy and I've learned a lot about the state of modern pregnancy and child birth. I feel now the responsibility to put here what I've learned.

Although I had an inkling of this tendency before, now I know for sure that our society leans toward science, technology, and what it calls "progress." We often assume this is good. Take the polio vaccination, for example. It basically wiped out what was once a disease which hurt many, many people. We often think of medical progress in terms of the polio vaccine. However medical progress often (especially in the United States) comes in the form of unnecessary interventions. There seems to be an attitude in the US that goes something like "well, let's just do it just in case," or "it won't hurt to do more, so let's do more."

But it does, in fact, hurt to do more. I've seen this first hand throughout my pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth are a great place to see the effects of this kinds of medical progressive thinking because this is a unique kind of medical need. Ideally, and in most cases, women's bodies are capable of handling all of pregnancy and childbirth without intervention. Yet, we go to doctors "just in case." We go to make sure that we're healthy and handling the pregnancy well, and we have them attend births in case something goes wrong. Yet, if nothing goes wrong, you really don't need the doctor at all, for anything.

Even though we don't really need the doctor, as I haven't, they seem to want to make themselves useful. So, they spend a lot of time telling you about the very, very minute risks you may be facing. Some of those risks include: gestational diabetes, a too-big baby, group B strep, placenta previa, a breech baby, toxoplasmosis, blindness from maternal gonorrhea or syphilis, a baby without the ability to clot blood, the list goes on. The likelihood of being affected by any ONE of these things is very, very low. For example, about .01% of babies get toxoplasmosis - a disease contracted from eating undercooked meat (like deli meat). So doctors tell you to COMPLETELY avoid all deli meats, any raw meats or cheeses (including soft cheeses like brie), hot dogs, or any meat that's been sitting out for more than a few hours. Yet, there is a lot of evidence that says it's very important for all people to eat varied diets with lots of different kinds of bacteria in it. We may be over-sanitizing our gastrointestinal systems.

Take another example. Every single baby is given a gel antibiotic ointment on their eyes at birth. They give this to babies in case their mothers have gonorrhea or syphilis. I don't mind saying here that my doctor tested me as part of a routine battery of tests at the beginning of my pregnancy and I don't have these diseases. So, there's really no reason to rub my baby's eyes with a gel which makes it difficult for them to see and may slightly traumatize them. But it's so routine to do this to ALL babies, that in some states the hospital can report you to child services for refusing to put the ointment on your baby's eyes. I put my preference for no gel on my birth plan, but I still don't know if I'll meet resistance for this preference at the hospital or if the nurses will follow my wishes. It is just so assumed that all babies should get this gel, "just in case," that it is almost assumed to be child abuse NOT to opt into this unnecessary intervention. Really, there isn't a huge downside, the baby will just be a little disoriented by it. But, there hasn't been large studies on the effect of the widespread use of this eye ointment, so for me it is riskier to use it than not to use it. I know I don't have these diseases and therefore don't need the ointment. What I don't know is the long-term effects of this ointment.

Another intervention I have been running up against is this idea of a "big baby," medically called macrosomia. Pregnant bellies are supposed to measure, on average, how many centimeters as you are weeks along, plus or minus 2 centimeters. During most of my third trimester, I've been measuring about 3 centimeters larger than the week I am in. Keep in mind that it is normal to be within 2 centimeters of your week. For example, if you are 33 weeks along, your belly should measure between 31 and 35 centimeters. At 33 weeks, I was measuring 36 centimeters. Really only 1 centimeter above the "normal" range. It is also important to note that Patrick and I were both above the 95th percentile for our gender when born. So, genetics tell you that it's likely that this baby will be on the large side of the normal range. Very far on the large size. Yet, at a few of my doctor's visits, the doctor expressed mild concern about the size of the baby. Enough so that she ordered another ultrasound to see how big the baby is. But in most cases, you bear a baby that your body can handle! Your body is a very capable machine! When I went home and looked up online what doctors do about big babies, they often suggest to women that they need a c-section because their bodies can't handle the size of the baby. Even though ultrasounds have been shown to be as much as 4 pounds off in guessing the baby's weight! I have not faced this from my doctor, but what an absurd way to approach childbirth! There is so much to be gained from a vaginal birth in terms of the baby's health outcomes, but so much medical progress thinking leads to a third of babies being born by c-section.

I haven't even gotten into the interventions associated with child birth. It is considered progress to numb yourself from the waist down, getting a catheter shoved into you, being hooked up to an IV, told not to eat or drink for as much as 24 hours, and pushing the baby out by being told by a computer screen that it's time to push. Why is this progress? I can't even count the number of times I've heard "oh, just take the drugs and sit back." These drugs are not without risk! Babies born to mothers who've had an epidural are more drowsy and full of the drug. They often have a hard time taking to breast feeding. What else might be the risk to these babies, we don't know! Why do we avoid all drugs like saints for nine months just to shoot up like addicts at the last moment? Why are we told there is no risk to the baby? Epidurals do effect the baby, and often can lead to more intervention. What if the baby's heart rate goes down due to being drugged up, the medical staff freaks out and orders a c-section? Or they give you pitocin to move your labor along more quickly and it effects the baby's health and again they send you to the operating table? That's what's happening. There's no other way to explain this insanely high c-section rate.

The final example I have to discuss is the very widespread belief that women should not eat or drink anything for the entirety of their labor, just in case they need to get general anesthesia. It is important to keep in mind that this is VERY RARELY used in childbirth, due to the need to have the mother awake during the process. More often, as with c-sections, a local anesthesia is used. So, ALL mothers are told to not eat or drink anything for sometimes as long as 24 hours just in case of this very, very rare situation. What might you feel like doing the equivalent to running a marathon and not eating or drinking for the entirety of this physical feat?   Why might mothers be challenged by this unnecessary rule? Again, the "just in case" thinking of medical progress just doesn't line up with the needs of MOST mothers.

I try to remember that my body is built to do this. It'll be nice to be in a hospital just in case something *naturally* goes wrong. But I don't want the hospital itself to be the source of something going wrong, due to unnecessary intervention. I will try to be vigilant, have Patrick aware of my concerns and be my advocate and the advocate of our baby. It is sad that this irrational and unnecessary thinking pervades our medical system. It is frustrating going into childbirth and having to be a warrior against intervention. What kind of message does this send? It tells the woman "you can't do this" or "you are incapable without our medical help." When in fact she is much more capable than any doctor at growing and delivering the healthiest, most robust baby. I am happy that I know this, but so many women unfortunately do not have access to the kinds of information that I do as a sociologist and a college-educated person. It is the responsibility of society to change this kind of thinking for better outcomes for our babies and pregnant mothers. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

insurance company woes

Over the past few months, I have had some of the most mind-blowing experiences with my insurance company, and I want to share a few of the details here. The insurance I have is part of my graduate student health care offered by WSU. The first of my experiences started when I received an email claiming that the university was going to raise the rates on our insurance, making us pay part of the annual fee. They were doing this while at the same time hiring a new football coach whose salary is 5 times that of the previous football coach (we're talking millions of dollars). Why did they want to raise the rates? Because the Obama health care act made it so the insurance company had to cover basic things like ambulance rides in case of emergency (without previous consent) or gynecological exams every year. Why else? Because we were actually using  the insurance. Yes, this was said to us by an administrator. Our insurance company wanted to charge the university more because we were making claims on it. If we made less claims, the price could stay the same. The university's plan? To defer the cost to us, the graduate students. That is, we would no longer get health care as a part of our package, it would be something we would have to pay a portion of. While the football coach is getting paid millions of dollars. Is this an institution of learning or sports? What is the point of our colleges anyways? This university would crumble without graduate students, yet they want to make us pay another $500 out of our poverty-level $10,000 per year salary.

Okay, example number 2. While I was out of town I went to the doctor for a UTI. The doctor said they didn't take my insurance so I paid up front, asking for a receipt so I could be reimbursed by the insurance for this covered service. When I submitted a receipt to the insurance they said they needed further documentation from the doctor. When the doctor gave them this documentation it was a bill for more money than I paid in cash at the time of service. The explanation from the doctor is that I was given a discount for paying in cash. Yet, the insurance company is now saying this is the new bill and issued a check to the doctor for the services I already paid for! When I asked the insurance company why they didn't just reimburse me, they said the doctor sent them a bill and they paid it. But the doctor didn't send them a bill, they asked for documentation of services that I already paid for! The doctor's office now claims that it was a bill, simply to get more money for the services. It is important to keep in mind during this whole process, from May 2012 until January 2013, I called the insurance company repeatedly (think: more than 50 times) without sensible explanation, sometimes being told that they simply do not reimburse people, sometimes being told that they made a mistake, or I did or the doctor did. Speaking with all different people with all different levels of competency and familiarity with the case. Each time, I had to re-explain the situation and never once was I transferred to a supervisor when asked (each time I was transferred I got a voicemail with no return call). Needless to say, I never got reimbursed for the services.

Final example. Patrick went to the student health center for what he thought was a broken wrist. This health center deals with our insurance constantly. After he went there, he got three separate bills in the mail that all charged him directly for the services. These bills were from: the health center from the doctor who saw him, the local hospital which administers the x-ray machine, and the radiologist in spokane that read the xray. Why wasn't the insurance billed for these services? And why was he getting three separate bills for one visit in the same building? Well, the insurance company has decided that for each claim the patient needs to fill out a separate claim form which basically asks you if there's any way this sickness/injury can be covered by any other place (worker's comp, previous insurance) every time you ask for them to pay for services.  So, they are simply providing another hurdle to paying for services by asking you to fill out this form on your own before the doctor can submit a claim. So, in order for the insurance to be billed for this one doctor's visit for Patrick, he had to download and print three of these claim forms, fill each of them out, find out the billing address for each institution and mail each of them to three separate institutions who can then finally submit a claim to the insurance. He is still in the process of completing this from a doctor's visit from October 2012. The most infuriating part is that this was a big investigation process to figure out why the insurance wasn't being billed and how to fix it. It took multiple emails, phone calls and bills to piece together this mystery. In the meantime, he is getting bills sent to his student account through the university where late fees are being applied, and bills that are threatening to send him to collections.

How did this system come to be? How can we be so alienated from one another? Just based on these few experiences, this is the least rational system for caring for the health of one another in society that I can imagine. Sociologist George Ritzer calls this the "irrationality of rationality" where several independent rational decisions add up to make an irrational system. But I don't think that's what's going on here. Whomever decided at the insurance company that patients needed to fill out a claim form every time was not making a rational decision; he/she was making a selfish one. The company does not want to pay claims. The insurance company's goal is to make money, not to provide health insurance for the medical needs of its customers. So, someone decided to include this hurdle to paying out claims. I think what's going on here is the irrationality of greed. Not only are people alienated from one another or from the consequences of their decisions by the division of labor, they are also making decisions based on the bottom line of this society: profit. So, that's how it comes to be that someone dies on the emergency room floor while waiting for care. This is how it comes to be that even when you have insurance and you follow all the rules, you're sent to collection for bills you were never meant to pay, keeping the powerless down in a cycle of poverty while the powerful reap the rewards. I've got to get out of this place.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Waiting or living?

I came across this video today and it reminded me of the person I want to be. Oh, I know it's cliche to love this book, but I sincerely do. And this piece of art, having people at Burning Man recite the lines, is inspired.

I watched the movie Point Break the other night. While mostly terrible, the movie has one very important redeeming quality: it discusses the difference between a sedentary life and one of movement. The distinction between the two is incredibly hard to parse out. In Morris Berman's book Wandering God he talks about the difference between vertical and horizontal ways of living. Vertical consciousness includes a lot of thinking about the future and the past, there is religion, a god or gods which control all that you are worried (and thinking constantly) about. Horizonality, however, is wrapped up in the present moment. It is about feeling the wind in your hair, or bobbing around in waves. Not thinking about bobbing around in waves, just simply doing it, without thought. That's what the surfers are doing in Point Break. They are living. Not thinking about living, but living. They feel the sun, the waves, the sand. They are moving, not waiting. There is so little time in life. Why is there ever waiting?!?!

This video is of people that are not waiting. Maybe this is an example of privileged people that have the free time for creativity like this. But horizontality is not limited to people like this. We find here only one example. But people all over the world can live horizontally. The people at Burning Man, they are living. Dancing, singing, playing, laughing, creating. Not everything they're doing is wonderful, but at least they're alive. They're not waiting!

But I am. I am waiting for so many things. In the immediate future I'm waiting for Friday, or the end of the semester, or for the end of the school year. I'm waiting for the end of next school year. But after that I'm still waiting. I'm waiting for enough money. I'm waiting for security. I'm waiting to start my life. And it seems that everyone around me is waiting too. So, it's hard to find the alive ones, because mostly they're gone. Once they realized all the time they'd spent waiting, they went seeking the life of living. I did it too once. But now I'm here, waiting again. I don't know how to get out of it here because I can't find many others that are not waiters. We are all waiting here. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

It is time to become intentional

Having been back in the flow of "real" life for a few years now, I am feeling sucked in to all that pushes me away from being present, growing, and happy. The routine leads to a lack of creativity, in that the ways of thinking become old, orthodoxies are perpetuated.

I want to marvel at the sand between my toes more. I want to be in awe of my surroundings. I want to find beauty in everything and grow, grow, grow beyond the limits of my known self.

It is hard to break out of this mess. Everyone I know is trapped, so I have no one guiding the way. The days are getting shorter and the sunlight is diminishing. I need it to live, yet it leaves me.

It it time to become intentional. You can choose your state of mind, and this choice is manifested through practice. Without sunlight or outdoor beautiful spaces, I must find joy in people. Some of the most joyful moments I've ever had have been with people. I felt joy the other night, dancing in a bar. I lost myself in the rhythm, only feeling the pace and my body swaying or crunching to it. I can loose myself in a conversation with someone new, or in a discussion of real truth. I can also find joy in sport -- swimming methodically in a peaceful blue abyss, or trusting in the centrifugal force of the universe as I leave my feet to catch a frisbee in the air.

If I am to survive this winter, I must reject all those things that make me feel sick and empty inside: facebook, meaningless entertainment, too many sweet foods, and instead take up all that grows me, makes me feel joy, and adds to my health: sports, conversations with good friends, cooking, creativity, meditation, meeting new people, simplicity.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the closing of american academia

I came across a great article today on Al Jazeera, "The closing of American academia."

I find it fascinating, this myth that higher education always leads to more prosperity. That is it something to be sought after highly. I resent the baby boomer ideal that if you only work hard enough, you can achieve anything. So, if I do well in school and get good grades and try to get the highest degree available in a field I what? Earn $10,000 a year and be on food stamps? I', going to get this degree, but I'm doing it because I think we live in a world that values "haves" and "have nots." I think it will be easier for me to emigrate and easier for me to slip into upper echelons of society wherever I live. I am doing it because the prosperity is running out in America, and free graduate degrees are going the way of the dodo bird. I am sucking the last bits of affluence I can out of this dying empire and I'm getting the hell out. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

everything is a remix, or against individualism

I saw this video posted today by my good friend Bridget and it put together succinctly a lot of what I've been thinking lately. I read a book years ago called The Modern Mind. It describes the development of western thought through the twentieth century as a novel would. It tells a story. And in this story it is absolutely clear that ideas do not come from individual genius. Ideas are shared, developed communally, and inevitable.

This thinking that there are individual geniuses who are exponentially more creative and innovative than the rest of us blind, ignorant masses is so in alignment with all of the thinking that epitomizes this country. And the results of this thinking are catastrophic. If we think that individuals make the world, it leads to less sharing, and therefore less innovation. It also leads to a very western psychological problem which is what I think of as the flip side to the American Dream. Let's call it the American Nightmare Syndrome. This ANS engenders thinking such as "If I have not been successful (wealth/fame/innovation/etc), than it is my fault as an individual." The flip side of this is of course the American Dream Syndrome which states "I can do anything if I (individually) work hard enough, focus enough and have enough strength of character." However, what the speaker is saying in this video above is that these innovations come inevitably with the evolution of human society. If you have not innovated a new product, it is because those ideas have not yet coalesced enough to become possible.

Let go of the control you think you have on your life and circumstances. Let go and just be. Follow the path that makes you happy, and if you happen to be in the right place at the right time to do something great, do it. If not, you're still doing something great by taking in the creativity of others (which is an inevitable part of life) and making it new. Just by speaking or cooking or telling a joke you are making something new out of all of the creative input you've had in your life. Embrace it! Don't try to sell it or keep it to yourself. Love it! Feel the power in the fact that you were able to make that meal because of all of the meals that came before in your lifetime and the lifetime of anyone who has taught you too cook. Enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

the sacred

I have an idea for a religion, one that I already practice. It involves not rules of how to live or how to relate to other people, but only the love of sacred spaces. This idea came to me in Arches National Park in Utah this past June. Walking through these caverns and under these magnificent stone arches, I felt a need to call this space sacred.

Well, but what is sacred if not a rule made by moral men dictating what much be done? I wondered if in this religion, my religion, if sacred could mean more than that. It could mean a space that is necessary for the existence of all things. A space that must be treasured and cared for. A space where no injuries such as loud motors or pavement should be allowed to exist. If there were any place that I would consider my temple, it would be the red rock desert of Utah. I wish the religious fervor of the world could be directed toward the truly sacred.


Lately, I have decided to try to make my mindset more positive. This is a hard task in the world in which I live with the wars, environmental degradation, corruption, the endless stream of attacks on my person through advertising and marketing. For a good portion of my life, I found purpose in knowing these things. I could not stand listening to the half-baked explanations given by the people I know about the phenomena of our world. I wanted to truly know why things were the way they were. I looked into different continents, different eras of human history, and I got answers. Once I had these answers, I needed the solution for my life. How to avoid all this suffering? This modern American life isn't the way it has to be. There are options.

Then I chose my life -- the life of a homesteader. There are many reasons that this is the life that will work for me, but for now I'll just say it is because I think it will lead to the most happiness and the least suffering (which are not the same thing).

So, now I know the life I want to lead and why I want to lead it. The next few years will be devoted to getting there. Which brings me back to why I want more positivity in my life. Learning all I did about the world caused me a lot of pain personally. The truth was painful. We are not spiraling toward an ever better world. No one is going to solve the problems we have as a global society. These problems that exist now are an inherent outcome of the development of human society. These facts are terribly sad ones, and I am faced with evidence for all of these facts daily -- in our politicians, advertisements, news cycle even in the actions of strangers.

 So, I am in a point now where I would simply like to cut out as much of the negativity as possible. that includes too much internet news, or tv shows. I want to know some things that are happening in the world, but I am now getting diminishing returns from knowing all of it. It is not changing my plan for my life, it is only reinforcing it. With that in mind, here are a few videos that have made me feel really positive recently, from people who have brought positivity into the lives of many:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

our wedding was featured on glamour & grace

Our wedding photos got posted by a fancy little wedding blog called Glamour and Grace. See it here:

Friday, April 20, 2012

how to go no 'poo: day four

Ok, so there's some catching up to do. After my routine on day one, my hair dried and it was incredibly greasy. I didn't have enough time to shower again before school the next day, so I just threw on a head scarf and made my way through the day. Remember, on the first day I used the mixture of castile, oilive oil and water for shampoo. This obviously didn't do the trick.

The next day, worried about having too-greasy of hair for school, I doubled down on my hair. I not only washed with baking soda and water, then I washed with the castile/OO/water mixture, THEN I washed with a simple castile/water mixture. I then followed up with an ACV rinse. This did the trick! Clean as a whistle! Although it looked/felt clean, my hair had a ton more body/bounce/softness to it. It didn't feel all dried out as it did with shampoo.

Later that day (day 2), we went to play tennis, so I got sweaty and had to shower again. This time, I only used the castile/water mixture for shampoo and it worked well. Although, using this I don't know if I am still technically "no 'poo." So, next time I wash I am going to do the baking soda and water wash and see if it cleans well enough for me to show my face in the office.

In the meantime, it has been two days since I shampooed last, and already I noticed that my hair is less greasy than it would have been before. Progress! Bow down before me overactive sebaceous glands!

Monday, April 16, 2012

how to go no 'poo: day one

Okay, so after having read obsessively on the subject over the past week, I have decided to not only stop using shampoo, I am also going to stop using soap, face wash and body wash. Well, not stop using them, but I have found alternatives to soap for each. This is an experiment in progress, so my routine may change as my body reacts. First, I'll describe my routine today and then I'll explain why.

what you need (all these ingredients chosen based on cost and availability):
1 bottle of castile oil (I used dr. bronner's, it is really inexpensive, $10, for a giant bottle that should last for weeks)
Organic olive oil
Apple cider vinegar (I didn't use organic, but it would probably be better if you did)
some little plastic containers that would be good for applying soap/shampoo/body wash

My routine from the shower I just took:
In place of shampoo: about a teaspoon of castile soap, 8-10 drops of olive oil and water
in place of conditioner: a capful of apple cider vinegar mixed with about a cup of water
in place of face wash: 8 drops of castile soap mixed with 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil
after face wash, out of shower: apply a mixture of one capful of apple cider vinegar to one cup water and apply to face like a toner
in place of body wash: a capful of castile soap mixed with a cup of water

For the shampoo and conditioner, these two concoctions are merely aiding the transition to using no shampoo at all. The sebaceous glands on your scalp get dried out by the harsh detergents in shampoo and so in response they over produce sebum (scalp oil). After a certain amount of time (ranges anywhere from 4 days to 12 weeks), your glands get the picture and stop producing so much sebum. At that point, theoretically, you should just need to rinse your head and massage your scalp everytime you shower. We'll see if that ever happens. (some people I've read just continue using the ACV mixture twice a week or so).

In the meantime, since you don't want to look like a grease monster, you can use these little concoctions that have a fraction of the degreasing power of regular shampoo/conditioner. It had been a couple days since I showered last, and my hair was quite greasy going into the shower today, so we'll see how it looks when it dries.

As to WHY I decided on these concoctions, it is really just an experiment based on a bunch of different sources of evidence. Some people use a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with water as their shampoo substitute, but I've also read that can dry out your hair a lot. I have read a lot about using oil as soap, since the idea is to clean out the dirt without stripping away too much of the oil. Castile soap, so much as I can surmise, is made entirely from oil products, some with stronger cleaning power than others. So, instead of the baking soda, I decided to use a little bit a castile soap, but I heard this can also dry out your hair. So I added some olive oil to the mixture along with water to thin it all out.

I have also read that your scalp and face both are naturally acidic. So, after both the face wash and the "shampoo," I use a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water to make these more acidic. On your head, this is supposed to work like conditioner, detangling and making your hair smooth. From my experience today, the "shampoo" mix did make my hair sort of tangly feeling. But the ACV "conditioner" did detangle and by the time I got out of the shower I was able to easily comb my hair and it felt smooth. My hair is in the process of drying now, and I have to admit it doesn't feel clean like it did before, but sort of sticky like it is greasy at the top, but it does feel a lot smoother all the day down to the tips. We'll see how it looks/feels once it is completely dry.

FYI: Most of these washes don't make any suds, and are quite liquefied, so you'll have to have a bottle that allows you to apply it all over your scalp and rub it into the roots.

For the face wash, I have been doing a lot of research into this. Like I said before, different oils have cleaning/absorbing dirt power. The most basic oil-based face "wash" I have heard of was a mixture of olive oil and castor oil, but I went to the health food store and saw that a little bottle of castor oil was $10, so I thought I'd try out alternatives first. I decided to go with a few drops of the castile soap (assuming it is a cleansing oil like castor) mixed with olive oil. I just rubbed this into my face and left it on for the duration of the shower and washed it off with water at the end. This wash can easily be used outside of the shower and would probably be easier to clean off with a dry wash rag, as we all know that oil and water don't mix. When I have washed my face out of the shower with this mix, I then followed up with a steaming hot wet wash cloth which I then placed on my face for a couple of seconds. I read somewhere that this helps to open up the pores, but I think it also feels really nice. Like I said before, I then follow up with an ACV toner to bring my skin back to a naturally acidic place.

I should mention that I have been having problems with mild acne for a couple of years now and am hoping that this new routine will help. I have read that, as with your scalp, your face gets dried out with regular soaps which you then try to make up for by using lotions, but both the dry skin and the lotions can cause acne. Leaving the natural oils on your face where they belong and only cleaning out accumulated dirt and makeup may be a good route to clearing up acne. I am also going to stop popping zits, which I know leads to more zits as the bacteria flies all over your face when you pop one. This will be hard, but so far this method of oil cleansing followed by a dry washcloth and then finishing with a hot and wet washcloth has seemed to naturally take the heads off of white head pimples, without any popping.

Finally, for body wash I just used some diluted castile soap. Today in the shower my body felt sort of sticky after using this mixture. Kind of like the water was just beading off of me. This has got to be a result of cleaning with oils -- your skin just retains its natural oils while the dirt is carried off with the soap. so, we'll see if I am actually clean (tested by my smelliness). This mixture does make suds, but it is very liquidy and hard to apply without some sort of sponge or loofah. I don't have one of these yet, but I think it would be good for exfoliating purposes, so I will be getting one soon.

We'll see where this experiment goes. Keep on reading.

Monday, April 9, 2012

no 'poo

So, I am considering banishing shampoo from my life. It turns out it dries out the natural oils in your scalp and therefore forces your scalp to make extra oils very quickly, which is why I get greasy hair about 30 hours after shampooing. This total drying out caused by soap is not only bad for your hair, but it also requires washing so often, buying a product often and on top of all this there is research that shows that many of the chemicals in our modern soaps and shampoos are linked to infertility and cancer.

I think I'll start to make the transition once the summer comes and I am done with school for a while. I have been doing a lot of reading up on it and it looks like it take 8-12 weeks for your scalp/body to come to a more balanced place. At first your hair keeps producing oils at the rate as if you were still shampooing, and it takes a while for it to come to an equilibrium and stop producing so much sebum (scalp oil). So, I want to be away from a professional environment while my scalp gets crazy for a while.

I have been in a phase of my life for the past, say, 5 years or so, in which I question the most basic assumptions of the way people live their lives. I keep asking: why are we doing it this way? I began with food, water, career trajectories, money. politics, child rearing. So, this is a natural step in this trajectory. Why do we use soap? Animals don't use soap and they don't get itchy, greasy scalps. Why would we need a chemical in order to be comfortable? 

It turns out, like most other things we feel we need to buy, it is just a product we've been convinced we need by corporations. Same old, same old. If we didn't use soap at all, we would actually come to a pretty balanced place just by washing with water. However, if we want to smell good, we can just rub ourselves in essential oils (lavender, rosemary, lemons, whatever) ever once in a while.

In the meantime, until your body comes to a balanced place, one thing people often do is use a diluted mix of apple cider vinegar and water. This mixture does dry our your scalp a little (very very little in comparison to shampoo), but is especially helpful at the beginning of the process when the grease is almost taking over. Then they find some mix of essential oils so that they smell good and they're off!

If/when I decide to go 'poo and soap free, I'll document it here. What works, what happens to my body, how smelly I become, and let you know how to do it yourself. 

the most astonishing fact

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

health care reform to benefit big pharma CEOs

I think this woman has it right. The Obama health care bill is not enough. This is a world in which we cannot accept incremental change. We need systemic overhaul. We need a new system. One not run by corporations, but by governments, held accountable by an educated populace. 

This bill legally obligates American citizens to pay private health care corporations. This bill sets the stage for a world in which our government forces us to pay corporations directly, and then charges us penalties (going to other corporate subcontractors, undoubtedly) or puts us in jail (private ones) for not complying. We are seeing a disgusting and shameful merging of corporations and the state so that the state will soon be the military enforcer of corporate profits. 

What's the alternative? A system in which we don't spend hundreds of billions on military contracts (for corporations), but instead mandate universal health care for all citizens which will substantially drive down the cost for all. 

We need universal health care. We need to live in a society where we care about our least. This bill does not improve on the current system because it gets government more entrenched with corporations. People are MANDATED to buy something from a corporation! and the taxpayers will directly pay the corporations for those who can't pay.

What's the solution? Who cares? There's a big difference between IS and OUGHT to be. 

What OUGHT to be: a world where we want more equality, where we want basic quality of life for all citizens (literacy, infant mortality, clean space), where corporate profits are not the endpoint of all existence.

What IS: an ever-increasing merging of corporations and government, the rapid repeal of civil liberties (NDAA, Patriot Act, secret NSA domestic spy centers), raping of the planet  and its people for the benefit of the .001% of the world's population. 

Well, to be vague about my future, it has something to do with this:

Monday, March 26, 2012

The brain on love

Diane Ackerman is a wonderful writer, I know her from having read her book A Natural History of the Senses as well as seeing her at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2007. That was the same festival where I saw Don DeLillo at the premiere of his play "The word for snow," but that is a discussion for another time.

I just came across an article by Diane Ackerman today in the NY Times: "The Brain on Love." It is astonishing how well she can weave through scientific facts and draw from them the most profound meanings. This skill is something I am constantly working on, and one I admire her so deeply for. I want to know, why does this matter? How can I show that this is important to everyone? It is something my professors say I'm good at -- making the case for why a particular topic is substantively compelling (as opposed to theoretically, i.e. it adds to the literature). Yet, I still think I have a lot of work to do in this area.

In any case, this particular article really moved me, the most substantial reason being I am currently madly in love and newly married. She makes the case that one of our fundamental emotional goals in life is to recreate the bond we had in infancy with our mothers. This is an argument first made to me by Erich Fromm is his seminal book The Art of Loving.  Whereas Fromm used philosophy and deductive reasoning, here Ackerman shows it through neuroscience.

The crux of the article comes here:

The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.

One cannot simply be in any relationship in order to alter your brain chemistry for the better, but only in a good one. I find that this lesson, although intuitive, is one that I must continuously be reminded of. I read Ackerman's book about 5 years ago, and it abounded with little wisdoms such as this, yet much of the efficacy of those lessons has melted away with time in me. It takes constant effort to maintain good love. For me, right now, it flows effortlessly. I want to love deeply, kindly, fully. I want to nurture and protect. Yet, there are moments of callousness, times where I am not empathetic but selfish.

I think the lesson here is to love totally and all the time. Not only in our romantic relationships (although they seem one of the only outlets in our individualistic society), but with everyone we know.

Friday, March 16, 2012

a love poem to adbusters


I went to visit Adbusters the other day. For those of you who don't know it, it is the magazine/entity that called for the original Occupy Wall Street protests which have manifested into so many protests around the world today.

I have been a subscriber for a couple of years now, but have been reading the magazine for long before that, since I first ran across a copy in City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and read it cover to cover. The next day, I went to the San Francisco Public Library and read all of the back issues in the facility.

Adbusters is more than a magazine for me, it is a a space where all of the big ideas I care about collide in a way that is palatable. It contains art, writing, poetry, letters, no advertisements. It includes all of these things in a way that is accessible and inspiring.

They're based in Vancouver, and I was planning to take a spring break trip to Vancouver and Victoria with Patrick, so a sent them an email a week before the trip asking if I could stop by. They said they're around most days from 9 to 5, and that I could stop by anytime.

I looked up their address and it seemed to be a simple house in a Vancouver neighborhood. When the day came, I got really nervous. I had been reading the work of these few people for years, and think of them as visionaries, the philosophers of our time. I almost made an excuse to ditch out on the visit, feeling like a silly fan girl, but Patrick thought that maybe if we picked up some doughnuts some of the awkwardness of the encounter could be negated. So we did, and we went.

The offices were indeed in a simple basement of a house in Vancouver. There were about 7 people, dressed as you would expect with plaid shirts and winter hats sitting loosely on the backs of their heads, but not trying too hard. They mirrored us in that way, I guess. Patrick and I don't work to cultivate an image, but we pick out clothes we like that are comfortable and don't pay much for them.

They were all very gracious and kind. I was too nervous to say anything special, but after I left I wrote them the following email:

Hello All:

Thanks so much for entertaining our visit the other day. I hope the doughnuts helped you all get a littler closer to deadline.

I wanted to share with you all a poem. It is a love poem from me to you, but it is also to all the readers, occupiers, thinkers, monks and poets looking for a different way in this world of multiple collapses.

The poem, "September 1, 1939," was written by W.H. Auden on the eve of world war two. I feel that we are in the same predicament now that he was in then. We are in the throes of all the history that has lead us to this point. 

Yet, in the midst of all of this pain, death, destruction, uncertainty, there is a simple hope. Not the unrealistic techno-fixes of those who hail to the idea of human progress as if it were a god. But to each other. This poem is for all who see clearly where we are now, try to understand how we got here, and to look for something different, better, more. 

You are the "ironic points of light," in the words of Auden, and this poem is for you. Thank you for lighting a path out of this darkness. The more we get together, the more our lights will shine, and just maybe we will then be able to see out of the darkness.

"September 1, 1939" by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Ashley Colby Fitzgerald

To which they replied:

Hi Ashley,

Thank you so much for the kind words. I wish I could have been in the office to meet you! I've passed the beautiful poem that you sent on to our editors. Thanks for spreading our message. 


Thursday, February 23, 2012

the problem with academia and a light in the face of that darkness

I had a breakthrough today in my graduate program, and I'm really happy about it. Lately, I have been feeling like I am running on a treadmill: working hard, going nowhere, and quickly losing energy. I kept trying to make contact with professors, looking for guidance on completing my master's thesis.

I am so passionate about my topic, yet academics find a way to smother that excitement with as much banality and specificity as possible. There are things I knew about academia before I came here, general rules about how academia works, its place in our society, and the culture of it. Here are some of them:

- write as obscurely as possible. that way, no one can critique your work because no one knows what you're talking about.
- pick obscure and highly technical topics. that way, no one can criticize you because no one knows what you're writing about.
- treat the scientific method as a religion. care only about the mighty power of the rational human mind, and scoff at anyone who defies the holy dogma of the Enlightenment.
- care about hierarchy and competition. always find a way to compare yourself to others.
- love individualism. don't help anyone, they're your competition. every man is for himself.
- when someone asks you something clearly and sincerely, give them book recommendations and talk about theories that have big words in them. that way, you won't reveal that you don't know anything about what they're asking.
- never say I don't know.
- promote yourself, market yourself, sell yourself. Always know how to answer the question: 'I am amazing because...'
- truly think that your work is important even while talking about the incremental nature of the scientific method.
- espouse ideas that are en vogue in the discipline, even if they're wrong or make little to no sense. academia is a religion with a thousand sub-cults.
- never tell a story or talk about emotions or senses in your research. stories are for novelists. never mind that they're more compelling. stories are for sissies (or, even worse, dumb people who don't understand logistic regression).

So, I forgot a little about these things last semester. I was all caught up in figuring out my place, goals, and life in this new program. I didn't see the world around me, or I was too cognitively occupied to notice these things. But this semester, these aspects of academia about which I learned in college have again come to light.

I was trudging along, trying to get help and meeting resistance by all members of the academic-stasi who shot down what I want to study, how I want to study it, and why it matters.

Ok, so here's what I care about. I think food matters. I think it matters in a lot of ways. It matters that people have enough to eat, it matters where it comes from, how it gets where it's going, who grows it, how they grow it, how people eat it, how people feel about all of these things. I want to tell a story about some aspect of food. I think stories are the best vectors for ideas. I know how to do statistics, I get good grades in math classes, I just think they're boring and arrogant.

So, my ideas were met with a lot of hostility both for the content and the methods by a lot of people. Yet, the clouds of skepticism broke for a moment today with the chair of our department. She not only nurtured my ideas, my way of thinking, but also filled me with more enthusiasm than I came in with. She pushed me to think about the classical theorists, to consider different ways of thinking about my problem, while also coming up with tangible goals toward a realistic master's project.

She and I discussed the silliness of purely rational thinking, how academics write obscurely and why, the futility of thinking only in terms of the scientific method. She gave me practical advice on how to approach difficult theories (read two interpretations of someone like Marx and then read Marx himself). On top of all this, she said she would be *honored* to be on my committee. Que simpatica.

My chair is a rare gem in this individualistic world of academia. She renewed the spark in me to learn for the sake of curiosity, not just because I'm doing it professionally. Without her, at this moment I'd be lost.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ranting Ron Paul in Idaho

I met Ron Paul in Friday. He was in town for a rally at University of Idaho's student center. I popped in to get a sort of anthropological sense of the event. Who would be there? How many people? What kind of rhetoric would Paul be spouting?

I stepped into the student center only to be greeted with a line of people waiting to get into the auditorium. What were they waiting in line for? The rally had already started. There was no chance that the people filling the auditorium would be leaving -- so what was the point of these people outside the auditorium standing in line? For a country that is remarkably selfish, I was surprised to see how these dumb people just stood around for no end. I walked right past the line to another entrance to the auditorium. I couldn't see Paul from where I was, but I could hear every word.

The place was packed. It was mostly students, but I don't know if that is because it was at a university, or because young people have been flocking to Ron Paul lately. The usual republican types were there -- the leather american flag jacket type, the collared shirt buttoned up to the top type, the old and racist-looking type -- but at least there were no corporate types. There were a decent amount of young student-types, and I couldn't tell if they were just gawking or supporters.

I like some of what Ron Paul had to say, mostly his anti-war policies along with his monetary policy. He knows it is expensive and reckless for the American military to go policing the world in our own interest. It is so rare to have a mainstream candidate spouting this kind of anti-military isolationism, and it is refreshing. I also really like his populist rants against the 1%. He knows that the reign of the monetary system in the country (and therefore the world) is over. The creation of fiat currency away from real value commodities like gold has been taken to an extremely abstract place. One where money doesn't really mean anything anymore since the idea of trading paper has been abused by financial investors for all of us.

But the flip side of Ron Paul's love for a gold standard is his love for true free market economics. Economies will not regulate themselves to do what is in the best interest of the common good. He thinks they will, and for this he is insane. He went on and on at his rally about how government is taking away civil liberties (which it is, NDAA), but governments don't necessarily do this. This reminds me of a few posts down when I added this Elizabeth Warren video from the Daily Show. Just because THIS government is corrupt and useless doesn't mean ALL governments are.

The governmental system in this country has most certainly already failed. It is not going  to fail, it has failed. That's for sure. The country is too big, too heterogeneous for a two-party system, too injected with capital to be any good for anyone but the already powerful. Yet, that doesn't mean that any government is necessarily bad. We need laws. Laws represent us coming together and agreeing that some things that people (or groups) do are not good for all of us.

Well, since I've given up hope that this country will turn around long ago, I guess Ron Paul is the best candidate for radical change. Even if his platform is really messed up in a lot of ways, at least we'd see some radical transformations under President Paul.

So, after the rally, I saw that Paul was exiting out of the side of the building. I quickly moved outside to the door where he'd be leaving. I was standing there alone. A crowd of a few thousand people and I'm the only one who thought to meet him at the exit? Hm, bunch of geniuses here in Idaho, I guess. I waited there casually as his security were covering the door, I pretended to be waiting for a friend and called Patrick.

He came out within a few minutes and I pointedly asked him if he would put the US back on the gold standard and get rid of fiat currency, something Max Keiser has been ranting about for a while now. I don't think he heard me, or thought I was crazy, so he kept on walking. Oh well. A moment alone with Ron Paul and I didn't even get him to do his little elfish gold dance. Dang.