Because extinction shouldn't be an option!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Confessions of an Insomniac

Last night it happened again. I lay in my bed for six hours straight, tossing and turning, finally listening to the silence outside give way to the sounds of early morning traffic on the avenue where I live, long before the birds have begun to sing or the sun has even shown the first hint of its light in the sky. But that all happens eventually too. Another night has gone by where sleep has completely eluded me. Eventually I will doze for a couple of fitful hours in the morning before my cats demand they be fed and I get up and slowly start my day.

My ex had been my opposite. He is one of those people who are out like a light the minute their heads hit their pillows. These are people who can sleep anywhere--in their car, on the couch, in the woods, sitting up...even standing up. They sleep through all sorts of noises. When we were together, I would lay there next to him in the bed we occasionally shared and listen to his heavy breathing and be sick with envy and isolation.

It’s been this way forever.

When I was barely four years-old I’d start screaming that I couldn’t sleep into the scary pitch-black bedroom I shared with my mother and stepfather until my stepfather finally silenced me with spankings so hard they left large black-and-blues on my butt, which made me refuse to sit down the next day at my preschool, capturing the attention of the teacher who sent a note home about the issue.

Scared the authorities would be called if it happened again, my stepfather stopped spanking me (at least most of the time). But while the spankings stopped for awhile, my insomnia did not.  

Fast forward to my teens and I began again to have night terrors. Unlike early childhood, they were not vague--not of slinking shadows or faceless boogie men. These dreams were vivid and violent: they had become bloodier, more defined. My subconscious now knew what it feared, for it had put faces and actions to it, made it writhing and livid like a living thing.

I dreamed of being brutally raped by a fanged demon--a recurring dream that started shortly after I turned eleven but ramped up to a near-nightly event once I hit high school. In other dreams I was chased through abandoned alleyways. Eventually, these men caught up with me, and maimed me or assaulted me in horrific ways. In one dream a man cut out my tongue and I watched while it flopped around on a dining room table like a fish out of water, while blood spurt out of my mouth like water from a fire hose. In another dream a man tried to drown me in a river. When that didn’t kill me fast enough, he sliced his knife across my stomach, grabbed my guts and wrapped them around my neck like a noose, trying to choke me to death with my own intestines while I was still under water. I woke up gagging and gasping, my fingers grasping at my neck. I couldn’t--I wouldn’t-- fall back asleep. Instead I listened to my heart beat fast and hard in my chest as though it were about to rupture. I told myself over and over again that I was safe. But I did not believe it. I did not believe I was safe.

The assaults I endured in my dreams seemed as real, if not more, than the ones I experienced in my waking life, a life where I managed to emotionally detach in order to survive.

*                         *                           *                          *                                 *                                  

My family watched a lot of horror movies and so did I, way before it was age appropriate. This obviously gave my mind a lot of ammunition for these nightmares. But also, my family was its own horror show that offered me my map to guaranteed trauma.

Before I moved in with my grandparents, I had been the constant witness to my mother’s fights, first with my father, then with my stepfather. My mother and stepfather often hurled large objects at each other, sometimes leaving each other extremely battered and bruised--chunks of flesh ripped off the skin, large welts and burns marking up their embattled bodies. I was tasked with tending to their wounds. I applied ice packs and put peroxide on open cuts. When my stepfather left for good, I was alone with my baby brother in the midst of my mother’s drug addictions. On one night she would be so hopped up on cocaine that she’d do things like blast the stereo late at night, leave our door unlocked or even wide open or leave the stove top on and burning whatever she’d been cooking. Sometimes she brought strange men into the apartment and asked to call them uncles and submit to their hugs and sloppy, beer-wet kisses on my cheeks. Other nights, sometimes the very next, she dozed off on her couch in a heroin cloud, a lit cigarette dangling dangerously from her lips that I would pluck out the way some girls pluck daisies, before smashing it up in the overflowing ashtray.

I learned to sleep while still half-awake, always ready for a fire or to be woken up by a smack or a scream or sometimes just to check her breath in a pocket mirror before I went to the bathroom, to make sure she was still alive. To sleep soundly or deeply meant death, or the likeliness of it--mine, my mother’s, my brother’s--and it all fell on me to be the watchdog. I was eight.

When we moved in with my grandparents, thing got better, but only marginally. My mother sometimes took me to the alleyways where she scored after she picked me up from school, where she’d leave me there sometimes for hours, while gunshots, sirens and howling dogs could be heard in the near distance. More than once, she forgot about me altogether, wandered off or went all the way home and my grandmother asked her where I was and she’d return enraged, pulling me home by the hair as though it were all my my fault. Another time, I walked home alone, watching the darkening sky and hoping a monster wouldn’t pounce out of the shadows and assault me. Because I learned that monsters were real. They weren’t just in my head, they were in my home. I was bound to them by blood.   

*                            *                                 *                              *                                          

In therapy I learned that the brain of an abused or severely neglected child pumps out cortisol in large amounts. This is the stress hormone--the one that preens someone for “flight or fight.” In theory, children shouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of things that make them produce huge amounts of cortisol. They are supposed to be protected by parents who should shoulder the burden of detecting and shielding them from threats. But when the parents become the threat, especially during the earlier stages of child development, that burden is shifted to an under-equipped child who responds to it for the sake of his or her own safety.

All it takes is a few incidents to cause the child’s brain completely rewire itself to be predisposed to run on cortisol--to not only to be prepared for danger, but to expect it. It becomes part of one's biology. It doesn’t matter that my mother is long dead. It doesn’t matter that adulthood has endowed me with autonomy and I am no longer the a helpless pawns to my parents’ follies. I still see danger everywhere.

*                               *                                *                             *                            

When I was in my mid-twenties I interned for a large environmental organization in Washington D.C. It was during the early days of the George W. Bush’s second term and the height of the Iraq War and not a week went by when a bill wasn’t being introduced into Congress that could kill off an endangered species or destroy a delicate habitat. The summer I started marked the London bombings and Hurricane Katrina and its sad aftermath. The city was always on red alert.

At night, no matter how early I went to bed, I wouldn’t fall asleep till around 3am. Then I would wake at 7am and dress and walk the mile and a half to the subway station to take to DuPont Circle and start the cycle all over again. During the days I wasn't on Capitol Hill, I sat in a windowless room lit by the relentless glare of fluorescent lights. I sat at a long desk with other interns all lined up at our desktops, like cattle at the trough.

My nightmares had become less regular, but did not disappear entirely. In high school, I had stopped watching horror movies or reading any scary stories (including the Bible). When that wasn’t enough to discourage my dream demons--when the cruelty of this world still weighed on me in the midnight hours, I tried to disassociate myself as much as possible from any evil, to refrain from being any kind of contributor or source for another’s suffering. I stopped eating meat, stopped using products that tested on animals, tried to only buy thrift store clothes and goods so my money wouldn’t be used to directly prop up systems of oppression that relied on sweatshop or slave labor. It helped a little. I felt like I was at least trying to be part of the solution and I started sleeping a bit better.

But while I was interning in D.C. all my efforts to be good, to help make this planet a better place, began to seem so small and futile. The world was so big and mean, and not only could I not save everyone, I felt like I couldn’t save anyone, not even myself. On the weekends, I barely left my bedroom, watching DVDs I ordered from Netflix. My boyfriend at the time became exasperated with me, as I was always tired and cranky and suddenly uninterested in sex. I was running on only three or four hours of sleep a night during the week. My days were filled with paper pushing to politicians who didn’t give a shit about the destruction their actions caused others. I came home from work with headaches so severe all I craved was the dark cave of my bedroom. I didn’t want to go out exploring our nation’s Capitol, I didn’t want to drive to my boyfriend’s in Baltimore and join him and his friends at the bar. I just wanted to get some fucking sleep. And I didn’t want to dream.  

*                    *                    *                *                   *                   *                      *                      

Now in my mid-thirties, when I can’t sleep it’s not due to nightmares or even the anxiety of having to wake early and again join the drill of daily office work as I am a freelancer who makes her own hours.  Instead it’s from the pain and anxiety that has accumulated in my body--the turmoil of too much trauma--an emotional scar tissue taking a very real physical toll.

A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia to explain my widespread, chronic pain. Though there are some instances of past physical trauma that no doubt contribute to my pain, the impact of my early overexposure to cortisol is probably the primary culprit. Cortisol is known to super-sensitizes nerve signals to pain, as another way to prep me to fight or flee. But my body has become too sensitive to stimulus and has hair-trigger reactions to the slightest of stresses. Standing up for a little too long or wearing the wrong shoes or seeing something on the news that upsets me can make my body sweat profusely and my muscles seize up in a state of spasm. In my bed, I will often shift positions for hours trying to find one that causes the least discomfort One position might help my back but hurt my hips, another will make my neck ache but calm my quaking calves. At the same time, I sometimes still get up several times a night to check the stove to make sure it’s still off and the doors to make sure they’re locked, on my cats to ensure they’re still breathing. The smallest of noises still jolt me awake.

As I got older and I began to share my stories, people would say I seemed so strong, so resilient. Here I am, a college graduate with my own apartment and car. Here I am, able to rise each day, eat reasonably healthy and shower and pay my rent and bills on time, somehow managing not to murder anyone or go on a bender and rob a bank.

But people with pasts like mine do not escape unscathed.

It lies behind my eyes and resides in my bones. Its ghosts echo in the aches and pains I endure everyday Most of all, it is manifested in my many sleepless nights.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Regressions: The Acquittal of George Zimmerman

In 2000, as part of a presentation for my U.S. Women Poets class, I presented on and offered an analysis of Audre Lorde's poem Power. Written in 1978 (the year I was born), it spoke of an acquittal of a police officer who shot a 13 year-old black boy and hinted to the rage of the black community in being denied justice and fair treatment.

I presented on this poem, because nearly 22 years later, three police officers had been recently acquitted in the shooting 23 year-old African immigrant Amadou Diallo in the doorway of his building in New York City. He was chased after by cops, who suspected him of being a reported serial rapist (he was not) because he matched the general description of the suspect (translation: he was black). When reaching to show his ID (which the officers asked him to furnish), one of the officers said Diallo was instead producing a gun (he was unarmed) and Diallo's body was then besieged with over 40 bullets. Police officers were found to have just cause for their suspicions. Diallo's character was marred by conservative media for his participation in selling hot goods, which I guess somehow justifies his gory and premature death.

I still try to have hope we as a nation can progress to a point where racism is not an institutionalized behavior promoted by mass media and condoned by the court system. But I am losing that hope.

On Saturday, July 13th, at approximately 10pm, well over a decade after the Diallo case, George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. The verdict came on the heels of draconian laws passed in Texas that effectively would shut down a majority of the abortion clinics in the state. Both of these incidents have led me to feel like I have woken up in the 1950s, before civil rights became a mainstream societal ideal and when women and blacks were still second-class citizens.

In an age of social media, it is impossible not to witness and be sucked into the muck of the Martin/Zimmerman case. I had expected some strong words; however, I have been bowled over by the amount of vitriol toward Martin on Facebook commentary and the automatic assumption that the physical altercation that occurred between Zimmerman and Martin was somehow the latter's fault.

Piggybacking on that I have seen post after post decrying Martin as a punk or "thug" who smoked marijuana (along with about half of American teens, regardless of race), was suspended (for tardiness and truancy), and (seriously) had a grill, as if those things could possibly be extrapolated to justify the bullet in his chest.

Martin's transgressions or "youthful indiscretions" (the term coming straight from the lips of former president George W. Bush on describing his own criminal and drug record) had no bearing on the case. The facts of the case are that a man with a history of racial profiling and aggressive behavior, including a restraining order against him and a battery charge against a police officer, stalked a minor through the dark and in the rain. Specifically, he left his truck and gave chase to a minor who was actively fleeing him (which would suggest Martin was not looking for a confrontation, at least initially) in direct opposition to the advice of the police dispatcher, and armed with a loaded gun.

I've seen more moderate comments on Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere that contend Zimmerman shouldn't have followed Martin, but that Martin in turn should have not have attacked Zimmerman. And here's where the double standards begin to crop up that reek of racial under- and over-tones. Even the wording used smack of double standards -- that Zimmerman merely "followed" Martin, but Martin "attacked" Zimmerman, thereby outright ignoring Zimmerman's role as instigator and aggressor since the term "attacked" presumes no provocation, which has already proven to not be the case here.

It is several steps beyond "following" someone when they run from you and you leave your vehicle to chase after them. So why is it, that Zimmerman, emboldened under Florida's Stand Your Ground laws, can stalk and chase a minor with a gun, but under this same law, Martin, in fear of bodily harm, is not allowed to defend himself? The insinuation here is that if you are a black male, you must subject yourself to whatever stereotyping or scapegoating you are subjected to, up to and including hostile pursuit, and if you in turn, attempt self-defense, you forfeit your life.

Evidently, Stand Your Ground and self-defense laws in Florida only apply to light-skinned males of Caucasian descent. (As a sidenote: the media emphasis that Zimmerman was half-Latino as if that somehow absolves him of racial profiling, in and of itself is an ignorant and racist notion. A minority can be racist against another minority, and even ethnicities within a minority, as evidenced by Zimmerman's own record of profiling and airing racist epithets against/stereotyping of Mexicans. Additionally, it belittles and ignores how race plays out on the ground and in politics. Namely, how racial dynamics in this country is most directly influenced by visual perception--that is, the color of one's skin.).

The facts remain that Martin's DNA was not found on Zimmerman's gun, nor was any of Zimmerman's DNA found underneath Martin's fingernails, that would have supported Zimmerman's version of events in which Martin grabbed Zimmerman's gun and had subjected Zimmerman to a life-threatening beating that would have justified murder in self-defense. The fact also remains that despite sensational media reports about Martin's "bloody" or "bruised" knuckles (that would prove Martin heavily beat Zimmerman), the actual autopsy report only notes one small (approximately quarter inch size) abrasion on the fourth finger of Martin's left hand. Though there's no doubt Zimmerman and Martin had a physical altercation and that Martin successfully struck Zimmerman, according to the medical examiner in the case, Zimmerman's injuries were "insignificant" and not life-threatening.

The Zimmerman supporters I have engaged with online without fail have evaded or avoided any sort of dialogue about lack of DNA evidence in the case, and insist on posting articles that report any less-than-saintly behavior Martin engaged in, while also failing and refusing to acknowledge Zimmerman's own sketchy record and dishonesty in the case. So, a white man's word is taken as scripture despite his own contradictions, history of aggression and racial paranoia (apparent in the 46 phone calls to police and 911 over an eight year period, which mainly consist of reporting suspicious activities by black males) and perjuries in the court, while a black teenager is found guilty of daring to strike his armed pursuer. A white man can aggressively pursue a minor armed with a gun, even if said minor was not engaged in any apparent illegal activity, and escape any culpability for the ensuing physical altercation he went out of his way to provoke.That is, a long as the minor is a black male.

The dismissive attitude toward any suggestion Martin was defending itself, comes from a place of privilege, from people who, by virtue of their race, class and gender, and most often a combination of two or more of these, have never been (and likely never will be) in the predicament of being pursued, harassed or profiled. They will never understand the feelings of vulnerability or danger the pursued experiences, especially if the pursued is of a demographic that until not too long ago historically was considered property and denied fundamental rights and routinely subjected to egregious violence and oppression; a demographic that is currently still subjected to a system utterly entrenched in its mission to continue to subjugate that demographic through incarceration, profiling and ubiquitous institutional and cultural bias.

I grew up in a racially diverse neighborhood where white was the minority. I routinely watched cops roll up to the playground across the street from my apartment and harass the kids playing ball, who were mostly Latino and black. This harassment even sometimes extended to roughing the kids up. If any of the kids dared speak back, they were arrested or assaulted (or both). I regularly witnessed cops discharging racial slurs at these kids. My brother, who like me, is white, escaped the lion's share of this treatment by the cops. As a teenager, my brother also smoked pot, did graffiti, got in trouble at school for truancy, and even shoplifted a couple of times. Like most urban teen males, my brother engaged in a lot of mouthy posturing. And if he had been ruthlessly pursued at night, his character back then suggests that he might have easily swung at his pursuer. And he wouldn't have deserved a bullet in his heart for doing so...

I myself have been chased in my neighborhood, by other teens. I have also been stalked and followed as an undergraduate, more than once, walking home on my campus. I have turned around at times to confront the person following me. I have pushed people, Punched people. I have made use of my pepper spray. Luckily, I am still alive.

But then again, I am a white female.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Pursuit of Beauty

"That’s how we find our way outward and onward. By holding onto beauty hardest. By cradling it like the cure that it is." - Cheryl Strayed (as "Dear Sugar" for the Rumpus)

Last summer, no matter how bone-weary I was after work or whether it was muggy enough to make my shirt cling to my back with sweat, I still would trek most days to the pond near my home to watch the sunset. Even as mosquitoes bit my ankles and lightning streaked the sky, I would stubbornly stand there and let the mauve and lavender hues take over my sight. I stayed there till I was bathed in twilight and the crickets would tell me it was time to go make dinner. Then I would make my way home on the bike path in the half-dark, led by the heavy scent of lilacs.

I live in the Boston area, but unlike most of my friends I opted to move to a more suburban town. One of the reasons I moved to Arlington was to be near Spy Pond, an oasis left over by the melting of the last ice age, a remnant of an ancient time that has endured the onslaught of urbanization. Even though summer is my least favorite season, I am fond of watching the sunset at Spy Pond. Born in Brooklyn in an area lacking much in trees or natural bodies of water, my mind has always hunted beauty. This tireless hunt is what made me voracious for books and music as an adolescent, what has always made me adore animals and express that adoration from the time I could talk. It is the hunger and pursuit of beauty that kept me sane even as I lived for years in suffocatingly close quarters with a woman who was not.

In a recent two year time span (2010-12), I lost three-fourths of my family unit, to cancer and kidney disease. My mother and grandmother died only a few months apart, and my grandfather just last August. My maternal grandparents raised me; my mother was more like the crazy aunt, but still she was my blood and at one point there had been love there before the drugs turned her mean. To add to the losses, after the deaths of my mother and grandmother, but shortly before my grandfather passed, I separated from my partner of nine years.

When you are with someone for close to a decade, and have lived with them for nearly a third of that time, it is more like a divorce than a break-up, complete with a palimony payment agreement and the bitter splitting of once co-owned assets and animals.

Months later, AAA and Audubon membership cards still bearing both our names arrived at my new address. People sent thank you cards addressed to the both of us for attending their weddings, and I tried (and sometimes succeeded) in not giving in to the twinge of bitterness I could feel prickling my pulse. A few months later, when my grandfather died, I did not notify my ex, even though he was the one with me when I last saw my grandfather alive, at the hospital after heart surgery and hooked up to the dialysis machine. Even if he was the one who held my hand and told me he would be there for me, but broke it off a week later, he won't (and does not to this day) know that the man he wished well has long since died. And I still struggle to understand how two people once so close cannot share this knowledge, how something other can death can cause such a deep divide, even as it seems I should as a child of divorce who has been disowned by her own parents more than once. I struggle with it even harder now after recently losing someone else I loved and not understanding how you can go from speaking every day and being each other's source of joy, to being as distant as strangers.

But still, last summer I stumbled to Spy Pond every night to watch the advancing dusk. I checked out poetry books from the library, and sat up late listening to music. I invited love in even after losing it. My heart hunted beauty under the ravages of desperate loss to remind me that despite all the death around me, I was and am still alive. And this summer, I will be making my nightly excursions to the pond again, seeking solace and beauty among the swans as the sun sets.

And really, that's all I can do.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How to Go Green for the Holidays

It's that time of year again! Eggnog, stocking stuffers, and presents...for many this is the best or worst time season. Unfortunately, the past few decades have seen a ramp up in the commercialism of the holiday and Christmastime could almost be called Consumer-time.

So here is is, a few simple tips on how to be easy on the Earth this Christmas:

1. Stop Shopping!

Okay, okay. So this isn't exactly easy, but buying has become ingrained in our society as everything from a balm for our deepest woes, to a quick fix. Of course, gift giving is part of the Christmas tradition, so I am not saying don't get your kids or parents ANY presents. I just think we tend to overdo it. Keep it to one or two gifts, and make those gifts thoughtful. Even if you cannot resist the shopping spirit, read on about how to make your shopping methods more sustainable.

2. Shop Secondhand or from Locally-Owned Stores!

Shopping secondhand supports recycling. Truth is, we are running out of resources, for just about everything, whether it be cotton for clothes, metals for electronics, and of course, the water that goes into growing and/or mining and harvesting for materials to make our stuff. Buying secondhand items eases demand on the need to keep making new items and thereby slows demand on further developing land and squandering water and other resources. It also support recycling and is a way to avoid supporting sweatshop and slave labor (which, quite honestly, is the labor that produces the bulk of the stuff we buy). Despite what some believe, shopping secondhand doesn't mean poor quality. I have found everything from rare first or second edition books of modern classics at used book stores, to an awesome pair of suede boots that everyone thought I spent a month's rent on, all for the most bargain prices.

For electronics, it is especially important to try to buy secondhand, as heavy metal mining is a major cause of armed conflict overseas and causes incredible environmental devastation. Some websites, like Amazon and DotCells, offer used electronics in very good or mint condition, many with warranties in place (or for just an extra $40, you can purchase a warranty with Square Trade on Amazon).

Many vintage or consignment shops are mom and pop operations, so you will be supporting the local economy. When you buy from more mainstream thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, a portion of your proceeds are going to a great cause. If you do buy new, try buying from locally-owned stores. Even though upfront costs may be higher, you are putting your dollar directly into communities. Big box stores like Walmart and Target may have cheaper products, but their existence erodes local economies. Finally, for mail order, if you want a product that is organically produced and sweatshop-free, check out Green America's National Green Pages!

3. Combine trips or stay within walking distance for shopping!

A lot of traveling already goes on for the holidays, so for your shopping try to get it done all in one day or weekend. Combining trips cuts down heavily on carbon emissions, especially if you map it all out beforehand to take the most direct routes. Better yet, if you have the ability to, shop only those stores within walking distances or along your local public transportation routes. Another idea: again, if you think you might be doing a lot of driving, it might be better to shop online.

4. Go for the "experience" gift instead of the "stuff" gift, or the "need" instead of the "want"

As was explored in the "Story of Stuff" we Americans are obsessed with STUFF. Clothes, gadgets, cars...but we're less happy with other countries. A more sustainable gift idea, but still one that is rewarding, is the "experience" gift: a dinner and movie, a play, a massage, a trip to a bed and breakfast, a day skiiing. Most adults won't complain getting gifts like these, and not only does it avoid straining resources, but it creates better memories than, perhaps, the latest iPhone. On another note, when buying stuff, really honing in on something that is needed, like that really warm jacket or boots that serve a practical purpose, as well as looking good, serves twofold in both appeasing the needs and wants of the person you are giving to.

5. Forego the Gift-wrap!

Sorry, but gift-wrap is, quite plainly, is a waste...tens to hundreds of thousands of trees are cut to make wrapping paper. Not only that, most wrapping paper is generally not recyclable. This doesn't mean you can't dress your gift. There are plenty of eco-friendly alternative to wrapping. I am a big fan of using newspaper or magazine pages, often the funnies or other colorful advertisements (a + if the newspaper of magazine itself was published on recycled paper, which many are). This kind of paper is also recyclable. Another idea is to use a gift bag or box for the gift and reuse it every year. I have a gift box I have been using for the past several years, that I reclaim after my friend opens his or her gift. Saves paper, saves time, saves the environment. Easy breezy. A final idea is fabric. There are fabrics sold specifically to use in place of wrapping paper, or simple fabrics bought at a store. This adds an extra gift to the person's gift and is definitely more pleasing in texture and aesthetics and the tearing open of paper and the littered floor afterwards.

6. Get Rid of the Tree, or Source it Carefully!

We have enough deforestation without the cutting down of trees every year to put in our homes for a few weeks before throwing them out. Granted, many of the trees come from tree farms, which are regrown every year, so there is an argument that this is a carbon-neutral renewable resource. But many trees are left curbside after New Year's (a really sad sight if you ask me and one that symbolizes how we use and discard nature so frivolously at times), and left to rot in landfills. Many trees come from farms that use pesticides and herbicides that harm the soil, and your health when you bring them inside. Not to mention, these farms use up land that might better be purposed for real forests or food crops. So, think twice before you get that tree! If you do buy a tree, make sure to get it from an organic tree farm, and compost it afterwards. Or, consider buying a living tree. A fake tree is more sustainable in that it can be used every years for decades, but they also require materials and harsh chemicals to produce. I would say buying a fake tree from a second hand store or a living/potted tree might be the best option.

7. Consider Not Traveling

Sure, everyone loves to see family and old friends for the holidays. But we do sure put in a lot of carbon to get where we're going. Even if you can't see not visiting your far-away family, try to arrange traveling time when you're less likely to be stuck in gridlock (earlier or later than the bulk of when people travel), making sure to use the most direct route when it's the least crowded, or maybe suggesting you all meet in the middle somewhere for Christmas. Sometimes, too, I think there's this pressure to go home or places even when we don't want to, and if that's the case, there's nothing wrong with a Christmas in your own home!

8. Consider a Meatless or Red Meat-Free Christmas

It's true. Meat production is a major contributor to climate change, surpassing transportation as one of the main emitters. It's also a huge contributor to extinction of other animals, and pollution of our land, water and air, not to mention the premiere reason we are deforesting the Amazon. Even if you have no plans of going vegetarian in your life, try seizing this season of thinking about the wider world outside your doorstep and eat lower on the food chain. That doesn't mean you have to be stuck chewing raw celery. There are many great vegetarian and vegan dishes available, from rissoto-stuffed acorn squash, to baked lasagna, that are delicious and hardy.

9. Foster or Adopt a Companion Animal

I always feel the need to slip this in. If you are allergy-free, and have a home that admits pets, consider adding a new family member to your home. If you don't want the long-term commitment, but still have the room and love animals, there are plenty of shelters and rescue groups in any area of the U.S., always looking for foster homes. They will pay for the food and doctor visits, you offer the love and care. It's a win-win.

10. Charity!

Christmas is about giving, but not necessarily just gift giving to your own circle. Let's remember there's a lot of other people out there without homes or reliable food sources, and give to charity. If you feel like you don't need that banging new pair of boots or the latest iPad, ask others to give a gift card in your name.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Occupy This: Why We Should Remain Stalwart in the Face of Eviction

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule, then they fight you, then you win."-Gandhi

Sound familiar? Gandhi's quote can be applied to just about every movement that sought to break new ground in social evolution, from the suffragists to the civil rights movement and now to the occupy movement. I didn't really hear hardly anything about the Occupy Wall St. Movement from the mainstream media for the first few weeks it was going on. Not until it really began gaining steam and other occupy encampments started springing up across the country and even abroad. Then, the pundits chimed in, especially Fox News, which had a field day decrying the college kids that make up the majority of the movement as lazy spoiled brats and old hippie stoners who couldn't zone in on a single topic.

And then came the violence, including the fractured skull of Scott Olsen, an Iraq war vet, by a tear canister flung into the crowd by police at Occupy Oakland. And by now, we've all seen the endless streaming of footage of peaceful protesters being blasted with pepper spray and tear gas.

Last night I watched live on the news as the midnight deadline to decamp Occupy Boston approached. It came and went without incident. There were no mass arrests, no conflict. I am glad it went on peacefully and the protesters held their ground (the the camp has significantly shrunk since last night, now down to about 40 campers) that night. I think the strategy was to tire the protesters out, let them think they had their last stand and then as the numbers shrunk, I think Mayor Menino will send the cops in quietly one night when there are no camera crews to catch the incident.

When the court order came for the campers to disband, it stated that the Constitutional right to free speech doesn't not include occupation. There is a chilling irony here. Back in the beginning of 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that their money is speech....So, let's get this straight, common laypeople who have suffered the brunt of the economic collapse (due greatly to the increasing corporatism of our society) do not have the right to peacefully occupy public spaces in protest of our government's wrong doings under freedom of speech, but corporations can offer unlimited campaign contributions and advertisement money to the politicians' who heed their interests under that right? Obviously, the deck has been stacked against us.

Since day one, opponents of the Occupy movement have attacked is as being incohesive and having no common goals or demands. But this isn't really true. The Occupy movement has been extremely shrewd and streamlined in their networking and communications among their individual encampments and with other encampments, and carried on the democratic process in an open, inclusive, and transparent manner that Congress could learn from. In less than two months, Occupy Boston had a functional kitchen, library, clothing barter system, and a print newspaper. They offered assistance to the homeless and the wayward and gave frustrated and downtrodden citizens a forum to vent their woes and think proactively about ways to solve our society's deepest ills.

And the demands, though there has been some deviance and versatility, show astounding uniformity, despite claims to the contrary. Throughout the movement I've seen much of the same demands: end corporate personhood and establish campaign reform, hold Wall Street legally and financially accountable for its actions that led to the 2008 economic meltdown for which the majority of us are still suffering, consider student loan forgiveness and the availability of more accessible and affordable higher education, and offer universal healthcare (or at least a form of affordable, accessible, and equitable healthcare).

There's been a lot of evidence to suggest the crackdowns and subsequent closings at the encampments were a concerted, collaborative effort among city and town governments with the aid of federal entities, which wouldn't surprise me. The reasons to force the shut down of the camps have been cited as fear for health, sanitation or safety. I wish I could see even a small percentage of this effort to end the camps put toward ending other violations in health and safety, such as the environmental hazards of mountain-top removal, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or the millions of people who die or are impoverished due to a lack of good health care and/or education. But alas, the people on top have different priorities.

Those college kids have a right to be angry. They have graduated saddled with enormous debt and poor (if any) job prospects. Unlike their parents and grandparents, they have to put off the assets and advantages of adulthood, such as buying a home and starting a family, and many of them have to go live back at home. They are screamed at that they should "get a job" when statistics show there are not many jobs out there to even get and those that do pay poorly and have little to no benefits.

Let's get something straight: no one gets to be successful completely by themselves. This is why people born to richer families and access to better health care, education, and other resources, are more likely to be successful, and those born into poorer circumstances tend to be less healthy, not as well educated, and therefore not able to rise above their class. Sure, there are those on each side who manage to defy whatever their circumstances were and rise above or sink below it. But for the most part, these stats hold true. Those who do rise from nothing, even if their family was poor, still had some help or luck along the way, whether they want to see it that way or not. And the rich corporations get rich by consolidating money and hoarding it. How do multi-billion dollar corporations like WalMart, McDonald's, and Exxon able to keep up and keep increasing their annual profits? Simple: pay your manual workers shit, hire more people part-time so not only can they not make ends meet with this job, but you have an excuse to deny them benefits, and make sure to evade environmental and other laws by exploiting loopholes to scrimp on expenses. And Congress helps them do it. CONGRESS IS COMPLICIT.

I used to work in the environmental non-profit sector. After receiving my Master's I wanted to jump back into this sector (with hopefully a hire level position and salary). But when I started interviewing, all of the groups said the same thing to me: that Congress members (and we're talking the ones with the better environmental records, mostly Democrats) wouldn't vote for any climate change legislation that coal and oil companies wouldn't agree to, and that we (environmental groups) then also had to compromise our values. So, the groups basically said flat out that they would sell out to get a bill passed on climate even if it didn't help the problem, even if it might make things worse (what with giveaways to industries on such red herrings as clean coal and carbon credit markets). This is when I knew the American people were losing, when the betrayal was so blatant that it was said outright and even the groups that were to fight for us, were giving up before the fight began.

Make no mistake, right now, corporations rule our country. They are the pimps and the Congressional reps are their bitches. They get the final say. And it's up to us to keep up the Occupy Movement or else things will only get worse. We don't have the money, but we have our voices and we have our bodies, and they should be used as instruments.

As Wendell Berry said at a moving speech he gave this fall in Cambridge (regarding why he has continued to protest strip mining even though it's still been going on for the 30 years he's been active on the issue): "It's not just about winning, though I do it with the hope of winning. It's about decency, and the obligation to make a stand for decency and refusing to accept indecency as the norm."

Let's not back down.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Thanksgiving Thought: Time to Combat Hunger in Children

This past August, ABC news reported that nearly 17 million children nationwide are struggling with food insecurity. These children, though not quite starving, live in a near-constant state of hunger and subsist on (sometimes much) lower amounts of daily nutrition than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends. Hunger can lead to greater susceptibility to all sorts of diseases and can stunt intellectual capacity and even physical growth in growing bodies.

Considering we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, this number is pitiful. There is no reason why even one child, much less 17 million, should suffer from persistent hunger. Despite this staggering number, Congress is currently debating whether or not to cut programs such as WIC and food stamps for families who are already having trouble making ends meet. Many of the same Republicans who favor these programs also favor extension of tax cuts for the mega-rich. Go figure.

Well, it's time to face hunger. Though most of us are struggling there is always something we can do. Most grocery stores have charity bins set up where you can place non-perishable food items for the holiday season. Please consider donating anything you can spare. Another way to help is by volunteering at a soup kitchen, or again donating food to it or a local food bank. You can even offer a seat at your own dinner table to a neighbor or lonely senior citizen you know is having a hard time. Even a dollar can make a difference, so donate what you can, whether it be money, time, or other goods and services. The only way we'll get past this hump our society is in, is when we start understanding and acting like we are all in this together.

Here is a link with some resources for ways to give this week:

And have a Great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Look, New Updates, New Projects--Same Mission

It's been awhile since I have posted, but I am finally back! It was a hard year for me, with multiple illnesses and deaths in my immediate family and among close friends, so I needed to take some time to reflect and focus on myself, but now I am ready to start writing. As you can see, I have changed the design of my blog and plan to start fresh. I plan to post more regularly, offering environmental and political commentary, as well as personal and professional reflections. There is now an option to subscribe to my blog by e-mail and I will be sending out a newsletter to those who are interested.

On writing the front, I have been very busy with my freelancing and teaching writing workshops for kids and teens. I am currently a contributing editor on a text book on sustainability for a 10th grade curriculum. Earlier this summer, I had an article published in Earth Island Journal about wolves in Yellowstone. Also around that same time, the Union of Concerned Scientists finally launched their Climate Hot Map, which featured several articles I authored on the effects of climate change in specific geographical regions (specifically, I wrote the articles for Alaska, Canada and Siberia) as well as a dozen or so of which I completed revisions/rewrites. The map is a useful tool for helping people understand how climate change is really affecting us in certain parts of the world, and how it will continue to affect us in the future based on how much fossil fuels we still use. It puts a human face on the issue.

Just this week, I was the featured reader at a popular poetry series in Cambridge. Not only was it a great evening, but I sold about a half-dozen chapbooks and made a decent profit in donations. I also had some poems featured in the wonderful new online literary journal, Amethyst Arsenic, which was founded by a friend. I also have a poem about my grandmother forthcoming in the summer issue of the Naugatuck River Review, which is due out in the next week or so.

On the activist front, I just launched a new blog called Straw-Free Somerville, for which I intend to post actions and updates of/on my latest efforts to urge restaurants and grocers in Somerville and the surrounding areas to phase out/drastically reduce their use of plastic drinking straws and other single-use plastic items. Check it out at:! Suggestions for actions welcome!

More to come soon!

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