Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Just Say No


I am notoriously bad at setting boundaries. Or keeping them, for that matter. This is especially true if it comes to time, money, or emotionally draining people. I could cite any number of examples, but suffice it to say in the last three months, I have twice given money to people who have not even been bothered to be nice to me in recent times, or even not so recent times. Last week I gave three months notice to a job for which I work only one hour a week, but managed to let them coax three unpaid hours of time out of me to train someone who they are not sure they will actually hire. Also, I have a client that is rude, monopolizes my time, and generally makes me feel badly that I continue to instruct because, well, I'm not sure. Mostly, I feel bullied, like a school kid that just wants people to like her. Contrary to what you might think, I did not get a sense of satisfaction, of holding the moral high ground, or of compassionate sainthood from these deeds. In fact, they made me feel worse for knowing that I had been taken advantage of, that I am unable to stand up for myself, and that I value the wrong peoples opinions of me. And you know what? People do like me, not all of them, but plenty enough for a happy life. So, what does one do? Stop being charitable? Stop giving to people in need? Stop helping out? No. Of course not. But I m determined to change to whom I gift my time and energy. I can give money and time to strangers, charitable organizations, or even just people who bother to say thank you and feel much better about the world and myself in it. As for the boundaries, one thing at a time.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Air Out There


Last May I wrote about the Keeling Curve, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and the climate-related feedback processes associated with it. Today, the carbon dioxide concentration is 401 ppm, 350 ppm is the "healthy threshold". It has been like this for some time. I think about this, and I think about the pollen count, the nicotine vapor from the ecigarette next to me, the smoke rising from the local saw mill, the fumes at the gas station. Then I think about the murky air over LA, the hard-to-see athletes at the Beijing Olympics, and the Suracha factory being sued. I think about what I am breathing in every day, and I quietly apologize to my lungs for the many ways in which I have been unkind to them in the past. I thank them for their service to me, that they stick in there, that they let me dance and run and sing and laugh. I take a deep breath, and another, closing my eyes and savoring evening air. I think that it could be sweeter, cleaner. I think about the fact that everything we put into the air stays there, that air pollution is like fouling your own pool. I think that we could all take some action, do some thing. I think that ultimately, we will all want to take another breath.

To read about climate projects:

Monday, April 28, 2014

In Other Words


Shakespeare invented more than 1500 words or turns of phrase. He gave us words to describe the majesty of the world, like gloomy, radiance, and moonbeam and the simple and ordinary things, like eyeball and bedroom. What is interesting to me about this fact, beyond linguistic prowess or creative genius, is the simplicity of how he created them. For the most part, it was through tinkering, mashing words up against one another, turning nouns into verbs or adding a suffix, it was word play, really, and a necessity for someone working within the confines of pentameters and such. But it is a reminder, isn't it? Of the value of tinkering, the testing of limits, and the trying of new things. Today it reminds me to use all of my building blocks and all of my devices. Maybe I can make something entirely new.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Take A Breath


Sometimes life hands us people that work very hard to diminish us. Bullys, show-offs, people entrenched in competition or one-upsmanship, and people that hold grudges. These people might talk behind our backs, steal our ideas or thunder, or diminish us right to our faces. They can eat us up and break us down and make us forget how many people really love and value us. The trick, I think, is to pay them no mind at all. The trick, is to just let karma set it's own course and turn our attentions to more productive voices. The trick, it to treat them like what they are, allergens that fill the air around us and kick start our defense mechanism and stress responses. So go ahead, filter those people, their word and actions right out. And I mean literally. Stop hanging out with that friend that drags you down. Set some boundaries with that pushy coworker. Filter anyone who does not make you happy out of your social media feed. Stop going to the weekly thing you go to where that toxic person is, you can find another weekly thing that doesn't stress you out. Filter your social space just like you filter your air. It works.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

You Caring


Maybe it's just life. Maybe it's inching towards middle age. Maybe it's social media giving us too vivid a glimpse into one another's lives. But after years of graduations and weddings and baby showers, the news from out there has taken a distressing turn. Last year, I lost an old college friend to recurring brain cancer, the kind that comes with years of surgeries and brave recoveries, each one just a little less than the one before. This year, I have three friends with sites like You Caring or Caring Bridge, places you can go to donate money, time, or a cooked meal to them and their family while they go through chemo or recover from some other such awful thing. Maybe it's just life. Maybe it's middle age. Maybe if this was twenty years ago I would be shrouded in ignorant bliss. Maybe not. Maybe I or someone much closer to me will be next. Maybe I should take better care of myself, give up the last of my vices, or meditate more or get genetic screening. Maybe it's all a crap shoot. But I can say, that in some bizarre twist fate and irony, it is the strong and good people in my life that are being handed these challenging roads to walk.

I wonder what it is that we are to learn from it all.

To contribute to the talented mother and actress pictured above who is bravely fighting an aggressive breast cancer click the link. Thanks.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Souvenirs of Things That Didn't Happen


A very long time ago when I was only about six or seven years old, still small enough to be collecting things like teddy bears, I received a strange gift from a friend of the family. I remember even at the time thinking it was odd, since it was a souvenir from a trip he never took to an Olympics, which for the US at least, never happened. And it was ugly, sort of, like most things designed for the Olympics, which always manage to be a little tacky. It was a small bear, made out of some kind of squishy plastic or foam and he carefully wrapped it in a plastic bag and told me to keep it there until I got older, that it would be worth something someday because it was an American souvenir for the games, but because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Carter had pushed through an unpopular boycott. It was odd, and a little creepy to be given a gift I wasn't allowed to use or even really look at, but apparently, I did just that. And this week, I found it. According to Ebay, it's worth about twenty bucks. That's it. I have apparently packed and repacked that thing through every stage of my life and dutifully kept in in near pristine condition to the tune of twenty dollars. And you know what I did? I put it back in the bag. So it goes.

To read Politicos synopsis of the Olympic boycott:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blame the Trees


It has been three weeks since a massive landslide buried the small town of Oso, Washington. Hope of rescue is gone, though salvage work remains as residents work to recover the remnants of their lives. This week the State of Washington will hold it's first public forum on the redevelopment of Highway 530 which rums along the base of the slide deposit. Washington is used to landslides. Washington is trying to move on.

The rest of the nation though, is apparently still astounded by the reality of geology happening in real time, regardless of human engineering. The Huffington Post ran an article yesterday claiming that the slide was not a natural disaster at all, but the direct result of irresponsible and outdated logging. The article went on to claim that logging is a silent industry that operates in the shadows without regulation or public comment. 

And while they are correct, the clear cutting of the slopes above Oso did contribute to the slide, so did years of human behavior that contributed to climate change, resulting in the wettest March on record. The logging industry does not operate in the shadows to anyone living in the Pacific Northwest, here it is big news. Big, and constant news. But the housing market has turned around, and businesses are booming, and little notice is paid to logging issues outside the region. Fly into Oregon sometime and insist that clear cuts are hidden.

It is tempting to simplify the events in Oso, to find a singular factor on which to place blame, especially if it suits your value system or politics. But the reality is that it is more complicated than that. We do not have the kind of control of nature we would like to claim. We still call floods natural disasters even when they are caused by poor choices in engineering and development and climate change we have brought upon ourselves. We need to start to look at these events with open eyes, and see the diversity of factors, many of which are within our control, that contribute to them. Start with the science.

To watch a USGS simulation of the slide, estimated to have taken less than ninety seconds from start to finish:

To read the Huffington Post article:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Of Friends and Lovers


Sometimes words fall out of common, or even uncommon usage. Often this linguistic loss is barely noted by the general public, with our propensity for the formation and favor of new words. And then there are times that I find myself searching, looking for an adequate expression of some thing that shouldn't take five words to describe but always seems to. It makes me wish for a reverse dictionary, in which you could look up your meaning and find the word. Sometimes, I stumble across it anyway, and discover a new or forgotten term that satisfies the searching. Today this word is kith, as in, "of kith and kin." Kith is the collection of our unrelated family, our chosen kin. It is a good word, and a good reminder of the important role that long-term friends and companions have in our lives, kith, the people who stand by us, who lift us up in times of need, make us laugh, share our dreams, our highs and lows, not because they were born to it, but because they choose it.

The Word A Day Website:


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Call to Artists

Girl Gone Wild is actively seeking projects from all mediums to showcase to a broader audience. I am looking especially for under-represented artists, authors, musicians and activists with projects that are compelling, compassionate, address social or political issues, or are just plain amazing. Do you have a project that you think is a good fit with Girl Gone Wild? Read the blog, then go to and send me a brief description of your work and a link to your project. I will be interviewing and writing about a project a week for the next several months and would love to hear from you. Please share this opportunity with others!

Also, a taste of a previous, proto-profile:


There is a quiet revolution taking place in popular music led by artists interested in both the evolution of digital sound and the complexities offered by the rhythms and melodies of traditional cultural music. Pushing past the early pioneers of fusion, Paul Simon's Graceland, for example, recent bands such as Beirut and Beats Antique have eschewed any sense of Americanism and instead have modernized and digitized old-world sounds. Now, bands like Black Magdalene are taking the strong vocals and dominant guitar and bass that characterizes American rock and layering it with North African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European rhythms, sounds, and mythology to create a wholly new, and wholly modern sound. They call it Organic Darkwave.



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fresh Starts


The garden starts are in. Even though the fog still wraps around the house and and the sun is still too low in the sky to quite reach through the trees, what little sun there is, the starts are in the ground. They stand at weary attention in their too-large pots, waiting for the sun, for rain, for the long light of summer days. I too, stand rooted in my pot, waiting to break through.

Do not be fooled by our apparent stillness. From the inside there is great movement occurring, a minute and constant dance. Roots reach, stalks thicken, leaves inexorably unfurl. With time, there will be a bloom and a harvest. Just wait.

And this, from Girl Gone Wild, the proposal for which is going out this week. So please, if you read, share, repost, or retweet. Be a root.


It is 6 am and I am sitting on the front stoop of my apartment with my hiking boots on waiting for a a guy I met at a bicycle event in a local brewery two days earlier. I am newly single, in my late twenties, and living in Portland, This means that I am accustomed to brew pubs, bicycle boys, and first dates that involve hiking. The six am is new. But this man seems nice, and has a long history of mountaineering and rock climbing, and wants to get an early start. In my mind I have chalked this up to being “hard core”. I also want to be “hard core” and also prove to my ex that I can still have outdoor adventures without him. Especially with men more hard core than himself. I figured that mountain climber beat kayaker and hiker any day. Besides, its going to be a beautiful sunny Saturday in late summer, the trails will be packed if we don’t get an early start, I quietly reason with myself, he’s just being practical.

We have chosen a hike called Angels Rest, aptly named for the spectacular view of the Columbia River Gorge from the rocky crag at the top of the trail. It is a moderate day hike, five miles with a steep climb over the loose rock of a crumbling basalt flow. When we arrive at the trail head we grab our mostly empty backpacks, containing little more than water and a light lunch and head out of the parking area. At the trail head he stops saying, “Hold on, I need to grab some weight.” And he reaches down and starts loading softball sized chunks of basalt into his pack. “I really want to stay in shape for my next ascent.” He says, barely looking up as he continues to shove rocks into his pack. Great, I think. This guy is nuts.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

See Jane


There is a powerful new voice in dark art emerging out of Eugene, Oregon. Jaded Jane is an assemblage of images and stories that are both beautiful and distressing. Jaded Jane is is about bad memories, pain, and long-held secrets; it is about abuse, violence, and neglect. More importantly, it is about solace.

The creator of the site is dedicated to giving voice to people in search of outlet and catharsis. I spoke with her recently in her studio in Eugene, a vast expanse of white-washed industrial walls that stand in stark contrast to her dark imagery. She explained that the project emerged as a way to address agency in the face of terrible events. "People come to me with these extreme experiences. So many of them have slipped through the cracks and often there is little to no therapy. You listen to these stories and go, I don't know what to do with this." She says. "So I think, okay, what does this look like?"

Once the idea for an image set has formed a team of Jaded Jane artists, all volunteers, goes about the construction of the elaborate visual design that characterizes the project's aesthetic. Custom couture clothing, hair and makeup, set design, it is all donated by talented, compassionate, and discreet local artists. Not everyone can work on a project like this. There have been problems, print shops that balk at printing such hard to look at images, submerged women curled around stereos in tiny bath tubs, an image of a chili pepper being inserted into a baby doll's behind. "We have had people that didn't want to print the work, but we called and spoke to them about the project and explained what we do and they changed their minds. I know these images are difficult, but art needs experience to have meaning. I make images that beg for context because they are so disturbing." And there is the personal process of the story teller. "I always ask the person why they want these images. Is it to purge? Is it to hang in your house? Or do you just want me to make it so you can burn it? I think there are a lot of reasons to want to do this."

You can see the Jaded Jane images in person and meet the creator this month at the Bossa Nova Ballroom in Portland as part of a RAW Artists event and visit it anytime online to view, support, or share your story.


Friday, April 4, 2014

All Troubles Are Troubles


An old friend going through a life experience that pretty much makes the rest of us feel like whiners about whatever it is we are facing had this to share with us:

Some days its easier than others to recognize that all troubles, no matter how trifle comparatively, are troubles. Its okay to feel that way. Its okay to recognize a broken nail as a trouble, a forest fire, a difficult to cash check, a long light, a ship wreck...etc. All troubles. All important in their way. If we try to pretend all things are insignificant in comparison to something else, we miss part of this experience. Instead, I measure troubles in the moment and honor them all before moving on.

Validating and true. Comparison and judgement do nothing to help us down our paths. Rather, they cast shadows and lead us into the tangled brambles of self judgement, doubt, and fear. There is no way round your challenges, only through. So face them, one by one.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What Lies Beneath


The recovery dig in Oso, Washington continues this week. Flood waters caused by the damming of the river with landslide debris are beginning to recede as the river reestablishes it's course and as they do, they take with them a toxic mess of chemicals, effluents, and wastes. The landslide, in upending the community, also upended cans of oil and paint, antifreeze, fertilizer, gasoline, medications and sewage from septic tanks. As in many natural disasters, the the site itself has become a hazard to those working it and downstream of it. And it is not just the release of toxic materials to the water causing the health risk, the very nature of standing water, and the odd stew of modern life that steeps in it is enough to foster illness in those that remain to pick up the pieces. It is an unfortunate and ironic irony. Looking at the torn pile of debris, roof beams, cars, mattresses, and televisions encased in mud, it is hard to imagine they will find anything useful. It is hard to imagine they will find a person. Perhaps it is time to consider the cost of recovery work, especially in terms of emotional toll health risk to workers. Those that were lost were, tragically, buried in place, so what is it that we are looking for?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Long Moment


More than a week after the massive landslide in Oso, Washington relatives and search crews are still digging. They are no longer looking for survivors, though you can see the pain of not-yet-faded hope on their faces and hear the words "rescue and recovery" still lingering on their lips. Even so, they keep digging. For lost relatives, pets, pieces of home, or just to have something to do, a kind of agency in the face of natural happenstance. There is little being found in the big dig. Instead, events like these remind us of just how very small we are in comparison to the larger natural world, that no amount of engineering will ever really purchase us the control of nature.

What is emerging though, is a picture of the last moments, an elderly couple reading the paper on the couch before having their home swept 100 feet towards the river, the husband digging out to safety, but unable to reach his wife, contractors out of Seattle, just working for a day, that never returned home. And a landslide with its own character, with it's own story to tell. As data is compiles and evaluated the slide itself takes shape. An example; seismic data shows ground movement occurring in two distinct phases occurring within minutes of each other, two failures and two distinct deposits that are visible in the aerial photographs occurring within five minutes of one another. 

Five minutes between the first event and the second. I wonder about those minutes, the things that may have transpired. In time, we will get a picture of those minutes too, for whatever it is worth. For now, they dig.


To read more about the two-phase seismic signal from the landslide: