Sunday, June 12, 2016

The bird and the bee

Every morning I wake up and look out the window for a while, wondering how I am and what to do next.  Should I get up again today, just like all the other days?  What's going to happen?  What do I care most about in this moment?  And so far, every day I do get up.  But while I'm lying there looking out the window, I always see one crow flying across my field of view.

I see the bird in the left window, as shown here.

But the bird never makes it to the window on the right.  I lay there and wonder about this every morning.   Does the bird bank left in a precise arc, every single morning, at the same place?  Or spiral up on purpose, to avoid the second window?  Or do a complete about face?  (About face.  That's a weird term.)

This has moved from something I just think about fleetingly in the morning, to something I'm kind of obsessed with.  I draw diagrams trying to figure it out, and in general, spend way too much time on it.

Where does the bird going so predictably every morning?  It's weird, like s/he has a job that starts just after sunrise, even on the weekends.  And s/he flies the same route  every day.  Does the bird think about me too, and wonder if I ever get up?  Probably not, but then again, I doubt the bird knows I'm wondering about his/her absence from the second window.  He/she may assume that disappearing act goes unnoticed.   I've begun to wonder if there's a layer of commuting going on outside that I'm not keyed in to: the bugs and insects and rabbits, all coming and going on predictable schedules and routes that I just haven't noticed yet.  I just notice the one bird.  

I also think a lot about my one new bee, but that's for another post.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The fish with arms

Pisces (2/19 – 3/20):  I have a huge crush on Oliver Sachs because he's brilliant and generous and creative.  The only obstacles between us are that he's gay, old, and dead.  So I must content myself with reading Gratitude, which has lead me to remember how much I love the periodic table.  And how little I really know about it.  That is about to change, Pisces.  

Aries (3/21 - 4/19):  I'm still thinking about the chemical footprint that we leave everywhere we go.  I'm working to make mine as pure and positive as possible.  If I think I'm likely leave bad juju around the planet, I promise to hole up in a tiny bunker for a while, breathing and and thinking and listening to just the right music until I'm safe to go out again.  What if we all kept to ourselves when we couldn't be completely awesome?  Let's do that, Aries.

Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  The other day a lady called, and here's how it went:

Lady: Did you call me?
Me: Um, if I did, I was returning a call. I got a few messages that I replied to earlier today.
Lady: That's not my question. DID YOU CALL ME?
Me: Well, I can't tell for sure while I'm on the phone with you. Did you call someone about wetlands? Because if so, perhaps I called you back.
Lady: Please answer the question. DID YOU CALL ME?
Me: Not on purpose, I guess.
Lady: Are you saying you called me as a wrong number?
Me: That's possible.  I did return a few calls today.  If you think I called you, I suppose I did.
Lady:  Would you swear that it was a wrong number?

And so on.  I kept waiting to see where we were going with it, but it never really went anywhere.  A few days later she called me about a wetland thing, so I think she started it, but I didn't wave that in her face.  Because that would create bad juju, and I'm working hard to minimize that.  I really  don't want to go in time out right now because it's so lovely out.

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): I've been reading books about the holocaust for 20 years now, mostly about rescuers:  people who risked their own lives to protect Jews.  Their values got tested in such a practical way.  They always say they'd rather have died than live with themselves if they hadn't done what they did.  I often wonder if I'd be that person.  But right now, I'm wondering if enough people will vote to keep us from having an angry, volatile, self-centered asshole for president.  If everyone votes, we'll be fine.  Do it, even if you don't get to vote for your first choice.  Because, Gemini, that's what maturity is.  It's about not getting the piece of cake with the pretty frosting flower, and being content, grateful even, with the lesser middle piece.  It's about getting a job that's good enough -- it isn't saving the world in an obvious way, or offering fame and fortune or maybe you don't even get pleasant coworkers.  But it pays the bills, and lets you breathe pure-ish air and drink clean water every day, so you show up and give it your best shot, and try to be a pleasant coworker yourself, and try to make things better in the ways that you can.  That's what its about.  It's about being that person, willing to vote for your second choice because second choice is better than letting the country go down in flames.  That's not selling out, it's grace.  

Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):   I've been trying to slow down on my sudoku playing, because jeez, life is short and how much do we need the humans to be filling the boxes with one through nine?  Don't click on that link, btw.  You will never get anything done ever again.  I have strategies:  the freedom app, and trying to remember that duh, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and fitting 1 - 9 into a grid shouldn't be the main plan.  I've also gone back to the Khan academy to do math.  When I left a while back, they were giving me calculus problems, but for some reason, they've put me back at 4th grade math.  I get a little bored, even though I win a bunch of hit points and badges and have clearly demonstrated that I can tell time.  Is that any better, though?  So now I've moved to Coursera, where I can take free online chemistry classes.  Can you even believe how lucky we are to have the internet, Cancer?

Tiktaalik (ish)

Leo (7/23 – 8/22):  Why that picture, you ask?  I know.  It's a childish representation of Tiktaalik, thought to be the link between fish and amphibians.  A fish with arms!  I'm reading a book about that, super interesting, and it made me want to try to draw it.  I put it up here, Leo, even though it looks like a 7 year old (six?) drew it, because creating is about creating, not about outcome.  Writers write, painters paint.  If we stop making stuff, even for a day, we lose a bit of soul.  Make stuff, let it turn out how it turns out, and enjoy.  Just like your week!

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  When I bought some home made ancient grain bread at the market the other day, I asked the baker if it would change my life, and he said yes, it will, but very slowly.  I think that's the best way.  Just like enlightenment.  It isn't one moment of clarity, but rather, a slow, steady path towards gratefulness, each day slightly more aware of the good fortune we have in our lives.

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):   I decided to make my own ancient grain bread, because if you google, "bread that will change your life", you'll get a bazillion hits, and one of them might just work.  I didn't have the proper ingredients, and I'm not interested in making gluten free stuff.  So I threw a bunch of seeds and grains and gluten and all manner of life-changing stuff into the NINJA, and it came out as a gummy mass, so I added a bit of salt and honey, because why not.  Now I'm baking it at a normal temperature for a long while until it turns into a life-changing hockey puck thing. I'll dip it in coffee or whiskey and I bet it will indeed change my life.  Libra, stop by for some.

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  So while I'm on this cooking kick, I made this.  it's still in progress and I'm pretty sure it won't look like the picture.  It might look more like the missing link between amphians and fish, with a bit of strawberry.  But what's so terrible about that?  Because I'm going to an occasion, and I think that if there's an occasion, you should reach up to try to make something special, and if it doesn't turn out like the picture, oh well.  You still have an occasion.  Have an occasion this week, my dear Scorpio.  (Scorpia?)

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21): So I'm trying to have this parade, and what makes me love our town even more is this:  I got up from the coffee shop, left my computer and stuff there, and walked over to the city office in my rubber boots and yoga pants.  When the woman at the counter asked if she could help me, I said, "Yes, I'd like to have a parade."  And she very politely said, "Let me call someone."  I wasn't sure for a minute if the someone would be a mental health evaluator or what, but it turned out to be the person to talk to if you want to have a parade.  But the main parade in our town was today, and I watched a bit of it.  There was a boy pulling a llama on a leash, and I was surprised by just how slender a llama's neck is, and also, how certain the llama was that it didn't want to march forward.  There were also chickens, and the lady who picks up the trash, and a bunch of marching bands and some kids doing cartwheels.  Not bad.  Sagittarius, your week won't be bad either!  It might even involve cartwheels. 

Capricorn (12/22 - 1/19):   Yeah buddy, it's a short life, it's a hell of a life
it's a mean old world, when you're kicked to the gutter and the firewater is the one thing to put out the flame.  What a great song.  But I think the real point is It's an empty bottle passing around when your hopes and dreams have all burned down.  Create hope.  It doesn't come from outside.

Aquarius (1/20-2/18):  Does it seem like this whole blog post is about trying, doing your best, accepting what comes, and thinking about what integrity looks like?  I know.  It's what I think about these days, wishing we'd all try just a little bit harder.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Chemical Footprint

Pisces (2/19 – 3/20):  This article leaves me amazed.  The gist:  the air in a movie theater takes on a unique measurable chemical signature based on the emotions of the movie-goers.  It isn't surprising, but nice to have it confirmed.  We've all noticed the way our upper lip smells when we cry, and how it smells different for different sorts of tears (or is that just me?).  But still, exciting!  They should do some of this at the RNC and DNC.  And then bottle it, and bury it very very deep in the ground, not near the Columbia River or anything else important.  Fear is in the air. Pisces, don't get caught up in all of that.  Stay solid.  Every single action stems from fear or love.  You know who you want to be.

Aries (3/21 - 4/19):  Wouldn't it be cool if Hilary would include Elizabeth W on her ticket?Help salvage the reputation of the letter W. It would also be cool if Bernie would throw his weight behind H, instead of fighting til the last breath.  Hey, and on a completely different but identical topic, did you see how men sabotage ratings of tv shows that are aimed at women?  What's up with that?  But that analysis is so damn thorough, it's lovely. The take home: averages obscure the truth.  But you, my lovely Aries, are never average.  Rejoice.

Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  I'm trying to organize a parade filled with marching vegetables. Write if you're interested! Because, as we know, the vegetables can't have a parade without our help.  And truly,
people, how hard can it be to dress as a potato for an hour, a year from now?  Not hard at all!  Just say yes!!  And if the life form that occurs to you feels like a vegetable, even though it may not be evident, of course it can be in the parade.  Because that's the way we roll at the March of the Vegetables.  If you think you're a vegetable, by all means, use the vegetarian bathroom.  I stole that picture, btw, from the internet and luckily you can't read Russian, because it says something vulgar.  Start thinking about your float, Taurus!

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): I'm grateful for the protesters who blocked the train tracks and so on, trying to remind us of our precarious, powerful position on the planet, and our dependence on oil.  But getting off oil isn't something we can do at home alone.  Like getting off heroin.  We need help from the top to completely reorganize.

Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):  Does everyone else love RBG as much as I do?  I could read about her all day, and she is one of the rare ones who violates the adage that men gain power as they age, while women lose it.  Be that, Cancer. 

Leo (7/23 – 8/22):  I've been reading this blog that I discovered via Reply All, one of my favorite podcasts because it has the best game, Yes Yes No.  (I'm always No, in case you're wondering.).  The blog is filled with long posts, the sort you'd have time to write if you were in jail and didn't have the internet as a distraction.  Leo, in the future, only people filling out life sentences in maximum security prisons will have the focus to write a book at all.  The internet, which I love like a family member, will be the death of literature.  But one day, just like the King of Hearts movie, the literacy will be released.  Do what you can until then, Leo.

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  I had my hearing tested the other day, and the nurse said it was great.  They want you to hear 25 decibels and up, and she said I hear from 0-5 decibels.  I was smug at first.  It didn't occur to me until later that hearing things in the zero decibel range is, well, a diagnosis.  Are the voices in my head bothering you, Virgo?  "We take The Inside Voice to a whole new level!" is my new motto.

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):  I got more dirt for my garden yesterday, and went to the weird place, the one with broken bags of cat food all over the floor.  It smells sort of like fish, but not in a horrible way.  I got a penny in change, and looked at the year.  
"Hmm, 1974," I said, because it's one of my strategies to get a conversation rolling.   
"Really?  You got 1974?  That was the year of the World's Fair in Spokane! I can't believe you got 1974." 
"Wow.  Would you consider yourself a World's Fair savant?" 
"Not really," he replied sadly.
And that was the end of the that. Claim your savant-hood, Libra, even if its debatable.  

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  I was playing a game of "what if" the other day.  It started with encouraging facts about writers who've been rejected, and on to Abe Lincoln who (can this be true? I'm not googling it) ran for president 7 times before he was elected.  And Marilyn Monroe failed
in her efforts as a model / actress at first because she wasn't pretty enough.  It made me think that I wish she'd have stopped there.  Had she not been an abused beauty, JFK might be alive today, and another thing, Scorp, is that women wouldn't be required by law to wear a pill box hat when they're grieving.  I know.  So don't try too hard.  Just hard enough.

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21): My favorite thing of all is the intersection of science and poetry; here is a beautiful example. Makes me want to get up each morning and look for more.  

Capricorn (12/22 - 1/19):   Here's something a little bit sad.  People are confused about who their friends are.  When creating lists of friends, about half of the people that you think are your friends wouldn't agree.  I don't really believe that, though.  We leave our little chemical imprint in the world, and whether weacknowledge it or not, we know who our people are.  Capricorn, look past all the trappings and believe what you already know.

Aquarius (1/20-2/18):  Back to getting the dirt:  We went outside, me and World's Fair Savant-Guy, and I moved the truck to the location he pointed me to, and then I had to do that thing with the board, which is freaky, exhausting, and I've never heard of it before I started buying dirt at this place, the cash only, cat food on the floor place.  Here's how it works:  you hold a piece of plywood in the air, funneling dirt from the wide bucket into the smaller bed of the truck.  Can you picture that?  The formula for the line that the plywood makes would be, well, I guess you'd express it as Y = 0.5X + 2.  Until your arms get tired and then it's like Y = ).3X + 2 Here's a tip:  Even if  your arms get tired (and they will!), DON'T REST THE BOARD ON YOUR HEAD WHILE THE GIANT BUCKET IS CLANKING DOWN ON IT.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Horoscopes: Loving Bravely. Right?

Pisces (2/19 – 3/20):  I spend a lot of time 

Aries (3/21 - 4/19):  

Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): 

Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):  

Leo (7/23 – 8/22)

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):  

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21)

Capricorn (12/22 - 1/19):   You know how when a pet dies, there's a period of mourning, but people pretty quickly start asking, "are you going to get another dog?"  You aren't ready, you know you aren't, but then an animal shows up in your life and it's your new pet?  (Exactly the same with loved ones.  You're never ready, and then, whoa, the heart expands.)  So, there was a t-shirt on the road that we all loved because it moved around ever-so-slightly every few days, sometimes looking like a possum, sometimes like a shirt, and some days, unclear.  I dunno why we became so fond of it, because after all, it was just an abandoned t-shirt.  But then it disappeared because someone cleaned the road up, and we were inexplicably sad.  We've wondered, privately, "will there ever be another t-shirt? Could we love it the way we loved that first one?" Guess what, Cap?  There's a blue glove on the road now.  I think we can love it, because that's how love goes.  You love something, it disappears, something new shows up.  There's always more.    

Aquarius (1/20-2/18): I learned about a new kind of quack massage therapy that sounds pretty easy, "Bowen therapy" where you draw a circle on someone's back and then leave the room for 5 or 10 minutes to check FB or play sudoku while their "experience is integrated."  You do that a few times and call it good. Kind of like "I draw the keyhole" without all the running about.  It's not very tiring at all for the therapist, I hear.   But Aquarius, it's not about the easy road.  Life is about rowing the boat, actually choosing things, putting effort into them.  That's where the goodness comes from.

Bonus (Alive now):  What do you think of creating a parade called The March of the Vegetables?  Would that make you weep in the very best way?  LMK!

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Second hand friends, second hand smoke

Dear Khortn3e,

I have a friend whom I love dearly, but can be very hard to spend a lot of time with. Lately, most of our conversations turn into arguments, and whenever I disagree with her, she seems to take it very personally. 

I posed the question "How bad really are the effects of second hand smoke?"
 Within moments, I'm feeling attacked for even wondering, and she's saying things like "Well why does it even matter? You sometimes smoke anyways!" I realize any comment I make will lead to high-tension controversy, so I drop it.

This frustration has caused me to disengage from conversations, or keep quiet when I have a differing opinion. It's happening over everything (e.g. "what does half and half contain?"  "Are you taking the bus today?", etc).  When I don't engage in a conversation, (just adding "yeah; cool; oh really?") our communication is excellent, and she seems to really enjoy our time together. 

How do I tell my friend that I feel attacked and uncomfortable? Are we incompatible friends or does one (or both) of us need to alter our communication practices?
Shut Down

P.S. If we were playing the advice column game, I would read this letter and think: "better than." 

Dear Shut Down,

So good of you to write.  I have a lot of theories about what could be going on:
  1. There is unresolved conversational history between you.  Maybe in the past, she felt judged by something you did or said, and hears that repeatedly, no matter what's going on now.  That's the way it goes with unresolved things.  For instance, perhaps one day you said something that made her feel judged for driving her car every day, and now when you innocently ask if she's taking the bus, she hears, "what the hell is wrong with you, driving your car every day when you could be saving the world, taking the bus?" 
  2. There's unresolved history between your friend and the world at large.  She had a judgy little boyfriend, or a mean mama, or something that caused her first chakra to be thrown off.  (Look at me, tossing around chakra stuff!). When anyone says anything, she hears judgement because she feels insecure.  
  3. She isn't a very curious person, and your questions irritate her.  Who cares what's in half and half?  Who cares if there's a threshold for 2nd hand smoke?  
As with all the inter-human problems, it takes two, and the remedy is always the same.  (But you knew that!) Try to have a conversation about it in the most open, loving way you can summon.  Start by owning your shit, as honestly and kindly as possible.  For example, "I love hanging out with you, but sometimes I wonder if my communication style contributes to tension in our friendship.  Is that something we can talk about?" rather than, "Jeez, you take everything the wrong way!"  

At the very least, you'll learn a lot.  Some people aren't up for communicating, and maybe those people aren't a good match to be your friend.  (Says a woman who lives alone with thousands of bees, an imaginary pet rabbit, and 3 deer.)  But you will learn.  If someone can't meet openheartedness with openheartedness, oh well.  You can decide whether "friendship light" is worth it for you.

PS:  I don't think I would say "better than", by the way.  I'd go equal to.  Because this is the basic problem that every one of us has nearly every day in big and small ways:  communication failure.  

PPS:  I don't think it's excellent communication if you just say "yeah" all the time.  She's so missing out!  But you knew that.


Friday, April 8, 2016

How much turmeric is enough? How many r's must we pronounce?

Gigantic box.  Vacuum cleaner and part
of poster of the anterior
view of the human body for scale.
Pisces (2/19 – 3/20):  I purchased fresh turmeric (I just learned that we pronounce both r's) from Amazon, because a friend made me a cup of turmeric tea that was quite delicious and supposedly behaves as an anti-inflammatory.  And aren't we all a little inflamed?  If not physically, then psychically?   I can't think of a downside to taming all the madness.  At any rate, she bought her fresh turmeric from Amazon, so me too!  Because, I'm a copy cat anti-inflamer.  Yes, CCAI.  I searched, clicked send, and waited.  Pisces, that's a thing you'll be doing a lot of this week, waiting.  Be patient.

Aries (3/21 - 4/19): The very next day, which is how it goes with Amazon, a gigantic package arrived.  Jeez, I thought.  That's more turmeric than I expected.  But I got pretty excited, because that's a whole lot of anti-inflammation going on. It could lead to visible shrinkage of my invisible inflammation!  But Aries, that's not your horoscope.  Sheesh, a box and a vacuum cleaner?  This week, my friend, don't worry about shrinking.  Take up space, live big!

The actual turmeric.  Quarter for scale.
Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  After about an hour of enjoying that box and all that it meant for my future un-inflamed self, I opened it.  Then I remembered that I had also ordered a small tree, (Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire', in case you're wondering), about two weeks earlier. Two weeks!  Nothing takes two weeks anymore.  How can I possibly be expected to remember stuff from two weeks ago?  I don't even believe in turmeric, but still, I was mildly disappointed when the package was so tiny that it fit in my mailbox, and even more so when I learned that you can buy it at the store locally. But those are miniature disappointments compared to mortality, Taurus. 

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): Do you remember being about 11, when mad libs were the funniest thing ever?  You could read a sentence with a crazy noun or a ridiculous adjective and laugh for a week?  I wish we could get back to that.  But now, Mad Libs are a dumb car game that seems predictably ridiculous.  But Gemini, let's come up with that thing, the go-to thing always can make you laugh hard.

Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):  Ok, so I've been eating abundant fresh turmeric in smoothies, and it's fairly yummy.  I won't bore you with all the details, but through a mishap that involved credit card fraud that I did not commit, I became the proud owner of a Ninja, a crazy appliance that I'm momentarily infatuated with.  Anyway, I throw mangos and the turmeric into this contraption and poof, a gorgeous yellow beverage arises.  I can't begin to describe how pretty it is, but let's just say that if hope were a color, this would be it.  Cancer, hope IS a color.  Use it.

Leo (7/23 – 8/22):  So, I grab my toothbrush in the morning, but notice that it's bright yellow. Which seemed interesting, not in a good way.    I couldn't remember using it for mixing paint or anything, but as we know, my memory is faulty.  I opened a new toothbrush from my stash, brushed my teeth, and low and behold, now the new toothbrush was also yellow.  I guess you can either be inflamed and have a white toothbrush, or eat lots of turmeric and possibly be not so inflamed. Leo, life is full of hard choices like this.  Make the best of it.
Whiskey and bacon.  It's what's for dinner.

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  All winter long, there was a t-shirt in the middle of the road that I drive every day.  It would migrate around a bit, moving from one lane to the other,bobbing gently back and forth from the center line.  It became a topic of conversation, like, "hey, did you see that the t-shirt moved a few inches today?"  Or, "fooled me again, I thought it was a possum."  And then, alas, some do-gooder cleaned up the road and the t-shirt is gone.  Poof.  "What does this mean for those of us who remain?", a friend asked.  I think what it means, Virgo, is that it's up to us now.  We can't rely on the t-shirt.

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):  I went to Home Depot the other day, one of my not-so-secret guilty pleasures.  I love walking up and down the aisles filled with possibility and people who know how to create stuff, or at least clean it.  Anyway, I needed a battery for my stupid Black & Decker weed whacker (although I guess we don't call them that anymore.  They prefer to be called, "String trimmers".  I can appreciate that, and I'll try to remember.) 

I'm looking in the battery area, and I know exactly what I need, but don't see it.  A male employee guy tries to help me.  "So, we're looking for something red.  It will be red, you see, because it's Black and Decker.  Every brand has their look, so what we're looking for here is a red package."  And, "You can see where the voltage is  listed, right on the package.  You have to be sure you get the right voltage."  I grow so weary of it, Libra.  I so so so wish that every man had to go around as a woman for a week, and be condescended to the way we are, in a pleasant helpful way, talked to in a way that assumes you're an idiot but you know you have to just smile and say, "thanks so much for your help!"  Libra, if you've figured out any kind ways to change things up, let me know.

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  If you started a country, who would you get to write the national anthem?  For my country I was thinking I'd invite Lucinda Williams to do it, duh, because it would be soulful and tender and wouldn't have many high notes, much like the country itself.  But then I thought, wait, must I have an anthem?  It's my country, dammit.  Let the people sing what they want!  So, Scorp, I hope you'll visit my anthemless country.  Sing whatever you damn well please.

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21): And another thing, while we're on that rant?  A while back, I went to a beekeeping meeting with the lovely librarian.  We were sitting in chairs, talking to each other during the break.  A man walks up, totally out of nowhere, and says, "You guys new at beekeeping?"  And without waiting to hear my answer, which would have been, "No, I've had bees since 1994," he said, "what you need to remember is always wear your bee suit.  Don't ever just go into the hive to do an inspection without it on.  You're really going to want to remember to do that."  Right?  Is that normal, Sag?  Do you think he would have interrupted two men in a conversation to offer unsolicited advice?  And, do we look like we're about to strip down to nothing and dance around with stingining bugs?  What, you think I'm angry?  Does that mean you think I'm angry?  No, not angry.  Just tired.  Will it ever change?

Capricorn (12/22 - 1/19):  I just learned from a reliable source that it's active shooter month at KCLS!  I guess there's a month devoted to every real and imagined risk, like "apocalypse month" (bring your own salt), "earthquake month" (same rules as active shooter month:  find your safe spot), and "we're getting old and wear back braces like the old guys at Home Depot month" (get used to it.)  Capricorn, discover and embrace your own theme this month. If appropriate, wear a costume to celebrate it! 

Aquarius (1/20-2/18): This seems like an important book to read, though I haven't yet.  Imagine if the emphasis in sex education for young girls was more on expecting equal pleasure and less on disease, pregnancy, pestilence. But Aquarius, here's something else to think about.  Let's keep working on Time Travel.  I'll meet you there.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Trump, Honeybees, Climate Change

I’ve been trying to follow honeybees around my neighborhood, like some weird interspecies stalker. It isn’t as easy as it sounds.  I baited a small box with honey and sugar water, and I sit next to it impatiently, waiting for a bee to come.  When she does, I slam the box closed and keep her for 10 minutes while she fills up on the treats I’ve offered.  When I open the door, she flies out, zooms around for a minute to orient herself, and then, belly full, heads directly for home to share the bounty.  I watch and try get a compass bearing to learn where she lives.  I lose sight of her quickly, but I suspect she’s heading towards a neighbor’s house.  This isn’t surprising, because my neighbor is a beekeeper. 

It’s fun to do this catch-and-release bee game, at least for me.  I hope the bees are enjoying it too. I’m fine that they fly toward a tended hive.  But what would be really exciting is to find a feral hive in the woods.  This would contribute to the pool of hope in the world, or at least my world.  And what’s wrong with a little extra hope?  Because while this is going on in the bee world, the humans are toying with the idea of making Donald Trump the most powerful man on the planet.

The instructions for beelining, as my new hobby is called, say that after releasing a bee, wait for the same insect to return.  By timing how long it takes, you can get an indication of how far away the hive is.  

A few problems that I’m encountering:
  1. I can barely recognize my own children out of context, so to distinguish one bee from another is a bit of a reach.  The experts tag bees, but I’m not sure I could do that without harming her, and this isn’t real science; it’s not worth killing anyone over. 
  2. I can’t see very well.
  3. I have no idea how the time before her return equates to distance to her hive. 

But, I persist, the way one does with obsessions.  I’ve been obsessed for a while, but my interest ramped up when I learned, upon reading an excellent book by Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, that honeybees make democratic decisions. A group of bees will consider options, debate amongst themselves, and make the best choice for all concerned.

They do this most notably when swarming.  A bit of background in bee biology:  the way a colony expands its genetic influence in the world, which is the goal of all species, is to swarm.  When bees are well fed, presumably happy, and getting crowded, half of the hive takes off with the queen, and hangs out in a giant cluster.  From this mass of bees, the oldest and most experienced females leave to scope out options for a new home.  They return to the swarm to report on their findings.

Honeybees can’t survive alone.  Labor is precisely divided, each bee contributing their bit for the good of the whole.   The individual has no place in a beehive. You never hear about a bee going off alone to write poetry or to find themselves.  As far as we know, bees aren’t throwing up their wings, looking skyward and moaning, “what’s the point?” As someone who spends a fair amount of energy trying to keep that impulse at bay, I’m drawn to the bees.  

I wonder if they have tiny personalities, special friends, bees that they feel particularly close to, and others that give them the creep vibe.  If so, it isn’t obvious.   They all work to support the colony so that the species, and in particular, their mother’s genes, will persist into the future.  I wonder if humans look that way from outside our species.  So industrious!  Everyone working so hard on their computers all day!

The queen is the only bee who can lay fertilized eggs, but she relies on workers to feed and raise the babies, and drones, who spend their miserable life not having sex, or if they do, die in mid-air, as their barbed member gets ripped from their body. 

The humans have also become highly specialized.  Some gather food, others do heart surgery.  Some build houses, some bear children.  Some design complicated video games, others tie plastic flagging along jurisdictional boundary of wetlands.  Some have their finger on the nuclear bomb that could kill millions, most don’t.

At the swarm, scout bees venture out to look for a new home, and return to the group to direct others to their site, communicating through dances.  The bees have identified specific criteria that makes a good home:  cavity size, orientation of the opening, etc. that will increase their odds of survival.  They ultimately make a group decision to move to the site that most closely matches their criteria.

The humans, using the primary system, are coming up with Donald Trump as one of the most qualified to lead the country.  It’s unclear what criteria we’re using.

I’m glad we have the capacity to search for meaning, write poetry, make music, invent things, and think independently.  I’m grateful that our needs are more complex than cavity size and orientation of the front door. 

But one thing the bees do that makes them successful decision-makers is listen to other ideas.  After a bee finds a potential nest site, she returns to the hive, announces it, and then rests.  She doesn’t campaign.  She doesn’t get staunch about promoting her site; she doesn’t try to convince everyone that it’s the best site ever.  In fact, compared to our elections, it looks pretty  half-hearted.  Like, “look everyone, I have an idea. Check it out if you feel like it.  I’ll be napping.”  Eventually, though, she rouses and, rather than doggedly sticking to her site, she explores sites announced by other bees.  If their potential new home is superior to hers, she promotes it by dancing.  In this way, each bee responds to new information to improve the decision until a critical mass agrees, and they relocate to their new hive.

The humans don’t seem to have the capacity to be truly open to new ideas and information.  We get locked in.  We’re loyal, ridiculously so, to things we discovered first, to our candidate, or our belief system, even when it’s proven wrong.  

I think that trait comes along with the painful knowledge of our mortality.  The depressing fact that we’re all going to die is mitigated by a ridiculous, beautiful capacity for hope and faith. We don’t like the idea of getting old, losing one thing after the next, and then dying, so we believe in things to ward off despair.  Whether it’s an afterlife, a football team, or oregano oil.  Or, in this terrible instance of belief gone awry, it’s believing the preposterous statements of angry rich white guy.  Building walls will keep us safe from terrorists! (Because of course, all of the terrorists will be on the OTHER side of that wall.)  The climate isn’t changing, it’s just weather!  I think that this capacity, to deny the terrible circumstance we’re in, is a result of our awareness of death.  It’s hard to grapple with the fact that every one we love will die, possibly before us.  It’s even harder to live with the idea that we’re responsible for creating conditions leading to the mass extinction that’s in progress.  Who wants to believe that?  Some find it reassuring to believe in powerful men who simplify our problems, and suggest the world can be fixed by activating our dark capacity to hate.  

What would reassure me is discovering that a swarm of bees decided to live in a tree near my house and made it through the winter, oblivious to their mortality, just doing what they do, listening and working together to make good decisions.  I wish we had the capacity for that AND poetry.