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):  Someone posted a link to a website that lists useful things you can do with leftover pool noodles.  Is that a real problem, Pisces?  Too many unused pool noodles?  Real Problems: our capacity to disappoint ourselves and others, poor communication leading to hurt feelings, climate change, and running out of coffee, olive oil or toilet paper.  Stop the humans from solving fake problems.  We all need to focus...  (And, if you wouldn't mind swinging by with some olive oil, that would be great.)

Aries (3/21 - 4/19):  I've had a complicated 10 days that involved a smell of unknown origin (we call that "ideopathic") -- it seemed like it was everywhere, like the government and the internet.  Efforts to solve it lead to dragging a mattress outside in the dark of night, bees, lots of them, inside my house, and beginning to believe that either I have the capacity to detect smells like a cancer dog or maybe I just have mental illness.  Even so, my dear Aries, we can celebrate life in all it's stinky richness.  Let's do it.


Spirit of Life
Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  The very first book report I wrote was in the fourth grade when I read about the Oklahoma land run.  The book made it seem romantic and exciting: families galloping off at the sound of a gun to grab a homestead, begin a new life.  But I don't think that's how it really went.  There were "sooners," guys who didn't wait for the gun, which is another word for CHEATING.  That wasn't in my book.  Anyway, I started thinking about that book, and it didn't even sound true, so I read the wiki entry.  In my book it was all happy families, planning their future on a farmable piece of land.  Wikipedia says that by week two, schools opened.  At the end of a month, they had 5 banks and six newspapers. Amazing.  See if you can open a school or start a newspaper this week, Taurus.  Get to it!  And Happy Birthday!!

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): Every time your life seems hard, think about the poor Shetland ponies, who were forced to live in mines, hauling coal all day long, getting to come out to see the sky only at Christmas, which is kind of a lousy time to visit the upper world, if you ask me.  If a worker died, though, his pony got to retire, because monogamy is for real in the worker/pony relationship.  Even though the ponies lived underground, day and night, their food came from above (just regular above, not the mystical above).  They ate hay that stood in fields gathering sun, sandwiches filled with jelly from berries that sat on vines, converting energy into sweetness, and water from the sky.  (Do ponies eat sandwiches?  I think so.)  The point is that the goodness lasts, at least for a little while, and can be carried to ponies, real or imagined, that are required to live in darkness.  Convert your energy into sweetness, Gemini, and bring that to the ponies.

Calypso bulbosa.  Blooming yesterday!
Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):  Ah Cancer.  The cycle of life.  So much bittersweet.  Coming and going of the humans.  We love and we lose and we carry on.  With each loss, let our hearts grow bigger and softer.  Love bravely, Cancer.  

Leo (7/23 – 8/22):  I ordered bees in January, and since then have gotten a bazillion e-mails and voice mails from the bee seller.  I first thought he could benefit from spell check, but after a while I grew kind of fond of his websight, and him thanking me for my patients.  But he was kind of LOUD in his e-mail, and as we know, I'm a fan of the inside voice.  I went to pick up my bees and go to the BREEFING that was to be at 7:30 sharp, DON'T BE LATE.  But Bee Guy was  90 minutes late, so we stood around, 100 or so of us, waiting.  For our pet stinging insects.  The most significant thing that happened is that when I first arrived, I got accosted (in a friendly way) by a guy who looks like a bouncer.  Enormous, muscle-y tattoos, pierced ears, gigantic camo shorts over tights and a flannel shirt that mostly covered his belly.  He walked directly toward me when I got out of my car, and said, "Finally.  Someone else who looks like a beekeeper!"  I didn't know quite how to take that.  I looked around at the crowd; a bunch of Wallingford types standing by Priii looking like normal, middle aged, middle class liberal gardeners.  I thought (hoped?) I look sort of like them.  Anyway, me and Bubba.  And I've decided that if I'm not certain how to take something, why not take it as a complement?  Right?  So I'm feeling good, like, me and beer gut tattoo man are in a miniature club of two.  But he got his bees way before me so I made new friends.  This went on for hours, like a miniature life:  make a new friend, their circumstances change and they leave, repeat.

Eventually, I started telling the people near me about a short story about a traffic jam (I can't remember the title or author) that I read about 30 years ago.  At first people were angry, sitting in their cars, irritated.  And then, after traffic had been completely stopped for a while, they got out and stood around and talked. Every so often, they'd pop back in their car to move it a few feet, but mostly, they stood around together, having potluck meals with found items from their car. This went on for years.  People married and had babies and divorced, and then, suddenly, unpredictably, traffic started moving.  One lane went much faster, and they separated.  A whole community ripped apart.  After I told this story, I sensed distancing from the crowd, so from then on, I kept to myself and waited.  Anyway, I have lots of bees again, and that's good.  One mean hive and the others gentle.

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  I heard a story the other day, long and amazing, told by a middle-aged woman who figured out via DNA testing and genealogy that her mother was adopted.   Usually, it's the mother who tells the kid she's adopted, but oh well. The tale involved a giant spreadsheet where she sorted the various matching DNA snippets, and her mother finding a new sister.  What's not to love about that story?  And, while we're at it, what's not to love about the Virgo?  What would we ever do without you?  I can't bear to think about it.

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):  A friend of mine does volunteer work where she gives senior citizens rides to appointments and stuff.  She picked up a lady in Trilogy yesterday and took her to the dr. and then learned that the lady was out of food because she hadn't been able to get to the store.  This 90 year old woman hadn't eaten in a day, so my friend took her out to lunch where the lady consumed 2 very dry martinis and laughed for an hour.  That seems like a good kind of volunteer job to do, to have.  Win, win, win.  Go for the triple win this week, Libra.

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  I spent a while trying to explain to a loved one about my fear of getting trapped in a boring conversation, and she thinks I'm a little snooty about the whole thing, which made me feel terrible.  But there's only so much detail I can consume about things that I'm not yet interested in.  My mind wanders to the book I'm reading, or the walk I could be taking, and I struggle to be attentive but I don't even think the talker is that interested.  Just filling space and time.  Scorpio, this week, claim all the space and time you need.  Don't let others gobble it up.

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21): Does it seem strange that we don't have an english word for et cetera?  The ancient latin word is still better than anything else we've come up with.  And we use it all the freakin' time.  See if you can go a day without hearing, saying, or reading it.  I dare you.  But I've been considering just why this word is so important, and guess what, Sag?  It's because we don't have time to describe how rich and wonderfully complex things are.  Take note of that this week, Sag.

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. 

Example: 
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?
Signed,
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.

xoxox
Khortneeeeeee

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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Scope

Pisces (2/19 – 3/20):  How cell phone providers work: You arrive with a tiny problem, like, your phone won't charge because the plug doesn't fit snugly anymore.  And before you know it, they give you more minutes, a new phone, a tablet, some speakers, a new sink, an ankle bracelet that reports your movements to Verizon, and your monthly bill goes down.  It's not normal, but it happens, like time travel and Jimmy Hoffa sitings, and we're cool with the ankle monitor, because why not?  Enjoy what we must, Pisces.  

Aries (3/21 - 4/19): So, there's a situation with the rats in NYC.  First, a rat observed dragging a piece of pizza into the subway.  Then, selfie rat. Followed by pita rat.  I'm for it.  Either:  a) the rats are getting smarter, or at least more concerned about moving food around, or b) Zardulu is creating a strange permeable boundary between real and not real, staged and natural, trained rats and a rodent take-over of the world.  I don't really care which way it goes, but I do find it fascinating.  Aries, be fascinated this week. Why not?

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Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  When I was a wide receiver for the NFL, I ran around every day trying to get the ball from the other guys, and then one day, Taurus, the NFL was like, "um, you aren't really wide enough to receive anymore."  So, poof, just like that, I took my $57 million (or was it 58?) and went home.  At first, I was all, "I AM SO WIDE ENOUGH!"  But eventually, I realized I didn't care one whit about their stupid ball or their $58 million.  That's what we call giving up acceptance, Taurus, and it's where we find the sweet spot.  Drive directly for it.

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): I want to laugh more.  If I had my way, I'd be out of breath from laughing for 15 minutes out of every hour.  Wouldn't that be great?  But it's not happening.  I tried to watch videos about laughter yoga, thinking it might help.  Oh, Gemini.  It was so creepy.  So very very creepy.  (Be glad I didn't link to the other video where the guy looks like ET.)  And such a sorry sign of the times.  This week, Gemini, Do your part!  Make me laugh if you can.  (I'm really pretty easy.  It doesn't take much.)

Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):  I sometimes wish I were the sort of person who pronounced it "eyether" rather than "eeether", and, more longingly, "dat-uh" rather than "date-uh". It sounds easy to you, Cancer -- fer goddsakes, just start saying it the other way!  But it isn't easy.  I come from a long line of people who say eeether and date-uh, and it would be fake, like laughter yoga, to switch.  The work at hand, as usual, Cancer, is to accept who we are with generosity and grace.  So what if you aren't wide enough to receive for the NFL?  Who cares if you say tomato?  Be your lovely self, Cancer.

Leo (7/23 – 8/22)I was walking in the woods behind my house yesterday, the way I do most days.  It's kind of a weird forest, as I've written about before.  I usually don't see anyone out there, but yesterday, I encountered a man, 45ish with a very large German Shepherd.  Now, as all women past the age of about 13 know, there's that thing that happens every time you find yourself in that situation, alone in a remote area when a man shows up, you think, well, here goes.  Whatever happens is going to happen.  But I pretend it's all good, smile and chat, explain the trail system to this guy, and walk on.  But as I start to walk away, he yells after me, "I hope you're carrying.  Lot's of creepy guys out here."  I didn't go on my rant at him, and I'm not going to here either, but jaysus.  Ok, just a mini rant:  1.  Does he think guns are the answer?  2.  Does he think he's more aware of the way it could go down than I am?  3.  Oh, and slightly off topic, but why was he wearing sweat pants?  Speaking of creeps, who does that?  Leo, always put pants on if you're leaving the house.

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  One of my pet peeves (why am I even using that term?  I don't like it!) is not adjusting our opinions based on new information.  Oregano oil probably won't cure clubfoot, vaccinations definitely don't cause autism, and the earth is round.  Life would be so much more fun if I believed, if I truly embraced all the happy stuff out there, like god and eternal youth and the power of positive everything.  Like this!  Check out how gorgeous the young woman looks after just three or four weeks!  (Ignore the ring of blood.) That being said, there is magic out there, and we can study it!  (Did I tell you I bought a blood pressure cuff?)


Libra (9/23 – 10/22):  I've been following bees around lately, which isn't working out so well, but no one can say I haven't tried.  There will be more on this later, but for now, I'd like to say that, besides all the trendy, "we love the pollinator" sentiment that's going around, we really should love the pollinators, not for the services they provide, but because they're so damn interesting.  Libra, do what you can to be interesting this week.  Ask about others, listen, care.  See what's going on out there.

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  I read that they have a new kidney transplant method where the donor and the recipient don't really have to match.  There's some blocking of the defenses that they turn on so you can accept any old kidney as your own.  I'm confused about how I feel about this.  Could we use that same method to just accept one another more in general?  Wouldn't that be good?  There would be no walls, just longer tables, all around the globe and beyond.  So yes, I'm for it, Scorp.

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21): But, I will add, selfishly -- I'm so glad this happened after I finished raising my children, because it would have taken the wind out of my primary parenting lecture.  Which I'll share here in it's entirety, and you may use as your very own.
"You two are closer to each other than any other humans in the entire galaxy.  There is no better genetic match on this planet or any other, and you may require a kidney one day.  Each moment, behave as if you're about to ask that enormous favor.  Live so that your sibling will say yes enthusiastically." 
A tiny bit of poetry from Antonio Machado

Capricorn (12/22 - 1/19):  I dreamt my hair was falling out in big clumps, and at first I was pretty horrified, but after a few minutes I was like, whatever.  Who needs hair, who needs health?  We're all on the same ride, we know it's slowing down, which is as good a reason as any to love fully, show up as ourselves, be who we are.  

Aquarius (1/20 – 2/18) Remember last year, when we thought it would be Hilary vs. Jeb?  And we thought that was discouraging?  Back when The Donald was just a funny joke, and we had no idea how much hate was brewing in the hearts of our fellow citizens?  I know.  

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday thoughts

Bee d'jour
I was asked to talk about intimacy in my Unitarian* church this morning.  I thought I'd put it up here.

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I’m surprised that I’m the one up here talking about intimacy. I’ve been single for over a decade, haven’t been on a date in over four years.  I am that cat lady, but I don’t even have the cats.  So sure, I’d love to get up in front of a bunch of people and talk about intimacy!  Next, I’ll be offering tips on how to fly an airplane.  

But my life is not without intimacy.  I have deep, trusting relationships with both of my adult children that I cherish beyond words.  And I have a number of close, significant friendships that sustain me.

I believe that the highest expression of humanity is to connect deeply, truthfully, and altruistically with others.  It’s what builds empathy, creates kindness, and makes life worth living.  Our deepest need is to connect.

I also believe that, as we all know but keep learning over and over (oh, is that just me?), we only have control of our end of the rope.  We can set the stage for intimacy to happen, but it takes willingness, commitment, deep vulnerability, honesty, and an absence of secrets on both sides.  I distinguish between privacy and secrecy – secrecy is rooted in shame; privacy is rooted in the sacred.

I had the huge stroke of good luck to have an essay I wrote published in the NYT last spring.  The piece was about my daughter’s bout with depression as a teen. Depression is one of the many taboo topics in our culture -- we don’t discuss certain things, out of fear that we’ll be met with judgment.  If we are good parents, this wouldn’t be happening, so we best keep it private.  We’re silent about the forces that shape our lives:  failure, disappointment, loss.  Because we fear that no one wants to hear about it, or they’ll find us out, and discover that we’re flawed.  That we’re sometimes sad, we fail, we’re uncertain, we lose hope.  We’d rather be that person who’s living life to the fullest, successful at all our endeavors; our kids are healthy and happy and we are tireless! We are thin and productive, calm but energetic, dynamic and taking the world by storm, but kind, well-read, thoughtful.  And our pants make us look super cute! 

I’m proud of the response to my essay. It seemed that my words tapped into a well of secret grief.  I received hundreds of personal e-mails from people, telling me about their son or daughter who was depressed, and thanking me for sharing our story.  Not because I had any answers for them, but because for a moment, they didn’t feel alone.  Someone else had gone through this.  I had placed a lantern on their path, illuminating the tiny footprints that Marisa and I left, like a sign saying, “someone has been here before.  Keep going, you can do this.”

Being vulnerable is the first step in creating intimacy.  It starts by being willing to show your weaknesses and then dealing with whatever comes.  It’s not a mistake to be vulnerable; it’s a mistake to meet vulnerability with judgment.  There is no shame in struggling; it’s a natural outcome of being a thoughtful person deeply engaging with life and experiencing all of the difficult things that happen.  Its time to tell our unvarnished stories, and say, look world.  This is me.  This is what’s really going on. 

And when someone trusts you enough to share their tender frailties, listen.  Imagine what the world would be like if, when we shared our deepest, most difficult truths, like, “I don’t love you anymore.”  Or, “I’m scared.”  Or “I don’t know if I can continue.” – imagine if our truth was met with a generous, gentle net of encouragement and appreciation for our honesty.  Imagine that world, and then create it. 

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*It's actually a Unitarian Universalist Church; the two denominations merged in 1964.  But that's too much of a mouthful.  The difference is that the Universalists believe that god is too good to damn them, and the Unitarians believe they're too good go be damned.  Either way, we don't believe in hell.  And many (like me) don't believe in god either.

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