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Here to speak the truth, change the world, and translate the world's chaos into common sense.
(Cultural anthropologist, singer/songwriter, yoga instructor, educator, and, of course, writer.)

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The Beatles Got It Wrong

6 min read

The Beatles made a lot of sense, and made beautiful music, but they got one thing wrong; Love is NOT all you need. 

 

This is a fairly conflicting thing to say considering the name of my website/web-blog. If love is who we are, and yet love is not enough, are we not enough? 

Hold on. Don't go there. This isn't about quantifying ourselves. We are better than Paul at math, but not as great as Deborah; in that case, we can compare, on some level, our skill. We are skilled at cooking, but our friend Shelby is much better at painting. These aren't comparitive; they simply are individual skills that bring unique and individual things to the relationships we have with others. Love... well, love is so many things. 

Love in relationships is shown in how we express ourselves. We may write sonnets for our beloved, but if they have no love for language, it is a gift not well-recieved. Also it is pointless to write a love-song for the deaf. 

But "Love conquers all!" Perhaps... or perhaps it is the patience, perserverence and dedication we have to our partners and ourselves to continue to grow as individuals and together. Perhaps it is the ever-evolving skills of communication, the ever-deepening honesty we find in introspection, and even the less-often seen bravery of seeing our partner not as an extension of ourselves but as a unique and individual person that could leave at any moment.

A friend said that fear and love are closely tied emotions. I didn't quite understand her meaning, so she explained that if you aren't afraid of losing someone -if the thought of them not being in your life doesn't bring some form of fear to your heart- then the depth of love you have for them may not be so deep (at least, romantically speaking). After all, do we really care if George who hangs out at the corner bus-stop disappears? Or do we care if someone truly close to us suddenly leaves our life forever? 

Maybe fear and love are connected. Maybe they aren't. (Jury's still out on that one). But there is something to be said for taking our partners and loved ones for granted. We assume they will be there, through thick and thin, for "better or worse", because they said so in some promise. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of neglect. Sometimes this neglect becomes the new normal, and that's where I see a lot of couples in a rut, a loveless and passionateless monotony of life. Marriage or civil union becomes a contract that is more about convenience and comfort than actual passion and love. People find their own lives on the side, and sometimes that leads to infidelity; other times it simply leads to complacency and boredom. More common than I think most people would admit, it also leads to having kids to fill the gap. (I can't tell you how many times I've heard mothers imply that having kids ruined their sex life, their sex drive, and any romance. I also can't tell you -because I'd be telling other people's secrets- how many husbands cheat for this very reason). 

Is love really all you need? Or do you also need to be able to look at yourself as you grow and age and be able to check in with your partner and see if this relationship is working for both of you? Are you really all that compatible? Do you allow for each of you to find and walk your own path in life, or are the life choices of one of you driving the direction of the relationship?

So, maybe love is not enough. It is a start, though. After that, you have to find a way to honor and love yourself in an honest way. If you are someone who needs certain things in a partner, but your partner cannot provide those things, you must either compromise and open your relationship to meet those needs (with your partner's consent), or you must let go of the relationship because neither of you will truly be happy. If you are needing more from your partner, you need to make those needs heard. If they cannot listen or will not, try seeking a marriage and family therapist to work together on better communication, or realize that being single and honest with yourself is better than being trapped in a relationship where neither of you can find true intimacy through honest communication. 

A few thoughts, for anyone struggling with a relationship that has love in it, but for some reason isn't working:

  • Therapy helps. The right therapist is best. 
  • There are kink-friendly, LBGT-friendly, and poly-friendly therapists out there. I recommend finding a local group online or via Meetup.com for the niche you relate to and asking for a recommendation.
  • There are lots of articles and books on relationships. A few that have been recommended to me as go-to's for help include:
  • Opening Up, More Than Two, Sex At Dawn, Passionate Marriage, Love & Yoga, Dear Lover, The Way of the Superior Man, Open To Desire, Polyamory and Jealousy: A More Than Two Essentials Guide, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, The 5 Love Languages, Getting the Love You Want, NonViolent Communication: A Language of Life, and The Ethical Slut (just to name a few...)
  • Support groups: If you don't like the term, then just consider it a group of people who hang out and have similar interests. Sounds nice, right? I've learned the hard way that isolation from people who can relate to you can be very negative and cause you to feel like your needs aren't being met even more than usual. Since you are already struggling to get your needs met by your partner, this added burden will be very negative. 

Lastly, I just want to remind you, as much as you think your partner is your whole world... they cannot be everything for you. They may be your friend sometimes, your lover other times, your companion, your support. However, no one person can fill every social need that a person has. There is a good reason humans developed large social groups; we need them. So, go find your larger social group and get at least some of those needs met. Love many in the ways that you can, without breaking the contract of your relationship -and if the contract of your relationship isn't working for you, learn to be honest and loving and communicate. Maybe you can negotiate a new contract, maybe you'll move on and free both of you up to find a more compatible mate.

Whichever way your path goes... GOOD LUCK AND MUCH LOVE TO YOU!

inc.arcerated Part IV: A Day in the Life of a Jail Teacher

8 min read

KnowledgeWillMakeYouFree

My arms bundled with supplies, I've entered a classroom. The air is stale, the walls painted a muted gray; there are no windows. Every door I enter requires a key, or to be buzzed in. A camera tracks my movements every second. They aren't worried about what I will do, unless I do something unsafe or unwise. They worry what will happen to me if the inmates get a bad idea in their head. I know the deputies are watching me; their voices come across the intercom when I have a question or need to get through another door. I've gone through six doors so far to get here. I set my stack of lined paper, folders, spare dictionaries that I snagged from the office, and my see-through bookbag down on the table and open a seventh door, the one to the storage room. 

There's no camera in this one. They don't want students going beyond this door; anything could happen and they wouldn't know. I suppose that's why they make me wear a button worn on a lanyard around my neck; it blinks on and off every now and then to show me the batteries work. If I press it, they'll come running and will bring hell with them. They won't get there in time if anyone wanted to hurt me, though. No one could. My protection isn't a camera, it isn't a button, it isn't a door; my only protection is myself. 

Respect is a currency that must be paid in kind here. Status is an important thing to understand. My role is to walk between the worlds of the sheriffs, a family in and of itself -even if they aren't all the same and they don't all agree with each other- and that of the inmates who self-group themselves into either racial divisions or a defiant, non-racially based group called the "Others". I am in-between, and so I fall into no categories. I don't get involved in the politics on either side. At least, I shouldn't. I hear what each group says. I listen, and I learn. It would be stupid not to learn what I can. After all, this is now my world too, for five days a week and at least seven hours a day. 

The class shuffles in, plastic cups of coffee or red, kool-aid looking drinks clutched in their hands. It might seem odd for some of them to seem like they've just awoken, but not here. Even though it's past noon, they rarely sleep during the night, and the daytime and morning are used for sleeping. Some of them have only just woken up. They're coming to study for the GED test. They're coming to better their skills at reading, writing, math. They're coming to escape the monotony of their cells. They're coming to get days off their sentence. They're coming because it is one step closer to freedom.

I pass out books and headsets, paper and pencils. I make sure they can log into their computers and try my best to track what subject they're working on. Science, social studies, English reading, English writing, math. I've got to get a handle on each of them to the point I can answer most -if not all- questions that they throw at me. 

"Miz B, I need some help!" I rush to one, and then to another, another, and another. I write out examples on the board. I deflect dumb questions about what my astrological sign is. I courteously respond that I had a nice weekend, "Thank you for asking" when they try and attempt to socialize with me. I rarely sit still for that long. 

Before I know it, the class is nearly at an end. I stick my USB drive into my laptop; it's connected to the speakers and the projector. I leave them with a song or a thought or an educational video. It's something to break the monotony of their lives here. It's one of the many tiny reprieves I can give them from staring at the same gray walls, hearing the same conversations, being surrounded by the same type of people day in and day out. 

And they surprise me. I play something that has poetic lyrics, and some of them are somber; one of them hides in the back and I can see he is crying. I sneak him tissues. I don't know their lives. Some of them let me know, but they'll never tell me everything; some people never even admit everything to themselves at night, when they're alone in the dark and dreaming.

Four different groups per week. They grow fond of me quickly. I'm quick with an answer or a witty remark. I dish out what I'm given, and they learn to respect me. I treat them like they're students, not criminals. They are allowed to simply be adults, and so many of them take on that role -instead of stepping into the same, demonized role they have been cast in time and time again. 

They aren't perfect. They have addictions, both to money and drugs. Many of them are nearly as old or older than I am and have never held a real job. "All I need is a job to get that dope, then I can get back into that game." It's hard to say no, they say. It's hard to live a clean life when you have to start over and start from nothing. 

But then they say the money isn't worth it. They heard their family wants them home. They're missing their daughters sixteenth birthday, their son's 21st birthday, their wife giving birth, the passing of their mother, the marriage of their brother... Moments they can't get back are taken from them while they are serving time in jail.

Not all of them come to this conclusion. I suppose we don't all have that much to lose, but when we do... the risks certainly get higher.

"I need to pass this test before I leave." Some say. They please, "You gotta help me. Just sign me up." Some of them aren't ready. Maybe it's the drugs that have eaten away parts of their mind, maybe they have an undiagnosed learning disability. I try with them. I sit with them one on one. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don't. They get released into the world and I don't hear from them again.

Less, rather than more, students pass the tests and get a GED. One of my first students to graduate was so young and full of potential. He was bright and charismatic. He wasn't affiliated with a gang. I wish I'd known he had an addiction to meth. I heard later he gave up the shelter and housing and school that he could've gone to; within a few hours of being out, he bailed on his parole officer and left to get high. 

But others would succeed, even though it had taken them several trips to the jail to finish what they started. They would go to college and get away from their gang and drugs and create something different. It makes you wonder... How many times do we need to fall down in order to get up and stay standing?

 

I will say this; teaching at a jail is like being a blind and stubborn optimist. At the same time, it means opening your eyes so wide you can see how cruel, twisted and gritty this world is. It is realizing that the sweetest person can also be someone who can beat a woman within an inch of their life. It is realizing that to survive is to learn how to lie well and to con others. It is believing in the best in your students but also knowing that to expect them all to succeed only to watch them be released, fail, and end up back at the jail is asking for heartbreak. It's learning to not take things personally, to keep the details of your private life private, and yet to be genuine and real at all times. 

Freedom is the ability to change the direction of your life. Locked up, behind bars is one form of incarceration. The prison of the mind, of habits that trap you in a destiny that leads you back to prison or worse, are eating away at freedom, also. The thought patterns that lead a person to think that they will always need more because nothing will be enough, nothing will be certain, nothing will be safe... that is a prison, too. 

To learn something... anything... different; to learn that you have what it takes to finish what you started as a child, to rewrite the story of you, to accomplish a goal that seemed little and unimportant only to realize it was one of the only things stopping you from changing the perspective you had of yourself and your potential; it isn't much, but it's a start. 

 

 

 

inc.arcerated Part III: TRIBALISM

7 min read

Dear reader.... you might not like what I'm going to say. But see if you can imagine a world without tribalism after considering that it is alive and real and defining us every day. 

trib‧al‧is‧m /ˈtraɪbəl-ɪzəm/ noun 1 behaviour and attitudes that are based on strong loyalty to your tribe2 the state of being organized into tribes

 

As a cultural anthropologist (def: a person who studies cultures and the history of humanity and what makes us human), one of the things you learn early on is the concept of tribalism. 

The definition doesn't quite scratch the surface of what it really is and means to humans. For me, the cultural and biological aspects of being human are inseparable. This whole "Nature vs. Nurture" thing is ridiculous; you cannot have one without the other, and so both your environment and your genetics affects the outcome of your existence and the choices you make. I believe it is such an incredibly strong factor that it begs the question, "Do we really have free will if most of our adult life and personality and choices are based on genetics that we're born with and moments that happen to use as young children?" I see our 'destiny' as more of a loose, rusty shackle that can broken by first realizing it is there and then finding the tools to break free and walk away from.  

So, when I speak of tribalism...it's important to consider where the usefulness of this human invention came from. It first has a little to do with our binocular vision (forward-facing eyes commonly seen in predators rather than side-facing eyes often seen in animals of prey). We are able to see things in the distance and with a relatively good amount of detail. Then our brain, developed as it is to make sense of refracted upside-down light and make them into images, does a really cool thing; it translates this random mix of lines and shapes and shadows that we see in 2D and finds what category it fits into. 

Okay, maybe that's a little challenging to understand right away. Let me give you an example: 

You're an early human (hominin) and you're peering into the Savannah grasses... and you know there's something there, but you aren't sure what is lurking in disguise. Is it food? Is it going to try to make you into food? Is it just the wind? Then you see a darker patch of fur about two feet off the ground, and your brain starts to matchup other, similar, patches of fur that follow an outline line -more or less- of a wildcat. Your brain categorizes this as a threat from previous experiences with this long-toothed, sharp-clawed, powerful animal and your "fight or flight" instinct kicks in, adrenaline rushing through you. 

Now, fast forward a little. People have decided it's wiser to band together in groups in order to hunt big game animals and keep their children and village protected. But the question is... protected from what? Other villages, of course! Other villages might not be as close to the watering hole where there is an abundance of both water and animals that come to drink and so are easily found and hunted. Other villages might have a shortage of women, or have too many people and need more land. Or maybe somebody's father offended somebody else's father and they split into two groups and told stories about how the other one is bad and it just became a multi-generational feud.

Our brains, which categorize danger, enemy, friend, food, etc., they begin to categorize the subtle details that characterize those enemy villagers. As a visitor, maybe you would see these feuding villages as all looking the same, but amongst the different villagers... they notice the subtle slope of a nose, or the high brows that one village commonly has. Or perhaps it's the way they all shave the sides of their heads to show off their mohawks.

Centuries later, people have migrated and their skin has adapted to varying degrees of sunlight. We have light skinned and dark skinned, we have thick hair and thin. We have light eyes and dark. Most importantly, we have an even greater variety to choose to categorize. We humans feel the pressure of so many humans trying to take resources and power from us. We must band together... and the easiest way to band together is simply to choose to be amongst those who look most like us. By choosing to make the ones who are already similar to us, we oversimplify the differences amongst our group. If they are different thinkers, we begin to indoctrinate them and change them so they think like us. 

Maybe it isn't just skin anymore. Maybe it's a uniform. Maybe it's a series of symbolic tattoos that tell us which gang we are part of. 

Maybe it's just easier... to choose to be with a group of people that will protect us, even if our similarites are shallow and superficial. 

I began my introduction into anthropology assuming that tribes were small little groups of villagers that barely anyone knew about somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. I saw it as a primitive term, something based on old reports and studies. I don't think that anymore.The tribes are real, and very complex, and they're right in our backyard. They are in our street and in our homes. They are tagging our buildings and shooting up our streets. They are working in our stores and they are in and out of jail. They are cops and they are gang members and they are mobs and they are families and they are even the elite upper class. 

I'm walking this very strange line between worlds every day I show up to work. I genuinely like the sheriffs I see every day, and I genuinely enjoy the personalities of my students who are inmates at the jail. I can neither take the side of the sheriffs or the side of the inmates, ever. I relate to them all as humans. And yet, I know they are from different tribes, and that those tribes are in many ways pitted against each other just by the fact that this generational feud extends into law enforcement and "street thugs". Even amongst my students, they have history amongst themselves and others that separate them; values that they carry that define them and that they believe protect "their people", and stories of enemies and battles that almost always are paid in blood or sacrifice

So where does this feud end? Will it ever? If my own friends who are not gang members, but happen to be queer, or immigrants, or POC (person of color), hate the cops so much because of the stories they grew up on, of fearing the cops, of being harassed by them, then what keeps them from joining a gang that would protect them from harassment? Or what keeps scared white kids, who have been exposed to the misdirected anger and violence of a POC, from deciding all POCs are violent, and what keeps them from joining another gang, or tribe or telling their kids that POCs are hateful and the enemy tribe? After enough altercations with violent and drugged-up criminals, what keeps the mind of a cop from getting jaded? After all, they're being shown the worst, are they not?

The story seems to feed on itself, and this multigenerational feud of tribes keeps going on and on and on....

 

So let me leave you with these images. See if you can notice the characteristics, the uniforms, the tattoos, the characteristic similarities that define each group. See for yourself if it seems like we have many tribes amongst us....

 

 

We always find ways to show what tribe we belong to... don't we.

 

inc.arcerated Part II: A few thoughts after a month of teaching inmates in jail

7 min read

I could write my statements here and back them up with facts, but I rather share my observations and state my own opinions. There are plenty of articles out in the world that, by nature of the type of article needing to be factual, it limited the author's ability to bring their emotion into it. In this series to follow "inc.arcerated" I'll walk the line between what I observe and what I think and feel. You'll have to take both; writing only from emotion is without value, but writing solely on facts is an incomplete accounting.

___________________________________________________________________

 

Educate/Incarcerate

It's been more than a month since I first stepped into the high-security jail. It prompted my first post and left me strangely optimistic. This last week I spent a full week there; long days at maximum security lockup, and short evenings at minimum security. The difference seemed very stark at first. I admit I had some apprehension about working with high-security inmates, as I wasn't sure how different I'd have to behave around them compared to the guys in minimum security. I'd already been getting into the flow of working with minimum security inmates who were given more freedom and were trusted a bit more. After all, they're trusted with welding tools in welding class, and gasoline, shovels, clippers, and other tools in landscaping.

In comparison, those in high security lock-up weren't allowed outside at all; they lived in sections of a concrete building, with the same walls and strong glass between them and others. They are segregated into different wings and only a few are allowed to help out with certain tasks (those called "trustees" who help get the classroom ready or clean up, for example). The floors were seperated by elevators that are controlled by operators, not buttons the passenger can push. Most of them have the same tired patience; they are waiting, knowing that time might be the only thing they have in abundance. Any chance to fill it with something, any chance to cut their time down by even a little, they will take. They might be there a very, very long time.

In high-security, my students wear orange. Many have several face tattoos; something I noted that many of the low-security inmates do not. I ask about them now and then; almost all of them say they got them when they were young (13, 14 years old) and liked the way they looked at the time. I see them as stories on their skin, but also wonder at how much this appearance has kept them from getting a "normal job" that would've at least given them the choice of different employment. How many have had their choices limited by the appearance they chose as a mere adolescent? Where was their parent or guardian who might have kept them from making those choices before they were an adult?

Some of them look just like any person you'd see walking the street; you wouldn't bat an eye or tense up in fear. They are investment brokers who are in jail for fraud. They are dumb kids who didn't want to pay taxes or parking tickets and had a warrant out for their arrest, got caught and paid their time in jail. They are addicts who are in jail for possession. They are risk-takers who led the police on high-speed chases.  

They are fathers, most of them. There are mothers, too, but I only work with the men's side at the moment. My students always ask if I'm a mother; they're always surprised when I say no. In return, I ask them who has children; it's almost always 80% of the room.  

All those fathers... away from their children. Or should I say, all those children growing up without fathers. I couldn't tell you if the kid is better off; that depends on the father. Everyone in jail has something to work on. It might be something as simple as learning how to not get caught doing illegal things (i.e.: how to choose income-making jobs that don't land you in jail). Yet, just like most of humanity, it probably has something to do with the choices that led them to be addicts, risk-takers, drug-dealers, sex-offenders, violent gang members, fraudulent bank investors, or just dumb kids looking for money who hold up liquor-stores.  

I can't take a side on the issue. Yes, reader, I know it would be easier if I told you how to feel and what to think. I know that we're culturally trained to think the people in jail deserve to be there, and -depending on what you've heard- you'll either believe that jail helps "reform" them, or that the classes and programs are a "waste of tax payer money".  

Let me ask you this; if you had no money, no education, and no support from family growing up telling you to stay on the "straight and narrow" path and then supporting you to do so... what road would you take? I bet many of you would say you'd take the high road, nomatter what. Maybe your Jesus or Lord would guide you. Well, there's a lot of Jesus in jail, and even more in the 12-Step Drug Recovery programs -and they still bounce back into jail once they go back home to an environment where those same drugs are easy to get and those nice jobs are near impossible to be hired for.  

On the other hand, every human has a choice.  

So, in the classroom, I try -though it takes time, so much time, and lots of patience- to see where they're coming from. I try to figure out what they weren't told and not to take for granted that they know there are other options. I try to realize that most of them will end up in the general population again and that I have a chance to help give them ideas about what they could achieve. You wouldn't believe me, reader, but some of them have the most beautiful hearts and minds. Some of them are destined to go back to college, and to do something great, and a few words of encouragement might be the thing that they never really got growing up. You might not believe me, but some of them have learning disabilities that they aren't aware of that has kept them from graduating with a High School Degree, and some of them are panicked about getting out and not being able to change their circumstances.  

You might not consider this, reader, but some of them will end up dumped on the streets, kicked out and abandoned by their families because of the mistakes they've made, and all at the age of just 20 years old. Some of them had been kicked out and homeless since the age of 15, and through their industrious nature they made money and a place for themselves before getting into the illegal activities that eventually landed them in jail.

And you might not believe me, reader, if you have never seen my face or smile, if you have never known my real age or demeanor, but even as officers and family and staff tell me to be careful, to tell me to trust know one, and that I am surrounded by con-artists and dangerous men... I am not afraid.  

I look forward to it every day. I think about how I might best do right by them, and the second I walk off the compound I begin to worry if I have even begun to help them at all.  

And that's the truth as I see it, so far. There's no way to save every person, or change every mind. People will do what they're going to; that's free will. However, when I walk into the classroom I'm hoping to help them learn the skills to pass the exam... but also the skills to open new doors for themselves when they reenter society, and maybe -just maybe- make it a better place. 

Saving Grace: The Geneticist's Limbo (Short story)

4 min read

Every night Mary does the same thing.

She begins by checking yesterday's data. She looks for how she can make a change, create better science, better art, better life. But more than anything, she looks to solve a problem.

After clearing a clean space for her work, she begins. She takes the incubation tube, the embryo, the virus, the best disease, and begins splicing in the new DNA. One element of with which she works is the clone of a human child she knew; the other is the disease or the solution. It's never both, at least... Not yet.

With many adjustments, she adjusts the lifespan of the embryo and makes it so that growth happens very fast. So fast, in fact, that the rate of maturation could be compared more to a fly than a human.   

After all the steps are done, she sets this incubation tube to grow overnight.

In the morning when the Sun rises, and a new day has begun, a new life has arrived, and she's there to welcome it. She takes it in her arms and gives it all the things that a human child would want or need. Love, food, affection, stimulation, sound, music & arts and stories. She points out the flowers and the ants. She lets it dip it's fingers in paint and soil and lets it taste the sweetness of sugar, the bitter bite of lemon. 

The child is healthy and the day has just started and she finds joy in its laughter and even its cries By midday she sees a twinkle in its eyes and she has a twinkle mirrored in hers. Despite her best efforts, hope and faith and a belief in a dream blossoms in her heart. Like a needle pricking a wound that's barely closed, she feels the love and joy as quickly as she remembers her pain, and she holds the sensation of both at bay. Hey mind is medical, academic, analytical; she, caretaker, keeps it together to keep her faith in this idea, this dream that she plants like a seed every night.

And then afternoon comes, and the shadows slowly begin to fall and get longer and stretch their long, dark fingers over the Earth. And the child is not grown in size but it has grown in age, relatively speaking. That's when the reactions start. That's when they almost always being to show.

The child that's no longer a child begins to feel pain and suffering. Its organs begin to fail, one by one. Its cells begin to attack each other. And so Mary takes her child into her arms again, and slowly as the night goes on, the skin gets thinner, more like paper. -and its body starts to get stiffer, more like wood. -and its eyes less translucent, more like murky waters.

And finally its temperature rises like the heat of a fire. At last, its body becomes light as air, and with a rasp breathes its last breath.

Mary chokes back the tears; they don't offer any solace anymore. She sets the corpse aside. Cleared off is a table for examination, and after dressing herself in a Pathologists garb, she cuts open her experiment with a slice from navel to chest. Samples are taken and notes are documented and tests are set aside in files and petri dishes.

And just before bed, she takes out an embryo, a clone; one of many. She sprinkles in the ingredients of life, adds the mistake waiting to be fixed, makes some slices of DNA code that are different from the last 242, and again, tirelessly, tries to rewrite the story.

 

On the page, the last entry reads: 

Grace 2-42: subject reached maturity before symptoms presented. Degeneration not deterred. Experiment marked and logged. Treatment determined as: failure.

inc.arcerated Part I

3 min read

This is likely the first of many posts to follow. 

 

Jail bars

 

Yesterday, I met one of the hundreds of thousands people incarcerated in jails across California. It was a brief interview, and only three questions were asked. Time was not something we could spare, and we apologized for taking so much of his time with even these three questions. He joked, and said, "I got nothing but time."

The questions asked were probing, but careful. Tell us about your experience as someone incarcerated. From your perspective, what is it like to have these (educational) classes here? What are the mandatory classes you have to take?

The questions weren't loaded, but the answers came freely from a mind that had had time to contemplate and introspect, from a human being who saw these classes not only as having high value, but also as something that has caused him to self-reflect so tremendously that he not only revealed his understanding of how he arrived here, behind bars, heavy metal doors, and thick glass windows, but also a deeper understanding of his place in this world.

He called the prison experience one of "sensory depravation" and highlighted the lack of mental, physical, visual, auditory and social stimulation. It is easy to get depressed, to "become numb" while inside. The classes, whether it's the (very rare) yoga class, high school education class, life skills classes or classes on addiction and abuse (those two are mandatory), all of them are valued so highly because they offer stimulation. Because of this, they are regarded as privileges and will only be offered to those who, for lack of a better word, behave. 

However, beyond this stimulation-in-the-form-of-a-class trade for good-behavior-from-an-inmate, he revealed such insight that I was truly inspired to believe that people can grow, learn, and see themselves and the path they've taken more clearly, perhaps even choosing a new path for when they are released. Most impressively, his self-awareness of his behaviors and choices that led him to incarceration were insightful and mature. 

There has long been a saying, revived again and again in different religions, that goes roughly like this: The prison you live in has no bars; it is a prison of the mind, the heart, the soul, and the only jailor there is yourself. 

The business of jail, of prisons, of correctional facilities isn't so simple, and it isn't obvious if it is fair or just because it is made up of people, good and bad, greedy and charitable. The same can be said of the inmates, and I'm sure I'll be learning a lot about those dynamics in the years to come... if I end up working with this group of people. 

But I think it is fair to say that, at least for the one inmate I spoke to, this system of programs, classes, and 'doing time' has provoked positive change. I have a feeling he isn't the only one that has seen the "prison of the mind" while behind bars. it seems like, for those who are willing, the keys to personal change are available to them.

 

 

Who is Love?

4 min read

Maybe the best thing we can do... is love ourselves. (Like the worm above, we should look upon ourselves in admiration and love.)

 

 

Not in a vain way that excludes reality. Not in a denial way that doesn't allow a healthy perspective or self-reflection. No, LOVE yourself in a way that brings you closer to who you are.

Kid Laughter

 

I see it again and again. As a child, we were closer to that joy and endless energy that came with self-love. We didn't know how to criticize and tear ourselves down yet. We didn't ask ourselves "What am I doing?" but looked ahead and asked "What will I do next?" There was a joy for the future! -Not a fear of it. Somehow, we let ourselves forget that. How is it that the older we get, the more we learn about the world, the less certain we are? Yet as a child, we knew far less and were far more certain of how things should be.

I know, I know. As a child, your family/society/culture makes initial decisions for you. They feed/bathe/clothe you and you don't worry about a thing. But is that really it? Or did our questions of the world eventually turn into questions we couldn't answer about ourselves?

 

  • ...What do I do with my life?
  • ...How do I make money and support myself and my family?
  • ...Who should I marry/be with?

Sometimes, you ask even deeper questions:

  • ...What is my purpose here?
  • ...Where do we humans come from?
  • ...Is there a God?
  • ...How do I 'be happy'?

 

If you've stumbled upon this page and wondered what in the heck does Love is Who We Are means... this is a good article for you to read. 

The pattern of logic follows thusly:

If LOVE IS WHO WE ARE... then WE ARE LOVE.

If we want to know ourselves, and we are love, then KNOWING LOVE IS KNOWING OURSELVES.

To expound upon the idea that the purpose of life (which is unknown) might be to understand the 'human experience', or to "Know Thyself"... and if the only way to know ourselves is to love ourselves... then it goes to reason that our purpose is to love ourselves, in in doing so know ourselvesb and furthermore allow others to fulfill their purpose of knowing the human experience by letting them experience our true nature as expressions of love.

The circle of logic gets a bit cerebral here, but if you let yourself mull that one over, it might just start to make sense to you. 

Circle back to when you were a child -and let's assume you had a happy childhood: your heart was full of love, you felt certain of who you were, despite the fact you were emerging in this world all fresh and new. Even through change, you maintained that love -untili you started to lose that love and/or second-guess your own heart.

The simple truth I want to impart is this:

When you choose love (being around those you love, doing something you love, or making something you love) you are closer to an honest version of who you are than when you are doing something you feel apathetic about, or worse, something you hate. So, even if you don't know who you are, here's a way back: little by little, imbue your life with your brand of love. Become more of that love until you feel whole again, and then try to never second-guess that genuine person again.

 

Remember... LOVE IS WHO WE ARE and we are all love waiting to express itself magnificently!

 

Be brave! Be you! Be love!

Death Gives Life Meaning

4 min read

In a society obsessed with artificial immortality, otherwise known as the external apearance of 'youthfulness', we speak very little of death.

dying

We haven't the courage or social circumstances to really discuss what the 'appropriate' response to the death of a loved one, or even the death of a friend's loved one, should be. We feel that we must console, apologize, sympathize (although how might we sympathize when we haven't a clue how they feel?)

This lack of realization, this out-of-touchness, keeps us from realizing the greatest gift that death gives us: a real and valuable perspective on the frailty and impermanence of life. We twenty-somethings and up have all uttered the phrase "teenagers think they'll live forever" or that "they think they're immortal", and we begin to mimic the behavior of our elders by becoming either consciously reckless or carefully conservative as we age. But what are we protecting and preserving? What right do we have to judge the vivaciousness of the youth we judge? And have we really become more wise in preserving ourselves from danger, or have we simply become hidden within a cage of our fears and doubts?

We die. 

Let those words ring out in your heart and mind.

We die. All of whom we know one day will die. We may not be remembered, and if we are our stories most definitely won't be accurately retold. We preserve our reputation for it to be rewritten after death. We preserve our body through skin-care and muscle toning and even surgery only for it to deteriorate within. 

We are food for the worms, and we are all, one day, destined for either the sea or the soil.

Death and Life - Gustav Klimt

So yes, we die. The question is... do we live?

 

What would you do if you knew you might die tomorrow? Next week? How about if you might die on your way home? Would you kiss those you love goodbye every time you leave? Would you say I love you with less fear? Would you be building your life, stacking up hours at a job that pays you little to nothing, all in the hopes that one day your dream of a better life will be within reach?

There are no warranties, no gaurantees on life. Life is ripped from you and from those you love in an instant without kindness, without warning, and without malice. It isn't fair, it isn't even wrong; it simply IS, a fact of this world.

Perhaps at this point you might imagine the mind who would write these things must be morose, depressed, downright dark. I can't say I haven't been these things once or twice, but I will tell you a secret. 

As much as a deadline will push someone to get their work finished sooner, the promise (yes, it is a promise that death will come without warning) of death is the push that reminds me to LIVE. We might idolize immortality or eternal youth, but to live life without the fear of death? That is a privilege only given to those who truly live. 

So, before you get distracted for the hundredth time -I know this is something I struggle with, also- think about what your last moments would be. What would you regret not doing? What part of life will be pulling at you asking, "Why did you not explore me?" And if you believe in reincarnation, what role in life have you put-off that will inevitably bring you back again in order to experience? 

It's a New Year, and the rules are changing rapidly about how this world works, but this one truth is still self-evident: You will die. This question remains; Will you live?

 

Danger in the lakes...

How To: Solar Panel System Quotes

4 min read

The following is a very basic rundown of what any reputable company will need in order to give you a personal estimate for a solar panel system.

  1. Last 12 Months of Energy Bills
  2. Green Button Data
  3. Phone Number and Email

 

Last 12 Months of Energy Bills: Why?

  • The way you spend energy varies throughout the year. An Energy Consultant will need to see how much you're spending on energy in warm and cold seasons in order to understand your lows and highs (how many hours maximum/minimum do you use energy in a given day/month). 
  • There is an itemized list of discounts and 'taxes' that you pay, usually found on page 3. If you are already getting a huge discount for Medical Baseline or the CARE act for low-income households, perhaps getting solar panels won't actually be cheaper. On the other hand, if you're consistently getting into the higher tiers of energy usage, a good consultant will realize that very soon you're going to be charged even more for what energy companies call super user (excessive) rates. The consultant can show you that in X amount of months you'll be charged X amount more money for the same service. 
  • Your address and meter number is on the bill. The CAD designer will use Google Earth to get a fairly good look at the top of your roof and then use a software that shows the amount of sun exposure the panels will get. Companies should place the panels on the Southernmost sides of the house, with exception for taller buildings or trees casting shadows. The meter number will simply confirm the Green Button Data information.

 

Green Button Data: How Do I Get It? Why Do They Need It?

  • Green Button Data is data taken from your meter approximately every fifteen minutes, stored in an excel sort of file. It can be read by programs and made into a graph showing the actual, detailed energy usage of the household. Companies need this in order to give you the correct amount of panels. Panels differ in power (for example, some can produce 280 hours of energy while others can produce 300 hours of energy) and efficiency. If a company isn't using this information, they might easily round up and sell you more panels than you need because the companies numbers are wrong. You, the consumer, will hardly -if ever- check this and won't know that you've been oversold. Additionally, if a company sells more than one type of panel, they may try to fit different types of panels onto the roof for the best efficiency and use of roof-space.
  • In order to get your Green Button Data... you must sign into your account for your energy provider (ex: PG&E, Edison, LADWP...) and look for this symbol. It will ask you what timeframe you want, just click "All". It will also ask what format you want, try to click "excel" if possible or "csv". 


Download Green Button Data

 

Phone Number and Email: Why?

  • It's understandable that we may not want people having our email and phone number. However, in order to receive information we have to give at least one of them out. You can ask for the consultant's information and I'm certain she'll give it to you. But are you really going to follow up with her, or just forget? The one good thing about sharing your information is that this person will follow up with you when you've forgotten. They won't lose your info and they'll do all the hard work of finding out what kind of solar panel options are available to you. Let's face it; if you were going to do this work of researching solar options, you would have done it already. So, if you don't like the consultant, go out and find one that you do like, because that's the person you'll be speaking with the most. Additionally, make sure to ask lots of questions about what gaurantees they have about work, what timeframe you'll be looking at to get the solar installed (it's always longer than you think it would be) and what's the return on investment. Let them do the work for you. After all, that's their job. But it is going to require you giving them a way to contact you with updates and information.

 

I hope this was helpful. Happy new year and happy Solar shopping!

 

RuBisCO explained: Science Stuff Made Easy

6 min read

 
RuBisCO in the Calvin Cycle
 

Let’s BIDS (Break it Down Simple):

RuBisCO
This article was at the request of a reader. Thanks Emma for the idea!
 

RuBisCO is a term that slips into the conversation when trying to explain how plants get their food. Let’s assume that you never took a science class -and still don’t want to- and remind you, the reader, that plants get their food by ‘photosynthesis’.

 

Photosynthesis means that plants take light (that’s the ‘photo’ of ‘photosynthesis’) and CO2 to create sugars for them to store or eat, and to fuel the processes that go on in their plant-body. (Most) plants also need soil and water.

 

Organisms have a lot going on in them, and they need energy to function just like a car factory that makes cars needs electricity and gas to keep producing and creating things. Well, each organism has a little factory in it; plants, which are autotrophs (they create their own food inside their bodies), have a factory that uses a few outside elements to both power the 'factory' and 'feed' the 'workers' (with sugar). In that respect, I guess it's kindof like Wonka's Factory and the chemical compounds are the Oompa-Loompas, while RuBisCO is sortof like if Willy Wonka had an assistant bossing them around and micromanaging.

This explanation might be missing some very delicate terms and steps, but it’s important to get the general overview before diving deeper into the devilish details.

 

RuBisCO is actually named after two different things. The “RuBis” comes from RuBP and the “CO” comes from the carbon and oxygen that is taken from CO2. RuBP is a 5-chain sugar and CO2 is carbon dioxide, or as you the reader know it, the exhaled air from our breath.

RuBisCO producing 3PGA

In order for the Calvin Cycle to keep on cycling, the "power" plant needs energy. RuBisCO takes the lifeless carbon from CO2, pairs it with the 5-chain sugar RuBP, and makes a chain of 6. This chain is unstable and breaks into two identical sets of 3. This 3-chain (3PGA) is what goes on to fuel the Calvin Cycle, a repeating cycle that creates energy for the cycle to keep going and food for the plant to keep growing. Later on, it gets converted into "G3P" (basically it gets rearranged just like these letters just got rearranged).

 

So, in summary, you need RuBisCO to make stuff happen. It’s called a catalyst, meaning it starts it all. Just like that friend that suddenly arrives and the party starts, or the idea-guy that gets that startup company off the ground and into the business. It does an important job of taking apart the used up old car-parts of the exhaled CO2, and grabs that engine, puts it with the 5-cylinder sugar string of RuBP and gets that engine revving on a 6-cylinder chain (albeit it a very rusty chain that will soon snap in half).

 

When the 5-chain RuBP combines with carbon from CO2, it turns out the combination basically creates a set of twins, at which point they fall apart into two sets of 3-part chains. Those babies go on to get sorted and used by ATP and NAHDP (that’s another lesson, let’s not get into it) who split them up down the middle and mix 'em up to do two different jobs (feed the plant or fuel the Calvin Cycle), a little like how my father got assigned to his branch of the military during Vietnam; the group to the right served as Marines, the group to the left served in the Army. There’s nothing particularly special about which group ATP and NAHDP sends to do one of two jobs, but it does require a few groupings to occur before they ship ‘em out to their assigned post in the plant . (12 groups that make up 36 chains, to be precise... but that's again another lesson).

 

 

Some fun facts about RuBisCO, it's one of the most common enzymes on the planet, it isn't effected by temperature (you are, by the way, in case you were wondering. You'll die if it's too hot or too cold, and tiny, little viruses and bacteria are even more sensitive, usually), and it will survive even after the plant is dead and will help with decomposition.

What? It will help the factory function by assigning where assets go and then pick apart at it's assets after it's shut down? Reminds me of a few corrupt investment bankers I know... From helpful parasite to scavenger overnight. (Just kidding).

 

GLOSSARY:

Photosynthesis: conversion of light into food by plants; it also allows for the green color of leaves and results in the production of oxygen (O2). That’s right, we exhale CO2, plants steal back that carbon from CO2, and give us back the O2 so we can breathe. Thanks plants!

Enzyme: a type of protein, a tool that catalyzes (starts/turns on) and accelerates (speeds up) a chemical process.

Carbon Fixing: think of carbon, from carbon dioxide (CO2), as being ‘affixed’ to something else. In this case, carbon from CO2 is taken and attached to Ribulose BiPhosphate (RuBP), a 5 chain sugar.

Glucose: another word for sugar.

Autotroph: an organism capable of making it’s own food.

RuBP: ribulose-1, 5-biphosphate: the “RuBis” of “RuBisCO”:

RuBisCO: Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase: the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction required to make the Calvin Cycle possible; combines RuBP (the “RuBis” of RuBisCO) with carbon dioxide (the “CO” of RuBisCO).

3PGA: 3-phosphoglycerate: this is what happens after RuBisCO combines RuBP with a carbon from CO2; it becomes “glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate” (G3P).

 

Sources:

http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/59/7/1569.full

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Organic/rubisco.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuBisCO

https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/photosynthesis-in-plants/the-calvin-cycle-reactions/a/calvin-cycle