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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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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.

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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

 

 

 

Saying Hello to Rejection: A Doorknocking Guide

6 min read

 

 Take a breath, smile, and be genuine. Then the doors won't be so scary.

 

 

First, I will admit I am not an introvert. I don't have social anxiety and I have long practiced how to make people feel at ease. However, that doesn't make picking random neighborhoods,  knocking on countless people's doors, speaking to dangerous-or-harmless (who knows?) strangers and trying to win their confidence easy.

Surprisingly, the scariest thing for me is waking up in the morning.

I might have done well the last week, or the previous day, "...but will I succeed today? -or was it all a fluke?"

Confidence seems to be part of the key, but I also think a healthy sprinkling of delusion might contribute positively. This is the first case in which I think, to a point, almost religious-like faith in your success to the point where it contradicts reality might actually help you -although, please keep your logic as well. 

Despite the odds, despite three days in a row of 1) no one being home when you knock, 2) no one who answered being interested or even 3) people being downright negative and aggressive to you.... If you want to stick with the business you are selling, you have to 1) keep smiling, 2) keep positive and 3) don't take any of it personally. After all, on the fourth day you might really do well and it will make up for the previous days. 

Of course, learn to read your audience; certain neighborhoods have certain vibes, and people definitely are more trusting if you mirror their tone and demeanor. But really, you have to be genuine or they'll distrust you for seeming fake. 

If you have never taken an improv class and you want to really up your game, consider dropping into a local community theater. The moment it seems like you're clueless is the moment the client loses a little bit of faith in you and your product. Don't be afraid to say "I'm not sure about that answer, but I certainly can find out for you". Showing that you aren't a 'know-it-all' can also be humbling and disarming. Do it with a smile, genuinely seem interested in helping the client find what they need and want. Remember, you aren't selling anything; you are helping match a product to the client's needs. That means... investigate, ask questions, and see if it's a right fit!

Buyers who make a purchase under pressure aren't going to be good referrals for your product. They will have Buyer's Remorse a few days later, and with many things there is a cancellation clause of a few days.... Which means you have wasted all your 'aggressive sales tactics' just for them to back out anyway.

As another blog said, "Get to the 'No Thank You's' quicker". Undoubtedly, you're going to hear "no" more often than "yes". Don't let that dissuade you. I want to rush to the 'no' so I can move on and get to the next door and get closer to the 'yes' that will pay off. If they are really on the fence about something, leave a card or informational pamphlet. However, I really don't think it pays off as much as it's worth considering the cost of paper and printing and the environmental impact of wasted paper. More often than not, you're just littering by leaving pamphlets with them (-some places go to the extreme of fining you for 'littering', and of course be careful of soliciting without a permit in areas that require one). Plus, people think it's your job to leave information and advertisements, so they just ask for a card or pamphlet to give you false hope and get you off their porch. Don't waste the paper or time. Move on.

My best leads when door knocking are: 1) They give me the information I need to run a quote for them, or 2) They give me their number so I can call them back. Only in those two cases do I even leave my card or a pamphlet. (They still end up losing it, by the way.)

When I call someone, I don't push the sale. It makes people run the other direction when you put pressure on them,  so please just take a few deep breaths and contain your anxiety or excitement. You are simply a neutral -but supportive- assistant in finding the solution to their problem, the product for their needs. You don't make false promises and you don't over-exxaggerate the possibilities. Don't even say, "This is going to be so awesome and amazing for you!" because that makes their nervous system rev up. Nervous people don't like to make decisions unless it's impulse decisions... and as I said before, they might get Buyer's Remorse and cancel a day or two later or -worse- leave a really bad review of you and business. Calm buyer's are conscientious buyer's are happy buyer's.

If you're not in it to help them, get out of that business. It isn't sustainable in the long run and will only bring you trouble down the road. It's about time that we make decisions based on ethics and think about the communities and the societies we are building. Create trust and sell things that have warranties and good workmanship. Sell things you would recommend to your own family and friends, that would improve the lives of people you care about. If you don't believe in the product, your charm and/or manipulation will only take you so far before people start to wise up and shut you out forever.

Most importantly for me is what I've learned from this experience of putting myself out there. I have learned to be diligent, to be consistent and to keep my chin up. I've discovered a new level of confidence in my own abilities and the possibilities open to me. I have learned not to take things personally, that everyone is going through their own thing and you see a small part of that when you knock on the door to their home -a most intimate place where people go to let their guard down and the external facade fades. I have always wanted to put myself out there as a musician and artist, and now I know how to take rejection without crumpling, how to be consistent and keep trying, and how to pitch an idea within the space of a few sentences. 

It isn't a job I think everyone can or should do, but it is a truly valuable experience if you are ever going to try to sell your personality (comedians, performers, small business startups) or a product (all sales, in general).

 

Good luck, all you out there hoofin' it! Buy some good shoes and keep your head up. And, comment below or give me a 'Star' if you liked this blog!

Doorknocking and Solar Sales: Observations of an Anthropologist

6 min read

 

 

Solar Energy

Recently I've made a huge career change. My previous job was working for a non-profit that provided steady pay and hours and some meager heath benefits. Unfortunately, the energy output needed to do a good job didn't match the pay -at all- and I was exhausted by what it required. (Sure, I guess you could say  I could've just done a mediocre job, but that's not my style). So, I took a great leap of faith and ended up in the solar industry as a sales rep/energy consultant. The catch? I generate my own leads... by knocking on doors. 

Yep. Pick a spot, pick a time, start knocking and hope for the best.

They keep saying, "It's a numbers game". I suppose I believe that, but it's a bit oversimplified. What people mean when they say that is: "Keep knocking until a door opens for you; inevitably, if you knock enough doors, one will open."

I'd like to add a little perspective to that, with direct reference to the solar energy market in California.

Time of Day: It seems to me that the best hours to knock are between 4pm and 6:30pm. I can usually knock on about 40-60 doors during that time, talk to at least 15-20 people and get at least 2 people to be interested in me running an estimate for them (I give quotes for home owners interested in switching to solar energy, and lowering their utilities overall). I also knock from 10am until 1pm, and sometimes get people who aren't normally home at night, but my overall numbers are greater during the evening (on average).

However, I will say that Daylight Savings Time has screwed that up for me. Before a few weeks ago, I could knock until 7pm easily. The sun set right before that and it wasn't too dark or cold. Now, I have to quit around 6pm (although I push it to 6:30pm if I'm feeling safe and/or lucky in that neighborhood).

The obstacles: walking in pitch black (some neighborhoods don't have street lamps and I can't see where I'm going, don't feel safe, neighbors are less likely to trust someone walking in the dark, and I can't see street-signs to find my way back to my care easily).

The interesting thing, I've noticed, is that people who felt comfortable talking to someone knocking on their door at 6pm when the sun was only just setting suddenly are very suspicious -just because it's now totally dark. If they aren't worried about themselves, they urgently command me to leave for my own safety. "You need to get to your car. It isn't safe out here!" It doesn't seem to matter how nice or dilapidated the neighborhood is, the warning is always the same.

Google Earth

Location: Google Earth and Knocking Apps are your friend, although they don't tell you everything.

Checking out the aerial specs is going to give you  basic idea of the neighborhood. For example, if you see there's solar panels installed in the area, there's probably a viable need for it. Alternatively, there are some places that weren't approved for solar financing until recently (like newly developed housing projects). What matters most is knowing what kind of client you are looking for. I'm looking for houses that have pools (the cost of heating them is a considerable chunk of your bill). I look for roofs that have South-facing roofs with sun-exposure (not too many trees blocking the sunlight).

Knocking Apps are going to give you the names from Public Record lists of home-owners, and sometimes they even include soft credit checks; Unfortunately, it doesn't always update and I've knocked on a door where I end up asking for someone who has 1) died within the last year (or more), or 2) the divorced member of the party living there, causing an immediate sour taste in the home owners mouth because I brough up their ex.

 

Tract housing: Good sun exposure, but is it a good choice for solar if they have good insulation and up to date appliances and HVAC system?

Strategy: Size of homes, 

Big houses = big bills .... unless they are really new and have awesome insulation/up-to-date LED bulbs/efficient HVAC system

Smaller, slightly-run down houses: don't overlook them or the poorer neighborhoods. More than likely, the home owners want to upgrade their home but they haven't been able to manage their bills. Help them get one of their bills under control by getting them financed for solar. Bonus = HERO and PACE programs offer financing specifically for energy efficient home investments, including solar, astro-turf, insulation, LED lightbulbs, and....(this is a big one, especially if clients are considering solar) a new roof!

Pools = $$$     If a house has a pool, there's  good chance a lot of the bill is going towards heating it. There are actually ways to use heating pads on your roof to heat the pool, but an even better option is the 2-in-1 pool heating pads AND solar panels. The pads lay on the back of the solar panels, and take up less space on roof while offsetting the electrical usage for your pool and your home utilities.

Some companies, like Mozilla, have the concept of ethics wired into their company culture. Unfortunately, many others do not -especially greedy individuals in it for a quick buck.

 

Ethics and Job Outlook: As a sales veteran advised me once, "Have fun with it! Sell something you believe in, and get excited about helping others!" 

I cannot sell something to people I don't know if I wouldn't sell it to my own friends and family. I've sold to my parents and to my friends, and I don't regret it. They got a good deal and it helps them out, plus it helps the environment. I think that everyone should consider this approach. 

Why? Because you need to think about the long-term. Sure, if you sell someone this sub-par deal where you make a huge profit but they end up hoodwinked, you'll be excited about the money you just made for now. But how many referrals are you going to get? How will you grow your clientele? Will you be able to continue in sales when people start to figure out you can't be trusted? That, my friend, is called "losing face" and is considered to be one of the worst things possible not only in business, but in several cultures (Japan, Korea and China, for example, value saving-face and they are heavy-hitters in international trade). That mentality of "making a quick buck" can be detrimental to not only your career, but to your life if it comprimises your future. In anthropology, we call it the Poverty Mentality, where a person can't think beyond a day or a week. They live for now, and scrounge to make a living because in their minds, the future is uncertain and not worth investing in. 

Finally, I must  say something about door knocking in general, but I think this post has gotten too long. I'll leave that for my next post. 

I hope if you have any questions about what to look for in solar, you'll feel free to comment below. I'll try to get back to you and advise you on what to look for and how to know if you're getting cheated!

Goodnight for now.

Internet Resilience: Discussions, Brainstorms and Plans for Web Communication and Web Security

2 min read

 

Social WebAs many know, evolution and change comes from external pressures.

There are two distinct external pressures for the plan we are working on: The DDoS attack on Oct 21st and potential dangers of free speech and communication in the US. 

The problem we address: What happens if the internet goes down/isn't secure? How do we function w/out it? How do we ensure freedom of speech survives... that a history of records and data remains available... and that international communication is available without aggressive force or retaliation from gov't?

The answer is not simple, and there will not be only one solution but many. To have only one defense still allows for weakness, and weak points in our internet platforms is exactly what we are looking at now. To have one offense, is also, inefficient.

We aim to support each other, through vetted international networks, during this uncertain time, and we have focused especially on ways we can still use the internet as a communication tool for fact-checked truths, news, information, calls for help and action, and social mobilization.

Looking back on history, we seek to deter the mistakes our ancestors have made and also to predict the next steps those in power will take based on what we've already seen happen in other parts of the world: after all, humans are more or less predictable.

The product of these talks that are happening now in cities around the country, in private web channels around the world, are still yet to be determined. We do, however, have some solutions and I'll be bringing those to the web (in some form) and privately at in-person events in December and January. 

If you want to be part of this discussion and contribute, please comment and/or message me.

Good luck and be diligent in your growth.