Thursday, June 30, 2016

Through the hourglass

"Try to remind myself that I was happy here
Before I knew that I could get on the plane and fly away."

Does anxiety have a color and an animal?

Because I like to know who or what I'm dancing with.

I'm home from a four-night trip to Colorado. Neil is there for 2 weeks, taking classes at Colorado College, so I joined him for the weekend and we went back to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

Ever since the first time we went there a few years ago, I have wanted to go back and spend more time there.

Like almost everywhere we go on our travels, I wish we had more time there, even just one more day.

We stayed in the same place, the Great Sand Dunes Lodge, which by rights should be called the Great Sand Dunes motel, since there is nothing lodge-like about it.

It's just a row of about a dozen guest rooms, all facing the dunes to the west. It's privately owned by an East Asian family, who lives there and operates it during the half-year-long season, when it's not too cold and snowy. The rooms are utilitarian but nice and very clean.

Each room opens onto a shared but divided balcony, and I looked forward to sitting outside and enjoying the peace and the view of the dunefield, but mosquitos put the kibosh on that idea. The buggers also deterred us from taking a couple of hikes in the park and enjoying an outdoor ranger program. We had lots of fun anyway.

I landed in Colorado Springs on Wednesday evening. Neil's classes run Sunday through Wednesday, so he picked me up at the airport and we headed straight for Pueblo, where we spent the first night. After breakfast on Thursday, we went on to the park, stopping to check in at the lodge.

The weather was perfect and we crossed the dunefield and set out to climb the dunes. At altitude, climbing on sand, with a fair amount of wind, is hard hiking. About halfway up, I abandoned the goal of summiting High Dune and set a new goal, the crest of a dune less traveled. Of course, it's deceptive, you think the top is in sight but as you near it, you see that it goes on, climbing higher.

So we drew a line in the sand, so to speak, enjoyed the view for a while, and descended. Down is easier than up.

On Friday, we headed to the Zapata Falls Recreation Area, a few miles south of the park and 3 miles up an unpaved road. From the parking lot, it's a half-mile hike to South Zapata Creek, where snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains flows to one of the rivers we visited recently, the Rio Grande. You have to hike upstream through chilly water to see the recessed 30-foot falls.

I trekked in with my Keens. Neil changed from sneakers to water shoes. If we had to start over, I'd have left my waist pack, with my iphone, in the car. The water was bracing, the rocks not especially slippery, but it's a head game and I didn't trust my balance. At one point I went down, getting the seat of my shorts wet, but I made a quick recovery, with only a slight muscle pull. Neil abandoned ship, decreeing that his water shoes were really shower shoes and not much good for walking on rocks.

I would have liked to have forged on, but the mosquitoes were out in numbers, so we decided to beat a retreat. Our neighbors at the lodge had discouraged us from trying to take some of the other area hikes due to biting bug density.

So we decided to drive to Taos. Another hundred miles on the road, each way. The scenery was beautiful, but I have the sense that we're spending too much of our little trips inside a vehicle. We don't seem to be able to relax, sit still and just be. But Taos has a cachet that appealed to both of us.

Taos was what I'd expected Santa Fe to be like, a more accessible artist's town, with lots of quirky shops. We spent a little time in a gem and mineral shop where a very eager employee kept pulling out specimens of unusual stones to show us. I asked her if there was a bead store in town and she highly recommended one, so we drove 3 miles to be mostly disappointed in a lot of overpriced lackluster stone beads.

After that we had our tradional travel pizza, another winner, and headed back to Great Sand Dunes. On Saturday morning we went back to the dunes and took a long walk along Medano Creek along the base of the dunes.

You will notice that I am carrying beads again. Yes, they will be donated to Beads of Courage.
No, this time I didn't post about their journey on social media. My heart just wasn't in it.

For no especially good reason, we decided to head back to Colorado Springs via Cañon City, a longer route, but apparently we love driving distances. By dumb luck, lunchtime found us in Salida, where we chanced on a great pancake place and found out it was the weekend of the annual art walk in the historic part of the city.

Since we routinely seem to miss local events by a day or two, we couldn't pass this one up. We drove downtown and pulled into a random parking space, I looked up, and there was a bead store. I kid you not. And it was a fabulous bead store with lots of gorgeaus Czech glass at good prices. So I got my bead fix after all.

Not only that, Neil recognized some landmarks and rememebered he'd gone out of his way to go to Salida a year earlier, while traveling between business trips, to have a pizza at a place recommended by a colleague. We drove by and it looked really nice but after pancakes there was no way.

We didn't even stop for coffee in Cañon City but went straight on to Colorado Springs. Neil checked in for his next week of classes, we went for a walk, had dinner at the college cafeteria and called it an early night, since I had a 6 am flight home on Sunday.

Zombie girl doesn't remember much of that flight but I landed in Houston before Neil had to be in class.

I've been home a couple of days now, and Neil will be home in a couple more. And I realized something. I don't think I'd be a lot lonelier in North Carolina than I've been here with Neil gone.

Which is to say that it's manageable.

I'm binge-watching Spiral, a french crime drama (yay, more subtitles), and re-watching season 2 of Endeavor. I went to the dentist, got my tires rotated and balanced, sold some beads on Facebook, went to the post office, picked up some things at Target, made a few beads, put together a bag of household stuff for recycling, have a massage appointment set up, and plan to bake a welcome-home cake for Neil.

I'm doing what I can to keep time with the blue butterfly. Or whatever the hell anxiety's color and animal are.

Two weeks away, feels like the whole world should've changed
But I'm home now and things still look the same
I think I'll leave it 'til tomorrow to unpack
Try to forget for one more night that I'm back in my flat
On the road where the cars never stop going through the night
To a life where I can't watch the sun set
I don't have time
I don't have time

Tomorrow's back to work and down to sanity
Should run a bath and then clear up the mess I made before I left here
Try to remind myself that I was happy here
Before I knew that I could get on the plane and fly away
From the road where the cars never stop going through the night
To a life where I can watch the sun set
And take my time
Take all our time

Two weeks away, all it takes to change and turn me around, I've fallen
I walked away and never said that I wanted to see you again

I've still got sand in my shoes
And I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on, forget you
But why would I want to
I know we said goodbye
Anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hound of the basket cases

"This isn't for the man who can't count the bodies
Can't comfort the families, can't say when he's wrong."

Biochemistry is a bitch.

For no logical reason I've been waltzing with the black dog again.

And now, having said that, I'll thrash through some of the illogical reasons why I'm doing the devil's dance right now.

Haters. With the presidential election just months away, and two impossible-to-like front-runners for candidates, the political climate on social media is off-the-charts vituperative.

Add in a terrorist-motivated mass murder of homosexuals with a semi-automatic firearm, and pejorative ugliness has been seeping out of the woodwork like virulent mycotoxins.

I know, I know. Stop looking, stop reading, stand well out of the cross-fire, if it makes you feel so badly. Or alternatively, do something proactive about it. I've honestly toyed with the idea of becoming an anti-handgun activist.

I'm not sure exactly what that means or how I would go about it, other than to open a window and yell, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.

Except it's too fucking hot to open a window right now.

I've been isolating a lot, staying inside in the air-conditioning, but that still doesn't insulate me completely from stupid.

Last week, I had a hair appointment, with the stylist who has done my hair for 9 years. When I walked in, she was working on another customer and they were talking about autism, and why it is so much more prevalent now. Predictably, that discussion led to the vaccination-autism-causation mythology.

So, I had to open my mouth and say, research has debunked any causative relationship between vaccination and autism. My stylist and her customer immediately pushed back, claiming conspiracies to hush studies done by the CDC connecting vaccination to autism, especially in African-American boys (my stylist and her customer are black). They also cited the movie Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe - and the fact that Robert De Niro's wife noticed an overnight change in their (now 18-year-old) autistic son after an MMR vaccine - as gospel.

I wasn't armed with the facts - but I am now - that since 2003, there have been nine CDC-funded or conducted studies that have found no link between autism and any vaccine or vaccine ingredient. Not that it matters. Once people have made up their minds, don't bother to disturb them with the facts.

I'm happy with the way Teanna does my hair. I'm not going to change her convictions.

Neil and I are watching the Murdoch Mysteries. In the last episode we watched, Constable George Crabtree uses the expression "stem to sternum." Detective William Murdoch corrects him, "stem to stern." George comes back with, "we'll just have to agree to disagree." That made me laugh. (Stem to stern, as you no doubt know, is a nautical allusion, meaning from the front of a boat or ship to the back.)

George can certainly offer to agree to disagree, but he's still flat out wrong.

Neil is traveling and I'm in the midst of an online bead trunk show that has been a disaster. After 18 hours I made three sales, and nothing since, no bids, very few comments. Sales have been really slow for me for the past week, and yet I'm still cranking out beads that I like, but it appears almost no one else does. And truthfully, I don't love them, although I think they are worthy of being bought.

It's not bothering me in the ego-busting way that it has in the past. For one thing, I know it has been slow for many. Some artists still sell well, but on top of being mega-talented, they also aren't flooding the market with their beads the way I do. Others are struggling to sell like I am. There are the usual rationalizations, summer vacation, election year, but it's always something.

Then we are competing with a lot of new lampworkers who are selling at low prices, which causes other lampworkers to lower their prices, which affects us all. In my case, I have a lot of jewelry-designer customers who have bought a lot of beads from me over the last two years and who just aren't selling enough jewerry to need to restock. They are facing the same challenges, a glutted market, buyers who aren't spending discretionary bucks so readily.

It's time to make a change. I'm going to take some time off from making and selling. Maybe a month, maybe the summer.

Other changes are in the works, changes that make it likely that we are going to move within the next 12 months. I'm going to have to deal with my feelings about that, and that is definitely one of the illogical reasons that I'm tripping the light fantastic with the dark hound of the basket cases.

My angst about moving stems from two triggers. One is the massive task itself. We have so much stuff, I have so much stuff, much of it aquired in the 9 years since we built and moved into this house. When I moved here from my prior home of 19 years, I got rid of a lot of stuff, but I also packed a lot of stuff that I never unpacked. I have boxes full of carefully tissue-wrapped collectibles. I just got new stuff.

In theory, simplifying, lightening up the load, has appeal. In practice it's overwhelming. Once I get past the many things that have meaning to me, there are still so many meaningless things that I am both attached to and have no clue how to dispose of. At one time I thought I'd spend time in retirement selling my stuff on eBay, but now that seems more effort than the candle's worth.

I took a basket of things over to my friend Pam, who owns the consignment shop that carries my beads. I didn't want to consign them, I just wanted her to take them. I know money is tight at times for her and her husband, and if she can make a dime from my junk, I'm happy. The problem was, I came home with three new things, two that she made me and one that I fell in love with and she gave me in trade.

I have more things I want to bring her, but it's not going to help at all if I just exchange my things for different things.

This is the piece I fell in love with. Cast aluminum by artist Don Drumm. Isn't it fabulous?

But I'm taking baby steps. I put some useless things that were just taking up space in the trash. I have a clothing donation bag started and already half-filled. I've stopped buying beads and glass. Pay no attention to that box that UPS just delivered - it's just a restock of colors for one of my frit blends - and a 1/4 kilo bundle of glass cane - since I was paying for shipping anyway. I've been selling some of my beadmaking supplies and will slowly be selling more, slowly because shipping glass is a pain compared to shipping beads.

And then there's that second trigger. Moving away. God knows I don't have a million friends, and I don't make friends easily, but I have some friends here. And there's family. Not that I see my kids and grandkid often enough, Austin and Fort Worth aren't exactly next door. They both work and are busy with their lives, so we visit a couple of times a year and they visit a couple of times a year (and then I have to share them with their dad).

Neil's kids will be living in Lake Charles for the next year or two, which is about the same distance as Austin, but they'll both be back in Houston sometime in 2017. And Laurie is having a baby, due on Christmas Eve. I'm fond of them, I enjoy spending time with them. And a baby. A new grandchild.

Family trumps everything, weather, scenic beauty, everything.

But Neil is my family. And I want him to be happy. And I really don't want to be the reason he isn't happy. So somehow, I will do this.

Down dog, down!

This isn't for the ones who blindly follow
Jingoistic bumper stickers telling you
To love it or leave it, and you'd better love Jesus
And get out of the way of the Red, White, and Blue

This isn't for the ones who buy their six-packs
At the 7-Eleven where the clerk makes change
Whose accent makes clear he sure ain't from here
They call him a camel jockey instead of his name

No, this is for the ones who stand their ground
When the lines in the sand get deeper
When the whole world seems to be upside down
And the shots being taken get cheaper, cheaper

This isn't for the ones who would gladly swallow
Everything their leader would have them know
Bowing and kissing, while the truth goes missing
Bring it on, he crows, putting on his big show

This isn't for the man who can't count the bodies
Can't comfort the families, can't say when he's wrong
Playing I'm the decider, like some sort of Messiah
While another day passes and a hundred souls gone

This is for the ones that I see above me
Three little stars in a great big sky
Light for the world and hope for the weary
They try

This isn't for the ones with their radio signal
Calling for bonfires and boycotts, they rave
Exhorting their listeners to spit on the sinners
While counting the bucks of advertising, they'll say

This isn't for you, and you know who you are
Just do what you want 'cause I know that you can
But I gotta be true to myself and to you
So on with the song, I don't give a damn.

(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Espouse grief, not guns

"Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?"

Orlando, Florida. June 11, 2016. Pulse, a gay nightclub. The American-born son of immigrants from Afghanistan. Ties to radical Islam. An AR-15. The deadliest mass killing in modern U.S. history. All the elements to reignite raging debates over gun control, immigration laws and sexual morality.

Here are the names of some of the dead.
  • Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
  • Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
  • Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
  • Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
  • Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
It's sobering that social media exploded with passionate defenses of the right to gun ownership that almost drowned out expressions of sorrow and compassion.

Here are more names of the dead.
  • Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
  • Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
  • Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
  • Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
  • Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Yesterday on Facebook, a good friend of mine posted a petition at to "Ban Assault Weapons Now."

Because I have challenged myself to be more authentic and less conflict-avoidant, I shared it.

The first comment I got was this.
Please get your facts straight - the AR-15 is NOT an assault weapon - do your research and you will see why it was never banned in the first place.
I don't pretent to know anything about gun models, so I did a little research. AR-15 rifles are lightweight, gas-operated, high-capacity-magazine-fed semi-automatic weapons with military-spec triggers.

There is no categorial definition of an "assault weapon" in the USA. Among regulating jurisdictions, the definition usually includes semi-automatic firearms. A semi-automatic gun requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge, whereas a fully automatic weapon shoots multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger.

As it turns out, the rifle Omar Mateen used in the Orlando shooting was a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, operated by gas piston technology, the same technology used in the AK-47, a selective-fire assault weapon. But that's neither here nor there.

What is here or there is that certain models of the AR-15 were among the firearms banned under the federal assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, when Congress allowed the ban to expire.

So I'll conclude that my commenter needs to do her own research.

Here are the names of others who died in the Orlando massacre.
  • Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
  • Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
  • Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
  • Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
  • Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
My next commenter came up with an old stupid tired lie.
Guns are not the problem. Geez!!!! PEOPLE are the problem. Guns themselves don't kill.
I had a good response but I was trying to not jump into the fray. In fact, I was hovering between deleting my share of the petition post and waiting to see if my thread would just die a natural death.

My response would have been the tomato analogy. Knives don't slice tomatoes, people slice tomatoes. But when people slice tomatoes without a knife, the sharper the better, it' s a lot slower and messier.

Luckily, a less conlict-avoidant friend jumped in, took no prisoners, and spared me.
That is such total bullshit that it makes me want to vomit.
Here are some more names of the dead.
  • Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
  • Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
  • Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
  • Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
  • Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
The comments continued on my post, and I broke my resolve to maintain a laissez faire distance. I reverted to my comfort zone, walking the line, finding middle ground. I tried this comment.
Some believe guns are the problem, some don't. We aren't going to resolve the controversy here. I didn't write the petition, I just shared it. I personally believe that unrestricted access to high-capacity-magazine-fed semi-automatic weapons enables deranged people to more efffectively kill mass numbers of blameless people. If you disagree, please scroll on by.
More of the dead.
  • Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
  • Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
  • Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
  • Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
  • Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
It didn't work of course. The first ugly response was "Why not ban the Muslims?"

I thought about answering like this.
Beacuse Seung-Hui Cho, Adam Lanza, George Hennard, James Oliver Huberty, Charles Whitman, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Jiverly Wong, Aaron Alexis.
But I didn't. Someone else had a more succinct response. "Moron."

Yet more of those dead.
  • Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
  • Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
  • Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
  • Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
  • Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
As the day aged, the filters got thinner. I noticed unfamiliar names. I don't really know all of my more than 1,000 Facebook friends well, I know there are some whose politics and takes on social issues are about 180 degrees from mine, but most express themselves politely. I don't require that all my friends agree with me or think the way I do, as long as they keep it civil.

My Facebook privacy settings are set to public. I don't post anything that I'm not comfortable with anyone seeing. But when people who aren't even friends of friends, just Facebook randoms, start making repugnant comments on my post, it's time to lock things down a bit.

I changed the privacy setting on my post to friends of friends, and in another first, I deleted vitriolic comments by strangers that were not meant to facilitate dialog.

Still more people who were killed.
  • Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
  • Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
  • Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
  • Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
  • Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
From where I stand, nothing has changed since I posted my thoughts after the Sandy Hook slaughter.
When the framers of the Second Amendment wrote that "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" I'm quite certain that they didn't envision semi-automatic weapons in the hands of private citizens.
More dead.
  • Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
  • Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
  • Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
  • Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
  • Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Arguably, giving logical grammatical meaning to the preamble of the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms exists only for individuals for the purpose of serving in the militia.

Notwithstanding logic and grammar, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
Still more dead.
  • Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
  • Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
  • Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
  • Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
  • Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Across the United States, wherever there are more guns, people are at higher risk for firearm homicides. Among developed countries, wherever guns are more available there are more homicides.

Conversely, firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation.
Also dead in Orlando.
  • Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
  • Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
  • Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
  • Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide, 7 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault or homicide, and 4 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting death or injury than to be used in a self-defense shooting.
So, as our hearts go out to the families of the dead and wounded in the wake of fanatic maniac Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, let us spare a thought for the roughly 31 victims of homicide and 56 casualties of suicide downed by guns every single day in America.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

(Bob Dylan)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Carrying a chimera

"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, no was all he said."

I've blogged quite a bit about Beads of Courage here, but if you need a reminder, BOC is an arts-in-medicine program that provides beads to children coping with serious illnesses. Beads are intended to represent the steps of the child's medical journey and to help them tell their story of treatment and courage.

Purchased commercial beads are given for relatively routine procedures, a blood draw, a needle stick, a chemo treatment. Donated artisan lampwork beads, known as Act of Courage beads, are given for treatment milestones, such as the end of a course of chemotherapy, surgery, and sometimes just for when a patient is having a really rough day.

From the website.
The program helps to decrease illness-related distress, increase the use of positive coping strategies, helps children find meaning in illness, and restores a sense of self in children coping with serious illness. The program also provides something tangible the child can use to tell about their experience during treatment and after.

I've been involved with Beads of Courage at a variety of levels since I started making beads in 2008. I've donated Act of Courage Beads. I was one of 30 bead artists selected for the 2013 Inaugural Year Beads of Courage Bead Artist Hall of Fame.

I've been an Artist-on-Call to make Dream Beads. Each child gets a postcard that says "If I could have my Dream Bead it would look like: ___________________." I've made a a Storm Trooper bead, a Buzz Lightyear bead, a "Minnie Mouse with a hot pink bow on her head" bead, a Batman bead, and a bead with a "Robin sitting on a twig looking towards brightness out of cancer perched on one leg."

I've participated in the Bead Design Challenge program where BOC invited children at 10 hospitals to design a bead bead based on what words like love, hope and spirit meant to them. Each of the top designers were paired with a bead artist to bring their design to life in glass. I was asked to reproduce in glass a buterrfly designed by a Beads of Courage member from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. I received an honorarium for the 25 butterfly beads I created.

Two fund raising e-books for BOC - Hot Glass for Cool Kids, Volumes 1 nd 2 - included tutorials for kid-friendly beads that were donated by me.

My beads have been included in exhibits at BOC headquarters, including "heART that Matters" and "Beads in Bloom" as well as in the Global Butterfly Project at the Tucson Children's Museum, that memorialized the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust, and honored the survivors. The exhibit included 418 glass beads donated by Beads of Courage supporting artists to honor the life and legacy of a young woman who lost her battle against cancer on April 18, 2015.

For the past few years, Beads of Courage has been purchasing bead pairs from me at a discounted price for inclusion in their Carry A Bead kits. The program is a fund raiser where particpants purchase the kits, carry the beads, keep one, and return one with the Story Card telling where the bead was carried. Each kit contains a matched pair of beads on a large safety pin, a Story Card, a Carry A Bead sticker and Team tag, and a string to start a personal "strand of support."

It's not important where the bead is carried, whether it goes international jet setting or just to the grocery store. The idea is that the bead has been carried by someone who cares. Sometimes there are sponsorships where beads are carried at special events. I've made big-hole bead pairs that were carried in the Miss South Carolina USA beauty pageant and beads in team colors - brick red, desert sand, black and white - that were carried by the NHL Phoenix Coyotes.

Last year, I decided to carry my own beads for BOC when we went to California for my cousin's wedding. I carried three very large beads, took photos of them along the way, chronicled their travels here and on Facebook, and sent them to BOC along with three photo montages I made with the pictures.

This April, I carried a whole string of beads at Big Bend National Park. I posted about the program on Facebook and made stickers for each bead with the details of their journey, bagged each bead with a sticker on my business card, and sent them to BOC.

When we went to Santa Fe, Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly in May, I did the same. Again, I mailed them to BOC on cards with stickers that said this.
Bead carried to Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico;
Chaco Culture National Historical Park; Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle, Arizona

I was so happy doing this.

Then I got this letter from BOC.
Hi Elizabeth!

Thank you for sending in CAB beads and for your donation. I am so sorry to tell you this, but we can't make the beads you carried Carry a Bead beads. We have a protocol with Carry a Bead, and each bead needs to be accompanied with a Story Card that comes in the Carry a Bead kit. This is a fundraiser that helps us raise funds for other programs. If you would like to continue carrying your own beads, we can send you Story Cards with a donation. All Carry a Beads must be accompanied by a Story Card. I apologize for any confusion.

I love seeing your beads, and I wish we could put them in the program with your business card describing where they have been, but unfortunately we must follow our program guidelines to be fair to other artists.

With love and care always, etc.
I was in the parking lot of the grocery store when I read this on my phone. I felt gutted.

My first impulse was to sit there and type a reply, but I made the affirmative decision to be mindful, to calm down and think over how I wanted to respond.

I gave it a lot of thought. I do understand why they might not want to include my business card - which was just a handy piece of cardstock the right size to fit in a bag with a bead - but why not just offer me Story Cards? Did BOC want me to purchase kits as a donation when I already was donating the beads, when the beads I carried and donated were much more substantial and intricate than the beads in the kits?

To help me think it through,I drafted several versions of a response. The last and best draft is this one.
Hi Angeline! I'd be happy to complete Story Cards for the beads, depending on what you meant by "with a donation." Please let me know.

I know a lot of people like to follow the journeys of my BOC beads, on Facebook and on my blog, which is also a way of raising awareness for the Carry-A-Bead program.

By telling where the beads traveled, I hoped to make them more special, personal and meaningful. As it says on the BOC website "Your commitment to care will connect with a child or teen who receives the bead you carry."

It would be great if there was a way for me and other artists who donate beads, and who would like to carry beads, to participate in the program.

Best, etc.
But in the end, I didn't send it. I really have no words. It's their program, their protocols, their guidelines and I can't tell them how to run it. It's not up to me to persuade them to run it differently. I'm hurt and a little angry but I don't want to hose up my relationship with them. The kids will still get the beads, and although they won't know that they've been carried, I will know.

And face it, I admitted before all this happened that by carrying beads and posting about it on Facebook, I might be guilty of being an attention-seeking diva. Does it really matter where the beads have been? They are still just beads, small trinkets made of glass that don't absorb the atmosphere or ambiance of the places they go, the visceral experience of the person they go with. They are only invested with the majesty and magic of the places I take them in my imagination.

They are inanimate, insentient objects, not living, breathing things. This is not to say they don't have meaning, but their meaning is intrinsic, integral. After the flame and the kiln, they aren't changed or enhanced by travel.

You can't teach them to feel. You can't teach them to understand. You can't teach them to communicate. You can't teach them to love.

So I have made a decision. I will continue to carry beads and I will post pictures on Facebook and I will reference the Carry a Bead fund raising program, in case any of my readers want to contribute in that way. I will continue to donate Act of Courage beads. If BOC asks me again, I will continue to make Carry a Bead pairs for their kits.

But I don't need to have a dog in this fight. I don't need to have any monkees in this circus.

And there are times when silence speaks more eloquently than words.

I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, no was all he said

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me

I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walking side by side
I said, hey, Carmen, come on let's go downtown
She said, I gotta go but my friend can stick around

Go down Miss Moses, there's nothing that you can say
It's just old Luke, and Luke's waiting on the Judgment Day
Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?
He said, do me a favor, son, won't you stay and keep Anna Lee company?

Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, I will fix your rack if you'll take Jack, my dog
I said, Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man
He said, that's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can

Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinking low and I do believe it's time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me.

(The Weight, Robbie Robertson)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Unconscious means just no

"I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Oh, oh, the damage done."

I read the 12-page victim impact statement Emily Doe submitted to Judge Aaron Persky in advance of Thursday's sentencing of Brock Turner. Turner earlier had been convicted on three felony charges:

  • Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman
  • Sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object
  • Sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object

Because no sexual intercourse had taken place at the time Turner was spotted, captured and turned in to police by passing students, his crime did not fit the technical definition of rape under California law. Nonetheless Turner will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.

At the sentencing hearing, Doe gave an abbreviated version of her statement, asking for a sentence to include time in state prison, without probation. Persky sentenced Turner to six months in county jail (which could be reduced to three months for good behavior) and three year's probation.

Public condemnation in response was deafening. Social media exploded with outrage at the light sentence.

Shortly after the January 17, 2015 incident, Stanford University, where Turner as a freshman and a member of the swim team, conducted an investigation, expelled Turner and banned him from campus. Turner also has been banned from USA swimming and any chance of representing the USA at the Olympics.

All this has made me reflect back on my own experiences with alcohol when I was an 18-year-old freshman at Colgate. I'd never drank much before college. There was alcohol in my home and my parents enjoyed an evening drink most nights. My dad would offer me a drink, back when the drinking age was still 18. His theory was that if it wasn't forbidden, if I had access at home, then I wouldn't go out and drink with friends.

No fear of that. I was pretty straight arrow. During my high school years, I sometimes went to parties where there was alcohol (and weed) but there was never any peer pressure to drink. A benefit of going to an all-girls school I suppose. At home I tasted wine and beer and cocktails and wasn't impressed. I never once got intoxicated until I went to college.

Colgate was a party school and there was alcohol everywhere, all the time. There were free keg parties and kids with money to buy booze and host drinkfests in their rooms. I started drinking, started liking the taste, liking the feeling, and then of course I had to test my limits.

Luckily for me, I choose a party in a room in my dorm to find out just how hollow my legs were. I think I actually drank six beers in the course of a couple of hours. I was feeling good, and then suddenly I wasn't. I knew one thing, I had to get back to my room. I really didn't want to pass out in a strange room with people I barely knew. So I staggered out of the party and down the stairs and into the suite I shared with three other women. I made it into my bed and then I was violently sick.

It wasn't pretty. My roommate helped me clean up, change into clean clothes and change the sheets. I kept apologizing and she kept saying it was all right, she'd been through it before with her younger sisters and brothers. Funny the things you remember more than 40 years later. So if you are reading this Karen W, thank you again for helping me and not shaming me or judging me. I know I wasn't your favorite person but we made it through that first year together, different as two people could be, sharing a small bedroom and we came out alive. And I have never gotten sick from drinking too much again.

I learned something from that one experience. My limits. Don't drink six beers. Don't drink so much that you are at risk of passing out. If you even start to feel like you may have had a little too much alcohol, go home, go someplace safe. Drink with friends you know and trust, people who will have your back if you do get a little sauced.

That reminds me of another freshman college experience. I was with friends, my best friend Sara and four boys we knew well. We climbed on the roof of the art center with a gallon of Julio Gallo. Why ask why? Because college kids. We sat in a row on the ridgeline and passed the bottle up and down the line. I was in the middle and the bottle just kept coming by, from the left, from the right. All four guys were tall and strapping. I weighed 110 lbs. soaking wet.

It wasn't until the bottle was empty and it was time to climb down that I realized my legs were made of rubber. No worries. The boys and Sara, who had the good sense not to take a swig every time the bottle went by, lowered me down and walked me back to my dorm. I remember the walk, remember meeting another friend on the climb up the infamous hill and joking with him, so I really wasn't totally three sheets to the wind. Two sheets maybe.

After that I was even more careful. I nursed a beer, I raised a bottle to my mouth but didn't drink, I put a joint in my mouth but didn't inhale. Pretty soon I realized no one was watching anyway, so I just passed that bottle and joint right on along.

I wasn't a saint. I drove when I was too tipsy to walk and it's only by the mercy of the universe that I'm alive and so are the other drivers on the roads I travelled. I'm not even sure why I drank at all. Getting a buzz for me meant spending a lot of energy not to show it, to act stone cold sober. Not to mention that I had killer hangovers, two-damn-day hangovers. If I woke with a hangover I had it for the rest of the day at least. And I could get a hangover from sitting in a bar, with loud music and, in those days, cigarette smoke, drinking ginger ale.

Still, I spent more than 20 years drinking, not every day and not too much at a time, because I was a habitual social drinker. All my friends drank, almost all of them still do. And we're still friends, even though it's been more than 20 years now since I stopped drinking.

When I stopped, I thought I was just taking a break, not going cold turkey. I was unhappily married and depressed and alcohol sapped my energy and made me feel even more tired and listless and sad. Quitting drinking was instrumental in my finding the strength to dissolve my failed marriage and move forward toward a happier life. I can't imagine ever again drinking more than a glass of champagne on a special occasion.

So, Emily Doe, I wish you could have been a little wiser at the age of 23. I wish you hadn't drunk so much that you remember nothing between being at the fraternity party and waking up in the hospital. I wish you hadn't had a reported blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. I wish your knowledge of the events for which Turner was tried was not pieced together from news reports and testimony after the fact.

Did that give Turner the right to hump your unconscious body, to viciously invade your unconscious body with his fingers? These are the facts that we know to be true, because we have two witnesses and physical evidence. How you came to be primarily unclothed remains in the realm between your blackout and how Turner spun the story. And the answer to my question is emphatically, of course not. Emily says it best.
Future reference, if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. .. If she can't do that, then no. Don't touch her, just no. Not maybe, just no. ... This is common sense, human decency.

According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note; if a girl falls help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina. ... If she is wearing a cardigan over her dress don't take it off so that you can touch her breasts. Maybe she is cold, maybe that's why she wore the cardigan. If her bare ass and legs are rubbing the pinecones and needles, while the weight of you pushes into her, get off her.
A jury of 12 men and women, who heard the evidence presented by both sides, unanimously found Turner guilty on the three counts of sexual assault he was charged with. The maximum sentence would have been 14 years in prison.

Those who are offended by the relatively light sentence may be overlooking the fact that the price Turner has to pay is far higher than three months in country jail.

In a letter to the judge, prior to sentencing, Turner's father had this to say.
Brock's life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression.
I know, a lot of people would say, boo hoo. But prison or no, I imagine that he is paying dearly. Among other things beyond the public disgrace, beyond the expulsion from Stanford, the loss of his Olympic dreams, the end of his long-term plans to go to medical school, I imagine Turner is thinking about his actions in the clear light of day, with remorse.

For legal reasons, of course he could not take responsibility, could not admit to having nonconsenual sex with an unconscious woman, could not apologize to Emily. But that doesn't mean he isn't sorry, and I don't mean he is sorry he got caught. I don't doubt he feels anxious and depressed. His life, as he knew it is over. He will always be that guy who got kicked out of Stanford for sexually assaulting a falling-down-drunk woman. He will always be that drunk guy in the mug shot with the red eyes. He will have to live with himself, every day.

Emily has recovered from her physical wounds. She will recover from her emotional wounds. She can throw off the mantle of being a victim and become a survivor. She can make her life whatever she chooses to make it.

Countless men have raped countless women on campus and paid absolutely no price. This is so wrong. Women have been deliberately been given sedatives, roofies, and then raped while unconscious. This is so wrong. Women have been raped off campus by strangers, women have been raped and brutally beaten, women have been raped and left for dead, women have been raped after death. This is so, so, so wrong.

But would sentencing Turner to six years in prison (as requested by the prosecution) send a deterring message to all those drunk misogynist undergraduate predators? Would it punish him more sufficiently than he is already punished by the natural consequences of his own actions? Would it encourage him to accept accountability for his actions on the night of January 17, 2015, if he has not already been able to do so?

Those are questions we each must answer for ourselves. I have the world of compassion for Emily. But my heart is not a stone, and there is that troubling gray area where alcohol wiped out both judgment and memory. No number of years in prison will erase the events of that ugly night for Emily, for Turner, for the rest of us.

No man is going to say, I can rape a woman and all it will cost me is a few months in jail, widespread public censure, and the loss of my life dreams, self-respect and peace of mind, so why not?

Rape culture won't be fixed with one man's punishment.

It's enough now. I hope we are able to let this one go and move on.

I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Oh, oh, the damage done

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done

I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you won't understand
Milk blood to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a settin' sun.

(Neil Young)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Lions, tigers, bears and gorillas

"Miles from nowhere, not a soul in sight
Oh yeah, but it's all right."

Overnight, hundreds of thousands of people became experts on silverback gorillas when 17-year-old male western-lowland gorilla, Harambe, was killed by the Cincinnati Zoo dangerous animal response team, after a 3 year old boy slipped into his enclosure.

I have to admit, initially I had the same knee-jerk response as so many others. Why did the gorilla have to die? Why couldn't he be tranquilized? Was he really behaving aggressively toward the boy, or was he protecting him from the screaming, chaotic onlookers?

I don't think we'll ever know definitely just what the gorilla would have done if he hadn't been put down. I've watched the videos on YouTube, and I've concluded, instant expert that I am, that Harambe was protecting the boy, but only in the sense that he was protecting a prize. The boy was his, and he wasn't going to be distracted, leave the exhibit, or give him up without a fight.

Darting the animal was ruled out because it's not instantaneous. We think so, thanks to edited films we've watched on PBS, where the animal appears to go down quickly. But in reality, the anaesthetic can take as much as 10 minutes to take effect, and the impact of the dart could aggravate the animal in the interim. Not to mention that when he did go down, more than 400 lbs. of gorilla easily could flatten a child.

If the child had gotten into an enclosure with a lion or tiger or bear, I don't think the decision to euthenize the animal would have been so second-guessed. But because the gorilla has human-like characteristics, it's much easier to anthropomorphize. Yes, the gorilla and the child look at each other. Yes, at one point the gorilla appears to take the child's hand, and at another point he stands him up by the waistband of his pants. But he also pulls him roughly through the moat by his leg.

There is no film of the shooting or the final moments before the fatal shot, but there are reports that Harambe was acting aggressively and preventing the child from moving away. And regardless of intentions that we can never know anyway, Harambe had the power to crush a coconut with his bare hands. Even if he meant the boy no ill, in one accidental move he could obliterate the child's life.

Everything else is background noise. Sure, the mother should have been watching the child more closely. Yes, despite 38 years without a breach, the enclosure was not sufficiently child-proof. Whether or not the decision to shoot the gorilla was right, and I've come to believe it was the lesser evil, the gorilla is dead and no could-haves or should-haves or would-haves can change that.

Tarring the mother and feathering the euthanization decision-makers won't bring Harambe back.

Harambe. Swahili for "pull together". (Photo: Jeff McCurry/AP)

In other news, we did go to Chaco Canyon, aka Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site. It wasn't on our original itinerary, but if you drew a line on a map from Santa Fe, NM, to Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, AZ, you'd intersect Chaco.

Unfortunately, there are no roads that come even close to running in straight lines between Santa Fe and Chinle, so we had to take a circuitous route with an unfortunate detour. Still it was a crime of opportunity and although - on paper - it added 60 more miles to our 290 mile drive, we decided to go for it.

But first we spent a couple of days soaking in Santa Fe. On the day we landed, our first stop was Canyon Road, a half mile strip of galleries and eateries in the historic district. It was a little more upscale than I pictured, less of an artisan marketplace and more of a high-end art space, but it's on every top-ten things to do in Santa Fe list. We did have a lovely snack at The Teahouse, a mega mocha (half and half Italian hot chocoate and espresso and a scone with clotted cream & lemon curd for Neil, a fiery mocha latte for me, made with cayenne pepper.

Refreshed, we did a lot of walking, to the Plaza and the Palace of the Governors, with more shops and a fair number of Native American street vendors. After that we checked in to our hotel, read some of Dragons in the Water (which we finished on the trip) and went out for a lovely "African-Caribbean fusion" dinner at Jambo Café, chosen for it's reviews and the fact that it was close to our hotel.

The following day, we headed to Bandelier National Monument, a protected area of canyon and mesa with evidence of human habition dating back 11,000 years. History was made there again that very day when I purchased my National Parks lifetime senior pass for $10. You heard me right. Ten dollars for admission any or all of the 400-some National Park Service parks, monuments, preserves, historical sites, recreation areas, seashores, lakeshores, reserves, parkways and trails, for me and Neil, or me and any three guests, for the rest of my life.

That was a thrill.

We hiked the main loop trail and a side trail to Alcove House, a cave with a reconstructed kiva located 4 ladders and a bunch of stairs about the canyon floor. Neil climbed up, I didn't. Did I mention that I carried beads for Beads of Courage again? I did.

Like everywhere we went on this trip, I would have liked to spend more time there, but we decided to press on to Los Alamos. I've wanted to visit Los Alamos since my online ColgateX class, The Advent of the Atomic Bomb. Not much is left or recognizable from the days when thousands of Manhattan Project scientists convened there to design and build the atom bombs that essentially put an end to World War II.

We visited the Bradbury Science Museum and watched a couple of short films about "the town that never was" which is when I realized that it was really the site of the Trinity bomb test that I wanted to see. Since that site, 35 miles southeast of Socorro, NM, is about 200 miles from Los Alamos, that would have to be another trip. And I realize that the site pretty much consists of a historical marker in the desert, with residual radiation ten times higher than normal background radiation in the area. Still, if I ever have the chance, I'd like to stand there. Someday, maybe.

After driving past the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the largest - and most highly secured - science and technology institutions in the world today, we headed back into Santa Fe, and got a pizza fix at Upper Crust, just off Canyon Road. Yes, even the pizza places have upscale names although there was nothing uppity about the ambience and the pizza was hot and tasty.

And the next morning we were off on our funky adventure to Chaco Canyon. We got off to a false start for which we were blameless. Thirty miles out of Rio Rancho on US 550, Neil wondered aloud why there suddenly was so much traffic coming in the opposite direction. Shortly after that traffic going our way backed up and we saw cars turning around. Then we got alerts on our phones that 550 was closed at San Ysidro. (We later learned that there'd been a triple fatality accident.)

So we backtracked and headed west on I 40, resigned to omit Chaco from our itinerary. 100 miles later we started seeing road signs for Chaco, so we regrouped again and exited at Thoreau. From there it's about 64 miles to the park, the last 20 on dirt roads. From north or south the park can only be accessed by dirt roads.

After miles of driving through literally nothing (photos courtesy of the NPS), we reached the Visitor Center, an honest-to-goodness building with a bookstore, museum, movie, gift shop and flush toilets. Camping is the only lodging and the campground sign said "Full." There were a surprising number of people at the park, given that we'd seen no one on the road. The weather was perfect. We spent about 3 hours hiking at pullouts along the 9-mile Canyon Loop Drive, amongst the remnants of Chacoan architecture from the mid-to-late 800s - great houses with second and third stories, kivas and elevated kivas, an elevated plaza.

With 170 miles still to go to our original destination, Canyon de Chelly National Monument. This has been on our bucket list forever, and it was as amazing as anticipated, albeit miles from nowhere. Navajo families have called the Canyon and surrounding area home for almost 5,000 years. The park is jointly managed by the NPS and the Navajo Nation, and currently about 40 families reside within the park boundaries. We stayed at the Navajo owned and operated Thunderbird Lodge in the park, which was a lovely experience.

There is only one public hiking trail in the park, although private hikes with authorized guides can be arranged. There are 10 scenic overlooks along the north and south rim drives, with shorter walking distances. Neil and I started with the 2 mile round trip hike, starting at the White House Overlook on the South Rim. From there we climbed 600 feet down on switchback trails to the White House Ruin. And back. Up is easier than down. Down is harder on the legs, up is harder on the lungs.

Afterwards we visited the scenic outlooks, including the spectacular Spider Rock 800 foot tall sandstone monolith. It was beautiful. I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Miles from nowhere
I guess I'll take my time
Oh yeah, to reach there

Look up at the mountain
I have to climb
Oh yeah, to reach there

I creep through the valleys
And I grope through the woods
'cause I know when I find it my honey
It's gonna make me feel good

I love everything
So don't it make you feel sad
'cause I'll drink to you, my baby
I'll think to that, I'll think to that

Miles from nowhere
Not a soul in sight
Oh yeah, but it's all right

I have my freedom
I can make my own rules
Oh yeah, the ones that I choose

Lord my body has been a good friend
But I won't need it when I reach the end

Miles from nowhere
I guess I'll take my time
Oh yeah, to reach there.

(Cat Stevens nks Yusuf Islam)