Category Archives: social and anti

This Graduation day

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My husband has the opportunity to address our graduating seniors and their families and friends at the beginning of the graduation ceremonies, the first, each year, of such ceremonies at UCSB. The total of UCSB graduates this year will be 6,867. Our College of Creative Studies has a graduating class of 82, so you can see it is a little different. Here I share with you the speech he gave this year.

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These days, it’s hard to read the news. A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day that he needed a drink and an aspirin to do it. and you may imagine the responses he got from all his raucous friends, myself included.

Times like these… Many think they are afraid now. But for you graduates, that’s not fear; that’s your sharpness. That’s your power.

Times have been dark before. Cycles come and go but they aren’t circular, they move through time, never actually repeating, more like a spiral heading in directions that our decisions affect, sometimes slowly, maybe jerkily. This is our time, not a repetition from a history book, and we, the people, write it.

Today we celebrate a moment of triumph for all of you upon this stage. Hard fought, hard won, with times dark and bright mixed in. Indeed, you have chosen a hard path, not a conventional one, and that alone is reason to salute you. I hope there’s no one among you who has not failed. Failure is one of our greatest gifts, to discover that, as Winston Churchill said in his desperate times, his darkest hour “…failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But the bitter taste of the rest of that quote is this– “Success is not final…” a note I must sound as we depart from CCS. All of us are changed by the spiral we strain to force in a better direction than our recent past.For this stubborn continued confrontation, we need the courage to continue.

We have a fellowship of CCS students, and I will call all of us students, because a CCS graduate never leaves learning behind… who work as I speak, who have worked, who will work, to defy ignorance, spite, selfishness– in all the myriad ways. One step at a time, one gesture at a time, some by fighting in the pharmaceutical industries to enhance access, some in government seeking better policy, some in laboratories, libraries, or generating code enabling discovery, some writing novels that make us think, articles that challenge our preconceived ideas and inertia, some creating the music that expresses emotion and makes us human, the games that relieve our minds, the art that forces us to perception and passion– all sharing their abilities with a world we cannot doubt is in need. Here at CCS we include this all— the neurodiversity of our College,  Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

In past addresses as Dean I called upon movies to tag our CCS lives to current templates of myth. I went to stories from Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Pacific Rim and others.  The Avengers in their reborn cinematic forms. Now the Hero’s Journey has undergone a transformative evolution into so many more iterations. The Expanse, for all you Miller fans, or Sherlock, brought to our time, and Good Omens. And all these toys, games and series, what do they say about us and our imaginations? That stories are the software our mental hardware needs to visualize our ends and our new beginning. That stories are our re-invocation of creation.

Looking at our superheroes, realize that the superheroes idiom first flourished in response to the totalitarian, homophobic, fascist, and racist themes that underwrote the origins of WWII. Go Superheroes! I would like to hope that CCS legitimizes the dreams of heroes and the right to make them real. Imperfect, yes, we are. But inclusive, supportive, family – We are family, like the Avengers– a family by choice. Don’t lose track of that.

Where do you suppose we should go from here, to become our best selves under this darkened sky? In a time of stress, public disloyalty and strife, of threat and domination, praised as though it were righteousness, …..      Can we pass our food bowls on to let a younger weaker companion eat? Can we tend a sick friend, even when he’s dirty and rude and stinks? Can we wait and love, even in absence, being faithful?

Moved by the images of Notre Dame de Paris ablaze, I think of the extraordinary efforts of men and women over the ages and all faiths, lifting such monuments to heaven. How these buildings were erected by the power of human spirit — by rule of thumb, without the engineering we moderns would consider essential. When the edifice fell, or even burned, they moved to build again, and again, over the ages, building upon ruins.

I believe we are at our best when we are building cathedrals, creating an impossible beauty and shared hope to rise against the night and reach for the stars. These belong to us all to address the needs of the starving human spirit, for understanding, for shared aspiration.

Your Notre Dame must be bigger yet.

Now let me ask you to follow me not just to the top of the cathedral, but to leap up and out and beyond, into a wider consideration and more challenging ambition even than that of our ancestors. This is our moment. This is our world. The place we go is the place we belong.

So, look upon this world. After all, as Crowley might remark, it’s the only place with sushi….

We must rebuild, protect, our cathedral, our old cathedral. Earth. In our day we have more knowledge, of engineering, of science, but to achieve this work we need to revive and understand the spirit of the cathedral builders.

Our planet, our only home needs imagination, spirit, builders, visionaries of all disciplines. All kinds of mind and heart who will not be stopped by failure after failure, and defeat after defeat. Meeting, adapting to, and even rebalancing climate change and environmental degradation, is the monument of your age— the creation that we must aspire to, anew. This is your cathedral. Not a thing of stones and mortar and prayer alone, but more — less defined in shape, more difficult and complex, an attainment– to save the world. No less. To save the world.

Cynical retreat into hopelessness is an indulgence we cannot afford as we spiral on. Don’t be discouraged if success is not what you thought, or comes slowly, or even if it does not come. You still have each other, and your efforts will belong to all of us.It is the courage to continue that we ask.

You may think that you’re scared. This isn’t fear. This is your sharpness. This is your power. This is your moment.

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Two cats at dinner

Kitsune is perfect

Kitsune on quilt

            Look, I know my Little Watson is a pig. He loves food, he’ll take any extra licks he can get. He’ll sneak in under a friend’s whiskers to get that extra bite. Later, he’ll go after the final few molecules with that efficient tongue, polishing all the bowls. But not tonight.

Tonight his associate Kitsune came back from the vet. After a dental cleaning under mild sedation, Kit was extra impaired, staggering with aftermath sleepiness, drooling down his chin and white ruff. Nothing to eat for Kit since last midnight. Loopy and starving.

Most days when I feed these two, I sit by to make sure Little Watson doesn’t come in to sneak Kit’s food. Most nights. it’s  Watson who invades the other bowl.

I looked up after a few minutes tonight, to see a complete reversal. Here we had Kit, who’d bolted down all his own dinner, setting his muzzle deep into Little Watson’s barely half-eaten dinner. Astonishing also, because Little usually finishes half a minute ahead of Kit. This time, Little Watson had backed off his meal and was watching, dare I say wistfully, as Kitsune munched down Watson’s food. There was no confrontation, indeed, if there were anything of the kind, my money would be on Little Watson, not Kit, to carry the day. Watson’s a powerful, assertive little cat despite his bad eye.

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            I intervened, moving Kit back to his dish, with just a scant trace remaining in it, and returned Little Watson to his. Watson started eating, with zest. Nothing wrong with his appetite. Kit leaned over, leaned harder, hopeful, …and Little Watson, my glutton, stepped back, like an invitation. Settled down into the cat becomes an egg position to permit his friend to eat. What is a human to do? Well, suspecting that Kit might be sick from overindulgence, I ended up removing all but a crumb of Little Watson’s food, and offered it to Watson. He ate a little from my hand, but Kit charged over, wanting more– and yet again, Little Watson backed off as though to say, friend, you need it more.

There are times I feel these animals honor us by bearing our presence.

Watson looking back copy

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Of friendship and death

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We are too little moved at parting, blunting our feelings with the expectation that tomorrow will be like today. We will never say goodbye forever, not like this, on a sidewalk without warning. Tomorrow we will meet again, or perhaps the day after. There will be time enough.

Reading of Lincoln’s first meeting with Speed and the quick emphatic friendship that sprang out of that encounter, is full of pleasure to me, but I flinch back when the writer reports theories that they had sex and were lovers. The fact that they shared a bed is given as suspicious. The tone of open tender affection in their correspondence is interpreted as carnal.

I have a different take.

Two things I want to note. Aside from the historical economically enforced intimacy of whole families sharing beds in Lincoln and Speed’s times, (as well as with so many people today, who cannot afford privacy,) we’re looking at the fact that one feels differently in worlds of the past and present, when we know our time is driven by death, and filled with loss. We should know we have no time for dissembling. In Lincoln’s time, ignoring that urgency was an unaffordable luxury.

I remember same sex couples strolling down a village street in Africa arms entwined, fingers interlaced. I think that, yes, there is more than a mere difference in customs displayed. But, sorry, all you curious prurient-minded Americans, it’s not only carnal desire that drives expressions of love. It’s a mistake to reduce this closeness, this passion of feeling for the comrade, the friend, the chum, to an allegation of venereal desire.

In America these days, we feel we can afford to indulge our wish to forget mortality. By comparison the losses a twenty-year old man in Lincoln’s time suffered, I suspect, to be very like in number to the human losses suffered by the young Africans walking, arms entwined. We are talking about brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts dying young, often suddenly. We are talking about lives wrenched by death, a death that triumphs usually without a hospital battle, that springs by surprise out of a fever, an infected cut, a lorry running off the road, or a heart murmur from measles.

Friendship is a bond full of risk, taken at the edge of loss. When the average life-span before the Civil War for a white male was late thirties to mid forties, childhood through young adult mortality ran appallingly high. You found your friends and cleaved to them, because you knew your time was short. The next meeting might not come.

What in these days in this country do we know of death? Who among you readers who live in America have touched your beloved carrion? We have hospitals and nurses, morgues, caskets and the crematoriums to keep our hands clean. Death when it happens, we luxuriously consider an unnatural insult, unless the lost companion happens to be very old indeed. Then, we say it’s natural. That’s a lovely conceit. We all know at some level, our sense of protection isn’t solid at all. We’ve seen the evidence—cancer, automobile accidents, suicide, murder—the young die also.

So perhaps a dear friend may be held all the closer when you know you live under shadow. The rage of protective love might be allowed expression without embarrassment, because of this knowledge. All of us are like soldiers in trenches, death ever hungry, lurking underfoot, within, coming in from the sky, or from a side road. Pay attention. If you will stop looking away from death, it may lead you to share another hug on the street corner, to look with honest love upon a friend’s face, to watch the parting stride— saving images deep in memory long before this meeting is the last.

As for Joshua Fry Speed? He saw his beloved friend buried, years before his time.

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Emergency Response and CERT

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Here’s my graduating class in CERT.

With the fires raging in Northern California and the other recent natural disasters that have affected and afflicted countless people , I hear the questioning rising. Why wasn’t there more help given faster? Why didn’t notifications work better? Whose responsibility are these matters and what do we have a government for, if it has no role in on-the-ground protection of the citizens?

There’s an old tradition lodged in the minds of many Americans, that somehow the organized governmental agencies and their hierarchical structures are somehow less valid and less effective than the Minuteman approach. I think I still hear echoes of this. We certainly hear heart-warning stories mixed in among the tragedies, about untrained souls who rise to the challenge of disaster and save not only themselves but neighbors, or strangers. Wonderful stories to lift us a little in the midst of destruction, suffering and loss.

But what we come back to is that the structures do have a place, the organized, governmental agencies are life-saving. The firefighters who had to spend their time assisting evacuees instead of fighting the fires are to be praised, even if we can also wonder, why wasn’t there another group, more professionals whose job it might be to evacuate while the fire fighters fight flames. We can go in to the economic issues at the heart of this balance, or imbalance, but that’s not where I mean to go right now.

Clearly the systems of notification and spreading the alarm at need aren’t fast enough, or clear enough. Would that we had better tie-ins to satellite imagery so that evacuees don’t get mistaken directions about how to flee. A lot of us have signed up for the local alarms to be sent to our phones, which is a great first step. But what about, as in this case for so much of Santa Rosa, it’s night time and our phones are silenced into sleep mode, or actually turned off? What if we have taken a sleep aid to gain some restful sleep, a dose that will leave us slumbering? Then we depend upon our neighbors, and the night owl who had insomnia and checked her or his phone and read the first outburst of warnings.

I know from anecdotes gleaned from some of our past local fires, that what we expect of government agencies, police, firefighters, and such is often not what they are capable of doing. They cannot reach into every home simultaneously and snatch us to safety. A lot of our alerting system functions by luck.

Could this be addressed? Are there places where a siren should be mounted for such extreme alarms to be sounded? Perhaps. This may be a question for neighborhoods and townships, especially as our global climate shifts and displays a brutal temper.

But there are some ways to be prepared, there’s information to be gained and employed, that can at least train you how to be a part of the response, not the problem. What we sometimes forget in our Minuteman zeal is that when professionals are present, part of our best action is to stay out of the way. Too passive a reaction? Then may I suggest CERT training?

About a year ago I heard of an opportunity to take the free CERT course at the nearby University. I signed up and showed up and spent the next few days being informed, learning how to work as a team with strangers, and learning a good deal of humility.

Let’s be honest, I consider myself quick to think, adept at adapting, fairly bossy and pre-apted for command. (Yes, immodest too.) But the lessons put me in a different frame of mind, and made me, I hope, a far better team player, willing to shift my ground to fit what the larger need demands, and what my associates request.

Plus, I had a great time. This class with all of its lessons was fun. The other students had such different backgrounds and strengths. I had to change and think and learn, and we all made mistakes. Some of our mistakes killed imaginary people. Just like a war game, or a computer game– remember the companion cube? Anyway. let me recommend this exercise and the CERT experience. At the end of the day, you will have a better sense of what others can do for you and what you can do for them, and when you are the civilian running for help, you’ll have a far better concept of what help you can hope for, and how to ask in the most clear and speedy fashion. Plus you will also know what kinds of things you may have to fix yourself, so you waste no time waiting for a helping hand.

Even if you have some disability, or like me, are entering the ranks of senior citizens, knowledge is a weapon, a language, a map for your road.

At the end of a bad day, maybe we all need to be ready to be Minutemen.

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Post SBWC 2017

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The above photo represents what I came home to, and with, after the writers conference.

After six days of intense interaction, and staying up late after rising early, I’m back at home feeling rather odd. What happens when you put a collection of mainly introverted writers in small rooms and invite them to help each other? Wonders, that’s what.

Yes, I went through strangely lonely and dark periods during the writers conference. I panicked I’d lost my touch, that I couldn’t see well enough to put one word after another in a worthy fashion. I heard marvelous, apparently perfect works by my fellow writers, and I doubted. I felt out of step, not so much with others, although that happened sometimes, but with my self. I was afraid I’d mislaid or damaged my writing voice. I felt like that person at a party who has no one to talk with, standing not quite part of any group, but trying to pretend he is, who keeps a smile on his lips because to do otherwise is to be pitiful, and to fall that low, is too far.

Terrifying the silence when you finish reading and you hear not a single response. You rearrange the sheets of your paper and all you can hear is them sliding on the polished wood of the conference table. Was I clear, did I commit cliches, or is even the action in my short story so obscure that no one dares begin a critique– oh hell, was I even speaking English? It’s two AM and what do I imagine I’m doing here? That man over there is yawning.

It’s terrifying to feel that other creators are trying to be kind–but they see you haven’t kept and nurtured the gift. It’s horrid to feel they lean over and speak the encouraging word because they are reflecting their own hearts, not any quality of yours.

I have been trying to create my whole life. That’s nice; we all know it’s a long apprenticeship. But what some part of my monkey brain forgot was this– a writer’s conference is never about you. Nor your work. It’s about the community of writers. I didn’t go in to win anything– I did at least understand that, long before the conference began,  but I did go in to regain my footing. That was my error– the wrong goal.

The goal? It’s to engage in the purpose of helping everyone regain his or her footing. I rediscovered that at last. By helping others, I began to see my own way. I started then to really hear what was said and made and shared. There is a rhythm to creation and sharing, and since creativity is meant for communication, there is a need to step deep into that shifting tide. No dabbling at the edge in the froth. For writers and artists there is an infinity ahead of making, and what that takes is humility and hard work together. This is not the time for selfish doubts, for in-turning.

Introverts or not, now, we break barriers. We swim, far out of our depth.

I am swamped with sensations of loneliness and encouragement, with a gratitude to all my fellow travelers that thickens my voice, with a sense of loss, because I now sit alone. But that may be the biggest mistake. I don’t sit alone.

Now to work, while the remembered voices of friends sound in my brain, while their kindness and engagement glow in my mind. Enough light at last, to let me see my way.

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Peace on Earth

So the kid arrived home with her little new dog and this is what happened in the first forty minutes.

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And no, this dog came from the shelter and so far as anyone knows has never socialized with a cat before. And yes, this is our most difficult cat of four, who chummed with no one but his old, and most sadly now deceased friend Porthos, a feral black cat.  This golden tabby cat is Daft Wee Willie Wilberforce and we’ve had him thorough terrible health problems, mainly genetic. We’ve had WWW since he was seven weeks, so we know no dogs were in his past. He was a bullying sort of little friend to Porthos who was older and doted upon him and excused his vagaries. Porthos was a wonderful fellow, he would gaze with melting affection in his big green eyes upon this little kitten in his care and wash the little rascal with tenderness. When Porthos died, WWW became very depressed, so we acquired a five year old male cat, then some months later two bonded kittens.

Willie had difficulties accommodating our new three cats and so when he walked right into the lap that held this little new dog, we held our breaths and wondered if we ought to interfere! Guess not. It’s been about ten days and for all we can fantasize, WWW imagines that the little black dog is some oddly mis-made reincarnation of his dear old friend Porthos. After all, we excuse our dear friends a lot of oddities. Coming back as a dog is okay– the point is you came back….

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An Extra Note: Compostables and Not

Warning– this is a post that includes cleaning, garbage, purity, diapers and a rant. It’s not about Ramsey Canyon and what we saw… I will get to that after the clean up.

We hosted our Earth Sciences Department party yesterday and about seventy people attended. We prepared and cooked racks of ribs, slabs of salmon, fresh breads and vegetarian beans while our guests provided all kinds of vegetable and salad dishes, plus plenty of drinkables. I baked nine pies– apples from our orchard, grapes from our vines for the grape pies, boysenberries from the neighbor’s baked into a pie, and one huge four layer boysenberry filled cake with a cream cheese frosting. I probably should not tell how many packages of cream cheese I peeled for that job!

On such occasions we try to do our bit for sustainability, with designated bins for recyclables, and bins lined with the right type of compostable bag to take the compostable plates and utensils plus food waste, which we will later deliver to the processing center. A separate batch of bins stand ready for the non-compostables– paper napkins and waxed paper goods or whatever plastics people wrapped their contributions in.

So, this is a group of people who have spent their lives being students. Yet despite clear labeling on these bins, every year, the morning after finds me in my much-reused latex gloves sorting the garbage because somehow people can’t read those labels. But this year brought an even more disturbing variant.

I met single-serving squeezable plastic/foil baby food units. All “pure”, “organic” food in plasticized squeeze containers, one serving each. To be precise, plastic-covered foil pouches none of which is recyclable. The plastic lids are very large, and recyclable. I found two of these with their lids deep in our bin labeled ‘Compostables’. If you detect a hint of offense in my tone, you are so correct. I am worried about the parent who chooses to buy pure organic food for his or her baby in such a package. That you might absentmindedly throw it in exactly the wrong container is one of those things that can easily happen by mistake. But you do not choose single serving disposable aluminum and plastic pouches without shelling out a good bit of cash and having some time to select and think. So you want organic purity for your baby? Great. But what’s the impact of this choice? How could this company not have thought further in producing these expensive and wasteful items? Pure, organic and plastic present me with a serious disconnect.

I went to the website for this product and they claim that their containers have recyclable lids– well that’s just great! Indeed, they made the lids bigger in order to make them recyclable! Next, they say the production of one of their containers has a smaller environmental footprint than that of a glass bottle– but you often have the option to choose multiple serving sized glass bottles, which could change that equation. More, I am not sure if they are saying that only the original processing to produce a glass jar is more costly and if they have calculated the incalculable recycling in the lifetime of the glass jar? Or do they mean that the environmental cost of recycling the glass is greater than the environmental cost of production for each of their one-use pouches? With foil involved? This, I doubt. I also note that a glass bottle is composed of the third most common element on our planet — silica makes up ~15% of Earth. If the glass ends up back in the soil, it changes none of the chemistry of that soil. Plastics are manufactured materials that do not readily decompose, and have consequences in their smaller particulate form after years of disaggregation, for all animals, including us.

Yes, I understand that caring for a baby is a lot of work. I did it too, cloth diapers (and a diaper service as much as possible because at the end of the equation – sterilizing and washing all your own is more costly to the environment than using a diaper service.) I made baby food at home, except for times we travelled and I had to use bottled baby food. But the bottles and lids of what I bought were all recyclable. The glass meant a stable container with no risk of container molecules separating into the food, even acidic food.

I know a majority of my audience here is not having babies right now, but this isn’t just about baby food. It’s about thinking. I think that what I want to ask is that we try not to have that single serving plastic disposable choice be every day’s choice. No one likes a sermon much, especially when it asks for something, so I’ll return to my soggy gloves and my garbage sort.

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