Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Back from Cali

After posting yesterday, it occurred to me that it might have been more helpful to post what had been covered (and changed from red to black in the spreadsheet). I might do some reviews as I get further along, but I am focused more on what needs to be done. Also, things always come back.

For example, I remember thinking about the Disneyland trip in advance, and thinking that would be a good time to cover the "Worried about Mom" line of the Problems, but then I saw I had already covered it. Writing once does not mean I will never write again, and I would like to say a little about the trip.

It did give me fodder for the travel blog (which will include a post on traveling with special needs), so that met one purpose. Another hope I had was that it might reset Mom's brain a little, so that maybe she would recognize home and my sisters. Before we even went I realized that she does recognize them sometimes, and that doesn't stop her from not knowing them a little bit later. Both ended up being true, she was more accepting of this being home the night we got back, but there are still times when she doesn't know. It did at least give a break to my sisters for being asked where they were, and a chance for Mom not to obsess about where they were, because obviously we were away and they weren't going to be there.

I said that this trip was for Mom (the birthday retreat was for me), but my family was hoping it would still be a break for me. A family friend thought it would be horrible for me. The reality was somewhere in the middle. It was not the type of vacation that I normally take, where I like to be pretty active. We sat and watched a lot. I went on a total of five rides over the two days, plus the Enchanted Tiki Room. I guess the Monorail can count too. Generally we average thirteen rides a day. I knew it was going to be like that.

When I go on trips other than Disneyland, I try and see as much as possible. I kind of got that in here, making a point to get the two refurbished rides and try some new restaurants. Also, Disneyland is a great place to sit and watch, even if I normally prefer to spend less time doing that. It was a break for Mom, and in that way it was a break for me. I still worried and had to be attentive, but it was still a change of pace; that makes a difference.

I came away feeling pretty good, but then we landed and it was really cold and Mom's coat - which had been fine for the trip there - was insufficient, and we had to wait a long time for our ride, and the furnace had stopped working (again), so she was still cold when we got home, and I have a two-faced person I am dealing with that is hard. Also, I had been really restored by the birthday retreat, but then there was so much going on that I had not planned for other social or alone times, plus I had not thought about how the trip itself would take enough out of me to require recharging, and then everything looked kind of bad again.

I worked out some more alone time and was starting to recover, but then Mom started getting really emotional and morbid, which is why we are working on the medication change. That's just how it goes - I need to take care of her, and I need to take care of myself too.

I have been thinking about it more, because it looks like the next step is sleeping in her room at night. For a long time she kept being surprised that I wasn't coming with her, I think because she was so sure we were guests here. I thought it was better to reinforce that we were home and we all have our own rooms.

Lately though, she call me more at night to check where everyone is, and physical proximity has been a big issue for her comfort. Also, one of our cats keeps calling me in there. I go and stay for a while, but then come back to my room, and now I am feeling like maybe I should just stay. Part of me is rebelling, because it's giving up one more space, but if it makes other things better, it could balance. I still need to remember to socialize and to get time alone, and to explore new things. It is critical. 

I had an image come to me a while back. The worst part of Alzheimer's is that it keeps getting worse, and then death. It seems inevitable that there would be some relief with that, and a lot of guilt with the relief. I am trying to navigate now so that I can be okay with her life and her death both, which may be too much to ask for. But in this image, I could see myself being so depleted by caring for her that upon her death nothing was left and I got sick.

That is not impossible. I had the thought before reading Rampage, but two of the teachers who had harder times after the shooting got very sick, and their diseases were ones that made the stress connection plausible. Part of that is that they were not given any time off to recover, because the administration decided that the teachers needed to be there for the kids. It was good to care about the kids, but they needed to care for the adults too.

I can't forget that balance now. I want to be here for my mother as much as she needs me, but I want my life too. I want us both to have beautiful, radiant things. It's worth fighting for, but more to the point, it's worth planning and asking for.

Monday, February 27, 2017

So not finished

There are some important milestones coming up this week.

Wednesday is the anniversary of my year of selfies. Technically, the 365th one gets taken Tuesday, but I will certainly post a selfie Wednesday and write something about that project.

Saturday, March 4th, will be a year since my last day of work. It wasn't the day I found out about the layoff, and it wasn't the last day of pay because the severance lasted for another two months, but March 4th is the day that sticks.

At one point when working on these many, many things to improve myself, I had decided to target March 1st for completion, which seemed possible if not easy. Yeah, that's not going to happen.

Some of that completion includes treating in the blog, and that could have been more possible if I had only blogged about that and nothing else, but I don't regret the tangents. They go along with everything. I don't know how many people read every post, but they build on each other. That could make some posts less accessible to new readers. I don't mean to do that, but I am aware of the connections between things and try to explore that in a clear and logical way. And that wouldn't be helped by significantly longer posts, so I spread things out.

This has been a hard year, but there have been good things in it, and I hope more good things will come from it. I also know that completion is a loaded term. As I deal with some things, I can see other issues that have not been dealt with, and possible ways of dealing with that, but that maybe aren't for right now. I never expected to come out of it completely perfect.

The need for constant work has been brought home a bit more recently. I had struggled, and gotten to a point where I felt like I was doing really well, where "serene" could be a reasonable adjective for me, and then all of a sudden it wasn't. I am in another adjustment period, coping with this new phase, and adapting to it.

And life goes on.

So there will be lots of deep and heartfelt and funny and pathetic things to write about over at least another month, and even when that is done the writing will go on. If you are wondering what topics have not been covered yet (which items are still marked in red on the spreadsheet), I am including that information - categorized - down below:

Disconnected from Body
I don't believe I can be loved
Can't drive
Bad feelings about Dad
Shoulders ache
Feel burdened

Be connected to body
See good in myself
Have flying dreams
Be financially secure
Not have loneliness be a problem
Be okay with appearance

To Do
Meet physical needs
Moderate changes
Create comics for other works
Work on family history
Complete contacting singles
Transcribe mission journal
Bridgestone course
Other driving classes

Cinderella At My Daughter
The Beauty Myth
The Feminine Mystique
Packaging Girlhood

Also, as new things To Do became apparent in the course of the work, two things were added that remain glaring at me in red.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Band Review: Stevie Wonder

Regular readers may have noticed a reversal, where the travel blog post went up yesterday, and the traditional Friday music review is going up really late Saturday, That is because Stevie Wonder has such an extensive catalog that I have been locating and listening to his music for over two weeks now. I should have started three weeks early.

It was worth the time, and it felt very necessary. I had written him down for review a while ago, when Feminista Jones had recommended him, especially for Fulfillingess. Critical mass was reached as Franchesca Ramsey recommended Songs in the Key of Life and Sassycrass started talking about him, and it felt like everyone was talking about "Happy Birthday". It was just time.

I am glad I went through the entire catalog. There were good memories and new finds and some clarifications on partial memories. I still do not feel in any way equipped to do a normal review, so this will just be thoughts and impressions.

I went through chronologically, and found great growth. That makes sense. He started as a child, and he was a gifted child, but there was still all of this experience to gain (and a voice to change). I didn't like  With a Song in My Heart much, and Tribute to Uncle Ray seemed gimmicky, though that could have just been that someone so young lacked the gravitas that Ray Charles brings, and suffers by comparison.

The early exception was The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie. I know they were mostly songs by other people, so the background was probably similar to the other albums, but it is amazing. Being instrumental takes away any reminders of his youth (though you still know), and the music is so alive! That is where I hear why he is a "wonder" and get an idea of how much of a prodigy he must have been.

Stevie at the Beach through I Was Made to Love Her (1964 - 1967) were better, with him finding his voice and coming into his own. Part of that growing up would include getting married and letting his contract expire in 1971 so that he could establish terms with more control. I don't know if all of those decisions came from what he learned working with the label, or how much his wife helped with that navigation. Syreeta Wright had been a secretary for Motown, as well as a songwriter, and secretaries know things. It is interesting to me because lately I have come across more cases of recording contracts stifling careers instead of helping them. I am curious about that.

It becomes an interesting period. 1968's For Once In My Life is growing funkier, and 1969's My Cherie Amour sets familiar lyrics to some really different tunes, so there is playfulness and development already, but Music of My Mind - 1972, so now out of the old contract - feels a lot more experimental, and Fulfillingness' First Finale in 1974 sounds more mature. If I can't necessarily articulate what makes them sound that way to me, I still trust that Wonder knew what he was doing and was making choices that led to growth.

I'm going to say one more thing about his youth (and then he is getting older anyway), but I read that Where I'm Coming From (1971) was compared unfavorably to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On which also came out that year, so I listened to that too.

On one level I think the critics were being overly harsh, but I have to admit that What's Going On is a gut punch. I had heard some of the songs, but putting them all together it's on a whole different level. It makes sense that the man who was a little over a decade older and painfully divorced is channeling a deeper pain than the newlywed 21 year old. That doesn't mean that the younger one doesn't have anything to say; but it's different.

Both of those albums were attempts to explore and try new things. One thing Wonder's contemporaries know him for is his ability to hear new possibilities, especially with new ways of using instruments. I learned that he is also a bit of a technology junkie, which makes sense. There was a lot of use of synthesizers on Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants, still pretty new at the time.

That one got a lot of criticism too, though that may be more related to the movie itself, which was considered pseudoscience. It sounds very New Age-y, but I know it references things that came in the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time so I suspect it fit in with the era.

The music is interesting, and often moving. Without seeing the movie I can't know how well it fits, but the thing that amazed me reading about that is that Wonder a description of what was going on and how long the segment took, and had to compose that way. I keep forgetting that he's blind.

I mean, I know, but I forget what it means, and what it would make difficult, because he just does things anyway. His discography includes three film soundtracks, without him ever being able to watch the films. It's astounding.

New discoveries I liked included "More Than A Dream", "Ruby", "If You Really Love Me", "You and I", and "Don't You Worry About A Thing". Fulfillingness is good, but I responded more to Songs in the Key of Life. That had "Contusion" and "Another Star", plus "Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)" which I just think is brilliant; I can't explain way. I like "Rocket Love" and "Land of La La", "One of a Kind" and "It's You".

"Happy Birthday" is great, and despite loss it is so joyful. That was another thing that was interesting. I'd heard "Sir Duke" before, but I didn't understand that it was a tribute, and in part that tribute came from people dying before he could collaborate with them. Missed opportunities make a lot of sad songs, but also you can just be grateful those people existed.

I like "Cold Chill" and "Sorry". (I have no idea what I will choose for his song of the day, but once I listen, all songs are in play forever.) "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" is very dramatic; it's hard to believe that it is on the same album as "Moon Blue" which has such a different tone. And I liked "Passionate Raindrops" and "A Time to Love" too.

He is wonderful.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Band Review: Noname

Noname is a rap artist based in Chicago. She recently played Portland, supporting her 2016 album Telefone. I listened to her this week based on a blurb in the Arts & Entertainment section of The Oregonian last week.

The release date is significant, because she has been on the scene since 2010, contributing to other projects, including on "Lost" with Chance the Rapper in 2013 (the same year Telefone was announced). The blurb mentioned that, and I remembered that as I started listening and found the music hard to get into.

Noname uses some jarring notes and patterns. That can include a faint ring on "All I Need" that keeps me checking my phone, or an overlay of competing sounds on "Sunny Duet". This keeps the listener off-balance, rather than being able to settle easily into the music.

For someone who has taken so much time working out what she wants to say, I have to assume that is a deliberate choice. As repeated listening leads to familiarity the discomfort subsides, but before that you have heard.

As that happens I start to hear possible scat influences. I hear some quiet and lovely accents. I hear an undercurrent of fear because society is never safe for some people. There is still caring and beauty, but it is impossible to relax, depending on your skin color.

So yeah, the music shouldn't be relaxing. It reinforces what life is like.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Drug trade

We are currently changing some medications for my mother. I have mentioned how anxiety exacerbates her dementia, and we sort of got into a worse place. It seemed necessary to increase a dose, or change it, or add to it.

I read a lot, but in the realm of anxiety and depression and the meds that help them, most of what I know is from listening to people. One thing I have learned is that a lot of people have a bad reaction to Xanax. It makes them feel sicker than they have ever felt in their lives. Another thing I have learned is that doctors often want to try it first. I was not sure whether that was an issue of the doctors liking it because pharmaceutical reps give them nice things or insurance companies preferring it because it was cheap. It sounds like it is more the cheapness.

I agree that cost-effectiveness is important. For all the things that might make you feel uncomfortable about the pharmaceutical reps, I have benefited from medical samples and things that my doctor passed on to me. There is plenty of room for debate on whether health should be a business, but there's no question that it currently is.

That being said, when a patient is seeking relief, given the ramping up times and the weaning off times that are involved in starting and quitting the different drugs, giving them an extra month of feeling sick just in case the cheaper one might work seems to fly in the face of "First do no harm."

And I certainly didn't have time for it, so that was something that I was ready to fight for in our situation. I didn't start out fighting, but fortunately I know what all of the blood relatives are taking and who has had bad reactions to what, and good reactions. While there were other ways in which the transaction was not completely satisfactory, everyone was at least agreed that we weren't going to try Xanax. Knowing family medical history helps.

For example, if a sudden medical reaction set off a panic attack that brought a person's latent anxiety to the forefront (like maybe she'd always been kind of uptight before, but it was manageable), then it would be helpful to know that a genetically identical sibling's anxiety was being successfully treated with Zoloft; don't bother with the Xanax. That's what ended up happening anyway, but first, one extra month of sick.

However, that is not the only way in which knowing family medical history can be important. Hypothetically, knowing that the genetically identical sibling has anxiety could be a really good reason to not prescribe a medication like Wellbutrin (Buproprion), which seems to be really effective at pushing people over the edge into anxiety.

Maybe it wasn't commonly known at the time. I only found out because I started doing some research after the fact, but you would hope that the doctor would have known. Studies are not in complete agreement, but there are enough reports where it seems like a risk.

Of course, you also have to consider the risk from the other side. What is being treated? What happens if you don't take the medication? Wellbutrin is an antidepressant and smoking cessation aid. Smoking is very deadly, though you need to weigh that against increased risk for anxiety and for epileptic seizures.

However, this patient was not a smoker. She was prescribed it as something that could possibly help with weight loss. That's not what it's for, but over 6 to 12 months you can lose about 2.7 kg over the placebo group. That's almost 6 pounds! Except that she was not able to take it for even one month, because it made her really sick and brought on debilitating anxiety that required a lot of medication and time before things started becoming normal again.

I wanted that doctor fired. The patient disagreed and continues to go there, and nothing that bad has happened since, which I guess makes it all okay.

I believe in that case the problem is a belief that nothing else can be as bad as being fat. If the patient is desperate to lose weight, and the doctor believes that is the key priority to good health, it's simple logic. Aren't seizure and anxiety better than fat? Even only six pounds of it?

And thus we transition to the portion of the blogging where I will start writing about being fat. We'll start Monday.

ETA: Just found this: https://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Consumer advocates

Over the course of the long reading list, one common source of frustration was how often businesses or government entities will look right past your humanity. I am not a gadget, but I am also not a product. I don't want to be seen as a customer or a brand or anything where I get reduced to a market value. That will be explored further, but one book gave me a different take on seeing yourself as a customer:

The Day the Voices Stopped, by Ken Steele

I read it for hope. Depression, PTSD, and eating disorders were most common among my people, and there were some with bipolar disorder, but schizophrenia was relatively rare. There were still some cases, including with one of the girls I got especially close to. In addition, although schizophrenia can be more dramatic in how it distorts reality, there were still a lot of distorted perceptions with the eating disorders, and dangerous voices inside their heads with the depression. It was important for me to know that could stop.

The book was very affirming in that sense, but there was another lesson that I am starting to understand now. Steele's experiences - often horrific - led to him becoming a mental health advocate, and it was centered on treating the mentally ill as consumers rather than patients.

It sounded odd to me at first; there are illnesses being treated. However, thinking as a consumer instead of as a patient focuses on choice, and it means critical analysis on the performance of the doctors.

Let's go back to that friend who was sure that the talking cure was the only real remedy for depression, and that medications were only valuable for the assistance that they could provide on the way to a cure. At the time I thought that meant his issues were probably more traumas that he needed to work out, rather than any chemical imbalances - all of which seemed reasonable based on other things that I knew about him.

I have since had two other thoughts, neither of which really contradict the first thought. One is that I suspect this is what his therapist told him, influencing that belief. Also, if he could believe that, then his therapist was working out for him.

I am glad for that, but it is not automatic. I read an article a couple of years ago that I can't find now, but it was about one young woman's attempt to find the right therapist, and it took her four or five attempts. Sometimes the therapist was at fault, like the one that was romantically interested in her (huge red flag). If you are trying to heal from abuse, an excellent therapist whose features or voice are similar to your abuser may not be able to get very far. But also, maybe you just need someone who used a different method, or doesn't have a prejudice against the religion that is important to you, or someone with a different perspective.

There are a lot of different ways that things can work out. Timing can be a factor. I know someone who tried desensitization therapy. It was not working then, but over time she was able to build up strength for the stressful activity; maybe it can be sped up for some people and not others. The human mind is a complicated part of a complicated species.

That frustrates people. Dear friends will tell you that you need to get over something, and try practicing tough love on you. It might help, but it might not. People who have had success with one type of therapy will be sure that it's what you need, but may be ignorant of many contributing factors that affect how it will work for someone else. And your doctor will go by many past patients, which may not work for you.

Ken Steele faced a lot of terrible side effects over the years. Some of that was probably due to the medication still being developed; we have more and better options now. He was at times harmed by doctors not listening when he would tell them how a certain medication made him feel. That's why patients need to be able to fire their doctors. That's why it helps to be able to think as a customer.

There have been some advances in mental health parity, but there are shortcomings in coverage for physical health too. There is also a line drawn between physical and mental health which can be somewhat illusory.

I looked into becoming a home healthcare worker for my mother. I was told that her needing supervision was not enough; she would actually need to require help getting dressed and feeding herself and things like that. I know of other cases where admittance into a home that is needed due to dementia is not covered because it is only affecting the mind. These are issues that cause real distress for families, and they are also ones where the patient cannot be their own advocate.

That may seem like a case where a consumer mindset won't help, but believing that things can and should be better may be easier for someone remembering that the people you are dealing with are being paid for their answers. They are employees. Maybe you need to go up a level to a supervisor. Maybe you need to push for consumer protection and broader offerings.

I am thinking now of someone in treatment for anxiety and depression that has become debilitating and who is not making much progress yet. I do believe in that "yet". Maybe she needs more time, or a different combination of medications. Maybe she needs to change care providers.

There can be a lot of hassle involved in that, so success is going to require two things. One is that belief that improvement is possible. For all of the pain out there, I see improvement all of the time. If one path is not working, it does not mean there is no hope for you. It may mean that you need to change directions.

And because there can be so much hassle and discouragement, there should be support. Reaching out and trusting can also be hard, but we can all work on making that easier. We can be more understanding. We can be more informed on how things work. We can be kinder. We can listen to hear the things we don't know, instead of trying to make everything fit into our comfort zone.

We can be there for each other. And we need to.

Related posts:

Monday, February 20, 2017

There are four lights

I have never watched any of the "Star Trek" series regularly, but I have seen various episodes and many of them have made strong impressions on me. The strongest has probably been "Chain of Command".

I haven't even seen the whole thing. I missed the mission, and Picard's capture, and most of the torture, but I remember seeing that final attempt to break him. His torturer knows they are about to take Picard away, but he still has to try. For all the pain that has come every time Picard was asked to say that there were five lights, he has insisted (accurately) that there are four. More pain. Now there is the promise of comfort or pain for the rest of his life, and all he has to do is say that there are five lights. Then there is that interruption where Picard learns it was all a lie, and he is free. Before he goes, though, he has to say it one more time, in a feral, primal shout:

"There are four lights!"

That scene was memorable, but what drove it home for me was the next scene, where Picard is discussing it with Troi. He admits at that point that he could see five lights.

I had been thinking about it more, so I looked it up. Of course it was inspired by 1984.

I do think of it because of the frequent shameless lies. It's not even so much because of the administration lying, which was expected, but because there are people who believe it.

I remember a change within the last few years where people would start giving Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War and Japanese internment during World War II as examples of how it could be okay to set aside civil rights. Somehow the thread had been lost that these were bad ideas that we regretted.

That went along with my confusion about how people were still listening to Breitbart. They had been shown to lie and edit video multiple times before Planned Parenthood. Anyone remember ACORN and Shirley Sherrod? They were such exaggerated, mustache-twirling caricatures it should have been obvious anyway, unless you were eager to believe it. Maybe that was the problem.

I do think of that, but there is something else more personal for me. I think about the scene over and over again with my mother.

For all of the memories that she has lost, her personality is still there. I see it in her stubbornness at times, but also in her worry. She usually doesn't believe this is home, so she worries about where the pets are. If they are here, do we have food for them? Mainly she worries about my younger sisters, because she keeps thinking there is another set. She gets frantic about the two that are missing.

I try really hard to reassure her that she is at home and she has her children with her and that everything is fine. Sometimes it works, sometimes she gets really sad, and sometimes she gets mad and fights it. That's when I feel like a Cardassian sadist, trying to break her and strip her of what she knows. I am trying to make her see the fifth light.

She feels like she is fighting for her sanity; at least that's how I interpret the desperation that I sense. But what I am trying to tell her is true; if she could accept it and remember it, there should be some relief in it. Ultimately, it's just terrible for all of us. It's not every moment, but it's a frequent interruption and is full of pain.

Putting all of it together, there is a note of fear for me as well. It is frightening how easily truth can be lost. In that light, maybe it makes sense that my Sunday blog just finished an examination of the Constitution and is starting a deep examination of the Savior's life and teachings. Maybe I am afraid that I only think I know some things.

If that is the case, apparently I still believe that I can know them. I still believe that I can count and see lights.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Band Review: Wesley Willis

I have gotten really emotional listening to Wesley Willis,

I'm sure it hit harder because of other things that are going on, with questions about reality and medication that will be dealt with more in some of the non-music posts.

I first saw Wesley Willis recommended by Face the King, though Berwanger mentions him a lot. There wasn't anything that would give me a context for who he was, also an artist, also schizophrenic and known for his obscene phrases and bestiality references that were a way of fighting his demons as he personified them.

That gave me concerns about listening, largely about whether I was even up for listening to a lot of profanity and bestiality references, but also worries about whether it was exploitative (a common concern for many critics). It started out okay, with me avoiding certain song titles, and then really turned around with Rock n Roll Will Never Die.

That is my favorite of his albums, for multiple reasons. I love the cover, with his art in the background and a really happy looking Willis in the foreground. Given the joy that rock gave him, that feels appropriate, and then the songs started reminding me of the joy that rock shows give me.

The tracks are repetitive - musically and lyrically. The music repeats because it was usually pre-programmed tracks from his keyboard. That works. I have played with Casios and Yamahas and they had tracks I would just listen to sometimes. I knew they were formulaic, but it was a formula that worked.

(Actually, there are parts of the musical and vocal delivery that remind me a bit of zydeco artist John Delafose, which makes me wonder how Willis might have been different if he had been in New Orleans instead of Chicago.)

The lyrics made me think more. If the crowd roared like a lion at multiple shows, well, that does happen at multiple shows. At smaller shows you do get to meet the band a lot. I don't know if jam sessions after are common - maybe that was specific bands or venues or maybe you only get to go to those if you are a musician, but yes, there are things that are the same. It doesn't make the thrill less sincere or enjoyment less real. Some people worry about describing it in a way that is new; Willis used familiar words but he used them sincerely.

That was when the repetition of commercials jingles started to make more sense. A lot of them become earworms and blend with the soundtrack of parts in your life. The Pontiac one - yeah, my brain repeated that one at odd moments too.

One of the last songs I heard was "Outburst". It has a different backing track. His vocal delivery is different, despite some familiar phrases. It makes sense for it to stand out. The other songs are real, but they are either about fun things or playful about bad things. "Outburst" is serious and real and heartbreaking. Getting kicked out of the art store and faced with a potential ban goes beyond embarrassment because of the importance of his art to him. It's worse than getting thrown out of church (which also happened).

Paired with "Chronic Schizophrenia" on Rush Hour, it feels like a greater opening up. It makes you wonder how much more someone has to take. Then you get the answer because that was 2000 and in 2003 leukemia killed him, so there you go. (And it's long ago enough that there wasn't a big web presence, but I am including some links about his art.)

There are laughs in the songs - "Cut the Mullet" comes to mind ("Do something about your long filthy hair") - but there is a lot of sadness too. That is probably aggravated by only learning he even existed fourteen years after his death. There is also relief that he had an outlet. He made something, and it was real, and it's still out there. His voice was raised and heard.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Band Review: Redd Velvet

Redd Velvet is a blues singer who was also featured in Touré's Smithsonian article.

When I was searching for links, Wikipedia popped up first (very normal with Google searches) with a first line visible saying she was best known for her unconventional entrance into the music industry. I mainly used that search to find all of the links that appear below, but I also had to check into that.

"Unconventional" in this case seems to refer to starting her own label instead of signing a conventional contract, which would have been an option after winning the Memphis Blues Challenge with her band. It may mean relocating to Memphis to start her blues career after gospel experience and classical training. It could also mean working as a nurse and being a social activist while she does her music on her own terms.

That makes it less surprising that she became the first blueswoman to create and host a radio talk show, or that the opportunity came from her social networking posts. Her Youtube channel does not have a lot of music, but there are many posts of her speaking her mind, and clearly, she has plenty of mind and plenty of will to express.

I am not sure how I feel about the advice. It seems a little judgy and possibly overly invested in respectability, but a lot of it seems sensible too. I smiled to hear her mention that she had cleared using "bitch" with her mother before one session, and also to hear her mention that Smithsonian article and hoping good things would come from that.

Being more conventional could have worked out too. Redd Velvet has a smooth and soulful voice, easy to hear on songs like "From Me To You" and "Wouldn't You Like to Know".

Taking the conventional contract and label support might have paid more, but you never know. Getting people to pay for music has been a challenge for many artists, and the label always takes their cut first. For someone who clearly values her independence, this seems like a good path.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The geopolitical landscape

"The manner of the country makes the usage of life there, and the land will not be lived in except in its own fashion." - Mary Austin

I read that quote when reading about the Dust Bowl, but it came to mind as I was remembering Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto.

Shorto reviews the history of the city itself, and how Dutch settlers in New York (formerly New Amsterdam) influenced the development of the United States government. I read it because so many of the girls I wanted to help were Dutch, and I thought knowing more about their country might help. It ended up teaching me more about my country.

Regardless, one of the key points was that the democratic and liberal nature of Amsterdam was largely influenced by the watery land. Establishing the dikes and drainage required a communal effort, where everyone had to work together. That could have led to a greater sense of equality and community spirit.

I have some messy related thoughts. One is that - despite the high costs of ignoring the manner of the country that led to the Dust Bowl - we have managed to ignore the manner of the land a lot now. We can get away with it because so many people are not directly involved in agriculture and they don't see it. Nutrient levels in foods have gone down, commercial feed lots are horrible in terms of the waste and the health of the animals, and it all includes over-reliance on fossil fuels with those accompanying problems.

(The documentary King Corn or book The Omnivore's Dilemma are good starting places, but there is a lot of information out there. The issues are easy to ignore, but you don't have to.)

Subsistence farming did not have to have these issues; they come up when there are people trying to get rich. I am more aware of this after studying child labor and racism and slavery. Two key industries where slavery grew were tobacco and sugar. Both require a lot of labor, and one person is not going to make great profits; that requires multiple people who can be abused. Sugar requires a larger initial capital investment, which added limitations to who could get involved, but getting started in tobacco was relatively easy when people could be bought and used cheaply.

Changing agriculture could do a lot for the environment and for human health, and getting more people involved in growing things could help. Even with a sense of working for the greater good, it would be possible for that to be a largely solitary practice.

However, we may be at a point where we can feel our need to work together and unite.

I know people who feel they do not know enough to contribute. I may be part of the problem there, with all of my reading lists and things. The thing is, I like reading and I like knowing stuff - that is a natural path for me to take. It's not the only one.

You can learn things from articles. You can learn things from other people. You can learn things from classes and voter pamphlets. And you do not need to know everything to be able to know that some options are better and worse. When I said I wanted everyone to vote - no matter how much I disagree with their choices - I meant that. We should all be participating and we can all participate.

There are people who will decry that, because so many people are stupid and we are better off with them not voting. In general, the people who put forth that kind of thinking are in favor of some pretty harmful policies. Of course they don't want people voting, and since they are already tearing people down through legislative and corporate means, why not also tell people they are stupid? Maybe they will believe they deserve everything bad that happens to them.

I will never be able to support this. Yes, people can be stupid and intractable and petty and malicious. They can also be generous, kind, self-sacrificing to the point of heroic and very good.

Since the election, I have seen some people who were always kind of trivial before start to really care. People who have never protested or contacted a representative before have now. There are imperfections, but I am sure there were many imperfections amongst the early Dutch people pulling land from water.

Working together can help us learn to appreciate each other. It can help us spot the goodness in each other, and it can develop more goodness.

I never thought much about the motto "Stronger together" when it was first chosen, but I keep seeing more and more how true it is.

That makes the election results more tragic, but it also points to the best path ahead.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When reading lists collide

Wrapping up my gardening reading list halfway into February should still leave me with a pretty good start date for my Black History month reading. Planned books include Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: an organizing guide by Daniel Hunter, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington, The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery by Leon F. Litwack, as well as poetry by Maya Angelou and probably the comic will be Book III of March, but I haven't ruled out reading some Luke Cage.

Yes, it is a pretty ambitious list, so I knew I would still be going into March for sure, but that's not terrible.

There is just one complicating factor, because of the new president.

I know I am not the only one with this issue. Not only are many people finding this a good time to read George Orwell's 1984, but someone asked me about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and I noticed that there were several library holds on that as well. We are trying to find frames of reference and important information and reminders for how we deal with this. I get it.

I have read those two. I didn't love 1984, but I remember enough to understand why it is important - especially in this age of alternative facts. I do not doubt that if I picked it up again I would find it appallingly prescient. But I am drawn more to things I haven't read.

Silent Spring was excellent, and with oil people in charge of the EPA (fracking in national parks anyone?) and deleted pages on climate change, reading the wake up call that went out before we even had an EPA makes sense. However, I have read it, so when he says that any new regulation will require the lifting of two old regulations, that makes me want to read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

There are a couple of interesting things about that. One is that Sinclair was concerned about the conditions of the workers, but readers responded more to the personal dangers they faced in eating this food. Self-interest remains a problem, but it also remains true that treating any group of people wrong tends to spill over. I would love for people to care about others in general, but okay, fine, do it for yourself too.

The other interesting thing is really how new some of these reforms are. The Jungle and the Meat Inspection Act it inspired were both 1906, and that's the oldest part of it. The Environmental Protection Agency wasn't formed until 1970 - which means that when you had James Watt over the Interior, the EPA had only had a decade to try and get anything done. Challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act started right away, but it was more obviously catastrophic just now, when the Supreme Court ruled that racism wasn't a factor anymore and struck down protections.

(Even though the 1924 Child Labor Amendment was never ratified, we had gotten to the point where we were mostly against child labor, but our new education secretary thinks children can pick up valuable experience in coal mines, so we'll see.)

The first thing that I needed to read was The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times, a collection of writings assembled by Paul Rogat Loeb. I needed some reminders of hope, especially coming from people who had seen bad times. Inspired by the stolen election of 2000, and that government's reaction to 9/11, it's hard to imagine a better mindset for what we would need now. There was hope, in some ways just in the reminder that you have to be able to give up hope of succeeding and then do it anyway. I recommend that book a lot.

One of the books it referenced was Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky. I think I might need that. Add it to the list. An article referenced The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. It sounded pertinent from the title alone, but there was a quote that really struck me too. I need that.

I've never read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, but with so many people hating any kind of reproductive freedom - including birth control pills to prevent debilitating pain being a reasonably-insured medical need - maybe it's time to read that.

I'm not sure why I think I should read Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Maybe it's the double-talk or the anti-war message, but I am going to read it.

I had found Tim Weiner's account of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, really informative, but also really long. When I saw he had an FBI history, Enemies, I was probably always going to read it, but after the things that happened with Comey, that's moving up.

And that can circle back to the Black History month reading, because I do not know enough about COINTELPRO and I'm sure it gets at least some coverage.

It's just a lot of books. Add to that my catching up on various comics, and I don't know how long I will be in here, or when I will be reporting back on them (other than Goodreads reviews as each is completed).

This does mean it will be a little while until I get to the pre-Italy list, the second half of the drawing list, and the books I have just always wanted to read list. If I can get those and the comics caught up by November, when it is time for another round of Native American Heritage reading, I will feel pretty good about that.  Obviously Caldecott winners and the making-up-for-things-I-missed-in-school list are not happening this year. That's okay.

I don't need to know everything about everything to be an alert and active citizen now. It's like the gardening list in that way.

I do know that it makes a difference. When I saw the election results, I had just been reading about the failure to ratify equal rights for women and child labor. I was listening to music by Native American artists and reading books about their history. I'm sure it would have been chilling anyway, but I also know that seeking out things outside of my experience gives me greater perspective. I want that. I want it for more people, but I can only really make it happen for me, so I am doing that.

Like the impossible, the reading will take a little while. I am okay with that.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

The Gardening Reading List

I have been working on these books for just under a year. I am not even finished with the last one yet, but I need to move on.

The last one is Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening by Steve Solomon. It's kind of slow going, at least partially because he comes across as a cranky old man. He is not yelling at you to get off of his lawn, because it is a vegetable garden, and he does want you in there, kind of, but a lot of what you think you know is wrong and it bugs him.

One reason I felt it was important to add his book is because it was specific to this region. That is still valid, but one thing that has been inspiring is to see how many of these authors are from this region, or have spent at least some time here, and how many other books have come from local publishing houses.

When I first started the list, it was really just four books. Two were more how-to in nature, and the other two were more historical, but I thought they could be inspiring. Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf was one of those. I knew I would not have a layout similar to Mount Vernon or Monticello, but maybe I would find some interesting tidbit that would inspire me. That didn't work out as well as I hoped, largely due to an inability to forget about the slavery aspects.

However, things don't have to relate directly. The two books by Amy Stewart - The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks and Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities - proved that. I have no intention of fermenting anything or poisoning anyone, and the books were still great fun. Some of that is on the author, who really loves plants.

And plants inspire that love because they are fascinating. That also really came out in Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon. There is a lot of science like you would have in a college classroom, but suffusing it is an awe for all of the amazing aspects of the plant kingdom, a lot of which are not common knowledge.

Those kinds of books - as much as I enjoyed them - did not really tell me what to plant. They did keep bringing up Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World in my library searches. I kept telling myself that it was enough books already, but eventually I gave in and read it. However, knowing that Pollan has another book - Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (which sounds like it would fit in even more with this list) - did not move me. I am not going to read it as part of this group. (Yes, I am sure I will read it some day.)

Because at some point, you do start wondering if you are getting anywhere. This can especially be a concern when the first book you try, Grocery Gardening by Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Amanda Thomsen, Robin Ripley and Teresa O'Connor, ends up being so very annoying. (The multiple authors should have been a clue.)

Then of course you read other books that are better, but it can turn into a sort of information overload, especially when it seems like there is a new interesting-sounding book mentioned every time you look in the gardening section of the paper. One thing you find is that there are multiple approaches.

For example, Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work by Mel Bartholomew and The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers by Karen Newcomb have some similarities, but they followed different development paths and have different emphases. I was more drawn to Bartholomew's book, but Newcomb's book still gave me a valuable gift.

It was almost an accident. At one point she started listing a a lot of different vegetable varieties, and it felt like overload, because I can't grow that much and how many of them would I even want? But, what if some of the vegetables I don't like are ones that I could like with the right variety grown by me? And then I realized, I could just try a couple of new ones each year. There are things I know I want, but there is also room for some experimentation.

Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph had good information. I don't know that I want to use it; maybe I would be fine with just two normal size fruit trees. And I know lots of people find it a valuable technique, but I don't think I can get into espaliers. However, I don't need to decide everything right away.

Foodscaping: Practical and Innovative Ways to Create an Edible Landscape by Charlie Nardozzi could totally inspire people. I am more drawn to Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, because it was one of the most beautiful books I've ever read and I think practicing it is how we heal the world. So, I lean toward Hemenway.

I also know that I am not going to get all of the possibilities explored and established this year. I have figured out some things I can do this year, and some steps that I can be taking now to be ready for that. And even this unfinished book has reminded me that if I am not producing enough material to compost well, that vermiculture can still be an option. So you keep learning and experimenting and building on that.

And frequently when you do that, you become very passionate and write a book about it, where people who want to really know the topic need to learn to pace themselves.