Learning to Be Human

Disclosure: I write from the perspective of someone who is quite socially isolated due to 30 years of living with multiple chemical sensitivities and environmental illnesses–finding most environments and many people harmful to my health due to use of consumer toxins. I am also isolated through geographical distance from my closest friends and family. Social isolation is the curse of my situation, but an outsider’s perspective is the gift. 

When my oldest child, Asher, was only three, he was overheard speaking to a dog: “Puppy, do you know what it’s like to be human? It’s kind of a job, being alive.” Three years old and already that perceptive. Yikes!

When my youngest child turned three, on the evening of his birthday, he turned a gaze on me that was clearly the spirit of the “big” Paul looking through the eyes of a little boy. It was a gaze that shook me to my core for hours afterward. I have never in my life had such a look from any human being.

I am not saying my children are special (though of course I think they are) but that I was lucky enough to hear and perceive things that I might have easily missed. I believe all children provide such moments. Whether the adults heed them is another matter.

So what does it mean to be a human being? At the moment I write with a kitten in my arms. She has inserted herself between me and the keyboard and so I am leaning over her to type. It’s a perfect example of one kind of human role–as a mediator between tech and animal life. She dozes with her head on my left forearm. She trusts me. And yet I am a member of a species which has accomplished the most profound betrayal of all–the collective, burgeoning destruction of every ecosystem on this planet that we share. And so I love my cats in the way that I love my children–with deep regret and sorrow at my share in this betrayal of trust.

And yet I’ve lived for thirty years as a “canary in the coal mine,” an activist mom warning about the dangers of household and industrial chemicals. No one much has listened to me, or to others like me, so I now refer to us as “Cassandras in the coal mine” (because people at least paid attention to the warning songs of canaries). But I am still complicit. Every mouthful of food that I eat, the clothes on my back, and almost every item I own are the direct result of income or goods produced by someone working his/her/zir/their ass off in a toxic industry –from my ex-husband to workers I’ll never meet–and probably destined to suffer from health consequences as a result. (FYI–my own condition is also due to occupational exposure, years ago.)

Yesterday I wrote about the complicity of settler-colonist genealogy–of facing the almost certain fact of ancestors who perpetuated numerous incidents of brutality and cruelty against the first peoples of Turtle Island, and probably also against victims of American chattel slavery. And if there weren’t always direct actions on the part of my ancestors, there were/are the social, economic, political, system-wide benefits and privileges that came from being an oppressor, rather than one of the oppressed. I am struggling to recognize and disengage from the ongoing inclinations and assumptions that attend these genealogies while also trying to recognize and disengage–as much as possible–from my participation in malignant, toxic, consumer culture.

And yet, I reconize that in some essential way I lack the tools or skills or mindsets that could enable me to fully function with other people in a wholesome, collaborative, and productve way–a way that I identify (from afar) as being “fully human.” But it’s not just me. All around me are (mostly) white people who have good hearts, intelligence, creativity, compassion, some understanding of social justice issues and certainly the understanding of the urgency of our climate crisis, and yet we just can’t seem to function effectively together! There always seem to be egos and agendas, mean girl machinations and mansplaining obfuscation, and all kinds of other weird-ass territorial factors at play. Why is this?

And all around me are my cis-female friends of “a certain age,” who are also socially isolated, economically disadvantaged, and in other ways marginalized, who know we have entered the twilight zone of the socially disposable and thus need to band together to take care of each other, and yet we just can’t manage to plan and strategize on how to do this, how to pool our limited resources and join together to mutual advantage. We know the need, we might have some skills, but not the collective will? Why is this?

For several years now, I’ve come to understand that our settler-colonist, capitalist, consumer culture does not help us learn to Play Well With Others. I have watched other cultural communities, from the ally sidelines, do much much better in terms of coming together, organizing, and providing what is needful with a generosity of spirit that is–to me–miraculous. And yet I understand these capacities are what it takes to be “fully human.”

Earlier today I listened to the Democracy Now interview with Lakota historian, scholar, and activist Nick Estes, author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. His description of the camp at Standing Rock parallels the conditions currently at the Kia’i (protector) encampment at Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu in Hawai’i, at Mauna Kea.

Here are his words from the Democracy Now interview:


“And in the camps themselves you had sort of the primordial sort of beginnings of what a world premised on indigenous justice might look like. And in that world, you know, everyone got free food. There was a place for everyone. You know, the housing, obviously, was transient housing and teepees and things like that, but then also there was health clinics to provide healthcare, alternative forms of healthcare, to everyone. And so, if we look at that, it’s housing, education — all for free, right? — a strong sense of community. And for a short time, there was free education at the camps, right? Those are things that most poor communities in the United States don’t have access to, and especially reservation communities.

But given the opportunity to create a new world in that camp, centered on indigenous justice and treaty rights, society organized itself according to need and not to profit. And so, where there was, you know, the world of settlers, settler colonialism, that surrounded us, there was the world of indigenous justice that existed for a brief moment in time. And in that world, instead of doing to settler society what they did to us — genociding, removing, excluding — there’s a capaciousness to indigenous resistance movements that welcomes in nonindigenous peoples into our struggle, because that’s our primary strength, is one of relationality, one of making kin, right?”


Now there’s a danger in romanticizing this as something “those others” do–which can come close to the old “noble savage” crap of yore–and I am aware of that. I’m also grumpy about white people saying that indigenous people are going to save us all now from climate catastrophe (i.e. clean up a mess that was never theirs)–even though they often have little in the way of power or resources. This mindset sidesteps the need for settler-colonists and their corporations and political representatives to drastically change everything about the systems that are running dangerously amok.

In order to avoid that dangerous and ultimately unproductive mindset, we who are settler-colonists have to continue to swing back to a recognition of where we ourselves are now and with that recognition of our deficits and their origins, work double time to develop capactities and understandings necessary for “relationality,” as Professor Estes says above. Doing this is going to take a helluva lot of humility. I’m sixty-five now, and I’m willing to go back to human “kindergarten” (as long as it’s in a fragrance free zone).

What follows is a speculative question. Is it possible that the epigenetic expression of European-originating people was triggered toward self-centeredness, violence, conquest, and greed due to long histories of violent subjugation by Romans (as one example) and others, and by exposures to such things as wars and continent-wide plagues, where bodies piled in mass graves could have fostered a sort of despair and then an unconcern about the preciousness of life? An even bigger speculative question: can we willfully trigger another kind of epigenetic expression in real time, to call back the capacties our ancestors must surely have had in the long ago? The kind that enabled us to live in villages, farm or forage for food, and provide care and sustenance for all? The kind that enabled us to see other creatures in this world–plant, animal, and spirit–as worthy of respect and kinship?

And can this be done in record time, to meet the climate and environmental/political catastrophes that are no longer a train wreck in slow motion?

Personally, it is hard to reach out toward others in real life, to work on my skills for “relationality,” when my condition requires this degree of isolation in lieu of disability accommodation. My activist efforts in the past have seldom been met with understanding–because this whole environmental illness request for fragrance-free accommodation thing can look like a “special snowflake” or “white lady” way to, I dunno, derail or disrupt others and the work that is being done. It can look and feel like a request for more privilege and special treatment from a white settler-colonist who is already inherently privileged by other aspects of my circumstances. And so my blogs are the only way I can reach out. Writing about what I see and feel is all I can do at this point.

I wish it were otherwise. I truly do wish to be of use in creating a better world. Like everyone else, I have the future of cats and children–and all living beings and our only planet–to consider.

“It’s kind of a job–being alive.” And right now our biggest job is to keep everything else alive too. It’s really down to that.

Fractal Flame, Made with Gimp
Fractal Flames, Linear. Author: Nevit Dilmen. 2000. GNU Free Documentation License.

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Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance

Nov. 23 UPDATE: Link to a blog post signal boosting the leadership of black trans women and other trans and gender diverse POC in the work against violence and for health and vibrancy in their communities. Includes links to several articles in Out Magazine and Essence by Raquel Willis, founder of Black Trans Circles (video here!).

 

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Later today I will light a candle and read the names of all the 369 murdered people aloud, as a reminder to step up my game. My heart is heavy. That is all.

Later: here is the reading below. Listen, or better yet, read the names aloud yourself. It takes about an hour.

FireplaceDay9

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The Huge Climate Change Impact of Volatile Chemical Products

Hey everyone! Thanks for everything you’re already doing AND here’s something else to put on your agenda! It’s the petrochemical “elephant in the room.” You need to know this. You’ll thank me–I promise.

I am hoping you will share information about the following two studies and findings with other climate change activists as well as policy-makers.

Almost 40% of Urban Air Pollution Caused by Personal Care Products and Other Volatile Chemical Products (VCPs)

Though the focus of 350.org and other organizations has to do with fuel and energy, an overlooked component of air pollution and climate change involves the production and use of Volatile Chemical Products (VCPs). It turns out that VCPs, including personal care products, comprise 4% of the mass but have 38% of the impact on urban air quality–almost equal to gasoline and diesel emissions! NOAA and air quality researchers at UC Davis. PDF of the study here: 

The study was a collaboration of NOAA and air quality researchers at UC Davis: Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions, published in Science, Feb. 2018. (See PDF of study here.) Here is the first paragraph:

[“A gap in emission inventories of urban volatile organic compound (VOC) sources, which contribute to regional ozone and aerosol burdens, has increased as transportation emissions in the United States and Europe have declined rapidly. A detailed mass balance demonstrates that the use of volatile chemical products (VCPs)—including pesticides, coatings, printing inks, adhesives, cleaning agents, and personal care products—now constitutes half of fossil fuel VOC emissions in industrialized cities. The high fraction of VCP emissions is consistent with observed urban outdoor and indoor air measurements. We show that human exposure to carbonaceous aerosols of fossil origin is transitioning away from transportation-related sources and toward VCPs. Existing U.S. regulations on VCPs emphasize mitigating ozone and air toxics, but they currently exempt many chemicals that lead to secondary organic aerosols.”]

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From MacDonald et. all, Science, Feb. 2018.

So, with this kind of impact on outdoor air in cities, what do you think the impact of such products may be in buildings and indoor events? And in public transportation, which we are all asked to use in order to cut down on fossil fuel use? What happens when proposed solutions like public transportation ignore a substantial population of people who cannot access them?

A substantial population? Really?

Yes, actually. Another 2018 study, National Prevalence and Effects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities by Anne Steinemann, PhD (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, March 2018) estimates that one in four Americans now has some form of environmentally caused illness. Here is where you can find a PDF of her study.

So… if we connect the dots…our current rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, plus environmental illnesses, are caused and exacerbated by VCPs as well as VOCs (petrochemicals all). And part of our climate catastrophe could be mitigated substantially by including public awareness of the huge impact of VCPs on climate and health (remember, this 4% mass of VCPs causes 38% of the effects on urban air quality–and presumably also a correspondingly large impact on human health). Such products must be boycotted wherever possible, and their use in public spaces, health care settings, workplaces, schools, and transportation should be regulated and/or prohibited, much like the use of tobacco smoke. Also, less toxic and non-toxic products already exist and should be promoted as alternatives.

Climate Justice is Intersectional

Recognition of the enormous but unacknowledged impact of VCPs can lead climate activists and others to a fruitful intersection of public health concerns, disability accommodation, changes in consumer buying habits, and rather substantial decrease in degraded air quality (both outdoor and indoor).

Why not listen, finally, to those of us–people with environmental illnesses–who have been “Canaries in the Coal Mine” for so many years? (I’ve been calling us “Cassandras in the Coal Mine” since no one listens to us…) We have deep, hard-won knowledge of the impacts of chemicals on human and environmental health. And now the NOAA/UC Davis study shows how what’s been hurting us is also an enormous factor in air pollution and climate change.

So why not welcome us into your activist meetings and spaces (by making them “fragrance-free” for a start) and why not include the above scientifically significant findings in your strategies and platforms? (350.org, Drawdown, are you listening?)

Let us help you create the education and messages necessary for public understanding and action on this point, thus adding substantially to the array of solutions to our current predicament. Seek out people involved with environmental health organizations and Facebook groups of people with chemical sensitivities.

Partner with the Canaries. Our “songs” are more helpful than you know. Here is the one I’m “singing” now…

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From NOAA and the Air Quality Research Center at U.C. Davis: Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions, B.C. McDonald et. al. Science, Feb. 16, 2018.

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Brightest and Best are the Sons of the Morning

Am I wrong to feel disgusted that Siri and Facebook contain programming to remind me of my oldest kid’s birthday? As if I could ever forget it. The birth of that day. It’s been thirty years. And today is appropriately the “Super Black New Moon” in Virgo.

Where does that time go? In that thirty year span I’ve many, many failures and regrets to gnaw over in my darker moments, but the birth and raising of my children are not among them. The children may argue with me and their father about the “success” of their childhoods or the skill of our parenting, but while I deeply regret mistakes I made and the times I got things totally wrong, overall I don’t regret the unrelenting work of childrearing and the attempts to do right by them. My two kids are “the loves of my life,” when you really get down to it. I gave as much as I had to give.

When this first child of mine (who perhaps regards himself as a changeling) was first put into my arms, I was struck by the valor of the new soul. Nothing is so brave as a newborn–physically helpless and relying utterly on their own charm and the animal hope that our intentions toward them are benign, at the very least.

And to incarnate in this shitstorm of an epoch? That takes guts. I was twelve when I began to observe the warning signs of world-wide dystopia and disaster-in-the-making and now here I was, age thirty-six, daring to bring another into the world. Love is foolish, desire for family runs deep. I was not immune to the hubris that says “I can do this.”

The pregnancy was difficult. When I was quite far along, I was put on eleven weeks of strict bedrest to prevent pre-term labor (one week in the hospital, ten at home). I was also prescribed Terbutaline, a drug now contra-indicated for pre-term labor “because of the potential for serious maternal heart problems and death.” (Here’s the 2011 FDA warning.) Terbutaline feels like speed. Imagine having a body and mind that can’t stop  racing, yet being forced to lie flat in bed (only allowed to get up to use the restroom) because to do otherwise might imperil your child? I lived with constant fear and chafed at my helplessness. And what were effects of terbutaline and my fear on the fetus?

During these eleven weeks of bedrest, my sister was coping with having rented an apartment to a man later wanted for killing his own mother with a pickaxe. (The crime happened in another state). I’d get several calls a day from her, first while he was on the lam–she was terrified because legally she could not change the locks on his unit–and then later she would call about all the weird crap found in his place, once he was finally captured. This juxtaposition of my endangered pregnancy with the theme of matricide was deeply disturbing. A couple of years later I attempted to write a murder mystery using some of this material, but I never completed it.

And if that weren’t enough, the gestation and birth of my child also contained the onset of my environmental illness. Before I’d been confined to bedrest, I had begun to notice extreme adverse reactions to fragrances and other substances: headaches, dizziness, fatigue, trouble breathing, and so on. Forays into the outer world were becoming unexpectedly difficult as a result, but I didn’t have a name for what was happening to me.

Once I was freed from the confines of bedrest, and able to lumber about for a couple of weeks before my due date (because a week or two early wouldn’t matter so much), I tried to make the most of my time: lunches with friends, last minute shopping for baby items. In the late 80’s, Noe Valley in San Francisco was the epicenter for the “older first-time mom” phenomena. Women my age or older were suddenly pushing strollers on 24th Street. The woman who ran the store for used baby clothing was a former punk in the SF scene. I felt right at home.

Once our little one was born, I began my time of total immersion in motherhood: nursing, changing diapers, wobbly hormones, hyper-vigilance, sleep deprivation, exhaustion. Due to unforseen circumstances, I was alone for most of the daylight hours, struggling to cope. The Loma Prieta quake hit when the baby was four months old.

I also began to have a feeling that the couple I’d been a part of was for some reason already eroding, even as we had enfolded another into our lives. (We did try our best to keep it together, for many years, even past the birth of our second child…but that’s not a story I want to tell here.) But I/we also had the intense sweetness of bonding with the baby. There’s nothing like it. And I cherish those memories.

It’s also riveting to watch the development of a tiny human as she/he/they/ze grows in size and complexity. I sang silly songs to my baby. The toddler would sing back to me. I remember one time in particular, on the back outside steps of our tiny cottage… I could have died then from happiness. Later there were drawings and stories and harp lessons and anguished observations of bullying directed against my kid. There were passionate friendships and struggles to arrange playdates, especially with one particular mother who didn’t care that her feckless, last minute playdate cancellations were devastating for my kid. There were many, many trips to the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. There were annual Revels. There was Waldorf School (now a source of sour critique). There is so much I remember, and so much forgotten, and so much that my thirty-year old kid would probably like to forget–because there were times I let him down. Badly. The times I was there, doing all the things that mothers do, those are barely worth mentioning as they are part of the young animal’s assumption of care, and for the human in us, part of the atmosphere we breathe. Hopefully not too toxic or cloying, most of the time.

Children must pull away from their parents. They must critique their childhoods and their parents, and reshape themselves in their own chosen images. They are sculptors of self. Even so, as a parent it is hard to watch the teens and twenties. It’s like being on bedrest again, utterly impotent. And yet I’ve never been anything but happy and proud to know this person. So here is my “Son of the Morning,” not so much a star as a streaming millennial comet, determined, self-made, relentlessly creative, and as a song of his says, “never this young again.” His youth he did not waste. I trust his maturity will be wise and fine.

Happy Birthday to My Firstborn.

Octavian_Smigelschi_-_Luceafărul,_1_feb_(s._v.)_1904

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River Women, Bright Fathers, and Watchers

The ancestors and the dead are much on my mind these last few days. This is coming up in so many ways.

For one thing, I just began reading Micheal W. Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, which I ordered after reading one of his articles (he writes for The Guardian, among other places). In this book, Twitty explores his ancestry, the connections between American culinary history and chattel slavery, and foods of “the South” (there are many “Souths” and many layers to each). This book is too deep and complex for me to describe it in any way that does justice to it. Just know that it is amazing and we should all buy and read it. (I’m also giving a copy to my youngest son, an aspiring chef.)

This morning I also read an article published in Nov. 2018 in Borderlands (an e-journal): “Mimicry, Mockery and Menace in Swedish International Adoption Narratives,” by Richey Wyver, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Auckland. The author states:

“I will examine the process of the construction of the international transracial adoptee as a ‘mimic’ Swede in adoption narratives, and discuss what this mimic identity entails and implies.”

It’s the cruel predicament of the “mimic identity” with all its colonial and racist impositions, as inflicted on foreign adopted children, that makes me wonder if Daniel Foor’s teachings of “ancestral medicine” could be one way some adult adoptees could deal with the emotional impacts of the conditions described in the article. (This train of thought, however, was not within the scope of the article.)

Descendents Also Make Me Think of Ancestors

My two children have their birthdays in the next week and a half. One will turn twenty-three and the eldest will turn thirty. When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I became passionate about genealogy. There was something about gestation that made me long for “roots.” I also wanted to find out more about my own father, a mysterious and elusive “deadbeat dad” (now among the ancestors himself).  I spent many hours at the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I tracked some of my father’s movements through city directories of San Diego and Honolulu. I also discovered my connection to many New England families, especially around Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

The good news: it was a lot easier to research my family tree as so much has been done already. (New Englanders seem quite obsessed with ancestry.) The bad news: a direct line to  family histories of slave ownership and/or economic benefits from chattel slave economy via cotton trade in the North, as well as complicity in the displacement and genocide of First Peoples. (I’d figured this out in a general way, much earlier in my life, so this wasn’t a complete shock. But now this is more “up close and personal.”)

Every person alive has a complex ancestral history, with villains, heroes, “nobility” and “peasants,” family feuds and bitter wars, all rolled into the coils of their DNA. Our ancestral memories are nightmares. My Scottish Highland ancestors were persecuted by my English ones. Ditto for the Irish and the Welsh. My English ancestors may have suffered at the hands of the Norse ones. How many ancestors died in plague epidemics, wars, and childbirth? And certainly my more recent ancestors were active participants one of the cruelest periods of history–one that is still ongoing.

So while I delight in finding new names for my family tree, it is the delight of a satisfied sleuth, not the delighted pride of ancestry (except for a possible link to Alfonso the Slobberer, a King of Spain, whose nickname does make for a good story…).

So this brings me back again to “ancestral medicine,” a method of healing lineages. The first key premise is that the dead can change, but only with the help of ancient, robust ancestors who are “well and fully seated” (Foor’s language). The other key premise is that the dead can and do enjoy contact with us, the living.

In the method Foor teaches, we begin with a meditative effort to connect with one or more of those fully seated ones. We then ask for help and healing for the lineage, and protection for ourselves while it’s done. We begin to nurture our ties with our ancestors by making offerings or simply talking. We also get out of the way so the wise and ancient ones can bring their healing forward through generations of descendents, all the way to the living and our own descendents. And we continue to nurture our ancestral relationships.

It’s pretty simple and straightforward. One of the beauties is that I don’t have to deal directly with my late father, and you don’t have to deal with your abusive Uncle Roger (or whomever). We can leapfrog over contact with the slave owners and Indian killers–we know they are there–but we don’t have to try to heal their sickness ourselves. We let the wiser ones deal with that. In time, and with our prayers, offerings, and nurturing of ancestral relationships, the ancient ones facilitate a process of (what I imagine is) some kind of responsibility, reconciliation, restitution, forgiveness, and peace.

My Own Lineages

In the last two years, I’ve completed work with three out of my first four lineages (with another four to go). My father’s father’s line (James Marsh, 1854-1938) was the first, and I have to say, is my favorite so far (which surprised me no end). This is the lineage of the “Bright Fathers”–going way back with a sort of flavor that might be Welsh, might be Norse, but is undoubtedly a mixture of all sorts of ancestors. There is a feeling of well-lit halls, feasting, music, jokes, and hardiness. I know, it sounds somewhat stereotypical, but that’s how the first willing ancestor appeared to me. Actually, he wasn’t the “first” I contacted in a light trance. There was a rather dour figure who just pointed me on my way before I “met” up with the Bright Father figure. The dour figure seemed almost “on watch.”

My mother’s mother’s line (Bessie Edmonds Rowell, 1875-1928) came next. In a light guided visualization, I “met” a cluster of fairly silent “River Women” in a landscape of high, mostly unforested hills. Of course, there was a river, and there was a sense of knowledge of water birds and riparian herbs, and the lessons of moving water, but the River Women are not very communicative yet. That’s okay. I haven’t asked them for much either, but I feel comforted by their presence.

The “Watchers and Archers” of my mother’s father’s line (Swift Milne, 1878-1913) were men of the forest. They felt quite ancient, perhaps Pictish, perhaps not. When I first connected with them, one shot an arrow which landed next to me. By picking it up, I signaled that I was asking for communication. This lineage contains some major trauma: my grandfather’s brain tumor, caused by watching the first nuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll; and Swift Milne’s death in the great flu epidemic of 1918. The women and children who survived these deaths had a hard time.

The line now in progress is my father’s mother’s line (Francis Kerwin, 1878 or 79-1953), part of my Irish heritage. I haven’t put in much time with this lineage lately, though I honor it with the all others in my daily rituals. Mostly what I’ve sensed here so far are green hills, standing stones, small houses, and an old woman who flicks away troubles with her cleaning rag. She’s rather “no-nonsense.” There is also a connection to the Celtic Brigid/Brigit, either as her earlier pagan self or later Christian saint or both.

Of the remaining lineages, two were healed without my active request, just due to their proximity to another lineage. The Bright Fathers did work that encompassed the lineage of James Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth Hutt or Houghton. And the River Women did work on the lineage of Bessie’s husband, William Fraser Rea (1876-1941). So that really just leaves me with Swift Milne’s wife, Elizabeth Harding (1880-1974) and her lineage, and the lineage of Henry Baxter Hodson (1868-1943), Francis Kerwin’s husband.

The idea is that we are less likely to unconsciously replicate family traumas and negative family patterns if we’ve accomplished healing for our ancestors. Ideally I would have done this work before having children, but of course that didn’t happen. However at this time of my life, ancestor work has become part of “getting my affairs in order.” Instead of leaving behind a “clean-looking corpse” (James Dean’s quote), I aspire to leave behind a cleaner collection of less problematic lineages so that my kids have less to deal with. It would be great if one of them got interested and began working on their father’s side too. It could happen. Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing, was recently assigned in the master’s program my oldest is attending.

Not Just One Way, But…All Our Ancestral Roads Lead Back to Africa

Every person alive today shares the mitochondrial DNA of one woman from Africa, from about 150,000 years ago. She is known as the “Mitochondrial Eve (also mt-Eve, mt-MRCA)” and “is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all currently living humans.”

And so I note that the genealogy of Daniel Foor’s teaching comes from his learning in “European pagan paths, Native American ways, Mongolian shamanism, and West African Ifá/Òrìṣà tradition” and that he is “an initiate of Ifá, Ọbàtálá, Ọ̀ṣun, and Egúngún in the lineage of Olúwo Fálolú Adésànyà Awoyadé of Òdè Rẹ́mọ and student of Yorùbá culture” (from his bio.) Africa…

Obviously the hybrid method Foor teaches isn’t the only way to connect with ancestors. Let’s swing back to Michael Twitty. In his book he combines genealogy, history, and explorations of food and old-time cooking methods. He writes:

“I dare to believe all Southerners are a family…We are the unwitting inheritors of a story with many sins that bears the fruit of the possibility of ten times the redemption. One way is through reconnection with the culinary culture of the enslaved, our common ancestors, and restoring their names on the roots of the Southern tree and the table those roots support” (preface, xvii).

If that’s not a quest for healing–ancestral healing–I don’t know what is. And here I imagine what a lovely and potent thing it could be to go as far back as our Mitochondrial Eve, and implore her good offices in sending her healing to the rest of us, her unruly children, down through the long millenia.

In addition to other practical and spiritual benefits of doing this work, I’m not likely to have grandchildren. So why not end my own ancestral story with healing of all those who have gone before, and with a healing extended to my kids, the very last descendents?

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This meme was posted on the Ancestral Medicine forum group on Facebook. I just had to share it.

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This. Now.

Want to do something about climate catastrophe and pollution? This 2018 study puts consumer buying habits in the crosshairs. Turns out the shampoos, fragrances, and other toxic consumer products we buy and use so blithely emit enough volatile organic compounds to contribute a whopping 38% to the urban air pollution. This is almost as much as gas and diesel fumes, and much more than industrial sources. But these toxic consumer products comprise only 4% of the mass. This means your Axe body spray is probably doing more immediate and lasting harm to the air than a gallon of gasoline left uncapped. And that’s outdoors! Think about the effects of these chemicals on indoor air.

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From NOAA and the Air Quality Research Center at U.C. Davis: Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions, B.C. McDonald et. al. Science, Feb. 16, 2018.

Article about this study: Consumer, Industrial Products Overtake Transportation as Source of Urban Air Pollution. Download PDF of study here.


I’m ecstatic to hear of these findings, but as a person who is exquisitely attuned to symptoms of poisoning upon contact with thousands of consumer products, I could have told you this many years ago. I knew intuitively that consumer products made with volatile organic compounds (including fragrances and scented personal care products) were playing a much larger role in climate catastrophe–as well as dangers to public health–than most people would want to admit. And that what’s happening on our planet with pollution and climate change isn’t just due to the greed of corporations and governments (aka “those guys over there”), but also due to the gullibility and thoughtlessness of the average consumer. Every single freakin’ one of us.

But hey, I’m a “Cassandra in the Coal Mine” (people believe canaries and run for their lives–they don’t listen to human “canaries” at all). We were all talking about this 30, 20, 10, 5 years ago, and just yesterday too. You all don’t listen, at your peril.

Stop Buying That Shit

Think of the difference we could make if we all just stopped buying that stuff? We may not be able to do much about arson in the Amazon, but we COULD make a huge difference to our forests by not buying palm oil unless we’re sure it’s sustainably sourced.

In the same way, we have it in our power to substantially cut back on pollutants in our air, water, and soil (thus diminishing the chemicals which lodge in the bodies of your kids and all those cute forest animals and water mammals). Forget that bottle of fake strawberry body rub or “Juicy Lucy Mango-Citrus shampoo.” Save your cash instead for a nice evening out, perhaps at a restaurant with a “fragrance-free” policy so you can actually taste your food instead of another diner’s heavily applied “designer fragrance.” Or put it a college fund so your children won’t have to become indentured serfs at a One Percenter’s golf course or franchised BDSM dungeon in order to pay for their college education. (Not that I have anything against BDSM–it’s just that I don’t think sex workers are going to have many rights under such circumstances.)

Happy and Fierce

Thanks to this post in Linda Sepp’s excellent blog, Seriously Sensitive to Pollution, I made two happy discoveries yesterday. One was to Health Justice Commons, and through them, a link to the study above. Health Justice Commons also wrote THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND THOUGHTFUL statement of support for people with multiple chemical sensitivities and environmental illnesses EVER.  I’ve become an instant fan of the organization.

And…because I’m now in the midst of my own thirty-year anniversary of multiple chemical sensitivity, which began during my pregnancy with my first child, I’ve finally simply had it. Up to here, in fact. I’m already socially isolated AF, with a declining career, and since my beautiful Trickster God is quite happy to support me in going all “Lokasenna” over this issue, I’m putting the rest of my sadly limited but bizarrely interesting life on the line. For this issue and a few others.

Someone just please take care of my cats when I’ve finally bit the dust after throwing myself repeatedly at windmills.

Hail Loki! Eco-Lokeans Unite!

 

 

 

I Has Cats

I don’t know how this “has cats” (or “has” anything) thing got started but there it is. I “has” ’em, and I’m about to have more. My Lokean “Dog Days of Summer” have turned into a Nile Flood of Cat Rescues (all praise to Bastet!). (Note: previous sentence contains nerdy references to traditions pertaining to the rising of Sirius).

Kia'i and Keola
Newest rescue kittens. Photo credit: L.S. Sides

Now, I already have (below, left to right), the peerless Popoki, the sweet and skittish Niblet, the curious Freya, and Varda the Valiant. The last three, all rescue cats. Niblet was a tiny little thing found between two boards in a back yard in Richmond, CA, and was fostered by a dear friend. When I saw his photo on her cell phone I realized he’d be the new companion for Popoki. Niblet and Popoki went Hawai’i with me, and back again, and seriously–their cat airline miles can go to some other luckless feline because they are NEVER setting paw on a plane again. Ever.

Freya was a just a kitten, dying of dehydration in the middle of Main Street in Upper Lake. She was scooped off the street and restored to health by a woman I’ll call Ruby, an exceptionally compassionate feeder and rescuer of cats. Ruby would not only feed the strays, but got as many neutered and spayed as she could, on her slim income. I met Freya in Ruby’s store, and I’d been thinking of getting a third cat, and suddenly here she was, in my arms.  Freya is the ultimate cat of curiousity–and a real diva besides. Popoki was slow to warm up to her (and still ignores her as much as possible) and Niblet (a male) was fascinated yet intimidated. Freya sits at my right hand, in the high chair my kids used to use, because otherwise she’d sit on my computer. Freya likes having her own throne…

Varda, full grown but only as large as a teenage cat, was a stray that inhabited the area under the office cottage I briefly rented in Upper Lake. She’s possibly a Bombay breed. She was being fed by a kindly construction worker and had become quasi-friendly. She’d had a twin brother, apparently, and the construction worker called them Jack and Jill. But one day the brother disappeared and the sister was left on her own. She still lived under the cottage and both the construction worker and I fed her. Then the cold winter winds began to blow. Little Jill became very ill, but was smart enough to actually go to Ruby’s shop for care. I guess the word on the street among Upper Lake strays was that Ruby was a dame with a heart of gold. (And that she was.) I told Ruby that if she could nurse the cat over the weekend, I’d get her to the vet on Monday and then adopt her. “Jill” became “Varda,” and after the usual two weeks of recovering from her respiratory infection and being sequestered in a spare room, joined my indoor cat family. (Varda is from Tolkien, another name for Elbereth, a goddess of the Elf pantheon.)

It took about a year for everybody to adjust to each other. Popoki, who has always been somewhat aloof anyway, still keeps to herself, mostly out of reach of the others. She’s over ten now and would rather ignore the social turmoil that Freya likes to create, because Freya gets in everybody’s face.

Meanwhile, Ruby had parked four of her cats in the woodshop that is now Lokabrenna Tiny Temple. She’d fallen on hard times, had to live in a tent on some land down the road, and wasn’t allowed to have her cats with her. Some stayed at her shop. This went on for a few months, then she and her partner decided to move across country with a van full of their other pets. At the last minute she asked if she could leave three of her cats behind, promising to send money for cat food every month. Well… I knew how that would go…but what could I do? Say “no” and have her take them to Animal Control?

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Arya, silver grey, celadon eyes, extra toes.

So Meowington (my dear, late, lamented Temple Cat), Khu (a Siamese), and the nameless grey female with extra toes (now called Arya), were left behind. Khu was adopted by people across the street. Meowington stayed on the premises and ruled the yard until the baby rattlesnake bit him. Arya stayed in the rafters for awhile then suddenly bolted, living rough under boards and decks and in bushes for a year until I gradually lured her back into my yard with lots of canned food. (Meowington used to chase her off). So now Arya is my outdoor cat companion and likes scritches, petting, brushing as much as she likes the regular grub. Should I take her indoors? I don’t know how she’d do–she is as skittish as Niblet in some ways, and very independent. Popoki would probably despise her–and me–and Freya would probably bully her. Arya’s never wanted to go back into the woodshed/Temple and doesn’t seem interested in my house either. But we’re just about at that point where I will be able to pick her up, put her in a crate, and get her to the vet for shots (Crystal had had her spayed long ago).

And now everything is about to change. Keola (“Life”) and Kia’i (“Protector”) are part of a feral family from a trailer park in “K-Ville,” halfway around the lake. They are currently sequestered in that spare room of mine, recovering from their own surgeries. I had thought their ears would be clipped, as I intended them for yard cats, but they weren’t. Now I’m not sure what to do. I figured, being kittens, that Arya would be less freaked about them–and better able to keep her position as Queen of the Yard.

But here’s the rub. My compassionate friend in K-Ville, who has been caring for the mother and her four kittens ever since they showed up in her yard, can’t find homes for the other three–Mama Bitzi, another tabby female kitten, and a fluffy white Siamese male kitten. They are facing extermination. The trailer park has rules and there have already been complaints about too many cats, and cat poop in other people’s gardens. My friend has to do something quick.

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Meme. Unknown source.

I can’t stand the thought of these animals being put down. I have a very big yard, with outbuildings and a wild hill behind me. None of my neighbors will be bothered by cat poop (downside: bear, foxes, wild cats…). And I like the idea of keeping the family together as long as everyone is spayed or neutered. (I had a similar gig with a multi-generational feral cat family that ruled the yard around my house in Pahoa, Hawai’i. Before I moved back to CA, I got them all spayed and neutered and moved to an animal sanctuary–along with a large donation.)

Anyway…I volunteered to take the whole family onto the property. My compassionate friend will get flea treatment for the cats, and have the other two kittens spayed and neutered.

My only worry is Arya. I don’t want her chased off “her” turf again by a new group of cats. I’ve worked too hard, built up too much trust, to have her go back to living rough. I’m trying to figure out how to make the transition easier for everyone involved, especially her. Meanwhile, my indoor cats are wondering about the strange smells coming from the spare room…

I’m asking for special blessings from Freya (the goddess) and Bastet. I has cats. Boy, do I has cats.

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