“”Be More Here””

I happened to catch this commercial for the few minutes I was watching TV recently, and aside from the obvious frustration with the whole idea of disposable plates, it reminded me of something.

A couple months ago I started listening to an old time radio show called Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a show that ran for about a decade starting in the 1950’s. The stories are exciting, the voice talent fantastic (especially Bob Bailey’s version of Johnny), but what I didn’t expect was to get culture lessons. Yeah, sure, there are some stereotypical 1950’s things that, if you’re like me, are just funny. Remember the 50’s obsession with Latin America? There’s quite a bit of that, for instance.

I remember in one of the episodes, though, that Johnny went to a friend’s house for dinner and when they were done eating, they both did the dishes together. Washing the dishes had simply been an extension of the social space created by a shared meal, and apparently, this was normal before the wide adoption of washing machines – and the marketing that sold them. Here’s a dishwasher commercial from 1956:

It’s pretty uncommon to find a house without a dishwasher nowadays, though growing up, I never used one. Why? Because most of my family used theirs for storage! (We also stored our most-used pans and cookie sheets in the oven – idk, I’ve heard that it’s a Chicano thing. And yes, you take the stuff out of the oven and set it on the stove when you want to use it.) So at my house, and at many of my cousins’ or aunts’ and uncles’ houses, the dishes were almost always done by hand, even after a party. I haven’t generally found this to be the case at other people’s homes, but what I’ve also found about my family that doesn’t hold true for many other people is our tendency to use the dining room as the primary social space in the house. It’s usually situated between the living room and the kitchen, the two other most-used social spaces in my family, and there’s usually ample seating and space for projects, setting up a laptop computer, or whatever else is going on that afternoon. In fact, the living room is usually where the overflow from a crowded dining table winds up!

I don’t know why my family does it this way, but I think this has a lot to do with our social concept of washing dishes comes from. When the gathering place is around the table instead of the TV, you’re still close enough to the kitchen to all feel part of the same conversation instead of being separated by a wall, or distance, or psychological barriers created by furniture. Maybe this is what most Americans lost at some point around the middle of the century – the ability to think of the kitchen as an inherently social gathering place for friends and family alike, instead of a source of chores and drudgery.

The pro-cooking movement that started thanks to Food Channel celebrity chefs and has just exploded in recent years to encompass gastronomy, the DIY ethic, and agriculture itself seems to be eroding that mindset a little bit. Disposables are simply going out of fashion these days due to mainstream ecological concerns and people are looking for alternatives: mason jar cups, palm leaf plates and bamboo cutlery, cloth napkins, and so on are en vogue.

I think, though, until we can start thinking of actually doing the dishes as less of a chore and more of just an extension of the meal itself, single-use plates and utensils will continue to be appealing to too many people.

What if the “here” from the “be more here” slogan was where the food prep and cleanup is?

(Dixie is owned by the Georgia-Pacific paper company, which is owned by the Koch brothers, by the way. Ew.)

Things I’ve Given Up: Q-Tips

Yeah, yeah. Q-tips are bad for you! They compact wax in the ear canal, not remove it! You can rupture your ear drum if you’re not careful!

I’ve heard it all before. But as a lifelong q-tip user who never had any problems, the warnings just sounded like scare mongering. Besides, there’s nothing like the sensation of itching a body part that rarely gets scratched. Mmm.

The problems started happening slowly – very slowly. A few years ago I’d started getting the occasional sensation of water in my ears that I couldn’t get out, like I’d gone for a swim. And then that would occasionally be accompanied by aching, like I was getting an ear infection. But it would always resolve itself in a day or two, so I didn’t think too much of it. But in this past year, the pain would start coming without the water sensation, and it would linger for longer than a couple of days. And then sometimes it would get so bad that I wouldn’t be able to make use of earbud headphones without being in horrible pain, or lay comfortably on that side of my pillow. Still, stubborn and self-deceptive as only a human can be, I kept using q-tips, but limited my use to twice a month. After a little while of that, the pain would happen a few hours or a day after using a q-tip, and I knew I was through.

Do I miss them? Surprisingly enough, not really. Sometimes I can feel the sensation of my ear producing wax, which itches like a mofo, but usually I can just stick my finger in my ear and that will do the trick. But most of the time, I just clean the outside portion of my ear in the shower every now and then, and that’s that! No earspoons, no irrigators or fancy ointments – just a finger and some water.

So yeah, I get it now. You told me so.

Lunch

San Franciscano beans from Rancho Gordo and some sauteed Swiss chard.

My stomach hasn’t been all that happy lately, what with the proliferation of gross BBQ/picnic food available practically every weekend during the summer. It seems that I can’t actually go to a party and be able to eat most of what’s served, anymore. I’m really trying to take my health problems seriously this year, but I’m being thwarted at every damn turn by friends and family alike. First of all, I’m vegetarian, so that eliminates at least half of what I can eat anywhere I go. Add to that my GI upsets and whoops, there goes just about everything else. If it’s not meat, it’s usually loaded with cheese, cream, processed fats and oils, sugar, or a mix of any of the above in the form of greasy sauces that’ll have me running to the bathroom in no time.

The carbs and sugars I’m trying to cut down because it’s terrible for my non-diabetic hypoglycemia, and the rest I have to limit because of IBS/GERD.

What this means is that I can have a couple bites of party food and… that’s about it. Yesterday (July 4th, for those whom it’s not on the radar – I wish it weren’t on mine!) I bit the bullet and brought not only my own dinner, a vegetarian sandwich, but also my own alcohol: homemade sangria without added sweetener. Yep, I’m limiting beer too. I felt like a party pooper, but it’s just something I’m going to have to suck up and get over.

So I just haven’t been feeling right lately, is what most of this is about, and so I’m trying to do something about it. Gonna try and apply KISS to my food for a while: “Keep It Simple, Stupid”!

For this I used my current favorite bean, San Franciscanos. They’re an heirloom bean from Mexico, and to die for. They’re pinto-sized, but much richer in flavor and hold their shape when cooked, which makes them great for salads. To prepare them, soak for at least 12 hours first. (This is how you avoid getting gas, and prolonged soaking also breaks down the chemicals in the bean that prevent nutrient absorption.) Then with plenty of water, bring to a boil in a pot with some onion, crushed garlic, a bay leaf, and plenty of salt, before reducing to a simmer for an hour or two until tender and the skins crack when blown on.

I served them with some sauteed Swiss chard, cooked in a little avocado and olive oils, minced garlic, and salt.

A small helping of wild rice would have been a great addition, but I don’t have any on hand. Either way, this was very filling, nutritious, and for the first time in a while, I don’t feel bloated and tired from eating!

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent – The Atlantic
“Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter believes that the United States would benefit if the debate about what laws ought to be passed acknowledged the violence inherent in enforcing them.”

Asymmetric accolades: Why preventing a crisis almost never makes you a hero – Resource Insights
“In our thinking we place a premium on the dramatic rescue, the last-minute escape, and the ingenious on-the-fly technical solution. They all make good copy for reporters, and they make good stories for television and movies.” But what about the people behind the scenes who work to make sure situations don’t need heroes?

Shaky Foundations for Offshore Wind Farms – Scitizen
“Offshore wind farms are far more difficult and expensive than developing on-shore wind power. If the UK is serious about providing 25% of its electricity by this means, as a form of carbon-free home-grown electricity by 2020, it will be necessary to build and install 2-3 turbines every day for the next 8 years. There are also issues of how robust this technology is under the harsh conditions that prevail out at sea. Is this a halcyon vision of green energy in a zero-carbon world or a gamble with uncertain technology in an already overstretched economy?”

Public housing residents told to tear up their gardens – Treehugger
A housing project in South Pittsburg is enforcing a ridiculous rule that says residents can’t plant or maintain their own gardens… and this is after many years of happy gardening due to non-enforcement. The reason? Some bogus appeal to “safety”. June 1st was when the mandate was due to be enacted, but there may still be time to get angry.

My four months as a private prison guard. – Mother Jones
Reporter Shane Bauer gets hired as a guard in a for-profit prison in order to find out what conditions are really like. A very long, very sobering account of what it’s like to work as a CO for The Corrections Corporation of America, and second-hand, what it’s like to be a prisoner.

Why Soap Is Screwing Up Your Microbiome

The link below is to a short video from The Atlantic featuring interviews with a journalist who stopped using soap and body cleaning products for 10 months, with the founder of a company who makes skin product that constitutes nothing but nitrosonomas eutropha, a common bacteria found in soil, and one of the pioneers of microbiome research (who “rarely showers”, but bathes often). Their professional opinions? That aside from hand-washing, we don’t really need to use soap on our bodies.

Click here to watch.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with soaps and body washes and skin cleansers for my whole life. As a kid I often had to take oatmeal baths for my eczema, and when I wasn’t dealing with scaly rashes, I was constantly waging a war against skin that was both bone-dry and acne-prone. I quickly learned that my acne wouldn’t respond to anything but birth control. I tried everything short of prescription cleansers and ointments, and realized that it was all a just waste of money, so after college I stopped washing my face with much of anything but water. Even post-hysterectomy and post-hormone regimen, my acne is still considerably more manageable than it was just a few years ago.

I still liked using body cleansers when I could afford them, though. I liked the way they smelled, and I still had this idea in my head of what being hygienic and clean meant – that is, it meant resembling something smooth and sterile rather than an actual human body that’s half comprised of bacteria!

I made the switch from fancy gel washes to bar soap when I started doing the zero waste thing, but my soap application was pretty much restricted to a few key places – I’m sure you can guess what they are – rather than every inch of skin everywhere. What I began to notice, though, was that that light sheen of natural oil that I once thought of as a mark of being “gross” began to become a new, healthy normal. It didn’t smell, nor did it rub off as grime. So I paid attention to what it felt like having that on my skin, and after a while, decided that I liked it. It certainly felt better than drying myself out, killing everything on my skin, and replacing all that lost moisture with some overpriced body lotion. I can’t stand the feeling of that oil being stripped away now – of being bone-dry or greasy from lotion again.

For those of us using a no-poo regimen based on the knowing the benefits of leaving the hair’s natural oils intact, then maybe it’s time to consider the skin in a similar way!

I’ve only got one cleaning agent in my shower these days – a bar of soap for the pits. I use rye flour and a little cider vinegar on my hair now (thanks to a tip from one of my readers!), but a few tablespoons of that gets mixed up before every shower and doesn’t sit around or it’ll go rancid. Dirt cheap, healthy, and no more time consuming than using a normal shampoo/conditioner regimen with a leave-in product afterward. Win-win-win.

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

PVDSA’s Garish May Production Collapse – Caracas Chronicles
Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum and gas company, has taken a hit to their daily oil production to the tune of 120,000 barrels. As the article states, this means that they “just declined by an amount similar to an entire (if small) petrostate’s production, in just one month.” The country is in crisis mode, complete with food shortages and rioting. At this rate, Venezuela could run out of oil within a few years.

Cows  on Antibiotics Release More Methane – Conservation Magazine
“Antibiotic use and overuse in livestock has long been controversial, as it has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans. Livestock are regularly given antibiotics to keep them healthy in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions, or even to boost their growth. Now, a study published recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B has documented for the first time that antibiotics given to cows also increase the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from cow dung.”

Design For The One Percent – Jacobin
Jacobin on the role of “starchitects” like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid and their works in a world full of government corruption, sketchy labor practices, and tremendous income inequality.

The dot on my forehead: how we understand the crisis is part of the crisis – Bayo Akomolafe
A Nigerian psychologist and activist on being participants in crises instead of observers: “It was something I heard one dissident professor say when I was an undergraduate studying psychology in a Nigerian university. He didn’t quite say it; he whispered it. When the white men came, they brought us schools and the bible, he intoned. And then we gave them our own stories. That colonial Faustian pact made us orphans in the world, erasing the sky and the lands and the mountains we had learned to speak with, and replacing that intimacy with the more appropriate gesture of staring at them through the microscope. Through the interstices of a ledger. Through the plot device of development and prosperity for all.”

The SNAP of Doom – The Daily Impact
Apparently SNAP/EBT benefits have not been going out to all of its intended recipients lately, and the mainstream news is not reporting this. Millions of Americans are just a few SNAP dollars away from a full-blown famine, and regardless of whether you think this is some grand conspiracy or simply the terrible result of a few cascading computer failures, this really does nicely illustrate just how few clothes the emperor is wearing. (As for a question of how do we feed people when the government can’t or won’t? Three words: Food Not Bombs!)

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

Making Our Own Mead – Sarenth Odinsson’s Blog
A fellow polytheist writes about making mead the old-fashioned way: using little more than honey, water, and wild yeast. (Due to recent successes with a wild sourdough culture, I’m excited to try this.)

Ethical consumers are perceived as odd, boring, unattractive, and not stylish – Treehugger
“An amusing new study delves into the social consequences of one person witnessing another person doing the ‘ethical thing’ — and why it makes them uncomfortable.” Quite probably related to my Shooting the Messenger post!

The Emergence of Historical Mega Breaches – Troy Hunt
On the increasing frequency of website security breaches and login information that is being leaked or outright sold on the black market. Some people think that more technology (and more internet infrastructure) will solve this problem. Personally? I’m not holding my breath.

Facebook bias isn’t the problem. This is ⬇️ – Medium
“To suspect that Facebook or Google would seek to censor or prioritize certain lines of thinking misunderstands their core philosophy. In reality, they don’t have a stake in either side. Their philosophy does not aim to improve, change, or manipulate human thinking.

Their philosophy aims to replace human thinking — and charge you for it.”

It’s Time to Change Water Policy, Past Dam-Agency Leader Says – KUER
An ex-BR head endorses tearing down the Glen Canyon Dam. I’ve spent some time on Lake Powell, and have a lot of fond memories of being there with a side of the family I rarely get to see, and many of whom no longer talk to each other, so I’ve got a lot of emotions invested in that landscape. However, I would still love to see the dam torn down. It’s kind of weird to hear someone so prominent even talking about it; it kinda hit me like a ton of lead. (Idk, I get very emotional thinking about dams getting dismantled.) And who knows, I might get to see that part of the Colorado river flow free again in my lifetime.

Remembering Glen Canyon

Talk of removing the Glen Canyon dam that’s sprung up in recent years has had me thinking on Lake Powell and its surrounding land a lot lately – it is hands down the most majestic and magical place I’ve ever been to and I encourage everyone to try and make a trip out there at least once in their life. (Lake or no lake.)

Going Analog: Part 2

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There is, my awesome little Kaweco Sport~

I’d only just started dipping my toes into the vast, deep waters of the world of fountain pens when I wrote my post on zero waste (ish) art supplies, and had only used the Kakuno at that point. I guess I’d been so used to writing with cheap, dry, ballpoint and gel pens that just about any fountain pen felt better in the hand! And while the Kakuno does write like butter, I had no idea what was in store for me once I started going down the rabbit hole.

So if the $12, kid-friendly, relatively cheaply made Kakuno is like butter, then the Kaweco Classic Sport, a design that’s been unchanged since its debut in 1935, writes like a chilled glass of Laphroiag.

So.

Fountain pens.

Nobody really uses them anymore… except when they do. Fountain pen people are loud, proud, a little obsessive, and I’m beginning to see why. If you’ve resisted the keyboard creep in our lives, and refuse to let go of your analog note-taking or calendar-planning ways, then you really ought to take a gander at what these things have to offer you. They’re not made for chicken scratching on the backs of receipts or in the margins of some report or another, they’re made for writing. (And drawing.)  And even the cheapest of them are an absolute joy to use. They don’t cramp your hand from needing too much pressure or having too thin a grip. They don’t go dry like ballpoints do. They don’t skip like gel pens do. And what’s more is that they’re made to be used for a long time.

Sturdy construction coupled with a dizzying array of inks to refill your pen with and spare (always metal) nibs to choose from mean that some of these pens will outlive their owners – and not photodegrade into a million bits of plastic too, if you opt for a metal piece.

Bea Johnson and a lot of other prominent zero wasters use them, and I can now count myself among their ranks. I probably won’t have to throw a drawing pen away ever again, once I phase out use of the disposables I already have!

The Kaweco Classic Sport ran me $25, but I wanted to use a special waterproof drawing ink with it, so I shelled out another $20 for a bottle of Platinum Carbon Ink, and a couple extra for an ink converter and plastic syringe to fill it with. Ink converters are basically do-it-yourself cartridges that you can fill with whatever sort of ink your heart desires (and your pen can handle) that are made to be reused. These are handy for using inks that come in bottle form rather than cartridge form, and also handy for us zero waste types who don’t even want to throw cartridges away if we can manage it. (Though cartridges do last a while, even the small kinds, and the generic ones are very cheap.)

What sort of pen might you, dear reader, find useful? Well, I’ve only ever owned two fountain pens in my life, so I’m not the person to ask. But Jet Pens, my go-to for all of this stuff, is. They have a good number of very informative blog posts about their products, how to use them, how they compare to each other, and how they work under typical conditions. Here are a few that you might find informative:

And the article that helped me settle on my brand of ink:

I started with the Kakuno, which is still super fun to write and draw with, but I chose to graduate to the Kaweco (versus a Lamy or similar) for a few reasons. One, the Sport is compact – very important since I work out of the house a lot of the time and sometimes live out of a duffel bag. Two, I just like companies that have been making the same product for many years. In this case, about 80 years and change, to be exact. It’s got a bit of that timeless vintage flair that I love so much, but most importantly, it means that the design has stood the test of time and needs no improving on. And third, it’s because I mostly wanted their brass Sport which runs $90+, and I wanted to make damn sure I was doing to like it LOL. I will probably get a Lamy at some point, as having an “indestructible” pen that wouldn’t break my heart to lose will come in handy for me. These cheaper Kawecos are still a slightly cheaper plastic, after all, and though it may take years, it’s still only a matter of time before they start showing stress cracks.

Take a look at the links above if you’re interested in getting yourself a pen! And if you want to dive right in with a Kaweco, I’m not going to stop you. (By the way, Jetpens is great for US folk, but there are other companies that are better suited to other buyers – I think Cult Pens ships from the UK, f’ex.)

So how, exactly, does it feel to use? What’s the real difference between a fountain pen and a normal writing or tech pen?

(Warning: Art nerd alert.)

As I said in part 1, I never really thought of digital art as something that had a lot of value – I certainly didn’t value all the hundreds of crappy digital drawings that I did for the sheer convenience of the medium rather than for any particular love of what I was doing – and so for a long time I’d saved the disposable pens for the more disposable work. Up until only about 2 years ago did I stop drawing comics in pen and nib, and right away I noticed a difference in what my hand was doing.

Nibs force your hand to move in a certain way, and it forces the development of a particular kind of muscle memory. Felt-tip, ballpoint, technical pens, and the like, do something different to that muscle memory. My impression is that this has almost entirely to do with the fact that nibs are not omnidirectional (for lack of a better term): they do not lend themselves to moving any which way whenever you want. You have to build up a kind of inertia otherwise the ink will skip, or the tip of the nib (for very fine tips) will catch on the grain of the paper, and you have to use them at a certain angle and hold the pen a certain way. Now, very rarely is any of this conscious or frustrating – your hand will quickly intuit what the pen can and cannot do after using it for a few seconds – but it is a vastly different way of making marks on paper than the sort of ugly, hamfisted way that a ballpoint might. And this is the beauty of fountain pens!

Drawing with a fountain pen is slower, but because of the way it restricts the movement of your hand, it also creates a pretty zen-like experience of mindfulness. I’d lost that mindfulness when I stopped inking with nib. When my pen could do whatever I wanted it to do at a moment’s notice, I didn’t have to think so hard about where I wanted my next line to be. I’d just draw something approximating what I needed, hoped for the best, and for an embarrassing percent of the time, that line wound up wrong. It’s in this way that my draftsmanship started to slip. I lost my eye for specificity and my got lazy, and as a result the details particular to one thing or another became less habitual. In other words, the visual language I might have employed to distinguish, say, a rock from a brick started blurring. (Apologies if this is all too esoteric!)

I’ve done a few pages with the Kaweco so far, and already I can feel my old hand coming back. It’s forcing me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. It’s forcing me to be meticulous. And now that I’ve been filling in my blacks (the parts of comic book line art that are, well, filled in with black) with brush and ink, instead of doing it in Photoshop, I’m slowing down even more. I’m having to commit to the lines that are on the paper much more than before. I’m not thinking in terms of “Oh, I can just fix that up later after I scan.”

And guess what? I’ve barely made any mistakes on these pages so far, when I routinely make quite a few at least. Sometimes to the tune of having to redraw half of an entire panel. It’s at least definitely saving me frustration, if not time, and my originals are once again becoming pieces of art on their own terms rather than a means to a digital – and ephemeral – end.

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I’ve got a long ways to go before I stop doing anything but color correction and pre-print formatting on the computer, though, and in the meantime, my closer “daunting” goal is to get away from Adobe products as I make the jump to free and open-source alternatives. I’ll be experimenting much more with GIMP in the near future as my current gig wraps up, and writing about that experience as well.