Getting Settled in Unsettling Times

Things for us are hard.

The cancer patient I referred to a few months ago is actually my husband. At the time, I was getting pretty sick of explaining what had happened all over the place online, so I kept that blog entry short and sweet because things were still so raw for me. When I started writing this post on the 16th, he came home from his 4th inpatient treatment (5 solid days at the hospital every 3rd week), and I expected that he’d be sick as a dog because they’ve upped his concentration of drugs for the second time and it’s already hitting him harder. (ETA: He was, though it doesn’t last for more than 48 hours.) It’s funny – I wrote that DIY ensure ‘recipe’ because I was expecting him to be like all the other cancer patients I’ve known and heard about and all but lose his appetite, but through this whole thing his hunger stayed the same. The one thing I’ve learned is that cancer is an extremely personal, individual disease. No two patients are alike, nor their side-effects, nor their treatment. He hasn’t even lost all his hair, though this time around I suspect his nausea and appetite will be more typical.

Two weeks ago we met with his oncologist and were shown a pair of CT images: one from before he started treatment, and the other at the halfway point, and the difference was flabbergasting. The first image, taken from an angle that we hadn’t seen before, showed a tumor that was bigger than a grapefruit, growing from sternum to spine, winding its way around his windpipe and heart, and collapsing his right lung. For all intents and purposes, he should be dead. It should have given him a stroke, cardiac event, something. But it didn’t. I’m a deeply spiritual person and have my theories – I think he’s starting to form some theories of his own. The amazing doctors at the BC Cancer Agency may cure him, but they’ll never be able to give an answer for why a tumor that big and caused by a lymphoma that rare and poorly understood didn’t take his life.

But life goes on. I got my confirmation of permanent residence while he was in the hospital for his first round of treatment. I imported my car and half of my belongings while he was in for his second. We made trips to IKEA to buy furniture, usually the hallmark of a happy new life for most couples, while we were in the midst of accepting the ever-present possibility that his condition might take an unexpected turn for the worse. For the better part of 3 months we’ve straddled the line between joy and despair, never quite belonging to either. Never quite having the energy or wherewithal to tip over to one side or the other.

In many ways, I feel like our interest in collapse theory, and narrative themes of such, has prepared us to handle this better than a lot of people. The staff at the agency talk about us, we’ve been told – how he’s the youngest patient they have, how I’m an even younger spouse and caregiver, how little we seem to be affected. I think they’re expecting us to snap one of these days, break down at the enormity of what this has done to our lives. What they don’t know is that we see the struggle against cancer as a uniquely modern manifestation of the human condition, a kind of fight against ourselves. Even though his grayzone lymphoma is largely a misfortune of genetics, our understanding of most cancers is that they are environmental in origin – we largely have our greed and carelessness to blame.

Case in point: a UK study predicts that 1 in 2 adults will get a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, in spite of the billions of dollars we pump into research and treatment. The mortality rate in developed nations is falling, but the rate of diagnoses is going up. It seems, in spite of our best efforts, that more people are developing the disease, while we dump ever more money and resources into finding a “cure”. Cancer is a disease of progress in the most fundamental sense: unstoppable growth. I’m skeptical that technological progress will ever provide us with anything more than palliative care and life support for a population increasingly suffering from chronic misery. In his book Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner talks about this shift from acute conditions, which humanity endured for most of its existence, to chronic conditions, when it made the Faustian bargain to try and rid itself of acute mortality. The former can be dramatic and shocking, but the latter requires a vast industrial infrastructure to provide life support for millions of people suffering from slow deterioration into mental and physical debility. It’s hard not to be reminded of stories about mortal man seeking out immortality, and how there’s always a catch to achieving it. Always.

We had a conversation about how it felt to be fighting cancer in a world like the one we live in, one ravaged by overpopulation, one hopelessly addicted to unsustainable and toxic forms of energy, one being emptied of its wild biodiversity and filled with things made by humans that exist now as ends unto themselves. We talked about how, if we want any sort of a world to be left for our grandchildren to inherit, then letting the earth sit fallow, to be left alone, is the only way it can happen, and the only way to do that quick enough is death. But here we are, clinging stubbornly to life – hypocrites. What we decided to do was to respect cancer. Deeply and utterly, for fulfilling its purpose on this earth so well. My husband realized that he could still fight his enemy, and do it with honor. Cancer versus human, evenly matched.

What we have that cancer does not, though, is community. And it is this community, these relationships, that will ultimately save my husband’s life so that he can go on to face another foe some other day, and fully enjoy what precious moments there are in between.

Nesting zero waste and minimalist-style has helped to save my sanity countless times over the course of this fight. It’s been really easy to get overwhelmed by even the most rudimentary household chores, and sometimes things get neglected because neither of us has the energy to tackle it. Having systems in place and relatively few possessions has been a great help. Little things, like twist ties for corralling stray cords, or having the disinfecting wipes in the right spot, helps me avoid feeling suffocated by clutter and chaos. My dislike of chaotic surroundings has increased practically tenfold since this started, and making sure that everything has its place goes a long way to making me feel relaxed.

There’s a concept in modern polytheist and some pagan religions (Hi polytheist followers from my other blog!) that has helped me a great deal in dealing with my environment and relationships called miasma. It’s a Greek word, and it refers to spiritual pollution- a state of being that prevents you from properly communing with the divine, to put it succinctly. Lots of mundane things can make you spiritually unclean: deaths, births, exposing yourself to certain ideas or people or media. It’s not a bad thing so long as it’s dealt with, but like neglecting to wash your hands after taking a crap, it becomes a problem if you don’t.

Cancer, and the chaos that ensues from living in the limbo it creates, is definitely a state of mental and emotional pollution. And unless you take conscious, pointed steps to keep that muddying at bay, it will have the effect of making your life something like hell. So keep clean.

His last round of chemo ends on December 28th, and Christmas will be spent in the hospital. He will be a completely different man by January 1st, which is only a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday, and he will definitely be stronger than he was at his 39th. I’m proud to be married to him, and I’m in awe of his resilience.

“It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam,” said Frodo, “and I could not have borne that.”

“Not as certain as being left behind,” said Sam.

“But I am going to Mordor.”

“I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.”

Advertisements

Going Analog: Zen and the Art of Getting Lost Without a Phone

This past week I had myself a little adventure. A lot of moving pieces in my life were coming together that required me to cross the border back into the States so I could get a number of Very Important Things done at customs and immigration on my way back into Canada… but I had to stay out of the country for at least 72 hours before returning.

My mom had recently moved near Seattle for work – and to be closer to me and my husband – so I decided to spend the 72 hours at her new place, help her unpack and organize some things, and spend some time with her. So armed with an address, I drew a basic map of how to get to her new place and set off on the 3 hour drive alone.

Little did I know, though, that the Canadian phone plan that I have wouldn’t let me do anything once I got to the south side of the border – I couldn’t even send out a text with all the associated roaming fees. Nothing. And of course I found this out the hard way… when I started second-guessing myself in a completely unfamiliar neighborhood and reached for my phone to ask for a clue.

I think most people in my situation nowadays would panic. I was driving around a suburb in a county I was completely unfamiliar with, trying to find a place I’d never been to before, and I was without any way to contact the only person that could help me. Had she given me the right address? Was I even on the right street? I weighed my options – there was a police and fire station a ways back up the road who might’ve let me use the phone, or I could avoid backtracking and pull into the first business I saw and ask for directions. I did the latter, and wound up learning something else that I hadn’t even considered before.

I pulled into the leasing office for a large apartment complex, and proceeded to tell them that I was trying to find another complex just like theirs that was somewhere along their same road. The two secretaries I spoke to were young, about my age or a couple years younger, and were willing to help me. The problem was, I quickly realized, is that they really didn’t know how to. 

They didn’t know how to gauge a location’s approximate distance by comparing address numbers, and they definitely didn’t seem to pay much attention to what else was on the street near where they worked (otherwise they would have known that the complex I was trying to find was only just another half mile down the road). They just pulled up some directions on their computer and printed me out step-by-step directions (which were MUCH more needlessly complex than necessary to get me a few blocks away), and the fact that they didn’t take a second glance at the ridiculous instructions that Google spat out before handing them off to me was another curious thing – though I don’t doubt for a second that part was just your average rudeness.

I eventually found where I was trying to get 10 minutes later, but the two millennials’ complete incompetence at trying to help someone locate a destination a few blocks down the street from where they worked stuck with me. But in hindsight, I guess it’s kind of obvious: if someone has let their navigational and spacial skills atrophy that much, of course they’re not going to be able to help anyone else in any meaningful way. And in North America, the vast majority of people are gladly letting their navigation skills wither away to nothing. A damn shame.

At any rate, I proceeded to spend the next 72 hours in a strange town without a phone. This is what I managed to get up to:

  • Get myself from Mukilteo to the Everett train station/park-n-ride
  • Meet up with friends somewhere in the parking lot there to carpool into Seattle for the afternoon
  • Find my way to the train station in Seattle that evening, and locate the correct commuter train that would take me back to Everett
  • Get myself back to Mukilteo
  • Find the mall in the next town over, as well as a nearby Target
  • Find a place to get an oil change (couldn’t call about availability, no phone!)
  • Drive back to the border after the 72 hour waiting period was up, locate reasonably priced gas and coffee along the way
  • Navigate the ridiculous labyrinth of customs and immigration offices and processing centers at the border to do all the things I needed to do once I finally got there

The part of me that’s a modern millennial looks back on all that and says “Wow, you’re a crazy son of a gun”, while the rest of me, the highly intelligent and fully capable human animal whose genetic material has spent billions of years on this planet, wants to say “Do that more often“. Your cognition needs to eat its greens too.

I’ve picked up a regular zen meditation practice at a local zendo in the past month, and there is definitely something different about people who enjoy sitting in a room together, in complete silence, doing nothing for an hour without going nuts. In a way, that’s a lot what getting lost feels like, and how you react tells a lot about you. People who commit themselves to longer meditation sits – as opposed to the ‘5 minutes a day’ crowd, or the ‘doing something that’s not meditation is actually meditation’ people – seem to have a way about them that is more readily prepared to try taking each moment as it is, instead of wishing that it were something else, or being overcome with depression and anxiety that it’s not the moment you actually wanted, or not the moment you were promised, or not the moment that you worked so hard to make happen.

That’s not to say that people who meditate on the regular are emotionless automatons. We aren’t. We just try, using one particular technique, to better sit with our thoughts and feelings as they bubble up and recognize them for what they are, so then we might choose to feel them more fully, or choose to push them aside and make room for something else. That’s really what mindfulness is, it’s that simple. But doing it is very hard.

I always wonder what people mean when they say they hate getting lost. Is it that they hate the time they feel is being wasted? Is it some kind of base, animal fear of never being found again that they hate? Is it just a simple matter of losing face, of being wrong? It all seems to boil down to a loss of control. Knowing where you’re going and how to get there is power. Suddenly being faced with not knowing is facing your own powerlessness.

When I get lost I evaluate my options. I humble myself and ask for help, because I do not have the tools to be self-sufficient enough to avoid asking anything of anyone else I encounter. I choose to do things that way. I choose to rely on others. This bothers a lot of people – a lot of people – but I see it as an a way to stay connected to people, and to remind others that there is a whole damn world out there outside of the comforting glow of a screen. That there’s a different way to do things.

To those of you who read this and got uncomfortable, thinking about what you would have done if you were in my shoes, how badly you’d have wanted to reach for your smartphone or how stupid you think I am for not having one: what the heck are you afraid of? The worst that could have happened to me happened – I stopped and asked for directions. When my friends drove around looking for me in the parking lot of the park-n-ride, I sat tight while they circled around for 10 minutes until they found me. And if for some reason I missed them entirely, I would have driven back to my mom’s place and still had the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted, and not even done so empty-handed. I’d learned how to get to the train station. That’s something.

It makes me sad that so many people are choosing to sacrifice their natural aptitude so they can gain some false digital security. They are literally selling chunks of their brains to Google so they can be spared the inconvenience of learning things and interacting with other humans and – gasp – even being wrong sometimes.

Since when did we become so allergic to making even the smallest of mistakes?

Let me know when you find out – I’ll be over here staring out the window.

GU Oracle Update

It’s really happening! The Girls Underground Story Oracle has reached full funding on Kickstarter!

There’s still time to be part of this project! If you’re interested in a unique divination method, or perhaps thinking ahead to solstice gift-giving (the oracle is slated to ship out in time for the winter holidays), please join 100 other backers and pre-order the deck. The campaign ends on Sunday night.

My friend Dver has put out a REALLY neat oracle deck based on her work with the Girl Underground archetype, and I recommend those of you interested in unconventional divination methods definitely jump on the pre-order for this deck.

DIY Ensure for Chemo

An unexpected health crisis will soon have me taking care of someone as he undergoes chemotherapy for lymphoma. It’s turned my life upside-down and inside-out, but he’s going to be tackling this thing head on and I’ll be running interference for many months.

Even before his treatment’s even started, his appetite is beginning to go and his tolerance for different kinds of foods is going down. I expect that he won’t be interested or able to eat solid food very often going forward, so like most folks I looked into stocking up on the usual meal replacement drinks like Ensure. Unfortunately, a quick glance at the ingredients list had me balking.

The stuff is mostly soy byproduct, an ingredient cancer patients need to steer clear from, and the second ingredient is sugar, which is unacceptable as well. (There’s been no formal link established between cancer cell growth and sugar, but measuring the increased glucose metabolism of cancer cells is exactly how detection via PET scan literally fucking works, so… I’d really rather not risk throwing more fuel on the fire if at all possible.)

And that’s besides the fact that ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes are expensive as hell. So I thought… why couldn’t I make my own? It can’t be any harder than making a smoothie.

There are 4 primary components that go into these things:

  • Macros: Protein, fat, and carbohydrates (and fiber, which isn’t technically a nutrient)
  • Micros: Vitamins and minerals
  • Taste and mouthfeel
  • Ease of use

Plus my 5th consideration:

  • Cost

Several of these are more easily included than others, or may compromise another part of the equation (like, say, needing to use a perishable ingredient would necessitate more steps, or using a certain brand of vitamin supplement that makes the price per serving go up). I knew going in that I wanted to wind up with a dry mix made from as many whole ingredients as possible, and where every component was shelf stable. Oh, and it had to be as cheap as possible.

After some thinking, here’s the base I came up with:

  • 3 tbsp vanilla whey powder, sweetened with stevia
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp fine-ground flax meal
  • 1 packet Ener-C

That I could then add one or more of four extra, shelf-stable ingredients based on their benefits and his mood:

  • 1/2 tsp matcha powder (for antioxidants and energy, though apparently it’s most readily bioavailable when paired with citrus…)
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter (for more macros)
  • 2 tsp chocolate/cacao powder (for taste and antioxidants)
  • A dash of cinnamon (for antioxidants, and a buttload of other stuff)

Finish with:

  • 1/2 can of full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 c water

Combine with immersion blender in a mason jar. No vitamix necessary.

All in all, I could ballpark a single serving of this at around $1.75 CAD for the base mix + coconut milk, depending on the brand of milk I use and whether or not I feel like buying organic. The single most expensive part of the dry mix is the Ener-C, which runs about .50c a packet at the drug store. The extras add a negligible amount to the overall cost in the end, and again depends on the quality/brand I decide to go with. Hershey’s baking cocoa is obviously going to be cheaper than raw, organic cacao powder for instance.

Preparing the drink should be easy. Combine several servings in a jar, mix thoroughly, and when ready to serve, count out 6 tbsp, and blend with the other ingredients. While adding fruits and vegetables would be ideal, it probably wouldn’t be appetizing, and I also wouldn’t be able to use an immersion blender (which is why I’m specifically leaving out frozen ingredients too), which makes cleanup something I can do in seconds. Using frozen fruit or veggies like a traditional smoothie would also mean that I couldn’t stick leftovers in the fridge and expect them to taste good later.

Shopping entirely at Costco, I could probably shave off another dime or two from the price, which is probably something I’ll look into when I run out of the ingredients I already have. Still, at less than a toonie per serving, this DIY meal shake costs just as much as a bottle of Ensure but is made with way better ingredients.

Coupled with some herbal supplements like curcumin, garlic, and ginger, well… I hope that it makes the projected 18 weeks of chemo just that much more bearable.

What the Fuck To Eat

Ever since my first terrifying encounter with GERD, food went from “things I eat that taste good and keep me full” to “things I eat to sustain me and my health”. Quite literally overnight. And ever since the gastroenterologist looked at the lab results of my poop sample and thought I would be happy with an Imodium prescription and a meaningless diagnosis of IBS, I’ve taken diet very seriously.

Nobody wants to start their journey to better eating habits like I did, but it was the kick in the ass I needed. Unfortunately, most of the landscape of dietary information out there consists of fad diets promoted by sketchy internet “doctors” and Amazon referral-powered blogs hoping to god that you buy that $60 tub of protein they claim to use every day. So I did what any reasonably neurotic person would do and started experimenting on myself.

The first thing I did was go vegetarian – almost vegan, actually, aside from the occasional piece of cheese a few times a month. It did a fine job of making me question the legitimacy of the Standard American Diet (SAD), and therefore the scores of doctors and nutritionists who upheld it as the gold standard of balanced eating. If my stomach couldn’t handle it, then clearly the problem was my stomach, and all I needed to do was take a magic pill to make it all go away. Nobody ever suggested that, hey, maybe the problem lay with my eating garbage. My GERD cleared up, though, now that I was no longer able to eat stuff like chili dogs, or buffalo wings, or Jack in the Box tacos. It wasn’t the meat that made the improvement, though. The culprit I’d eliminated was the sauces that are typically served with SAD-style meats, and the fatty ways they’re typically cooked.

No-no #1: Rich, greasy  preparations.

I did more exploring and decided to eat a low-fiber diet for a while to see what that did for my gut. By the end, I was mighty sick of eating nothing but tofu, eggs, rice, and mushy vegetables, but the results were pretty conclusive: my bowel movements were regular, I experienced no gas, and little bloating. Score.

No-no #2: Excess fiber.

Curing my GERD and mostly alleviating my IBS was good enough for a few years. I was happy, I didn’t feel like crap after eating, and I no longer dreaded going to the bathroom. But then I started having blood sugar problems: hypoglycemia, mainly, which is a symptom of metabolic inflexibility. My research told me that such symptoms were the beginning of the long road to insulin resistance, which scared the pants off me. The remedy for metabolic inflexibility? Metabolic exercise! I limited my intake of carbohydrates to a fraction of what they had been, “quitting” them cold-turkey. My blood sugar protested, but after just a few days of the low-carb flu, my hypoglycemia never reared its ugly head again.

No-no #3: Too many carbs… including sugar.

Unfortunately,  a side effect of going low-carb made me lose weight, which was never one of my goals. I dropped 10 pounds in a week, and started fielding questions from a number of folks about whether I was sick or not. I realized that, contrary to popular dietary wisdom, I needed to drastically increase the amount of fat in my diet, which returned me to my normal weight in short order. By this point my average daily carb intake was less than 60 grams, while my fat intake was nearing 100 grams. However, I still had to keep in mind no-no #1: no rich, greasy food. More research taught me the real differences between healthy and unhealthy fats, and the merits of saturated animal fats. The trick? No hydrogenated oils, no highly refined oils, and keep preparations simple – that is, no complicating the digestibility of lipids with things like acids (fruit, coffee), simple carbohydrates (white potatoes, beer), and too much spiciness. These are all things that IBS sufferers need to be keenly aware of anyways, though.

No-no #4: Too little healthy fats.

Those 4 rules have been my takeaway over the years I’ve been playing with diet, give or take a few quirks of my particular microbiome and genetic makeup: maize products, for instance, don’t bloat me nearly as much as bread does, and due to my long history of low blood pressure, I need a little more salt than the average bear. Unfortunately, some things that used to be OK to ingest are becoming increasingly intolerable to my gut as I shift away from old habits. Beer, for instance, is becoming more and more unpleasant to drink as time goes by. The heavy, malty stouts and porters I used to love so much are practically poison to me now: I can’t drink a glass of Rasputin or Victory At Sea without getting nauseous, and a pint and a half of the stuff will put me on the verge of throwing up. I can’t exactly say I’m not disappointed.

That all’s just the physical, biological relationships I have with various foods, though.

What about the ethical? The cultural? The economical?

As someone who still, for some reason, gives a damn about trying to live lightly, the rest is a veritable minefield. I could shop fair trade because I don’t want my food coming from slaves or sharecroppers or the otherwise economically destitute; I could shop local because I would prefer to keep my money circulating among producers in my bioregion, and because my food doesn’t have to travel very far to get to my plate; I could shop zero waste because I would prefer my food to not come in ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging; I could shop pastured or organic or biodynamic or whatever else, because I would prefer the producers of my food to not be actively destroying their local environment and reducing its biodiversity. Or I could shop cheaply and feed myself to my personal standards without breaking the bank.

And I have to choose wisely, because it’s a rare product that checks off more than one or two of these boxes. So what the fuck do I eat?

Price, obviously comes first. I’m no good to anyone if I’m starving and malnourished, if only to be able to say that I followed some lofty ethical ideal at the cost of my own health and personal finances. That’s a given.

The rest, as I’m sure many of you would agree with, are trade-offs. Personal negotiations. Triage. Where can I afford to do the least damage without compromising my health or sanity? This is something I’m still working out, but I feel myself getting close. Some unofficial “rules” that I’ve developed in figuring out which product should come from what source:

  • Chocolate is fair trade.
  • Meat is almost always local, as are vegetables when they’re in season.
  • Staples like cauliflower I get for cheap – most stores in my Vancouver neighborhood have bargain shelves of food that’s going south where you can pick up entire bags of produce for a buck, and there’s usually a glut of cauliflower someplace. I keep most of my “impulse” produce shopping limited to these shelves as well. In a sense, saving this sort of food from the garbage is sort of like buying zero waste. And if you’re lucky, sometimes it’s even organic.
  • Staples like vinegar, oil, and salt, I just pick one strategy based on my circumstances that day. Coconut oil must at least be organic; and as for animal fats, let’s just say we’ve got plenty of bacon grease in the fridge as well as a jar of homemade rendered fat from local product.
  • If tea isn’t fair trade, it’s either local or zero waste and package free.

You get the picture.

Health and food is such a moving target that it’s easy to either get overzealous with your favorite conscious consumer strategy, or just give up altogether. What I’m here to urge you to do is don’t give up. And don’t get overzealous either, nobody likes those. What all of these different food strategies have in common, including just plain focusing on your dietary integrity, is that they undermine the Standard American Diet. They question the reasoning (or lack thereof) that goes into eating a pound of steak and a baked potato slathered in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! purchased from Walmart, and washing it down with a liter of Coke every day. Even if you still did that, but bought organic steak and an organic potato instead, you’ve got a small leg up. You done a good thing. 

I’m getting real sick of food aesthetics to the point where I’m this close to taking pictures of my crummy little galley kitchen with its white appliances and black, “granite”-veneered countertops that I can’t ever seem to get perfectly clean and posting them. I’d open up my kitchen cabinets so you can see my hodge-podge collection of mason jars and bags of shredded coconut, the mismatched boxes of salt and emergency cans of Campbell’s soup sitting beside a 3-year old box of half-eaten pasta. Like… fuck you, man, this is real.

We buy what we need to buy and eat what we need to eat. Sometimes it’s fucking delicious. Sometimes it’s mediocre. Sometimes it’s just plain necessary and we stick it in a glass jar to make us feel a little bit better about having bought it in the first place. Sometimes we get lucky and that bottle of fair-trade, wind-powered, biodynamic, bulk olive oil didn’t cost half our life savings and that’s something to be happy about. We enjoy it and move on.

I’m getting ready to go to the store right now, actually. We need more meat for the cat, and unless I want to make a smoothie, there’s no protein to go with dinner. I would prefer to go to the co-op since all their meat is local and they pay their employees a living wage with benefits, but it’s a 20 minute walk uphill walk to get there and the only places that carry offal around here are the local Chinese markets anyways. I also have a customer loyalty card for a coffee shop nearby that’s full and I want to redeem it if I’m going that way, too.

So, choice made. I can do one good-ish thing today, and another good-ish thing some other time. C’est la vie.

Going Analog part 8: So you’ve got yourself an opinion. Now what?

This is a follow-up to my older post on dealing with belligerent incredulity, seeing as how I’ve run into more since then. This time it has been from online talking heads, so this has given me a better look at how the psychological machine works, what without the usual mediating influence of good social etiquette getting in the way. In other words, people feel safer running their mouths online than in person, and it’s easier to build a model about how the other side works when you have better access to their thoughts.

The first thing I noticed is that most of the vitriol came from people who were constructing very obvious strawmen – you know, the kind that results from projecting your own anxieties and prejudices on others, not unlike what gay-bashing politicians do before they’re discovered to be cheating on their wives with cute college boys – and then smugly tearing them apart.

The primary form this argument takes closely resembles Just World thinking: that, at the end of the day, all of my problems with technology, and all of my problems with people who have problems with my problems with technology, are self-inflicted due to some character flaw. Usually that flaw is that I have self-control issues and “need to work on those”, or am a “jerk” and therefore prompting others into being jerks to me, respectively. I mean, barring the fact that I haven’t had bread or sugar in 3 weeks (while working in a bakery where I can technically stuff my face full of delicious organic bread and cookies all I want), I don’t overdraw my bank account, and have been in a long-distance marriage for going on 6 years now, I clearly have self-control issues. Or, barring the fact that everyone at my job likes me, that I have friends who will bend over backwards for me because I have done the same for them, or that I’m an otherwise pretty chill, mostly selfless, and extremely private person, I clearly must be a jerk.

It’s a ridiculous assumption to make about somebody you’ve never actually interacted with. But that ridiculousness is the whole point: it’s impossible to disprove without over-arguing your point, and probably proving your accuser right in the meantime. Well, almost impossible. I gave it my best a few weeks ago on the blog here after getting quite tired of such cookie-cutter response (one of which was even posted to the blog’s comment section):

There are a lot of things wrong with this assumption, and frankly it serves as a very tidy little thoughtstopper.

A thoughtstopper, as defined by John Michael Greer, is:

…exactly what the term suggests: a word, phrase, or short sentence that keeps people from thinking. A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity. The perplexity won’t do the trick by itself, and neither will the strong emotion; it’s the combination of the two that lets a thoughtstopper throw a monkey wrench in the works of the user’s mind.

What you are essentially asserting, even though you don’t know anything about who I am, who I know, and what my life experiences have been, is that because I am frustrated here, in this blog post written for a specific audience with a specific goal in mind, is that I must clearly convey frustration in all of my interactions with everyone I meet, and therefore deserve the hostility I’m recounting.

That’s an incredibly lazy leap of logic, and I’m sad that I have to actually explain to you why.

First off, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on unless you’ve never spoken disparagingly of anyone in your life. Have you ever vented frustration about someone when not in their company? You have, just like everyone else on the planet? OK, then you know that such conversations have their place, that they’re perfectly normal, and moreover, they help to keep us sane when direct confrontation with the individual isn’t possible or worth anyone’s while.

Secondly, policing tone on a blog post about dealing with the recurrent rudeness of others doesn’t really make any sense. Moreover, you’re taking this post, which is only the latest installment of a multi-post series, and extrapolating an entire (false) narrative about how I’ve thus far conducted myself with people who aren’t you. I mean, I could write you an entire memoir’s worth of stories about all the bizarrely hostile encounters I’ve had with folks who had absolutely no reason to be hostile, and I could list off the names of everyone I know who genuinely find me to be good company, but seeing as how you will not take me at face value here, I doubt that you will take those accounts at face value either, and will be altogether a waste of both of our time. So like any good conspiracy theorist, you’ve made an accusation that is almost impossible to disprove. Not sure what tone policing is as defined by somebody other than tumblr? Here you go, courtesy of the RationalWiki:

The tone argument (also tone policing) is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument is dismissed or accepted on its presentation: typically perceived crassness, hysteria or anger. Tone arguments are generally used by tone trolls (esp. concern trolls) as a method of positioning oneself as a Very Serious Person.

The fallacy relies on style over substance. It is an ad hominem attack, and thus an informal fallacy. […]

At best, it may be a way to point out rhetorical dishonesty in a formal debate, but at worst it is simply awarding victory to whoever is affected the least by what is being discussed.

Thirdly, you haven’t criticized or accepted any concrete foundation of the argument I’ve made here (nor have I see any other defender of smartphone technology do similarly either, interestingly enough), which makes this comment especially meaningless. Surely you’ve encountered rude, belligerent, and unreasonably hostile people before, ever? If so, how have you dealt with them repeatedly attacking you for the same thing? If you have, I’m all ears as to your input. Unfortunately, your gripe, again, seems to be with nothing more than the presentation of my ultimate goal with this individual blog post: how to deal with others being unduly threatened by you doing you. Irregardless of your belief and your own experiences (which is what the entire fallacy of Personal Incredulity is about, and is partly what this entire blog post is meant to address; talk about meta) these things have happened to me, and they have happened to others.

Now, with that in mind, do you have anything useful to say, or will you continue to be offended that some shmuck on the internet hates smartphones?

As far as I’m concerned, that’s that.

The problem goes deeper, though, and to no one’s surprise. It goes back, even, to that pesky Just World Hypothesis and the associated frame of mind where we assign moral values to things that maybe shouldn’t have any. It’s very easy to blame people for their own problems, I should note. It protects you from having to deal with the repercussions of accepting that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, among other tragic consequences of chance. That’s not to say that everyone is always powerless in the face of everything – this is hardly true either – but quite often we do not make our own lots in the grand scheme of things. Still, one person’s crippling debt may be a personal failure just as much as the next person’s was completely beyond their control.

In the current, progress-addicted world we live in, technology is Good. Good in the way that charity and humility and patience and honesty are Good. No decent human being would ever argue against values like those, and so it has followed that questioning the march of technology is just as appalling a notion as questioning the very idea of, say, peace on earth and good will toward men.

To this unspoken ideology, the difficulty experienced by people who refuse to adopt the latest-and-greatest, or have chosen to downgrade after the novelty of such wore off, almost approaches a kind of moralistic karmic retribution: ‘you did it to yourself’, or ‘what’d you expect?’. (Note that karma in its un-Westernized form is simply another word for good ol’ Cause and Effect, not some cosmic force of punishment and reward.)

I remember my husband and I getting into a very unnecessarily antagonistic discussion about mattresses of all things at a family xmas party one year: cousins extolled on the wondrous virtues of memory foam, talking about how they couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly sleep on anything lesser. I shrugged and chuckled: “I actually like sleeping on my $100, 3 inch thick foam pad on the floor. I get the best sleep of my life.” I’d uttered something that made no sense to them. They balked, wondered if I’d ever even tried a memory foam bed, to which I replied “yes, and it was terrible”. This was unacceptable, and my husband and I looked on with fascination as they continued to escalate the discussion in such a way that made my opinion on the matter irrelevant. I made a passing evolutionary argument: that humans had been sleeping on hard or firm surfaces since we came down from the trees, and that you’d think millions of years of bad sleep would have wiped us out long ago. (You can’t exactly hunt mammoths with hundreds of accumulated hours of sleep debt, after all.) They responded with a hand-waved, Just World-type thoughtstopper: “Yeah, and cavemen had a life expectancy of 30.”

Ignore the fact that life expectancy figures often include infant mortality (which is the largest contributor to numbers like that) and average adult life-expectancy was considerably older; ignore the fact that such a rebuttal comes from a place of valuing quantity over quality (which is another tenet of this wide-spread, unspoken ideology); ignore the sheer irrelevance to the discussion in general and my comment in particular.

This is but one of many such experiences I’ve had, and they all have one thing in common: arguing from the implicit assumption that more and more complex is, like any storied triumph of Good over Evil, righteous and inevitable. If you walk away from that dichotomy, you simply become part of the temporary adversity that the believers will surely overcome in the end.

The problem with the Just World Hypothesis, though, is that it’s not true. Murderers get away with murder. Abusers die peacefully in their sleep, surrounded by loved ones. Wall Street kleptomaniacs get bailed out with public tax money. Children die. Wives get battered. Men, women, and children alike get cancer and slowly wither away as drugs and chemo fail to stop the spread of metastases.

Likewise, the Just World Hypothesis’ technological-determinist cousin is just as untrue. Social media use is just a likely to connect you to friends and family just as much as it’s linked to skyrocketing rates of loneliness among young people. Modern medicines are just as likely to manage your symptoms as they are to kill, cripple, or give you other complications that require further medicating. Firearms are just as likely to kill innocents as they are assailants or game.

It is, as philosopher and historian Paul Virilio had once said, that “the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck”.

What I discovered was that I had an opinion about the whole thing. People don’t like opinions, even though everyone is up to their eyeballs in them and have no qualms about throwing theirs all over the place. It’s your opinion they just don’t care for. But I discovered that I wasn’t doing this just for frugality’s sake, or just for minimalism’s sake, or just for my sanity’s sake. I was doing this thing because I felt a deep moral obligation to opt-out, in any way I could, of what ‘gifts’ the modern world was trying to force me into receiving. I do my best not to convey that in casual discussion, but I do got out of my way as often as possible to make space and answer questions and support people who want to do what I did. Which is also a no-no, because to have two sides means having a debate, not a lecture. So unless I have negative things to say, unless downgrading ruined my life and proves the techno-optimists right, my experience doesn’t matter. It’s a court of public opinion where the verdict is decided before the trial even begins.

There’s really no way to win, is the bottom line. If it were a mere matter of weighing the pros and the cons, or looking at the numbers, or getting the facts straight, then these reactions wouldn’t happen nearly as often. There’s such virulent hostility because it is a moral issue, because there are sides, because there is loyalty, and because existential crises and entire social structures of self-identity are at stake when we talk about smartphone and modern technology in general. The importance of having the internet at our fingertips, 24/7/365, has approached levels of saturation, zealotry, and emotional dependence that the world religions only wish they had.

All you can do is keep doing what’s right for you, and others will come into it or they won’t. If you’re thinking about it, don’t get the opinions of your peers – it would be about as useful as asking your Southern Baptist preacher their opinions on leaving the church to practice Shinto. Would they weigh the pros and the cons, look at the numbers, and get their facts straight in regards to your needs as a person of faith?

No, they’d tell you to have fun burning in hell.

Back in Vancouver!

Well I’m finally back in Van after 2 years away. And while I don’t have my papers just yet, they ought to be coming in a matter of weeks so I ain’t going anywhere.

It feels good to be back in my own space, my own apartment. I missed the things I left behind (including a cat and a husband), I missed the culture, I missed being able to walk or bike everywhere. Mostly, though, I missed having much more of a zen environment. I know exactly what comes into the house, and I know what goes out. This includes food, garbage, knick-knacks, everything. We toss out a gallon of trash a week between us – not including pet waste, unfortunately. I don’t have things foisted on me anymore – “Surprise! I got you this dietary nightmare!” – and my don’t have my time constantly vied for from being in close proximity to way too much family.

I started eating meat again as soon as I got here. Not the most environmentally-friendly thing to do, but we hope to buy as much local and pastured or grass-fed animal products as we can afford. My stomach, too, is growing less and less tolerant of carbohydrates the longer I go with my LFHC diet, so beans, starchy grains, and sugar are no longer viable food sources for me. The dark, malty beers I used to love to drink? A single pint is almost enough to make me nauseous now. And things that spike my blood sugar are right out.

But I also haven’t boarded a plane in 2 years, so that’s a lot more than most people can say. I don’t plan on making air travel an even occasional luxury anymore. The politics, plummeting quality of customer service, and security rigamarole have just not made it worth my while. The dreams I once had of visiting Japan, Taiwan, Scotland and Ireland? Not worth the cost, and not worth the headache. There’s plenty to see in British Columbia. If we can’t drive or take the train there, and unless it’s a family emergency and I need to hop on a plane ASAP, then we’re just not going.

We also don’t have kids, so that’s another carbon footprint win for the environment. Because if there’s one surefire way to undo all of the work you’ve done being green and environmentally-conscious, it’s making more humans who eat, crap, bathe, and inevitably grow up into good little consumers who may or may not share one iota of mommy and daddy’s values because, hey, since when has it ever been cool to obey your parents?

Another thing I’m doing a lot less of is drinking coffee. Environmentally-friendly tea is significantly cheaper than environmentally-friendly coffee, and besides, at least it’s a lot easier to drink the former without cream. (A cup of straight black tea made at home produces less than one-tenth the carbon than ordering a large latte at your cafe of choice.)

Grass-fed meat, in the end, isn’t even that bad. Pastureland encourages perennial plant growth, healthy soil, and results in a much stronger carbon sink than, say, a field of soybeans that are harvested to the bare ground every year. Also, since the livestock isn’t eating an unnatural diet of grain for the purposes of fattening them up, they’re not farting out all that methane.

And since I’m not eating a bunch of stuff my body doesn’t like, I’m not farting out all that methane either!

I just feel better all around, really. And I feel free to live my life my way, eat the way I want, do the things I want, without being goaded back into the status quo by peer pressure.

Mostly, though, it feels good to be home!

Myths About Hand Laundering

Having been doing most of my laundry by hand for a while now – dang, for several years at this point –  I think I’ve earned the right to Have Opinions about the way hand laundering is often written about and depicted by folks who’ve known nothing but machine washing. So here’s a post debunking a few of the most common myths surrounding the chore of washing clothes in a tub with a little elbow grease.

1. It’s hard.

Not really. Unless, of course, you’re measuring it against the act of dumping dirty laundry into a couple of electric boxes that magically spit out clean laundry 20-30 minutes later, then yes, it’s hard. But it’s no harder than sweeping your own kitchen floor, or replacing the sheets on your bed. In fact, the difficulty of washing laundry by hand is quite often indirectly proportional to the time you have to accomplish it: that is, the longer you can afford to let your clothes soak in hot, soapy water, the less work you have to put in to agitate it. Let the “load” soak overnight, and in the morning you barely have to do any agitating at all. A few simple pumps* of your hands will do the trick to circulate the water through the fibers, and wringing them out afterward only takes as much muscle as you feel like putting in.

*Cupping your hands together, side by side, and pushing down into the clothes like you’re performing CPR is the most energy efficient way to agitate without tools of any kind. (Oh, and if you own a breathing hand washing device, it’ll take even less effort.)

2. It’s time-consuming.

See above. If you don’t have all night or all day to let your clothes soak (and odds are, you do this regularly for pre-soaking soiled clothes anyways), then expect to spend, on average, 10-20 seconds per garment in the load to wash, and half that to rinse. If you have a small/capsule wardrobe whose entire contents can fit into a 5 gallon bucket, and they’re not covered in stains, then you might spend at the most 5 minutes washing, rinsing, and wringing your clothes.

I’d like to see a washing machine do a load in 5 minutes.

The other benefit of hand-washing over machine washing is that you are constantly inspecting the clothes as you agitate them, visually and manually. You can spend less time on minimally-soiled clothes, saving time, and give more TLC to garments that need it. You’re more likely to notice the beginnings of damage like holes and fraying. And you’re more likely to avoid setting stains because you threw them in the wash without noticing them. (I catch almost all oil stains while I still have a chance to wash them out now, for instance. Before, oil stains were the #1 killer of my clothes.)

I’d like to see a machine do that too.

3. Modern front-loading washing machines are so water-efficient, though. Washing by hand probably can’t compare.

I use about an average of 2-4 gallons of water to wash, and 1-3 to rinse with. I can wash a full set of California king-sized sheets and 4 pillow cases with less than 10 total gallons of water. Once again, I’d like to a see a machine do that.

4. Washing machines are part of what helped to liberate the Western wife and mother from a life of hard, household labor.

Yes, that was the case… for maybe a decade. But as always, the consumerist hedonic treadmill was quick to crank up the speed, and suddenly that housewife had more clothes to launder per person than before, and she had higher and higher standards of cleanliness to achieve as a result. A classic example of the Jevons Paradox: efficiency gains provided by a technology are often not just squandered, but undone many times over by more intensive and sustained use of that technology.

So sure, instead of doing laundry by hand every day, the liberated Western woman now goes to work for 8+ hours daily, buys the expensive laundering appliance (probably on credit, so she winds up paying even more for it when all’s said and done), and goes home after a long day of wage work and gas-guzzling commuting to do a load of laundry every day anyways. (And probably pays for a gym membership so she can work on her arm and back strength, which is sorely lacking because of all this manual labor she’s been liberated from.) And instead of being satisfied by a sufficiently clean load of clothes, garments are now expected to be completely wrinkle free, form-fitting, spotless, and smelling like a cheap cologne store at a second-rate mall. And that’s not even mentioning that the size of our wardrobes have since disproportionately exploded in response to this so-called labor-saving device, now the average family does at least one load daily. Don’t make me laugh!

5. Jeans and towels are too hard to wash by hand.

If you have more than a few pairs of jeans, and if you wash them more than once a month, then yeah, it would be on the slightly more inconvenient side. But if that’s the case, then you probably have too many jeans, and you probably wash them too often. Moreover, plush terrycloth towels are, in my opinion, a waste of precious cotton more often than not. Get a peshtemal instead; they’re no more difficult to wash than a large t-shirt. It doesn’t soak up water like a sponge the way terrycloth does, but it’ll still get you dry before pneumonia sets in, and only gets more absorbent with use.

6. Clothes stretch out if you don’t put them in the dryer.

Putting clothes in the dryer isn’t technically what makes them shrink: agitating the fibers is what does it. (Otherwise, leaving your clothes on the clothesline to dry when it’s 120F out would shrink them.) Technically, you could agitate clothes by hand enough to accomplish this – stirring around with a stick for a few minutes and using hot water would help. But the whole phenomenon of clothes stretching out wouldn’t be such an issue if they weren’t made so cheaply – and if they were designed differently to begin with.

7. Laundry probably comes out smelly and dingy that way.

This hasn’t been my experience at all. If you rinse well and don’t wash your whites with your darks, then it’s a non-issue. Hang whites out in the sun to dry and they’ll be lightened up by UV action as well; no whitening products necessary. As for smell, they can smell like anything you want them to, depending on what detergent you use. I don’t recommend using typical laundry detergent, however: it’s very sudsy and more difficult to rinse out. I use a small squirt of Sal Suds in my laundry, no more than a tablespoon, which produces few suds and degrades quickly in water. Those cal king sheets I mentioned above? Done by hand in an 8-gallon washtub with Sal Suds, rinsed, wrung, and hung out on the clothesline. And it passed my husband’s very stringent smell test. He said if I hadn’t told him they were hand-washed, he would never have guessed.


Washing by hand is half design – buying sturdier clothes, buying clothes that fit differently than the throwaway kind you find at the likes of Target and H&M – and half outlook. Outlook? Here’s what I mean.

Reasons washing by hand is better than using a machine:

1. You control what happens to the water when the wash is done.

2. You’re more likely to catch small stains or oil spots before accidentally setting them in.

3. It’s good exercise.

4. It’s meditative.

5. Your clothes last a lot longer.

6. It’s less stressful all around.

Not a bad deal, huh? When you think of it this way, it’s clearly the superior process. It saves energy, time, sanity, and doesn’t wear out your clothes. That’s like… four ‘wins’.

In my completely biased opinion, I think it’s worthwhile to give it a go. It’ll take some getting used to, but once it becomes part of your routine, you may not want to go back. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

What I’m Reading: A ‘Quirky’ Edition of the Friday Link Roundup

Buddha, Confucious, and Laozi Taste Some Vinegar – Medium.com
A short article on a common motif in Chinese art: the founders of three important schools of philosophy in China taste, and react, to vinegar.

Lifefaker.com
OK, not reading this one per-se but it’s a hilarious and sobering website that aims to put social media and blog aesthetic lifestylers in perspective. Is your life lacking meaning, adventure, inspiration, or magazine-worthy relationships? With Lifehacker, making people think you have these things through obnoxious photography is just a click away!

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup, “It’s Worse Than You Think” Edition

The Pension Crisis is Worse Than You Think – Seeking Alpha
The article’s author outlines why the current pension system in the US is completely and unarguably unsustainable – and why we probably have less than a decade before pension funds run out.

Why oil prices can’t rise very high, for very long – Our Finite World
This piece may sound good at first, but it’s not. Many of Gail’s posts about the price of oil concern themselves with trying to get it into her readers heads that low oil prices are bad – really bad – as counterintuitive as that seems. Here, it’s a simple case of supply and demand: the cost of production climbs every year, while spending power remains stagnant at best. This makes even a fixed price for oil unaffordable over the long-term for consumers, and unsustainable for producers who need to turn a profit in order to keep the drills drilling. In short, Gail often says, this means that there is no price that works anymore.

At the Fed, the Scene Is Being Set for Financial Disaster – The Nation
Nomi Prins speculates that we’re quietly headed for another crisis a la the 2008 market collapse. Trump is leveraging all the wrong people (for a healthy economy) in the Federal Reserve lineup as the GOP aims to loosen restrictions across the financial board. Meanwhile, the stock market is already beginning to show signs of stress this year. Best fasten your seatbelt, folks. (Here’s two more pieces pointing toward this from CNBC.)

U.K. Productivity Worst Since Industrial Revolutoin, BOE Says – Bloomberg
“Total factor productivity since 2007 was the worst since the late eighteenth century, around the time of the industrial revolution, according to a Bank of England blog post Wednesday.”