Turn by Turn Directions… By Text

I recently discovered this project created by the two-man team behind Oui Develop, and I was so thrilled that I wrote them to say thank you.

There’s not much to it, and it doesn’t have a fancy name: Text Message Directions. The link to the GitHub project page is here, even though all you need to know is the phone number where you sent your queries to.

The official blurb goes like this:

If you don’t have a smart phone, or if you do and you are low on data, feel free to get directions by doing the following:

Send a text message to 1 (312) 313-1234 in the form of “origin to destination”. For example, you can text “UC berkeley to Oakland airport”.

And that’s all there is to it.

I’ve run a couple test texts, and so far found that it can handle intersections (like ‘colorado and fair oaks pasadena’), destinations by name (like ‘sears pasadena’), addresses, and just city names by themselves. It responds in a matter of seconds, and gives complete turn-by-turn directions with distance amounts after each turn so you know when to look out for your next way point.

The drawbacks, obviously, are many. It’s no Google Maps, that’s for sure, but if you require Google Maps, then you probably still have your smartphone anyway. For instance, I don’t believe it will change directions based on traffic, and it seems to get a little confused about your starting position for some reason. My tests resulted in the ‘app’ assuming I was starting out on the south end of whatever street when in fact I was starting on the north side.

I would still be more than happy to have this around for emergency situations, though I’ll probably never use it otherwise, and I’m very, VERY happy that someone has decided to put something like this together at all.

If you do use it, please consider donating to them to keep the infrastructure alive. Every query, apparently, costs them money to process.

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I Will Never Leave North America

And I’m OK with this. (Cheakamus Lake. Wikipedia.)

My husband and I recently came to the slow, quiet realization that we will never travel outside of North America. He did, once, over 20 years ago now – the furthest I ever got was Hawaii.

Closing the door on overseas travel is a strange thing when you’re raised in a middle class family, and surrounded by middle class people. You tell them that you’ll never make it to Europe or Asia or South America, and they suddenly start looking at you like you’ve told them the prognosis of your terminal illness.

It’s a death knell for your obligatory personal acculturation, the common wisdom goes. Being entertained and enraptured by exotic peoples has been a longtime hobby of the privileged westerner, and it’s supposedly part and parcel of what makes someone a well-rounded member of society. What are some words we associate with the non-traveler? Sheltered; close-minded; boring; pitiable, maybe? I know there are worse.

It was a harsh conclusion for us to come to, that’s for sure. I had hopes of visiting Japanese Shinto shrines or 300-year old Irish pubs; he had similar. But they’re just not meant to be, and we’ve come to terms with that.

An interesting thing happens when you suddenly find yourself limited to seeing and knowing the things in your “backyard” – you wind up with a desire to know it all more intimately, in greater detail. We want to get to know British Columbia as much as humanly possible, as it turns out. From its unnamed bays to its most remote mountain wildernesses, we know that this single province will provide us with lifetimes of sightseeing, adventure, and inspiration. And if we somehow get tired of these breath-taking vistas, there’s always the Yukon, or the states further south.

The fact of the matter is that there’s other places we’d prefer to dump our money. Investments are the name of the game, now: land, a house, durable equipment to make self-sufficiency just that much more of a reality. These are material gifts that keep on materially giving. Travel? Not so much.

Air travel, too, has become rather indefensible. The airline industry spews obscene amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and in recent years its become the accepted battlefield where nation-states are permitted to wage wars against their own law abiding citizens, to speak nothing of foreign visitors.

While my husband is not quite done requiring the use of airlines, I believe I’ve already boarded my last plane. It feels strange to say that I’m done with flying, but really, I’m looking forward to what slower, easier, and cheaper modes of transport can do for me. It doesn’t close off opportunities from my perspective. In fact, it opens the way for so many more; smaller and closer as the case may be.

This is actually a well-worn path. Many naturalists and nature writers over the centuries have wondered aloud about that peculiar desire for foreign travel. (Such sentiment is different from ‘wanderlust’, which is no more than the impulse to explore a place – how far afield that is from one’s home is not implicated by the definition of the word.) In the book I’m reading now, Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, he, too, wonders aloud about this in the tradition of his predecessors:

We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape onto [John Boroughs’] ‘far side of the moon’, into [W. H. Hudson’s] ‘new country’, into [Wendell Berry’s] ‘another world’; somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. I have for some time been imagining such transitions as ‘border crossings’. These borders do not correspond to national boundaries, and papers and documents are unrequired at them. Their traverse is generally unbiddable, and no reliable map exists of their routes and outlines. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, treeline or snowline, or enter rain, storm, or mist, or pass from boulder clay onto sand, or chalk onto greenstone. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographies, leaving known places outlandish or quickened, revealing continents within counties.

What might we call such incidents and instances – or, rather, how to describe the lands that are found beyond these frontiers? ‘Xenotopias’, perhaps, meaning ‘foreign places’ or ‘out-of-place places’, a term to compliment our ‘utopias’ and out ‘dystopias’. Martin Martin, the traveller and writer who in the 1690’s set sail to explore the Scottish coastline, knew that one does not need to displace oneself vastly in space in order to find difference. ‘It is a piece of weakness and folly merely to value things because of their distance from the place where we are born,’ he wrote in 1697, ‘this men have travelled far enough in the search of foreign plants and animals, and yet continue strangers to those produced in their own natural climate’. So did Roger Deakin: ‘Why would anyone want to go live abroad when they can live in several countries at once just by being in England?’ he wondered in his journal. Likewise, Henry David Thoreau: ‘An aboslutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect to ever see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.’

And so my husband and I have begun to view our much smaller world.

Sgair Gaoith. Wikipedia.

It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt, but I don’t believe someone with truly open ears and a healthy capacity for wonder experiences this phenomenon to any great extent. In The Living Mountain (which I have not yet read), Nan Shepherd talks about her lifelong, almost ritualistic explorations of the Cairngorm mountains in her native Scotland, and how, after decades of repeated travels through the mountains on foot, their mystery and beauty only looms larger, and her own human understanding looms much, much less.

Once we leave the loud, hurried, money-sucking tumult of the city, we will be in a place where we can walk and breathe and experience land that has not been beaten down by the harsh logic of human extraction. We’ll get to know the trees and the rocks and the movements of animals on their terms.

I had a heated discussion about this with some friends of mine a month or so ago, while we were visiting Joshua Tree for the weekend. My friend, having spent time in India as part of his undergraduate program, had no philosophical ontology with which to begin appreciating my lack of desire to visit exotic places. He was incredulous – as he often is when confronted with my politically-motivated personal decisions and the expectations I hold based on my knowledge of environmental issues and of the associated history, politics, and technological developments – even as I explained the depth with which one can come to know and love a very small geographical area.

“See that tree there?” I said, pointing to a particularly old and stunningly sculptural specimen of Yucca brevifolia, “If this were my house, then I would love nothing more than to spend time with that tree every day for the rest of my life, to get to know every inch of that tree, every creature that visits it.”

We were still at odds, but his wife, my best friend of 16 years, understood me: I don’t want to experience someone or something for just one hour, one day; I want to build a relationship with the things in my life. I want to bear witness to their existence, and hold them in my memory.

MacFarlane talks about finding ‘continents within counties’, and this is an important image to have to understand the mind of the non-traveler. You put anything under a microscope and it suddenly becomes an entire universe unto itself; this is the lens through which we experience our environment. Or perhaps more smugly, what sets us apart is that we understand that we have an environment, and that we are fully present and participatory in it.

The pursuit of the novel and exotic is really a colonial notion, too. Unfamiliarity becomes a resource to extract from other people and places; a resource that can be depleted: boredom. If this is the relationship we have with otherness, then it’s no wonder that contempt spreads when the well of excitement runs dry.

Maintaining. Settling. These are very uninspiring words according to the popular lexicon of consumption and affluence. There’s a much bigger, much subtler beauty behind such notions as “make do and mend”, and unlearning that want for newness, whether in socks or spouses or countries is part of the picture.

 

Going Analog Part 5: Navigation

Since ditching the smartphone, I’ve only put my sim card back in for the purpose of using GPS navigation on one single occasion. This was a multi-legged, complex series of trips in a part of town I was completely unfamiliar with, and my timing was important.

I went from the San Gabriel Valley to Irvine to pick my dad up from the train station – whose location I didn’t know – and then we drove to where I was checking out a Cherokee I saw on Craigslist near the beach. The Jeep was in abysmal condition, so I passed on it, and we found ourselves at a used car lot about a mile up the road, where I wound up buying my current Cherokee. My dad, who was also in the area to test drive a used car, needed to make his appointment a few miles away while they put a fresh battery in the Jeep at the used dealer. An hour later, and the two of us suddenly had three vehicles in our possession. So, with the Jeep still at the dealer, we dropped the car I drove over with at the nearest Amtrak station, which I felt comfortable leaving overnight, and drove back to pick up the Jeep. From there my dad and I parted ways, each of us in a “new” car. I promptly took off and headed for a birthday dinner in Long Beach, deciding to take side streets since the Saturday afternoon traffic had all but turned the local freeways into parking lots. After dinner, we drove someplace else for drinks, and at the end of the evening, someone decided to help me get both cars back that night instead of me taking the train to pick it up the following day.

Whew, I’m tired just from remembering all that!

Situations like aren’t regular occurrences for most people. For me, that kind of logistical nightmare happens only once or twice a year, at best. Without addresses for any of my destinations, I would have been almost completely lost. (Though drive in a straight line long enough in this town, and you’re bound to run into something you’re familiar with.) If I’d had an hour to prepare and plot my trips on paper, I probably could have done it. But the fact of the matter was that I hadn’t quite built up my psychological tolerance to getting lost as much as I have now.

I have gotten lost since then, and somewhat majorly. Only a couple weeks after that, I was supposed to meet a friend in another (albeit closer) part of town I wasn’t so familiar with. The freeways around the border between Glendale and Los Angeles get pretty messy also, and apparently major streets change names when you’re not expecting them to: for instance, the northbound offramp for the street I wanted went by a different name than the southbound! My neatly memorized planogram of what sequence of freeways I needed, the offramp to look out for, and the general direction to make my way in after that went out the window when I realized that I was no longer in Glendale at all. To make matters worse, due to all the junctions in that area, getting off the freeway to get back on in the other direction was more complicated than I was expecting. Two more things added insult to injury: not only was I running the heater in that 90F weather to help the shot radiator do its job, but I was running on fumes to boot!

But I kept my cool. In fact, keeping your cool is probably the most important thing about using analog navigation tools – or in my case, an imperfect mental snapshot of Google maps and a 12-year-old memory of that one time I visited somebody who used to live there I think?

I got there, I didn’t run out of gas, and I learned a lot about getting around the Atwater Village area, which I am never, ever going to forget now. Did I wish I had a GPS to help me navigate that fiasco? No. It was kind of fun actually, in the way that taking something apart and putting it back together as you figure out how its works is fun. Because that’s what navigation is, really: mentally taking apart a roadmap, street by street, turn by turn, and figuring out how a neighborhood or a landscape works. Navigation is a skill; if you do this enough, it’ll soon become intuitive, and the muscle memory you develop, the resilience to irrational anxiety, will help you navigate places you’ve never even been to. Or places that don’t even have roads.

Getting lost doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to even just a few years ago, and I fear what this is doing to our collective tolerance for spontaneity, our fortitude in the face of the unknown, and our own propensity to fear the worst. If we can’t handle not knowing where we are in a grid full of people whom we can ask directions from, then how will we be able to get ourselves out of stickier situations? What happens when the car breaks down in an area with no cell service? Or when you get turned around on the hiking trail? How we respond when the familiar suddenly becomes unfamiliar is important, and being able to assess the situation while keeping calm is no less than a life skill.

I once saw a 70 year old man on a forum complaining about young people being too dependent on complex technology to save them from bad situations, and said that if a person didn’t know how to read a map and compass, then they deserved to get lost. I’m inclined to agree, to be honest. Or rather, that they ought to get lost, and get lost repeatedly, until they realize that there’s nothing to be scared of, and nothing to be inconvenienced by if you’re worth your salt.

Remember Thomas Guides? Let’s bring those back. They’re sure as hell cheaper than a data plan.

We Might Learn From the Cubans

At 28, 5 years after moving back to LA from my college days in New York City, I’ve bought my first car. He’s all steel, with a curb weight of about 3800 pounds and an engine, I keep hearing, that just won’t quit. “Bulletproof” is a descriptor I’ve heard and read about the inline 6 countless times now. People get into accidents with them and are able to drive away in their totaled cars, unharmed.

If my car was a person, though, he’d be old enough to drink. Born in 1996 with three previous owners and 193,000 miles under his belt, the relationship I plan on having with this car is going to be one that not many Americans will be able to relate to. Jeepers will, obviously: It’s a Jeep thing. But the people I hope to take inspiration from in the years ahead will be the Cubans and their “yank tanks”.

Zero wasters and other low-impact folk really need to look at how Cuba has survived the 60 years since President Kennedy signed the order that choked off all resources to the small, harmless, communist nation in an attempt at attrition. The islanders didn’t succumb to US bullying, though: things were very hard, but they made do with what they had to work with. They are agriculturally self-sufficient, they’ve perfected the art of preventative medicine, and they’ve succeeded in keeping the nation’s fleet of 1950’s-era cars running in spite of sanctions and the complete collapse of a replacement parts market.  Motor Trend magazine sent a writer there to experience the Cuban car culture and this is the sight he was greeted with:

…strolling the busy streets of Havana today is like teleporting back into a 1950s Hollywood movie. You half expect Jimmy Stewart to drive past tailing Kim Novak in his DeSoto. We came here knowing we’d see a few classic American rides, but, in fact, amid a sprinkling of Russian Ladas and the occasional Korean compact, the grand old iron is everywhere. At a nearby curb sits a ’52 Ford Crestliner. There on the Malecón, the broad artery that sweeps along Havana’s waterfront, glides a ’57 Buick Century, followed quickly by a ’58 Chevy Impala and a ’57 Plymouth Fury. Few and far between are the cream puffs, true, but most of the passing museum pieces look amazingly good considering they’re well past retirement age and have never stopped working fulltime.

Most of these vehicles, as the author calls them though, are “zombies” and “mutants”. Many of them don’t even have the original motors anymore, and some of them don’t even have car motors. But is that so bad?

Dimitrio lifts the massive hood [of his 1953 Oldsmobile]. “This engine? Soviet. But not normal car engine. They use this to power welding machine.” Indeed, much of Dimitrio’s Oldsmobile runs on similarly ingenious life support. He points to the driver’s door. “That car is 60 years old. Where you can find a door for that piece of shit? If someone smashes your car, they have to make a new one.” Dimitrio moves to the back of the work yard, picks up a finished rectangle of “new” floorpan. “These guys, they make the pieces by hand — with a hammer.” He runs his fingers over the symmetrical square indentations in the metal, each one hand-beaten into shape. “This isn’t work,” says Dimitrio. “This…is art.”

A sustainable automobile culture and industry could never have looked like anything but this. They would have to be treated as heirlooms, driven by careful owners and maintained by guilds of car-wrights. But instead we’ve built the entire apparatus of automobile construction and maintenance around the rapidly fading mirage of cheap energy. Instead, we live in a culture where people upgrade cars faster than they upgrade mattresses. And like everything else in our failing world of consumer goods, even our cars are increasingly designed to be disposable.

I mean, let’s face the facts here: my 1996 Jeep Cherokee that gets 20 MPG under the best of conditions is, in a number of ways, more sustainable than a brand new Tesla or Prius. The most obvious reason is due to the reality of embodied energy – the carbon footprint of simply manufacturing a new vehicle and getting it to the show floor. If you take a look at the numbers for a Tesla vehicle – or even the new Tesla battery pack “Gigafactory”, the plant that’s due to be responsible for manufacturing the very backbone of its vehicles – it just doesn’t work out. However, it’s more than that: it’s the hidden maintenance costs of flimsy vehicles riddled with computer chips, cameras, and other “smart” technology. Who can fix a Tesla when it breaks down? Not you, that’s for sure – the learning curve for performing maintenance on a Tesla vehicle is so steep that you have currently have no choice but to take it to a dealership for repairs. You can’t just be a mechanic anymore; you apparently have to be a computer engineer as well.

There are other questions too: how easy is it to total? What is the carbon footprint of every individual component under the hood? How many miles will each component last? How easy are the parts to make and what is the embodied energy of the tools required to make them? How long can the workhorse keep running with a simple preventative maintenance routine, or does it need kid glove treatment and witches brews of exotic fluids?

I highly doubt that a Tesla battery can even theoretically last as long as a well-maintained straight 6: I’ve heard from guys who’ve put over 500,000 miles on their Jeeps, and their engines are still going strong. Moreover, when the engine does finally die (and it’s not just a cracked head or broken rod), the block is iron. It can be retooled, rebuilt, and hopefully, reused for another 500k miles. Of course, rebuilding even a basic engine like this costs a few grand and several dozens of hours of work, and most people – most people in the States – would rather just get another car. But I don’t want to be most people if I can avoid it.

Voluntary simplicity doesn’t just apply to wardrobes and kitchen cabinets. In Cuba’s case, the simplicity was quite involuntary, but the things they’ve created due to the strict limitations put on their day-to-day lives forced some amazing things to happen. That’s not to say that the average Cuban wouldn’t trade their 1950’s jalopy with a 4-cylinder Kia motor for something newer; they’re simply a people forced into mind-blowing creative solutions in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. But that sort of convenience that we’ve come to expect from things like “progress” and “growth” hasn’t gotten us anywhere good lately.

I like to joke that the only “power” feature I’ve got in my car is steering. Aside from the 10-year-old aftermarket stereo, the only buttons I’ve got in the Jeep are for the headlights, defroster, and climate control. He’s about as bare-bones as a 90’s car is going to get (aside, of course, from the coveted 4×4 transfer case), which means that performing my own maintenance is going to be about as easy it gets. The DIY ethic among Jeepers, I should note, is generally about as strong as their love for the brand, and community support is phenomenal.

Every make has its group of aficionados, but aside from hot rodders and vintage muscle car guys, the level of dedication just doesn’t compare in the wider car-loving culture. We just don’t need to give a damn about our cars so long as they get us where we need to go. How many folks read their owner’s manuals cover to cover? (did. And I’ll probably be doing it again for a refresher soon enough.)

I won’t lie: the simplest thing to do would be to not have a car at all. In fact, since buying the Jeep, my life has gotten about twice as complex as it was before. If I’m to learn to fix the Jeep, then I need to know the Jeep: I’ve already spent dozens of hours researching parts, model year quirks, potential upgrades, problems, noises, wiring diagrams, octane ratings, maintenance schedules, best practices, and even etiquette. I know how to begin diagnosing problems that I had no idea existed before, or check the integrity of parts that I ever knew needed checking. The Jeep is not a low-maintenance vehicle; he requires a level of vigilance that most other car owners could never be bothered with. I glance at my gauges as often as I glance at the rearview mirror while driving. I keep a notebook in the glove compartment with a list of every single little thing I’ve done to him, who did it, and how many miles was on the odometer when it was done. I keep a towel in the back for when I need to pop the hood and get my hands dirty.

But I need a car now, and I refused to get one that I didn’t love enough to be in it for the long haul. Just as I don’t want my life riddled with disposable clothes, disposable plates, or disposable bags. And the old wartime adage of “make do and mend” extends to so much more than just socks. We don’t get rid of our homes as soon as they show signs of wear and tear, as soon as the plumbing goes out, or the roof leaks, or a fire levels the garage. We do so much living in our vehicles, that the same should be said of them too.

So, I’m going to learn from the Cubans as much as I can. Such a way of doing things is laborious, sometimes not especially cost-effective, and within the unimpressive rigidity of our convenience-driven consumer culture, it’s probably even just plain lunacy. But so long as I can afford parts and can tackle the relatively modest learning curve of car maintenance, then by all means: call me crazy.

(Must be a Jeep thing.)

More on the Cuban cottage auto industry:

More on high mileage cars:

Why doesn’t the US have right to roam laws?

We’d never given this issue much thought, but the idea of private property remaining accessible to others who will act responsibly as passersby is an interesting one. If nothing is damaged and the goal is simply to get from one place to the other, or enjoy nature without borders, then why not? Ken Ilgunas writes […]

via Private Property in the US — Raxa Collective

What Rob Greenfield and Mick Dodge Have In Common

So I stumbled upon RobGreenfield.TV a while back via my favorite social network, Diaspora*, and navigated around some before coming across this article:

As of today it has been one year since my last shower. Yes, I know that sounds crazy and a year ago I would have agreed with you. I was a regular showering guy for the first 26 years of my life. Well, maybe not every single day, but just about.

So how does a regular showering guy end up going 365 days and counting without taking a shower? It started with a long bike ride across America to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living. I set a bunch of rules for myself to follow to lead by example. The rule for water was that I could only harvest it from natural sources such as lakes, rivers, and rain or from wasted sources such as leaky faucets. And I kept track of exactly how much I used too, with an aim of showing just how little we need to get by.

I made it through the 100-day bike ride without taking a shower and for me that was quite the task in itself. But everything had gone so well that I decided to continue my showerless streak. I set a goal for 6 months and when that day passed I figured I might as well go a full year without a shower.

So here I am now, one year later, to tell you story of my year without a shower.

I might as well bring this up right away. You think I’m really stinky right? […] When I say that I haven’t showered that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t bathing. I swam almost daily in places like this:

Rob Greenfield Water

[…]

But I learned that by living naturally I didn’t need cosmetic products anymore. I just used some soap, toothpaste, and essential oils and found that to work real well. This compared to previously using colognes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions, and all sorts of other products full of chemicals. And guess what?  I had no lack of friends! […]

I learned that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day. But I was able to use less than 2 gallons per day on my bike trip. That’s just 8 Nalgene water bottles. (This was not including the natural water and leaky sources that I bathed in.)

Rob Greenfield Drinking

Most importantly I learned to really appreciate every last drop.

I mean, this is all amazing and inspiring and great stuff! I think 100 gallons of water per person per day is a downright shameful amount of water for anyone to use, and everyone* ought to be seriously critical of their water usage.

But this just reminds me of a comment thread on Diaspora* that turned sour when someone started telling me that being “truly healthy” and “truly sustainable” meant that I shouldn’t need deodorant, toothpaste, medicine, or any modern convenience whatsoever. He didn’t want me taking antidepressants because they’re “poison”. (And clinical, chronic depression isn’t?) Anyways, long story short, I got agitated and told him to get out of my post because he was failing spectacularly at solidarity.

But it got me to thinking a little bit– why are characters like that know-it-all on Diaspora*, and this Rob Greenfield person, always men? And why does it never occur to them that the people they are talking to aren’t all men also? And that, maybe, in not being a man, things are just a little bit different? When this happens–and let’s face it, it’s almost a constant in our society–whether it comes from a man or a woman or someone else, it’s called androcentrism. 

One of my favorite guilty pleasure shows right now is the Legend of Mick Dodge. I love that program because Mick, a wildman of some 20 or 30 years, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about television, celebrity, drama, and even likes messing with the camera crew following him around. This winds up having the effect of reminding the viewer that they are, in fact, watching a TV program and not there themselves; which, to me, is an amazing “fuck you” to the whole reality format of the show, and the genre itself. But one of the things I realized after watching a handful of episodes is the complete lack of women in Mick’s world. None of his off-grid friends are women and none of his apprentices are women. It’s a total sausagefest. What gives?

I really mean that as a rhetorical question, because I know exactly what gives. Patriarchy and sexism, to put it bluntly. It’s all in the collective social consciousness: bushcraft, “roughing it”, is a man’s skill; peeing outdoors is par for the course for a man, weird and gross for a woman; men are allowed to be dirty, ugly, and hairy, while women who are un-manicured are often considered subhuman; and so on.

But there are other things at play when I hear healthy men preach about how amazing it is to be free like Rob or Mick.

Show of hands: how many of my female-identified or female-perceived readers would be OK scrubbing down, in your street clothes, via leaking fire hydrant in the middle of New York City, like Rob Greenfield did during his bike trip? I know I wouldn’t. I would be worrying about my safety, to be honest. What more obvious invitation for harassment could there be on a NYC street than a young perceived-woman, completely wet, sudsing down in public on a hot day?

Or how about: how many of my female-identified or female-perceived readers would be OK skinny dipping near a trail, alone, like Rob did during the same trip? I would never, in a million years, do that. The worst-case scenarios are just too real for me to risk it.

The other guilty pleasure show I watched last year, Live Free or Die, featured only a single woman out of a total of five subjects; is it any coincidence that she was also part of the only married couple on the show that lived in a proper house? She and her husband were roughing it, to be sure; I don’t believe they had much in the way of electricity or running water, and money played a very small role in their day to day lives and exchanges with neighbors. But, given the four different lifestyles featured in the program, it should come as no surprise that a woman would only be found in the safest of them: with access to a male partner, a house with doors, and a life that didn’t necessitate wandering the wilds, far from any reliable aid should something, or someone, become a problem.

How come this reality, the reality of being women and perceived-women, is never acknowledged by bushcrafters and advocates of rewilded living? The realities of emotional and physical violence (perpetuated by men), the realities of having having a uterus and needing birth control as a safety measure, and the realities of living up to (and often failing because of hypocrisies inherent to these tropes) what a woman is supposed to be?

And yeesh, that’s not even touching on what happens when a male stranger can’t immediately recognize your gender, or worse, thinks he’s been tricked. That is a very dangerous place to be, and has resulted in many an assault and murder of a trans person**.

So what do Rob Greenfield and Mick Dodge have in common? They’re men, and as such, are granted certain protections by that fact while out on the road or in the wilderness. And I think some of us would like to see the likes of them openly acknowledge that a little more often. Or better yet, use their popularity to do something about it.

With that, I’d like to end this post with a quote by Sylvia Plath:

Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…

*In developed countries
**Mostly trans women of color; may you all rest in power

Moving!

On the 13th I hop on a train  at LA’s Union Station bound for central Oregon, where I will be moving in with my uncle and his wife on their small ranch just outside of Bend. My base of operations for the immediate future will be there as I work on my immigration papers so that I can finally, after 3 and a half years of being married, be with my partner in BC. In the meantime, I plan on taking my meager income from my art and comics work, as well as whatever other odd jobs I can pick up, and travel about Cascadia by bike and by train.

I know how to live so much more cheaply and simply now than I did a couple of years ago; so if I can make ends meet while spending time in LA with family, with my partner in Vancouver, and with my aunt, uncle, and grandmother in Bend, I definitely will. Jobs are for suckers. And getting laid off a year ago was possibly one of the best things that could have happened to me.

I’ll be taking lots of pictures of this transition over the next month, and whatever subsequent adventures I’ll have in places like Portland, Eugene, Seattle, and hell, I might even visit a blogger friend in Spokane while I’m at it. I’ll be writing about my travels on here, but you’re also invited to follow me on instagram and see it all in its spontaneous, unorganized glory. Plus cat pictures.

One of the things I realized about moving and packing boxes to be shipped by UPS is that I absolutely refuse to pay for packing material, because that’s for suckers too. What’d I use for fill in my 25 boxes? Old elementary school homework assignments from a box that my dad dug out of his storage unit, clothes, blankets, and free copies of LA and Pasadena Weekly that probably get thrown out by the truckload anyway.

I also wound up purging a lot again. Clothes, old iPhone cables (I have an android now; it’s seriously better in every single way), doodads, a few things from my old office like a big LCD monitor that’s more trouble than it’s worth, comic books that I’ll never read again (I’m realizing that I pretty much never read comic books a second time unless its for reference purposes… I really need to start using Comixology because of this), shoes, and other random things that I thought were too sentimental to let go of. The one thing that sucks about getting close to a moving date like this is that I can’t buy my usual foodstuff– the only way I’m going to make sure food doesn’t go to waste or doesn’t get left behind is if its prepackaged. Oh well. Convenience: a small price to pay? lol.

At any rate, I’m off now to mail some things to the hubs. I’ve got a comics fest I’m tabling at on the last weekend of the month, and the only way to guarantee an easy border-crossing is to make sure you don’t have anything with you that looks like merchandise. Also… anything that looks like dicks, too. Seeing as how one of my zines is drawings of famous Japanese mecha wearing strap-ons, I figure I’d really rather not play with fire. I’ve also got a return to make at the bike shop (I replaced my handlebars for the first time, and boy did I learn a lot about brakes… especially that some employees can’t be trusted to guess the diameter of your bars if you don’t know the actual number), and I’m taking a jar of coins to the machine at the grocery store for sorting. Yay, money!

So… cheers everyone! And stay tuned for adventures.

The Cost of Paying Attention

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

A FEW years ago, in a supermarket, I swiped my bank card to pay for groceries. I watched the little screen, waiting for its prompts. During the intervals between swiping my card, confirming the amount and entering my PIN, I was shown advertisements. Clearly some genius had realized that a person in this situation is a captive audience.

Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.

What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.

[…]

Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it.

[…]

I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested.

Read the rest from the NYT.

I’ve been privvy, in some way or another, to this for years. I grew up in a second or third-generation suburb where everything was quiet, businesses were very small, and billboards far between. On top of having hypersensitive hearing, I just liked the quietude. But then I got the bright idea to go to college in New York City. In many ways, it was a big mistake.

I moved back home 5 years later, cherishing every tiny drop of delicious silence I could get. I sit and listen to the birds now, and to my cats’ faint snoring as they nap. I can hear the gardener raking leaves on the other side of the condo complex. But I consider all this rehabilitation, and it’s a slow process: 3 years I’ve been at this, healing the physical and psychological damage that living in such a loud, fast-paced, personal-space-deprived city caused me. I’m in the middle of healing my adrenal glands, shot from stressing out over too much overstimulation for too long.

And in the culture I, as a USian, live in, it’s an uphill battle. We are a country where TV commercials are louder than the programming, where we print advertisements on our goddamn eggs. It’s hard to find silence anymore, to find a space where you can get away from “being addressed”, as the article’s author so aptly defines it.

While boycotts are not a great tactic for broad, lasting change, I think it’s definitely viable as a method of staying sane. Boycott marketing, inasmuch as you can figure out how to do that. Reclaim your time. Turn off the TV, use ad-blocking software on your computer (Disconnect, a favorite of mine, develops software to make you invisible to ads that track your movements online, among others that accomplish similar and important things), pay in cash whenever possible so analytics algorithms can’t track your spending habits, and just, y’know, try to avoid centers of high density marketing and consumerism whenever possible. You never know what kinds of tracking technology any given space is equipped with, anyway.

How do you avoid advertising and media overload?

3 Weeks of Trash!

I’m not sure of the exact size of the container, but it was originally a large jar of roasted peppers.

What’s in there: stickers, off-brand emergen-c packets, foil pill packs, plastic bags from some food items, spent lint roller sheets, old vitamins, straws, plastic wrappers, and some other random things.

It’s just a rough estimate of my average trash generation, unfortunately, as I don’t have access to the jar most of the day, and especially since I started filling it up as it’s been a wild few weeks. My mom’s 50th out in the desert was 2 weeks ago, and such a huge party meant loads and loads of trash. I tried being as ZW as possible, bringing jars of snacks and things from home, stainless tumblers, and some reusable napkins, but that was nothing in the wake of the biggest Costco run I’ve ever been on. So that weekend was sort of exempt, unfortunately.

And then this past weekend was a convention with nothing but non-stop running around. I unwittingly ordered myself a coffee that came in a plastic cup, most of my breakfasts were on the go and came in paper baggies, and an awkward evening was spent at Universal Studios with the con-goers, and thanks to a rather opaque schedule and poor planning, there was lots of take-out ordered before we were bused back to the convention center.

But this series of hectic weekends has me thinking about what I should consider “normal” waste-making, and what I should discount as errant and abnormal? I shouldn’t just be living this lifestyle when it’s most convenient for me, adopting old habits when other things magically become priorities for a short time. A vacation should be getting away from familiar places and from the stressors of day-to-day life, not also getting away from our obligations to the earth and to ourselves.

Unfortunately, without an industrial kitchen and a team of helpers, there really isn’t a way to host a weekend-long party for 65+ people without buying disposable plates and napkins.

The convention, though, I know I could have done better with, even though I did make sure to carry around all of my husband’s and my plastic containers in my bag until we could make sure they got recycled.