Saturday, December 16, 2017

All I Want For Christmas Is....Less


It occurs to me, as the holidays approach ever closer, that material things mean less and less to me, and the appeal of "presents" under the Christmas tree is virtually non-existent. I am not about to rob anyone of the joy of giving, and receiving, but my personal reflection goes to what I could do without, from actual objects and conditions to intangibles. Food for thought, anyway.

Less stress would be nice. In fact, I bet a great number of us would trade the latest techno-gadget for relief from credit card debt, student loan payments, workplace politics, family drama, the daily commute, and an infinite list of other stress-inducers. Instead, the holidays seem to compact all our stresses into one neat, unbearable bundle, don't they? My personal belief is that on occasion at least, we need to avoid stress. Maybe that means spending Christmas and New Year's with friends instead of relatives. Maybe it means politely requesting that you don't exchange gifts this year, at least not the adults. Lower that burden on your charge card a little.

Less stuff would be helpful. I have so much clutter that I cannot even find a lot of what I own. How did that happen? Luckily, I barely have an income, so I am not accruing much in the way of new material these days. The problem is that I cannot seem to unload most of my existing possessions in exchange for even a little bit of money. I do not mind donating. I did that with my insect collection, do that with clothes, used electronics....but c'mon, I need to not be on the short end every time. Ah, well, there I go complaining again.

Let me think outside the box of "me" for the rest of my space in this post. Ah, less urban sprawl would be wonderful. We don't have to develop every single acre of land, or annex every suburb. We can rebuild it, make it better than it was, stronger, faster,....wait, that was the premise of The Six Million Dollar Man. It still applies to cities, though, including the one I am living in that seems to despise the idea that land use planning and "infill" are viable options. Gas, food, and lodging at the interstate exit seems to be an excuse to build an entirely new city these days. Enough.

Less government interference. Wait, wh-a-a-a-a-t?! This is coming from me, a certified "Liberal?" Who are you, and what have you done with the real Eric Eaton? Hey, if "Conservatives" have accomplished anything in the last year, it is to convince us that they were right all along: government is too intrusive, and clearly represents no one but special interests. The only problem is that too many Republicans are still blind to this reality; and they hold fast to the idea that pro life, gun rights, the "War on Christmas," and other far-right agendas are real issues and not the invention of their political party. We do have a common foe: class warfare. It is not "fake news." Ignore it at your peril, unless you are one of the "one percent."

Fewer natural disasters, please. Sigh. As I write this, wildfires are still raging in California, and we are experiencing severe drought in other parts of North America as well. We've been belted by hurricanes, inundated with floods, and scientists suspect this is just the beginning in terms of a geologic timeline. That's alright say the short-sighted economists, who beg and plead for the abolishment of environmental regulations that are all that stand between us and a climate apocalypse by what amounts to tomorrow (on a geologic timeline). Everything is expendable if it means infinite short-term profits for corporations, their CEOS, and shareholders. I know, I've said that before, but it bears repeating. Daily.

What do we do? We do less shopping. We share stuff instead. We do more donating to charities, thrift stores, and organizations that understand what is at stake and that fight tooth-and-nail to protect your rights as a U.S. citizen, member of the workforce, consumer, and citizen of planet Earth. We grow our own food where possible. We eat smaller portions. We stop "coping" by using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and other substances. We take our clear heads and focus. We love each other. We stop living in fear. We do with less because we can.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: Wait Till it Gets Dark

The subtitle of this wonderful 2017 book is "A Kid's Guide to Exploring the Night," but parents, naturalists, camp counselors, and other adults will find it a captivating read; and it is full of activities designed to enthrall children of all ages. This book is a perfect vehicle for leaving no child indoors, no matter where you live.

Wife and husband authors Anita Sanchez and George Steele, with the help of illustrator John Himmelman, examine life after dark through the heightened senses of a variety of non-human animals. The writers invite the reader to become the eyes of an owl, ears of a frog, nose of a deer, and so forth, chapter by chapter. We are invited to embrace our own animal-ness and train our senses and faculties to become more acute. It is an ingenious strategy for any book about natural history.

The layout of the book is occasionally difficult in that one never knows whether to continue from one page to the next and then go back to read the "You Can Do It" activity box, or stay on the page and then pick up the storyline after reading about the activity. This minor drawback does nothing to compromise the quality of the text and illustrations; and there are few other bones to pick at all.

What does perplex me is the chapter "A Tongue Like a Gila Monster." Nowhere does it mention that this is a venomous lizard, not to be approached or handled. That this warning is absent when the text is discussing organs inside the mouth of the reptile strikes me as not just an oversight, but highly irresponsible.

One other thing I would appreciate clarification about is the chapter on the ability of many animals to perceive and utilize the Earth's magnetic field with "The Mysterious Sixth Sense." When mention is made that perhaps human beings may have a latent ability to relate to the magnetic field, this becomes "A Seventh Sense?" Considering that Homo sapiens is also an animal, I fail to see the distinction.

Again, these are rather minor quibbles considering that this is otherwise an excellent 60-pages of exciting natural history observation and exercises. The back matter talks about the need to preserve true darkness, general safety precautions when doing the activities, and citizen science projects that the whole family can participate in. There is a glossary (omits defining GPS, though), and valuable bibliography to conclude.

Wait Till it Gets Dark would make an outstanding holiday gift to any young naturalist in your life, or anyone who works with children in an outdoor setting. I can hardly wait for the next book by Sanchez and Steele, courtesy of muddy boots™, an imprint of Globe Pequot publishing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Now?!


That is the story of my daily life now, asking that question; as in "What is the catastrophe du jour?" What is it that the local, state, or federal government is doing today to screw over those of us who actually understand what matters, what is in the public good, and what is necessary for long term survival and prosperity? The current state of the world has left me impossible to live with. My wife endures my almost daily bouts of ranting, understandably pleading with me to "calm down." Were it only possible.

I am a little better than I used to be. Were I still at my thirties, even forties, level of maturity, we would have been replacing our television every other week because of some heavy object I would have thrown at it. I would quite possibly have a criminal record for trespass, protesting without a permit, or some other violation of local codes. I would be cursing a blue streak in public, as an accent on loud outbursts in banks and government agency offices. I have toned it down, Honey, you have to believe me.

This is setting up to be the perfect storm of all things ugly. The attack on our public lands is relentless and brutal. Meanwhile, the tax "plan" that will effectively redistribute wealth from the middle class to the ultra-rich guarantees that we will not be able to donate as much to the watchdog groups that have in previous years been able to thwart dastardly government plots. Charities are going to be starved by the new tax codes, and that is all part of the plan, no conspiracy theory necessary.

Even the sexual harassment revolution, which is otherwise a very positive movement, has quickly devolved into desperate political party power grabs. Democrats and Republicans alike are now seeking to unseat each other's best Representatives and Senators so they can be replaced by their own party's candidates.

Many of us face local, state, or regional issues as well, and our energies are thus splintered and diluted. We end up compromised in our output for our employers, and in our devotion to our families. Freelancers like me spend our days signing petitions, blogging, posting to social media, and otherwise engaging in passionate advocacy that fails to pay our bills; but we cannot stand idly by. The City of Colorado Springs has big plans for "my" backyard prairie wilderness that I want to have declared an Open Space. I even did a television interview earlier this week, and am approaching my City Council district representative about holding a public meeting before things get any more complicated. No doubt you, dear reader, face some local problem of your own. Maybe you are in southern California and just got displaced by a wildfire.

Smart as we are, do we not get distracted easily by tweets from the President, the latest celebrity gossip, the impending royal wedding, the supposed War on Christmas, and other media-manufactured garbage that passes for the news these days? I would rather they just fill the five o'clock broadcast with cat videos from Youtube. It would be more informative, and a hell of a lot less depressing. It would also unite us instead of dividing us. Who does not enjoy a good laugh that is generated from something unrelated to politics, religion, or business? Instead, we are bombarded with stories that pit us against each other while the wheels of the aristocracy are free to continue undermining our livelihoods in every way, shape and form.

I cannot help but do what I do best: write, from my heart, my mind, my soul, in hopes that by hammering away on my keyboard I am hammering away at injustice, little by little, together with others doing the same thing. I aim to generate empathy, compassion, and enthusiasm for what could be, rather than what is, or what could get worse.

A video is going viral today of a man desperately trying to capture a wild rabbit just feet away from one of the California conflagrations. It is in many ways the most perfect analogy for our times. The video is at night, the man an anonymous silhouette of emotion and determination, intent on saving this one little creature. And, spoiler alert, he succeeds. What difference does it make, you ask? It means everything to the rabbit; and each positive action, no matter how small, adds up. Do your bit.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dieting and Other Punishments


I am privileged to have many friends, both in real life and through social media. One of the recurring themes I see, especially among female friends, is dieting and weight loss. Some are able to handle this aspect of their lives in a healthy fashion, and others struggle. Personally, I think it is a shame on our society that we put women in a position where they self-reflect in anything but a positive way. Meanwhile, overeating, binge eating, and other eating disorders are usually the outcome of stressors that we have to identify and address.

One of the smartest quips ever uttered in the weight loss industry was made by Richard Simmons. No, really. One of his most famous sayings is "It's not what you're eating, it's what's eating you." Look at our "coping skills" in the United States: eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use, gambling, pornography, excessive exercise, and other addictions. It becomes a never-ending cycle of stress, addiction, and rehab. We need to cure the stressors, but that is not going to happen in our current capitalist economic model.

Combating stress in any meaningful way is problematic if you look at it only from a profit-making perspective. Stress is difficult to define, and we tend to frown on the idea of leaving your job, your spouse, or abandoning your children, to name but a few triggers. Stress is subjective, and not outwardly obvious. The effects of stress are obvious, and so we market solutions to the symptoms rather than the cause. A vacation is surely the best prescription, and we will even float you a bank loan or credit to make it happen. Vitamins and supplements and energy drinks will help you get through your day. Treat yourself to that pizza, bacon cheeseburger, ice cream dessert, or other favorite comfort food. You get the picture, but this is where the treadmill starts.

Oops, overdid it with the food? Try [insert any commercial diet plan here] to get back to normal. This "solution" only adds another degree of stress, and so it is no wonder that diets fail. Maybe we start drinking now, too.

The idea of "cheating" on a diet is also harmful. It implies wrongdoing and initiates feelings of guilt and shame, which add to stress and reinforce a poor sense of self-esteem; which makes one more likely to "cheat" again, and so on and so forth. This is not the same thing as cheating on a spouse or significant other, or cheating on a test, or breaking any kind of vow or law, yet how many of those on a diet equate it with such? Baloney. Forgive yourself, if there is even anything to be forgiven for.

As long as money is to be made from treating the symptoms of stress, the diet, cosmetics, and personal finance industries are going to keep peddling destructive "solutions" instead of devoting resources to get to the roots of it all. Our personal goals should be to resist not the temptations of the marketplace, but the personal behaviors and situations that lead to stress. We don't need punishments for negative coping mechanisms, we need alternatives to those bad habits.

We also need to alleviate stress to begin with. Maybe that means limiting your time with family over the holidays. Maybe that does mean taking time off from your workplace. Maybe it means going off of social media if the feedback you are getting from sharing your struggles is anything but supportive and understanding. If we do these things, then the impulse to overindulge in anything harmful will ebb, at least a little bit.

So, how do I cope in healthy ways? I make sure I get outside and take at least a 30-minute walk every day, weather-permitting. I take breaks to watch the odd "guilty pleasure" television show. I should read more, a lot more, and it is one of my goals to make that a higher priority. I draw, and I write, and I take photographs, for pleasure as well as part of my income. Am I successful one hundred percent of the time? No, of course not. Probably not even 70% lately, but I forgive myself for that.

Please share your own secrets for stress-relief success in the comments. We need to encourage each other more than ever.