#WATWB – Climate Positivity!

 

#WATWB — Climate Positivity!

Did you know that mushrooms could be used to regenerate a forest or a riparian buffer?  How about to eliminate an invading colony of ants more efficiently and more safely than any pesticide could do?  How about to help cure cancer? 

One of my favorite companies, Fungi Perfecti, a mushroom grower that believes mushrooms have the power to change our world for the better through mycoremediation, mycoreforestation, and other mycotechnologies is not just a mushroom grower, but a climate change activist.  This year, the company committed to being not only carbon neutral but carbon positive with a long list of projects intended to help the world get back into better balance. 

By first setting a baseline and then identifying the places where Fungi Perfecti could make a positive impact — energy efficiency; renewable energy; packaging; forests; and e-wastes — the company set out to improve its standing on the sliding scale of climate change with Gold Standard projects intended to help not only the planet, but the people who live on it.  Projects such as the Honduras Coffee Growers Clean Water Project, the WithOneSeed Timor-Leste Community Forestry Programme, and the Biogas Digesters for Farmers in Vietnam, all designed to not only neutralize their carbon footprint, but to make it 10x positive!

Here’s to more companies taking a look at their supply chain and overall operations and deciding what can be done to make their operations more sustainable. 

To carbon positivity!

It’s the last Friday of the month (okay, it’s Saturday, but who’s counting?).  Time to share the good news on We Are the World Blogfest — #WATWB — a monthly good news trip around the world.  May we all be energized and rejuvenated by the good news.  If you’re interested in joining our Blog Hop, the guidelines are as follows:

1. Keep your post to below 500 words;

2. Link to a human news story on the last Friday of each month that demonstrates love, kindness, humanity, support, open-mindedness, you know, that kind of stuff, but no proselytizing, preaching or inconsiderateness toward others;

3. Post on the last Friday of the month in sharing the good news.  No story is too big or small;

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar and help spread the word on social media using the #WATWB hashtag;

5. Read and comment on others’ posts, play nice, and make friends;

6. To sign up, add your link to the WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list.  This month’s cohosts are: 

Eric Lahti, Peter Nena Shilpa Garg, Roshan Radhakrishnan, and  Sylvia Stein.

 

Thanks for reading!

pam lazos 9.25.20

Posted in climate change, Uncategorized, WATWB, We Are The World Blogfest | Tagged , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Con-Census or Peace?

by Pam Lazos | Sep 20, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Philadelphia skyline – © pam lazos

I saw a cartoon the other day.  A man and a woman hold hands at the water’s edge, an old gnarled tree to the right of them, while off in the distance is a small silhouette of another person standing on a bluff, the only other human in sight.  The man remarks:  “It’s too crowded. Let’s get out of here.”

During these pandemic times, I can relate to that sentiment.  Last week, my daughter and I went to the mall to pick up her phone that had been repaired — the first time for me since the pandemic started.  I began teleworking in March, eliminating my commute, and other than going to the grocery store and visiting a few friends who have also been quarantining, my husband and I don’t venture out. Solo riding my bike and walking the dog have become  highlights of my day.  The mall operated at  a third of its capacity, yet we felt crowded and couldn’t wait to leave. 

For 15 years or so the book The Population Explosion sat on my shelf; I couldn’t get myself to read it. The doomsday predictions were most frightening and very real and the authors advocated controlling the population or suffer the consequences.

peaceful political assembly — © pam lazos

Population control is a sensitive issue almost everywhere, with governments engaging all kinds of policy instruments, influenced by religious norms and opinions, by market manipulation of birth control technologies or taxation schemes. On occasion, governments abide by that most modern of concepts: reproductive health rights. 

In the U.S., reproductive rights are a hot issue and some aspects, particularly a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, seem destined to remain forever as the most inciting of them. It is, perhaps, the single greatest issue in many people’s  minds when choosing a political candidate. Asking people to have fewer children because the world is not going to be able to house, feed, and water the next billion of us is a rationalization that falls on deaf ears; no one wants to talk about it. The only proof up until now for seeing population growth curtailed is relentless and consistent improvement of women’s education and women’s full participation in the labor market, at all rungs, and in all disciplines.

Comcast Center at night — © pam lazos

Yet, regardless of whether we will “plateau”,  the problem of over-population of our environment still remains where almost 8 billion of us need to eat and imbibe and deal with the waste streams that are the result of our eating and imbibing. Our current exploitation of the environment to satisfy the needs of humans everywhere is unsustainable. Consider the ramifications of climate change — desertification of areas that used to be able to grow food; sea level rise causing the reduction of arable land and the destruction of private property; and increased lack of access to clean water either because we’ve filled in the streams, the rivers have dried up, or our assimilative capacity has been reached. Under this doomy, gloomy scenario, the question remains:  what, exactly, is going to give? Will we shoulder the tasks at hand with science, a common sense of sharing, or shall we also fall back onto that old method of solving conflicts and thinning the population: war, genocide, famine, pandemics? 

The United Nations was formed to create platforms to build a common sense of sharing and the UN is the foremost promotor of science in helping us all achieve some equity in our lives. Yet, we are witnessing another round of divisiveness in humanity’s history, not only within nations, like  the U.S., but worldwide, and it feels like eternity since we reached consensus on anything.  We experience anger and vitriol spewing from all sides, fake news and alternative facts about science, politics, and all manner of life, sowing enmity and confusion or con-census, and worst of all, it doesn’t look like things are going to calm down anytime soon.  In many nations demonstrations and protests have become almost daily occurrences. Here in the U.S. people legally protesting are now being arrested under the Sedition Act, threatening to undermine our first amendment rights, while rebel rousers and in some instances armed militia are upsetting peaceful protests which brings more armed governmental forces to the scene to quell the craziness. 

Evolve or Revolve — © pam lazos

All the while I keep asking myself the question:  do we have the stomach to evolve or will we simply revolve, again, through the same old tired tension-filled issues only to end up back where we started and still unable to fix the problems.  War and warring shouldn’t be options anymore, but can we shelve that habit?

These are truly scary times, but not unprecedented. Learning from history,  let’s use these times to figure out a better path forward for ourselves, our friends and our families, indeed, for all stakeholders. Let’s focus on something that is an existential, critical need for each of us. Let’s focus on managing water, and forge peaceful paths and methods that include unfettered access to WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene.

peaceful lake — © pam lazos

We at the Global Water Alliance are dedicated to #WaterandPeace.  Join us and our partners, The Water Center and Drexel Peace Engineering, on Thursday, September 24, 2020 for an online conference from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with speakers from around the world to talk about ways to improve equity-for-all in accessing clean, safe water, and establishing peace-driven governance systems for management of watersheds and water basins around the globe.

GWA’s Water and Peace conference is a preparatory event for the World Water Forum in Senegal, Dakar in 2021 and marks the first regional discussion  among international water experts aimed at developing a toolkit of policy, governance, and technology strategies to present in Dakar next year.  The focus will be on equity and involvement of all stakeholders in each watershed, while addressing the urgency of climate change.

the dawn of a new era — © pam lazos

To navigate a world with  billions of people, we will need strategies for resilience and sustainability as well as contingencies for the future — and we need to do so together.  

Register today:  https://www.globalwateralliance.net/gwa-conference2020-waterpeace/

Pam Lazos is a writer, blogger, environmental lawyer, and on the Board of the Global Water Alliance, an organization that envisions a world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments

Come Sit Next To Me

 

Come Sit Next To Me

I love talking to people who have lived life deep and wide and have a breadth of knowledge and wisdom to share.  One of those people is the mother of my oldest friend, Stephen (we’ve been friends since we were toddlers) — Pat Dodson, or Mrs. D. as we called her.  I grew up in a rural-ish town in South Jersey and Stephen lived down the street with his mom, dad, and sister.  Growing up we had a healthy neighborhood posse of kids who played outside during the day when we weren’t in school and at night until it got dark.  We walked to our Catholic school about a mile away and swam in the above-ground pool in our back yard during the dog days of summer. All manner of things grew in my hometown in the surrounding farming community and in our yards. In retrospect, my childhood was pretty idyllic although as a child who chafed against the confines of kid-dom, I probably didn’t recognize it for what it was while in the midst of it.  

What I did recognize was Mrs. D — graceful, sophisticated, and beautiful both inside and out — and as a kid, I was in awe of her.  (My own mother was equally as elegant, but she was my mom so that didn’t count.)  Mrs. D. used to call me Pam-Ella — her version of Pamela — something she still does today.  She’s had to pull herself up by herself again and again in this life, getting divorced when the kids were still young and retraining to work after being out of the workforce for awhile to make ends meet and she did it all with her usual aplomb.  And I’m still in awe of her as she continues, now in her 80th decade, to redefine herself, most recently as an author.  

For Pat’s birthday last year, Stephen gave her a gift from StoryWorth — 52 writing prompts, once a week for her to respond to that would ultimately be turned into a book, Come Sit Next To Me. In addition to re-living many of her life’s events, it’s a keepsake for her family and a work of creativity for Pat, a lovely book that for me brought back many childhood memories of growing up in the ’60s and ’70s.  And in the process of answering writing prompts, Pat discovered an innate writing ability that she didn’t know she had.

We are so preoccupied with youth that we forget how valuable the experience of matriculating through life is with its hard knocks, high fives, and various life lessons.  Even if I didn’t know Pat, the little vignettes that make up this book would have resonated with me.  You can’t get Pat’s book in stores, but you can get a bit of her wisdom and firecracker personality below:

How was this experience of writing a book from writing prompts?  

I feel like an imposter.  I never set out to write a book. I just humored my son by committing to 52 weeks of innocuous questions to do him a favor. I laughed when he said it was his gift to me. Yeah, sure. Without the prompt of pre-selected questions, the book (it is a book, right?) never would have been. My memory went to places that surprised even me. I can’t imagine writing a real book. How does one create from nothing? The research, the sacrifice, the creative talent, must be slow and painful. When I see still another Jodi Picault book on the shelf, I am in disbelief. How does she grind them out? I consider her a good author, too. I would still be resting from last year’s effort. For me, the essay form was the most natural, but who knows. They say, ” write what you know”.  Grandma Moses didn’t paint until she was 78 years old, so stay tuned.

I’ve read your descriptions of your children several times now and, having known them for all these years — despite the physical separation and passing of time — I can still see the attributes you have prescribed to them.  You must feel extremely proud and lucky to be the mother of two such wonderful people.  Considering your ex-husband’s struggles, how did you manage to steer the ship and raise such amazing individuals? 

When my marriage ended, Beth was away at Nursing School. Steve was a high school senior. Beth was closer to her dad than to me ( my perception), so I think she wanted me to try a little harder to keep things together. We never discussed the problems because I couldn’t burden kids with big people’s stuff.  We never discussed it until years later, when her husband walked out on her and her two kids.   Steve was a senior. He didn’t get the big graduation party his sister got. He had to come with me to a sad little apartment on the wrong side of town, while she lived in a school dorm and could escape the day-to-day misery of staying afloat. I was called to school a few times to discuss behavior problems with a few teachers. After Steve’s first year at college, he was not invited back. In the meantime, I got a new job and moved to the shore. Raising teenagers was a tough job at best, but my circumstances made it worse. There were no answers, easy or otherwise. I just had to hang on until the storm subsided.

Okay — the portrait/painting of your kids as toddlers  — my mother had one of my sister and me.  Did everyone get them?  Was that the thing to do in the ’60s, have a photographer do a photo shoot, and then have someone add paint to it?

Photo courtesy Foschi Studio. Every family had one. Like the bronzed baby shoes, they are things that aren’t there anymore. The studio would lightly tint the portrait. JC Penney also had a photographer every month. The first few years of their babyhood were recorded a few times a year for future reference. I bet they are in a box somewhere in a dark closet.

In your essay about who inspires you, you talk about your granddaughter who survived cancer and your grandson who survived a deployment to Iraq.  What qualities have you watched these two young people develop that you would like to emulate?

I see Allison as one of those accomplished women that everyone will admire. She knows what she wants and is willing to work for it. I think cancer made her kinder, stronger, more confident. She knows disappointment and loss. I think she will love her life because she worked for it.  Collin has had his challenges too. He was a preemie and has had to deal with ADHD all of his life. He is sweet and kind. I hope people don’t mistake that for weakness. Collin once got a tattoo with a misspelled word. That pretty much sums up Collin’s luck. The girl he is engaged to calls him the love of her life. I pray this is true because he is a treasure.

I laughed at the essay on your “brief life of crime” where you nicked the profits by eating some of the Hershey’s candy you didn’t have the nickel to pay for it and later got dinged by the nuns.  What has happened in our country, do you think, between a kid who regrets that action and today’s world where adults have grown up to steal far more while needing far less.  I’m thinking say, of the politicians who sold off a bunch of stocks just before the pandemic hit or someone like Bernie Madoff and his massive Ponzi scheme.  Has it always been like that and we just see it more because of the internet?  Were we ever any better as a nation? 

Don’t be fooled. For every law, there is an opportunity to break it. My frame of reference is WWll and the early 50s. I think we were more idealistic then. Our world was much smaller. With the internet, and inventions like jet planes and the telephone, the world became accessible to most of us. It also provided an opportunity to make money and accrue power, by fair means or foul. And we did! We took native land with lies and worthless treaties, busted unions, spied on our enemies, spied on our own country, sold bootleg booze, did business with the Mafia, and more. Insider trading is a lucrative business. Over the years, we have tweaked crime to a fine art. There will always be good and evil, side by side. The saving grace is a word called integrity. What do we do when nobody is looking? I think there is still reason for optimism.

I hope you’re right!  In one of the essays you say “God knows, REALLY knows, I have missed so many chances to be a better person.”  A lot of us feel that way about ourselves.  First, how do you manage to make peace with yourself about the past over your own perceived shortcomings (which others may not see as such), and second, how do you move on?

I don’t have the answers to life’s questions. I think the answers change. Life changes. We change. Let me describe this week as an example. Except for a trip to ShopRite, I have been home. To the untrained eye, it has been a boring few days. From where I sit, I am finishing a quilt I am making for myself. By the end of the week, it should be done! I have spent at least an hour a day on my porch, appreciating the lack of humidity and sunshine. I cleaned a closet. I made the decision to finally obey the doctor and wear those dreaded compression stockings. You should know how I hate the thought. My point is, without breaking a sweat, I have become a better person than I was last week. It isn’t much, but it is a step forward. My sister says quilting is boring and tedious. I say, “I’m going to tell on you”! Here is a bit of knowledge: sibling rivalry lasts forever.

Saddle shoes and bobby socks, penny loafers, cardigans buttoned down the back [how?!?], working women and women’s rights playing a large part in the fads and faux pas in the dressing of women.The joke was always that Ginger Rogers could do everything Fred Astaire could but in heels and backward.Can you talk about how women seem to need to work twice as hard to get half as much (or about 81% as of last accounting) more than men, and also how you think fashion trends have impacted a woman’s place in the working world?

Before women went to work for the war effort in WWll, they did not wear jeans. They were then called dungarees. It was practical and expedient in the factory jobs they held when the men went off to war. They tied their hair up in bandanas because the machinery was dangerous and time was better spent working than primping. Why primp? There was a man shortage. “What’s good is in the army, what’s left will never harm me.”  After the war, what to do with the women who were entering the corporate world? Crinolines were out of the question. Even then, women desired and deserved to be taken seriously. Christian Dior designed the a-line maxi skirt for the working woman. That morphed into the pantsuit, which still seems to be the costume of the day until someone comes up with another great idea. Gone are the slip, girdle, garter belt of the past. Now, if we could get women on the same pay scale as men, we would be golden.

In your essay on selflessness, you say “every night I relive my day to see where I have fallen short of my own expectations.” You go on to say that we probably all do, but I’d offer that is probably not the case because if we did, there would not be as much strife, greed, and flat out bad behavior in the world.  How has being kind instead of right worked out for you?

I often default to insisting on being right. After all, I am not Mother Theresa. There is a saying, “I’d rather be right than president”.  I don’t know who said it, but it could have been me. I suppose it is only human. I try to listen more and speak less. I am pleased with myself when I succeed, disappointed when I fail. I guess it is the human condition. What was the question?

The icebox story is one of my favorites where your friends all pooled their money to buy you this antique icebox that you had really wanted but couldn’t afford and then they threw a surprise party to give it to you. What instances of thoughtfulness have you encountered in this decade that give you pause the way the icebox has?

Last week, neighbors invited me to lunch at the Lobster House in Cape May. It was a beautiful day. Because of social distancing, we ate on the pier from paper plates. We had lobster. It was heaven. They then told me it was their 54th wedding anniversary. I was shocked that they chose me to celebrate with them. They have grown children several miles away. They could have arranged to meet them. I don’t know why they chose me to spend their special day with, but I was thrilled at the compliment. As I stated in one of my little essays, I try to be aware of when the glass is half full…sometimes a little more than half.

Beautiful! One of the essays talks about Freddie Mercury and your evolving family traditions, this one where you chose not to do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and how liberating it was.  Do you think we place too much emphasis on tradition as a society such that we’ve lost the meaning in the accouterments?  Does tradition keep us from being present?

When I think of the rituals that accompany any holiday, I have to compare it with my Catholic upbringing. How many rosaries, how many Stations of the Cross did I mindlessly recite. Was it really meaningless, or is that what imprinted on my child’s heart all that was good and holy. So much was memorization, yet I can still cry when I hear a particular hymn or still strive to be good. I still pray to St. Anthony when I lose something. Does that prayer have value or is it the tradition that carries the weight? With the specter of COVID still hanging over us, how will our lives be forever changed? What will the five-year-old tell us of his school year of 2020/2021? How about the high school kids who have to figure out how to put out a yearbook, or do we really need a yearbook? How will they make friends? How will they learn to play? Interact with others? It will be interesting to look back on all of this to see how we adapt or not.  So, whether it is celebrating Seder or taking the family to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, it is all about what floats your boat.

In the essay on inventions that have made an impact on your life, you say, “I don’t want a picture of what you are eating.  I don’t want your political opinion.  I don’t care who your friends are.  I want your company.  I want to talk to you.  I want your undivided attention.”  Amen to that.  The world would be a better place if people just really listened to each other.  Would you like to add to that?  Also, if we remove politics — which have taken over all of our lives — from our discussions, do we still have something to talk about.

Oh, will the election ever be over? Will I have any friends left? Luckily, most of my friends are approximately my age. They are not dependent on their cell phones. Some don’t know how to work them. That is why I call them friends. For the most part, we all know by now who we will vote for. Conversation is an art. Listening, being “present” is not always easy, especially when you are sure you are right and others just don’t appreciate your wisdom. I am comfortable with my friends, so it is easy to “show up”. I usually talk too much but have been told that I am interesting and fun to be with. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Love that you picked NJ to get the Miss Congeniality Award.  You obviously love living there.  Where would you live if not there?

Where would I live if not New Jersey? We once had a log cabin on a lake in Bloomsburg, PA. The lake was right out our front door. We had a big porch and a fireplace. We took rides to Danville and other beautiful rural towns. Loved it. We sold it when the three-hour drive got to be too much. Would I love it there? Why not? For something more exotic, how about Scandinavia. I have always wanted to see Denmark and surrounding countries. I hear the food is fabulous. Socialism is alive and well, which is always a consideration at my advanced age. I don’t know if I could live with all those long days and equally long nights. Maybe I would try it for a year. How about Australia? The people seem so nice and the koala bears are adorable. France and Japan are right up there as fabulous places to live. Both entail learning another language, so that is discouraging. I know nothing about South America, so I can’t comment on that. Ireland sounds like a place I would love but it rains a lot. And I don’t like lamb. Thinking stateside, I think Seattle would be fun. It is a little hilly and rainy, but I could be happy on one of those little islands in Puget Sound. I would have a cottage and a gardener. I would take the ferry into town. I would go to Pike’s Market for flowers and fresh produce. The people are friendly. If it didn’t work out, I would get out the map and see what else would appeal to me.

You were voted Class Clown in your senior year of high school.  How has being a class clown helped you overcome some of the more difficult situations in your life and which of your traits would you love to pass on to your grandchildren?

Humor has been both a blessing and a curse for me. Psychology 101 will tell you that humor is used to assuage the pain. It covers discomfort, it deflects feelings of inadequacy.  I learned very early in life to use it for all of the above. It also takes lots of practice to be good at it. Bad humor is the opposite. It can be used by amateurs to embarrass or hurt others. Bad humor is not funny. I always used humor to get attention from adults when I was a child. It worked. When you are the middle kid in a big family, you will use desperate means to be noticed. I don’t want to brag, but I was good at it and it helped in social gatherings. I admit it is not appreciated by some people. I was recently dressed down by a family member who failed to see the humor in my wit. I was devastated. It took me a few days to pick myself up and dust myself off. After lots of soul searching, I had to admit that some people just will never appreciate my attempt to be funny, and I have to accept that I will henceforth tiptoe to the best of my ability when I am in this unfortunate person’s company. My intention is not to hurt or embarrass. However, lesson learned. I am not everyone’s cup of tea.

You talked about showing up in both your job and your life when life asked it of you.   How are you still showing up today? (hint — pretty bold to take on a writing project).

Sometimes I show up just by not having any regrets at the end of the day. Sometimes I am really on my game and I am just on automatic pilot. I am at my smiley best and loving the world. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. I know I am repeating myself.

I love the last picture of you and your family holding hands and the other of you with a gun spitting out tickets of some kind at a family party.  What’s the single greatest moment of your life, one that you’ll never forget no matter what and that will bring you joy every time?

I remember when we picked up our dog at Philadelphia Airport. My husband was in love with all things German. When we decided to get a dog, he investigated and purchased a miniature wire-haired dachshund from a breeder in Berlin. He was 12 weeks old. His picture was adorable. They packed him in a dog crate marked “living animal”, and shipped him to Cargo City at Philadelphia Airport. We were waiting when the carrier arrived on the plane from Germany. We had to sign a million papers while this little being peeked out at us. He had been in that crate for at least 12 hours. When I lifted him out, all I saw was big brown eyes. His crate was immaculate inside. This baby had stayed clean all those long hours on his flight over the Atlantic. I took him outside to relieve himself, which he did the minute he touched American soil. The breeder had placed one of her socks in the crate to comfort him during the long flight. On the drive home, I sat with him in the back seat. He never took his eyes off of me. We named him Amos after my husband’s grandfather. Amos was our joy for 12 years. I smile just thinking of him.

What is your favorite genre of book to read?  Favorite author?

I am a painfully slow reader. Since I belong to a BookClub, I am exposed to many books that I  never would have read if left to my own devices. This is a good thing. I don’t think I have a favorite genre. I love the silly humor of Carl Hiaasen. I love the medical novels of Lisa Genova. I love Elizabeth Berg. I tried to love Toni Morrison, but her books are too sad and dark for my taste. James Mitchner is too wordy. Maeve Binchey is too easy.  I love it when I find a book that I can’t put down. Hanging Mary was one of those books. It is a historical novel, based on the assassination of Abe Lincoln. Devil in the White City is a must-read about the Chicago Worlds Fair. Love Anthony by Lisa Genova kept me up all night. I can’t get enough of her. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCort, and Sacajawea by Anna Waldo all come to mind.

Do you think writing is a form of therapy and, if so, how has it helped you work through life stuff?  What has been your greatest writing or life lesson?

Writing is like eating a potato chip. One is never enough. I find myself full of stories to tell, but with no audience. Most of my stories are dated, just observations, whether valid or not. As I have stated, I am not for everybody. Like Aster’s Pet Horse, some folks have no idea or interest in my nuggets. But I love that little girl who stole the candy in school. She learned a life lesson. And nobody died. Confidence and self-love are not bad words. They are a destination.

 

Love that!  We all could use a bit more of each, I think.  If you could be a character in any novel, what character would you be and why?

I have no idea who I would love to be. Scarlett O’Hara? So beautiful. So spoiled, so selfish. So brave. Maybe Eleanor Roosevelt. She was ridiculed for being homely. Her husband had a lover. She was brilliant. She made her life meaningful when a “woman’s place was in the home. ” She marched to her own drum and made the world a better place. She raised her children in the White House during wartime. She traveled the world and wasn’t afraid to be an advocate for the United States. I think I’m going to read more about her. Yes, I think I would like to be like Eleanor Roosevelt. They are big shoes to fill.

Oh, you said a character in a novel.  Sorry…

I could ask a million more questions of Pat, but as they say, every good story must sooner or later come to an end.  Thanks for reading and thanks, Pat, for humoring me!

pam lazos 9.13.20 

Posted in author interview, book review, books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 40 Comments

A Proper Hug

Mask Up and Bring It In!

Of all the things that I miss because of the pandemic, it’s hugging my kids.  I think it may have been about four months in when I read an article in the NYT’s that convinced me to finally give up and give in to one of the most primal of all human needs:  hugging and being hugged.  After all, without touch, we are nothing more than isolated individuals concealing our siloed emotions behind our masks.   That’s nothing against masks which I believe are imperative to containing the spread of coronavirus. 

Since we do practice good mask wearing in public and we’ve all been quarantining for other than for the necessary trips to the grocery or work, and if we breathed in opposite directions, how much danger could there be?  

 

So if you miss hugging your children, your parents, and your friends, check out this article that will give you the skinny on the proper way to do it.

 

[photo credit Robbin Gheesling/CNN]

And if you’re also like me and have missed getting together with friends for a bit of dinner and nice glass of wine, then check out this article on the return of the little wine door in Florence.  You go to the tiny little door, someone slips you a glass of wine or other beverage, and you take it to a table outside to enjoy it, preferably with a few friends.  We could use a few of these in the States!

It’s the last Friday of the month.  Time to share the good news on We Are the World Blogfest — #WATWB — a monthly good news trip around the world.  May we all be energized and rejuvenated by good news because right now, we sure could use it!  If you’re interested in joining our Blog Hop, the guidelines are as follows:

1. Keep your post to below 500 words;

2. Link to a human news story on the last Friday of each month that demonstrates love, kindness, humanity, support, open-mindedness, you know, that kind of stuff, but no proselytizing, preaching or inconsiderateness toward others;

3. Post on the last Friday of the month in sharing the good news.  No story is too big or small;

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar and help spread the word on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media shares, use the #WATWB hashtag; reposts through the month are most welcome;

5. Read and comment on others’ posts, play nice, and make friends;

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list.  This month’s cohosts are:

Thanks for reading!

pam lazos — 8.28.20

Posted in Uncategorized, We Are The World Blogfest | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

We Built a Wall

My sister and her husband have started a new business.  I’ll let her explain:

We Built a Wall…. 

Not all walls are built to keep things in our out.  For years now I have wanted a green wall. Also for years, I have been fascinated by systems of all kinds, how they work in both nature and our social economy and why we don’t care more about so many of the broken systems we have constructed. When the world stopped in March 2020, those two preoccupations joined hands and now my husband and I are the proud proprietors of a living aquaponics wall which has sparked a new life trajectory in our humble home. 

Let me explain. About 3 years ago, I worked for a small non-profit which encouraged young people to become advocates for our over-burdened planet. As I researched how to encourage this type of passion in elementary and middle school students, I went down the rabbit hole of systems thinking — also known as sustainability, circle economy, biomimicry, and more — for which nature is the perfect illustration. What is an ecosystem if not various systems relying on each other to either thrive or perish. This experience led me to further examine my own daily choices in life. How much trash do I create? How can I grow more food? What types of materials am I wearing or putting in my home and what is their impact on the environment?

While I’m still far from having practical solutions to these and many other quandaries I have about my footprint on this planet, the living wall was a small victory in creating a system that works, is not a burden to maintain, and brings much joy into our home. Many times people decide to be more “green” only to realize the upkeep is much more work than they had envisioned. In order for a system to thrive, it has to be beneficial to all involved or else parts of the system will start to break down and eventually fail. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, my husband had a few weeks on his hands and decided it was finally time to oblige my request to build a living wall in our living room. We watched videos (thank you Gardening Australia and Kieran Richardt for the inspo!), made sketches, ordered felt and pumps, called my nephew for fish advice and then my husband got to work constructing. When the final product came together, we were both pretty impressed — it worked! Don’t get me wrong, this was a process. But it was a process that both of us enjoyed immensely. 

MANY trips to the nursery and farmers market ensued, trying to figure out the right plants, the best configurations. An irrigation issue plagued us for months until we swapped out drippers for bubblers (such an important piece of information which most likely makes no sense to you, and really, why would it).  A Sunday night fish massacre that shook everyone up (my husband tried to make his own rocks for the tank…won’t ever do that again!), The good news, only three fish met their demise, one jumping out of the tank about 3 feet and lying lifeless on the floor in the morning when we came down for breakfast. Devastating, but we rebounded.  

Lighting. We need more. This piece has become a work of art so the lighting must be as well. That will take a while longer, but art, like life, is a work in progress. The day we went to the fish store and the water test was perfect we both felt like proud parents. The system actually works!

This wall has been a gift to us in another way. Since my husband came to the States a few years ago, he has not found the kind of fulfilling work that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.  He works, yes, but this wall, this makes his hands happy and suffuses him with a joy that I have not seen in him since he left his home. You can’t overstate the lift you get from putting something meaningful out into the world; for the first time in three years, my husband is starting to feel the satisfaction he had with the work he did in his home country, the satisfaction that comes with a job well done. 

Before the pandemic, everyone was moving so fast on autopilot. Then we all had to stop and we realized that autopilot was not going to get us to our destination. I see this wall as so many things. An art piece, an educational tool, an instrument to inspire mindfulness and meditation, an air purifier for our home, and now, a way for my husband and I to collaborate professionally. The wall has reordered our systems, our thinking, our hearts.  Our journey is just beginning. 

by Stacey Lazos

Check out the start of a their new adventure on Etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/OutsideInChatt?ref=search_shop_redirect

pam lazos 8.23.20

Posted in aquaponics, renewable, Sustainability, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, water, water conservation, water purification, water quality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 59 Comments

PFAS Traps – #WATWB

#WATWB — Self Assembling PFAS Traps

In a world where the news gets worse every day, where words like quarantining and self-isolating have become part of our everyday jargon, and where environmental degradation seems to be the least of our worries, where the world sits, steeped in misery and despair and at the point of implosion, there’s finally something to raise our spirits an inch:  PFAS traps.

First off, what the heck is PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — collectively known as PFAS — are a group of man-made chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many others.  Manufacturing of PFAS began in the 1940s and soon this miracle product was being used in all kinds of products ranging from GorTex to teflon pans.  

And PFAS had superpowers.  They could repel both oil and water at the same time and were so versatile that  manufacturers started putting these chemicals into everything:  waterproof clothing, shoes, non-stick cookware, personal care products like hairspray and foundation, paints, carpet, fast food wrappers, cardboard packaging, electrical wire casings, surfactants, emulsifiers, and hundreds of other products.  Eggs don’t stick when you cook with teflon and clean up is a breeze.  And who wants to climb Mt. Everest wearing 20 pounds of wet wool when you can wick moisture away with GorTex?  Even airports and army bases were using PFAS in their fire fighting foam.

What an amazing product, right?

Unfortunately, our greatest triumphs are often our Achilles heel.

The name PFAS describes the entire suite of chemicals with a fluorine and carbon bond so strong they have been dubbed “forever” chemicals.  Further, the widespread use of PFAS has made them insanely persistent in the environment.  There’s about 5,000 chemicals under this umbrella but the two most studied are PFOA and PFOS.  While PFOS has been phased out of production, there are still plenty of replacements.

PFAS chemicals migrate through air, water, soil, food, even dust.  They’re also used in packaging.  Likely exposure routes are through food or water contaminated with PFAS, and through our skin via personal care products and clothing.   For instance, if you scratch your teflon pan, the chemicals in the coating are released, so you get to have PFAS with your eggs.

The FDA found PFAS contamination in many foods sampled at the grocery store including seafood, and even chocolate cake.  Currently there are no MCLs — maximum contaminant levels — for PFAS in drinking water, just a health advisory level of 70 ppt — that’s about 3 drops in an entire swimming pool.  It’s not an enforceable regulation but it is driven by a risk assessment.

Health effects of PFAS include cancer, liver damage, developmental issues and more.  A report by the CDC found PFAS in the blood serum of practically everyone in the U.S.   The number was going down since removing certain PFAS from many consumer products — which is good news.  And the industry is replacing the old chemicals with shorter carbon chain chemicals like GenX, but we don’t know a lot about these shorter chain chemicals.  We do know more research is needed to understand the fate and transport and exposure routes and that’s going to take more time, but do we have it?

Regulating PFAS is a complicated issue, but that doesn’t mean that the water utilities haven’t figured some things out.  PFAS are resistant to chemical treatment but they can be removed using granular activated carbon (GAC), reverse osmosis, and ion exchange resins.

And now, hopefully, with PFAS traps.

Scientists at the University of Buffalo have discovered self-assembling PFAS traps.  By creating a tetrahedral cage made from iron and other organics that assemble like Legos, they are able to trap the PFAS to the outside of the chamber.  The hope is to use these traps to pull PFAS out of drinking water which could ultimately improve water quality and drinking water standards.

And who wouldn’t be happy with a little purer water?

It’s the last Friday of the month.  Time to share the good news on We Are the World Blogfest — #WATWB — a monthly good news trip around the world.  May we all be energized and rejuvenated by the good news.  If you’re interested in joining our Blog Hop, the guidelines are as follows:

1. Keep your post to below 500 words;

2. Link to a human news story on the last Friday of each month that demonstrates love, kindness, humanity, support, open-mindedness, you know, that kind of stuff, but no proselytizing, preaching or inconsiderateness toward others;

3. Post on the last Friday of the month in sharing the good news.  No story is too big or small;

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar and help spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome;

5. Read and comment on others’ posts, play nice, and make friends;

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list.  This month’s cohosts are:

Susan Scott – http://www.gardenofedenblog.com/

Inderpreet Kaur Uppal – http://inderpreetuppal.com/

Shilpa Garg – https://shilpaagarg.com/

Peter Nena – https://drkillpatient01.wordpress.com/

Thanks for reading!

pam lazos 7.31.20

Posted in clean water, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 42 Comments

A Gallant Man

A Gallant Man

I’ll never get used to this death thing.  You would think by now we should be buds,  or at least on cordial terms, having lost both my parents, a baby brother, all my grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends, aunts, including my most adored one who was not really a blood relation at all, but like a grandmother, gifted to me from the universe to step in for the YaiYai and Nana I’d lost as a kid.  Yet, the universe does step up when you need it, for me in the form of my father-in-law who passed away last week, surrounded by his family and secure in the knowledge that he was on his way to the best of parties at the Place To Be where things would be a lot less worrisome than here on planet earth.

About a month ago, my father-in-law spent a week in the hospital.  He’d been taken by ambulance in the middle of the night when his oxygen levels dropped so low he could barely catch a breath.  For the better part of the last year, he’d been battling this issue with his lungs; for the 84 years prior, he’d been healthy, happy, and full of life, creating beautiful tables, lamps and sundries out of wood, still doing some side work for a friend, still helping his kids with their home improvements, still cutting his lawn with a push mower, still going hunting, still showing up whenever you needed him, still doing everything he loved and then some.  He’d been active in his church his whole life, until Covid, and was responsible for so many of the brick and mortar improvements at their church that it would be hard for anyone to walk in there and not feel his spirit just hanging about the place.

I think he could have dealt with most anything in life except the inability to be of service. That weighed on him — that and the leaky mitral valve that didn’t close properly so the tiniest bit of blood kept sloshing back and forth each time his heart beat.  After awhile stuff like that catches up with you and at the end, there wasn’t enough blood moving through to keep the rest of the body, especially his lungs, working properly.

The day he died, my father-in-law said to my mother-in-law:  “I don’t think I’m going to make it to your birthday.” 

Her birthday was only five days away.  Whether she expected him to say that or something else was unclear, but being the stoic woman she is, my mother-in-law reacted in a way I know I could not have. 

She didn’t break down or cry or ask God why.  (I maintain this is the difference between a Swiss/German ancestry and a Greek/Italian one.)  She just took it in stride, probably said something like, “yes, well,” shorthand for, “none of us has any control over what happens anyway since it’s all in God’s hands,” and went about attending to his needs.  “We’ve lived a good life,” she’s said again and again, and it’s true, they have.

Later that same day, my father-in-law asked Son 3 — there are four boys and one girl in my husband’s family — to get his car inspected, one less chore for my mother-in-law to do somewhere down the road is probably what he was thinking.  The standing instructions were to sell both cars after he died and buy my mother-in-law a new car so she wouldn’t have to hassle with car issues.  Even when he was dying, my father-in-law was thinking of others, especially my mother-in-law.  They’d been married for 65 years so this transition was going to be a tough one.  Everyone knew that.  Son 3 did as requested and then asked his father if there was anything else he could do.

“Yes,” was the response.  “Go get two dozen roses for your mother so I can give them to her for her birthday.”  My mother-in-law loves flowers and my father-in-law has always gifted them to her on her birthday and other holidays.  Son 3 bought the flowers as requested and snuck them into basecamp — the room where my father-in-law had been set up with a hospital bed and all his accoutrements for the three weeks since he’d been home from the hospital.  It was a comfy room with a TV, a couple chairs for visitors, a pot of hydrangeas my mother-in-law had put on the table so he would have something beautiful to look at, and pictures of their family throughout the years on all the walls, and, of course, the oxygen tanks.

The only problem was the windows didn’t allow him to see enough of the outside world like the bay window in the living room did so he’d fought hard to get out of that bed and into his easy chair that was just down the long hall that led to the living room.  A few days earlier, he had done it, done it so well, in fact, that all of us thought he was rallying, that maybe he could live for months or even longer this way.  The couple days in the living room were like manna from heaven for him and the family, a gift like no other.  He was talkative, animated, and full of wisdom he wanted to pass on.

Yet nothing of earth lasts forever.

 

“It all happened on the same day,” my mother-in-law said.  Her husband had died half an hour earlier, surrounded by us all, forever at peace.  Six hours before that, he had given her two dozen roses for her birthday.

With the instinct of one who knows they don’t have much time left to them, my father-in-law had dispatched Son 3 to buy roses for his wife.  He knew he wasn’t going to be there to give them to her personally so that day would be his last shot. 

Son 3 snuck two dozen roses into the bedroom.  The living room chair where my father-in-law had sat and entertained family a couple days before now seemed like another lifetime.  They called my mother-in-law into the room, and my father-in-law who now reclined in his chair in the bedroom motioned to the flowers and presented her with a card.  I wasn’t there, but I watched the video his son took.  The look of love on my father-in-law’s face was unmistakable and filled with such grace that my heart ached.  It said everything he could not.  The flowers were still there on her birthday, the day we buried him, not a consolation, no, but surely a symbol of his steady and undying love.

Losing a man like that is difficult for everyone who knew him.  My father-in-law was wise, understated, amazingly creative and mechanically gifted — there was nothing he couldn’t repair or build — a talented woodworker, an exceptional father, grandfather and great grandfather who loved trying new things — he bought a boat, and took up cross-country motorcycle riding in his 70s! — and never met a challenge he wouldn’t embrace, “I’m ready,” his epithet. 

 

He was always thinking beyond himself to the needs of others, and rather than ask how he could help, he just helped — the epitome of gallantry.  As for me, I am grateful for the thousands of ways, big and small, that he touched our lives, nurtured our children, and was tremendously supportive of us and our family.  When we used to keep bees he was there helping us with yearly honey extraction, and for me personally, he was especially supportive of my writing, a true gift to me.

 

Such a man can never be replaced, and really, there’s  no point in trying.  Instead, we’ll have to learn to live with the loss, but oh, how sorely he will be missed.

 

***

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll have read my posts about the book Sacred Commerce by Ayman Sawaf and Rowan Gabrielle, and my wobbly attempt to take up the challenge of writing about a different one of the 12 sacred virtues of the merchant priests each month.  It seems a very long time since the last installment, but in truth, I’ve been perseverating over this one — Gallantry — for a while now.  I honestly couldn’t come up with a single example of gallant behavior — neither the heroic kind nor the chivalrous kind.  I don’t know why I didn’t see the pattern in my father-in-law before.  My best guess is that sometimes it takes a tragedy to be grounded in the present.

“Yesterday I was clever. I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise. I am changing myself.”  — Rumi

 

Thank you for reading.

pam lazos 7.26.20

Posted in death and dying | Tagged , , , , , , | 74 Comments

What Forever Looks Like

I looked at my calendar the other morning, the one that hangs inside the pantry door, the family calendar where we used to keep track of soccer games, teacher conferences and kid meetups, of graduation ceremonies and parties, of our doctors appointments and dinners with friends, of volunteer meetings and weekends away, of our presentations and vacations, the calendar that at one time I could not possible run a household without, and you know what?  I hadn’t turned the page since March.

Most of the events in March never materialized, nor did the few in April.  We skipped past May with nary a mark despite a big event or two like my son’s college graduation that never happened and his then upcoming five-month stint out west.  We ran past June, the start of summer and a canceled beach vacation, and now, he we are, hurtling through July like the Space Shuttle.

It’s odd when the life events that mark the passage of time are suspended, when the social fabric that holds society together is put on ice, when you can’t even hug those you love most dearly without first undergoing a two-week isolation period, when things as simple as sharing a meal together or going to the grocery store have become something to dissect, pull apart, analyze down to the studs and wipe clean with disinfectant when you get home.

On another note, all the toilet paper that my husband and I each ordered individually when the pandemic started and you couldn’t get any at the grocery store arrived a few weeks ago, the boxes plopped down on our doorstep within a day of each other, so much that we now have enough to get through to the next pandemic.

Is this what forever looks like?  If so, where do we go from here?  Perhaps we’ll take our cue from the cat and head back to bed until this is all over.

pam lazos 7.24.20

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 37 Comments

Bountiful Calling

Here’s another voice to add to that ever more urgent call for action on behalf of planet earth — Fred Burton, and his novel, Bountiful Calling.

Bountiful Calling:  A Novel

Praise for Bountiful Calling:

“Perhaps the most important benefit of good fiction is that it allows the reader to experience the drama and emotions of the characters in the story in ways that non-fiction can’t do. Thus, good fiction gives us insights to human experiences that are often missed in our day-to-day lives.  Fred Burton’s powerful novel Bountiful Calling about the lives of people caught up in the explosive forces unleashed by the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania is not only an excellent and well-plotted story, but also describes very plausible emotional responses of those caught up in the highly contentious civic warfare over gas fracking that erupted less than two decades ago. Because the characters in this book are believable, understanding their hopes and fears deepens the reader’s empathy for those who continue to be engaged in disputes about the potential impacts of natural gas development on the environment from activities backed by some who benefit economically. Because the intensity of disputes about the acceptability of fossil fuel combustion is likely to deepen in the decades ahead, an understanding of the emotional life of some affected by fossil fuel controversies provided by this novel will enhance the reader’s insights about the human dimensions of important civic challenges still unfolding.”

—Donald A. Brown, Scholar in Residence and Professor, Sustainability Ethics and Law, Widener University Commonwealth Law School

 

Synopsis for Bountiful Calling

When an oil and gas company’s encroachment on Nicole’s family property steals away the bucolic life the family had known for years, Nicole begins a wild and provocative journey, aligning herself  with a group that engages in acts of civil disobedience, attending fire circles where pagan rituals are performed, and participating in a CNN interview that goes off the rails.  Before the crisis, Nicole and Joe, a staffer for a powerful Pennsylvania state senator were en route to falling in love.  Now the two are each asking themselves the bigger questions like what is it they believe and what is worth fighting for?

The action takes place deep in the Marcellus Shale region where Joe’s boss is hell-bent on exploiting the fracking boom to improve the economy in his region.  Watching Nicole’s family ripped from the inside out raises ethical questions Joe had never asked himself before.  Suddenly, he is cognizant of questionable behavior by business and government power brokers that he had previously not noticed, and now he needs to make some tough choices.  Does Joe jeopardize his career and betray the trust of those he works with or does he support the woman he loves?  How far will Nicole go to save the life she loved?  Read Bountiful Calling and find out.

 

All About Fred Burton

Fred Burton grew up in Queens, New York. He wrote fiction in his early 20s and returned to it again after his children reached their teen years. His first novel, The Old Songs, takes place in Queens during the 1950s and early 1960s. Although he grew up after the years covered in this book, he did experience the turbulent effects of this era and heard the stories brought forth from it. One reviewer said the book read like a “gritty Anne Tyler novel.”

His latest novel, Bountiful Calling, is set in central Pennsylvania and was drawn from a variety of influences. While living in Harrisburg, Pa. he was involved in the anti-fracking movement. This was an excellent vantage point from which to see the powerful business and government forces coalescing around the economic potential of fracking but also its effects on individual people and communities.

Burton avoids easy answers, whether in the emotional interactions in The Old Songs or the ideas swirling about in Bountiful Calling. He carefully constructs situations and characters and at a certain point lets them go on their way. He would rather place the reader within a richly textured, complex situation and let him or her decide what is important, what rings with the sound of truth.

Burton spent his career working in the computer information world, both for government and in the private sector. He’s now working on a new novel that builds upon the themes developed in Bountiful Calling.  He lives in Baltimore, MD.

 

Q&A With Bountiful Calling Author Fred Burton

The book’s main conflict involves fracking. Have you or anyone you know been personally affected by it?

No.

What brought up the desire to write this book?

I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for many years. I attended a few anti-fracking demonstrations during which residents from the fracking regions spoke about the hardships they endured. These areas were under siege, the people collateral damage. I wanted to give voice to their struggles and this book is a response to that desire.  Further, actual historical events intermix with the fiction since Pennsylvania is one of the epicenters of fracking that is transforming the economy and environment of the U.S.

In your opinion, is there anything of merit that comes from fracking? If so, is it worth the negative side effects? Would it be better if the government worked with property owners more in order to facilitate the making of more agreeable terms, or do you think that fracking should not be done at all?

The only argument in favor of fracking is if it is used as a bridge energy source to renewables. This is clearly not the case in this country, because there is no defined policy directed towards this outcome. Instead, we burn as much oil and gas as we can pump out of the ground. Even if you listen to only the moderate narrative coming from the scientific community, it’s clear that burning fossil fuels, as we do currently, represents an existential threat to all of us. We are compelled to keep the gas and oil in the ground if we hope to continue a semblance of life as we know it. But this means acting in ways that do not maximize our profit-making capability. And this is in direct conflict with enormously powerful forces present in every phase of our lives. This is the essential drama of our day and Bountiful Calling tries to fairly portray this dynamic.

What would be an ideal government-citizen relationship in regard to fracking?

Today’s governments need to learn from indigenous cultures. Fracking is an excellent example of an overarching societal problem. When we separate ourselves from the world, everything is turned into commodities from which profit can be derived. Governments need to balance short-term needs with the health and sustainability of the planet. Fracking needs to be seen within this framework, which means it needs to stop as soon as possible and governments need to turn their attention to supporting renewable energy technology and development. Most people understand this. Governments need to be responsive to this majority and not the elites, who benefit most from current laws and regulations.

The book goes into more detail on fracking’s negative effects on people than the effects it has on the environment and animals. Was this a conscious decision? Was there a reason why you chose to distance the story from a more man vs. nature conflict in favor of a man vs. man conflict?

This is an interesting question. A major emphasis in the first part of the book was to give the rich cultural traditions that bound the people to the land, which described the spirit of the place. These relationships were at risk because of the juggernaut that fracking had become. This was the lens through which I described the devastating effects of fracking on the natural world. Perhaps I chose this route because this is a human made problem that can only be fixed by modifying human behavior.

Of the two major characters, Joe and Nicole, which one do you relate to more? Did that have an effect on how the character was written?

I’m probably more aligned with Nicole’s point of view because I think we need to explore alternative lifestyles. We have become extremely isolated from each other and the world around us. Healing the wounds this has caused won’t be accomplished with incremental change. But I definitely feel there is a need for people like Joe, whose gift is to work within the system, guided by concern and fairness.I would like to think my alignment to one or the other character had nothing to do with how the characters were developed. In nearly every aspect, I try to distance myself from the book and instead act as a conduit for the development and action that must necessarily occur.

The book follows the point of view of a few different characters, but it focuses on Joe and Nicole the most. What caused you to have two central characters rather than only one?

I think it is extremely powerful to bring to life multiple characters simultaneously. This gives the reader a dynamic experience, as he or she considers who they stand with, and what resonates for them. It’s also consistent with other ideas I’ve expressed in my comments previously. We really aren’t disconnected from each other. Energy flows between us. Expressing that energy is one of the magical qualities that is particularly well-suited to a novel.Another advantage to working with multiple characters is it helped me avoid writing a polemic. This book takes on very complex issues, and multiple points of view deserve to be represented. Environmentalists will probably be the central audience, but there are some within those ranks who will feel I should be harsher with those having different opinions. Anyone with an interest in the societal costs and benefits of fracking should find in this book something that stimulates thought and emotion.

Was there anything you were trying to convey by making Joe work for the government since it was portrayed to a major extent as a co-antagonist of the story? What made you decide to have Joe work with Nicole from within rather than represent the opposing ideals?

This is an excellent question. Joe developed a moral core through the course of the book. In the beginning, he was satisfied with managing his day to day tasks, and performed them without much consideration for their meaning or consequence. Later in the book, I could point to factors that contribute to his behaving in ways not aligned with his best self-interest, but I can’t tell you exactly why he does what he does. In these instances, he experiences his own non-linear, non-rational decision-making process. Accepting this part of himself, then embracing it, allowed him to grow in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.

Was Gabe’s death always planned from the beginning? Was it always intended to be Nicole’s driving force, or was it something that you discovered needed to happen while writing?

It was not planned from the beginning. When I’m writing a novel, I look for the time when the structure is sufficiently formed that it begins placing its demands upon me. These moments, when it starts giving back more than I’m putting into it, are the most exhilarating. Once I accepted the fact that Gabe should die, it opened up the possibility for themes that would be carried through the rest of the book. An example is the transfer of mythic power from 1960s style activism to the type of behavior young people are exhibiting today.

What was the inspiration for the activist group 2 Degrees? Do you think that change can be brought about more effectively if there were more groups with that same level of activism? Or would it be more of a hindrance than a help for the cause?

Groups like 2 Degrees are more of a hindrance. If they ever were able to rise to power, their rule would be just as cruel and unjust as the power structure they are in conflict with. But that is irrelevant because they will never have enough guns or bombs to effect the outcome they desire. The only way for real change to occur is if enough people decide they are not going to participate in the lifestyle demanded of them by those in power. Local, resilient economies must emerge, like the one in its nascent form at the end of the book.There was no specific inspiration for 2 Degrees, although I did find myself thinking about the daughter in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Her pursuit of a pure, revolutionary spirit not only destroys her own life but the lives of her family as well.

Nicole ends up attending a festival that has a spiritual effect on her. Was this inspired by anything that you’ve experienced? What values, if any, does the festival hold that you agree with? How important do you think connecting to the spiritual is for a person?

The festival was inspired by an event attended by someone very close to me. I think the values expressed there, of community and encouraging experiences that extend beyond rational thought, are necessary and useful. But the festival also plays a part in a very important theme of this book. The idea that you cannot force fundamental change is posited in the first few chapters. Instead, we move forward as best we can in partial darkness towards some hard-to-recognize destination. And then, suddenly, outcomes that seemed out of reach are made manifest. And those of us open to what is newly available will be there to embrace them.I think many of us in this culture are working our way back into living with a heightened, spiritual sense. The first way for many is to enter into a more direct relationship with the world around us and to be open to the wonders that this relationship brings forth.

Is there anything about the final story that ended up being different from what you originally had in mind? Was there anything that was cut or added later in the writing process in order to make the book’s message stronger?

There weren’t a lot of significant changes after the first draft. I was surprised at how things fell into place once I got rolling. Actual historical events, my personal observations, and totally made-up characters and scenes all melded agreeably. This was something for which I am very grateful.

Now that you’ve finished this book, what’s next for you? Do you have anything else in mind for Nicole and Joe? Any possibilities for their stories to continue, or are you happy with leaving it here for the two of them?

For now, I will let Nicole and Joe go on their way. I’m confident their lives are on good paths. Currently, I’m working on another novel. It was inspired, in part, by Elon Musk’s work with Neuralink technology. It will pit a fully-formed cyborg who has been programmed for military purposes by a dystopian government against a cyborg who has had Neuralink sessions across the full-range of his thinking and emotional capabilities. But the non-government cyborg is forced to flee before he can fully synthesize all the information available to him. His search for a third way must be performed outside the laboratory.With my new book, I am challenging the notion that the new cultural paradigm I hinted at in Bountiful Calling does not support the idea of heroes and super-heroes. I’ll let you know what I decide when I finish the book.

What are you hoping readers will take away after reading the book?

Throughout the book, I debunk many of the cultural icons on the left and the right. This set the stage for Joe and Nicole to take very bold risks at the end of the book. These actions were tied to an increased appreciation of their own humanity and the world in which they lived. If this gives readers a little more courage to pursue activities that give them a deeper appreciation of their lives, that would be enormously satisfying. If the readers have already staked out a path they feel destined to follow, I hope this helps them stay true to that path and gives them a sense that there are others out there with them.

Bountiful Calling is available on Amazon:  https://amzn.to/38TmHyR

pam lazos 7.13.20

 

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13th — Why Words Matter

 

13th — Why Words Matter

13th is a powerful look at systemic racism and what is being called the criminalization of an entire sector of society.  Nominated in 2017 for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, 13th is the story of how our nation — unwittingly to many of us — has managed to systematically keep the black population enslaved despite the language of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, was released back in 2016, but has gained traction recently as the death of George Floyd instigates protests worldwide, like a tourniquet to keep pressure the wound so it doesn’t kill us.

The wording of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads as follows:

AMENDMENT XIII

SECTION 1

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

SECTION 2

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

DuVernay’s argument is simple.  The language except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted has, in effect, kept slavery alive even after the country fought a bloody civil war to abolish it.  

The war on drugs started with Nixon, a concept dreamed up by Nixon’s counsel, John Ehrlichman of Watergate fame,  and this “war” disproportionately affected black men in the way justice was dispensed.  Nixon called drug abuse “public enemy number one” and vowed to eradicate it, a battle cry that resonated especially loudly with Southern voters.  This sleight of hand worked and Nixon resoundingly won the electoral college vote although he only narrowly won the popular vote the first time around.

In 1970, one year into Nixon’s first term, there were approximately 338,000 people in incarcerated; today, that number is well over 2 million, and of that number, almost half a million are in jail without yet having been convicted of a crime because they can’t afford bail

We in the U.S. have 5% of the global population, but 25% of its prison population.   Today, one in 17 white men will be incarcerated versus one in three black men and one in six Latino men.  That should make anyone watching 13th do more than raise an eyebrow.

DuVernay argues that, like systemic poverty, you become acculturated to systemic racism and the very subtle ways in which the system has been skewed against the black community. 

If Nixon started the problem by campaigning on a law and order platform,  Ronald and Nancy Reagan kicked it up several notches with their own war on drugs, and it really shot through the roof — which was surprising to me to learn of someone who at one time had the moniker “the first Black President — with Bill Clinton’s “three strikes” rule which took discretionary sentencing away from judges and replaced it with mandatory sentencing.  That meant that if you were busted three different times, say, twice with a single joint, for example, and the third time for a violent crime, you would be serving life in prison even though the first two crimes were more likely misdemeanors.  President Clinton has since apologized for this law.  

All those who have died at the hands of the police — many of them just kids — have set the stage for the protest following the death of George Floyd, events that have been simmering for years but seemed to have coalesced overnight.

13th returns to lawyer and author, Brian Stevenson, civil rights activist, Angela Davis, former Obama-administration official Van Jones, and Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates, among others, again and again to chronicle the difficulties African Americans face in their daily lives and how society has been engineered to create barriers to their success.  The commentators provide commentary and background as each of these individuals has their own personal stories — vis-á-vis their lives and careers — of insidious societal behavior, yet each one has successfully navigated a larger life despite the handicaps they’ve experienced as a result of the color of their skin.

If you want to see why words matter, watch 13th.

Today is July 4th, the day our country celebrates freedom from tyranny and rule of the oppressor.  It’s time for us to take a long look inside to see how we are oppressing each other and what we can do to really make our nation The Land of the Free for all its inhabitants, not just select groups.

Watch 13th, currently streaming on Netflix.  Take a look at what’s happening on the other side of the fence.  Consider it your patriotic duty as an American.

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