Category Archives: Personal

The Art of Conversation

 

brainboocwern022017           In 2010, I was a member of a local Toastmasters’ club.  Toastmasters International is a group that emphasizes leadership through developing speech-making skills.  The format is highly structured but inclusive enough to allow for short speeches on a variety of topics.  When my work schedule changed, I left the club but remember it fondly and have considered returning.  This journal entry made seven years ago was inspired by a Toastmasters meeting:

 

LISTENING

Tuesday, February 9, 2010–A Toastmasters member read a blurb last night about being a good listener.  It presumed interrupting means you aren’t listening.  I disagree.  I frequently interrupt to clarify a point, to carry thoughts further, or to convert a monologue into a conversation.  I listen with the intent to understand.  It takes “listening” a step further, into the range of “hearing” the context.

If someone is misinformed, under-informed, or if they are over my head, boring, or otherwise wasting my time and theirs, I believe as a good listener, I have an obligation to set the communication on track.

Few people appreciate the give and take of conversation.  If you finish sentences for someone, does that make you a bad listener?  Maybe you’ve listened to that sentence so many times, you know it by heart.

A reader, by definition, is a listener, even though the listening is through eyes rather than ears.  Anyone who watches TV is a listener, of sorts.  Anyone who watches a movie, ditto.  In the latter, the media provide the visual imagery that readers supply for themselves through imagination.

Since that time I’ve thought more about listening and its role in conversation. Our society seems built on passive listening.  By “passive listening,” I refer to structured learning environments, such as classrooms and lecture halls.  Churches follow a similar format, with attendees listening to sermons.  Expression, such as singing or hymns or recitation of creeds, is by rote.  Passive listening extends to radio, television, and movies.  Cultural events, such as plays or concerts, depend on audiences that listen quietly to the performances. The internet has advanced communication by allowing for interactive exchanges through e-mail, FaceBook, Twitter, or blogging.

Pondering this led me to reflect on how the human brain is wired with respect to language.  Most people, about 96 percent, have language ability concentrated in the left hemisphere. Here, the brain processes receptive language (listening) in a specific area called Wernicke’s area.  Patients with Wernicke’s area strokes can speak fluently but do not understand what is being said, by themselves or others.

Broca’s area controls expressive language, or speaking.  People with Broca’s area strokes  can generally understand what is being said, but they have trouble formulating and verbalizing their own thoughts.  This is not a problem of motor function.  The muscles of speech, like in lips and tongue, are not affected by the stroke.  Strangely, those with Broca’s aphasia (speech difficulty) can often sing, presumably because musical expression is located in the right hemisphere.

Writers and speakers make careers out of developing expressive language skills.  They know the challenge of finding the right words to verbalize thoughts.  They must arrange sentences and paragraphs coherently, and anticipate how others might perceive the words in that context.  But writers and lecturers are not necessarily good listeners or good conversationalists.

Toastmasters is one group that offers opportunities to develop expressive language skills.  At another level, improvisational comedy is potentially a way to develop the art of conversation.  Improv’s primary rule is to move the action forward.  A stated or implied “no” creates an impediment to this flow.  In contrast, arguing is an example of how “no” blocks communication.  A good conversationalist wants to hear the other’s point of view.

This led me to speculate about other opportunities in our society to develop conversational skills, a give-and-take in which all participating parties emerge invigorated and refreshed.  How many people listen only to refute, rather than build on thoughts and take them further?  How many agree in an argumentative tone of voice, such that they sound like they are disagreeing?

The art of conversation relies on equal participation from both receptive and expressive sides of the brain, the yin and yang of communication.  Because the two speech areas of the brain are physically separated, I wonder if making a conscious effort to develop conversational dexterity will help connect the two modes of communication—listening and speaking—to benefit all brains equally.

Any thoughts on this?

 

 

Reflections: “Open Veins of Latin America”

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December 1, 2016

Seven years ago this month, I finished reading Open Veins of Latin America:  Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano.  This superb 1971 work of investigative journalism is the book that then Venezualan leader Hugo Chavez gave President Barack Obama.

I’ve been keeping journals in one form or another throughout my life.  I chose this seven-year interval to show how events do grow on themselves, and issues never die.  They merely change form.

Now we have the death last week of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who was simpatico with Chavez.  We have the recent ousting of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff by a political coup, which was vehemently protested by the popular electorate.  Social upheaval around the world reflects the troubles in Latin America, yet the strategies used by the power brokers remain the same.

Open Veins reveals how the game has been played and how it continues to be played.  What follows is only a partial set of notes from my reading, but it summarizes the book’s overall message.

OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA, EDUARDO GALEANO, 1971

            The early part of the book, Open Veins of Latin America, depicts how Spanish conquistadors raped South America of gold and silver in the 1600s.  They enslaved the Incas and other natives to do their dirty work.  Priests soon followed and continued the tyranny, shaming the locals for being un-Christian and forcing them to work in the mines as penance..

The middle pages of Open Veins depict the violence and social repression brought by the foreign money exporters  They used and use local governments to protect heir “investments.”  The same story occurs over and over, under different cloaks, whether cacao, coffee, rubber, cotton, or bananas.

The oligarchies control the land, with the help of government.  Government gets its cut in the form of taxes and job security.  Peasants are paid in subsistence wages if they are lucky.  Monoculture of produce for export displaces food production for locals, and malnutrition is common.

The book shows how prices are manipulated on Wall St., how US surpluses dumped in other countries are “foreign aid” drops prices for local economies, and the peasants are the first to suffer.

I thought about how this book shows the same methods the robber barons used in the book by that name.  Confessions of an Economic Hit Man also comes to mind.  I thought the advantages of TV and the worldwide communication network is exposing the barbarian plunderers like never before.  No wonder the world hates the US, but we learned our methods from the British, who are no more civilized than they were when they were Angles and Saxons.

Their arrogance and ours knows no bounds, apparently, because they and we continue to get away with it. It also provides more evidence for my hypothesis that government and property rights are the problem.  Land can’t be owned, not really, but property rights and government are two sides of the same coin.

Reading Open Veins tells me others are aware of the tactics used by the exploiters and have been writing about them a long time.  Open Veins was first published in 1971, 36 years ago, as many investigative books were.  The clamp down on journalists since then has been subtle, a mere matter of monopolizing news sources and publishers the way United Fruit monopolized the Latin American banana market.

The governments change, but the methods are the same around the world.  Those who claim the land have all the rights, as long as others believe in property rights.

I believe the land claims its people.  I feel claimed by this property and am unconcerned about how I will hold on to it.  It will hold on to me, I figure, because it knows a valuable human sacrifice when it supports one.

In Open Veins, as everywhere, the oppressors succeed by dividing and conquering, by pitting people against each other, controlling food and water sources.

Why, you might wonder.

It is the folly of the testosterone poisoned, I claim.  They think oppression increases profits.  They aren’t free market capitalists, who know oppression is bad for business.  You want to keep your work force strong, healthy and happy, because they will work harder for you out of gratitude.

When you’re an absentee landlord, as so many of the latifundio owners are, it’s easy to pretend ignorance of the injustice perpetrated in your name.  But how much can they enjoy all that ill-gotten wealth, knowing they did nothing to earn it and most live in fear of those they exploit?

In the US, people are TV-educated, at least, and able to get different versions of the exploitation game.  US residents know they are being exploited, but they aren’t sure who’s pulling the strings.

You are, Joe and Josie Taxpayer, as long as you put up with it.

Open Veins  tells other stories of governments colluding with investors, primarily British bankers in the 1850s, to rape and pillage their countries’ natural resources, including their people, all for exports.

Because no one values the contribution of human capital, not even those like Eduardo Galeano, the author, books like Open Veins miss the point.  It correctly implicates foreign investors, governments, and bankers, as well as the established oligarchies in the various Latin American countries, but it blames the dictators rather than the social conventions that allow dictators to grow and flourish.

Open Veins alludes to the guano on the coast of Peru, left by centuries of seagulls and pelicans, discovered and plundered in a few short years to replenish nutrient-starved wheat fields in Europe.  The Peruvians destroyed the gull and pelican habitats by overtaking, effectively killing the goose that laid their golden eggs.  Meanwhile, the technique for fixing atmospheric nitrogen was developed, and the guano industry died overnight.

Galeano provides example after example of corruption, revolution, unstable governments all at the mercy of British and American governments and corporations.  Over the centuries the plundered resources have changed, but the methods remain the same.  Gold and later other minerals.  Tin, copper, iron, silver.

I’ve read about the oil in Venezuela and the oil cartel controlled by Rockefeller interests.

No wonder Chavez wanted Obama to read it, and no wonder Obama won’t do it.  But how many other people will?

Americans provide the markets for these treasures, but Americans are insulated from the real costs through price fixing, labor exploitation, and tax advantages.  Gas costs more in some of the producing areas than in the US.  The developed countries, like Britain and the US, control the refineries and the mills, usually locating them at home, where labor is paid multiple what the disenfranchised Latin American labor gets.

America and the world have been suckered into overusing oil to support the oil cartel, and they continue to waste it in the name of quick profits and unacknowledged long term costs.  Galeano notes that oil supplies the war machines, a fact I haven’t seen substantiated anywhere else.

Americans don’t want to see their part in all this.  If they do, they compensate by giving money to charities or support social programs on pseudo-philanthropic entities like the Ronald McDonald’s houses at hospitals.

Open Veins, like The Robber Barons, astounds me with its details, its voluminous research, its insight into the methods used through Latin American history to degrade and oppress people.  While the Spanish and the Catholic Church initiated the devastation, the British institutionalized it, especially when industrialization began.  The industrial centers became black holes for raw materials, including human capital to produce it, but the raw goods never garnered the prices of the finished products, and the Brits conveniently dominated the finished product industry.

The Brits bought and sold Latin American governments, used them to fight each other—such as the Triple Alliance against Paraguay and its leader/dictator, Francisco Solano Lopez, who was dangerously independent, building Paraguay’s internal economy with foreign debt.  The British bankers—Bank of London, Barings, and Rothschild—couldn’t stand it.  They financed Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay to wage war against Paraguay, effectively broke up Paraguay, and bloodied everyone involved, as well as indebting them and ravaging the country, then collected in London from all sides.

I’m amazed at the wealth of detailed information in Open Veins.  It substantiates everything in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man about how the US government and corporations work in foreign countries, all with banker help, of course.  In Open Veins, the International Monetary fund and governments of Latin American countries collude to export money out of the countries under the guise of helping them.  Galeano pegs Wall Street as the center of the vortex, as I have 40 years later.

            Open Veins was powerful.  Galeano ends by saying that more revolution is coming, but he does this without conviction.  He sees the foreign investors and banks as having won the economic wars.  The masses, he believes, are too beaten down to fight back.

Debt is the trap for these countries, as everywhere.  I believe these countries should not feel obligated to honor debt assumed by dictators who were subsequently deposed.  That’s why they were deposed. Governments are not like buildings, tangible assets that can be repossessed.  No.  Governments are paper shells, here today and gone tomorrow, leaving their works like corpses behind.

Governments are primarily economic entities, and this is where Galeano stumbles.  Politically, he needs to blame the corporations, knowing full well the enemy lies within, because the corps couldn’t do their damage if Latin American governments didn’t provide the keys, the prisons, and the armed guards to keep the masses under control.  In 1978 he wrote that his book was banned in several countries.  If he had questioned the validity of the debt assumed by these dictators, and the US/corporate players, he would not have lived to write the 1978 revision.

Of course, as usual, I am the only person on the planet who understands that the debt is illusory.  It is all uncollectible.  It is government who has enslaved the populace, here as well as elsewhere, and the populace will remain slaves as long as they believe they need masters.

Galeano doesn’t question the value of the technology and machinery these countries are acquiring at such great cost.  He has been seduced, like others, into believing this junk represents progress.  He sees this struggle between rich and poor—especially foreign rich—when I see more and more the imbalance between rural and urban.

 

 

Bananas!

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

In a previous blog, I lamented the loss of a banana tree in the storm Hermine.  I was ready to cut the remains of the banana stalk but decided on impulse to let it remain, hoping the broken stalk would still have the uumph to ripen the bananas.

And so it has.  Bananas are ripening daily, with ten cut so far and those pictured awaiting breakfast cereal.  The chickens love them.

This experience reminds me not to give up too soon.  When all seems lost, and years of effort wasted, nature can provide some sweet surprises, generating hope for another season of fruitfulness.

 

Disaster

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When disaster strikes on the home front, world events and political wrangling fade into a surreal background.  Hurricane Matthew knocked out electrical power in 90% of Chatham County, with power lines down on the streets, flooding in low-lying areas, and people like me stranded behind  fallen trees.

Eight huge trees fell across our driveway, with branches so thick that the road wasn’t passable even on foot.  It took two and a half days for us to clear trunks and branches from the road so we could get out by car.  It took another five days for power (and in my case, water) to be restored.  My brother-in-law was so desperate for his television fix that he hooked his car battery to an inverter and the TV so he could watch the presidential debates.

The storm hit Saturday morning (October 8) around 5 a.m.  I had spent the Wednesday prior in the hospital emergency room with a hypertensive crisis, with blood pressure in the stroke range.  I’d been having headaches and was beginning to lose my eyesight.  The doctors wanted to admit me, but I negotiated my way out of it, claiming that there was no one to take care of my animals, and the storm was coming.  “If I have to die, I’d rather die at home than in the hospital,” I said.  The docs begrudgingly discharged me with blood pressure medicines and a follow-up visit after the storm.

So I ended up playing lumberjack three days later, grateful that my body is still in good enough shape to take care of necessities.  Because of the power outage, my stricken eyesight and blocked roads, I was isolated from all stimuli outside my immediate environment, the sounds of chain saws throughout the neighborhood and the unhurried and unchanged sounds of nature.  I did what I could, using stored water for washing dishes (gas stove, fortunately), emptying the refrigerator of food before it went bad, cleaning, sweeping.  meditating.

The outside world seemed unreal, a dream.  I had decided the hypertension came from becoming overly involved in world events, caring too much for things I can’t control or even influence.  The body is known to generate the same stress hormones when faced with close and real as well as artificial (like TV news) danger.

I decided the hate and fear mongering perpetuated by the media creates a chronic state of mass arousal and over-stimulation that grows on itself.  This energy has nowhere to go, except to wear down the body and sap its vitality.

As a symbolic thinker, I believe everything that happens has significance beyond what is immediately apparent.  That my fate is connected to the world’s fate puts my body in the cross-currents between inner and outer, a tree splintered by the winds of forces beyond my understanding or control.  That I choose not to see what’s happening is my purely human physical reaction to the clashes of Armageddon at my doorstep.

 

 

 

Before the Roosters Crow

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From my porch, 091416

I got up before daylight this morning and took coffee to the porch.  There was a light drizzle, and gusty breezes sang through the trees.  I snuggled in winter bathrobe–thankful that mid-nineties summer heat has finally eased off–and let mind wander, guided by the rhythms of live oak branches and leaves dancing in the wind.

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Squire on his perch, 091416

Otherwise, all was quiet, no machine noise, and only sporadic crows of the roosters.  They seek reassurance, back and forth.  I answer with my translations.  To Squire’s five-note crow, I respond, “I love you so much!”  To Speckles two notes I sing “You, too!  Go back to sleep.”  And they do.

Silence again, but for the rustling crackle of oak leaves in the waves of wind.  For 20 minutes, I watch the sky lightening, as shades of gray transition into tones of green and blue.   Rain slackens.  Then the primal screams begin again.  This time, Speckles wakens the crows in the trees, who cackle an annoyed reply.  Squire answers once, then all is quiet again, but for the breeze and the drip, drip, drip of rain petering out.

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Speckles and Brownie, 091416

I think about how this weather is my favorite, cool but not cold, and breezy, lifting thoughts and carrying them wherever the wind blows.  Absent human noise, even the birds still sleeping.

The roosters set my daily clock.  Their morning greetings are like love songs to the rising sun.  I sing back in human words, believing that my intent to greet the day joyfully, in harmony with nature herself, carries far and wide, inspiring the dreams of those still sleeping.

Suddenly a gust of wind blows the rug across the porch and over my potted herbs.  A moment of panic startles me out of reverie.  Memories of hurricane Hermine, only a week and a half ago, merge with memories of the garden spider that succumbed to the storm’s high-velocity blasts.  As the storm moved in, I saw the spider struggling at the web’s anchor on the asparagus fern, looking panicked.  A  large twig attached to Spanish moss had blown into her web, ripping it apart.  My heart went out to her, but what could I do?  I had the chance to say good bye, because I knew she had little chance to survive the blasts of wind, this late in the season.  The next day, I could find no evidence or trace of her body.  Only the moss-covered twig, swinging on the strong web anchor from above, proved she ever lived.

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Hermine the Spider’s first web, 072016

I have watched that spider all summer.  She moved her web three times, after I kept bumping into it on the porch.  Finally, the web stretched from the fern on the porch to a low-hanging branch of the live oak tree, out of my way and over my head.  The huge spider was easy to see, with body at least two inches long and legs another three inches.

bananasdown091416The storm also broke the top half of a banana tree that had a rack of green bananas.  I had dearly hoped these bananas would have a chance to ripen before the first frost.  My garden this year was a miserable failure, but the bananas showed some promise, for the first time in over ten years of trying.

Storm Hermine threw branches and moss all over the yard and knocked out power and water for 48 hours, but the spider’s struggles and disappearance remain my most poignant memory of the storm’s passage.

This morning, as the dawn broke, I noted the moss and twig swaying in the breeze, and thought about how everything runs its course.  That oak tree may be over 100 years old, but garden spiders live only a season.  My three chickens are five years old and have a projected life span of not much longer.  They keep me focused in the moment, with more vitality packed into five pounds of feathers and mouth than any creatures I’ve ever known.

At 7 a.m., the roosters start crowing in earnest, and my quiet time ends with the primal rooster message:

“I love you so much!”

“You, too!”

 

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Memories of Hermine, 091416

September 14, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

I Smell a Rat

September 8, 2016

by Dr. Kathorkian
an alter ego of katharineotto.wordpress.com

rat090616I am a murderer.  In defiance of my lifelong aversion to killing–war, capital punishment, abortion for me or by me (others have their own choices to make), physician-assisted suicide–I starved a rat this week by trapping him in the pantry.  I had already protected my edibles in a large metal trash can, because of the rat/mouse infestation that has plagued me for more than a year.

I’m the type of person who apologizes to blood-sucking mosquitoes before swatting them, but I’m absolutely opposed to the government spraying the marsh with malathion to kill mosquitoes at large, or the farming industry spreading pesticides willy-nilly over farmland.

I eat so little meat that I might as well be a vegetarian.  I like bacon but couldn’t kill a hog, even if I knew how, so that makes me a hypocrite. I have been known  to kill shrimp.  Blue crabs, too, but they are too much work to eat. Fish?  I’d rather not and don’t know how to fish.  Since I got chickens eight years ago, I have not eaten chicken.  I wonder these days how many people have even seen a live chicken, and if they had, could they kill and eat them?

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S. Squire Rooster, Attorney, for the Law of the Land

As methods of murder go, poison exists in the same category as bombs, because they are generally non-specific.  I actually bought poison to control the rodents but took it back.  My intention was to feed the river with rat remains, thereby alleviating my guilt, but poison would have made that rat’s body dangerous for the wildlife I like.  Traps are messy, unreliable and non-specific, too. I have a cat and rooster to protect.  The main reason I have rats is because my rooster, Squire, lives in the house and the cat lives outside.  Rats really like chicken food, I discovered, especially sunflower seeds, and they leave husks, shreds of clothing, mouse turds, and urine wherever they go.

In the past couple of years, rats have eaten through refrigerator wiring, a washing machine drain hose, sofa bedding, clothes, walls, packages of food, drapes, and even through a hard plastic cat food container.  They have taken up residence behind the stove and eaten through and urinated on the insulation at the bottom.  Like the human rats in government, I’ve learned that if there is something you have that they want, they will find a way to get it or destroy it, and leave the stink behind.

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Socksie by the marsh

Rat stink was making me sick, I decided, and cleaning up after them was pushing me to re-evaluate my excessively high moral standards.  I had visions of getting hemorrhagic fever from rat urine, bubonic plague from rat fleas, death by asphyxiation.  I bribed and threatened my cat, who watched the rats while they ate her food, then moved outdoors and refused to come back in.

I looked into getting a rat snake.  I discovered the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has outlawed selling native snakes. (The DNR is another blog, another day.) The local reptile dealer says he could be fined $20,000 and shut down if he sold one.

I prayed for a rat snake, and about two months ago, a black kingsnake dropped from heaven (actually out of the attic when I let the stairs down). He may be a cotton mouth moccasin, but he disappeared behind book shelves before I could fully identify him.   He didn’t reappear until my birthday in August, then showed briefly on the bathroom floor that night.  I almost stepped on him, but as before, he began to charge at me then disappeared again behind a cabinet, not to be seen again.  I saw traces of rat-blood on the floor and was grateful for the surprise birthday present.

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The last straw

It took that rat about six days to starve to death while I deliberated about what to do.  The pantry became death row when I discovered a new three-inch hole, made by one of his friends, in a favorite antique wool rug. This sealed his fate, a scapegoat for my pent-up rage. I checked in on the prisoner every day or so, and usually didn’t see him.  The day before he died, or maybe the day he died, he was sniffing around the bottom of the door and seemed weak.  When I opened the door Tuesday and smelled dead animal, I knew he was gone.  I searched and found him inside an open box of plastic garbage bags, looking as though he were sleeping peacefully.  That was comforting, in a macabre way.  I took him outside and showed him to Socksie the cat.  She took a couple of whiffs and walked away.  I deposited him by river’s edge, and Wednesday morning he was gone.  I figure a racoon got him, thereby concluding the latest of my many scientific experiments on human and animal behavior.

 

 

 

 

Shoveling Steps

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My place in the Cosmos

Wednesday, July 6, 2016—And Brownie did indeed lay an egg yesterday.  When I noticed I’d been worrying about her, I decided my worry made it worse for her, so  turned my attention to the concrete dock steps, even though it was mid-day and cooking.  I hauled self and tools to the end of the dock and shoveled three bucketfuls of mud into the wheelbarrow.  I hacked oyster and clam shells and barnacles off the bottom steps, feeling surprisingly good about this heavy work in white hot heat.  The primary motivator was the realization that it would provide left-sided upper body exercise, and help strengthen my left wrist.  This wrist remains bent and atrophied from a break two years ago.

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Brownie

Once I began shoveling, though, the exercise provided so much more, including memories and associations to the river from my earliest childhood years.  Maybe lifetimes of memories.  I always imagine Moses as a baby, floating up a river maybe like this one.  I think of Creek Indians, the river’s slow pace, the easy rhythm of living off the land.  Yesterday, the tide was going out and low enough that water only covered the bottom step.  I saw ripples of shrimp and minnows and thought about going shrimping.

With steps cleared, this will be more feasible.  I wondered if this is now against the law.  I understand scooping mud and using it for gardening is now a no-no, but all was quiet yesterday, with government spies in airplanes and helicopters off harassing other people.

When I had all the mud I could haul, and a bit of sunburn, I brought the wheelbarrow to the east side of the deck and dumped it between buried concrete blocks and lawn (weeds) next to tomatoes that are thriving.  The plan is to extend the length of the plot along the front of the deck, where I can water easily and have water run away from the house.

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Mud garden

I imagined being a slave on a rice plantation in the old South, a life I was comfortable enough with, because the water was cool and the work hard but paced like the river itself.  I imagined being a woman in that life, with healing skills and sunny disposition that kept me safe.

I thought about myself as a true scientist, a life scientist, who makes discoveries through trial and error, going my own way, not calling attention to what I’m doing.  I’m not sure of what I’m doing, for one thing, and I don’t trust others’ judgment or discretion.

While working with the mud, I imagined today’s techno-geniuses looking to profit by expropriating my ideas, saddling them with rules, and ruining the fun for me.  I thought about Machu Picchu and how all prehistoric and locally/land-based cultures made use of what they had.  They worked with nature instead of against her.  The land owned them instead of the other way around.

The mass migrations created by shipping and its sequelae–because of dissatisfaction with treasures close to home—seems so sad and unnecessary, I thought.  The Cosmic Improv Group—that gaggle of hallucinations inside my imagination and unheard by others— told me this has been necessary to show others what I’ve always known.  The CIG likes to watch me work and give advice and support.

I want to experiment with river mud to learn or re-learn its properties, not only in gardening, but in building, too.  I don’t intend to ask government permission, or even to talk much about what I’m up to, unless they’re willing to help with the shoveling.  I really am creating a fertilizer factory, in a left-handed sort of way.

The idea of a “left-handed way” opens a “new cell in my brain,” as my left-handed mother would say.  My approach is “backwards” to some, but it is also yin-motivated, as I consider that the left is my yin side.

I imagine that if I discover the many useful properties of mud—or re-discover them—the asset plunderers and money exporters will seek to own and control, and I will be squeezed out, once again.

Here’s How 061416: “Value Added Packaging”

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I consider it a triumph when I can extend the life of packaging beyond a single use. To add value to packaging sometimes requires as little as soaking labels off jars or cutting the flaps off a box.  Then I can re-label as needed, using masking tape and a felt pen.

This photo shows some of the uses I’ve found. Jars, preferably those with metal tops, work for everything from keeping mice out of chicken food (and pantry supplies) to serving as storage containers for my dried herbs.  Claussen pickle jar, chutney jar, and preserves jar shown.  The preserves jar holds my chocolate chip/dinner mint/nut snack food.  The tall jar is a re-purposed red wine vinegar jar that serves as a pen dispenser.  It dispenses one pen at a time.  The plastic topped jars that I’ve converted into “Supreme Court Balls Starter Kits” held Publix natural peanut butter (crunchy).

The “Supreme Court Balls Starter Kits” were an inspiration following the infamous 5-4 “Kelo” (eminent domain) decision of 2005. This land grab by Pfizer pharmaceuticals, acting through the New London, Connecticut City Council, invalidated property rights for individuals when a higher bidder comes along.  Subsequent events by all levels of government have proved they are quick to eminent domain property whenever it suits their financial interests.  The jars pictured here hold coins.  One is full of pennies, $6.80 when filled to the brim.  The pennies weigh 2.025 kilos or 4.45 pounds.  The jar holds 400 ml or 1.75 cups of water.  It is 12.7 cm (5 inches) high and 24.75 cm (9.75 inches) in circumference.  So this jar is also a teaching tool for metrics.  It also highlights my belief that saving spare change in jars is a good hedge against bank failure, since they can’t be hijacked by a keystroke, they retain metal value, are hard to steal, and don’t burn up in a fire.

I imagine the “Supreme Court Balls Starter Kits” and the accompanying “Supreme Court Balls Designer Labels” will be worth a lot of money when people wise up to what the Supreme Court has done to individual property rights.

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The metal spice container is now a salt shaker that allows me to add uncooked rice in the large middle opening and shake the salt out of the shaker opening. This is necessary in the humid South, because rice alone does not keep the shaker holes from getting clogged.  For this, it is necessary to close the top.

The yogurt containers (or any dairy container, such as those for sour cream) are useful for cooked food or to freeze cooked food. They are also great for giveaway food.  This maneuver serves the dual purpose of adding food value to used containers and getting rid of the packaging without having to throw it away.  Note the mouse-damaged plastic top that prompted me to transfer chicken food from yogurt container to glass jar.

The home-made pesto is in a re-purposed cake icing container.

Old spice jars are also good for storing small items, like hooks and screws. Film containers (for those of us who still use film cameras) store things like razor blades and small screws.

Then there’s the grocery store produce bag, which can keep whole bowls of food fresh in the refrigerator. This one is protecting grated cheese.

Old shoe boxes make great storage containers for CDs and photographs. Any de-flapped box becomes a great, lightweight tool for organizing and storing clutter.  I use them as trash cans, too.

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Then, there’s the tool room, where old tin cans serve to organize my supplies of bolts, drill bits, and nuts. The plastic containers hold various screws, hooks, and assorted hardware, including replacement blades for the box cutter.

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Chicken food, wild bird seed, and deer corn bags become trash bags. They are sturdy enough to hold sharp objects, like broken glass, without puncturing.  Buckets like the one here that held joint compound are valuable enough by themselves to be sold at outlets like Home Depot.

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Finally, the water-filled milk containers between the mint and stevia plants are an experiment. The idea is to keep plants cool on the hot deck and to have spare water if the pump breaks or the power goes out.  I washed the jugs thoroughly and added 3 drops of chlorine bleach to the water, as we were taught to do during the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s.  The versatility of concrete blocks will be explored more thoroughly in a future blog about my inventions.

 

 

Thank you, Jimmy.

plainsmural0607 Plains, GA.  April 15, 2007.

My hat’s off to the poor Georgia farm boy who made it big.  I’d like to spend more time in Plains and other south Georgia farm villages.  Folk art like this is being quickly gobbled up by corporate monotony, (broken) concrete, and pavement.

What is the global warming effect of megatons of concrete and pavement being smeared across vast acres of previously fertile farmland, land which breathed CO2, drained saturated earth, and produced O2 and food?  Massive flooding, followed by draught?  Man’s genius at work?

Those who don’t get a vote in the polls or in voting booths, the lowly peanut, for instance, are being force-fed chemicals that deprive the naturally balanced ecosystem of vital nutrients. in the dance of life . . . how much healthier it would be if the federal government and Wall Street collapsed sooner than later?  Awesome.

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Jimmy giving the Sunday service at Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA, April 15, 2007.  Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, was also a member and was present at that service, during which  Jimmy introduced Mr. Fuller.  After the service was over, others crowded around the President (once a president, always a president, if you like him, say I), so I approached Mr. Fuller with a Supreme Court Balls Starter Kit.  This is a Publix glass peanut butter jar filled with Libby Belle’s propaganda, Supreme Court Balls Designer Labels, “Support our troops  Bring them home” bumper stickers, a few coins to represent common cents, and my Church of the Holier Than Thou, Incorporated business cards.

I begged Mr. Fuller to pass the jar along to President Carter.  I said we have to save south Georgia, which is being overrun by the military, to feed money exporters up Nawth.  Does anyone else think it’s eerie that Savannah is now calling itself the World Trade Center?  Would you want that economic advantage in your back yard?

So here is a free copy of the Supreme Court Balls Designer Labels.  Best part is anyone can make sheets of these liberty statements and paste them on the back of their Southern Company bills, for instance, to protest the tax imposed to pay for Plant Vogtle’s anticipated debt. Sell SoCo stock, is the first part of what I gotta say.  The second part is to get off the grid as fast as possible, before US incompetence blows us out of the water.

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I do not claim to speak for Habitat for Humanity.  Many years passed before I did my first volunteer stint October 24, 2015.

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Above:  The Habitat for Humanity worksite in Garden City, GA October 24, 2015. A delightful day, perfect weather, well organized, lunch delivered by golf carts. A good time was had by all.  Only the band was missing.

Below:  The United House of Prayer for All People, with lions guarding the entrance, and three crosses overseeing those who enter. It rests quietly in the neighborhood where a flock of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, paid staff, and well-wishers prettied up six houses in one day. I found this House of Prayer on my way to the porta-potties (Composting toilets, anyone?  Don’t need plumbing–the mechanical kind, that is.)

I also noticed litter everywhere and wondered if Habitat or the United House of Prayer could sponsor volunteers to pick up trash and deliver it to the Garden City Hall during one of the council meetings.

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Thanks, in part, to you, I’m proud to be a Georgian.

Bless you, Jimmy.  May you always walk with angels.

Katharine Otto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing the Cosmic Improv(e) Group

The Cosmic Improv Group— that gaggle of hallucinations inside my imagination and unheard by others– lives in the Cosmic Commune, where everything is free and money doesn’t exist. The Cosmic Commune lies outside time and space but contains it all. This is where katharineotto.us’ alter egos hang out, where they can pretend katharineotto.us is a figment of their imaginations. However, they can’t deny that katharineotto.us, the earthbound, integrated self, is the only one of the group with opposable thumbs.

I am the integrated self who can hold a pen and type on the computer, so I become a filter for CIG wit and wisdom, often at my expense. I become the secretary and all-purpose gofer who does the Cosmic Commune’s dirty work (including house cleaning) in the here and now (or tomorrow, whichever comes last).

You never know who might join the CIG, from which century or life dimension, and they allow me no rest. They tempt me to do my worst and advise me to watch my attitude, or I will suffer needlessly.
The still, small voice within is a persistent nag, so it’s impossible to block it out for long. I’m forced to hear the gossips whispering in the ethers, judging my progress in living, and giving me endless advice on how to do a better job.

These cosmic helpers speak through the living universe. In traffic, the mote under the contact lens warrants more respect than its size would suggest. Cosmic Communists believe in communal capitalism, where cooperation trumps competition, and everybody wins.
I’m to roll with the punches, find the ponies in the shit, listen to all the voices–even those without voices—and try to translate their messages in terms human beings can understand.
The Cosmic Improv Group speaks through every quark, every insect, every tool that captures my attention. It communicates through people, living and dead, the wind and the rain, and through the body parts that clamor for appreciation, when I’m tired or hungry.

The CIG sets me up for experiences that would test a saint, just to remind me I’m not one. It forces me to improvise, to escape the traps they lay, or to circumvent the land mines they set, in the landscape of life.

Unfortunately for me, members of the CIG can’t agree with each other about what I should do first. As there are only two opposable thumbs in this corner of the Cosmic Commune–both attached to my earthbound self–and only 86,400 seconds in an earth day, CIG members must content themselves with haggling in my mind until hands are free and time allows for the next “to do” on the endless list of helpful tips that keep me going, until they drive me crazy, if they haven’t already.
In true communal capitalistic fashion, I have calculated the cost-benefit ratio of going crazy. Bottom line is it pays more than being sane, and I don’t even have to be crazy full time to reap maximum benefits.