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Whatever rings Mel's bells

Archive for May, 2012

Less alone

There are many people in this world who love me, who don’t want me to leave.  Family, friends, all sorts of people.  I appreciate every bit of it, and I don’t want anyone to think otherwise.  But for all that love, for all that concern, there are only two of them who are actively working to keep me here.

Dennis and Shawn, you make me feel less alone.  You make me feel wanted, and loved, and needed, and appreciated.  The fact that you’re willing to actively do something to help me find a way to make enough money to stay here is humbling and encouraging.  It’s given me a second wind.  It’s helped me remember my own worth.

There are many people who say what they think and what they feel, which is sometimes a wonderful thing but also sometimes is WAY too much!  I tend to hide or disguise my emotions (especially the “negative” ones), and I know there are a lot of other people who do the same.  Many of us hold back the things we feel strongest about because we think we shouldn’t burden others with those feelings, especially if we’re struggling with some personal problem that we think we ought to be able to handle for ourselves.  I know one person who is struggling with a BIG problem, and sharing it, and sharing that she’s struggling with the sharing.  And as I read what she writes, I can feel her confusion and pain, and her reluctance to disclose that comes right along at the very moment that she’s disclosing it.

Kristina, you make me feel less alone.  You make me feel less crazy, and less neurotic, and less unstable, and more normal.  You echo my fears of not reacting normally, but not even being able to define a normal reaction in the first place.  I’ve never walked the path of cancer, but I’ve dealt with grief (not always well!) and I can appreciate some of what you’re dealing with.  And reading what you write about your struggles helps me understand my own.

I think that on some level I’m always going to feel alone.  I mean, I’ve been this way my whole life – looking at social interactions from the outside.  Not sure why that’s true, but it is and it always has been true, and I figure since it’s what I know best, it probably always will be true.  The only person in the world who ever in my life made me feel not-alone, who made me feel like I was an integral part of humanity, is gone, irrevocably lost for all time.  So I default to the comfort of solitude.  (Maybe I should just go live on a mountain by myself!)  But it does get lonely sometimes, and the solitude that I find so comfortable does need a break.  Unfortunately, spending so much time alone weakens the ties I feel with others, which makes it hard to alleviate the loneliness when it does bother me.

So I want to thank Dennis and Kristina and Shawn (in alphabetical order) for just being who you naturally are.  You’re all fabulous people, and I’m glad that I know you.  You didn’t intend to do any of it it for this reason (I don’t think) but you’ve made me feel less alone.  And I truly, deeply appreciate that.

Opposite Day

Imagine for a moment that you are known for, almost defined by, your positive demeanor.  Imagine that you have put on a positive attitude like a coat you wear year-round.  Imagine that you fight any negative thought, that you self-talk your way out of any low point or discouraging event or setback or moment of doubt.  Imagine that you consider a positive outlook to be a basic part of who you are.

Now imagine that you look back on the last five years of your life and can see that every damned thing you’ve done is crumbling around you.  Imagine that everything you’ve set your mind to has failed.  Imagine that your very best efforts, your blood and sweat and tears and stress has gone to feed the insatiable, gaping mouth of a black hole.

Doesn’t it make sense that you’d want to run away from it all?  Doesn’t it make sense that your greatest desire would be to pack a bag and run away to join the circus?  Or maybe the Navy?  Especially if you know that the end result will be to get you into a better place, a place where you can have back the life you really wanted all along?  Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to give up all these things (that are falling apart anyways) for a few years, in return for getting them back in spades later?

Now imagine that you’ve made the decision to take that step.  And you’ve even started to feel good about it – feel excited about it.  And you’ve accepted that you’re a failure and your best efforts aren’t good enough and you might as well throw in the towel because why would anybody want you to stay anyways?  I mean hell, nobody even reads your damned blog, so who really gives a crap?

Nobody, that’s who.

(Not completely true; my family – who I once promised I would never leave again – gives a great deal more than a crap.  But this is hyperbole, there’s not much room for the nuanced tones of reality in this post.)

Anyways (sorry about the rabbit track there), now imagine that after you’ve accepted your own worthlessness, after you’ve realized that you’re a failure and it’s time to start over, after you’ve worked yourself around to a place where you can give up the life you love and you’ve been clinging to so desperately (even though it really isn’t working), and after you’ve come to terms with the nature of the new reality you’re looking toward, then and only then do you get a hint of hope that you might actually be able to make this work.  Then and only then do people reach out with a form of help that actually meets your needs.  Then and only then do you get a sense that you’re appreciated and wanted and maybe you shouldn’t assume that leaving is actually the best option.

So what do you do now?  What do you do once you’ve turned the boat and taken the first steps in a new direction and mentally re-written your life?

How hard to you try to keep the life you really want?  How far do you pursue it, when you know that the option to leave depends on a pretty narrow window of opportunity – a window that shrinks every day – a window that you can’t even get the involved parties to define clearly for you?

How far do I push this?

Building Kitsap Businesses

It’s no secret that the economy is bad and local businesses are in trouble.  It seems almost every other day I hear about another local business closing its doors, and sometimes it feels like half the storefronts in the county are empty.

But there’s a quiet resurgence of small business in the county right now.  It’s being led by groups like Washington CASH and Washington Small Business Development Centers.  These groups are providing small business owners (like myself) with the tools and resources we need to rebuild the local economy from the ground up.  In fact, Kitsap County has proven to be one of the most effective areas in the state for small business seed money programs!  We do more and go farther in this area when we’re given the opportunity.

How can you help this trend grow?  By patronizing local businesses as much as possible – go to the “mom & pop” flower shop down the street instead of ordering a bouquet online, and hire a local handyman instead of calling the big box store on your next home improvement project.  By purchasing locally grown food – sign up with a local farm for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, shop at the farmers’ market, or buy the produce at the supermarket that has the “locally grown” sticker.  By keeping your money local – instead of patronizing a large national bank, pull your money out and put it in a local bank or Credit Union.

All these things will keep money in our local economy and build our community up, instead of sending our money out-of-area or out-of-state, or even out of the country!  Kitsap County has existed as a kind of “bedroom community” of Seattle for too long.  Many of our residents can’t afford to buy a house here, and our graduates leave the area in droves as they look for work.  Let’s all do what we can to build the local economy and keep Kitsap dollars here in Kitsap.


There’s a bit of religious imagery that has stuck with me since childhood.  In I Corinthians 3 Paul talks about all of our works being tried by fire, and the unworthy things are burned away and the worthy things are refined.  He says if we build with lasting materials our works will survive the fire and we’ll be rewarded, but if we build with “straw and wood” it will be burned away and we’ll be left with no reward.

I’m not religious any more, and I don’t believe that this will ever literally happen.  But I can tell you for sure that it happens to me all the time right now.  Troubles come along, and they set my life on fire.  And let me tell you, having your life set on fire is not fun!  It burns, it hurts, and it’s really scary to see everything you’ve built start to melt down around you.  But I’ve found that when I face my fears, and come to terms with reality, and accept what is really happening, I can use the situation to become a better person.  But it’s not automatic, in fact it takes quite a bit of effort.

First, you have to ask yourself how you got into this situation.  Think of what you could have done differently.  Imagine a similar situation happening again, and see yourself doing it differently next time.  Recognize the flaw, the mistake, the error, the blindness, whatever it was in yourself that either caused or allowed the bad thing to happen.  If nothing you did contributed to or exacerbated the problem, then think of what you can learn from what you’re going through.

The important part is to look.  Look at what you’ve done.  Look at who you are.  See yourself, see the great parts and the icky ones both.  See the things you love about yourself.  (If you can’t see them, ask a loved one to tell you one thing that they like about you.  Then remind yourself of that wonderful characteristic EVERY DAY.  Tell your mirror three times a day how awesome you are because of ________.  Repeat till you believe it.  Then repeat some more.)  See the things you don’t like about yourself, and then figure out what you can do about them.  (If you can’t figure out what to do about it, ask a loved one for advice.  If you don’t have any loved ones that you can trust with either of these tasks, that’s what professional counselors are for.)  Look at yourself honestly, seeing both good and bad.  Know thyself, as it has been wisely said for millenia.

When the trouble-dragon comes around and starts burning your whole world down, it’s natural to fight it.  It’s natural to want to stay wherever we are, and to look at the destruction as a bad thing.  But pay attention.  The things in your life that are worth saving – genuine relationships, healthy behaviors, a positive attitude, a strong moral code – will survive the fire.  They may be melted a little, they may need to be polished and get a little TLC after all that stress.  But they’ll survive.  And the things that aren’t worth saving – fair-weather friends, unhealthy habits, negative attitudes, loose personal ethics – will be fueling the fire, and they’ll be consumed by it.  After the fire dies down, you’ll find yourself with more room to breathe and to rebuild.

So I’m not afraid of the fire.  I don’t particularly enjoy going through it, I’ll tell ya that much!  But I know that whatever it takes away, even if it’s something I desperately wanted and depended on, I can survive on what’s left from it.  And I know that whatever is broken down in the fire can be rebuilt afterward.

Stuff I learned today

I had a fantastic chat today at the Co-op office with one of our Member-Owners.  Rene and his wife own a business doing aquaponics, and they’re working with the University of Hawaii (!) to experiment with different types of fish in aquaponics systems.  For those of you who don’t know, aquaponics is sort of like hydroponics, in that you grow plants without soil, but instead of using chemical fertilizers, you link a fish tank in and let the fish make the fertilizer.  (It’s actually a complex system that involves several steps and a couple types of bacteria to metabolize everything properly, but that’s the quick version.)

Now, I’ve read a bit about aquaponics online, but never really talked to anybody about it.  And we all know how perfectly reliable the internet is…  Yeah.

So first of all, it turns out that I was looking at the wrong kind of fish.  Some sites recommend using tilapia fish, since they grow pretty quickly and don’t require as strict of temperature controls as some other types of fish.  Unfortunately, Washington State law prevents importation of tilapia.  So that’s pretty much out.  Rene has been using rainbow trout, which are great for temperature in this area, but they require oxygen levels that stay within a pretty tight band.  So they’re getting a special license from the state of WA to work with Chinese catfish, which have a much broader range on both temperature and oxygen levels.  Hell, these fish can gulp air if they have to!

But that wasn’t all I learned talking to Rene.  We also discussed the warehouse growing movement, where in Chicago and many other cities, people are putting UV lights in warehouse space and using aquaponics to grow food year-round.  This is not only cool because it can bring fresh food into urban food deserts, but it allows for complete control over the environment.  Why is that so helpful?  Because it turns out that plants don’t need large amounts of natural sunlight to grow.  In fact, many plants don’t need more than a couple of hours a day under UV to grow.  That much power can be generated easily by rooftop solar panels, keeping costs down while protecting the plants year-round.

Know what else is cool?  Plants also don’t need to be kept on a 24-hour cycle.  You could conceivably run plants on two 12-hour cycles of light and dark, fooling the plant into thinking two days had passed and getting it to grow twice as fast!  Heads of lettuce in a month.  Radishes in 10 days.  Tomatoes YEAR-ROUND!!

Now, of course there are drawbacks.   Of course!  For one thing, what about pollinators?  What about worms?  What about microbes?  Not to mention, plants exist naturally in a world with lots of other bugs.  Some are beneficial, some not so much.  But some of the “bad” bugs are actually good because they feed the good bugs.  Without the “bad” bugs, the good ones would starve and there wouldn’t BE good bugs!  So it’s an incredibly complex thing, to create a whole ecosystem from scratch.  It’ll be somewhat simpler, of course, without soil.  But still, it’s a huge task and there’s a million things that can go wrong, or can get out of balance real fast.

And of course, there might be some consequences to this that we don’t know about yet.  Perhaps after three or four or ten or fifty generations of plants like this, certain genetic traits will come out that aren’t good for us.  Maybe the tomatoes start producing an enzyme that helps them absorb UV light better, but when you eat them it turns your teeth purple.  I don’t know!  That’s why they’re called unforeseen problems.  We don’t know what they’re going to be, but we know they’re going to happen.

Still…  I want to try it!  So as always, I’m adding to the list of stuff I’m going to do when I have a home and land and the ability to put up a 10×20 prefab building in my backyard so I can play Farmer Frank.

New shop naming contest

So the first of May came and went, and I got distracted.  But the first thing I did when logging on today was to hit up a random number generator website which picked AL EAKIN as the winner of the shop name contest.  Al suggested the name “CountYourBlessings.”

I haven’t actually settled on a name for sure yet, but as soon as I do I’ll make sure and let you all know.  Thanks to all the entrants for your interest and for your suggestions.  😀