Do You Even HEAR Yourself?

It happened again the other day. I was listening to NPR on my commute to work, and I heard something that almost made me swerve off the road. When am I ever going to learn?

I can’t even tell you what the story was about, such was my level of outrage afterward. All I know is it was some official or other asking people to come forward if they had any information about some crime or other. Here’s what got me: The official said, “You never know. Maybe he heard something at the bar, or maybe she heard some pillow talk…”

Perhaps I’m a little too raw in this, the #MeToo era. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive. Maybe most people didn’t hear that comment the way I did. But I want to know why SHE has to hear something through pillow talk, and HE gets to go to the bar.

Pillow talk? Seriously? Yes, we women are wily. We’re so sexually liberated that we lure people into our beds and get them to confess to all manner of shenanigans. Because when you put women and pillows together, my, my… nothing good can come from that.

Whereas men can only talk to each other when they’re wasted. Actually, both genders should be insulted by this bozo. The assumptions he makes about the way we all live our lives… it’s condescending. It’s disgusting.

He probably calls women “gals” too. Or “little ladies”. And he probably doesn’t even realize what he’s doing.

But you know what really, really gets my knickers in a twist? It’s that a huge number of the people reading this are probably saying, “What’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that it’s 20 freakin’ 18, and you still can’t see why stupid freakin’ micro-aggressions like this are a big deal. That’s what the big deal is.

End of rant.

We haven’t moved very far from 1959.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book!


On Being Busy

Ever since StoryCorps contacted me and told me they wanted to include my 2009 interview in their anthology Callings, and oh, by the way, NPR wants to feature you in Morning Edition, and Parade Magazine wants to do a piece on you as well, and O Magazine would like to speak with you, and wouldn’t you like to start publishing anthologies of your own? And would you be my first podcast interview for Shaping Sapiens? And can I link to your blog? And maybe you should create a Facebook Group for your blog. Ever since all these things have happened, I’ve been busy.

And when I say “busy”, I mean it feels like someone has taped a rocket to my behind and I have absolutely no control over the steering. I’m not used to this. Not at all.

For over 14 years I’ve been locked away on my little drawbridge, enjoying relative peace and quiet, with very few ducks to put into very short rows. And I’ve liked it that way. Now, there are deadlines and decisions and attention and… I can’t believe this is all happening.

Is it exciting? God, yes! But it feels as if time is moving so fast that I might not be able to keep up. It makes me nervous.

My writing has been all about stopping and looking closely at things. It’s been about watching and commenting from the background. A friend calls me a professional meditator, a grand observer. I worry that I’m losing some of that in all this kerfuffle.

But I intend to ride the crest of this wave for as long as it lasts and savor every minute of it! Of course it isn’t going to last forever. Yes, I’ll miss it when it’s gone. But I think I’ll also be kind of relieved when everything slows back down and settles into a nice little routine once more.

I’ve been told it takes a special kind of person to sit still for 40 hours a week and not go crazy. I guess I’m that person. I thrive on it. But it is rather thrilling to go out and salsa in this world every now and then!

riding a rocket
Okay, so maybe a trifle too phallic, but you get the idea.

Set Your Alarms!

I recently wrote about my micro-fame experience. Well, it seems I’m still riding the crest of that wave! I’m going to be on NPR’s Morning Edition on Friday, April 15th! They’re doing a 3 minute excerpt of my StoryCorps interview to promote the upcoming book. It’s always been a dream of mine to be on National Public Radio.

Morning Edition comes on your local NPR station on the west coast at 5:20 am and again at 7:20 am. On the East coast it’s 6:20 am and 8:20 am. I don’t know at what point in the show my thing will come on, but eventually it will be on their website, and I’ll post a link to that below when the time comes.

This feels crazy! I’m so excited!

Update: They’ve already posted it on the StoryCorps website, so you can listen to it on-line here: also, you can listen to it on the NPR website, with a different written story below and their fancy intro to the recording here:




Moving Ten Meters South

Recently I listened to a speech by Noam Chomsky on my local NPR station, and one of the many things he said that struck me was that given the unprecedented rise in temperatures on this planet, it’s as if we all are moving 10 meters south every single day. Okay, that kind of freaked me out.

First of all, I hate moving. The thought of having to do it every day leaves me cold (or in this case, hot, I suppose). Second, it took me 40 years to get out of the South, and now I’m being dragged slowly back to it? No! Not fair!

Just out of curiosity, I decided to do the math. First, I had to find the latitude of Seattle,  Washington, which is 47.6097N. Then I had to find the latitude of Jacksonville, Florida, my old stomping grounds. That turns out to be 30.3369 N.

Now, we’re going to pretend that Jacksonville is directly south of Seattle instead of being on the opposite side of the continent or this is going to get waaaaaaay beyond my math skills and patience.

Next, I had to figure out what that converts to in (due south) miles. This gets complicated, because the earth is all curvy and stuff. (And all you flat earth folks, don’t flame me. I’m not interested.) So I went to the NOAA Latitude/Longitude Distance calculator, and pretending that both cities were at a longitude of 122.3331 W, I discovered that that’s a distance of 1,193 miles.

But good old Noam, being the science-oriented guy that he is, gave us our southward drift in meters. So I also had to convert to metric. Sigh. That means it will stop being mentally imaginable to me, but here you go: 1,193 miles is 1,919 kilometers, or 1,919,000 meters.

So, if I’m drifting 10 meters south every day, that means it will take me 191,900 days to get back to Jacksonville’s latitude. That’s more than 525 years. (And if you mention that I forgot to allow for the extra day every leap year, I’ll slap you silly. This is a thought experiment, people!)

Whew! I can actually live with that. Mainly because I won’t be alive. And besides, I’d in fact land in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California. And that may as well be Jacksonville at that point, because Jacksonville will be completely submerged, as will most of the rest of Florida. Lucky for me, the vast majority of Seattle will remain high and dry. That is, if the next major earthquake hasn’t dumped it into the sea.

But even though I wouldn’t be literally drifting southward into the ocean, and supposing Seattle hasn’t been earthquaked into oblivion, it will be hot, and the climate will be so drastically altered that the city will look nothing like its current lush, green, beflowered, beautiful self. But still, my toes won’t be getting all pruny.

Of course, there’d be the refugees from other flooded states and nations desperately trying to find places to live and totally invading my space along with a population that had already exploded beyond comprehension, and they’d be using up all the drinking water and fighting over what few fresh vegetables were left… Shades of Soylent Green or Waterworld.

I don’t know about you, but this thought experiment has stopped being fun. But if you’re a glutton for punishment and really want an eye opening experience, go to the Surging Seas website and type in various coastal cities. It will tell you what’s going to happen if we don’t get our act together and drastically cut carbon emissions.

We need to stop bringing snowballs to Capitol Hill and start taking action. Otherwise future generations will curse our names, and laugh bitterly at our stupidity. All this while figuratively drifting ever southward.

Bye bye Florida. Image credit: National Geographic

Oh, My Aching Back

I’m not getting any younger. My back can attest to that. I wake up several times a night because the pain in my lower back makes me feel the need to shift positions. I can’t remember the last time this was not the case. It makes for a very tiring experience.

Many months ago I heard this story on NPR about a woman named Esther Gokhale who studied indigenous cultures that exhibited very little back pain, and she posits the theory that their spines are J shaped, rather than S shaped like the average American’s. There could be several reasons for this. They don’t spend hours hunched over a computer. They aren’t overweight. They exercise more, which means they have stronger abdominal muscles, which better support the spine. Whatever it is, I’ll take some of that, and come back for seconds.

When I learned about this, I instantly heard my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Sit up straight!” Mom always knew best. But maybe not. According to Gokhale, this just positions you for a world of hurt. Instead, you should roll your shoulders up and back to open up the chest, and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.

If you read the NPR story you’ll see 5 ways to make your spine more J shaped. Even taking these steps for a few seconds made me feel better. And after practicing these steps for just a few days, I’m already experiencing significant change. My favorite step is squeezing your gluteus medius muscle every time you take a step. It helps your back while giving you the butt you had when you were 19. Oh, yeah. I’m DEFINITELY going to do this! (Of course, I’m not a doctor, so you might want to consult with yours before doing anything.)

I suspect that maintaining this more regal posture will do things for my self-confidence as well. That will be fodder for a future blog entry. Until then, three cheers for better back health!

s spine vs j spine
S vs J shaped spine, via

Bone Records

I heard an amazing story on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day. Apparently in the 1950’s in Russia, censorship was so fully in effect that you couldn’t get Western rock n’ roll music. Even being in possession of such music could send you to prison.

Censorship in all its forms tends to backfire. When you tell people they cannot have something, it makes them want that thing very, very badly. (Just ask anyone who ever bought a Cuban cigar in the US.)

The Russians were very innovative in coming up with a way around this censorship. They learned how to etch music onto used x-ray film. These bootleg records were therefore called “Bone Records” and were sold in back alleys in the dead of night. They can still occasionally be found in flea markets and garage sales.

The quality of the music on these x-rays was not high. It kind of sounds scratchy, and like it’s coming from the inside of a tin can. But such was their thirst for music that they were willing to put up with this and even risk their freedom for it. That really impresses me. That tells you all you need to know about the human craving for art in all its forms.

A guy named Stephen Coates has written a book on the subject called X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone. This is definitely on my “to read” list. The NPR story was an interview with Mr. Coates. Listen to the story, read the book, and tell me what you think.

At the very least, take a minute to appreciate your ready access to music as the luxury that it is.

bone records
[Image credit:]

Rete Mirabile

I love learning something new! On my drive in to work today, I was listening to National Public Radio, as is my custom, and I got to hear Bird Note, a 2 minute podcast that is a weekly staple of some NPR stations. I always look forward to their segments because I learn so much about birds that I never knew before.

This week’s topic was rete mirabile, or “wonderful net”, an adaptation that I didn’t know existed before this moment. It’s a net of arteries and veins that are close together and provide a temperature exchange, in this case between the warm blood coming from a bird’s heart and the cold blood coming from its feet. This is why birds’ feet don’t freeze. Their temperature tends to stay pretty close to the ambient temperature, and therefore they remain quite comfortable. This is why you will never see a bird wearing a pair of Uggs.

If your NPR station doesn’t carry Bird Note, I strongly encourage you to talk them into it. In the meantime, you can listen to their podcasts here.

Now I’m going to spend a few minutes picturing birds in Uggs, and wondering why I never wondered why birds’ feet don’t freeze. I sure wish I had this adaptation for my feet! They pretty much feel like two blocks of ice from now until May.

Stay warm!


The Thirty Million Words Initiative

If I haven’t said it recently (but I’m fairly sure I have), I absolutely love National Public Radio. I learn so much from NPR that I probably would never know otherwise. Case in point: the Thirty Million Words Initiative.

One of my all time pet peeves is parents who do not read to or communicate with their children. I’ve entered many a house where there are no books to be found, and the TV is tuned to soap operas instead of Sesame Street, and it makes me want to scream, “You are setting your child up for failure!”

Now, finally, vindication. The Thirty Million Words Initiative was started by Dana Suskind, a surgeon who wrote the book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain. In an interview with NPR, Suskind said, “The 30 million word gap comes from a very famous study that was done probably about 30 years ago by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, where they followed a group of children between 0 and 3 years old from all socioeconomic backgrounds. And basically what they found, by the end of age 3, children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds will have heard 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. And this number itself was correlated not just with differences in vocabulary but also differences in IQ and test scores in the third grade.”

This gap comes from a combination of familial/cultural differences and the stressors of poverty. The words you use with your child have an impact as well. Some children hear as much as 6 times as many positive affirmations as other children do. Being belittled affects your development.

The Thirty Million Words Initiative is a program that encourages parents to tune in, talk more, and take turns with their children. To learn more about this, read the book, visit the website and support it. Set your child up for success.


Vowels, Consonants, Climate

I just love National Public Radio! It constantly causes me to look at the world through a whole new lens. This story, in particular, almost made me late for work because I refused to get out of my car until I’d heard the whole thing. Language lover that I am, now I’m even more focused on the sounds that we humans produce because of what I’ve learned from this report.

It seems that recently many linguists have developed a theory that the languages that have evolved over time are influenced by the climate in which one lives. It seems that the sounds of consonants are much easier to hear in open, arid, and temperate terrain. On the other hand, those consonants become muffled in humid areas with a lot of dense vegetation.

What they seem to be finding is that the more tropical the climate, the more vowel-heavy the language tends to be. Granted, this is a highly simplistic conclusion, and requires much more study. Obviously there are many factors that influence language over the centuries. But it’s still a very fascinating proposition.

They’ve noted that this theory works with birdsong as well. Many tropical birds have more vowel-rich songs, because succeeding generations imitate what they’re able to hear, and if the consonants get muffled, they leave them off.

I look forward to hearing more about this as they study it in more depth. In the meantime, I will just luxuriate in the waters of this brand new perspective. Care to join me?

When it's this freakin' humid, even the consonants can't be bothered to move.
When it’s this freakin’ humid, even the consonants can’t be bothered to move.

The Majority Minority

The other day I was listening to an interview on National Public Radio. The woman who was speaking was a refugee from Yemen who had to flee that country under a hail of bullets, and had lost everything she ever had. She was discussing how hard it had been to get out of the country, and how no one, and I mean no one, wanted to help her.

I sat there for a long time after the interview, trying to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by people who won’t let you leave a war zone and only want you dead. I tried to picture myself in a situation where everything I had worked for my entire life was taken from me, and there was no positive future on the horizon.

My reality is one in which I’m relatively secure. I don’t fear waking up with a gun pointed at my face. It’s a safe bet that the vast majority of the people that I love will not die violent deaths. And while I’ve had to struggle to get where I am, and have, indeed, suffered more than one setback in my life, I’m fairly certain that an RPG isn’t going to detonate in my living room. I won’t even be racially profiled by my local police force.

I can’t imagine how it must change you to live a reality other than mine. What do you become? How do you see the world? How do you survive? I haven’t done anything to deserve the luxury that I enjoy. And safety is a luxury. I just happened to be born the right color in the right place at the right time.

I am considered part of the majority. But as more of the world is war-torn and suffers from senseless tragedies, I have to wonder if my “norm” isn’t really in the minority, and if, perhaps, the darkness is not advancing. The sad thing is I have no idea what to do about it. But the very, very least I can do is appreciate my good fortune.

Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.
Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.