Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Life of Illusion: Chapter 6: A Family of Trees

For over a year now, Dot has been measuring her media consumption as not to feed her anxiety. She only logs on to her Snapoid account when she is going to share her writing or art, because it tires her emotionally. It is very much an expression of the collective consciousness, which definitely has its ups and downs. Her feed is pretty gentle; it’s just that she has a lot of other things to do, and there aren’t enough hours in the day, anyway. Social media is the quickest way to feed her monkey mind. Besides, she spent a lot of her life online before, and she kind of wishes she had that time back. She hasn’t been checking the news because Bert and the kids do; but she does like to get COVID updates from SciShow, as they seem to provide information in a responsive rather than reactionary manner. They are, as good mentors and teachers are, good at pointing out what we don’t know, and what the safest bets are with the information we do have. Dot really appreciates that as a scientist, because she was trained to work in a government Biosafety Level 4 lab engineering retroviruses. The levels go from 1 to 4, with 4 being the greatest risk. Because of this, Dot has what she considers a healthy fear of genetically engineered viruses. In the beginning of the pandemic, coronavirus was classified as Biosafety Level 4 for research.

A lot of things have changed since she originally wrote this chapter in the Spring of 2020. There are some old ideas she has decided to preserve to show how her perception has changed over the course of the pandemic, and so she has decided to engineer this writing like a conversation between her Past (April 2020) and Present (October 2020) selves. There is so much to communicate, and so much of it was painful and required a certain amount of pot valor to write, and was impossible in the first person. Initially, she was only able to write in the third person, a trick she learned which helped her process a lot of trauma. As she healed, it felt a little disingenuous, but she also had the fortunate realization that the approach served as an appropriate butt cover since a lot of her healing involved some serious questioning of the status quo with respect to classism and nutrition.


She feels all these things very deeply - deep enough that writing causes her physical pain because she sees these things as the root of all the pain and suffering in the world - pain and suffering we all bear. Much of this is due to most people being blind to the energetic results of their own actions. There is a belief in Gnosticism that life was joyful until the creation of a demiurge by the gods on accident, and they have been trying to identify the demiurge to fight it ever since. Dot thinks the demiurge is the belief that we have to earn our right to space in this world, and that this demiurge is the root of much of the pain and trauma, because it causes people to not know how to just be, or even allow others to just be. She thinks chemical exposures, problems with food quality, and systemic race-based trauma all feed the demiurge. She still has to battle this demiurge daily, because as a mother in isolation, it's hard to know when it is okay to slack off. The demiurge has thrived on the sort of moral authoritarianism rampant in societal child-rearing advice, so it's hard to know when it is okay to relax. Consequently sometimes it is hard to know what activities constitute a waste of energy and resources due to being fully egoic pursuits created by the demiurge.

April 2020: I used the rest of some old bags of frozen fruit to make a smoothie. Well, by this time, because of the rationing I am doing, it is more like milk with a little fruit in it, but knowing that this might be the last frozen fruit we may have makes me panic about being able to get produce of any sort in the future. Not that we were ever much good at eating fresh produce, anyway. I have lost count of how many times I have had to sop up moist slipperiness from the inside of the crisper drawers. Sometimes I just put the fruit in the middle of the fridge so Bert and the kids will remember it is there, but mostly that serves to remind them that the guinea pig needs a treat. Poppy the Guinea Pig’s dwelling is within earshot of the refrigerator, and whenever she hears the rustling of plastic packaging, she eagerly bites at the wire enclosure, hoping for a treat.

October 2020: Poppy passed away one day in June. I had noticed her slowing down over the years, and she would have periods in her last 6 months where she became extremely lethargic. I gave her extra Vitamin C for a while, and this always seemed to perk her up. But one day, we all had this feeling of dread - it was after I had discovered the VOC issue in the house and that it was somehow tied to the depressurization. We may have had a big plume come through the house in the days prior; that was a frequent occurrence back then before we discovered all the sources of volatile compounds we have found so far in our home. During a plume we would often feel elated, and then two days later, we would have a crash. We were all clearly having a crash that day. I had the distinct sense that death was near; I don’t know how to explain it other than I had a dream that morning where I saw Bert, the kids and I like we were posed for a family photo, and we all faded away and were replaced by a skull and crossbones. I don’t usually have bad dreams. I used to think they were caused by gut serotonin, because if I got them, it was usually after eating something like beans. I actually didn’t dream much at all in the past, or think about dreams much. But after what happened that day with Poppy, I pay attention to my dreams, and I make sure to listen to Bert’s, Henry’s and Lily’s dreams, too. I now know when I see things like that in my dreams, it is more about subtle than large energies. Visions involving symbols of death just mean some sort of transformation is coming and, except in the case of Poppy's passing, have been good omens.

Our dreams often end up predicting what happens to us over the course of the day. I realize this is a strange thing for a scientist to say, but it has been going on long enough that I feel confident I can say it. This time alone has also helped me see how other precognitive dreams I have had in my life were significant still to this day. I had to get deep into Jungian psychology to be able to decode the symbolism in the dreams, which was mostly fun. The only times it wasn’t fun were times when the poisoning was an issue. This usually meant health problems in the form of neurological or digestive issues, or mental health problems in the form of difficulties with attention, memory, communication, sleep, fear or anxiety, which could include several of us at once, and often two of our pets whose digestive problems were so bad they would stop eating. I can’t remember who had it, but either Henry or Bert had a vivid dream about death that evening as well.

Just before Poppy’s death, I had been having a disagreement with Lily over her desire to go grocery shopping. She was frustrated with me that I was doing it all myself, which I was doing because I couldn't handle the complication of including another person due to my vebal aphasia. She wanted more responsibility, it turns out. I, who was pretty tired of having to be responsible for food all the time, couldn’t understand why she would want to risk her life for that particular responsibility if she had a choice, and didn't know how to express this in a way to her that didn't cause her unreasonable fear. It seemed like one of the most important things I do for the family to keep them safe. She was feeling like life was passing her by, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get through to her that grocery shopping does not make a meaningful life, and can be the basis of a woman’s enslavement.


I was feeling enslaved by the circumstances created by the pandemic around food in a stronger way than I ever had been before. Before we got a health food store in our town, which was opened by another unschooling family, I used to have to travel to two farms and a health food store in another city to get us safe food when she was a small child. I often timed these trips so she would nap in the car, and it turns out that she does not remember this. That’s how much work I had to do each week to escape the American industrialized food system which creates illness through the additives, inexpensive industrial seed oils high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and pesticides used to increase profit margins. Being able to have safe food delivered to my doorstep during this time has been nothing short of a miracle. I just wish I didn't have to scrub my chips! I am so thankful for the people who are working in the grocery industry, and I am thankful to all the people over the years who created healthy cottage industry convenience food products to light the way for change and free women from the kitchen. I am thankful for the hive mind which is obviously still battling out what the best fuel is, although sometimes I feel it can be hyperfocused on achieving superhuman wellness for the privileged,rather than healing the sick, who may not be imbued with the same privilege, genetic or material.

Poppy the Pig is buried in the garden where I plan to put in potatoes. If I remember correctly, in addition to the strange dreams we had the night before she died, and also the disagreement with Lily over grocery shopping, I had not slept well. I remember thinking that I didn’t have confidence I would be able to keep myself together emotionally for the rest of the family or even myself if I lost another night of sleep. While I haven't hit rock bottom since I stopped going to Bert's parents' house, the parts of me which remember those episodes are terrified of them happening again. I think the cruelty is a really important facet, so I don't have contact with them anymore, which my therapist had recommended in 2017. It helps a lot, and while it may have nearly cost me my life to stay in contact with them, I am glad I did it the way I did because I may have never learned everything I learned about the chemicals. I did use the word "No" a lot more often with them, but that would be punished later somehow through a power grab, which Bert was particularly weak to because of how he had been conditioned by them growing up. It hurt how his family ignored my requests for better collaboration as if they wanted me to disappear, and it hurt that Bert didn't know what to do because they kept putting him in the middle. He always advised me to ignore them over the years, but they were too close for that to be practical. I just knew something was really wrong, but didn't have the words to communicate what it was in a way he could understand. They made him really angry through their entitlement to his time and energy. They were able to stoke an ire in him with their classism and ablism which lately he has been trying to communicate to them in more direct ways in their limited dealings. Some of our marriage problems over the years had to do with him believing I was of the same controlling mind as them, and some of that is my fault for long time I tried to gain their approval. If I came up with ideas to improve our home life, he assumed he had no choice in the matter, just as they never gave him choices or listened to him. He kept forgetting that I grew up in an old bungalow with peeling paint and an accidental torch burn on the kitchen cabinet from when my dad installed the dishwasher by himself, and that none of that ever bothered me. My parents were always at odds about where my father could do messy projects, which made me feel badly for him. I don't want my own house to be a place that is too pristine for creativity. In this vein, the room Poppy was in often had guinea pig turds on the floor because we weren't very good about vacuuming in there when we cleaned her cage. If the dogs hadn't been so obviously bloodthirsty, we could have taken down the baby gate that kept them out, and they probably would have been happy to provide vacuuming services. It's strange to not have to straddle that gate anymore, or the other one.


Poppy had been spending more time sleeping, and in the weeks leading up to her death, I got the sense that I needed to keep a close eye on her. I think Lily told me that day that something wasn’t right with Poppy, and I thought maybe she needed her nails clipped. I had fallen behind on a lot of things during that time due to figuring out how to operate in a pandemic. When I cut her nails, she did not behave normally at all. She really didn't want me cutting her nails, but simultaneously also seemed like she wanted to be held, which was never something she wanted. When I put her down on the carpeted floor, she turned back toward me wanting to be picked up again. When she had been in her cage, she was laying very still with her head jammed into the corner, which is kind of how I have felt most comfortable when I have been at my lowest points. Thankfully, I have not felt this badly in the last two years since I confirmed that my own depression was actually metabolic and maybe life threatening and not due to poor mental habits. An important key to this understanding was that Bert could often pull me out of my catatonia or sorrow with some food, which made me wonder if suicidal ideation was inherently metabolic in all people. The food in my house, specifically carbohydrates, changes the tone of my inner dialogue for the better every time, despite me never having blood sugar abnormalities through my doctor's testing, or the home testing I have done. I knew from having spent time with other pets during their passing and their similar behaviors to try to find comfort that Poppy probably wouldn’t make it through the night, and I was pretty sure a cookie wasn't going to help her, since she wouldn't take the lettuce we offered her.

I explained this to the family as we all sat on the floor in the “dining room” which is our makeshift gym and was also Poppy’s residence. It dawned on me that the most meaningful experiences I had in my adult life had to do with bearing witness to the processes of birth and death. With the recent grocery store discussion in mind, I let Lily know that having been witness to the births of humans and the deaths of animals I had cared for taught me something important about what it means to be alive and how magical life is.
I’m not a doula but sort of was one for two births, which almost became c-sections until I pleaded to let the mothers change positions and get on all fours. One baby was almost 10 pounds, and the other 11, and the women were not related. I asked Lily if she would like to stay with Poppy in the night, as I had done with two of my closest pets.


I felt badly doing this to Poppy as she had come to me, and I had been willing to physically comfort other dying pets. I did not tell Lily how to comfort her because I wanted her to have her own unique experience with compassion for Poppy. Lily is extremely intuitive, especially with respect to animals, and quite a few of us have felt that she may have a future in healing animals someday. She has had a natural proclivity toward expressing emotions in the animals she draws from six or seven years of age, maybe from the close relationship she has with our dogs. She decided she wanted to do this, and although she sensed and confirmed Poppy’s passing in the early morning, she did not come to me to tell me until a more reasonable time. She told me in a very matter of fact way, demonstrating that she had somewhat wrestled with the gravity of the situation already. We figured out Poppy was at least 7 years old. I still wonder, though, if Poppy would have made it longer had it not been for the water heater backdrafting. Her tired spells definitely seemed to correlate with my own, and also with some of the other wellness struggles we had in our home, including life-threatening digestive issues that plagued our smaller dog and rabbit in a cyclical fashion despite no changes in their food or living situations. These have also been resolved since we got rid of the gas water heater and replaced it with electric. Bert had said before that when he was in engineering school, he learned that gas water heaters are the most dangerous thing in a home, and didn’t like having one in ours.

Despite everyone’s bravado, and even my own, I don’t know many truly healthy people. Everyone has some sort of major health thing they deal with that they otherwise keep quiet about, but impacts their daily lives, or they are caring for someone with a health struggle. For some reason, people tell me everything, and it has enabled me to see how everything is connected to the pain we all endure. Many people struggle with mental health issues and do not see them as being connected to their diet or environment. Society likes to use exercise as a classist and ablist band-aid for these problems. My great-great grandmother who lived to be 96 likely never went to a gym or had to have a daily run in order to function. There are clearly factors in living present now which affect wellness that she didn't have to deal with in her day. She was already 68 years old when World War II ended, which is about the time man-made volatile compounds really started to impact daily life for Americans.


I suppose I could say that I discovered without a doubt that We’re All Mad Here, and it’s a strange thing to understand so personally. There are very few mothers I have known who have not been on some medication for anxiety or depression. I have wondered if my doctor really understands the societal significance of this problem. My own sister is a doctor, and I am pretty sure she didn’t have to learn enough psychology to be able to identify when a person is not themselves. Learning to be able to identify this in my own self took a lot of investigation. I have never felt like this for long periods of time, and it doesn't happen often, but the excessive amount of exposure to chemicals, stress and vegetable oils I was exposed to over the last few years being so close to my in-laws and trying to be social with others triggered a state in me that is a lot like what this veteran has been experiencing. I think a lot about how many people are out there with untreated mental illness, and also how the psychiatric system actually makes people worse through forced hospitalization and reliance on pharmaceuticals, rather than helping people reach their full potential as divine beings of light by freeing them from the toxicity of white classism.

I was in the uncomfortable position of having to try to explain to another (much older white male) scientist that my “mental illness” is precisely the reason I was able to figure out we were being poisoned. I was rather irritable when I was trying to explain that things that make me irritable are not good for me, and that figuring that out is an important part of intuition and knowing what is good for one’s own health. There are people who are so out of touch with their bodies because of antimetabolic factors that they can’t even feel a fly on their foreheads. They can’t feel with their hearts at all, either. To explain to someone who can’t feel that space what they are missing is an impossible task.


Having felt that emptiness and need for some authority to comfort me, and knowing how to fill it back up reliably due to everything I have experienced healing from environmental exposures, I feel responsible to share what I have learned. I am still healing; I still have my ups and downs because of hormones, mostly. Chemicals suppress thyroid function and have estrogenic effects, so it makes sense that a higher body burden would mean tougher hormonal cycles. Each nadir in my estrogen has been easier since removing the water heater, so my body burden must be lessening. It would be nice if doctors understood this better, because there are therapeutic approaches they could use with their menstruating female patients that would probably have a great societal effect, like more minor and intuitive approaches to thyroid support that honor the woman as a cyclic being, rather than a picture of a thyroid test once a year.

I was just thinking last night about what “normal” was for us a few years ago when we were 3D printing with ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic in the garage without proper ventilation, had the collection of construction adhesives and paints from old house projects, and a gas mower and trimmer in there as well. I learned using the first VOC meter I purchased that in the summer when the sun would hit that corner of the house that the garage would warm up, all of these things would offgas, and the resulting plume could enter our home easily via passive diffusion through the walls. This was something I had read about years ago, and had been warned about by a retired EPA scientist who is a friend of the family. But when I couldn’t see these things, it was so hard to believe they were a big deal. By paying attention to how I felt and how the people around me were behaving, I was able to find a clear correlation with plumes of volatile organic compounds in our home through investigation with an inexpensive handheld personal meter. At the time we were also using All Free and Clear laundry detergent, Dawn dish soap, Finish dishwasher tabs, bleach, Meyer’s products, Method products, Windex, Nature’s Miracle and other cleaning chemicals I assumed were safe, but discovered to be large sources of both VOCs and formaldehyde. I learned that the retired scientist, who suffers from similar health issues to my own, made the very same assumptions about the very same products for the same reasons. What is most upsetting is that these things were impacting our mental health in extremely subtle yet significant ways that were affecting our relations with each other. Luckily, I have a wonderful friend who struggles with similar health problems who was able to corroborate these findings in her own home. That was very helpful.

I feel like it was about a year or two ago that Bert read somewhere that many people walk through life in a fugue-like state. Having recognized when that was happening to me, I have wondered if people who live alone know when they are overly dissociated. I believe I spent a lot of time in dissociated states before. I often didn’t know until I had an interaction with someone else that I was having difficulty with some of my higher cognitive functions. Some of my communications with my single friends have shown me that we don’t always know when we are in that state. People I have previously known to be rational can suddenly be distrustful and fear-driven, and then not remember it later. I have certainly done this, too. It’s like being a scared child. Three years ago, I learned that not everyone remembers what they say. And also, that people say a lot of stuff to fill the space out of nervousness. It’s not always good or productive stuff, and thus I think the ego can sometimes block the memory of what was said. I think people who are good speakers have cultivated a calmness and really are able to tap into the parts of the brain required for listening, talking, and memory. Chemicals are clearly a challenge to that ability, I see. It took me a while to see that even I would say unproductive things just to fill the space when I was nervous. It makes me appreciate the written word even more, because I’d like to think that people put more thought into what they write, but I suppose not everyone edits what they write. As a writer, I know I can feel pressure to release something just because it is timely or relevant, but good writing withstands the test of time, so revision is never a bad idea.

Since we removed the backdrafting water heater and all the other chemicals we could find from our home, we are all much better at remembering what we say. The differences are subtle within each of us, but profound in our relationships together. We are remembering to do things we say we will do, and not taking on more than we can handle. This is making life easier for all of us, and everyone is a lot less anxious. I can still do too much, but the attacks I have now are not panicky in nature, and I don't ever feel like I need to question my worth as an individual anymore, like I often did after being exposed to construction chemicals. The water heater certainly made me tired, panicky and grouchy, but it never made me feel like hurting myself. There are clearly compounds in paints and adhesives that I react to even more strongly than a backdrafting water heater or detergents. Perhaps that was because it was paired with so much trauma.


Doing too much now just means I end up having to nap more. This is why it can still take me a while to answer people's messages. A few years ago when I was active on social media, I hit the wall health-wise and ceremoniously posted a video of waving a pink flag as surrender. I have written quite a few chapters beyond this one, and I had to write a surrender of this sort in a future chapter in June around the time Poppy died. I'd like to preserve it, because although I may never feel without words again, it was a sort of magical moment. I have developed an even deeper appreciation for the psychic works of artists, writers and musicians during this time, and the eloquent way they make use of dissociative states for channeling healing messages. It has been a gift to experience and understand this style of communication from the inside.

We are still throwing away produce I get at the grocery store. But at the same time, I also had my most successful gardening year, and we have a constant stream of ripe tomatoes in the kitchen without having had to put anything up yet. It occurs to me that we would probably waste less if we were growing most of the produce ourselves, because for the most part, things can be left on the vine, especially in covered rows. I’m hoping if I can get a little more investment in the garden from the others now that things have calmed down that we can improve our eating habits and consumption so as to take some pressure off the food system for those who don’t have time or land to garden. If my family doesn’t have time, and I am low on energy, I am still just going to throw a bunch of seeds in the ground next Spring to see what happens.

April 2020: I have never been much for yard work, but I still decided to plant a garden this year, due to wanting to reduce my burden on the system. It’s not like I have never done yardwork or that I couldn’t do it well. It makes Vincent come out. Only, I didn’t recognize him at the time. When Bert had lost his job 11 years ago during the massive layoffs that swept the tech company in our town, I could no longer afford the $500 community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) share fee. I knew plenty of gardeners, and decided it would be better to put that money toward building some raised beds and bringing in some 3-way topsoil, and seeds. So, that’s what I did. Every year for the next 3 years, I would put seeds into the garden and enjoy the early parts of the growth cycle. But, as I explained to my neighbor who gardens next door, every summer I struggled with my health, especially right around harvest season. So, I wouldn’t get out to water, and I definitely didn’t weed.


There were other things that happened that made gardening difficult, even though there was never a plague of locusts. Irrigation was a problem the first few years, and then I put in a drip line. The sprinkler system valves froze the next year and it took us a few months to get the parts that would fit inside the box without redoing the whole thing. I seem to get enough birds to keep the pests down. Every year I gardened I learned more about what to do and what not to do, so that I felt if I were ever to start gardening again after stopping in 2013, I might have a better go at it. For one thing, I wouldn’t put too much effort into things that require a lot of water and don’t have a significant caloric or taste payback. I'm looking at you, summer squash and eggplant! I am really inspired by what the Netherlands has done to increase their food yield such that they are the number two food producer in the world, despite being one of the tiniest countries size-wise. I don’t necessarily want to have to use so much technology, though. It takes too much thought.

Because planting season was right at the beginning of the stay at home order, and most of the online seed stock had been purchased already, Bert and I decided to see what we could grow from seeds in the produce we had in our refrigerator. I knew from previous years that gardeners often plan for the next year and purchase their seed stock in the fall, so much of it is gone by March. It turned out a lot of seeds that I have kept for years and also seeds in the produce in our refrigerator from cantaloupe, tomato and peppers are viable, which I was able to determine by sprouting them in wet folded paper towels in the refrigerator. Bert participated, too, by harvesting the seeds, cleaning them, and putting them in soil in egg cartons we saved. We had hundreds of seedlings between our efforts, which I recently transplanted into the garden. I don't normally grow tomato from seed, and my understanding has been that in Colorado it is difficult to do. I didn't bother hardening them off because I am tired and there are so many of them. We'll just see which ones are the strongest. If this process goes well, maybe next year I can share with my friends and neighbors. My friends have shared some edible perennials (onions, tarragon) that are still well established in my yard, and for which I am grateful. I’m not sure all our effort was worth it this year, but I’m glad I know how to do these things and that I’m getting better at them. Would my time be better spent doing something else, though? Everything feels like life and death right now.

One of the reasons Bert and I had purchased the house was for the trees. Over the course of the 14 years we have lived here, we have lost one Japanese maple tree, two gigantic willow trees, and about 5 giant aspen trees because of global warming. Our once sheltered yard is now pretty hot in the summer. So, none of us spend as much time outdoors as we used to.

I learned many things about gardening, and even how to put up different vegetables in different ways through the experimentation I had done with Bert’s mom before they moved back. My favorite method was dehydration because it doesn't require many hours over a hot stove. The gardening project was more than I could handle on my own with everything else, though, and Bert’s mom was busy with her own garden when she moved back in 2012. She brought in new dirt every year, and often borrowed our wheelbarrow. So when I had time and energy, I didn’t have a wheelbarrow. They aren’t neighbors, so getting it back isn’t as easy as it would be if I was sharing it with a neighbor. One of Bert’s favorite stories is how his dad called up to inform Bert that they had a dirt delivery, and that Bert, the kids and I needed to get over there right away to help move it. It was right in the middle of the week, and we had no notice!


What I remember most about this strange experience is that while we were moving the dirt, Bert’s dad kept sweeping the driveway at the base of the pile after every single shovel full was removed. I had never barked at Bert’s Dad before, but I did that time, because he was making no sense (not in a good way) and making the process take much longer than necessary. But that’s exactly the kind of “making no sense” that we have noticed about his family. Even while moving dirt, it had to look perfect! There was a time when they owned several acres in Oklahoma and his father was intent on keeping all five forested acres perfectly manicured. Or the acreage in Florida which had to have every palm tree trimmed every year, and every single fire ant eradicated.


They appeared quite snobbish, even though they considered themselves down to earth. Everything was so sterile. As people age, they can have difficulty with complications in their environments, and ever since they had built their first house right after I met Bert in 1993, they were obsessed with keeping their home looking like a model. Bert’s Dad became notorious for repainting the baseboards if he was unhappy with their whiteness, and I now recognize this sort of behavior as an important part of the fugue state. It was like “We’re painting the roses red” all the time with them. And they were really painting something some color all the time. Every time I would drive by Sherwin Williams and see the logo indicating the desire to "Cover the World" I wondered if Bert's parents were hypnotized by it. It was like “Live by the Pantone, Die by the Pantone,” and yikes if that isn’t materialistic snobbery. Bert’s mom had explained to me years ago that she was concerned about his Dad developing Alzheimer’s, and I see now that maybe these were signs of risk in both of them. I'm pretty sure they never looked up the MSDS sheets for the products they were using, or they would have at least used proper personal protective equipment during their frequent applications. Or, they would have seen that the products were clearly found to have been connected to cancer, which Bert's mother suffered with several times.


Specifically, it was she who expressed to me that she thought it was normal that people forget what they say, so clearly she had a lot of experience with it. I had a specific experience with her where she suddenly changed personality and told me, “You know your daughter isn’t going to like you forever.” I suspect she doesn’t remember saying that. Everything was a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with them, but nobody ever remembered themselves having been Dr. Jekyll. And of course, to be fair, I didn’t always remember being Vincent. Such was life with chemicals. By being so focused on having the perfect home, they had mortgaged their souls.

Bringing new dirt in every year is ridiculous, regardless of dementia. I’m not even a person who composts. Nonetheless, I had to bring in new dirt because much of what was in the beds had blown away. I plan to try to make this dirt last. What was there when I investigated still had a lot of wonderful worms and other bugs beneath the top two inches, and that was after seven years of letting it go fallow. I am thankful for the friend who warned me about the hazards of tilling so many years ago. I had started these beds with the lasagna approach, and that was how I intended to keep it.

October 2020:
I have a totally different view of gardening now, evolved even from the days when I was a CSA advocate and hosted a pickup location. The effort was clearly worthwhile because gardening was way less discouraging this year. I know from previous experience it is a learning curve, so it is nice to have not gone backward despite the long hiatus. I had tried desperately to find a last minute CSA share in the Spring, and even reached out to a friend who I had purchased lamb from in the past, but none of my requests went answered. I tried to explain about the discovery of my erythropoetic protoporphyria and how I have to avoid excessive sun exposure to my friend and the farms I contacted. I got a real schooling trying to get help getting my family food from the local foodshed which I had spent so many years supporting. I got absolutely no support, except for our local dairy, which I see as nothing less than a heroic operation. I really didn’t have a lot of reason to believe in people early on in the pandemic because of this and some other things. I understand now nobody knew what to do, and everyone was overwhelmed, and that is still going on for a lot of people. Grocery delivery services really came through for me, though, and I am very grateful for the corporations that worked to organize this useful service on society’s behalf. There are still many things I can't grow that we need to eat to be healthy, and veganism is not an option for us because of many genetic factors. Our grassroots systems, while good in theory, are just still not up to providing high quality food to the people who probably need it the most, and so I am sorry to say but I think they have a long way to go. Or that’s my experience, anyway. On some level, it feels like trying to buy concert tickets. That is also something I don’t do, because the lemming mentality seems to beget a scarcity mentality.

I had been eating a lot of traditional foods in the years leading up to 2013 when the local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter became active. I had been a volunteer for the organization on the internet before the local chapter got very big. As it did, suddenly foods that had been affordable like organ meats became harder to find and more expensive. It's interesting how white people can do that so quickly. I suppose one might say that white people are the invisible hand. I wonder if there were people who were relying on these foods for health who may have had to give them up like I did. Organ meats have been important keys to healing for me, and up until they were popularized, most people didn't want to eat them because they sounded gross. I'm not sure they actually need to be eaten as often as the organization made people think.

What I used to do to get us high quality food when the kids were young was drive to two farms and a health food store in a different city every week. This took an incredible amount of time and fuel, but we learned a lot in the process. For instance, I know such trivium as the reason the grassfed milk tastes awful right now is because there are likely noxious weeds growing in the pastures where the cows are grazing. Milk from grain-supplemented grassfed cows like at our local farm which delivers is not as prone to off taste at this time of year. Yes, the fatty acid profile, animal health and environmental impact is better in pastured animals. Grasslands are incredible carbon sinks. But disabled people and people who have to work can’t necessarily put that much effort into procuring special food. I can’t do that now, and it doesn't make sense to import bad-tasting UHT pasteurized grassfed milk from the east coast when our state is such a big player in the dairy industry, anyway. We have to live with the environmental outcome of feedlots already due to the fact that dairy farmers often don't have enough land to graze their cattle. Additionally, another problem I see with the grassroots food movement is that requiring people to all come to the farm to pick up food uses much more fuel than an efficient delivery route. I understand a lot of these operations run on member labor, and so the liability involved with delivery may be financially unfeasable. Perhaps the government should consider subsidizing farmers whose talents extend beyond monocrops, and maybe these problems will resolve.

Honestly, I didn’t realize how much of my time feeding my family took until I believed I had to disinfect every single thing that came into my home and I recognized the lack of creative time and energy I had left after all my homemaking. Despite not having to go anywhere, it was taking a lot of my time over the last 6 months to clean the items that came into our home, and I was reminded of the days of driving all over Northern Colorado just to get milk to treat our "dairy intolerance" which was likely just a reaction to additives. So much of my efforts over the years were way more than necessary. My fuel costs have dwindled down to near nothing, but just having the groceries delivered, it is still a big effort to get enough food to feed us. But, if I don’t have to disinfect everything, I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands, which is everyone’s dream, right?

I was confused this week when I heard the CDC said that there was no need to disinfect mail or groceries. I, like a lot of people, had developed strategies for trying to keep my family safe from COVID, which I felt were important due to my experience as a scientist and being a cystic fibrosis carrier, who, when not well, can catch things pretty easily. Thankfully, it’s looking like the situation for people with full blown cystic fibrosis might not be worse than the rest of the population! Some of these were a real burden on me. I sure hope the CDC is right. Early on, we were told how long the COVID could live on different surfaces, but now we are expected to believe that it’s safe to bring any surface into our homes without decontamination. Certainly the inherent physical properties of the virus haven’t changed. Many of the other things I have predicted happening have come true, so their revised recommendations give me pause. I can think of a lot of reasons our leaders might tell us not to worry right now, which might not be in everyone’s best interest, especially those of us with chronic health issues.

I am glad I persisted with gardening, even though it was really hard at times to balance with the other things I had to do and the other problems we had going on. I got an inside view of ablism and discrimination with respect to my health over the course of my life, especially from my close family who are fairly authoritarian in their approaches due to being part of the medical establishment on my side of the family, or having generations of body shame on Bert's. Living in Colorado is particularly bad because people pride themselves on the illusion of health, an illusion which has very little to do with actual mental wellbeing. Nutritionism, while also a helpful labyrinth, has highlighted a great darkness that I see in society where we expect people, who have no choice about their birth, to live in a merciless moral authoritarian prison state which fosters dog-eat-dog thinking about everything, even down to our basic needs, especially food and exercise. The strata in food quality are greatly responsible for the disparity in socioeconomics and intelligence among the classes. This is not the future I envisioned as a kid; I did not know what nutrition was, and still I was classified as gifted, which has made me question the motivations of many mothers I know whose children suffer from attention and behavioral issues despite being fed “perfect” diets and getting “enough exercise.”


My great-great-grandmother lived to be 96 and likely never stepped foot in a gym or worried about eating a little cake. Born in 1877, she lived through the tragic death of her husband who fell from scaffolding painting the interior of the Paramount Theater in Denver, and the suicide of her son-in-law by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head while she was watching his daughter in the kitchen of the same house. She lived through the Spanish Flu Pandemic, and the Great Depression, which is when those tragedies both happened. Maybe she knew the value of rest, in addition to having a lower body burden of things like formaldehyde and plasticizers. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that these days. They don’t see how their approaches miss the forest for the trees. When I have had lower chemical exposure and less stress in my life, my digestive and neurological issues are greatly reduced. This is why, in the past, gardening and even exercise could be counterproductive to my healing. I think people don’t get enough rest, fresh air, or joy in their lives. For some people, this is legitimately gardening, though!


While I had a major failure in one garden bed because one of the irrigation hoses came undone and so the bell pepper seedlings all died, our tomato, cucumber, scallion, leek, tarragon and carrot harvest was the best I have been able to achieve. I did have to make an emergency cover out of the insulated bags I got from the grocery deliveries for the tomatoes when the cold snap hit in mid September, and it worked quite well to allow ripening. I was a little late transplanting the tomatoes, so they are not as ripe as they might otherwise be, but Bert devised a system with paper grocery bags that keeps a fresh stream of ripe tomatoes coming through our house weekly. They don’t taste that much different than store bought tomatoes, but we are enjoying them and I have purchased some heirloom seeds for next year.

I am now more interested in becoming part of the seed bank system and seeing what I can get to grow on our little parcel of earth. I am interested in studying permaculture on my own land, and am going to maintain my status on the State of Colorado Pesticide Sensitive Registry. I am still not sure how careful I have to be about my sun exposure, or if I will have to be more careful as I age. In hindsight, I remember quite a few times when I had been plein air painting or we had been hiking with friends, which knocked me out for a couple days. I specifically remember a time when I painted up at Pingree Park during a paintout for water conservation, and feeling like I had heat exhaustion the next few days. It felt a little bit like having the flu, and I could have trouble with sleepiness, which I now know are non-cutaneous manifestations of certain porphyrias. I also get swelling and hives when I am in the sun too long. I have a lot (~12%) of Native American DNA owing to my grandfather being Chicano, and I think that must have protected me from many EPP reactions in my youth. Or maybe I just had them and was forced to suck it up because the adult world had to go on. I did get itchy outside a lot, which we thought was allergies. I didn't learn about the EPP until last year when I decided to go spelunking in my DNA with Promethease again, and discovered my mother had two copies which explained a cutaneous reaction she was having from gelatin due to its high glycine content. Glycine is the parent molecule for heme, and so an increase in glycine leads to more unformed and toxic porphyrin intermediates, which could cause itching in a person with EPP. When I learned this, I discontinued using gelatin. I am using it again, but more moderately. In any case, melanin is known to protect people with EPP from reactions and last I looked, the FDA was exploring its use as a treatment for the disease. Unfortunately, one of the effects of aging is making less melanin. That’s why hair turns grey - and in the last few years I have gotten a lot of grey hair.

I think it is possible that my sun reactions may have been made worse due to the environmental poisoning because VOCs can have important effects on the production of heme through interaction with cytochrome P450 in mitochondria in anyone. Having a gene for porphyria just means the volume gets turned up. Ultraviolet light is the problematic component of the sun for people with EPP, but UV light and fluorescent light are not healthy for anyone. With the mutation I have, people are usually much sicker than I have been. I feel like I have gone up and down with my sun tolerance over the course of my life, so I am wondering if maybe I can increase my tolerance again some day as I recover from the water heater backdrafting. I am having to do a lot of work to replace other things I would get from the sun (Vitamin D and infrared light), and I notice my eyesight changing from not having been outside as much as I used to be.


Currently I have a lot of joint pain and some muscle fatigue, but it is so much better than it was during my last ovulation. Oh, wow, I just realized that February and August I always had an anovulatory cycle which would make it so I would ovulate with the full moon from September to January, and with the new moon from February through August. It is like clockwork. I wonder if those anovulatory cycles were due to the water heater backdrafting, and if I will have a normal cycle next February. I also wonder if this is why I would have trouble during harvest season.

To heal and manage my pain and symptoms from both porphyria and the CF, I have been taking some unconventional approaches. I have been using a combination of these things over the course of my life. Because I am prone to mucous (cystic fibrosis was originally called mucoviscoidosis because of the thick mucous secretions which can make breathing difficult), I take guafenesin. This actually can help my breathing a great deal. I don’t know if guafenesin is contraindicated in porphyria, but I have had life-threatening reactions to ibuprofen as an adult and benadryl as a child. This was quite difficult to communicate to Bert when I put all these pieces together, but he gets it now. I was writing with a woman from his networking group who has a graduate degree in Biochemistry and is also a nurse, and she acknowledged that I am likely extremely genetically rare, and also a sort of “early warning system” for the environment.


Because of this, the approaches I have to take with my healing are extremely gentle. I use aspirin, CBD and cannabis for pain. I have been trying to find something other than cannabis flower for the pain, because there is a pronounced difference in my breathing when I vape or dab instead of using a bong. The cannabis helps with the CF quite a bit; it has been postulated that CF patients are deficient in endocannabinoids, and I kind of wonder if this feeds back into my porphyria somehow. I seem to do a lot better with it than without it, and I know a lot of other people who would also say that. I take Vitamin K2, and that was an important part of treating my childrens’ hypersensitivity to salicylates when they were younger. It turns out I have multiple polymorphysisms in the VKORC and GGX genes which are important for turning the plant form of Vitamin K (K1) into Vitamin K2 which is important for clotting. I had a lot of bloody noses as a child, and naturally turned away from high salicylate foods. When I am deficient in K2, I can bruise easily. I have to avoid using Saigon cinnamon because it makes my head feel funny, and it contains coumarin, which is an analog of coumadin, which is a blood thinner that blocks VKORC. Instead I have to use Ceylon cinnamon. If I eat too many high salicylate foods (like a lot of curries, which I love), my head can feel funny. This is one important reason I cannot be a vegan, and the others have to do with B-vitamins. Bert has a polymorphism in several genes important for the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A such that he needs the animal form of vitamin A. Being vegan could easily cause him to go blind.

The sauna or a chicken light does miracles for my mood, and I often use them, or when my bathtub was working, a hot bath in epsom salts, to get infrared energy, which greatly assists my prana, which is the Indian way of describing life force. The Chinese call it chi. I actually have a scientific way to measure the effects of these interventions, and that is through taking basal body temperature. I have a "pseudoscientific" way of measuring it, too, which is through mindfulness. This is the easiest way to measure it; just slowing down and paying attention to how I feel. Sure signs that it is low is a feeling of anxiety, techiness, or cold extremities. I suppose you could say I turn frigid. Most people who know me outside of my home probably don't think I am the frigid sort, or anxious, because I tend to stay home when I feel this way. I always felt it was best for everyone that I do that maybe because I never received mercy or understanding when I was feeling this way. I wonder if other women do. When I was young, anytime a woman was unhappy, it was always chalked up to a woman "being on the rag" which was rather cruel. I think this made woman feel unnecessary shame around menstruation and overcompensate, rather than learning how to be honest about needing rest. We all need rest from time to time, and some women may need more. In a fair world, this wouldn't be a shameful thing. I feel like it would help society and the earth a lot.


I do also have to make sure I get enough sugar and protein and not too much fat because ketosis is bad news for me. This is yet another reason I cannot be vegan. I have to eat things that are easy on my digestion because with the CF it is easy for me to have reflux (that is the most common symptom in carriers) and I have had symptoms of gastroparesis around ovulation and the end of my cycle. I take a lot of magnesium and charcoal to manage my digestive symptoms. The porphyrins are removed in bile and can cause me to have digestive problems, which I can quell by eating ginger, carrots or charcoal. Ginger is good for nausea because it blocks serotonin receptors in the gut. The fiber in carrots is naturally antibiotic, so carrots can be good for dysbiosis. Charcoal helps bind toxins (some pilots never leave without it). The lower digestive issues could be from CF, too, so sometimes I take over the counter enzymes. I do not think these are the same enzymes given to CF patients. The magnesium helps a lot when I am feeling constipated, or anxious, or having trouble sleeping. Calcium helps, too, but I don’t generally take it in the commonly prepared antacid forms because they contain talc or silicates which are known to be both carcinogenic and an important trigger of autoimmune disease. For these same reasons, I am very careful about what dry shampoo I use.


When I have a respiratory illness, loratadine becomes a necessity because I can have some pretty intense histamine reactions. When I was a kid I had some “mystery allergies” and a prescription for hydroxyzine HCl, which is similar to ranitidine. Ranitidine is too expensive, though. Sort of related, I had an acute attack in college which involved serious depression and reflux, probably after my room was sprayed with pesticides, and the clinic recommended I take cimetidine, which is an antihistamine, but is used for heartburn relief. It had the strange effect of completely reversing my depression, which I still remember to this day. Last summer I learned that cimetidine is a known treatment for a type of porphyria that is responsive to supplementation with vitamin B6, but was not tested by 23andMe or AncestryDNA when I was tested. The coenzymated form of B6, P5P, has been extremely important in my wellness.

I have thought about asking for a few things from my doctor that could greatly aid my ability to recover from exposures and hormonal cycling. The first thing I would ask for is an ondansetron prescription, because I can get pretty terrible nausea that impacts my willingness to eat at the end of my cycle, and can make my porphyria and digestive symptoms worse. Sometimes the ginger and charcoal aren't enough. The other thing I am pretty sure I need, even though my first porphyrin test came back negative, is a standing prescription for synthetic hematin in case I ever have a significant seizure or loss of consciousness. There have been times I have been overtaken by sleep, almost like I had narcolepsy. I can always get myself somewhere safe, but if I am somewhere safe already, I typically cannot fight the sleep. It is like when I am slightly tired and smoke a lot of indica, except I awaken groggy and disoriented. Often my body feels strange like I ran a marathon. I think these may have been seizures, and I have had them off and on my whole life. I had this feeling daily when we lived in our new house from 2002-2006, and when I visited my in-laws in Florida in their newly remodeled home. During that trip, I developed terrible back pain, which I thought was from sleeping on a blow-up mattress, and also my hair ended up all over the bathroom, which had been a daily occurrence in our new home. I now realize that the majority of my adult history with more persistent back pain has been related to chronic chemical exposures to construction chemicals. I only connected them conclusively to chemical exposure in the last year through use of my VOC meters. I'm not sure the hematin will help; I just want to know that porphyria will be considered in my diagnosis, because if it is not, I could easily die from improper treatment. I used glucose or dextrose and electrolytes when I was experiencing an acute panic reaction from the water heater backdrafting, and those were very effective for the tachycardia which had been going on the better part of a day until I thought to take them, but I was still left struggling with energy for a long time afterward. I have been wondering if hematin could get me back on my feet sooner, but for now I see no harm in just slowing down.

I take more of other B-vitamins, too. I take niacinamide which helps a lot when I get brain fog. I think this is because of the way it helps with electron transport during ketosis. The brain fog usually sets in quite some time after I have eaten. I take a coenzymated B-complex because I have polymoprphisms in a couple different genes related to B-vitamin metabolism which have important disease manifestations that run on my father’s side of the family, specifically gout. I am prone to gout, and for a while I thought pseudogout, but now I am wondering if that was porphyria. It’s hard to know what causes what because it’s all connected and all worsened by stress, hormones, polyunsaturated fats, and chemicals.

I feel like it is important for me to underscore how significant the impact of the chemicals, specifically, were on our health. They impacted our sleep, memory, mood, consciousness, digestion and respiratory health significantly, and my husband and I do not share genetic risks. There were times when I wanted to give up, but figuring out that the version of me who wanted to give up was having a reaction to chemicals and stress put a lot of power back in my hands, and made life worth living again. I truly have a great life to have the freedom to sort all this stuff out!

Despite the intense focus I have had to keep on my health, many wonderful things have happened here. I was a musician growing up, and I didn’t realize how important that was for my mental health. I mean, I’ve said the words, but sometimes when I say things, I don’t really get the significance. I was introduced to some of the healing properties of music through my experiences with energy work, but it has become clear to me that playing music can be even more healing than just listening. Most of his life, Bert didn’t have good fine motor control of his pinky or ring fingers on either of his hands, but he has now gained better control over them through learning to play the guitar. Early in the pandemic, I started singing again. It has been interesting to see how my lung capacity has grown, despite using cannabis, the dangerous levels of particulate we had from the wildfire smoke, and the water heater backdrafting. I don’t remember to practice my flute often, but when I do, I am surprised at how my ability to accomplish longer phrasing grows each session. I am preferring this approach to more simple forms of breathwork, because in the past I had to spend so much time in silence, and it can be deafening. My ability to communicate is so much better than it was a year ago, and I have been able to use my left hand better than ever before. There is clearly great healing going on here, nothing short of miraculous. I have done it before; I can do it again.

Both of the kids have learned to play new instruments, and Henry is sounding things out on the piano. We have all taken an interest in ceramics. I find this all so interesting because my mother was a potter and my Dad was a musician, and having these influences around me is helping my home feel more like a home to me. We are all getting back to the best parts of my roots. Henry was playing some very introductory piano the other day while I was making dinner, and I remembered myself doing the same thing when my mom would cook dinner. He was using one of my old piano primers, and he would get caught up on the very same notes I did when I was learning. I remember feeling bad about messing up as a child, but now being on the other side of the equation, I see it so differently. I see how music imparts a certain lesson about muddling through, persistence and growth that is constantly rewarding when it is given time to happen.


For a long time he wouldn’t play the piano because he couldn’t find his earbuds, and I thought this odd, so I am glad he felt brave enough to do it, finally. I feel like I was encouraged to make music when I was growing up, so I am sad that he was afraid. I don’t know why he would be afraid like that except we often had to ask the kids to be quiet in the evenings for Bert’s meetings since he works from home. Sometimes those can be during the day, too, so maybe that’s why. Also, over the years the boys’ sleeping has been extremely abnormal, so sometimes they might take a nap in the living room in the middle of the day. In recent months, I noticed the night waking to be correlated to problems with air quality and the water heater backdrafting in particular. In fact, I feel pretty confident that awakening groggy has more to do with chemical exposure than anything else. My own sleep has improved greatly since we had it removed, and Henry seems a lot more alert. Bert is in much better spirits and says he feels much better all around.

All of these changes continued to evolve despite having to keep a close eye on our air quality during the wildfires, and taking on a very ambitious 3D printing and soldering project for Lily, which highlighted problems we have with ventilation in our garage, which is our primary space for dealing with hazardous materials used in making. Lily was less aware of the neurological impact of a lot of the things we were using in our projects from when we weren’t taking better precautions. For instance, we have determined we can’t use spray paint in the garage because then it goes into our house, but because of the weather, the spray paint doesn’t necessarily apply properly outside. She didn’t understand that it wasn’t safe to work on her project when it was too smoky or cold outside. I honestly never would have thought to use spray paint in the garage, or without a respirator, but these were important things we had to talk to her about. I am really thankful I had the OSHA training I did in graduate school and in the workplace. I am glad that Bert did, too, and that we both have experience responding to accidents in the workplace in a professional manner. I am pretty sure I have known people who have lost their lives to their hobbies, and I am certain I know many people whose health has been greatly compromised. I, for one, will never be using acrylic paint inside my home again, and I will never again use any sort of mineral spirits in my oil painting. 

We used to print exclusively with ABS plastic. It turns out the neurological and carcinogenic effects of styrene are well documented and so we have tried to move to printing with mostly PLA, which is a plant-derived plastic. PLA still has its problems, though. Our air quality meters indicate that we still need to make sure the garage is well ventilated when we print with it, and that the fume extractor and enclosure are insufficient methods to control the plume of VOCs generated when using PLA. For now, Lily’s big project is finished, and I am excited about how much we all learned in the process. Lily learned such things as how to wire a breadboard and program an Arduino from Henry and Bert. It was fun to see them all work together, and how they dealt with their own and each others’ perfectionism during the process. While there were times I thought the project might drive us apart, in the end, it brought us all a lot closer together, and I am glad we took the risk in helping Lily’s dream come true during an otherwise difficult time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I did not take a traditional approach raising or educating my children. I did this purposefully, because having studied behavioral neuroscience, I was familiar with the biological relationship between stress and learning. Cortisol inhibits memory formation, except in the context of  post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which I believe may be facilitated by estrogen. This conclusion is based on research I did on ovariectomized female c57/b6 mice and measuring different types of contextual learning with the Morris Water Maze and the Skinner Shuttle Box. Many years after my own graduate research on this, I realize that what Skinner’s “intelligence measure” was really trying to quantify was the effect to which learning through post-traumatic-stress related mechanisms has taken place. As someone with PTSD who has fiddled around a lot with various nutritional and environmental interventions, I'm pretty sure that I am right.


Our current educational paradigm began in the early 1900s and was Prussian in origin. It was and still is highly authoritarian, meaning that it relies on a system of shame and praise to achieve a desired societal outcome without concern for the needs of the weakest members of society. It actually was begun with funding from prominent U.S. eugenicists. They were interested in things like controlling the Native populations in the United States. Education could also be used to assert Christian ideals. There is a lot of dark psychology involved in educational paradigms (thank you, behaviorists - I was a behaviorist!), and those are the mechanisms the state uses to remain authoritative. These are not necessary. Humans are naturally curious and learn without being taught. Furthermore, children are naturally peaceful when they are in a chemical-free and stimulating environment and are well fed with secure attachments to their caregivers. Modern education remains meritocratic because it falsely equivocates potential for learning and grades that are achieved on an arbitrary timeline set by the performance of the average student. This undermines personal curiosity. This timeline is only effective for the middle part of the Gaussian distribution (bell curve) of learners for each age group. This means our educational system is targeted at the average person, and for those below average in any way, it is at the very least ableist, and probably also classist and racist, and that many of us still suffer traumatic psychological effects from this programming. This is one of the greatest threats to our freedom - the enslavement of our psyches to meritocracy. The Native Americans were free until we came here and brought this to them.


Many of the powerful men who have served as leaders in American democracy became figureheads through implementing the rigid authoritarian thinking they had to endure in their own schooling on the people around them, which had the effect of commanding respect for their perceived authority. The current educational paradigm the American populace uses is the result of an approach the wealthy industrialists of the early 1900’s, inspired by the Prussians, implemented to try to make us more civilized. We had to start somewhere, sure, but the model, as intelligence and resources have increased for most people, became outdated a long time ago, and continues to be a way to supply corporations with labor rather than give us the tools to live our best and healthiest lives as a society. This has been disastrous for the mental and emotional health of our nation.

I ended up homeschooling my kids at a time in human history when the fewest number of mothers had chosen to stay home, so even with support groups, it was somewhat of a lonely process. The homeschoolers were a diffuse network, geographically isolated from each other. We would see each other just long enough to share what we had been doing and enduring, because we all had households to maintain. Stay at home mothers up until the 1970’s had support networks of other mothers within the neighborhood, but the next closest homeschooling family from us was several miles away. This means that my children only had each other to play with most days, and that seeing friends or other homeschoolers meant needing a driver’s license. Now, even though most of the country has been forced into a homeschooling situation, so there are necessarily other kids nearby in most neighborhoods, getting together can be impeded by coronavirus. And I thought isolation was a battle before! Isolation might sound terrible, but it does have its good parts, including being able to learn about whatever whenever one wants, without being interrupted. This approach has worked out okay for us so far, but I wish my kids had more freedom and that their friends weren't so far away. This is certainly an advantage of going to a university if one doesn't take too heavy a courseload (Ahem! I'm looking at you, Engineering Schools, and also myself).

We have other friends who took less structured approaches to their homeschooling, and friends who took more structured approaches. In my observations, it seemed like the kids whose parents took a more structured approach exhibited more signs of psychological stress in the form of behavioral and health issues. Mothers using a more structured approach in general were way more high strung, and it was difficult to get them to talk about anything besides their worries. This wasn't the case 100% of the time, but I did hear a theme of chronic fatigue and illness in the other mothers, regardless of their approaches, which maybe just meant that we were overwhelmed. Teaching isn't an easy job. I was very thankful I only had two kids. In many ways I feel like I fell short on my duties as a mother because I wasn't good at monitoring my own energy levels due to being so disconnected from them from so much trauma. I dissociate a lot when my pain is not controlled well or my sensory issues are flaring up, and this happens the more time pressure I feel. Most of the pressure is inflicted by societal expectation, and not anything truly emergent in nature.


Implementing a curriculum without it being inherently discriminatory is difficult and can be antithetical to demonstrating the compromise we need our children to learn. Learning takes place in so many different ways, but a curriculum focuses on just a few sensory modalities, and removes the context of life learning, which doesn’t happen on a schedule. It almost happens by magic, because the context and relevance to one's existence makes the knowledge meaningful. Unfortunately, the social dogma inherent to the educational system because of the removal of secure attachment figures means that relevance becomes centered around trauma, and so we have a cultural narrative in this country that is based on the expression of trauma. This is what happens when individual needs are ignored.


Structured curricula fail to consider that the learner is a soul and not a robot. I got a lot of “I couldn’t do that” from other parents, homeschooling or not, for letting my children be free to do what they wanted with their time. Yes, it can be hard dealing with souls if we are used to operating like a robot ourselves, and society certainly conditions this in us. There were times when it wasn’t easy, mostly due to the ignorance of outside forces which at predictable intervals interrupted all of our attention and flow. These forces, usually people still in “the system,” failed to consider us as individuals with rhythms of our own.


Trusting that learning was happening was easy when we were not required to be muses or “prove” ourselves to controlling and/or materialistic relatives and “friends” who were still in the system. School holidays felt like a brick wall for learning because of the pressure to engage in shallow socialization with the people we know who were usually stuck in the school silo and had been conditioned to speak in a language of material one-up-manship that helps one conform on the playground and the dangerous walk home. It was amazing how entire threads of learning could be abandoned at these times, never to be picked up again. We would often leave these interactions feeling drained and defeated, without hope for the world, because we had taken on the bleak viewpoint of people who had sacrificed their mental fortitude and freedom to the meritocratic economic state.

The school paradigm insists that there is learning time in school and non-learning time in the rest of life, whereas even before the educational system was invented, humans were learning all the time. I think the people we know whose kids were in school never really understood what kind of magic was being interrupted. They were always amazed at how bright and thoughtful our kids were, and the kinds of things they were working on, but didn’t understand that we were essentially a bunch of passionate learners over here, totally immersed in our magical worlds. We need to spend time with people who are interested in the same sorts of things we are, who can ask us thoughtful questions about what we are doing to encourage our growth, instead of living our lives like zoo animals like they have been conditioned to do in "bedroom communities." To most people in the US, a home is just a box people use to recover from work and school, usually in front of a television, streaming them plenty of ad content. I originally published this content on October 20, 2020 (an auspicious day!) but I removed it and decided to edit it. Since then I have noticed that most of my readers are international, so I'm wondering what they're thinking of this picture I am painting of the U.S. When we went on cruises or traveled, everyone wanted to know what it was like to live here. This isn't the portrait you will get from other people. We have some progressive utopian movements in this country, however, which are concentrated on solving the problems of education and authoritarianism.

I understand now that being raised by me would be a lot like having Leonard Hofstadter’s mother for a mom. I really didn’t intend it to be that way; it just happened because I am naturally curious. Also, I had a graduate degree from studying learning and memory. I couldn’t just ignore what I had learned in my studies. I constantly saw evidence of the things I learned being true, although I didn’t understand the significance until more recently as I watched my kids excel in college classes with relative ease after having no formal education. Not that exceptional school performance should be a goal! I still believe they could learn the things they have learned in college in other ways. One of the advantages they have is that they don't take full course loads. We like to keep things easygoing around here.

My approach to homeschooling wasn't trauma free, because there were still a lot of things I didn’t understand, especially regarding my own need for adequate outside support, and how much faith it takes to go against “the system.” Their trauma was different and had more to do with having a small world and difficulty in connecting with others with similar interests in the physical world. But that’s been a problem for me, too, and I spent 23 years in the educational system, so I don't consider school the solution for conscious community connection. Charter schools and private schools in particular cause geographic problems with community cohesiveness that the old one room schoolhouses didn't. Neighborhood schools, however, have the problem of creating inequity on a larger scale. I have seen both poor and wealthy families successfully homeschool their kids, but it took a parent at home and the ability to pay a mortgage with one income to make it happen in the fairest way to the children, who rarely have a say in their circumstances. When the at home parent had a part-time job, I think the children learned how hard it is to balance work and learning, and that it often came at the expense of health. The best situations were when one of the parents had a choice, and if they did take a job, did so for mental health reasons such as wanting to be more involved in the community or develop skills, but this could easily get out of hand, too, if the energy flow was out of whack from unfair employment practices, which was more common than one would think.

I have always been keen on finding the gold in existence. Isn't that what everyone wants? It's there, I think, but finding it requires slowing down, keeping one's eyes open, and be gentle with oneself. It's not always easy, for many reasons. Some are our doing, and some were just due to the nature of living on Earth. It's just like the serenity prayer, "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." There's a lot more power in one's hands to do this if one has control over one's own attention, rather than having it controlled by bells and whistles. We're actually born with a whole system to help us accomplish the thing we ask for in that prayer, but it gets deadened by the bells and whistles. Ignoring the signals our bodies are trying to give us about energy levels is how we become disconnected from our body's wisdom, which is precisely that Knowing.


It took me a long time to see it, but with my background, as a homeschooler, I have been studying consciousness. Such is behavioral neuroscience, and I suppose you might be able to take the girl out of behavioral neuroscience, but you can’t take the behavioral neuroscience out of the girl. I wanted to figure out if happiness was possible in the context of freedom, because even though we were technically free, we weren’t always happy. Slowing down and introspection were the important ways I discovered why. It turns out that unhappiness is being forced to live other peoples' dreams at the expense of one's own, and never being given time to figure out what ours actually are. Thus, the most powerful thing a person can do to free oneself is become a conscientious objector to mindless busyness, and only engage in intentional interactions.

A major block to happiness for us was socialization because in doing things differently, everyone treats you like an odd bird, and right off the bat, they expect us to be unintelligent. Social things stress me out because of the ego involved. I find a lot of Americans to be focused on stupid things like status, which they revere over both intelligence and compassion. For me, everything has always been about learning, but I think because Status Anxiety is conditioned on the playground and and through advertising, that status orientation is more apparent because of the way people unconsciously default to it for social interactions and how it seems to coexist with a void of useful knowledge. I don’t think most people know when it is happening, but I can immediately, because I get a sick feeling when people become condescending about unimportant things. Not being able to sense these things is actually more of a shortcoming than it is to be “too sensitive” because it is not possible to see one’s own contribution to negative energy. In some ways, the battle for good and evil really is a battle between the sensitive and the uncaring.

I am extremely privileged. I have a place to sleep every night, I have food to put on my table, and I don’t have to work to pay for these things. That is more than most people can say. I have always felt pretty fortunate because of this, despite all of the challenges I have had, because working for other people is difficult. Anyone with half a brain asks “Why?” when an authority says, “Because.” And authorities don’t like that. I was a difficult employee that way. I never wanted to be the unwitting Göring, and I think that happens to a lot of employed people. Asking "Why?" is good because it slows down half-baked agendas. People with power and ambitious non-philanthropic agendas never seem to think that slowing down is a wise approach, or that quiet contemplation might bring better solutions or shine a light on problem areas. We should not enable mindlessly ambitious people if we can avoid it.

When I originally wrote the above sentences, I had a duct hanging out of my ceiling into the center of my studio. It should have been hooked up to the utility room, but whoever finished this basement decades ago decided that fresh air was unimportant. I had been dealing with lapses in consciousness because our furnace and water heater were spewing harmful VOCs into our living space. I was the only one semi-cognizant of what was happening to me for quite a few months, while still having to perform all my duties as a mother during the new pandemic reality. The only way I was able to figure this all out was by slowing down and tapping into my sensitivity. I lost contact with nearly all of my friends while we were struggling with this health predicament because I was weak a lot of the time. This was not only affecting me, but other people in our home, and our pets. Our doctors were not any help. There were no authorities to help me. The most help I got is from a friend who used to be a general contractor who did a phone consult with me in the Spring, and my father who happens to know a lot about HVAC regulations in commercial spaces and how residential requirements are shortsighted.


I was always fascinated by the idea that Abraham Lincoln had educated himself. When the children were young, and I would plant seeds of learning with them, it was ultimately they who taught themselves. This happened with both reading and rudimentary mathematics for my children. I did not drill them on these things for weeks on end; I simply gave them the basics of the consonants and vowel sounds, and numbers came as a part of life. It actually blew my mind how simple it was. They both tested into college math with a few weeks of preparatory work with their Dad. My son did this when he was 14 and tested into College Algebra, and my daughter who had not done much computer programming was still able to test into College Math for the Liberal Arts at age 15, which should give her all the math most people might encounter on a daily basis in this life, but also enable her to move on to College Algebra in the future if she likes. I believe the way math education has been implemented in schools is a major way class divisions are reinforced; if one waits long enough, math is easy to learn for most people, but if they are punished for their failures in keeping up with the performance of same age peers, they can be discouraged from ever feeling smart enough to learn it, which is what happens. Because my daughter had not done much formal math, she lacked confidence when she was first studying for the math placement test. Her Dad is highly intuitive, though, and an excellent mentor, so he had a good sense for how much she could handle and when to stop that really accelerated her learning process and confidence. This is actually what he gets paid to do, and I see why. He really loves it, too. It was neat to see that it worked so well for our daughter, because for so long we thought it was just our son who had natural abilities. My gut tells me that most people do.


My daughter has always been very secretive about her learning process, and in this way, she has been my teacher. She did not want my help learning to read and was resistant to most formalized instruction, when I initially tried that route. I think she was about 5 years old, maybe close to 6, when she revealed her cards by suddenly reading something out loud. We were all surprised. I asked her why she had been hiding that she was trying to learn to read, and she told me that it was because, "She didn't want to be told that she was doing it wrong." I assume this has to do with me trying to correct her pencil grip, which is very different, but does not impact her ability to make art well beyond her years or communicate effectively with others. She is extremely protective of her learning process, and I had to exercise a lot of trust in her. People were always talking about how smart her brother was, so I think she was worried she wouldn't compare, and that made her more secretive. It was frustrating when people did that, but I suppose that happens a lot to older siblings.

As a homeschooling mother of this daughter, I became a student of life learning, with the hypothesis that organisms are inherently life learners. I tried to pay attention to what kinds of things seemed to interrupt that process. There were some hard lessons in that regard, because stress, chemicals and food high in polyunsaturated fatty acids all block brain frontotemporal metabolism of glucose, and these things are ubiquitous in society. I purposefully tried to keep our home free of these things because of their negative impact on health in general, and I did not at the time understand how critical that would be for my understanding of the learning process. The frontal lobes of the brain which are crucial for learning are the most energy-demanding parts of the human body, where executive function, empathy and the capacity for internal reward are stored. They are the first areas to lose glucose and oxygen when the body is put into catabolism. Ability to focus under these conditions becomes difficult.

I used what I liked to call at the time the Rabbit Hole method of homeschooling. The book selling system they have is unparalleled with regard to understand what's out there with respect to content. The review system is pretty great. However, I am trying to move away from using Amazon when I can due to their unfair labor practices and use Alibris instead. I have mixed feelings about Barnes and Noble, because they were so bad for independent retailers. But besides creating an awesome catalogue of human knowledge, they were also an important provider of 3rd space to our community, as can sometimes be the role of bookshop. I paid attention to what my kids were interested in, and I procured books and other materials related to what I thought they might want to learn next and kept them in the house at their immediate disposal. I introduced the materials to my kids, but never used any sort of manipulation to encourage use. Some things they never looked at, but the information was learned in other ways, regardless. I felt like it was important to have books and other objects to spark curiosity in our home. We don't live within walking distance of a library, and it didn't make sense to have the kids dependent on a ride to the library every time they wanted to read a book. Plus, it is possible to get books inexpensively from used sources, and honestly, a lot of what I bought isn't available at my local library, anyway. I have a penchant for out of print titles which are still relevant, for one thing. I like reference books, too, which tend not to be available for checking out. Sure, much of this can be found on the internet, but not in any real depth. And it is nice to have some things to look at that aren't inherently stressful from being blue light flickering at 60 Hz. Books are certainly less expensive than buying brand name clothing to play the peacock game in school.


Some of my desire to create a rich environment was due to the Rat Park studies on addiction, which are covered by one of my favorite thinkers, Dr. Gabor Maté in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Rats raised in enriched environments ignore addictive substances, even when they are freely available. Rats raised in sterile environments become dependent on addictive substances. A healthy environment for a child to learn is a cabinet of curiosities, not a real estate magazine spread.

My husband and I have been swimming in uncharted waters with what we do for more than a decade, which can be kind of scary at times. Nobody has answers for us, because nobody else lives exactly the way we do, especially not the people in our extended family with whom we have spent most of our time. At times I understand where they are coming from, but it's when I'm not feeling well because I was exposed to a chemical or haven't gotten enough rest. Early on when I was convalescing I watched some videos on dementia and learned that people with dementia have difficulty with lack of organization. That's interesting because what some people do to make other people be neat and orderly is pretty demented.


When our house is at its messiest, there are half-read books laying all over the place, electronics stuff we inherited, and there are socks everywhere owing to the fact we often take our socks off wherever we are and forget them, and our smaller dog finds them fun to bury in strange places. (We now only have a small dog and a rabbit, but at the start of the pandemic we had two dogs, a rabbit and a guinea pig. The dog and the guinea pig were elderly and had also experienced the poisoning). One time when we had another unschooling family over for a playdate, one of our guests found a dead bird the dog had hidden in the sofa, and he has brought baby rabbits inside, too. Sometimes we think he is a cat wearing a dog suit. For a long time, I had too much because of gifts people gave us, on top of what I felt was thoughtful strewing. It was a burden. My husband has only one functioning eye, so most material curation falls to me. If it comes in the house, it only goes out one way, and that's through my effort. I'm sure it was the same way for both our mothers, and I know it's the same way for our sisters, so I am not sure why we kept buying things for each other. I kept asking for it to cease. In any case, our home is definitely lived in, not a place we just come to sleep or convalesce. We have entered a new phase where there are musical instruments scattered about, and these things bring us joy. The kitchen table is often covered with items we've brought in from elsewhere and don't know what to do with, or projects we are working on. It doesn't really bother us, but we don't tend to use the table, because we eat in the kitchen.

Over the years, people rarely found anything to pick on about the kids themselves. Our kids were always reported to be “well behaved” around other people. In most folks' eyes “good behavior” just means not showing emotion, though, and that concerns me. None of our family members were really “kids should be seen and not heard” kind of people, thankfully. But none of them knew our kids well enough, especially for the amount of time we spent with them, to know their real feelings about birthdays and holidays. If they had, they would have known that the kids often can't think of what they would like, and that they are worried about having too many things, and about our planet. Our extended family did not understand that somehow even with all the clutter in our home, our kids still learned they have an important role in saving the planet that they take seriously. My daughter sent us this video of kids asking Diane Feinstein to support the Green New Deal, and you can see the senator deploy a narcissistic attack on them, characteristic of the older white women in this country. Ms. Feinstein and the Boomers like her refuse to see how their perceived entitlement to respect despite their cruel behavior is the worst example we could set for the future, and they can’t seem to stop themselves. It’s like if they listened to Bob Dylan and smoked a little weed back in the day, they consider themselves some sort of moral authority. Ms. Feinstein obviously can’t see that her thinking is inadequate for the dire situation her refusal to accept blame has brought upon her children and grandchildren's world. My own efforts to communicate this to our extended family were rebuffed in a similar manner. Our siblings never really told us if that was what the grandparent relationships were like with their kids. We conveniently never saw what their kids got for Christmas, because they got to have private Christmas celebrations with the grandparents, whereas we did not.


Regarding unfair and ignorant moral authoritarianism in parents and grandparents, my husband had experienced some stigma about playing computer games and Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, which made him pretty angry with his mother. I think she is still very closed minded about those things. I had more than a base level of understanding of the computer because at one point I was pursuing a minor in computer science, so I felt like it was important. Both of our kids were drawn to the computer, after their Dad started working from home, probably because of his constant use for work. It didn't make sense to stigmatize the very thing that was paying the bills, and since more and more people were needing to understand the computer to do their work, it made sense to encourage their competence. My kids spent a lot of time on the computer and now they like playing Dungeons and Dragons. I think it was difficult for many people to recognize these sorts of activities as educational, but they very much are (not that things have to be educational!).

One difficulty of parenting is knowing that your kids may be smarter than you are. Maturity is being able to admit it. I speak from personal experience when I say this. Anyone who is a parent has been outsmarted by their children. Education in logic and reason causes a person to question authoritarian motivation, which can be especially frustrating for people who consider “good parenting,” an authoritarian dictate rather than a humanitarian endeavor. Good parenting is patient and adequately supports the questioning mind, rather than blindly applying fear-based control mechanisms as a defense against being outsmarted. Raising effective citizens requires modeling good listening and compromise, not acting like Diane Feinstien did when challenged. If an elected official cannot respond graciously to the requests of their constituency, even the youngest and most powerless ones who may not have the right to vote, they are not of the right mind for public office. Our elected officials are supposed to be public servants, not corporatists. A society can be judged by how it treats its weakest members, and if we are electing people who ignore the weakest members of our society, then we are failing ourselves as a society.


Breaking the glass ceiling was great for white women, but it wasn't without its costs. The second wave of feminism the Boomers worked so hard to support in order for women like me to have the choice to work is inherently racist and failed to consider the impact on the children they left behind. Women of color from that era never even had a choice about working, so not much was done to free them, and they may have lost necessary working opportunities to more privileged women. This had the terrible effect of raising the cost of entry for People of Color AND youth into an already expensive world. Not to mention, their children had to go into that world less well adjusted than they might have been without those attachment wounds. I cannot claim credit for this idea; I read it when I was doing research for my writing on white privilege and how liberal white women are often a barrier to progress. Truthfully, besides other forces that led me to be a homeschooling mother, I felt that our family had enough resource-wise, and I wanted whatever job might be available to me to be available to someone who actually needed it to feed themselves. I do not need anyone to pay me for my entertainment to justify what I have done, although it might help my husband actually be able to retire sooner. Similarly, I was put off by wealthy white people demanding special services for their gifted children in public schools because they couldn't take it upon themselves to figure out what their kids need. I know working women who live with a lot of guilt for their choice, and now the Universe has brought this sad reality to the forefront of our consciousness by showing us that systems simply can't replace good parenting.

I feel that societal failure to support parents is one of the primary ways generational trauma is perpetuated in American society. Without support for good parenting, parents are left with the skills left to them by their parents, which may not be that great. We all just went through a pandemic, so we better understand the kinds of forces our great-grandparents were living with during The Great Depression and we can now see how being abandoned by society impacted our own families. On both sides of my husband's and my families, we had grandparents who were orphaned by parental illness during the Depression, creating great hardship during their childhoods. I do not think men and women were meant to parent in isolation, but that is essentially what Christianity and capitalism has made us do, leaving the family unit and children in particular more vulnerable to the psychological effects of social darwinism. A family unit needs to hold together through thick and thin, but that can become difficult when the parents lack support or their relationships with their children are undermined by competing interests, whether they mean to be competing or not.


I saw an article today that millennial women are deciding that they don't want to be mothers. This is a big deal, and it is the result of not taking better care of women and children. This job is not glamorous; the stress of just having to feed kids is a lot and takes a lot of my time and energy. Hillary Clinton wrote a book about it taking a village to raise a child; I am guessing she had a lot more support than I did to be able to accomplish what she did outside of parenting. That being said, I actually had a lot less stress than people whose kids were in school, because much less of my attention had to be focused on schedules and bureaucracy and keeping the kids "in line." This is an important way that the educational system works against parents by increasing their workload beyond the great job it already is. By requiring conformity to an average, the educational system makes it difficult for parents to allow their children to be comfortable with who they are. The intent is to make an orderly society where people know how to wait in line, but it doesn't take 13 years to learn that. It just takes a family or community with good examples and support for parents. Why does this feel like a pipe dream? Is it because it's impossible when kids are locked up in a concrete bunker away from both family and community? Maybe it takes longer in that environment.

I was in a documentary once which also had content related to the MIT Digital Media lab and Mimi Ito’s research on digital learning. She had come to the frustrating conclusion that only ten percent of children who use digital media create content. Much of my writing is dedicated to exploring this question, since we are a house of creators. There are factors at every level (it is sort of like a fractal) but a major social factor is that society places value on forced socialization and pressure to conform. I think this keeps us from really knowing ourselves, and also from being brave enough to express ourselves truthfully. I think it keeps us in a constant state of comparison to others, focused on things that don’t really matter, and leaves us in a default state of being mindless consumers. I’m saying this because I didn’t really know who I was or what was important to *me* until I really spent some time alone. In hanging out with other people, it’s just too easy to adopt their values to be accepted, rather than feel secure questioning the status quo. There are many psychological reasons this happens.


I know from my own experience that the journey to finding what one loves to do is more about the journey than it is about picking a particular destination. Additionally, the different levels of education have different goals. Kindergarten through 12th grade is about learning the basics, which can be done with or without the structure of formalized education. College is about developing reason and identifying a study path for life, and graduate school is about exercising that reason to help broaden human knowledge.

A family friend with a doctorate in Egyptology who is now involved in online education programming for a large school district once asked me if I was worried about the children having “holes” in their knowledge. Having a nearly doctoral education myself, and fairly certain that I do not know everything, I asked her if it might be possible that even with a doctorate, one may have some holes in one’s knowledge, and that it is impossible to know everything. My knowledge of African geography is abysmal. I don’t know much about economic theory or trucks. I know nothing about appraising antique buttons. I know this educator was worried about the kids knowing relevant things, and I am confident all of us are missing some of that knowledge. We can never know what we don't know. Luckily, as long as we are still alive, we can learn. It is never too late.

No matter what one studies, there is always something else one could learn. It helps if one is the type of person to see learning as the meat of life. This is how I raised my children, but it does present a different problem. They can easily burn themselves out when taking classes, because they are trying to make the most out of the experience. My son and husband have such high standards for themselves that they can actually give themselves physical health problems. We learned while our kids were doing online college that both kids study intensely and thoroughly, not because they are worried about the grade, but because they want to completely comprehend the material. I have no doubt they will succeed in whatever they do, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of being able to take care of their physical and psychological needs. I think this caveat applies to most students and needs to be considered by university administrators when they create courses of study that do not give time for health. I have thought about approaching the Dean of the School of Engineering to see if they could let my son take engineering classes while not being an engineering major, or allow him to create an internship-based course of study part-time, which would allow him connection with the people studying the topics. But those are just my ideas, which take into account both his need for reduced stress, and his need to grok. Trust me, the kid needs to grok. He loves to talk about what he learns in his classes.

There is no course of study for someone who just wants to be an inventor. Their Dad and I often talk about the soul sacrifice one makes to go into engineering at the expense of losing the nourishment of the liberal arts. The liberal arts are very much a study of human consciousness, and choosing to avoid learning about consciousness is to choose to be unconscious. We need our technical people to be conscious, because they are the people who design solutions to society’s problems. We need technical people who can communicate abstract ideas well and consider the broader implications of their inventions.

Threats to consciousness are everywhere, owing to a pervasive ignorance in society to the damages of status-based culture and materialism to our very wellbeing. Volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, toluene, trichloroethylene and styrenes are all linked to short- and long-term cognitive deficits in animals and humans. After exposure to these compounds, metabolic activity is suppressed in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain creating difficulties in accessing such “higher” cognitive functions as executive function, time, empathic ability and reasoning, which help contextualize memories. Cortisol has the same effect when experienced chronically. These metabolic stressors can also produce problems with auditory and language processing, leaving the chronic sufferer unable to communicate or understand their own emotions. It is this state that triggers a fight-or-flight response, and it is the projection of previous traumatic experiences onto the situation at hand that determines the organism’s outward behavioral response. If there is no escape from the stressor in sight, and the organism remains in a state of low metabolism, it will choose a fear-based response. It is in this way that compassion, learning and metabolism are related.

Hans Selye characterized the Generalized Adaptation Syndrome in abused and neglected young animals. The animals he studied showed significant underdevelopment of the endocrine and other organ systems. There are very real physical and long-lasting effects of chronic stress in childhood, so it doesn’t make sense that as a society we continually subject our youth to a stressful educational system and polluted world, rather than trying to nurture their natural growth and support the people trying to raise them. I wish our politicians and educators understood these things.