Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Life of Illusion: Chapter 4: Five Raccoons in a Trenchcoat

Dot’s Journal, Earth Date 20.09.09


It seems to me that what is “right” is almost always an illusion, because the writings on these matters, by virtue of time-space, are always written from lower states of consciousness.


If consciousness is evolving, then the information pulled from it in the past becomes quickly out of date. So, our ideas of what is moral and just are always out of date. It means that we, as human beings, are all responsible for finding new ways to exist peacefully.


I often wonder about how, as human beings, we value some types of work over others, and how that inherently causes divisiveness. Why do we value certain jobs more than others? Right now the stock person at the grocery store does a lot more for me personally than the chairman of Goldman Sachs, for example. Whose job is more important right now to the rest of society, I wonder? The stock person, or a certain CEO?


How do our senators consider people with dirty coats, I wonder?


I can’t help but think about values that a certain dictator who felt he had the best version of the Bible (where the last went last) would say about certain people. Some people, like him, who call themselves Christians think that because they are “saved” that they will be saved from the virus, too. This is because they are afraid to admit that they are no better than anyone else, because they have been made to believe it is shameful to be imperfect, and to fear shame above everything else. They’re the sheeple everyone talks about, and they can’t even see it. They just keep mindlessly propagating psychological trauma in everyone around them because they can’t handle shame.


Sometimes I wonder about how a family’s energy may have changed when the first person brought someone new in by marriage due to shame being largely enforced by family units. Would it be weird having that person around more often? I have been thinking about these things a lot because Bert and I have been watching Love on the Spectrum and Indian Matchmaking. Maybe it was a family that used to walk around naked. I think my mom was often embarrassed at the way we kept house when I was growing up, and also that my dad liked to sit around in his underwear. Maybe they were all kind of quiet like we were, and maybe this new person was a little boisterous. I know my dad needed a lot of quiet after work. Maybe it was difficult to know how to relate to this new person. These two shows show how ego gets in the way of enjoying life. In the Indian Matchmaking show, the ego is expressed as narcissism and judgment of others, and in Love on the Spectrum, it is expressed as depression and anxiety. I think if depression and anxiety persist long enough in a person, they can become narcissism and judgment of others. I think we need to really worry about depression anxiety and what their causes are. I think there are a lot of causes.


But what if this person was treated just like one would treat anyone else at church?


If it is difficult to behave that way outside the context of church or family, everyone else has become an “other.”


How do we, in this fractured society, redeem ourselves?


Let’s turn to Neptune for some answers.


*****


Dot takes a shower in her studio bathroom, and when she emerges, she quickly dons her old clothing, and makes sure to put on the socks she accidentally left over by the window, because it is chilly. She looks out the window and notices a cold front coming in. The window is left open just a crack for Bertha.


Bertha is Dot and Bert’s furnace. When Dot had discovered that her illness was probably related to chemical exposure, she did some research to find out what the most common chemical exposures indoors were, and they turned out to be volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde (HCHO). And, she learned that she could buy some relatively inexpensive meters that would measure these things. Some of them were even bluetooth enabled. However, she also discovered that this industry was relatively new, and that there was no regulated validation criteria for the metering technology. It would be exceedingly difficult, actually, to check the results on a device because VOCs and HCHO are both constituents of air vapor, which is subject to the laws of fluid dynamics. Thus, values at a single location are constantly fluctuating over space-time and are influenced by values at neighboring locations, depending on flow. Nonetheless, Dot was curious and a little desperate, and wanted to try them. Bert had actually been talking about designing such a device, so she knew he wouldn’t mind her doing a little market research, and indeed, he was of the same opinion.


She bought two meters, one made in Korea which measures VOCs, CO2 and particulates. It could either be carried personally, or plugged in to monitor a room, and flashes a light when any of the values becomes unhealthy. The other meter was made in the United States and measures HCHO and TVOC. According to the Berkeley Lab,


“The term TVOC refers to the total concentration of multiple airborne VOCs present simultaneously in the air. TVOC methods do not measure all VOCs in the air, but a subset of VOCs that are expected to be present. Measuring TVOC concentrations is less expensive than measuring the concentrations of many individual VOCs. However, there are two main limitations to TVOC measurements. First, different TVOC measurement methods can yield substantially different TVOC concentrations and the differences between measurement methods will depend on the mixture of VOCs present. Secondly, the toxicity and the odor thresholds of individual VOCs within the VOC mixture may differ by orders of magnitude; therefore, the total concentration is not likely to provide a useful measure of total toxicity or total odor level.”


She found a table listing levels of concern for TVOCs in the home, office, and production settings, as well as a table for formaldehyde based on various health effects (taken from the website where the quote above was found). Even though she hasn’t figured out how all the different sensors work, the family has found value in knowing when there is a significant change in the values of VOCs, and formaldehyde tends to correlate with that, rarely appearing on its own. She knew that these things were normal components of living things at low levels, because they were the normal metabolic breakdown products. Some ways of living and eating can increase them, making some people more sensitive to them. That is Dot’s professional observation. There is some murkiness around the idea of whether VOCs and formaldehyde detected from “natural sources” are dangerous, but Dot believes it all has to do with total body burden. Some people are drawn to sources of VOC and formaldehyde exposure like flies to a lightbulb, Dot has noticed. She thinks that is because of the temporary high they give.


This would prove to be the beginning of a strange odyssey. Eventually the Sailors would end up getting a system that monitored each of the floors of their home. One of Dot’s friends was spot monitoring different areas in her home, and they were all learning about other indoor air quality efforts going on around the world and even in their home state. Dot and her friend were finding correlations in their well-being and the well-being of their family members based on the indoor air quality. There was new news all the time in relation to effects on respiratory and nervous system health. They wondered how many other people they knew were affected by these things. Dot had been involved in the community for many years, and had spoken with many people about health issues, and saw a lot of patterns. She wondered if physicians were seeing the same patterns.


*****


The Sailor family had a lot of wildlife come through their yard over the years. They had seen turkeys, elk, bears, rattlesnakes, rabbits, hawks, owls, ducks, geese, squirrels, and once they found the tracks of what they thought to be five raccoons.


Right now there is a grackle making a fuss outside, and earlier in the morning she heard the call of a mallard. The grackle has silenced, and Bertha has kicked on.


When Dot originally got her meters in the late winter of 2020, she spent a lot of time casually sampling the air in her studio, while performing her usual activities. She found that the VOC and TVOC values moved around a lot. Especially in the morning, they could get really high. Well, what constitutes “really high” is relative, of course. On average the readings in the house weren’t particularly high, but were maybe of concern for how much time they spent there.


Not sure how much concern was warranted, she decided to start researching the health effects of VOCs and formaldehyde, and what she found was very concerning.


So, she decided to investigate further when she would find a rise and a fall in the numbers, and she found that the rise would come shortly after Bertha’s blower fired up, and it was most pronounced in the morning. She started experimenting with opening windows, and that helped the levels in the whole house lower. She began to notice a correlation between how she was feeling and the numbers on the meters, and worried that it could be psychosomatic. But then, she had the idea to make a note of how she was feeling before turning on the meter, and when she did that, the correlation was even more apparent. Furthermore, she noticed when she would put a fan in the window to vent her studio, the levels would get really high. This made no sense to her.


She had a service person come check her home for carbon monoxide just before Christmas, and none was found. She did that because her symptoms were a lot like carbon monoxide poisoning, which she had once before. Upon doing some research, she did find that under the right circumstances, chimney flue gasses can be pulled back into a home, if a vacuum is created in the home through bathroom and stove fans, or if there is competition for oxygen from other nearby gas appliances. There are other conditions which can cause exhaust gas backdrafting, too, and that is why it is recommended to have the chimney swept every few years. Evidence of water heater flue backdrafting can be melted plastic water output grommets. Dot's were melted, but she didn't know when or under what circumstances, so she had the idea to put some plastic milk bottle caps on top of the water heater to see if it was currently backdrafting, and under certain circumstances, it did, like when the house was all shut up and there was a lot of hot water demand, or sometimes when they ran the bathroom or stove fans, but it wasn't really predictable, because it also depended on the weather. It seemed like big fluctuations seemed to cause the problem, as it improved over the summer. Dot checked her chimneys and they were clear. Apparently, the problem may be very common, as newer homes may not have an adequate supply of oxygen for forced air heating because they are sealed too tightly. Certain modern design trends can prove deadly, too. Residential building codes, at least in the state of Colorado, are not as strict regarding calculation of fresh air as commercial building codes are. What this means is that a lot of people’s health is in jeopardy.


Specifically, respiratory health.


Even without forced air furnaces, it is important to open a window. It took Dot and Bert a long time to sort it all out after getting the meters, but they learned through the recent wildfire smoke, using the air conditioning, and just cracking windows from their new home air quality monitoring system that spaces can become high in both VOCs and CO2 from normal things like the exhalation of the breath of people (which is no less toxic than the surrounding air they regularly consume). There were some discrepancies in reporting of accuracies of formaldehyde sensors based on their ability to pick up formaldehyde in fruit, but formaldehyde is a natural byproduct of the metabolism of living organisms, and is toxic in excess amounts no matter what the origin. It is the same molecule. The trick is in understanding what a reasonable amount of intervention is.


Dot and Bert hadn’t thought about moving before, but the Front Range had become incredibly toxic from the methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, and Dot was pretty sure that was affecting most people she knew at some level from the patterns she noticed when she was spending a lot of time at the community college in the next town where there is a lot of fracking. Nobody else seemed to see the connection, except the Physicians for Social Responsibility.


*****


Dot cut her own hair for the first time over Christmas. When she did it, she was really high, but it came out a lot like how the stylist did it. So, a few days ago, she decided to give it another go. Part of her regular routine involves self care. Besides meditation, she will sometimes do the sauna. She likes to do yoga in the morning, as it helps her be calm and centered. She likes to read. She likes to listen to books and music and make art. She does her own facials and manicures. She has discontinued painting her nails because of the adverse health effects. She journals. She journals about interesting things she learns, and she communicates with friends. Although, she hasn’t seen her friends in a really long time. Like since before last Thanksgiving.


At first it was really hard. Actually, now that she thinks of it, Dot went through a grieving process for each of her relationships. Every single one of them. Because, she honestly didn’t know if she was going to get well enough to see some people, especially under the context of their typical visits. The first people she kind of gave up were the heavy drinkers. Drinking alcohol left her feeling sad and she would wake up with supraventricular tachycardia, which was scary. She ended up having a full medical workup because of this and learning that she had a heart murmur. The next thing she gave up was people who wanted to eat out all the time. A lot of restaurant food made Vincent come out when she didn’t have time for him. Plus it was expensive, and made it difficult to plan grocery purchases. This pretty much killed her social life, because that’s all anyone ever wanted to do. Then, she discovered that she can’t go into newly constructed homes. And that had whittled it down to nearly nobody. She didn’t heal enough before the pandemic to entertain guests, unfortunately.


The Sailors like to play board games, listen to podcasts and music, watch shows, and cook together. They have several interesting discussions every day. For instance, because Bert, Lily and now Henry all decided to learn how to play the guitar. Henry finished a year of circuits class and has written his own midi controller, and likes to play with soundwaves. They are discussing how they might invent a new instrument.


Dot liked to record herself and play medleys in her spare time, and had done some music composition with MIDI, her apple computer, and her keyboard as a teenager for her AP Music Theory class. As a surprise, she purchased a wireless mic setup, and the kids enjoyed playing with it. She learned the Two Trucks song, and Weird Al’s SPAM song from them. She has been enjoying singing karaoke songs on YouTube, and recalling her days in choir and chorus and drama club. She has always had a fascination with becoming a lounge singer, so sometimes when she can’t sleep, she comes down to her studio, turns the lights down low, and sings, until she needs to go back to sleep.


Anyway, Henry has been making some wonderfully uplifting music mixes. He seems to have a real knack as a musician, but doesn’t know how to learn the fundamentals on his own. There was an educational software package which taught music theory for elementary aged kids back when Henry and Lily were little, but she can’t remember what it was or if she still has it. She collects old media, especially things she remembers from her childhood. It has been helpful, when the energy in the collective is heavy, to disconnect from mass media and enjoy a favorite old movie or TV series, make and do stuff. To them, that was Disneyland. Dot had noticed that when the moon moved into a water sign, people became really emotional, and that the news cycle was usually reflective of that. The people who were around her who had a lot of water in their charts seemed especially sensitive to it. A few years earlier she began putting music on, singing and dancing around her studio during that time, and she called it “surfing.” It worked miracles for her mood.


Dot had read on the internet that people’s anxiety due to the pandemic was impacting their libido in one of two ways, either increasing or decreasing, and for Dot and Bert there was an increasing need to connect. Dot believes it is because of the biochemistry of it all, that sexual pleasure is actually pro-metabolic and anxiolytic due the release of oxytocin and dopamine. Also, there was enough scientific evidence to suggest that a normal amount of sex for chimpanzees, oranguans and bonobos was daily. Humans, of course, have varying levels of need, and nobody is entitled to sex, but more sex seems to help Dot’s cognition. She thinks this is related to the clearing of cellular debris from the brain and may involve the recently discovered lymphatic system.


In all seriousness, Dot understands that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t sure what to do while quarantined. This is a scary time, too. A lot of us are kind of battle worn. Some people have never had to be with kids all day. That’s scary! Some people know what it’s like to be with kids all day and are still scared of the scenario. And then being worried about getting sick, or worried about a paycheck on top of it? This is like an unprecedented level of fear we are facing as a human species, and we are going to have to be creative with how we battle it. The old ways of battling fear with fear aren’t going to work anymore. We must battle fear with logic and transparency. Our future depends on it.


Writing has been an important way into Dot’s self for examination of her thoughts and behaviors. By writing in the third person, she has found it is easier for her to identify logical fallacies and areas of her reasoning that need closer inspection. It helps her identify the ways in which she self sabotages, and helped her grow to see possibilities where she once saw obstacles. It helped her find her sense of humor again, and find gratitude amidst all the pain. Many people are going to have some big challenges, which will require a lot of reflection and self compassion, so Dot thinks it’s important to take time to inventory one’s thoughts.


Dot did a lot of things she did because at some point someone made her think it was important, but really it just sidetracked her doing things that would help her blossom into the best version of herself. Writing down what she did and how she felt afterward helped her become aware of how things impacted her energy for other things. The resulting knowledge helped her enjoy her life better.


Dot thinks this is a time when we all need to be sure to take some time to breathe, rest, and remember what’s important. It’s true that our country has a weak safety net, and we don’t know if it will still be there after the dust from this all settles. Mindful behavior is imperative. We have to relearn how to care for ourselves.

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