Pumpkin Spiced Latte, Turn! Turn! Turn!

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The season is upon us once again, Pumpkin Spiced Latte, a.k.a. “FFS, it’s just nutmeg!”, has arrived. For some, it is an anxiously awaited moment that makes everything in their lives a little more golden. For others it’s a period of unpleasant surprises as much loved flavors are subjected to sudden assaults by nutmeg. Either way, I love it! Not the nutmeg, but the seasonality of it all.

For tens of thousands of years we have been driven by a combination of scarcity and the seasonal rhythms of nature. Now we live in a modern world of homogeneous plenty that inexplicably leave us feeling empty. It is no surprise that many of us latch on to the artificial scarcity and rhythm of the Pumpkin Spiced Latte. I am immune to its spicy siren call, but do fall prey to the McRib every year. (I just know next time it will be as fabulous as I remember from childhood. It wasn’t this year, or the year before that, but next year will be different.)

I don’t think it really matters whether the marketing machines of large corporations are exploiting or serving our needs, those needs are being met, at least a little bit.  So I say if it’s the best you can do, then jump on the bandwagon and enjoy a Pumpkin Spiced Latte while you can. The scarcity might be artificial, but the Fall season and the feelings it brings are real.

If you can, though, go one step further and join a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.  You’ll probably get things like super-sweet late season grapes, bursting with the sugars they have created by soaking in the sun for months, the taste of summer captured and brought to your lips with every fruit.  Then fall squash, winter greens, tender spring vegetables, and the cycle goes on, each season bringing it’s own unique pattern of tastes and textures that will immerse you in the rhythms of the natural world. Make a pumpkin pie!

To quote Pete Seeger (and King Solomon), “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Well, it’s fall, and that makes it Pumpkin Spiced Latte season. Rather than rail against it, trying to fight millennia of basic human nature, just steer into the slide and embrace the season.

The Noble Art of Poo Spotting

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autumn_leaf_08nov17When I meditate regularly, I feel better, my blood pressure goes down, and I make better decisions. When I don’t meditate regularly, the opposite is true, and unfortunately, one of the decisions I have to make is when to meditate. When the world is coming at me as if from a fire hose, it never seems like a good time to stop and smell the roses.

Enter Autumn.  If you have dogs, you know that this is the season when your back yard becomes a mine field.  We carefully clean up after them each time they are out, but inevitably miss a poo or two.  I think they actually work together sometimes to distract us.  The result?  Nestled quietly among the leaves, perfectly crafted for camouflage in the sea of browns and tans that is our autumn yard, they wait, small aromatic gifts from our dogs.

So, how does an autumn stealth poo relate to meditation?  Tomorrow morning my wife and I will wander into the back yard and walk the grid, playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” that is both less pleasant and more necessary than the usual version. Who needs a labyrinth? This is a perfect opportunity for a walking meditation, where all the cares and worries of the world can fall away. With complete and absolute focus on the fallen leaves in our path, interspersed with a sense of success and accomplishment each time we discover one of our stealthy (and stinky) adversaries.

How does a fallen leaf feel?  Is it sad that its life in the sky is over, or is it content in the knowledge that it lived a full life gathering energy for its tree, now returning to the soil? Does it see the hidden poo as a compatriot, also returning nutrients to the soil, or as an interloper, marring the perfection of the leaf’s eternal cycle? I ponder these questions, then try to connect with the leaves, drawing parallels between their cycle and my own, seeing my own existence in terms of a life of gathering followed by an eternity of returning. What do I gather as I live, what do I do with what I have gathered? And no matter how my mind wanders, the task at hand keeps me grounded, setting natural limits so I don’t drift too far, for the path I walk is fraught with dangers, or at least hidden poo.

When the grid is done and the yard is clear, so are our minds.

Our lives offer endless opportunities for meditation if we just accept them.  Almost any task can become a meditation with little more than a bit of focus.  Whether you are washing dishes, waxing a car, or vacuuming the house, these natural “found” meditations can change the way you move through life.  And maybe, with the small clarity you find this way, you will make better decisions about commitments and time, finding a way out of the blast furnace of stimulus that modern life is becoming. So if you are feeling overwhelmed and see no way to fix it, the noble art of poo spotting is a good start.


PhotoAnimism Exhibition Opening Reception

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PhotoAnimism Photography Exhibition, Opening Reception June  5, 6pm-9pm, 22 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC
PhotoAnimism Photography Exhibition, Opening Reception June 5, 6pm-9pm, 22 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC

Things are happening on Glenwood South on First Friday!  Come join me for the Opening Reception for the first public exhibition of my PhotoAnimism series.  There will be wine, cheese, crackers, some semblance of Art (note the capital “A”) and, of course, me, from 6pm to 9pm at 22 Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh, NC.

My PhotoAnimism series, rather than focusing on traditional subjects, assumes the objects in the photo have a soul, have thoughts and intent, have will and desire. With a combination of digital creativity and poetry the photos in this series speak for the objects, providing answers to the simple questions: What do you think, how do you feel, what do you want, what makes you happy?

If you have ever wondered how an egotistical birthday cake might feel about having its candles blown out or hoe a foot bridge in an existential mood might feel about the travelers that cross, or if you like free wine and snacks, maybe this would be a great way for you to kick off your First Friday festivities in downtown Raleigh.  I hope to see you there!

Best Regards,
Johnson Davis

P.S. The Exhibition runs from June 5 to June 30 in the same gallery at 22 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC.

Three Kids in Buckets

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kidsinbucketsOne of the most life affirming things I have seen in a long time is three kids that live in a house on the highway between my town and the next.  Every time I drive past they are in their front yard playing.  And they are not playing with electronics, motorized remote control toys, giant jungle gym slides or anything else most kids seem to expect these days.  In general, they have always chosen something mundane and ordinary, something we as adults either take for granted or completely ignore.  They take these objects and seem to build an entire imaginary world around them, a world of excitement, magic, challenges and joy.  Maybe it’s three colorful utility buckets full of water, or some old sheets carefully hung from trees.  Once, it was a stick. They were running, jumping, crouching and laughing as they bounce around their yard, peeking around bushes, running screaming across an open space, having more fun with that stick than some kids have at a laser tag arena.

I see all this 15 seconds at a time as I drive past their house at speed, so what I see and how I interpret it is certainly flawed. That actually gives me more freedom to experience their story any way I like. I could feel sorry for them, assuming they are in the yard because they can’t afford more expensive pass times like video games and basic cable.  Instead, I choose to feel proud, proud of what they mean for the human race, assuming they do have the choice, or at least their parents have the choice.  I believe they are in their yard interacting with the real world and using their own imaginations because they know it is a better way to live.  I hope that they use books, movies, and TV only as fuel for their own stories, picking up where the imagination of those distant authors leave off and carrying it in to their own new chapters, extending the stories in ways the original authors could never imagine.

Finding the sweet spot between starving the imagination and shackling it is a difficult task.  We are social creatures, and our creativity blossoms when we work together, each of us building on the ideas of others.  Eliminate all creative input and our imaginations atrophy, recycling the same ideas over and over.  You can have too much of a good thing, though. Flood us with a completely realized imaginary world and a quickly evolving story and we tend to just sit back and enjoy it, again letting our own imaginations atrophy as we passively experience another’s vision. A little conscious effort to find the balance will go a long way.

deadpoolfightThe next time you finish reading a book or watching a movie, choose some aspect of the story that is unrealized and flesh it out in your mind.  Imagine an unwritten conversation, or the untold story of a journey taken, something that happened before the story began or after it ended.  Now tell that story.  You can sit quietly and just imagine the dialog and actions, or act it out in front of a mirror.  Even better, find a friend that shares your love of this particular story and act it out together, complete with props and costumes. Stories are living things, and giving breath to your imaginary worlds feeds your soul, making the real world more vivid, more present, and somehow, more real.

Photo Sources: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shimown/29395209/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/pikawil/7999058273/

Ends and Means

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EndsAndMeansOne of the old saws is, “Does the end justify the means?” This shows up on TV in M.A.S.H. and old Star Trek episodes, and has been a fulcrum in literature and spoken traditions for all of memory. Unfortunately, it is not limited to fiction. Pamela Anderson, actress and long-time animal rights activist, wrote on Facebook that she would not participate in a popular charity stunt because the target charity still practices animal testing. It’s not a new subject in my world, but I had always just accepted the things my friends and the occasional celebrity had to say about it. After reading her comments, I decided to look into animal testing and its justification myself.

What I found is that there is a great deal of controversy and misinformation being spread around from both sides. Animal rights activists claiming animal testing can be replaced by more effective modern techniques like computer modeling and isolated tissue tests in all cases, which is not true. There are many things for which there is no current effective alternative to animal trials. Meanwhile, medical research associations claim to only use it when there is no alternative, which is also not true. Often there are very effective alternatives to animal testing, but they are more expensive, or simply unfamiliar. There is also the promise from the medical research associations of humane treatment of animals, when the nature of the tests they need to perform actually makes that unlikely. Of course the animal rights advocates are convinced the animals are being treated in the most inhumane ways possible all the time, which is equally unlikely.

The National Health Council attempted to find reasonable middle ground with their Use of Animals in Biomedical Research guidelines, allowing animal testing when needed, and encouraging consistently humane treatment. The guidelines are amazingly clear and sane, especially for a document created by committee within a huge organization. Unfortunately, I think they have also missed a very important point. Here is the first guideline, and the only one dealing with whether animal testing should happen.

Animals shall be used in biomedical research only when no other means of obtaining
scientifically sound, valid and useful results are available.

The remaining guidelines are about the number of animals and how they should be treated, so assume the testing is justified. With only this first guideline to lead us, the implication is that obtaining the results out weighs all other considerations. There is an underlying dismissal of any pain, suffering or death of these lab animals as long the result is useful. I disagree with this very strongly.

Now for the unpopular part of my rant. Getting back to Pamela, the specific charity stunt was for the ALS Association, a fund for ALS research that includes animal testing. ALS is truly a terrible disease, taking away strength, independence, dignity, and finally life itself. However, even if you accept the numbers provided by the ALS Association, there is still only 1 in every 50,000 people with this disease, about 5,600 new cases each year. This means you probably don’t know anyone with ALS beyond a small handful of celebrity cases. In fact, you probably don’t know anyone who knows anyone who has it. You may be closer to Kevin Bacon than you are to an ALS victim. And that brings me to the statement that will cause turmoil. We are not aware of ALS because it doesn’t really matter very much. Here are some things that matter a lot more:

Leading causes of death (2010 in the United State):
  • Heart disease: 596,577
  • Cancer: 576,691
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,974
  • Diabetes: 73,831
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

Did you notice Nephritis? It kills almost 10 times more people every year than ALS. Do you know what nephritis is? Ever even heard of it? How about suicide, which is usually a symptom of clinical depression, but is often treated as if the person chose it, when in fact they were probably victims of this terribly insidious disease.

The world is complex, and there is no black and white, but some things are close judgement calls, while others are obvious and self evident. Animals are living, conscious, feeling creatures; fully experiencing pain, sadness, terror and disgust; having the capacity to know joy, excitement, contentment and love. Putting an animal through most forms of lab testing, infecting them with disease, modifying their body chemistry and/or subjecting them to environmental stress, just cannot be done in a humane way, To say we will treat our lab animals humanely really just means we will treat them as humanely as possible, while still doing everything we need to do to them to obtain our results. Then, after all that, we almost always euthanize them, either for dissection, or just because the project has ended. To pretend animal testing is not terrible is just a terrible lie we tell ourselves to sleep easier.

The question remains. When is animal testing justified, bearing in mind that most of the time it might more accurately be called animal torture and death? When does the end justify the means? I think the only time is when survival is at stake, and not of the individual, but of the human race. I think for rare conditions like ALS it is obviously not justified. If 5,600 people die of ALS in a year, that still leaves about 314,000,000 of us breathing, dancing and probably doing silly things that are more likely to kill us than ALS, anyway.

And in that same year another 32,000,000 people were born. So, what does that say about even the biggest killers? The two most significant ways to die are heart disease and cancer, which combined still kill less than 1,200,000 of us each year. That means that for every person that dies from either of those massive killers, 26 more are born. From a purely scientific numbers game, it is not a slam dunk that even these terrifying diseases justify the cruelty of animal testing. Maybe nothing short of the black plague, which at its peak killed about half the population of Europe, could justify this horrible practice.

On the other hand, if my child was dying, and strangling bunnies might help, I am pretty sure I know what I would do. As soon as you get close to it, zooming in from the big picture until you are dealing with individuals, the decisions quickly get much less lofty, and much more selfish. I am not ready to end animal testing. What I am ready to do is to stop pretending it can be humane, or that it can be justified with anything except purely selfish and emotional arguments. I would like smarter folks than I, like our friends at the National Health Council, to come up with guidelines that include justification for animal testing that assumes it is a horrible means that diminishes us all, and therefore requires an extremely important end to be justified.

One more thing to mention. Everyone on the planet is either you, me, or us. It might make you feel better to think of the researchers doing animal testing, and the people who are only alive and healthy now due to treatments developed though animal testing, as “them”. You would need to think again, though. Almost every medical treatment or procedure has some key element derived from animal testing, and almost all of us are alive now only because we ourselves, or our parents, or our grand parents, were saved at least once by one of these treatments or procedures. So on this playing field, we are “us”, and the animals we have used to survive and thrive are “them”. Maybe one day we can all be “us”, and have advanced enough that this terribly difficult decision on whether the end justifies the means will no longer be necessary. Until then, at least be fully aware of the terrible costs of our lives and comfort.