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I sit at the table deciding whether to use Earth Balance or butter on my vegan waffle.

You see, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m also soy intolerant. However, soy-free EB doesn’t contain soy, and butter doesn’t contain lactose. We compare the nutritional value of the two containers:

Earth Balance Butter
Serving size 14 oz. 14 oz.
Fat 11g 11g
Sodium 110mg 110mg
Vitamin E 10% 0%
Vitamin A 0% 10%

The difference is vitamin A or vitamin E. The butter contains cream, whirled and processed until only the milkfats are left. EB contains: Palm oil, canola oil, safflower, flax, and olive oil. Water, salt, natural flavor, pea protein, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid, and annatto for color. The butter comes from Pennsylvania. The palm oil in EB comes from Brazil and Malaysia.

Palm oil is actually this whole issue. Much (85%) of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also from Brazil, Columbia, New Guinea, Ghana, Borneo, and Sumatra. Plantations are sites of burned rainforests, destroyed for palm oil agriculture. Animals that are threatened, endangered, and critically endangered due to this profess include: Asian elephants, tigers, Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran orangutans. (The Orangutan Project)

But! EB doesn’t get their palm oil from those sources, so it’s all cool, right?

The question between Pennsylvania Butter and Global Earth Balance rapidly becomes more complicated once it moves beyond the fauna v. flora debate of sourcing. If we look at our scope beyond the daily life and relative suffering of a Pennsylvania cow and a Malaysian tree, the tree definitely has the better deal. We start looking at environmental effects–grass and orangutans, dairy farm workers and field hands, pollutants, CO2 production rates, the ability for me to pick which is better (or, let’s be honest, less bad) gets overwhelmed by internal debates of environmentalism, globalization, and moral economics. Nutrition (which should be my highest priority because taking care of myself ought to be my base metric for what I do (even though it’s not) is not an issue since the two substances are, basically, nutritionally identical.

I stop looking at the stick of butter and tub of earth balance and do the most reasonable, rational thing I can think of: douse my pancakes in Michigan maple syrup.

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sneak

A TSA agent has a line of Chinese school children in front of him.

“How old are you?” He asks one.

They stare at him.

“How old are you?” He repeats, louder.

“对不起,你多大了?” I say.

“Nine!”

The man shuffles kids under twelve one way and those over another. Twelve is a magical age where your body cannot be affected by millimeter wave scanners and you are a greater threat for terrorist activity. The younger ones go through a metal detector and keep their shoes on. The older ones are sent barefoot to the scanner.

Another TSA agent directs the children through the scanner. He tries to explain what to do, but TSA-speak is too specialized. He makes a motion to each child, showing them how to stand in the machine.

“你向前走,然后等待。”

The children nod.

Things I took through a TSA checkpoint:

1 electric kettle full of socks and underwear (used)
1 electric kettle stand
1 electric tooth brush (sonicare)
1 tube toothpaste (3.8 oz)
1 bottle Bauscher + Lomb Bio true contact lense solution (4 oz)
1 Dell Latitude (with charger)
1 mason jar containing distilled water and a living sphagnum plant (4 oz)
2 pairs microspikes

“Do you have something in your bag?” The screener asks, holding it in front of me.

“Anything big?”

“A kettle.”

“Electric?”

“Yeah.”

He opens my bag and takes it out, running the backpack and the kettle, now separate, through the scanner again.

“Anything in the kettle?” He asks when he comes back.

“Some used socks and underwear.”

“Can you open it for me?”

“Sure.” While he holds it, I hit the open button. He can see one sock and one pair of underwear. There are more underneath it, but he doesn’t ask for any evidence of this. I’m not allowed to touch my bags while he opens them. I’m not allowed to touch things in the bin. For the sake of the agent’s safety, I have to hit the open button while he holds it.

“I didn’t know people still used kettles for tea.”

“How do you make tea?”

“A microwave.”

“Do you fly a lot?”

“I used to,” I say. “Now probably four to six times a year.”

“Have you thought about TSA pre-Check? You can read about it on our site.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you always opt out?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you know that with TSA pre-Check you can keep your laptop in your bag and shoes on. You can also pick which method of screening you want to go through–the scanners or the metal detectors.”

“For $85, I can choose to go through a metal detector rather than a patdown?”

“Yes. It might be more convinent for you. It lasts five years. If you fly four times a year, that’s twenty flights for $85.”

“I think I prefer the pat down.”

After reaching the gate and seeing my flight was delayed, I wanted to brush my teeth. When I started to walk away from my bags, someone told me that you [still] can’t leave bags at the gate.

“Why?” I asked. “So they won’t get stolen?”

“So if there’s anything dangerous in them, like a explosive device or biohazardous agent, a terrorist couldn’t leave it.”

“After the security screening, shouldn’t everything be safe?”

“Do you want some coffee, miss?”

Pandora Helps Political Organizers Target Voters, the scrolling text reads. “You probably vote democratic if you listen to Daft Punk,” CNN informs me as I sit and wait for my flight.

As I write this list, I wonder what would happen if they banned more of these things. I think I remember hearing something about epoxy being material you could make a functional blade out of. Epoxy can look a lot like toothpaste. What if you couldn’t have any toothpaste at all? I wonder if I’d then have to check my bag. The bag I have with the kettle and the microspikes. I think about the cost and the fees. The TSA gets an extra fee for each checked bag. More people are using carry-ons because of checked-bag fees. It is widely believed that the existence of the TSA and the use of scanners is about capitalism and votes.

accomplishment

I was going to write a post about something Taren said. Instead, I ended up writing about her.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman is an activist. She founded SumOfUs to work for corporate accountability. Their motto is “fighting for people over profits.” She has a two paragraph wikipedia page. The first paragraph is about SumOfUs. The second mentions her relationship to Aaron. In interviews and articles, television and film, she is identified as “Aaron’s Partner.” And that is who she’ll continue to be in these digital archives.

We can talk about Hilary Clinton. Hilary moved far above and beyond her identity as First Lady. In eight years she went from wife to senator. Eight after that she was secretary of state. This is not to say she wasn’t always competent, but this is how we knew her.

That’s how we know Taren. We don’t know her as an activist or someone who makes a difference–we know her as a woman, above and beyond all else, doing what a woman is expected to do.

seriously

Recently someone wondered at me how people judged him for hanging out with the fat girl. He has five or six inches on me, and I have five or six pounds on him. The weight sits lithe on his frame. How do you think people judge me for being the fat girl? I want to ask him, but I don’t. Instead, I think it every time I see him. How do you judge me for being the fat girl?

These thoughts, and thoughts like these, are things that consume my mind every day. On the street walking, on my bike. Eating lunch and buying groceries. Seeing advertisements in the bars of my web browser and on buses, the T, taxi cabs. At work.

My being fat isn’t really a secret. These sorts of things can’t be. I am officially listed as “overweight” on the BMI charts passed around in doctors’ offices and gyms around the country. I’m one of those “healthy fat people.” I can run a 10 minute mile, and average 13 when running three of them. I bike the three miles to work every day, 20-minutes or less in traffic. Like a delivery man. I like hiking. I’m not fast, but I can handle nine miles and thirty-nine hundred vertical feet–it just takes me nine hours.

Even though I wish it didn’t, my brain tracks these numbers. These distances and times and splits as evidence–empirical evidence, quantitative evidence–that being fat is only one part of having a body. I take these numbers and I repeat them to myself: One mile. 5.9. Sixty seconds. 12 miles. 12-hundred vertical feet. 370 miles.

One of the things about being active and fat is that you have to prove yourself to everyone around you constantly. When someone puts you on a 3 mile round trip hike with a climb of 900 vertical feet, you have to kill the thing in two hours and bushwhack your way around the peak, climbing over rocks and through underbrush. You have to bike to Walden Pond and then swim across it. You have to go down and up the rocky and icy steep sides of a lake without taking your skis off. You have to do what everyone else does and then you have to do more and hope that maybe, just maybe, someone takes you seriously because even then, they don’t always.

unacceptable

At Software Freedom Day this year, I was zoning out in a conversation that had drifted into Colin McGinn. McGinn, the person I was talking with explained, was a Oxford published philosopher. He studied disgust and wrote a book and was worth checking out. He had also been fired for sending a grad student e-mails saying he thought about her while masturbating. He was going to really destroy the school, because he had a great case against them imroperly firing him. He studied disgust. The student was his grad student. She knew what she was getting herself into, the person said.

I wondered how long I had to nod and say “yeah, okay,” before they would leave me alone, or at least change the topic to something I didn’t think was both offensive and actually wrong. I wondered if I could somehow redirect the conversation. I looked over at DR, and wondered if he could save me from the conversation.

That was when I also saw all the other people at the table. SFD this year was inspiring in the minority representation: “non-dudes” in all shades of developer, journalist, activist, interested person, and partner. I saw ladies who had come up to me after my talk and thanked me for being honest about having difficulty with understanding software and technical issues. One man came up to me and noticed the subtle mentions of sexism I’ve encountered. He thanked me for mentioning it, even when I didn’t want it to be the focus of my talk.

What that man did was not okay., I said.

A few further sentences were exchanged, I was told that I couldn’t talk about things reasonably. I said that such behaviors were sexual harassment and an abuse of a power dynamic. I was told that this was just a topic of discussion and interesting to think about. I said that assuming it is okay for someone to be sexually harassed, to harass someone, because they “ought to know it could happen in context,” is what we call “blaming the victim.”

I was told that I wasn’t ready to have a reasonable, calm conversation about a topic worth thinking about.

I’ve been thinking about this since then. It’s one of those thoughts where I’m not really sure where it’s going or what I ought to (or want to) do with it. I’m really disgusted that I could have this conversation at an event about something as great as the ideals of freedom, transparency, collaboration, and openess. What’s even worse is that I had to have this conversation after having another one where I told somewhat that it was never appropriate to make rape jokes.

These stories aren’t novel, and they’ve been shared in variation so many times across the internet. What do we do with that?

label

Am I an artist?

I had some writers around me growing up. In my mind, to me, a writer was someone who wrote. Who got paid for writing. A professional. In general, this is how I used labels. I played music, quite a bit, but I wasn’t a musician because I was not professionally (or semi-professionally) one. I get a little annoyed when people declare themselves poets or writers or artists or musicians. Do you perform? I want to ask them. Is your work published somewhere? Where can I read it? An unreasonable response at best, as by and large we need to accept self-definition.

When someone declares themselves a runner, there is no question to it. They run. Cyclists and bikers are also only definable by the self, especially in cases where a person prefers one term over the other.

I won an art grant and for the night of the reception, I was an artist. Everyone told me I was an artist. Everyone called me an artist. When I recently saw a “Call for Pittsburgh Artists,” I wondered what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Artist, and then I wondered what it meant to be an artist. I have little room to try and claim myself as belonging to Pittsburgh (the adjectival form of the nominal). Pittsburgh, I sometimes think, belongs to me. A special part of it. I no longer live there and have lost my right to claim Yinzer just as I have lost my right to Philadelphian–especially as I claim myself a Somerville resident. I belong to Somerville.

Am I an artist? I ask myself this sometimes. I find the label stumbling out, it being the easiest thing to grab. I paint. I sculpt. I grow plants. I do all of these things and have reasons and commentary behind them. I am trying to capture what it feels like to breathe, I say. These are the colors of my existential crisis, I explain. This is what you look like to me, I said to someone, showing them a field of blue and green, rubbed into canvas until the sides of my thumbs were blistered. I just, I want to drink paint and scream until I cough. I need to see what my screaming looks like. I now have a piece of fabric, stained brown and green and so painfully lacking the red I wanted. Don’t you ever just want to cover yourself in paint, in oil and dust, so you can scrape it off? And then you ask someone to take pictures.

building

A photo of two people sleeping in the back of a car

S and T, then

I met S in 2005. By that point, I was already friends with T–S was her boyfriend. He was a freshman and I was a sophomore. I’d already known S and T finished undergrad and moved to Seattle. S got a masters of public finance. He works for a startup. T is getting a Ph.D. in statistics and is at the top of her class. I think they’re both pretty awesome

S & T, now

One of the things about S is that he and I have very little in common. Our lives diverged completely since 2009. In three years, he’s found a life for himself in Seattle, got a full time job, and is married. He and S, who’ve been a unit for a long time, only began (from my experience) to define themselves as adult individuals in 2008. They’ve been doing it solidly since then.

A and me, then

One of my fondest memories of S is from 2008. T was spending a semester in London, which forced them apart. He was going to visit her for spring break. A week or so before he left, we were sitting around in the living room. S looked down and ran his hands through his hair, making it stick up as he is wont to do. He looked up and said “I think I should ask her to marry me. I should just do it.”

A with a mandolin

A, now.

He didn’t ask her until the next year, but that was sort of a defining point in my knowing him: He was the kind of person who would get married. Not in a “we should get married” kind of way, but in a surprise proposal diamond ring popping the question kind of way.

A few weeks ago, when I was out west, S and I spent some time together. T was out of town, much to my own sadness. We wandered around Wallingford and the U District (I think) with W, had Korean dinner, and wandered back to the apartment he and T share with each other and no one else.

After W and I were on the bus headed back to Capitol Hill, he said “It’s nice you can still talk to each other.”

The fact is, S and I are completely different. In fact, all of my close friends from then–A, B, G, S, and T–are different from me.

A photo of m. eating butter.

me, now. Philadelphia Folk Festival, 2012.

As we were talking down the Burke-Gilman, I took off my shoes because they were uncomfortable. I suggested–mostly jokingly–that S and T start going dumpster diving. He scoffed at the idea. He commented on how lucky he is because he was able to go to Japan on his honeymoon.

He had a honeymoon.

The thing is, we aren’t really all that different. There are lots of surface differences, but I was always sort of the weirdo of the group. We have many similar values–some he is more extreme in and some I am more extreme in–and very different ways of expressing things. This is because S and I helped build each other.

G sitting on the Cathedral lawn

G, then. I took this picture of him in 2005.

We all helped build each other. KK, another friend of mine from then, and I appear to have even less in common. She is married, pregnant, has a mortgage, is getting a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, and is Catholic. We still have a shockingly similar set of values and can still talk.

Life is about building things. Relationships are about building things together, and the relationship itself is something you build. When these relationships are during your formative years, you’re not just creating the space between the people: you are, in a very inescapable way, creating each other.

A Jewish wedding, showing attendants holding the chuppa.

G, now. Holding a chuppa at a wedding.

I don’t think I was really a person until I met G. He helped build me by calling me a jerk when someone needed to. A was there for me during several crises. T reminded me that other people matter to me. B taught me about making decisions. S showed me what it means to love another person.

Of course we had other experiences. The structures of our relationships are grand, but the pieces that make them up are the nights sitting around watching the X-Files and all those movies, the days cooking whole meals, midnight rides to the one Dunkin Donuts in Pgh, mornings waiting in line waiting for a seat so we could eat pancakes.

So much of who I am was built by these people, through our shared experiences, that I don’t worry about what will happen with us knowing each other. I don’t worry that I won’t be able to talk to them, not just talk, but understand, communicate, and have new experiences together. They built me and I built them.

*B doesn’t take pictures of himself. None of these photos belong to me, so they are exempt from the CC-BY-SA license.

Black

SG was talking about her dating life the other day and how she wasn’t sure if she was actually attracted to someone. She generalized this and said that at first she frequently doesn’t know. (She figures it out, sometimes months later.) She thinks they’re cute or interesting or into her (or all three), but she isn’t sure if she’s actually into them.

When I don’t know if I’m interested, it means I’m not. There’s a very obvious moment when a person goes from “someone I know” to “someone I like.”


(This title is a reference to “My Moment” by Rebecca Black, which is even more insidious than “Friday.”)

I am, in reference to myself, using the terms “interested” and “like” pretty loosely.

Sometimes these momentary interactions are pretty dumb. There was this guy at a party who said that Teen Titans is his favorite DC series (this conversation happened in 2008), and I knew I was taking him home that night. While I am no longer in the practice of taking people from parties home, the ridiculous triggers are there.

Sometimes these are things you could extrapolate from: someone is a bike messenger, uses the term “free” instead of “open,” dumpsters, wants to live in a structure overtaken by plants, plays mandolin, fiddle, or banjo, has a favorite tree, abandoned building, bridge, or bike route to the ocean. Generally, the kind of people who have a favorite tree–either specific or species–notice trees enough to have thoughts and opinions on them probably cares enough about trees to care about other things I think are good or just notices things enough to have a favorite one. There is also the parallel that could lead to possible negative extrapolation, such as “is Russian,” that still hit the “attractive” switch.*

There are also these small, intimate moments and when we’re in them, something more changes. A person isn’t just appealing, they’re a person. Liking Teen Titans is not actually very meaningful in any particular way. I could argue that it is, but it doesn’t also cause the transition to show that someone is more than a like of a particular comic I also like.

There are moments when I’ve seen people smile like I’ve never seen them smile before. When they open up about something that they’re giving to me in confidence. When we have an experience together.

Once I was making dough with a friend of mine. We’re been mostly quiet during the process. He was kneading dough on the counter. His sleeves rolled up and flour covering his hands, specking his lower arms. He looked intently on his process. He closed his eyes, testing the dough with his hands, feeling the smoothness and tension. At that moment, I knew I was lost.

*This is meant to humor and offend friends of mine, not Russians at large.

Self

Three or four years into my tenure as an electrician at the Philly Folk Festival, we were sitting around in a rum circle. The rum circle is a fine tradition of Fest. It’s pretty simple: we sit in a circle and pass a bottle of rum—preferably clockwise and never widdershins. I like the rum circle. At this particular one, JG slided up next to me and draped an arm over my shoulder. She said something to the effect of:

At first I thought you were just one of those people [they] bring who comes for a year or two, does no real work, and flakes out. But you’ve really proved yourself. You’re crew.

After getting over my initial discomfort at the idea that I was “just another flake” (not denying I am a flake—I totally am), I found comfort in knowing I was (am) crew.

Being crew is like being in a family or a gang—it doesn’t matter how long you go without showing up, whatever else you do, you’re crew. There is a history, a lineage, you become a part of.

We are by no means close. As far as I am aware, there are few close relationships outside of the several weeks we spend relying on one another entirely. (I understand that everytime someone foots a poorly balanced ladder that holds me 25 feet off the ground, I am trusting them to keep me alive.) There are occasional e-mails and facebook posts. My experiences with these people are fairly isolated.

My relationship with the crew is the same as some of my other important ties. During the brief times we are together, things are as they always have been. In this particular case, our physical location reflects our psychic one. The site is isolated from the rest of the world, it’s own special place, and our home beneath the stage is separate and hidden, it’s own magical, safe realm. The space creates a static reminder of who we are and who we can be in relation to each other and that this is separate from everything else.

Not to say the rest of our lives don’t matter.

Place, geographic, has always been important in how I think of myself. People create a different kind of space. Without us, the area beneath the stage is stark, cold, quiet, and empty. With us, it’s home.

I was in Seattle two weeks ago. Seattle is a strange place I don’t know how to interact with. G visited once as an undergrad and fell in love with parts of it in a rush of lusty passions for something different and a great glass library. S and T moved there after graduation and I went out when they got married.

Seattle and I had a whirlwind reminiscent of Celine and Jesse’s in Before Sunrise. Our time together was marked by the Burke-Gilman, dumpsters, eating from trees, bikes, getting lost in the woods and bay, and feelings of desperation, love, and loneliness.
This recent trip was more subdued. Instead of our initial intensity, we had a much delayed day-after trying to figure out how we could interact with each other—or even if we should. I went to different parts of the city with different people: I was with people I like quite a bit and don’t know how to be around. People I don’t know who I am around; people I don’t know if I’m able to be who I am around.

And then there was S and suddenly I was home and me and everything in the world made sense. For the first time in months, possibly a year, I was m. again. I knew who I was because the strangeness of Seattle now had S, who turns a stark, cold, quiet, empty space into a place I belong to. S and I, the crew and I, have spent seven years building places together. In these places, there is nothing to be except for ourselves.*

*These statements reflect my feelings and interpretations of the world.