Posted in Poems

Handful of Haiku

My World Literature professor gave us an assignment to write a haiku based on a photograph. I’ll be honest, I’ve always sort of hated haiku, because it always felt like an elementary school poetry to me. But age has brought me full circle to appreciate the brevity of words, and I loved this assignment so much, and I have so many photos I adore, that I couldn’t just do one. So here are a few drawn from my extensive photo library (all photos taken by me).

Beautiful dog glowing
In the late-afternoon sunshine
Is how I will remember you

My dog Rascal is 19 1/2 years old, and can’t walk anymore. We only have a short time left with him, but this is how I will always remember him, enjoying the sunshine and surveying his yard.

Tiny jeweled bird
Hovers to look me in the eye
Gift of her attention

I am fascinated with hummingbirds. They are so bold, zooming loudly across the yard, and hovering in front of me, as if demanding to know what my intentions are, then flickering away to sit in a branch and wait to see if I’m going to refill the feeder.

Rumble of hoofbeats
Noble creatures come at my call
Bringing their hearts to mine.

There is nothing in the world that sends chills down my spine like the sound of hoof beats echoing across the valley as my horses charge toward me for their dinner. Sometimes, I think they run just for my enjoyment.

Still waters ruffled
Rhythmic dip of my paddle
Peaces flows into me.

This is from City Lake in Coookeville, where I love to paddle because the waters are so calm and it’s filled with wildlife. It does not matter how stressed I am, when I get on the water all the knots fall out of my muscles and I reconnect with nature and myself.

All the world unfolds
Contemplation, vastness,
Utter smallness.

This is a photo I took at Stone Door overlook in Grundy County, of my son. In particular I love waterfalls and overlooks, and I am so thankful that Tennessee is full of both of them. Our state and national parks are places I can go to find myself again when I have chased my tail enough times to get lost.

Posted in Uncategorized

How Much Is That Doggy In the Window?

Bandit, who is rescued and is the goodest boy

The text of my final speech for Communications Class, meant to be a persuasive speech. The fact that my semester is winding down means I’ll have more time for writing that’s not college assignments, yay!

Maybe you’ve heard the children’s song “How Much is that Doggy In The Window?” The answer is, several hundred dollars probably, up to a couple of thousand, but the real cost of that pup in the pet store is in lives. Roughly 4 million of them a year. One, every 11 seconds. While I’m talking to you, 50 animals will die in shelters.

We have a pet overpopulation problem. The annual cost to taxpayers to impound, shelter, euthanize and transport unwanted animals is 2 billion dollars. According to PetSmart Charities, There are 70,000 dogs and cats born in the United States EVERY DAY. Do you know how many humans are born every day? 10,000. So if every man, woman, and child can adopt seven dogs and cats (that’s 21 animals for a family of three), that number is sustainable. But I think you’ll agree that it’s not, not even for a serious animal lover.

So we can’t adopt our way out of this crisis. That makes spaying and neutering crucial. A single female dog can theoretically produce 67,000 descendants in her lifetime. ONE dog. That number for a single cat, which are much more commonly left to roam and reproduce at will, is 420,000.

I worked as a veterinary technician for 20 years, and I currently serve on the Board of Directors of Friends of White County Animals, so I’ve seen this problem up close. Please, please spay and neuter your pets, and if you haven’t yet, contact your local humane society for low-cost options. But, I think we’ve all heard the reasons we should do that, so I want to talk today about why you should heed the slogan, “Adopt, don’t shop.”

Even though we can’t adopt our way out of the pet overpopulation problem and concurrent pet slaughter, when you’re ready to get a new dog, it’s really important to adopt to make the problem better, not worse. Let me tell you a little bit about what you are supporting when you buy a puppy from an online breeder or pet store, versus what you are supporting when you adopt from a shelter or rescue. I’m going to cover puppy mills, backyard breeders, accidental or one-time breeders, shelters, and breed specific rescues.

First, puppy mills. A puppy mill is basically a dog farm or for-profit factory. Because they are purely for profit, the dogs’ welfare is secondary. If you want to spend a horrific afternoon, you can find some dream-haunting pictures of the dogs kept in these facilities online. HSUS estimates 10,000 of these in the US, but only 3,000 are licensed and regulated. The regulations are much too lax for the dogs to be well cared for: the cage only has to be 6” larger than the dog, they only have to be given water twice a day, there are no regulations on the temperature in the facilities so they sometimes freeze or cook to death, and on and on. In addition, when breeders violate these regulations, they are just given a slap on the wrist and allowed to keep breeding.

In addition, there is no regulation on the quality of dogs bred, either by the USDA, or by the AKC. So you should be aware that having AKC “papers” does not assure the quality of the dog, only that both its parents were of the same breed. Since these operations are for profit, cheap dogs means more money. They are not well socialized, and so the dog you get may be prone to inherited disease, communicable diseases, and behavioral problems. If you take nothing else away from this talk, don’t buy from puppy mills. The dogs are overpriced, poor quality, and you are supporting an industry of cruelty.

There are also for-profit, smaller scale backyard breeders. If you buy a dog online or from an ad, beware: they may be dealers selling puppy mill puppies or not much more reputable. These are the things that should throw up red flags:

  1. They have many breeds or “designer dog” mixed breeds.
  2. They won’t show you the parents or the facilities.
  3. They have little to no paperwork on the dog’s previous care.
  4. They don’t offer a guarantee if the dog turns out to be ill.
  5. They are more interested in making the sale than the quality of the home the dog is going to.

While we’re on the topic of so-called designer dogs, I’d like to tell you a bit about the history of them. Mutts are, of course, as old as time. In fact, purebreds are more or less a recent human construct within the last hundred years or so, when eugenics became all the rage and people started breeding for bizarre traits. This is according to Adam Ruins Everything. However, in the late 90s, a group in Europe started breeding what they hoped would be an ideal seeing eye or service dog — Labrador for friendliness, poodle for brains and a non-shedding coat. Labradoodles. They were carefully bred for this purpose, and they were ideal, and within a short time they became all the rage in the US. People imported them and were paying up to $3000 for one.

Predictably, people in the US caught on pretty quickly and started breeding labs and poodles here, with no regard for health or behavior, and selling them for exorbitant prices. Then they started mixing small breed dogs — which are always more profitable to breed because they’re adorable and sell well, and you can stack up cages and breed tons of them — and calling them “designer dogs” like they were a Gucci bag — puggles, pomchis, Maltipoo. My brother had a Chorkie he paid $1500 for. With money like that on the line, it’s not surprising that these dogs are being churned out at a rate of 2 million pups per year from large-scale operations.

But what about the simple dog owner who just wanted one litter. If they are charging more than one or two hundred dollars for this dog, you’re likely dealing with a for-profit breeder, regardless of what they say. And, buying from this person is still unethical for a couple of reasons.

  1. Paying someone who bred a dog, intentionally or not, is basically a vote with your dollars. It’s saying “I support this practice; keep breeding your dog for profit.”
  2. For every dog bred and bought this way, another dog dies in a shelter.
  3. Purebred dogs bred without regard to their health history or behavior profile (i.e. “my sister-in-law also had a yorkie”) are very likely to develop health and behavior problems.
  4. All this said, this IS a better option than puppy mills or for-profit breeders.

The third option is shelters. Why should you adopt a dog from a shelter? First, the obvious, because you’re saving a life. In reality, you’re saving two or more lives — your dog, and the dog who fills the cage he vacated, who might otherwise have been euthanized due to overcrowding. Also, your money funds more rescues, not more breeding, and part of it funds the vet care, spay or neuter for the dog you’re taking home. If no one buys puppy mill puppies, profit-driven mills will cease to exist because their reason for existing will be gone. And, supporting your local shelter means it can continue operating. Communities with no shelter often have horrors like shot dogs and drowned puppies and kittens, as we’ve found out in White County, where we have no shelter options for cats.

Finally, there is also the option of a rescue organization. Quite often, these organizations do not have a facility where they keep dozens of dogs. Rather, they have a network of volunteers who foster the dogs in homes, often training them in the process. Foster moms know much more about a specific dog’s temperament, health and habits than a puppy breeder can know, even a good one. Rescue organizations usually also require spay or neuter and your adoption fee pays for it and previous vet care. If you really really love a particular breed of dog, you can absolutely find a rescue organization for that breed specifically just by googling “Golden Retriever Rescue”. This can be an absolutely fantastic option, and is my favorite on this list. I intend to rescue a retired racing greyhound for my next dog.

Dogs have been our best friends for eons of human history, guarding our homes, protecting our families, herding our sheep, going to war with us, and just making us laugh and offering a furry shoulder to cry on when we need it. We owe it to them not only to give our own dogs the best life possible, but to make sure other dogs don’t suffer and die needlessly.

Posted in Sermons

Hey Wiretap! Do You Have a Recipe for Pancakes?

The following is a speech I gave in Communications class at Motlow State Community College on April 2, 2019.

Good morning. I’m Pepper Traymore. Oh wait, that’s my porn star name. I was on Facebook last week and there was a thing on there that said, if you take the name of your first pet and the road you lived on when you were a child, that’s your porn star name. What’s yours? We don’t have time to share all of them, but maybe take a second and tell the person next to you if you find it amusing.

Those things on Facebook are always a lot of fun. Take this quiz and find out what breed of dog you are, cut and paste this list of personal questions and tell your friends about where you had your first kiss, and what year you graduated from high school, and more.

Unfortunately, I’ve just baited you into sharing two pieces of personal information about yourself with the person next to you, who might be a relative stranger. Those pieces of information might be things you used as a password to your Facebook account, or your online bank account.

Maybe you’ve seen the above meme. It highlights the fact that in 50 years, we’ve gone from deeply suspicious of government spying to basically sharing our private information with the world voluntarily. I’m going to give you a brief history of technology and personal information, talk about what They with a capital T might be doing with your data, and give you a few ways to safeguard your data and your privacy while living in the world and on social media.

Wiretapping is almost as old as the telephone. Americans were outraged when they first learned of law enforcement’s use of wiretaps in the 20s, so laws were made limiting the use of electronic surveillance by police.

With World War II came relaxations of prohibitions of government spying on citizens. President Roosevelt authorized the use of wiretaps to monitor “subversives.” In wartime this meant potential Nazi and Japanese spies, but in the 50s, it broadened to include progressive activists fighting racial segregation. “Subversives” went from meaning foreign nationals to American citizens who disagreed with the government. Do you see how dangerous that is?

Fast forward 50 years to 9/11. In the wake of those attacks, Americans feared terrorism, so they were willing to accept new legislation like the Patriot Act, and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, which was later found to be monitoring American citizens. And then, of course, the advent of social media, in which we willingly share vast amounts of private information. Technology has developed so fast that new gadgets come out faster than we can even begin to think about what effects they may have on our lives and our privacy.

In 2013 Edward Snowden revealed ways in which the NSA was monitoring American citizens that alarmed some people. Other people took the attitude, “Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to hide.” But all of us have things we would prefer other people not know about us, things we might tell our best friend or our doctor or no one at all. And as Orwell’s novel 1984 pointed out, a society that monitors its citizens breeds subservience, and quashes creativity and dissent. Throughout all of our history, we have associated these tactics with Communist and Fascist nations and dictators, not with democracy.

When I started researching this topic, the amount of information out there and the number of ways that your data can be tracked boggled my mind. One TED talk described us as walking around in a cloud of information. Everything we do leaves a little digital trail, not just online but in the real world, too. But I want to narrow my focus to two ways “they” might be tracking you.

The first is the things you like or favorite on Facebook. That innocent click tells data miners so much about you. Information can even be mined by how long you pause while you’re scrolling, you don’t even have to click the like button. So what can they tell? Algorithms have developed so much that information can be had about your religion, your political ideals, your sexual preference, your sexual behavior, how much you trust your friends, whether you are using drugs.

One example in Forbes magazine told a story about a high school girl who received a flyer from Target offering pregnancy and baby products, alerting her parents before she had told them she was pregnant. How did Target know? She had looked at ads for vitamins, and bigger purses.

In addition, if you allow Facebook and Google to monitor your location, you are providing information about where you go, what stores you frequent. This is used for targeting ads to your particular demographic. Have you ever had the experience of just talking about something you were thinking about buying, and then suddenly seeing ads on Facebook for that very thing? It’s something we sort of joke about, but when you think about it, all of that information that is being gathered can be used for nefarious purposes, even manipulating the things you think about. Hacking the human brain is becoming a reality, and no hardware need be installed when we spend hours a day interacting with the software.

The other way companies are mining your data is through the use of smart devices. Kashmir Hill is a journalist who lived for 2 months with 18 smart devices, all linked with an Amazon Echo. She had a computer scientist monitor the information the devices were sending back to the companies who made them. You can get smart refrigerators, smart TVs, even smart sex toys. In those two months, there was not one hour of radio silence. The Echo was relaying information to Amazon every 3 hours, and all of the other devices were sending data to their manufacturers, who then sell that data to other companies. The computer scientist knew what TV shows they were watching and for how long, how often they went to the refrigerator, and yes, the smart sex toy was sending information about its use back to the company, as well. Do you feel watched yet? As I said, these are only two ways you are constantly generating data that is available for use and for sale by the corporations who run every website you interact with, and create the items you use, and you do not generally know it is happening, nor can you control it if you did.

But, there are some ways you can protect yourself.

  • First, use smart passwords. Don’t use pet names or information about you that is obtainable through the quizzes on Facebook or other easy data mining. Never reuse passwords, which is more dangerous than using easy passwords. Of course, never give out your password.
  • Review your privacy settings on social media, and review it REGULARLY. Facebook updates its algorithms and terms of service often, and you might find that somehow your phone number and email are public information. Be wary of friend requests from people you have already friended; it could be a new account, or it could be someone trying to get information about you or hack you account.
  • Be careful about what you share on Facebook. Be aware that when you apply to a college, or apply for a job, or anything else that is important to you, one of the first things those people are going to do is check your facebook account. If your wall is public and full of images of you drunk at parties, you’re not likely to get the job.
  • Don’t be too trusting when asked for private information. Be your own “human firewall” and educate yourself on the ways data is being gathered and used. Be careful about checking in. Just checking in or posting vacation pictures to a public Facebook account can alert someone that you’re not home and give them an opportunity to rob your house while you’re gone.
  • Finally, it’s important to keep abreast of the latest information about cyber security. Experts say it’s not a matter of if you’ll be a victim of a cybercrime, but when. It may be worth it to look at identity protection, but do your research.

Big Brother may be watching, and there is a lot we don’t have control over when it comes to how our information is shared and sold, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful where we do have control. Be safe out there.

Posted in Uncategorized

Is the Sky the Limit?

Bran stone door overlook 0821b.jpg

News first:  I’m going to college.  I’ve applied to Motlow State Community College, I’m in the process of working my way through red tape, and I start in the fall.  Tennessee has begun the TN Reconnect program that funds two years for returning adults who don’t already have a degree. After I have said so many times that my biggest regret is not going to college, I hardly have any excuse.  Well, I could have excuses.  It turns out I could have a lot of them. One of my biggest ones has always been, “but I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  I’ve always been afraid of “majoring” in something because I am one of those people who “minors” in everything that catches my fancy.  Tentatively, though, I’m thinking of majoring in Art for my Associates and then going on to Appalachian Center for Craft/TTU for a fine art degree in metalsmithing (but I’m keeping my options open, of course).

So I am beginning college in August and my son Brandon (pictured above) is beginning his last semester of college before he becomes the first person in his family or stepfamily to graduate college, with a degree in Fine Art/Painting.  That’s a big deal. He has his whole future ahead of him.  He is currently in Boston experiencing the world, and I am immensely proud of him.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about futures and dreams and new beginnings.  About the legacy of dreams that we give our kids.

I was listening to a podcast last week, which was very inspirational about “you got this, you can do this, live your dream” sort of stuff.  They interviewed a jewelry designer who is working on a line of $300 handbags for Nordstrom to go with her manufactured line of jewelry.  So not in my wheelhouse.  Anyway I was listening to this lady and thinking how much she reeked of Privilege.

And it occurred to me that I, liberal hippie girl who just wants to make art and make the world a better place for all sorts of people, have a slightly different aroma (it doesn’t come from a perfume counter at a mall department store, it’s more like patchouli and dirt under my fingernails), but it’s still pretty solidly Privileged.  I’ll just take a sec to thank my stars and my husband for making it possible for me to even think about going to college.  I dreamed of it once before when I was a single mom but couldn’t make it happen.

Then I started thinking about that message, You Can Be whatever you want, if you dream hard enough and work hard enough.  We tell it to every child.  Disney has been selling it for a century.

But it’s not true.  I think we’re killing our kids with it.  An increasing number of kids who live in families who are not middle class, who cannot afford to send their children to college, or sometimes to even feed them adequately.  We tell those children that they must go to college to realize these dreams and then we sell them into indentured servitude to pay off the dream before they can realize it and, side note, tell them they can declare bankruptcy on any kid of debt except for college debt.  Sorry.  Keep working.  When are you going to have kids?

And then we wonder why they get depressed when their dreams fail, why they fall into traps of addiction or mental illness.  We TOLD them that they could have it, if they worked hard.

They DO work hard.  Kids in my son’s generation are working their butts off.  They’re graduating college, or trying to and failing, and then saddled with years and years of college debt to realize their dreams, which may or may not happen for reasons that have nothing to do with how bad they wanted it or how hard they worked.  Or something else gets in the way and they end up enslaved to a job Wal-Mart or somewhere in corporate America so that they can keep having health insurance.

This has gotten depressing.  I think what I am saying is, if we’re going to sell them this story, we need to back it up.  We need more states to be like Tennessee, who already has a program to give kids $4000 toward college each year if they keep their grades up.   I was thinking I was going to college anyway, but TN Reconnect sealed the deal.  We need to make community college free for the asking.  We need to put our money where our mouth is for these kids (and adults) so that we can mean it when we say, You can be what you want if you work hard.

I got political, I guess, when I was trying to be philosophical, even introspective.   But this should not be a political issue.  I’m really thankful that my state legislature, which I generally despise ideologically, and which has dropped some real legislative stinkers in recent years, has made this a priority for people who want to pursue college, all ages.

So here’s a toast to Tennessee, a hope that other states will follow suit, and maybe even the federal government, eventually.  Here’s a toast to our dreams and our kids’ dreams.  Here’s a toast to our parents’ dreams.  When I told my 75-year-old aunt that I was going to college, she was very excited for me.  She said she wanted to go to college so bad, but girls didn’t go to college then.  My mother wanted to go to school for Art, but was told that my grandfather “wasn’t supporting no starving artists.”   I guess it’s progress that we let our girls dare to dream that they can be what they want, maybe?  I hope that in a generation or two we can back it up.

So I’m off to study madly for a placement test in two days — I said, Brain, let’s go back to school, and Brain said, You realize you haven’t asked me to do Algebra in a quarter of a century, right?  It doesn’t matter.  Let’s do this, for me first, but also for all the women and men in my family who had different dreams that didn’t happen.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.  Here’s to the American Dream, available to all.