Evolution for Everybody

I know polls say not even a majority of Americans accept that evolution is a result of natural processes, but this fact is nevertheless the #1 choice of a recent California central coast art cabal.

This admittedly-not-scientific poll over the past weekend was conducted as part of open studios at 17thAvenue Studios where my new writing workspace resides.  As the new kid (haha) on the block, & one of only a handful (if even) of non-visual-artists, I wanted to figure out some way to be part of the event. So, with the help of IMG_2641friends*, we concocted an easy Evolution Word Game: put a few stickers on a poster filled with (mostly) common words associated with evolution, or write in your own.

It was energizing to talk w friends & visitors about bonobos & books, asteroids & adaptation, primates & planets. &, exhausting! In honor of the MAH, it even seemed to ignite a few unexpected connections, & whew – no one argued with me about Highway 1 widening. I was especially relieved to be distracted from the 2nd-crash-in-2-weeks of my MS-for-MAC Outlook email program.  Hard to give up 20 years of that particular email habit, which is probably why it crashed – too many years of accumulated stuff!

Anyhow, here are the Evolution Word Game highlights:

  1. #1 word association: natural selection…followed closely by adaptation (#2). Yay Art Lovers! Natural selection & adaptation to changing natural environments are two key elements of IMG_2643the evolutionary process, & ones that Charles Darwin (#4) presented in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). In the 150 or so years since, scientific research in evolutionary biology & related fields (including Darwin’s own research & subsequent books) has broadened the list of evolution’s key mechanisms to include genetic drift, variation (#5), migration, & coevolution.
  2. #3 word: mutation.  Another yay for the creativity cabal! Genetic mutation is “the ultimate source of genetic variation“.  Mutations are random errors in DNA replication which occur commonly during the reproduction process. Mutations may be neutral, helpful, or unhelpful for an organism, & how these factors manifest during that organism’s life is partly dependent on it’s environment, & whether that environment is stable or changing (& ergo, more stressful).
  3. #6: survival of the fittest. I almost didn’t include this phrase on the list because it has a bad reputation, owing to its unfortunate appropriation into early 20th century ‘social darwinism’ philosophies. The concept of fitness however, is significant in our current understanding of evolutionary biology – the main idea being that fitness is relevant to reproductive success.  Fitness received only one vote in the Game.
  4. Language & Questions Still Abound tied for 7th place. Descent with modification (the current short definition of evolution) & extinction tied for 10th place.
  5. Biggest surprises: Zoonomia by Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather, came in at #8.  The Y-chromosome only got one vote (sorry guys). Alfred Russell Wallace garnered only 3 votes – a little sad as he came up with the unifying theory of evolution at about the same time Darwin was preparing to publish Origin. Wallace is pretty much an unknown to most folks: imho, it’s important to know about him because the fact that two naturalists of the era came up with the unifying theory of evolution makes it clear that science at that time was heading in the direction of figuring this out sooner or later. We love & ‘revere’ Charles Darwin (witness Darwin Day) & he was a meticulous, incredibly thoughtful & prolific scientist, but it could just as well have been Al Wallace…or someone else.
  6. & boo hoo – no one voted for one of my favorite words – tetrapod!

Well, what a fun weekend.  Kudos to 17thAve artists who work so hard to produce & present their fantastic works of art – your creativity inspires me.

& finally:

*A huge thank you to my artistic & otherwise advisors Elizabeth, Justin, Lisa, Zephyr, & to my friends who stopped by & shared happy & not-so-happy news amidst talk of randomness & survival. & congratulations to Megan who won the drawing for an autographed copy of The Upright Thinkers by Leonard Mlodinow.  Come visit me again next year!

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The Drone Age

About a year ago, a nephew excitedly revealed his new electronic toy at an afternoon family BBQ at our home.  Since I had just that morning, while preparing the meal, dropped a pot of boiling water on my leg (which resulted in a trip to urgent care & a subsequent two month recovery process featuring gross blisters, countless rolls of gauze, & character-building scarring), I wasn’t up for a group walk to the next-door church parking lot for the flight demo.  Instead, I was quietly resting outside in the backyard, leg raised & thankful for tylenol, when an oddly-buzzing apparatus appeared overhead, hovered for a few moments & then darted off here & there like an imagined alien spaceship.

My profound sense of unease that day on the backyard chaise was pleasantly mitigated by modern medicine.  I now realize that it was only excellent pain management that allowed me to laugh companionably at immediately ensuing photos of the drone’s Live Oak Avenue excursion.

Recently, R & I were at Seabright Beach for a MAH Light Waves Beach Theater event which was totally eclectic & fun except for a red & green brightly-lit drone buzzing overhead the entire time (not part of the program, btw).  Personal drones are causing so many safety & security concerns on the Golden Gate Bridge that officials have appealed to US Senator Diane Feinstein for help in restricting their use.  & I’m sure you’ve heard by now about Google & Amazon plans for drone delivery of all that stuff we buy that we don’t really need.

Starting tomorrow, our very own Santa Cruz Kaiser Permanente Arena will host the Drones, Data X Conference.  The City’s Mayor & Economic Development Director will welcome the crowd of…dronads?? dronaholics? dronophiles?…it seems we don’t yet have a term for this new addiction (a new-as-of-this-month FB page is just called Drone Addict). The Drone (& Data X? – I guess this tag enhances tech appeal) conference is paired with an invitation-only ‘VIP weekend’ of mountain biking, surfing, survival skills, food, & of course, drones.  No doubt it will be a high-flying success for the long list of sponsors, investors, & new tech aficionados.

looks like NOAA & the National Marine Sanctuary folks figured this out earlier than the rest of us.

I’m not a Luddite.  I pack an iPhone (ok ok, it’s still a 4 but I’m gonna upgrade soon), I love Survivorman, & I’ll happily play for hours with paper airplanes (well, as long as grandson D plays along with me).  But, while I can kinda grasp the boyish appeal of these next-gen electronic playthings, my current sentiment about the nascent Drone Age is deepening dread.

& now, this drone conference buzz in our own little tech-&-enviro savvy burg. Their website conveniently includes a map showing where flying fun is allowed, or not.   —>

The unmanned aircraft system (or UAV, unmanned aerial vehicle – the current popular acronym) juggernaut is just taking off:  please consider this (semi-)private post my own paltry protest of the pernicious new air show.  These electronic imitations of giant Permian Age insects are going to irrevocably change many things about our lives – maybe some of the changes will be good for some people, but I’d wager most will land on the downside.

It seems to me this isn’t a buzz to ignore.


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Not Aging Well

These days, if I stand still too long, my (thankfully-still-functional) feet seem to sink noticeably further into that squishy phase of contemporary (North American female human) life when one can no longer ignore the preponderance of pop-ups, adverts, magazines, robocalls, inserts, etc etc re the “Secrets of Living Your Dream Life into the Third Age” & “Secrets of Getting Rid of Disturbing [Age Spots][Belly-Fat][Unwanted Facial Hair] Without Surgery” etc etc.

this is not me.

I’d like to be able to tell you I’m having none of this secret aging drivel: I’m gainfully employed, thank you, trim, waxed, lifted & botoxed, greeting each day with a youthful outlook & looking forward to decades of thrilling travel adventures to check off my long bucket list.

I’m not. Sadly. Any of those things. & I detest the term ‘bucket list’.

Well now, having put this in writing (& having also no doubt insulted a good number of my friends who in fact do look & feel as great as this beautiful         80-year old to my left), I guess the above isn’t totally true. There are things I (truly & totally) love about being eligible for MediCare. And being the ever-available grandma. Art workshops with freewheeling female artists. Freely expressing my opinions at meetings without worrying (too much) about my professional reputation. Writing in my new 17th Ave. work space (yay!). Playing mah jongg with Linda & the guys, euchre with goddess-worshippers, & poker with dog-worshippers. Visiting snow-birds in strange suburban deserts. Not having to run off to work in the dark, & time to plan history walks in the park. & lest you think I eschew all age-masking procedures, I have been known to indulge in highlights & pedicures.

But.  Still.

Getting older sucks.

One day in the Kinko’s parking lot a few years ago (in those younger 50’s), I offered to assist an elderly (eeek, I don’t consider myself elderly…yet) gentleman & his very frail wife into their car. The old man looked at me with deep fatigue in his kindly listen-to-me-please-I’m-returning-the-favor eyes & said “These aren’t the golden years, you know”. My 83-year old mother had just died & I knew she would’ve agreed. I wasn’t yet old enough to envision myself in their shoes, but I am, now. &, I have lots of company. We boomers are just getting going on this aging adventure, & unlike our predecessors, there are just so damn many of us we’ll be hard to ignore.

NOTE: If you’re under 50 feel free to stop now (if you’ve even managed to get this far), because you probably won’t grasp a word of this moaning & may even feel unsympathetic to these complaints. Really, I won’t hold it against you…I know you’ll (most likely) get here eventually. On the other hand, if you’re over 50 – well, maybe this will give you license to do a little moaning yourself, even though I know you usually tough it out, because – you know the saying – old age ain’t no place for sissies.

Humans haven’t had much experience living this long. First of all, it took us a few million years in Africa to even feel comfortable moving about on two feet. Then, when our brains started getting bigger due to the benefits of bipedal walking (omg, the things we could do with those freed-up forelegs! the energy we saved! the predators we could see! the places we could go!), it took us at least another couple of million years to figure out how to help each other live long enough to birth & nurture our ever-bigger-brained (but ever-more- helpless) infants – while at the same avoiding becoming prey ourselves.

So, yeah, back in the day, there were a few tribal elders – revered I might add – but most people either died in childbirth or in childhood, or from big cats, or from snakes, spiders, starvation, floods, droughts, volcanoes, & a host of other everyday catastrophes. Later on, about 10,000 years ago when humans started settling down due to our love of farmable carbohydrates, communicable diseases were added to the list; for a long time, these voracious viruses did a good job at keeping the human population in check – well, sorta. Antibiotics became commonly available only 75 years ago – conveniently, right before we boomers started being born (…getting the connection here??). Ergo, having so many humans moving into older age at the same time is unprecedented in human history.

So what do we call this age we find ourselves in…upper middle age? Lower old age? For sure we’re not elderly yet, but nota bene, we’d better start figuring out what’s going to happen when we are, because this sketchy patchwork of elder care that we’re living through with our parents isn’t going to work for the multitudes that will all too soon be us.

I recently noticed that my ears are looking more like my mother’s. No really – do you know why this signature aging feature occurs – that the ears & nose seem to just keep on growing?? There are different theories about this – the one that makes the most sense to me, besides decades of heavy earrings, is gravity.  As in, they’re not really growing, they’re just dripping (along with other body parts that will go unmentioned). & even though I’m hopelessly entrenched in that 70’s-feminist-notion of let-it-all-hang-out

…I guarantee you, this sort of hanging & sagging is not what we had in mind back then.

ps. pls appreciate that instead of saggy-breast cartoons, I’ve wrapped up this slightly-drippy-in-itself post with some lovely fine art. While the former are abundant & hilarious, the latter is more in line with my deferred but recently reinvigorated commitment to daily sun protection.

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1-11-15 from 1115

Finally catching my breath in the new year. Can I still say it or is it just too yesterday? – well whatever – I wish it for you. A Good Year.

Jeez, what a relief that the ‘holidays’ are over & we can settle into whatever 2015 has to offer. Which is already a mixed bag…as usual. I’m glad it’s still (technically) winter. How about this year we do away with ‘the holidays’ & just celebrate seasons brought on by earth’s tilting…?? These would be good – & enough – celebrations for me.

Speaking of celebrations: a (very-)belated birthday one, nearly two days with four women I’ve known nearly 40 years – deep Health Collective bonds.  &, the day prior, an hour or so w my oldest female friend of 50 years. Sustaining. Honoring the contributions & the stress of aging (& in some cases, alpha) female primates. Our families & our work. The pain & the perseverance. Yeah. Thankful for these sisters, & for others too, bound as we are by birth, bounty & bravery.

Friendships take work. Attention. At some point this comes as a surprise – or it did for me anyway. We figure out early (most of us) that marriage & family & work consume a lot of effort, but for some reason I’d assumed that friends are friends – you can count on them to be there whenever you need ’em. Not. Necessarily. But hey, why should friendships be different than anything else in life? Energy in, energy out. Like our primate cousins, we need to pay attention to grooming. Sadly, I’ve done my share of neglecting this worthy brand of social glue.


Did I groom enough over the past few days? I wanted to. I hope so. Human primate grooming isn’t as straight forward as the bonobo/chimp variety. It’s more words & less touch. Stories & conversation. Soup. Flowers. It’s the way we are, it seems. Some of us are better at it than others. & we ponder & deconstruct it afterwards…too much I suppose. So we can be better at it next time.

It’s the (um, probably primarily female) human primate way.  Love you, Gals!


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there’s still no cure for dying

You’re probably rolling your eyes at this apparent not-joy-t0-the-world holiday season post.  But hang in here with me – this topic could fuel unusual & maybe even helpful family dinner conversations.  Still skeptical?  Well, just remind yourself that there’s nothing more important to religious holidays than life & death.

hsc3105_hiWorrying about death is uniquely the province of the human primate.  It’s where religion has a big jump on science: our species spent its early millennia around the campfire constructing stories of why & what & how & where & when.  Science only came along within the past 2,500 or so years…a mere scratch (albeit getting deeper daily) on the surface of our ancient narratives.  It’s no wonder we have a hard time letting them go.

Trying to grasp the fact of death, surviving others’, & anticipating our own are arguably among the most emotionally painful experiences of being human.  Other primates & mammals (& also, I’ve observed, chickens) may mourn the death of their offspring or peers or elders, but it seems only humans can anticipate this end for themselves.  It’s no wonder we avoid the topic.

I recently read a provocative article about this particular avoidance (…one of many things humans love to ignore – doing something about global warming being another…):  Why I hope to die at 75 by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.  The first hit from this article is the reminder that now we really do have something to worry about: living too long.  Average human life spans have increased significantly in the past 100 years, primarily as a result of much lower rates of infant death & death by disease.  More of us (& there are a lot more of us now) are living longer than ever, & instead of these diseases, we’re dying of chronic conditions that accompany old age (heart disease, cancer, etc).  Many older folks are losing their minds in the process: 1/3 of people over age 85 have Alzheimer’s disease.

So, how old is old enough?  That’s the resonating question of this essay.  In particular, the author questions the myriad measures routinely promoted by the US health care system to prolong the life of what he calls the ‘American Immortal’.  While not a part of this particular opinion piece, others have noted that about 25% of all US health care expenditures are made within the last year of life.  Some have accused Emanuel of being “adolescent” in his opinions (after all, he’s only 57…75 seemed old to me too when I was in my 50’s…) & others have reacted by touting the wonders of old age.  Of course, it’s the concept, not the number, that’s worthy of some thought & maybe, action…or rather, in this case, inaction.

These sorts of things have been on my mind for a while now, but Emanuel’s article reminds me that we do have a choice in this. The palliative care & compassionate death movements are right-on in this regard, but our choices need to start way earlier than the last days…as in months & years before our DNR’s & advance directives kick in.  While we’re still of (at least moderately, we hope) sound mind.

I don’t want to live to be 100.  or even 90, really.  I know, I know, once I’m faced with a death more imminent than it feels like at this moment, my tune could change, & I’m sure I’ll be sad to miss seeing how things turn out.  My ideal post-death scenario (which, granted, isn’t very original) would be to time travel about 200 years into the future…long enough that I wouldn’t know anybody but short enough to see if we figured out how to survive on a frightfully hotter home planet.

If I can, I’ll let you know what I find out – around the campfire of course.

ps., all this rambling is mostly just a way of sharing a slightly-dark tune about being alive…a little break for you from ubiquitous jingling.  We’re nearing the winter solstice, after all.


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Encyclopedias & Other Precious Stuff

Yikes. It’s been over two months since my last post.  I’m trying to not feel delinquent.  I have lots of excuses.  Tell me you’ve missed me!

Mostly, I’ve been consumed by stuff.  My stuff.  Our stuff.  Our kids’ stuff.  Our parents’ stuff.  Work stuff.  Stuff from decades past & from last week.  Consequences of inertia & consumption & our human-as-consumer culture.  Stuff I’m trying to shed.  Recycle.  Let go.  Release.

It’s mostly the stories that are consuming.  The preciousness of an object is proportionate to its emotional packaging.  Stories are us!  How can I shed the object http://justanotheramericanprincess.blogspot.com/2013/10/gorgeous-venice-italy.htmlwithout also shedding the story?  No, I can’t let this thing go – my life’s in there!  Or that thing either – I might need it someday. It’s actually a relief to pick up something relatively useless that evokes no readily-retrievable memory…quick – into the recycle bag!  Whew.

The clothes closet is probably the easiest – though most females hold out hope eternal of being able to fit into those supple old jeans.  CD’s & old tapes…huh, what are those??  (I lie – we do still have a working CD player.)  Handwritten journals, ugh: a major source of anxiety…tucked away in an old grocery bag, waiting for their author to have the nerve to toss it into a random dumpster (although burning has more dramatic appeal).

The books & old encyclopedias are the hardest.  These wonderful tomes I intend to but probably never will read, or, tbt, ever crack open again.  My friend Lisa recounts an axiom she heard: if we read about one book a month (or week or year…this = X) & estimate that we have Y number of months/years left (…an unknown, usually, but make a guess), we’ll read about X x Y more books in our lifetime.  Hence, we can shed all the rest.  A sobering calculation for those of us who still read books.

Not to mention the artwork that’s surrounded us for so many years.  Local Santa Cruz & family artists have been well-represented on our off-white walls, but what would someone else do with this colorful collection?  In my attempt to go simpler, I’ve put only about half of the artwork back up after the deferred home maintenance project (inspiration for this current shedding exercise, btw), but the rest rests against a wall in the guest room.  I’m trying to talk my friend Suzanne into hanging some of it in her home…knowing it’s living somewhere would be almost as good as seeing it everyday myself.

I’ve felt a little smug all these years about the benefits of a small house – not much space to accumulate…or so I thought.  Ergo, it’s been a shock to really understand how much stuff has slowly piled up, & how difficult it is to let go.  Ergo, the blogging drought.

Since incrementally is usually the only way humans will willfully change, I now have a new daily ritual: select at least one (yes, it can be small) pile or file or basket or box per day & deal with it – stories & all.  Well, most days anyway.  It can be exhausting, & I’m not even moving.

And then there’s Ritual #2:  appreciate the open(ed) space.  Avoid refilling.





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We’re All Migrants

We’re all migrants from somewhere.  There are probably a few of us left in our (so far apparent) homo sapiens hometown of East Africa, but the rest of us are migrants, or children & grandchildren of migrants.  These days we love to slam that door behind us, or vilify those knocking on the door.  Or whom we’ve displaced.  Or whom we feel displaced us – long ago or yesterday.

numbers = thousands of years ago

Home is where we make it. It’s one of our fantastic human adaptations – maybe not as phenomenal as bipedalism, but highly functional nevertheless. When things got too tight with the neighbors way back when, it probably wasn’t too hard to move our campfires a few hundred feet further along the coast or up the hill… & we could still saunter back & visit grandkids in the old hood.  It’s just…well, it’s just our problematic, parallel compulsion to believe that we own where we are.  Some of us believe that there’ve been cultures that advanced beyond this belief…cultures which understood that this human primate is part of nature.  I dunno…not many of them survive to tell.

I’m a Santa Cruz immigrant from LA, drawn north by the new University (…yeah, that was a while ago).  My parents migrated west from Minnesota.  Their ancestors migrated across the Atlantic Ocean from northern Europe, & their ancestors were transplants from Africa, maybe via Asia – we may never know for sure.  The story of ancient human migrations is ever changing, thanks to new discoveries of old fossils & new ways of analyzing old data.

We’ve lived in ‘our’ Live Oak Avenue home for 26 years.  Daughter Z has moved at least nine times in the past nine years.  Worldwide, tens of millions of humans are on the move every year – voluntarily or involuntarily.

This past week we’ve been voluntarily displaced from our home.  It’s disturbing.  I cook soup to feel attached to the (very charming) upstairs apartment we’re temporarily inhabiting; I spread my things around; I put my ear to the open window trying to figure out what’s making those unfamiliar sounds.  I am across the street & two doors down from our home.  I am clearly a migration wimp.

Millions of humans don’t enjoy that luxury.  Severe economic distress, civil wars & water wars, dysfunctional governments, natural resource depletion, climate change, population growth – these & other factors will only increase human migration into the future.

It’s probably time to figure out a better way to welcome our new neighbors.  Next year they may be us.




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