Thursday, June 25, 2015


It is never too late to be what you might have been.
Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage,
20 seconds of embarrassing bravery,
and I promise you,
something great will come of it. 
We Bought a Zoo
Believe in the person you want to become.
If you ever feel like giving up, just remember,
there is a little girl watching you who wants to be just like you. 
Don't disappoint her.
Be stronger than your excuses.
Great things come to those who work their butts off and never give up.
The time will pass anyway.
Punch doubt in the face.
Today you are you,
that is truer than true.
There is no one alive
who is youer than you!
Dr. Seuss


Our One and Only Earth

              I cannot stand when people throw a plastic water bottle in the trash.  I feel the need to pull them aside and give them a long winded rant, equal parts scolding and preaching, about their role in the environment.  (I recommend everyone buy themselves a Contigo stainless steel insulated water bottle, a little pricy but worth it!)  When I do bring up sustainability in conversation almost every one, no matter their habits, laments the lost cause that is our home planet.  I too am guilty of this.  When overwhelmed it is easiest to throw up your hands and walk away.  You and I aren’t Atlas, but this Earth is a ball too precious to drop.  I don’t have solutions to our crises.  What follows are the small ways I make a difference in my home. 

                A well known but underutilized option to curb our garbage production is composting.  When most people think of composting they see a large pile of rotting food, flies buzzing angrily, and peeved neighbors complaining.  In reality, composting is clean and odors are kept to a minimum.  In my family we use a tumbling composter.  Imagine a barrel on its side with two circular doors each leading into a compartment.  To start composting successfully the compartment should be given a few shovelfuls of dirt, old leaves, loam, grass clippings, etc.  Then you can start adding your food scraps.  What I like best about the tumbler design is that there’s no need to turn the pile, just give the barrel a spin and the compost is mixed.  After decomposition works its magic you are left with fresh, nutrient dense soil that can be used alone or added to other soil as a fertilizer.  Composting can be as basic as a pile on the ground, to our tumbler model, to smaller indoor containers that can be kept on the kitchen counter top.  In the same pioneer-esque vein as composting, consider rigging up a clothes line.  Nothing beats the smell of summer sun in cotton. 

                One of the first habits of mine I noticed repeatedly creating senseless trash was drinking with disposable plastic straws.  So I set out to find a greener alternative that didn’t involve me sacrificing my beloved straw habit.  A quick internet search showed me I had three options; ditch straws altogether which I’d already nixed, switch to metal straws which were a promising alternative, or use plastic straws that were dishwasher safe and came in many colors.  The vibrant colors won out and I bought a package of five reusable straws.  They continue to work like a charm.  After each use they get cleaned in the dish washer and once every other month or so I gather all my straws, boil them, and scrub them with a sippy-cup brush to make sure they stay fresh.  I also have switched to reusable snack bags for my lunches and longer shifts at work.  They come in two sizes, big for sandwiches and small for snacks.  There are many brands available on line, but I prefer the bags that close with zippers as opposed to Velcro. 

                My next attack on garbage may be a little tmi, but all is fair in saving our Earth.  Reusable cloth pads or other reusable methods of menstrual protection enable women to greatly reduce their bathroom trash each month.  These alternative methods also tend to be much healthier for their user.  The bathroom in general is a great place to make other environmental changes.  Bajillions of toilet paper roles get trashed each year when they are effortless to recycle.  Recyclable containers like hand soap and shampoo bottles are tossed without a second thought.  If recycling in the bathroom is a new concept for you consider putting a clean and small recycling bin right in the bathroom as a convenient and easy reminder.  Think outside the bin too!  Orange pill bottles, the box your toothpaste comes in, and broken hair clips are all recyclable. 

                To help my family cut down on our unsustainable habits I’ve taken to posting sticky notes where I see we can improve.  One sticky note lives on the washing machine reminding us to choose the single rinse option.  Another sticky note lives above the outlet in which my mom charges her laptop, reminding her to unplug it when she’s done.  My sister has a similar note above her phone charger.  I’ve also been working with the same sister to reduce the time she leaves her car idling.  Perhaps I’ll have to leave a sticky note on her dash…

                When I was a little girl I remember reading The Lorax and not entirely catching the message but understanding enough that “unless someone like you (or me) cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”  We can thanks Dr. Seuss for that gem of good advice.  We need more Loraxes and less Onclers if our home is to remain safe.  No matter the odds, don’t turn your back on the Earth.  My momma always said to leave something better than how you found it.  Recognize yourself as a citizen of this Earth and work to leave her better than when you arrived. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Power: Its Effect on Policing and Punishment in America

           American discourse on crime and criminals is focused on street crime.  Popular media portrays this type of crime to be the majority of crime in America.  In truth, there are many different types of crime that are committed by people and groups of all races, sizes, religions, etc. But not all crime is treated equally— our pedestalled Lady Justice is peaking out from behind her blindfold and letting what she sees influence her decision making process. 
            The aforementioned phenomenon of street crime is stereotypically committed by poor, young, black men, in inner city neighborhoods.  Stricter law enforcement and harsher punishments have been put in place over the past few decades.  Whether they are poor, of color, non-Christian, mentally or physically disabled, queer, or any other marginalizing quality America wants and encourages the criminal justice system and greater society to criminalize people who do not conform to picket fence ideal. 
            Then there are the wealthy, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian men pulling the strings.  They go by many names but commit the same type of crimes; white-collar.  Underrepresented and largely ignored in media and law enforcement these white-collar criminals run around creating chaos unscathed. 
            When one takes a step back to ponder the many isms that construct American culture one might rightly wonder why there is such a chasm in crime and justice.  The short answer is power; individual and institutional power overlap to bolster white collar criminals until they are seemingly above the law and general morality. 
            The stereotypical offenders in each group are different but also different are the types of crimes committed.  Street crime includes transgressions ranging from disorderly conduct to loitering to sitting down where it’s prohibited to buying marijuana.  Street crime is smaller scale but can involve violence.  White-collar crime includes transgressions such as money laundering, embezzlement, fraud, and tax evasion.  White-collar crime is higher stakes but usually does not directly harm anyone’s safety.    
            These two umbrellas of crime are policed and punished differently.  Street criminals are often caught with racial profiling.  They usually (as most are poor and black) have both individual and institutional racism and classism working against them.  They face a higher likelihood of arrest and conviction and then lengthy prison sentences than white-collar criminals.  White-collar criminals usually (as most are wealthy and white) have racial and class privilege working for them.  As rules and regulations on the poor and black have increased they have been gutted for CEOs, corporations, and other kinds of white-collar criminals. There are more police officers in poor, black communities actively looking for crime than in wealthy, white suburbs (where the police are mainly seen and act as protectors).  There are not enough regulators to effectively monitor potential white collar criminals in big business.  When white-collar criminals are caught and called on their illegal and immoral activities they often face a fine that, while large, is negligible to their bottom line. 
            It is not an accident that these two categories of crime are treated differently.  Intersecting systems of oppression seems to be the root cause behind the policy and opinion that drives the heavy and harsh treatment of street criminals.  White-collar criminals, who possess the power to control the economy and therefore control life for American citizens, are protected and coddled by the criminal justice system.  The very people these CEOs and corporations exploit are then used as a human shield; to punish the big business would harm working class families who aren’t the guilty party.  So nothing effective is done. 
            Lady Justice sees race, sex, religion, and all those things that make humans diverse, but what really tips her scale is power.  From buying politicians to controlling the economy white collar criminals are in a position of massive power.  This power— which takes on many forms and is cultivated in many ways— is the main reason behind the immense divide in policing and punishment in American society. 

Circles and Cycles

Circles and Cycles

the moon beyond the window
keeping us in frame,
hemmed in, domestic
looks like the hoop of earring
I threw off while we were fighting.
but the real thing sits there,
on a coffee table strewn with litter
and the c-shaped marks of mugs
(never bothering with coasters)
reveal: even my cup stains know
that I am no Olympiad.

turned on its head,
that silver skyward crescent
looks just like the scrubbed-clean
skin beneath your  fingernails.
those fingernails, like slivered almonds—
but that gets me thinking
of how often they have lived
inside my mouth.
you never did like to be the one
to dirty up your hands.
the sinking in of hooks
remains a specialty.

in the background,
the window does well
to divvy up the moon:
mullioned sections top and bottom,
some for me and some for you.
but in real life now
you’ve gone and
turned it upside down,
it’s come shining out your mouth
though I never would have guessed
the moon could leer.
Allison Collins

Monday, April 20, 2015

Death Cab for Cutie: Kintsugi


At the close of last month, Washington-bred indie rock band, Death Cab for Cutie, released their eighth studio album, Kintsugi and it is, as ever, lovely. Ben Gibbard’s unrivaled lyricism is recognizably, familiarly poignant and charming, without sounding stale. His voice, singing his cleverly, tenderly arranged words, backgrounded with the group’s signature catchy-but-never-cloying music, is like a welcome old sonic friend.
As a whole the album paces itself nicely, starting out slow, building in tempo and rhythm in the middle, then rounding down at the close with the slow, mournful strains of Binary Sea.
Stand out amongst the eleven tracks is the fourth, Little Wanderer. This is a listen-to-on-unrelenting-repeat job. Even as the words sound sad, listening to it almost can’t help but bring about a smile, it’s just that good. With lines like:
But if you will be my bluebird returning
Then I will be your evergreen
Standing tall on your horizon
Guiding you home to me,
it is a rueful, tuneful song about love lost and found and stretched to near crippling, but at its close (aside from wanting to start it over again), I’m left feeling something’s been gained, not lost.  It puts me in mind of Passenger Seat, from 2003’s Transatlanticism, specifically the lines: 
 I strain my eyes and try
To tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites
From the passenger seat as you are driving me home
"Do they collide?”
I ask and you smile
With my feet on the dash
The world doesn't matter
When you feel embarrassed then I'll be your pride
When you need directions then I’ll be the guide
For all time. 
Ben Gibbard can be evergreen, lighthouse, map—all of it.

Around tracks 7, 8, 9 (Everything’s a Ceiling, Good Help (Is So Hard to Find), and El Dorado, respectively), DCFC pick things up and the tempo increase paired with Gibbard’s thoughtful lyrics make this chunk of the album unabashedly catchy, though not without still having something to say.
I hear the opening, deliciously atavistic, synthy chords of Good Help (Is So Hard to Find) and am immediately put in mind of a cluster of cocktail-swilling collegiates clad in Members Only jackets and Sperrys; I love this.  And with lines like  
You said you wanna stake out your claim
High above the city from where you came
Don't you know the air's so thin?
It starves the brain of oxygen
I know it's such a dangerous place
For there are more ascensions than there is space
Angels causing accidents
The camera phones'll document
But if I start to levitate
Pull me down with all your weight, 
the song’s undeniable fun, catchy feel belies (in perfect DCFC style) the real poeticism there.

El Dorado, the album’s ninth track, is made for a full blown window roll-down.  It seems meant to be driven with. While it is purportedly to do with Gibbard’s inability to cull up matching enthusiasm for now ex-wife Zooey Deschanel’s clinching of her New Girl role, there’s too much goodness here to feel sad upon listening. At the same time, while this quality seems, in part, epitomizing of the sound and feel of many a Death Cab song, it never feels like Gibbard is striving for irony. And while he is not someone I generally think of as sexy, when Gibbard’s voice pulls and stretches out the fricative F as he professes that ‘I tried to be hyped for you,’ I sort of can’t help but imagine the shape his mouth takes as he does this.

All in all, this album feels squarely, pleasingly like true blue Death Cab. It is recognizably them without sounding or feeling redundant and should be listened to. Over and over.

-Allison Collins

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jennifer Donnelly


1. Why do you write?  If you somehow lost the ability to write what would you do instead? write because I’m obsessed by, compelled by, driven by and hopelessly in love with words, stories, language and books. If I lost the ability to write, I would jump off my roof.
That or open a donut shop.

2. Did you struggle with the economic risk of pursuing writing as a career? 

I still struggle with the economic risk of pursuing writing as a career! It’s difficult to make it as a novelist and to sustain success. Publishing is not an easy business….but what business is?

When I was starting out, I was young and somewhat stupid and didn’t give a lot of thought to phrases like “economic risk.” I worked day jobs and wrote before I went to them and after I came home from them. I wrote because I love to write and wanted to write and nothing was going to stop me. And that’s still why I write. So it was always more about love than about following a well thought out career strategy. But let me be clear that this love was not a sugary, happy, unicorns-and-rainbows kind of love. It was, at times, a very hard and dark love, and it demanded sacrifices. It still does.  

3. What advice do you have for young writers?

Listen to your own thoughts and feelings very carefully, be aware of your observations, and learn to value them. When you're young, lots of people will try to tell you what to think and feel. Try to stand still inside all of that and hear your own voice. It's yours and only yours, it's unique and worthy of your attention, and if you cultivate it properly, it might just make you a writer.

4. If you could sit down with Mattie (A Northern Light) what would you like to ask her, tell her, or discuss?
I’m dying to know how it goes for her in New York, 
so I’d ask her to tell me everything that
 happened since she got on that train.

5. Both of your teen novels, A Northern Light and Revolution, are historical fiction, as is your trilogy for adult readers.  Your work-in-progress, These Shallow Graves, is also historical fiction.  If you could go back to any time period which would you choose?

Right now, the late 18th century. Though, the answer to that question changes every week!