Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Gulf of Alaska Gives Zero Fucks and Has Even Less Chill

And that’s really all I have to say about the Gulf of Alaska.

Before the wee hours of this morning, my one and only personal experience with the Gulf of Alaska was an ass-kicker. 

It was September of 2006, and Geoff and I were moving from Palmer to Juneau. We stuffed our Subaru to the roof with crap and put it and ourselves on the M/V Kennicott in Whittier, south of Anchorage at the mouth of Prince William Sound for the two-day sailing southeast to Juneau.

All too aware of my tendency toward motion sickness, I made sure to both reserve a private room AND take all the drugs available to me, in order to foreclose spending the entire 48 hours vomiting in public.

EPIC FAIL! The notorious “Gulf Crossing” had other plans.

At about 9:00 p.m. on the first night, the ferry started lurching to and fro. One by one, passengers began to get up and leave the ferry’s movie theater screening of The DaVinci Code, and not just because the movie was nauseatingly bad. 

Barf bags appeared out of nowhere, and I literally felt in my guts what the next 30 hours or so would hold. I retired to the berth I'd had the foresight to reserve and spent the rest of my visit to the Gulf of Alaska puking violently while Geoff played cards and drank in the bar with other hearty seafarers who never get sick.

By the time we arrived in Yakutat for a quick stop, I literally bent down and kissed the ground while also filing away a mental note that this trip would be a good one to make when trying to fit into a bridesmaid’s dress.

Fast forward 12 years, and I wake up to texts, emails, and emergency alerts that the Gulf has come back to exact its revenge once more. 

This time, the Gulf smackdown came in the form of a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that struck at 12:31 a.m., 181 miles southeast of Kodiak, some 16 miles deep into the ocean.

Although we get plenty of earthquakes all over Alaska, including here in Juneau, I hardly ever feel them because our house is on bedrock in the mountains, so I regularly sleep through earthquakes that my neighbors feel in other parts of town. Also, for whatever reason, the earth ALWAYS decides to start quaking in the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning, thus further demonstrating just how few fucks it gives and how little chill it has.

I didn’t even know there HAD been an earthquake until my mom texted to see if I was okay. Without yet knowing the answer to that question, my dad responded to a family friend’s email as follows:

Friend: “Is Elizabeth and the kids okay after the earthquake?” 
Dad: “I just saw them floating down the Hudson River near 75th Street. They looked fine.”
That’s my dad! 

I think the only time he ever expressed legitimate anxiety over my physical safety was on the morning of 9/11 when he knew I worked two blocks away from the World Trade Center. Apart from that, it’s hard to put a scare into Nick Bakalar.

Then Geoff’s phone—whose background photo, ironically, is of our kids running away from crashing waves—registered an emergency alert at 12:36 a.m. that read:
EMERGENCY ALERT: Tsunami danger on the coast. Go to high ground or move inland. Listen to local news—NWS.
I will note that Geoff’s phone was plugged in on our kitchen counter, which is not where we sleep and therefore where this emergency alert was entirely useless to us, and my phone didn’t get one at all.

Still, I have to give credit to Alaska’s tsunami warning system, which clearly has its shit together more than Hawaii’s ballistic missile warning system. 

In the battle of “Which Non-Contiguous State Has Its Emergency Management Shit Together,” it’s Alaska: 1; Hawaii 0. In the battle of where you would rather be sailing, it’s Hawaii: 1,000; Gulf of Alaska: 0.

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Location of earthquake. (USGS)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Positively Powerful

Some folks have asked for the text of my speech at the Juneau women’s march yesterday. Here it is along with a photo and a screenshot and a transcription of a letter from the man who inspired it, my grandpa.

I never met my grandfather. His name was Alexander Cournos, and he died in 1948 at the age of 56, when my mother was three years old.

But he was a criminal and a felon.

He served four years of a ten year sentence at Leavenworth, a federal prison in Kansas, from 1917 to 1921. He refused to take a plea deal from the government and contracted tuberculosis while incarcerated. His mugshot is the only photograph we have of him.

His crime? Union organizing.

He and 30 co-defendants were prosecuted and convicted in less than two hours under the federal Espionage and Sedition Acts, for undermining the war effort and advocating industrial sabotage by organizing copper miners during World War I.

My grandfather’s letters to his mother from prison live in the Labor Archives in Detroit. In those letters, he explains his principled stance on the labor movement, and why he chose to go to jail rather than promise the government he would stop union organizing.

I have this man’s blood running through my veins, and I think of him every time I feel afraid.

Because it is not easy to stay positive, loud, and powerful when the whole world wants you to be negative, powerless, and mute. I tell myself, if my grandfather could go through all of that for what he knew was right, and for what this country subsequently recognized in law as right, then certainly I can put a little bit of skin in this game.

I can take some personal and professional risks. I can endure threats to my job, and even threats to my body, and I have, and I do. Why?

Because I am not afraid. 

I have a secret to share with all of you. Fear is a petty bully. Fear is weak. And it can be conquered by two weapons that each of us has within ourselves: our time, and our voices.

How we use our time, how we use our voices, is our rebuke to fear. This is not a political statement. This is a human statement. We are living in a time that transcends politics. This is not politics, what is happening now. And you know what? That's a good thing. It’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to stand for human rights and the protection of our constitutional democracy. It’s a unique moment to speak up for social justice. For what’s right and wrong. These principles are being tested daily, and you are all standing here because you know it.

And guess what? You're right. We're right.

You can do this. WE can do this. We can stay positive and powerful even when it feels like the entire world—even our friends and families—are gaslighting us by telling us we are wrong and careless and irresponsible and we should shut up and go away.

We have that power within each of us. We have that within ourselves. We might feel beaten down and demoralized by this past year, but we have to keep going, and we have to keep fighting. We KNOW the difference between right and wrong. We KNOW what we see with our own eyes. We have agency over how we use our time and our voices.

And nothing—least of all fear—is going to stop us.

Leavenworth, Kansas, July 4, 1921

Dearest Mother,

It grieves me to think that you place more confidence in the logic and statements of others, who have shown themselves indifferent or hostile to your and my interests, rather than in what I say. To take two flagrant examples:  you believe e.g. that we are each striving to be last and that we are infatuated with the place, even the tubercular patients being so infatuated with it as to prefer it to going to a better climate and being better taken care of.

Yet, after all, if one cares to stay here, it would not be hard to prolong one's stay or to come back. But, it hurts me especially to think you consider me so callous or cruel and inconsiderate of you that I prefer to stay here either for someone else's praise or because I love the place or for any of the other base, ignoble, or despicable motives that have been suggested in the past.

And these from people who, if they had stood fast, we would have been out a year ago at least, if not considerably earlier. Nor have they hesitated to spread the most horrible ideas to hinder the campaigns in our behalf and to encourage propositions that can result only in keeping us here.

To take one instance, they have said that one group was guilty of actual crime; Senator Reffer's report denies this. Now if you consider deeply the kind of character one must have to spread such a report, perhaps you will at once discredit all they may say in the future.

They, and others with them, reputed "brainy," but whose brain force is used only in intrigue, regardless of what cruelty they inflict, are quite ready to torture you through me and me through you, e.g., false reports on my health.

If at least you had some faith in what we are enduring for, it would of course make it easier for you to some extent. But they do not scruple to pervert our purpose nor to be pessimistic to you as they can. 

Yet never, I repeat never, did things look so bright as they do now. Far from being determined to stay here (a statement I have never made to you or anyone else), unless it is unavoidable that it must occur, I am firmly convinced that this year, probably in several months, will see us all out.

Either an unostentatious time can be chosen or else labor day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year; for to keep on refusing release on opposing grounds is hardly confidence-inspiring, and they will sorely need all the confidence they can inspire. The election will not be along party lines but along issue lines and therefore one is not to judge by the election of a president what the people willed but rather by the congress they elect.

Undoubtedly, if not released before, this matter will be brought up before congress, for a Christmas release. I may in conclusion say that I am not taking this stand because I personally prefer my own happiness to yours, for my personal happiness would be greatest by being with you. But there are other things besides personal happiness.

If you exclude the pain I feel because of your unhappiness, I am blessed with excellent health and a nature such as cannot help but extract a good deal of happiness, no matter what the situation. This is the least matter you need worry about, my happiness. Have faith, and you will find your faith justified.

It would be a great pity if those evil men so worried you so as to make you lose out by such a short period of time. You can see for yourself, by the fact that the commitations were not fully made known till the trip was nearly accomplished, that it was thought very likely that it would not meet with general approval.

The fact that agitation has been greater in the past few weeks, than in the entire last few years, and that there is great certainty of its becoming much greater in the ensuing months. This agitation not being confined to radical papers but also being expressed in big daily articles and large two page feature articles in large newspapers, leads me to think the matter will wind up as after the civil war.

Your loving son,


Sunday, January 21, 2018

This Poser Shaman Mess Named Brant Needed a Huge Cultural Smackdown and Sealaska Gave it to Him

Oh, Brant. Brant Brant Brant Brant Brant. I just love saying that name. BRANT

Brant is the quarterback of your high school football team. Brant is the mean rich kid in an 80's brat pack movie who throws a house party while his parents are out of town. Brant is the ne'er do-well leader of a surfer gang. 

And now Brant is a Johnny Cash lookalike Rachel Dolezal-type cultural appropriating huckster mofo who's trying to get rich quick--Lyle Lanley a.k.a. monorail guy from the Simpsons style--by charging people $1,700 $1,500 a head (EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT!) to say a few magic words and eat quinoa in the woods.

You can read more than you'd ever want to know about Brant here, but from what I can tell he took a bunch of peyote in the desert 30 years ago, "captured and released a rattlesnake with his bare hands," went on a "fourteen month fruit fast," and now thinks this qualifies him to lowkey separate rich hippies from their money.

Welp, guess what, Brant? The Tlingit people of Juneau are . . . wait for it . . .  NOT FUCKING HERE FOR YOUR SHIT!

A friend texted me about Brant, his Cali-based "Dance of the Deer Foundation," and his Alaskan "Shamanic Retreat" even before the Juneau Empire article came out, but Brant should know that you don't do anything on this land, in this way, without first consulting the Native community.

Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute came for Brant in a letter. From Rachel D'Oro's AP Report in the Washington Post:
The Juneau-based Sealaska Heritage Institute voiced its opposition to the pricey June retreat in a letter emailed Friday to the event sponsor, Dance of the Deer Foundation. The event — billed as the 24th in Alaska — is scheduled for June 22 to July 1 at an undisclosed lodge outside Juneau. 
In the short letter, Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl calls the event “a violation of a most sacred tradition of Native peoples.” She asked that the foundation not come to the area that’s considered the ancient homeland of a Tlingit group. 
Worl said the event appears to be another form of cultural appropriation.
“They are taking a cultural practice, cultural knowledge. They’re taking it away from a tribe,” she said. “Then they are transforming it into a commercial enterprise to benefit themselves.” 
The Dance of the Deer Foundation later apologized for not reaching out to the Alaska Native organization. In a letter addressed to Worl, the Soquel, California-based foundation released a statement saying it holds the deepest respect for Native people, including the Huichol tribe that it is closely connected to.

The Dancing Douche Foundation later emailed Sealaska a sorry-not-sorry which of course did not include any indication whatsoever that they wouldn’t in fact hold this BS “Shamanic retreat.”

I guess being "closely connected" to some other tribe makes it okay to commercialize ancient Alaska Native traditions by charging a bunch of tech bros with more time and money than they know what to do with to hang out at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center? 

This is among the weakest “but my best friend is Black" attempts to get street cred with POC I've ever seen in my life!

While the worst part of this might be the appropriation of culture and the commercialization of spirituality, the best part is actually the way the "Dance of the Deer Foundation" describes the Alaska retreat. 

First, as locals well know, the iconic picture that the retreat is using on its website--of the fireweed meadow in front of the Mendenhall Glacier--is taken from a parking lot on the side of the road with a lumber store and full-on highway right behind it. 

Second, I’ma break this shit down for you right here and right now:

We’ve all seen the beauty of Alaskan wildlife on television and in magazines, but experiencing a personal connection with the soaring bald eagles and singing whales of this land is indescribable. Sitting in our lodge, watching the eagles fly about or floating along the inside passage with whales breaching all around you is awe inspiring. Listen to the songs of the whales echoing from the sea as you drift to sleep. Awaken to the cries of the eagle, as the dawn brings a new day.

TRANSLATION: There is nothing about what I've just said that can't also be achieved by getting on an Alaska Airlines flight to Juneau, renting a car, and driving out the road or asking a local how to take a ten minute walk to Outer Point by yourself. Also, you're just as likely to awaken to the cries of the Norwegian Pearl's fog horn as you are an eagle. BUT, if you REALLY want to awaken to the cries of the eagle, you should pitch a tent by the dump.

Join in community with like-minded people. This retreat is not only a chance to experience something unforgettable but also to share that experience with a community of like-minded individuals.

TRANSLATION: Come commune with your fellow suckers.

The shamanic circle is full of diverse people, young and old. Families return year after year to celebrate life together in nature.

TRANSLATION: There are actually people who pay me to do this more than once. 

Spiritual practices in nature and ceremonial celebrations bring the community together, unifying the circle with all of creation.

TRANSLATION: Oh yes, unify the circle of creation, whatever the fuck that means . . .  but first I'll need a downpayment to reserve your corner of wet muskeg.

Learn how to approach sacred places of power in the traditional Huichol way. Receive the blessings and energy of various places of power through Brant’s transmission and find the answers to your prayers.

TRANSLATION: Let me gas myself up by saying a a few chants that sound quasi-legit yet have nothing to do with where I am. What's your routing number? We accept cash and all major credit cards.

The ancient practice of pilgrimage allows us to deepen our connection with nature and tap into the energy of the land.

TRANSLATION: The ancient practice of tapping into your wallet allows me to deepen my connection to several real estate investments I have in the Bay Area.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

2018 Alaska Social Justice Group Therapy in Photos

A morning well-spent.

Geoff at home pre-march.

William H. Seward, Wokified.

Isaac on "The Bear." He was a little bit bored by democracy, not gonna lie.

Being welcomed onto THEIR land.

Selfie with conservative blogger, Suzanne Downing. We rarely agree on stuff, but we are both women bloggers who are passionate and unafraid, and that transcends everything today.

The theme was “Positively Powerful.”


The future is female.

Great crowd turned out on pretty short notice.

A Nasty Woman (and a good friend) and her pup.

Jocelyn Miles might have the sickest set of pipes in the entire state of Alaska (photo credit: Trish Turner-Custard).

My fellow Juneau ReSISTER, speaker, good friend, and last year's D.C. March-travel motivator Kerri Willoughby.

Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott always has inspiring word to share.

This might be my favorite picture of all time. Check out the side-eye on little Pax!

Mama/daughter resistance duo. Love these two.

I was honored to address the rally by telling a family story about overcoming a fear of speaking out for what you believe and how we are living in a human rights moment--NOT a "political" moment.

More great signage . . .

Marching down Main Street. (Photo credit: Jorden Nigro)

Post-march coffee shop chat with tireless ally Aaron Brakel.

Boys of the future.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Oh, I GOT This!

1. “I’m gonna star in an episode of “Snapped” someday. Like, SOON.”

2. "Is the nutritional yeast that you put on popcorn the same kind of yeast that you get in your vagina after wearing a wet bathing suit for too long? Asking for a friend."

3. "I'm like, a guy's girl."

4. "I hate pizza."

5. "I value honesty."

6. "I just want people to engage with my brand."

7. "My biggest weakness is how hard I work."

8. "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

9. "I was gluten free before it was cool."

10. "I have a subscription to Forbes."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

You Wanna Burn Down the Patriarchy? Here Are 5 Simple Rules to Help You Do That

I found it depressing, predictable, and more than a little ironic that the whole Aziz Ansari sexual misconduct story was followed by a nasty, public feud between two career women: The young journalist who wrote the story, and another more seasoned journalist who was following up on it.

No need to get into the details; you can read all about it here. But it made me rethink something I spend a lot of time thinking about—both in my personal and professional capacity: 

How to support other women.

Women supporting and lifting up other women is the best patriarchy-smashing tool in our arsenal. That’s why it's so tragic when women fight among themselves over who is REALLY a feminist and who is REALLY doing the “Good Work" and who REALLY needs a smackdown.

The fact of the matter is every career woman can take steps EVERY DAY to support and lift up other women in their careers. 

Through trial (and plenty of error) between 21 and 40, here are a few simple rules I’ve learned for doing that in my own life and career:

If you’re established in your career, take young women under your wing. Invite young women to meetings. Listen to them with an open mind and insist that they both contribute AND get credit for their ideas. Introduce them to powerful people. Compliment them in public and include them. Leave your door open to listen to them. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Don’t be mean to them just because some older woman was mean to you. Bury that hatchet and break the cycle of abuse.

2. RESPECT GOOD MENTORSHIP AND REALIZE YOU HAVE A LOT TO LEARN: Conversely, if you’re young and just starting out, recognize that a good mentor can make a HUGE difference in your career, and try to respect their experience. Don't burn bridges. Try to learn from older women and honor the path they've forged for you. Try not to judge them for not necessarily grasping the norms of the next generation. They have something to teach you, and you have something to learn and also teach them. Make it an exchange of ideas—not barbs.

As women we are socialized and conditioned to compete with each other for male scraps and resources, using our physical appearance and sexuality as currency. Fight this. Do not insult other women’s appearance—their weight, their skin, their hair, their lipstick, etc. Do not eat your own. This shit has nothing to do with what a woman has to offer, and while women are busy being petty with each other, men are getting promotions you could have had.

The Ellen Pompeo bargaining story is a good example of this. Take an objective look at what your male counterparts are doing, making, etc. and insist on respect and parity. Again, this is uncomfortable because we are conditioned to take whatever we are given and be grateful, but you have to think outside that box to move forward.

Realize that what one generation thinks is acceptable (“what’s a little grab-ass from your boss?”) is not okay to the next generation, and what seems fine to that generation (“what’s a little persistence a.k.a. 'bad sex' in the bedroom?”) is not considered acceptable to the next. This is a good thing, because it means that women are evolving to insist that men begin to look at the world through their lens, not the other way around, and that men too--and older women--have a role to play in insisting that men do not perpetuate misogyny. 

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Best Sex Advice I Ever Got

There are so many takes on the whole Aziz Ansari sexual misconduct situation, it seems like a waste of time to add mine, but for what it’s worth it's basically embodied in this tweet:

The article in Babe that started it all is linked above. A less sympathetic, perhaps more "old school" generational take is here in the NYT. Another really compelling take, and one that resonated with me a lot, is here.

All of this got me thinking not so much about sexual assault, consenting, and relenting, but about the best sex advice I ever got, which did not come from Cosmo. 

It came from my psychiatrist mother, when I was a teenager.

My mom was very pragmatic about sex. There was no moralizing and certainly no religiosity. After explaining the workings of the female anatomy and that female masturbation was a great idea and the world’s best kept secret, her key advice was this: 

When you have sex, you need to protect two things: your body and your psyche. The first requires condoms and birth control. The second is harder. 

“You don’t have to be in love,” she said, although at the time I was. “But sex with someone you don’t care about and respect, and who doesn’t care about and respect you, usually feels awful.” (Emphasis mine).

Boy was she ever right about that.

So here’s the problem with this advice, and I suppose on some level it’s a bit of a "feminist paradox.” It’s not that casual sex always sucks for every woman. I am sure there are plenty of women who love it and enjoy it. 

But I also think there is a myth afloat that in order to be a true, empowered, woke woman, you HAVE to enjoy casual sex. The casual-sex-as-female-empowerment framework was, I think, a 1960s reaction to earlier, systematic social repression of women as the architects of their own sexual agency. Combine that with “a man who can’t take no for an answer,” and you have what some women dismiss as “bad sex” and others firmly characterize as sexual assault.

My point here is not to try to figure out which is which, to the extent there’s an answer to that question anyway. I am really just spinning off into a satellite angle, which is simply to observe the gulf that can exist between what women in 2018 might be socialized to believe about casual sex and what they actually experience in the moment of a casual sexual encounter.

I think there’s this idea among feminists that ALL sex by default should be good and fun, as long as it’s truly consensual and a woman knows her own body. The reality is a lot more complicated, for a lot more women, than anyone cares to admit, perhaps because these nuances are viewed as weak or regressive or something.

I don’t know.

But I do know this: for many women, myself included, sex without mutual affection and respect feels by turns abusive, repulsive, depressing, traumatizing, and terrible. Why this is could be the subject of an entire book, but the fact is that without mutual respect and affection, many women—and I'm sure many men as well—are simply not practicing safe sex.

You can put on a condom and be on the pill, but there is nothing to protect your trauma centers and your psyche from the experience of having your body touched in intimate places by someone who does not respect or care about you. You can quite literally FEEL the absence of these things, and it sucks. 

An orgasm is an orgasm and you can get that on your own. When you invite someone else to the party, well, it all becomes a lot more complicated.