Author Archives: Blaize Sun

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

Is This America? (Blog Post Bonus)

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Since today is American Independence Day, I thought I’d share an American story with you as a blog post bonus.

A couple of months before I started working at the fuel center (aka gas station), the corporation that owns it decided to stop accepting a major credit card. According to a flier given to customers before the major credit card was blackballed, the company I worked for

is charged excessive bank fees when customers use [the major credit card in question] at the checkout. To help keep your grocery price low, we’ve decided not to accept [this particular major credit card].

At the time I worked there, the fuel center accepted three other major credit cards, as well as debit cards, including debit cards with the name of the credit card we didn’t accept on them.  Confused? So were the customers.

The folks who lived in town and got fuel regularly where I worked were slowly growing accustomed to the change, but I worked in a tourist town, and the tourists who stopped in for fuel were in a perpetual state of WTF. Every day at least five visitors ran their card two or three times before the screen on the pump instructed the person pumping fuel to see the cashier. (Of course, when I was at work, the cashier was me.) Nine out of ten of the customers sent to see me were already pissed off. I could see it in their faces and their body language. When I told them the problem was that the store quit accepting their credit card of choice months earlier, they were usually incredulous. Some of them wanted to discuss the situation with me (What card CAN I use? or Can I use my debit card?) but some simply walked away without speaking, looks of anger and/or disgust on their faces.

You must be the only gas station in the country that doesn’t take [the credit card he wanted to use], one visitor spat at me during my last week of work.

Maybe, I said noncommittally to him. I wasn’t going to argue with him because for all I knew, he was right.

Many of the locals who knew they couldn’t use the particular credit card where I worked were not too happy about the situation. One elderly lady gave me an earful. Neither the bulletproof glass between us nor the scratchy intercom deterred her.

I know it’s not your fault, but it is ridiculous you don’t take [the credit card in question]. And it’s a shame they make you say it’s to keep prices low. Every time I go into the supermarket, everything is so expensive! My friends don’t even come here anymore.

I cut in to offer my apologies, but she didn’t want to hear them. She just wanted to rant.

I know it’s not your fault, she repeated, then started back in with her tirade.

I wanted to ask her why she was making me listen to her complaints if she knew the situation was not my fault and I could do nothing to remedy it, but instead I kept my mouth shut and tried to appear sympathetic. I didn’t understand why she continued to spend money where I worked if she thought the prices were too high and she hated the payment options.

The fellow in line behind her must have been tired of listening to her too. He was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, and he probably weighted upwards of 200 pounds. While he didn’t physically push the little old lady away, he used his size to intimidate her, so she stepped off to the side of the drawer I used to collect payment and deliver cigarettes, candy, and change. While the lady was still complaining, the large customer drowned out her voice by demanding, $25 on 6!

The elderly lady looked startled, then scurried away.

On the one hand, I thought the male customer had behaved very rudely.

What’s wrong with you? I wanted to ask him. That woman was old enough to be your mother. Would you want someone to treat your mother that way?

On the other hand, God bless him. If he hadn’t stepped up, that lady might have gone on for another five minutes.

Of course, each pump had a sticker saying we only took the debit version of the card. Of course, most customers don’t read the words on gas pumps.

One afternoon an elderly man approached the kiosk while a manager was in there with me. She happened to be closest to the intercom when the fellow walked up, so she asked how she could help him.

He said the screen on the pump had told him to see the cashier. The manager asked him if he was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. He confirmed that he was. The manager told him we’d stopped taking that card several months prior. He was obviously livid.

The customer stomped off, and the manager went to the back of the kiosk, out of sight. I thought she’d left.

Maybe two minutes later, I looked out of the bulletproof glass to see the already angry customer booking it back to the kiosk. When he reached the window, I switched on the intercom and asked how I could help him.

You don’t take [card we didn’t take], right? he asked me.

That’s right, I told him.

Then why does every pump have a sticker saying you take it? he wanted to know. He really thought he had me now.

Oh, sir, I said nicely, those stickers say ‘debit only.”

He spun on his heels and took off without a word.

I thought his head was going to explode, my manager said.

I thought you’d left, I said to her.

I saw him coming back, so I ducked out of sight.

I’m really glad you saw that, I told her. It happens all the time.

A few days later a youngish woman came up to the kiosk. She was holding two red two-gallon gas cans. She seemed a little frantic.

The pump told me to see the cashier, she said to me.

Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take], I asked her. She was.

I’m sorry. We quit taking those in April.

Now I’ve lost my place in line, she screeched. There should be a sign! There should be a sign!

I tried to tell her about the stickers on the pumps, but she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. She was already crossing the fuel center to negotiate with the woman who had pulled her truck up to the pump the woman with the gas cans had been trying to use.

My favorite response from a frustrated credit card user came one busy afternoon. The line was about five deep when a man stepped up the window and told me the screen on the pump had instructed him to see the cashier.

I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept. He said he was. I told him we didn’t accept it.

He busted out with, Is this America?

I almost busted out laughing, but managed to keep a straight face. I don’t know if the guy was referencing the free enterprise system or the Rah! Rah! Rah! U!S!A! freedoms certain segments of the population tend to celebrate. All I knew was it didn’t matter what country we were in—I couldn’t process the card he wanted to use.

I took the photo in this post.

You Fishing?

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Tackle Box With Fishing Lures and Rods

According to the National Today website, yesterday was National Go Fishing Day. I didn’t go fishing yesterday, but in honor of the missed “holiday,” today I’ll tell you a story about fishing of a different kind.

Have you ever been to a gas station and seen colored circles in the concrete? Those colored circles are lids to the spill buckets. I don’t know exactly what role the spill buckets play in the fuel center system, but I do know water should not be allowed to sit in them. If water sits in them, the water can (somehow) get into the fuel, a huge no-no.

At the fuel center where I worked briefly, water ended up in at least half of the spill buckets when it rained more than a drizzle Some would only have a bit of water in them, while others would end up with a couple inches of liquid in them. It was the job of the fuel clerk on duty to use absorbent pads to soak up the liquid.

Checking the spill buckets was on the list of duties for both the opening and closing clerks. When I opened (often) or closed (hardly ever), I made sure to act accordingly where the spill buckets were concerned.

One day my shift started at noon. The midday worked did not have “check spill buckets” on the list of duties, so I did not check the spill buckets. After the opening clerk had left to get items to restock the fuel center, one of the assistant store managers showed up at the fuel center and checked the spill buckets. She found about two inches of water in most of them and sent me out with absorbent pads to soak up the water.

Soaking up the liquid in the spill buckets was one of my least favorite

Man Wearing White Tank Top

duties. For one thing, it was dirty work. Just lifting the lids left dust and grease on my hands. When I had to stick my hands down down down into the spill bucket to put the absorbent pads in place, I’d usually end up with dirt, grease, and mud (and sometimes dirty, muddy grease) all over my forearms.

Another reason I hated dealing with the spill buckets was because doing so was dangerous. I had to get on my knees in order to reach down into the spill buckets. Although I am not an insubstantial person, I felt invisible while so low to the ground. Also, the spill buckets were located in an area drivers often zipped through as a shortcut out of the parking lot. Every time I was on the ground trying to dry out those spill buckets, I felt like the living ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Once when I was putting pads in a spill bucket, a small SUV came too close for comfort. I don’t know where it came from. I think it was heading to pump 10, but for some reason the driver started backing it up. To say it almost hit me is a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly scared me. It wasn’t there, then suddenly it was.

Hey! Hey! Hey!  I started yelling. I can’t remember if I jumped up or crouched there paralyzed with fear.

The driver stopped the vehicle and stuck his head out the rolled-down window. His eyes were big. Are you ok? he asked me.

I’m ok, I told him. You didn’t hit me, but you did scare me.

You scared me, he said, but he wasn’t the one who’d come close to bodily harm. Then he rolled up his window and left without fueling up.

I guess he was so scared by almost hitting you that he decided to go get gas somewhere else, another customer joked.

On the day the manager found inches of water in the spill buckets and had me handle the situation, I asked the morning fuel clerk about it when he came back with the items for the restock. He said he had put absorbent pads into the spill buckets early in the day, but the fuel delivery guy must have pulled them out when he came over later. At best, my coworker had done half his job. It wasn’t enough to put pads in there and never check on them again. He should have gone back to pull the soggy pads out, at which point he would have seen the delivery driver had pulled them out already and that there was still water that needed to be absorbed.

After that day, if I came in at noon on a day after it had rained, I checked the spill buckets even though doing so wasn’t on my list of responsibilities. Whenever I asked my coworker about the condition of the spill buckets after a rain, he always thought I was talking about the buckets with squeegees and fluid for cleaning windshields. When I point in the direction of the spill buckets and said, no, those, he always assured me they were fine. They were never fine. Finally I quit asking him and just handled the problem.

One morning I opened the fuel center and checked the spill buckets as I was supposed to. To my chagrin, I found water in more than half of them. I went back to the kiosk and grabbed several absorbent pads. I also grabbed two orange safety cones and put those down on either side of me. I hoped drivers would see the orange cones even if they missed my big butt and fluorescent pink safety vest.

While I was down on my knees, I saw a small pickup truck pull in next to the air pump. I knew the air pump wasn’t working and was glad there was an “out of order” sign on it. A few minutes later, I noticed a man walking across the fuel center toward me.

Is the air pump really out of order? he asked me.

It took everything I had not to say something sarcastic to the guy. Why would we put an “out of order” sign on an air pump that was functioning normally? If we were lying about the air pump being out of order, why did he think I would be honest with him and tell him it was really working?

I held my tongue except to say, Yes, sir. It’s really out of order.

Oh, that’s too bad, he said as if he were hoping I’d change my story about the functionality of the air pump.

I exercised my right to remain silent while I continued to shove absorbent pads down into the wet spill bucket.

Are you fishing? the fellow asked me, and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I know the guy thought he was making a good joke, but for a joke to work, the recipient of it has to think it’s funny too. I didn’t think it was one bit funny. Annoying? Yes. Ridiculous? For sure. Funny? Not a bit.

The fellow reminded me of my grandmother’s second husband who insisted on calling me “blondie” even though I had dark hair. Neither man really cared about making me laugh; both men just wanted a reaction out of me, and if that reaction was irritation or anger, well, that was better than nothing.

I didn’t give this asshat the satisfaction of my anger, but he probably could

Selective Focus of Brown Fishing Reel

tell I was irritated. Of course I wasn’t fishing. I obviously wasn’t fishing. I didn’t even have a fishing pole. Did he think I was noodling for catfish living in a concrete hole?

No, I’m not fishing, I said, and I’m sure he could tell I thought he was being an idiot. I’m getting water out of here so it doesn’t mix with the fuel.

Then I turned my attention back to the wet spill bucket and the absorbent pads. When I looked up again, the fellow was heading back to his truck. I was glad to be done with his foolish questions. 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/tackle-box-with-fishing-lures-and-rods-1430123/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-white-tank-top-1325619/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-of-brown-fishing-reel-1687242/.

The Land of Broken Dreams

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I live in a harsh land, closer to nature than I ever dreamed possible when I lived in cities. All around me is evidence of people who came out here with big dreams only to abandon them. Why did they leave? I’ll never know for sure, but I can enumerate the ways the harshness of this place could discourage a homesteader. Today I’ll tell you about the conditions here and show you photos of what has been left behind.

I’m going to leave this brokedown palace on my hands and my knees…

While spring is mellow of temperature, when days warm, the wind comes. Growing up in the Deep South, winds weren’t even a concern unless they belonged to a hurricane. I thought I knew winds from my time in the Midwest, but the winds of the plains (if not those of a tornado) are nothing next to the winds of New Mexico.

Before I moved permanently to Northern New Mexico but after I had spent months here over several years, my memory of the winds had them starting in the afternoon and blowing strong and hard for a few hours, slowing down substantially by sunset. This may be a false memory, because that’s not how the wind is blowing these days. Now the wind starts at 10 or 11 in the morning and blows relentlessly until sometimes 9 or 10 at night. Last week, the wind was blowing at 8am.

A spiritual friend who lives around here once told me that the wind blows one’s aura and makes it bumpy or jagged instead of smooth She might be on to something. After hours of constant, strong blowing of the wind I feel off, not quite myself, agitated. The sound alone is enough to put me on edge; the constant rocking of the trailer destroys my mental equilibrium. There’s something about wondering if the roof will be peeled off or if the entire trailer is going to flip that harshes my mellow.

This abandoned shipping container has whimsical paintings on all four sides.

The hours of moving air (and its sound and the way it moves the trailer) would be bad enough, but with the wind comes dust. During times of strongest wind, we must leave the doors and windows closed lest the dust come in and cover everything we own. Sometimes dust devils blow across our property and slam into our trailer. Sometimes the short dust storm takes us by surprise, and we can’t get a door or window closed before it hits, leading to dust on the floor, dust on the clean dishes in the drying rack, dust on the blankets lying on the bed. I now have a small knowledge of what people in the 1930s experienced during the Dust Bowl in the United States.

The upside of the wind is that it pushes away the no-see-ums. Some folks call these insects from the Ceratopogonidae family sage gnats, some call them biting midges, but let’s just call them hell. The first three summers I spent in the area I encountered none of these bugs and no mosquitoes either. I thought I had discovered a magical land with no bugs. The Man independently arrived at the same conclusion. We were fools.

What was happening (I’m pretty sure, but I have not consulted an entomologist) is that the area was so deep in drought, no bugs were hatching. The eggs were out there, waiting for enough moisture to make life viable.

Burnt car

The drought had broken by the time The Man and I returned in 2017. Those no-see-um suckers were everywhere. We fought them for a couple of months. Spoiler alert: we found nothing to deter them, not DEET, not the $15 bottle of natural insect repellent I bought at the herb store after the lady working there told me the concoction would protect me. In the later part of June, we ran away to work in California to in order to escape the beasts.

One problem with the no-see-ums is that you don’t know when they’re biting you. They are super tiny (hence their name) and (like chiggers) their bite causes no immediate pain. Hours after being outside, one feels an itch and knows it has begun.

There are a lot of abandoned vehicles in my neighborhood.

I grew up with Southern mosquitoes. I’ve suffered countless mosquito bites in my lifetime. For me, a mosquito bite usually itches for about 20 minutes or half an hour, then the itch and the red welt is gone. The no-see-um bites itch intermittently for days. There is swelling and redness at the site of the bite, and the itching can come at any time. The no-see-um bits have more in common with chigger bites than those from mosquitoes.

Last year was a wet one. The area got a lot of snow in the winter and spring (the last snow at our place was in May), and once the snow ended, the rains came. All the moisture led to a long season of no-see-ums. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives said they’d never seen a no-see-um season quite so bad go on for quite so long.

We all fall down.

This year has been dryer, but the no-see-ums are out, and they seem worse than last year. The mesh of our screens is not fine enough to keep the little boogers out, but they weren’t coming in through the screen last year. This year we’re not so lucky, although I’m not sure why they’re coming in this way now. These days we long for the wind to blow and keep the little insects away.

The no-see-ums seem to like to bite The Man more than they like to bite me, and he has a worse reaction to the bites. It’s not unusual for his bites to itch so badly that he scratches them raw and bloody. Mine don’t itch quite so badly, but they tend to stay red and swollen for days after the attack.

The opposite of vanlife.

When you live out here, at certain times of the year you dare not go outside without suiting up. Going out in shorts and a tank top during no-see-um days is looking for trouble. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, and shoes before going outside. The Man does the same and adds a bug deterrent mesh over his face. Still, the bugs can fly up a sleeve or a pant leg and leave bites in places I don’t know how an insect could reach.

If a person survives the wind and the dust and the bugs, there are a few months available for tranquil productivity. I suspect most of the homesteading progress occurs in the summer when days are long, mornings are sunny, nights are cool, and an afternoon wet monsoon offers the opportunity for a siesta.

Unfortunately, summers are short around here. My first summer in the area, when I was homeless and sleeping outside, my local friends started worrying in August about how I would live during the coming winter. I’m from the South where life is just getting comfortable in October. When I lived in the Midwest, no one expected snow before Halloween. In northern New Mexico, people told me snow could fly any time after Labor Day.

I didn’t peek here either, but I could tell this fifth wheel is deserted.

This past winter, the first snow fell in October, before Halloween. That made for a long enough winter. I can’t imagine if the snow had started early in September. Old timers have told us this past winter was a mild one, although it seemed plenty cold to me. People who’ve lived here for decades talk of winters with lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. People tell us of snow falling and piling up through the season, only melting in spring.

The door of this mud structure is open to the elements. No one seems to live in the fifth wheel either.

This past winter, we went through multiple cycles of snow/freeze/melt which led to the dreaded mud. I’ve written about the mud out here before, but let me say again, it’s no joke. Driving anywhere off our land was an exercise in slip sliding away and the possibility of getting stuck. Almost everyone living around us got stuck in the mud at lease once, even the folks with 4x4s.

If the weather don’t get you, the hauling water will. The water table is deep here. It would cost thousands of dollars to dig a well so most people don’t. There is a community well that folks can buy into. The price per gallon is good, but the liquid still has to be hauled. People need trucks for hauling water and a big container too. We have a 50 gallon container for hauling water. A 100 or 250 gallon container would be better. Homesteaders also need a big container to put the hauled water in. All those containers are expensive, especially ones that are made from food-grade materials.

I don’t know if this trailer was vandalized or decorated.

I’ve heard that when it snowed more here, people with big cisterns could collect enough snow melt to basically get through the summer. The cisterns were topped off by the abundant water from the summer monsoon rains.When I first came here, I met an elderly woman who had been living off snow melt and rainwater for years, but she was having a hard time because of the drought. I don’t know if the weather has been wet enough lately for folks to collect water like they once did.

Want to grow food? Good luck! The soil is basically pure clay out here. The soil will have to be enriched if anything is going to grow. Raised beds or container gardening would probably be a better idea. Most of the water needed for irrigation will have to be hauled. Finally, the growing season is short around here with last frost in May and first frost in September.

All this is not to complain but to say it can be a hard life out here, especially for folks without piles of money. Some people make it and some people give up. Of course, some people get old or sick and leave because they can’t live such a rough life anymore. Some people are carried away by death.

I walk through this land of broken dreams and wonder where the people went. When they left, did they think they’d be back in a week or a month, in the spring, next year? When they left, did they know they’d never be back? Why didn’t they sell or give away the trailer, the propane tanks, the land? Why leave it all behind to rust and rot?

I wonder what my dreams will look like when I’m gone. Will they seem broken too, or will what I leave behind look like success?

I took the photos in this post. If you want to see more of my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.

Communication Breakdown

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The customer seemed quite confused when he approached the kiosk at the supermarket fuel center.

It was during the early days of my brief career as a clerk at the fuel center (aka gas station). I was stationed inside a kiosk and communicated with customers through a poorly functioning intercom system.

The customer was an older man with a long white beard and a big straw hat over his white hair. He was dressed like a city cowboy or maybe a vacationer at a dude ranch, but when he spoke, he had an accent that was maybe from Australia or maybe from New Zealand. I never can tell the difference between the accents, but I remember from my days working in tourist traps in New Orleans that New Zealanders and Australians can get testy when they’re confused for one another.

I asked the fellow how I could help him today, and he told me the communication screen at the pump had instructed him to see the cashier. I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept, and he was. I assured him the use of that particular credit card was the problem.

He rummaged through his wallet. He found another credit card to use. He decided that since he was already standing in front of me, he would pay me instead of trying to pay at the pump.

I asked what pump he was on, and he said he was on pump 2. I asked how much he wanted to put on pump 2.

He started rambling out loud, doing some elaborate calculations involving how much fuel was already in the tank, the number of gallons the tank held, how far he was going, how far he had already gone, the distance we were from the equator, and the alignment of the stars. (Okay, yes, I made up those last two factors.) Finally he said he would take eleven on pump 2.

I assumed he wanted to spend $11 on fuel on pump 2. (I know, Dad, when I assume, I make an ass of u and me.) All day long, people told me they wanted twenty on 2 or ten on 6 or fifteen on 8. Most people never even said the word dollars.

So the guy put his credit card in the drawer, and I pulled the drawer into the kiosk with me. I authorized pump 2 to give the customer $11 worth of fuel, then ran the credit card for $11. When the transaction was complete, I put the customer’s card and receipt in the drawer and slid it back out to him. He took the card and receipt and walked to pump 2.

It wasn’t long before the fellow was back at my window.

Oh goodness. What now?  I thought.

How can I help you? I asked and forced a smile.

He told me pump 2 had quit pumping. I looked over at the POS (point-of-sale) system that showed me the activity on all pumps. Yep, pump 2 had quit pumping because this guy had pumped his $11 worth of fuel.

Yes, sir, I said through the intercom. I authorized the pump for $11 and you pumped $11 worth of fuel.

Eleven dollars? he asked as if I were an idiot. I wanted 11 gallons!

I wanted to ask him how I was supposed to know he meant 11 gallons. I wanted to ask him if I looked like a mind reader. I wanted to point out that he’d never said the word “gallons.” Alas, I knew I’d never said the word “dollars.” He could have asked me how he was supposed to know I meant 11 dollars. He could have asked me if he looked like a mind reader. (No, not particularly, I would have had to reply.) We were at an impasse because we’d both failed in our communication.

Because of customer service and all of that, I said wearily, I’m so sorry about that sir. My mistake. Would you like me to run your card for another amount?

He chose another amount and sent his credit card in to me. I authorized the pump, ran the card, then sent it back out to him. He was a little miffed, but not excessively angry. I was ready to move on to the next transaction, hoping the next customer and I would not experience a communication breakdown.

Thankful Thursday June 2020

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Even as this tree grows among rocks, I keep on keeping on.

Even in a world full of unkowns, I have a lot for which to be grateful. Let me count the ways.

#1 First and foremost, The Man and I have our health. Neither of us have or have had symptoms of COVID-19. We’re both doing well. Jerico the dog is well too, although sometimes his acid reflux condition rears up or he strains a leg while playing ball.

#2 No one I’m close to has been sick with COVID-19. A couple of distant friends from my young adult years have come down with it, as did my sibling’s friend’s husband. Thankfully, they’ve all recovered. My mom and her husband are ok, as are The Man’s father and his wife. My sibling is fine, despite an immune disorder. My sibling’s spouse and child are fine too. The Man’s siblings, siblings-in-law, and nieces and nephews are doing well. Our elderly friends haven’t gotten sick. We are grateful that COVID-19 has not struck close to home.

#3 I appreciate Brent’s recent financial support, the cool things he sent in the mail, and his ongoing emotional support and friendship.

#4 I appreciate the anonymous supporter who recently clicked the donation button in the column to the right and made a financial contribution.

The man and I made this whole stack of tortillas ourselves.

#5 I appreciate my Patreon sponsors and other folks who support me monthly. (You can support me on Patreon too and reap the patron benefits.)

#6 The Man and I have plenty of food, and we’re eating well. (We recently started making our own tortillas. They are delicious, and working together on them is a good team-building exercise.)

#7 A nice lady in one of the Facebook groups I’m in made a mask for me and one for The Man, so each of us can cover our mouth and nose when we go out in public.

#8 There is plenty of space between us and the neighbors. We can walk in our neighborhood without having to interact with anyone.

#9 We have found several hiking trails and lots of natural beauty less than a half hour drive from where we live. We have opportunities to get away from home and out into stunning nature without having to go too far.

Stunning nature close to home.

#10 The daytime temperature is still very pleasant, not too hot. The temperature doesn’t dip below freezing at night.

#11 My phone allows me to stay connected to the people I care about. It connects me to the internet too.

#12 As a friend said in March (I’m paraphrasing here), I’m not stuck in an apartment in a city with three little kids. Parents who are holding it together while stuck at home with children are stronger than I will ever be.

I’m grateful I’m not stuck in an apartment in the city.

#13 The Man and I have each other. I don’t have to go through the weirdness of these times alone. I sure do sleep well at night with him on my side.

#14 I appreciate you reading this blog post today. As I’ve said, a writer without readers is very sad indeed. A big thanks goes out to everyone who reads this blog, whether you check in every day, read occasional posts, or if this is the first experience you’ve had with me and my writing. I hope you enjoy what you’ve found here.

What are you thankful for this month, this week, today, right now? Please share your gratitude in the comments below.

Stunning nature from up above.

I took all of the photos in this post. If you enjoy my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.

What You Can Do to Help the Rubber Tramp Artist

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I have always gotten by with a little (or a lot) of help from my friends, and I sure do appreciate it. I try to keep these pleas for help from my readers to a minimum, but every now and then, I do like to let you know I could really use your support. Here are some ways you can help me get seen, heard, and read, and most of them don’t cost a dime.

#1 Tell your friends. Have you read a Rubber Tramp Artist post you think a friend or family member would find useful or inspiring? Share the link! Do you have friends who enjoy high quality writing and beautiful photographs? Invite them to check out this blog! I would love to have more readers with whom I can share my stories, rants, and observations.

#2 If you’re on Facebook, like and follow the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page. (You can also like and follow my Blaize Sun and Blaizin’ Sun Creations Facebook pages.) Next, find the reviews section of any (or all!) of those pages and leave reviews of my writing, my art, my book, or my jewelry. Also, you can invite your friends to like any or all of those Facebook pages. Finally, like my Facebook posts, comment on them, and share them with your friends. If you want to do those things but can’t quite figure out how, let me know, and I’ll help you.

#3 If you’re on Instagram, follow me there @rubbertrampartist. Like my posts and comment on them too. Turn on notifications so you’ll see when something new goes up on my feed. If you see a post of mine you think your friends would enjoy, tag those friends in the comments. Share my posts in your stories. Read my stories. Comment on my stories so I’ll know what you think.

#4 Comment on my blog posts. Your comments mean so much to me. They let me know you’re reading, that you’re here with me. Sometimes your comments help other readers. I love it when that happens. I really do want to know what you think.

#5 Write a guest post for my blog. If you’re a writer, consider writing a guest post so I can take a day off or concentrate on writing a a long, research intensive post. If you’re a reader of my blog, other readers and I probably want to know what you have to say. If this idea intrigues you, read my Guidelines for Guest Posts.

#6 If you’ve read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, review it. Post a review on Amazon. (You can post a review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy the book from them.) Post a review on GoodReads. Post a review on your blog. Send your review to me, and I’ll post it on my blog.

#7 If you haven’t read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, buy it now and read it. Once you’re read it, please consider reviewing it. (See #5 above.)

#8 Buy copies of my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for your friends and family members. It’s rated PG (I removed all the cursing), and has been read by at least one elementary school aged kid. It’s a particularly good gift for anyone who is, has been, or hopes to be a camp host.

#9 Put in a request for your local public library to buy a copy of Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods so everyone in your community can read it for free.

#10 Buy the arts and crafts and the Rubber Tramp Artist loot I have for sale. I have handmade collages for sale, postcards featuring my photography for sale, and Rubber Tramp Artist stickers and buttons for sale. I also make hemp jewelry and warm winter hats. (I’m going to try to get photos those items up on the blog soon.) I do custom work, so let me know if there’s something particular you have in mind.

#11 Consider making a donation. There’s a yellow donation button to the right, not far below the search bar. Click there to give me some dollars, if you feel so inclined.

The content on this blog is free, but I put a lot of time and effort into each post I share with you. It is not unusual for me to spend 8+ hours pulling together a single post. I spend a lot of time writing, revising, taking photos, editing photos, choosing photos, researching, etc. If any of my posts have proven helpful to you, please consider donating money or a gift card in the amount you think the posts are worth. I know many of readers are on a limited income, but even a couple bucks would mean a great deal to me.

#12 Consider becoming my patron on Patreon. You get lots of extra goodies when you support me on the Patreon platform. Goodies range from exclusive updates available only to Patreon supporters to a monthly email update to handwritten cards sent through the mail and custom bracelets and one-of-a-kind collages. Each support tier offers different benefits; they’re all explained on my Patreon page linked above or click on the button to the right just under the search bar.

Anything you an do to help me keep this blog going would certainly be appreciated. As always,thank you for reading.

I took all the photos in this post. The Rubber Tramp Artist logo was created by the talented Samantha Adelle before her untimely, tragic passing.

Chicago and Cloud Gate

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I once had to catch a bus in Chicago. There were many hours between the time the first ride deposited us in the Windy City and when we had to board the bus. Instead of sitting and waiting, my traveling companion suggested we explore downtown.

I’d been to Chicago before. Once I flew into Chicago (which airport, I don’t remember), then traveled on public transportation to the bus station where I caught a bus that took me to a small town in Wisconsin. At least twice I traveled by train to Chicago and caught a connecting train for the next leg of my journey at Union Station.

I’m not one of those people who leaves the train or bus station or airport for a bit of fun before I make my connection. I’m one of those people who fears missing my connection. I’m one who sits. I’m one who waits.

I once sat for three or four hours in the packed downtown Las Vegas, NV Greyhound station because I was afraid of losing my place on a probably overbooked bus. I could have stored my bag and walked outside to see the sights, but I didn’t. I waited in the crowded waiting room so I was sure to make it home as planned.

Even more unbelievable, I once spent an entire eight hour layover in the Hong Kong airport because I was scared to venture out and find public transit in a strange land. I was worried about all of the many things that could have gone wrong if I had left the security of the transportation hub. I was afraid of a disaster that would have made me miss my connecting flight.

However, this time in Chicago my traveling companion insisted we venture out and look around. He was not one to sit and wait. Luckily, we had access to luggage lockers, so we were able to secure our big backpacks rather than haul them around with us.

We walked toward the water, and by water I mean Lake Michigan. I’d seen Lake Michigan before, when I’d visited my college boyfriend’s hometown of Milwaukee. I vaguely remembered the hugeness of the Lake.

As we walked down the urban sidewalks, we saw many panhandlers standing back against the buildings. They were mostly older Black people, and they had a panhandling technique I’d never encountered before. Instead of muttering Spare some change? Spare some change? or asking for a dollar to catch the bus or get something to eat, they simply shook the cups they held. The cups obviously already had some coins in them; I could hear the coins clinking against each other. I guess words are unnecessary when everyone already knows the script.

Before we made it to the Lake, we saw the huge reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. I’d seen the object in movies. It often turns up when filmmakers want to distinguish an anonymous big city as specifically Chicago. I don’t remember trying to find the sculpture; I think we just happened upon it nestled among the skyscrapers of downtown.

According to the Choose Chicago website, Cloud Gate (also known as The Bean)

is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations…

The exterior of The Bean is made entirely of stainless steel. It was created using computer technology to precisely cut 168 massive steel plates, which were then fitted together and welded shut for a completely seamless finish…

[It is] is 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, and 66 feet long. It weighs about 110 tons — roughly the same as 15 adult elephants.

Cloud Gate was designed by Anish Kapoor. According to his biography on the Artnet website, Kapoor

is regarded as one of the most prominent British-Indian sculptors of his generation…

Kapoor is well known for his intense, almost spiritual, outdoor and indoor site-specific works in which he marries a Modernist sense of pure materiality with a fascination for the manipulation of form and the perception of space. Kapoor, who was born in Bombay and moved to London in the 1970s to study art, first worked on abstract and organic sculptures using fundamental natural materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment, and plaster.

Anish Kapoor’s webpage about Cloud Gate features preliminary sketches for the sculpture, plans for construction, and a photo of it being built. The webpage says

Cloud Gate is a single object of around 25×15×12m. It is made of polished stainless steel and is seamless. Cloud Gate draws in the sky and the surrounding buildings. In a vertical city, this is a horizontal object. Seamless form confuses scale.

I was a lucky photographer on the day of our visit to Millennium Park. There were clouds in the Chicago sky, and they were reflected in the shiny surface of Cloud Gate. We were also fortunate to arrive early in the morning, before crowds surrounded the sculpture. I was able to get some nice photos without too many people in the frame.

I recently came across the article “Every U.S. State’s Most Overrated & Underrated Attraction” by Lissa Poirot. Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean) was named the most overrated attraction in the entire state of Illinois! Zach S. (whoever he is) calls it

…a blob-shaped mirror that vaguely resembles a bean.

He goes on to say,

It is as unremarkable as it sounds.

Oh Zach S., I beg to differ! Yes, Cloud Gate is rather blob shaped, and it is certainly mirrored. As to whether or not it looks like a bean…Who cares? “The Bean” is only a nickname anyway. I suspect the artist was not necessarily trying to convey the idea of a bean when he created the piece.

Where I really disagree with Zach S. is his assertion that Cloud Gate is “unremarkable.” I think Cloud Gate is quite remarkable. I like its size and its heft. Cloud Gate takes up space, yet its reflective surface brings the sky down closer to human level. The reflective surface also draws people to the sculpture, including me and my traveling companion.

What’s that over there? we wondered.

Let’s go see it, we said as we went closer.

I don’t remember what day of the week we wondered into Millennium Park and discovered Cloud Gate, but as the day progressed, more people arrived. By the time we left the area, crowds had come and gone, all looking at the art piece and taking photos too.

My favorite part of my experience with Cloud Gate was playing with the reflective surface. Like a funhouse mirror, Cloud Gate shows visitors a view of themselves that’s not quite true. I moved closer, then backed up to see how my figure changed with distance. The changes made me contemplate who I was, really.

Lake Michigan (Chicago)…bigger than I remembered

After spending some time with Cloud Gate, we walked down to the water and looked out at Lake Michigan. It was as big as I remembered…bigger, maybe.

We sat on the grass and contemplated the water. It was nice to rest for a while before we got up again and walked to a new adventure.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of Chicago. To me it seems to lack the charm of San Francisco with its bright murals and Painted Ladies Victorian houses or the gritty but captivating street culture of New York City. Maybe I’ve never been to the right places in Chicago, never seen what it has to offer me. In any case, I really enjoyed seeing Cloud Gate, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan. I don’t care if it’s more a touristy area and less what locals think of as the real Chicago. I don’t care if locals think it’s overrated. I don’t care what Zach S. thinks. I think Cloud Gate is really cool.

Lake Michigan with ship and Ferris Wheel (Chicago)

I took the photos in this post.

This I Miss (COVID-19 Edition)

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I live in the boonies.

My physical distancing experience has been very different from the experiences of many of you who live in big cities, the suburbs, or even small-to-medium size towns. I live in the boonies. I live 20-ish miles form the nearest small-to-medium size town. Also, there’s no home delivery of mail way out here. My mail is delivered to a box in town. All of this means we receive no mail, no packages, no groceries, and no restaurant food delivered to our door. If we want anything, The Man and I (usually together) get in the truck, drive 20-ish miles to town, get what we need, then drive the 20-ish miles back home.

Also, due to a preexisting health condition, we are very careful about what we do when we go to town. When we need groceries, we arrive at the supermarket as soon as the store opens so I can be one of the first shoppers inside. We do the same when we check the mail or fill our propane tanks. We don’t typically eat in restaurants even during “normal” times, but we’re not getting takeout or going through drive-thrus at all. How do we know the people preparing or handing over our food aren’t sick?

How do we know anyone we encounter isn’t sick? What if they’re contagious but not yest showing symptoms? What if we encounter a super-spreader? I know I sound paranoid and a little hysterical, but that’s my reality right now. To stay safe, we have to stay vigilant.

I know we’re all supposed to wear masks in public right now to protect each other, but can I trust my fellow humans to do the right thing? Masks can be really annoying, and humans don’t have the best track record for doing the right thing even when pieces of cloth over their faces aren’t making it more difficult to breathe and fogging up their eyeglasses.

I swear I’m not trying to dump a bunch of spoiled lady complaints on you. In so many ways, The Man and I are very lucky. Neither one of us has gotten sick with COVID-19. We haven’t lost any loved ones to COVID-19. We live in a county with a very low rate of COVID-19 infection (although the number of COVID-19 infected people in our county jumped quit a bit between the time I wrote the first draft of this post and the time it went live.) We have plenty of food and water and a nice little trailer on a nice little piece of land where we’ve been able to hunker down. We live with a cute, sweet dog, and we have each other too.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be grateful, but I’m human. Life has changed in the last couple months. Some of these changes may be forever. I miss certain ways of living my life. Today I’d like to share those things I miss with you.

#1 I never thought I’d say this, but I miss loading up all the laundry, dragging it into a laundromat and getting all the clothes washed, dried, and folded in a couple of hours.

I wish I could wash my clothes here.

Yes, as an essential business, laundromats are still open in my state. Yes, I could take my laundry to the laundromat and wash, dry, fold. But what if someone contagious is doing their laundry at the same time as I am? There are so many hands to touch so many surfaces at a washteria, so many places for a virus to linger. We’re not going!

Shout out to pioneer ladies who did all the washing by hand! Hand washing laundry is hard work! Have you ever tried to rinse the suds from your clothes in a five gallon bucket? Have you ever tried to wring the water out of a pair of jeans? We’ve been washing a minimal amount of clothing by hand for the last two months, and I don’t like it one bit. (Because I have more clothes than The Man does, he’s had to wash garments way more often than I have. To his credit, he doesn’t even complain.)

I wouldn’t mind hanging clothes out dry, but the strong spring winds (still blowing as I wrote this post!) means near daily dust storms. What’s the point of washing clothes if they’re going to be inundated with dirt while hanging on the line?

So many dryers at the laundromat.

If you have a washer in your home, I encourage you to get on your knees right now and give thanks to God, Saint Hunna (the patron saint of laundry workers and washerwomen), the Universe, or the deity of your choice. Please give extra thanks if you have a dryer or a nondusty clothesline at your disposal too.

#2 I miss eating the occasional fast food. While the Man and I don’t eat at restaurants much (mostly because we can’t afford to), it was nice to be able to slide into Taco Bell and pick up a vegetarian option from the dollar menu when we were running errands in town. I miss the ease, low cost, and deliciousness of the Fiesta Potato Breakfast Burrito and the Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito.

A while back, the Sonic app offered me half price Sonic Blasts for one day only. I sadly showed the offer to The Man.

Do you want to go? he asked me. I want to do something nice for you.

I shook my head. Forty miles is a long way to drive for ice cream and beside, how can we know restaurant workers aren’t breathing COVID germs directly onto our food? Are we paranoid or safely cautious?

Our mail is not delivered to a box in a row on the main road.

#3 I miss receiving mail regularly. As I’ve said before, there’s no home delivery of mail out here. I can’t just walk out to my porch or the end of my driveway to pick up my mail. There’s no group of mailboxes for me and my neighbors on the main road. If we want to receive letters, we have to pay for mailbox in town. And if we want to get our hands on the contents of our mailbox, we have to drive all the way to town to do so.

Our mailbox is inside a privately owned shipping business. While the business is still open, the hours of operation have been cut again and again. The woman who owns the place is not messing around with safety. She was enforcing six feet of distance between her customers when no one else in town seemed to be taking the recommendation seriously. No one walks into the place without a mask over their nose and mouth. The business is housed in a small enclosed space, and germs could linger. I appreciate the business owner for the precautions she’s taking to keep herself and her customers safe.

We have checked our mail three times since mid March. I used to check the mail a couple times a week. I miss receiving cards and letters from my friends on a regular basis. My friends are still sending the cards and letters (and I’m so glad for that), but I receive them less often.

I also miss ordering things online and knowing I’ll have my items in a few days. Nobody is delivering out where I live. I never see FedEx or UPS trucks way out here. We see commercials on television saying CVS pharmacy and Ace Hardware and Pizza Hut will deliver. Not to us they won’t. To be fair, I don’t actually miss this kind of delivery because we’ve never had it out here. However, in these times, I might take of advantage of having things dropped off at my house if the service were available to us.

#4 I miss leisurely shopping. Oh, how I miss the days of going from store to store to buy what I needed (and wanted) and to look around for bargains. At one time, a day in town might mean shopping at multiple supermarkets, checking the mail, seeing what Dollar Tree had to offer, shopping at WalMart, filling propane tanks, browsing at the thrift store, and having a look at free boxes and Little Free Libraries. No more! Now grocery shopping feels like I’m competing on Supermarket Sweep. There is no more casual grocery shopping because every trip to the supermarket is a survival mission.

I haven’t been to a thrift store since the middle of March. The thrift store in town hasn’t been open for a while, but I think it was open last Wednesday morning when I drove by. Even if it’s back to business as usual right now, I won’t be shopping there this month.

At least we’re stocked up on the minced garlic.

#5 I miss feeling confident the supermarket is going to have in stock anything I want to buy. I haven’t seen tofu in months. Months! I used to be able to buy a pound of tofu for between $1.49 and $1.79. Now the stores where I’ve shopped in the last two months don’t even offer it .

In the past two months, I’ve had trouble finding dried beans, brown rice, and powdered milk. Last week when I was at the big supermarket in town, I found all of those things, plus toilet paper. Score! But who knows what will be on the shelves in a month or two when I shop again, especially if we have another spike in COVID-19 cases.

Before we did last week’s big grocery shopping trip, The Man wanted eggs for breakfast. We’ve been a five-day-a-week oatmeal family since March so we could conserve eggs for baking, but he said he really wanted eggs that morning.

We’re going to the store on Wednesday, he reasoned. We’ll get more eggs then.

I tried to explain to him that I might not find eggs at the supermarket. I tried to explain that’ I’ve seen on Facebook groups that sometimes people go to the store and there are no eggs (or beef or dried beans or tofu or flour or baking powder or yeast). We were fortunate this trip; I found eggs and everything on the list with the exception of disposable gloves, rubbing alcohol, and tofu. However, there’s no way to know what the next shopping trip in a month or more will bring.

#6 I miss moving through the world without worrying that everything is contaminated. The Man and I wear dish-washing gloves when we go into any place of business. When we get back to the truck, the one of us who didn’t go inside squirts the gloves with disinfectant. When we pick up or mail, it sits in the hot truck for weeks of decontamination. Every time we buy groceries, we debate the need to squirt each item with disinfectant. After the last two times I’ve shopped, we wiped down each package with bleach water before bringing them into the house. I don’t buy fresh produce (except for onions, which we wouldn’t want to eat without, and we justify by remembering we’re going to peel off the top couple of layers anyway and cook the rest before eating). Still, we wonder if we’ve doing enough to protect ourselves or if we’re doing comically too much.

I want to see a tourist attraction like the red hubcap camel in Quartzsite, Arizona

#7 I miss going on road trips. Geez, I want to explore a place I’ve never been and see some new things. I want to hit the open road. I want to visit a small town museum. I want to see a tourist attraction. I want to take some photos. However, I know it’s not quite safe for The Man and me to go out exploring just yet. I’m trying to stay patient, despite my itchy feet.

#8 I miss selling jewelry and shiny rocks. Some vending opportunities are opening up, but again is it safe to sell in our current situation? I don’t necessarily trust people to protect me by wearing a mask or staying away if they’re sick. So many times people don’t even know they’re sick until after they’ve infected others. Also, if I sold things I’d have to accept cash money. Oh cash, germy, germy cash!

Memorial Day has come and gone, now we’re into June, and I’ve sold nothing to nobody. I feel I should be out there somewhere selling, but I know I really should stay at home right now.

Will life ever get back to “normal”? Is the way we’re currently living what normal will be from now on? Will COVID-19 ever disappear or at least decrease? Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year or in 18 months or will the vaccine never happen? Will The Man and I be able to sell Christmas trees in November? Will I ever be able to get a job again? So many questions! I don’t have any answers. Living in the midst of the unknown is difficult, but I guess we’re all doing it. I guess we’ll all take the unknown one day at a time.

What do you miss about but your old life, your “normal” life, your life before COVID-19? I would love to know! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

I took the photos in this post.

Some Resources for Working Against Racism

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Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

Updated June 6, 2020

Since posting this article, I’ve discovered many more helpful resources. I am adding those resources to the original post.

This is not the blog post I want to write today. It’s not the blog post I want to write, ever, but things are bad right now, and I want to share some resources so each of us can work toward solving the problem.

First, a recap.

We’re in the middle of a national emergency due to COVID-19. Some states are opening up, but a lot of people are still sick, more people are getting sick, and it looks like some people are going to suffer the results of COVID-19 for the rest of their lives. Some people have been stuck at home since mid-March. Oh, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says,

current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.

On May 25, a White woman, Amy Cooper, called the cops on a Black man, Christian Cooper (no relation between the two, I’m supposed to say here) who asked her to leash her dog in an area of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed. Mr. Cooper began recording Ms. Cooper. According to CNN, Ms. Cooper approached Mr. Cooper and he asked her not to come any closer to him. He

asks her again not to come close. That’s when Amy Cooper says she’s going to call the police.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she says.

Once she reached emergency dispatch, she told the dispatcher,

“There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet,” she says. “He is recording me and threatening me and my dog…”

“I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble,” she continues in an audibly distraught voice . “Please send the cops immediately!”

Later that same day, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. You can read the whole story on the WCCO 4 CBS Minnessota website.

Photo by munshots on Unsplash

Over the weekend there were protests across the country, buildings burning, looting. A report by CNN mentions demonstrations in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York City, Denver, Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia.

So how are these events related? Trevor Noah of The Daily Show made a video explaining the connections better than I ever could. Please, if you don’t understand what this national crisis is all about, please watch this video where Trevor Noah connects the dots between the COVID-19 emergency, Amy Cooper calling the cops as a means of threatening a Black man, the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests and “looting.” This video is definitely worth watching.

If you don’t want to or don’t have time to watch Trevor Noah’s video, let me make something clear. Neither White people calling the cops on Black people and other people of color (POC) nor cops killing Black people and other people of color (POC) is anything new. It’s been happening for a long, long time. Here’s a list CNN published on December 28, 2018 called “Living While Black.” Author Brandon Griggs says,

…police across the United States have been urged to investigate black [sic] people for doing all kinds of daily, mundane, noncriminal activities.

Each item on the list (Golfing too slowly, Shopping for prom clothes, Helping a homeless man, for example) links to a more detailed report of the incident.

In the CNN article “Peaceful Protesters and Violent Instigators Defy Curfews after George Floyd’s Death” authors Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan report,

One community activist said while many protesters don’t condone violence, nonviolent pleas have “gone unnoticed for years.”

“This is what happens when people have experienced the deadliness of racism … over and over again,” said the Rev. William Barber, the Co-Chair of Poor People’s Campaign. “What we are seeing is public mourning.”

Have you seen this content that’s been going around on Facebook?

I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.

#BlackLivesMatter

This is what I am talking about today: White privilege and Black Lives Matter. Today I’m saying that we as White people need to learn about our privilege, check our privilege, and work to undo the racism the United States of America was built upon.

The number one thing I do NOT want you to do in order to learn more about White privilege and undoing racism is to ask your Black and POC friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, or acquaintances how to go about this task. Black people and other people of color have enough on their plates without having to educate White people. Do your homework. Use Google. That’s what I did to find some of these resources for you. (I found other resources on the Facebook and Instagram feeds of friends and people I follow.)

If you’re White, but don’t know how you could possibly be part of the problem, please start your journey by reading “Reckoning with White Supremacy: Five Fundamentals for White Folks” by Lovey Cooper on the Scalawag website.

White people who need help recognizing their own racism should also read and take to heart Cicely Blain’s “10 Habits of Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Anti-Black.” I found this essay assisted me in examining my own biases and anit-Black thoughts.

I found several reading lists online which share books which may help folks learn about racism and dismantle it too. Charis Books & More, an independent feminist bookstore in Decatur, GA offers Understanding and Dismantling Racism: A Booklist for White Readers. Bustle (an online American women’s magazine) shares 17 Books On Race Every White Person Needs To Read, an annotated list by Sadie Trombetta and K.W. Colyard. The New York Times features An Antiracist Reading List by Ibram X. Kendi. Even BuzzFeed News got in on the act with An Essential Reading Guide For Fighting Racism by Arianna Rebolini. Certainly you can find some resources from these lists.

If you don’t want to support big business when it comes to book buying, check out this list of of Black-owned bookstores my friend Jessica the librarian shared with me. The original list is from @worn_ware. (If you don’t live in a city with a Black-owned bookstore, contact one of the stores on the lists and ask if they do mail order.)

After this list was published, a second list was shared, telling folks about even more Black-owned bookstores across the United States.

On the Instagram post where this list was shared, worn_ware says,

list 2.0 compiled from suggestions made in the comments!! …buying a book on anti-racism from a Black-owned bookstore is cool but we – talking to fellow white people here – ALSO need to be working to dismantle the systems of white supremacy & capitalism that led us to this moment and have always been foundational to the US…

If you want to learn through listening or watching, Isabella Rosario offers up “This List Of Books, Films And Podcasts About Racism Is A Start, Not A Panacea” for NPR. Stuff You Missed In History Class has shared a huge list of podcasts (both their own episodes and those by other voices) that discuss race, racism and anti-Black violence in the United States.

Here’s a an eight page document of anti-racism resources that have been ordered in an attempt to make them more accessible. The authors say

The goal is to facilitate growth for white folks to become allies, and eventually accomplices for anti-racist work.

I was happily surprised that Ben & Jerry’s (yes, the ice cream people) are taking a strong stance against white supremacy. Their website article “Silence Is NOT An Option” says

All of us at Ben & Jerry’s are outraged about the murder of another Black person by Minneapolis police officers last week and the continued violent response by police against protestors. We have to speak out. We have to stand together with the victims of murder, marginalization, and repression because of their skin color, and with those who seek justice through protests across our country.

Other helpful articles from Ben & Jerry’s include “Why Black Lives Matter,” “7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real,” and “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration.”

If you feel like you are already an ally but want to do better, read Katie Anthony‘s essay “5 Racist Anti-Racism Responses ‘Good’ White Women Give to Viral Posts.” While this essay is (obviously) aimed at women, there’s no reason men can’t read it too and learn some things.

If you’re ready to move from learning to doing in, Corinne Shutack offers “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” Shutack says,

Achieving racial justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Our work to fix what we broke isn’t done until Black folks tell us it’s done.

If you need guidance for talking about racial and ethnic identity with inclusivity and respect, I found what the American Psychological Association had to say very helpful. Of course, when talking to and about specific people or groups, it’s important to call people what they ask to be called. If you’re wondering about capitalization, check out “Recognizing Race in Language: Why We Capitalize ‘Black’ and ‘White’” on the The Center for the Study of Social Policy website.

If you there are young people in your life, and you want to teach them about police violence, racism, and working for anti-racism, I can share some resources to help you meet those goals. Sujei Lugo Vázquez (@sujeilugo) and Alia Jones (@readitrealgood) compiled a reading list for children with topics ranging from Blackness/Ancestors/Elders to Police Brutality/Racist Attacks/Black Lives Matter/Incarceration and Whiteness/White Privilege. The folks at EmbraceRace offer a list of 31 children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance as well as other resources. If you’re looking particularly for books to help kids understand police violence, looks to the these 9 children’s books about police brutality from the Feminist Books for Kids website. .

If you want to learn more about police brutality and how to work against it, start with the Teen Vogue (for real!) article “11 Things You Can Do To Help Black Lives Matter End Police Violence” by Lincoln Anthony Blades. One resource mentioned in the above mentioned article is Campaign Zero, a group working towards ending police violence in America.

What I’ve giving you here are starting points. Start here. Keep reading. Keep studying. Keep learning.

Black Lives Matter.