Skip to main content

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe. I've demonstrated that "You can't afford a poor diet," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity, and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment, and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air.

Before the pandemic, air pollution caused mostly by fossil fuel burning was killing about 200,000 Americans a year, and now it is accelerating American Covid deaths by over 15%. Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who are protesting peacefully and within their rights according to the law of the land.

Okay, okay, deep breath. What can we do to clear the air?

The first step is to secure the literal, physical air quality in the space you inhabit most, so that your brain can work. Everything else hinges upon that. As they say, put on your own oxygen mask first. Don't forget to breathe during political debates, home yoga sessions, or virtual slam poetry readings. Sorry, laughter really is the best medicine sometimes. And laughter requires a lot of air! Here are some ways we can create breathing space in our lives:


There are many scientifically supported ways to improve indoor air quality for an immediate boost in productivity, mood, cognition, and overall wellness, and each one makes a difference.

You already know you need to quit smoking if you're still doing that. You know very well that the cost of a pack is the least of the long-term prices you'll pay. But you don't have to wait until you've kicked the habit completely to make other changes, so do whatever you can, starting today.

Use proper ventilation and less-polluting cooking methods--or just lean into the lazy, no-cook joys of PB&J, hummus and pita, chips and salsa, salads, fresh fruit, cereal, ice cream, etc. on hot summer days. Do a little grilling outside--just don't throw a barbecue and invite the whole neighborhood over, for goodness' sake.

Buy and run air purifiers in the rooms where you work and sleep. Additionally, or instead, fill your spaces with air-cleaning potted plants. Additionally, or instead, open all of your windows and use fans to bring in fresh air. The strategies you choose depend upon whether and which allergies you may have and whether the air outside of your window is less hazardous than the air inside. Usually it is, but in heavily polluted cities or neighborhoods blighted with coal ash, that may not be the case.

Do not fall for marketing campaigns for any stink-covering sprays or other chemical odor "solutions." They only mask the evidence of problems by adding more pollution that tricks your nose. Address the cause of the problem instead of compounding it with a smelly distraction. This also applies to "fancy" scented candles, incense, smudge sticks, and even essential oil lamps. All of those things may have a ritual or aromatherapeutic purpose, but they should not be used on an everyday basis. No magic salt lamp or other crystal will save you from having to address real indoor air pollution. Many American industries depend upon gullibility, which is exacerbated by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Break the cycle!

Outside Your Windows

It doesn't do much good to open your windows if there is heavy pollution outside. If you can, relocate to a safer, cleaner location and do everything you can to stay there.

Wherever you live, be a good neighbor and avoid using air-polluting vehicles and yard tools. If you need to use a powered personal vehicle and/or tools for yard work, go electric. My family swapped one of our vehicles for an electric car, and it was one of the best financial decisions we've ever made, saving us thousands a year in gas, oil, and engine maintenance. It also keeps our family and neighbors safer from exhaust fumes. We also purchased an electric log splitter to relieve our need to use a gas-powered chainsaw. There are now many affordable options for electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc. The single most important tool to avoid is a gas-powered leaf blower, which is absolutely foul in terms of public health hazard and making life unpleasant for everyone in the whole neighborhood. Save money and years of your life by not poisoning your neighborhood, and it is possible that you could drive a trend that will increase quality of life and happiness on your street, thereby improving community stability and property values. 

I wish this didn't have to be said, but it's 2020, so: Maybe consider not setting your entire state / coast on fire to let your Instagram followers know which kind of pee-pee is growing on your unborn child. Your own baby does not care. Nobody cares. Don't kill everyone's baby with a vain, pointless, gender-binary-worshiping suicide party. Dumbass.

Sign up to vote by mail! Half of young adults may not know how to do it yet, but it's easy--find everything you need to know right here. Protect yourself and your neighbors from the spread of coronavirus while using your right to vote (use it or lose it!) to choose leaders who will take responsibility for public health.
Stay home unless you truly need to go out. The pandemic is accelerating, not fading away, and it's causing widespread, permanent lung damage and other lifelong health consequences. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away, it will just cause more death and harm to your community. Don't be a ding-dong, please, just because Florida Man is doing it. Be the neighbor you want to have.

When you do have to leave your residence, wear a mask properly, over your nose and mouth--a mask that you wash or change every day, just like you hopefully do with your underpants--and be generally considerate and hygienic. Face masks do not restrict your oxygen supply, Covid-19 does. Ask any real doctor anywhere, who has to wear a face mask for hours at a time, every work day. Please be a person who is worth the air you breathe. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by being gross in public during a pandemic.

Also don't assault people who won't wear a mask properly. That won't help, and you'll only get their cooties on you. Instead, if you must react, try filming and internet-shaming them from a safe distance. Maybe they'll get fired from their job and lose their budget for going out on the town and spreading their booger juice everywhere. That, in turn, will reduce outbreaks and businesses getting shut down, which will help your local economy.

Across the Nation

Support the Breathe Act! Getting choked or tear-gassed by riot police is not conducive to breathing. 

Support candidates for elected government positions who support environmental justice. This should not be a partisan issue, and climate change is not a hoax. End of story. We don't actually have to let everyone on the West Coast burn to death.

Accept that the zombie apocalypse is here. Don't waste your precious breath arguing with those who have succumbed to conspiracy theories. It's not so much about a lack of knowledge or intelligence as it is about emotional or moral weakness. Some people just can't handle the truth anymore, so they use all their brain power to support beliefs that make them feel comforted, superior, or more in control. You can't argue them out of that state with facts.

Some of the conspiracy theories and woo magic belief systems are invented by nefarious evil-doers who are using this opportunity to gain fame and influence as edgelords of the interwebs, armed with takes so hot that no one else has tooken them yet. These attention-hangry, self-appointed tweet-Jesuses are known by threatening to call their non-followers... sheeple. Zut alors! Others are just plain catfishin' bots, foreign disinformation campaigners, or neo-Nazi strategists. They truly do not care about what is right, and their viral zombie mind diseases can hook people that you know and love in real life--thereby baiting you. You can only defeat them by ignoring, blocking, reporting.

It's sad, but the real people who succumb to these lies are often bored and lonely, so giving their "theory" any attention whatsoever, positive or negative or neutral, will only feed it. Disengage! Anonymously report disinformation whenever possible. If you see someone who hasn't gone full zombie accidentally sharing fake news, nip it in the bud with a quick fact-check, but otherwise don't take the bait.

Stay physically away from any acquaintances who have gone full zombie, as they are probably not practicing good pandemic hygiene. If you love them, let them know that you will enjoy getting together when it is safe, and don't allow any further discussion about it.

The truth is boring and sad, and not everyone is strong enough to handle it. Loneliness kills, but so does falling in with the wrong (mask-shunning, personal-space-invading) crowd. Promote good ventilation. Practice responsible air hygiene at home and in your community. Avoid unhygienic activities, pointless debates, fascist violence, and any person fighting for their right to spew literal ick. Exercise your civil rights to protest, advocate, and vote in the safest ways possible.

When the dust settles, the world will need those of us who stayed strong and protected ourselves and our families from permanent brain damage. We are not alone, even though it feels that way sometimes when our social media feeds are stacked with people reveling in blissful ignorance like total filth pigs--partying, traveling, packing into college dorms, and eating in restaurants.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than breathing. Not even that family reunion. Not even that one birthday party to end all birthday parties (maybe literally).

Now is the time to prioritize and advocate for clean air for all to breathe. Now is the time to respect your own and others' personal space. Inhale, exhale, and focus on a future in which we don't have to think about breathing this much.


Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

Blown Away on Publication Day

The responses to Leirah and the Wild Man 's publication have blown me away! I feel like one of Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham's little fall fairies lifted on a happy gust of wind. I told my husband earlier this month that I wanted to release my first novel secretly, so nobody I knew would feel obligated to buy it and pretend to read it. Even worse, I didn't want my parents or coworkers to actually read my salacious book! I’ve tried for years to find a literary agent who might grant me access to the professional services and veneer of legitimacy that traditional publishing offers, so I would have the courage to put my weird and wild writing out there for readers who don't know me but happen to be looking for 11th century Byzantine thrillers. But I ran out of patience with the publishing industry's compounding scandals, dramas, changing rules, and vulnerability to volatile markets and supply chains. Years ago, finding an agent felt not only possible but inevitab

LEIRAH AND THE WILD MAN: Available for Pre-Order Now!

I am thrilled to announce the surprise release of my first novel! Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World is now available for pre-order. Leirah dreams of stealing a Viking longship, hunting pirates, and freeing the world's thralls. As if by magic, the dragon boat of her fantasies appears at her backwoods homestead, and a crew of seductive outlaws invites her to join them in terrorizing the rich with disguises based on the monsters of local folklore. But Leirah fears their secretive interest in her favorite brother Aven. She takes him and flees on an epic journey down the length of the Danube, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, through the gates of Constantinople, and into the last stronghold of the Goths.   on sale October 23, 2021 (hardcover)   and   November 11, 2021 (ebook) Nook Kindle   I released this book softly, with no marketing or distribution arrangements made in advance, so you will not find it already

Pocket of Joy: Laughing Off Bogus Critics

Beware the false devils of other people's anxieties, insecurities, and petty jealousies that they try to project onto you. If you hear negative messages about yourself repeatedly, especially from people who are very significant to you, like your parents or closest friends, they can worm their way under your eardrums and hijack your own inner voice with their damaging scripts. Once internalized, they can sound like fundamental truth, but they lie as shamelessly as the false angels of your ego do. Don't listen to those who fear your competition because they feel threatened by your talent, your passion, or your persistence. Don't listen to those who would betray you just to keep you down in the crab bucket that they themselves are too afraid to escape. Don't laugh with people who are laughing at you in a mean way. It's healthy for your friends and mentors to keep you humble with constructive criticism, friendly ribbing, and gentle teasing. It's good to maintain yo

Pocket of Joy: Starting a Shiny New Project

Oh, the buoyant thrill of a sparkly new idea! Ooh, the giddy joy of starting in on it--like planting the first footprint on a blanket of new-fallen snow, or drawing the first line on a clean sheet of paper, or sweeping the first brushstroke of slick, wet paint across a wall! Of course, it takes follow-through to manifest a dream through the sweaty, dirty, messy middle of any big project. But when you know you can do it, you can hold onto that shiny new feeling to sustain you all the way to the finish. Here I am chiseling away at the remains of my old kitchen back in the spring, when my new kitchen lived only in my imagination. My husband and I have been working on our kitchen (with my parents' help early on) for four months now. Our summer has been a marathon of hard, sweaty, dirty work littered with setbacks, frustrations, and frequent changes of plans--including the decision to redo our main bathroom at the same time, while we're at it! Anyone who has repaired or remodeled a

Pocket of Joy: Catching More Grief with Sugar

A few days ago, I wrote about the irrational anger at death that I discovered lurking under my grief and fear . Then I saw this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and it broke my heart open in a different place. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (@gabbat) It is said in pop psychology that sadness lies beneath anger, but in myself I find layers of both, one upon another over and over again, glued together with veins of sticky sweet frustrated longings and backed up affections and other feelings wedged here and there untidily, which cannot be easily peeled apart and healed. I suspect that most people are like me in that way, more or less, and so they have patterns of mixed up emotional tissues unlike mine, in other disordered arrangements. Last week I realized once again, as I must do from time to time, that I am a coddled pet of this world, with so many privileges that a sense of entitlement sneaks up on me whenever I forget how a

Small But Sweet Bathroom Renovation

We have fixed, upgraded, and redecorated our little old bathroom just in time for another pandemic winter! Now that the kitchen and main bathroom are both functional and personalized for our family, we are ready to hunker down in comfort. I had hoped I wouldn't have to spend quite as much time at home heading into 2022, but here we are. At home. What a difference it makes to have a beautiful bathroom, though! For a tall person, it is such a relief to my back to have a higher bathroom vanity that allows me to wash my hands without bending over, and a shower that rains down from well above the top of my head! We put up a taller mirror (an inexpensive antique) than the one that was there before and installed the new light fixture ("rescued" from our local Habitat ReStore) up close to the ceiling, making the room seem taller and bigger even though there is actually less space between the vanity top and ceiling. We saved loads of money by doing as much work ourselves as we co

Feast Your Eyes on This Cozy Cabincore Kitchen

My dream kitchen has become a reality at long last! Just in time for fall, I am falling in love with this new hearth of my home. Feast your eyes on this pure Michigan, cozy, crazy, cabincore kitchen! It's too bold and particular a style to be everyone's cup of tea, and that is exactly the point. This isn't a generic, beige box of a house to be flipped into the impersonal sales market, and it's not a rental unit, and it's not an entertainment space designed to be minimally offensive to the maximally judgmental hypothetical guest, it's my family's home , where we personalize our own cups of tea using supplies organized within our giant alien ceramic shelf pod and its smaller companion weird ceramic pod that holds our precious baggie of holy basil given to my husband as a tip at the bike shop he manages. Most of the ceramics in this room were created by a personal friend, artist Lisa Truax, who used local Michigan earth as one of the components in the piece tha

Releasing My Thirsty Darling

Good news! I have accepted the death of my most cherished lifelong career dream, and that means I am ready to release my debut novel exactly the way I want to: full of blood and other juices, rich historical detail about places you've never visited in another book, a large cast of complex characters entangled in complicated relationships, historical authenticity beefed up with a healthy disregard for biased conventions, and an all-absorbing plot that moves at its most effective pace. Leirah and the Wild Man glides forth destined for a fate of cult classic, not bestseller. Let's... push... things... forward. (Shout out to nostalgic muse Mike Skinner of The Streets and his legendarily underrated Original Pirate Material .) Here she comes, my thirsty darling, like the Lady of Shalott floating off to her glorious doom after a fever-hot vision of Lancelot torched her will to stay locked up and safe in her tower. She won't live happily ever after, but she'll look flawless a

Pocket of Joy: Sunny Days with Dark and Stormy Nights

We need both sunshine and rain to survive, all of us--all people, all animals, all plants, all life on Earth. And when we can learn to enjoy changeable weather and seasons with a flexible attitude and a readiness to take advantage of whatever comes along, we can weather the storms of life--metaphorically speaking. Literature helps us to envision pleasures we've never experienced as well as terrors and hardships we've never faced--in the safe, pillowy world of our own imaginations. Reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic and resilient when we encounter situations we've read about in real life. Dark fiction inoculates us against shock and despair in the real world. Writing fiction has therapeutic benefits as well. Way back when I used to participate in NaNoWriMo , I learned that a good author must behave like a fickle, brutal god of the ancients--setting up trials and tribulations for our beloved creations just to watch them fight their way through. My writing compa