Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A NORML Mom Connects w/ Cherokee County

Connections are NORML. Scroll down to read more.
In my mind's eye Larry Hill is always sitting beside my husband's grandfather Dan. At 85, Dan came to live with my family for several months last year prior to relocating to an assisted living facility this spring. Dan bonded with Larry on the 4th of July when they both showed up at a concert in north Georgia wearing the same hat. The hats marked them each as much decorated veterans of the US Army, and they became fast friends.

A few weeks ago, Larry and his son Danny were apprehended in Gilmer County, Georgia, for their work growing and distributing cannabis. They claim the venture was largely a labor of love, motivated less by profit than by a spiritual calling to help people in need. Their primary focus was the manufacture of cannabis oil formulated to treat or alleviate the symptoms of many illnesses for which the use of cannabis oil is actually deemed legal in Georgia. Of course, the problems with Georgia's existing medical marijuana laws are multi-fold:
  1. The process of being approved for a Georgia medical card is much more difficult than simply receiving a diagnosis, and many people are dissuaded from even attempting it.
  2. While card holders can legally consume cannabis oil in Georgia, it remains illegal to cultivate cannabis within the state or to transport it across state lines.
  3. The formula of cannabis oil approved for medical use in Georgia lacks the potency to effectively treat the approved conditions.
Immediately following the Hills' arrest, the Gilmer County Sheriff's Department made a post to Facebook showing grinning police officers hunkered around the plants they'd seized. While the intention behind posts like this seems to be instilling fear and garnering support for being “tough on drugs,” the result is often quite different than anticipated. In Georgia, this is largely thanks to Peachtree NORML, whose members flood these posts with comments condemning the drug war, educating the public about responsible use and declaring that unjust laws are far more criminal than the citizens who break them. Peachtree NORML's response to the Hills' arrest was so forceful that the sheriff's department removed the post. It is also thanks to our online response that Danny Hill realized NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law) even exists.

The more I become involved in NORML's work, the more I realize how many potential allies remain in the dark about us. While that may initially seem disheartening, I actually find it to be a source of encouragement. All hands are far from on deck. I'm excited to see how much we can accomplish when all supporters step into the light. Last night Larry and Danny Hill, who are presently out on bond, visited a crowded room at Las Palmas in Holly Springs. They had come to deliver a speech to members of Peachtree NORML based in Cherokee County. Just being there, they played an important role in inspiring more people to act.

For those of you who may be wondering, NORML formed as a national organization in the 70s and has chapters within each state. Peachtree NORML, which meets in Atlanta near 5 Points, is Georgia's official chapter. Peachtree NORML has branches in different regions of the state, and the Holly Springs-based Cherokee County group is one of these. Peachtree NORML came to Holly Springs in fall 2016 thanks largely to the initiative of its leader Connie Malhiot. However, in addition to being devoted to the cause, Connie is also admirably devoted to her family, and they have needed an unanticipated amount of support in the past months.

While Connie's limited involvement has slowed momentum in Cherokee County to some degree, last night I encountered a group of devoted, passionate and self-directed members who have staying power of their own. I also witnessed them attract more members in real time. A mother and daughter duo (clad in t-shirts they custom design to protest the Trump administration) traveled from Lawrenceville to learn what they can do to forward NORML's work. Meanwhile, the Cherokee County Democrats were meeting in the room next to us. As we were leaving, their group approached us, and we began a conversation about the ways our causes intersect.

In my opinion, this is the way of the future. Individuals and identity groups alike need to come out of the closet and stand together on common ground. NORML provides an excellent platform for doing this, and there is no time like the present. Long regarded as a day of celebration for cannabis enthusiasts, 4/20 will be here tomorrow and is bringing with it tons of opportunities for Atlanta activists to connect, both Thursday and throughout the weekend. Links to recommended events are at the bottom of this post.

While you're exploring the links to this week's programs, please take a moment to check out our new allies' causes as well. You can find out more about Cherokee County Democrats here. Pictured second from the right, Rebekah Shelnutt is a defense attorney whom you can connect with by emailing shelnuttlaw@gmail.com. Harlem Howard is pictured on the far right in one of her shirts. Please go here to view more of her designs and to read more about her history with medical marijuana.

Now, here's what's up in Atlanta this week:



You are also always invited to attend Peachtree NORML's monthly meetings. Information about the next one is here.

I will be coming out Saturday and look forward to seeing you there. As always, when we're talking, we're winning. If you like this post, let it be a seed. Share it and watch it grow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Weekend (An Abstract Take)

Usually, change comes slowly. This insight probably offers no surprise. Nonetheless, I find myself too often feeling overwhelmed by the creeping sensation that every day brings nothing but more hardship, an endless string of obstacles with no uniting thread in sight. The uniting threads are those which give a sweet shape to the daily tragedies, weaving them together into something of worth. I've discovered the trick is to keep going. These threads rise up naturally from what can feel like monotony. Another way to think of this is to imagine walking through a dark forest. There is nothing, nothing, nothing, and then, a door.

In the course of answering routine email selling TerraPans, I encounter a client who connects me with a world far larger than my own. In the process of sitting nervously waiting for my turn to read some poetry, I accept an invitation to make history with the Women's March on Washington. I visit my friend Haley in her new store and suddenly I'm added to her Facebook group discovering new opportunities for my voice to be heard after I post photos of the walls of my office and a snake on the ground.

These things have happened and are happening.

The most beautiful times are those with my children. In my autistic son, there's deep, prolonged silence followed by speech. Precious words stand together in sentence form, and he is doing things like telling knock knock jokes, wading for hours in a mountain stream and sneaking my phone away to snap selfies with a pretty older girl while I speak to her mom, thinking my boy is playing video games.

Meanwhile, my daughter is quiet and shy, sitting alone and judging herself until she isn't. I help her find gateways into people and places, starting with herself. This weekend, the gateway was the creek. The children gathered there slowly, seamlessly letting her in as she jumped from bank to bank, whispering to the water, humming music from Five Nights at Freddy's. With common ground established, the children left to explore together. They hiked up a mountainside and passed round a talking stick in the clearing up top, a clearing where I've sat before in ceremonies which opened up so many doors inside my mind.

The things I hope they will ask me, they do in their own time. The things I want them to see come up gradually in their dreams. Then, on the other side of that, there's always so much more for me to know of them. And of me. And of my work. And of love.

Like Haley said in a recent interview, “We will never arrive.”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A NORML Mom Finds Some Treasure

Treasure comes in many forms. In my world, the deepest treasures are usually related to experiences, literature/art, and plant medicine. A couple weeks ago at Charis in Atlanta, I found the first two types of treasure.

My loyal readers will recognize Charis as a regular fixture in my life, but my children have been in the dark. Sensory processing differences and Autism Spectrum Disorder make reading extra challenging for them, so they embrace our local Barnes & Noble more for the train set, hot chocolate, music and movies. The books feel almost like an afterthought.

While Charis warmly welcomes guests with free herbal tea, it's definitely a book lover's bookstore. I expected my children to case the floor and head for the door, but instead they sat down in rocking chairs with stacks of books. I was stunned.

Then, I looked up and made another happy discovery. On prominent display, near the area where I sometimes read poetry aloud, was my friend Lasara's book, Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality.

These things may seem small, but I am grateful:
  1. My children and I established some unexpected common ground.
  2. I saw evidence that my children's therapy is having results.
  3. Finding Lasara's book felt like some kind of cosmic hello from our mutual friend, Corina, who died around one year ago.
We remained there for about one hour reading, snapping our selfies, and exploring the store's dusty corners and bright spaces. No one questioned my NORML shirt or so much as batted an eye. What struck me most about this was my sense of privilege.

In Jailbreaking the Goddess, Lasara writes about deconstructing long held ideas as they apply to our culture and ourselves. Offering full disclosure about her background and motivation, she states : I recognize the privilege I hold and have made a commitment to using that privilege as a tool for dismantling the system within which it exists.

Drawing on that same energy, I acknowledge my privilege to wear my NORML shirts unquestioned to progressive bookstores where my special needs children thrive. I will use this privilege to continue giving voice to a movement whose greatest beneficiaries still struggle to tell their stories and to attain safe access to a plant they need.

There is much to be happy about regarding Georgia, and the wider USA's, slow embrace of cannabis reform. However, I fear Peachtree NORML's executive director Sharon Ravert is still correct in her recently publicized statement: There are three words in Georgia that can get you killed: I smell marijuana.

As always, these posts plant seeds. Please like, share, and help the movement grow! Also, here are links to some of the biggest stories and opportunities in local and national cannabis reform right now:

NORML's Action Center (A petition urging support for an existing bill to end federal prohibition of marijuana is available here.)


Not One Step Back (4/22 workshop in Atlanta, GA)

PS: Aside from being an inspiring read, Jailbreaking the Goddess fits like a puzzle piece within a workshop I'm developing for ATL Craft about magic, mental health and removing stigma. I'm excited to share more about that in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, Atlanta readers, please go visit Haley Murphy's new shop in Atlanta's Old 4th Ward across from Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium. ATL Craft is a great place to discover treasure within the city.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Letter to My Congressional Representatives

Dear Representative Loudermilk, Senator Perdue, and Senator Isakson: 

If economic stability and national security require that a government undermines human rights, stifles creativity, silences criticism, ignores logic and/or pillages our natural resources, then either new solutions must be found, or the whole system must be overhauled.

  • Proposed budget cuts to arts and human rights programs are unacceptable, especially when military spending comprises the vast majority of the existing budget.
  • Increased militarization of the police force is unacceptable, especially in the wake of police shootings and attacks at Standing Rock.
  • The proposal to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and to continue pioneering projects which accelerate global warming, exploit our natural resources and pollute our environment are unacceptable.
  • Provisions which allow public institutions to use religion as grounds for censorship, denial of service and denial of healthcare are unacceptable.
  • Provisions which equate religious conviction with scientific fact are unacceptable—especially within the arena of education.
  • Restrictions on journalism are unacceptable.
  • Suppressing and stripping rights based solely on ethnicity and/or religion is unacceptable.
  • The lack of qualifications, concentration of wealth and conflicts of interest possessed by the current administration are unacceptable.
  • The absence of professionalism which has come to characterize the present administration's interactions with global leaders, as well as the public (via both traditional and social media) is unacceptable.
  • The level of institutionalized racism and sexism (much of which occurs within the criminal justice system) is appalling, and the normalization of it at the personal level is unacceptable.
  • The reliance on deals rather than level-headed diplomacy destabilizes our economy long-term and is unacceptable as well.

Understanding these points and taking them into account while creating policy is the only response which I will accept. Until this occurs, I will work both outside and inside the system to make a difference. I will donate to and volunteer with organizations, like the American Civil Liberties Union, which will challenge you directly. I will also support and utilize organizations which provide the services the Trump administration's unacceptable policies seek to undermine or eliminate. I will march. I will boycott. I will call. I will write. I will educate. I will vote for people who share my views and will publicly denounce those who do not.

We are in danger of nuclear war. We are in danger of environmental devastation. We are in danger of social self destruction due to our own fundamentalism. We are in danger of economic collapse, in the aftermath of which it will become easier for the authoritarian regimes liberals have panicked about to legitimately take hold.

It is our shared responsibility to recognize these dangers and work together to prevent them.

Sincerely,

Kelli Lynn Karanovich

American Citizen, Mother, Wife, Activist, Writer & Entrepreneur

P.S.

I'd like to share a photo of the poster I took to the Women's March on Washington January 21st, 2017. I scrawled the message while riding up on a chartered bus. It reads:

In the end, it will be our humility which heals us. We must stand in awe of how strikingly similar and different we all are. No one can ever fully know another person's story. We must move forward with policies which reflect this and acknowledge the beauty of our shared struggle to be human at this time.

As you can see, my daughter composed her own message. In asking President Trump to be more like Elvis, I think she's imploring him to be a little more creative, to show compassion and to put on a show which entertains without threatening our rights.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My March Story (Part One: Personal Reflections)

At over 500,000 strong, the Women's March on Washington made history January 21, 2017. I was there. I rode up on a charter bus from Decatur, Georgia (near Atlanta) and then jumped out about 12 hours later to chants of "Climb the wall! Climb the wall!" as a handful of us hoisted ourselves over a guardrail onto a bridge crossing the Potomac.

The scene outside the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
I felt ready for anything and had little idea what I'd be facing. I followed a sea of women in pink pussy hats to a super crowded Independence Avenue and made my way as close to the 3rd Street stage as possible. Stopping about 4 blocks short, I ended up sandwiched between strangers at the corner of Independence and 7th, right beside the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. From my spot on the ground, I could see people hanging from a large sculpture for a better view, as well as scaling up portable toilets to make camp on top.

I could hear the speakers from the main stage as well as watch them on one of many big screens set up along the rally space, which stretched up and down Independence Avenue and onto the historic National Mall. While I enjoyed everything, my favorite presentation is hands down Ashley Judd's performance of the poem "Nasty Woman," written by Tennessee teen Nina Donovan. Her words struck deep, and the fact that a poem could incite so much solidarity and controversy encouraged me as a poet and was itself a personal call to action.

As more leaders and celebrity activists sang, spoke and led us in rally cry after rally cry, the crowd grew into a tighter and tighter mass. Our bodies all pressed close, we couldn't move independently of one another and had to shift as a unit each time we were directed to clear a path for ambulance drivers and law enforcement. The closeness required an extreme level of trust and surrender, both in one another and in the fact that the march itself would progress as planned, that we would be set free to do what we'd come to do. Anxiety began to rise, yet we strangers soothed each other, and it felt very much like this waiting was part of the process. We made it through without riots or major misconduct, and ultimately blockades moved aside, unleashing us like a flood on Washington just after the mothers of black citizens recently killed by US law enforcement led us in saying aloud their children, the victims, names. 

Rather than walking in the neat line from Constitution Avenue to an area outside the White House as planned (and even described in certain articles), the marching crowd spilled out across the district, peacefully overtaking streets which hadn't been fully closed down. I moved with this mass in intuitively synchronized solidarity, feeling my humble smallness within the greater whole, something at once familiar and mysterious, an angry mob shot through with a sense of purpose, whit, and even joy.

 I walked with the mass well past the Trump Hotel until I suddenly began to feel that I'd miss my bus if I didn't turn back. Navigating Washington, DC, alone, as the march dispersed, may be the greatest part of my journey. I'd given my energy to the crowd in order to gain something myself, which I assimilated slowly and gently over the forty city blocks I walked back across on my own--seeking limited help from locals and law enforcement, my old motorcycle boots carrying me from the Virginia/DC line, past the major monuments and museums, past the halls of Congress, through trendy, wealthy, and low income neighborhoods, all the way to RFK Stadium, where I finally boarded the bus for a long ride home.

I left emboldened by my role in unfolding history, empowered to be ever more part of myself, and reflective about the society we share. The most common thread I noticed is the call to actively participate, to realize that government is smaller and more accessible than it first seems, something which we can hold accountable and shape, as long as we remain active and aware. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A NORML Mom Gets on the Bus

Here I am with my "Bus Buddy" Activist Mom Cheryl C.
Everything about my departure to Washington DC has been somewhat delayed, including this post. Instead of being perched behind my laptop at a comfy coffee shop, I am typing from my phone while twisted into the aisle seat of a chartered bus. It strikes me that I don't quite notice just how uncomfortable this is when I am speaking to my new friend and "bus buddy" Cheryl or even when I'm writing. It's amid the dark silence, within which the other women appear to be sleeping, that my legs and mind bend and ache. In other words, it's best to keep active, thinking forward.

As I write this now though, having just departed a gas station with my Revolution Tea in hand, the women around me are waking up loudly. There are grunts, groans, cheers, doubts, apologies, and spilled coffee. It strikes me that our collective voice right now does not exactly feel like the breeding ground for a progressive revolution, and yet, I remind myself, again, that the many disparite threads uniting us is potentially this movement's greatest strength.

One of my personal threads, as always, is my drive to end cannabis prohibition. I am wearing a button on my hat today to show this. I wore the same button on my jacket last week when I traveled to Athens to participate in photographer Kaylinn Gilstrap's march-inspired photo story for The Bitter Southerner. That feature is set to run after we marchers return, and my interview with Kaylinn and her assistant Devin will post then as well. For now, I can give you a head's up: They dig my button and are ready to smell change in the air.

Traveling onward, I ask you think of me today. Yesterday some riots turned violent, and I need you to picture me all wrapped up in protective smoke. ;) Thank you always for spreading the word and helping it grow.

Close-up of my button against my yellow march hat. Yellow is the official color of GA marchers in honor of the monarch butterfly. Hats were hand knitted in GA & funds raised help finance women's bus rides to Washington.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Arrow on My Arm (A 5 Step Meditation)


Sometimes we stop. Other times, we pause.

The semicolon tattoo project centers on pauses. It is symbolic of being faced with a choice to end one's life sentence (so to speak) but opting to pause, reflect and connect with the future instead. Per its Facebook page, Project Semicolon is “a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.”

I relate to that. I know many other people who relate to that too.

I also know an overwhelming number of friends who have chosen an absolute ending, and I have been haunted by the similarities and differences between their thinking and mine for years after their deaths. Ultimately, I think suicide is like any other display of absolute power: It leaves an impact spanning the entire emotional spectrum and its judgment will always vary widely according to individual perception and circumstance.

Personally, I choose to live my life, recognizing each moment as a rare privilege and trying to embrace it as such. At the same time, I believe people have the right to risk, embrace and even be the hand of their own deaths. Saving people from themselves is beside the point, an ignoble pursuit if I may be blatantly honest. A more honorable practice is to spread knowledge which will help people become empowered in the choices they make.

Another way to say this is: While I feel people shouldn't take away a person's right to choose death, I also feel people should strive for a world in which death never feels like the only option. In my opinion, one way to do this is through the stories we continue to tell. When creating new stories, I want to focus on those which acknowledge there is no one right way to anywhere. Likewise, I want heroes whose main triumph is not a singular achievement, but rather an ability to recognize life's many paths and to navigate these with a striking sense of grace.


My semicolon tattoo & tea @ The TapRoom
Tattoos are an interesting way to tell a new story. I grew up regarding them with wonder. As with many things, I felt encouraged in this. It was safe for me to want a tattoo just enough to complement other people on theirs. However, it was dangerous for me to want a tattoo enough to actually seek one for myself. At the point desire tipped toward reality, the fear of lasting, permanent change took hold. At least, this is how it felt until my 30s.

When you cross 30, something magical happens. You gain perspective. You are finally old enough to look back at yourself and decide if the person you've been is the person you will continue to be. You can then step into your life with a sense of ownership. I've found that, once you own your life, it becomes difficult for anyone to threaten you. There is security in your sense of self, if you claim it.

My thirties are a time of tattoos, beginning with the semi-colon arrow on my wrist. I chose the arrow because it holds power for me. An arrow means moving forward, waiting for the right time, and trusting your aim. It feels just a little bit dangerous, showing up in all sorts of myths (from Robin Hood to Brave to The Hunger Games) as the wise weapon of choice for the rebel with a cause.

I laugh as I say it, but it remains true: I am a rebel with many causes.




My Children 
One of my overarching causes is simply the removal of stigma.

Recently, I met a young man in a coffee shop who literally didn't know the meaning of the word. About 10 years my junior, his peers were once students in my middle school classroom. I think I often assumed they knew more than they did. In a concerted effort to avoid giving them too little credit, I sometimes gave them too much, speaking about concepts they couldn't understand because they lacked the vocabulary to do so, missing opportunities to teach them words, the simple building blocks they needed most.

I didn't understand this failing until I gave birth to brilliant children who struggle to read and to speak.

It has also been through exploring my children's autism and sensory differences which I have come to better understand neurological divergence of all stripes. From this, a few mantras surface:

I will meet you where you are. Just say KNOW. We will do this one step at a time.


My Shadow Selfie
I think the next step is to answer some questions:

1. What, after all, is stigma?

According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, stigma is “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”

2. What exactly is neurological divergence?

According to the Urban Dictionary, it is having a brain which functions differently than normal.

You may think of “neurological divergence” as another way to say “mental illness.” However, mental illness carries a stigma which can get in the way of genuinely understanding mental health.

3. What else carries a stigma?

According to a lifetime of lived and documented human experience, stigma is attached to anything which separates us from what our society considers to be ordinary regarding our appearance, spiritual beliefs, medical choices, diet, general health, parenting preferences, sexual preferences, relationship dynamics, gender identity, race, financial standing, politics, employment, entertainment, education, morality, living environment, birth plans and death arrangements—to be brief.

If you are different, prepare to be judged. If you are human, prepare to be judged.

What I'm after is judgment which exists outside condemnation and comes with no price. Looking directly at something and accepting it both as it is and as it can be feels like mercy.


Sketch of a future tattoo, design by Aliya Smith
Mercy, as I see it, walks hand in hand with gratitude. At this intersection of gratitude and mercy, is grace.

The arrow on my arm is a sign of grace to me.

So are the other symbols and totems which will mark my skin one of these days.

Funny, isn't it? How so much insight can come from contemplating a simple tattoo?

This is why art matters, by the way, especially now in these days of Trump, Putin, China's looming digital dictatorship and the fall of Aleppo. Art makes us pause. Within those pauses, we have an opportunity to think, to feel and to recognize that we have options beyond destruction.