Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Turn Your Back on Hate. Change Starts at Home.

My daughter enjoying #keystorome
Whether I'm a brave adventurer or certified homebody depends largely on whom you ask. I will jump in a car at a moment's notice to make the hour long trek to Atlanta, Georgia, or Chattanooga, Tennessee. I didn't blink at loading 3 children under 10 into a van and driving them 11 or so hours to see their father during summers he spent working in West Virginia. I hopped aboard a bus filled with strangers and road to Washington, DC, where I got lost after the Women's March and walked alone from one end of the district to the other, arriving at a crowded stadium with no clue which bus was mine about 10 minutes prior to its departure. However, in almost 35 years of life, I've only been on 2 round trip flights to anywhere and have never once left the United States.

As a local student at an international boarding school, I used to say: The world comes to me. This notion has continued into adulthood as the future owners of my company's musical instruments often travel from abroad to collect their new TerraPans. Through each of these ventures, I have helped make Rome, Georgia, a temporary home for people from virtually every continent. Yet, sometimes, I am still surprised by the ways my hometown, and the surrounding areas, reveal themselves to me.

Kingston garden bounty
I had an opportunity to revel in this a couple weeks ago when the local group Turn Your Back on Hate hosted Change Starts at Home, an evening of merriment and music in the courtyard of Schroeder's Deli in downtown Rome. A raffle was scheduled during the event, and I needed to drop off my donation, a CD of TerraPan music performed by the local artist John Hand. I intended to attend the event in the evening with my husband, but I enlisted my children to help me deliver the CD earlier in the day. Our journey was fruitful. It began with a stop by the gazebo south of Rome in Kingston, where a family of gardeners were selling herbs, vegetables, wild flowers, painted pots and snow cones. I live in Kingston and loved giving my children an opportunity to make a meaningful purchase from neighbors whose child had sat in my former middle school classroom just after my daughter was born.

Afterward, my now 8-year-old daughter settled down at a piano on the corner of Broad Street in Rome. She has always had an incredible knack for free style lyrics, and the keys added a welcome dimension to her playful, spontaneous art. We walked back and forth between Rome's new gourmet frozen pop shop Frio's and its landmark deli Schroeder's, each time seeing familiar faces and entertaining new ones with original songs.

The piano my daughter played exists thanks to the project Keys to Rome. Keys to Rome is one of many efforts supported by Turn Your Back on Hate, and its sister organization Peacefully Engaging the Rome Community. TYBOH and PERC exist to empower people to find their voices through artistic self expression, and the prevalence of this goal in Rome is one of the things which makes my hometown special to me. 

My husband, performing TerraPan at Change Starts at Home
One of my most vibrant memories of late childhood takes place in the Schroeder's courtyard. I attended a poetry reading which marked the publication of one of my favorite high school teacher's chapbooks, as well as his farewell to the south. He would be heading off to pursue new opportunities in New Hampshire in the morning. I spent the evening marveling at how the combination of a sudden rain storm clearing in the moonlight, my teacher's powerfully delivered elegy to a friend who spent many years courting death, and my chance encounter with a college student bound to protest with the Zapatistas in Mexico made for powerful memories in real time. However, the highlight of that evening was a familiar shopkeeper named Seth taking the stage with his band The Strange. My bare feet felt so good splashing in the puddles as I danced.

Twenty years later, with gray weaving its way through his otherwise red beard, Seth and the most recent iteration of The Strange took the stage at Schroeder's again the other Saturday night. So did my husband with his TerraPan. So did my friend Jessie Reed—not just as a performer, as I used to know her, but also as founder of TYBOH and PERC. Observing this, I felt the power in having spaces which hold constant. These spaces remind me how my passions have seeded and grown over time. These spaces also root us in our own stories—ultimately giving us more ground on which to stand and relate to different cultures, calling now more than ever for our compassionate attention, exploration and understanding.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A NORML Mom Takes Not One Step Back

Saturday, April 22, citizens gathered across the globe to march for science. In the the wake of a US presidential administration which candidly denies scientific evidence in favor of “alternative facts” made up to suit their personal agendas, international support for scientific inquiry is vital. Climate change, natural resource management, and sustainable technology are obvious focal points. However, the medical uses of marijuana (and other federally illegal drugs) is another trending topic within the scientific community. So, for that matter, is the social science supporting an end to prohibition period. In keeping with these causes, I celebrated science Saturday 4/22 at the Morehouse College of Medicine, where I attended Not One Step Back: A One Day Strategy Session on the Drug War, Mass Incarceration and Public Health, brought to Atlanta by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

Based in New York, the DPA works nationwide to fulfill its stated mission: To advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies. In other words, DPA advocates for responsible use of all drugs, as well as for a society within which this is possible.

One major hurdle to achieving responsible drug use is de-stigmatizing the drugs themselves. An even more important hurdle is de-stigmatizing the people who use them. The de-stigmatization of people requires a major re-shaping of society into a system which centers on respecting our shared humanity rather than on celebrating business acumen and the accumulation of wealth. This means, ultimately, dismantling capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy—you know, the trinity which forms the bedrock of America. It's a big task and a tough sale—especially when small, personal victories occurring between the Civil Rights Movement and the present suggest there is not much amiss and that anyone who thinks otherwise is either wrong in some way or deserving of ridicule.

Rising above the stagnant thought pattern that nothing is wrong requires people to see on a broad scale how systemic white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism both sustain, and are sustained by, mass, ongoing oppression. We must recognize that, by simple virtue of our citizenship, we are part of this oppression. We must not condemn ourselves for this. Likewise, we must not justify our role. We must instead own it, as objectively as possible, and then take deliberate steps toward a better way of existing. Furthermore, we must act from self-motivation. No good comes from stalling your own evolution in the name of wanting someone else to do their work first. It is natural to evolve together, each person and group of people moving at different paces which ebb and flow over time.

I discovered the DPA via my work with PeachTree NORML. Unlike so many people I meet, I have known NORML existed virtually my entire life. The primary reason for this knowledge is simply my education. I read voraciously and pay attention to world around me. However, even knowing about NORML and sympathizing with the cause, I did not join until I hit a turning point a couple years ago after someone rear-ended and totaled my car. The investigating officer issued a ticket to the driver who hit me and then returned licenses to everyone except me. Instead of receiving my license, I was arrested on a bench warrant for missing routine traffic court. I then spent about 9 hours in custody waiting to be officially booked.

I am white. I had enough money to pay a cash bond. I was cable of navigating the system well enough that charges against me were easily resolved and my license restored within days of leaving jail. The officers I encountered treated me civilly. The inmates were kind. Nonetheless, I saw enough to know that not everyone received such gentle treatment, despite the fact that most people I encountered were there on charges of nonviolent drug possession. I was also acutely aware that, while the officers were choosing to treat me like a person, it wasn't their obligation. Until I paid for my freedom, I was a number. Being stripped of my autonomy, albeit briefly, made me more acutely aware of both my day to day oppression and privilege. For me, this was motivation enough to use my privilege to help end oppression, and marijuana reform felt like a good place to start.

Considering that the movement to legalize marijuana continues to spread (despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions' utter distaste for it), it seems many may view it as a gateway to more sweeping reform. During lunch at Not One Step Back, each table was assigned one of three conversation topics, and one of these was marijuana. The other two, the opioid epidemic and prison reform, provide further insight into both the breadth and depth of the issues DPA confronts.

On one level, the opioid epidemic feels unique in its focus on the abuse of prescription, rather than federally illegal, drugs. It demystifies the image of users by portraying them as people who uphold major social norms and usually play by the rules, so to speak. For some, it will take little effort to draw the connection between users of prescription opioids and users of heroin. However, for others, the starkness of this divide speaks volumes about how deeply people are stigmatized for engaging in behavior perceived as deviant and/or associated with a specific social class.

The medical community enforces this divide via its tendency to over prescribe to one group and in its refusal to adequately treat the other. Once members of the first group develop a clear dependency, they become assimilated (by degrees) into the second group. Meanwhile, a third group of individuals, capable of both exercising and benefiting from, responsible opioid use are given little to no say in a society which insists that users must either be exploited, pitied or shunned. The resulting feeling of hopelessness likely affects many individuals who ultimately use opioids to take their own lives. In this sense, the opioid epidemic may also be seen as evidence of our culture's limited capacity to adequately recognize, treat and accept the reality of mental illness.

While study of both the opioid epidemic and marijuana's history of prohibition each shed light on the role prejudice plays in the drug war, prison reform is the issue which brings this home. This is because understanding the prison industrial complex makes the following clear:

It isn't so much that the criminalization of drugs has led to disproportionate arrests of people of color as it is that the US government needed to justify its arrests of people of color and thus criminalized drugs as a means of achieving its fundamentally racist agenda.

This is why so many of the speakers at Not One Step Back refer to themselves as abolitionists. Slavery within the United States hasn't ended. It has simply changed form. People of color are essentially harvested from their communities daily to fuel an industrial complex which relies on prison populations for cheap labor to sustain a capitalist economy run primarily by rich, white men—who themselves are dehumanized by the very system they lead. The system feeds principally on fear, and the counter to that it not bravery but love. Call it incredibly hokey. This doesn't change its truth.

Yesterday, my husband shared with me the obituary of Nick Sands. In my opinion, it's beautifully written, and I suggest you read it here. We had recently learned about his work as a chemist via the documentary The Sunshine Makers. This documentary focuses on the role Sands and his colleagues played in manufacturing LSD and pioneering an ongoing psychedelic revolution. In The Sunshine Makers, Sands admits to originally thinking that widespread use of LSD would change the world by allowing everyone to transcend their internal barriers to experiencing authentic love. After years of successfully “turning people on,” he remained dedicated to his mission despite openly recognizing its flaws—made evident by the fact that widespread use of LSD failed to bring an end to violence and oppression. Personally, I agree with Sands that LSD (& other drugs) can be useful in sparking real change toward a more loving, authentic, life honoring existence for everyone. Yet, I do not think that the use (or even abuse) of any substance can ever have as much power as the use (and also abuse) of our voices.

DPA does lots of important work. It simplifies the process of alerting our elected officials when drug policy reform is up for debate. It supplies clean syringes and life saving medicines (like Naloxone) to people who need them. Perhaps most importantly, it facilitates meetings like Not One Step Back which give people a forum for sharing their stories and, thereby, creating needed changes to both drug policy and society as a whole. DPA will be returning to Atlanta in October for a comprehensive 3 day long event, and you can register for that here. I will see you there.

Getting in the GROOVE

Albeit not connected to my essay,
I'm sharing this groovy pic of my kids & their friends.

GROOVE feels like air. I read it and could breathe. The stories there reflect neither the popular New Age mindset nor rebel hardcore against it. They feel honest, like solid stepping stones along an uncertain path.

GROOVE recently published an essay I wrote for a collection built around the theme SENSE. My essay, "Sensing the Soul of Things" walks the reader through the beginning of my journey toward understanding Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. I'm including a direct link HERE for you to read and enjoy. Meanwhile, click here to contribute to the next issue of GROOVE.

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.


Kelli Lynn Karanovich

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


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.