Monday, September 15, 2014

Good News for People Who Like Bad News




I was 13 years old. The combined forces of high estrogen and high testosterone had turned my classmates into strange creatures, alien even to ourselves. We had no idea what to expect next from day to day, as we waited for the bus stop. The fact that we spent eight hours a day together in classrooms without windows and painted cinderblock walls made us feel claustrophobic, increasing the already stout pressures each of us felt, though we could barely speak of our feelings. I never quite figured out who I was or what was expected of me. If someone had told me to march in some general cardinal direction, I would have gladly followed, desperate to escape this anarchic struggle.

One of the great peculiarities of my life was my refusal to take part in the prerequisites of jock royalty. I could have had a popular girl or even a cheerleader of my very own. One by one, when each time I was much too shy to take part in a conversation, they vied for my attention. They were silly and teasing. I acted as though my head was about to explode. I was never sure why they or any woman would be interested in me. Because I was a star, albeit a reluctant football player and they were popular girls, I was considered something of a catch by default. I wonder now how many of them were in hot pursuit more for the status of what I represented to others rather any genuine interest.

At the time, I didn’t know what the girls felt about me. I was too shy and self-doubting to believe myself boyfriend material for anyone. And yet they kept trying. What I meant to them could well have been a complete reversal, full of confidence to how I felt about myself. One especially persistent girl kept asking if she could borrow my brain. She was alluding to my unquestioned status as the smartest, most intellectually precocious kid in school. Accordingly, she would pick a large vocabulary word and quiz me on it, desperate for me to parrot the proper answer in her company. She was persuasive, but I always wondered about an ulterior motive on her part.

I could have had any number of sweet Southern Belles, except that sweet Southern Belles bored me to tears. If my priorities were very different, the process could have worked well for me. If I’d started going out with a popular girl, my stature would have risen considerably. It makes me happy that this awkward game is years in my past. What I really wanted were the intelligent girls who were high achievers and a little geeky. Winning the hand of one took a lot of convincing and patience, as I was responding to the very same reservations in someone else that I felt in myself.

Writing this piece was meant to underscore that the decisions we make ought not to be only about a rise in our personal stature. This might be one particularly compelling part of the puzzle, but there is more to romance than ego. I can truthfully say that I never regretted dodging the popular girls. It taught me life lessons. It revealed to me how easy that game is to play for some and how difficult it was for myself when I was looking for something very much outside the box. Some of my classmates were groomed to believe otherwise.

I am not a woman, but I wonder if some lingering aspects of failed, adolescence romance persists into the current day of adulthood. We still rate ourselves based on who we find attractive and who finds us attractive. I do, even though I am in my mid-thirties, though I wish I didn't. Even today one observes the lasting power of hierarchy, especially when it comes down to romance. As Quakers, we seek to be non-hierarchical, but we live in a society which is extremely so.

Fluffy magazines and websites reinforce this notion of worth being simply a matter of physical beauty and the ability to fit a set pattern of attractiveness. I suppose I should have been flattered that I got so much attention earlier in life, but I tossed it aside, voluntarily. As middle school became high school, some overgrown boys I knew dated popular girls because they got the dual benefit of having arm candy and, for some, sex. That could have been me, too, but sex isn’t everything.

This is a post partially in support of men. There are good men and bad men. Men fail when they do not police their own or they let their desire for popularity and belonging to a group become more important than justice. Men fail when they are accessories or guilty of what has been termed in recent years rape culture.

But both men and women find many examples in their own lives and in the lives of other friends and associates of a deplorably sad and greatly commonplace set of problems. This is especially true for those with poor moral character and a manipulative attitude. Every woman seems to have known a man who fooled her, valuing her only for her physical appearance, and that memory is never forgotten. Every man seems to know a woman who is either unfaithful or selfish. We don’t forget them, either.

Looking past our own baggage is a life’s work. And it doesn’t mean stopping the process of identifying the societal problems that are often overlooked. I often think of the title of a Modest Mouse album. It is entitled Good News for People Who Like Bad News. In my day to day work, I feel that I’m always seeking to provide Good News for the People Who Like Bad News. We can fall in love with Bad News, just as soon as we can fall in love with a cloying, optimistic notion that only whitewashes the real problem. Neither discipline can be adequately taught in any form, in my opinion. Ours must be a lived experience that comes from experience and wisdom. Few solutions can be adequately conveyed in a college class, by attending the right conference, or by reading the right book.

We may dwell for a time being part of the Bad News brigade, and find our needs satisfied there. I think all of us go there for a little while, with the right set of circumstances that push our buttons. But if we can’t express our opinions in ways that aren’t merely hurry-up-and-pay-attention-to-me righteous indignation, we’re only seeing part of the problem. For some, this is a just a phase, and the arrival of pending middle age for myself has provided needed insight. The tools we’ve once used to wound others are now kept on our metaphorical mantelpiece, next to other heirlooms, a reminder of a different time where our priorities were very different.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quote of the Week



"There is no escape — man drags man down, or man lifts man up"- Booker T. Washington.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Video



Yeah
Lookin' back on the track for a little green bag
Got to find just a kind or losin' my mind
Outside in the night, outside in the day

Lookin' back on the track gonna do it my way
Outside in the night, outside in the day
Lookin' back on the track gonna do it my way
Lookin' back

Lookin' for some happiness
But there is only  loneliness to find
Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs lookin' behind

Lookin' for some happiness
But there is so a loneliness to find
Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs, lookin' behind

Lookin' back on the track for a little green bag
Got to find just a kind or losin' my mind
Outside in the night, outside in the day
Lookin' back on the track, gonna do it my way

Lookin' back on the track for a little little green bag
Got to find just a kind or losin' my mind
Lookin' for some happiness
But there is only loneliness to find

Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs lookin' behind
Lookin' for some happiness
But there is so a loneliness to find

Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs lookin' behind

Friday, September 12, 2014

Bisexuality and the Real Truth


"Do you have any problems with dating a bisexual?" This is question three, following the ever-popular "Do you want children?" when on a first date with a woman. There's no need to beat around the bush, especially when the answer might be a disqualifying entry. Best to know up front. I'm a blunt person by nature, seeking someone else who speaks the truth without coated by the insincere.

To a woman, they always indicate no. It wouldn't be fair of me to lie on their behalf. This is a particularly sensitive series of inquiries which has caused me considerable pain. I expect honesty from a partner, and though superficially I obtain it, the truth may take longer to work its way to the surface. With all the strides made regarding sexual orientation, women still automatically fear that I might leave them for another man.

At odd moments and in the right circumstance, I find out their true thoughts by sharing my own. At those times, I confess that I have no desire to end up with another man and that I'm quite happy with them as they are. I see them breathe a sign of relief, though I wish they'd never worry about my fidelity. I feel wronged and mistrusted, but being angry doesn't do much good. At best, I try to instruct, to even challenge my partners as to what bisexual really is and how they have nothing about which to worry.

I knew I was bisexual at a very young age.  I realized what I was when I dressed out during middle school gym class. As I prepared to play basketball or whatever creative game the PE teacher had devised, my face was always turned towards my locker, not daring to look around. We only dressed down to our underwear, which was fortunate, because I would have been twice as nervous had everyone stripped down all the way.

By the time I was seventeen, I was open with who I was to almost everyone. Few people were hostile to who I was, but one of my friends was. It had not been his doing. His mother was extremely homophobic and how she found out about me is a mystery. As I've written before, my parents were not particularly accepting, and I spent a summer away from them as punishment. Every time a female partner expressed fear at who I was or what I represented to them, it was like I was reliving the past.

I always believed that tolerance could be reached with enough willful practice and education. It would be easy for to write off my past girlfriends as victims of our still-bigoted culture. I use myself as proof of who LGBTs are and how we're not all that much different from heterosexuals. The behavior and assumptions of past relationship partners were never taken with great offense by me, as I knew their attitudes often took the form of guilt and misunderstanding. Some confused me as homosexual and some weren't sure what to think. Truly cruel behaviors were few and far between. What I mostly received was discomfort.

My mother, upon her recent retirement, has become a cause lady. She observed my struggles with bipolar disorder and has worked with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), speaking to parents with children who have mental illness. In her capacity, she has educated parents who have mentally ill kids, giving them hope that their kids can improve. I am proud of her for transforming her personal pain to give comfort to caregivers. The largest problem in my life has been bipolar disorder first and sexual orientation second.

In my own brutal honesty, the intent is for me to function in much the same way my mother does. What I volunteer to others may be too much too soon, but I know I'm sure that I would make no helpful impact at all if I didn't make an effort to initiate communication. My intent is to share my sexual orientation with someone else with whom I have no desire to keep secrets, regardless of what role they take in my life. I desire a best friend, not a distant partner who has little to no understanding of who I am.

One of the oldest feminist tropes is that it is not the responsibility of the marginalized to educate people of privilege. While I agree with this sentiment on its face, I have found that many people don't take the opportunity unless forced to do so. I may educate, or I may encourage others towards the same direction that I have long understood myself. It may not be wasted time to teach an informal lesson on Bisexuality 101. If that had been the case with the Civil Rights Movement, white people would have gotten it without the need for marches and movements. It would have only been a matter of self-study and simple enlightenment. I'm not sure we're there yet.

Having now been acquainted with of the truth, a real relationship can proceed. Intellectual discussions are hollow and empty, though we may think they have some redeeming benefits. It is too often reconciliation on the cheap. We must risk being wrong, even when those who dare to do so have may speak out of ignorance, though they must keep their tempers in check when questioned. Truth can be jarring, but sanitizing it away does no one much good. I would like to have an honest discussion about bisexuality with an audience who is genuinely uncertain, not trolling to enrage. The same is true for many similar issues, race, class, and wealth being only three.

Apologies

I've had a lengthy issue with my Internet connection, but I am working on something new at this very moment. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The World May Never Know



I can't remember what is wrong
I've been happy now for way too long
and oh, we got a lot more to go

I put a trash can by the road
and filled it up just to lighten my load
but oh, I got nowhere to go

Someone alone fell asleep by the phone
Waiting like a dog for a bone
How can it be that a fish in the sea
Could feel like it's completely alone?
the world may never know

I know it hurt you, 'cause you cried
I know it killed you, but nobody died
and oh, the city ain't nothin' but show

I found a needle in the hay
I found the sunshine at the end of the day
and oh, I found a pearl in the snow

Someone alone fell asleep by the phone
Waiting like a dog for a bone
How can it be that a fish in the sea
Could feel like it's completely alone?
The world may never know

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Reforming Government Controlled Health Care



When the Affordable Care Act was being considered many progressives clamored for a single payer system or, as they put it, Medicare for all. Medicaid was expanded, at least for the governors of states who agreed to accept it. While the idea sounds good, digging deeper into reimbursement rates reveals the limitations of Medicare and Medicaid. If single-payer is adopted eventually, Medicare will need to be revised substantially. It can be extremely effective in some areas and woefully insufficient in others.

Two years ago, I needed to have bladder surgery. Medicare covered almost all of it, and I'm glad that it did because the total cost was around $20,000. In situations like these, Medicare is a very effective health insurance for certain target areas, but not for others. Should you need surgery, Medicare usually covers most of the cost of the procedure. This is due to the fact that the surgeon’s lobby is very strong, but this is not the case at all for other specialists.

For patients diagnosed with sleep apnea, Medicare covers the cost of CPAP machines almost in totality, and even the very expensive one that I have. Medical supply companies have made lots of money off of CPAP machine. Some believe that CPAP machine have become something of a racket, since a record number of patients have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. My device is extremely expensive and has advanced technology. Though I appreciate how effectively it works, I wonder sometimes if gold standard CPAP devices have become much too commonplace.

Where Medicare fails most is with mental health care. Medicare only covers $65 a session for therapy, and even with a $24 co-pay, many therapists in cities do not take it. Most practices based in cities don’t accept insurance at all, meaning they charge between $200-$250 per session. Catering to wealthy clients means that these therapists make lots of money. The fsame is true with Psychiatry. Psychiatrists don’t make much from Medicare, either, and because of this many simply do not take it. This part of the system must be changed. Those who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder must see a psychiatrist regularly and must be prescribed medications they must take to be well and live a normal life.

We still do not have Universal Health Care. Medicaid is run like rationed care. It will not fill a prescription that is more than four months old, forcing patients to make a special appointment with a doctor that is unnecessary. Medicare and any other health insurance company will fill a prescription as long as there are refills remaining. Only controlled substances will not be filled if the prescription is older than six months in duration, but that’s a special case.

Medicare sends its patients an itemized statement of charges. Medicaid does not. By implication, Medcaid patients have no need for such information. Medicare patients probably complain if they aren’t given information about how their insurance was charged. I regret that Medicaid patients are not given the same essential information. Understanding the medications they are given works is crucial.

There’s an elitist perspective towards poor people, one that assumes that those without financial means don’t deserve to understand the nature of their treatment. Certain clinics for the poor and needy do an excellent job by treating their patients with dignity. But for those practitioners who aim higher and wish only to treat those like them, they often have little to no patience. Our medical system is capitalistic, not socialistic, and anyone who wants to find a psychologist with government insurance like Medicare, you have my sympathy.

I like Obamacare, but it needs an overhaul. Even at the time that it was proposed, the legislators putting the bill together knew that changes needed to be made constantly. We've made a good start, but we can't drop the ball here.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Good News


I submitted a short story to Mud Season Review of Burlington, Vermont. It is staffed by members of the Burlington Writers Workshop, a free writing workshop based in Vermont. Yesterday I received word that I am being seriously considered for publication. I was given two pages' worth of revision via e-mail, when I have been methodically filling in bullet points, chapter headings, and general suggestions.

This morning I have made extensive changes in the draft, but expect to do even more with time. Another publication has indicated that it interested, but Mud City's response is much more interested. It will be interesting to see what comes next. This draft has been through around five separate edits and I've been working on it for over a year. I'm a big believer in revision.

This week may be devoted primarily to this task, but I could finish up soon than expected. Thank you for letting me sharing this good news with you!