25 January 2010

Trigger Warning

I used to be a writer. I wrote mostly poetry, but a few short stories started sneaking in as I got older. Words were everything to me. I had so many pictures and ideas and the only way to get them out of my head was to write. So I wrote.

In college one night, I was online in a poetry chatroom and I met a boy. He was a poet, too, but mostly he was a painter. He and I hit a chord and would chat for hours on end. A few months later, I got an invitation to his first art show. I couldn’t go, he lived too far away and it was right around graduation. But instead, I sent him a letter. A few months later, he wrote back. I’d send him letters with stories of my life and he’d respond in kind. I started sending drafts of poetry and he’d send me sketches. Occasionally, we would speak on the phone for hours at a time, but it always went back to the letters. After a couple years, he was prepping for another show, but was travelling to Italy first. The day before he left, he sent me a mural. From Italy he sent me sealing wax with a specially commissioned seal he’d designed for me and had a Tuscan metal artist cast . We had a long phone conversation when he returned. It was a week before his next show. I wasn’t going to be able to make it, but was planning to make a trip that summer. I wrote him my last letter the night of his show.

A few weeks later, I saw his number on the caller ID, but there was no message waiting. I went ahead and called him back, but got his brother instead. My friend had hanged himself a few days after I’d last spoken to him. His brother had found my most recent letter and realized I didn’t yet know. After all, we’d only been pen pals, really.

I wrote one poem after he died, the last thing I ever really wrote. I haven’t been able to write since. I’ve tried and I just can’t. My niece wrote me a letter once, asking if I’d be her pen pal. I couldn’t write back. I started a blog hoping to get my words back. The only words I’ve been able to find are others’ – fact, figures, speculation, and philosophy. A couple weeks ago, I was reading an online journal of someone who wanted to start writing letters and was asking if anyone was interested in old fashioned letter writing. Tonight, I saw a preview for a movie all about a couple writing letters to each other while one is away at war.

I guess letter writing is my trigger, because I lost it. The pain, the loss, the memories felled me. I lost my words when he died. I wish so badly that I knew how to get them back. I dream in novel ideas and when I go to put them to paper or even to type them, I can’t. My fingers freeze. My heart races and I shut down. I’m overflowing with pictures and I can’t do anything with them. I can’t find my words.

And without my words, I'm not really sure who I am.

01 October 2009

Bet Red

If I have to say anything “good” has come from the mighty uproar from the conservative right since the election, I will have to say that fiscal awareness seems to be growing. It’s good to know where your money comes from and where it goes. Though I wish the fervor had come, say, 8 years ago, I am glad to see people finally starting to care about where their tax dollars go. I would also like to encourage everyone to examine where the rest of their money goes, especially charitable donations.

When you donate funds to “good causes” how aware are you of where your money actually goes? When you tithe, do you know whether or not you are funding a new gym, the salary of a deacon, or a new car for the pastor? When you buy candy from your kid’s school, do you know how much of that money actually goes to fund the school and how much goes to the sponsoring company? When you buy those Girl Scout cookies in bulk, do you know how much of that actually helps out your local troop and how much funds new cookie recipe research, packaging, and marketing campaigns? If you do, I commend you. If you don’t, I encourage you to at least think about it—even if you don’t change your charitable habits, at least be aware of the overhead involved.

One way to ensure that your charitable dollars go to exactly the cause intended is to donate to DonorsChoose.org. Essentially, the site lets you help fund school projects. As education funds are continually being cut, and debates go on about the level of federal and local involvement, school kids bear the brunt. Donors Choose helps kids get the education and experiences they need. And the best part is that you know exactly where your money goes. If you choose to donate, you get to choose not only what school, classroom, and specific project you are helping fund, but you also get to decide if all of your donation goes to fund the program or if a portion of it can be designated to help Donors Choose administration costs. The donation page breaks out all the costs associated with each project. There’s never any doubt where your dollars are going. As an added bonus, depending on the amount you donate to a project, the classes will even send you pictures and thank-you notes when a project is fulfilled.

For the past several years (save last year when we were buying a house) my boyfriend and I have donated to Donors Choose through Sars’s Tomato Nation/Donors Choose Contest. Every October, loyal readers chip in to see just how much money we can raise and how many projects we can fund. Two years ago my boyfriend and I helped fund classroom dictionaries and a reading table for two local Indiana schools. The thank-you notes and pictures we received are priceless.

We’re pitching in again this year. Please consider adding Donors Choose to your charitable giving list. And hey, if now is a good time (you know, before the Christmas gift money gets sucked away), you could always donate through Sars’s challenge and add to that total as well.

In giving even just a little you can be part of something so big.

21 September 2009

By Way of Explaining

I often tell my boyfriend—and I’m pretty sure he believes—that I am a snob. I tell him that I am better than other people because I am smarter and make better decisions. I tell him that I have little respect for people who complain about their life when they control the circumstances that put—and keep—them there. I am better than they because I got myself out of bad situations. Instead of complaining and malingering, I tugged on my bootstraps and made the hard decisions, embraced humility, and made myself something more. I alone was responsible for bettering my situation and, thus, I am better than they.

It’s a nice illusion. That illusion is often the only thing I have to focus on, especially when I am feeling my lowest. The thought that I climbed out of a financial and emotional hole when other people can’t is about the only thing I feel I have going for me. Because the one life lesson I have learned and learned well is that I am easily dismissed.

It’s tough being dismissed. Dismissed because someone thinks you are hyperbolic, uneducated, or invalid. It is hard to believe the dismissal isn’t personal. It’s difficult to consider the person dismissing you and wonder if they are just insecure in their own beliefs or are scared of the ramifications if your feelings really are valid. The sting of dismissal usually overshadows all that is rational. Instead, your self-worth diminishes; your value decreases. After all, why would anyone listen to you if all you do is over exaggerate? What worth do you have if you are always wrong? Why should you keep offering if you are only ever ignored? What can you bring to the conversation if you are invalid?

Granted, some dismissals are easier to take than others. I realized a few weeks ago that my boyfriend’s mother had summarily dismissed me. Nothing I said would have had any effect because I had already been dismissed as someone trying to steal away her son. I can handle that dismissal only because her son (the most important factor in that equation) reassured me that he did not agree with her.

Other dismissals, though, are much harder to handle. When your own mother calls you selfish for not wanting to go shopping because you have the flu. When you have a physical, palpable fear of someone and it’s dismissed as ridiculous. When you are specifically asked your opinion and your reply is dismissed as judgmental. Or when you see someone you care about struggling and you offer advice to make it easier and are dismissed as interfering or demeaned as an insufferable know-it-all. Constant dismissal chips away at any reserve of strength.

My boyfriend always commends me on my ability to seek help from store clerks, or to be able to call customer service to ask questions, or even to go out and do research on topics I find interesting. He thinks it’s confidence. In reality, it’s self-depreciation. When you have been considered incompetent, wrong, and dismissed often enough, it doesn’t matter if you ask others for help or seek guidance elsewhere. It’s assumed that you need to. You don’t have the confidence to believe you know the right answer or that your ideas might be valid. Seeking others’ help or advice is a given. Otherwise, you are just an insufferable know-it-all. As a result, I am never confident in anything anymore. I am always qualifying answers, double-checking facts or figures, and admitting that I could always be wrong. Those qualifications then enforce the idea that I really don’t know anything, that I am, in fact, dismissible.

It’s exhausting living this way. Always justifying and rationalizing. Trying to find reference outside of myself in order to prove myself. I don’t even know why. I try to tell myself that others’ opinions don’t matter, that my self-worth is not defined by them. That no one can make me feel inferior without my permission. But when all you see is dismissal, when all you get for trying to be strong is rejection, it wears on you. You begin to believe it. You begin to think that if so many others believe the same thing, then you must be the problem. You must try harder to be strong, to be right, to be valid. You must find something outside of yourself to prove that you are not dismissible.

So, I have this space; this corner of the web where no one is obligated to visit. Where no one is obligated to read or respond without their choosing. Here, I can try to find myself. I can attempt to figure out what I believe and why. I can choose to support my views or not. I can write as much or as little as I want. Here, I do not have to see the dismissal. People can click away and I’ll never know. People can dismiss my views and ridicule them on their own blogs, to their friends, family—even to my friends and family—and I never have to know.

Outwardly, if pretending to be a snob causes people to dismiss me, I can handle that because I know, deep down, it’s a front. They are only dismissing an illusion. And for now, I’d rather be dismissed as a snob than as someone who is invalid. I’d rather pretend to think too much of myself than have to admit that I feel as though I am nothing at all.

14 September 2009

Repeal DOMA Now

According to The Hill, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) will be proposing a bill this week to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA was passed during Clinton’s presidency in 1996. According to H.R.3396:

‘No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.’

‘In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’
The purpose of part the first is to make an exception to the “Full Faith and Credit” Clause of Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution that states:

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.
This article makes it possible for other states to recognize civil issues from state to state, like marriages, drivers’ licenses, judiciary rulings, and property ownership. If you are civilly married in one state and then move to another, you don’t have to be remarried in your new state. DOMA was written to specifically exclude that right for same-sex marriages. Whereas the Constitution specifically ensures these rights, DOMA rejects them. In most legal circles, this would make H.R.3396 unconstitutional.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines discrimination as “1 a : the act of discriminationg b : the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently.” If you read further, you find, “3 a : the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually.”

“Categorically.” Same-sex marriages are a category to be treated differently than hetero marriages. No matter how you choose to read it, the bill discriminates against a group of people, much like blacks were discriminated against in the 1960s. There is one major difference though, blacks were not specifically discriminated against in the Constitution, they just weren’t mentioned as a category. So the nation fixed it in 1870 by ratifying the Fifteenth Amendment granting everyone the right to vote without regard to race, color, or previous condition (i.e. slavery). That wasn’t enough, so the nation took action again with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that banned discrimination in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that restored and protected voting rights; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, that dramatically opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional European groups; and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.

It amazes me that with such a history of inclusion that the nation would suddenly decide to reverse its progressive action and instead of passing laws to be more inclusive, it decided to be specifically exclusive; and with overwhelming numbers. In the Senate, 85 (53R, 32D) voted in favor with only 14 (14D) against (one senator abstained from voting). In the House, 342 (224R, 118D) voted for and 65 (1R, 65D, 1I) voted against (24 abstained).

A full 427 lawmakers in this nation felt justified in stripping away the rights of citizens—for no other reason than “gay marriage” made a bunch of people uncomfortable. Same-sex marriage has not been proven to be indecent—or laws would have already accommodated that. It hasn’t proven to be criminal—or, again, laws would have addressed it. Religious justification is out because the First Amendment screws up that. Black people made a bunch of people uncomfortable, too, but rather than specifically exclude black people, the nation made its vague laws more pointed to specifically include them. And 30 years later, the nation decided to specifically exclude gay people. And not even gay people, just gay married people. Oh, being gay is fine because we apparently haven’t yet found a way to make that illegal, but in the meantime, until we figure out a way, we’ll make it illegal for your marriage to be just as valid as any other couple in the nation.

It’s not illegal to be black, just illegal to be black and vote. Oh, wait.

The Hill article indicates that repealing the act won’t gain much traction as it might distract from greater LGBT rights legislation (specifically employment rights and federal benefits for domestic partners). To that, I say you can’t forge ahead with any rights legislation until you repeal DOMA. You can’t delineate specific rights for people until you give them back the right you unlawfully took from them in 1996—the basic right to be treated just as any other citizen in the nation.

Call, email, and/or write your representatives and senators today. Tell them that the first step in regaining freedoms for all Americans is to repeal DOMA.

07 September 2009

A Point Missing in the Healthcare Debate

The other night, my boyfriend (I’m going to have to come up with an online nickname for him), was chatting online with someone from Canada. He said he went ahead and asked “The Question” about whether or not she liked her healthcare. Her answer was, “Yes!” and they went on to discuss it for a little while.

The US has been having this debate all over. People are comparing a “public option” with the Canadian and British National Healthcare systems. In trying to find some good links to research on this topic, I came up short. Oh, I found plenty of articles. I found just as many articles on how the Canadians and Brits hate their systems as I did about how the Canadians and Brits love their system. The main problem with most of these articles was that they were either supposition or personal experience.

Supposition articles don’t work because they aren’t backed up by solid facts. Even the ones stating how the Canadian system is running out of money don’t have solid reports from the Canadian government to back them up – just “trends” based on poll data. Poll data seems to be most of the basis for being “anti” nationalized healthcare when the comparison debates crops up. Personal experience is just as poor as poll data as it relies on few individuals to represent the whole. Personal experience does not equate to statistics or whole numbers.

What finally occurred to me, as my boyfriend was relating his online conversation, was that none of the articles I’ve found online address what I think is a HUGE point in comparing nationalized healthcare to the current US system: All Canadians and Brits have health coverage. People can write hundreds of articles vilifying nationalized healthcare. Opponents can trot out hundred of Canadians or Brits who had poor experiences with the nationalized system. However, even the person who hates their nationalized healthcare the most, even the Canadian or Brit who finds nothing redeemable about having nationalized healthcare still has one thing over 42 million Americans: They actually still *have* healthcare. 42 million Americans don’t.

42 million Americans don’t have long lines to complain about because they can’t even get into the lines to begin with. 42 million Americans don’t have months-long waiting periods to moan about because they can’t even get a doctor to wait months for. They don’t have to file arguments with the government about whether or not their cancer treatment is covered because they can’t even get the cancer treatment in the first place. As bad as any nationalized healthcare system is, the people still get health coverage. 42 million Americans don’t.

Do I understand that if we as a nation want to tackle this problem we should make sure we can implement the best system possible? Yes. Do I think that any solution that helps get people health coverage is better than no solution at all? YES. What infuriates me the most is that the proffered “public option” still isn’t even a nationalized plan – it’s not an expansion of Medicare or Medicaid. The public option is just trying to get people a better price for the same health insurance that most employers provide. The “public option” isn’t guaranteed health care. It’s not even guaranteed health *coverage.* Even if we were to implement the public option, there would still be millions of Americans who couldn’t afford even the deeply-discounted plans and would still not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid and go without.

People are wasting so much breath arguing against “nationalized” healthcare when that isn’t even on the table (despite the millions of Americans who believe it should be). Instead of concentrating on trying to get more people covered for health care costs, opponents will obfuscate and misdirect. Point out the problems with nationalized healthcare! Even if that’s not what’s happening, people will be so afraid they’ll vote “no” on whatever is actually put in front of them. Make them afraid of it! Tell them that their own health care is in jeopardy (without pointing out that their current health insurance is actually pretty darn bad). They throw out words like “socialism,” “fascism,” and “Nazism,” without even regarding their meaning. Just to stoke the fires of fear.

The “Teabaggers” at the health care town halls only think they are trying to protest the –isms. Shout in anger and tremble in fear at the nasty –isms being thrown around! When in actuality, they’re protesting my friend getting prenatal care because she has high blood pressure and can’t qualify for health insurance. They’re protesting women getting breast cancer treatments. They’re protesting men getting treatment for prostate cancer. They’re protesting children getting vaccinations. They’re protesting against 42 million Americans getting health coverage.

100% of Canadians and Brits have health coverage.

42 million Americans don’t.

31 August 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Twitter

I’m a talker. People who know me in person know that I can talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I have a million reasons I blame, but it still remains that I. Talk. I started this blog to specifically talk about things that are Deeply Important™ to me. Because I sincerely want to speak out and a blog is just one way I can write down and refine my thoughts, and be challenged and challenge right back. It also helps out my boyfriend, as I mentioned in the first post, because he has enough to deal with on top of my personal crusades.

But even so, this blog only gets out a little bit of the dialogue running through my head. I’ve recently joined Facebook, too. It’s neat, that Facebook community thing. I can keep in touch with my family all over the country. I can see pictures and video from them. I get to hear from my brother in Atlanta more than twice a year. I can witness my Marine cousin’s decline into complete assholery while he’s stationed in Iraq. On Facebook, I can even get out a few more of the thoughts in my head. I can moan about the Redwings signing Todd Bertuzzi, or make fun of myself when I screw up something simple (like, you know, trying to print a document and continually hitting the “Save” button instead). With all its features, though, Facebook is still limiting. It’s not a place where I feel comfortable posting a running dialogue. Instead, I have to save up those issues and spew them all over my poor boyfriend when I get home from work. “And then, oh then she had the nerve to say she was in line first, when clearly, I was.” Mind you, my boyfriend is a champ at putting up with my incredibly long-winded tales. I know it’s not easy.

As a result, I considered Twitter. 140 characters seemingly built exactly for the commentary running through my head daily. I looked into it and was discouraged for a long while. There seemed to be two Twitter camps – those who simply posted the tweets about their thoughts, day, etc., and though Twitter does have direct messaging capabilities, people still use regular tweets a sort of community instant messenger, re-tweeting and commenting on every other tweet they follow. If you’ve ever “followed” a person on Twitter, you’ll find that the twitter streams from those in Camp 2 can get awfully annoying. You can have a twitterer post a dozen “tweets” on their feed responding to other people they follow and thus their twitter stream becomes a bunch of one-sided comments to comments about which you have no clue. For example, from twittergeek’s twitter stream (all, completely fictitious names, by the way):
@twittergal: Right on, sister!
@twitternut: I know! I can’t believe that happened either!
@twitterbum: Have you tried honey and toilet paper?

An on an on. And if you’re like me, you’re like, dude, what on earth was happening that they suggested honey and toilet paper? So you click over to see @twitterbum’s feed, but it’s been a few hours so twitterbum’s feed is exactly the same!

@twitternerd: Purple and itchy!
@twitterpal: I think that’s tomorrow.
@twitteruser: That’s what @twitterdoctor said!

Gah!! It’s an endless click-through maze and you’ll never get to know for what condition you would use honey and toilet paper. What’s worse is that twitterers can also automatically update their Facebook pages with their twitter steam. One of my FB friends did this and my Facebook homepage ended up being 50 daily tweets from them and I couldn’t get to the *actual* Facebook updates from my other friends and family. Sadly, I had to block that person’s posts just to restore sanity to my Facebook page. Based on this phenomenon, I pretty much left Twitter alone for a while.

Recently, though, I found a few twitter feeds that seemed more like Camp #1, just a running commentary on thoughts and interests of the day. The longer I followed those twitter feeds, the more I liked it. The more I thought I finally found an outlet for my daily commentary. It’s a place where I can post the updates of my saga with Home Depot’s online service program. I can spew about the ridiculousness of how I walked the short distance to the cafeteria for only two things and forgot one of them by the time I got there. A place where I can bore everyone or no one at all with the fact that today there were three dead birds outside my office window and what the heck is up with that?

Oh, Twitter, will you help me move my vocal verbosity to the interwebs instead of to the ears of my patient, loving boyfriend? I promise I won’t use it as an IM feed and stick to the really boring 140-character updates of which no one but me cares. And when I see articles like the one about Kentucky, I’ll save it for my blog and not Twitter.

24 August 2009

A Letter to the Current RNC Chairperson

Dear Mr. Steele:

I read your article today in the Washington Post about the RNC’s “Health Care Bill of Rights” for seniors. A large portion of the argument you present is that in reforming healthcare (to at least provide a public option for people who otherwise can’t afford healthcare) is that Medicare shouldn’t be touched. Medicare is a socialized medical care program for senior citizens who otherwise can’t afford private insurance.

Please, re-read that last sentence. Or, here, I’ll re-type it: Medicare is a socialized medical care program for senior citizens who otherwise can’t afford private insurance.

Let’s rewind the clock, to say, oh, 1995. The GOP stance during the last Democrat president was the exact same thing being proposed now. Go read this archived article from the NY Times. Note, also, that because of a new “redesign,” the RNC website no longer holds archived material for more specific fact checking. Interesting timing, no? Because the 1995 article quotes Clinton as saying that the Republican’s proposed plan would “…increase premiums and other costs for senior citizens,’ he said. ‘It would reduce doctor choice. It would force many doctors to stop serving seniors altogether. It threatens to put rural hospitals and urban hospitals out of business. Brick by brick, it would dismantle Medicare as we know it.’”

In trying to find details of this 1995 Republican plan, I have come up short. However, did find this nice timeline provided by PBS of the whole issue (though still no links or specifics to the 1995 plan). Highlights of which are:
  • February 1995: “[Republicans] propose reducing more than $250 billion from Medicare and more than $175 billion from Medicaid.”
  • September 21, 1995: “He and other Democrats complain that Republicans intend to force a vote on their plan -- still not fully disclosed--after just a Single day of hearings the following week.”
Surely the RNC isn’t flip-flopping. Because looking at today, you say: “These types of ‘reforms’ don't make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on.” You’re right, because according to the Medicare website, as of 2008, 45 million Americans counted on Medicare.

At first I figured you didn’t actually see the irony, and then I remembered, in 1995, you were 14 years farther away from retirement. You haven’t served more than 5 years in federal government either, so you and many of your private-citizen cronies at the RNC don’t qualify for the government’s pension plan like the Senators and Representatives. Unlike back then, now you’re staring retirement in the face, aren’t you? Gosh, what would you do if your insurance costs got too high? What if your retirement funds get sucked away by a bout of prostate cancer or a particularly virulent mutation of the swine flu? What if your wife is stricken by osteoporosis or even breast cancer? How on earth would you pay your medical bills?

I could almost justify the switch if the financial issues surrounding Medicare had actually changed over the last 15 years, but alas, it has not, as you yourself point out in calling Medicare “an already troubled federal program.” Could I please request an update of the RNC views on subjects? The U-turns are giving me whiplash.

Oh, and one other minor quibble, might I also suggest a further edit on your new website? On the “Republican Principles” page, the first two principles are stated:
  • “I BELIEVE the strength of our nation lies with the individual and that each person’s dignity, freedom, ability and responsibility must be honored.
  • I BELIEVE in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, sex, age or disability.”

You should really amend those to “unless you are not like us, in which case our viewpoints and perspectives trump said dignity, freedom, ability, and responsibility. Most especially with regard to religion, sexuality, marriage, health care, and reproductive issues.”

Completely-Heterosexual-Platonic-Love and Kisses,