Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Am One Of Those People.

Playing in the background: Weird jazzy funk version of "Bolero." Pretty cool actually.

I have better things to do than write this blog post. I have a job to find, for one. I have calls to make, follow up letters to write, emails to send. But I'm interrupting this morning because of some unbelievable stuff I'm seeing on Twitter and Facebook from people whom I thought were relatively sane human beings about the new health care bill.

Look, you don't have to be in favor of this bill for me to like you. There's a lot wrong with it. It guarantees huge profits to companies that have clearly shown they don't deserve them, it raises taxes in several places and there's the possibility left open (though that door is mostly shut now) that public funds could be used for abortion (a point on which I'm not in favor; abortion is a private decision and it should be paid for by private funds). But fergodsake y'all, can we take a breath before we all go crazy? And I mean that in the nasty way, not in the "Jen is crazy" way that gets bantered about a lot around here.

This is a complicated bill. It's over a thousand pages long. If you're going by sound bites on the news, you really haven't the faintest idea what it does and does not cover. For the record, though, there are no death panels, Medicare is not going to disappear and nobody's paying for illegal aliens to have plastic surgery with tax dollars. No, I'm not suggesting you read the whole thing, but do a little research, will you please? Consumers Union has a pretty good article here on some of the scarier myths, and here's one from Inc. Magazine - not exactly a liberal bastion - about possible effects on small businesses. The AARP, also one of your more conservative gatherings of humans, has some pretty good information too. In fact, Google "What the new health care bill means" and pick and choose your sources and you'll find quite a bit of information. There's a lot of good (ie, not hysterical) information out there. Go read. Again, don't go crazy.

Which, just incidentally, brings me to my point. By far the most important thing this bill does, in my humble opinion, is end some restrictions on health insurance brought about by those same companies I mentioned earlier. One of them is what we call the pre-existing condition clause - that with which a person cannot get health insurance, from any source, at any price. If you have the misfortune to be born with something like, say, spina bifida, you can't get health insurance that will cover your doctor visit for strep throat (for you nonmedical people, totally unrelated to spina bifida) unless one of your parents has the good fortune to be covered under group insurance. Lots of good families, with good jobs, end up giving them up and living in poverty to get Medicaid to cover conditions like this. That is ridiculous in a civilized country. Uh, let's say that again in bold caps: THAT IS RIDICULOUS IN A CIVILIZED COUNTRY. If this bill takes care of that and that alone, it was worth passing. If this bill covers the uninsured, even at the risk of "forcing" people to buy insurance, it was worth passing. If it closes the Medicare "doughnut hole" that has seniors skipping doses of medication they need because they can't afford them, it was worth passing.

Reason I bring all this up is that I am one of those people affected by one of those things, the pre-existing condition clause. The "bipolar" designation that got slapped into my medical records over the summer makes it impossible for me to get health insurance, of any kind, at any price, from anybody. (The asthma didn't help, either, but some insurance companies will sell you a policy if you can prove you haven't had an attack in three years - though how you'd do that, I can't imagine). I can't get a policy for $500 a month and I can't get one for $5,000 a month. I simply can't get it.

Now, as y'all know, I recently lost my job. Joan and I went through a very tense period of waiting to see what my employer would do about offering me continuing coverage. The firm was too small to qualify under the COBRA law mandating continuation, and there's a state law mandating a shorter time period but there are also some exceptions. Well, in the end they did offer it. It's pretty expensive for someone on unemployment and it only lasts for six months but I don't have any choice. Sigh of relief? Not quite. If they decided, tomorrow, that the insurance was too expensive and wanted to cancel it for the whole firm, they could do that and I'd lose my coverage. I'd get no warning, have no recourse, and have no way to buy insurance on the private market.

Which means, in all probability, that I'd be dead very shortly.

I am not being dramatic. Any sudden cutting-off of my health insurance would mean I'd have to go off all my meds at the same time because I'd no longer be able to afford them. These aren't meds one goes off of all at once, or at all if one can possibly avoid it; the number one reason for bipolar people to end up in the hospital, in a position where they're likely to hurt themselves or others, is not taking meds. If one does have to stop taking something for any reason, one tapers off under a doctor's supervision and again, I wouldn't be able to afford the doctor visits. Tapering off one med can be problematic enough. Tapering off all of them at once (I'm taking four) is just begging for trouble.

By the way, bipolar disorder has the highest suicide risk of any mental disorder, and not just due to active suicide attempts but also due to wild risky behavior, like, say, driving at 100 miles an hour in a rainstorm and hydroplaning on purpose or brawling with the drum-major or chasing my idiot neighbor down the street with a club at three in the morning shouting "Come back here, you motherfucker, and pick on a woman your own size" after he beat up his wife. (Not that I've done any of those things, mind, and anyway I was a lot younger then.) Do we have a public hospital? Sure, but I made too much money last year to qualify and anyway, it doesn't cover prescription drugs and what I need the most is...yeah.

By the way, the portion of the law that would require an insurer to accept me won't go into effect until 2014. So it won't exactly help me now, and I still don't know what I'd do if the worst happens. I just kind of hope it won't. And again, you don't have to like this bill to be a friend of mine. Just please tone down the rhetoric and remember it's a crime, not to mention bad karma, to post about harming certain members of the executive branch of our government just because you don't like a piece of legislation. And remember that there are a lot of people like me out there. People with cancer who lost their insurance because they got sick and had to do without the chemo treatments, people on welfare who turn down jobs because the new employer wouldn't offer insurance and they had a diabetic child, people who can't get insurance at all at any price.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Breakfast in America

Playing in the background: The smoochie bird. I'm not sure what kind of bird it is - possibly a bluejay - but it has a call that sounds like "smoochie smoochie smoochie smoochie smoochie."

Saturday in Texas. The day dawns wet and cloudy. It's been raining off and on since the middle of the night, as those of us who are easily startled by thunder boomies can attest. I've crawled out of bed, into some clothes, put in the ear drops (I have an ear infection), meditated and fixed the all-American breakfast - bacon and flapjacks. (Eggs would be overkill.) I've had some coffee, Joan is still asleep, when she does get up there's plenty of food, and the house is nice and quiet. Perfect time to get some writing done.


I don't know what's wrong with me these days. Well, actually I could give you a list, starting just incidentally with being unemployed, but as far as writing goes I don't know what's wrong with me. I haven't been able to string two sentences together in weeks. Which is a pity because if there's ever a perfect time to write, it's during a period of unemployment - long stretches of unstructured time, occasional annoying visits to to make sure you haven't missed anything - but otherwise perfect. I'fact last time I was unemployed (and yes, I'm appalled there was even a last time) I wrapped up Book Two and started Book Three. I even remember one particularly nifty three day weekend where I knocked out eighty something pages, which is even better if I don't then delete three-quarters of them the following day, as I sometimes do.

(Course I was also manic as hell, and it finally got a chance to show up because a. I wasn't working ten hour days and then coming home to write, b. I wasn't drinking anymore, either and c. the binge eating was pretty much under control thanks to OA. I'fact if it hadn't been for that particular lapse in workingdom I might have gone on undiagnosed for months or years longer, saving myself thousands in therapy and prescriptions, while the disorder continued to wreak havoc on my life and damaged my brain even more than it probably already is. Oh well. You gots to take der good mit der evil, as Lars von Trier would say.)

But here I am. Sober, binge-free, medicated, ridiculously calm compared to the swooping ups and downs of anxiety I had when I was working, and all set to dive into something big and complex in between looking for work, which, if one is honest, does not really take eight hours a day in spite of what those nice "how to land a job" guides tell you. And I am churning out absolutely nothing. This, for the record, sucks.

I even have a couple of works in progress. There's Book the Third of Mindbender, Soulmender, which is basically done but there's some denouement to wrap up at the end and explain What Happens To All The Major Players (and perhaps more important, who killed the sinister detective, because frankly, I'd like an answer to that one). There's the whole getting Mindbender published thing, which doesn't take concentrated writing but (oddly like looking for a job) does take a willingness to hunt down agents, write letters, follow up and be a pest in a nice way. And finally there's No Accounting for Taste, the sequel to No Accounting For Reality. During the last NaNo-go-round I got about a third of the way into this one; go back to November and check out some of these NaNo posts by way of example. So there's stuff I could be doing. I'm just not doing it.

What happens is this: I sit down at my trusty laptop (I love my laptop, in case I have not said that lately - I don't know what I'd do without my laptop). I open a file. Pick a file, any file. I read through the last little bit of whatever I was working on. I add a sentence. Maybe two. And then I get distracted. The TV is too loud or there's some new game on Facebook I just have to try or maybe instead of doing this I should be knocking out more query letters or more recently, I need to check Monster or Craigslist or Simply Hired, name your favorite, or there's a recruiter to call, a chore to do, a floor to sweep, dusting to accomplish. I go back to the file. I glare at it. Then I get fed up, quit, close the file (sometimes without even saving it) and flop down on the couch, watching whatever happens to be on the Discovery Channel and cursing myself for being a lightweight. Obviously I can't do this. Obviously I was fooling myself all this time. Obviously I've let everyone down again (though, as Dashiell Hammett allegedly said, "It's not like they're gonna miss you, Lily.") I've done this pretty much every day for weeks.

So is this that thing they call writer's block? For years I've been convinced it doesn't exist but I'm starting to believe in it now. Anyway, it's very frustrating. But perhaps there is hope. I did, after all, manage to knock out this entire blog post - and Joan is still asleep.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

Playing in the background: The occasional chirp of the cell phone, calling Danny Boy somewhere

If I were the superstitious type, I might just take the whole month of March and, I dunno, leave town or something. Maybe go logging in Canada or hop on a fishing boat off the west coast of Alaska. Luckily I'm not the superstitious type because if I were I'd say, what the hell is it with March and being unemployed?

Ah, tis to laugh, you may say. But consider:
  • March 2007. Mass layoffs by the SBA, since of course, Hurricane Katrina's aftermath is all cleaned up and everything on the Gulf Coast is hunky dory. Jen's letter of layoff dated March 13, 2007.
  • March 2008. Nothing happened to Jen job-wise, but her dad got into one heck of a skiing accident while hotrodding down a double diamond with his older brother. There's just never a dull moment around here.
  • March 2009. Not content to merely be laid off once, Jen gets laid off a second time, on or about March 10, from the firm she went to after being laid off by the SBA. Luckily for her, she didn't go work for Countrywide like a lot of her ex-cow orkers at the SBA, since six months after the big layoffs, Countrywide promptly began laying everyone off and it would have happened a lot sooner (though, she admits, not in the month of March.)
  • March 2010. Jen gets fired in a classic case of "kill the messenger syndrome" that she doesn't really want to go into. But seriously, it happened on March 8. Couldn't one start to get extremely superstitious just about now? Like maybe March is a dangerous month to be around? Look what happened to Caesar. And I'm not even talking about Julius, I'm talking about my cat. Well, okay, no, I'm talking about Julius. But Caesar was named after him.
I am once again looking for work. And once again we have proof that everything changes and nothing stays the same and that getting attached to something is the surest way to unhappiness and angst generally. That doesn't stop me from doing it, though. I can't imagine it stops most of us. Joan and I, for example, are both rather attached to having enough money. Not a lot of money. Just enough so that we don't have to worry about paying the mortgage and catching fish from the Trinity River for our evening meal. (Fish from Trinity = grossbuckets.)

So okay, if anybody needs a commercial litigation paralegal who's serene in the face of the usual pretrial nightmares and can juggle depositions, mediations, trial prep and research on the finer points of the rule against perpetuities while ordering out Chinese food and billing 140 plus hours a month, drop me a comment or a direct message, @jenstrikesagain on Twitter. It would help if you're somewhere in the vicinity of downtown Dallas but that's not an absolute requirement. Many Trinity River fish will thank you. Heck, I'll thank you, too.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Who's Afraid of Ben Kingsley?

Playing in the background: An episode of House

I have a confession to make. My name is Jen (hi, Jen!) and I'm afraid of Ben Kingsley.

Look, I know this is silly. He was Gandhi, for cryin' out loud. It's just that he was also Dr. Roberto Miranda, and he left an indelible impression on my young brain. (Hey, I was a lot younger in 1994. We all were.) And that was before Sexy Beast. Actually, let's not even talk about Sexy Beast. The very idea makes me shudder, which is not a pretty sight.

Oh, in case you don't know what I'm talking about: In 1994, Ben Kingsley starred with Sigourney Weaver and Stuart Wilson in a scathing little sleeper of a Roman Polanski movie called Death and the Maiden. (Not to be confused with Iron Maiden: Death on the Road, which is completely different.) This movie takes place in an unnamed South American country that's almost certainly Chile. A respected politician (Wilson) picks up one Dr. Roberto Miranda (Kingsley) who claims his car broke down near the former's isolated house on the rocky coast. Wilson's character invites Dr. Miranda to spend the night. Trouble is, his fragile wife (Sigourney) hears Miranda's voice and decides that the hitchhiker is one of the torturers who victimized her years ago under another regime - another world entirely, really. So she goes all Carrie on his ass, minus the psychic powers, without ever once being really positively sure she has the right guy. And we're not sure either. And--well, I won't tell you what happens. You'll have to rent it. But a warning, this is a very hard movie to sit through for all kinds of reasons.

Mind you, my mother warned me not to see that movie. (We prescreen movies for each other, my mother and I. Well, sometimes.) She said it was too intense and would probably upset me. Never one for listening to my mother, I watched it anyway and found it positively riveting. And very unpleasant. And I had nightmares about Ben Kingsley for months.

If ever there was the perfect blend of creepy malevolence and wounded innocence, Ben nails it in this movie. Way beyond the question of did he do it or didn't he (which is, as you can imagine, a pretty significant question), you'll remember him in this part for everything he says and does onscreen, because it's just so damned good. Best acting since the five minutes Jose Ferrar was onscreen in Lawrence of Arabia, and if I didn't have my heart set on his son Miguel to play Roland in the big screen version of Mindbender, I'd want Sir Ben. Except for being afraid of him, of course, which could get awkward. And let's face it, I don't think I could afford the guy. He's kind of pricey with that Sir on his name.

Some years after Death and the Maiden, a movie named Dave came out. This movie was about an ordinary guy who ends up being President through a ridiculous confluence of circumstances that I won't go into here. Sigourney Weaver played the first lady, and Sir Ben played the vice president. Late one night, channel surfing, I happened upon this movie and saw Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley at the same moment on the same screen. My skin about crawled off my body and my first thought was that they couldn't possibly be running Death and the Maiden on TV, even late night. It's one of the few Rs that probably should have been an X and had absolutely nothing to do with sex. Then I realized it was Dave and had a moment of shuddery relief before the camera was cut back to Sir Ben and my skin tried to crawl off my body again. Yep, it's official; I'm afraid of Ben Kingsley. I skipped House of Sand and Fog, Sexy Beast and even an episode of The Sopranos just to avoid that skin-trying-to-crawl-off-my-body sensation, which is very unpleasant.

Reason I bring this all up is that Sir Ben stars in Shutter Island, which I just saw last week. And he's done it again, nailing creepy malevolence and wounded innocence in just the right blend. It was a scary movie anyway, but throw in Sir Ben and it becomes truly frightening. So go see it, but don't see Death and the Maiden first or the skin might try to crawl off your...yeah.