Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Presidential Muppets with Brain Lesions

I think that it has been well established that I am a complete geek. So none of you should be shocked to learn that I have a Presidents’ Day tradition. I marathon watch the West Wing and let myself believe—if only for a few brief hours—that I could live in the America of Josiah Bartlet as painted by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin.

You will now be granted a brief pause to make a single comment about my nerdishness.

Anyway… This year I watched the West Wing through a new lens. The MS lens.


Just to recap, it is revealed after President Bartlet is shot in the Season One cliffhanger that he has MS. This diagnosis is important for the anesthesiologist to be aware of as he preps the President for surgery. And that is the last we hear about it for a while until—and stay with me here—one of his senior policy advisers think something is fishy with the Vice President (who knows the President has MS and is not planning to run for a second term).

Still with me?

This year as I was watching the MS storyline unfold, I found it interesting to see the character’s reactions to hearing about President Bartlet’s MS.  At the time the show was on the air, The West Wing was both lauded and criticized for its portrayal of MS. But I hardly gave it a thought back then. It’s all different now.

Having once been pregnant, I am always skeptical when I hear a story about a woman who gave birth to a healthy baby while never having known she was pregnant. That gives me pause. I can’t imagine feeling someone playing football with my bladder going unnoticed. I can’t wrap my brain around someone feeling a fetus swimming around her stomach and NOT thinking that—at the very least—she probably should address that sensation with a doctor. I would certainly want some medicinal reassurance that my appendix hadn’t become sentient.

I feel the same way with the West Wing MS President. I just don’t buy it.

Aside—Yes, I am well aware that we are talking about a work of fiction. Written by one of the most gifted writers alive right now, but fiction nonetheless. But like all art, Sorkin’s writing can only be interpreted by me through my own experiences.

Back to the Bartlet administration.

The MS Society reports that four out of ten people with MS have either failed to disclose or outright lied about their diagnosis to friends, family, colleagues, and their employer.  The same study reported that 36 percent of MS patients feel it has a negative impact on their inter-personal relationships.
I’ve certainly noticed that it has impacted my relationships. So I will give President Bartlet a pass on this one. I get it. And no one—not even the President—is under any obligation to disclose their MS (or any other health conditions) to their employer.

Bartlet’s choice to not disclose his MS is not where I stumble. I have a hard time with his ability to manage both his MS and the business of the country.

Let me expound.

MS advocates loved that Sorkin gave MS to the President. They saw it as an endorsement that a person with MS can do anything.  Yay. Go MS peeps.

Except, I don’t buy it. The symptom that people with MS feel is most debilitating is fatigue. Extreme fatigue. Our country has seen President’s with disabilities before. FDR was in a wheelchair. JFK was in chronic back pain and needing medication and a brace. I don’t think Bartlet’s need for an occasional walking aid is any problem at all.

But the soul-crushing fatigue? That is where I think MS would defeat a President. POTUS has to spend 10 to 12 hours at work each day. No weekends off. No vacations away from responsibly. No time for a nap. I can barely make it through my 8 hour day without having to put my head on my desk because I don’t have the energy to keep holding it up.

Oh, and let’s not forget one of the things that exacerbates MS symptoms. Stress. But the President never has to deal with that, right? Yeah, I’m not buying it.

I think we should reboot some other TV series and give the main character MS. Then depict these characters with an accurate portrayal of life with MS. In Breaking Bad, let’s take away Walt’s cancer and give him MS. Trouble finds him when he falls asleep in his motor home, ruining his latest batch of Meth. Which is bad, because he needs the cash to pay for his Avonex.

Or maybe Ross would dump Rachel forever after her MS diagnosis because he doesn’t want to deal with a lifetime of disabilities. He has overlooked the benefits of being able to jump the lines at an amusement park or park close to the door at a sporting event. So the rest of the Friends series can follow Rachel as she navigates Manhattan with a cane, endlessly having first dates.


Or even a colorful, fluffy character on Sesame Street that just randomly falls down and can’t keep her hand from shooting forward and punching people. Actually, someone needs to make me that puppet. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Football and Dead Kids?

I was up late with Kidlet, who was upset and crying because of the Super Bowl. Not because of the last 3 minutes either. He had really lost interest in who won after the Saints were eliminated from contention. But I spent an hour last night trying to convince Kidlet that he was safe and he wasn’t going to die. Because, once again, the NFL has failed him.

OK, actually, this time it was Nationwide that was most certainly not on his side. I wish so much that I had a Nationwide insurance policy so that I could cancel it today.

Kidlet had seen the Nationwide ad using the story line of a dead child telling football fans all about all of the things he would not be doing in his life because he had died in a household accident.


For the love of all holy fucking hell. Really? Did that really happen in the middle of a football game watched by so many children?

I was so prepared for the post-Super Bowl discussions I thought I might have to participate in. Cheating, fighting, sportsmanship. I was ready. Then the dead kid showed up and I felt like I had been placed into the middle of The Sixth Sense. I was in no way ready for that one.

Nationwide paid somewhere around $8 million to air this ad. I don’t hate it because it was depressing. Make no mistake, it was. I hate it because of these two reasons:

  • It was created to make us feel fearful and inadequate and therefore buy insurance. No matter what Nationwide is saying. They didn't create and air this spot out of the goodness of their heart. They want to sell you insurance.
  • It was completely chicken shit.

To the first point, Nationwide is insisting to anyone who will listen that they both knew that this ad would be controversial and that their sole intention was to save children. Make Safe Happen depicts an adorable grade-school boy listing all of the joys of life that he never reached due to his death in an at-home accident.

And the Internet lost its shit.


A Nationwide spokesperson released the following comment:"Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don't know that.”

Well, thank you for educating us all Nationwide. I know we must all feel so much safer. Well, Kidlet doesn’t, but he doesn’t really count, right? I mean, it’s not like he can afford to buy a policy.

The spokesman continued: “The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.“

So I have to ask…  If it isn’t to sell insurance, why bother including your logo? Just asking.

There are several industries that depend on our fear, and insurance has to be at the top of that list. Do you really think that this ad was an act of kindness? It was not. It was to instill a fear in us that might be soothed by purchasing a new insurance policy. Because if we have that extra insurance, nothing bad will happen, right? We live in a country where insurance is something we must all have. It is just the reality. And I certainly do not fault an insurance company for seizing on that need and building a business model around it. Well, I don’t completely fault them.

And the message of this ad is both meaningful  and important. But, to be delivered in such a manipulative way--by a company that will see increased profits the more that we worry--invalidates the message entirely. Nationwide could give a flying fuck about my Kidlet. That is, unless I would like to increase my life insurance on him. You know, because accidents happen.

But only if you are a terrible parent. of course. Those terrible things that killed the ad’s narrator happened because of his woefully neglectful parents. The ones who left the top floor window open, forgot to check on him while he was in the bath, or strap down their giant TV. The one they bought instead of putting money into the little man’s college savings account.

Make no mistake. This is an advertisement for insurance. And it is feeding on all our insecurities as parents.

Nationwide Chief Marketing Officer Matt Jauchius justified the ad, saying, "Since 2007 we've made use of other media partners to get our message across, but when we were thinking of launching Make Safe Happen, creating awareness, and showcasing our brand, the Super Bowl is a great media platform to achieve those goals.”

The emphasis is mine. But the truth is all his.

But here is the other thing. The ad was total chicken shit.

I feel like this entire ad was written by 5 white guys at Ogilvy & Mather agency that Googled “How do children die?” Then they picked the deadly sins committed by parents, but only the non-political ones.

By that, I mean, where was the image of the accidentally-fired handgun?

The ad was so fucking chicken shit. You want to preach to us about accidental injuries sustained by children in the home, but only those that won’t piss off the gun-loving Tea Baggers.

Is there anything more preventable than my toddle finding and shooting my loaded gun? But Nationwide wants to make me feel like shit for having bleach or a bathtub in my house. And how dare I open that window.

And you know what? Forgetting my two bullet points of contention, it is just a really badly written ad. Nationwide wanted to be edgy and spur discussion. But they failed so huge on execution.
Let me ask you this. What do you think the response would be if the ad went something like this?

1. Ext. FRONT YARD. day.
The LITTLE BOY rides around on his tricycle.
dissolve to

2. Int. KITCHEN. day
The MOTHER kneels before her sink, securing a cabinet lock then testing the doors to make sure they cannot be opened.

LITTLE BOY (VOICE OVER)
I almost didn’t get to learn to ride my bike. Or get kooties.

3. Ext. OUTSIDE. day.
The LITTLE BOY is piloting a bi-plane with his dog in the second seat.
dissolve to

4. Int. DOCTOR’S office. day
The LITTLE BOY frowns as he gets a shot, then smiles as he gets a lollipop.

LITTLE BOY (VOICE OVER)
What if I never got the chance to learn to fly so
I could explore the world with my best friend?

5. INT. CHURCH. day.
The LITTLE BOY straightens the bowtie of his tuxedo.
dissolve to

6. Int. BEDROOM. day
The FATHER unloads the bullets from his handgun and locks the gun into his gun safe.
LITTLE BOY (VOICE OVER)
What if I never got to be married? Or have kids?
Or protect them from preventable accidents
and illnesses?

7. EXT. Yard. day
The LITTLE BOY addresses the camera.
LITTLE BOY 
I get to do those things because my mom and dad
know how to protect me from the things most likely
to cause me harm. You can learn more about how you can help keep
 your kids safer by logging on to (whatever random address
where you will find tips and insurance agents). Together we can
make safe happen.


Then it fades out.  No logo. No Nationwide. No “brought to you by”. Let the world uncover who produced the ad. You know they are going to find out. And that will be very good for business.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Meeting Old Friends

It was a year ago to the day that I survived The Earthquake. It’s true, it took me some time to extract myself from the rubble and brace myself against the aftershocks. But in the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor…  Anybody Wanna Party?

Oh wait. Wrong song.

Regardless, there is really only one reason to bother to recognize this preposterous anniversary. It’s not like it is circled in black on my calendar, adorned with my tiny doodles of daggers and broken hearts. I truly was not thinking about it at all. Until I got a brunch date. It felt like something much more than serendipity that today—of all days—I had a helluva date.

Today, I finally got to meet a person that I have only virtually known. And one that I count among my good friends, despite us never been in the same room together.

Melanie and I met over email because of an act of bravery. Her bravery, to be clear. She contacted me after she received some anonymous posts on her blog. She and I had something in common, you see. The Earthquake. And he was right about to shake up her world too. She was feeling the first tremors. She emailed me to ask me if I was the person leaving the nameless comments and to ask if I had anything I wanted to tell her directly.

O.M.G. I had so, so much I wanted to tell her. But I didn’t. Not then.

Aside—For the record, it was not me leaving anonymous vitriol. However, after she asked about it, I did look at the posts. And I agreed with everything Ms. Jane Doe had written. I was glad someone had tried to warn Melanie about what she was getting into.

But as things began to tremble for her back east, she and I began to communicate more. I got to know her better. And that really pissed me off a little, because I found out that I didn’t hate her. I actually really liked her.

And now, after our brunch involving her layover in Salt Lake and my early lunch hour break, I have to say, I adore her. And it wasn’t just how much she appreciated my flask filled with vanilla vodka. It was that we had a strangely common history that is the foundation of many friendships. But it was also that we both understood that—while that foundation existed—there was no need to bolster it. We could go ahead and build on it. We could share stories of kids and growing up and jobs. The Earthquake was merely the reason we knew each other. Not the reason we want to continue to know each other.

I received many gifts post-Earthquake. Because of the Earthquake.  In the few months after things crumbled, I was writing at a level that I only rarely have achieved before. I have strengthened many of my muscles, most importantly my heart. And I have found new friends. Friends that share with me the experience of survival.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Deflating Your Balls

Ugh. I’m not quite sure how football has crept into my once sports-free life. Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly how it happened. I have an 11-year-old boy who is obsessed with football.

And maybe a little bit because of roller derby, and learning the art of a good block. And how to recognize a concussion or deal with seeing a compound fracture. And learning that being very tough can be very cool.

Regardless, there is only one more football game to watch this season, and it is the Big One. Kidlet is so excited. I’m moderately excited. Primarily due to the spicy chili and wonderfully-tasty deviled eggs I only get once a year. No, seriously. They are really good eggs decorated to resemble footballs.

Then Deflategate happened. Creating nothing but headaches for the NFL, Vegas book makers, and for me.

Here is my problem now: How do I talk to my Kidlet about cheating? Because, as it turns out (she says, feigning surprise), his heroes cheat.

I think he already knows that athletes cheat. He has watched enough of the 30 for 30 documentaries to see the drugs, the scandals, the falls from grace. These athletes featured in these shows get taken down because they eventually get caught cheating.  At some point, all cheaters get caught. Cheaters cheat not because they are smart. They do it because they think they are special. Too special. Too special to get caught. Too special for consequences. These people believe that the rules of both the game and the society do not apply to them.

But there is always a karmic price for cheating. I heard an interesting thought on a podcast the other day. One of the podcasters voiced his opinion that the reason the Southern United States is still battling the devastating effects of poverty, racism, and inequality was that—up until the Civil War—the South was cheating. They were building a robust and stable economy by cheating with slavery. While the Northern States were developing industry and a foundation of sustainability, the South was cheating. And they are still paying for it. That is an interesting notion, isn’t it?

My little nephew cheats at UNO. Every time I play with him. I know he does it, but I play with him anyway. Because, sometimes, I cheat too. If I get stuck in a video game, I don’t hesitate to Google the solution or cheat code. I’ve done that both with and for the Kidlet. I’ve cheated on one or two school tests. I’ve cheated at pub trivia once or twice. And I won’t lie. Those instances of cheating didn’t really detract from the experience of earning trivia points or that B+. I’m pretty sure cheating actually enhances the thrill of UNO for my nephew. He gets a Cheater’s High.

I’ve been cheated on in relationships. Quite a bit, really.  I have to wonder if these men who have cheated on me cheated at UNO when they were nine. Actually, I don’t have to wonder. I know that they did. I know that they still do. They cheat on taxes. They cheat at poker. They cheat and cheat and cheat. Is all cheating created equal? Maybe. Probably.

So what do I say to Kidlet about cheating?

I need to tell him that sometimes people cheat because expectations are too high. And I need to let him know that I will never get mad about a bad grade on a test if he can promise me that he tried his best. And that if he didn’t try his best, my disappointment at the bad grade will not last nearly as long as my being upset that he cheated. But I do need to tell him that if I ever learn he cheated on someone he was in a relationship with, the boot print I will leave on his ass will never quite go away.

I need to tell him that being honest doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes, it downright sucks.  And that it often easier for people to pretend to be someone they are not, which is absolutely a form of cheating. Or they pretend they can do something they really cannot do, whether it is winning the Tour de France or passing that AP French test.

And I need to tell him that people make mistakes. All of us do. But that one mistake can change your life forever. And fast. So when you are faced with the Kobayashi Maru, chose not to cheat. Even if you know that means you won’t win. Because both the size and scope of any mistakes you are making is mitigated if the truth is on your side.


I guess what I ultimately need to say to Kidlet is that cheating never results in anything but a hollow victory. Even the most morally loose, dead-inside people eventually recognize that whatever victory or gain they have received by cheating will be stained by the knowledge that the only reason they won was because they let some of the air out.

I understand the urge to deflate your ball a little in order to be able to catch it. I have that thought every time I touch my beach ball, once again shooting it across the pool. Letting a little air out of it will make it easier for my hand to grab that slippery sphere.

But… Letting the air out, even just a little bit, means that I am releasing pieces of my dreams. My wants. My desires.

And my truth.

Letting some air out of balls changes the very nature of that ball, if only just a bit.
Some people will always take the opportunity to cheat if it is presented to them. And yes, sometimes these guys will make it all the way to the Super Bowl. But we can all see them. We see them how they really are. Standing next to the real winners, holding their droopy balls.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Losing and Winning

I lost a friend last week.

I first met John when I was 17 years old. On my first day of the best job I would ever have. And the most rare and special thing about that job was that I knew--as it was happening--that it would be the best time of my life. How many things can we really say that about?

To me, one of the reasons that job was so amazing was the people I was working with. And one of those people was John.

As I was standing among the hundreds of people who came out to celebrate John’s life and share memories of this amazing man, I realized that my own sadness extended beyond just having to say goodbye to him. I felt so sad. I also felt a real and palpable sadness because some of these people—these friends of mine—were people I never really saw anymore. That felt like an additional loss.
Why does it take the death of a good friend to put me in the same room as people I genuinely love and care about? No one—not one person—is too busy to make time for an old friend. We all can sure as hell find time to attend a friend’s funeral.

But I realized something else that cold night we were saying goodbye to John. There are honestly some things I don’t have time for. I don’t have time for people who don’t make me happy. Don’t add value to my life. Cost more than I can afford. It is always sad to let go of someone you care about. That too feels like a loss. Sigh. So many losses.

“Life is a zero-sum game,” I heard a stranger say.

My first thought was, yes it certainly is. But then. Wait, what? No. No it isn't.

In economics, there is a lot of math. I’m not good at math, which I think is primarily due to the difficulty my brain has with absolutes. Because I am not good at math, I’m not especially good at economic theories. But some theories involve cake. I am good at those.

For example, imagine I have a cake. (Something with cream cheese frosting, please.) And imagine I am choosing to share this delicious confection with my friends. I know, that doesn’t sound like me. But stay with me for a minute.

If I take a larger share of cake (OK, that does sound more like me…), it will leave less for my friends. Because there is only one cake. I can only have more cake if I leave less for others. This is what is referred to as a zero-sum game. I know. Math is hard.

But here is why friendship is even better than cake. Friendships aren’t a zero-sum game. With real friends, there is always enough cake. And life cannot be a zero-sum game because there isn’t a finite amount of happiness out there.

I know that the feeling of loss was overwhelming most people in the room that night.  But life is never a zero-sum game. I know it can feel like we lost when we are burying a friend.  As I looked around that room packed with people that loved John, I realized that we all won. Yes, we all lost him, but each one of us was better for having known him.

I realized I was standing with, embracing, reminiscing with people to whom I would happily give all my cake. And that was also a win.

To my friend John, you are a huge win for all of us. Thank you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Flipping a Disadvantage?

First, my apologies for being an absentee blogger for the past month. I have lately discovered that I only have x amount of words that my spotted brain can organize and spit forth each day. And for the last few weeks, I have been word-vomiting out a novel.

My good friend Dr. D had challenged me to take part in NaNoWriMo 2014. Every November, writers and wanna-be novelists of the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, with the challenge to commit 50,000 words during the 4-week period. Dr. D and I joined the community and started our frantic typing.


So I dumped 53,675 words into a first draft. And now, I am taking the painful next step of the self edit and rewrite. It feels a bit like cleaning up after a New Year's Eve party that you only somewhat remember the events. I keep finding the literary equivalent of empty beer bottles in the laundry hamper and the occasional carpet stain of mysterious origin. When that occurs, it is best just to clean it up without investigating the source too closely.


I will keep you all posted on any progress on the book. I can't promise that this novel will be any good. But I will bet anything I own it will be 8.7 times better than Twilight. Of course, so is reading the dictionary aloud...

So that is both my excuse and apology for my blog neglect.

Meanwhile, another interesting thing is happening. I'm job hunting.

The company that I was working for was acquired by another, and that left me out of a job. Such is life with a career in the technology world. I'm not worried (yet), but I have been taking on the tedious task of filling out job applications. And that is how I am encountering the EEOC question, asking if I am disabled.

The US Department of Labor asks that employers collect Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data. It is an affirmative action plan encouraging companies to collect certain information from employees and applicants, such as race, ethnicity, sex, and veteran status.

And disability status.


By the federal government's definitions of disability, I have one. MS is listed as one of the medical conditions that qualify as a disability.

So do I list myself as having a disability? I am of two thoughts. The first is that listing myself as disabled would hurt my chances. I know, I know. Companies are not legally allowed to make hiring decisions based on the voluntary disclosure of EEOC data. But I am realistically cynical. Companies are not legally allowed to do a lot of things they do. See also: Enron, the mortgage crisis, pretty much anyone working on Wall Street.

My other thought is that maybe disclosing my "disability" would put me at the top of the applicant pile. There are federal tax benefits to hiring minorities and protected classes. And I would be all about that, except that I don't really feel disabled. Some people are living with disabilities that make huge and challenging impacts on both their personal and professional lives. I am not sure that I can claim that my MS should be put in that same category. At this point, the impact of MS on my professional life has been limited to a few sick days and having to work on my laptop while getting a steroids infusion.


So, what should I do? Do I check the box that discloses to future employers that I have a disability? Even without the ability to inform that employer what that disability is and the level of impact it has on my job performance?

For the record, I have to admit that if MS was a diagnosis that would bump me up in the line for the Indian Jones ride at Disneyland, I would happily claim it. There has to be some upside to all this bullshit.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one. Should I check that disability box?



Thursday, November 20, 2014

NaNoWriMo

I have been writing up a storm these last couple weeks, but I have most certainly been neglecting my blog. Maybe you will forgive my absence if I explain what I have been up to.

My friend asked me to join the NaNoWriMo challenge with him.

National Novel Writing Month, shortened as NaNoWriMo, is an annual creative writing event. The organization challenges writers to sign up with their online community and pledge to write your 50,000 word novel all in the month of November.



So I have been writing up a storm, but neglecting my online family. I'm sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, I have a sink full of dishes and I am completely out of clean underwear.

But, on day 20 of the challenge, I have logged 44,860 words. The book almost wrote itself, based on a lot of key events in my life. I'll define it as a fictionalized (but mostly true) autobiography. 

I promise I'll let you all know when it is ready for public consumption. And I will certainly post a picture of me wearing my Winner t-shirt. See you on December 1st, when I can finally come up for air.