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.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God Might Live in Oregon

This last weekend, the beautiful 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took a pill to end her life. A life plagued with constant pain. Constant suffering.  With no cure available to her and a diagnosis of six months to live. she and her family moved to Oregon, where they could seek a doctor that would help Brittany take control of her life. Up to and including the final moments of it.

And people across the country lost their shit.

After only five minutes scanning the comment section of any one of the thousands of news articles about this amazing woman, you will see the same words crop up. Over and over.
  • Dangerous
  • Selfish
  • Playing God
  • End of Hope 

I don’t know how or why it happened, but we as a society decided to dumb down the issues at the center of important arguments. Nothing is as simple as we make it seem. And we do it in order to create a six-second sound bite. A scannable comment. A minute of internet glory. We should all be more careful about throwing around words.


“Assisted suicide is dangerous. It sets a treacherous and slippery precedence.”

People are raising the hue and cry, warning us all that, if assisted suicide was available to everyone, insurance companies would deny us life-saving treatments in order to save the costs of wildly expensive medical care with one dose of fatal medication.

You know what? I’ll grant you this one. This is a valid worry. We all should be concerned about this. But, once again, we are worried about the wrong thing.

I understand that money is the all powerful, unstoppable force that seems to be driving this argument. Why would an insurance company agree to pay thousands and thousands of dollars when they can get you a $300 pill?

But that is not why we should worry. That is not the real danger.

Is assisted suicide much less expensive than treatment of a condition? Most certainly. But why are we shouting about the ethics of assisted suicide and not screaming loudly about the ethics of the extreme cost of healthcare as a whole? It makes no sense to me. None. 

And, please excuse me for being crass, but for $300, any terminal patient without a felony conviction who wishes to end his life can buy a handgun and a bullet.  It’s not the suicide that these naysayers are trying to prevent. It is all about the Benjamins. Could it be possible that the big pharmaceutical companies realized that the ability of a patient to end her life also means ending her costly but ineffective treatments? Just asking.

People are arguing that assisted suicide endangers our society's most vulnerable people: the old, the sick, the infirm. To that, I say... 

Really?

It is very true that the elderly and infirm face great dangers and risks. But, are they really more at risk than they were before assisted suicide was an option? Dying is, with all seriousness, the least of their worries. Elder abuse can range from neglect to physical violence. Should part of the discussion about assisted suicide be that may put incapacitated elders at risk to be given medication to die against their wishes? Of course it should. We should be having conversations about all of these issues and fears.

But to believe that a caregiver of an elderly or infirm person would approach a doctor, sign an affidavit indicating that no coercion was employed, fill a prescription, then forcibly administer a fatal dose of medication? This assumes much more humanity than really exists in this world. If a caregiver wanted to end their charge’s life, all they need do is smother them with a pillow. Withhold water. Allow bedsores to fester and infect.


Palliative care will drug a person out so that they can wait out their remaining days stoned, hoping to gently slip away. This we "allow" with no question. But that is looking at too narrow of a view.  What about the lasting cost? What about the care for the families?

If you are worried that insurance companies will nudge people to choose to end their lives rather than spend thousands on treatments, I think that is a valid argument. And one that is so easily defeated. We have the power—as a society, as a country, as human beings—to do better. We need to take care of those people who need our help. The easiest way to do that? Single payer healthcare. You had to know that was coming from me.

Single payer health care is, to borrow a phrase, the alpha and omega.

We should be raising the hue and cry against our healthcare system as a whole. When we all start talking about money and not about quality of life, we—as a society—have gone off the rails.



“Assisted suicide is selfish. It doesn’t consider the feelings of others.”

First, fuck you if you are someone running around saying that. It’s Brittany’s terminal disease. You don’t get a vote. And I guarantee that, for the last year, Brittany has done nothing BUT consider the feelings of others.

UPDATE: I have had a couple people point out some things to me. Suicide can be a very selfish act. It leaves a path of destruction for everyone who loved that person who kills himself. I think we can all agree that Brittany's decision to end her life is not the same as the teenager who leaves a note and grabs his father's gun. But it was fair to point out that subtle distinction. 

And my amazing future doctor friend told me that he just had an interesting discussion on physician assisted suicide during a class. While some were for it, not a single student would feel comfortable prescribing the pill. He pointed out that the toll on the physician often gets overlooked in this debate. Which I thought was a very fair point. Now back to our regularly-scheduled rant.

She could have done this all very quietly. No one needed to know that she asked her doctor for a way to end her quickly-expiring life. But in her final, selfless act, she chose to share her story so that the world could see why the issue of assisted suicide was such an important one.

And I know—I just know—that Brittany Maynard was not ending her life because she was suffering. She ended her life so she could end the suffering of the people that love her.  So her husband didn’t have to sit at her hospital bedside holding the hand of the shell of his former wife. So her parents can begin to mourn instead of grasping for false hope.

And again, let’s be honest. She did it in part so her family wouldn’t have to figure out how to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills for procedures that were only ever meant to delay her inevitable death.

Her entire final chapter was a lesson to all of us. A lesson of strength, beauty, and selflessness.

“Assisted suicide is playing God. We don’t get to decide when to end our life.”

Why are we so afraid to die? Why do we shy away from the business of death?

We would rather keep a terminally ill patient in a medically-induced vegetative state within the confines of an industrialized hospital than let them die in their own bed by their own hand. Why?

The playing God argument frustrates me beyond rational thought. Because people use this argument to bolster an opinion that is otherwise irrational. It is an insane argument.

Are we playing God when the ambulance arrives to take you to the hospital after a car accident? Are we playing God when we build that car that crashed and the airbags that saved our life? Are we playing God when we put on our seatbelt?

We cherry pick when we use the playing God argument, trotting it out when it supports our already-formed opinion.

You want to argue about playing God? The minute we humans get diagnosed with a disease—a disease that, based on this thinking, was deemed appropriate by God himself—we try to treat it. Cure it. Eliminate it. The God play begins. But when shit gets real, when difficult decisions must be made, when the game is already lost because there will be a checkmate in ten moves? Oh no, we can’t possibly make that decision. That would be playing God.

 “Assisted suicide means the end of hope. We all need to continue to hope.”

This is the most insidious one of all.

You have no idea what Brittany was hoping for. None of you. You have no idea what she believed would happen after she died. Maybe her hope was to be reunited in a pain-free afterlife with her husband and her dog.

You have no idea about her hope. Let alone if she was ending them.

I think Brittany had nothing but hope. She hoped that her death would start the discussion about assisted suicide. She hoped to slip peacefully away on her own timeline and under her own power. And she hoped that her loved ones were able to find closure and begin to heal. She hoped that they would find the joy in life and remember the joy in hers.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Come Out from Behind the Lens

I wrote this post for my travel blog. But I thought it was worth posting here too. Because it is not just important when exploring the world, it is important when interacting with the world.

Some things are not meant to be photographed. Some things require you to be present. For you to have a direct link between it, your eye, your memory.

I minored in photography in college. I will always remember one piece of advice my favorite instructor gave:

"Be sure you don't always experience the world from behind your camera."

If you put the camera down, you are requiring yourself to engage, to see, to keep. On this trip, I took many photographs, some of those you can find on this blog. I have a lot of good ones, a few great ones, and one or two worth printing and framing. That's a decent photo ratio.

But there are some things I didn't get a photo of. And that is ok. I got the moment. The memory.

I don't have photos of polar bears. Too far away and too weak a lens. Taking Northern Lights pictures would have been impossible on the moving train leaking light pollution. And the stars... the stars...

I was only ever meant to gaze in wonder and remember.

If you take a photo of something amazing, it is wonderful and fun to look at it and reminisce.

But if you require yourself to call up a memory--to revisit a moment stored in your mind--you experience so much more. You can remember the sounds around you. The taste of the air. The surge of feelings you had.

When you look at a photograph, you remember where it was taken. When you recall a memory, you remember what happened. How you interacted with the universe at that moment.

Photos are beautiful. Memories are invaluable.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Headed Out

I'm leaving on my road trip in one week days and I am insanely excited. I'll be documenting it all on my travel blog, for those of you who want to follow from home.

Northern Lights | My new trip on Roadtrippers.com!
http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/elysbank/1/tpod.html

See you on the flip side!