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


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... 


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!

See you on the flip side!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Devil I Know

“You sure do like the bad boys.”

That was a comment from a coworker visiting my cube. Don’t worry. It wasn’t someone sexually harassing me or editorializing on my love life. It was a very literal comment from a fellow nerd.

It was because of this:
Walter White. Bane. The Alien, a tribble, and Arya (who is not as much a bad guy as a badass). Those are my desk buddies. Excuse me, but they are not toys. They are collectable action figures. OK, they are toys. And for the record, only 50% of them are actually boys. Arya is most certainly a girl (according to my niece, you can tell by the eyelashes). The Alien is a Queen, and she would be happy to discuss it further with you. The tribble? Well, truth is, I haven’t examined it that closely.

But, all joking aside, my coworker did pose an interesting question. Why am I attracted to the bad guys?

The short answer is: I’m really not. Not in real life. I won’t ever buy a Ray Rice jersey. I don’t read books about Charles Manson or Dick Cheney. I don’t give two shits what Sarah Palin has to say today, tomorrow, or ever.

The more involved answer is that—like it or not—the bad guys are attractive.

For the record, I have both a Superman and Batman shirt. I dressed as Wonder Woman last Halloween. I do love a good hero. Thinking about that for a moment, I can see an interesting trend. I like to collect the bad boys. But I like to BE the hero. I am sure there is some psychology student’s thesis in that.

And to be fair, I don’t have the really scary villains displayed on my desk. The ones made of the purist evil. Even that prickly little Alien, she was only trying to protect her kids. And, really, those humans were invading her space.

But I don’t have the Jason Voorhees trading card. I don’t really care about Lex Luthor. And I never want to be near a plastic clown toy from It.

Aside: Here is proof that clowns are Satan’s little helpers. When I was about Kidlet’s age, my Dr. Sister and I both had these cute clown dolls with big, painted-on smiles and silky outfits with ruffles around the sleeves. Dr. Sis was pretty attached to hers, and it got a little grungy—as cherished cuddle objects are wont to do. It was the early days of cable television, and we were often sent into the deep, dark woods of daytime HBO unsupervised. And it was there that everything changed in our young lives… One day, we were watching Poltergeist… with that horrible clown doll… I mean the one parked in my sister’s lap, not the one on the TV trying to strangle the fictional kid living in the haunted house.

Shudder. Anyway…

But hells yeah I love Loki, Darth Maul, Keyser Soze. OMG. Is there a Keyser Soze action figure?!? I must have it!

I think my point is this… I abhor evil for evil’s sake. I don’t understand it and I want to be far away from it. There has been real, true evil that has touched my life. Sometimes it is the organic evil of encroaching disease. Sometimes it is the man-made evil that I have unknowingly unleashed into my life and the life of my Kidlet. I know what real evil looks like. And I want nothing to do with it. Not in the real world or in the world of make-believe. In my literature, film, and pop-culture consumption, I have never cheered for the true evil.

But, as is evident in my office cube, I have a clear and overt attraction to characters who are strong, and brave, and even brutal, if brutality is called for. I don’t always agree with their methods or their causes. But these super bad boys (and girls) are doing what they need to do to survive. I understand why Dexter kills, why Deadpool is a mercenary, why Catwoman steals.

I get that. I even, in some ways, admire that. And yes, I do like those bad boys.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Raising a Bad Ass

Kidlet was accepted to join a competitive team of kids in the FIRST LEGO League competition. FLL is a ridiculously cool program focusing on science, engineering and problem-solving for kids 9-14 years old. In other words, the kids who we will all be working for in 25 years.

But like everything in life, with participation comes meetings. At least this meeting had brownies—something lacking in that morning’s project meeting at work.

I looked around at the mostly moms and some dads that were listening to the team coach go over expectations and practice schedules. And I couldn’t help but notice… One of these moms was not like the others. One of these moms just didn’t belong.

One of us was wearing a sleeveless roller derby shirt with a prominent—if inadvertently displayed—tattoo on her shoulder and a diamond in her nose to match the ones running up her left ear.

True, one of the moms seated nearby was sporting some ink. A tiny outline of a heart on her foot, about the size of a dime. Hardcore.

One of us was wearing a short skirt that revealed all the bruises on her legs, caused by both falling while attempting a turn-around toe stop and by injections of Avonex. And it was a good thing that the bruises were there. They kept people from immediately noticing that neither time nor the energy was spent shaving the aforementioned legs.

True, one of the moms was telling us that the reason she was looking frump was because she was coming from yoga class. And, oh, are these brownies gluten-free?

You have probably cracked my secret code by now. Yes… This oddball woman I write of is actually me. It is hard to believe, I know. I will give you a moment to ponder and accept this. It is true. I still haven’t shaved my legs.

The other moms in the room were all very lovely women. Very nice. Very accommodating and helpful. Very willing to share the secret to chewy—not crusty—brownies.

Aside: For all you readers living outside the great state of Utah, you might think I am painting this picture with too wide a brushstroke. Let me assure you, I am not. I won’t go so far to call the Wasatch Front moms Stepford wives. Maybe Stepford-ish or Stepford Lite. Wait, that sounds more like a beer…

You will have to take my word for it. I am the odd (wo)man out. And, for a kid, it is hard enough to be hurdling towards puberty without also having to deal with having “that mom.”

We all can think back and remember the classmate of ours who had “that mom.” The one who got to watch R-rated movies (yes, kiddo and I watch our favorite Christmas movie—Die Hard—together every year), was never in trouble for cursing (Kidlet has had to deal with a shit-ton of things that would stagger most grown-up. I think he has earned the right for an occasional swear word), or always stayed up until all hours (I have neither the time or inclination to drag Kidlet to bed by his ear. If he is tired in the morning, it’s his own damn fault).

So yeah. I am “that mom.” Making my kid “that kid.” And who in the hell wants to be “that kid.” I felt really bad about it. I want his life to be just a little bit easier than mine was. I want him to feel good about himself. I want him to be successful in school. Academic but popular. Cool but nerdy (in the best way possible). The kid that you want to both cheat off of and go skateboarding with.

But I had made him “that kid.” I was feeling a little down as we were climbing into the car for the drive home.

“I’m sorry I’m not like the other moms,” I started. But before I could launch into the speech I had structured in my head—an explanation that it is OK to be different, but that I never wanted to embarrass him in front of his friends—he said this:

“I know. It’s because you are a bad ass. I like that about you. It’s awesome.”

And he went on reading his Lego League handouts, not giving it another thought.

I just shut up, and we simply continued basking in our mutual bad-assery. I like that about us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Punch Drunk

I have started—then deleted—this post at least a dozen times. I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the things I want to say. I can’t seem to capture and hold all my thoughts.

But it's in the ether today. I have unavoidably viewed the Ray Rice video so many times that I have lost count. I have memorized it. I know exactly when that huge fist begins to rise up. It is a repeating loop playing on every news site I visit. And now a repeating loop in my head. Every time I see Ray Rice violently assault his now-wife Janay, my thoughts are shaken up and reordered. And I am sure that is nothing compared to Janay’s thoughts today.

It is just such an ugly instance of what is most certainly one of the worst parts of humanity.
I am not referring to the images of a 220-pound Running Back knocking out his girlfriend. I’m talking about our reaction to it. It is so easy to see 30 seconds of surveillance footage and begin to pass judgments. But not against the violent man who knocked out the woman he claims to love, dragging her out of the elevator and leaving her on the floor exposed to whomever was watching. I’m talking about judgment of Janay.

Across the country, people are asking how this woman could sit next to this man at a press conference. How could she defend him? How could she stay?

Why doesn’t she leave? Because it isn’t that easy. It isn’t that simple. I know from my own personal experience. We are not always able to extract ourselves from a volatile and dangerous situation. At least, not without a huge cost to and risk of our safety and security.

About ten years ago, I worked as a grant writer for the Legal Aid Society. This non-profit group consisted of both lawyers and paralegals who worked for far below what they could earn in a private firm. They did it because they knew what they were doing was important. They help victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders against their perpetrators. They do everything they can to help these people, and the only thing they can give them for armor is a piece of paper signed by a judge. That is the only shield that they can give these victims to arm themselves.

We need to do better.
The most dangerous time for people in a domestic violence situation is when they decide to leave. And once someone eventually can summon the courage, the money, and the outside support they require to leave, they still aren’t safe. In fact, they are more in danger than ever before. Remember that Nicole Brown Simpson had left.

I really didn’t intend to make this post about why people stay in a dangerous home or relationship. There is an amazing, powerful discussion happening about that very topic in cyberspace right now. Go to Twitter and search for #WhyIStayed. Take 15 minutes and watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s hugely powerful TED Talk.

"Why I Stayed" is absolutely a conversation worth having.

But here is the thing: it doesn’t matter why she stayed. Not one bit. What matters is her situation today. Right now. What matters is her feeling supported, not judged and abandoned. What matters is her safety and the safety of her children.

This is a huge issue to tackle, and I certainly do not kid myself by thinking I can even scratch the surface of this ubiquitous, nefarious problem. I don’t know how we can ever truly protect those in our society against the people who intend to do them harm. And that is such a helpless feeling. We fight with such weak weapons. A restraining order isn’t bulletproof. Hell, it isn’t even fistproof.

One thing we can do is actually punish those who do the harm in hopes of protecting the victims and serving as a deterrent for further abuse. But… That hardly ever happens. Not really. What if we, as a society, prosecuted acts of domestic violence with the zeal that we incarcerate college kids caught with a joint?

We need to do better as a society. We owe ourselves that much. We need to provide safe exits, family support, and substantial legal penalties.

Instead, we blame victims and make jokes.

And we do laugh. We need to admit that about ourselves. We make light of it. All in the name of comedy. It starts with Ralph Kramden. “One of these days, Alice… Pow! Right to the moon!”
Cue the laugh track.

That is the beginning of minimizing the pain of domestic violence. It desensitizes us to the idea of a man hitting his wife. And it leads to Giant Bags of Douche Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy reminding all the Fox News viewers that if you intend to punch your girlfriend, you would be wise to remember that there are cameras in the elevators. Best take the stairs, they advise.

Does the Honeymooners sitcom really give tacit permission to those jackasses on Fox to make jokes? I think it kind of does, yes.

Things around here need to change. But I’m not holding my breath. I guess, like everything else in life, we need to tackle this in small bites. Excuse the football pun.

This is where my thoughts come to rest most. At least for today. I’m not going to ask why Janel stays. That isn’t the question I need to be answered right now.

I want to know why the NFL reacted to the assault of a woman by one of their employees only after it became a public relations problem for them. I think we all need to take a few minutes and chew on that one before we tune in this Sunday.

These days, most employment applications ask: Have you been convicted of a crime? We should all demand that the NFL ask the very same questions of their players as they do of the woman who answers their phones.