November 4, 2018

Classic Theater

Today's sky is cool blue and the wind gives the crisp air more texture. Fall is finally arriving. I wait for it--it's my favorite time of year. Fall is like an old friend that I've missed. One day, the phone rings or the door knocker "ponk-ponks," and here is my friend as though we were never apart. But this year, there was no "big leaf show" in my little corner of the world. The leaves were green and now with little warning, they're speckled and floating down to the pavement. 

Tonight is the end of Daylight Savings Time--never have been able to understand what we're saving, exactly. Time is an artificial construction to measure, to note and to plan the intervals between activities. By government decree, we're adjusting blank spaces. Hmm?

Do you like or understand the political climate this time of year? I neither understand nor like the hyperbole and negative oversimplification that passes for news. I don't like the divisiveness or the deepening instability of the political scene. 

It's as though the political world is playing an end game of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Which side is "George" and which is "Martha"? And who are the rest of us? Did Edward Albee's horrible couple pitted against each other inside a toxic marriage in the sixties suddenly find new universality in our national politics? As if, the play is a metaphor? Many people I know speak in hushed tones in support of "George" or in louder voices echo "Martha." Most of us don't know what to say and speak of the disappointing leaf show, the World Series and the approaching holidays. And, at the same time, we feel further disconnected from "the Georges and Marthas." 

We aren't just watching the leaves fall without finding their most beautiful hues. Sadly, we're watching our national values skip now this way and that along the pavement like a speckled leaf. 

July 27, 2018

"Deputy Doolittle"

With the current political climate and volatility of public opinion, I've grown less inclined to share my own experiences on the blog. A novel, The Remainder, about 1968 being a watershed year that changed America as we knew it, has been a work in progress. Of late, I've left The Remainder's twisting plot, inviting cast of characters and tropical setting dangling, as it were, in the wind. 

The theme that provided a foundation to the narrative turned out to be wrong: 1968 didn't winnow the character of our people. Our country and our sentiments seem to be stuck in a 1968-loop. No, not the same events, but the same attitudes and divisiveness with the volume turned up to an ear-splitting and country-ripping roar. The prevailing stance of "It's all about me" now includes"It's all about me, then, us versus them." 

What's the point of assimilating"the truth of then" when present time reruns the cacophony of 1968 and then some? Didn't we learn anything? Where will all this noise take us? Will anyone care? Writing is about connecting the dots, finding patterns and making sense of abstracts through characters and plot. Sure, I could continue the "story," but without "my take on the truth," what would it mean? Without a solid foundational theme, nothing holds together, or up. Simply not writing has been a better choice. 

But, sometimes an experience or a person begs to find longer life on the page. A number of close friends have been or are in public service. Police officers and firefighters, for example, never get enough respect or recognition as they serve and protect the rest of us. Imagine my surprise when I ran into an exception to that in a person I will call "Deputy Doolittle." 

Pour yourselves something cold to drink and settle in as I tell this little story. I have chicken baking in marinara sauce for dinner and the freezer - wish you could smell the homey aroma, Babies. 

Because I'm not ready to pack it in, as the saying goes, I plan to teach at a new center this fall and I've been scouting it by taking a class there now. Ageism is something I've not adjusted to yet so I'm a little reticent about showing up in a new place as the teacher among strangers with my "wheels." Think I'm over reacting? Needlessly self-conscious? 

[Most of you know that outcomes of THE knee surgeries have changed my movement in the world. Like others who live with failed knee surgeries, my mobility requires assistance. My collection has canes, 4- and 3-wheeled rollators and a 2-wheeled basic walker. When I go out, I use the plaid, 3-wheeled, compact rollator.] 

Last week was early voting in this area and Deputy Doolittle was the officer on duty at the senior center--uniform, handcuffs, et al. When I entered the lobby, he got up with papers in hand to direct me to the voting area. I said, "Thanks, but I'm not here to vote...."

Before I could finish my sentence, the fifty-something DD said, "The dance class is that way,"and chortled and laughed heartily as he pointed down a long hall. 

My reply was not to stop but to say, "My class is this way." 

While this may seem like"nothing"and should have no effect on me, it's part of the same 1968-rehash. Civility and respect for those who are clearly not "us" now extends to older folks with disabilities? Deputy Doolittle drew the distinction immediately and punctuated it with his derisive sarcasm and laughter. He was a child in 1968 and society's cumulative disorder placed him in my path.  

If we're lucky, we all get older and the randomness of the universe isn't always kind. I can accept age, but ridicule? Not so much. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poignant sonnet about loss of love, "In the Spring and the Fall." Her sadness was "Tis not love's going hurt my days./But that it went in little ways." So, in the Fall of life, this same lament applies to so many "little ways" that we lose our sense of who we are as age advances. None of us need Deputy Doolittle to add anything. 

January 19, 2018

Medicare Part D Plan: It's Not About Me

When television first became a fixture in America's living rooms, a kids' show called "Winky Dink and You" appeared from 1953-57 on Saturday mornings. Those of us who grew up listening to "Big Jon and Sparky" on the radio from Cincinnati in the early 1950s weren't so drawn into the world of "Winky Dink" and his dog "Woofer" but our younger brothers and sisters (Baby Boomers) loved interacting with those characters. 

While the world of Sparky engaged our imaginations and fed our curiosity, Winky Dink and company seemed all about the individual viewer. Kids could send away two quarters and receive (in a real letter to them) a kit with a plastic screen cover and special crayons that allowed the viewer to be part of the television show. The crayons didn't work on paper and the screen cover stayed in place via static electricity but wouldn't stick any place else. It was like magic. Only those who could draw and write on the "magic screen" really understood the show. That was clever, interactive and kids felt special -- the television show was not only about the characters on the screen, but about the viewer too. 

This new programming gave the kids a feeling of control and getting something others didn't get -- a benefit. The kit wasn't seen as a marketing tool but as a benefit and a lifelong "benefits" love affair between kids of all ages and things "the media" portrayed as "benefits" grew.  It all seemed so innocent with no strings attached. No matter that the kids were a great new consumer base, a new market, and "that benefit" was really for the show's sponsors and not for the kids. Eventually, we all learned about advertising, the media in general and that there is no free lunch, or did we? 

Fast forward to now -- Big Jon and Sparky and Winky Dink are long gone and mostly forgotten. But, we still want benefits and control like we had with Winky Dink's magic screen even if that control was an illusion. 

We seniors have fallen down the rabbit hole of old age health issues and needs--reality with no illusions, right? When we become eligible for Medicare, we rush to shop for supplements--especially for medications. We pay a monthly fee for Medicare coverage and other monthly fees for supplements for traditional Medicare coverage and prescriptions. Unless we are hospitalized, prescriptions are excluded from routine Medicare and supplemental coverage. If we don't "get an Rx plan" at the onset of Medicare coverage and buy one later on, we pay a penalty forever after. When we were kids, we took the illusions of television as part of the fun and accepted what we saw without question. Now that old age circumstances have become a real player in our lives, we hold on to that same attitude--insurance is a benefit we pay for and it's a benefit for us, right? Well, yes and no. 

Lesson learned, again: Nothing is really about me or you for that matter. This is my experience and perhaps, you have found your way out of the rabbit hole of prescription supplements. If your coverage is excluded from this Rabbit Hole, great. Most of us aren't so lucky. 

Like many of you, I have several long time medical issues that require medications to manage. I pay my Medicare premium each month; I pay supplement premiums each month (these amounts continue to increase each birthday and vary from state to state). Sounds okay, right? Well, not so fast there, Babies. Let's look at the ladder down the Deep Rabbit Hole. 
  • We know that we can only make changes to our supplemental contracts during that little time window in late fall. Yes, they're binding contracts on our part. The insurance companies can and do make changes any time they wish. Step, step.
  • A short time before the time window of change closed for 2017, my prescription supplement notified me that two necessary medications would not be on their list of covered medications (their formulary). Oh, sure, my doctor could appeal that decision if no other medication would work. I encountered this "appeal process" a few years ago. The insurance company insisted that I try all the medications in that class before they would consider the appeal. My condition spiraled downhill on all the "equivalent" medications, I became sicker, had more tests and a new specialist -- and then, the appeal was denied in spite of the specialist's efforts. There was not enough time to find a different supplement before the time window closed in December 2017.   
  • My prescription supplement has a deductible that started out at one price but this year increased by fifty dollars -- oops! No one notified me but when I filled my first prescription in 2018, I found out by asking what the deductible is. 
  • Then, I found out that another of my medications had been dropped from the formulary with no notice. The retail price for these three irreplaceable medications almost tripled, two of them have no generic and the real "hat trick"??? Because they're not on the formulary, their retail cost doesn't apply to the deductible. The hocus pocus about filling the prescription for one month while I search for a replacement? Never happened. 
So, here's where we are on the ladder that does ever deeper: 
  • I can't change insurance coverage except during the time window insurance companies and Medicare set. 
  • The particular medications that will be available are preset. 
  • The deductible can be changed without notice and must be met before any coverage begins. 
  • Medications not on the formulary don't count toward the deductible. 
  • Medications can be dropped from the formulary without notice. 
  • And, my premium for this benefit continues to rise.  
So, as we get to the bottom of my Rabbit Hole, I find that I have no control or choice about my medications and I'm in a contract that only allows me benefits decided by someone else. Hmm. I researched this messy situation that has many similarities to the Winky Dink screen -- what you see is temporary and only gives an illusion of reality. 

Think I'm over dramatizing this? Check out Newsweek's cover story  (Friday, January 17, 2018) on Big Pharma and the power of 70 or so Pharmacy Benefit Management Companies that decide formularies, profit margins for pharmacies and what medications will be dropped. 

So when I say that my prescription coverage isn't about me, I wonder who it is about? Read Newsweek's take on all that. Here's a link to that story: 
Newsweek story on Big Pharma

I'll be here waiting for my new magic screen to arrive and hope that Winky and Woofer on YouTube will be more user friendly. 

December 12, 2017

Spinning off the Rails

Here I go again, literally. Over my adult life, I think I've moved 24 times, but possibly more or less. Too many. I've taken down the Christmas tree, gotten on a plane and moved in winter, too many times. I moved in sickness and in health. In good times and bad. For richer or poorer. See where this goes? In an Agatha Christie kind of spinning through life, now there is only me to move at Christmas. Most of my personal property waits inside a zillion boxes for the movers. One more time. At least that's the plan and my hope. 

The holidays always bring out my pensive, and sometimes nostalgic, nature. But this time? It's just the pensive side. I wonder about so many things, large and small -- and it's hard to know which is which in the big picture. A haunting Appalachian Christmas carol from the oral tradition moved into wider distribution in the early 1930's, "I wonder as I wander...." and continues to gain popularity. The second volume of Poet Langston Hughes' autobiography also has that title -- both have much to say to our current world. Do we really wonder enough? So many things I wonder about as I wander:
  •  Why do people who are overbearing say things like, "You look so tired" when life's demands sprout and grow? Don't they think we know that and their comment is not compassionate? 
  • When did it become respectful, spiritual or acceptable to dance to "Silent Night" or "Oh, Holy Night" in romantic ways, including dipping and kissing, in movies? Has our society trivialized Christmas so deeply that Christmas carols are now "generic seasonal background?" 
  • When did it become the norm to applaud vacuous, but seasonal, entertainment as worthwhile? Is this the new "deep thoughts?"
  • Some people bring their presence into your life and leave a big hole when they go, don't they? 
  • Do people that I loved who loved me once upon a time ever wonder if I think of them? 
  • Do people who are major recyclers pause a bit when they cut down or purchase a real evergreen tree for Christmas? 
  • What happened to quality workmanship? Installers used to cleanup after themselves, but now? Not so much. 
  • Do workers consider showing up counts as doing "something" at work? Does the "participation trophy" expectation flow onward into their so-called "work life?"
  • Why do people think, that in an uncomfortable situation, rules of civility, manners and consideration for others are probably suspended?
  • Has "Me first" now morphed into "Me only?" 
As you can see, Babies, the list I of things I wonder about could go on and on. Meanwhile, I am in the middle of a new adventure and will share it here on the blog as it winds down. Be back in a few. Stay warm. 

September 28, 2017

Little Lost Sheep Trending

With my age and life experience, I thought that I had seen way more than I ever thought possible of mankind's sad "coming undone." But, again, I was wrong. The younger people who will determine the future of civilization have lost their way and are rapidly on a downward spiral toward no 
civilization. Their confusion, lack of awareness and shallow perception are not only sad but dangerous. It is, as if, their cognitive abilities are missing in action.

If you've never been to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, you should go and experience the sacred ether that hovers there. You should see the Honor Guard of young military men and women who guard the Tomb, 365.24.7, in rain, snow, sleet or wind. Nearby, the Eternal Flame at John F. Kennedy's grave flickers in the wind but never goes out. The rows and rows of small white grave markers seem to line up back into time past. Those who are missing in action from wars have a presence there too and we feel the loss and sacrifice of all those who came before us. Most of us who have been there or in other cemeteries, national or local, feel the eternal peace that lingers there over those who are out of harm's way and at peace. No matter one's creed or color or politics, cemeteries are sacred ground and not to be disturbed. Disrespect or desecration of a grave is taboo in our culture and civilization. Death is our one inescapable bond as humans.

There is a video making the rounds online of a young man-child, around twenty or so--like many of the people buried there--"taking a knee" in Arlington National Cemetery during the playing of "Taps." Facebook readers gave many "likes" for his protest. Although I can't imagine what he was protesting?

I am taking the high road and deciding that he is uninformed and confused about where he is, why he is there, what the place is and how to behave there. Surely, he can't be protesting by "taking a knee" at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? My own better angels want to believe that he has a family member buried there and knelt on the sidewalk in reverence during the playing of "Taps."

However, my Real Time perception suspects that he kneels out of a confused idea that anytime patriotic music is played, the proper behavior is to protest by taking a knee because.... this week, some NFL players "took a knee" in Great Britain (a foreign country) during the playing of our National Anthem but stood respectfully during the playing of "God Save the Queen"; third graders who are learning to play football are also being taught to "take a knee" during the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem; the opinions and behavior of the NFL are deemed more important by many than respect for America as a country; those who died to protect the right of others to protest freely are not worthy of respect by the very ones who enjoy that right; and, it's all about him. 

Many young people today are confused, emotionally immature and lost in a big world without the necessary tools to live here, much less to govern it. The prevailing "it's all about me" emotion slithers around the depths of all these protest pits. Where is any rational, civilized perception of where all this following and trending will take us? Missing in action.

September 11, 2017

Irma Comes Calling

Monday: Tropical Storm Irma is moving up to Georgia from Florida. Rain, rain but light wind so far. I just hope the power stays on. So far, morning-after reports from Florida friends show everyone as safe but wet and tired after long nights of heavy wind and torrential rain. 

The pictures of Jacksonville are sad. Downtown and the San Marco neighborhood always flood--remember, the St. Johns River flows north out of Lake George near DeLand in Volusia County so much of the heavy rain in central Florida will drain into the St. Johns basin. More status "OK" reports from Jax Peeps but a few still need to check in.

And, in south Florida, Ft. Lauderdale in particular, looters are out in bright sunlight. Did they not evacuate so they would be in position to loot unprotected businesses? So, the necessary things for these looters are??? food, water, gasoline, blankets, baby diapers, medicine or pet food? No. The rewards are hugely expensive athletic shoes and trendy sports wear. 

Tragedies can bring out the best in people: "our better angels" as Abraham Lincoln named it. Tragedies also invite people to show the rest of the world who they really are--thieves, looters, robbers and "outside" as novelist Toni Morrison termed the lowest kind of human behavior. 

Now that many Georgians without power join Floridians in the dark, the Internet is not only slow but subject to transmission breaks. Stay "inside" and safe, Babies. 

September 10, 2017

Irma vs. Trolls

Friday, I ventured back on Facebook because so many of my friends are in FL and I want to know about them. After living in FL 30 years and surviving storm after storm, I understand about tropical storms and hurricanes. Not nice. I'm grateful that so many FB Peeps are doing well as they head into this time of uncertainty. After only two days back on FB, someone posted a warning and denial of messages of hate and mayhem attributed to them. This is the kind of "stuff' that drove me away in the first place. Do trolls really rule?

Harvey washed away a large part of Texas and now Irma is marching up the western coast of Florida. How much destruction to life, nature and property will occur remains unknown this Sunday afternoon. Much of the country watches football and the Southeast watches The Weather Channel. In Texas they hope for a less harsh recovery ahead. 

What is wrong with people who don't respond to threats against others with compassion? Are they pathological? Totally narcissistic? The threats of a Cat 4-5 Irma should be enough to enlarge the small viewpoint of online trolls or at least to shut them up. Irma is a game changer for everyone in FL and in the Southeast in some way but trolls aren't deterred. Have my Peeps on FB forgotten how to delete virtual trolls and from their real lives, too? 

August 27, 2017

Unfinished Work

Like many summer Sundays, my house smells like fresh green beans cooking with bacon and Idaho potatoes. It's a trick of memory that certain smells zip us back to other times. Sometimes, events can do that and I've been thinking about a dark chapter in our nation's history, 1968. 

I've also been thinking about "Knowing" or "Unnumbered Days" or "Bob's Walk" -- all good names for the unfinished novel which began life as "The Existential Fish" a while back. Why am I stuck? Looking for reasons to write, or, not to write? (With all appreciation to Willie's little play, my favorite). Changes in my little world offer plenty of reasons and I save them all like a pail of shells from a beach walk. The point/theme of the novel was to analyze the generation, my generation, who would find meaningful lives under the shadow of 1968's world shattering events. 
I have a great villain who paints life in deliberate strokes like any good narcissist would. I created a reluctant hero who never fails to take up the cause for good--whatever that means--and has commitment issues, sometimes. I wrote a cast of unique supporting characters, an intriguing backstory,  a clever who-done-it plot line and a striking female character with mysterious links to -- well, just everyone. So, why isn't it done and in your hand? 

A watershed year appeared, 2016 and now another, 2017. I could feel the drama building in 2016 and said often that it felt like 1968. And now, 1969 currents are back too. The events of 1968 aren't being repeated, exactly. Naming the good and bad guys was easier then and right and wrong shifted less. But, the values our country stood for, where are they? The fifty-eight thousand, one-hundred and ninety-five names on the Vietnam Memorial who died for this country's values mean something, don't they? 

When the men and women who lived through 1968 showed up in this era, I hardly know who you are. How can I write your story while uttering those seven little words no writer wants to hear, much less think, "I just don't care about these people?" We've known each other our whole lives but I hardly know you now. Some of you have regressed back to the fifties; some are just trying to get through the day; some of you have retreated into isolation and, Babies, some of you are stuck in the early sixties with no responsibility or hope for the future. 

I'm thinking, "Did the Universe hit the rewind button?" Are we permanently stuck in the sixties loop? Maybe that's the book I should be writing. 

Truth and Dare

 So, you came back and I'm still thinking:
  • After years of living in Florida and dodging tropical storms and hurricanes, I have a special sympathy for the people of Texas. Godspeed to them as they endure the deluge of tropical rain from Harvey. The cleanup looms horrific, long and emotionally draining while the flood waters keep rising. 
  • It is sad when a good bit of the state of Texas is underwater that our media can't let up even one day in their political deluge of mistrust and divisiveness. On most TV channels and online news sites, hurricane Harvey coverage flows in a corner while political carnage chokes the rest of the screen. 
  • At lunch today, a neighbor asked if a former neighbor-friend had died? A minimal obituary appeared in the local paper today for someone with the same name. We don't know enough facts to understand what is true. Wasn't that also what the last paragraph was about?
  • I'm losing too many friends, family and neighbors to their own local tragedies. Oh, I know. It's the same for everyone and losing even one is too many. This time, I'm expanding the idea of loss to dear friends who still tread life's brackish, murky waters in our last decades of life. They slosh around in denial, avoid "the deep water" as long as possible and get mired in shore weeds. Rinse and repeat. Then one day, time runs by, over and out. The clean clear channel was open all the time but they still didn't dare to tell themselves their truth.  
  • Yes, Babies, I know this isn't light and fluffy reading. Our world is a damn serious place with no do-overs. We have to live life like we mean it. No "as if." 

August 26, 2017

Sleeping in a Prickly Pear Bush

 It's been awhile since I've posted, Babies. In this tumultuous time of "online, I can out-crazy you all day," I cancelled my social media participation--no Facebook, no Quora, no Twitter and no mobile phone. With having more time to read, to teach, to write and to think, I can't say I've missed the social, yet virtual, vortex. Frankly, I got tired of living my life "as if" any of the things I did counted in the quality of life department. I actually wrote a very negative post about all that, but, since the world is upside-down and Golden Times attracts visitors from many countries, I saved it for another day. Doing anything on social media is like sleeping in a prickly pear bush: no matter which way you move, something attacks you. 

What I'm reading these days are biographies of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom who has lived a fascinating ninety-one years (so far) in the very public stream of history. I'm teaching a two-month course on her life and place in history to twenty-some other seniors. This week, I made 48 English cucumber, butter and bread tea sandwiches for them as a taste of English food. When I teach outside the lines of our own small ToM, I like to include food of the different place. Each class is part video, part lecture. They keep coming back, so far. We'll go on a field trip (as usual) to an English-style restaurant in September, view a new documentary and have a Private British Lunch at the end of the course. 

But, the seven students in my Creative Writing Class are the best surprise. They already attempted Creative Nonfiction and began Poetry this past week with the ever surprising short forms of verse in limericks and Haiku. They are to bring back Haiku attempts this next week with the subject matter of the solar eclipse.  

As for the thinking part of what I'm doing? Come back tomorrow. 

June 29, 2017

Dignity and No Wrinkles

One of the things that older people hate is wrinkles -- and not just the ones on faces. No matter how much we age, we ladies still like to have freshly pressed clothes. Oh, yes, we hate ironing and avoid it whenever we can. Perhaps after today, I won't be quite so picky about any kind of wrinkles.

Normally, after I get up in the morning, I have coffee and cereal with blueberries, put in a load of laundry, press clothes for the day, then enjoy a hot shower, but not today. I made it to the ironing part: pressed a pair of navy slacks and placed a soft blue shirt on the ironing board. I had a sleeve in one hand and the hot iron in the other.

"Whapp!" The ironing board collapsed to the floor and I fell on top of the green-striped cover with the shirt in one hand and the steaming iron in the other. My head hit the wall on the way down, things got a little wonky and I realized that I was sitting on the floor. It was instantaneous and a bit like slow motion at the same time. My modesty won't repeat here what I said there. The ironing board catch-lock had broken. Seriously?

Of course, my alarm was on my bedside table -- two rooms away and I was in my nightgown. I scooted over to my desk, got the phone and called for assistance. Very quickly, our wonderful facility director arrived, got my robe (cover the body!) and two men arrived. Since I have that! leg (the gift that keeps on giving), I can't bend my knee when I am vertical. I scooted into my living room near a chair. But, my "I've fallen and I can't get up" ordeal continued. At least I didn't moan like the lady in the commercial. I had lost all dignity, again. For women, that loss begins with the birth of the first child and continues on to the depths of indignity: I've fallen and I can't get up.

Two handsome young firefighters arrived, made a sling from my bed coverlet and whisked me up into the chair. Thank you (again) to all the firefighters who come when we need them. My head didn't break, or bleed and only my small amount of dignity that's left is bruised. 

Lessons learned: Wear your alarm all the time.
                             I'm not infallible.
                             Older age brings more vulnerability. 
                             I still hate ironing.