Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Do I Blog?

It has been quite a few years now since I started blogging. Hardly anyone reads my blog. Maybe a dozen people on a good week, and most of you are close relatives or longtime friends. So why do I do it?

One very good reason is that as a working professional writer, it’s simply a good workout to produce a weekly column. Some weeks I put more energy into it than others. For awhile, a few years ago, I tried to write a funny blog every week. Wow was that exhausting! Humor is much harder work than serious prose. But no matter the style or topic, the mental and creative exercise of writing a short piece each week is a discipline to which I am committed.

Another reason why I blog is that, as a writer, I am compelled to communicate in words. Writing the blog fulfills my crazy need to send my words into the world. Blogging helps me cope with the fact that my books are not published. It feels like someone (even if just a handful of die-hard folks who care about me) is reading my words. I feel vaguely or occasionally useful. If I give someone a laugh or an insight, a shred of information or a moment of recognition, then my craft has purpose.

The thing I like the most about blogging is that my words are out there in cyberspace somewhere. So I have the sense (albeit an illusion, yet comforting) that even if I dropped dead this minute, my words would continue to live forever. Or at least for as long as there are satellites circling in orbit and the physics of life as we know it continues. Last year one of my good friends was following the blog of a woman who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS). The woman was a performing artist. Before she got sick, she cut several jazz CDs. She had a beautiful voice. She also wrote drama, acted, and directed. She did stand-up comedy. Someone made a documentary film about her and her performances and the progress of her illness. She lost her fight with ALS last year. Many artistic tributes to her life and her genius remain in the form of recorded music and recordings of live performances she did, as well as that documentary film. But perhaps the one thing she produced that will stand out as her greatest contribution was her blog. She blogged for several years while she was dying. And the blog was funny and tragic and a window into her world and a testament to the awesome strength of the human spirit. I have heard several people say that when they discovered her blog, they went back and spent hours reading the whole thing from the beginning. She is gone, but her words remain. People can find her and get to know her even though she is no longer among the living.

So maybe I ascribe to that fantasy. If I died tomorrow, the books I have written that remain unpublished would never go out into the world. All those lost words, lost hours. It frightens me. So I blog. At least a handful of my words, and maybe not even those that I have put the most energy and thought into, but something, will live in the mysterious ether of cyberspace for a time. It comforts me to know that a few of my words are wandering in the wide world where they might perhaps connect with people I have never met.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wall Street Still Selling Snake Oil to Main Street

In 2010 the Obama Administration pushed through Congress the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which has the policing power to regulate Wall Street shenanigans and actually put financial executives in jail. But the Republican-controlled House is quietly destroying the bill under the guise of “budget cutting.” They’re determined to defund this first semblance of real policing of financiers who are trashing the economic infrastructure.

The Dodd-Frank Bill boosted the power of the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to regulate derivatives trading, which is what caused the economic tsunami to begin with. Derivatives trading was, in a nutshell, all that betting made by investors that bad mortgages would fail (and they did, as expected by everyone except the regular folk who were conned into signing on the dotted line to finance their homes with them). The Dodd-Frank Bill also set up a new agency, called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), to protect consumers from creepy mortgage salespeople and greedy credit card companies. These regulatory agencies (i.e., the CFTC and the CFPB) need to expand their payrolls to function properly, and the Republican House has apparently wiped the needed money from the federal budget. The Tea Party wants less government interference in business, so they are happy to see these regulators underfunded. As Barney Frank said, the Republicans in the House are “letting Wall Street off the hook.” It’s pretty obvious to me who is actually trying to clean up Wall Street and who is trying to keep anything from changing.

I heard a joke last week that went like this: A corporate CEO, a Tea-Partyer, and a union organizer are sitting at a table on which there is a plate with a dozen cookies. The CEO takes 11 cookies, pockets them, and then turns to the Tea-Partyer and says, “That union guy is trying to take half of your cookie.”

[To my handful of devoted readers: I apologize for posting a day late. We had huge weather over the weekend in Mendocino County and our power went out Saturday night and is still out. I have gone to Ron's office to work and have internet access.]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tsunami Thoughts

My youngest, Sudi, called me yesterday and we went online together and watched aerial video footage of the Tsunami making landfall and destroying a city. The hair on the back of my neck stood up; and as buildings and vehicles were swept away like matchsticks, Sudi kept murmuring “whoa” in transfixed horror. Afterward, we spoke about building a career around a creative passion, among other things. I had barely hung up with Sudi, when his brother Akili called and we went online and watched the same aerial video footage together, with the same transfixed horror. Akili is recovering from a broken ankle and he lives two miles from the ocean. “Mom,” he said, “I would be dead if a Tsunami struck here right now. I wouldn’t be able to get out in time. My best bet would be to climb to the roof of my apartment building.”

We live in California, another earthquake hot spot. My children live in close proximity to the ocean. After all, Ron and I raised them, and being near the ocean is a spiritual necessity for us. For many years, my greatest fear in every substantial earthquake I experienced has not been the fear of being crushed in rubble or drowned in a Tsunami. It has been the fear that a nuclear power plant somewhere has been destabilized, which is exactly what happened in Japan where radiation is now leaking into the atmosphere from a nuclear reactor core meltdown. Nowadays, my greatest fear of course is for the safety of my children.

From the time the earthquake struck to the time the first Tsunami wave made landfall was between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on the location. I wonder how far I could drive in 10 minutes in such an event. If I lived two miles from the ocean (as Akili does), and I jumped in my car and drove East immediately after the earthquake, could I get far enough inland to be safe? Would the roads be passable? Would they be destroyed or mobbed with traffic, making it impossible to escape? It would take 10 minutes just to collect my computer, my photo albums, and my two cats, and throw them in the car. (That is if I could find my cats. Would they have a better chance of survival in or out of a cat carrier?) What would it feel like to walk away from everything I own? Have I secured the manuscripts of all the books I have written electronically in a remote location so they would be safe?

As I continue to follow the news and send my thoughts and prayers to the people of Japan, it all seems far away. I am removed and safe here in my inland home. But not as removed as all that. I remember when the December 2004 Tsunami struck Phi Phi and within 24 hours of the disaster, my friend Derek called me from Denmark to tell me that our mutual high school friend Stephen was vacationing in Phi Phi. Stephen’s wife Heather was swept out to sea and drowned. Stephen survived by clinging to the upper branches of a tree in which he became tangled. He was so badly injured that he spent several weeks in the hospital in Phi Phi before he could travel home to London, accompanied by a nurse. I telephoned him upon his return. Not so removed.

The question that haunts me in the aftermath of this week’s Tsunami is: How can I make better use of my life?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Clencher and Grinder Born Every Minute

Don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t mean to slam our health professionals. I appreciate them and all they do to keep me well and to compassionately treat me and my family when we are unwell. But. OK, yes, there is a but. I had an unsettling experience with my oral health professionals recently that makes me wonder if, consciously or unconsciously, they are figuring out ways to make enough money to put their children through college and pay off their mortgage (just like me) by finding things to treat that might not need treatment. Here’s what happened.

In November, when I went to my dentist to have my teeth cleaned, I was referred to a periodontist because my dentist was concerned that I might have gum disease. I dutifully went to the periodontist in January. I returned to him in February for his assessment. In the welcome packet from the periodontist was a letter that warned that too many people make serious health decisions based on financial considerations. Well, duh. That’s the way of health care in this country. Our dental coverage provides for up to $1,500 per year per person. When I returned to the periodontist for his assessment, he handed me a list of work he recommended that cost close to $5,000. That was just from him. He also recommended work from my dentist and work from an oral surgeon. The work included a deep cleaning, grafting tissue from the roof of my mouth to the front of my gum, removing my wisdom teeth, an expensive DNA test to discover what type of bacteria grows in my mouth, a course of antibiotics (I am always leery of taking antibiotics), and creating a night guard for me to wear in the event that I clenched or ground my teeth (since there is evidence that I have done so in the past although when or how much remains unknown—including whether or not I have done it lately). I said I couldn’t possibly afford all of this and would he please prioritize the care. What do I need to do to keep my teeth from rotting out? As it turns out, not much. Most of his list was “what to do for the perfect mouth.” He said nothing was in terribly bad shape and just about all of it could probably wait for a couple of years or more. But he recommended doing the deep cleaning soon. I said I had to wait until the summer when I would have more income.

So in March I went back to my dentist to have my teeth cleaned and the dentist was baffled about why the periodontist thinks I need to be treated for gum disease as the dentist sees no evidence of gum disease, says my mouth looks very healthy! Huh? Double take. (Why was I referred to the periodontist in the first place?) The dentist asked why the periodontist insisted he must do a deep cleaning when it could be done by my dentist’s hygienist. (The only answer I could think of, which I didn’t voice, was that the periodontist wanted to make the money off my deep cleaning himself.) My wisdom teeth are apparently healthy and there doesn’t seem to be any real reason to pull them (other than the fact that they make it hard for me to floss the teeth next to them). The gum graft is questionable as a necessary treatment and the situation with the teeth the graft would support could be monitored for many years before any gum graft is or isn’t needed. As for the clenching and grinding, that’s minimal or not occurring anymore at all, and truthfully I couldn’t sleep with a night guard in my mouth anyway. Since I don’t seem to have gum disease after all, then the DNA test and the antibiotics are a moot point.

Why all the hoo-ha? Why all the “you need this” or “that” when perhaps I don’t or at least perhaps not for a few years. The whole experience gave me pause, and I wonder how much of the medical care that middle class people receive is necessary and how much of it is footing the bill for medical professionals to put their children through college. I guess there’s a clencher or grinder born every minute, and that’s a good thing for periodontists.