Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How Do You Change the Rule?

When do you get to change the rules, really change the rules?
When do you get to say this part is no longer working for me?

Perhaps better stated:  How can you change the rule?  How can you decide that it is no longer worth it to read the paper daily?  How can you decide you do not have to be informed?  How can you decide that it is not yours to know all the bad things in the world?   How do you decide that it is no longer worth it to be pushed to the edge by the greed in the world?  How do you choose not to be pushed to the edge by the crazy injustices in the world?

How can you change the rule, the rule that has been present in every way since day one, the rule that says:  Put the world first?  Fix the world because you must. Even if you can't fix it because it is way too big for one person to fix, you must give it your every ounce of strength anyway.  There is a rule that says:  Fix things.  Including the school system, the insane health care system, the wars, the disintegration of family, the global warning.  ALL OF IT.  Fix it and don't stop until you do.

How do you change the rule?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Your Opinion, Please

     I regularly get invitations from people at work for various social events.  I have two in front of me  at the moment.  One is for a student's Bat Mitzvah and the other is for a colleague's retirement party.  These are fine people and I am honored to be invited to their personal celebrations.  The issue is that I work with people all week.  I have to be "on stage" during the week and when it gets to the weekend, I want a break from all that.  I will chill with family members;  that is not the same as being the "on stage presence" that work related social events require.

    My question for you is how to respond to the invitations.  I have always been cordial and either made up some previous engagement or simply used the "I already have plans for that day" line (even if my plans consist of spending time with myself).  More and more I want to be who I am and just come out and say, gee, I am not a person who wants to socialize much on the weekend.  I would certainly thank them for the honor of being invited but rather than make up some excuse, I am thinking about just saying the truth:  parties are not for me.

    What do you think?  Be polite or tell the truth?  Or some combination of the two?  What do you do if and when you find yourself not inclined to accept a social invitation?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Follow the Money

    A few posts back, I referenced my own cynicism regarding the medical industry in the United States.  I acknowledged that I was finally learning that the bottom line for health care in this country is money.  This week's issue of Time Magazine carries the proof of this assertion.  In his piece entitled
Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, author Steve Brill provides the reader with a powerful examination of America's health care costs.  Instead of asking, "Who should pay for health care related costs?", Brill turns the question into the more thoughtful one of, "Why are we paying so much for health care?".  I didn't have high blood pressure before but reading the full article was enough to give to me.

   I encourage you to click on the link above and open your eyes.  Follow the money in health care.  It's not about physicians' fees but rather about the billing practices in health care, about the influence of phamrmaceutical companies, about the ability of non profits to be profit makers, about the excessive overordering of tests and other procedures and more.  So much more.

   In the interests of getting and keeping your attention,  I am going to give you just five bullet points from this article:

1)  Have you ever heard of "the chargemaster"?  The chargemaster is every hospital's internal price list.  It is the price list and it assigns prices to  thousands of items that could be part of a bill (the tylenol pill, the tubing for the IV, the lab test ordered, every item imaginable).  As the author discovered, there appears to be  no rationale, no process, no accountability behind the structure of the chargemaster.  NO accountability.

2)  69% of bankruptcies are related to illness or medical bills.  69% of those who incurred medical related bankruptcy were insured at the time of their filing.

3)   It is routine in hospital billing to charge for items or services that should not have been charged for at all.  For example, your bill can reflect a charge of  $2,000/day for the use of the ICU because it does have specialized equipment and personnel.  Then they can and do charge you another $1,000 for some kit used in the ICU  for a transfusion or something.  Additionally, you will be charged for every bandage, every tool used.  As the author noted, that is triple billing.  And did I mention routine?

4)  In other countries, there is a cap on prescription drug prices.  Not only is there not a cap in the US, the pharmaceutical lobbyists have managed to get legislation passed that prevents a cap from being put on prescription drug prices.  This leads to such outrageous comparisons as the fact that one nexium pill in the US is the same price as that of eight in France.  One lipitor pill is the same as price as three in Argentina.  Endless examples show that prescription drug prices have been allowed to become unquestionably exorbitant.

5) "Non profit hospitals are making big bucks and hospital leaders are receiving big pay."  For example, University of Pittsburg Medical Center Presbyterian has an operating profit of $769,700,054.  Their CEO compensation is $5,975, 462.  Non profit status?

       I am livid.  This examination of health care costs both scares me and infuriates me.  Money is at the root of so much bad stuff.  Why is it that people think they are entitled to have so much money?  Why can people do this to each other?  So much happens under the guise of big business.  It is a culture gone seriously wrong.  This feels massive and there is no way you or I can fix it.  I am a speck in front of the tank, if you know what I mean.  You can counsel your kids to choose jobs that have health insurance but all that can change  and maybe they can't even get a job.  Our daughter turns 26 on April 8th and, on that day, she runs out of health insurance.  After that she can no longer be covered on our policy.  She has nothing.  She is a nanny and is applying to grad school.  No health insurance in her future. She could pay for a major medical policy but I have learned that major medical is deceptive.  The insurance industry can and does cap it.  Maybe you are covered up to $50,000/year .  That can easily be blown in less than a day, as demonstrated by the article.

    Clearly you must stay healthy or prepare to lose your financial resources.  It won't matter how hard you have worked or what kind of an exemplary citizen you have been.  The health care industry will take away your money without batting an eye and leave you with no recourse.  Disgusting.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013


  Disclaimer:  I don't know what this is.  I opened my head and it fell out.

   I seem to be living in the State of Challenge these days.  It is certainly a big place, full of crowded spaces but also some wide open vistas.  All the roads lead to unfamiliar regions, though sometimes I imagine that I might have been in that territory when I was a kid.   I occasionally go to visit the Ocean of Dreams, though I rarely swim there.  Mostly I just sit on the sand and stare at the breaking waves and wonder where all that power comes from and where exactly does it go.

      The State of Challenge has tons of high places and more than enough cliffs to satisfy any risk taker. I can stand on the edge of Belief and consider if I want to jump off that Belief or maybe just settle in there for awhile.  It is noisy in the State of Challenge  There are too many shouting voices,  most of them coming from a place of Emotion or Indecision.  They can sometimes even get physical and attempt to knock me over.  That's when I retreat to Despair.

     Despair gives me a break.  When I go there, I go by myself.  It is, oddly enough, a comfortable venue.  It is, yes, in a valley and there are big shade trees, some picnic tables, and the only other visitor is Silence.  I usually need to pull up the hood on my sweatshirt.  It just feels better that way.  I find my self there.  I can look me over for awhile until I say, "Enough!" and then I move out of the valley and usually back to the wide open spaces.

    I used to live in the nearby State of Certainty.  That was home for a long time but then I started to feel disconnected there, as if I no longer belonged in that town.   I have learned a lot while living in Challenge but I am thinking about moving again.  I might be ready to live in the Land of Ambiguity now.  It's kind of a mysterious place, true, but that is part of its appeal.  I am hoping to find a home on Surprise St.

    If you were going to move, where would you go?  Tell me what you think.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Art Education

      How do you decide what pieces of art you like?  A couple of weeks ago,  I visited again San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art.  I very much enjoyed the whole day  but I will say that I came away from the museum shaking my head a little.  Granted, I am not well educated when it comes to art.  I am eager to investigate art work but don't always know how to deicide if it is "good".  I suppose maybe that's not my task.  My task is simply to decide if I like it or not.

Homage to Georgia O'Keeffe
     I have always been captured by the visual.  My eyes are wide open to all I see.  I find myself completely drawn to some artists.  I love the colors and everything about Georgia O'Keeffe's art.  I am drawn to the simplicity and the use of light in the photography of Ansel Adams.  I don't understand why but I can feel the emotion in the work of Van Gogh and I know the play that can be found in mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder.

     What I wonder is how do you decide what's good?  I know the art world is full of authorities.  These experts will gladly tell you what is good and what is valuable.  And then people like me will go to museums and look at this art work.  And many will agree, yes, this is an exceptional piece of art.  Others, like me, will look at some pieces and puzzle over how they got there.

     I wonder if there isn't a sort of hierarchy in the world of culture.  Experts declare some artist (or author, poet, filmmaker, musician, playwright , composer or other creative genius) as exceptional and that makes it so.  Maybe the public doesn't want to appear unsophisticated or not hip and so they buy the opinion of the experts.  The media then blasts this out and voila! the creative genius has been inaugurated.

   All this is to say that I am planning to learn more about art.  It's always been the class in college for which I regretted not making room.  I delight in art books and museums but only because I like what I see, not because I understand what I see.  It's time for me to grow up and get an art education.

  My teachers will include (but are not limited to):

Friday, February 15, 2013


In February there are days, 
Blue and nearly warm,
When horses switch their tails and ducks
Go quacking through the farm.

When everything turns round to feel
The sun upon its back,
When winter lifts a little bit
And spring peeks through the crack.
                               Dorothy Aldis

       I know Old Man Winter is still hanging around out there.  He is, however,  taking a brief nap this week in Northern California and, while he sleeps,  Baby Spring is starting to wake up.  She is not really awake, mind you.  She is just kinda peeking out from under the blanket to see if the world is worth visiting.  I had the day off from work today so I took my camera along when I ran boring errands.  It was fun to pretend to see with Spring's baby eyes.  There was so much beauty in the world.


Thursday, February 14, 2013


      I was listening to a friend of mine as she was sorting out some relationship issues.  At one point, she said, "If the situation were untenable, then I would know I would have to end the relationship.  As it is, it is not an untenable situation so I will just wait and see what happens".  I nodded my head in agreement because I certainly got the gist of what she was saying but I got to thinking later about that word "untenable"  What does that exactly mean?

     Untenable:  (adj) not able to be maintained or defended against attack or objection:  this argument is clearly untenable

      Interesting.  I used to think of untenable as unable to be captured or held.  I suppose this definition is like that. You can't hold on to something if you can't defend its existence.  Untenable suggests a balance sheet.  Something is untenable when the liabilities outnumber the assets.

     What occurs to me is that the older I get, the less I see things as untenable.  In earlier years, I let go of significant career enhancing jobs in favor of something else.  I sold a house in a desirable part of the country and moved my life to a brand new place.  I even let go of a marriage because it had become untenable. The balance sheet on all of these major transitions suggested that the situation needed to change.

     Now I think it takes a lot more for me to see a situation as untenable.  Perhaps that is because I have much more invested in my work, my home, my marriage and family, my life.  When I was in my 20's, I assumed I had much of life in front of me (and, as it turned out, I did).  Situations could become untenable because the long haul was, in fact, going to be a long haul.  Now?  Now, the time, energy, and attention invested in many situations make the asset column so much more crowded.  Untenable becomes less obvious.

   How about you?  Have you ever reached the conclusion that a situation is untenable?  Has your age affected your perception of untenable?

Friday, February 8, 2013

More Random Lessons

More random things that I know to be true ......

1)  Let me tell you something.  There's this younger person I used to know.  She ran daily, seldom felt physical pain, had big plans, smooth skin, and was always in a hurry to get places.  I miss that younger person.  I am also discovering that there is room on the bench of life for the older person I know now AND the younger person I used to know.  They can sit on the bench together and chat.  I think they'd like each other.

2)  Let's talk about this speed business.  I have always been a person on a mission.  There's always been a to do list on the counter (dating back to those chore lists that were my mother's
gift to each child on summer mornings).  I have always been a person who moves fast, thinks fast, reacts fast, and, yes, sometimes lives to regret the friendship with fast.  I am learning to get acquainted with speed's sister go slow.  She's an interesting character and one that I have always viewed with some disdain.  She's not so productive and sometimes I used to think she just wasn't smart at all.  Now that I am willing to talk to her, I am finding that she actually has some serious wisdom.  Not only that but she isn't too hoity toity to share that wisdom.  She is pretty darn self confident as well and doesn't' really give a hoot if I like or dislike her.  So I am the one who has to approach her and be willing to listen.

3)  Prizes in Cracker Jack boxes are not as good as they used to be.  Or have my expectations changed?

4) I am learning that western medicine is driven by money.  Why did it take me so long to learn this?  Mostly, I suppose, because I was given the gift of good health for most of my life.  Until fairly recently, my encounters with the health care profession and with all things pharmaceutical were good to mediocre but that has changed.  No need to get into detail here but there might be a post down the road on that.  For now, it is enough to know that I am learning that the bottom line for health care in this country is money.

5)  I don't have to DO anything about feelings.  Just because they exist does not mean I have to fix something.  I can notice the feelings and make room for them.  I can consider them visitors in my house, in my self.   I can invite them to have a cup of tea with me. I can just listen to them.  Maybe I can tell them something.  I always assume feelings are commanding me to do something but maybe they just want to say hi. Maybe they just want to see if I am still alive.   Maybe they just want to be heard.  Maybe they want to be seen.   They are not the boss of me.  I get to be the boss.  I don't have to shove them out the door but I sure as heck don't HAVE to do something about them.  That goes back to slow down a bit.  I don't have to spring into action when feelings visit.

6) Eventually, winter's coldness and darkness will be history.  For awhile anyway.

7) If you wait long enough, something will happen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ground Hog Day in San Francisco


      Those of you who have read my whining about January, can only imagine how delighted I was to turn over the calendar to February last week.  It's not that is is exactly spring but the weekend brought us Ground Hog's Day and that means that, wherever spring spent the winter, she is now packing it up and getting ready to visit NorCal.

     Saturday did give us a taste - just a taste - of spring's arrival.  I spent much of the day in San Francisco, just taking in the moment and being grateful for Saturdays.


     The first part of the adventure included a visit to MOMA.  Saturday was the closing day for the Jasper Johns exhibit and so it was probably extra crowded but it didn't matter.  It was sweet to wander among the galleries and play at being to someone I can only pretend to be.

     After checking out MOMA, we toured the city.  Just for fun, we drove through some of the neighborhoods and enjoyed both comparing the communities and embracing any signs of spring.

    I like urban landscapes!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Is it fall holding on or fall pretending to be spring?

  This little weekend adventure will give me enough fuel to make it until next weekend!


Friday, February 1, 2013

Litany by Billy Collins

       I heard this today and it made me want to cry.  The poem, Litany, by Billy Collins, is remarkable enough but listening to it being wonderfully recited by the child was amazing. What is it about poetry that makes it so mysteriously moving?  What is it about this child's voice, inflection, and manner that makes the poem come alive?

     I wanted to write an homage poem and maybe I will someday but for now?  For now it is enough to listen to the words of Billy Collins being spoken by a child.

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Billy Collins