Deal Making/Deal Breaking: Of Hitler and Incommensurability

Today, during a Master's thesis prospectus meeting, Hitler made his rounds. In discussing how an M.A. candidate might frame the rhetoric of militant Hindi fundamentalism, the committee discussed Hitler's use of rhetorical violence during the Third Reich (Burke, the rhetorician of choice, studied Hitler's rhetoric, so it was a fair invocation). Still, I notice the usefulness of inserting Hitler in academic and cultural discussions to clarify otherwise unclarifiable discussions. Hitler helps clear the air for people with strong agendas. We can all agree that Hitler was bad, so we can't be that far apart (or something like that). Although it doesn't always take this kind of Armageddon-like common ground to get academics to agree on things, it often helps.

One-on-one, I almost never need to rush to some sort of cultural extreme (like celebrity bad behavior) or historical extreme (like Hitler) to gain common ground with people. I usually can see and acknowledge a wide range of perspectives as part of my nature. I perceive things in their context, and I usually find common ground unless I see imminent danger. I accept. As a pre-teen, I was nicknamed "peacemaker" by my parents because of my role in mediating between between brothers and between the sibling/parent divide. My perspective helped me translate what was often mutually excluding frames of seeing the universe. For quite a long time, this role was a way to gaining prestige and getting the love and respect I craved from my family and friends. I could identify with others and give them both a nonjudgemental, and sometimes idealized, version of themselves. In Enneagram terms, I'm a nine (with a one wing, for those who are Enneagram geeks). Although some people were/are suspicious of this (I've been called smarmy more than once), it is a totally sincere perspective. To quote one of my favorite poems: "I know many lives worth living."

Although being a mediator may seem like a pretty comfortable place to live, it often presents with unsolvable puzzles. When I am positioned between two incommensurable people or positions, my translations can become conduits to rage and inflexibility. I discovered this as a teenager when my older brother slowly inducted me into his fundamentalist Christian Bible study. I gave my best effort to syncretically integrate my old habits/hobbies/perspectives (reading, love of a wide range of music, fantasy gaming) with the perspective of a new creation (or at least the late-20th Century American version of it). Eventually, I was forced to choose between the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Top-40 music, between loving Jesus and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Eventually, I decided to chuck my past into the garbage can (quite literally, in the case of my fantasy gaming books--Dungeon Master no more). Underneath my embrace of Christian fundamentalism, I still held a rich imaginative and intellectual life, but I did so in secretive and what felt like duplicitous ways. It took me four years, and an immersion in Southern California's much more eclectic music sub-culture to face up to my mistake. It took a lot of hurt feelings and sadness (even yelling) to remove myself from what I felt was an overly-rigid perspective,. I don't believe in Christian fundamentalism, despite my ability to understand those who embrace it. Nevertheless, I try to steer clear of strong expressions of it because I know that my understanding, and even fondness for some of its adherents, will be mistaken for a willingness to embrace it.

The problem for me was one of finding myself in-between two totally different perspectives and lacking the ability to persuade one of reconciling the other. I can hold two truths in my head, but I can't live in two worlds. My peacemaking blessing can be a curse when I get between two inflexible and incommensurable people or institutions.

Why does this matter? Well, in my new role as director of Upper-Division Writing, my job is to act as a gatekeeper between students who want nothing more than to get through their education and an institution designed to throw up challenges. My job is to become an apologist for one side (the student's) while serving the will of the other (the University). How does one deal with this? I have to look outside myself, step away from my peacemaking role and lean into my life choice. I chose to be a director, and that means some people are just going to be pissed off. There are no comfortable cultural examples to point to when I stand between a two forces and their colliding goals. There is no Hitlerian high ground, so sometimes I just have to, in the words of LBJ, take it like "a jackass in a hailstorm."



by Mary Oliver

There is, all around us
this country
of original fire.

You know what I mean.

The sky, after all, stops at nothing, so something
has to be holding
our bodies
in its rich and timeless stables or else
we would fly away.

Off Stellwagen
off the Cape,
the humpbacks rise. Carrying their tonnage
of barnacles and joy
they leap through the water, they nuzzle back under it
like children
at play.

They sing too.
And not for any reason
you can't imagine.

Three of them
rise to the surface near the bow of the boat,
then dive
deeply, their huge scarred flukes
tipped to the air.

We wait, not knowing
just where it will happen; suddenly
they smash through the surface, someone begins
shouting for joy and you realize
it is yourself as they surge
upward and you see for the first time
how huge they are, as they breach,
and dive, and breach again
through the shining blue flowers
of the split water and you see them
for some unbelievable
part of a moment against the sky-
like nothing you've ever imagined-
like the myth of the fifth morning galloping
out of darkness, pouring
heavenward, spinning; then
they crash back under those black silks
and we all fall back
together into that wet fire, you
know what I mean

I know a captain who has seen them
playing with seaweed, tossing
the slippery lengths of it into the air.

I know a whale that will come to the boat whenever
she can, and nudge it gently along the bow
with her long flipper.

I know several lives worth living.

Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like he dreams of your body,

its spirit
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones

toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittery fire

where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs in song.


Election Hangover

Today, a lot of my friends are feeling pretty blue about yesterday's election. While I sit pretty firmly on the progressive side of things, I have to say that I'm not nearly as down about what happened. Despite my militant (and often annoying) optimism, I actually think that keeping the Senate gives us a lot to be hopeful about. Things did not go as I had wished; however, I'm pretty sure that we can turn things around if we get involved.

How can I be so sure? Well, nothing is sure, but this reminds me of my despair 4 years ago when I saw George W. Bush get re-elected by my state (Ohio), despite what felt like a mountain of energy expended on fundraising, canvassing, and even election monitoring. That election, while standing in the rain as a monitor, I was repeatedly and randomly ordered by a 19-year-old police officer to cross the street. I saw developmentally-disabled people escorted into a voting booth one-at-a-time by a single Republican Party muckity-muck. I saw live newsfeeds of Ken Blackwell (George W. Bush's campaign crony and eventual Governor candidate) counting votes behind closed doors while stonewalling press access. My partner and I felt generally despondent after my country re-elected an incompetent President and my state turned out in great numbers to marginalize my LGBT friends and fellow countryfolk. We were so devastated that the first thing we did was drive to a blue state (Michigan) and buy a blue couch.

That despondency didn't last, however. When the dust settled, sport and I just doubled down and worked that much harder. We joined a local group and started talking politics with our friends in coffee-shops and offices. Every week. It was really nothing crazy, but it wasn't easy either (I still have hate mail from people who didn't like professors writing letters to the editor--the horror!). We just started caring and putting our time and money where our hearts were. We articulated a vision and worked towards it. Unsurprisingly, we found that a lot of people either agreed, or were just looking for somebody else to care. We changed minds. Long story short? By the time we left for North Dakota two years later, Ohio had elected President Obama, voted in a Democratic governor (and several new Democrats) and cleaned out much of the corruption that we saw rip apart our faith in American democracy.

Don't lose sight of the fact that we make our own hope, and that we can only win if we share that hope. Every. Day.

Chin up. We've still got a chance to change the world for the better. Let's get working!


One More Time

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my 39th trip around the sun. Lots of you reading this have made many of these trips, and I'm hoping to learn a thing or two from your amazing journeys over the next few orbits. In fact, I have to say that what I feel most strongly about this impending arc across the solar system comes from what I have gotten from my interconnectedness with others. During the past 38 years, friends and family have entered and exited my life. Many have taken more than they have given in the immediate term, but I can't think of anybody who has not taught me an important lesson. I'm not a big believer in a cosmic orderer--at least not in any way that can't elude our best-formulated control schemes--but I do believe in the power of absorbing the lessons available to us.

This past year, the entrance of three young Sudanese Americans has transformed our house and our understanding of the world. At the start of the year, my partner and I faced the completion of a very long journey. When our friends opened their hearts and lives to their friend and his three young, lovely children, our dreams were transformed. By the time the year ended, we found ourselves constantly re-configuring mental models of our small community to make space for these children and everyone else in the village who wanted to help out. Even though we aren't the primary caretakers in these kids' lives (and probably not even secondary), we have found ourselves trying to become less selfish to help them and the many people taking on the extra parenting. The persistent pull of these kids helped pull me and my partner from the cascading traumas brought about by two floods, the forgotten death anniversary of my father, the end of a 17-year academic journey, the purchase of our first new house (and its subsequent remodeling), physical injury, and a cancer scare. When I was overwhelmed at times, my partner would remind me to think about these kids and the other kids in the world who live on the edges of war and colonialism. We know nothing of trouble.

It's easy to get caught up in my own goals as an academic. Sometimes, the game of success is the only game that I feel like I can win; hell, sometimes it's the only game I understand. It's only the persistent ethical draw of eleven years with my best friend and lover that pulls me out of an institutional orbit to see the larger picture of what we can mean to others, especially when the culture gives you no instructions on how to connect with the young and vulnerable when you aren't biologically connected. It's hard to love people when acts of love are interpreted as selfish at best, dangerous at worst. It helps to have a life partner who is an old pro at giving without leaving traces. Being there for friends and strangers means you have to be courageous. You can't give while looking over your shoulder. The blows will come, but love gives you strength and courage that help you ignore them.

At times, the courage that comes from love has manifests as a willingness to grab opportunities. We're walking towards spending time in Africa next year. I'm hoping to help grow the arts community during a time of scarcity. Sport is hoping to continue and expand her work with vulnerable women. We're also looking at ways of aligning our professional careers more closely with our ethical bent. I want to be a better teacher. A better researcher. A better friend. A better person. These things all require an uncomfortable amount of truth-telling; something I'm not always willing to do. As a rhetorical scholar, I'm always aware of the means of persuasion, but this does little to help me change the world in deeply ethical ways. Sometimes you have to risk looking like a jackass to fulfill your calling. It's painful, but ultimately necessary.

Being more comfortable in my own skin has meant rubbing some people the wrong way, but it has also meant making deeper friendships. You can't please everybody, but that's O.K. Everybody who I have met in my life has played some sort of important role. As I take this trip around the sun again, know that I'm taking a little piece of you with me, that I'm trying to be a little less me and little more of those kids. You have all taught me something I needed to learn. If you have read this far, I'm sure that you have somehow helped me get to where I need to go in my journey. Thank you.


Parents as Landscape

Growing up, my house had a quiet spot that surrounded my parents. Despite having two noisy brothers, and the occasional blaring radio or television, my mother and father generally presented an oasis of quietude. My mother's introversion and father's near-deafness allowed my brothers and I room to express ourselves (if not always get a response proportional to the kind of sometimes horrifically inappropriate things we often expressed). My father's near-deafness came as a result of meningitis he caught in Army boot camp in Alabama when he was training to be shipped off in the Korean War. Of course, my brothers and I were told that the howitzers caused this until he revealed his true condition (yes, the cannon roar WAS always a bit easier to share as a child).

It wasn't until recently that I contemplated just how difficult my father must have had it going through college before the American with Disabilities Act was passed. Dad not only went to multiple universities in pursuit of his degrees (Highlands University, St. Edward's, Baylor, and UT Austin), he did some of this coursework while starting a family with my Mom. I cannot even imagine how difficult his education would have been as a newly-deaf man in institutions that had little sympathy for disability and delivered information via lecture. Of course, as the perma-son, I failed to even contemplate this, much less communicate my awe, until after my father passed (and, yes, this haunts me).

Of course, my Mom is still alive, and I have to say that I'm pretty amazed at her educational tenacity too. As the oldest girl of six in a family with not even a history of high school completion, she went off and got both a B.A. and a Master's in Education. Her introversion, struggles in a society that didn't value women's education, and family history did not stop her from reaching her educational goals. She also worked on her education (as so many women do) with my brothers and I in tow. The four of us spent one summer in a one-room residence hall room with a hall bathroom, and another summer in a hall with a small kitchen and a bathroom. So much slipped by in parents' silence; however, their educational examples did not. Thanks Mom and Dad.


Iron Maiden

Our long runs have now reached the 15-mile mark, which means running through cycles of pain. One of the few advantages of this kind of self-torture comes in the form of justification (self?) for public complaining during the run. This Saturday, this gripe-fest during the last 4 (or so) miles became rather creative. The winner of our "Whine Slam" came in the form of a metaphor. From here on out, our long runs will be described as "puttin' on the pain-skirt."


Leaving the Electric Forest

Our subjectivities are always imminent. We exist as subjects before we are aware of it. Louis Althusser and Judith Butler describe the process of ideology creating us and us responding to our own mirror image as “hailing,” or “interpellation.” Like a person that responds to a “hey you” on the street by looking (and by admitting that they could be a “you” that is yelled to on the street), any conscious choice admits to a subject’s constructedness. Technology, or the more ossified practices and materiality of ideology, hails relentlessly. Phones ring, inboxes fill, facebook pages are commented upon with breathless pace and with an almost deafening roar. We are the “To” line in every message, and we had better acknowledge that we are on the hook to do something about it, or there may be consequences.

Although this hailing can seem unyielding and unrelenting, Althusser recognized that ideologies only manifest in action: ideology matters most with “material practices governed by a material ritual.” We are already constituted by our ideologies, but only insofar as they determine what we do on a regular basis. We are who we perform.

This performance of electronic subservience is the core of why I am slowly abandoning social media. A second, related reason for abandoning social media is the way that connection gets metaphorized as a capital transaction. As a technology, social media is really a combination of attention structures that keep me thinking about the world in an acquiring and acquisitive manner. I am looking at my monitor and position myself as someone who responds to images, words, and other signification by generating my own signifiers. An endless tennis match, the beginning of which occurs when one opens an account, can keep a person on the treadmill of response, ever chained to cellphones, laptops, and tablet computers. Ringing phones, unanswered prompts, hovering IM boxes, and full inboxes all scream “Answer me…OR ELSE!!!”

What starts as a sporadic, sparse, even Spartan set of interactions can soon grow into a dense and involving back-and-forth as one’s network of “friends” and contacts becomes denser. The layers of a social media user’s life re-constitute themselves online, combining past, present, good, distant, and even pseudo friends. What was formerly more intimate, immediate, and private information becomes public; boundaries for sharing and withholding become folded into the process of interpellation. When experiment gives way to ritual, the process of interpellation seems complete and almost unchangeable, except that it is not.

I teach about New Media, and have noted that every technology, especially communication technologies, are accompanied by a period of uncertainty, celebration, and ultimately, panic. What I have not witnessed firsthand, however, is how quickly the rituals that accompany new communication technologies can tear at the fabric of hard-won bonds of trust and friendship. Turning one’s attention away from the cues and carefully-created rituals of material practice when a new technology hails leads you away from the well-worn pathways of communication and ritual that people array themselves around. Responding to new hailing moves all of the welcome mats.

Fortunately, habitus can be changed. While it initially seems painful to give up a television, a phone, email, or a facebook account, it is important to note that most of the world does not integrate many of these technologies into daily living. These commodifying media aren’t necessary for daily existence. They don’t really matter to the great majority of people who haveever lived on the planet. Stories were told, information shared, bonds formed, love expressed, and transactions…well, transacted. New communication technologies matter mostly to the wealthy and well-positioned. These instantaneous and visible connections help us frame social interactions as ones of economy. Images, words, and sounds that re-present memory are invested, traded, and exchanged for the time and attention that would be proffered living these moments with those physically proximate. Emotion is re-aligned with those who have the greatest access to the privileged signifiers of intimacy rather than those who we share the space with. Electronic networks replace other physical networks; Re-mediation doesn’t just supplement, it realigns and re-places. McLuhan is right when he declares the medium is the message and the masssage. How we say things is both what we say and who we are.

One of the things that can be re-figured by un-wiring is reconnecting with the cues that one uses to create a sense of relationship to the world. The emotional cues, physical cues, and even social cues that exceed these particular definitions emerge from the sensed landscape. Away from mediation, these cues mean particular things. With mediation, we add yet another layer of meaning and inflection that complicates how we view the world. Although this alternative gets us no closer to Plato’s notion of forms (and out of his cave), it does create a different and somewhat more direct relationship to the ancient environments and cycles that we have evolved from. While it may be tempting to see the built environment as one continuous and undifferentiated soup of adaptation, the cues and affordances of the physical, oral, and aural environments all grant us access through their own reciprocities. To acknowledge the duration of the sunlight as a defining aspect of our day (rather than, say, taking cues from the machine-gun regularity of a news feed in Facebook) aligns us with the sweep of the seasons and the adaptations that our ancestors worked into our dwellings and technologies. To pay attention to the people we share a house, street, or office with rather than the most frequent and/or clever status updater is to align ourselves with a long history of interacting with our environment.

To better honor the sacred spaces of my body, my home, and my relationships, I have begun to un-wire (and un-wireless). I don’t go to facebook or Twitter but once a week. I don’t check my email or look at the Internet on the weekends unless it is for a scheduled work session. I(we) even take Internet Sabbaths at least one day a week. This realignment grew out of the shock of recognition that I had become enslaved to the always-on hailings of my wireless-enabled laptop. While many minimalist-living gurus cite this electronic decoupling as an epideictic imperative, it is mainly an assertion of subjective choice. Just like I choose to not eat meat mostly to make room for better choices, I choose to curtail my electronic networking to make room for the people and relationships that I have worked so hard to live in.


Living with Weakness

One of the lessons that I have been very slow to accept is that life is short, and that invulnerability is an illusion. People who know me well know that I have been living with chronic pain for the past year and a half. What most may not be aware of is just how scary and debilitating that was. My pain, which presented over my entire lower abdomen started to occur with regular frequency just before the great Fargo flood of 2009. During that hectic period, I not only felt pain in my abdomen, but I got minor whiplash when I slipped on the ice and cracked the back of my head on a curb. Typically, I rely on what seems like a genetic imperviousness to wait pain out. About a year into the pain (and one flood later), the pain had not only not abated, it had intensified, despite the fact that I had cut back on some of the "usual suspects" of rich food, alcohol consumption (for gallbladder pain). I had checked in with my physician to discuss gall stones, and he was willing to start me down the path to treating and maybe removing my gallbladder (there is little to do but actually remove it); however, something about this diagnosis didn't sit right. Nobody in my family had a history of gallstones, and I certainly did not fit the typical profile of someone with stones--postmenopausal women and larger, older men. What I DID have a history of was cancer, and this creeping suspicion was one that loomed larger and larger in my mind. My grandparents on my father's side both died of cancer (very painfully), and my father had sections of his gastrointestinal tract removed during the latter stages of his life. Considering that I had not really mourned my father's death, the possibility of having cancer at 38 and constant pain was enough to keep me up every night. When news came in that my partner's friend died of very fast-spreading liver and colon cancer at 46, and that he had had almost identical symptoms, I finally decided to confront my stubborn avoidance and seek help.

During the middle of May, I finally decided to go in and start testing for what was causing this pain. By this point, the leg where I had already excised a small skin cancer growth was also hurting, so I had a huge range of symptoms to sort through with my doctor. While talking with my doctor and sorting everything out was not that difficult (although finding out one has not one, but three issues, does complicate things a bit); what was so difficult about the process was admitting that I was almost absurdly afraid of facing my own inevitable decline and doing something about it. Rather that continuing to pile up obligations and distractions to avoid dealing with my potential convalescence, I had to start clearing time to deal with this physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Fortunately, I have an incredible partner who went with me to every doctor's visit and sorted through the history to uncover what was really going on. I was also lucky enough to talk to friends who had gone through cancer in their families, so that I could see how they made it through the fear. While I was relieved to find out that I don't have cancer, I did have to go through physical rehab for a shoulder injury, treat a range of strains and small tears in my ribcage, and continue dealing with noncancerous GI-tract issues. While shifting my sense of invulnerability was one of the most challenging things I had ever done (it certainly makes running a marathon look like a walk in the park), it is ultimately helping me deal with the changes that come with losing a parent, reaching a life goal, and transitioning to a different period of my life.


Father's Day

I was going to write something sad and expressive for this Father's Day. Those of you who know me know that my Father's passing on February 15, 2009 was very difficult, especially because I had very little time to mourn it in the middle of a semester that saw an epic flood, a small departmental crisis, and a scarring student dispute. I forgot to mark the anniversary of his death this year, and was thrown into a tailspin once again.

Instead of embellishing these notations, I want to say that I actually think I learned from my Dad that you sometimes just have to Suck. It. Up. So instead of dragging y'all through the tears and the weepies, I just want to let you know that I did four things to mark Father's Day. 1. ) I sent something nice to my Mom. 2. ) I had a nice talk with my Mom. 3.) I sat back and watched Ella (our friends' theatrical 5 year-old) perform a wonderful improvised "Secondary Father" song and dance for me., and 4.) I hung curtains with my lifelong partner and lover.

My Father pressed upon me the importance of helping, listening to, supporting, and enjoying the gifts of the women in my life. Even though I wasn't always the best son, I can't think of a better gift to my Dad then trying to be present for them. Happy Father's Day Dad; and to all of the fathers and daughters out there--enjoy your day. I may not be a father or have a father, but I still love the celebration.


For David

Otter Topography
Andrew Mara

You marked the return of the river otter
To the banks of the Red
Slipping, sinewy, beneath the surface.

Breaking my reverie
A long, cold, lifeless river
Newly dappled with sibilent splashing.

I don’t know you well,
Yet your silvery connection
Threaded with laughing shadows

Warm suspiration
Language, place, change
Cyclic re-expression recreating

Ancestral topography
Changing, moving, ebbing,
Imperceptible, but through your poetry.


Surfing as Metaphor

One of the unexpected perks of being an English professor is the chance to learn about language tools to make up for communication problems that once vexed you in childhood. The mystery of complex social symbolic behavior was something that fascinated me as a child. I became proficient at drawing, music, and math at a pretty young age, but crafting strings of words together in speech and writing proved more elusive. There was no high ground that one could run to in order to certify that someone's interpretation of an utterance or inscription was "wrong." Instead, one always had to recognize that the chain of meaning depended upon each interlocutor in a conversation or reader of a text. You couldn't usefully cut out your audience. Although this intensely annoyed me as a kid used to relative mastery of symbolic skills (I thought it to be absolute at the time--not unusual for a white boy), it also fascinated me to no end. English classes became increasingly mysterious as I progressed through junior high school and into the uncertainty of high school advanced English classes. Nothing thrilled me more than having a teacher choose my essay to read to the class as an example of good writing or getting an award for a sonnet I had composed in jest, and nothing vexed me more than getting an essay back with what I felt were unfair criticisms that looked like so many diacritical marks.

This love/hate relationship with language kept me coming back to the well for ways to communicate what I thought and saw. I drew things in from my love of music and drawing. I created songs and wrote poetry to capture feelings that tended to skip over large expanses of logical scaffolding. Over time, I began to settle in on a few favorite metaphors. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, running is a favorite metaphor for approaching the quotidian, sometimes trying things. A complementary metaphor that I've been employing over the years is that of surfing.

I am not a good surfer. In fact, I used surfing as a metaphor well before I ever left the beaches of my childhood--the painted desert and the valley of the sun. For those of you who do not know Phoenix well, you should understand that although it may seem paradoxical for an Arizonan/Phoenician to think about surfing, surfing provides an important psychological and metaphoric role in desert life. Desert rats (something I definitely was) think about sand as a medium upon which one can perform feats with postmodern sprezzatura. I grew up skateboarding, wagoning, bicycling, and generally sliding down sand dunes to break the boredom and to show my balance prowess. The taller the dune, the better. I was also lucky enough to spend a summer fortnight in Carlsbad California at a music camp ("one time at band camp..."). Every afternoon, for two weeks, I had the opportunity to boogie board and bodysurf until I was sunburned and my ears rang with the gurgle of the surf bubbling in my ears. The only analogous feeling to catching a wave and riding it in for me was riding a horse at full gallop. The energy was terrifying, electrifying, and almost mystical.

Phoenicians have an especially intense love/hate relationship with surf culture. Phoenix kids often think of themselves connected with San Diego culture--the trip down Interstate 10 actually leads to Los Angeles, but the sprawling enormity of the City of Angels seems too inchoate and intimidating for Phoenix kids to emulate or fetishize. In high school, kids would wear surf t-shirts, flip-flops (Flojos were the brand of choice way back then), and put In-n-Out and 91X (a San Diego radio station broadcast our of Tijuana) stickers on their cars. Even though "Zonies" would rib San Diegan kids as "Scum Diegans," there was a definite envy and emulation of the surf and beach culture. I had little time for such nonsensical emulation, the significance on surf culture still seeped into my consciousness. As a joke, when I was put into the "Who's Who of American High Schools," I requested inclusion of my fictional presidency of "The Surf and Poetry Society" in my profile as a test of quality control. As I suspected, there was no quality control. I was president of my fraudulent ocean club in writing, if not in reality.

Despite the fact that my undergraduate career took me out to the University of Redlands, where I had the chance to get to the ocean on several occasions, it wasn't until I met my life partner that I finally got the chance to get up on a board and surf. The experiences I have had paddling, balancing, falling, and momentarily catching waves has only deepened my reliance on surfing as a counterbalancing and guiding life metaphor. Whereas running provides me with a basket of metaphors and a set of strategies to deal with enduring life's small, but consistent difficulties, surfing provides me a set of directives for dealing with life's sometimes-overwhelming conditions.

The only way you learn to read sets is to try some of the waves out.

The look of surfing and the feel of surfing are entirely different.

The same energy that can hurt or kill you is the energy that propels you.

You share an ocean with things that might hurt you. Show respect, but don't be afraid.

You aren't finished with your surfing day if you aren't hurting somewhere.

Waves are unique and temporary. Treat them as such.

There is no permanent value that you can attach to surfing beyond the immediate dance of surfer, board, and wave.

I would like to say that I discovered all of these things on my own. The truth of it is that I picked up all of these things from others. The audience that so vexed me as a child kept driving me out to the ocean of communication to try to find a better wave, to drop in more decisively, and to cut a better path across the face of a changing an ephemeral medium. The paradoxical fascinations of the people I lived among, and the shifting topography of the places I lived forced me to deal with the uncomfortable and seemingly Heraclitian flux of solid matter. Finally, my partner helped me build the courage to go out into the terrifying surf to try to improve my water dance.

This almost-insane urge to get out into an impermanent and inherently-unstable dance floor for a chance just to stand--or, with a great deal of luck, to dance--informs me deeply in my relationships with others. Not only does surfing provide me with material to evaluate whether or not I'm fighting against the energy of a situation, it provides a set of life rules for treating myself and others with the flexibility necessary for symbolic interaction.

It's necessary and healthy to take chances in unstable places.

Expressing oneself is inherently ephemeral and involves risk.

Keep your eye out for an try to respect others who might be surfing the same way--they may not return the favor, but at least you opened the door for reciprocity.

You don't create the wave. You can only interact with it.

Give in to the wave enough to become part of it, but never forget that you are a distinct part of the dance.

Trust that each ride will teach you something, even if you have to duck out or end up with a mouth full of sand.

Don't worry about a score or a record--just enjoy the moment.

Learn to read the rhythms of the medium.

Know when to bail out. There is no shame in kicking out or backing off a wave if you think you are going to wipe out or pearl.

On the other hand, there are some waves that might be worth taking the risk. Don't always kick out out of a wave that might be worth the risk.

If you don't get sore and maybe a little hurt, you are aren't doing it right.

Surfing's yin to running's yang help me balance the twin rhythms of my life--the sporadic and chaotic with the daily grind and quotidian. Just like the waves erode and refresh the beaches, so too does the chaotic wear at and recreate the accretions of the habitual. Surfing at the second break can help one make sense of the time spent running towards goals rationally and habitually. The economically and rationally fruitless time spent choking on sea water, getting slammed against a board paddling out over the waves, chafing your arms and chest while furiously attempting to catch a wave, and hitting your board and the dirt over and over when falling repays you by pulling you away from your own overwrought and gilded expectations of life. Finding joy in the moment of connection to a shapeshifting wave of liquid energy helps one see, respect, and celebrate the uniqueness of each moment in a relationship.


Of Second and Third Acts

This year, I finally crossed a threshold I set out to find 18 years ago. In 1992, while I was studying abroad at the University of East Anglia, I saw Toni Morrison give a reading from her novel Jazz. To be sure, I had been building up a vocational purpose before the reading--my music major and French minor, and pre-law emphasis gave me a mix of experience in both the beautiful and the practical. This mixture of serendipity and confident exploration put me at the doorstep of a vibrant art and literary culture that thrived in an English university. Even before Toni Morrison came to UEA, I had experience the joys of cultural exploration and critique. There were opportunities for me to see local Shakespearian productions, other artists (Arthur Miller and Graham Swift, to mention just two) came to UEA to collaborate and share with students, Additionally, I was immersed in literature courses, and, of course, I was in England. Still, nothing before that reading crystallized why I would choose to not finish my Music Performance and French majors (I graduated with a minor in music and just had a lot of French courses on my transcript).

It was only the palpable excitement of an American author presenting her newest work, Jazz, to an audience who understood the value of her work that I clearly saw that I wanted to be in involved in this most difficult, hard-to-define profession of teaching and researching literature and language. In that rural English university hall I saw the purpose of my first act solidify and start to take shape. After that, I would have many moments that re-inforced a sense that I my path was good. Writing my undergraduate honors thesis on Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon the year that she got her Nobel Prize deepened my confidence, as did tutoring a fellow student during our senior trip to Laughlin, Nevada (sometimes in our swimwear between river visits) so that she could finish her degree. I continued to deepen the grooves of my vocation working in the writing lab, taking intense theory courses, taking Navajo to re-aquaint myself with a language I often heard but seldom understood during my childhood, getting published, and finally landing my first academic job at Bowling Green State University. All of these steps validated the feelings of a 20-year old boy in England.

Of course, I sometimes think back on the turns that my life might have taken if I hadn't chase this particular path. What if I had finished my music degree and tried to make a go of it in the music business? What if I had tried to go to Rome with an earlier long-term long-distance partner? What if I had taken the job with IBM near the end of my PhD instead of completing the degree? These are life-truncations I'll never get to explore, and it does make me a little wistful from time-to-time. But these wistful imaginings do not usually sway me from the notion that I have picked a good life path. One of the pillars of Navajo philosophy is a concept called "hózhó," which, when translated, means "walking in beauty." To apply this concept into my day-to-day life, I try to incorporate my a bit of mathematical calculation and lessons learned in athletic competition. Pick a goal, then survive and advance. Of course, this merely covers the "walk" part of the philosophy, and not the "in beauty" part. Beauty, at least to me, involves a bit of serendipity and appreciation of what comes to you. My sometimes overpowering analytical side demands reconciliation between the multiple trajectories that my life could take. Figuring out the answer can be tricky. Instead of trying to find the right answer, sometimes I rely on the quiet and intuitive option. Toni Morrison's talk presented me with such a beautiful and intuitive option. Ms. Morrison had seen gaps in the culture, and created new voices to speak to those gaps. I could spend the next period of my life--the first period of my productive and professional life--to do the same.

One of my friends jokes that I'm having a mid-life crisis. Although that's always a possibility for someone rapidly approaching his 40s, I'm not sure that I can agree with that accusation. After all, I pretty much never stopped spending time with college students. Hell, over the past two years, I have lived in a residence hall. I travel many times a year, meet amazing people, and have yet to seriously try for something that I don't achieve. My internal sense of a life clock, while ticking, is not any louder than it was as a child.

I could spend much more time detailing what happened over that period of 18 years, but as I sit on this point nearer to the end of what many describe as the "1st Act" in my life, I can more clearly see that those choices not taken are still with me. I still want to make music. I used to wonder about the woman who wrote all those letters, spent all that time on the phone with me, and who inspired me to smuggle her favorite burrito cross-country on dry ice, only to leave with only a quick "I'm sorry." I wonder about kids. What I don't wonder about is the bond I have formed with my partner and lover. I don't wonder about my choice to teach and share the most complex and maddeningly complex subject I know--language and art made from that language. In the end, the wistful informs the strength of my choices. I don't regret my path, and I don't regret the lessons I have learned, even if they present mysteries.

As I look forward to my next act, I can say that I'm excited about the possibilities, a little sad about some of my mistakes, and in awe of all of the mystery that comes with having to make choices. Fortunately for me, choices made do not mean a diminishment of the choices I did not make. Living hózhó means that I maintain a mindfulness of all of the relations that make my life beautiful. Mindful of the people that I have chosen to share this life with, mindful of the people who are now distant, mindful of the path I have chosen and the ones I have ventured farther away from. All of these things, near and far, are still with me. I still am learning languages. My lawyer friends still keep me on my toes. Hell, all of my friends keep me on my toes. And yes, I am going to start singing in an ensemble again. It may be tricky to weave all of these things together, but hózhó means being true to the center of your path--not forgetting where you came from--in order to get to the next place.


500 Days of Summer or 500 Error?

Recently, a smart friend of mine recommended that I watch "500 Days of Summer," as it is one of her favorite movies. I'm not one to take these recommendations lightly, so naturally, I popped "500 Days" into my Netflix queue.

I can't say that I loved the movie as much as she did, but I am pretty moved by it nonetheless. It is an extremely meticulous movie, well written by people who have an eye for character and deeply-felt life experiences. It is well composed, beautifully edited, and has two wonderful acting jobs by the leads (and Zooey Deschanel just chews scenery with her quirky, but completely endearing clear gazes punctuated by off-center delivery of lines). Unfortunately, this movie doesn't quite get to where it should because of "the flaw."

I should start this analysis by saying that my main criticism really does provide a contrast against which it should be clear just how much this startling movie gets right. "The flaw" is one that Hollywood commits over and over, and is best demonstrated in one small detail--the voiceover. Like "American Beauty," voiceovers are employed to help the audience get a sense of coherence and movement through a story. In "American Beauty," the voiceover also reassures viewers that what they are seeing isn't really as weird or disturbing as what they might believe. After all, if you want people to feel O.K. about the murder of the protagonist, have him reassuringly let the audience know he is still speaking to them from beyond the grave and is feeling very enlightened, thankyouverymuch. Similar to the voiceover in "American Beauty," the "500 Days" voice near the very end of the movie reassures the audience that the protagonist, Tom Hansen, has not had his boyish sense of romantic grandeur crushed by the flighty and somewhat callously-portrayed, Summer Finn. The final scene where Tom completes his journey as both an artist/architect and comes of age (kind of making this both a bildungsroman and a künstlerroman) shows Tom waiting for an interview smartly dressed, and then meeting his main competition for a job, a young professional who he seems to share an attraction with. Tom introduces himself to his competition with a bit of sharpness and some humor. Realizing that she is similarly talented, he wishes her bad luck with a wry smile ("I hope you don't get the job"). The competition, attractive and similarly well-dressed and coiffed wishes him the same. By this point in the film, Tom has clearly changed. Gone are the days where he falls in love with the administrative assistant at a company he clearly feels beneath his talents. Instead, he is rising to the challenge, and isn't going to let a dalliance sidetrack him. As Tom responds to his call into the interview, his slow-motion walk gets a voiceover treatment that lets the audience know that Tom is no longer a romantic, and that his notions of a universe that partners off people has been replaced with an almost-nihilistic randomness. Of course, the punchline is that Tom runs back before he squanders his opportunity to connect with this young woman and asks his gladiatorial nemises out on a coffee date. His professional (and likely romantic) equal, Autumn, agrees to see him after the interview. He has not lost his romantic notions. Tom is ever young at heart.

This all sounds reasonable enough, except the voiceover contradicts what we see develop throughout the film. Despite an undercurrent of villifying the eponymous character, Summer Finn, throughout the movie and the fact that Tom is clearly the protagonist in this film, Summer is a well-developed, central, sympathetic character. We see Tom and Summer introduced in parallel manners at the beginning, understand that their conflict defines the scope of the narrative, and see them both change and grow by the end of the film. We know much more about Tom: his job, his friends, and even his philosophy on life. Moreover, we see the story from Tom's perspective--including some incredibly funny and poignant sequences. The musical number where Tom dances to work "the morning after" rates up there (and I think tops) with the "Shake it up Baby" sequence in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The sideshadowed sequence during the party where Tom unwittingly finds out about Summer's impending wedding to another man is achingly poignant. These wonderfully detailed, and completely heterodox combinations of scenes are impressively knit together in one movie. Further, I can completely identify with the protagonist, who has to learn painfully that love does not always end with a wedding, that one must create in interesting life to attract interesting people, and that seeing the world as it can be seldom overcomes the world as it is. Tom is essentially alone when trying to make these discoveries, as his friends are either hopelessly inept at relationships (McKenzie), or have been coupled with a life partner since a very young age (Paul), or lead impossibly perfect and inaccessible romantic lives (Vance). Sounds reasonable again, but there is the second problem. Tom isn't alone. He has Summer.

The fact that the movie seems to occlude Summer as a co-protagonist (cotagonist?) contradicts the central role she plays as both mentor and mentee. The climax of the film occurs right after Tom makes the discovery that Summer "never wanted to be (someone's) girlfriend. Now (she's) going to be someone else's wife." It isn't until he picks himself up out of his childish and safe assumptions about love and life that he can understand just how much Summer has taught him. During their long and torturous relationship, Tom struggles to make Summer into the person he imagines as his soul mate. He wants Summer to be little more than a mirror of his future self--a reticent beauty with luminous eyes Tom wants Summer to see him as a desirable and fully grown up man, despite his arrested development as an architect and human being. Even after the relationship with Summer has dissolved, Tom holds on to hope that he can somehow make it work. The clever anti-linear plot allows the audience to see Tom as less psychotic than they might otherwise. We don't have to see him pining incessantly, a la Groundhog Day, where the infinite return to self-pity and continual re-courting of a clearly uninterested Andie MacDowell comes off as more than a bit insane. Rather, we learn early on that this relationship has ended, and we get to see both the sympathetic Tom--with a vivid and funny way of turning small details into a grand narrative--and the dark and stormy Tom.

Tom's habit of seeing the world as it could be overwhelms clear markers placed by Summer (letting him know that she doesn't want a serious relationship, not entertaining false nostalgia when the relationship has turned stale for her) and obscures the important role she plays in Tom's life (and the important role Tom plays in her life). During the climactic scene, Summer returns to Tom's favorite spot, a small park overlooking an architecturally interesting part of Los Angeles that Tom used to frequent both before Summer and with Summer. She returns to the park to clear the air with Tom, and to let him know that he has taught her something. Summer meets the almost grown-up and more assured Tom and shares with him the way that he allowed her to see future possibilities with a partner (her introduction as a child of divorce sets up this sympathetic possibility in which her rebuffs are at least partly a product of a damaged childhood). Summer assures Tom that his vision and his eye for potential changed her, even as she admits that she was never felt sure about their relationship (a sense of assurance Tom helped Summer develop...with another man). Summer's admission that Tom helped her trust someone else releases him, and forces him to confront the grim fact that he is not, in fact, controlling his own destiny. She lets him in, but does not completely hand herself over to him. His vision of the perfect relationship is not unlike his vision of a perfectly-controlled landscape. The occasional parking lot, something necessary for the people that actually live in the buildings he fetishizes, are not really optional. Similarly, the wishes of the woman he is courting are a necessary, central part of what he should consider. Is isn't until Summer lets Tom know to his face that he was wrong about her, but not about life, that he finally understands that his journey isn't over, and that maybe he should listen a bit more openly to the wishes of the women he desires. This new and lighter touch generates the energy in the final scene, and shows that the 500 days were not a "500 error" where he could not find his desired destination. Instead, the 500 days were more like a long race, where the prize is not just won, but rather experienced as an endurance event shared with many, and closely with a select few.

Of course, the movie does a pretty good job of obscuring Summer's character, something that provides a good metonym for Hollywood's main flaw--ignoring story contours in order to fulfill what the industry sees as demands of the culture. As someone not privy to Hollywood's machinations, I can't pin blame on either studio executives, focus group testing, or the crafters of the movie (Robert Altman portrays this process of homogenization to great effect in "The Player"). Regardless of who is culpable, the flaw typically turns complicated and interesting stories into simple narratives that celebrate a white-male's triumph over an internal struggle (usually romantic). In short: "Man v. World" becomes "Nice Guy (TM) v Soul Crushing Woman." Yes, the protagonist's thwarted desires creates an achingly beautiful story (and one I can certainly relate to), but one that has been told countless times. The director and/or producers could have inflected away from his singular view with the footage they got (the split screens, handheld camera interviews, and fantasy sequences all lend themselves to questioning a singular narrative lens). Instead of including every scene that had a misogynistic epithet about women, foreground scenes that give Summer's details. Don't obscure the tender lines that Summer gives Tom with a deep-voiced narrator declaring that Summer's "walls are coming down." Why frame Summer's role as that of the dream crusher, with the narrator declaring that Tom no longer believes in fate (even though he clearly does)? I suspect it is the same kind of treatment that got focus grouped into "American Beauty." Cautious Hollywood executives may nervously believe that audiences want clear problems between Summer & Tom. Instead of two parallel characters, each with hopes and dreams for their work, love, and life, we end up with one character we root for and one caricature we sort of dislike. If they had pulled back the story frame just a bit and treated Summer with the light touch they brushed Tom with, it would have made the near-miss of these two ships all the more poignant. Connections are hard to make, even when there is chemistry and timing. Life is complicated. Hollywood should let these kinds of movies float out there with the beautiful ambiguity that emerges in the writing and the acting.

Go see this movie. It has a great soundtrack, some careful editing (despite the central flaw), solid acting, and some really fun scenes. If you have some grey in your outlook, this can also be a good date movie. Just don't expect to see this movie go as far as you hope. Like Tom, you won't really get to know Summer. You'll only see glimpses of her in-between the hamfisted pronouncements and the stylized and fun internal perceptions. Still, meeting Tom and Summer are worth it if you spend time to think about the small details.



Today, my partner and I ran a 12-mile trip around our campus (really, it is 4 laps around the 3-mile campus perimeter). While it was a refreshing run, I wondered about the significance of running on Sunday, one of two traditional Sabbath days in this culturally Judeo-Christian America (yes, I know, America is increasingly diverse--I am only talking broadly). While I generally avoid organized religion for reasons that I have written about earlier, I remain deeply influenced by my Catholic upbringing, and Evangelical Christian high school/college awakening. One of the things that I strive to maintain in my religious exile is a continuity and honoring of choices I made in my earlier life for what I still believe were correct reasons. This continuity is why I still recognize the usefulness of the Christian calendar (after all, it is a pretty rich layering of many, many indigenous traditions within a larger cultural narrative that ultimately helps us understand and align the seasons of the year with the seasons of our lives). I also think that sacrelizing passages in our life (marriage, birth, growing into adulthood) can be a very worthwhile thing. I like the way that religions help us mark the important steps in a journey as a community. I don't think religion has a lock on this, but I do think that over the last several thousand years, the religions that sprang out of nomadic Semitic traditions developed a pretty compelling framework for remembering. After all, who would better know how to carry important things for the journey than people constantly on the move?

Unlike some of these yearly and life-stage markers, I am less sure about how one might usefully apply the lessons of religious traditions to daily and weekly rituals. Things like keeping the daily offices, while beautiful in the abstract, can quickly become dogmatic and tedious in practice. Honoring the Sabbath presents me with a similarly-difficult conundrum. While I can deduce the cultural justifications for keeping one day of seven "fallow" (as well as the parallel injunctions to do this in larger increments of time), they don't really ring as true as, say, the injunction to mark a transition of beliefs with a physical immersion in water. Honoring the Sabbath can mean almost anything if one contemplates it too long. No matter how hard one tries, work will happen (if only because your heart will keep beating and lungs keep inflating and deflating). It seems sort of dogmatic to question, or even define what "keeping something holy" means, but the second you start clearing off space for something, the mind's eye immediately whispers "I'll keep an eye on THAT free time if I ever need it to finish something REALLY important." It just feels important to have a decent idea of what "keeping holy" means and why one might consider a particular course of action important enough to consider it holy.

During the long run--an activity that I think most would not consider an avoidance of work--I wrestled with the horns of whether or not a run could count as both "holy" and "rest." After all, running is one of the most tiring things I do. On the other hand, it is also one of the most self-abnegating habits I keep. It is closer to fasting than anything else I do. To get at this a little more deeply, I considered the possible function of the step back from day-to-day work and accumulation of goals and accomplishments. It seems that the highest function that a day-long meditative pause could take is not to push one more bead to the right on the "I'm holy" abacus; rather, the pause might be an acknowledgement that one does not possess the whole answer to what makes one whole. The run around campus gave me a chance to see the grass greening and daffodils growing (which feels a bit early this year). I got to see a Peregrine falcon alight on a tree with a mouse it had just captured. The run afforded me a sight of the traveling hydraulic dinosaur stadium show setting up for a final performance at the Fargodome. I felt the pain in my knees, smelled the cattle who had recently been sent out of their barns, and heard the geese who are returning in greater numbers. In short, I got to pause from the things that normally occupy my time and connect with the larger reality that is happening right around me. If only for a brief time, my step back allowed me to contemplate my place in my journey not as a "to do" list, but as place where the animals, plants, sights, smells, metaphors, and yes, spirit sustains me.


Living in Your Metaphors

Metaphors are powerful things. Even though I don't fully believe that metaphors create a seamless universe entirely out of contiguity and related qualities (or at least a universe devoid of reference to an outside, and somewhat solid reality), I do believe in the power of metaphors.

For me, metaphors gain their greatest power when they provide me with frameworks for evaluating my life in ways that allow me to step outside of my snap judgments or leanings. While some people call these metaphoric frameworks "conceits," I would differentiate these framework metaphors from the more arresting literary devices employed by Shakespeare, Pope, Donne, Joyce, etc. For one thing, these framework metaphors tend to happen by happenstance. I discover these metaphors in unexpected places.

One of my favorite framework metaphors, running, comes from an activity that I detested as a child. Running was something one tolerated to do something one loved. I ran to get in line for the basketball or Lite Brite at CCD every Wednesday. I ran to catch the football that was miraculously thrown in my direction. I ran at the "Indian Day" race to show my classmates that I wasn't quite the outcast they sometimes intimated I was. Even when I was older, I learned to tolerate running to make the college tennis team and to win respect while playing pickup basketball against high school, semipro and even professional basketball players on Phoenix, Arizona basketball courts.

It wasn't until I met my partner in graduate school that I discovered running was something I could love. I resumed my running career as a way of trying to impress her. She loved running, and I hoped that she would find me intriguing enough if I managed to at least give it another try on a date. As you may suspect, I soon fell in love both with her and with running. Everything I detested about running--the discomfort, the drudgery, the seeming pointlessness of it--became something that helped me locate deeper meaning. Pain? It became something for me to notice and then shelve. On long runs, I would call the process of cooly monitoring these pains "sitting on the Barcalounger." It became a wonderful way for me to think about the adult ritual of subjugating certain comfortable parts of your life in service to other, less concrete goals. Grading papers, writing scholarship, attending to family obligations no longer seemed something unrelated to the fabric of who I was--something to be tolerated without much thought. Instead, I would see these difficulties as part of sitting in the Barcalounger--a place where one could take pleasure in the possibility of abstract and long-term success despite short term pain. I don't think that I would have seen this relationship if I had not discovered running serendipitously. This metaphor came along for the ride.

Another quality of these framework metaphors is that they seem to expand and even shape the experiences that give rise to them. My experience of running has deepened since I have started to accumulate the injuries and aches that come with striving past one's prime. I have run a few marathons, half-marathons, and 10k races. In each, I have been neither first nor last. Instead, I tend to start at the back of the pack, get passed by a few runners, and manage to pass a few myself. While this was mostly annoying to me as a young runner, I have begun to enjoy the feeling of being in the middle of all of that connected humanity. The point isn't winning. Even if I could, I don't like the idea of only sharing an experience deeply with only a tiny subset of such a motivated and enthusiastic crowd. I also don't like the idea of luxury boxes at sporting events or concerts for this very reason. Instead, I like the idea that we are jumbled in the crowds, slower than most, faster than some, but sharing the pain and love of the race with all. The chance to get past our pettiness and pain-avoidance and just run is only heightened when we are aware that we are falling well short of our delusional desire to fly without disappointment. That chute of fans who clap for some and cheer for all heightens the in-between experience that spans starting gun to finish line BECAUSE you know that you aren't going to get definitive, metaphysical answer. We don't run because we're the fastest. We don't run because it doesn't hurt. We run because we can and because others can when it hurts and when we aren't the fastest.


The words of a doctor

Written by Dr. Manoj Jain, a Memphis, Tennessee-based infectious disease physician, adjunct assistant professor at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and medical director at Tennessee's Quality Improvement Organizations:

Last week, I saw a 55-year-old truck driver who pleaded with me to discharge him from the hospital even though his face and scalp still bore clear signs of an active staph infection. For a decade he has had recurrent staph infections exacerbated by diabetes -- yet could not afford insulin or a doctor because he lacked medical insurance. Now he begs me to let him leave, so that he will not go bankrupt from his medical bills.
I turn to his wife who says, "I am lucky. I have metastatic breast cancer, and I am covered by Medicare."
One of every 10 patients I see do not have health insurance.
I see the uninsured patients, but then make up for my losses by increasing my charges to all my patients. The cycle continues: Insurers increase premiums, choking small businesses that then drop health coverage for their employees, leading more uninsured to come to my practice.
Not providing insurance is not free; the annual health care expenditure for an uninsured adult is $1,800, according to a Kaiser Foundation study in 2004.
And there is a downside to having nearly 50 million uninsured people in America. I look them in the eye, and I know this for a fact. They will die sooner. In my opinion, lack of health insurance is a chronic illness.
The burden of this disease is most apparent among people between the ages of 54 to 65. A 2004 Health Affairs study found that lack of insurance accounts for 13,000 lives lost per year, making lack of insurance the third leading cause of death for this group, after heart disease and cancer. If we do nothing to address this problem, by 2015 lack of insurance will account for 30,000 deaths annually in just this age group.
In all fairness the present health system provides some care for the uninsured. President Bush was technically accurate when he said in July 2007, "People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."
But the distinction between an acute illness -- the kind that sends you to the emergency room -- and chronic disease is artificial. For example, each year, diabetes, a chronic disease, causes 20,000 Americans to go blind, 45,000 Americans to have kidney failure and 45,000 Americans to lose a limb. Lack of health insurance is the same -- a chronic illness causing recurrent acute illnesses.
I want to lean over and shake my uninsured patients and scream, "Be a Rosa Parks. Demand health care as a right -- just as others before you have marched for civil rights and human rights."
The uninsured have become second-class citizens. Nearly 30 million of them, who are the working poor, are unable to afford health insurance, and there is no one to unite them and voice their concerns.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was not silent about people's right to health care. "Of all the forms of inequality," he said, "injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." He was speaking, I believe, of both acute care and chronic care.


To live and work so hard

To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God’s love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow

-from “The Blessing of the Old Woman, The Tulip, and The Dog” by Alicia Suskin Ostriker