This year, for Halloween, I am going to go as a superhero. With a little luck, I will keep it up all year.
Lightheaded and staggering, I mutter to myself.
“You’d think I was drunk. Drunk, I say. Drunk! And I haven’t touched alcohol in days.”
I bounce off the wall.
To a casual observer (or even a formal one), I appear deep in my cups, but neither rotgut, toddies nor booze have loosened my limbs. I have worked a 10-hour day, volunteered another three and walked a half dozen miles with too little food, and that combination makes stumble, stagger, and bounce off walls.
I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and MS has a tendency (among other things) to react to stress. The pressure can lead to an exacerbation, a flare, a temporary worsening of symptoms like numbness, pain, dizziness, and imbalance. Confusion. Slurring and stuttering. If I am not careful, if the symptoms last more than 24 hours, I may relapse, requiring medical attention, and if it keeps going, my white blood cells might just eat a hole in my brain’s lining.
But wait, there’s more!
Not only does stress make me feel bad; it makes me look bad. On the outside, I seem drunk. I stumble. I slur. People make assumptions, and they are not particularly nice to those they assume drunk.
In the interest of maintaining my liver, I don’t actually drink these days. The organ takes enough of a hit with my medication, but that doesn’t change what people think when they see me walk. Fortunately, I am less concerned with that than the fact that my body is showing me in sloppy ways that it is not happy with my current schedule and/or state of mind.
Tomorrow morning, I have a charity walk for ALS. On Sunday, I am either hiking with one friend or training with another. In between, someone has asked me to help chaperone a Halloween party for 40-some tweens and at some point, I plan to meet my friends’ new baby and to catch up with someone visiting from Chicago.
In three weeks, I will walk 60 miles in the fight against breast cancer. Somehow, between now and then, I need to raise $900 and I have the feeling I will pay it myself to get to the minimum $2,300 required to walk. I just don’t have it in me to figure out how to raise more money.
Last night, I woke in a state of fog and took my morning meds. Then, I realized it wasn’t morning at all. I took a stimulant close to midnight. I couldn’t fall back to sleep.
While I am not worried, per se, about any of the things on my plate. I need to cut back. Refocus. Focus on me. My food tracker keeps giving warnings in big red letters: You are not eating enough. My workdays need to be shorter. Volunteering should be something extra. I need to learn how to say no.
Today, I am wearing a t-shirt with a cape while working from home. Later, I am going to finish my laundry and make mixed bean soup. Somewhere in between, I might take a nap. Today, I am going to be my own superhero. Tomorrow, I will start figuring out the rest.
"Are you going to wear that down the street?"
"What?" I looked down. "I don't know. Maybe?"
"Don't accept any offers!"
I considered the tutu jutting out from my middle.
"Maybe I will take it off."
I imagined the looks I might get from people passed on the street - on the way to the Metro, other train riders and people in my own neighborhood. I shrugged. It didn't matter; I had seen them before. The people who didn't notice might be more interesting.
With Halloween just a few days away, someone at DC Books to Prisons suggested costumes and a potluck to celebrate our pack night, and I tried to think of something that wouldn't require too much effort given the workday before it.
In the depths of my costume box, the Daphne costume seemed a bit of a stretch without the rest of the Scooby gang and the dirndl had raised a few brows in its day. The chef's hat and jacket would have to wait until I had time to bake. Last year, I wore the cape as Red Riding Hood. I decided on a tutu over a brightly print dress with a bright, somewhat matching, somewhat clashing scarf and combat boots. I marketed myself as a fashion disaster.
The tutu was easy; I already had one. It had made its way down the street, many streets, as I walked the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. In a couple of weeks, I would wear it in San Diego for yet another trek, but it looked slightly less strange in a sea of walkers in pink than DC on a random Wednesday night.
In the room where we all volunteered, only a few of us wore costumes. A woman in business attire labeled herself as an "Ebola lawsuit." A few years ago, she was a carbon footprint. Someone else came as a lifeguard, with shirt, hat and whistle. (She wore trousers, too, but they didn't really add to the costume.) Another just wore a pink feathered boa. The rest of the group just came as themselves and one asked me if there was an occasion for the tutu.
"We're celebrating Halloween!" I said. "Have a treat."
The food was set up in the corner. The rest of the night progressed as usual with letters and books, packing materials and stamps. Maybe next year, I will dress as a superhero or at least wear the shirt with a cape as I consider saving the world.
A failed rocket launch (and explosion) rocked a bit of my Tuesday night.
On Monday, I had gone to my roof to try to catch sight of a planned rocked launch and the almost-simultaneous passing of the International Space Station. While I caught the latter (making me far giddier than one might expect from a few minutes of light tracking across the night sky), I didn’t see anything that resembled a launch.
As it turned out, a sailboat scrubbed the first attempt by entering the hazard zone early in the launch count. Radar aircraft tried to contact the boat, to no avail, and the launch was called off. It was rescheduled for Tuesday.
So, I set an alarm. When it went off, I grabbed my camera and went to the roof on an unseasonably warm autumn night to wait with the sun setting behind me. I still didn’t really know where to look, but I focused southeast, watched the horizon and waited.
From a nearby school, I heard young voices shouting.
“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one! Liftoff!”
My heart leapt in anticipation. I grinned. I watched and waited and waited some more.
Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Slightly confused, I thought maybe I had just missed the thing. I checked NASA’s Twitter feed but it was slow loading, at best, and seemed to be stuck at T-minus two minutes several minutes ago. I shrugged and went back downstairs.
“Nothing,” I told my brother.
“It blew up,” he replied.
“It exploded. It’s on the news now.”
Confused, I walked into the living room to see fiery images filling the screen.
I thought of the kids at the school watching the liftoff. I remembered crowding around a TV a lifetime ago. Miss Andrews room? Lunchtime. It seemed the whole school watched. The whole world watched as the Challenger lifted off and broke apart. Christa McAuliffe would have been the first teacher in space. The launch was broadcast live.
“It was unmanned,” my brother told me and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The thing about life… One of the things about life is that it is not the big things that make it worth living: Relationships, babies, the perfect job/house/car. Big, beautiful and strangely stressful, the thrill can pass in flash as months of planning culminate in special, spectacular day, which is still just one day. 24 hours.
Things go wrong. Things go right. Stressed, unhappy brides. Happy brides, unhappy wives. Sleep-deprived parents of babies. Worried parents of teens. Ungrounded parents of college students. Work is still work. Home is just a place to live, filled with the things that you bring and the life that you make. There will always be another newer car. Bigger, brighter, faster. Better.
As my niece and I talked over the weekend, we touched on the idea of running away. A friend of a friend had tried to convince her to go, but she knew it wouldn’t last long, not with the $2,000 he’d saved, not without an education and plan for the future. We had each considered it, though, briefly, as did my mom and my sister, but even with my (fairly regular) forays to other places and cultures, we all came back.
“I realized a long time ago,” I told my niece, “that wherever I went, there I was. I might as well figure out how to deal with my problems because I would be taking them with me.”
I had flown to Minnesota to spend some time with the girl and her sister, with my sister (their mom) and my own mom as well as her husband and friends. More than the flight and traveling across several states to be in the same place for a little while, it was the small things that made the trip so very special.
On Saturday night, with white chocolate on our faces and in our hair (my fault; I started it), my niece made me laugh so hard that I almost peed my pants. My mom shook her head, sighing, “Girls…”
“Just wanna have fun,” her granddaughter sang and I joined in at the chorus. “That’s all they really want! When the workin' day is done, oh girls they wanna have fun. Oh girls just wanna have fun!”
And we did. We made soup and treats. Ate dinner. Watched a movie. And in the morning, my niece sleepily mumbled at me as I prepared to head back to the airport.
Sunrise and sunset. Trees shedding leaves in shades of red, orange, and gold. Playing catch with a 5-year-old who announced to the world that I was his new friend and remembered (and repeated) the statement the next morning. Talking about toys with my mom. Talking about books and Broadway with my stepdad. Packing for camp with my other niece.
“Appropriate undergarments?” I read from her pack list.
“I think they mean t-shirts and socks and stuff.”
“They list those separately. I think they mean ‘underwear’ and were too embarrassed to type out ‘underwear.’ Don’t get me started on the ‘personal hygiene items.’”
I sat on the floor and tried to stuff her new sleeping bag, rolled, back into its bag, but it would not go. After a half hour, I gave up and showed her how to use it as a stuff sack.
“That’ll work, right?”
Later that night, my mom put my friend to work, the one who’d just driven several hours to see me, while my niece and I accidentally ripped the side when we dug a hole (as requested) into a loaf of bread. We turned the loaf over and over and over again so Mom wouldn’t see it.
The weekend was made up of things like going outside to not see the solar eclipse and staying inside to watch American Horror Story, singing Yankee Doodle Dandy with my mom when we drove past a sign for “Yankee Doodle Road” in Saint Paul and walking one of my sister’s favorite trails at the Nature Center. It wasn’t anything. It was everything.
Walking to work this morning, tired from too many late nights made even later by an hour time difference and encouragement to “sleep in,” the scaffold-shrouded Capitol made me happy as did our growing 6 a.m. breakfast club in the office. Last night, I enjoyed last week’s Jeopardy with my brother. Yesterday, I enjoyed a conversation with my seat mate on the plane.
Life isn’t any more (or any less) than these.
I didn't know where to look.
"Somewhere over there-ish," I thought as I stood on the roof and watched the night sky. "I should have brought my phone or my iPod or some other time-telling device."
Instead, I snapped random pictures and checked the time in the corner of my camera screen. It seemed to be set for the right timezone, which wasn't a given but it was a start. I didn't know how I would know if or when the rocket would launch. I didn't even know where I should watch.
According to the Washington Post, "the rocket will become visible in the southeast sky about 10 degrees above the horizon one to two minutes after launch. Look for a glowing trail of light that makes an arc in the sky."
I thought I saw something fairly unspectacular, and then it was gone.
The rocket was set to launch at 6:45 pm from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia in a mission to meet up with the International Space Station (ISS) and resupply cargo on November 2. Coincidentally, a few minutes later, the ISS itself was slated to pass over DC.
Head back, camera out, not catching a thing, I made myself dizzy watching it pass, and I made myself giddy with the thrill of it all.
Granted, I did not see anything inherently exciting. A bright light in the darkening sky held a steady course heading southeast, and then, it was gone. If I hadn't known either was happening, I might not have left the house at all. If I had left the house, I probably would not have though to look up, to wait and watch, but I did know. I pulled on a coat. I pulled out my camera, and I went to the roof to see something rare.
As it turns out, the launch was rescheduled for 6:22 Tuesday night (due to a boat in the vicinity of the launch site). I still don't know quite where to look, but I will be somewhere outside, camera in hand, watching the night sky. This time, I might even take my phone, my iPod, or some other time telling device. But that doesn't matter. Maybe it'll be great. Maybe it'll be singularly unspectacular. Maybe it will be postponed again and I will forget. For now, it is enough to try.
Korean photographer Seung-Hwan Oh began experimenting with mold and film after reading a BBC article about it. He takes photos and stores the film in a warm and wet environment to encourage fungi to grow. Apparently only one out of ever 500 frames of medium format color reversal film turns out properly so it’s a rather expensive creative process. Take a look at more images from his series “Impermanence” below.
View the whole post: Photographer Creates Fungus and Destroys Photos with Beautiful Results over on BOOOOOOOM!.
Apparently, the trees in Minnesota have turned. Their colors have peaked and the things that I see are just a pale remnant of the things they have been. If only I had been here a week ago!
Of course, I wasn’t. I was at home, in Washington DC, which is still strangely verdant with a splash of jewel tone here and there and a few odd trees with no leaves all. There are enough on the ground to slightly crunch as I walk, but crossing the Potomac last weekend, the Virginia side of the Memorial Bridge offered a view of green, green, brilliant red, green, green, green, green, green, green.
Today I woke in Minnesota, plunged into perfectly pleasant weather, and surrounded by trees that are slightly past peak, and I don’t see the fading, the turning, the passing of peak. I see gorgeous shades of red, yellow and orange. Streets are lightly blanketed. Yards are filled as people fight a futile battle with rakes.
I remember my own childhood and our very large yard. Did we really rake all that for a quarter a bag? Did we really make whole dollars (and several) working at that rate? I remember blisters, large piles of bags and losing an amethyst ring somewhere in the midst of it. We probably should have had some way to compost, but that really wasn’t the thing then. I have mental images of enormous, looming piles of straining black plastic.
Twenty… 30 years later, the sight doesn’t mean plastic, blisters or rakes. On the way home from a store, a line of shrubs in varying shades of red, yellow and green looked almost as if it had been placed there by some artist’s brush, but no man would ever think of such a thing. It was almost too perfect, too even to believe in a painting and almost beautiful beyond belief, as presented by nature.
The colors make me want to carry a camera (or four) and wander the streets, snapping pictures every few steps, and yesterday, I stood outside my mom’s car, at the end of the driveway, doing just that. Later, I dragged one of my (gorgeous) nieces outside to snap a few pictures of her with trees in the background because the colors were stunning (much like my niece), and she was leaving for camp. Everything felt so very fleeting. Exquisite. Rare.
Maybe the trees aren’t quite as beautiful as they once were but that doesn’t matter. I cannot see something I don’t really know. I am not comparing them to anything (not even DC, not really) because I am here now, in this place, in this moment, and seeing the trees as they are: Magnificent.
"Are going to have family jammie time?" I ask, singing a little. "Family jammie time; family jammie time!"
"Sure," the teen says, shaking her head. "I have to do my homework."
I do not actually have pajamas. They have failed to make my small bag, but I borrow a sleep shirt from Mom. The girl comes back in sweats and a t-shirt with her hair wrapped in a towel, and my niece, her mother and I curl up to talk over reality television and homework as we end a very long day.
I worked all day. I worked more than all day, starting in the wee dark hours and still going at five. Then, I hung out with the kids from my sister's preschool, read a few picture books, and played ball with the ones who remained.
"You're my new friend," a 5-year-old announced. "Are you going to be here again?"
"I will be here tomorrow."
"And after that?"
"Well, I have to go home again after this weekend."
"I will be at home again on Tuesday, and I live really far away."
"And after that? Friday? Will you be here on Friday?"
"I will be here tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday."
He looked worried.
His younger brother toddled over to the chair where I sat, wrapped two of my fingers in his tiny hand, and tugged. My sister laughed. The 5-year-old introduced me to his father.
"This is my friend."
They disappeared into the waning daylight and we remembered the solar eclipse. We couldn't see it (without the protective eye wear), but we ran toward the front yard and glanced that way, anyway, talking, laughing and taking pictures of each other, trees and leaves and the light. Dinner. TV. Homework.
Over the past 25 years, coefficients and variables drifted into dusty parts of my mind, but after my sister goes to bed, my niece and I sit on on the couch reviewing X and Y squared, As, Bs, plus and minus.
"I used to tutor this," I remember with a start. "In high school? As a freshman, I tutored some of the senior ballers in algebra and geometry."
Scared of my own shadow, quiet, and poorly dressed, not necessarily unpopular so much as invisible, I sat in the hall outside of Pedretti's classroom and figured out how to help the most popular boys pass their classes by making sense of the unknown. Somewhere in there, I might have figured it out for myself. Maybe. Just a little. I fell in love with numbers. Then, I went to college and majored in journalism. I didn't know that I could find a career in math other than teaching, which I could not imagine. Writing was harder, so I studied that.
These days, I write for myself and make a living in math. I find curling up on the couch (and helping my niece figure out algebra) among my favorite things about a day filled with work, new friends and sunshine.
When you're strapped for time, getting your sweat on is sometimes a luxury that goes by the wayside. That's where the Scientific 7-Minute Workout comes in . This newly launched web app can easily guide you through the research-based workout via a browser web app on PC, smartphone, or tablet.
Ketamine, a tranquilizer/anesthetic and recreational drug, can relieve symptoms of depression for up to a couple of weeks, writes psychiatrist Emily Deans.Read the rest
So, the sun rose today... It was a little cloudy, a little windy, and awfully cold. There wasn't much to see at all and then, a flock of birds flew past as I snapped a picture. It wasn't a great shot, but it was mine. That moment with the sun and the birds and the wind. My memory. Part of my life.
Every day, I write a story, an essay, a reflection on something happening in my own life, and every day, I struggle to find something to say. As my mother recently noted, I have covered a lot of topics, and in 9+ years of mostly daily writing, one is bound to do so. Something like 3,338 published posts (outside of this one) live on this site.
When I started 9+ years ago, I did not set out to write 3,338 posts. At that point, I grappled with the idea of writing just one. And then another. And then another. Three thousand three hundred and forty eight days later, I am still wrestling with the idea.
Part of the problem, as I have written before, is that there are things in my life that I just don’t want to share. Some things, I just want to keep to myself. Relationships. Family. Things that involve other people because their stories are not really mine to share. Likewise, I am not comfortable writing about work. This is not the appropriate forum for airing my professional life; though, I can say that I do love my job. I feel very fortunate to have found it… Have I ever told that story?
Almost 13 years ago, my roommate at the time (who was dangerously close to becoming my common-law wife because we spent so many years living together and whom I haven’t seen in more than a decade) decided to celebrate her 30th birthday in her favorite place: The Bahamas. She and friend were seated together toward the back of the plane, and I was on my own near the front and seated beside a woman who looked decidedly nervous.
Determined to distract her from whatever made her clutch the armrest so tightly, I started talking to the woman, the stranger. As it turned out, her discomfort was warranted a million times over; she and her husband were headed to his son’s funeral. No parent should ever have to bury a child.
We talked for a while in the short space between National and Charlotte where we both changed planes, and I think that maybe I made her laugh just a bit. (Despite the heavy topics I frequently cover, I am really quite funny.) She smiled, at least, and as we disembarked, she turned to hand me a business card.
“I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know if you’re happy with your job, but I think you’d be a great fit for our company.”
She was right. About a month ago, I left that company (the one my seatmate suggested) to take a job with my client, doing the same work as a direct employee. I had been there for more than 12 and a half years. I still love the work.
Maybe I have written that story before. Almost everyone who knows me has heard it once or twice or so it feels – familiar, worn, like a favorite pair of jeans. I try not to tell it that often, though. I don’t want to wear a hole in the memory and again, I like to keep some things to myself.
In the past 9+ years of writing, I have found myself talking less, telling fewer stories, and listening more, which is funny. I almost always have thoughts on a subject. There are always things I want to say. Granted, I have started to slur and stutter, which is incredibly frustrating when trying to speak, but more than that, I figure I ought to get over myself and let someone else talk. I can write my stories later.
Then, I sit at a computer and wonder what in the world I can say. How can I be interesting? What would I want to say that anyone else might want to hear? Read? Consider for the amount of time it takes to get from Once Upon a Time to The End?
I start typing.
Somehow, as I write, stories form. Lately, it seems that all I write deals with big heavy topics like health, money and an uncertain future, but when I look at the screen, I really just want to write light, happy things. I smile a lot. I think the world is truly a beautiful place, even with illness, with war, with helium and clown shortages.
Lately, I have considered how much my life has changed in the past few months (with 100 happy days) and the past year and a half (with my diagnosis), but I don’t know that I have ever really written about the past 9+ years or how the writing itself has shaped my life.
Writing is considered a healthy habit. It helps people express their emotions and think through situations and experiences. Studies have show that people who write sleep better and it’s possible that they heal faster, too. Physically. Outside of the health aspects, though, telling stories every day has meant that I have needed live a life worth telling. I have done more, seen more, lived more than I ever imagined. I have written from all seven continents including the use of a fairly expensive satellite phone from Antarctica. I have grown up a lot.
A million stories live inside my mind. Some are n0t really worth a post of their own. The smell of caramelizing onions, cornbread, roasted squash with sage and thyme that I bought in Uruguay fill my house, head and memory, but I don’t know how to weave them together in a tale. Not yet. I can only write about answering letters from prisoners so many times before I start to sound like a broken record, even to me, and regular long walks and long talks on gorgeous autumn days don’t necessarily warrant mention at all. They just make life better.
Life is not all sunshine and sausages, but I am up before sunrise every day now and it still seems a marvel. Every single day. I don’t think I can write stories about it for the next 3,348 days, but I imagine I am going to sit behind a computer and try awfully hard.
Walking past a metro stop on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I considered what would happen if I were to vomit in the trash bin near the top of the escalator.
“Ebola,” I decided. “People would think I had Ebola.”
Of course, they would be wrong. There was absolutely no way I could have contracted the disease, but the current media frenzy had people thinking, wondering and worrying. (A friend recently canceled a family trip to Florida because she didn’t want to be locked in a germ-filled plane.) Public vomiting could definitely give rise to panic so I concentrated very hard on not tossing my cookies. I kept walking.
It was not an idle concern. I worried that I might not be able to make it home without getting sick. I had eaten too much, taken a bus, and lived in a nearly perpetual state of nausea. Really, it was more the last one than anything else.
Three quarters of the things that I take to stay healthy - both of my medicines and one of two vitamin supplements - cause nausea. I had only just started eating again when I started the second medication, which not only nauseates me but also suppresses my appetite and I lost the few pounds I had regained.
Nobody would look at me and think “Hey, that girl is totally wasting away. She should eat a sandwich.”
Of course, that is a horribly judgmental and shaming sort of remark. Nobody should ever think something like that, but I am not wasting away. Honestly, I could lose five or 10 pounds and still maintain a healthy weight. This is just not the way to do it. In fact, I have stopped losing weight altogether, which is somewhat frightening.
I work long hours, volunteer frequently and walk something between five and 10 miles a day, recently more as I train for a 3-day walk against breast cancer. I need more than a couple of pieces of fruit to sustain me, but I cannot stomach the idea. My body may be slipping into something called “starvation mode,” a state in which a body gets superefficient at making the most of the calories it does get from food and drink and starts eating into lean tissue or muscle to provide some of the calories it needs to function, resulting in muscle loss.
I continue to pack my regular breakfast and lunch, but it takes me a couple of days to eat them. My coworkers and friends have taken to telling me to eat. Regularly. And chastising me when I don’t. I, in turn, drink ever more ginger tea to settle my stomach and have adopted a strange obsession with the food, shopping at the grocery store on an almost daily basis, picking up high-calorie comfort foods along with the ingredients for ever-more-elaborate dishes, praying for the right combination, hoping something will stick.
Oatmeal cream pies! Candy corn! Rotini with roasted butternut squash and goat cheese topped with caramelized onions, apples and lightly salted, roasted squash seeds!
Yesterday, I accepted invitations to three separate brunches, and I went to all three. I even ate at two of them (with several hours and several miles of walking in between) with a little granola and fruit here, potato pancakes there and great conversation at all. Then, I went home and made dinner.
Yesterday, for the first time in more than a month, I ate three full (albeit small) meals, and I came dangerously close to tossing my cookies (granola and potato pancakes) in a public environment.
Some time soon, something will have to give. While I rather enjoy eating treats I have skipped for years, I might have to start carrying air sickness bags to avoid causing public panic.
I definitely do not have Ebola.
Leaving a theater on Monday night, I felt like I had it, whiplash, pain caused by an abnormal motion or force, usually caused by motion that pulls and strains because Whiplash (the movie) did exactly that. It pulled me in directions I seldom followed. It was a beautifully abnormal motion or force.
Critics have called it a jazz thriller, mesmerizing and seductive, uplifting, heartbreaking, electrifying and terrifying. I would not have credited it with universal appeal, but nearly all who have reviewed it have given high marks.
The film follows Andrew Neyman, “an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man's life. Andrew's passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity.”
Directed and written by Damien Chazelle with Miles Teller as Neyman and J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, Whiplash is intense and thought provoking with a truly spectacular finish, one that pulled me to the edge of my seat and set my heart racing.
As I walked out, enervated but exhilarated, my mind spun from the scenes I had just seen through memories, hopes and fears. The characters were enigmatic - passions burned bright, their motives unclear.
The film left me wondering about my own passion and drive, whether I had settled in life, and what it would be like to want and do more. It left me questioning myself and whether I had sold out my dreams.
Of course, I don’t want to be a jazz musician; playing an instrument on stage dovetails nicely with my own private version of hell. Some of the drumming reminded me of high school band, inspiring a shudder or eight.
I don’t want to make movies or star in them. I am still figuring out who it is that I want to be, and after seeing Whiplash, after I recover a bit, I want to work even harder to get there because that's what good art - movies, music, direction and acting - can do. It makes me want to create. It makes me want to be better.
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job,’” Simmons said as Terence Fletcher.
Maybe he's right. I don't want to settle for good. Whiplash exceeded that with a driving force.
It all sounded much better five months ago. New routes from Dulles! A $30 promotional fare!
At three o’clock in the morning, my interest waned. At four o’clock in the morning, waiting 15 minutes in a dark, shared van for a pair of silly young women who failed to answer their phone before jerking across the city, making a few more stops and heading to the airport, my interest revolted.
At the gate, waiting for my (delayed) flight, I wondered if I should ask a flight attendant for an airsickness bag before taking my (middle) seat. I could no longer count on finding one in the seat pocket. Based on the restrictions placed on that $30 fare, I almost wondered if I’d even have a seat.
With its debut at Dulles and introducing new routes, Frontier airlines offered the public $30 flights (roundtrip) to a handful of destinations for a very limited time. One night in May, my Facebook filled with news of people looking for flights. Available dates were limited and hours even worse, but somehow, I found one. I managed to book a flight from Washington to Minneapolis late in October.
Of course, Minneapolis wasn’t exactly at the top of most people’s lists. I, however, had several great reasons for going – my mom, my sister, my nieces, aunt, uncle and cousin, friends, friends with a new baby. I would even manage to see my niece for a few minutes on the morning of her 13th birthday before heading back to the airport. Over the weekend, we could find her gift together because haven knows that I couldn’t bring a gift with me.
Everything required for four nights and five days needed to fit in a single small bag. Not a carry on. Not a checked bag. A “personal item.” A purse. A backpack. Something less than 18” by 14” by 8”. Laptop, charger and camera. Medicine. A toothbrush. Deodorant. Underwear. In the space that was left, I wedged something to wear, breathing thanks for the fact that my clothes are small and planning to beg, borrow or steal anything missing from my family. Mom even offered makeup and hair products, which I never use. We could play dress up all weekend!
My personal item, i.e. my whole world for the next few days, needed to fit under the seat in front of me. The middle seat in front of me. Where I would be eating my knees. Selecting a seat (like taking a carryon or checking a bag) would have added to the cost. I gave up the idea of something with leg room, something other than a middle seat, but at least it was a direct flight.
I didn't need a 30 dollar fare. I could afford to pay full price. Though, I really didn't have to pay anything at all with nearly half a million airline miles in the bank. The restrictions on the cheap flight almost made reconsider its "value" but on the other side, I would see family and friends. Temperatures would be unseasonably warm, and checking it out reminded me of other trips, places and stories.
In my weather app, the list of cities continued to grow. Washington. DC, of course, topped the list, along with Minneapolis, New York and San Diego. Next, though, Kathmandu brought a smile to my mouth. Melbourne. Bangkok.
A little bit of discomfort really didn't matter. I was lucky to have seen so much of the world and I have the chance to spend a long weekend with loved ones. Definitely a win, at any price.
On Wednesday, it rained. It rained a lot. The rain fell so hard that I could hear it from my desk three cubes from the window, and I can never hear the rain from my desk. I don't really see outside at all during the day. I know it exists, somewhere out there, but I can't tell if it is day or night, dark or bright. On Wednesday, though, I heard the rain.
Around me, people received tornado alerts on their cell phones. Some people congregated in the hall in the middle of the building, away from the windows. Some just kept working. I kept working, and the rain kept falling.
After work, I considered going home, even though it was Wednesday, even though I normally volunteered on Wednesdays, but I had a bag full of letters addressed just to me, words and thoughts of prisoners behind bars and I really just needed to respond.
I am a terrible pen pal. It is not a role I have sought, and I would never volunteer for such a thing. Not with prisoners. Not even with people I know and love. For a year, I served as a mentor to a student long distance, and I fear that I failed miserably. She never reached out to me, and after our initial interaction, I couldn't think of anything to say.
Despite the fact that I write every day and through it all, I struggle for words. I labor with ideas and finding a way to string a story together, to write something worth reading, to put out something worth remembering and representing me, even if nobody reads it or it's going to a man behind bars that I don't know and will never meet. I don't do things halfway. For some reason, more and more prisoners have started writing to me, and I feel pressure to respond.
While I was walking to the church that gives up space, the rain started pounding and I almost regretted leaving the shelter of metro. I could have stopped for a while and gotten a cup of coffee while I waited for the downpour to lighten, but I had my rain jacket and the umbrella that reminded me of another story, the Love Festival, and hiking in the Alps. Temperatures were still fairly warm and frankly, even if I got wet, I would get dry again. It was just water, a short walk, a short story and something to add to the letters.
"It's a cool, rainy night in DC - perfect for books and letters."
And it was.
Life has been somewhat exhausting lately. Not bad. Just a lot. Everything seems to take so much time, so much thought and so much work, and I am tired of thinking about it and about me. Thinking outside of myself let it all drift away.
I faced the rain, got a bit wet and volunteered a few hours with DC Books to Prisons. I answered most of those letters addressed to me, caught up with friends and fellow volunteers, and spent some time performing quality control on the packages pulled together by new volunteers. I didn't do much. I did not save the world, but I think that maybe I made a small difference. I made far more of a difference that I would have done if I had just gone home.
Yesterday, my heart nearly stopped. I went to my local pharmacy (for the fourth time in a week) to see if maybe the prior approval had come through on one of my prescriptions, and I found that it had. After insurance, I paid $230 for one month of one medication. Then, I went home and found that after insurance, on a monthly basis, I needed to pay almost $1,600 for my second prescription, the disease-modifying one, the one that I have to take twice a day for the rest of my life. That’s when my heart nearly stopped.
At a retail pharmacy, I would pay more than $19,000 for a single prescription on an annual basis. Granted, insurance would pay another $45,000 so I wouldn’t have to pay the full $64,000 on my own, but the numbers were staggering. There had to be a better way.
The Census Bureau reports the median household income at $53,046. Without insurance, my medicine – one of my medicines - would cost more than the average family brings home in a year. And I’m single. Using a more comparable metric from the Census Bureau means that my copayment with insurance for one year of one pill represents 68 percent of the per capita income.
Health care is the number one cause of bankruptcies in the United States. More than those from credit card debt and unpaid mortgages, bankruptcy from medical bills affected nearly 2 million people last year. Outside of bankruptcy, about 56 million adults – more than 20 percent of the population between the ages of 19 and 64 – struggled with health-care-related bills last year, according to NerdWallet Health as reported by CNBC, and having health insurance doesn’t save people from financial hardship.
My medicine isn’t supposed to fix anything. I have an incurable progressive and debilitating disorder. The capsule that I take is supposed to slow down the progression and disability. It won’t do anything to the damage I already have. It won’t make me better. The second pill that I take helps make me feel slightly better in light of that damage. (It calms my nerves to address pain and fatigue, and it keeps me awake in good ways.)
I did pick up the prescription that controlled some of my symptoms. I had only three pills left and hadn’t taken any for a couple of days, pacing myself, trying to make them last until the prior approval came through. When I realized the cost, though, I went home, sank into a chair and considered my options. I could use one of the online tools to find a pharmacy that offered the medicine for less. I could call my neurologist and ask for a cheaper alternative. I could just stop taking the medicine and give up feeling slightly better.
After a couple of hours of reading through paperwork, online with my insurance company and their pharmacy division, and a number of phone calls, I found a much more affordable option. I would still pay over $100 for the prescription that controlled my symptoms but the price of the disease-modifying one would drop from almost $1,600 a month to $35.
“Do people already know this?” I wondered. “How do people figure this out?”
It had taken weeks of coordination to get the prior approval (after months with my prior insurance) and hours of sorting through benefits and pharmacy information to find something I could afford.
Maybe people already know how this all works, but I want to share some of the information that I have learned about prescriptions.
Don’t accept the price that the pharmacy gives you as the final price you will pay.
* Compare prices between retail pharmacies. A number of online tools allow consumers to compare prices at local pharmacies. Some even offer coupons. A quick search resulted in GoodRx, Drug Price Search, PharmacyChecker.com. I don't know how they compare; I actually do this through my insurer’s website.
* Contact your doctor. Explain the situation and ask what your options might be. Are generics available? Is there another medicine in the same class that will work? When I traveled to Sri Lanka, I needed to take an antimalarial, but I didn’t need to take the one originally prescribed (at hundreds of dollars). I could take another for $7. They had slightly different side effects but those differences were negligible.
I am taking the $500/230/180/105/55 medicine because my old insurance denied the original prescription. They dictated trying this one first, and my doctor switched. However, my new insurance not only covers the original but also offers a generic for as low as $5 a month. This might be a possibility; I need to talk to my doctor. I hate to feel like I am bothering her, but I have realized that it’s not a "bother." She is in my life to help me stay healthy and finding the right medicine, one that works and one that I can afford, is part of that.
* Contact your insurance company. Look online or call customer service to ask about options for filling prescriptions. Retail pharmacies (the local drugstore or the counter in your grocery) might be great for emergency, “I need it right now” sorts of prescriptions but mail service often provides a cheaper option for medicine taken long term and regularly.
* Contact the pharmaceutical company. Look online or call the company’s customer service department to ask about help in copayment, especially for branded drugs. If generics are not available, they very well might have a program in place.
This by no means constitutes a complete list and really only addresses those who have insurance, and maybe I am preaching to the choir. Maybe this is common knowledge. It's all new (and overwhelming) to me, and I want to share things as I continue to learn. This is all so confusing and a lot of work. I don't know how anyone does this, but at least my heart is still beating for now.
dafuq?! where the fuck?
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We didn't expect it to be good, not in the "Academy Award winning, this is going to change the way we see the world" kind of way. We just wanted a decent scare on a rainy Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, outside of a few cheap thrills, Annabelle failed to deliver.
With a three-day weekend and gloomy weather, my nephew and I made plans to see Annabelle, the prequel to last year's horror hit The Conjuring. The boy and I had seen The Conjuring together, deconstructing it after the film and determining what we thought worked and what we considered poor execution. We talked it out. We decided we weren't all that scared. We liked it enough, though, to follow it up with Annabelle, the story of the evil doll shown at the start and end of it all.
In the new film, a dashing young doctor has found the perfect gift for his pregnant wife, a rare vintage doll in a white wedding dress to complement her collection. Unfortunately, the dolls draw the attention of a home invader, a member of a satanic cult intent on death and destruction. Gristly violence ensues with blood, shrieks and tears, and the invaders leave more than terror in their wake. They have conjured something purely evil, and all seem attached to that doll.
The movie borrows heavily from better horror films and depends on cheap jolts rather than building the story line, characters or plot. There were a few moments when we jumped in our seats (generally when someone was flying across a room) but the film soon passed from our minds. It didn't have staying power. We weren't really that scared.
Far more frightening were multiple signs saying that children under the age of 6 are not allowed into Rated R films. Frankly, I wondered whether I should be taking the 16-year-old and checked with his dad before we went. When he wanted to bring a friend, I asked if her parents were fine with it, too.
I could not imagine that any child aged six or younger could fully understand that the doll wasn't really the source of the terror. The doll was really only tangentially linked. Movies with things children associate with their own life - dolls, clowns, other children (like the little girls in The Shining) - could be particularly terrifying and hard to understand at such a young age. Nevertheless, there they were. In the seats down the row, a preschooler sat between a pair of adults. A few rows in front of us sat another.
While the movie itself didn't provide a proper fright, we still managed to find one in the theater.
Iran being 'two years away from having a nuclear weapon' - which they have been now since 1984.
- 1984: The first claim of an Iranian nuke in 'as little as two years' is in Janes Defence Weekly based on 'intelligence sources'.
- 1992: Binyamin Netanyahu claimed Iran was “3 to 5 years” from having a nuclear weapon.
- 1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres claimed the Iranians would have a nuclear warhead by 1999.
- 1995: US officials (and Binyamin Netanyahu again) claimed Iran would have a warhead by 2000.
- 1996: Ehud Barak told members of the UN Security Council that Iran would be able to produce nuclear weapons by 2004. Shimon Peres disagreed, he thought they would be ready in 2000.
- 1998: Donald Rumsfeld told Congress that Iran could have a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US by 2003.
- 1999: 'Israeli officials' claim Iran will have a bomb by 2004.
- 2001: Israeli Minister of Defence Binyamin Ben-Eliezer claims Iran will have a bomb by 2005.
- 2003: 'Israeli military sources' claim Iran wil have a bomb by 2005.
- 2009: Binyamin Netanyahu is back with a claim that an Iranian bomb is 'one to two years away'. Mossad chief Meir Dagan claims 2014 is the date. IDF General Baidatz goes against the grain by speculating it will take as long as three years.
- 2010: 'Israeli sources' claim 'Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability.'
- 2012: Binyamin Netanyahu claims Iran is six months from a bomb.
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Apparently, yesterday was the last of my happy days. In a flash, three months have passed. I have found and shared at least one happy thing for each of the last 100 days. I made it! I have not yet completely alienated family or friends with inane pictures plus a hashtag! Rather, a few people told me that my pictures made their own days brighter, and I want to keep posting, with or without a hashtag. I am not ready for my happy days to end.
If I had realized that yesterday marked the last of my hundred, I might have considered something with a little more flash. I might have found or tried to do something more than enjoy finding time to sort through laundry and my photographs, but perhaps the unknowing made it more real, more appropriate, more me. I really was happy with a little time for reflection and order on a cool rainy day. I don't have nearly enough of that.
I did not know I had reached my goal until I opened my calendar sometime late afternoon. As of today, I had a clear slate at six where once I had a reminder to post because 100 days ago I created an event just for me. #100happydays. For the past 99, my calendar sent me a daily reminder to find happiness.
Some days of the past 100, I struggled to find something to shoot and something to say. Some days, I couldn't think of a single happy thing and posted something small. The days weren't bad; they just were. Some days, I weighed all of the happiness around me and deliberated over which one to pick - just one! The project reminded me to be present and positive.
Posting a picture a day did not change my life. I cannot run faster or jump higher now. My head isn't fixed. I have not fallen in love or discovered the meaning of life (42), but maybe I have enjoyed and appreciated the world around me just a little bit more.
During the past 100 days, I have made my first foray into home ownership and moved from two bedrooms to one. It included the end of a relationship and the end of a job. I started a new one, a new job, at least, which was the old one with a new dynamic and employer, earlier hours and increased responsibility. I did not start another relationship. New medication yielded adverse side effects, and I fought headaches and nausea for 24 of the 100 days. Someone tried to steal my car. I traveled to Croatia. I turned a year older.
The past 100 days haven't exactly been easy. They have actually been downright hard. Maybe the project did change my life - I don't know where I would be if I hadn't focused on finding the good in life. (I imagine a big hot mess.)
The Meme of our Years.