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Archive for August, 2013

0105-4x5color.ai

(Courtesy of Hubblesite.org)

Our future is out there. Let’s get to it.

(c) 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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We humans have a tendency to create the very things we fear the most. What’s even sadder, it is our own efforts to avoid that thing which inevitably leads right to it. I’m talking psychology here, not actual concrete items. Things like the fear of being alone, or not wanting to deal with the emotional hurt of failing relationships, or being convinced everyone is a shit who’s out to get you. Your fears will eat you alive, causing behaviors that you think will protect you, like being standoffish or cynical or nonchalant or irreverent. But those behaviors will land you smack dab in the middle of that hell you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Most of us are our own worst enemies. Even the best and brightest among us have those moments when we’re standing in front of the mirror just before embarking on a golden opportunity, and hearing that voice inside our head screaming, “Fraud! Just what the hell were you thinking?”

We depressives have that on a constant loop. It’s 24/7/365 and it doesn’t matter if it’s an important career-making move, or the choice of breakfast cereal. The voice is always there, questioning, degrading, mocking. Nothing we do is ever good enough, and we deserve the shit we get because we’re not worth anything. That’s why it’s such a battle to do even the simplest of stuff. Ultimately, the voice says, it just doesn’t matter.

The medical community is slowly making some progress in tracking down exactly why people suffer from things like depression and schizophrenia. Something isn’t wired right somewhere in the brain, the right chemicals aren’t being produced in the right amount, but we’re still a long way away from true cures. Modern pharmaceuticals can give some relief in the symptoms, but the root of the problem is still there, still haunting us. There are always cycles, some good days, some bad days, and most days where we just don’t care.

The cynic in me has decided that the business side of the medical community doesn’t want anyone to be cured. Of anything. They want us to stay fat, depressed, diabetic, whatever. How else are they going to keep making their profits? If they actually CURED us, thus meaning we didn’t need their magic pills anymore, they would put themselves out of business. When everything is about the All Mighty Dollar these days, actually curing people is just crazy.

That’s why we have orphan diseases. Not enough people sick with whatever it is to warrant spending the money to help them, because the cost return on the investment is in the vastly negative. That’s why some companies have filed patents on actual human genes, so they could then rake in the dough on any studies, tests, etc., based on or using that gene. Thankfully, the Supreme Court recently called bullshit on that (“Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics“), but a lot of research has already been stymied, and it will take years – if not decades – to get to the results we should already have.

My personal thought is that medicine should not be a for-profit business. Sure, you should be able to recover your investment, but not at the expense of the humans attached to it. People have been screaming about death panels since the idea of the Affordable Care Act first cropped up, not bothering to notice that medical insurance companies have been doing essentially the same thing since the dawn of insurance companies. Their question has always been “Is it cost effective to keep this person alive?” I went to the funeral of a friend earlier this year because her insurance company had finally answered that in the negative. That’s not practicing medicine, that’s worshipping at the altar of the Golden Ox. The only people that should be making a decision about my health are my doctor and I. The person making the decision at the insurance company is not a physician; they’re an administrative stooge reading off a list of statistics from the actuaries. I’m just surprised no one has sued an insurance company for practicing medicine without a license.

The sad thing is, if those companies would just pay for what ever the doctor orders without argument, without needing all the codes and paperwork and actuaries and attorneys and accountants, they’d probably find themselves making even more money with a whole lot less stress attached to it. I know it would certainly make my life less stressful.

It would also be nice if mental health care – to include regular counseling and other therapies – were mandated to be part of general medical coverage. Thanks to my husband’s job, we have reasonable coverage for most things, but mental health isn’t one of them. I’ve always wondered why that has never been considered part of overall health. After all, if your brain ain’t working, neither is anything else. And studies are finding the brain can affect overall physical health in ways we never suspected.

For centuries mental health issues weren’t considered “real.” It’s all in your head, you know. The fact that there is no one thing that we can point at, no single virus/bacteria/(fill in quantifiable result here) we can look at, has plagued those of us who suffer through these issues. I still have people in my life who just don’t get why I can’t just shrug off the malaise and get on with things. Just smile and be happy, dammit – what’s so hard about that?

You have no idea how hard that is. I’d love to get up everyday and look forward to taking a walk, puttering around the house, playing with the animals, writing, stitching, weaving, whatever, but it simply doesn’t happen. Every day is a struggle just to get out of bed. Everyday is a fight to convince myself to get dressed, brush my teeth, shower. Everyday I look in the mirror and see an old, fat broad and I want to change that, but the voice is constantly in the back of my mind telling me it’s not worth the effort because I don’t matter. Everyday I worry that my husband will get tired of all my shit, despite him telling me daily he loves me and I’m beautiful, because that voice won’t let me believe him. Every second of every day, the battle is relentless. Everyday is exhausting.

I normally try to leave off with something upbeat or thought provoking, but tonight I just can’t. I’m tired and I need help and everybody is more concerned about how much money they can make on the deal than actually helping somebody. I hope I live to see the day when that kind of thinking is extinct.

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’m on a roll with my current novel, and don’t really want to take the time away to come up with an all new witty or intelligent or snarky rant for this week, so I’m recycling an old article from a few years ago. However, it is something I’ve been thinking about lately, as I miss my fountain pen and get irradiated by my computer, so I felt it was somewhat relevant for posting. Sorry for any disappointment, but it’s something writers do a lot. Besides, you’ll understand when the voices in your head won’t shut up.

It was originally titled “Handwriting and the death of independence” and was published on Examiner.com in August 2010. While the page I had there is still active, I no longer write for them, for reasons I won’t go into here. Hope you enjoy it.

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The world is filled with electronic gadgets.  They help us navigate through unfamiliar places, manage our calendars, and phone home.  Run by computer chips, they are just about everywhere, even in our toasters, and they are growing in capacity, speed and prevalence exponentially.  If we’re not careful, they will be our downfall.

My, what a pretty grim picture, you might by thinking, but let’s look at the issue without the light of supposed convenience upon it.  The more gadgets there are, the more they can do for us, and the less we do for ourselves.  You’re probably still not convinced that it’s such a bad thing, and that maybe someone has been reading too much Orwellian science fiction.  Point taken, but why don’t you go watch Wall-E again, and then come back and we’ll talk.

The death knell of the Middle Ages came when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450.  Consistently listed as one of the most significant inventions of man, the printing press allowed information to be widely disseminated, and caused a cultural reformation the likes of which we haven’t seen since.  Up to that point, only members of the autocratic rich and the Church were able to read and write, telling the masses whatever was convenient to keep them controlled.  Information was power, and as long as the public didn’t have ready access to that information, the power was in the hands of a small, elite, group.

Nowadays, we can’t fathom not being able to read and write as a matter of course.  We are appalled and dumbfounded by the likes of the Taliban, who not only make educating women a crime, but also actively punish those who try by throwing acid in the faces of the girls on their way to school, and assassinating the teachers who wait for them.  The root of control is keeping the masses ignorant.  We see examples of that all over the world on a daily basis.

So why is it that we are willingly allowing ourselves to return to ignorance?  Ah, still not following, are we?  When was the last time you wrote a letter to a friend or family member?  And we’re not talking a thumb-typed e-mail into your smart phone.  An actual sit-down-and-handwrite-on-paper letter.  In fact, when was the last time you picked up a writing utensil to use it for anything besides unjamming your stapler or chewing on it while reading CNN on your computer?

All those wonderful, convenient, smart, helpful gadgets are making us dumber.  According to a poll of 3,000 people neuroscientist Ian Robertson did several years ago (“Your Outboard Brain Knows All”), young people were less able than older ones to remember normal personal info.  87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite a relative’s birthday, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could. When asked their own phone number, one-third of the younger set had to pull out their handsets to look it up.

And there are articles galore touting the death of handwriting.  The New York Times heralded its coming demise as long ago as 2002 (“Handwriting: Is It on the Wall?”), and CBS News added their voice to the cry in 2003 (“Penmanship: A Dying Art?”).  Now, most articles out there seem to focus on cursive, something that some of you probably have never experienced, with fewer elementary schools actually teaching it these days.  But the argument can be made that handwriting in general is going the way of the dodo.

Katie Bartel of the Chilliwack Progress quotes Ashton Howley, professor of English literature and communications at the University of the Fraser Valley in her article “Handwriting, a dying art” [link no longer active, sadly – C].  Professor Howley states that the demise of handwriting should be cause for concern. “Writing encourages dialogue between the brain’s hemispheres. The subconscious eye is always monitoring one’s handwriting and tends to open up … making the writing much deeper, better, more revealing, more holistic in nature,” says Howley.  Writing affects the thinking process and communication in ways typing can’t.

For hundreds of years our literary achievements were created using pen and ink on paper, longhand:  Moby Dick, The Time Machine, and even the Harry Potter series, to name just a miniscule example.  They took time and effort, and have indelibly planted themselves in our culture for years to come.  Just because the computer allows us to do something faster, doesn’t mean it’s also better.

We have surrounded ourselves by false gods, dependent on these electronic creations to manage our lives, feed us our information, and lead us to the nearest Starbucks, and becoming totally helpless when they die, the power’s out, or we’re out of our service area.  And with more of our gadgets becoming voice interactive, able to make phone calls on verbal command or read us our e-mail while we kick back in our recliners, how soon will it be before reading joins the endangered list?

Hypocritical as it may be, given the medium in which you’re likely reading these words, cyberspace could very well be a convenience that dulls us all into oblivion, the proverbial frog slowly boiled to death.  Like all power tools, it should be used with a great deal of caution and cynicism, and should also have a manual back up, just in case.

Today’s atmosphere of instant-communications-bred artificial urgency does nothing for your soul.  Take the time to slow down and smell the ink; write a note to your Mom, pull out that dog-eared paperback saved from your childhood, and breathe.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

© 2013  Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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My husband and I are two very independent, solitary creatures. We don’t do the party thing, or just about any other kind of social thing, besides our activities in our historical group. And that has been extremely limited over the last couple years due to a soap-operatic variety of bullshit thrown at us by the numerous gods we somehow pissed off at some point. For the most part, we’re okay with just the two of us. But lately I’ve come to realize that if the zombie apocalypse happened on a weekend, we’d never know until my husband went back to work on Monday. And even then it might take awhile to notice, given some of the people he works with.

I had that thought as I was steaming about a nastygram we received from the city regarding our yard. It was the second time in as many months that our local bürgermeisters had slapped their mighty Yuppie-Nazi paws on us. The first time was for parking one of the vehicles on the front yard, or, in their language, an “unimproved surface.”

That happened while my husband was in the hospital. We had all three vehicles to get off the street due to the street sweeper. Since I wasn’t going to the hospital until the afternoon, I parked one of the cars on the front lawn. I came home late from visiting him, exhausted and stressed and worried, and didn’t think anything about leaving the car in the yard. I’d just move it the next day. Having spent a good chunk of my childhood in the mid-west, I thought that parking a car in the middle of your front yard when you were out of driveway space was no big deal. In fact, in some places, if there WASN’T a car parked on the lawn, it meant Bubba Jim Bob was off fishing or hunting somewhere and there would be good eats when he came back.

So when I came out the next day to head back to the hospital, and saw the ticket on the car, a few choice words came to mind. It’s MY yard, dammit! Who the hell am I hurting by parking there? We had been very careful to not buy a house under control of a Home Owners Association because we didn’t want to be nit-picked to death about how long our dog’s hair was, or what color our begonias were. But, more concerned about helping my husband recover than fighting city hall, I paid the ticket and made a mental note to not park there again.

And then they struck a second time. As part of our own personal sequestration plan, we decided to stop watering the lawn. Given that most of Southern California is technically a desert, the amount of money we were spending a month to keep the yard sort of green was just stupid. Enough to keep fuel in the truck for a week of commuting. We felt that getting the husband-unit back and forth to work was far more important than having a patch of putting green for the neighbor’s rat-on-a-string to shit on. Plus both the State and the County encourage water conservation efforts, so we had the additional feeling of pride for accomplishing our civic duty.

Apparently, the City did not agree. Now, admittedly, a few weeds had sprung up because of some recent (painfully brief) rains, and the PNO’d vehicles in the driveway were sporting some decent cobwebs. But, in looking around the neighborhood, we were hardly alone in our wanton disregard for picture post card perfectness. Again, I had a few choice words, which my husband embellished upon. You might have noticed that we don’t really cotton to the idea of being told what to do. Yes, he was a Marine and I grew up in the Air Force, so you’d think we’d be used to it. But we aren’t contracted to the city – the city is contracted to us. The term “public servant” comes to mind, so we have a hard time taking orders from people that should be taking orders from us.

But we finally calmed down and looked at what we could do. We whacked the weeds, trimmed the bushes, swept off the spider webs and cleaned up the edges. I even repotted a couple plants that desperately needed it. An exhaustive afternoon, which left us sunburnt and overheated, despite sunscreen, hats and plenty of water. During all that I was composing a response to the city. I had a hard time keeping the blatant snark out of it, but finally managed to come up with something that we both felt was administratively correct, with just a small, satisfying hint of “fuck you.”

One of their reasons for dinging us was because of their “concern for the health, safety and general welfare of residents.” That sentence in particular set me off, so, of course, I had to respond:

“…while you claim to be ‘concerned for the health, safety, and general welfare’ of the residents, we find it distressing that after eleven years of uneventful occupancy in our house, you chose to send us a nastygram about a change in our property instead of inquiring as to our well-being. If you had bothered to take a more compassionate approach, you would have found out [what a crappy couple of years we’ve had]…”

And that’s why I was thinking about a zombie apocalypse and us being, perhaps, a little too alone. We’re just this side of being that elderly couple that dies and nobody notices is missing until the weeds have grown higher than the house and the mail is stacked up in the street. It made me realize that we need to do more about building a stronger social network, maybe even do things *shudder* outside the SCA.

It also made me realize that maybe we ALL need to take a little more time and look outside of ourselves. We as a culture have become too consumed with me-me-me and buried ourselves in our electronic toys. We have forgotten that we exist in a co-dependent relationship with six billion others. Somewhere there is a balance between getting everyone to play nice together and allowing for individual freedoms. I don’t see where having a vegetable garden, a sculpture garden (both with friends that have also been cited for their yards), or a temporary vehicle garden causes anyone a problem. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid and start thinking for yourself. Let’s bring some reason and common-sense back to the world.

In the mean time, the flying monkeys and I will be sitting on the hood of the car parked on the front lawn waiting for Big Brother to strike again. Maybe I’ll even shake my cane at him.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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