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Archive for August, 2014

It’s Wednesday morning and I just realized I haven’t posted anything for this week. No, I don’t plan these blogs weeks in advance. I should, but that would make too much sense and take all the stress out of it. Goddess knows I can’t possibly be reasonable about these sorts of things…

My schedule has been fubarred lately because my internal clock is a complete mess. I had a three-day migraine a couple weeks ago, one of those annoying complicated ones that leaves me feeling weak on one side and the equivalent of hung-over for days afterwards. Thankfully I don’t get them very often anymore – it’s been over a year since the last one – but when they finally do show up, they certainly do make themselves noticed. This one was accompanied by all the usual fun: extreme light/sound/smell/taste sensitivity, too much sleep, nauseas, not enough sleep, incoordination, disrupted sleep, and, of course, the screaming-hot-vise-of-pokers-boring-into-my-brain headache. Even my hair hurt. And maybe I was just a little crabby, too. Maybe.

In the middle of that was the news of Robin Williams’ death, which only added to the just-fuck-it-I’m-staying-in-bed kind of day. I’m still dealing with that one. I grew up with him. I saw his first appearance on Happy Days and watched Mork & Mindy religiously. Anything he was in after that was automatically on the watch list. Some good, some bad, but always a welcome diversion simply because of Robin. I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally, but I know a number of people who did and the stories were all the same: he was a generous, kind man who just wanted to make people laugh.

As a fellow depressive, it’s really a jolt when someone who’s fought so hard for so long suddenly just decides they’re done. It makes me wonder about my own strength. If someone with his intelligence and resources and money can’t keep fighting, how am I supposed to? I guess the fact I’m scared of that possibility says something about where I am in my own battle.

It’s my anger that keeps me going. The appalling lack of comprehensive mental health care in a country as wealthy and medically advanced as the USA is a blight on us all. It fuels my desire to keep plugging along, to continue forcing a crusade for change. I’m presently covered by my husband’s medical insurance through his work, which does not cover anything for mental health. I just recently had to fight with the carrier because they denied payment for a standard doctor’s office visit, during which my doctor and I had done the annual prescription review. His coding included major depressive disorder as one – ONE – of the several things we discussed, and they bounced it. That’s a problem when I can’t even talk to my family doctor about what’s going on without fear of having the coverage refused. What happens if they decide not to cover my anti-depressants because that would fall under the heading of mental health? Even the generics are too much for the pocket book right now. No one should have to live in fear of losing their health because they lack the money.

I know that was part of the idea behind the Affordable Care Act, but it fails on so many levels. I was really hoping for a single-payer system. The basic network is already there with Medicare, it just needed to be expanded and updated to give providers a better standard of pay and greater leeway in deciding appropriate care for their patients. As I’ve said before, the only people that should be involved in deciding what’s best for my health are my doctor and me. I’m a person, not a commodity. Somewhere that fact was buried under the altar of the all-mighty dollar. Time to blow that fucking thing off the face of the planet.

There are certain things that humans must have simply to survive. Air is at the top of the list. Without it, humans are dead in a matter of minutes. Water is second, the lack of which brings death in a matter of days. Food comes in third. It can take weeks to starve to death and it’s not a pretty way to go. And yet there are people out there who do everything in their power to make money off these basic necessities, and have no problem denying the needy if the right amount of green isn’t handed over. A Chinese entrepreneur is selling canned fresh air to people in the most polluted cities. While largely a tongue-in-cheek effort to bring attention to the environmental disaster that is Chinese air pollution, it also gives us a chilling look at a potential future, when you’d best pay your air bill on time or suffer the consequences.

We’re already seeing a variation on that in Detroit, where thousands of residents are having their water cut off because of unpaid bills. Detroit has been probably the hardest hit by the Great Recession in the US, and the populace there has been struggling fiercely for years just to survive. Now they have to deal with no water on top of everything else. Here, in one of the richest nations on Earth, we have an epic disaster in the making just because someone didn’t get enough money. I understand companies deserve to be compensated for their efforts. Where I have the problem is when something that is necessary for survival becomes a for-profit effort. It doesn’t seem fair when you have a captive audience.

And there’s a growing movement (pun intended) by cities all across the land restricting or out right banning home gardens. The arguments run from violating some obscure HOA rule (“No asparagus because I hate it.”), to making the neighborhood look bad (“But our property values!”), to not knowing what you’re putting/not putting on your crops so we just can’t have it around the children (“We can’t have you poisoning our children. That’s the gov’ment’s job.”).

So the day is coming where if you’re poor, you can’t breathe clean air, drink clean water, or eat the food you’ve grown yourself because some one-percenter schmuck isn’t making as much profit as he wants off you. The message I keep hearing from those upper echelon assholes is that only the rich deserve to survive because the rest of us are just a bunch of lazy takers who contribute nothing to the world. Us lesser people have become disposable.

It’s no wonder I’m depressed…

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about why and how authors should develop their brand. Like many of you, my first thought about branding had something to do with red-hot iron and pissed off cattle. After some of my research, I’m not entirely sure it still doesn’t mean that, at least in the metaphorical sense. No, this newest version has to do with authors developing a presence or package of what they represent, of what the reader can expect when picking up one of their works. It entails marketing strategies and social media and business plans and a huge amount of savvy and energy that I don’t have.

Wait, let me dust off my cane here. See, in the old days, authors wrote books, attended book signings and writer’s conventions, and answered the occasional fan letter. Mostly though, they wrote books. And stories. And articles. And poetry. And limericks. And… and… and… The brand was developed by having stuff out there for the masses to read. It took a lot of time and effort and a little bit of luck to get that “name recognition.” But thousands of them did it without any of these modern day contrivances. Just about anybody who reads knows exactly what they’re going to get when they pick up something by Shakespeare, Poe, Tolkien, Asimov, Herbert, Bradbury, or King. And those greats all had that recognition long before today’s FaceTwitGrams were even thought of. Or their respective developers, for that matter. All that marketing stuff was for the publisher to deal with.

But with the advent of indie publishing, a new breed of author has evolved. With the youngest among us practically born with a smart phone in their hands, it’s nothing for them to jump into this whole branding idea with both thumbs. They live on social media anyway, so it’s totally natural to just continue that existence with their writing. Where they find the time to write in between all the updates, tweets, selfies, shares, cute cat videos, and drunk fails, I’m not sure. Those young’uns are moving a whole lot faster than I did at their age, in a world that puts me into sensory overload and makes me want to hide under my bed, but seems to energize them to new levels of thought. I wish them well, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s good for them. Or the rest of us.

Maybe that’s just the old fogy in me talking. Maybe I’m just jealous because I know I can’t keep up with them when it comes to 21st Century media. Maybe I’m afraid the world has passed me by and my window of opportunity to be an actual paid writer has long since closed. Or maybe, just maybe, I know something they don’t know.

You see, there are certain advantages to being in the age and treachery division of life. One of them being that there are LOADS of us out there. Why do you think Mick Jagger is still rocking across the stage as a great-grandfather (besides that deal with the Devil, but that’s a story for another time)? Being middle-aged (or better) has an entirely new meaning with this new century. For one thing, we’re healthier as a group than the same age dynamic of previous generations enjoyed. And we’re not content to simply go to work, take the kids to ballet class and watch football. We want to play and explore and learn, too. We’re young enough to take on bungee jumping, zip-lining, white-water rafting or any number of other adventures, but old enough to know we need medical and life insurance first.

We straddle the line between the analog and digital ages. We look forward to the fascinating things to come, while sitting comfortably on the tried and true of the past. And we have certain expectations. We still want a well-written book to curl up with by the fire, even if we’re reading it on a tablet.

And that’s when I realized I already had my brand. I’m a middle-aged chronic depressive science fiction writer who plays with string and pretends to be somebody else on the weekends. I can text just fine, but use proper grammar and spelling because I just can’t do it any other way. I’m on Facebook, but I use it to actually keep in touch with family and friends instead of playing games or trading political memes. I know about Reddit and Tumblr and Instagram and Pinterest, but I’m not interested in spending more time in the digital world than I already am. And there are 76 million more like me in the US right now.

Let me be your favorite brand. I speak your language. I can be irreverent, judgmental, thoughtful, hopeful, angry, determined, educational, passionate and pointed. I know what it’s like to deal with the daily office grind, and then face the fear of starting a second career because you couldn’t retire from your first. I get Star Trek as well as Steampunk, love classic muscle cars while delighted by Tesla, and was doing cosplay way before it was a thing. I can give you well-crafted characters in a strong story line that simmers along with a quiet rage that leaves you satisfied and yet wanting more at the end. Let me be the one that helps you understand and enjoy the future while giving you the security of your past.

And if any of you young’uns want to come along for the ride, hop on board. There’s plenty we can teach each other.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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On Monday, August 11, 2014 one of our most beloved and treasured entertainers reportedly took his life. Our world has lost a powerfully unique and singular human being. I write, of course, about Robin Williams. Comedian, actor, humanitarian and, by all accounts, a generous and kind individual.

The reaction to this news has largely been stunned sadness. The tributes and salutes and comments have poured in from all over the planet. The analysis and opinions and theories have as well. As I write this, there have already been untold number of words spent on this terrible topic, but I am compelled to include mine. Not because I’m any sort of authority, but because I need to. Because I know what he saw.

I have carried the burden of depression my entire life. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until my late twenties, but that was simply the official recognition of something I already knew. I’ve been in and out of therapy over the years, and have spent the last sixteen on medications after my own step to the brink of that final abyss. Some particularly insightful friends managed to grab me back at the last second and that’s when I realized I needed more help than counseling alone. Medication has allowed me a semblance of sanity. It’s not entirely secure. It never is. But it’s better than where I was, and for that I am grateful.

Much of the commentary following Mr. Williams’ passing included the question “Why?” Why would someone of his intelligence, wit, charm, success take his own life? Why didn’t he reach out for help? Why didn’t someone notice his descent into darkness? Lots of questions and very few answers, because there simply are none. Most people are bewildered by his actions. Some are angry. My own husband accuses Mr. Williams of taking the coward’s way out, of giving up. A very few have spewed horrible invective onto his family about him, proving only that they are sad, hateful little humans who refuse to be part of the better world and deserve nothing from the rest of us. After the initial shock, my reaction was simply a quiet understanding.

Let me tell you a little bit about depression. The clinical explanations barely touch the deep truth of it. It’s more than just a feeling of sadness or chronic fatigue or losing interest in those things you always loved before. It’s a dark, crushing black hole of self-doubt wrapped in layers of hopelessness covered in a gooey topping of what’s-the-point. It’s looking in the mirror and seeing a fat, ugly failure with no hope of redemption, no matter what the actual reflection might be. It’s watching the world pass you by in all its rainbow brilliance while you sit under rain clouds pouring hot acid onto your soul. It’s the blinding loneliness of the Sahara’s dunes in high summer, despite being surrounded by cheerful crowds at the oasis. It’s the voice of a hateful demon constantly whispering in the nooks and crannies of your mind, ever relentless in its demeaning commentary.

What it’s not is a choice. No more than being tall or short, black or white, or gay or straight is a choice. Depression isn’t “just in your head,” it’s a biochemical nightmare storming it out in your brain and affecting every molecule of your body. One who lives with depression can’t just “get over it,” or “cheer up,” or “be happy” on command. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. No, depression – and all other mental illnesses – is an actual, physical assault on the human body by that one thing we all must have to survive: our own brain. And if the brain isn’t working properly, neither is anything else.

Oh, there are treatments. Therapy helps. Medication helps. Eating right, sleeping regularly, exercising – it all helps. Until it doesn’t. There is no predictor for that point. No magic formula or simple test or watching the moon cycles on the calendar. It’s just working, and then it’s not. There’s any myriad of reasons why, as individual as the person involved. For Mr. Williams I suspect there was a handful of reasons, a perfect storm, if you will, that brought him to that point in his home when he knew he just wasn’t going to live like that any more. With the news of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, it makes even more sense to me. Here is a man whose entire life and career has been dependent on his frenetic energy, grandiose physicality and uncanny faster-than-light wit, learning his greatest gifts will be taken from him in a slow and tortuous degradation. Yes, people live with Parkinson’s every day, and successfully, as Michael J. Fox has shown. But what works for some just can’t work for others.

That’s the truly challenging thing about mental illness – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You can’t just dole out the pills and expect everybody who receives one to just up and get better. You have to look at the individual, examine their physical and mental needs through multiple tests and counseling sessions and come up with a plan that will only work for that one person, and then you need to change it and fine tune it constantly as that person progresses. It is a time consuming, money-sucking endeavor that isn’t supported by our current medical system. As long as “health care” is about actuary tables and statistics and profits instead of people, we will continue to have beautiful lives lost to mental illness.

The irony is, the business of medicine is actually penny-wise, pound-foolish. Take out all the analysts and claims reviewers and paperwork and layers of bureaucracy, and just pay for what the doctor and patient determine is necessary, you’d probably find the “business” even more successful. And there would be a huge upward spike in public satisfaction. We need to make mental health care a much stronger priority, not just in medicine, but also in our society in general. The negative commentary that sprang forth from this most recent news only goes to show us how depression (and other mental health issues) is still widely stigmatized and misunderstood by the public at large.

Our brain controls everything. Separating the needs of our brain from the needs of our body does not help either. Mental disorders can be the root for obesity and anorexia, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence. Want to stop mass attacks like Newtown or Columbine? Don’t worry about gun control – that’s closing the gate after the horse has already run off. Get the funds into the hands of researchers, medical professionals and programs that can figure out what is miss-wired in the heads of the people who perpetrate such actions, and help them before they snap. Neuroscience has come a long way from the days of trepanning and warehousing the afflicted, but it still has a very long way to go.

All the articles I’ve seen this week about “The (X) Signs of Depression,” or “The (X) Things/Foods/Exercises You Can Do to Beat Depression,” or “The National Dialogue on Depression” are fine and well, and help us feel good for now. But they are just frosting on a many-layered cake whose ingredients we aren’t sure about. We need to make mental health care our priority. We need to focus on it and tear into it like we did the journey to the moon in the 1960’s. Our very existence as a species demands it.

As for Robin Williams, he didn’t quit, he made a choice. Not a choice everyone would make, but one that he decided was right for him. Shouldn’t we all have the right to choose how we leave this world? Life should be about quality, not quantity. And the definition of quality can only be made by the individual concerned, not the public. It’s time we gave that the respect it deserves. Then we can remember a man for how he lived, not how he died.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Made you click, didn’t I. That’s what you call “click bait,” my friends. And it has permeated our culture like the tendrils of fungus growing across that forgotten box of kung pao chicken in the back of your refrigerator.

Here are some other examples:

From the Huffington Post:

Rand Paul Flees in Terror From Mexican Immigrant”

From Gawker:

Game of Thrones Actor Gets Stabbed in Bar Fight, Orders Another Drink”

From BuzzFeed:

“The 10 Friends We All Definitely Have”

From TMZ:

Only True Pros Can Golf Off My Penis!!”

Since I only have about another ten seconds before you click on the next tawdry headline, let me tell you a secret: I can make you a superhero.

WordGirlWordGirl Superhero Training, PBS Kids, Google Play

Still with me? Okay, so here’s the deal:

Step No. 1:      STOP READING THAT SHIT!

Step No. 2:      Watch The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper tell us like it is, in brilliant fashion:

The Daily Show Teaches Students About Online ClickBait”

Step No. 3:      Join the movement to be a better Internet trawler.

Look, I’m just as guilty of taking the bait as the next guy. How the hell do you think I found those headlines in the first place? Between those and Facebook memes, most of us don’t bother actually reading real news anymore. Or real anything, for that matter. Just more in the dumbing down of America.

But we can change that. It will take hard work and determination – things that seem to be lacking in people these days – but we can make the world and ourselves smarter. Start by reading one REAL news story a day. Go to a site like BBC News or Al Jazeera America and pick an article to peruse. You might be asking why I don’t recommend CNN or MSNBC or FOX News and I would answer that they are all terribly biased one way or the other and barely better written than the click bait stories.

You can support good writing and its writers by visiting their sites/blogs frequently and sharing them with your friends and family (hint, hint). A couple of my favorites are Stonekettle Station and Terrible Minds. As you probably knew already, I lean a little left in my thinking. If any of my conservative readers (Hello? Anybody there?) have some suggestions for their side of the aisle, I’ll gladly entertain them.

There are also these things called books. The classic version comes equipped with tactile interface, fresh ink smell, and never needs charging. It also can be a pretty good bug smasher, in a pinch. But if you’re one who just has to have that electronic gizmo in hand, there are plenty of options from Amazon’s Kindle, eBooks.com, Project Gutenberg, or iBooks.

Want to make your superhero conversion complete? Go read with a child, or someone who’s housebound or hospitalized, or help the illiterate learn. Open up that plethora of new worlds to another person and watch her blossom.

And finally, I challenge you to send at least one text a day with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, just to freak your friends out. When they ask if you’ve been kidnapped by aliens, tell them about that cure for baldness.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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