NaBlogWriMo 5: The Morning After

Until recently, I never realized how exhausting politics could be.

I, like many of us, have spent the last two years in disbelief at our nation’s cultural regression. The election of Trump as president in 2016 somehow seemed to energize every single retrograde impulse we could have as a country. Empowered women? Nope, better not have any of those. Equal rights for those who don’t meet the “standard” definition of heterosexual marriage? Oh, heck no, let’s roll that stuff back. Embracing the growing multiculturalism of our country? Ewww – no, send ’em all back where they came from!

Never mind that most of “them” came from right here.

So, I settled down in front of the television set Tuesday night, waiting for the country to rise up and repudiate the madness that has emanated from the White House. 

And waited.

Then, I waited some more.

And, finally, after the hundredth refrain of “where is the blue wave?” from the political commentators, I gave up in frustration and went to bed. Apparently, this was just who we are as a nation, and I had better learn to deal with it.

In Search of the Blue Wave

I spent most of the day yesterday looking around the web, trying to piece together a clearer idea of what had happened the previous night.

And I discovered that “No Blue Wave” aside, we were actually not in as bad a shape as I had perceived on Election Day.

Yes, Gillum was defeated in Florida. Yes, Beto O’Rourke went down in Texas. And, yeah, we actually lost a few more Senate seats, despite my quiet hope that maybe we might actually gain a couple.

But even though Beto O’Rourke was defeated in Texas it was by a margin of less than 3% of the vote. With over 70% of those under 30 voting for him. Things are changing in what used to be the most reliable of Conservative strongholds.

And, Gillum didn’t win in Florida, this is true. But, in the midst of the national attention to his defeat, something had gone unnoticed by many of us, myself included.

Amendment 4 got voted into law in Florida. This returns the ability to vote to over a million citizens of Florida who were previously denied that right due to having been convicted of a felony. In Florida, just like everywhere else in the country, the majority of those serving time are minorities. And minorities currently tend to vote against all the things that Trump’s America stands for.

In a battleground state where elections seem to always come down to a difference of a hundred thousand votes or less, the citizens of Florida just returned the right to vote to over a million people who are not naturally inclined toward the current administration.

Encouraged by this discovery, I started looking for other good news. And, wow, did I find it.

The Year of The Woman

It is significant in and of itself that the House flipped back over to Democratic control. In an election where 23 seats needed to change hands to change the majority, 35 actually did so.

The majority of the districts that “flipped” were in the suburbs of various major metropolitan areas. And the #1 group that turned out in droves to drive these critical elections?

Women. Female suburban voters turned out in record numbers, and the majority of them were not voting in favor of our current administration.

It gets better, though. Not only was there a much higher number of female voters, but there was also a HUGE increase in female candidates. Women finally got tired of their 52% of the population being represented by legislative bodies that were over 75% male.

At last count, at the national level, 122 women had won elections for Gubernatorial, Senate, and House races. Still not an accurate representation of women in our population, but holy smoke is it a step in the right direction.

Heck, the only “good” news we had in the Senate races was that a previously Republican Senate seat in Nevada was flipped. The challenger? Jacklyn (“Jacky”) Sheryl Rosen.

Keep On Pushing

All across the country, there were signs of life.

Record numbers of young voters turned out. (Keep it up, young people! This is your future we’re talking about here!)

We elected our first pair of female Muslim representatives. Colorado, of all places, elected our nation’s first openly gay Governor.

We even got not one but TWO female Native American representatives to Congress – the first two in our nation’s history. The folks of Kansas voted in Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. And I am especially proud to say that I got to help elect Deb Halaand, of Laguna Pueblo, to the 1st Congressional District here in New Mexico.

It was a pretty progressive night for both Kansas and New Mexico, I have to say. Kansas not only put in Ms. Davids, who is both Native American and lesbian, but they also flipped their state governorship from a Republican man to a Democrat woman. And New Mexico actually went whole hog into “blue” territory. We produced election victories not only for our first female Latina Democrat Governor, Michele Lujan-Grisham, but we also voted Democrat in all our state Congressional races.

We need to keep working for this kind of change, across the country. The House of Representatives can now get back to acting to apply the brakes on the President’s “Nationalist” (his word, not mine) agenda for our country. We can hopefully even start returning our focus to our underserved domestic issues.

There may not have been the “Blue Wave” that I and many others were hoping for. But I know as well as anyone that change takes time, despite our desire for instant solutions. We need to keep paying attention, keep talking to our elected representatives, and keep working for change. 

Because, meanwhile, the Republican party in Nevada just voted in a deceased pimp rather than vote for a female educator.

And that, my friends, is why we need to not quit now.

Catch you all tomorrow,

  • Jeremy

 

Oops!

Yeah, I know it is the NaBlogWriMo project and everything, but some days stuff just gets away from you. Not to worry, though! I have plenty of opinions to share on yesterday’s elections, and will be sharing them with you tomorrow. Sorry for the delay!

Too Much Editing, Not Enough Writing,

* Jeremy

NaBlogWriMo 4: Social Anexitee

(Yes, I know it is spelled wrong.)

I was chatting with a friend (via Facebook) about my propensity for standing in the corner by myself at our social gatherings. She wanted to know why I didn’t interact with the people around me more often.

“Not really my thing,” I wrote back. “Really, Lor is the rock star in the family,” I told her.

” I really don’t perceive that about you”, she said.

“No one becomes a writer because they love being ‘on stage'” was the only response I could think of.

“Touche,” she replied.

The Pathetic Life of the Rock and Roll Singer

The funny thing is, once upon a time, I was the “rock star” in the family. No, really. I was the lead vocalist (!) in a local cover band. For years we played the local bars and casinos. I soaked up comments about my “amazing” voice. Middle-aged women stuck twenty-dollar bills down my shirt and tried to kiss me. For most of a decade, I was a medium-sized fish in a very small pond. So…why the shift in my personality? What happened? Can my personality these days be blamed entirely on my broken brain?

Well, not really. See, here’s the secret – I’ve always suffered from social anxiety. Even when performing for dozens (and, in one notable case, thousands) of people. My wife and my former bandmates will happily regale you with tales of waiting for me to finish throwing up before every single gig for years. Once I was done puking, the show, as they say, could go on.

Even though I eventually got past my audience-fueled nauseau, I never really got any better. I had the coolest job in the world – fronting a rock and roll band. And I hated it. No, seriously. I didn’t hate the job itself, see. But, every night, I would find something to despise about our performance. My vocals were bad. The guitarist had flubbed a solo. The drummer was too loud. Our sound engineer had our PA set up all wrong.

I literally can’t remember a single performance where I came off stage and said: “Man, that was awesome!” I was still terrified of the audience and made sure I judged myself and my bandmates harshly before anyone else ever got a chance to.

It’s Quiet Here In The Corner

Today, I am really not much different. I am terrified that I am a horrible author. (What they call ‘Imposter’s Syndrome‘ in the writing business.) In social situations, I do my best to stay in the corner, to listen at least twice as much as I speak.  I am positive that I have nothing valuable to add to the conversation. After all, I know that no one is really interested in anything I have to say anyway.

I drive my friends and loved ones crazy. If you get a couple drinks in me, I suddenly become vivacious, witty, and humorous – I can be the life of the party. “Where,” my relations ask me, “are you hiding that person 99% of the time?”

In the corner. Over here. By the door. It’s quiet here in the corner.

I do my absolute best work one on one. For some reason, I am able to get past my neuroses when I am only dealing with a single person at a time. I find myself full of compassion, empathy, and insight.  I really feel like I am making a connection with the person I am speaking to.

Then you add a third person to the mix and it all goes to hell. I immediately retreat and try to listen to everyone else speak to one another. ‘Cause, you know, anxiety.

The Gamer’s Dilemma

So, why is this an issue worth addressing now, you might ask? After all, writing is a perfect outlet for someone like me, right? (And most of my fellow writers/introverts as well.) At the end of the day, I am really just telling myself stories, and writing them down. If I happen to share them with the world at large later, well, I don’t have to be there when they read them, right? (And you should have seen my melt-down when a good friend had me do a reading from Inheritance in front of maybe a dozen people. Hoo, boy.)

Here’s the problem: I happen to love other things beyond writing. And the main one is gaming.

Computer/console gaming is ok for me. Most of the time I simply remain in “Single Player Land.” No problem there, right?

But, as it happens, I am passionately interested in other kinds of gaming. Things like board games. Miniature-based games. Even Collectible Card Games. And those types of games require a very specific element…

Other people.

My brother (also an introvert) and I have begun discussing ways to jury-rig multiplayer games against one another. He lives a couple hundred miles away, so the logistics are challenging. Maybe leaving a game board set up somewhere 100% of the time then exchanging moves over the phone once a week. Or, possibly, doing miniatures-based games where we will take photos of the game boards and email them to one another, along with our “moves” for the turn.

All this to avoid doing something like heading down to our corner game stores and interacting with the groups of gamers already there. Or even (the horror) inviting other gamers into our homes to play, interacting with other human beings. Who might not like us or something.

The Pain Of Social Friction

Merriam-Webster defines “friction” quite simply as “the rubbing of one body against another.”

However, it then goes on to use the following example: “the friction of sandpaper on wood.”

So, really, friction isn’t about 2 bodies rubbing against one another. It is actually two bodies changing one another by their contact with one another. (Take a look at both the wood and the sandpaper after you’ve rubbed them together to get an idea what I am talking about.)

I think that social anxiety stems from a fear, not of coming into contact with other people, but a fear of being changed by our interactions with them.

What if these hypothetical gamers don’t like me? Will I be compelled to change who I am in order to be liked?

If I don’t change, does that mean that my interactions with other people are actually worthless? That I just glide across the surface of their lives, leaving no trace of myself and picking nothing up from them in return?

Heavy concepts to deal with just to manage to find some folks to play Warhammer or Munchkin with, right?

But they are important things to think about nonetheless. I personally can not interact with someone and be unchanged. And, am I willing to change, all in the name of a few hours of gaming?

So far, probably not. But I think the question is relevant for any interactions at all – whether at Tuesday night Canasta or around the Thanksgiving table. What are we willing to give up in order to socially interact? And what are we willing to accept in return?

We, as humans, are supposedly social above all else.

So why are there those of us, like me, who fear that social interchange more than we fear to be alone?

It bears some thinking about.

I’ll have to consider it right after I figure out how to play Settlers of Catan solo.

Catch you all tomorrow,

  • Jeremy

Tomorrow is Election Day – You Know What To Do

(Warning: politics ahead.)

Stop what you are doing right now and ask yourself: Have I voted?

If not, make preparations to do so right now.

Really, I understand that tomorrow, not today, is The Big Day.

But, by then, this post would be a little too late, wouldn’t it?

Seriously, if you live in the U.S., and you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear a peep out of you about the status of our country from here on out. Got it?

We Know Who We Are

It was one thing, back in 2016, to emerge the morning after election day and think the whole thing must have been a really odd dream.

But, nope, there it was – a reality TV show was now the President of the United States. His only qualification was his lack of qualifications. Seriously. He campaigned on that platform – it isn’t like I am insulting the dude by making that remark. He was an outsider who was going to change everything.

So, here we are, two years later. We have no excuses now. The novelty has worn off. We know exactly what we got when we elected him into office. And that forces us to ask a fundamental question: who are we, as a nation?

Are we a country filled with xenophobic nationalists? Or are we a country filled with people who realize a grave error has been made, at the highest levels of our country?

Only we can decide that now. And tomorrow’s elections will serve either as the turning point where America changed their collective mind about the benefits of MAGA, or the day we confirmed to the world that, yup, we’re serious about this shit.

In my “conversations” about politics with friends and family, I have always said the same thing. I am not afraid of Donald Trump. I am, however, terrified of the 60+ million people who thought voting for him was a great idea.

The Wrong Road

I’ve made no secret that I think we have made a serious error with the Trump presidency. The changes he has made in two years will take untold amounts of effort on our part to undo. (Should we collectively choose to undo them, that is.)

So, please understand this: a”blue wave” tomorrow will not magically solve our issues as a country. So much upheaval has taken place, so many decisions made that can’t be unmade by a change in a legislative body or bodies. We can’t just wave our ballots in the air and undo the enacted policies and cultural changes of the last two years. So many things that we thought were safely behind us as a country turned out to only be waiting for a little fertilizer to spring back to life.

We will not be “overthrowing” the current political order by a repudiation of Trump’s America tomorrow at the polls. At best we will slow the bleeding. But, when you are gravely injured, you have to stop the bleeding first. Then you can worry about things like organ transplants and broken bones.

It may seem that we are only heading backward, trying to get back to a point before things changed. Please understand that this is not necessarily a bad thing. C.S. Lewis, who am I so fond of quoting, said it best:

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Sign me up for “progressive.”

The Heart of a Nation

My brother and I are fond of asking one another the question: “What kind of a world are we leaving behind for Keith Richards to live in?”

The Immortal Rolling Stone aside, the question still pertains – what will our legacy be? Tomorrow’s election will be an excellent bellwether for our ongoing development as a nation.

Do we, as a country, believe that we have gone completely off the rails? Are we setting up, as many fear, the foundations for a nation built on xenophobia and religious intolerance?

Or, will the “other half” of the country speak and maintain their belief that only by rewarding the rich and powerful while punishing the poor and helpless can we “return to greatness?’

Either way, the worst thing you can do is to think your vote doesn’t matter. A few hundred people in Wisconsin and Michigan decided matters for us in 2016. This is no time to sit on the sidelines, no matter where your loyalties lie.

I already voted.

Now it’s up to the rest of you to decide.

Catch You All Tomorrow,

  • Jeremy

 

 

NaBlogWriMo 2: A Stabbing Pain in the Pocketbook

I woke up this morning rested and ready, on fire to get up and get to writing. Then, I made a mistake. I should have turned on the iPad and got to work. Instead, I opened up my banking software to make sure my monthly Social Security payment had posted overnight.

What I discovered was that, before my deposit cleared, a yearly fee I had forgotten about had posted: membership dues for the local gym we haven’t been attending (though that is another article in and of itself.) So, instead of starting the month with a fresh set of capital to work with, I was now already $70+ in the hole for the month, thanks to the aforementioned fees and that lovely, lovely overdraft penalty my bank charges.

And, just like that, my entire day was upended.

I Am Become Debt, The Destroyer Of Worlds

Seriously, is there anything in this world that creates as much internal stress as money, and money related problems?

And, the maddening thing is, we treat money like the digestive process: everyone requires it, but no one ever wants to talk about it, and you’d better be sure you wash your hands afterward.

Money issues are an epidemic in this country. Student debt is crippling households across the nation. Less than half of us have enough savings to survive a 3-month crisis. A person making minimum wage has to have multiple sources of income in order to survive.

And yet, how do we react to our financial woes? With embarrassment. We do our best to hide the problems from one another. There is a deeply ingrained shame response to admitting that things are tough for us, despite the fact that things are tough all over.

We are so embarrassed by our “illness” that we refuse to seek treatment for it. And if you think that is a flawed analogy, try having Epilepsy, or Depression, or any of the other “ugly” diseases out there. There are plenty of examples of folks that would rather just not admit to being sick, instead of seeking treatment.

Living  In The Shadow Of The Golden Towers

We keep hearing in the news how fabulously the economy is doing, right? GNP is growing, unemployment is slow, things are supposedly beautiful in Trump’s America.

So, if that is the case, why do the great majority of us admit that financial concerns are our #1 worry and creator of stress?

Simple: we are living on a flawed bell curve. The top 1% of our country is outearning all the rest of us combined. And their economic status is making the rest of us look like we should be doing better than we are.

I am certainly not anti-capitalist in any way. But an economic system that continues to be slanted toward providing resources and advantages to those that require them least is troubling.

And Lor and I are among the lucky ones: those with a “safety net” of concerned family members who are willing to give us a hand if things go really pear-shaped. Thanks to our family, we will never be in the position where we have to worry about having nowhere to live if things get worse. Many of us living in the bottom 10% are not afforded that luxury. If things go seriously wrong, they get to sleep in their cars, or at the homeless shelter.

If there is room that night at the shelter, that is.

The Ragged Edge Of The American Dream

So, how many of us, do you think, are living in poverty: the bottom 10% of earners in this country, measured by yearly income?

It should be 10%, right? But, according to the data from 2017, it is actually closer to 12.3%. 1 in 8 American households are living in poverty.

It gets worse. If you are a minority, you are much more likely to be living in poverty. And heaven help you if you are a single mother: 50% (half!) of children living in a female-headed household are at or below the poverty line.

Those that are most damaged by poverty are also the most restricted by society in America.

Which is really unfair: being poor is a demanding, full-time, job.

I, for example, have to meticulously document every medical visit, every prescription filled, log every seizure. Why? Because, every three years or so, I have to re-prove to the Federal Government that there is still no cure for Epilepsy. If I don’t, my SSDI stops, and so do my ever-so-important Medicare benefits. You know, those benefits that keep me from having to spend thousands of dollars each month on medications, medical visits, and surgical procedures.

Living in the bottom 10% is no picnic. It is a daily grind of finding gig work, engaging lenders with predatory practices (I can literally SHOW you loan documents featuring a 75% APR), and deciding which bill gets paid and which gets put off for a month.

We are constantly treated like criminals, just for being poor. It is the same self-sustaining logic that states that minorities are more likely to commit crimes than whites. No one bothers to mention the fact that minorities are not afforded the same advantages as Caucasians, and therefore are more in need of resources from outside the traditional economic system.

The same is true for poor people. A typical middle-class family may scratch their heads at the poor benighted person at the bottom of the economic scale, risking their safety and their freedom while robbing a convenience store for a measly $50.

We don’t do things like take out stupid loans and rob corner stores because we are mentally deficient. We do it because that $50 is quite literally the difference between keeping our heads above water and drowning, Right this minute, I am faced with the question of how to make up a $70 hole in my budget. That hole isn’t coming out of the “leisure activity” section of my budget. It literally is a question of “which bill won’t I pay this month?”

The Shame Of Poverty

And, the thing is, there are going to be friends and family members of mine that are going to cringe to read this post.

I will hear things like “I had no idea…”, or “Why didn’t you ask for help?” 

You didn’t know because, like 99% of poor people, I didn’t talk about it. And I didn’t ask for help because I am not stranded on the side of the road. I am poor. It doesn’t get better between this month and next.

Others have asked me why I am not “making a living” as a writer. Ha. Ha ha ha. The vast majority of those who are profiting from freelance writing realize less than $10,000 a year from their work. I am not among that group – since 2016 I am probably over $2,000 in the hole from supporting my writing habit. If not for my Patreon supporters and a thin stream of book sales, I would be forced to just stand in the corner and mumble to myself.

I have had close friends whisper their Horatio Alger dreams for me – why don’t I just get a job and start climbing the ladder, like everyone else? Many have gone so far as to suggest that I am actually lazy.

I am not lazy – I am frightened. Let me explain…

An Experiment in Number-Crunching

I “earn” $18,000 a year from Social Security. I’ve learned to build our life around a whopping $1,400 a month, with over half of that going to housing. But, let’s theorize that I somehow find an employer who is interested in an employee who has seizures, can’t verbally communicate very well, and has no short-term memory to boot.

Let’s also theorize that they are willing to pay me, say, $30,000/year for an entry-level position. Has to be entry-level, remember. I’ve been out of the workforce for nearly two decades at this point.

So, $30,000/year works out to $14.42 an hour. Every 80 hours, I will earn $1,153. Not bad! That’s nearly what I make in a month right now!

Oh, but wait…that’s before taxes. So, let’s reduce that about by 25% to reflect taxes, social security, and the like. OK, we’re now at $865 every two weeks. We’re down to $1,730 a month now. That’s only a little bit above what I bring home right now. Hmm.

Now, let’s not forget that I will no longer have Medicare, so I need to start paying for my own health care. So, there’s another (at least, some pay FAR more) $100 every month gone. $1,630.

Now, I am still sick – I didn’t miraculously get better. I am going to have to keep on paying for my cocktail of meds every month. I will no longer get any Federal assistance with my drugs, and instead, we’ll be paying a co-payment for my meds every month. Let’s say I have to only come up with 10% of my meds. My latest Medicare Prescription summary tells me that I would have been on the hook for $1,694 in meds last month. So, 10% of that is…$169. Every month. $1,630-169 = $1,461.

Congratulations – I’ve now arrived at what I am already making a month by staying a garden variety, disabled poor person.

Oh, but wait – if I go back into the workforce I am now on the hook for the student loans that are currently in deferment thanks to my broken brain. That payment would be…$215 a month. (A LOT lower than many student loan payments I know of.) I am now down to $1,246 a month.

Oh, and by the way…I did mention that I am still sick, right? To the tune of a yearly hospitalization for various maladies? Now, not only would me missing work for procedures and surgeries totally piss off my new boss, but it also would cost me money. LOTS of it. Looking over my latest statement from my most recent hospital visit, I would have been on the hook for….$43,000. I can’t even begin to guess what that would have cost under a traditional insurance plan.

As it is, I was forced to come up with a $350 co-payment. Hence the 75% APR loan I referred to earlier.

And welcome to why those of us who are poor, stay that way.

Wrapping Up

Poverty is one of the great ignored societal ills in our country today. I’ve actually been trying to work in Poverty Advocacy for a while now. It is hard going – people would rather talk about having STDs than talk about being poor. It remains a horrible, societal shame – one of the worst admissions you can make in our success-driven nation.

But our societal expectations are just flat out WRONG. If you take nothing else away from this post, please, just remember this: most of those in poverty around you are not there because they are lazy. They are not there because they are criminals, though many become criminals out of necessity. They are there because we keep them there.

If you are concerned (like I am), there are things you can do. Be sensitive to those who are worse off than you. Get plugged into organizations that work with the poor – whether your church, a food bank, a bookmobile, what have you. Vote intelligently – keep in mind that tax cuts for the top 1% are not going to do nearly as much for the welfare of this country as things like subsidized child care, student loan reform, and regulation of predatory lending practices.

And, lastly, do understand that this isn’t a plea for financial help on the part of my household. We’ve gotten through worse than this. More than any handout, the best thing you could do is to become sensitive to poverty – what it is and what it isn’t. The poor around you might not be standing on a street corner holding up a sign saying “Anything Helps.”

They might be standing right next to you, hiding in plain sight.

Talk To You All Again On Monday,

  • Jeremy