Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Alchemy and Anxiety

I don't know about you, but I feel so weird these days, so out of sorts, so self-conscious and aware and filled with adrenaline and disgust and anger and -- should I go on? I miss blogging, too. I miss marking my days here and the casual way I'd throw out some thoughts and observations, a bit of poetry, a rant or two. I'm not tired of blogging or of blogs, either. I am preoccupied. I am so afraid of normalizing that POS running the country, the sycophants that support him, those that still maintain we must come together. Come together, my ass. I'm as overwhelmed as every other woman by the toppling of the patriarchy, too. When is the head dude, though, the Sexual Predator in Chief, going to get his due?

I'm baking a lot of cakes. I baked this one:

Coconut Cake with Coconut Buttercream

and I made five of these:

Apple Toffee Crunch Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream

I made about a million of these:

yeast dough rolled in cinnamon sugar

It came out like this:

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread with Caramel Glaze

Baking, unfortunately, does not alleviate the stress of the Repubs screwing us, over and over, now with their new tax plan which is really another version of their healthcare plan, which basically reinforces the direction the Disunited States of America is going which is a plutocracy. I want to say f*^k all of them, but I tire of cursing.

I also made the most killer cinnamon buttercream.

Butter, sugar, egg whites, cinnamon

Honestly, that stuff is nearly sexual. A silky sweet meringue that takes butter and transforms into something that melts on the tip of your tongue, just a trace.


I had my first paid gig at The Los Angeles Times on Saturday. Here's the link.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

This Blog Still Exists

In a 1984 Paris Review interview with the writer James Baldwin, he was asked whether he found it easier or more difficult to write out of anguish, specifically his utter despair after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.  Baldwin replied, "No one works better out of anguish at all; that's an incredible literary conceit. I didn't think I could write at all. I didn't see any point to it. I was hurt...I can't even talk about it. I didn't know how to continue, didn't see my way clear." When I heard that this morning as I listened to the Paris Review podcast of the interview, it shot right through me, a kind of bolt of recognition and affirmation. When Sophie was diagnosed with infantile spasms nearly twenty-three years ago, she was not even three months old and I not quite thirty-two years, and it would be more than ten years before I'd write a single word about the experience despite the nearly twenty-seven years that I'd been writing almost daily. I've never been able to figure out why, nor to explain it -- in fact, when I did start writing again, nothing irritated me more than the comment I received over and over that you must find such comfort in writing, that it must be so therapeutic.


I thought about it today as I brushed my teeth, the whir of the brush in my brain a kind of provocation for thought, willy-nilly. My parents left yesterday after spending a few days here with us for Thanksgiving. It was a lovely time -- we seem to have figured out how to love one another despite our differences and perhaps because of them. My mother insisted a few times over the days she was here about a persimmon-colored blouse she wanted to buy me, something we'd both admired in a catalog, and I kept saying, no, I really don't need that or want it, and she kept saying, yes, I want you to have it, it's good to have nice things, but aside from letting her buy it for me because she wanted to and could, it occurred to me in my head, willy nilly, as I brushed my teeth this morning, after they'd left, that my perspective is profoundly different, that it's not just that nothing material really matters having gone through such anguish over so many years, but that having gone through such anguish over so many years, everything else matters. Do you get that?

Last week, the In Home Supportive Services worker came to our home to do the annual check-up. She was Armenian (the largest population of people of Armenian descent live in Los Angeles), and at some point during the mind-numbing process of signing papers and answering inane questions about Sophie's inabilities (I'm not saying disabilities because the questions are posed negatively), she looked into my eyes and said, Where are you from? and I told her that I had a Syrian grandfather, a Scotch English grandmother and two Italian grandparents. She nodded her head, said she saw it in my eyes and mentioned that Putin and Assad were together that day. I made a face. She asked, You don't like Putin and Assad? I said, Ummm. No. She asked, Why? I said, Because they're hideous people who have caused the deaths of millions of people. She said, Ah you would know, and I let it go, her perspective, as it was, focused on my very diluted ethnicity. I'm only telling you this, Reader, because that little exchange led to her telling me about her Christianity, about her worries as a mother to two grown sons, about her asking me whether I was happy and me replying that I was and her answering that I wasn't because I had Sophie and no one could be happy with a child like that


Some of you out there will think that I should report her, that she was out of line, in the wrong line of work with such a perspective, but I only felt tired. 

It'll make a good story, is what I thought, even as I calmly gave her mine.

Here it is. I wrote it down.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Samsara of Healthcare

I was scanning through some old posts from a few years ago and noticed one that is particularly relevant -- STILL -- to today. It has to do with government and entitlements and the ongoing threat we face from Republican economic policies and a culture that is all too willing to sacrifice the vulnerable while exalting the already fortunate.

I don't know what to do about this and feel not so much defeated as overwhelmed with the ongoingness of it. I'm currently working with a health insurance broker trying to figure out our 2018 health insurance options as our current plan raised our premium by 39%, making it unaffordable. The capitalists love to talk about "consumers" going "shopping" for health insurance, and "competitive rates," etc. -- all that market talk, reducing us to numbers. I can tell you that scrolling through plan benefits, trying to figure out what coverage would be for Sophie's various needs, reduced me to tears, and I'm no wimp.

I maintain that access to affordable healthcare is a right. I maintain that we shouldn't be looked on as consumers when we access healthcare. I maintain that shopping for healthcare insurance is ridiculous, that despite my college education, formidable intelligence and decades of experience navigating all the systems of care, I am literally overwhelmed by it.

What, really, do I know with my tiny little mother mind™?

If there's anything to substantiate the Buddhist notion of samsara, I guess it would be this.

Here's the post from a few years back, and the article that I referenced in the first paragraph could just as easily be replaced by any number of articles and notices in today's newspapers regarding the threats to Medicare, IHSS and SSI under the current Republican tax reform proposals:

I read this article this afternoon as I languished, a bit sick, at home. For the record, I did do some part time work and home-schooled Oliver in American history and writing. The article was titled Aid to Disabled Kids Surpasses Welfare and states that the amount of federal money going to disabled kids through Supplemental Security Income programs has surpassed traditional welfare programs. You can imagine what this means. There will be people (conservatives) talking about corruption and those who milk the system and rely on government benefits, who don't use their bootstraps properly, who go on vacations when they find out they've qualified for disability and who are otherwise, losers. They will claim that the increasing numbers of children diagnosed with mental health issues, ADHD and other disabilities should actually be parented differently.

There will be people (liberals) blasting the conservatives for once again targeting the vulnerable, blind to white collar corruption and to military expenditures and waste that probably surpass the GDP of most second and third world countries, much less welfare and SSI expenditures. They will talk about the shrinking middle class, how the poor, truly cut off from welfare as it was once known, depend on SSI to even make ends meet.

What you probably won't hear, though, are the voices of those who benefit from SSI programs, many of whom are, literally, without voice. You won't hear about how difficult it is to actually get the benefits, how much education you have to have to parse out the requirements, and in the absence of education, the sheer stamina and persistence  to make sense of the paperwork, to navigate the system, to continue to care for the child with disabilities, to plan for her future with or without you. You won't hear the voices of those who have to continue to make a case for needing the money each year. You will hear that these people are working the system, making up disability so that they don't have to work, that their numbers are growing and America will go bankrupt dealing with them.

First of all, you know that I've a liberal voice, and my voice also happens to be Sophie's voice, since she doesn't have one of her own. Sophie began receiving SSI benefits monthly when she turned 18, the bulk of which I use to pay for the huge drug co-pays that her insurance company doesn't cover, any other medical treatments that her insurance company doesn't cover, her diaper wipes (I pay for her diapers with my own money even though they're covered under MediCal) and various toiletries, occasional clothing and apps for her iPad that she uses at school. Last month, I used part of the money to help pay for her two weeks at communication camp. I realize that some of this is luxury -- she could sit at home in her stroller (also partly paid for by SSI), next to me at my desk as I do my part time work instead of going to camp for three hours. Since I've never found a dentist that provides adequate dental care under Medi-Cal (Sophie receives dental insurance under Medi-Cal but none through our private insurer), I chose to continue to see our family dentist. It's expensive, and in order to keep Sophie's mouth healthy and because it's very difficult to brush her teeth adequately, we pay out of pocket every three months for a cleaning. The SSI money helps with that as well. Sophie's needs are met with a combination of government funds and those earned by her father and me, as well as generous donations toward her care given to us by my parents. I know that there are many, many people out there like us, making ends meet, not abusing the system and grateful for every bit of help -- both private and public. I know that without the combination of funding sources, many of us would have to resort to going into debt, to living far more stressful lives than we already do and to turning our children over to institutional care so that we, their caregivers, can try to find full-time jobs.

I understand that the system will always have corruption, and that some people will take advantage of that system, lie and cheat and steal in order to get something for free. I understand that part of my tax money is going to help the liars and the cheaters and the thieves, but I have a feeling that the vast majority of those that use these funds are doing so responsibly and because they very much need them. I understand that part of my tax money also goes to fund bombs and arms and war apparatus, even if I don't support those wars. It's a sort of price I pay to live in the country that I live in, a democracy where I supposedly vote for the representative that best works in my interest. I understand that people (and I know some of these people) who have millions of dollars but who are also veterans continue to collect what they're "owed," and while I believe that is pretty low-brow, even repellent, I also believe that my taxes go toward far more veterans who, after serving their country, are out of work, homeless, mentally ill, permanently injured or otherwise in need of them. For every Mitt Romney pumping money into tax havens or writing off dressage horses, there are countless businessmen and women getting into their cars and going to work, collecting their paychecks and paying their taxes.

What's the point of this post? Hell, if I know. I guess reading that article sent a frisson of fear into me. The fear is that the difficult job of caring for a person with disabilities in this country will get even more difficult. The fear is that this "difficulty" is really just a cultural construct -- that living in a nation that exalts individual responsibility to the exclusion of community makes my daughter's value recognizable only in dollar terms. The fear is the knowledge that she, and millions like her have to constantly prove their worth. I have certainly been proving her worth for the past nineteen years, and I suppose I'll have the stamina and grit to continue to do so, but damn. It's difficult.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The United States Medical System, Part Two in a Series Through Photos

23 years, beginning in infancy, four different benzos (Nitrazepam, Ativan, Klonopin and Clobazam),
zero seizure control,
high dependency, still being prescribed to babies and young children
despite little to no evidence of efficacy

The Price of Addiction
(deductible finally met in November because of MRI, etc., catalogued in The United States Medical System, Part One in a Series Through Photos
co-pay for drug over eight years has ranged from $0 to $780 according to the whims
of the United States Capitalist Medical System
where patients are consumers and the HHS Secretary is Big Pharma

Never Go Backwards
(went backwards at behest of Neurology BigWigs one year ago, a seriously fucked up decision)
backwards means once you start to wean, don't jack up the dose
backwards means after weaning 80% over three years, you jack up the dose to a larger amount than four years previously

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Reverie

San Jacinto Wildlife Preserve
Lakeview, CA
photographer: Carl Jackson 

I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time –
The Steeples swam in Amethyst –
The news, like Squirrels, ran –
The Hills untied their Bonnets –
The Bobolinks – begun –
Then I said softly to myself –
‘That must have been the Sun!’
But how he set – I know not –
There seemed a purple stile
Which little Yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while –
Till when they reached the other side,
A Dominie in Gray –
Put gently up the evening Bars –
And led the flock away –

Emily Dickinson

Carl Jackson's photographs are available for purchase here.
You can purchase notecards and prints here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How We Do It, Part I've Lost Count

Look who decided to show up for dinner! 

That's what Oliver said in his inimitable Big O'ish way last night when Saint Mirtha decided to let Sophie sit in her regular seat at the table instead of the wheelchair. She's been fed in the wheelchair for weeks and weeks, unable to sit up very well or swallow properly, but over the last week and since I weaned her a bit more from the benzo Onfi, she's gotten stronger.

I'm grateful for my children's sense of humor, for Sophie's irrepressible life, for trust in my own instincts, for the generosity of family and friends, for the moments of grace when relief comes out of nowhere, for Virginia and New Jersey this morning.

Most of all, I'm grateful for all my people who do this thing we do and for their children who inspire and honor us. It's National Family Caregivers Month (or National Fucking Family Caregivers Month, as my friend S calls it). Happy NaFuFaCaMo, all you MoFuFaCas!

What do I think? I think we're on the right path for NOW, and there's really only NOW.

My friend Carrie Link sent me this video this morning. Natalie Merchant's album Tigerlily was released on June 20, 1995. I listened to her song Wonder over and over throughout Sophie's infancy and childhood. I realized today when I looked up that date that it was the day we left the hospital after her diagnosis on the 14th of June, 1995.

As Carrie says, there are no accidents.

Doctors have come from distant cities just to see me, stand over my bed disbelieving what they’re seeing. They say I must be one of the wonders 
of god’s own creation and as far as they can see they can offer no explanation.
Newspapers ask intimate questions, they want confessions. They reach into my head to steal the glory of my story. They say I must be one of the wonders of god’s own creation and as far as they can see they can offer no explanation.
I believe fate smiled and destiny laughed as she came to my cradle, “know this child will be able.” Laughed as my body she lifted, “know this child will be gifted” with love, with patience and with faith she’ll make her way.
People see me; I’m a challenge to your balance. I’m over your heads; how I confound you and astound you to know I must be one of the wonders of god’s own creation, and as far as you can see you can offer me no explanation.
I believe fate smiled and destiny laughed as she came to my cradle, “know this child will be able.” Laughed as she came to my mother, “know this child will not suffer.” Laughed as my body she lifted, “know this child will be gifted” with love, with patience and with faith she’ll make her way.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Update from the Cloister

See enough and write it down

Joan Didion

Can I tell you who Sophie is and how I know? Can I tell you that she looks directly at me, her eyes dark pools her life behind them something vast even as it is cloistered? She loves the way trees blow in the wind the feel of beads slipping through her fingers like water and water, the ebb and flow of ocean tide. These days, even as she struggles to move, her left leg dragging, her eyes are as piercing as they've ever been. What is that?

Here's the plan: Wean the Onfi. She is over-medicated with it, the drug that I suspect is the culprit in her decline. Order The Ashton Manual (thank you Christy!) Play with the CBD oil and add in a bit of THC.  Be grateful for the grace of friends, for mindfulness meditation, for love and resilience and the strength of the heart. 

Onfi needs another name, a moniker of dread and dependency. I took away a small bit nearly two weeks ago, and this weekend was an extraordinary one. Sophie ate well, swallowed well, reached for her cup and drank well. She walked down the street with me and always her gaze -- her clear and resolute gaze. No seizures.


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