Monday, August 31, 2009

Passing in Silence

Passing in Silence, originally uploaded by Carolyn Branch.

What wonders will our future hold?

From the Fulton Telegraph, April 24, 1874

A marvelous century. A hundred years ago there were no railroads, steamboats, telegraph lines, gas-burners, furnaces, sewing machines, photographs, friction matches, revolvers, percussion caps, india-rubber shoes, and above all, no free schools.

I found this "marvelous century" quote while doing research for my book on the history of Fulton. It was basically a "filler", used by Editor John Williams to fill leftover space at the end of a column. Imagine what Mr. Williams would think of all the wonders of this marvelous century! He would not believe how much the world has changed since he wrote those lines 135 years ago. What do we take for granted today that was undreamed of in 1874? I tried to make a list, but soon realized it would be much too long to be used as a filler.

It's almost easier to turn the idea around and ask what has not changed. What would Mr. Williams recognize as familiar and relatively unchanged? I picture him walking through the streets of Fulton, looking around at our town. Perhaps only the natural world would reassure him. Grass is still green and growing, trees still shade the streets, an occasional squirrel still chatters from an overhead limb. People on the street would still be basically the same human creatures, although he might be startled by our clothing and speech.

But if he looked overhead at the wide blue sky he would see long vapor trails of jets passing through the heavens.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do you have insurance? No? Go ahead and kill yourself.

A friend of mine has been struggling with depression for months. Last week she wrote a suicide note and tried to kill herself. Pulled back from the edge, she agreed to get some help. Her mother started making telephone calls to try to get that help for her. Everywhere she called, the first questions were the same: "Does she have insurance? What policy? Can you pay the deductible today?"

After three days of calls and trips to hospitals, she was accepted into a program more than 150 miles away. Her mother borrowed $1500 to pay the deductible required by the mental illness clause in her insurance policy. The program administrator made it clear she would not have been accepted without the insurance policy and the $1500.

What happens to mentally unbalanced people who don't have insurance? The attitude of our health care system seems to be: "Just go ahead and kill yourself." Or kill your kids, or your neighbors, or strangers on the street.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why do I support health care reform?

The short answer: because I strongly believe health care reform is urgently needed.

I have been reading about and experiencing health care problems for many years. I could tell you what I have seen among my friends and family: a two year old who died in his mothers arms on the 25 mile trip to a hospital that would accept an uninsured patient; the midddle aged woman who walks with a permanant limp because she broke her foot and decided to tough it out because she had no insurance; the well insured middle-class family whose child was born with a devastating illness and reached her "lifetime" cap before she reached 12....

I could tell you about my own battles with insurance company bureaucrats who make the real decisions about what kind of health care we get, when, and how often.

But those are just stories. Take a look at some facts. How does our present system treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us: the very young and the old?

INFANT MORTALITY RATE - This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country. It tracks the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year. The United States rank is 46. We're right there between Cuba and Croatia. Who else is ahead of the United States, besides Croatia? Almost everybody, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, Japan, etc. Why is it, if we have the best health care system in the world - that we can't keep our babies alive?

LIFE EXPECTANCY - The United States ranks 49. That means there are 48 other countries where a native born citizen can xpect to live longer than we do! What does that say for our health care system?

Oh - there is one statistic where we get a high number: percentage of LIFE LIVED IN ILL HEALTH. We are right up there with that one - number 9. We don't live as long, and more of the time we do live, we are too sick to enjoy life. Look around you. You know that one is true.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why can't I sleep?

That's a question lots of other people are asking themselves right now.  

30 - 50% of the general population has insomnia. The percentage is even higher among alcoholics, the aged, and mental patients.  I used to pride myself on being just another sad statistic among the general population, but lately I think I'm beginning to slip into one or both of the last two categories. I'm not an alcoholic, but I might consider it if I thought it would help.  

That same article says insomnia is a sympton, not a standalone disorder.  Great. Now  I have something else to worry about: a symptom of WHAT?  Sounds like it could be just about anything.  The site lists at least a hundred possible causes, ranging from jet lag to brain tumor.  Wait...there's a section on food, too. What you eat can keep you awake.  Well, I knew that. Chili keeps me awake, for instance. But I didn't eat chili tonight.

The medical articles don't mention email, facebook, twitter, or blogging as possible causes.  Are they causes? Or does insomnia itself result in excessive online involvement?

Am I excessively involved? Or just trying to keep up....

Never mind. I'm going back to bed. Right now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why does my Writer's Critique Group session leave me feeling SO Great?

I just got back from a three hour critique session with four other female writers. We all emailed the group a new chapter of our novels last week. Today we went over everybody's chapter practically line-by-line, giving advice and impressions on general themes and even nit-picking over specific word choices.

I had so much fun! Even better, I came home fired up to write. Not content to just relax and enjoy the inspiration, I keep wondering WHY our sessions always affect me this way.

One of the women had to babysit her granddaughter today, so we met in the playspace at McDonalds. Nobody complained, we all know we might be the one  who can't get away from the kids next time. Besides it doesn't seem to matter where we meet. When we're together we block out all the noise and distractions and just concentrate on each other and on the writing.

When we started meeting over a year ago, I knew some of the advantages for being in a critique group, but I didn't know how much help the group would provide. First, it provides me a writing deadline. Every two weeks the group meets and that means constantly producing new material. This deadline pushes me to schedule time for writing and polishing my work.

I knew having other writers examine my work would give me fresh insight, marketing ideas and help on the manuscript before sending it out to an editor.  But I didn't realize how much this extra polish would improve my writing.

The critique group is an excellent atmosphere to exchange ideas with other writers. I get the benefit of receiving their input, experience and encouragement. Showing your manuscript to another person involves risk. What if they don't like it? Better to hear that from a fellow writer and polish it some more, than send the article all over the country, receive rejections slips, and never know why. 

But all that still doesn't quite explain my critique group "high".  I think that may be explained on a more elemental level: the value of female friendship. 

I believe friendships, our social connections are vital to emotional health. Friends provide a unique support that we cannot receive from families or children. Friends care about us as individuals and they care about our opinions and our feelings. They also enhance how we feel about ourselves.

Sometimes, women get so caught up in caring for families, spouses, children, jobs and a million other responsibilities that girlfriends may be the only people who can reach out to us and let us slow down. They share our experiences. They tell us jokes. They listen to our stories. We need girlfriends. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why do I always read my horoscope?

Today it says I should quit chasing my impossible dream and take care of my current responsibilities. At least, I think that's what it said. let me go back and copy the exact wording...

You may not be easily satisfied and stabilizing your life would be simpler if you weren't attracted to something that's out of reach. Don't waste any time or effort trying to fulfill your desires today. Instead, just apply yourself toward meeting your current obligations. It might not seem as much fun as chasing a dream, but the rewards at the end of the day will justify your concentration and determination.

Okay - not "impossible dream" just something that's out of reach.  The thing is,  I was typing furiously on my novel and I took a break to check my email. There it was on my iGoogle page - the horoscope widget - telling me my dream of publishing a novel is "out of reach."

I used to see my horoscope just once in a while when I happened to look at the local paper.  But now, thanks to Google, it's right there every day. Sometimes it's an affirmation that makes me smile - but more often lately it seems to be quietly scolding me - reminding me to be nice to my co-workers, take care of my family, appreciate the little things, grow up and face my responsibilities.

I know, logically, horoscopes are for entertainment only. I know I'm pulling meaning out of my own subconscious fears and anxieties. I know this. I'm not superstitious. I'm not stupid.

Even though I know all that..... I'm going to delete that blasted horoscope widget from my iGoogle page.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When did we stop making our own stuff?

Boone Hospital Center – Room 3029

3:00 a.m. Sunday, January 18, 2009

This is my tenth night in the hospital.  Six nights since the triple bypass. It must be time to go home, because here I am journaling/blogging in the middle of the night.

For some reason, I’ve been noticing ‘made in’ tags here at the hospital. Like they’ve been telling us, it’s a world economy. This composition book I’m scribbling in was made in India. The white woven blanket on my bed was made in Pakistan.  Although the front of the tag proclaims it to be from the Phoenix Textile Corporation. In the bathroom I found baby wipes from the Allegiance Company, made in Israel.  I picture hundreds of huge shipping containers each tightly packed with thousands of wet baby wipes. Israel always looks like a dry country when I see it on the news. A place where water is a precious commodity. And yet, all over America people are wiping their bottoms with water from Israel.  What’s wrong with this picture?  How can it be more profitable to make and ship baby wipes from Israel instead of putting them together in the Cheeseborough-Pond’s factory over in Jeff City?  The one that laid everybody off and closed down years ago.

I can’t criticize the hospital or anybody else. The nightgown I have on is soft and warm, well-made, and made in China. I bought it last week at Wal-Mart for $5.00.

I just had to switch pens. The one I was using, made in China, was getting scratchy. This one, also made in China, is much smoother. The telephone on my little rolling bedside table was also made in China. But I found the facial tissues sitting here were made in the USA. Hurray! Nice to know if we can’t make the fancy wet wipes, we still have at least one plant producing the dry kind. I could go on and on. Maybe I already did… This room is full of stuff: complicated electronic medical equipment, sheets, towels, chairs, TV, etc. – stuff brought here from all over the world.

When did it happen? When did we quit making our own stuff? When I was young, back in the early sixties, owning something foreign made meant that it was either cheap and junky OR very expensive and well-made. But not ordinary. The ordinary stuff came from a plant in the next town over, or maybe from New Jersey or Michigan.

‘Made in Japan’ was the tip-off for cheap. The stuff you picked up at the dime store, like little ceramic figurines to sit on an end table or plastic toys the kids would tear up the first week.

‘Made in Germany’, Switzerland, or England meant you were buying the best hand crafted items: knives, watches, clocks, fine china. Do the best, most expensive luxury goods still come from Europe? I don’t know. I was never in the market for luxury goods, and Lord knows, that has not changed.

Today, Obama rolled through Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, and into Washington making speeches and promises about a new beginning for America. If he is successful in all he hopes to accomplish – maybe more of our ordinary stuff will be made by ordinary Americans.