"Sometimes the only power you have is to tell your story." -Evelyn Wilde

Sunday, September 18, 2016

An Open Letter to United Healthcare

To whom it may concern,

For almost two years I have entrusted United Healthcare with my business.  I have appreciated, as an Independent Contractor, that I can get a Mammogram and health check ups because working for myself meant Health Insurance had not always been available to me.

In fact, I would imagine that the start-ups and new business we see booming all over the country are a direct result of individuals accessing health care without having to be tied to a company to provide it.

I continue to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Marketplace Insurance Program (aka 'Obamacare'). And yet, here I am- without health insurance for the next few days- while you, United Healthcare, figure out why you have cancelled my coverage for an inexplicable 6th time in two years.

I have a file a few inches thick which is full of emails, letters, invoices, etc., documenting every effort you have made to deny me coverage and I have made to rectify your errors.

And I am on top of it.

I am an organized, middle-class woman with free time on my hands. Yet, even I can't anticipate the mercurial rationale for cancelling my health coverage without notice.

I think about the less advantaged who you might do this to: the single mothers juggling several part-time jobs and children. Or the elderly, or those without Wi-Fi and lap tops, with which they can send exasperated emails to you. What happens to them when they go to Walgreens and are denied their medication because you have calculated that they are also undeserving of your protection?

I know from working in the Health Care field (and receiving the $60 per session that you feel my services and nine years of training are worth--which comes to about $25 after taxes, office fees, and processing take their share) that you will create havoc for my doctors, now that you are denying claims and sending out letters stating (incorrectly) that I have not paid my dues. I know that you will take money from their other patient fees to cover your end.

I know that you will tell me it's all resolved and then change your mind in a few months and subject me to another marathon session with one of your Customer Service Representatives, whom I will vent all my anger and frustration onto. I will then apologize to them and be on the verge of a panic attack at the injustice of it all. Thus, the medication you are denying me this weekend is to deal with you because, ironically, United Healthcare has had a negative impact on my health.

When I call my Doctor's billing department and explain the situation, the woman on the other end will sigh and say "All the Marketplace plans do this."

Is that what this is? Are you as an industry sabotaging the success of the most progressive health care initiative in 50 years?  Are you not happy that more sick people are accessing care? Is the hotel mini bar model of Health Care- where aspirin is billed for $20 a pill- no longer viable? That must not please the shareholders in the only country where caring for the health of people is a for-profit industry.

I know that my Governor, by denying expanded Medicaid, made this more difficult for you. I understand that this is a new model and, as with any change, it takes time to figure out how to make it work. But please try harder to make it work-- our lives depend upon it.


A United Healthcare Member

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Torch and Flame

U.S.A.!! U.S.A!! I mean, right?! We're absolutely killing it out there in Rio.

Every four years Americans remember just how strong and awesome we are, standing on those podiums more than any other country. Olympians who look like us. Really in shape versions of us. They are black, white, Muslim, Jewish, silly and shy.

Olympics, sport in general, reminds us of the power in excellence; of the rules of engagement and fair play. Cheaters are shunned. Hard work and commitment sometimes pays off in gold but always in pride. Underdogs are welcomed, celebrated even.

The Olympics are about the best-- the most perfect-- what we can control within seconds or inches.

How fantastically satisfying that these Olympics fall just before a United States election. An election mired in narcissism, paranoia, fear and the 24 hour media coverage of their symptoms.

The juxtaposition of elite sports and government could not be more stark. We as a nation, a people--humanity-- whether in America, Britain or Zambia-- are still trying to craft that more perfect union between our realities and our ideals, and the results are far from perfect.

It is so easy to get despondent and cynical. Just glancing at the news sends me into a rage cycle.

The blame must be shared though. We seek personalities whom we respond well to. We are misinformed on the process and policy and have not fought back hard enough against the powers that be. But I don't wake up to a security briefing every morning, do you? I don't know anything about how this country actually functions.
I just know I really needed health insurance and, when I finally got it, I felt like a citizen of a government that cared about me.

I know when gas prices are too high or when rising rent exiles me from my community. I know that black children do not deserve to be shot and killed and I want very much for people to stop that from happening.

I do know that as a Member of the U.S.A Board  (ie. a Voter) my responsibility is to elect the best person for the job-- I'm not obliged to agree with every choice they've ever made or like their face all that much. Perfection is a false promise in politics. Sometimes a vote is the best choice between "meh" and "WTF!?"

Voltaire is quoted as saying: "Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good."

Compromise, showing up, accepting good enough, getting better, being aware of our "areas for improvement" and having the patience to see it through. That is all we can control.

Commitment and vision are what politics and sport do share. But let's reserve perfect for Simone Biles and Michael Phelps this year.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chicks and Chicos: Advice for young adults

I had a moment today when I realized that the time has arrived for me to start shopping at Chico's. Everything about my choice in jewelry, loose, soft fabrics, and ready for a casual gathering vibe leads straight to their door.

Basically, I'm turning 42 this year and it's time to embrace being "middle-aged" with gusto and tunics. That's the advice I would give myself.

As a Psychotherapist I don't really give advice- its not helpful. The work is the process of guided self discovery. But 16-20 year olds, whom I love working with, so often want to get right to the practical stuff : "Just tell me what to do" they plead, even though the truth is, even if I did, they would still screw it up spectacularly because that's what they need to do.

Nevertheless, this blog is not my office so herein lies my advice for those High School Juniors/Seniors and recent graduates. The young, beautiful kidadults staring into their future with giddy excitement and paralyzing fear of getting it all terribly wrong.

I'm not talking about the scholars, artists or single-minded genius who never questioned their purpose or Harvard Law pedigree. I'm speaking to kids like the one I was-- who don't have a clue.

1. Get a trade. Learn how to do something practical: hairdresser, waitress, mechanic, barista, etc. Have a trade that you know, no matter what, will afford you some independence.

2. Get your Associate degree as soon as possible. Complete all those basic, 101 required courses while you are working or have parents who will still float you. Then wait and work and travel.

3. Travel anywhere. Just go explore your city, state, country, the world. There are more programs than ever before to assist you on your adventures: WWOOF, Study Abroad, AmericCorps. Or take that trade and move to another city and find a job.

You will reach a sharp edge of existential crises eventually and that is when you will know if you want to study further. At that point ask yourself what you are curious about. What would you do if you could do anything? Then figure out how to do it.

4. Money does get you better stuff and opportunities but not necessarily better people- remember and value your friendships.

5. Use birth control and wear condoms- always. Do not have a child until your parents have not paid for your phone, car, and/or health insurance for at least two years. But have a baby by 35 so you don't start freaking out and making impulsive choices. Biology is real.

6. If you don't want to be a mother (or father) more than anything else, that is also valid and normal. Travel more, sleep in, eat gourmet food. Repeat.

7. Date without remorse We are so focused on finding "the one" that each rejection feels profound and painful, yet there will always be others when you are open to meeting new people.

8. When you do find true companionship + great sex- lock it down and let go of being single. You will think fondly of being single, you may crave that extra attention and the thrill of the chase, but remember that being single was lonely most of the time. You can't really have it both ways unless both of you agree to the terms. Monogamy is tough but it's also the price of admission in my experience.

9. Try to save a bit of money every month and don't go into debt over "stuff."

10. Tell your parents "thank you" regularly- even if they were rubbish. They had their moments and yes, they screwed you up, but they are yours and you are theirs. Accept and embrace the glorious mess you all are.

Now get out there and wear leggings like pants, bikinis, man buns and shorts smaller than my underwear. Chico's will be there one day for you, too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

No School Left Behind

The child of an acquaintance is attending the same Middle School I was once did-- almost 30 years ago. I shared with them the privileged perspective I had of realizing in 7th grade that not every family had a maid.

A good education in many ways, but not exactly a school in a "good" area, I attended the Arts Magnet Program in what was then called a Junior High.  Politicians and Educators had successfully implemented Magnet Arts & Science programs in low performing schools by the late 1980's, which continue to represent a beacon of hope in the otherwise bleak graveyard of well intended education policies.

Two decades later I worked in schools located in what were considered "bad" neighborhoods.

There were excellent teachers and staff at those schools I worked in, who had little to none of the family support given to "good" schools-- because poverty doesn't lend itself to competitive bake sales and silent auctions. So outcomes and expectations always fell short, despite our efforts and those of the parents and children we served.

I have never been a police officer but I resonated recently with the speeches made after the Dallas massacre. The speakers lamented the burden of asking too much of civil servants. Teachers are often required to be much more to students than their job description, too.

It was at those schools, working as a Special Education Coordinator, which covered Gifted through Autism to Hospital/Homebound students, where I noticed the phenomena of March Madness: White parents of preschoolers, frantically calling within the legal time frame to request Gifted testing for their child (who would be zoned for our school in the Autumn). A gifted program, you see, was their golden ticket to a school in a "good" area.

The caveat that many a savvy homebuyer reckons with is that the schools in that "up and coming" area are often the most ignored and least integrated. Yet, despite the great deal on that house, the children of those families often attend schools outside of their neighborhood. All that effort put into restoration and renovation never finds its way into the classrooms or PTA's, and the schools most in need of a Homeroom Mother with a college degree and time on her hands never even have a chance to meet her.

So now I work in Boca Raton where as a Psychotherapist I see young adults who were raised in the affluent Palm Beach, Florida town.  They are great kids; smart, funny, insightful, but struggling nonetheless. Their parents, who often relocated their families from up north, seem surprised by their child's bad behavior.  They had hoped to put a gated community wall around those threats. The helplessness registers on their faces when they realize that "good" neighborhoods making children immune to drugs, defiance and despair was never a guarantee.

If I had gone to a "good" school all those years ago I would have missed out on so much. Thinking back to all the homes I visited on sleep overs, and experiences which woke me up and out of my familial experience. I tried Haitian food, went to Bar Mitzvahs, attended a Catholic Mass. I had classes with someone whose family were Persians (like the cat!) I had friends who were gay and their moms let them eat cheese doodles and drink soda (not just at birthday parties!!) I watched Columbian soap operas and learned how to make money washing cars in the summer.

Poverty is awful and scary, for those who fear it but mostly for those who live it. Changing that reality is the responsibility of both the inhabitants of "bad" neighborhoods and, in a way that can no longer be ignored or scapegoated, very much with us--- the not black lives.

Because yes, we struggle and suffer too, even the rich and pretty among us, but racism and bias are historical and systemic. We, white people, must admit to avoiding, pilfering and rejecting the black and brown communities whom we selectively ignore, zone and landscape out of sight.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hannah, Carrie, or Rachel?

Close your eyes for a moment and go back in time. Go back to a time when the NBA champions were the Chicago Bulls. When "Supermodels" were a thing. Rosanne was our favorite TV show. The Bodyguard and Aladdin were movies we paid cash money to see in a theatre. The Real World premiered on MTV and Amy Fisher shot that poor woman in the face.

1992 was the year Bill Clinton ran for President and I graduated High School.

I tell incredulous teenagers now about not having an iPhone or Snapchat and they just stare at me, blinking slowly. I can remember card catalogs at libraries, mimeographed homework, using pay phones when you were ready to get picked up at the mall. I actually do remember playing all day with my friends outside and riding my bike a few miles to school, sans protective head gear. I'm not exaggerating any of that.

Yet here I am at 41 years old: texting at stoplights, on-line shopping, oversharing on Facebook, and listening to library books that I download from an app.

My graduating class should be studied in a lab for our adaptability and endurance.

But my generation seems to be undefined. Broadly, we are part of Generation X. Specifically, those of us born in 1972-1976 went to high school together and that is still how I identify people around my age: Would you have been a Senior when I was in 9th grade? Or were you in 9th grade when I was Senior? Ether way we wouldn't have had much in common back then and probably don't now.
Friends premiered in 1994. They were all definitely in college when I was in High School but remain relatable archetypes of twentysomething transitions even today.

Sex and the City ran from 1998--2004. I was 24--30 in that time period. Those women were at least ten years older than me. They would have had their first jobs out of college when I was just starting High School. Although I didn't exactly relate to their thirtysomething lifestyles I watched the show like a manual for how to be a woman.

I had neither the bank account, shoes, nor dating pool that they inhabited but it was the first time I had seen sex and relationships spoken about in an honest way and I tried my best to emulate them.

Girls premiered in 2012 when I was 37. Another brilliant show, depicting women living in the same area of Brooklyn and making the same tragic choices I once did. Yet, I was well past that by then.

Married, in a transitioning career, and contemplating motherhood. Much more in-line with Carrie or Charlotte, than Hannah or Marnie, but really just sort of somewhere in between them. A generation unrepresented by HBO. In the 7 years between those two shows I felt more connected to a flawed man from the 1960's, a Chemistry Teacher turned Drug Lord, and black youth from Baltimore.
I've only got a handful of friends from high school left.  We all live in different cities so our relationships exist for the most part on Facebook. Our 20th High School Reunion (four years ago) was just skipped over, no one bothered to hold one or I didn't get the Evite.

The High School President of our class was probably too busy producing multiple Broadway Plays and gifted children to arrange it. I think the Vice President of our year is now the Artistic Director at Alvin Ailey, or works for AT&T. I can't verify either, but we went to the High School of the Arts so many of us have "made it" and many of us have made something else entirely of our adulthood.

Either way, we're all apparently too busy to meet up in a hotel ballroom.

The Class of 1992 is 40-42 years old now. We're at that apex, where wine and people reach the crest of our lived experiences. We are "middle aged" by standard definition. We owe it to ourselves and all the seventies neglect, eighties excess and nineties plaid that we lived through to be heard from.

If the child prodigy who used to accompany me on Memory is only now getting his second Tony Award, I think a relevant TV show is still within reach.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Drown the Rich

"I must clean our patio doors three times a week" I complain. My sister rolls her eyes and mutters "Middle-Class problems, indeed."  

Rusted furniture and murky glass are not actual problems, but they do blur the dream of ocean front living.

Although we live in a small apartment, just down the street is the most expensive property in the Unites States. We share the same view. I realize that if you have the money to buy your own private Caesar's Palace you can certainly afford to maintain it, but I do caution people who share with me their dream of living by the water: "Don't underestimate the upkeep" I say. "It will cost you thousands in repairs and replacements every year. Salt water is a bitch."

Living by or near the water is why so many people move here, but in South Florida even the beach, the natural occurring convergence of land and water, is mostly private property; ostensibly available for everyone to enjoy but only past an invisible demarcation line in the sand.

A drive along the ocean road from Miami to Palm Beach will allow very few unobstructed views of the actual water. The drive is mostly a tour of private homes, tower blocks and landscaped gates, all lined up next to each other like birds on a wire; acquiring every possible inch of space to ensure that they block out your view for theirs.

There are public beaches along the way. A mile or so of space that each city owns, where you will probably pay to park and then get to spend a lovely day, inches away from strangers in their waterproof underwear.

Some people don't even flinch at that idea. I see them with their umbrellas and coolers, staking out a spot, uninhibited and impervious to others. Me, not in a million years. Ideally, I want just enough space between myself and everyone else so they know if I'm drowning but not enough to know my gender.

I actually see the beach I live by as a metaphor for why the 2016 election matters. It is a physical example of the American Dream we all get sold: claiming your own piece of sand, even if it is inches away from someone else's.

The irony is, that rust and muck I scrape off every week is nothing compared to the threat of sea level rise. A climate report found that "2.4 million Floridians are at risk of flooding from even a moderate hurricane-driven storm surge. The odds of a catastrophic 100-year flood by 2030 are now 2.6 times higher than they would have been without global warming."

In America, money can buy you palaces, privacy, and power, but it is sobering for us to remember that the ocean we all stare at, whether from a towel, terrace, or turret, couldn't care less about property values, and neither should our Politicians.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Extreme Purging

What if, a la The Leftovers, we all woke up tomorrow and Extremists of every faith, fad diet, and political persuasion had just vanished?

Poof. No mas.

Trump, ISIS, Vegans, Kim Davis, the NRA, Marine Le Pen. Gone. What would it be like to live in a world where no one watched Fox News, or preached hate, or had 19 children, demanded Gluten be eradicated from the menu, or gunned down Abortion Clinics (schools, malls, concerts, churches, cafes, holiday parties, etc.)?

Would it be better, safer, kinder? Or would we still sabotage ourselves and continue to rank and file? "I'm a Socialist Liberal with a uterus and you're a Democratic Socialist with man boobs. See? So different, so, not cool."

The fact is we all share more than we parse. Men and Women, Muslim and Jew, Carnivore and Herbivore. Yet we hone in on the differences, fixate on them; pathologize and study them in a lab. Except here we all are: walking around on the same planet, just breathing and fucking and texting, from Alaska to Zambia.

I see hope in the Transgender community, calling for a neutral pronoun. And the new government of Canada, equalizing the genders in their Cabinet positions. Even Silicon Valley, admitting that they need to focus on diversity and altruism more than hover boards. Even Florida!! The mayor of St. Petersburg just banned Donald Trump from visiting, thanks to his latest call for a ban on all Muslim immigration. Meanwhile, many Muslims are standing up for peace and progress within their militant communities.

An end of times purge would be effective but that's the easy way, it wouldn't last. We'd find something to bitch about. No, the path of progress must start within ourselves. Only then could it affect our politics.

So, continue to exclaim your outrage on-line, by all means, but let's also respond to ISIS and Trump, (et al.), by welcoming family and friends into our hearts and homes this holiday season, despite our differences. Let us attempt to release the judgment; accept that everyone we know is struggling and trying to do their best.

Workshop that with your in laws and see how it goes. Then and only then can we expect it from the "others."