Thursday, January 17, 2013

Les Miserables Lives On- Part IV

We live in a rare state that not only provides health insurance for low-income parents, but even provides medical assistance for non-parent adults who cannot afford their own health insurance.

Plus, we have mental health parity--we require insurance to pay for mental health services.

Even so, the state makes the annual application process extremely difficult. The waiting time between applying and notification of approval is long. I have met people with bronchitis and walking pneumonia who were waiting for approval and could not afford the doctor.

Now, I have learned of another friend who had to call 911 and an ambulance for mental health hospitalization after two years of gaining and then losing, applying again, gaining, then losing, etc. her medical insurance.

Okay--so rather than provide her with medication for depression and anxiety and provide her with therapy for same, we now have to pay for a week of hospitalization, a month of ongoing outpatient hospitalization and ongoing therapy. The hospital took care of the application for disability and medical insurance and now this friend is back among the mentally living, an active and  valuable parent and participant in society.

But what harm has been done to the elasticity of her brain cells in the meantime? Not to mention those of her children?

Keep in mind: I am a middle-class white person. We own a house. My children go to a fabulous public school. I do not hang out at the local homeless shelter. The people that I am discussing here are friends made from among all classes, races, religions and incomes via this public school.

And yes, I have friends in the arts and writing community, which tends to be less stable than, say, the financial world. Still, those friends have, until recently, been steady wage earners, home owners, apartment renters, teachers, child-care-givers, valuable people to any society for more than their creativity. But after losing job, house, etc., some people find they need mental health assistance including stabilizing mental health meds. How does it makes sense that we are not providing the backup to these people? I do not understand.

I repeat: Our family values MUST include making sure that people can get the medical support they need. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Joy of Challenging Questions

Today, I submitted an excerpt from The Color of Safety for a new fellowship given by a foundation  dedicated to secular Judaism. I am not sure, but I think secular Judaism may be following the principals laid out in Jewish teachings without worrying too much if you believe in God.

Whatever it is, this international fellowship has two sections, one for scholars, and the other for fiction writers working on projects with Jewish themes. I figure this includes The Color of Safety, which rides straight into the chasm that was cut between Jewish and African-Americans in the last decades of the 20th century, reminding us (as well as some Japanese-Americans) of how much we share historically and internally. The main character derives wisdom from both traditions and far from riding to the rescue on her lily-white own has to learn to throw herself a community that is already very capably fighting against societies current villains.

I would love to be one of the inaugural fiction fellows for this foundation, but the truth is, whether I wind up winning one or not, the process of applying has benefitted me tremendously. These grant and fellowship people ask fascinating questions: like, what are your career ambitions? Whereas before, I would have no notion of career ambitions, I now know that I would like to use any opportunities for publicity for The Color of Safety to create a new conversation of the many connections that African-Americans and Jews share.

I am also far more clear than before that I am a ridiculously Jewish novelist. However much I wrestle with my faith, with which parts I believe, which I observe and how to act out my ethics in their most powerful form, they are Jewish ethics, it is a Jewish faith, and the fact that I can even consider which parts of my faith to ignore is an inherently Jewish concept born of our traditions long history of not only asking questions, but of recording both sides of an argument and ultimately turning them into holy writ (see The Talmud) vs. other traditions who have historically decided what is holy and what is not, and acted accordingly.

I am sure that we Jews also did that long ago, or else there would not be casual mention of ritual prostitution in the Torah, or hints of goddess worship in both Torah and archeological record, though any goddess worship that remains in Judaism is via the concept of the Sabbath Bride, the Shekhinah. (Side note: I recently met a Christian woman of just-discovered Sephardic Jewish ancestry who told me that in the Charismatic Christian community they refer to the Bride of the Sabbath, but pronounce her ShekInah, (rhymes with vaGIna.) Reminds me of the pre-k teacher who had prepped for the Chanukah story by "reading all about those MacAfees and their hammer.")

In recent years, though, (like most of the last 2000) Jews have had to develop a non-centralized religion that allows for a wide range of beliefs and customs, while still, to my eye, anyway, remaining Jewish. I hope that in my career, should I be blessed with a career, I will be able to explore some of those beliefs and customs interacting with this complex world. Hurrah for fellowships, whether I win them or not. Hurrah for challenging questions without any one right answer, and the discoveries that these questions will leads us to if we are brave enough to struggle with them. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Les Miserables Lives On, Part III

Great News, Terrific News. My friend, who I am calling Claire, had to be hospitalized. Yes, the chronic genetic illness along with depression combined with the complete cold turkey absence of meds thanks to our medical insurance system, got her in the hospital for a week and all-day outpatient care for a lot longer.

And while there, the hospital took care of her State Insurance application, straightened out the screw-ups on the State's end, and stabilized both condition and depression. For the first time in two months, when I spoke with Claire, she was there. Really there. Her humor, her strength, her joy.

So. Really? We really think it's wiser that the State had to incur her hospitalization costs than that they make sure applications get taken care of in a timely manner? (And of course, let's not forget that we're one of the few fortunate states that provides necessary medical insurance to parents of young children.)

We really want people off their medications rather than considering the dreaded--'gasp" Socialized Medicine? (As in Socialist, as in somewhere on the continuum between Flat-out "Caveat Emptor" Capitolism and "Everything Belongs to the State" Communism.) We really want her three young children to now have to wrestle with the impact of a mother's hospitalization, to deal with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives, rather than provide families with children--whether single parent or couples--with the support that they need?

I suppose we do have one up on Les Miserables, at least in this state. We still have a wonderful hospital system. If this had been one of our major cities that have gutted their public hospitals, my friend would have been really screwed.

And of course, in the 1780's and 90's in France, a hospital was a psych ward where people went to be tortured and die. Progress. . . I suppose. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Les Miserables Lives on Part II

I have another friend, a couple I'll call Mel and Kari. They are bright, funny, kind, caring people, very hard working, and their whole lives revolve around parenting their four kids under the age of seven. Mel is a scientific genius without a college degree. Kari has an advanced degree and training in a field that is both art, craft and science. Mel works in his field, but the companies around here that hire in his field only hire for a year, and then they fire people.

They used to hire people and work them until it came time for them to qualify for benefits, then fire them (much like retail stores are doing today) until the IRS told them they couldn't do that. Now, they hire people for 1 year, give them no benefits, then fire them. Legally.

Of course, that's only one of his jobs. He started another one last year, another part-time, because, of course, he knows he can't count on the first job for permanent employment. That job, too, does not offer benefits, so he is screwed.

Kari has started a business of her own based on her training field. Her business is flourishing, but she has to keep costs low to get business, there are material's costs and store space rental, plus, it's a craft, based on her own labor, so there's only so much she can work, (particularly with four little ones.) Mel and Kari earn enough between them that they do not qualify for medical assistance or Welfare, but not enough that they can afford things like medicine or even dental care for the children, though in our state, the kids are covered for medical care. Kari and Mel cross their fingers, watch the blotch grow on the front tooth of one of their kids, and keep on keeping on, with a cheerful good will.

Mel comes from a large family with a history of bi-polar disorder and suicide. Working two jobs now, he sleeps very little. They can't afford an anti-depressant that would help him cope, though anybody with four young kids and one and a half jobs would probably be exhausted enough to feel depressed. Kari is endlessly patient and wonderful with her small horde, and so is Mel--when he's rested enough to be present. He's such a gentle man, but what little time he gets to spend with his children finds him grumpy or lumpy. Really, he just wants to sit there and rest.

So, I ask you: where are our family values? Don't talk to me about prayer and church being the answer. This family is deeply religious. He is choir director of his church. She teaches Sunday school classes. Their home is filled with religious photos and I know they pray a lot, because her four-year-old kept  insisting, "Jesus is so the boss of this house, because he's the boss of everything," when I gently explained that since we were Jewish, he wasn't the boss at our house, that God was. This family prays then gets up off their needs and works damned hard. When are the rest of us going to do the same thing--for families like this one? When are we going to get smart enough to this family? Doesn't it make sense that we'd want to keep a father of four with a family history of suicide on his mental health meds? Doesn't it make sense that a mom of four young kids should have the medical care she needs to stay healthy? If we want her to work, shouldn't we make sure those terrific kids have quality childcare?

Let's shout out for real family values, ones that help families with their boots on the ground. Medical care for everyone. Quality childcare or financial aid for families where both parents work. If jobs can't or won't provide medical insurance, why don't we just switch to single payer? Heck, I've torn a calf muscle in Europe, had an orthopedic surgeon come to my hotel, diagnose, go to the pharmacy for the necessary medicines, give me an injection and a massage on the sort spot, and apologetically charge me $35.00--because with any French citizen, this would have been free. Happy doctors working there. Happy people going to them. Call it socialist or not, it works wonderfully. Why not do it here? 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Les Miserables Lives On.

I have a friend. Call her Claire. She has an illness which is catastrophic and progressive, and in her case genetic. 

I wish that this were not so. 

As a friend, Claire has always been ridiculously careful to make certain that she gave as much as she got. 

She married a construction guy and has three daughters, lovely girls, kind, polite, bright, thoughtful. She is about to lose custody of them, due to her illness and the fact that, rather than pay child support and help her parent, the father has used this as an excuse to stop paying child support and snatch the kids, something she must now fight legally. 

She has not done anything to bring on her current situation apart from marrying an asshole many years ago. I spoke today with another of Claire's friends. This woman, call her Amanda, is far more competent than I am in so many ways. She is an interior designer, doing well, married to an architect. Her house is organized and neat, her children's birthday parties both spontaneous--(foot and finger-painting as an activity)--and planned to within an inch--(with walls and floors were prepped by having sheets taped up all over them.) She is socially deft. I have watched in admiration as she walks through some challenging political parent stuff. Which there is, just like in those "How does she do it," novels. 

Amanda, too, thinks Claire is the most deserving of folk. That she has been an inspiration. That to watch her fail after all her hard work and steady upward climb is excruciatingly painful. 

Lately, Claire's middle child has openly declared allegiance to the Dad who grabbed her, and who fills her head with lies--"I don't have to pay child-support." "If I don't pay child support, she'll just have to get a job like the rest of us." And never mind the realities of her disease, the constant, intense pain and exhaustion, the ways it affects her thinking.

We have both watched Claire struggle with Welfare and our state's medical insurance plan for the adult parent of young children. She was denied disability, because she did not yet have the paperwork from a major clinic documenting her illness. She needs to appeal, something very hard to do when a disease is clouding up your good, smart brain and you can't afford the meds to treat it. 

She sleeps long hours, which is a part of the disease--constant fatigue. She is always in the grip of excruciating pain. Despite this, until recently, she was the go-to-mom on the playground for snacks, the volunteer mom for helping the teacher or field trips.

I am planning to call her today and tell her that I get it if this fight is too hard, too much for her. I get that it may be too much for her, fighting welfare and disability and a dad playing nasty and one child who has decided she has to declare allegiance now because Mom's going to die. I will understand if she does give up, if she literally just curls up and dies. And she has already done far more for her daughters than her own druggie mother was ever able to do for her. Claire has been a steady, disciplined, loving mom. Her girls were, until Dad grabbed them, shining, happy children, despite the divorce and custody battle. The school librarian has said they are some of the best, kindest kids in the school. It is gut wrenching to understand how little our society cares, about children, about mothers, about what is best for both. It is gut-wrenching to see someone like Claire--someone who has steadily grown, learned, kept on going, someone truly inspiring, be literally destroyed by a system that cares so little. It is like watching Les Miserables--except this is now and this is real and this is a woman who four years ago seemed someone to envy--with the big house  and the big car and three shining daughters. 

If I had the funds, I would put them into an attorney for her disability battle and for her custody battles. But I don't. I don't know how much or what I can do. 

If I let her, Claire will pull away of her own volition as she falls. She will sleep and not call and not return my calls. That's her way under extreme stress--isolate and not be a burden. But is it right for me to let her pull? How hard can I--should  I--hold on? What kind of a world do I want to live in? What kind of values do I want to teach my children? 

How I wish I were not having to ask these questions. How I wish that I, too, were one of the innocent ones who believe in what I think of as a Santa Claus God, someone who takes care of you as long as you behave well. How I wish I could sit at home, safe in the knowledge that God will take care of me, because I'm smart and good and if He's not taking care of Claire, well, it's all her fault. Safe. 

How I wish that we, as a culture, truly did support family values. The values of this woman's family that have made her children a delight and her life an inspiration to Amanda and I, with her strong moral fiber and her mother's love.