Monday, December 19, 2005

Book Review: The New Health Insurance Solution by Paul Zane Pilzer

I wanted to actually try Mr. Pilzer’s suggestions before writing this but I just haven’t been able to get to it. I will post my results later when I have.

The biggest challenge this book presents is that you actually have to pay attention to your health insurance. This is something that I, and I’d say most Americans, have never really done. I have insurance through my employer. There’s something about a deductible and that’s about all I usually know.

Until something happens, that is. I really woke up to this when two things happened. I broke my thumb over the summer. This required surgery and follow up appointments which racked up quite a bill. In the end, the whole ordeal cost well over $5K! And, miraculously and somewhat mysteriously, my insurance paid all but $109. That’s all I had to pay.


Then in October I decided that I wanted to strike out on my own. I quit my job, set up a consulting business, and immediately started worrying about health insurance. For me, this detail is even more worrisome than taxes.

For the time being, we are on my wife’s insurance but frankly it’s not a very good plan and it’s quite expensive. I planned to find individual insurance as soon as I could anyway and now I feel a lot more confident about this process thanks to Pilzer’s book.

In the first place, this guy is excited about health insurance. I really have never encountered anyone with so much enthusiasm for this, to me, mind numbingly boring topic. His excitement really comes through in the book. Under most writers I wouldn’t make it two paragraphs into this subject before falling asleep. But Pilzer keeps the reader’s attention with his enthusiasm.

It also helps that the text is often interrupted with charts, text boxes, subheading, etc. All of this drags you along as he explains his rather simple solution to rising employer health care costs.

His solution, and I’m not spilling the beans on him here because it’s right there in the title, is to leave your traditional employer provided healthcare plan. He argues that things are such now that obtaining individual insurance is actually cheaper and can provide better coverage for healthy individuals than under the old system of employer provided insurance.

“Yeah, right,” you’re probably thinking. Conventional wisdom says that purchasing individual health insurance is cripplingly expensive. That’s what I believed when I saw the synopsis of this book. But Pilzer demonstrates how one can combine high deductible individual insurance with a new financial tool that Congress recently put into place called an HAS to make it work.

Like I said, I haven’t tried it yet myself but I will.

I sat down with this book and read it cover to cover but only because I planned to write this review. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else nor would I do it myself if I were reading it for the first time. Even with the enthusiasm and attention grabbing format I mentioned above I found my mind wandering while I read it. This IS a book about health insurance, after all, and there’s only so much you can do with this subject.

And Pilzer apparently realizes this. Mercifully, the first section of the book, directly after the table of contents, is called “Executive Summary.” In it he presents almost every realistic health insurance scenario followed by a summarized solution and where you can find the specific details of his solution in the book. So in some ways this can be called a reference manual to Pilzer’s new health insurance solution.

And he doesn’t just cover individuals. There is quite a lot written for businesses about how they can take advantages of the new health insurance laws to cut their costs for health insurance. The most innovative approach was to educate employees about the cheaper solutions available to them for finding individual insurance then compensating them, before taxes, for their costs at a fraction of the overall costs associated with the traditional arrangement. Everybody wins.

So, if you have health insurance, need insurance or handle the insurance for your company, I recommend this book.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Book Review: The Soul of America by Abraham King

Do you know where the soul of America is? I do but I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to read the book.

Actually, this book is less concerned with America’s soul than those parts that have become separated from it. Specifically religion, business, politics, the workers – well, the whole country, I suppose - and each part is represented by a caricature designed for first time novelist Abraham King’s dissection and criticism.

The book opens and closes on a flea market – a nice device that prepares the reader for the messiness of all that will come. Surrounded as it is by the chaos of mounds of junk for sale and grubby customers rifling through old pots and pans, the book produces a futility for the characters as they try to enforce some sort of order to their life.

While each character desperately clings to whatever portion of the American pie he has gained, he is unaware of the ground crumbling beneath him. We are shown how the actions of each contribute directly to the decline of America. This demonstrates a perpetuation of power on the parts of both the powerful and powerless that vexes the entire novel.

The caricature studies begin with the militia man without a militia. He has a credo and an agenda but no followers. He is followed by two religious leaders, one who is slowly converting his church to a shopping mall and another who doesn’t really seem to have a church at all. We also meet the business tycoon whose entire existence is literally and necessarily spent at his desk as it contains the life support systems for his failing body. The working poor and the middle management employee help to round out this modern American morality play. Finally, the government overseeing this madness is run by amateurs trained by amateurs with no greater goal than to stay in office.

Anything here sound familiar? If there is a genius to King it is that he can take the ills intrinsic to the point of being familiar in modern American society and twist them through hyperbole so that we are reintroduced to their corrosive nature. He holds up a circus mirror to make us reexamine the evils that we have become used to.

This very act produces not only a chance to see the America with fresh eyes but many chances at humor. For all of the darkness here, there is a great deal of comedy. I found myself laughing aloud and while simultaneously horrified by book’s macabre twists.

You might have noticed, if you try to be a politically correct grammarian as I do, that I seem to have slipped into the now archaic method of referring generically to all persons with a masculine pronoun. This is not the case. Except for one or two minor characters, this book is devoid of women. I’m not sure if this is an oversight by the author or another of his many points regarding what is wrong with America today. Given Abraham’s taut metaphors, I tend to think the later.

This is really an entertaining book. The idea is well conceived and the characters, even if I can’t find myself caring for even the most sympathetic of them, are interesting enough to keep the pages turning.

But then this is a parable and who needs depth?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Book Review: Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright

Blog or die. That’s Jeremy Wright’s message to the modern business. He tells us that customers have come to expect a business to have a blog. And, even if a business doesn’t have a blog, they will still be blogged about so every person invested in the success of a business should follow its public image in the blogoshere.

This book was rather thicker than I thought possible given the subject of blogs. Blogs are places where anyone of any level or skill can trumpet their thoughts, opinions, or musings. What more could possibly be said about them?

Quite a lot, actually.

One point, though, before I get into this book. The title is a bit misleading perhaps. If you are a sales person or trying to market something, do not expect this book to do much to help you use blogs to move product. This book concerns itself with the big picture. Wright is more interested in using blogs to improve a businesses public image than for moving individual units.

The book opens with a couple of obligatory chapters for the uninitiated. This book is written to the businessman, not the blogger, and Wright provides enough background and examples to prepare his audience for the blogoshpere. Then he launches into the meaning of blogs to business. He covers the various possible uses – both internal and external – of blogs for businesses. Wright tells us that a blog is so much more than the traditional advertising or press release style of business to customer communication. That old monologue can be abandoned for the more productive dialogue that blogs make possible. They now have the opportunity to interact with customers in a way that they never could before. Blogs also offer new internal communication solutions to businesses, either company wide or within a department or even a few coworkers involved in a project.

Another invaluable use for of blogosphere to businesses that Wright points out is monitoring what other blogs are saying about your business and industry. Wright argues that this puts the decision makers in an unprecedented position of being able to move swiftly and react quickly to issues that might arise with such things as product malfunction, similar issues with competitors, problems with suppliers or vendors. The blogosphere discusses everything; therefore something worth knowing is bound to come up.

Next Wright offers a few pointers on how to interact with your business’s blog. Gone are the days, he repeats time and again, when businesses can speak down to their customers but never listen. He offers advice on dealing with praise and, most importantly, negative comments on the business’s or others’ blogs.

He wraps up the book with tips on how to succeed in blogging and even makes a few predictions for the future of blogging.

Throughout the book Wright maintains a passionate message that businesses simply must blog or they will quickly go the way of buggy whip makers. His message is so fervent that I felt that I need to start a business blog and soon! Better start a business first, though. Now that I’ve stepped back a bit, though, I really don’t know if I buy this message.

Undeniably, blogs can offer lots of advantages and conveniences to modern businesses. They are cheap, easy to maintain and offer a simple way to communicate that won’t have the IT department tied down with extra work. But blog or die? There is one fact that Wright overlooks. Bloggers do not represent the world. Bloggers, I mean consistent participants in the blogosphere, have different goals and expectations from companies than the population in general. Businesses can still succeed and will be able to indefinitely without maintaining a public blog.

This isn’t to diminish the importance of blogs. I just question the necessity of blogs to businesses that Wright maintains.

As a casual blogger myself, I found a lot of interesting and fascinating information in this book. From uses of the various and heretofore unimaginable tools that have sprung up around the blogging community to the blogs of top executives, I learned a lot from this book. If you are a dedicated blogged and pinging is old news to you, you probably won’t learn a lot from this book. If, like me, you have only a passing knowledge of the blog world or if you are considering adding a blog to your businesses profile, you’ll find some invaluable information in this book.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jackasses with Bullhorns – Pat Robertson Vs. Hugo Chavez

People of every political color spoke up yesterday against Pat Robertson’s absurd utterance on his TV show, “The 700 Club” or as I like to call it, “Sit in Awe of Our Piety while You Watch Us Pray on TV.” And, of course, it was a silly thing to say. That’s not to say that we won’t do it, it’s just you don’t go out on the crazy limb until the government goes there first. Then Pat and every other meaningless mouth on TV can dance on that limb – debating their extreme sides of it.

Craziness, on the national level, is a very subjective thing. Think of the major issues being debated today and consider whether or not they would have seemed silly to even consider only a few years ago. Many would.

There’s a skill and a subtlety to floating the crazy balloon. First, you spend months softening the ground. Leak reports, testify before Congress and the UN, issue statements, and repeat. Keep repeating until even the subject matter is reduced to an acronym. When Jay Leno uses it in his monologue, you’re ready for the next step.

In this case, a debate should have been started months ago about whether or not we should explore the viability of eliminating leaders of oil producing empires. Reports should have been leaked about findings of the specific sins of these bastards; high ranking officials should have been sent before various national and world bodies with plenty of visual props to testify about the dangers of letting such leaders continue their frightening rule. Then when the White house press corps started asked about the issue, the press secretary could have let them know that those in the know are calling it ELOPE, short for Elimination of Leaders of Oil Producing Empires. So, when the conversation turned to specific people, it would have sounded so much better. It also makes the transition to late night talk shows that much easier. Just think of all the possible jokes about eloping.

Now the ground would have been soft. People would be ready to hear that we want to kill Hugo Chavez. Some would even be clamoring for it. Now Pat Robertson wouldn’t be a crazy shouting alone, he’d be the spokesman for the religious right taking a courageous position as the leader in a just cause. And it would sound so much better – “If Hugo Chavez is looking for a fight, maybe we should just elope him and save a few dollars on a full blown war!”

Is Pat really that inept? As he pointed out today this has really all been taken out of context and blown out of proportion. He explained that he never used the word assassination, he said “take him out” and, naturally that doesn’t exactly mean assassinate. It could mean kidnap or any number of other things.

Right Pat!

You probably don’t need to worry too much about spinning this one; the debate is probably in its last throes.

But I’ll give Pat the last word here. From his Monday broadcast: "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it…" (He’s right, he used a pronoun in assassination’s place. Whew, dodge the bullet on that one, didn’t you, Patty?)

Monday, June 27, 2005


Our local newspaper has a Friday column called "Everybody's aCritic." For one month, three readers are sent tickets to newreleases then they write a 150 word review. My name was drawn for this past month. It's hard to say much in 150 words but here are my contributions for May.


Crash is about racial prejudice in America. Director Paul Haggisdoes an excellent job of portraying the huge number of characters by giving us just enough of a glimpse into their lives to sympathize with them while simultaneously seeing how their prejudices control them.

The strength of the film - its scope - is also its weakness. It attempts to show that racial prejudice goes in all directions. In trying to cover so much, it inevitably shortens and sometimes cheapens the story.

With a cast including Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, and BrendanFraser, it's surprising that the stand out performances come from lesser known actor Terrance Howard and hip-hop artist Ludacris. The scenes these two share are some of the most powerful.

With violence, language, and brief nudity, this is no family film.But if you want a thought provoking perspective of race relations in America, I highly recommend this movie.


This is a movie about relationships. The father/son relationshipbetween Phil, (Will Ferrell), and his father, Buck (Robert Duvall), plays out like sibling rivalry. Phil is still learning how to be a father to his own son. Buck has issues with Mike Ditka – don't givethat too much thought. Actually, any analysis of this film is over analysis.

The plot pits Phil against Buck as coaches in the local youth soccerleague. Phil has never had the athletic drive of his father but sees this as a way to finally beat the old man. Most of the humor is derived from Phil's various stages of humiliation as he spins out ofcontrol with an unfamiliar competitive drive.

Predictably the plot leads to a sort of reconciliation, though we're not overwhelmed with the life lesson as is often the case with family comedies.

With many amusing moments, this is a fun film.


Ah, Star Wars is back. It's back with its stunning special effects, cool aliens, fast moving battle scenes, emotional resonance, and great dialogue…

OK, scratch those last two.

But Star Wars is indeed back with the third and final installment ofLucas's prequel to his original trilogy. What can I say that hasn't been said?

It is the best of these last three. It is much darker and less humorous, though it does have some amusing moments. It is an appreciable close to the series. We get to see the emergence of Darth Vader, everyone's favorite villain, and the set up for the original Star Wars.

The acting – well, did I mention the great special effects? There are some really good actors in this movie, but only so much can be accomplished with Lucas's famously bad dialogue. This film, like the other five, is a fun ride and little else.


Starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Burt Reynolds, this snore festgave me eyestrain from excessive rolling.

Think of every sports movie cliché. Now, combine that with every prison movie cliché. Mix in a bit of Hogan's Heroes and you've got The Longest Yard.

Now, I feel a little unqualified to comment on this movie as I never saw the original but I know a turkey when I see one and this past weekend I did. There are very few labored and predictable humorous moments in this alleged comedy.

The film is riddled with plastic moments of inspiration, usually highlighted by dramatic music and one or more characters walking in slow motion towards the camera.

It does have one bit of brilliance. A clever product placement device makes this film an almost 2 hour commercial for McDonalds.

Save your money. Wait for it to come out on cable.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What do Enron, Iraq, and the Social Security Administration have in common?

Do you know why the Enron scandal happened? I’m going to oversimplify it but here it is. It happened because Enron was publicly held. Their stocks could be bought and sold on the stock market.

Here’s how I arrive at that conclusion. One of the best ways for stock brokers tell how strong or weak a company is is to look at their financial statements. A person that knows what she’s doing can, assuming that the financials are true, figure out how much growth the company experienced, what major assets they’ve bought and sold, how well they pay their bills and collect the money owed to them, how much the owners have invested, how profitable they are, how likely they are to continue to be profitable – well, let’s just say that there’s little you can’t tell about a company from accurate, complete financials. This is why companies issue long reports with their financials explaining every little nuance. They want investors to know why profits were down or the net worth of the company has fallen. They want to explain away each and every negative.

So, what does this have to do with the scandals? Well, I work at a publicly held company. I work in the accounts receivable department. Before the end of each quarter there’s a big push to collect as much money as possible so that our numbers will look better for that financial period. Ultimately my numbers will wind up on the financial statements issued to the SEC and published publicly. My company wants investors to feel confident in their progress so they put pressure on me to collect all the money I can. There’s nothing wrong with this, almost all publicly held companies do it. But it’s this kind of thinking that can be the first step down a long road to breaking some major laws. A company that becomes too obsessed with those quarter end numbers will cross the line at some point and begin hiding losses and exaggerating gains on their financial statement. Usually they expect to make these little white lies up on the next set of numbers but, when they don’t it can quickly snowball.

What’s my point? Stay with me, I do have one.

Now, when lying company gets tight with their auditors they don’t have to work so hard to hide the negatives because the auditors are the ones that are supposed to catch these improprieties. Once they’ve partnered up in their lie the skies the limit. That’s why Enron got so bad. I like to think of it as a papier-mâché skyscraper. A little financial lie, like a little papier-mâché creation, is easy to maintain and protect from breakage. But, the bigger it gets the more likely it is to break and crumble. By the time that Enron collapsed, their lie was like a huge 100 story papier-mâché skyscraper – brittle with no supporting structure on the inside. From the outside, on the financial reports everything looked fine. But it took very little to break it and make it crumble.

Now, let’s shift gears a little and look at another bunch of important people that got too caught up in reaching a stated goal.

It’s a familiar story about the weapons of mass destruction that failed to turn up in Iraq. Despite what the administration says now, we remember that this was the overriding factor in the latest Gulf War. They all believed it. After months of listening to one interpretation of the data coming out of Iraq, they all eventually came to that same conclusion. Saddam had WMDs and he must be stopped.

But theirs weren’t the only voices during those days. Go back and search for any newspaper articles with the name Hans Blix in them from any time during the six months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. He was the Chief UN weapons inspector and had scoured through Iraq looking for these things. Read those articles and you’ll find that he was saying over and over to anyone that would listen, “there are no weapons.”

At the time he might have been wrong or he might have been right. But he should have at least been listened to. He wasn’t and unfortunately, in a manner of speaking, he was right. Only one side of the story, the one that supported the administration’s goal of invading Iraq was heard by those in power. I’ve never known why, we probably never really will, but it seems obvious that they wanted, more than anything, to go in there.

What does one have to do with the other? I’m not just listing recent scandals here. These two incidents I think are clear cut reasons why any social security reform should not included privatizing social security.

The WMD story clearly shows that the government is as susceptible to the same flawed thinking that led to the fall of Enron. Until now the government and big business have been relatively separated, at least at the level that worries me. Going back to the Enron structure of reporting, the auditors check the financial statements which they’re supposedly certified to do in an honest and fair way. Then the numbers are given to the SEC and, because the SEC assumes the numbers are right since the auditors say so, they are published as gospel. When the auditors, in their role as representatives of the regulator of business in this country, were compromised, the whole system collapsed.

So, what happens when the regulator itself, the government, begins to take a vested interest in the success or at least in the reporting of successful businesses? This is what will happen when social security money begins to be tainted by the presence of big business. We know from the WMD fiasco that the government is susceptible to believing skewed data. How could we possibly believe that social security office won’t force the SEC to accept erred numbers from Microsoft, GM, Wal-Mart, or GE in the interest of keeping the stock market propped up? Just like the business owner that believes his erroneous numbers will be corrected in the next period, the government might decide to take the leap of faith with the business that they believe so strongly in and let them slide for a quarter, waiting until the next for the benefit. And so the snowball starts rolling.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Finger Food for Thought

Have you been following the story about the woman that found a finger in her bowl of chili in Las Vegas? I swear this isn’t a joke. She went into her local Wendys restaurant - you know, Dave Thomas, adopt a kid and all that - ordered a bowl of chili from the Wendys menu, sat down, dipped her spoon in, and lifted out a finger.

Wendys launched an investigation. They followed the trail of that bowl of chili all the way back to the guy that harvested the beans and found nothing. Everyone involved has ten fingers and ten toes and swore that they left their human body part collections at home that day. This bowl of chili should have been like any other that they serve and, according to their conclusions, there will have to be no change to the Wendys nutritional information sheet, “May contain up to 10% of the following…”

Yeah right, you say. We love a David and Goliath story. I know I do. Anytime it’s the little person v. the big corporation, even if it’s one that seems relatively untarnished like Wendys, most people seem eager to agree with the little person. I mean, for pity’s sake, the corporation has a team of lawyers and accountants all working to protect its ass while the little person is just a little person. A hapless victim, shouting for mercy as the storm of corporate malice buffets her poor soul about.

So when I read the first installment of this story a few weeks ago I naturally sided with the patron. How could this be anything but the corporation’s fault? And I don’t care if they followed the line back. Fingers freeze and kids, who populate the kitchens of these places, play practical jokes. Is there beef in Wendys chili? I don’t know Wendys chili recipe. But if there is any meat there’s all sorts of ways that a finger could make its way from the meat packing industry to the bowl and there’s no way that they could have exhausted EVERY possibility.

Then the next installment came out. This lady, Anna Ayala, isn’t unfamiliar with this sort of affair. According to Ken Ritter with the Associated Press this isn’t the first time that she’s been in court, always as a complainant. In 1998 she dragged an ex-boss through the system on charges of sexual harassment and in 2000 she went after an auto dealership, claiming that the wheel fell off of the car that they’d sold her. The wheel suit was dismissed when she fired her lawyer claiming that he’d threatened her. She even has a history with restaurants. Last year she accepted money from El Pollo Loco restaurant, claiming that their food made her daughter sick. I wonder how many fingers her daughter is sporting these days.

OK, these are all terrible things and if they all really happened to this woman, my heart goes out to her. But talk about a string of bad luck! She really should hire a body guard because at the rate she’s going something really bad is going to happen. Again, that’s assuming that all of these things are true.

And to one degree or another, they might have. If you’re looking for trouble or a reason to sue, you’ll find it. Maybe her boss once asked her to collate some papers and she honestly thought that he said “I’d like to fondle you inappropriately.” Maybe the wheel on her car did fall off because she believed that the finance guy at the auto lot told her to make sure to loosen all of the lug nuts when he was actually saying that her payments would be due on the fifteenth starting in June.

It could happen.

But, I really don’t think so.

She’s a kook looking for a free meal.
Which brings us back to the finger in the chili - it’s been announced that she’s dropping the suit. Yes, the police investigation, which has included a search of her house and DNA testing, not to mention the publicity, has proven to be more than she can bear. This is according to her currently unfired Attorney, Jeff Janoff.

One more cryptic detail: A woman in Nevada lost her finger in a leopard attack recently. The lawyer wouldn’t comment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

World Health Organization worries about H2N2 virus causing influenza pandemic

When Celeste starts to feel a flu coming on she tries to psyche it out. She repeats three times throughout the day, “I will not get sick.” Sometimes, after a few days of this healing practice she announces that she beat it. Most of the time after a few days I’m getting out the humidifier, heating up the chicken soup, stocking up on cough drops and Nyquil, and looking forward to my own round with the bug for we share everything.

Why do I tell you this? Well, it might be the only defense that many of us, myself included, have against a potential pandemic influenza virus that is threatening the world. Something stewed up in the poverty stricken villages of central China or in one of those nasties that we hear about coming from a chicken coop in Vietnam? No, this isn’t a new pestilence, the oft predicted avian flu pandemic; it’s one we’ve known about for at least 50 years, probably much longer.

Emma Ross with the AP reports that the World Health Organization (WHOops) announced that Meridian Bioscience Inc. near Cincinnati has shipped out strains of a previously isolated virus to almost 5000 labs. Most are in the US but many aren’t, vials were sent to eighteen countries altogether.

This strain caused epidemics for many years and the virus caused a pandemic in 1957 that killed 1 to 4 million people. Klaus Stohr, the WHOops influenza chief or the Big Sneeze, says that the decision was “unwise” and “unfortunate.”


If we’re familiar with this bug then why worry about it? Well, the vaccine hasn’t been included in flu shots since 1968. Anybody born later, like me, has no immunity whatsoever against it. And we know from the flu shot shortage last year that it takes time for inoculations to be prepared. I guess somebody decided in 1969 that enough’s enough and the bug had been defeated. Plus, they probably told themselves, nobody would be stupid enough to ship this out to 18 countries.

Rest assured, though. The folks that made the mistake are rushing to rectify it. They are working to destroy the vials and don’t expect that this will spread. Given their track record I’m certainly reassured.

My prediction? If no one gets sick, this small article on the last page of section A of our local paper will be the last I hear of this. If somebody does get sick, then we’ll worry about it. In the meantime it’d be better to spend time doing things like wringing our hands over Terri Schiavo or calling special Congressional hearings over steroid drug use among professional ball players than trying to do something to prevent this kind of mistake in the future.

If the word pandemic doesn’t make your blood run cold, if just for a second, either it already got you or you’re a politician worried about the latest public opinion polls.

It probably will blow over but in case it doesn’t, remember Celeste’s cure: “I will not get sick, I will not get sick, I will not…” It might be your only defense.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Depressing depression

I’m feeling pretty down on myself lately. I know that I’m depressed – clinically that is. There’s really no question about that. I have good days and bad but the trend is increasingly downward. I’ve read the signs, the list of symptoms that the American Society of Psychologists, or whatever the proper name for that group is, and I must say, as modestly as possible, I scored quite high.

So, I sought help.

The only mental health facility in town that my insurance covers is a place called Community Counseling Center. After hesitating for months, I finally called them. I felt like crying when I did. I remember when I was a kid I was constantly getting an upset stomach. I threw up so often it’s a wonder that my esophagus wasn’t eaten away by stomach acid. Anyway, I remember bursting into tears every time I’d tell my mom that I was sick. I never knew why. I considered it from every angle but I just couldn’t make sense of it. But there it was. I cried when I told my mom that I was sick.

So when I called the seemingly annoyed receptionist and found myself having to tell her why I thought I needed to see a counselor, I thought that I was going to cry. I still don’t understand it. What, am I so full of my own self pity that I’m driven to tears by my condition?

Anyway, I set up an appointment. I forget her name at the moment but they set me up with a woman. I wouldn’t mention it, actually I was glad it was a woman, but the receptionist asked me if I was OK with a woman. It was strange, like it was a given that I’d be OK with a man but a woman? Well, we’d better clear that with him first.

Through all of this I never felt crazy or that I was being stigmatized as a lunatic. No, I felt like one of slimy, self-pitying heaps of disgust that regularly show up on Springer and Oprah talking about their feelings. I felt like trailer park entertainment. I felt like those stupid kids that have meetings where they talk about how each other made them feel on the Real World or in impact groups or in group counseling. Do you get the picture? I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on the feeling but it inspires me to shower in really hot water to wash the filth away.

Anyway, they gave me her name and set up an appointment. The first thing that I did was to search for her name on Yahoo. I wished that I hadn’t. I quickly learned that, politically, she was the polar opposite of me. A woman I can handle, but a Republican? Brrrrr!

Luckily I had a week to reconcile myself to this truth and I did. I imagined sessions with her where my political position would come out – “I don’t know, doc, I’ve just been really depressed since Kerry lost. It’s like I’m an outcast in my own country and the majority is hostile toward me” – at which point she would kick me out of her office. But I got over that. I have customers that are Christian conservative and occasionally send me emails dripping with Jesus’s blood. I simply delete them and move on. I’m sure that she’s a professional, I told myself, and she’ll do the same.

So, I showed up the first day. The receptionist was still annoyed and told me to sit down. I did and waited about 5 minutes to make sure that they weren’t getting the inevitable paperwork together for me and that they had actually forgotten about it before I went to the desk and asked. Caught in a mistake, she was suddenly very nice and accommodating. I filled out stacks of paperwork, most of it repetitive. When I finally finished, I still had to wait another 20 minutes or so.

Finally, with 15 minutes left before I had to go back to work, Madam Counselor decided to grace me with her presence. So, I started miffed at her. She had a large bandage on her neck with a hint of blood having seeped through. She apologized for it but didn’t explain it. It was very distracting.

So we got into it. I told her why I thought I needed help: mild depression and anger management. I was quick to tell her and, now, you, that I’m not a violent person. I internalize a lot and I know that it’s going to slowly kill me. People usually do a double take when I tell them that, at 32, I have hypertension. My diet isn’t perfect but I’m sure that this anger thing is a big part of it.

So we talked about that. I was quick to qualify every word that I used that I thought carried baggage. I explained that I didn’t want her to get the wrong impression, that I wanted to very clear and that it sometimes takes me bit to get my ideas across, especially when I speak. I had even considered writing her a letter before meeting her but that would have made me want to shower in especially hot water. She laughed and assumed an attitude reminiscent of a wise grandfather character from a Disney film. She gently explained, and took far too long to do it, that I wasn’t crazy. That wasn’t my concern, see above.

If her politics didn’t tip me off, which they didn’t, this should have. She wasn’t the one for me.

But I pressed on. I had to leave for work shortly after but we made an appointment to finish up in a couple of weeks.

She was late for the second session as well but we still had enough time to get through the initial interview. She concluded that my root problem is social anxiety disorder. She agreed that I have mild depression and could use some help dealing with my anger in a healthier way. But social anxiety disorder is the real problem. Now, she told me, she could put me in an anger management course and would take 6 – 8 sessions to work through but it would be very difficult for me. That seemed curious since she says that social blah blah blah is the real problem. But for that she wanted to give me drugs. I made it clear from the beginning that I didn’t want drugs. She made it appear that drugs are the only real answer.

I found a better answer in the exit door and with just a few steps I had removed one source of stress from my life. For now I will continue to seek therapy from Drs. Bushmill, Walker, and Guinness with occasional restive cures at Newcastle. This therapy had gotten me this far…

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A nicer kind of rejection

Well, I received my first personalized rejection in the mail yesterday. To date, I have only been getting form letters, most aren’t even signed.

What I received was a form letter, about five lines printed at the top of an 8/11 page. On the bottom the agent added a handwritten note that said while my idea is intriguing, my book is simply too short for her to try to promote. I’ve always known it is a little light, the final draft is only 46,000 words. The first draft was well over 100,000!

It’s a bit a quandary. The story is told. It doesn’t need to be longer. (She asked for 90-110K.)

On the other hand, it’s no quandary at all. If the question is “do I make it more salable or do I respect the piece,” I hope that I would choose to respect the piece. But if the question is “do I make it salable or respect the piece,” where respecting the piece leaves it unsalable, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a choice.

Don’t get me wrong, if I ever get to the point that I’m working with an editor I’m prepared to slash here and add there as they ask. What I’m talking about in the paragraph above is adding material that is, in fact, extra. I’d have to double the length of the book and that would mean adding a lot of unnecessary stuff to the central plot.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

From the Depths

Every now and then I think of my lonely little blog sitting out here in the nether regions of the web, neglected and almost forgotten by its creator. Does it have existential angst? I doubt it, but I do feel guilty for neglecting it. Fortunately, it’s patient and always waiting for me when I come back to it.

So, news from my life: I am still trying to get my book published. I finally decided to name it Macbeth’s Witch. Actually, this was Celeste’s suggestion and I liked it. So, I can’t get her to read the damn thing but at least she named it.

There was one agent that I really hoped would pick me up. Of the ten or so queries that I sent out, she was the only one to respond with a manuscript request. Actually she only requested the first 30 pages but I was really excited. I was sure that she would be blown away by my story and would snatch me right up. Instead, she rejected it. This is the perfect addition to an already horrible week. So, I did a bit of searching on the internet last night for a good writer’s conference where I might be able to impress an agent. I came across
this article. It really got me to thinking. Basically, I am a completely forgettable person when you meet me. I am constantly being overwhelmed by doubt and self loathing and in social situations I look at my feet and mumble. People quickly lose interest and find somebody articulate with which to spend time. I’m not worth the effort for most. So, I’m in a roomful of writers, all exactly like me, and I think that some agent is going to be impressed with me? Not likely. My only hope is to gain some publishing credits THEN start querying agents again.

So, this morning I sent a query letter to a very small publishing company that is owned by my alma mater. I still live about 5 blocks from the school and one of their stated goals is to publish works by local writers. I think that I have a decent shot to get published by them.

And, I plan to set my novel length works aside and try to work on some short fiction until I hear back from the publisher. This way if I’m rejected I can quickly start trying for publication in magazines. It’s going to be a long, long road.

So, why was this a horrible week? Well, you know all of those little things about your job that really bother you? That little thing that your boss does from time to time that seems to serve no purpose but to remind you who’s the boss? Or that co-worker that really knows how to push your buttons? Or that stupid mistake that you made six months ago and you swore you would never repeat but you know that you will eventually? Now, imagine all of that coming down on you in one stinking Monday. That’s how my week started. I don’t live for the weekend anymore. I’m lucky if I can crawl to the end of the day intact.