Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fun Times at a Meeting with My Congressman

I am way out of my league at this meeting.

The other women carry binders of statistics, folders of research, handwritten letters and testimonials. Me, I've got nothing. 

Until a few months ago, I didn't know who my Congressional representative was. (Steve Stivers) Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know what my district was. (Ohio District 15) Until I programmed the address into my GPS, I didn't know where this office was. (3790 Municipal Way, Hilliard, Ohio, office phone: 614-771-4968)

Now I'm sitting here in a reception room with a handful of very prepared, professional-looking women, who are waiting to meet with Steve Stivers' District Director. His name's Adam and he's young enough to be my son. He asks us to sign in and one by one we do, with me wondering what they'll do with these names and addresses.

(Hey, I've read a ton of Dystopian fiction! Someone could be building a list of troublemakers in District 15. Next week they'll round all of us up and make us fight to the death in the Hunger Games or dress us like handmaidens in the Handmaid's Tale. 

That, or Steve Stivers' office will email us a bland, yet nice, form letter thanking us for visiting his office.) 

I decide to go with option C.

We sit down in comfy chairs in a room that looks like a boardroom. Again, I am having flashbacks to school board meetings, except this room's got a nice picture of Steve Stivers on the wall. He seems like a nice guy. Adam seems like a nice guy too. He opens the meeting by asking us to go around and introduce ourselves and share our concerns and he'll gladly pass those on to the congressman. 

Since I'm sitting next to Adam, I go first. I start out okay, I think, saying that I'm new at this-- the whole activist thing. I don't know the proper way to go about expressing my dissent with the new administration. The letters, the phone calls, the town halls that my representative (Steve Stivers) doesn't attend--these don't seem to be making a difference. 

And you know what? I'm angry after reading in the newspaper that Steve Stivers called me and people who've been writing and calling "paid protesters." It's not true. And it's disrespectful, I say, my voice rising.  I voted for Mr. Stivers and now, truth be told, I'm ticked off at myself for doing that. I don't feel like he's representing me.

Also, I don't know even know why I'm mad, I say. None of this affects me. I'm probably not going to be hurt by whatever new healthcare plan is passed. I don't have to worry about losing contraceptives. My kids are now out of public school.

Other people will be affected, though, and this matters to me.  

My voice keeps rising. I can feel my face burning and my voice getting thick. What the hell is this? Ugh, am I going to cry? 

Adam must think so. He's shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His head's bowed and he scrawls something on his notepad. (Possibly: ooooh kay this one's a lunatic.) But he says, nicely, that the congressman wasn't talking about his constituents when he said that thing about the paid protesters. He was talking about the people in Utah. 

This is  a lie  debatable, and I debate him, but then I quit and let the other women have a turn.

They speak, one by one, as Adam dutifully nods and occasionally writes something on his notepad.

One has just come from the hospital where her husband is recovering from expensive surgery. She's grateful for Medicare and is terrified it will be taken away. She has a letter she reads about the importance of the ACA.

Another woman opens a file and begins quoting statistics. She hopes that Steve Stivers will take a look at her research and Adam assures her that he will.

Someone tells a story about her nephew who was born with a congenital disease, how he suffered and died and this was before the ACA and the family struggled with medical bills. She starts to cry as she speaks about how we can't go back to that as a country, where people go bankrupt and have to rely on charity fundraisers to pay for catastrophic care. 

Adam interjects now and again to explain the congressman's thoughts, that healthcare is not a right but a responsibility, that the Republican goal is to keep costs down, that the new plan will help with that.

A woman points out that we'll save money if we keep the ACA. Isn't it better (and cheaper!) she asks, to pay for prevention-- things like birth control, drug addiction treatment, vaccines, medications, regular checkups with the doctor, rather than expensive trips to the emergency room?

Sure, Adam says, but Steve Stivers thinks people should be working to pay for their own health care.

But the working poor are the ones most using the ACA, the woman with all of the research folders points out. And not everyone can work. Children, for example. And elderly people in nursing homes. And people with disabilities. These are the people who will be most harmed by the repeal of the ACA.

An hour goes by and I am losing my will to live desire to sit any longer at this meeting.

It's such a sad, bizarre mix of passionate anger and boring procedural stuff, so that one moment someone is talking about the raging opioid epidemic in Ohio (The state is tied with Kentucky, in the top three of overdose deaths this year.) and the next moment, we're discussing the protocol for how the office handles constituent mail. Also, how many mean phone calls Steve Stivers gets each day. (A lot, apparently. But Adam assures us that Steve Stivers has a thick skin. Whew.)

After the meeting, the women hand Adam their letters and folders of research. Another office worker takes our pictures with Adam. He shakes our hands and offers us his card. He really is a nice guy. 

And it really is nice that Steve Stivers opened his office up to us, that he pays nice guys like Adam to answer the phones and read our letters, that he gives his constituents an opportunity to vent their anger and terror in meetings like this one. 

Steve Stivers is going to vote for the new healthcare law that guts the ACA anyway.

I know this. The women at the meeting know this too. I drive home from the meeting wondering why I went. I have no idea what to do next.

So I do the only thing I can.

I write about it.


Steve Stivers, the nice Congressperson of Ohio District 15



Saturday, March 18, 2017

When you have the attention span of a goldfish, sometimes poetry is the only thing that can save you...

Who knew there were so many poets?

Every day, a new one, a person I've never heard of, pops up in my email and whispers as I blearily brew my first cup of coffee.

These are the first words I hear each day, words that make me smile, words that confuse me, words that crush me. Always they make me pause as I swallow my coffee, make my foggy brain think hard, send me off on wild tangents before I begin my day's work.

Who knew I needed this so much?

A few months ago, drowning in waves of distressing news, caught up in the outrage and fear being shared by friends and strangers on social media, I was floundering around with my own words, struggling to settle down to write.

I was even having trouble reading books.

I heard an interview with Adam Alter, the author of the book Irresistible by Design, that our continual reading of stuff online has changed our brain chemistry. We used to have longer attention spans. Ten years ago before most of us started carrying our phones around with us, the average person could focus for roughly 12 seconds. Now, with our near constant jumping around from topic to topic, we're down to 8 seconds,

which is less than a goldfish.

Wait. Wasn't I just talking about poetry?

haha, so anyway, in December, I made a New Year's resolution to start my day, each day, by reading a poem. Okay, maybe my jumpy anxious mind couldn't handle full-blown novels, but surely I could read a page-long poem! Also, I once worked on an MFA in Poetry and I'd let all of that go and I missed reading poetry and wondered if I even could anymore.

I was thinking, too, that if nothing else, it would be a good way to start the day.

I have tons of poetry books on my book shelves, but seeking an even easier way to fulfill my resolution, naturally, I scrolled around online. Wouldn't it be cool if I could get an email of a poem every day? A poem, right there, in my inbox...

And wouldn't you know it? There IS such a thing! It's called Poem a Day and it's brought to you by the lovely people of Poets.org through the Academy of American Poets (funded, partially, by the NEA, which is on the chopping block by our new regime, but I digress, again.)




Every morning before I read the crap news of the day or check in on social media, I open up my email and read a poem-- or, listen. (Some of the poems have audio files of the poets reading!) These poets are a smorgasbordof diverse voices-- young and old, brand newbys to multiply published, men and women, people of all backgrounds. I had never heard of any of them.

(News flash, and because I think 8 seconds has just passed: most poets are not well known. They play around with their words in relative obscurity, publish poems in magazines few people read, make very little money-- if any)

But I love reading the poems by these people. I love knowing they're out there somewhere writing and thinking and playing with words, sending their poems off to the Academy of American Poets--whatever their submission process is-- and that someone at the Poets.org place is reading and choosing and putting together the email entry, recording the audio file, sending the day's selection off to the subscribers--

and me

so I can face a new day, with new words:


For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me. 



The best movies begin with an encounter 
and end with someone setting someone free. 



how the trash man paused with the storm glass,
holding it, making himself into a frame, a single frame—
all poets wonder if this is enough. 




*lines from poems by Parneshia Jones, Diana Marie Delgado, and Joy Katz


Saturday, March 11, 2017

(Not) Just a Girl: The Messed-up Floundery Yearning Teen Creations of Carrie Mesrobian


When you read a Carrie Mesrobian book, you meet the kids who tend to be overlooked and ignored in other young adult books. 

And in life. 

These are the kids who slouch in the middle rows of the classroom. The C-student kids who work after school at thrift stores or in restaurant kitchens or at the local tanning salon. They're not the star athletes, the popular kids, the valedictorians. They don't know where they want to go to college. Actually, they're not sure they want to go at all. The future is vague. 

Hell, next week is vague.  

What's there to do, if you're one of these kids, but live in the moment? Hang out with your friends. Go to beer-y parties after the Friday night football game. Hook up with a girl friend or a boy friend. Or both. 

Rianne, the main character in Mesrobian's newest novel Just a Girl is underestimated by everyone. She's used to living in her high achieving older sister's shadow, being lectured to by her mom, and overlooked by her dad. Her friends are cool and close, but lately they're growing apart as senior year grinds on and everyone's gearing up for what they plan to do after graduation. Rianne has no idea what she wants to do after graduation. 

It's not helping that she's been told explicitly, and implicitly, that she is bad --a reputation that dates back to a sexual experience with an older guy her freshman year and is solidified after another boy Tells All. Rianne never tries to refute it or even explain.

Like a lot of girls, I suspect, she internalizes the views her peers have of her, and simply goes on. 

She's dating Luke, a kid also known for his "bad" reputation-- but lucky for Luke, boys don't get the same crap for stuff like that. Anyway, he's a fairly decent guy. Maybe Rianne will end up with him. Maybe she'll end up sticking around in their small town, a place that feels more and more stifling.

Or maybe she'll jump on an opportunity that no one, including this reader, saw coming, and even now, weeks after I've finished reading the novel, still disturbs me. 

It's so hard to explain this book-- and all of Carrie Mesrobian's books-- because nothing really happens. There are no easy answers, or even any answers. It's the questions that get you, that tunnel around in your head while you're reading and long after. 

How do you recover after violent trauma? What do you do when your friends abandon you? How do you cope when your parents tell you it's time to leave home, now, even though you're not ready? What do you do when your boyfriend breaks your heart? 

Where do you go when no one expects you to go anywhere? 



*Just a Girl is out March 28th, 2017. If you, dear reader, are a librarian or teacher and would like a signed, advanced copy of this most excellent, disturbing, heartbreaking, beautifully written novel, post a comment below. I'll pick one at random, and send it your way.