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“I am to wait, though waiting so be hell…” ~William Shakespeare (Sonnet 58)

Doesn’t it seem sometimes like we spend most of our lives waiting?

  • When we’re young kids, we can’t wait to get “bigger.”  Any version of bigger will do, as long as we don’t stay “little.”  We wait for the bus, or for family members to pick us up from school.  We wait with one eye open for Christmas morning to arrive.
  • As teenagers we wait anxiously until we get our driver’s license.  We wait for our parents to say it’s ok to wear makeup.  Or go out on our first date.  Or stay out past 10:00 PM.  And then when we break curfew, we wait (grounded) in our rooms on a Saturday night for that one cute guy to call and talk about nothing for four hours.
  • In college we wait for “real life” to start while we sluice through the learning of information that we wonder if we’ll ever use.  We wait for Mr. or Ms. Right to show up, and then we wait out the realization of our mistakes as we watch the imposters walk away.  We wait for graduation, so that we can then start waiting for our “big break” to come along.
  • So then “real life” starts, the big break never shows up, and we wait for a puny paycheck from a stair-stepping job to pay rent and buy food, all on our own.
  • We wait in traffic to get to the job with the puny paycheck.
  • We wait on a tax return to give us back (not enough) money that was deducted from our puny paycheck.
  • We wait for a few measly days of vacation time in order to get away from the job with the puny paycheck.  We spend half that time waiting in airports or on long stretches of highways or on buses that smell like bratwurst.  But we glimpse a spark of paradise, and we can’t wait to go back.
  • We may decide to bite the marriage bullet and tie the knot (or knots), in which case we then wait for a year while all kinds of “important” wedding plans can be made.  Which all seem so useless when we’re later waiting for our final divorce decree to be mailed to us so that we can get untangled from that knot.
  • If it’s in the cards, we wait for nine months to greet a child.  If it’s not in the cards, then we still wait many more months…or years.  And then we wonder how long we’ll have to wait to be ok with that.
  • We start to get older.  Maybe we wait on another few stair steps, through another few jobs.  We wait for that “fulfilling” career opportunity to come along, the one we don’t mind waking up for in the morning.  We wait for dreams to finally happen, and we wonder what’s taking them so long.  We’re not getting any younger you know.  Anytime now would be fine.
  • We start waiting in more doctors’ offices.  Waiting for more test results.  Waiting to feel better.  Waiting to find out what the genetic roulette wheel might have in store for us as we enter the later phases of life.
  • And then of course as we get much older, like black-socks-with-sandals older, the ultimate waiting begins.  You know, for that last curtain call.  The final ka-bang.  I hear some people move to Florida during this time to make the wait more pleasant, but how could it be, with all the humidity and the hurricanes?  No thanks.

Yeah yeah, all the positivity-addicted optimists out there will read this and say something like “you can’t just wait for life to happen to you, you have to go out there and make it happen for yourself!”  If you’re sitting next to one of those people, punch them in the arm for me.  (Thanks.)  Actually, I’m willing to admit that’s probably true to a degree; I think we do reap (or suffer) the rewards (or consequences) of our choices.  And we’re each responsible for those choices of course.  

But I also think there are many people out there (more than we could ever know about probably) that feel a bit paralyzed when it comes to making life choices.  Especially the big ones.  And so they get caught in a pattern of waiting.  I think this happens to everyone at some time or another.  It’s just that some people are able to find their way out of the waiting room, and some people aren’t…or, it just takes them a bit longer, for whatever reason.

So, if you’re stuck in a waiting rut, what to do?  I wish I knew.  It’s easy to just say “go do something.”  I know it’s much tougher to make that happen sometimes.  Lack of motivation, resources, support – they’re all contributors to getting stuck.  

I guess the best we can hope for while we’re caught in the stuck waiting room of life is some really good 80’s music to entertain us while we’re there…like Pat Benatar or Bananarama.  Duran Duran and Simple Minds also acceptable.

À la prochaine.

Ant Kristi

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Diary of a Fourth Grader, Part 2: The Trumpet

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“What’s the business, that such a hideous trumpet calls to parley the sleepers of the house?” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth, II, iii)

Last week’s post introduced you to my fourth grade diary and precious gem queens that ruled outer space.  We continue the series this week, with a glimpse into perhaps the reason why I’m not a very musical person.  I do like certain kinds of music (80’s music can’t be surpassed for entertainment value and I’m also fond of classical music when I’m stressed), but I don’t ever go to music clubs or music festivals, it’s just not my cup of tea.  

But when I started reading through my fourth grade diary, I was reminded of a music memory:  my attempts to learn how to play the trumpet.  For some reason I can’t remember, I decided I wanted to join my elementary school band class.  (I think it was my idea…or was it my parents’?)  And when it came time to pick my instrument, I picked the trumpet because it was the closest thing to what my Dad had played when he was in school: the coronet.  I actually do remember the trip to the music store to pick out the used gold trumpet in the brown case with the red velvet lining inside, that was exciting. Less exciting: my mom signed me up for weekly lessons with a trumpet teacher there at the music store.  I didn’t like him, or the lessons.  I guess I thought that once we bought the instrument and I took it to band class, I’d just magically know the trumpet by musical osmosis or something.

January 7, 1980

January 7, 1980

(Transcript: “Today we had P.E.  We played this game with numbers, myne was 1.  I had my trumpet lessons today.  My teacher is fat.  Here is a picture. [drawing] That’s him.  And then I did some more homework. It was a rrrrrr day.”)

Ah, I’m afraid I wasn’t very politically correct at nine years old, sorry about that.  And I think I may have just watched “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” because that picture looks suspiciously like Violet Beauregard after she ate the forbidden blueberry gum.  I remember it being very crowded in the confined space of the tiny little lesson room, it was like a closet off the sales floor of the music store.  I remember he also had a mustache and glasses, and I’m pretty sure the real reason I didn’t like him was because he felt the need the empty the spit valve on his trumpet extremely frequently, which I thought was really gross.  That’s another thing I hadn’t thought through very well when I picked the trumpet – the spit valve situation – and it became pretty disgusting pretty quickly.  No one had told me about that little detail. Rrrrrr indeed.

My trumpet troubles continued:

January 23, 1980.

January 23, 1980.

(Transcript: “Today I finished By the Shores of Silver Lake.  Mrs. Fullerton started to read Tee-Bo aloud to the class.  Today I was practicing my trumpet and I couldn’t figure out how B flat sounded.  I watched the circus on TV.  And also Happy Days again.  I ate chicken for lunch.”)

I still have no idea whatsoever what B flat is supposed to sound like; is it one of the more difficult notes to master?  Or is it a scale?  I learned to read music at that time, I remember learning that, but I couldn’t read it today if you paid me a thousand dollars.  It’s like I’ve completely blocked it out, which is weird to me; you don’t forget how to read your written language once you’ve learned, so why would one forget how to read music language once you’ve learned it?  Or maybe I just thought I learned how, which would explain why I was really bad at playing the trumpet…that sounds more plausible actually.  

Also, I started to really hate the little red ring that the trumpet mouthpiece would leave around my lips after playing it.  The other kids in band class made fun of me for it.  I was really bad at emptying the spit valve and it made me gag up a little sometimes.  We weren’t getting along too well in this short-lived relationship, the trumpet and I.

You can guess what happened next, right?

February 4, 1980

February 4, 1980

(Transcript: “Tonight I had to wash my face, and I got soaking wet. (all Dad’s fault!) I didn’t take a bath.  I watched Little House on the Prairie.  I ate chicken for supper.  I had homework to do! [smiley face] We went across to Miss Trihio’s class & watched some movies. (Fairie Tales) We had P.E. today. We did gymnastics in P.E.  I read Inky & Texas for S.S.R.  Stacey walked without me!  I had trumpet lessons [another blueberry Violet drawing] / I quit!!!!!!!”)

Well, what another traumatic day that was…I’d had to walk to school by myself, do actual homework (although I seemed happy about that), and Dad messed up big-time on the face-washing (but thanks for trying Dad).  No wonder another trumpet lesson was the last straw.  You know someone’s serious about quitting something when they use SEVEN exclamation points and in increasingly larger and angrier sizes.  I kind of wished I’d done that when I resigned from that last horrible job I had a few years ago, just to show the level of commitment I had to quitting that time too.

Also, we ate a lot of chicken, and I butchered the spelling of Miss Trujillo’s name, sorry about that (but I was obviously hooked on phonics).  I never did learn another instrument after the trumpet trials, although I can play the first few bars of ‘Silent Night’ on the piano for some reason.  I guess I just don’t have a musical brain, but I have no problem appreciating a good 80’s hair metal rock ballad when the occasion calls for it.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Diary of a Fourth Grader, Part 1: Diamond Queen

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“Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so, an if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.” ~William Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus, II, iv)

During my recent post-Tour-de-France doldrums, I found myself flipping through a memory scrapbook that my Mom made for me a few years ago.  Inside one of the plastic sleeves in the book was a small white diary that I apparently received for Christmas 1979; I was 9 years old and halfway through the 4th grade.  Each day had it’s own dated page and I very obediently began documenting the (not-so) dramatic happenings of my 9-year old life on January 1st, 1980.  The diary could only hold my pre-tween attention span for a few months (the last entry was in April sometime), but there’s a little bit of memory (fool’s) gold in the pages that were inscribed.  

Here’s a segment from that first day:

January 1, 2009

January 1, 1980

(Transcript: “I played at Tricia’s house today with Tricia & Stacey.  We played like we were queens.  I was queen Diamond, Tricia was queen Ruby, Stacey was queen Emorld.  We all ruled part of space.  I ruled the stars.”)

I have no actual memory of this whatsoever.  It’s so strange reading my own juvenile handwriting about things that were obviously important to me at the time, but that apparently didn’t warrant standing power in any of my remaining brain cells. I’m still friends to this day with Tricia, I’ll have to ask her if she remembers this.  (Stacey & I parted ways not too long after this was written actually; she said a bad word one day in front of my little brother and I got so mad at her, I immediately swore her my enemy forevermore…plus I just really didn’t like her, so, yeah.)

But I do give us extra points for imagination – you have to admit, that was a pretty great play game we came up with.  And I must’ve been the one to propose it, otherwise how would I have ended up the top queen, of diamonds no less?  And of course the queen of diamonds would end up ruling the diamonds in the sky – the stars.  (Points taken away though for my gross misspelling of emerald…and I was a good speller in school too, that one shames me.)  I wish I knew what Queen Ruby was given to rule – Mars maybe, the red planet?  I think this storyline could be the next big idea for the Avengers series, I may have stumbled onto something big here…

A few days later I extolled on the power of being put in charge and my resulting tattletale status:

diary2

January 4, 1980

(“Today was the last day of school for the week. Stacy & Trisha got in a fight again.  Also I got a new school coat, and a ski jacket.  It is yellow.  In school the teacher left the room for a minute and she left me in charge.  I wrote six names down.  Dad isn’t going to be here to tuck me in at bedtime.  Boo-Hoo.  We had soup for supper.”)

The kids in my classroom must’ve hated me.  Why did I get two new coats at once, that’s weird.  And obviously I wasn’t the only one who had problems with Stacy (I feel vindicated).  Oh and I’d bet one million dollars that the soup we had for supper that night was Campbell’s Bean-with-Bacon…soup of champions right there, and one of the only food things with meat that I’ve missed over these last 21 vegetarian years.

Nine-year-olds are weird.  But stay tuned for more riveting adventures from Diary of a Fourth Grader in future posts.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

“Alone or Not, You Gotta Walk Ahead”

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 “…the time of life is short…” ~William Shakespeare (I Henry IV, V, ii)

“The thing to remember is, if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.”  Any fellow romantic comedy fans out there recognize this (and the title phrase) from one of the classics?  Yes, it’s from 2007’s “P.S. I Love You,” which I just finished watching for about the twelfth time.  I don’t even like Hilary Swank all that much but I do like this film, mostly because of all the Ireland scenes; Kathy Bates was great in it too.  (And of course Jeffrey Dean Morgan, holy hotcakes.)

I’m headed back to Ireland’s neighbor next week for another solo UK trip.  For my trip in 2012 just prior to the London Olympics, I had basically decided on a whim to go when I found a really good airfare deal about six weeks prior (yes that’s a whim amount of time for me).  And then I quickly planned every detail literally down to the minute for the 9 days I was there.  It was a great vacation but exhausting, as I tried to pack in every single sightseeing occasion as if I’d never return.

But I am returning, and for this trip, I decided about a year ago that I would head back with the impetus of wanting to see the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in England’s Yorkshire region.  The kickoff will take place over the first three days of the Tour before the teams head back across the Channel to mainland France to continue the race.  I was also lucky enough to be able to use my frequent flier miles to get a “free” airline ticket this time (not really free because I still had to spend lots of money to get all those credit card miles and still had to pay the hefty taxes & fees for the ticket, but it still feels almost free).

I had hoped to be a Tour volunteer as part of the organization in charge of the kickoff, and was actually accepted through the application process, but had to drop out due to not being able to be there in time for the required in-person training sessions.  I’ll still be in Leeds and York to cheer the riders on as each of those first two stages set out, and might be able to also get to Harrogate to see the finish of Stage 1 on the first day.

In addition to the Tour in Yorkshire, I’ll be making a tour of my own to several other parts of the sceptered isle.  I’ll start off in Windsor to walk off my jet lag by visiting the Queen’s weekend home at the castle for a day, and then head to Surrey county south of London to meet up with a distant family relation and explore the area from where my ancestors hail (near Godalming).  Then I’m off to Bath for a few days in Jane Austen country before heading up north to see the Tour.

After Yorkshire, I’ll head back south, stopping over in Nottingham for a day before continuing back to the boats (see blog header picture above) and onto familiar territory in Stratford-upon-Avon to get my fill of all things Shakespeare again.  I hope to explore the Cotswalds a bit and do some real relaxing before heading into London for the final few days of the trip.  I’m really looking forward to visiting the famous New Covent Garden flower market in London this time, as well as a day of catching up with an old college friend who lives just outside the city.

It may sound all planned out, but really it’s just the itinerary of where and when, and I do of course have my accommodations all reserved.  But beyond that, I’m leaving things a little more up in the air this time in terms of how I’ll spend my time in each place.  If I’m being honest, I’m also a little more apprehensive this trip about traveling solo, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I’ve been trying to figure it out, and it just seems that as I get older, there are more things to worry about in terms of health and safety and the unknown.  Issues which appear magnified when I travel alone.  I know I’m strong and independent and resourceful, and capable of handling problems if they do come up, but I guess it’s just the worrier in me that’s got me feeling a little anxious.  I should be used to being alone and walking ahead on my own by now, but sometimes it’s just a little disconcerting and leaves me feeling vulnerable.

On the other hand, I know I should feel lucky and grateful to be taking such a trip, and I do.  A family member of mine lost a close friend this past week at a very young age and to tragic circumstances; it was a heart-wrenching loss for those left behind who cared about him.  It’s got all of us thinking about the fragility of life and how none of it makes sense sometimes.

At the end of “P.S. I Love You,” the main character Holly says “This is my one and only life, and it’s a great and terrible and short and endless thing, and none of us come out of it alive.”  Great and terrible, short and endless.  I guess that’s why I continue to go on these big solo trips, as I have now every two years since 2010.  As daunting as it can be to spend a lot of money and go out there in the world to explore unfamiliar places on your own, it’s empowering at the same time.  It’s a reminder that I’m alive and able to experience new things during this short and endless thing we call life.  I’m not sure how long I can continue this tradition I’ve started, but will at least give it one more whirl this time around.

©operationUNunhappy

©operationUNunhappy

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Hulk Headaches & Health Anxiety

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“So sick I am not, yet I am not well…” ~William Shakespeare (Cymbeline, IV, ii)

I haven’t been feeling too great lately.  Nothing life-threatening or too deeply dire, just lots of mostly minor maladies here and there that add up to an overall sense of suckiness.  Headaches, weird muscle aches, earaches, toothaches, overall body aches…it’s getting pretty tiring, both physically and mentally.  I seem to have a few good days where everything seems in pretty good working order, but it’s inevitably then followed by about a week of bad days where I feel crappy…and then the cycle repeats itself.

I know no one likes to be sick or feel bad, and I realize there are many people out there that are dealing with a LOT worse than me, but the fact remains that when I don’t feel good, I seem to just…shut down.  Being sick or hurt for me presents a mental roadblock that is pretty tough for me to push aside.  You see, I have a history of some pretty impressive health anxiety.  It used to be a lot worse than it is now, and I’ve brought it under manageable control with the help of a life-saving therapist – but I continue to grapple with it and have come to accept that it will probably always be a part of who I am and something I have to work to overcome.

For someone with health anxiety, the whys and whens and hows and what-ifs threaten to overwhelm a person when they get sick or hurt, or have any “unusual” symptoms: Why is this happening to me, what’s the exact, specific, pinpointed cause?  (Because if I know the cause, I can then hopefully prevent it from happening again.)  How and when did I catch this cold, or get this headache, or become short of breath?  What if this headache is really the beginning of meningitis?  What if this weird muscle spasm in my armpit is a sign that I have clogged heart arteries?  What if those recurring cramps in my legs are because of life-threatening blood clots?  When we can’t get answers to these questions (which is most of the time), it just makes our anxiety worse, which then leads to more stress, which then causes even more health problems.

Stopping that fatalistic self-talk as it begins and trying to not immediately imagine the worst possible scenario is part of what I learned and practiced through therapy, back when the anxiety was at its worst.  I was also not allowed to look up any of my symptoms on the internet, so as to not induce even more panic and feed the medical monster.  I was banned from taking my pulse more than once/day or at times other than during exercise.  Ultimately, I decided I had to quit my job as a health counselor where I talked about horrible health problems all day every day (the worst possible environment for me) and take myself out of that personal mine field. 

(Source: criticalscience.com)

(Source: criticalscience.com)

For the most part, I still am able to enlist those calming strategies and avoid the full-blown panic attacks and vicious worry cycles that I used to incur on a pretty frequent basis.  I remember my therapist’s teachings: to tell myself what the most likely and unlikely scenarios are, and then to logically handle the symptom and situation from there.  To realize that everyone – especially as we get older – has aches and pains as the normal part of life.  To also realize that life doesn’t always come with an explanation pamphlet for every scenario we encounter, and to learn to live with not always knowing why (as crazy as it may drive me).  I’m happy to say that I’m no longer a frequent flier at the doctor’s office, but I also still believe in timely visits for those issues that truly do warrant it and not ignoring what could be serious (like the stabbing/piercing ear pain I had this past week).

But – I am kind of a worrier by nature anyway, something else that was in the genes and I just have to accept and deal with.  Which means, that even when I am able to not panic out loud about an illness or strange symptom, I still quietly and subtly worry about it (for both me and for things happening to those closest to me).  Health anxiety quietly hovers in the corner of the dark room that you usually try to keep closed off, but then sneaks out every once in a while when you least expect or want it.  People tease you about it, or avoid talking to you about any health topic whatsoever, in fear that you’ll just have some kind of fit-like meltdown.  (This just makes us feel worse by the way, when we’re working so hard to improve.)

And I admit that even that subdued level of worry is still enough to cause me to focus on the issue more than I should.  I find myself making more mental room for it and sacrificing attention to other things on my to-do list that get waylaid by the worry.  Every once in a while, I allow myself to guiltily look up a new symptom online, and then usually regret it as soon as I see all the uninformed prattle on the chat boards.  I lose my appetite when I worry too much about what’s going on with my physical failings, but maybe that’s normal?  Being “normal” and feeling “good” are what I wish for every day, so I guess I feel let down and anxious when the opposite happens.

As mentioned above, I also know that worrying about my health – or anything really – actually contributes to a negative circle of physiological health effects in and of itself.  Ten days ago I had a spectacular tension headache across the back of my head that lasted for a tight and burning 48 hours; nothing would make it go away but time, but what was most frustrating for me (in terms of figuring out why it was happening) was that I’d been feeling what I thought was relatively tension-free lately!  I have a job that I really enjoy, and my overt stress levels compared to a year ago are practically nil.  But no one can ever be totally stress or worry-free, that’s unrealistic.  Even minor stress levels over things like money, or the future, or family issues, can apparently cause your cranium to feel like it’s being clobbered by the Hulk. 

So, it’s a work in progress, this tempering of my teetering.  I feel alone in my anxiety journey most of the time, and I don’t usually like to talk about it, but I wanted to shed a little light on it today in case someone else out there is also struggling to get a handle on it too.  It can get better, so hang in there.  Get help if you need it.  Figure out the source and root cause of where this anxiety is coming from, as that’s how you’ll be able to start dealing with it.  I’ve been lucky to have a few friends and family and therapists help me through it in the past, but it’s a constant effort that I have to work at mostly just by myself.  Like Pam from ‘The Office’ said, “Pobody’s Nerfect.”  Definitely not me…and I don’t want to be perfect anymore anyway (or nerfect). 

Bonne santé et à la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Le Bel Age of 43

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Last week I attended a social function for the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group I belong to here in Austin.  There was a good showing of about 20 or so, people of all ages and backgrounds and ethnicities who have served in countries all over the world.  Some of them had literally just returned home from their service a few weeks earlier (with glazed eyes and reverse culture shock); some, like me, had been back for many years.  At one point, I sat down at a table next to another young woman and three young men to chat with them, and learned it was the young woman’s birthday.  After a few minutes, the man directly across the table from her asked her “so, how old are you today?”

You would think that the old-fashioned adage which dictates men should never ask a woman her age had gone the way of the eight-track tape long ago in this age of straightforwardness, but even this young millennial looked at the guy asking her this with more than a little surprise on her face.  She acquiesced though with a flirty laugh and said “Ok I’ll tell you guys how old I am, but it means everyone here also has to say how old they are.  I’m 28 today.”  

Now at this point I began to get a little uncomfortable.  I could tell that all four of them were significantly younger than me.  Was I really going to have to tell them my age?  I pictured the shocked looks that would appear on their faces and perhaps even receiving sad but comforting pats on my ancient hand as I revealed a number that surely their youthful group would consider prehistoric.

One of the guys across the table then said “Oh god, 28…it’s been the worst year of my life so far, I’m 28 too right now.”  And then his friend sitting next to him nodded knowingly in miserable affirmation and said he was 28 too.  Finally the third guy broke the curse and said he was…wait for it…29.  I think they all started talking about this horrible, miserable time in their lives but honestly I didn’t hear any of that…I was too busy thinking of what I was going to say in the next few seconds when it was my turn to answer.

And then suddenly I thought of a clever quip, a way out of having to tell them my age at all but at the same time acknowledging my um, advanced wisdom (yeah that’s it) in a humorous and self-deprecating kind of way.  “What a coincidence, I was 28 when I left to join the Peace Corps!” was on the tip of my tongue as I waited for it to be my turn to complete the round.

Except that moment never arrived.  Which was confusing, because it was my turn, with the briefest of pauses in the conversation, and I think a few eyes even glanced my way for a fleeting moment in fearful apprehension…but then the subject was changed and I was passed over.  Literally.  The subject turned to something else entirely.  I really don’t think they meant anything malicious or mean by it, and I guess I should have been grateful for the reprieve, but the feeling I actually got from the rest of the group was “don’t worry, we know you’re obviously way older than us, so no need to even answer the question.”

But should I have been grateful?  The more I thought about it, the more it gnawed at me.  I’ve never shied away from telling someone my age in the past, so why had I been intimidated at that moment?  Why shouldn’t I have felt at ease with telling them my age, and why shouldn’t they have felt at ease hearing it?  Why did I feel dismissed when I didn’t get the chance to answer the question?

I’m really not sure.  Maybe it was the way the rest of them were talking and laughing and flirting in their loosely-choreographed dance of young life, and I felt somehow excluded from that even though I was right next to them.  It was maybe the first time I’ve actually and tangibly felt what it’s like to be stranded by the proverbial generation gap – but from the older side this time, the one that’s just slightly over the other side of the hill. 

What I wish I’d had the chance to say, now that I’ve thought about it, is this:  I’m 43 years old – which doesn’t make me ancient, it just makes me experienced, and that’s a good thing.  Yes I like Pat Benatar,  Journey and The Go-Go’s, so sue me (I took their cassettes with me all the way to Africa by the way).  No we didn’t have cell phones and laptops and tablets when I did Peace Corps – we were truly unplugged before that was even a catchword, and were lucky to have one (landline) 10-minute phone call every 3 weeks with our families, which cost them a small fortune.  There was no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat…there were only long-awaited letters in plain white envelopes with red and blue borders, and they were our addiction.  When it got dark at night, we didn’t log on, we lit up – our lanterns, that is, so that we could read dog-eared paperbacks by lamp light and listen to BBC on the radio.

It’s been 15 years already since I left to join Peace Corps, so 28 was actually a very memorable and good year for me, because as I mentioned above, that’s how old I was when I left to go serve.  I’m glad I waited until I’d finished grad school and was older to serve – for me personally, it was just the right time in my life to go.  And I’m not sure why the 28th year now apparently has such a bad reputation amongst those presently living it, but all I can say to them is just wait until you’re 43, or 53, or 63, and you’ll appreciate 28 much more than you do now.   Just let it be good.  (Does that make me sound like a crotchety old woman?)

Actually years 28 and 43 have been amazingly similar in my life.  They were both years in which I made huge life-changing decisions and took leaps of faith to start new ventures.  Both were years in which I made (or will make) voyages to the other side of the globe to pursue adventure and change.  Both were years in which I contemplated new directions and committed myself to self-study on things important to me.  Both have been categorized by determination and resiliency.  Now that I think of it, the ages of 28 and 43 have been two of, if not the most, important years of my life so far.

So maybe those youngsters at that table did me a favor after all…they’ve helped me remember and reflect on times that were pivotal in my life.  I’m grateful for that.  Maybe as a thank you I should take them to a Pat Benatar concert.  Or at least give them one of her cassette tapes…

pat-benatar-le-bel-age-big

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Healthcare.Govin’MeAHeadache

3 Comments

“He doth me wrong to feed me with delays.” ~William Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus, IV, iii)

Last week I finally took the plunge into shopping for health insurance through the infamously inoperable http://www.healthcare.gov marketplace website.  I already waded through the world of health insurance woes back in June when I quit my job and had to buy a private/individualized plan.  Texas is one of the states that refused to set up state-run networks, so we have no choice but to go through the federal marketplace.  I think I will be able to get a subsidy to assist me with one of the new insurance plans due to my much-reduced income now, but that’s only if I can actually manage to enroll.

Yup, I’m one of the masses of people who is stuck in the healthcare.gov snafu.

The website let me create an application and I entered in all of the multiple pages worth of required information.  Then I signed electronically and submitted it, but had to step away from the computer for a while.  When I logged back in later, it told me that my application was incomplete and asked me to re-enter all the same information I’d already entered earlier.  Yet in another link on the site, it told me my earlier-submitted application had been received and was complete.  It said I had to view my eligibility results before I could shop for a plan, but when I clicked on the link to do so, nothing happened.

So, I re-entered all the required information again. Five more times, actually.  Because each time, when I got to a certain point, it took me to an error screen saying the system was down and to please try again in 30 minutes.  I’d wait that amount of time and try again, only to get the same message.  I finally clicked on the Live Chat Support button and was instructed by an agent named Jacob that he would take note of my frustrations and concerns (really?), but that to get any actual assistance, I needed to call the support phone number on the website. (Apparently their Live Chat option really is meant to just chat, rather than help.)

error

“Temporarily,” that’s funny.

So I called the support number, and after going through the automated phone tree that couldn’t understand anything I said (and refusing to complete a customer survey at the end of the call), was hung up on before even getting to a real person.  I called back again, this time agreeing to complete the end-of-call survey (hmmm), and lo and behold a real person finally came on the line.  Shaneece listened to my situation and then told me “Ma’am it’s because the system is down again, mine is too.  In order to proceed you need to clear all cookies, bookmarks, and browsing history from your computer, then restart the whole machine, or else it won’t even think of letting you do anything.”  Huh?

Nothing on the healthcare.gov website had even mentioned cookies or browsing history being an issue or a recommendation if having problems.  But, I did what Shaneece recommended.  And nope, it still didn’t work.  Nine hours later, I was still getting the same error message and was still unable to view my eligibility results.  In 2013, the most technologically-advanced time in history, it looks like I’m going to have to go fill out a paper application at a help center, turn in it, and wait weeks to hear back on what plans I might be eligible to enroll in.  Which I still probably won’t be able to do online.  I may even have to go hunting for an actual STAMP at some point in time (do they still sell those?).

Yup, this is about right. (From US News)

Yup, this is about right. (From US News)

Many of you probably also saw a recent news story about a few guys in California who, in a matter of HOURS, created a completely functional website (www.thehealthsherpa.com) that would let anyone instantly compare premiums for the different health insurance plans available through the marketplace, as well as find out how much of a subsidy you might be able to get.  Very few can even get past the initial bugs in the federal site to view this vital information, but these guys were able to throw it together in less than a day’s time and it actually works all the time.  You can’t enroll for a plan on their site (YET), but you can do your plan shopping and get all the pertinent information you need to then try to somehow enroll through the government’s archaic system.  Why in the world aren’t these guys being employed by the government (and paid lots of deserved money) to make the main site WORK?  Baffles the mind.

I’m not one of those people who gambles on not having health insurance.  But then I’ve never really had to worry about it until now; I was always lucky enough to have it provided through my employer for the past twenty years.  It amazes me to run into people my age who decide to run that risk though; the last few months, I’ve encountered quite a few of them.  And I realize it is a significant cost; I guess if you can’t pay for it, you can’t pay for it.  But in the land of healthcare-cost induced bankruptcies, it’s too scary to me to not budget for it and make sure I have coverage for that just-in-case scenario that may pop up as I get older.

One of the most frightening aspects of quitting my job six months ago was the thought of not having employer-provided benefits.  Deciding to cut loose that safety rope (noose?) was extremely difficult, but it was my choice all the same.  I must reap the consequences, but I also believe that there should be other realistic and affordable options for people who want to break free and try to make it on their own.  Isn’t it ironic that we shake off the suffocating company ropes just to then be metaphorically strangled by constrictive government red tape through a system such as healthcare.gov?

red tape

I’ve worked for all levels of government in my life: local/city, state, and federal. I’m fairly used to red tape actually; not much about it surprises me anymore. Getting bogged down in bureaucratic nonsense is frustrating but feels weirdly familiar, which is a little discomforting. Have I gotten too accustomed to the static non-pace of life as a public employee?  Going forward, can I wear the half-cloak of public service while also stirring the pot of privatized entrepreneurship? A tangled web indeed.

I hope the President and his team can get this embarrassment figured out soon.  Actually, I think he just needs a whole new team – there are a few guys in California who I think may be ready to step up.

Hope some of you are having better luck than me if you’re trying to enroll for a plan.  I’d say keep your fingers crossed for me, but I wouldn’t want you to develop arthritis as a result, which may or may not be paid for by your insurance plan.  Just some good mental mojo sent my way will suffice, thanks.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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