Us Vs. Them

tim-tebowIf you’ve met my Mom, you no doubt love her. She is a sweet little lady with a big heart. She is also a Christian and, like most Christians, she makes her decisions by asking herself, “What would Jesus do?” 

Yesterday, my Mom shared on Facebook something that someone named AskDrBrown posted about Caitlyn Jenner. It was a picture of Tim Tebow, in heroic profile, with the caption, “The people who are applauding Bruce Jenner for ‘being himself’ are the same people who condemned Tim Tebow and told him to ‘keep his beliefs to himself.'” 

Let me be clear, this is not about my Mom and me. I don’t think that she posted this comment about someone in the LGBT community to hurt my feelings. I think that as a Christian she probably feels that the Liberal Left is often persecuting and judging the Religious Right. Certainly this kind of contempt that we see on places like Facebook and Twitter and in the media go both ways.  And I see what she posted as her way of saying, “I am a Christian.” I respect that.

Of course, I thought quite a bit about what she posted all day yesterday. I wrote about it in June, but there is a part of me, that when I see people write negative things about Caitlyn Jenner’s identity, I somehow take it personally. (I’m not saying that kind of sensitivity is a good thing.)

An aside here, I like Tim Tebow. I mean, I certainly don’t know as much about him as I know about, say, Bethenny Frankel, but he seems to me like a decent Christian guy, trying to glorify God in the way he lives his life. He does not go out of his way to say homophobic or transphobic things, that I know of, anyway. And, because I AM gay, I have noticed that he is quite handsome, in my humble opinion.

The thing that I found myself really thinking about yesterday was not my Mother, but this AskDrBrown who originally posted the transphobic/Caitlyn-phobic comment in the first place. It’s a classic effort to polarize the world we live in: Liberals vs. Christians, LGBT vs. Conservatives. While I don’t think my Mother had malice in her repost, I do sense that, for AskDrBrown, cruelty was part of his intent. Why else would he refer to Caitlyn as both “Bruce Jenner” and in the male pronoun? Whether AskDrBrown thinks Caitlyn is going to heaven or not, it’s unkind, heartless, petty, judgemental and provincial to not respect a person’s wishes of how they would like to be addressed. 

I know that, in a way, it truly is Us vs. Them. This social dichotomy is one of the themes that runs through my entire blog. I grew up conservative, identify as liberal in adulthood. I have many people close to me that are big cheerleaders on each side.  Sides exist and probably they are necessary. But I also think that this Us. vs. Them pathology has its problems too. And let me be the first to admit my own guilt.

My 30th high school reunion is coming up next summer. I am planning to attend. I think. I enjoyed our 20 year reunion but back then, none of us were on Facebook, we didn’t know exactly how we all landed politically, and spiritually, and socially. No one had seen pictures of Eric and me at pride festivals. I hadn’t seen pictures of classmates with the deer they just shot. By the time next year’s reunion rolls around, I will probably have a clear handle, from each classmate, about who plans to vote for Hillary, who plans to vote for Bernie, who plans to vote for Jeb and also, yikes, who plans to vote for Trump. Can I really spend an evening or a weekend reminiscing with someone wearing a Trump/Cosby ’16 t-shirt and ball cap? Do my classmates really want to see the choreography I do when Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York starts playing? Well, I hope so, because WE ARE THE CLASS OF ’86. And we have history and memories and shared laughs and shared tears. We have our differences, yes, but hopefully, for a weekend anyway, we will only focus on what we share. Right?

I hope that a little good can come out of AskDrBrown’s mean spirited Facebook post, and that is that I can be a little kinder, a little less polarizing. We are all in this together, the conservatives, the liberals, the football players, the decathletes, the doctors, the restaurant hosts, the deer hunters, the Meryl Streep superfans, the Kansas moms, the Real Housewives. It is not Us vs. Them, merely We.

Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

Guest Blogger, David Dillon

The Music Man Finale

Families can be a tricky thing.  Ideally, from the time you are little, they should be your first and strongest support system.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

I’ve written often about my time performing in the play Party, it was truly one of the most magical times of my life.  I did the play in Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, and suffice to say, every city bore its own adventures.   One of the plays many gifts was getting to know funny, talented people, many of whom are still in my life, among them Party‘s playwright, David Dillon.   While we lost touch for a few years, through the magic of Facebook, we are reconnected.  And I am glad, because he always has a perceptive, droll take on just about every topic,  He told me he had a bullying story, this one is about family, and I feel quite honored that he has shared it here.  Thank you, David.

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Way before I was born, my father’s parents purchased some property along the lake on Chicago’s south side. There were two lots … one with a single family home and right next door, a beautiful three story apartment building with one large apartment on each floor and a smaller basement apartment. My father had been one of seven children, so the idea was that the grandparents would live in the house and then inexpensively rent the apartments out to those of their kids and their families who wanted to live nearby.

My mother, father, sister and I lived on the third floor. The apartments were huge by today’s standards and right behind our building was Rainbow Beach. Our yard butted right up to the park and just a few steps beyond was one of the most popular beaches in Chicago. I used to love to sit on our enclosed back porch and listen to the sounds of summer as I watched the sailboats dotting the lake in the distance. Maybe it is the Piscean in me, but I have always been soothed by the sounds of water and the crashing of the Lake Michigan waves were about the most wonderful sounds I have ever heard. It was a paradise for kids and I remember being blissfully happy there in my youngest years.

In the first floor apartment lived a favorite aunt and uncle and a wonderful flock of cousins. My uncle was an art dealer and there was a cultured and civilized manner about both him and my aunt that always attracted me. My parents never needed to find an outside babysitter either; we had a built in roster of sitters all throughout the building. Home was a safe, care free and cheerful place.

My happiness turned to deep sadness, though, when that arm of our family announced that they would be moving to Tacoma, Washington. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

Now, by this time, I had already showed signs of not being interested in typical “boy” stuff. I had no use whatsoever for sports or the roughhousing that was common among my peers.

I had discovered musicals when I was five (what you might call a Dead Giveaway) and was obsessed with “The Music Man.” My bedroom was decorated with photos of Shirley Jones placed in the frames that my sister’s Barbie clothes came in. We somewhere have a small piece of film of me at Christmastime wearing a “Music Man” outfit my maternal Grandmother made for me and singing my little heart out. I was way more interested in escaping to my fantasy world listening to my musical LPs than I was in anything a Normal Boy would do. The world of musicals was always a magic place for me. It still is. And it saved me from what would have otherwise been a completely dark stretch of years.
The Music Man 2
As it turned out, my favorite first floor family was replaced by my least favorite of my father’s brother’s families and paradise soon turned into hell.

This group of cousins had no interest in anything but sports and they took note of my lack of interest early on and with a vengeance. I became the target of ruthless bullying and believe me, the pain of being bullied is made all the worse when it comes from family. They called me a sissy, taunted me and treated me so horribly that the home that used to be my safe place soon became the place I was scared to be. I stayed indoors whenever I could instead of being out in the yard or around the front porch for fear of encountering them. I hated being there and I hated these interlopers for ruining the place I so used to love.

I also began to hate who I was. I wanted desperately to be the kind of boy everyone expected me to be. Not because I craved “boy” things like sports, but because my life would just have been easier. I was made to feel like something was dreadfully wrong with me and I became engulfed by the loneliest kind of sadness.

An interesting thing – this family apparently felt that gender roles only applied to boys. I say that because one of the young girls in that family was a Textbook Tomboy. She behaved more like a boy than I did and she and one of her brothers were the two who were the most mean to me. But I never saw anyone tease her or prod her into putting on a dress and playing with dolls. No one told Textbook Tomboy to put down the baseball bat. Astonishingly, it never occurred to anyone that she was actually the gender skewed “girl” version of me. I wish I had been articulate enough then to have pointed out both the irony and the hypocrisy, but I just suffered in silence.

It may come as no surprise that I still have an extreme aversion to sports. They always represented my oppressors. Even now, fifty years later, I struggle to get past that.

Skip ahead almost forty years. Out of the blue one day, I got an email from the second oldest son of the family I so wished had never come to South Shore Drive. He was actually the best of the bunch, so I welcomed getting back in touch with him. In one of his first emails to me, however, he revealed that Textbook Tomboy had come out as a lesbian in adulthood. (Quelle surprise!) But, he was very quick to add that with the help of therapy and God, she was able to be cured, to rid herself of that existence and become straight.

Unfuckingbelievable.

What he had to say hit the very core of why I despised those cousins and could easily have triggered what my Facebook friends now call a “David rant.” But instead, I let it go. There was simply no point. This family would never “get it” and I would only be beating my head against a wall.

If that had been an end to it, I’d have let it all alone and moved on with the knowledge that some people will just never change and that was just a fact of life.

You can imagine how surprised I was to next get an email from the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin who had been so cruel to me when we were kids. She wanted to apologize for how she treated me growing up and said that she often throughout her life thought about those days and her behavior towards me with regret. She hoped I would forgive her.

I can honestly say that I would have had a different response had one of two things been true. If she had accepted who she really was and was living life as a lesbian, I’d have forgiven her. I understand the psychology of closeted and fearful youth. Or, if she had even simply lived her life as a straight woman (if she truly WAS straight) who looked back at a kind of childhood behavior she was ashamed of, I’d have also forgiven her.

But, this “Former Lesbian” stuff didn’t allow me to be generous. By seeking out ways to be “fixed,” she and her family were once again, decades later, affirming that who gay people are (meaning me) is fundamentally wrong and obviously sick. The conversion therapy she believed in and that her family celebrated as her salvation is a lie. It is a lifeline clung to in desperation by self loathing fags and dykes who despise themselves for who they are.

I felt their judgment again and with the same sting as when we were kids and it enraged me. They had made it clear so many years ago that my not being the kind of boy they thought I should be made me an aberration. Now, she had been “saved” from the Evils of Lesbianism and her family thanked God for delivering her from such a wretched existence.

That did it. I was no longer going to let her or her family off the hook for what they did to me.

So, I wrote her back.

I told her how scarred I still was from her treatment of me. I told her how she took a place I loved and turned it into a place where I lived frightened rather than happy. I told her how she made me hate myself for not being the person she thought I should be and how she robbed me of a beloved part of my childhood. Finally, I told her to look to her God for forgiveness, for she wouldn’t get any from me.

Damn, it felt good.

Now, a number of people in my life have told me that I hold on to things for too long, that I need to learn how to forgive. They tell me this not for the sake of those who have wronged me, but for my sake. They tell me it sets you free. They might have a point. My father committed suicide when I was thirteen and I still have not completely forgiven him and that has colored every moment of my life since. And no betrayal by a friend or lover ever goes forgotten.

So, a couple of years ago, for better or worse I took the High Road. I sent the Former Lesbian a message on Facebook and told her I forgive her. But, no, I didn’t do it for her. I did it because I refuse to let what she did to me so long ago still have a hold on me. As long as I clung to the state of being unforgiving, I was acknowledging her power over me and my life. I had to let it go.

What I know is that I have something she will never have – the knowledge that I am living life truthfully and proudly as the person I am. The miserable little boy who didn’t know who he was and was made to feel “wrong” is an open and out gay man who unapologetically and joyfully embraces his identity. And, the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin is as lost a creature as has ever walked the earth, though she will never see, admit or come to terms with that. She would, in fact, deny that to her dying breath. And so, she will never know the peace of loving and accepting herself in total honestly.

So, I win.

Meeee

Zest

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It’s not my usual pattern, but two nights ago, I took a shower before going to bed.  (In case you are worried that I do not bathe, I’ll tell you I generally shower in the morning.) Eric had added a fancy new bar of soap to the other 97 shampoos, conditioners, exfoliants and body washes that comprise our bathtub.  I picked up the soap, lathered it.  I liked the smell, it reminded me of something, but it took me a second to place it.

I love soap.  I mean, it’s nice that it cleans a person, but it also can leave behind a pleasant fragrance.  For me, and I don’t think I’m alone, a lot of memories are tied to fragrances.  Like rose water always makes me think of my high school friend Missy. Both chlorine and suntan lotion remind me of long ago summer afternoons spent at the Riverside Park Municipal Pool.  Night blooming jasmine makes me think of those months when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Dolce and Gabbanna cologne makes me think of my first big love, the one I took so many years to get over.

It took me a second, but I realized this soap reminded me of the soap my grandfather always had in his house, something called Zest. Remember Zest? I mean, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. It was Zest, Zest in the kitchen, Zest at the bathroom faucet, Zest in the bathtub. Always Zest.

In the house where I grew up with my parents, I remember using a lot of soaps: Irish Spring, Dove, Dial, Ivory and sometimes Zest. If I begged enough, my Mom would buy me Coast. Coast was my favorite. I don’t know why I loved Coast so much, I just imagined that it was what people who spent a lot of time on yachts smelled like. I did not love Zest, nor did I hate it. Zest just was. And like I said, Zest is what always was at my grandpa’s house.

I really only knew two grandparents growing up. My mom’s father died when she was a baby and my dad’s mother died when I was not yet two. And while I always felt a kinship to my mom’s mom, Grandma Sue, a bond over Scrabble and books and reading and writing letters, my Grandpa was always a mystery.

He was a farmer. When we’d visit, he’d let me go out to the garden with him. He’d pull up young carrots and wipe them off and let me eat them fresh from the garden. I’d ask him how the watermelons were doing since they were my favorite fruit but it seemed we always had to wait almost until the end of summer before the watermelons would be ready to eat. I used to have a tomato scented candle and I loved it because it smelled like my grandfather’s garden.

In the years before I was 7, when we moved from Kansas City to Independence, in part so my Dad could be closer to Grandpa, we would drive down to the farm for weekend visits. I remember my Grandpa would fry us hamburgers for supper and on Sundays, my aunts and uncles and cousins would convene at Grandpa’s for a roast beef dinner. Tuesday night, after my shower, as I was trying to fall asleep, I wondered who prepared the roasts for those feasts. Was it Grandpa or did Aunt Kay leave church early to get a head start on the meal? I don’t know, I just remember running around in the yard, climbing the septic tank and after eating, all the men (and boys) going fishing.

If my math is right, my Grandpa was about 64 when my Grandma Avis died. When he died, more than once, I heard my Dad say that he didn’t think he ever got over losing Grandma. He never remarried, never started a new life with another woman. Tuesday night, as I lay in bed, I wondered if I had solved the mystery of the Zest. My first thought was that he bought it because that’s what she always bought. And then I went just a bit further, maybe he always used Zest because it reminded him of the good times, when the children were young, before Avis got sick.

When I looked up the definition for zest, the first one I came across was “great enthusiasm or energy.” Of my grandfather’s 7 grandchildren, I am the only one too young to not remember him in the years before he was a widower. While I only remember a stoic, serious man, maybe in his life before, enthusiastic and energetic could have described him. I don’t know.

I do think energetic and enthusiastic are words that could be used to describe me. It’s part of my undiagnosed mania. My life is always either wonderful or terrible, nothing in between. I’ve never been called stoic even once in my 46 years. Sometimes, I think, oh man, I’d KILL to be stoic, which, you know, is a very unstoic thing to think or say.

Last night, I lay in bed, still thinking about my Grandpa Carl and my Grandma Avis, their love story. When I was little my Dad would always say the best fried chicken he’d ever had was his Mom’s. If it bothered my Mom that he would say that while we were eating her fried chicken, she gave no indication. These were the handful of years right after Avis had died and I suppose it was my Dad’s way of saying, “Boy, I miss my Mom” without having to actually say it. My Dad inherited more than a little of his father’s stoicism.

I wonder what my Grandpa would say if I told him that modern version of Zest in my bathtub cost $20 a bar. (In its defense, it’s a big bar.)

There is something of my grandfather in me. I hope so, anyway. He’s been gone for nearly 25 years now, all I have is old pictures and memories and the stories my older relatives share with me. I try to make the connections.

I mentioned briefly an ex I had that, once we broke up, it took me years to get over him. There was a point when I truly thought that I never would. But I did, eventually.

I know that in the culture we live in, there is a lot of value placed on moving forward, starting anew, evolving. I suppose that is for the best, all things considered.

But I have to say there is something beautiful and touching, albeit, heartbreaking about how my grandfather never started anew. My Grandma was a ghost who was always there in that house, a ghost who always clung to my Grandpa. She was never far away. Every hymnal in the pews of the country church our family attended bore the inscription, “Provided by the family of Avis Barnhart, in loving memory.” She was everywhere. When I was 12, my parents and I went to Hawaii with my Grandpa and although he had a good time, it was said and it was understood, this was a trip he should have made with Avis. And it was also understood that, in a way, she was there with us.

When I smell anything gardenia fragranced, whether it be a soap or a perfume or a candle, I remember my two trips to Hawaii. It’s always so bittersweet because a fragrance can bring back some wonderful memories and also make you ache for what is no more. But I like the idea, and really, I know it’s just an idea, but I like to think that that Zest might have kept the memory of Avis alive to Carl. That on days after working hard on the farm, he’d come inside, lather up with his Zest and momentarily at least, get whisked away to the happiest days of his life. And when his hands were clean, all the dirt washed down the drain, he’d go about fixing a hamburger or two for himself. And trust me when I tell you, those hamburgers were the best hamburgers I’ve ever had. I can smell them now.

Guest Blogger, Gretchen Meinhardt

10268534_10152910983861554_5398660021533019161_nI don’t wade into political topics all that often. I’ll just say it’s not my particular area of expertise and leave it at that. But I do want to share the story of a family. I’ve known Gretchen Meinhardt since we were in college. A few months ago, I shared a piece she wrote for CNN. Today, I am sharing a copy of the letters she has sent to her legislators chronicling her experience with the Affordable Care Act for her family. Primarily, I share this so that a solution might be found where all children, and adults for that matter, receive the best healthcare possible, regardless of where they fall on an income scale. I don’t really know who might read this, but maybe Gretchen might also connect with other parents who are in a similar situation. I have included her email, for this purpose. If you have a similar story, please feel free to share it.

Guest Blogger: Gretchen Meinhardt

Perhaps the Affordable Care Act has helped some people, but it has been devastating for families like mine who struggle to care for a child with disabilities. When we adopted our newborn son Raef in 2001, we had no idea what we were in for, not only as new parents, but also as caregivers for a baby with significant, lifelong healthcare needs. Our joy as new parents soon turned to fear as he began having seizures – 200 to 300 a day – that were impossible to control. At only 8 months old, he had radical brain surgery (a right hemispherectomy), which was scary, but such a blessing because he has been seizure-free for 13 years now. The seizures and surgery left him partially blind and with limited use of the left side of his body (cerebral palsy), but he is an active eighth grader, with a delightful sense of humor and zest for life. The seizures and subsequent disabilities are not Raef’s only challenge, however. He also has Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), a genetic condition which causes tumors to grow on the nerves. At just 2 years old, he endured 14 months of chemotherapy to treat a tumor on his optic nerve. That tumor has remained stable, but Raef faces ongoing NF-related challenges, including learning disabilities, ADHD, sleep issues, and fine motor difficulties. In spite of all of these challenges, we wouldn’t trade Raef – or his younger sister Gwyn, his biological sibling whom we also adopted – for the world. We love them with all our hearts and delight in being their parents. The thing that breaks my heart and keeps me awake at night is that now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we may not be able to afford the medical care our son needs. For many years before the ACA, we were blessed to have excellent health insurance through my husband’s work as a safety manager with a large international company. However, when the country was preparing for the implementation of the ACA, that company chose to reorganize in order to afford the increased health care costs and requirements resulting from the ACA. My husband was among the “middle management” that was laid off to pay for these increased costs. And there went our health insurance, right along with his job, because we could not even afford the COBRA premiums. Since he was laid off more than a year ago, he has been actively searching and interviewing for jobs. But like many in his position, he has struggled. Although he is working temporary contract jobs in safety management, he has been unable to find a full-time position, with benefits, in his field. In addition, I work as an adjunct college instructor, and while it is relatively easy to find part-time positions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find full-time college teaching positions that offer benefits. So far we have managed to piece together health coverage for our family, but only because my husband is a veteran and can get VA healthcare, and because we reluctantly put our children on state health insurance (Medicaid) until we could find employment with benefits. However, it was next to impossible to get state coverage for the children, even though we qualified based on income after my husband lost his job. Now we live under the constant threat that we will lose the children’s Medicaid coverage before we are able to find permanent, affordable health coverage. During Medicaid’s latest notice they would be dropping coverage (which we are appealing), I once again priced health coverage through the ACA marketplace. If we go through the marketplace for health insurance, the medical costs in 2015 for my children and me will be between $16,000 and $30,000. This includes premiums, prescriptions, and out-of-pocket medical costs. (We always meet the out-of-pocket maximum with our son by about Valentine’s Day.) It’s hardly “affordable,” but with a child like Raef, health coverage is hardly optional. As the New Year and a new session of Congress approach, I ask that you take a serious look at the ACA and consider whether it is truly ensuring “affordable” health care for Americans. If you would like to know more about my family’s experience, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to help in any way, even if it takes meeting with legislators or testifying before Congress. Thank you for your careful consideration of this important issue.

Best regards,
Gretchen Meinhardt
Kansas City, Missouri
cliffmein@hotmail.com

Guest Blogger, Theresa Barnhart: Aunt Ruth, A Beautiful Lady

Update-your-salonMy Mom called me this afternoon and told me she had been writing about my Great Aunt Ruth and her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She wondered if I might post what she wrote as a guest blog. Of course, I said yes. Although she does not write about it here, my Mom also worked at a nursing home for several years and she has always had a tender heart for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As she says, September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day and I think we all know loved ones who are affected by it everyday. I’ve included a link to ALZinfo.org right here if you would like more information about the disease or what you could do to raise awareness or help others in need. My Mom’s words brought back many sweet memories when I read them tonight and she’s right, our Aunt Ruth was a beautiful lady.

Aunt Ruth, A Beautiful Lady!

This has been one of those weeks when I have been thinking of my Aunt Ruth and how this beautiful vivacious lady was robbed the last few years of her life by this disease known as Alzheimer’s. Early in the week, I started to receive a newsletter from the Kansas Association of Alzheimer’s. Mid week, I found Aunt Ruth’s memory card I received at her funeral. Then today, I saw on Facebook an article about Sunday, September 21,2014, being World Alzheimer’s Day. I thought maybe this came for a reason. Everyone forgets occasionally how to spell a word (I’m famous for that all the time) or forgets where the keys are, etc. I believe we all have memory loss now and then, but it’s more noticeable as we age. It doesn’t mean we are getting Alzheimer’s, but it is something to be aware of. Aunt Ruth was always a happy outgoing lady and I wondered, “How can this happen to a lady who has always put others before herself?” She was a beautican. Her salon was in her home. There she could take care of her family. When she started to cut back her work, she would still take those ladies who were more like old friends instead of clients. She even started picking up her clients who didn’t have a way to the shop and do their hair and then take them back to their home. Those ladies for various reasons could no longer drive. Now that’s service! That’s just how she was. She loved all those who entered her home and those who entered her shop. Everytime we would stop by to say hello she would greet us and always introduce us to whoever was there. So lovely and outgoing, you couldn’t help but feel the love she had for us as if we were the most important people in her life. The first time I came to Kansas with Ray to meet his parents and siblings he said he wanted to take me to Dewey to meet his uncle and aunt. It was well into the evening and Uncle Ken had a early morning flight so they went to bed earlier. I was sorry we got them out of bed but when they greeted me it was the nicest, sweetest moment as Aunt Ruth gave me hugs and let me know they were glad to meet me and, of course, see Ray. (He couldn’t do anything wrong by them.) It was love at first meeting. We were married two weeks later and came to Oklahoma and Ray got a job at Phillips 66 in Bartlesville. We moved to Bartleville. Uncle Ken and Aunt Ruth were just a few miles away so I was able to go see Aunt Ruth at the shop and spent part of the day with her. About once a week her mom would come in and visit and have her hair done. She was also a very sweet lady and I enjoyed visiting with her, too. You might say Aunt Ruth was her mother’s daughter. Aunt Ruth’s daughter too is like her mother. Phillips moved us to Kansas City then turned around and sent him back to Bartlesville for some training and he was there and I was in Overland Park with a baby about eight weeks old. We would go down to Dewey several times and Aunt Ruth opened her home and took me and Ray Jr. in. One time while we were there, Ray Jr. started crying and I couldn’t get him to stop. We checked him over making sure his diaper pins hadn’t opened. They didn’t use the tape on throw away diapers at that time. Anyway Uncle Ken took him in his arms and rocked him to sleep. I have so many beautiful memories of her. Even when she got to where she didn’t know us we could feel her love and we hoped, in her mind, she could feel our love. Even though she couldn’t remember us we could still remember her and love and cherish those momeries we made with her. As long as there is life, someone will remember and never forget. Pray one day there will be a cure for this devastating disease. It can take away a person’s mind, but there is always going to be someone who will remember. God blessed us with this beautiful lady. Before she passed, I whispered in her ear that I loved her and that I would see her again. I told Ray I thought she heard me. I will remember for you ’til someone remembers for me.

The Pink Tea Cup

052809PinkTeaCup17MS.jpgWhen I lived in New York, on my days off from work, I would sometimes go to the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, check out a few books, then wander somewhere around there for lunch. One of my favorite places to have lunch alone, just me and a book, was a soul food restaurant, a neighborhood staple, called The Pink Tea Cup. I ordered the same thing every time, a burger special that came with fresh cut fries, a slice of sweet potato pie, and a cup of coffee. I was usually one of only a few customers during the hour or so I’d sit and read my book and eat my meal. It was a cozy joint and I especially liked going in the winter. I remember one year that I did not think I would be able to fly home for Christmas, whether it was because of money or getting shifts covered or both, but at some point, the heavens parted and I was able to get a plane ticket and make arrangements. I celebrated by taking myself to a late lunch at The Pink Tea Cup. I could not help but be conscious of the color of my skin while I dined there, but there was something Southern and familiar and comfortable about the place. I sat and ate the home cooked meal and looked forward to the home cooked meals my Mother would have waiting for me when I made it to Kansas for the holidays.

I just finished reading Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin. There was a section of the book where the protagonist, a successful African American actor named Leo Proudhammer, recalls working as a waiter in a Greenwich Village restaurant called The Island that sounded, if only to me, a bit like The Pink Tea Cup. Leo remembers serving Hopping John and chicken and ribs and I closed my eyes and saw all the action taking place at my old haunt, a place that still looked like 1968 even in 1993.

I am mostly drawn to James Baldwin for three reasons. He wrote often about New York, a city I love. He wrote about the Church, it’s complicated burdens and emancipations. And probably mostly, because he wrote about homosexuals, because he was one himself. I identify with James Baldwin.

This identification resonated even more in Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone because he wrote about acting, specifically his character’s technique and process and it gave me an idea what it must have been like to be an actor in the ’50s and ’60s New York, a time and place that produced some pretty exciting actors, not to mention writers.

There is a point in the novel where Leo’s estranged brother, a man who was falsely imprisoned in his youth but has become a minister, comes to visit him at The Island. He stays until the restaurant closes and the two brothers sit to share a meal, Leo drinking a tumbler of Chianti, Caleb, the elder, drinking coffee. Their conversation is tense in moments and tender in others. At one point, Caleb asks Leo, “What does an artist really do?” I’m editing for space. More than anything I just want you to pick up the book and read it yourself, but Leo tells Caleb that an artist creates things-paintings, books, poems, plays, music. Caleb then wants to know exactly what these arts do. Leo tells him, “They make you-feel more alive.” And then Leo thinks to himself that he doesn’t trust that answer. They talk more, Leo then says, “I think it-art-can make you less lonely.” But he doesn’t trust that answer either. And then finally he tells his brother, “Sometimes you read something- or you listen to music- I don’t know- and you find this man, who may have been a very unhappy man- and- a man you’ve never seen- well, he tells you something about your life. And it doesn’t seem as awful as it did before.”

Everytime I write about Baldwin, I feel a little foolish. What could a very white boy from Kansas have to offer when talking about one of the greatest African American writers in history? His experience was not my experience. It’s kind of ludicrous for me to say, “Oh I LOVE James Baldwin because he wrote about New York!” It sounds like I’m talking about Cindy Adams. But there is something about the way he wrote about New York and Evangelicalism and sexuality that drew me into his world, that captivated me. And once he had me, has me, for James Baldwin’s work is ongoing, by seeing how much we are alike, he also reminds me of how different we are. I learn from his experience; it’s my hope that reading about his specific African American experience makes me a more sympathetic, empathetic, knowledgeable person. I think there is, in his writing, an attempt to shame me for the wrongs my ancestors did, just as I think he tries to hurt his father, even though he loves him, for being cruel and abusive and embittered and drunk when Baldwin was a boy. Baldwin offers a knife in the side and then a blanket for comfort.

It’s no surprise, really, that I feel a pang of regret for saying that something in Baldwin’s writing intends to punish or wound me. While I am gay and have always felt like an outsider, the color of my skin, reminds me, how much of an outsider could I possibly be? I’m much more Barbara, the secondary character of Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, a white aspiring actress who fled Kentucky in hopes of making her way in New York City, who forges a life long intimate relationship with Leo Proudhammer. Leo’s love for her is visible and tenable, but in the 20 years of their friendship the novel spans, there are the knife and the blanket and neither are ever very far from each other.

I really don’t know where I am going with all of this. Baldwin raises more questions than he answers for me. But God, I love him. I love the way his stories burrow into me and I laugh and I weep and I think to myself, “This is MY STORY. He is telling my story.” And the ridiculousness of that statement doesn’t even occur to me until I am pages ahead.