Friday, November 20, 2009

The Poetry of Progress; a Thanksgiving Story

November 20, 2009

I had no idea this familiar poem had anything to do with Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. I'm the pie guy in the family. It's a pleasure to cook a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie for the holiday. The last few years, the pies have even been edible! What is not so tasty is that I'm not good at giving actual thanks. In the spirit of the holiday, let me give it a shot.

When I started this crazy poetry obsession, I had no credits to my name. Heck, I had no name. There came a point where my blah, blah, blah about poetry seemed to bouncing off brick walls creating quite the echo chamber. So, I went on a self-imposed quiet period.

The quiet period is over. What a difference six months make. I've won several awards, local and national. I've been published and accepted for publication in some respectable journals. I am no longer creditless.

Most importantly, I've found a supportive Oregon poetry community. I joined the Oregon State Poetry Association and had the pleasure of attending two of their conferences and meeting some of the region's best poets.

I'm part of a group called the "Tall Poets Society" with award winning poets Steve Williams and Shawn Sorensen (we're all over 6'5"). The camaraderie has been wonderful and they've been very thoughtful in providing feedback on my work. Their great work has also inspired me.

When I was stuck with a bit of writer's block this fall, the very talented poet Constance Hall was kind enough to give me some encouragement and advice.

After seeing my work, a very generous Fran Turney sent me a classic book on Hiroshima. She also showed my poems "Japan 1944" and "Hanford" to Lawson Inada, the Poet Laureate of Oregon. This is especially meaningful for me because of his experiences in a U.S. Japanese internment camp.

Sandy Didner, a college professor in Florida, read my poem "Time and Fates of Man" and asked if she could teach it to her students. I also had the pleasure of offering encouragement and advice to a couple of young, talented kids whose creativity gives hope for our future.

My wife Tracey, who really isn't a huge poetry fan, puts up with a lot. She reads my poems, many times under protest. She helps me put together contest entries. She also endures more of my non-stop blah, blah, blah about poetry than you could imagine.

I need to stop myself. I just realized I did not actually say "thank you" to any of the people listed above. I just bragged about myself, again. Horrifying! I told you, I'm not very good at this thanking thing. One more time...

Thank you, everyone, for your kindness and support. Thank you for reading. You've enriched my life and work. You've made everything taste as good as pumpkin and pecan pies. I hope your Thanksgiving is as happy you've made mine.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mormons and Healthcare Reform

November 13, 2009

I had a very interesting conversation with my mother this week about healthcare reform. My mother retired from nursing a couple of years ago with forty years of hard won experience. She's literally seen it all. I'm a lucky man because my mother dropped everything to been there for me for all my surgeries and was a huge support when I experienced kidney failure. In fact, she was the first in line to ask to be evaluated as a donor.

So, I was extremely surprised when in the first few seconds of a conversation about healthcare reform, she started reciting word-for-word the conservative "talking points" against reform. Socialism, choice of doctors, rationing of care, wait times, the boogeyman of government controlled know the list. It was as if the spirit of Hannity and Beck poured directly out of her mouth.

As a bit of background, my mother is a true believing Mormon and lives in Salt Lake City. Mormons are notoriously conservative and have a powerful distrust of the government due to historical experiences from the nineteenth century. However, they've been progressive about healthcare in the past. The Mormon church was one of the first to extend healthcare benefits to the children of its employees to up 26 years of age. This policy is considered very progressive and has been included in the healthcare reform bills supported by the Obama administration. My mother's reaction seemed antithetical to the stories I heard all my life from her nursing career and the general charitable tenets usually espoused by the Mormon Church.

I was determined to understand this better and decided to do some research. I found the graph you seen on the left on Patchwork Nation (click the graph to go to the site). Patchwork Nation is a blog from the Christian Science Monitor that seeks to use demographic and survey data to break the country down beyond Red and Blue states. It shows how different majority populations around the U.S. perceive policy and social issues. It's a very interesting site.

The graph shows that areas of the country dominated by Mormons are the most skeptical of health care reform, by a huge margin. The site offers some explanations that you can read for yourself and mentions that survey sample size could be a problem.

Unfortunately, my mother isn't the only person from Salt Lake City to play back the Fox News lies and fear-mongering about healthcare reform. I have several friends from SLC who also repeated these same beliefs, including the ones that are outrageous lies (death panels etc.). What kind of echo chamber are the folks in Utah experiencing to get such rabid repetition? It's like they're reading from a single script. Can anyone help me understand this?

I'd just urge anyone who has concerns about healthcare reform and the reform bills to go to read It's non-partisan. It debunks many of the irrational and nonsensical claims made by both conservatives AND liberals. Yes, there are distortions coming from the Democrats, too. This site focuses on the facts. Luckily for all of us, the facts support reform.


Oh and hey Mom, did you see that AARP endorsed the House bill for healthcare reform? Also, did you know your son will depend upon government-provided Medicare to cover the costs of my kidney transplant and anti-rejection medication? Oh and Mom, did I tell you that because of Medicare, my mother-in-law got to choose her doctor for her cataract surgery? This meant she could come from to California to Oregon for the procedure, so that family could help her during her recovery. How's that for portability? Maybe you could give healthcare reform another look?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Names of the Dead

November 6, 2009

If you haven't heard, there's a huge vote in the next few days on the Healthcare Bill before the House of Representatives. The voting will likely follow strict party affiliation. Most Democrats will vote "Yea" while ALL Republicans will vote "Nay." When it comes to healthcare, my affiliation is very clear. I belong to the Human party.

What is the heck is the "Human" party? Quite simply: I choose people over political parties. I choose the rights of people over the rights of corporations. I choose to support the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves. I choose to support healthcare as a basic human right and believe that healthcare for all is the new hallmark of truly great civilizations. Why? Because I know that every human being that has ever lived and lives now will grow sick or suffer injury and die. The only variation in that equation is length of suffering. This is the one experience we all share regardless of century, sex, race, religion, nationality and politics.

I support this bill. I know it is not perfect. I know that many of the proposed changes will not satisfy anyone due to cost, coverage and ideological beliefs. This includes my own belief that the only logical solution to healthcare is a single payer system. I support this bill because it is a start. We desperately need a start here in America. As the most advanced civilizations around the world have proved, universal healthcare does not cause the fabric of the universe to unravel, turn the people into slaves or make them fascism victims. Universal healthcare simply improves the quality of the lives of everyone, not just the rich or fortunate.

I think the seriousness of the issue is best shown on the site Democratic House Member Alan Grayson sponsors it. The site gives voice to those people who have perished because of no health care insurance. You might not care for the politics behind the site, but the data comes from a study by authors from the Department of Medicine at the Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Click here to read a .pdf of the report for yourself. The conclusion: Every year 44,000 people die because of lack of health insurance. That's more than from kidney disease (42,000+), the root of my own advocacy. A just released John's Hopkins study shows that a lack of health care and insurance contributed to the deaths of 17,000 hospitalized children in the last 18 years.

More people die from lack of health care insurance every day than from automobile accidents and homicides combined. The consequences here are very real and demand we take action, imperfect or not, to make immediate improvements to our barbaric system.

I know most of you already have health insurance. However, instead of considering this a numerical or anonymous issue that doesn't affect you, I encourage you to spend five minutes to read some of the stories on It will help you understand the true costs beyond dollars and statistics.

I was shocked to find the name and story of Theron Read from Salt Lake City. Theron was 44 when he died on a light rail train from a heart attack in late July. He, like me, was an actor and a poet. Theron had a pre-existing heart condition and worked for a small business that did not offer health insurance. He, unlike me, did not qualify for Medicare. Why kidney failure is covered and heart conditions are not points to the ludicrous labyrinth of the system. Theron made very little money and could not qualify for nor afford health insurance. He did not have the money to cover the costs of managing his chronic illness or pay for needed medications. He did the best he could with what he had and died needlessly before his time.

I knew Theron. We traveled the same circles and even did a show together in the 80's. He was gentle and kind, quirky and funny. Regardless of economic circumstances, Theron’s family, friends, and the larger community of writers, actors, and musicians in Salt Lake City loved and valued him. I am very sad to hear of his passing and the circumstances behind it.

My friends, healthcare reform is very real check on your morals and values. What do you believe and stand for? Have you thought about it? I have. I believe in humanity. I believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in place of dogma, truth over ignorance, tolerance in place of fear, and compassion over selfishness. I believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings (thank you, Paul Kurtz). I condemn violence, the "I got mine so fuck you" crowd, and greed without purpose.

Please contact your local Representatives and Senators. Ask them to vote for healthcare reform. They won't do it, if you don't demand it.