Thursday, January 07, 2010

Friday, October 30, 2009

May as well finish

This is Currituck Light house in Currituck North Carolina on the Outer Banks. I have been going here with my partner and her family on vacation for over 10 + years. I LOVE lighthouses. This one is interesting as it is a twin to Bodie Light house further south on the island. I don't recall which lighthouse is slightly taller by a few feet, t that's one difference between them. The other is that Bodie is painted black and white and Currituck was left in it's original red brick. And you can climb Currituck light as well, you may only peer up the spiral stairs at Bodie.

The north end of the island has become, imho, overdeveloped. Perhaps you vacation there and would tell me that all the new development is welcome and needed. But I say the very elements that make going to the Outer Banks interesting and special for me are the unspoiled dunes, the wildlife and the fact people are not, as my more urban students might say, 'all up in your grill.'

Case in point, the wild horses that live there and have done for CENTURIES were once considered an attraction. It was a REASON to go to the island. Now that Martha and Joe McMillions and Stacy and Sam Wannabe have built their sprawling seaside row homes that sleep 20 -30 people the horses became a 'nuisance.' They got in the way of the over privileged driving their land rovers and sports cars. They shat in front of the house and ate the non native lawn and flowers so carefully selected for that special Martha Stewart I-live-better-than-you-do look.

Concessions were made. Currituck is a poor county and became enthralled with the money it could make from these McMansions and subsequent strip mall chain stores. The land was plowed under, gated communities went up and the horses were, as the Native Americans before them, 'relocated'

Despite the continuing development of this once lovely barrier island I still enjoy my visits but admittedly less and less. If I wanted Jersey I'd stay at home. When we go we stay in Southern Shores about 18 - 20 miles south of Currituck light. It has been a dream of mine for over 5 years to bike up and back to the lighthouse. In my dream the weather is fine. Not too hot, not too cold. There is nominal wind and always at my back. And the scenery and smells are heavenly.

2 years ago I was able to do half this dream ride. I rode FROM the lighthouse back to our rental home and promptly collapsed in the hot tub. It was then I discovered the healing properties of hot water and strong jets!

Due to health issues I was not able to ride at all last year. So this year I was DETERMINED I would realize my dream. Besides it is also part way to reaching a larger dream, of riding 100 miles in a single day. To this end (and for general health reasons) I started working with a trainer at my gym. This, combined with the fact that for the past 3 years the weather has been picture perfect (clear skies, mid 70's, no wind) almost the entire week, instilled me with a smug confidence.

And here is where life tests me. How badly did I want to realize this goal? What was I willing to do, where was the line drawn? This year it was overcast every day but Tuesday , our 3rd day there. This year the temperatures were in the mid 60's and the wind blew every day. Each night I would look to the forecast and send out a prayer to the weather gods and each morning they greeted me with a big "PTHW!"

On Friday October 16th 2009 the temperature was an average of 52 degrees. It was raining - well, misty in Southern Shores and outright pouring in Currituck. The wind ranged from 7 - 14 mph with 18mph gusts.

And I rode. I had help. My sister-in-law Judy rode up with me and Diane was to ride back with me.

The first 5 miles I thought "this isn't so bad" and around mile 10 I thought "I'm am crazy this was a BAD idea." At mile 14 when the wind was blowing so hard I felt like I wasn't moving, I was cold and soaked I through "I am NOT going to do a return trip, this is madness." That's also about when I started singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" making up my own somewhat bawdy verses.

And although the land is relatively flat my guess is that it is about a slight 3% uphill grade. Between that and the wind I was feeling cranky. I wanted to give up. I thought this was a terrible idea. I thought if it was sunny I'd be baking alive. I thought it is so developed now I could easily get hit and fatally injured because no one expects to see a cyclist out here. I thought this feels like when my trainer makes me hold a plank position or do wall squats and my body is screaming. And then I thought YEAH! That's exactly it. Isn't that why you started training so you could do exactly THIS? And don't I always make it through? YES! And when it hurts so much and you think you can't finish what happens then? - Usually Kevin (my trainer) says something like "only 20 more seconds" and I think "oh - only 20 more seconds...well if I've done it this long surely I can hold out another 20 seconds."

When Judy and I arrived at the light house Diane and the 'support team' weren't there yet. We were cold and tired and hungry and soaked. I suggested we keep moving, keep riding around the park that surrounds the lighthouse to keep warm. I told Judy maybe I shouldn't ride back and she said if Diane didn't want to do it, she was already soaked so why not make the return trip? Besides it'll be easier because it's mostly down hill. For 20 seconds hated her. I was looking for a way out, an excuse, a logical reason why I couldn't do this thing that I've dreamed of doing for years. Damn accountability! Right then I knew I was going to finish this thing whether I wanted to or not. And then I realized I didn't REALLY want to quit I was just unhappy with the weather but, like Judy said, like I've learned at the gym, as long as I've done this much I may as well finish. And my hate turned to admiration for this person who was willing to literally go the extra 20 miles in so many ways to help me realize MY dream.

Diane arrived. I ate a sandwich, mounted up and headed back home. The rain wasn't coming down quite so hard. The road is a 'downhill' grade. Diane led almost the entire way so I didn't need to work so hard and as long as I kept moving I didn't feel as cold.

So I did it! I finished my goal. It wasn't like I dreamed it would be. I tried to get out of it but realized when push came to shove I didn't want to get out of it I just wanted different circumstances. And isn't that the way of many things in life? And it feels good to have done it. I didn't do it out of obligation or because someone else chose this task for me. This is something that I wanted for me and I did it for me.

I continue to keep looking for ways to incorporate this new found personal motto in all the areas of my life - I've already done this much I may as well finish. At least where it applies to the things that I want to do for myself. My hopes, my dreams, my goals, my life being lived for me.

The next ride is TBA. I do know the next epic ride (because now 40 miles is a given) has to be 60 miles and then as long as I've done 60 I may as well finish up with 100!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UNAMERICAN health care reform

Here's my facts and thoughts:

I am considered an "Independent Contractor" All actors are. I might get hired to do a show but I'm not an employee I'm no different than a carpenter or plumber - except they make $80/hour. I make a little less than $15/hour (if you are non union it's more like $3-$5/hour.) A wage many Americans believe is way over the top for actors.

I cannot afford private health insurance. I tried that route over a decade ago and I couldn't afford it then (roughly $250/mos) I know for a fact I couldn't afford it now and I'm sure prices have only gone up. Those I know who pay for insurance out of pocket pay $400 - $600/mos + co-pays.

I am well educated and have a 4 year college degree.

I earn between $5000 to $8000 a year depending on what work I can find. Yes, that is five thousand to eight thousand. There are no zeros missing. I earn roughly $400 - $600/mos BEFORE taxes.

I do not own a car.

Due to credit card interest rates and what I call designer fees - those fees that are added on for no specific reason I am in debt I don't seem able to escape. I once had a low credit card balance that I was close to paying off. I am now carrying $6500 in credit card debt and can't get ahead.

I do not work in an office or any other job that looks like a typical "9 - 5" (if there ever was such a thing.)

I have worked at a few offices in various industries as low or middle management - so I could have health insurance. I traded my career and opportunities for health insurance. I experienced "rationing." I was "free" to chose my own doctor so long as they were pre-approved by the insurance company - which is to say my "free choice" was limited - very, very, very limited.

Those trade offs helped pay the bills yet still left me financially struggling. I didn't earn enough to have any savings, everything went to rent, utilities, school loans, public transportation, and food. These trade offs also left me physically and mentally ill from severe stress - unable to perform my "real" job well and unable to perform in my "chosen career" very well either. Leaving them was not a choice I made easily or took lightly but it came down, ironically, to my health.

Actors Equity offers health insurance to actors who have 12 weeks of work with companies that pay into the insurance plan. Most shows these days are roughly 5 weeks. So you need 3 shows in 12 consecutive months at eligible companies. If you qualify it costs $400/year + co-pays. Your choice of doctors is limited to the pre approved list, your procedures are rationed and you must continue to keep working as they review your work weeks every quarter. So long as you have 12 work weeks at eligible theaters - looking back each quarter -- you're good to go, otherwise, you get placed on COBRA - i.e. you pay out of pocket, and if you still don't get any work you are off the roles.

I have only once in my 20 year career had 12 weeks of eligible work. I do not normally have enough weeks or if I do they are not with companies that pay into the Union's insurance so I do not qualify for health insurance thru my Union.

I don't currently have any life threatening health issues that I am aware of. I do not have any chronic conditions like diabetes or asthma or high blood pressure. I do have allergies. I have recently had several benign diseases that are "typical" of someone for my gender / age.

Due to some of these benign diseases I have spent a lot of time in hospitals and doctors' offices this past year. I am certain about 50% of that time was what the medical industry calls "defensive" medicine. That is to say while we were all "mostly" sure I didn't have anything life threatening there was still an outside chance - and if I was the 1 in the "1 in a million" I could potentially sue the pants off them for NOT testing me, even though we we were all "pretty sure" it was nothing serious.

I was in Dallas on a job one time and became seriously ill. I started to black out and was taken to an ER. I contacted my primary doctor on my release so they would know what happened. My then insurance company declined to pay for the visit stating I should have seen my Primary Doctor before going to the ER. Apparently the fact that I live in Philadelphia and was ill in Dallas Texas made no difference.

I was told I was overusing the ER. At the time I had only been to the ER twice in my life and that was about 15 yeas prior to this incident.

I am on a list serv for women who have a similar condition as my own. Many, many women post that their insurance providers decline to pay for a less dramatic treatment. Many of these women are also limited as to which Doctors they can see and how long they must wait for treatment. That's happening right now - here in the USA.

I have been very fortunate these past 10 years or so to be covered by my partner's health insurance, including dental insurance.

My partner's company is on financially rocky ground right now much like every other small business in America.

Our dental insurance was recently canceled because my partner's company had been in arrears with the dental insurance company several times this past year. So, once they were all paid up they were dropped. No discussion.

How long before the company drops health coverage? OR gets dropped by the insurance company? What if they go under where do I or my partner get insurance? ; Because now I have a bucket load of "pre existing" conditions.

So here's what I think...for those who already have some sort of employer based insurance ask yourself how long can they keep that up? How long before it is just "too expensive" or they begin to take larger chunks out of your paycheck?

What are your options if your employer drops health insurance coverage? Are you so sure? Have you ever actually called around to try and find insurance? Ever asked how much, what they cover, and what happens if you end up needing to use it?

Are you someone who thinks that only the poor / black/Hispanic and illegal aliens are trying to get on the health care system? Really? Try meeting ANYONE in any artistic field and ask about their health care coverage. Ask anyone who has been downsized /l aid off / fired recently and now works as a "consultant" or "free lance." Ask any "independent contractor" in any field what it is like for them, how much do they take home a month and how much do they pay just to 'have' insurance let alone the co-pays deductibles etc. I bet you'll find a lot of people like me - white, well educated and SOL.

Why is it OK to spend billions and trillions of dollars on various wars but zero on our own people?

Are we not Americans? Why can't we take care of our own? What is wrong with us? I hear daily rants from the Religious Right about family values and what would Jesus do. I think Jesus would take care of everybody. I think there is good evidence to support that idea in the Bible.

Why is national health care evil yet a FREE and PUBLIC education - one that is enjoyed by millions of Americans -- is expected?

I don't see anyone talking about the socialist library - you know the FREE PUBLIC library system that was started by FOUNDING FATHER BENJAMIN FRANKLIN?

You have no issues with the free highway system. You sure as hell expect the Fire company to come to your house if you have a fire - I don't see anyone proposing that putting out fires is socialist and insisting on privately operated fire companies.

And why not? Because it is the right thing to do when one lives in a civilized society. See, I always thought being American meant we looked out for our own. We took care of our people, we understand that education and public safety - of which health and health care is part and parcel, are part of being in a community. The community of America.

Instead, in my lifetime, under the banner of AMERICA we have become more divided than ever - every man/woman/child/ for themselves. United we stand? Fuck that I am my own special island of independence. Let those European, hippie-commie- countries take care of their sick and elderly and kids and send their kids to college and graduate school. Let them find ways of being energy independent. This is AMERICA and here in AMERICA we PAY through the nose for everything privately. We get into bed with large oil, we underfund our schools and cut their programs, take away viable grants and financial aid for our kids to go to college. This is 21st century AMERICA this is not our hippie- commie past when we gave homes and college opportunities to GI's - NO FUCKING WAY! NOT IN MY AMERICA! You want to go to college GI then pony up $30000, buy a house on your own damn time and stop looking for a handout.

I am ashamed of my fellow citizens who can't look past their own nose and see we need to come together as a nation. We are ALL Americans and we are all equally deserving of a better life - better than we have now and better than before. We can't do it privately. We need each other.

I happen to feel that making a profit off someone's life and heath is extremely immoral and as about UN AMERICAN as it gets.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hostile to liars

I received some feedback about a workshop I ran a few months back. The workshop is new for me. It was the first one, a beta test if you will and still has some bugs to be worked out. It was a risk on my part but I put perfectionism aside. I trusted that as long as I am genuine, truthful and committed to the subject people will be accepting. We can all learn something. I explained to the first ever participants of said workshop the inspiration for it, my future plans for developing the workshop and that I was open to constructive feedback from them on future improvements.

I don't know when the participants completed their online survey, but I am only now receiving the comments. Most comments were complimentary and instructive. They did not state anything that was not said to me at the workshop itself OR they were comments about changes that I am already aware need to be addressed. You don't teach for 15 years and not have some idea of where changes need to be made.

On the other hand, some participants seem to believe it is ok to outright lie about the experience. 1 states they arrived "1 hour late." No one arrive 1 hour late, 1 person arrived about 20 mins late but no one was 1 hour late. 1 stated that I appeared to have no focus and was just doing random exercises despite the fact the first thing I do for
any workshop is to explain the purpose and focus. Another states they had no opportunity to give or receive feedback although I gave everyone ample opportunity to speak with me directly before, during, and after the workshop. These statements are 100 % lies.

It is not my habit to feel hostile to feedback. One's experience is one's experience. However, no one has ever outright lied about their participation before. I don't take kindly to liars. In fact, I AM hostile to liars.

If you arrived late and missed the explanation and point of focus for the class that is on you to ask at break, not my fault. Where I was trained arriving late meant you were not allowed to take the class, no matter how valid your reason for being late, but this isn't that sort of organization.

If you did not take away anything useful from my class that is a valid comment. I have taken workshops with some "FAMOUS NEW YORK" and "FAMOUS CHICAGO" improvisers that left no significant impression on me. I did not blame the instructor for my lack of enthusiasm, it was simply not a good fit.

If you felt over/under experienced for this class - that is valid - note taken. Perhaps the description of the workshop needs to be clarified so students understand what they are paying for.

If you felt my time management was poor that is a valid comment. If you felt you wanted more time or more information about an exercise that is valid. Those are personal experiences and constructive feedback. Some of these concerns I plan to address. Some of them I have no intention of addressing because this is a different methodology than what many people are accustomed to. It is understandable that it would touch a few nerves.

But under no circumstances do these comments require additional personal digs at me. The purpose of surveys is to aid in improving the experience, not to make the commenter feel like a big shot by bringing someone - in this case me- down.

I am REALLY REALLY hostile toward people who make themselves feel better by belittling others.

So liar(s), whoever you are, I hope I don't run into you on stage, at a show, at an audition, or at the bars because, unlike you, I have no problem speaking my mind, owning my opinions and telling the truth with my name on it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Childhood hero RIP

David Carradine played my favorite TV show character ever...That of Kwai Chang Caine on the TV series Kung Fu. That show and Carradine's character in particular had a huge influence in developing my sense of right and wrong, and the 'way of the world'.

I later saw David Carradine in The Long Riders, Box Car Bertha, and Bound For Glory. No doubt this man was a consummate actor making the hard stuff appear effortless and easy. He was a great actor who was underestimated by many.

I've read all kinds of 'insider' stories and anecdotes about him and much of it was unflattering. It seems to me he lead a troubled life, and perhaps, it is a miracle he didn't kill himself a long time ago. I've also read many stories about him being a kind and generous person, quick with a smile and great to work with.

Whatever the case... his TV and film persona's were my heroes and I will miss him.