On alternative medicine and its appeal

Guys, I get it. I really do.
Science and medicine are not comforting. Interacting with medicine is often emotionally cold and physically unpleasant.

I was thinking about the appeal of all those “alternative medicine” and “holistic treatments” and how often I’ve been suckered into trying them because the trappings are so cozy and appealing.

I have some dry feet and over the years I have amassed a collection of attractive tins full of sweet-smelling salves. They’re pretty on the bathroom counter and they have a lovely odor and feel soothing.

However, they don’t work. They’re pleasant to use and not a huge waste of funds in the long run, but they don’t work.

I did end up seeing a podiatrist. He was curt. I thought perhaps I was having recurring tinea pedis but he told me I merely have dry skin and that my shoes were bad. He didn’t comment that they were cute or useful on a hot day or maybe the only pair I have that are easy to slip off for a podiatrist appointment — just, “Those shoes are bad.” His office was as cold and clinical as you might imagine with big charts depicting unattractive foot problems all under unlovely lighting. In a word: harsh.

He gave me this bad-smelling cream. The main ingredient is urea — that’s the crystal you get from pee. The label is uninspiring and the texture is gross. I do not enjoy applying this cream.


It works. Even though I hate using it. Much like going to see a curt doctor. I mean, of course I’d rather go to a bullshit spa where someone burns sage and tells me how lovely my chakras look today. Any reiki studio is likely to be more pleasant and gentle than any given podiatrist office. And I do wish actual medicine would catch on to this divide and understand that people want care as well as healing. They’re even willing to pay for bullshit treatment just to feel like someone is listening to their needs and helping them feel more calm.

I’ll even contend that the the popularity of the mani/pedi as a mini-break for busy women (regardless of the socio-political implications of the underpaid workforce at these places) is an extension of this desire to be taken care of. When we say pampered what we actually mean is we want someone to take care of us for a while. The pedicure place is a semi-medical space where items are supposed to be sterilized and feet are treated in a pseudo-medical way. But at the same time there is soothing music and a massage chair and a nice lady tending to you and getting you a cup of tea.

Yes, we’re susceptible to snake oil but particularly when the snake oil smells, looks, feels, and is presented in a much more attractive way than the actual evidence-based medicine. It even turns out that all of my pretty lotions were contributing to the problem of dry skin as the essential oil in it was too harsh. So some things that feel nice are actually hurting us. But still…

This looks like more fun…

Than this.

The acupuncturist I used to see served an amazing tea that made her studio smell fantastic and it was full of potted plants and pretty pictures and salt lamps casting soft glows with gentle music playing in the background and we sat on silk cushions and people smiled at me when I arrived. Doctors too often work in depressing spaces full of stressed out people who only get ten minutes with their patients and exam rooms rarely get natural light.

It’s really not a fair comparison, but only one of them works to solve your health problems. Unfortunately, it’s not the one that’s enjoyable.

A post about my kids but also science and society

[The almost-11 stops her drawing and comes over to me to ask a question.]

Mom, can I ask you something?

Sure
I saw a thing on a a computer and there was a word that the boys told me it was bad when I said it out loud. They were all, whoooa.

What was the word?

Promise you won’t get mad.

Don’t be silly. It’s words.

It was N-G or N-I or something.

Ohhhhh, I know what word that is.

What?

This requires some explanation if you want to understand it.

Okay.

Okay. So. You know how brown-skinned people in some places like North America get told they’re not as good as pink-skinned people and how some people believe they’re not as good, right?

Yeah.

You remember how that’s because there was a time people with power wanted to keep slavery around even though it was wrong. So they said to everyone, these brown-skinned people are more like cows anyway, they’re not as good as real people, and they said that just so they could treat them like property, right?

Right. So stupid.

I know. But anyway, back then, there was this word people used — lots of words, actually — that we don’t use anymore, like saying they were colored or that word you saw on the computer, which is spelled N—–, by the way. But if you use that word now it’s like telling a brown-skinned person you want them to be a slave or you think they’re not as good as a pink-skinned person because you’re using the old words. It’s like saying you want to go back to the old ways when society thought they weren’t as good.

Oh, okay.

Here’s where it gets complicated though. That word is called a slur word and there are lots of them. Slur words exist for any group of people that someone thinks is inferior to them, not as good, not as worthy.

Okay.

Right. So but, like, you know if you call your friend a female dog, the b-word, but you’re using it like a joke, like, you’re such a stupid B, I hate you, but you’re laughing and it’s a joke? Don’t worry, I know you’ll say that sometimes.

Yeah. *laughs*

That’s okay, right? You’re laughing, right? But now what if a boy or a teacher called you the b-word?

Whoa. Not okay.

Exactly. Well racial slurs are like that, too. So sometimes a brown-skinned person might write it into a song because they’re calling each other that as a way to identify their own group. So it might be okay to listen to a song with the N-word, and may be even to sing along with it by yourself in your room but yet it’s still never okay to say the word to each other. Isn’t that weird?

Yeah, the thing I read on the computer were words to a song actually.

See, that makes sense. Slurs are weird words. They change depending on context and the person saying it.

What are the other slurs?

I’m not going to tell you but you’ll hear them sometimes so just pay attention to who is saying it and why. If there’s a slur then it probably means that group of people were or are being oppressed for some reason. That means, society is keeping them down for some reason — usually because they want to use them for labor or money stuff. Use them for cheap labor.

Why did girls have those words when they weren’t even allowed to have jobs?

Well, but they were being used for labor, weren’t they? You can’t get a job for money but you do have to stay home and cook and clean and do all the housework.

Oh, yeaaaaah.

See, those words mean that a group of people were being used in some way.

It’s so stupid that they think brown-skinned people are bad.

I know, right?

All people are terrible.

Ha! You’re not wrong.

Okay. …. Thanks, mom.

No problem.

[The just-turned-5 refusing to go to sleep because of big thoughts with big pauses in between the big questions.]

Mom, I have a question.

Oh, boy. Okay.

Why is there night?

Because we’re in the shadow of the Earth with the Sun on the other side of us.

How does the Sun make light?

It’s burning with lots of big explosions. You know how a fire in the fireplace makes light and heat by burning wood? It makes light and heat by burning itself. Tiny atoms splitting and creating huge explosions. It’s pretty wild actually.

Will it burn out?

Eventually. But not for millions of years. All stars burn out eventually.

How do the trees make the air we breathe?

They absorb gas from the air, that means take it through their leaves, and they turn the things they absorb through their leaves and roots and turn it into new things inside themselves, and then they expel other gasses, sort of how we breathe out a gas called carbon dioxide? Only they breathe out oxygen. Oxygen is one gas we need that is in the air we breathe and the trees make it.

How did the trees get here? Wait. But how did people get here?

Well, first there was a planet. Then, there were plants. Then, there were trees. Then, there were flowers. But before that there were tiny life forms called bacteria, you know the little guys that we can’t see that are everywhere that some can make you sick?

Yeah.

Well, they can become new stuff after a long time. They can change and grow and change. The bacteria can be something new, like fish. Fish became other animals. Insects. Reptiles. Other new animals. One looked like a lizard that eventually its babies started to look more like a mouse. The little mouse one started to look like a little monkey. The monkey-looking ones lost a tail and walked around a bit and looked more like an ape. Then, the ape started walking on two legs and lost its hair. Then, it started to look more like people. Then, it started to act like people. And eventually its babies started to be people.

Are you telling me that people are monkeys with no hair?

Basically.

But people make popular things like candy and emojis and posters. How do they do that if they’re monkeys?

That’s true. And actually popular things is one of the ways you know a human from an animal. We’re animals, too, but we’re more creative than other animals. That means we create things out of nothing and share it with each other. Drawings and stories and music and nice food and things like that. Like candy and posters.

Mom, I have a question.

Okay.

How does the air we breathe stay on Earth. Why isn’t there air in space?

Well, okay. *sigh* So you know the planets are big and they spin, right?

Yes.

Well, that spinning and size creates something called gravity. That’s the thing that pulls everything to the center of the planet, it what keeps all things from flying off into space. It’s why things falls when you drop them, they’re being pulled in by gravity. Well, so, we breathe an atmosphere. Our atmosphere stays on Earth because of gravity. But you know how when astronauts go to other places they have to wear a space suit?

Yeah.

Well, they do that also to give them air to breathe, right? If you went to another planet you couldn’t breathe the air there because you didn’t evolve to breathe the air there like humans evolved to breathe the air here on Earth.

*excited* Oh, that’s like (says incomprehensible name of some Pokemon).

Eerrr, yes, Pokemon evolve into new forms like how the monkey-looking animal evolved into being more like a human.

Mom, I don’t need to be an astronaut.

You don’t have to be an astronaut, honey.

I don’t need to because I’m already an astronaut. We’re flying in space on Earth and its flying in space very fast like an astronaut and its like our space suit with air we can breathe.

That’s… yep, that’s true.

Rocket ships scare me. I don’t want to be an astronaut.

That’s okay.

I want to be a Lifemaker.

Is that a Pokemon thing?

No, it’ll be my job to make life grow. Make new trees and new animals and new things on planets that don’t have them. Then, I will give them candy.

Okay, well if you’re going to be terraforming you should probably study to be a geneticist or something like that. That’s a kind of scientist that will know how to make life stuff happen.

They should call it being a Lifemaker.

You’re much better at naming things. I agree. Do you think you can sleep now?

Oh, mom. I told you. I only fall asleep when I’m bored with my thinking. I’m not bored right now.

Yeah, but I’m really tired and you can think about this stuff tomorrow. And your brain needs sleep to grow.

You go to sleep mom, it’s fine. *pats my arm* I’ll keep thinking for a while.

[And, so, dear reader, I did.]

 

Harlequin

It’s funny how often the world of opera crops up around me.

I’d bought my youngest a large Kinder Egg Surprise that promised to have a female super hero inside. She was disappointed to find Harley Quinn as she was hoping for Super Girl.

I ended up explaining that the name is a play on Harlequin and then we discussed the Commedia dell’arte with Harlequin and Pierrot and why we decorate with Pierrot dolls in France. And also telling them how Harley gets her particular diamond-decorated jester outfit.

The kids know clowns mostly as figures from scary movies and circuses and I’m over here teaching them about family opera history and badly singing Pagliacci to them. Because in an opera house, the jester is also a symbol of pathos. So I guess Harley Quinn is fitting after all.

Pierrot le pauvre, forever a part of our history, the tale of star-crossed lovers.

 

They’ll hear another lecture when Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the radio. And to answer your question, yes, my children are already sick of me.

On indigenous people

Since I’m a newcomer to places like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, I don’t harbor much of the shame of the colonialist past that many people who were raised in those countries do. As a foreign woman, I’ll happily stumble into places and stories that are verboten to locals. This is how a Maori leader ends up taking me on a tour of the iwi land his grandfather fought to recover in the 1970s during the protest of Bastion Point. This is how a Shinnecock gives me a totem animal and tells me stories of their ancestors while the tourists shop for trinkets and untaxed cigarettes.

French cousins make a trip to the Shinnecock visitor center, Eastern Long Island in 1982.

Perhaps due to this comfort with indigenous stories, I was happy to volunteer my time to learn a unit on Healing and Reconciliation and impart something to some elementary-school kids. I wanted to learn more about the relationship of First Nations people to our current structure in Canada.

We did some training. First, we acknowledged that we are on the ancestral and unceded territory of a particular people. Then, we explained our own culture and our place in it. Tough for me as a globe hopper, but I do have one consistent culture regardless of where I live: artist.

This ability to connect to other artists is one of the ways that I’ve been able to bridge some cultural divides. Artists can trespass into a lot of spaces. Here, my grandmother learns her craft in a room full of men in France in the 1930s.

I started out by telling the reconciliation training group that I had little experience with the indigenous people of the states where I’ve lived in the USA but then I recognized that this was not true. I’d grown up surrounded by indigenous faces, actually.

My artist grandmother had previously bridged the divide in order to paint. Of course, she was taking part in the colonial tradition of rendering people into cultural artifacts that we can hang in our parlor, but I think she also recognized the beauty of people when she traveled, such as when she went west to Navajo lands.

So I grew up surrounded by images of various indigenous people, not knowing to this day what country they’re pictured in.

Her living room with the cultural artifacts that includes statuary from Côte d’Ivoire and Hawaii.

You can see, there are masks and more native faces lining the halls of her home.

This girl would sometimes be in my bedroom.

This is how I knew her best, when she was in her 50s, chic and on the UES of New York with her poodle, Gigi.

Her home in the Hamptons decorated with more African statuary and a screen from China and a chair from Milan and a wall hanging from Taiwan. And so on and so forth. I believe the throw pillows are from Mexico. It’s hard to keep track.

The reflection in the window is classic NYC in the 70s — her paintings feature at Bergdorf Goodman.

The images of indigenous people surrounded me and yet I’d responded to the group that I didn’t really have a background of knowing First Nations people. The invisible people.

I’ve since learned some of what I should know local to my current neighborhood and the general history of Canadian residential schools. I’m glad to be aware of my part in erasing generations of people from their own land. Although I was born in a place that was absorbed by the Roman Empire long ago and hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years (we still make the good wine!), it’s important to acknowledge that I have also lived in many places that were stolen from original inhabitants.

Reconciliation is a process where first you have to admit you’ve been a thoughtless asshole.

Two-year fitness progress if any

I’m heading into Year 2 of my “gym every day” journey and here are the things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known back when I started exercising.

I jumped into gym protocol and body awareness late in my life due to a combination of Nerd Genes and some untreated chronic issues like asthma. Nowadays, I consider myself a gym vet and this is some hard-earned knowledge.

[Post-gym flushed and tall sweaty hair is how I start the day.]

 

  • If it took three months to achieve noticeable advances in strength or muscle tone in your twenties then the same result in your forties will take twelve months.
  • Slow progress is still progress.
  • There is a difference between a small injury from strain that will benefit from more light exercise and an injury that will benefit from a few days of rest. Learning to recognize this sometimes subtle difference has been a key to my progress. If I rest when I should have exercised then the injury will get stiff and be harder to treat later. Conversely, resting a body part is sometimes necessary, but don’t skip the gym! If I hurt my foot I can still use a rowing machine or go swimming. One injured body part is not an excuse to do nothing as that will not facilitate healing. Even physicians will default to telling someone to rest but remember that they don’t mean your whole body forever — just the injury. To rest or to do more exercise is a tricky one to suss out as individual results vary a lot.
  • Enough exercise for progress but not so much that you have pain or injury is also a tricky thing to measure. When in doubt: low impact. This is why I prefer the controlled environment of a gym to attempting something outdoors; in a gym I can more easily track what is too much for me.
  • Exercise has a strong and noticeable impact on my overall mood. If I don’t go for a few days I will start to feel depressed. In my youth, I rarely would attribute this malaise to lack of movement. Now I know, if I start having “I’m not good enough” feelings it is time to get the blood pumping.
  • Martial arts and dancing helped me gain coordination in my twenties and I stopped self identifying as “klutzy” which had a benefit to me overall. In my opinion, kids who are klutzy and get hurt on the playground should be encouraged to exercise more, not less as parental instinct dictates. Yes, they will get hurt as they’re learning, but their brains and bodies will eventually talk to each other and they’ll benefit from that. Again, I made this transition in my twenties, so in theory if you’re a klutzy adult this could help you, too.
  • Regular movement helps me sleep better.
  • A program of alternating among activities has been a key to avoiding injury. Cardio one day, yoga the next, swimming the next day, and weight lifting the following day. Repeat. No one body part gets used too much and I think the swim and yoga helps in recovery from the other two activities.
  • No learning is ever wasted and even singing has benefited my gym experience — I can pick up dance routines and proper form faster than most people.
  • When you have chronic health problems then there will be times when you are unable to exercise. Full stop. You can’t do anything about those times so don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself when health issues are kicking you. Although, please remember to spend time in sunlight when you have an illness. A dark room for days at a time is depressing.
  • If you have a new baby forget about exercising for the first few months. You have to wait until you’re getting enough sleep or you will injure yourself. In general, if you’re exhausted then don’t push because you will be more prone to hurting yourself.
  • I still think of myself as an un-athletic nerd but the other night, I had vivid dreams that I worked as a professional ballerina. My subconscious thinks I’m a bad ass. Who am I to argue?

Anti-Asian racism

It’s this weird thing that my thoroughly continental childhood had a slight Asian flavor to it, although it’s not something I generally discuss. This influence is due to the fact that my grandparents lived in Manila and Macau during part of my childhood and sent me all sorts of fun things from that part of the world. This was at a time when Asia was still very far away from North America or Europe.

Here is a typical childhood photo of me in Paris extolling my like for Hong Kong, I believe the rest of the shirt features a panda. Natch.

It’s an interesting fixture of my childhood that may have normalized aspects of Asian culture for me so that I can relate to the experience of some of my friends who have a parent from that part of the world. We are “American” but then in our homes we have all of the furniture from overseas and holiday snaps of our grandmother in places we can’t readily identify. We grew up eating foods our friends wouldn’t recognize. And the smell of someone chewing wintergreen-flavored candy bringing back memories of liniment spread on a sore ankle.

I believe this photo is from my grandparents’ wedding anniversary, looking all dapper, the only white people in the restaurant.

Or random photos of my grandmother in her Hong Kong t-shirt learning how to dance in a local style — I believe she’s in Manila here.

Years earlier, vacationing with my mother and looking stylish in front of temples.

As a traveler myself, I admire the fortitude of people exploring an area not familiar to them. I appreciate the cultural trinkets and cross pollination. As a result of their adventures, I have a surprising number of things in my home decorated with dragons.

And somehow, more deeply in a way I didn’t realize, these Eastern adventures sensitized me to anti-Asian racism. Living in heavily Asian-influenced cities like Auckland, NZ, or Vancouver, BC, I have heard a surprising amount of anti-Asian racism. The same kindly Canadian or Kiwi who wouldn’t dream of slagging on any other group of people will complain that their city is “being overrun” or softly mutter “Asian driver” when tooling around our neighborhood. A white person might run them off the road but they’ll assume they’re a local, whereas you’re Asian no matter how many generations of your family have lived in a place. And, of course, they assume I share their fear of these foreign invaders.

My grandparents were well-heeled ex-pats and guests in these nations. I imagine many scenarios where they were lost and had to depend on the kindness of locals to guide them through confusing streets.

It isn’t just that I grew up practicing with chopsticks or surrounded by Asian art that makes me slightly more sensitive to this acceptable form of racism, but it surely helps. And then there are other times when it is far from subtle. I once rode the bus in Auckland and an elderly Japanese woman was lost and the driver gave her a hard time — accusing her of faking her confusion, “She knows what I’m saying. They always know what we’re saying. Sneaky devils.”

Because I’ve been the confused tourist myself, I am fluent in desperate pantomime and soon surmised the old lady wanted to reach the train station, the universal sound effect of “chugga-chugga, choo! choo!” helping us to mutual understanding. I helped her on her way and then got a further earful from the bus driver about how I’d been duped.

I asked the driver, in a rhetorical way, “You’ve never been lost on a bus in Tokyo, have you?”

I’ve been lost in Tokyo. With a toddler. And the kindness of patient strangers was most appreciated.
My eldest on a hot day in Tokyo.

Because I’ve been a newcomer, a foreigner, an outsider, I have sympathy for newcomers.
My grandmother and grandfather practicing their chopstick technique.

Here, my grandmother learning a new aspect of her artistic craft from a Chinese master of the ink wash. I wish she’d better labeled her photos so I could tell you his name or precisely where they were during these photos.


My family, of their time, were casually racist, too, of course. Saying how much they admire “those people” for their thrift and hard-working demeanor. But I think they are an adventurous family, willing to delve into other cultures and to admire them as often as generalizing them.

And all of this is to say that I did have a funny moment this week where my eldest was making a horror movie and wanted to play the “killer” dressed like a “China doll” as she had found this heavy silk shirt I have from my grandmother’s generous travels. I had to talk her out of her costume choice as the optics would have been… weird.

But I like the fact that her childhood is also tinged with Asian influences. And that she’s a global citizen.


I wish that silk shirt still fit me. It’s gorgeous.

Canadian Healthcare

Tax season. I had a chat with a Canadian accountant about how I would deduct all expenses when I lived in the USA so I would pay, effectively, as little tax as possible to the state and federal governments. She looked at me askance and said, “In Canada, we pay our taxes. It benefits our friends and neighbours.” And then I thought about how paying tax is one of the most patriotic things you can do. I will add that it’s an easier justification when I know I’m getting a lot for my tax dollars in the form of strong public schools and healthcare.

Yes, we moved to Canada.

And as the representative for all things Canadian now the discussion of healthcare comes up. What I find most astounding is how difficult it is to even discuss this topic with my friends in the USA. So much of what we experience as “normal” in the USA is unfathomably awful by the standards of other countries I’ve lived in. I kind of hate to even bring it up or talk about it because I feel bad for my friends. What can they do? But then I also get angry when I hear about a good system getting criticized. Some Canadians will complain about their system but when I do a bit of digging it becomes quite obvious that the same problems exist in the USA except in that country you’re paying a lot of money to feel frustrated.

In a related topic, I wrote about how I think healthcare has an impact on art. In the coming years I suspect we’ll see more movies and shows starring Canadians, Britons, Kiwis, etc., passing as Americans. It’s not hard to see why they would be able to achieve their dreams more easily than someone starting out in the USA.

So here’s how it stacks up for us, as a typical middle-class family of four in an expensive Canadian city. I do not have first-hand experience for the private insurance coverage available here (you can pay extra to have a private room at a hospital, for example),  nor for the very downtrodden (but I understand that walk-in clinics will see you for free if you’re willing to wait).

tl;dr We have exactly the same level of care as people in the USA with good insurance but we pay almost nothing for it and our taxes are only slightly higher than the average US state. Our healthcare system is not-for-profit and the tax system takes it’s fair share from corporations and the mega wealthy to help pay for the system.

As a family, we pay $1,800 total per year for almost total coverage — this is considered high for Canada as I understand our province pays the most. There are no co-pays or extra charges or deductibles.

I’ve never waited longer than 6 weeks to see a specialist. I did have to wait a year for non-essential surgery as people with cancer kept jumping ahead of me in the queue. As in the USA, there is a shortage of certain doctors available and that causes some delays. The US has a huge number of physicians who are immigrants as they do not have enough home-grown doctors. Canada deals with a similar shortage with immigration as well as keeping the cost of higher education low.

We’re also covered for extras like dental and vision or special medication or massage through my man’s work “extended benefit”; everything is covered 80% per person per calendar year; in the case of massage we get one per person per month, for example. Or glasses, we get $450 every two years toward a new pair and exams, etc.

I just spent two hours on the phone updating our extended benefit due to a job change and it was a hassle and I was reminded how I used to do that sort of phone call every single week when I lived in the USA. And I paid a hell of a lot more than $150 per month for the privilege and often got declined for coverage by my supposedly great insurance plan.

I’ve only had to get “prior approval” on one medication one time in Canada because it’s new and unusual and I wanted the non-generic. The doctor signed a form and I mailed it in and it was approved. Prior approval for services is simply not a regular thing in places like Canada.

The other day I went to a specialist who ordered X-rays and bloodwork. I went to the nearby walk-in clinic with forms he gave me at the appointment and they did all of the tests and it was done in less than an hour. The results were back five days later and the doctor called me to discuss it. Apparently, the results were available online the following day if I wanted to have a look at it. So efficient!

When I wasn’t covered I had to pay for some medications out of pocket. They were unbelievably cheap compared to what I paid in the USA. For example, a standard asthma medication that I remember cost me $300 in the USA cost $26 out of pocket here.

Canada could always improve but yeah, it’s good.

By comparison, I have a single male friend in Florida who pays five times as much as we do as a family and his coverage includes expenses we do not have to worry about. He pays $2,000 a year out of pocket maximum. No deductible. And in-network doctors and prescriptions are $20 a pop. ER visits are $175 all inclusive, and imaging tests are the same. This is very good coverage, but again, he’s a single male paying five times what I pay for a family of four to achieve similar coverage and he still pays more than I do for prescriptions, doctor visits, and ER / tests. Again, I pay $0 for those things.

Another young and healthy friend in Alabama I know pays a monthly premium of just under $100 per month but has a deductible of $4,000 and must first pay out of pocket $10,000. She also worries that when a doctor orders tests or a follow-up appointment if it’s so they can pad their own bottom line. She has to pay $140 every time she sees her doctor even though she has insurance. Meanwhile, when I had a C-section while living in New Zealand I didn’t have to ask myself, “Does the doctor want to do this procedure so they can make more money?”

There are still some amazing conveniences to the system in Canada that astound me. For example, when the kids were very young I was too overwhelmed to get myself to the doctor to have a rash examined. We were at the mall one Saturday and I noticed one of the many walk-in health clinics. I popped by and they confirmed that my care card would get me in. In fact, they were able to pull up my entire history from the centralized computer system and I had seen a doctor and filled a prescription all in under 15 minutes. Total cost: $0.00.

Contrast this to the time in NYC I was charged $360 for a flu shot my doctor administered because the insurance said I “did not get prior approval.”

An American friend mentioned that he was worried about amputations due to diabetes and talked about it at a hospital in Canada. People losing body parts to diabetes is strikingly common in the USA. The Canadian doctor explained to him that that just doesn’t happen in Canada because citizens gets proper preventive care.

Conservatives in the USA seem to all be of a similar bent. When they themselves have good healthcare coverage and like their physician they do not want the overall system to change. They are fearful that they will lose their own good coverage. This is despite the fact that the system is clearly wasteful and frustrating for many users. By moving to nations with socialized healthcare my paperwork and bureaucratic busywork dropped by 40%. The GOP talks about “access to a plan” but they don’t mention if it will be affordable. Most of the Americans I know who have good coverage get it at a low cost through systems like their background in the military, their work pension, or other union-based negotiated benefits. To be honest, I have lost several friends who will be listed as having died of infection or what-have-you, but the real cause of death for these people in their 30s and 40s was lack of preventive care or fear of getting fleeced by a doctor bill and waiting too long to get seen.

Some of the benefits we receive through my partner’s job can be achieved by other people in Canada in another way: they can claim it as a deduction on their taxes. So, those higher Canadian taxes you hear so much about? They can be effectively lowered by claiming all sorts of expenses, even some that I am unsure would be permitted in the USA. For example, if your kids do physical activities and you pay a fee for that, you can deduct it on your taxes in Canada. You can deduct the cost of camps, daycare, medical expenses not covered, etc.

Meanwhile, people in the USA are angry that the ACA imposes a fee on people who decline insurance, but of course this is rarely levied on those who can’t afford the fee. And what they should be angry about are the wealthy who escape paying their fair share of taxes and impoverishing their nation. So-called patriots who hide their money overseas and send their children to private school instead of paying taxes toward the common public good.

Having guaranteed healthcare means:

We aren’t afraid to change jobs.
We aren’t afraid to criticize a boss or a government for fear of losing our healthcare.
We aren’t afraid to try new things or take up a potentially dangerous sport.
We aren’t afraid we might lose our house if we need cancer treatment.
We aren’t afraid to go see a doctor to take care of a small or nagging problem and we catch things earlier.
We aren’t afraid for our children when they try new sports.
We aren’t afraid a natural disaster will crush our future.
We aren’t afraid to get baseline readings for future reference.
We aren’t afraid to have something tested just in case.
We aren’t afraid to try a new medication or treatment to see if it will help a small problem.

We live life free from many of the fears that are common in the USA.

Patronizing

I vividly remember the first time I was patronized in the workplace; I was fifteen. As I look young for my age being underestimated happens still. Women are supposed to want to look young, but it’s made it more difficult to be taken seriously in the boardroom. Many things can work against you in “the boardroom.”

So, when I was twelve, I wore some colorful socks to school and this was apparently a very big deal in America and the kids mocked me. Rather than retreat into mortification, I do what comes natural to sassy freaks and I started wearing two different socks intentionally, riotously, obnoxiously.

I kept this habit well into my late teens and was amazed by the number of times people made an issue out of it.

When I was almost fifteen, I worked a summer job for my friend’s dad who had a thriving physician’s practice. He was a well-respected member of the local business community and it was nice to work in an air-conditioned office. One day, he took me into an exam room to have a heart-to-heart. I hoped he would compliment me for always being on time, finishing tasks, working well with others, taking on more responsibility, and generally being of help to his business, so that I could take the moment to thank him for the job. Instead, he took this opportunity to tell me that my socks were “inappropriate” and that “no one would take [me] seriously at work” if I didn’t learn to dress like a young lady should. Now, I grant you he was older than me and I had plenty to learn, but on the other hand I was very well-traveled, intelligent, educated, and a hard worker. None of that matters, of course, when you’re in the body of a fifteen-year-old girl. Never mind that I was dressed modestly and professionally despite walking to work in steaming summer heat.

A photo of me on a class trip to D.C. the year before. I laugh at myself for my “business casual” sense of style. Loosen up, kid; let more than your socks and your face show your personality.

If he’d asked me why I wore wacky socks I would have explained that it was a deft method for weeding out assholes.

Instead, I pushed back. I asked him if my socks prevented me from doing my job. He said, no, of course not, but… and then he lectured me for a long time. He was wearing scrubs. He was also known for dressing up his work clothes by wearing a bow tie and being “the fun doctor.” He suggested that I should “become more respectful of [my] elders” as southern ladies are taught to say “ma’am” and “sir” during all interactions. Sure, I could do that for his workplace; code-switching is a useful life skill. He told me how to approach new people and get along with strangers. At this point in my life I’d lived in three countries and two US states and I spoke three languages and held several leadership positions at school but none of that mattered because socks and tone of voice.

Ah, my first mansplaining. You never forget your first.

He was a tall guy and had a habit of bear hugging his kids. As one of his kids’ friends he was perfectly comfortable putting his hand around my shoulder as we exited the exam room and hugging me and telling me I was doing a  good job and not to worry . I was trying not to laugh and cry, somewhat in shock. I’m sure he thought he was being helpful and kind and I did learn a lot working there and I am grateful for the job.

But it wasn’t ever about socks. Just as it’s not about how I look young for my age. It’s about control and putting sassy people in their place. Unfortunately, telling me not to do something just makes me determined to do it more often; intentionally, riotously, obnoxiously.

Secrets of Southampton Part 2

I’ve told you secrets of the ultra wealthy in Southampton in a previous post. I had many experiences with what we now all call The One Percent.

Well, when I was around twelve years old and my mother was newly single, many of her prominent NYC friends made it their mission to set her up on dates with well-heeled bachelors. One of her Jewish friends set her up with a wealthy fella and my mother had one nice evening meal with him. He invited both of us to his home one weekend, which seemed like a polite thing to do when your new date has a young child. Meet the kid, be a human, etc.

My memories of this day are perhaps a bit exaggerated, but I’m going to pull up photos to explain what happened next. I did not take photos that day, but I think this is pretty close to reality.

Firstly, he had a weekend home on the beach on Long Island. The front hall was a modern glass entry that housed a smaller version of a Bavarian castle, sort of like this one:

He explained that he had literally paid to have a Bavarian castle transported stone-by-stone and rebuilt as part of his modern home on the beach. So the exterior surrounding the castle was more like this.

He was a big fan of German culture. We’re now in a room that looks old as heck, but then there’s a glass wall that looks out to the beach.
Museum meets modern living.

These:

Married to this:

This dude was super house proud. He gave us a grand tour and all the while commenting on my blonde hair. It was noticeable comments, even though I was accustomed to being fussed over for my extreme cuteness, this was noticeably odd. We were soon surprised to learn his preteen son was hanging out in the kitchen with a friend that day. We saw them during the tour but they barely spoke to us. The dude again made a fuss about his son’s blonde friend, and although I don’t recall him making a specific derogatory remark against his own son, it was clear to me that his darker hue was not favorable. I wonder if he felt sorry for my mother that she wasn’t blonder herself.

I guess he was trying to be nice to me, and knowing that girls love animals, he was very excited to show me his game room. At this point I fortunately suspected we were not going in there to play checkers, but the sheer scope of the room blew me away. These photos will give you a sense of what I witnessed, although they look small compared to my memory. And I think I did mention that day that certain of his kills were of an endangered species, although I’m not sure if that was strictly true back in the ’80s. I think he was upset that I was upset, but I’m not sure. I just know that I can recall the feeling of revulsion I experienced that day quite keenly.

My mother whispered something to me about how having money can’t buy good taste but we continued to smile and nod like the polite ladies we were always taught to be. We had lunch in the enormous dining room next to the enormous fireplace. This was not particularly unusual for either of us. We’ve grown up with actual castles and this guy’s new money crassness was annoying to my mother. You can import a castle but it’s rude to tell guests how much it cost you.

Alone in the car later my mother marveled that a Jewish friend should have set her up on a date with a Nazi. That was the day I learned that bad people don’t know that they’re bad.

It’s 2017 now and the USA just elected a certain someone to be their president. I can’t imagine why this particular day from my childhood sprang to mind. Can you?

On watching The Crown

My partner was a little bit unintentionally dismissive when I told him how much my girlfriends and I have enjoyed watching The Crown. It was something like “Oh, you enjoy the pretty settings and costumes?” And I hadn’t considered why I enjoy watching it, but my gut apparently knew, and I snapped at him “Do you have any idea how fantastic it is to watch a twenty-year-old girl face down a room of her nation’s most powerful men and they have to listen to her?”

 

No, I don’t think a man can understand how fantastic it feels to witness this. Nor watching a young woman who cannot succumb to Imposter Syndrome and must make herself equal to the task. I even found myself watching the movie The Young Victoria for a similar feeling of peeking into the back room of politics, only it wasn’t as satisfying as that movie focused on the love story–something we’ve seen a million times before. *yawn*

I enjoy these shows and movies the same way I enjoyed watching The West Wing. Only here, the diminutive woman must by design be flawlessly feminine in the most traditional sense. She cannot win the game by being more masculine, as many women must normally do in politics, she must comport herself as The lady, yet she holds so much power. I could even relate to that moment when she puts on the crown and asks if she can borrow it for walking practice, forgetting that it actually belongs to her.

 

 

It’s really difficult to explain it to you blokes, but I bet all the women reading this understand. She gets to wear demure sweater sets and still be ultimately in charge of pretty much everything. Her husband whines about it but in the end she cannot capitulate to his insistence that they take more traditional roles even within their relationship. He, too, must make remake himself to suit her station. And then the way her job has to naturally impact her parenting and the split of the work / life balance. So many weird ways we can relate to this entirely unique “job” situation!

This is heady stuff and I don’t condone monarchy at all. Her son, Charles, visited our offices a few years back and I couldn’t be bothered to go into the next room to meet him because I do not consider myself one of his subjects. But yet I love this show. The costumes and sets are also lush eye candy, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what makes the story gripping.