Another Open Letter to Colorado Senator Cory Gardner
Senator Cory Gardner 1961 Stout Street, Suite #12-300 Denver, Colorado 80294
5 October, 2020
I see that you voted for the bill calling for the Justice Department to to withdraw its support for the lawsuit that would end the Affordable Healthcare Act. I also see that you have introduced your own bill that putatively would protect those of us with pre-existing conditions. I thank you for your vote and hope that it portends a turn toward listening to and caring about the needs and opinions of your constituents.
However, your record of voting against the ACA makes this vote suspect. After the election, if you are returned to the Senate or during the liminal period between the election and the Senate’s new term, will you continue to support the ACA? Your own brief bill, which at first glance seems so promising, does not guarantee that insurers must accept applicants with pre-existing conditions, nor does it it spell out what kinds of coverage a plan must provide, nor does it contain a provision forbidding discrimination based on gender or sex. There are too many loopholes to bolster the impression you seem to want to cultivate that you are ready to stand up for health care and affordable insurance for all of us.
The most effective way to convince us that you do, in fact, care about the lives and health of your constituents, and of all inhabitants of the United States (we’re all too connected, as COVID-19 has taught us, to pretend that we need only be concerned with the health of our neighbours) is to oppose seating a new Supreme Court justice before the Inauguration. The push to put Amy Coney Barrett on the highest bench in the land before the tenth of November is motivated by the intention to destroy the act that has brought affordable insurance to millions of Americans. Commit to voting only for a nominee who will support not just the ACA, but who will also protect women’s health by preserving our reproductive choices, including our right to control our bodies, our lives, and our destinies through access to safe, affordable, and legal abortions.
If you vote for the Justice Department to step away from the legal challenge that is trying to eradicate the Affordable Healthcare Act, but also vote to confirm a new Supreme Court justice to sit in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, a justice who will strike down the ACA and overturn Roe v. Wade, then you are merely attempting to have your cake and eat it, too.
Preamble I want to take back the word ruminate. The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that the word “ruminate (v.)” dating from the 1530s, means “’to turn over in the mind,’ also ‘to chew cud’ (1540s), from Latin ruminatus, past participle of ruminare ‘to chew the cud; turn over in the mind,’ from rumen (genitive ruminis) ‘gullet,’ of uncertain origin.” Merriam-Webster Online gives the definition of ruminate as
transitive verb 1: to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly 2: to chew repeatedly for an extended period intransitive verb 1: to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed : chew the cud 2: to engage in contemplation : REFLECT
But psychology — and in general I have real respect and genuine gratitude for the healing and support psychology and psychotherapists provide; if I kept a gratitude journal, my therapist’s name would be on every page — has come near to ruining this abundantly apt word that perfectly expresses the way many of us need or choose to take the time to ponder and deliberate rather than hasten to judge or get embroiled in the consequences of an ill-considered decision. Psychology, as a field, has decided ruminate should mean obsessively thinking about whatever is bothering one, over and over, round and round… ¹
I think one of the reasons that this definition has become popular, not only among psychologists, but in the general public as well, is that we have such short attention spans and have come to prize speed over all else. We rush to embrace technology that robs us of our privacy, we don’t stay to watch the credits after a movie (unless there’s an added scene), we expect to know the results of every election before the votes are all counted.
Take a breath, people.
Being ruminative used to be a positive attribute, one that indicated one was a careful, thoughtful person, not inclined to fling one’s self pell-mell off a cliff. Now it is a weakness, a character flaw that indicates one brings one’s misfortunes upon one’s self because one can’t control one’s thoughts.
Join me in my mission. Let’s rescue ruminate. Start using it in its proper sense. Fling it with abandon into your philosophical conversations: “I was ruminating upon the meaning of life the other day and wondering just what 42 really has to do with it.” If someone tries to push you into making a snap decision, say, “You know, in order to give you the thoughtful answer you
deserve, I need to ruminate on that for a day or two.” When next asked to describe yourself, pause for a moment,then declare, “I am an attentive, measured sort of person with a ruminative cast to my mind.” (Just don’t tell anyone you’re a ruminant. That will totally undermine our goal.)
And after we save ruminate, we’re coming back for you, enable.
Every so often, the New Yorker slips a suggestion for an archived article into the inbox of my e-mail. That how I came across Andrew Solomon’s article, “Anatomy of Melancholy,” that appeared in New Yorker’s January 12, 1998 issue. It’s a pretty harrowing description of the depths down to which depression can pull person and of the biases that still pertain when it comes to admitting to others or to ourselves that we have a mental illness and, worse, might be so “weak” as to need chemical (or electrical) interventions. As I moved through the essay, I came upon this proffered bit of wisdom:
Accuracy of perception is not an evolutionary priority. Too optimistic a world view results in foolish risk-taking, but moderate optimism gives you a strong selective advantage. “Normal human thought and perception,“ Shelley Taylor writes in her 1989 book, Positive Illusions, “is marked not by accuracy but by positive self-enhancing illusions about the self, the world, and the future. Moreover…these illusions are not merely characteristic of human thought; they appear actually to be adaptive.” As she notes, “The mildly depressed appear to have more accurate views of themselves, the world, and the future than normal people. [They] clearly lack the illusions that in normal people promote mental health and buffer them against setbacks.”
So — why are those of us with depression and accurate perceptions the ones who are mentally ill, while the “normies” with their illusions are the ones who are considered sane? Why are we the ones who are seen as less evolved? Am I the only one who thinks this assessment is a little bit off?
In a recent car commercial, actor and apparent guru Matthew
McConaughey ruminates (see how easy it is just to slip the word right into a sentence?) out loud about the process of identity formation.
“Knowin’ who we are is hard — it’s hard. Eliminatin’ who you
are not, first, and you’re gonna find yourself where ya need to be.”
OK, first: shouldn’t the thrust of the first sentence — the search for identity — lead to a statement about finding out who one is rather than where one is? I guess that’s what happens when one infuses manufactured sagacity into an advert for a vehicle. And never mind the lack of parallel structure in the second sentence.
But what I keep thinking is, “What if we, as is recommended by Mr. McConaughey, eliminate all the people we are not, only to realize there’s no one left?” That’s kind of who-where I keep finding myself.
An ethical dilemma: At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Daniel G. Amen. M.D. I haven’t read very far into it, but so far there are some sensible observations about the practicality of having one’s brain scanned for damage so one knows whether medical or psychotherapeutic remedies are most likely to be beneficial. However, on page twenty-nine, our friend the doctor discusses things that hurt the brain and things that help the brain. Under malign influences, Dr. Amen notes that “even spending time with unhealthy people [is] bad for the brain.” OK: I can see how that can work; we are the company we keep.
In the next paragraph, Dr. Amen lists things that can boost the brain. This list includes the point that “In many ways, the best thing you can do for your brain is to spend time with healthy people. As we will see, they are contagious. I often say the fastest way to get healthy is to find the healthiest person you can stand and then spend as much time around him or her as possible.” That also makes sense.
Aside from the difficulties of fulfilling this prescription in our COVID-19-riddled age — and you may already see the problem here — consider this: Let’s say I’m a healthy person. I know an unhealthy person, someone with, say, depression, someone who would immensely benefit from spending time with me. Yet if I do spend time with that person, I’ll be engaged in an activity that will be detrimental to my own grey matter. On the other hand, if I choose to protect myself by shunning the depressed person, I’m selfishly depriving her or him of my beneficial “contagion” and preventing that person from attaining the flourishing cerebrum she or he deserves. (Unless, of course, that person has been ruminating. In that case, she or he deserves all the melancholy that infests her or his soul. [That’s an example how NOT to use the word ruminating.]) I’m either allowing harm to come to myself or withholding aid from another, which makes me a pretty lousy human being, and knowing that I’m a pretty lousy human will depress me.
Now let’s imagine that I am the unhealthy person, and I know a tremendously healthy person, in whose salubrious presence I never fail to rally. I have a lot of time on my hands. I easily could spend days with this person and notably sharpen my dulled mental functions and ameliorate my debilitating mood. However, by latching on to this bloom-imparting person, I will be causing harm to that individual’s well-being and will likely disrupt her or his equilibrium. That would make me an insensitive parasite, sucking the life out of someone for my own ends, and being such a draining leech would make me feel horrible and depressed.
So what to do? I hate lose-lose, damned-if-you-do-or-don’t, caught-between-Scylla-and-a-hard-place options.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination, which has a much more beautiful name in Chinese (the literal translation for revenge bedtime procrastination means “suffering through the night vengefully.”), is a phenomena unique to people who feel out of control in their daily lives, so we refuse to go to sleep early, to exert some control over our lives, and to enjoy some quiet time alone, when the rest of our people are sleeping.
I should confess, straight up, that I am, by nature, a night owl. It runs in the family. But I love both this concept and its name. Between the depression and the M.E. and the State of the Union, I’m having an increasingly hard time getting any sleep. I just wish being AWAKE YES I’M AWAKE YES I DO KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS OH ISN’T THAT A LOVELY SUNRISE? would wreak some actual vengeance on the conditions and people who are responsible for my near-insomnia.
I hope, dear reader, that my ruminations provide some conceptual cud for your synapses to masticate at the pace of your choosing. And don’t forget: enable is still waiting for us… _____________________________________
TRIGGER WARNINGS: The following post deals with miscarriage, mental illness, the consequences of denying women the right to an abortion, racism, violence, and murder.
Kansas is an odd place. In many ways, it is very conservative, but it has some of the more liberal abortions laws in the country. Back in the early 1990s when Dr. George Tiller’s clinic was besieged by Operation Rescue protestors, my mother was one of the counter-protestors who stood to protect the clinic and its clients, even though the clinic had been bombed in 1986 and the threats of violence from people who called themselves pro-life were constant and real. In 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms, and in May 2009, he was murdered in his church while welcoming congregants to services.¹
The battle carried over to the op-ed pages of the Wichita Eagle. My mother showed up there, too, in this letter to the editor she wrote in response to a young woman making a case for adoption. One additional note: in her letter, my mother uses the racist term “mongoloid,” which was, for a time, the descriptor used for people with Down’s syndrome. I do not excuse her usage, but would like it noted that she quickly became aware of the hurtful nature of the word, and quit using it shortly after she wrote this letter.
Most women who have an abortion do so to save their lives, their sanity, their health, their jobs and finances, their family’s well-being. Vote for choice.
We shouldn’t have to say it any longer, but we do. Black Lives Matter. And today the news has given us a new name to say:
Mr. Prude was killed back in March, but the circumstances of his death while wearing a spit hood the police put on him only recently came to light. I’ll let you read the details in the accounts below.
There are other groups whose lives we similarly devalue. Some are subsets of the Black community (Black trans folk, Black women) and some are not (BIPOC groups) or may not be (Jews, Muslims, other minority religions). I’m not sure how to talk about these groups without seeming to diminish the BLM discussion,* but for the moment, perhaps the ink offers an analogy. The ink looks black when left alone, but a little water shows it comprises other colors and shades. I will continue to find a more elegant and effective means to discuss the broad swathe of people whose rights we need to affirm and whose wrongs — the ones done to them in the past and the ones we continue to tolerate, propagate, and commit — we must work to assuage.
* 4 September, 2020: I just read in the New York Times this excellent distinction made by Daria Allen, a sixteen-year-old who has been protesting in Portland, Oregon:
One of the few chants she consistently recites is “Black lives matter.” It annoys her that the phrase has become a subject of controversy, often met with the diminishing response “All lives matter.”
“When they have the breast cancer runs, you don’t see people out there yelling, ‘What about lung cancer?’” she said. “Just because I’m talking about what’s happening to me doesn’t mean I don’t care about what’s happening with you. Why do I have to constantly remind these people that I matter?”
When Ms. Allen
posted a link to the fund-raiser in a neighborhood Facebook group, a woman confronted her. Ms. Allen was destroying the city, she said. Ms. Allen fired back, arguing that the police were polluting the city with tear gas. The argument ended with the woman sending her a direct message, which Ms. Allen has saved in her inbox, just to remind herself of the mentality she is fighting against.
“If I see you on the street, you will be the next Black person hanging from a tree,” the woman wrote.
It makes me ill that anyone would throw the hateful and horrifying spectre of lynching at a Black teenager, one who is raising her voice and risking her health and life to call for justice and equality. Vote for Daria Allen because Daria Allen isn’t yet old enough to vote for herself.
Well, I’ve had a difficult two months, with my M.E. surging. Hot weather, whether I’m out in it or not, often makes it worse. We seem to be cooling off a bit now, despite the fires here in Colorado. I did finish up Rivka’s story; Meredith is thinking about rounding out Emma’s portion with a story of her own. So for anyone who is wondering how this tale concludes (spoiler: no one dies), read on: