Our poor, poor ruffled feathers

angrytsmHere is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World. This one is personal, and I hope you understand.

Our Poor, Poor Ruffled Feathers

I’ve been stung by my use of the word “ignorant” in my writing over the years and once again recently. My intentions are not to insult, but that’s the way I come off to some. However, my only desire is to share knowledge, and at least part of that process is the ability to understand, be taught, or “receive.” I apologize for the personal umbrage I’ve caused, but I’m pleading for a little more from my readers. Please hear me out.

The power of personal media

I had the good fortune of spending a few minutes today with Amy Wood, the social media pioneering TV News anchor from Spartanburg, South Carolina (WSPA-TV). Amy has an enormous following online and was a very early practitioner of personal branding. Far more people in the market follow Amy than the TV station she works for, which is the point of working social media as a single entity over a “brand.” Her father recently passed away, and the outpouring of love she experienced online was absolutely overwhelming. Enjoy the next 16 minutes and learn a few of Amy’s secrets to success.

The Artist’s Lament

The Dreamers are the saviors of the world.

The Dreamers are the saviors of the world.

I believe the early part of the 21st Century will be known for its shift to the arts and the imagination that seems to flow through artistic people. I wrote about a “Right Brain Renaissance” in 2006, and this is a continuation of that. Basically, the left brain people have “managed” us into quite a pickle, and they don’t have a clue on what to do. The West suffers from a failure of imagination like no other time in history, and, as James Allen wrote 100 years ago, “The dreamers are the saviors of the world.”

There’s an artist in everyone, but only some are artists, or Allen’s “dreamers.” These are people who touch Richard Adams’ Unbroken Web of creativity that is available — for free — to anyone and everyone. Consequently, creativity belongs to no one, which means that ideas belong to no one. There is no such thing as “intellectual property” for one who touches the realm of the creatives. The price for the ability to bask within the Unbroken Web is that you’ll probably never be rich, although there are plenty of those who try, based on what some gifted people bring back with them. Artists often suffer in their own lifetime only to have their work reach extraordinary value after their gone. It may seem a steep price to pay, but most of those who touch this realm would give anything to touch it once again.

In today’s explosion of creative thought, however, the undeniable loss for individual dreamers is acknowledgement of what they find in the realm of creativity. Provenance often goes to the one who speaks loudest, is best connected, or already has a significant following, and this is a shame, because those people are rarely in the “starving artist” category. Perhaps this is just another part of the price one pays for living with one’s head in the clouds.

But it doesn’t make it right. Sigh.

A bluegrass miracle to start the new year

The Heaton Brothers in Neal Lynch's basementA few days ago, something remarkable happened that I thought I’d share. It’s a testament to the wonder of hyperconnectivity for my generation. I think this kind of thing will only be experienced by those who’ve not grown up with the Web, so these kinds of stories will gradually disappear, but that’s just a guess. Here’s what happened.

Neal Lynch, the brother of a high school girlfriend contacted me via Facebook inquiring if I had been a member of the River City Singers from Grand Rapids, Michigan during the 1960s. Facebook is the source of reconnections so plenty these days that this one would simply blend in with the others were it not for the fact that I’m able to pass it along to you. Neal lives in California, and the circumstances under which he contacted me are remarkable all by themselves, but The Great Horizontal — the connected culture we’re just beginning to know — is what made this possible.

I wrote back that I was indeed a member of that band, whereupon he sent me two photographs of myself and my two brothers playing our music in his basement. He was 12-years old at the time and shortly thereafter picked up guitar and has been playing ever since. The photos were made from old Kodak slides and are the only high-resolution, digital color pictures of the three of us playing together. The ONLY ones, and I’d never seen them before. These pictures blew my mind, because I was able to zoom in and closely examine facial expressions. The experience really took me back to when I was 18-years old. All that I am, I was back then. The experiences I’ve had in the last 47 years have shaped only what I do, but all that is really me — the gifts, the spirit, the emotions, the soul — can be seen in these pictures.

I sent copies to my two brothers and heard back from older brother Jim (the guitar picker). He told me that he was so blown away that all he could do was go sit in his back yard alone and think about our lives as a bluegrass band. I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The Heaton Brothers in Neal Lynch's basementWords cannot express my appreciation for the way Life has engineered this and especially to Neal for contacting me. In the picture to the left, you can see me, as my daughter told me via Facebook, “lost in the music.” This is true, but “lost in the music” can also be a form of “hiding from everybody,” which took a big emotional toll on me over the decades that followed.

My two brothers and I are not close. The Vietnam War broke up our band, and we all went our separate ways. It has been one of the biggest regrets of my life, because I really did and do love my brothers. That fact is inescapable when examining these pictures. We were really good, and to quote Marlon Brando, “I coulda been a contender.” Bluegrass is a music meant to be played, not just listened to. I haven’t had a banjo in many years, but this may inspire me to find something at a pawn shop. I’m playing an old Gibson Mastertone in the pictures. That instrument is worth a lot of money today.

This event in my life has reinforced everything I believe deeply about the enormity of this “second Gutenberg moment” in the history of Western Civilization. We may spit and snarl and fight it all the way, but this “Great Horizontal” is transforming everything about our culture. The more open we become, the harder it is for anybody to live a double life and to present bullshit as a cover story for one’s life. We have to rethink everything, and I envy those who are just entering adulthood, for life will be very different for them when they reach my age. The naysayers shout down change, usually because they have something to lose in terms of their position vis-a-vis everybody else.

I’m incredibly hopeful for tomorrow, because truth weighs far less than falsehood, and we’re all ridiculously overweight. That’s what my view of postmodernism is all about. These pictures have helped me in the ongoing journey to find my truth, and I am forever grateful.

Adventures in health insurance

injecting a vialIs it ever better to NOT to use your health insurance? You betcha.

Readers who’ve been with me for awhile are aware of my past with health insurance. There was a 4‑year period a few years ago when I went without health insurance, so I’m acutely familiar with its blessings and curses.

I learned, for example, that every single entity involved in the industry of healthcare will offer you a 30% discount if you pay cash. Why? Because it’s cheaper than dealing with health insurance companies. You want to know why healthcare costs are so high? Health insurance.

I had a new experience yesterday that I want to share, because I’m sure it will one day benefit somebody else.

I have an extremely low testosterone level (68) and have been working with my urologist to find a suitable treatment. It’s one of those tricky areas with a lot of options, nothing of which has really helped raise my level sufficiently to get my energy level up. Low T is a joke until you have it, and mine goes beyond what’s typically known as “male menopause.” I’m 64, for crying out loud; not dead.

So I take regular testosterone shots. My insurance provider covers the medication somewhat, but the “program” has restrictions on how much I can get at one time, so let me explain the dilemma and the solution I discovered with my pharmacy.

My doctor’s prescription is for a 10 ml vial of the medicine. I’m supposed to take 1 ml injections every other week. The policy, however, will not permit me to obtain more than a 30-day supply of any prescription, so the pharmacy has to give me two 1 ml vials, and those can be hard to come by. Generic versions often are not available, so I have to buy brand name, and I have to order it ahead-of-time. With insurance, the brand name vials cost me $50 out-of-pocket, or $25 per injection. Steep.

My doctor says this is nuts and that I’m the only patient he has with this problem, but there’s nothing he can do. I went round and round with the insurance company, but then my pharmacist, Joel, said, “Why don’t you just buy the generic 10 ml vial without insurance?”

“What? Without insurance? Are you kidding me?”

Turns out he wasn’t. The generic version in 10 ml is $95 without insurance, so I saved $155 out-of-pocket by NOT using my health insurance.

This business of not being able to obtain more than a month’s supply of drugs through insurance really needs investigation. Doctors trying to save people money by letting them buy a 3‑month supply are cut off at the knees, and when this kind of nonsense happens in our culture, there’s usually somebody benefiting financially. Who would that be in this case?

The doctor? No. The pharmacy? Not likely. The insurance provider? Perhaps. The drug manufacturers? Hmm.

I know I bitch a lot about arbitrary rules in our culture, but this is one of those times when I think it’s justified. When industries that deal with consumers create rules with no wiggle room or exceptions, humanity itself suffers, and we fall deeper into the cold abyss of black and white, win or lose, all or nothing, and so forth.

Enjoy your fresh air, Ellen Goodman!

So columnist Ellen Goodman has retired. Many years ago, she said something in an interview that has been on my bulletin board ever since:

“Writing a column is like being married to a nymphomaniac: Every time you think you’re through, you have to start all over again.”

I guess she finally got her divorce.