About This Blog

As time permits, in-depth musings on myriad subjects will be posted. Abbreviated adages will be announced via Twitter.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Like a Monkey at an Event Horizon

PBS offers this great series of short talks on space & science called Space Time. One of these talks involves black holes and whether or not events inside of them actually happen and gives a phenomenal demonstration involving a monkey and My Little Pony, in which the monkey is perpetually trapped at the event horizon (edge) of the black hole with My Little Pony observing.

For several weeks, now, we have been that monkey, seemingly trapped at the event horizon, where the black hole is the vast, apparent nothingness that is healthcare—health insurance, in particular.

Until now, United Healthcare (UHC) has provided stellar health insurance for our family with minimal impact and cost to us. But, now, when we really need it (for approval of a Tier IV [re: stupid expensive] medication to put Nicholle's MS back in check), UHC is failing us. Badly. To the point where the physical, mental, emotional, and (potentially) financial health of this family is in peril.

When the previous medications were determined to no longer be effective for Nicholle, her doctor prescribed Lemtrada, a near-miracle disease-modifying therapy (DMT) that—while not outright curing patients of MS—has fast-tracked many to living as close to "normal" of a life as they can with minimal symptoms.The infusion center that is part of her doctor's office filed what should have been the necessary paperwork for insurance approval and what-have-you. There was a lot of what-have-you.

Not including Nicholle, there were four (4) parties involved:

  1. Doctor's office/infusion center
  2. Insurance company (UHC)
  3. Specialty pharmacy (assigned by UHC; BriovaRX, in this case)
  4. A liaison between the drug maker (Genzyme) and Nicholle (MS One to One)
Somehow, somewhere, the ball got dropped in that pharmacy approval for the medication through UHC was denied due to benefit exclusion (her employer did not include this particular drug for coverage through UHC) and a medical approval option has put the doctor's office in its own orbit around the same black hole.

Because the stress was having a tremendously stressful impact on Nicholle (and stress isn't good for MS—to say nothing of the fact that Nicholle has work to do), I got involved in an effort to learn where the ball got dropped.

A call with UHC member services pointed back to the doctor's office; a seemingly simple phone call for the medical appeal was all that was purported to be needed to get the medical approval greenlighted. UHC even tried calling the office while I was on hold to get said greenlight to no avail. So, I called the doctor's office. (I also called MS One to One and spoke to our rep. Both she—and the MS One to One program appear to be wholly useless existing as a superficial security blanket that "someone is on our side" to advocate for us and keep us covered. The only thing I feel covered in after the conversation with them is excrement.)

After several minutes of sometimes heated, sometimes emotional discussion with the infusion center nurse who handles insurance stuff (for lack of a better term; these events have left me drained on every level, save rage), it was asked what it would take to make me happy at the moment, to which I responded: A conference call.

For whatever reason, the phone systems at the doctor's office cannot handle conference calls, so it was the handy iPhone 5s to the rescue that got me and the nurse connected to the doctor's backdoor channels to UHC.

Oh. My. God.

After several minutes navigating the infinite loop of UHC's automated system, we finally reached a rep who who was about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane—even less-so than our MS One to One rep. The new UHC rep pulled up an authorization request that was denied at midnight.. Fifteen hours before the current call to UHC was placed and eight or so hours before the authorization request was even submitted to UHC. Now that's efficiency.

The nurse at the infusion center was told she could submit a peer-to-peer review appeal for the denied request (which she had attempted previously; denied requests cannot be appealed), and the call reference number provided by the rep was not inline with bona fide reference numbers provided to this nurse multiple times a day for other calls for other patients. Patients who have had no difficulty in getting approved for their medication. From UHC.

What would it take to make all of this better? Well, a genuine cure for MS would be phenomenal, though not at all likely right now. Getting Nicholle greenlighted for insurance or other financial coverage (and the drug in her system to do its thing ASAP) would be the next best thing, for we are fast-running out of time for not only alleviating her symptoms but also ensuring I can be by her side should she need me. (Because teachers have summers off, you know.)

This was long. And rambling. But so has been the black hole-like experience in which we've been trapped since sometime in early June. And we're tired of monkeying around with this whole process.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 20, 2016


So it's been a week since the Yokahama race where, within hours of the race's conclusion, the men's field was named. In the highly more successful women's field, however, Katie Zaferas has yet to be named to the Olympic team. This, in spite of her stellar perfomances last and this season (including finishing in the top eight selection criteria in the Rio test event AND being currently ranked #4) then begs the question of whether or not USAT is playing by the rules it established prior to the Rio test event or if they are being rewritten as USAT so wishes for reasons I'd care not to fabricate, let alone entertain. 

The fact remains that Katie Zaferas is "medal material" and deserves to be named to the women's Olympic team for Rio by not only meeting the pre-established criteria but also by the merits of her hard work and successful execution on race day. Yes, Gwen Jorgensen is a stellar athlete and will likely take gold, BUT if she drops her chain or flats or suffers some other detrimental bike mechanical—like what happened in London in 2012—no domestique, regardless of talent, is going to be able to get her to the podium. Therefore, having a proven talent in the form of Katie Zaferas is not just critical, it's what USAT said it would do.

Jorgensen, True, and Zaferas are all gold medal material. Show us, USAT, that your word is, too, by naming Katie Zaferas to the women's team. 

Go, USA. Go, Katie.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Nonfiction used to be my least favorite literary genre. Then I began teaching Capote’s In Cold Blood and saw the genre from a different point of view and truly appreciated what it had to offer. Now, it seems like all I read is nonfiction--Rothfuss & Cline notwithstanding. However, one can take only so much nonfiction in literature or in life before some means of escape is desired and deemed necessary to save one’s sanity. 

Such was the case for me whilst poring through The Witches: Salem, 1692 and related searches on documents related to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. While a fascinating read, I found myself too engrossed and unsettled by the parallels of then and now. As a nation, we’ve obviously not learned from the past and are erroneously repeating it with consequences likely to stretch to the seventh generation.

To turn my back on realities past and present, I flocked to comics. The print kind; the celluloid incarnations to which I’d been taking in unhealthy amounts via multiplex and Netflix alike just weren’t cutting it. At the top of my list was the latest incarnation of Black Panther by acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. I had the impression going into it that the writing would be among the greatest possible in any universe, and I was not incorrect. But I was incorrect in thinking it would take me away from the world that was and the world that is.

Ingrained in the dialogue and narration of Black Panther #1 are obvious parallels to the world we know and live--obvious to me, anyway, as no one in my circles has taken me up on offers to peruse the comic, let alone engage in thoughtful discussion of its contents. I’ll not entertain any speculation or conjecture as to why because of the very reason that it would be speculation or conjecture. Still, given the popularity of Marvel’s screen presence, I have to say: I expected more from many of my peers. And better. But I (sort of) digress.

So I carry on in the notion that Coates is using his present station to illustrate parallels in the struggles of both the imaginary Wakandans and the very real residents of the region where Wakanda sits on the African continent, as well as those on the other side of the Atlantic. (Semi-intended pun.)

But I’m left wondering if Coates’s subtext may be easily missed, somewhat masked beneath the beautiful illustrations by Brian Stelfreeze and colorings by Laura Martin. As Samuel L. Jackson’s comic book-obsessed (spoiler alert!) villainous character Elijah laments in 2000’s Unbreakable: 

I believe that comics, just at their core now... have a truth. They are depicting what someone, somewhere felt or experienced. Then of course that core got chewed up in the commercial machine and gets jazzed up, made titillating -- cartooned for the sale rack.

The intended message may get lost in translation--or worst, in the editing process. Granted, such garbling of a message may enable a comic to appeal to a broader audience, bringing in bigger bank, but at what cost? 

Jackson’s character raised some very valid points a decade and a half ago in advocating for the need to take comics seriously--which made casting Jackson and his distinguished vocal talents so choice. A thing should not be judged as “childish”and unworthy of attention just because it is rendered in pictorial form.

Similarly, comics and the motion-based media comics inspire are not necessarily ideal for children. While visually appealing, the message (written and illustrated alike) can be easily lost on any lacking the mental maturity to appropriately absorb and process what is seen, what is read. Coates’s Black Panther, indeed, is visually appealing but offers so much more beneath the outer mask of marvelous illustrations. While Black Panther #1 did provide me the means of temporary escape from the realities of nonfiction, the themes and issues addressed in the comic’s roughly two dozen pages connect to a reality experienced by so many, connected to us all. May we have the wisdom to recognize it and the maturity to deal with it responsibly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


In 1989, The Cure released the best album ever, Disintegration. I, along with many of my friends became immediate converts to what some would describe as “whiny British music.” Fast forward to 1992 and the release of Wish, the non-remixed follow-up to Disintegration which, well, didn’t quite live up to what I was expecting. Wish wasn’t more of the same but more of a different side of The Cure and what they had to offer not pop music but music. Similarly, the recently-released follow-up to the 2011 smash hit Ready Player One has left many reviewers feeling disappointed that Armada didn’t deliver the freshly original futuristic environment that RPO did and that the plot line was lifted directly from The Last Starfighter. Personally, I found it more akin to Iron Eagle—to which Cline also referred throughout Armada, but that’s not the point of this. Rather, I’m just curious if reviewers are actually reading the books they’re expected—and paid—to review.

Added among the things I would really rather not do is go up against Ernest Cline in a pop culture trivia challenge. Reading through both RPO and Armada brought back many memories of films, shows, and music enjoyed throughout my childhood, though there were a few references in Armada that I didn’t know (I’m one of a very few my age who have never seen neither The Goonies nor Say Anything); it’s clear Cline really knows his stuff. But the pop culture kitsch serves merely as garnish to stories unintended to replicate one another.

OK, sure, Armada was really riddled with almost gratuitous pop culture references (such as the combination to the safe) but just because Armada didn’t reinvent the world with its contemporary setting is no reason to dismiss the novel as unoriginal or disappointing. Even the static nature of most of the characters or the somewhat predictable story arc of Cline’s work (lone, pop culture-obsessed dude goes on an eye-opening adventure, finding love with a woman who happens to be into the same stuff he is, and getting “saved” by someone of significant status at the zero hour in order to clear the level by seeing a movie before it’s released, winning the game/contest, or literally saving the world) fail to serve as sufficient reasons to think less of Cline or (worse) not read what he’s written. Cline is hardly the first to find something that works and serve it up.

At the risk of offending the literati, consider the follow-up (of sorts) from another author whose first novel defined her as a writer and became what any future novels would be compared to. Unlike Armada, though, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman not only used several of the same characters from To Kill a Mockingbird but it was also apparently written beforehand. All the same, some have been purportedly unwilling to accept the novel, unable to get past the implication that their childhood hero is a racist. Well, from a certain point of view. So they pretend the novel doesn’t exist, and their childhood memories remain intact. Easy enough when the author has but two published novels. But when discussing Shakespeare, things get a tad more complicated.

One running joke amongst those in my former circle of high school English teachers (yes, high school English teachers have a sense of humor) is that Shakespeare wrote two plays: Everyone dies in one and the two most antithetical characters get married in the other. In spite of this, Shakespeare wrote some three dozen plays, most of which had predictable settings and story arcs allowing audiences of varying levels of education and/or social status to relate to them in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through today.

This is not to say that Ernie Cline is today’s Shakespeare. No, that honor would be conferred by me to Joss Whedon in that Whedon is what I consider to be the most talented storyteller in contemporary times—even if so many of his stories have echoes of one another (the series Agents of Shield is actually Firefly which is actually Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although The Dollhouse references in Agents of Shield were great), including making the same film twice in one year. (You did know that the first Avengers film was actually Much Ado About Nothing, only with more elaborate CGI. Right?)

Unlike Whedon’s double dipping from Shakespeare and The Avengers/Much Ado About Nothing (the latter of which I found to be a far more enjoyable film, making one of Shakespeare’s comedies actually tolerable), Ernie Cline did not double-dip or otherwise gyp his readers by writing the same story twice (or thrice, if including Fanboys), nor did he fail readers by not creating another fantastical futuristic world the likes of which had never been seen for Armada. (Honestly, the most striking part of RPO for me was his vision of the future of school in the OASIS. Something along those lines was what I had imagined for the focus of my graduate research project of the classroom of the future; participants in my research study had a serious lack of vision, Cline’s or otherwise.) Instead, Cline took his readers to the world of their very own doorstep and had them question themselves and what they might do if encountering something akin to alien life. 

Sadly, to some critics, Cline’s intent with Armada appears to have across as alien, not unlike the swastika on the surface of Europa. Seeing something so seemingly familiar, conclusions were leapt to and mistakes were made by dismissing Cline’s sophomore effort as simply more of the same pop culture allusions and storyline straight from 80s, unworthy of succeeding his debut. How literally superficial.

It’s been 23 years since the release of The Cure’s Wish, the studio follow-up to Disintegration. I somehow doubt there will be a multi-disc re-release of Wish in the same manner there was of Disintegration, complete with unreleased tracks and other B sides from the quartet of successful singles the album spawned. That said, in the time since first hearing the opening distorted chords of the aptly titled “Open” and wondering if I’d just wasted twenty dollars, an appreciation of Wish has grown—by listening to the whole album. A lot. Even though I’ve listened to Disintegration more. There’s no harm in preferring an original to a follow-up, but there is harm in providing an opinion on something when the opinion is formulated with inadequate information in order to rush to judgement. And press.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016


This past December, the City of Schertz began construction of sidewalks lining both sides of the roughly 3.1 miles of Roy Richard Drive, known to me as FM 3009. The presence of sidewalks will hopefully encourage more folk to take to foot and traipse about all or a part of those sidewalks as a means of visiting friends, neighbors, and shops dotting the main corridor cutting through Schertz. Additionally, sidewalks will open up an additional avenue for family fitness, especially for running. But adding in pedestrians where there have traditionally been none may pose problems for those afoot and those in-car alike. As a lifetime Schertz resident and longtime runner and cyclist, I felt bringing up some helpful reminders to ensure safe use and sharing of Three Dub by us all would be a good idea now, before the sidewalks are free for use.

Throughout, I’ll be referring to the Texas Transportation Code, which is available to read in its entirety at www.statues.legis.state.tx.us/?link=TN. It’s a ridiculously huge document, though, so we’ll just be focusing on sections 541 (definitions), 544 (vehicles), and 552 (pedestrians).

Because of sheer volume, size, and speed, I’m going to start with motor vehicles. Here, I’ll generically refer to motor vehicles as cars, but a vehicle includes cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, buses, and any other form of motorized transportation traversing 3009 covered in Section 541.201; bicycles will be addressed in greater detail some other time–-but just be aware that bicycles are classified as vehicles in the state (Sec. 541.201.2) and enjoy the same rules and protections as any other vehicle, which includes riding on the road itself and not on sidewalks. But enough about bikes. Let’s get back to cars. 

Gary Numan once waxed about how, in his car, he felt “safest of all,” which is not a far cry from how most of us feel when we’re behind the wheel of our multi-ton modes of transport. Because we tend to be seated comfortable with so many variables at our control: Speed, climate, audio, and even who is sharing the experience with us. However, our feeling of safety and comfort tends to remove us from the world beyond power windows and bucket seats. It’s too easy to forget about everyone else having their own experience in concert with our own. It’s too easy to forget to share the road.

If turning onto a side street or business of 3009 from the main roadway, it will likely be pretty easy to spot a pedestrian or two or six. This is made easier if scanning the sidewalks before and after the side street and not just the street itself. Coming out from the side streets or businesses and onto the main roadway of 3009, though, is where things can get tricky. 

Each intersection of roadway and sidewalk should have a marked, designated crosswalk. These are the large, white rectangles painted on the road surface where many may stop before making their turn, oftentimes with the whole front end of the car occupying the whole of the crosswalk.This is not only not cool but also not legal as it blocks the right of way given to pedestrians outlined in Section 552.003. Vehicles are to “stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection” (Sec. 544.007.d & 544.010.c). If the car’s seat is adjusted properly, it is perfectly possible to be able to make the requisite left, right, left again visual sweep of the roadway—and sidewalks—before executing a turn. Sure, we may have to lean forward a bit, but a moment’s discomfort far outweighs the risk of running into or over someone, regardless of who’s “right.” 

A pedestrian is defined by the TTC  as “a person on foot” (Sec 541.001.4)—regardless of how fast they are moving, running or walking or anything in between. The TTC generally grants pedestrians the right of way when it comes to sidewalks, regardless of if a crossing signal is present. That said, this “right of way” does not give us as pedestrians a free pass to act without regard to the safety of ourselves or other users of the sidewalk or roadway, including motorists. It is critical—literally a possible matter of life or death—to be aware of everyone and everything around us at all times. Consequently, the use of headphones (or earbuds, or anything else that might fit in or over your ears that blocks or overrides external sound) should not be practiced in high-traffic areas like 3009. Being able to hear approaching vehicles by the pitch and volume of a vehicle’s tire rotation can clue you in as to how close that vehicle is, as well as how fast it’s moving—or if it’s slowing down in order to make a turn.

It’s been said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, so use these gateways to safeguard soul and survival. At every intersection, look in every direction, every time—and not just a cursory glance, either. Visually sweep as broad of a field as possible. Make and lock eye contact with vehicle operators (see Sec 541.001.1) and even use hand gestures to ensure they know that not only you are there but also what your intentions are: Are you letting them go first? Are you making a break for it? Are you turning one way or another? Make yourself predictable and make your intentions known. And also make yourself visible by coordinating clothing and accessories to light levels. (Hint: Bright, flashing LEDs are your friends.)

It may be that, when the sidewalks open later this year, there will be absolutely no incidents involving vehicle operator and pedestrian. However, based on the numerous near run-ins I’ve experienced with vehicles just on Schertz Parkway (which boasts a lower speed limit and lower volume of traffic), the statistics just do not look favorable for anyone. The odds are further compounded if, as a vehicle operator, you’re opting to ignore the cell phone ordinance passed and put into effect back in October. (Oh, and pedestrians: Safe use of your cell phone is also incumbent upon you; don’t plan to walk & text/tweet/what-have-you with your face glued to the screen without consequence.) As pedestrian or vehicle operator, we all need to be aware and considerate of one another, sharing the resources that allow us to freely move up and down 3009.

Monday, March 07, 2016


“Five more minutes,” she would always say.

Even from the time she was a child, Nicholle enjoyed sleep. She once told me (and her mother corroborated this) that, when she was three and her mother was very pregnant with who would become her little sister, Nicholle’s mother would have to call the neighbor’s kids over to get her up from naptime. Nicholle knew that her pregnant mother was unable to make the climb upstairs to wake her up, and so she slept on.

Five more minutes.

Much of our courtship revolved around running and triathlon. We did, after all, meet on a run around Boerne Lake and got married in the midst of the Las Vegas Half-Marathon. So early mornings were nothing out of the ordinary, be it for track work at UT San Antonio (before they closed off the track to the public—boo!) before work or being up at stupid o’clock in order to be at the transition area of some race or other in order to get prime parking for our bikes and sundry other junk. But, on rest days…

Five more minutes

When Nicholle was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, we immediately made contact with the local chapter of the National MS Society. A good friend I knew from days volunteering with the American Diabetes Association was now the director for the San Antonio edition of Bike MS, formerly known as MS150—the very event that nudged me back into cycling, segueing me into triathlon, and eventually meeting Nicholle—and Cindy got us talking with people here and across the country in order to be proactive and to be as prepared as we could be to meet this head on.

But now, five years later, MS appears to be winning. In the months since the birth of our second child (a girl, Lisbeth), Nicholle has endured multiple flare-ups, each more aggressive than the one before it. It’s like that episode of Battlestar Galactica, “33,” where the Cylon armada attack the civilian fleet every thirty-three minutes exactly—only MS isn’t nearly as predictable, nor is it as easy to outrun by simply revving up the FLT (faster-than-light) engines. Oftentimes, MS isn’t as merciful, either.

So we find ourselves asking, begging, pleading for a break of some sort from the relentlessness of this demon of a disease. Anything, even just five more minutes to pretend that everything is normal. That a fever or flutter in the seasons won’t spark a relapse, rendering the legs of a woman who ran competitively in high school and college—who ran on her wedding day (in her wedding for that matter), who ran in the Texas Independence Relay, who ran on the day she gave birth to her daughter—limp and unable to respond to her brain’s screaming commands to simply move and carry her across the room. Or even just out of bed.

In our own ways, we’re all masters at procrastination. But, now, in 2016, the time has come to quit hitting “snooze” on the alarm calling for a cure for multiple sclerosis. The people who live with the impacts of MS—both the diagnosed and their friends, families, and loved ones—can no longer wait.

Not even for just five more minutes.

* – Not her real name

Friday, March 04, 2016


A coworker & I exchanged a few emails today regarding work-related stuff, eventually devolving into writing about writing; English teachers, right?
Below is one of those exchanges.

Colleague writes
Thanks for sharing! Lots of symbolism there---needs to be commemorated in poetry...

Poetry isn't really my strong suit, despite my tendency to write in flowy words and expressions. Too much reading & teaching Capote, I suppose. For certain, though, my fondness for Capote has incapacitated me when it comes to my own writing; I feel the precedent too powerful. So, I have refrained from writing my own thoughts, thinking them invalid or otherwise not worth the time it takes to strike the proper series of keys, let alone making the strokes of a pen---a pen I in turn would need to fall upon for having permitted so much ink bleed unnecessarily upon a page.

Just between us girls, I've toyed with the idea of writing a nonfiction of sorts, chronicling my wife's journey to learning of her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and how it has impacted her life since. Same with several friends I have known in one capacity or another, unified sadly in not only knowing me but also in having been told their own body is attacking and damaging their central nervous system without current hope of cure; rather, merely a management of varying, unpredictable symptoms with pharmaceuticals originally designed to eradicate cancer. Like a little bit of chemo. For the rest of your life.

Wow. this has gone on too long. Gonna let this go now. Would you mind, terribly, if I borrowed your words from this correspondence to blog about it?  As you know, every writer needs a starting point. This may be mine.

Thanks for reading.