Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Passing Fathers

The Fathers of two of my friends are dying. The Father of another friend passed away in the last three weeks. And, I found out today that the father of a man with whom I was to meet tomorrow is also deathly ill. In times such as these I find myself at a loss. I have no idea how you truly provide comfort and support to someone that has just lost or is in immenent peril of losing a parent. Frankly, I anticipate falling completely apart when the mortality of my Mother comes knocking. But, particularly with Fathers and death, I find myself confronting an entire host of complicated and conflicting feelings.

As an abstract concept I understand the concept of Father. As a matter of fact, at one time or another, I have legally had four Fathers in my lifetime. In practice, there are two men that I have called Dad—my biological father William and my first step-father, and the man that raised me during the formative years, Clinton. One man my brother and I had decided to call Dad just before he abandoned my Mother and left us in Kansas City. My current step-father married my Mother two years ago and is four months younger than I am. He doesn't really fit into the Father equation. My birth Father popped in and out of my life every three or four years until I was a teenager, as he was in the military and moved around the world. At the feet of my step-father I can lay most of my psychological trauma—I wrote extensively about him on my old blog at www.itainttruthifitdoesnthurt.blogs.friendster.com. Look for the entry called Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my Father(s), the impact or lack of presence they have had on my life, the wounds that I have carried around that, at this point, are my fault and no longer theirs (at some point, as adults, we have to realize that though they may have wounded us as youth...the only way those wounds can keep bleedings is if we keep ripping them open), and the legacy, role, and history of black men and why so many turn out like my Fathers.
But, as I have engaged with friends---many of whom share a similar history of disconnection and dysfunction when it comes to their own fathers—I have found myself wondering at my lack of ability to offer anything more than surface platitudes and an empathy that is responding to their pain as opposed to their experience. Juxtaposed against the very clear idea that I have and the ghost hurt I have felt even imagining the passing of my Mother, my confusion, contradictory emotions, and awkwardness at connecting with loss or potential loss of a dad is sharply outlined.

I am at an age where friends are having babies and the parents of friends are beginning to die. This is a new stage in my life, one that illuminates ever more clearly that whether I am ready or not, I am moving into a generational experience where I and my peers are expected to take up the official reigns of leadership, care for our ailing parents, and begin creating, prepping, and educating the generation that will come after us. It seems ludicrous that in that context that I still have so much to sort out with regards to a parent(s), nor is it hopeful watching those I care about, some of whom are older, trying to grapple with some of the same issues as their Father is dying.

It is hurtful, to me, to watch friends have to set aside the wounds and pain and hurt caused by their dying parent in order to ease the passing of that individual. It is n honorable sacrifice on the part of my friends that they are setting aside their very real grievances and hurt, but it also seems to me that there should be, in the minds of these passing shapers of young lives, a corresponding desire and move to frankly evaluate their lives and attempt to make amends for their shortcomings. Ideally we do this as we live, but, it seems that the principle of Last Rites and Last Confession should be applied broadly in principle if not in practice: a final reckoning of sin and, if necessary, making amends with your last breath.

I don't necessarily have a point to this other than to share my confusion and to publicly acknowledge the loss to those that have lost and the love and honor that those who are losing are sharing with those that are dying. They should have that love and honor lauded by those that still live even if those that are passing are unable to do so.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Bed Bugs Are Coming! The Bed Bugs Are Coming!

“Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite.” I remember my Mother saying that to me as a child. As a kid, I thought bed bugs were a mythical creature to which my Mother referred as a way to strike a minor fear in me. She can be wicked that way. But, as I grew older and began to read more broadly, with a particular penchant for Medival and Renaissance literature and fantasy novels set in the same period, I recognized that bed bugs were an affliction of the unwashed masses of feudal Europe. Now, however, I know them to be the 11th Plague of the Bible...a new scourge unleashed by a newly reawakened Old Testament God who is warming up his powers of smiting after a 2,000 year lull.

My apartment, and those around me, have bed bugs. A couple of weeks ago, I started waking up with angry red bumps on various parts of my body. At first I thought perhaps an early riser spider had woken up and decided to come out for a little midnight snack. But, then, two weeks ago, before I left for New York, I noticed a sign posted on the apartment door next to mine, “Sprayed for Bed Bugs at 1pm, Do Not Re-Enter Apartment Before 5pm.” Considering the heinous red bump attacks occurred when I slept in my living room near the wall that separates my apartment from the sprayed apartment, I realized that it wasn't a friendly neighborhood brown recluse come out for a nibble, it was a vast horde of teeny Medival invaders come to suck me dry.

When I was in New York last week, I was clued into the fact that there is a bed bug epidemic going on. One poor woman had bed bugs in three different apartments. This morning, I ran into my old roommate, and he told me that in his old building in NE Minneapolis they had also had a bed bug infestation. The little critters have been slowly infiltrating our apartments and houses for years and no one said anything, now the stage is set for a massive frontal assault which could result in the collapse of the world as we know it. Soon, we may be all forced to trade in You for Ye and The for Thou. Sitting in coach will literally mean climbing into a wooden box on wheels behind randomly shitting horses. And when children start singing “ring around the rosies,” it will be because the Black Plague is rampaging through the Northside.

Tonight, I will spend my evening, before going to Ka Vang's fantastic book signing, prepping my apartment for chemical warfare. Tomorrow, the counter insurgency troops led by Terminex will release smart bombs in the hopes of beating back the assault on my western dry wall. But if bed bugs have managed to survive since a time when bathing was considered to be bad for your health, it may be only a battle won with the war already lost. Goeth Ye With God, I pray thee surviveth, the Bed Bugs cometh!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New York Spring

New York is surreal. With ease you can feel absolutely alone and isolated in a city of ten million or you may turn a corner and run into a good friend. Walking down any street in Manhattan I have encountered a half dozen languages half of which I could not identify. In a city that is portrayed as a concrete jungle, it is a concrete jungle that, in springtime, blooms. The streets and corners are lined with crabapple trees in blossom and tulip trees in full bloom. On a block of two hundred year old apartment complexes, you may find a single corner, a triangle, reclaimed as green space, with a wooden gazebo and lined in blazing yellow daffodils shouting to passersby that spring has finally come.

There is something about this city that is so vitally alive. At home, I find it hard to leave the house. Going outside takes effort, and I find myself with little energy. Here, even when I try to sneak away for a midday nap, something carries me back into the streets, down cement rivers into humanity of every stripe and flavor. I literally want to make out with every other person I see. I want to physically experience the way they taste, the uniqueness that they add to this most cosmopolitan city.

I arrived in the East Village early today for a meeting with local folks from the Green Party. We are going to have dinner at one of my favorite spots in town, Itzocan Cafe—a French/Mexican fusion restaurant. Yet, less than half a block away, I find myself sitting in a hipster honkey tonk bar sipping a vanilla rum and diet coke. The juxtaposition is Dali-esque in its absurdity. Where else in the world would you find a Mexi-French-Hipster-Honkey-Tonk street corner?

I spent nearly a week meeting with folks in New York, wandering the streets, marvelling at the architecture and at the poverty thrown up against unimaginable wealth and luxury. And it was so telling in so many ways that the places where poverty was the most apparent so was the vibrancy of living. The streets that were perfectly polished, with stately 250 year old town homes were conspicuosly quiet, almost inhumanly quiet in a place where from river to river to ocean there is not a square of land unplanned or unoccupied. On the upper east side luxury affords the residents with an eerie silence where in Crown Heights poverty brings a manic street energy that proclaims against the quiet that those that can not afford silence are there and alive despite the odds.

I have been to New York perhaps a dozen times in the last eight years. But never before have I spent so much time walking and listening to the negro streets as the poet Allen Ginsberg put it. I had no short of background music to which to read his poem Howl. The same sense of life and rage and pain and joy and hell and hurt and the raw sewage and purity of life that he wrote about forty years ago is still all right there. The streets may be better kept now, the subways a little safer (though for sure not cleaner), and a fresh layer of makeup painted over the old lady's face but she is still New York nee New Amsterdam and I am in love with her.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Brandon Unplugged

I am currently sitting in a fantastic condo on 152nd and Saint Nick, which is owned by my friend Signey Harriday. Signey is a fellow Minnesotan that up and moved to New York a few years back, leaving us behind in the snow and ice. Signey and I were trying to figure out how we first met, and we were unable to come up with anything specific. I got to know Signey, however, through participation first in the Bi Show—a production on intersectional identities, which was acted, written, and produced by MaMa mOsAiC Theater Collective, a group of FIERCE women of color performers that includes or has included Jeany Park, Shá Cage, Signey Harriday, and Juliana Pegues.

This trip to New York has been eventful and interesting. I arrived last Friday night and immediately, one of my friends, a dear person that I love and have known for a decade, went into crisis. It was terrifying in that she would not tell me what was really going on, when I offered help she rejected it, and she was far enough away that I could not get to her easily or quickly. The following day she appeared to have stabilized and to be out of danger, only to slip back into crisis the following evening. This time she reached out a bit more, but then, comically, I got off the 1 train, looked back, and watched my cell phone ride away without me. All my friend's contact information and the contact information for the people that could also support her rode away in my phone. That happened on Saturday night. Because of my own personal financial insolvency, I was not able to reconnect to the matrix until Tuesday afternoon. At which point, I checked in with her and she seems ok again. But I am dealing with the guilt of “what if...”

When the hell did our lives become so dependent on electronics? With the loss of my cell phone, I was unable to be of support to a close friend, I have lost my calendar—which includes a pending meeting with a state legislator, performance dates, and important meetings both here and in Minneapolis, and I was basically unable to communicate with anyone.

Last night I discovered that Signey does not have wifi, which left me in an internet black hole. I had planned on doing some work last night, but without the Internet I could not access the information I needed to do the work project, which meant I could not do the work, which means that I am now a day behind where I wanted to be. I had planned on spending a leisurely morning in the apartment, working on several projects and then leaving later this afternoon in order to use the office space that Jeremy and CCR have so generously allotted. But the Internet beckons and I must go. THE MATRIX OWNS ME and I CAN'T UNPLUG!

Where the hell is Morpheus when you need him. I'll take the red pill please.

I am convinced that it is all a capitalist conspiracy, because my first thought was—gee if I only had a Sprint PCS wireless Internet card, this would not be a problem. I could be plugged in all the time just like Johnny Mnemonic. Speaking of the Matrix and Johnny Mnemonic---what is up with Keanu Reeves' fascination with having phone jacks run directly into his medulla oblongata?
On the upside, as usual the food in NY is great, the men are ridiculously beautiful, I have had a great time seeing RJ and Jeremy, and the weather has been stupidly perfect. And once I get my own phone jack installed in the back of my head this morning, all my worries will fade away.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stump Speech: An Election Year Poem

Last night, I had the honor of performing for a reception at the United Association for Labor Education conference at the Bedlam Theater in Minneapolis. It was a blast. It was great to be surrounded by some of the best and brightest labor organizers and educators in the country. And, the crowd was raucous, as labor crowds tend to be.

Last fall, a man who is now a friend of mine, the fantastic poet Emanuel Xavier, came to Minneapolis and did a reading, and I had the privilege of opening for him. He performed his "America" poem stating that every poet has an America poem. I did not, and my pal Jesus suggested that I write one. So I did. The crowd loved it last night, and I am tickled to death by it.

Since this is an election year, and we are forced to endure stump speech after stump speech...I decided to write my own. Thanks to Emanuel and Jesus for your encouragement and your words.

Stump Speech
by W. Brandon Lacy Campos
Dedicated to Jesus Urbina and Emmanuel Xavier

I don't believe in America
I don't believe in the Constitution or the lies my teacher told me
about Washington, Jefferson, the Boston Tea Party, or the American Revolution
I don't believe in the Declaration of Independence
because it wasn't just all white, straight, rich, gender conforming, racist, misogynist, sexist men that were created equal

I don't believe in America maps that put Indians in green and brown boxes
legend calls them reservations
history will call them concentration camps
labels call them Indian Country
Rand McNally fucked up
this whole hemisphere is Indian Country

I don't believe in preemptive wars for oil or oil to feed our hunger
or hungry people when there is enough of everything for everyone
I don't believe America gives a shit
about aching bellies or dying babies or street walking crazies
driven to insanity by crude priorities that emphasize refineries over health care
bombers over rehab, night sticks over a place to sleep at night

I don't believe that corporations are people or that people should be slaves to corporate interests
or that the interest of corporations is in the best interest of anyone but themselves
I don't believe the business of America is business or exporting democracy or that America is a democracy or that democracy is voting or that there is a a Lesser of Two Evils: Evil is evil.

I don't believe in America because it had a name before Columbus, it had a name before Amerigo Vespucci, Cortes, de Soto, John Smith, and Lewis and Clark, it had a name before Roanoke Island, Jamestown, Santa Fe, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and New Orleans

I don't believe that New Orleans was a victim of a natural disaster, it was a human disaster, global warming, White House ignoring the writing on the levy and the Kyoto Protocol, black lives, black faces, racist policies that paid more attention to a Minneapolis bridge collapsing than the collapse of an entire city

I don't believe in CAFTA, NAFTA or maquiladoras, national borders, border fences or illegal immigration: the border crossed us, and we are coming home to Aztlán, rebuilding Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, Turtle Island, the Iriqouis Confederation, the Mississippi civilizations, Diné, Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Cherokee, Shoshone, Creek, Blackfoot, Mohawk, Sonomish, Yupik, Inuit, Choctaw, Seminole, and Anishinabeg, First Nations still fighting the Indian Wars

I don't believe in colonization or the annexation of Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam, I don't believe in forced sterilization, or tying tubes for toaster ovens or toaster ovens as a bribe to give up self-determination or the right to give birth to revolutionaries

I don't believe that we have put up with the KKK, Ronald Reagan, the CIA, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Wound Knee (the first or the second one), the Iraq invasion or the invasion of our phone conversations, emails, text messages, bedrooms, high schools or library selections

I don't believe America has a right to tell me who to fuck, how to fuck, when to fuck, what to fuck or where to fuck. I am fucking tired of hearing about which President or Senator or Governor got caught fucking in a stall, with a prostitute, or intern. I don't believe that loving someone has ever fucked with the moral foundation of the institution of marriage or the family. I don't believe America understands the fucking irony. Fucking get over it

I don't believe a social safety network, welfare, food, clothing, housing, quality education, health care, clean water, clean air, dignity, job security, affirmative action, reparations, the right to organize, the right to unionize, or the Bill of Rights is asking too much

For the record it's not enough.

Arundhati Roy said, “Not only is a new world possible, she is coming. And on a quiet day. I can hear her breathing.”

I don't believe that, I believe a new world is coming and that she is on her way, but she is screaming, she is calling to the poor, the downtrodden, the wretched masses of this teeming shore, and she is organizing them into an army. Prostitute Generals and Faggot Commandos. AIDS babies in the artillery and Dykes on Humvees. She is on her way, and she is pissed off, and she doesn't believe in America either.

And so I stand here in front you, with my disbelief, with my rage, with my anger, with my hunger, and I say it is time to stop believing that America is a dream. America is a nightmare, and it is time to wake her up.

No Justice, No Peace
No Justice, No Peace
No Justice, No Peace

Blow up the ballot box, it's time for revolution.

-Minneapolis, MN, USA
-20 March 2008

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Chemical Dependency Road Show: PTSD vrs. Addiction Round One

Mental illness is not a four letter word. But, those of us living with diagnosed mental illnesses are treated by everyone, except perhaps medical practitioners, as if we need to perk up, cheer up, get over it, get some fresh air, change jobs, or get a hobby. Even medical insurers treat mental illness as a second-rate physical ailment (for those that need it spelled out mental illnesses are permanent physical incapacitations of various brain functions that result in various outward behaviors that are described as mental illnesses).

Paul and Sheila Wellstone, may they rest in peace in their kibbutz in the sky, were champions of mental health. One of Senator Wellstone's as yet unfinished projects was a mental health bill of rights that would have, if passed, required that medical insurers treat mental illness in the same way they treat other illness and not as if mental illness were something that the American Medical Association made up to make sure that doctors specializing in psychiatry had something to do with their days.

Let's take this out of the abstract and into concrete examples. I have been diagnosed with severe PTSD, which mimics both depression and anxiety, and, in many cases, including my own, trigger another mental illness/brain dysfunction, which is chemical dependency. Even within mental illness there is a hierarchy to which the medical insurance establishment adheres. For example, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is most commonly caused by direct or approximate exposure to various extremely violent events: war, rape, extreme physical and mental abuse, etc. versus chemical dependency—also classified by the medical establishment as a medical condition directly related to a malformation of the brain and atypical brain functioning, which is generally also triggered by traumatic life events. How these two mental illness are treated, though, by medical insurers (not to mention the general public) are criminally different.

Medical insurers treat folks with PTSD with pity and concern. Those suffering from PTSD are generally completely covered when seeking medical treatment. For PTSD and the various forms of behavior that are engendered by a person living with PTSD who has not received treatment or has stopped taking their medication, the answer is hospitalization. In general, most medical plans that both non-profit and for-profit workers possess are actually decent once you qualify for hospital treatment (they may still leave you with crippling medical bills later on, but once you have been admitted for psychiatric treatment and maintain your medical insurance, the burden of care is on the hospital and they are liable if they release you before you have satisfactorily completed a course of treatment, received the proper medications, and have an exit plan in place). Because mental illness such as PTSD are treated in a medical hospital setting they are covered under the hospitalization benefit of medical insurance plans which tend to max out at between $1 million and $5 million a year. You can receive a lot of in-patient treatment for a million dollars a year. As a matter of fact, at an average of $15,000 a week for in-patient mental health treatment at a hospital, you can, quite literally, live for an entire year at a hospital receiving treatment and still have funds left over at the end of the year for that special minor medical procedure you've always wanted to have. Merry Christmas.

Addicts and alcoholics are treated as morally perverse and suspect. Although the AMA has, for decades, recognized chemical dependency as a mental illness the same as depression, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, etc., the fact that the outward manifestation of this disease is the visible use of various intoxicating substances, addiction is viewed as a failure of character rather than as a medical condition deserving respect and treatment. This plays out in the insurance industry and in the courts very differently than PTSD and other mental illnesses. Beat up a nice old lady on the street and have it be proven that you you were reacting to external circumstances mis-processed by a PTSD brain that has gone off its medications, and you will be found not guilt or guilty of a lesser charge, court ordered to psychiatric treatment (and if you do not have medical insurance the state will gladly pay). Let it be discovered tough, that you beat up that nice old lady because you were drunk and she reminded you of your own grandmother that used to be the hell out of you with an extension chord and until you bled, then you obviously are a dangerous and violent drunk, you will most likely receive the harshest penalty that the district attorney is able to levy, and you will spend the next five to ten years in the county jail with untreated mental illness and a whole new set of experiences and triggers being built up around those that you had going in. In the insurance industry, chemical dependency is treated like a Jew in the Reichstag. The mental illness of chemical dependency is treated outside of the normal medical establishment in special “treatment facilities.” Since these facilities are not hospitals, they do not trigger the in-patient hospitalization insurance benefit, allowing the insurance companies to write their own chemical dependency treatment benefit, which, since there will be no CNN Headline special about the poor alcoholics and addicts left to suffer the ravages of their illness, and, even if there is, the public won't give a shit, so, therefore, the medical insurance companies---being about making the dollar and not making people well—writes off addicts and alcoholics providing minimal benefits, so minimal that they are virtually guaranteed to not cover the costs of even part of a basic course of treatment.

For example, let us look specifically at Group Health Cooperative of Wisconsin. For inpatient, in plan hospitalization for mental illness such as PTSD, I am eligible for 30 days of inpatient coverage full stop. For inpatient Alcohol and Drug Abuse services, I am also eligible for 30 days of inpatient coverage. But wait, there are two little asterisks following that plan benefit. The asterisks read, “The maximum alcohol or drug abuse benefit is $6,300 combined (including outpatient, transitional, and in patient).” Considering that the Pride Institute, the leading chemical dependency treatment facility for the queer community charges roughly $12,000 for 28 days of inpatient treatment and Hazelden, the treatment center that has set the standard of care for chemical dependency treatment and success for more than half a century, charges nearly $30,000 for a 28 day inpatient program, the result is that even with private insurance individuals living with the mental illness diagnosis of chemical dependency, unless they have significant private means or are able to secure private loans or qualify for public chemical dependency dollars, are looking at partial treatment only to be released, half-treated, back into the community where 90% of those that COMPLETE treatment relapse.

Three years ago I went through inpatient treatment. I made a commitment that before I would ever allow myself to fall back to the place I was when I checked myself in first to Fairview Riverside hospital and then to the Pride Institute, I would seek preventative help. Yesterday, I called the Pride Institute with my insurance information to seek admission to their outpatient treatment program. Pride called back and said that because of my insurance maximum benefit of $1,800 a year for outpatient chemical dependency services, I would be covered for 11 of 23 sessions and after the 11th session I would either have to leave the program or pay $2000 out of pocket to cover the remaining 12 sessions. Basically, this is the same as if I were to break my leg in several places and the doctor saying that it will take 23 days to heal, but my insurance will only cover the cast for 11 days and after that I either have to pay for the remaining 12 days of healing out of my pocket or they will gladly take off the cast, and I can take my chances that I have healed enough in that time that I won't simply shatter the leg again by attempting to walk on it. Of course, should I shatter my leg and require surgery, I will be welcomed at the hospital where the medical establishment will receive a greater payout, and, after which, I will require rehabilitative therapy if I ever want to walk again...and...oh yes...23 sessions of therapy will be required...but only 11 will be covered by my insurance.