Rods and cones

Call it generational bias. Blame it on the way history is taught in school (with one exception, in my case). The world before 1960 seems black and white. I hear it in the stories older generations tell.

It’s not, of course. The world isn’t just filled with gray, it’s filled with all the colors of the spectrum.

I’ve been fooling around with a birthday gift the last few days: a film scanner I’ve been lusting over to scan my grandfather’s slides (as in photography). I never thought color film was available on the consumer market until much later, but hidden in the stuff scavenged from my grandmother’s things was a box of one hundred color slides… taken between 1942 and 1944.

Seeing baby pictures of my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandparents, and half a dozen aunts and uncles (with a few greats to go around) in color has been a thrill.

I know, I’m easily duped, but pictures are a powerful medium. Seeing so many old pictures in black, white, sepia, and the silvery highlights of the really old ones contributed to my bias… my feelings that modern society tended to be morally superior.

Considering where we are, isn’t that sad?

I’d never admit it to you, but I think it’s always been there, looking down my nose with contempt on “the good old days.”

These pictures reminded me we’ve been seeing more than black and white for a long time. The capacity for critical thought goes back beyond the 1960s.

Even our ancestors had rods and cones.

Mom & grandma - 3 Mom and Grandma Conner

My grandmother Conner holds my three week old mother in the Fall of 1942

*If you’re out there Christy, I don’t want to hear about photosensitive ganglion cells.

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Just passing through

People come and go in my life, like passengers on a subway. We share a small piece of our lives until opportunity, circumstance, or chance steers us to another train. I’m used to it, and I’m not. I know it happens, then it does, and I get over it.

I’ve been really lucky. It’s been a pleasure to share my ride with most of the people I’ve bumped into along the way.

Pat was one of those people. She was an old hand when I started my career in state government. She was gracious answering questions. She was understanding when I needed to vent. She was my friend.

She was my audience when I needed reassurance before delivering a best man’s toast. She was my accomplice when stress and/or a pizza jones struck. She was there with me that day in court when it was an effort to move, listening to second and third hand reports as the country pressed pause to deal with shock and horror.

She retired years ago and we haven’t spoken since. The closest we’ve come is Christmas cards crossing in the mail. Many people have come and gone since, and I don’t think about her much any more, besides the brief updates around the holidays. But I am today, having learned she passed away on Tuesday.

Its hard to say what I feel. She was one of the people who left an impression, even though we shared a ride for a brief time. But it’s not loss I feel. It’s not regret either. Life takes people in different directions. Friends come and go, even if it’s easier for me to count them all than some.

Although I feel sad for the family I never met (it just seemed like I had), I feel thankful. I had a friend when I needed one. I feel hopeful. Every day is an opportunity to enrich someone’s life, no matter how brief the opportunity.


Love thy couch

Pre-post warnings are not a good way to win over readers. I recognize this, yet I ignore it. If you’re here you’ve probably either learned to overlook my poor habits or you find them a little endearing.

Oh my! The headache meds are working just fine now!

All of my posts start with a single sentence. When you write you probably start with a single sentence too – unless you have a punctuation problem, but stay with me. My posts start with a single thought. When I sit down to type I’ve rarely thought things through or done research of any kind. Posts either flow from that single thought or they die from lack of inspiration. Lately my enthusiasm has been in arrears, so more often than not they die… as evidenced by my queue of “unpublished,” unfinished posts.

What I’m trying to say is I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up going with this one.

But you’ve been here a while, right? All of this is probably obvious by now.

I left work this morning, the result of pain in my head – more than one kind. Taken by themselves, I’d probably still be there, but together they were too much. I’m a wimp when it comes to physical pain but it’s nothing compared to my emotional fragility, even at the best of times. I may sound flip when I say it, but my nonchalance masks years of hiding and denial.

So here I am, my eyes closed (most of the time) to deal with the physical, and my fingers poised above the keys to deal with the emotional.

What was this thought that started all of this rambling nonsense? Well as the title suggests, it was my couch. My mind has been on my couch a lot lately. That’s what happens when you lie down.

My mind was on my couch, half awake from the meds and fatigue, when a question formed – the illusive thought. Am I like my couch?

Some people don’t like my couch. They think it’s too soft. They think it’s lumpy. They think it’s not supportive. Sound like anyone you know? I don’t mind the soft or lumpy part, and I think it’s more supportive than some people say, but here’s where the comparison really breaks down: I like my couch.

So… why? Or more importantly, what do I do to fix this… to fix me?

I’ve tried counselors (though not recently), and they’ve been almost useless. Just talking can be therapeutic, but I know some of the playbook. I was on the path to being a counselor one day myself. Wouldn’t that have been a sight: the introvert making a living on communication. (Growing up, my pastor was really subtle about his thoughts on my future – providing me with plenty of literature on Lutheran seminaries in the US.)

I’ve tried making time for myself. I’ve tried to find and do things I enjoy. I’ve tried taking better care of myself: eating better and getting regular exercise. I’ve tried to get plenty of sleep. I’ve tried to spend quality time with the people I love. I’ve tried to be a good father and husband. I’ve tried to talk to people when I’m down, to open up rather than shut down. I’ve asked for help. Oh have I ever asked for help. God can’t come to the phone right now but if you leave your name and number he/she will get back to you as soon as possible. I’ve tried to let myself off the hook. As Freud might say/ask, I’ve talked about my mother. I’ve tried to look at my life objectively, to see how fortunate I am in many, many ways (like Cheryl, who has done her own trying)… but also to see if there were things I could do to make it better. I’ve tried exploring biological causes of depression and anxiety – though I haven’t exhausted this avenue yet (to be honest in many ways I’m really just getting started, even though I’ve been at it for a few years).

So where does this leave me now? Well, have you ever had that talk with one of your kids after a fight with your spouse about love… how you may be angry right now, and look like you don’t like each other very much, but you still love each other? I still love life. I’m still trying.

In the mean time, thanks for hanging in there with me while I talk about my stupid couch.

Some of you sent me your own comments, messages and suggestions. No matter what I said above, all of them were appreciated. Most helped, suggesting I should revisit my thoughts on counseling. A few friends and a couple good books have been as good a medicine as anything else.


Letter I wrote

I was going to hold off on this post for another week, but I really need to write something happy today.

The following is a letter I wrote to a good friend a number of years ago (blame the 2001 me for the writing).

It was the beginning of my second year at UF and it was a terrible semester. I was unsure of my future plans and I was lonely. After my first year (in the dorms), a group of my friends and I decided to move to an off campus apartment. I thought it would be great at first, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. It didn’t foster quite as much camaraderie as the dorms, and I sensed the void.

My birthday came about one month into that first year off campus. I decided not to call attention to myself by announcing it. The morning gave way to afternoon, the afternoon gave way to evening, the evening gave way to night, and no one mentioned it. I didn’t get a call from my parents. I didn’t get a call from my sisters. (To be fair, I was not expecting a call from my family; we had just celebrated my birthday the previous weekend back home.) None of my roommates (my best friends) mentioned it. It seemed by not calling attention to myself I got no attention at all, and it hurt. I felt insignificant. I was sure it was me and I was taking it very hard.

Within my circle of high school friends there was one in particular who did not go to UF with most of the rest of us. This friend and I got together occasionally on weekends when I was home, but due to the obvious lack of opportunity we didn’t speak as much as we had in the past. On that night of my birthday, feeling terribly alone, I went to check the mail. Among that day’s mail I discovered a birthday card from this friend. My spirits were instantly lifted. Getting this card from my friend back home lifted me up as much (or more) than my friends at UF let me down. I was elated that I meant enough to someone to remember. I felt so good it’s hard to describe. Up to that point my self esteem was near its all time low. That card did not solve all my problems, but it did help pull me through that first part of the semester. That friend went on to become my best and most important friend. Many of us can point to events in life which serve as a turning point, a shift in the fulcrum to forces seeking to push our lives in different directions. We find ourselves barreling down life’s highway in a certain direction, and something puts on the brakes, sending us up life’s on-ramp to greater fulfillment. This card, this friend, this semester… all served this purpose in my own life.

This friend and I will be married seven years ago this May 14.

We began as acquaintances, one of us having a crush on the other. We grew to be friends, but one of us left town after high school. In time we both became available (who am I kidding, I was always available) and became more than just friends; in many ways deeply committed from the start. We became husband and wife, but it was only a formality; society’s recognition of what God already saw, and we already felt deep in our hearts.

Many times, when I’ve felt down or depressed, I remember a birthday card from a very special friend. I think about how much life has changed since that forgotten birthday eleven years ago, and I remember that I am very lucky. I am married to my best friend and love of my life.

Happy Anniversary Cheryl,
Love John


Why wouldn’t I wait another week to post this letter? It’s only a few more days until our anniversary. But it’s been a lousy week and I’m in the mood to indulge myself early. Why would I share this letter at all? It is kind of private. But since when have I shied away from sharing the mess in my head?

Next week we’ll be married 15 years. But that’s not all! A few days later will mark the 30th anniversary of my dad starting at Honeywell. Why is this significant? It’s when he moved his family to Florida – including yours truly.

I’ve lived in Florida for 30 years, and half of it will be with Cheryl.

They’re just numbers, but they’re kinda cool numbers. They’re more than enough reason to be happy.


It’s all my fault

You don’t want to read this post. Why am I writing it then?


I have a theory for why I’ve been feeling down lately, and the title to this post is a strong clue. Since it’s apparent no one else is ever at fault for things that go wrong, the logical conclusion is it must be my fault. When everything is your fault and you accept responsibility – even if it’s just a small part of your subconscience doing the accepting – it’s really easy to hate yourself.

Take one guess where this is leading. Did you guess something related to healthcare or insurance?

A month or so ago, Cheryl went to have a procedure done. It required preauthorization from our insurance company (health insurance, if haven’t been keeping score at home). Before they did the procedure, Cheryl asked them if the preauthorization came through, and was told “don’t worry, it’s done.” Cheryl had the procedure done, along with two others under similar circumstances. Then we got a bill. Make that bills.

“So, why did we get a bill? I thought you all were submitting a claim to our health insurance.”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Alright, then submit it now.”

“We can try, but insurance will reject it. They require PREauthorization for this procedure. They won’t authorize payment after the fact. The bottom line is your insurance company won’t pay, and you’re responsible for services insurance doesn’t cover.”

“So you lied to us when you said you had taken care of the preauthorization.”

“No. I said no such thing. In fact, I didn’t even know you had health insurance.”

Brain cells screaming in agony from the abuse of high blood pressure suddenly running through nearby arteries….

“WHAT THE HELL are you talking about? I’ve lopped years off my life bugging you people about which insurance you were supposed to make the claim with, and now youre going to sit their and lie to me, or worse – imply I’m a liar? Check my file and tell me you don’t have a copy of my health insurance card.”

Unappologetically…. “Ah yes, I see we do have it. But you know, it’s your responsibility to see that procedures are preauthorized when it’s required.”

“But you’re supposed to submit the initial request…! (Fists clenched) So you’re telling me it doesn’t matter what you say, we should assume you didn’t do what you told us you’ve done… that we can’t trust anything you say? We should go on the assumption that you’re incompetent, to cover our ass?”

I’m not sure Cheryl really said that last bit, but that was the gist of the conversation. I kind of wish I was on the phone. I think it would have been good for my mental health to say it myself.

But here’s the thing: I know it’s our responsibility to verify those kinds of things with insurance. So all that anger I felt before has done a 180. I’m angry with them for not doing their job, but I’m also angry with myself for being such a rube.

Then there was yesterday. I got a letter from the good people at my health insurance company, saying they were not going to pay for my last visit with my oncologist. Why? He’s not “in the network.”

To truly appretiate this letter you have to understand two things. One: I’ve been seeing this doctor for two years – two years he’s been “in the network.” Two: my last visit was before all of the trouble Cheryl had.

On my last visit I had to meet with a “financial counselor” before seeing the doctor. This was when I found out my oncologist’s practice merged with another company. As the “financial counselor” put it: “the company doesn’t have a contract with your insurance provider to accept new patients, but they’re working with us to ‘grandfather in’ existing patients.”

That was news to the office manager who took my call yesterday, after I opened my letter. She didn’t know who I spoke to (I wish I did) but they had no such agreement with my insurance.

I started to say I’d been a patient for two years without any problems, and it would have been nice to know this before my last visit so I could have planned accordingly, but the nice lady interupted me after I got out the words “two years.”

“You do know you have an HMO, right?”

It’s possible I might have thrown the phone at her if we were sitting in the same room. My what a fucking presumptuous mouth you have. I know how the game works. I know I’m at the mercy of changing provider lists. I accept this trade off.

Mind you, I had this conversation with the doctor’s office after spending ten minutes trying to convince a customer service rep my oncologist had EVER been “in network.”

What I’m having trouble accepting is this evolving trend: I can’t trust a damn thing anyone says. Frankly, I feel betrayed. I trusted my doctor. I trusted his staff. A woman told me to my face that things were taken care of – when they clearly weren’t.

These things happen to everyone. It’s not that big of a deal. But with everything else, it feels like one. Trips to the mailbox feel like they merit hazzard pay. Integers with three digits qualify for an “only.” No one you speak to knows what they’re talking about. Insurance companies find every excuse to question claims. Playing go between for attorneys, insurance companies, doctors, therapists and hospitals becomes a full time job. Being sick or injured is beginning to feel like a secondary problem. I tell myself things could be a lot worse, but I’m a bad listener.

At the end of the day it boils down to me. I should have known better. If you think I’m angry with any of them, I’m twice as angry with myself.

note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. By the time I finished, the tone didn’t fit my mood. As therapy, it worked. Now I’m hoping posting it will have the same effect.


Schools are training grounds for many things, both intended and not. Count immune systems under the not category. I suppose it’s a good thing the kids will have a robust immune system, but getting hit by the friendly fire gets old sometimes.

The kids had the sniffles last week and Cheryl had them this weekend, so the surgery on her neck has been postponed.

More updates to come.

Kid comforts dad

I had another conversation with Beth about bullies in school this evening. Once again I tried to explain why some kids are mean. Once again dad didn’t have all the answers.

“You know, I was a bit like you when I was in school. Kids thought I was a little different and they picked on me a lot too. You may get a little of that from me. I’m really sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry dad. I don’t want to be like them. I’m glad I’m more like you. I like you just the way you are.”

How do you not hug a kid after an exchange like that?

Back at you kid.

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No memory

You ever look at a stack of work on your desk, representing an hour or so of your life, and not remember doing any of it?

If you my head lying around somewhere could you let me know?

A better kind of blue

I’m happy to report the blue post is still on the back-burner. The weekend was just too good. Well, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t even very good. But you know what? Every day doesn’t have to be great. They can’t, not for me anyway. I grade days on a curve. Folks cringe when I say I’m ok, but that’s the meat of my curve. What’s wrong with ok? I’ll bet there are lot of folks who would give their left pinkie (assuming they’re right handed) for an ok day. So my weekend wasn’t great? Good is more than ok in my book.

It was one of those weekends where the blue skies complimented my mood, rather than mocking me. Beth got a ton of homework done (Imperial, not metric) without complaint. Adam muddled through extended periods without his best friend (Beth), with some help from Cheryl – who incidentally is getting pretty good at Lego Batman on the Wii. (Although she can’t play very long due to her injuries.) I got in a good hike to one of the nearby parks with the kids, and the weather was fantastic.

We were walking home yesterday afternoon and a deep blue, late afternoon eastern sky was staring back at me. The beginnings of a slight chill put a bounce in my step, born equally from ugency and thrill.

There wasn’t anything exceptional about it. It was just good, and that was more than enough.