Saturday, July 14, 2018

Stop and Think

Yesterday I was in a meeting with a bunch of smart and capable colleagues, but we seemed to be unable to figure out how to talk to each other, outside of stating our solitary purposes, listing complaints, and finally there was the weather.  It wasn't a work meeting with an agenda.  It was an informal get-together at lunch for all of us who work in the same region, and although we work within the same bureaucracy we have different jobs, different approaches.  Different philosophies.  I've given "different philosophies" its own sentence status here because I think that's what made the whole shindig feel awkwardly unnecessary (at least to me):  the differing ways of comprehending what we are trying to do totally got in the way.  

I felt out of my element with these folks, but also somehow above-it-all, quintessentially shut out, but connected to some other stratosphere, some other form of culture.  Although everyone at this lunch was interested in supporting people with disabilities to the best of their abilities, we seemed to have conflicting ways of looking at, and probably doing, the work.  But we couldn't voice those conflicts because we were so busy talking about our own little realities and problems and crises.  

"Philosophy" might be too big of a word here, but what other word is there?  

Here's Merriam-Webster's elucidation:  Philosophy is "the pursuit of wisdoma search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational meansan analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs." 

It's values I'm talking about, beliefs, set aside from observation.  That gets scary when you're sitting and eating a grilled chicken sandwich with people who also are dedicating their work lives to helping people with disabilities, but "help" and "support," if they aren't defined outside of systems definitions, if they aren't given a philosophical scouring and inspection, become concepts that slip into discussions of "what works and what doesn't work," as in:  there are some people who can be a part of their worlds, get jobs, have friends, have real lives, but there are other groups of people who can't because they have significant, complex disabilities.  Once that dichotomy gets placed on the table, and there isn't any way to address the values/beliefs/philosophies behind it, the discussion takes on its own sad and tired momentum.  Anecdotes become the main form of discourse.  "Worst case scenarios" take over the way we talk and respond and communicate.

We always end up at a standstill:  if we had more funding, it we had more staff, if we had a better community, if we had better psychiatrists, better family support, better etc.

All of that stuff about needing better support is of course very valid in the lives of people with disabilities, especially people who are labeled with a variety of disabilities, but also wishing for better becomes a way to jettison the discussion on how to make things better.  It becomes a cop-out camouflaged in professional exasperation and eventual despair.  "I guess we'll just need to keep trying" becomes the way to codify failure.  

Of course we need better supports, but we also need to know pretty specifically and meaningfully just what those better supports would be supporting better, if that makes sense.  Because without that kind of an eye on the prize, the reason for doing anything becomes rote activity, becomes an exercise in blowing off steam.

I guess maybe that is what these lunch kinds of meetings are about, but I really feel a link was missing, words were missing.  We didn't know how to discuss anything because we did not have an agreement on what we might want things to mean.  For me, every professional discussion I'm going to have is about how to figure out better access for people to the actual world they're living in, not the program they have to go to.  I'm going to try to guide discussion toward jobs, relationships, freedom and justice and all that, for everyone, no matter what degree of disability has been attached to their person.  With that in mind, then, the lack of resources, the lack of whatever, becomes something we have to work on, but also something we have to negotiate realistically to still get whatever we can done in the meantime, and as we do that we often discover the unsurmountable is surmountable.  "Health and safety," in this context for me, is a baseline, not even the beginning of a journey, but the launching pad for connection, for what's next and next and next.  

If we have a discussion about philosophy first, getting it all out there, then the complaints about what is lacking might become more real.  The reason for trying to solve problems might get attached to something other than the problem being discussed.  We move forward in whatever way we can, whether of not the world and the system and everybody else is ready.  

That's what I'm looking for.  That kind of discussion, that kind of momentum.  I want us to have a "Come to Jesus" moment prior to every professional gig I guess.  

Why are we here?  What's the purpose for all of this talk?  Why are we even trying?  

I hate getting cute, but why not?  I'm going to go the New Yorker cartoon route:

How do you stop and think before you go into the same old routine, the same bitching and moaning?  How do you just stop and think about what all of this is supposed to mean before you move into what's wrong?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Ain't Freedom Grand?

It's been a weird few days.  Good and bad and dreamy and awful and great.  I'm in Orlando, Florida, at a fantastic conference (APSE 2018 National Conference) focusing on how to support people with disabilities to have lives like anybody else on earth;  jobs, friends, places to live, ways to contribute, ways to survive.  It's been lovely to be surrounded by that kind of energy, and to be in rooms with people who are talking passionately about positive but pragmatic solutions, ideas, and concerns.  It's like I can breath.  I took so many notes I don't have any paper left.  

One of the biggest concerns:  the government.  Of course.  What I'll call Trump-nesia, which is the current administration's obsessive need to wipe away everything that was ever accomplished legislatively and otherwise between the years 2009 to 2016.  

Trumps's greed to deregulate, in the context of what I'm writing about right now, is about cancelling out major moves forward in the civil rights battle for people with disabilities.  Executive Order 13771, signed off on in January 2017, (here it is in all its glory:  13771) orders cabinet officials to cut away basically whatever regulations they want to, but in the way this has been implemented of course it's all about drawing a big red line through "OBAMA."  So everyone knows who's boss now.

And that intense hatred has allowed a lot of the federal civil-rights-based laws and guidance for people with disabilities to be jeopardized, especially around the subject of community integrated employment.  Real jobs for people with disabilities, real support.  Guidance concerning the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) through the Department of Labor, written in 2016, was summarily disappeared almost as soon as 13771 was signed with that Sharpee-sharpness flourish by our new King.  WIOA was a major breakthrough and upgrade in the field, helping to better define what's needed to eliminate workforce discrimination for workers with disabilities.  Now it's gone with the wind, and there's other erasures coming.  Olmstead next?  Or maybe ADA?  And don't forget about Medicaid...

There's hope though that sprang from this conference, from people being informed and outraged and activated and getting it.  The final keynote speech came from Alison Barkoff, a civil rights lawyer who served as Special Counsel for Olmstead Enforcement in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice back in the day (2010 - 2014).  She was scared and angry but hopeful, which is about the only way you can be now.  She ended her speech focusing on what happened a year ago.  When we all got together and laid claim to Medicaid and what it means for people with disabilities.  It ain't just healthcare.  Medicaid funds supports that allow life to go on and happen for people with disabilities.  (I wrote about all that here:  June 23, 2017.)   Knowing that we can do this, that we have to do this, is really empowering but also terrifying because we are gonna have to do it over and over and over and over and over in this era.  

So there's all that.

And I'm here near Disneyworld where the conference is happening.  Which makes the whole thing feel slightly unearthly, like a Kafka novel turned into a big-budget pixelated cartoon.  All this passion and energy around fighting against the forces of darkness taking place in the Magic Kingdom.  Plus the Disney resort I'm staying at is under construction.  Which has an overall Trumpian feel as well:  a resplendent resort where all the staff are called "Cast Members" being added onto, extrapolated, super-sized, beam after beam.  (Picture above.)

And then there's Robert Boremski.  He was someone with autism I knew back in the day, when all of my feelings and hopes around supporting and advocating for people with disabilities really started getting into focus.  He wandered off from where he lived 10 or so days ago.  There were search parties, media coverage, all of it.  His body was found yesterday.  Here's what I wrote on Facebook about him:

I met Robert at a self advocacy gettogether we did back in 2005 in a big kind of wornout hotel and conference center in Tricounty. We set up a room there to make art in and he just came in and went at it without one word. Very gentlemanly and quiet and prolific, making those beautiful simple haiku-like drawings and paintings all day. They all looked like a language he wanted to speak, like a place he wanted to get to. Innocent and ordered and calm. God bless him. RIP. 

That "wornout hotel and conference center" came back into my head, here at this conference center that's currently being renovated.  I remember that 2005 incident with Robert so fondly; it seemed like a breakthrough watching him paint those paintings with such silent excitement, such happiness.  I don't know.  I guess I miss those days, when art felt like it might save the world, when really art just ends saving your soul.  That's a good thing, don't get me wrong, but never enough. 

I definitely felt Robert's passing pretty deeply, even though I haven't seen him in a while.     

Here's one of his paintings Bill and I have :

Gorgeous clarity.  Simplicity.  Kind of like an ee cummings poem.  Sweet and concise but also kind of strange like that, otherworldly.   

I'll say it again:  God bless him.  RIP.

And then there's the Supreme Court.  And the Trump/Putin summit.  And kids in cages.  And fill in the blank.

It's a nasty world out there, and you can really feel it collapsing right now even while a bunch of people are trying to rebuild it or at least salvage whatever vision and version of it they can.  You have to keep on hoping even while you understand the limits of hoping, the limits of hopelessness.  You have to keep trying even though you're sick of trying.    
Here's something ee cummings wrote that sums it all up at least for me:
why must itself up every of a park
why must itself up every of a park
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer “no”?
quote citizens unquote might otherwise
forget(to err is human;to forgive
divine)that if the quote state unquote says
“kill” killing is an act of christian love.
“Nothing” in 1944 AD
“can stand against the argument of mil
itary necessity”(generalissimo e)
and echo answers “there is no appeal
from reason”(freud)--you pays your money and
you doesn’t take your choice.  Ain’t freedom grand
 Ain't it though?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

You Make Me Feel

We're living in an era now of sanctimonious meanness, where facts and figures get shaped into propaganda and then tweeted out like confetti thrown up into the air to celebrate the end of everything you counted on as being good and right and true.  Every idea and person you thought of as foul and innately wrong is now out of the shadows and staring you right smack-dab in the face.   All smiles, like Pennywise the Clown, except in dress-clothes, standing in the Oval Office while the Pennywise-in-Chief signs yet another executive order that yields yet another rabbit-hole that yields yet another moral and fiscal and ethical black-hole.  It's a process.

Where do you go when the rabbit-hole calls?

I'm finding myself going to the TV.  To a show called Pose, which is on FX Sundays 9 PM.  It is an incredible thing to behold:  a reenactment and gorgeous aggrandizement of a time, in the late 1980s, when disadvantaged, working-class people took control of whatever they could take control of, and found a way out of the black-hole of their era by creating a rainbow path to beauty, irony and cold-hard revenge through fashion and art and kindness to each other.  Pose is about drag balls created and performed in crumbling theaters in NYC, where groups, or houses, of like-minded folks transform daily life into deluxe versions and revisions of what could and should be.  Mostly comprised of African American and Hispanic gay and trans people, these houses become families, and these families become legends through competitions based on categories like Dynasty and executive realness, and at the end of each night beautiful and victorious drag-queens leave with wagons full of trophies.

It's all about hope.  "Hope," of course is a complicated and sometimes even meaningless 4-letter word now, and it's losing, well, its hopefulness, even as I write.  Pose concentrates on a parallel late-80s era of about-to-be-hopelessness, not only when drag culture was finding a way to nourish and grow itself into Rupaul-ian heights, but also when you-know-who was building those towers and opening those now defunct casinos.  Like Athena sprouting from the head of Zeus, our Pennywise-in-Chief has sprouted from the spleen of Ronald Reagan, a gasbag god using Reagan-era bromides to finally cut to the chase, conservatism-wise:  hate, pure and simple, without any of that twinkly-eyed "City on the Hill" bullshit.  And Pose examines that stuff too, so that we can see a world in which the elite control the conversation and yet the powerless become the norm.  That's where the hope comes in for me: witnessing all that glorious drag-queen effort in creating a world where everyone can feel free to roam and strut and pout and preen and know there is another place to get to, to flourish, beyond that goddamn black-hole.

All with a Ryan-Murphy eye on style and stylishness, reverberating with the disco evangelism of Diana Ross and Sylvester and the like.  The look of the show is reality once or twice removed, with silky, sulky lighting and the icy loneliness of the streets dissolving into the purple heat and light of the balls.  Pose is the thirtysomething for this era, a zeitgeisty, high-end, hour-long drama that transcends its pop status by embracing its characters and finding authenticity beyond its initial demography.

Jennie Livington's Paris Is Burning is the ur-text of course.  She's even a consultant on Pose.  But Murphy uses Paris Is Burning's cinema-verite as a jumping-off point into a dream-world and a reality that intermingle without losing the power of either one.  The very first scene in the pilot lets us watch as the House of Abundance clan mops up historical costumes from the Metropolitan at closing time, and then after the caper wearing these items to a ball.  It is the very essence of taking back the power, done with enough of a lighthearted sarcasm and love to make it all seem breezy and triumphant.  That's Pose.

I love every character on this show and every moment and setting they inhabit.  While there's quite a bit of melodrama, there's never camp, except in the climate-controlled environments created by the queens and their houses.  It's a prime-time soap as church, as manifesto, as a form of transcendence and survival.  Every character in Pose is necessary, vital and real.  Especially now.  I've never considered a TV show as such a necessity before.  Watching it is becoming my way out of both rabbit- and black-holes.  It is a retreat in the right direction.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Be Good

Sometimes you just have to marvel at things.  "Things" is a stupid word, but it works here because it is so wide-open and meaningless/meaningful and dull that it encapsulates the whole stinking universe while also shrinking the whole shebang into just 6 reliable letters.

I guess you could call ET a thing.  He was a puppet turned into an intense reality on the big screen in 1982, when I was 17, and living in a small Midwestern town, feeling lost and disjointed, floating from school to a part-time job to home to wherever else I needed to go.  No direction outside of what I kept seeing in my head, dreams about not knowing, dreams about leaving, dreams about the terrors of leaving, dreams about being a star.  I knew I was what I was:  lower-class/working-class and gay and weird and excited to be alive but also scared of letting people know any or all of that.  I also did not feel like I could connect to an identity that accommodated those crossed signals.  In short I felt like ET, a puppet and a real thing, lost in a world he was only supposed to be visiting.

That movie.  That thing.

Flash-forward to 35 years later.  I'm 52, living in a bigger Midwestern town with Bill, working a job I like, trying to write stories and a novel, running a little non-profit gallery, and so on.  ET comes out in a 35th Anniversary edition on the big-screen thanks to TMC.  We go.  I watch, and it all, as they say, comes flooding back:  that feeling of being lost/sad/excited. I realize that Spielberg created a existential security-blanket, not a movie, a sense-memory, not a blockbuster.  It is a puppet-show from a dream you have when you're small and sweet and innocent, and when I was 17 it made me lose it.  I was bawling my eyes out at the textures Spielberg found, that foggy dark night gleaming inside itself with window-light and moon-light and a kind of suburban night-light sorrow you can't really describe, a yearning cut through with love and hurt and above all a sort of kindness.  Pure kindness really, as if some beneficent imagination was fitted with a golden spigot and out flows those colors, those sentiments, those images, those moments.

ET has a plot, of course, about a spaceman coming to earth and getting lost and then finding solace and safety by following a trail of Reece's Pieces through the forest; it's also a coming-of-age gig too, with Elliott figuring out how to let go while also maintaining hope and wonder.  It's about a divorced mom trying to maintain sanity in the shadow of her husband who has just abandoned her and her three kids.  It's about a team of kids riding bikes around the neighborhood in order to save the universe.  It's about a little girl named Gertie who is told, at the end of the movie, to just "Be good" by the creepy/sweet stuffed-toy that fell from the sky and into her bedroom closet.

It's everything.

Watching it at 52 I reconnected to not necessarily my youth because I don't think I want to reconnect, but to a spirit of escape and return to that pure bliss most movies can't manufacture or even hint at. ET is a cornucopia of compassion, weirdness, hope.

And then the credits roll, and I remember me and my mom and my little sister getting up from our velvet-lined seats in the old State Movie Theatre in downtown Anderson, Indiana (a plush, old-school cinema that had seen better days, with fake-Greek sculptures lining the walls and a black-painted stucco ceiling speckled with electric-light stars, and that musty cool smell of better days staying on your clothes even after you leave), the three of us walking out into late-day summer sunlight, my face red and my eyes still pouring, and next door is a little Chinese restaurant we always went to, just like 5 or 6 booths, red-and-black decor, a Chinese family owned it, and the mother took the orders, the kids bussed the tables, the dad made the food, and me and my mom and my little sister sit down and I'm still crying, can't stop because of what I just saw, that stupid movie giving me a sort of traumatic sense of joy, and finally I stop and I laugh and I think by that time mom and sister are laughing at me too, and I order egg-drop soup, I always did there, and here it comes, somehow the same color as some of the light in ET, lush yellow, with flickers of white, you make this soup by boiling chicken broth and then dropping an egg in and stirring it real fast and it kind of explodes and cooks and turns into this creaminess, and I remember sipping that and recovering from crying so hard, and right then it was one of the best feelings in the world.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Holy Fool

"The Holy Fool or yurodivy (юродивый) is the Russian version of foolishness for Christ, a peculiar form of Eastern Orthodox asceticism. The yurodivy is a Holy Fool, one who acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of men."(More about Foolishness for Christ.)

Thunder-Sky, Inc. is sponsoring an art-show in tribute to Chris Farley on the 20th anniversary of his passing, opening October 14, 2017, reception 6 to 10 pm.  

So why him right?  

We've done tribute gigs to Prince and David Bowie and Joseph Cornell and Flannery O'Connor, and even William Blake, but Chris Farley? What is the point here?  He was a lost cause from the get-go, wasn't he? Just a big old mess all the way around, contributing his sloppy stylistics to an era of SNL many people would like to forget -- that early-to-mid-nineties wasteland of frat-boy-antics over-spill caused mainly by Adam Sandler and David Spade and Rob Schneider and Norm McDonald and Chris himself.  Some of those skits were so dead on arrival it made people stop watching the show for years.  Remember this? 

New York Magazine 1995 SNL "Comedy Is Not Funny" piece.

This article is a hatchet job, but still it got at the main idea:  in 1995 SNL was a laughing-stock, and nobody was laughing.  

Yet Chris Farley seemed somehow innocently and intoxicatingly outside of the fray and frazzle of it all.  He was the idiot savant, emphasis on the idiot,  an outsider figure in that overheated Adam-Sandler/David-Spade realm of smarmy meanness and formulaic antics.  He was making his own version of art by begging SNL writers to write skits for him in which he could humiliate himself to the point people could just not look away.  You felt sorry for him, you fell in love with him, you hated him and scorned him, it just did not matter.  He was in charge of his own foolishness, his own destiny somehow.  All through those sketches -- Chris doing that shirtless Chippendale's shuffle, Chris in drag eating fries and telling the other two Gap bitches to lay off, Chris sweetly asking truly numbskull questions of Jeff Daniels and Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese on his own sad little talk-show, Chris on Update sweaty and super-serious letting us know he doesn't use deodorant with finger-quotes, and so on -- Chris was the center of attention, and he seemed to absorb the stares and laughs and humiliation and scorn like a morbidly obese, slapstick vampire, gaining super-strength from what did not kill him. Gaining monster-status and immorality too.

Of course his life was tragic, and stories of his self-abuse are notorious, the over-eating, the drugging, the alcohol bingeing, the whores, the self-hatred blossoming into a kaleidoscope of shame and hurt and eventual unintentional/intentional suicide.  But beneath all that John-Belushi-wannabe decadence and all the psychic wounds was Stupid Angel Chris.  That face.  That lovely sweaty huge face, eyes crossed.  So lovable you could only grab glimpses of it like the sun.

Consider Matt Foley, the door-to-door salesman who lived in a van down by the river, probably Chris's most famous iteration, created by Bob Odenkirk for him.  Suit does not fit.  Those black-rimmed glasses, the slicked back hair, that office-horse voice, that desperation to be a part of a family, any family, the simultaneous desperation to make the other cast members laugh.  In that initial skit, it was almost beyond belief some of that Matt-Foley prancing, the way Chris gave the scum of the earth so much energy and so much (for lack of a better word) dignity.  Holiness, if you will.  Yurodivy to the max. A foolishness for Christ (Chris, if you didn't know, was a great big Catholic and often returned to his faith for refuge from himself and his demons), a foolishness as well for mankind. Sounds lofty and dumb, but you know what?  "Lofty" and "dumb" easily merge in Farley-Land.  

Matt Foley, Holy Fool. 

I quoted the Wikipedia definition of that literary and religious trope above because it seemed somehow to get at Chris completely.  Above all else, Chris's art and performances were orgiastically "intentional."  He intended to find that moment of pure, ripe humiliation, an epiphany of shame, perspiration, despair, hopelessness, grotesqueness, all of that comprising a sort of horn-dog reverse-asceticism, a discipline of humor and also tragedy, the exact locus where they intersect and enhance/diminish each other.  He looked us right in the face within the form of all that is "not right": foolishness, fattiness, creepiness, et al.  And from that spiritual/aesthetic location he was able to create monumental amounts of bliss and absurdity and yup connection.  If you were worth anything, you laughed with him, not at him, but if you did laugh at him, well hell, the joke was completely on you.

That's why Chris Farley.  

So please if you'd like to contribute art to his and our cause, please do.  Send me an email if you're interested:  Work is due by October 7, 2017 at Thunder-Sky, Inc. (4573 Hamilton Avenue, Cincinnati, OH).  We'll be open 1 to 4 pm that day to accept.

Thunder-Sky, Inc. shares that same Farley ethos, I guess, if you get right down to it, that sense of Holy Foolishness.  Most of our shows bask in that glow:  we aren't after starchy echoes of culture or trends, not after what art is supposed to "mean."  We're after some kind of renegade and hilarious strangeness.  That strangeness is Raymond Thunder-Sky's legacy in fact.  

Consider Ray and Chris in that same epiphany of absurdity and oddness, humiliation realigned into triumph. 



Monday, August 7, 2017

The Master

I've known Antonio Adams for a long time, since 2000, when he was just out of high school. Back then he was a shy, skinny excavator of his own imagination, building robots, cats, humans, and other things out of whatever was around (wood, cereal boxes, construction-paper, sticks, glue). He had a huge kingdom of them in his bedroom back then, and Bill and I were able to help him show some of them in galleries around town. He also could draw and paint, and do so with great and effortless panache and sophistication. He maintained and still maintains a strict but breezy and voluminous output of art. He works constantly, but he never sweats it, always creating toward a kind of peaceful equanimity and aesthetic. A gut-level but brainy sense of absurdity and humor balances everything he does in his works, in his life and in his mind.

In short he's a working-class genius.

I don't toss around the word "genius" too much, so hang with me. Usually that kind of hyperbole creeps me out. But I really mean it with Antonio. He is a "genius," not in any "savant" or sentimentalized kind of way, but in a grass-roots, fantastically everyday manner. He's found a way to live that suits him and allows him to rise above a lot of crap that gets thrown at him, including a devastating house-fire in 2008 and the violent death of his brother in 2014. During those crises (and many others) he simply takes it all in, feels all the emotions he needs to feel very deeply, and then systematically turns his reactions into art. That's his practice and his salvation.

So now, in 2017, when not bussing tables at Frisch's, he's usually out and about on the city bus, showing up at art openings around town, hanging out at Thunder-Sky, Inc. (his headquarters) and making whatever he deems necessary in the basement there. He has figured it out in a way that's not heroic or showy -- just work-a-day, his brilliance often camouflaged in routine and straightforwardness. He does what he does without fuss. What he produces makes me smile and often feel awestruck because it all seems to come from a delicate and yet extremely powerful place. And it comes naturally from a reservoir of love, compassion, and intelligence.

Last night we installed a show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. that is dedicated to that place.  "The Master of Loyalty Is in the Gallery Tonight:  Art about Antonio Adams" is a show being curated by Lindsey Whittle, and exhibits works about Antonio by artists who know and love him like I do. It was a pleasure to see these folks' responses to Antonio's ability to pull people together, to feel that kind of love for him. In the photo above, he's standing in the middle of the gallery, surrounded by all that love, and it totally reminds me of those first few moments when I came to know him back in 2000: Antonio in his bedroom, surrounded by that army of cat sculptures, as though he was simultaneously in the real world and inside his own head. Now he is in an art gallery being celebrated.

It's been a beautiful journey with him, from those first art shows in the early 2000s to starting and helping to sustain Visionaries + Voices throughout the rest of that decade, to opening Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009, to now.

Without him, there would have been none of this I don't think.

Please join us on August 12, 2017, 6 to 10 pm, at Thunder-Sky, for the opening reception of the show.


Friday, June 23, 2017

A Fable

Remember "The Grasshopper and the Ants"?  It's an Aesop Fable that haunted my childhood at least. Its simple and demonstrative narrative crystallizes a point of view that many people still find enchanting; the theme reinforces a self-aggrandizing mindset that allows you to shut the door on people. It's the timeless go-to water-cooler moment confirming trickle-down chic.

Here it is directly from Mr. Aesop himself (copied from the Library of Congress website):

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.  "What!" cried the Ants in surprise, "haven't you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?"  "I didn't have time to store up any food," whined the Grasshopper; "I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone."  The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.  "Making music, were you?" they cried. "Very well; now dance!" And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.  There's a time for work and a time for play.

That damn grasshopper and his music.  What  an idiot.  Look at him:  dancing.  Lord have mercy. Now those ants -- they know what they are doing.  

There you have it, every social ill configured for the masses in much the same way the debate is happening around the American Healthcare Act now being secretly drafted and insouciantly marketed by the Congress and the Senate and the President.  The powers-that-be have cast the whole narrative as a referendum on who deserves help, and who doesn't, and in the structure of the legislation their answer on who actually deserves what is pretty clear:  cutting taxes for the wealthy (the ants), getting rid of Medicaid by limiting its use and efficacy, therefore shutting the door on the grasshoppers of the world.  It's not let them eat cake anymore; it's let them dance.  Go on with your bad selves.

It's disheartening to say the least, but also somehow incredibly predictable, and as small-minded and solipsistic as just about any governmental move and mood has been in the history of this country. And the media respond in kind:  they cast artificial light on the "two sides" of the issue, and there it is again, that fable.  The grasshopper dancing (or marching or resisting or protesting) and the ants going about their business, closing down hallways with the help of police:

In the above picture is Stephanie Woodward of Rochester, New York; Stephanie, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, was outside Ant-in-Chief Mitch McConnell's office yesterday when police were called to haul her and other protesters away.  Fables aren't really that instructive a lot of the time; they just recycle old and worn-out truisms that are only true in a vacuum. They are often also a way to pat yourself on the back, concretizing the good and the bad into sweet figurines that fit into a little curio cabinet in a fuggy parlor in people's minds.  Here's the thing: Stephanie and many other folks involved in the actual repercussions of the policy McConnell and his army of ants are creating and trying to implement actually are not "grasshoppers" and can't be assigned an actual role in the American Healthcare Act's ongoing fable.  People who have disabilities need Medicaid not just for medical insurance, but to live their lives; it pays for all kinds of support that allow people with disabilities to contribute to their communities, to participate as citizens, to be in the world.  I know this because I help as best I can many people with disabilities of all sorts access those services, and I've seen the greatness that comes from that support.  And it can't be accessed in any other way, at least right now.  Charitable organizations and churches don't have the capacity; neighbors, friends and family try as best they can, but they get overwhelmed, and some people don't have that many neighbors, friends and family willing to help.  

It's complicated.  It ain't no fable.

I've seen people with disabilities use the community-based services provided by Medicaid go to college, get full-time jobs, get married.  I've witnessed people who were once isolated and ostracized given opportunities to blossom.  I really don't like to call anything a "miracle," especially 52-year-old government programs, but the funding that program provided and provides really did/does contribute to an actual and beneficial change in people's lives, and not just the people who are labeled, but everyone in their paths.  That support made the world a little better; it allowed people with disabilities to be seen and heard and to be able to take part in all kinds of activities/events/moments that were once unavailable, even unthinkable.  And this is help they could not conjure by themselves, no matter how hard they worked, no matter how much sun-warmed grain they stored.  

We all know "entitlement" is a dirty word now, but I feel like we might want to take that word back and re-imagine it as a concept totally worth fighting for.  Not because we're all a bunch of grasshoppers playing fiddles, but because we understand that people like Stephanie and a whole lot of other folks actually are entitled to have access to a world we all share.  And Medicaid is the connection, whether you like it or not.  If we want to have a conversation about how to make it better without decimating it, let's do it.  Otherwise what is the point?  

Yesterday I did something I don't like to do.  At all.  On Facebook I commented on a thread started by a local news station about whether "we should repeal or reform Obamacare."  What a delight.  I simply copied and pasted a short article from The New York Times about how Medicaid not only affects poor people, but how many middle-class families depend on it for their older family-members who are in nursing homes, an astonishing number actually.  

Many people liked my little comment, but one of those pesky ants chimed in:   My parents and my failure to plan for the future should not be put upon the shoulders of others.

I responded:   "Plan" and "afford" just aren't synonymous terms in the real world, at least in my experience. You may have had no failures in your life, and you may not need anyone's shoulders. Good for you. But many people do need help and I guess whether you like it or not we have to figure it out as a country. "Failure" and "disposable" aren't synonymous as well.

At the core of the morality in that Aesop fable is a sense of what is disposable and what isn't; there's a strong whiff of utilitarianism coming off it, as in if you can't fend for yourself, why are you even alive? Why are you here on Earth?  That's also a central underlying message in the American Healthcare Act as it is now:  legislatively it chooses who should have access to health and life, and who shouldn't.  It closes the door succinctly on so many lives it puts those ants to shame.