Author Archives: Breathing Is Political

About Breathing Is Political

Liz Bucar is a member of the "Vaudevilian Workforce" -- a writer, webworker, nurse-paralegal, community organizer and odd-jobber. The policies we embrace for corporations, industries, law, health, education, civil rights, property rights and community rights will determine the quality of each breath we draw.

Who Is Breathing Is Political?


Light Up the Delaware River Party

Thank you, Sandy Long (Heron’s Eye Communications)  for the great photo. (Light Up The River Party , Narrowsburg, NY. 2009)

(Callicoon, NY,  Sullivan County).   T’is I, Liz Bucar,  a perpetually  healthy sixty-four year old nurse who cleaned a three-story farmhouse one day,  staggered gasping into the Callicoon emergency room the next and was discharged home on oxygen a week later.

Until December 21, 2016, my health had been sailing along so dependably that I hadn’t bothered with baseline lab tests or x-rays in more than twenty  years.

While  my baby boomer friends were facing facts — dutifully getting  annual checkups, power walking the River Road and meal-planning with actual fruits and veggies — I’d decided the empty nest years were my chance for guilt-free indulgence:   I’d ride fifteen hilly miles on my bicycle because it felt good and smoke half a pack of cigarettes;  eat fresh fruit in a cup of yogurt and suck down two baloney sandwiches on sticky white bread with corn chips; accidentally eat a vegan dinner and top it off with three or four  cream-packed donuts; and never, ever go to sleep without a gigantic bowl of ice cream. I wasn’t impervious to illness,  but the occasional flu, migraine or arthritic twinge wasn’t a showstopper and I never needed help to breathe, eat, digest, evacuate, bend, stoop,  walk or climb.  In fact, beyond doxycycline for annual bouts of Lyme Disease, Tylenol and the odd vitamin, I was pharma-free and maybe a little obnoxious about it.

Then,  a life-smacking health crisis occurred and I needed a new plan tout de suite.

One of my first priorities was to learn how to shower and wash my face without snorting soapy water down the nasal cannula. (Ditto teeth brushing and toothpaste down my throat.) I needed to create and FOLLOW a daily events calendar.  But, more than anything, I needed to slow down and remember how to breathe and talk  at the same time. Then I could escape the New York State of Health website and talk to an actual Medicaid person!

And research.  I came home with an oxygen tank in tow but no certainty about what had kicked my butt, with what damage,  to what extent and what  “recovery” might mean  in real-life terms.  (Is it reasonable to expect I’ll be at the kids’ wedding in Denver this summer, for instance?)  And most importantly,  because “expectation” is closet talk for “percentages,”  what  can I do to amp up my chances?  

I realized I needed a forum where I could speak as a nurse, a medical professional trained to observe changes in people,  who’d never seen my own collapse coming;  a forum where other people whose health had been upended overnight — or in a matter of seconds — could teach, learn, nod, shake our heads and roll our eyes together. 

Sudden change is never easy,  but when you live in a rural county like Sullivan, you measure and balance your resources with great care — especially in the winter when a household’s margin for slippage is minimal or non-existent. 

Don’t get me wrong:  I am inexpressibly grateful that I live where my heart is, but I’m one of the lucky ones.  My entire family, has stood beside me every step of the way. One of my sons lives locally.  He seems to like me a lot, has phenomenal patience, a great job and a boss  who allows for family flexibility. Very importantly, we live in the Hamlet of Callicoon where our utilities rarely fail and we’re within walking distance of all the staples:   food to pharmacy, books and gossip.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. My son survived heroin addiction in Western Sullivan County where the meager number of  treatment, employment and transportation options are a terrible cruelty for families with few resources. 

And when my Dad became house bound,  my parents, children and I  were lucky to live across the street from each other.  We got Mom’s famous raw salad and home made bread. The kids got a grandma tomboy of the first order and I always knew they were safe while I was at work.

But, as a former hospital nurse and home health worker in Western Sullivan County, I’ve seen the isolation, anxiety and downright terror too many elder patients experience when the hospital discharges them home.   I’ve seen the shell shocked families with jobs and children in other towns, other states,  wondering how to be in two places at once and where to turn.  

We’re rural, we’re poor and we’re aging. We have  a dearth of care workers for both our young and old.  

Too many of our elders live alone on back roads where neighbors are “down a bit, past the barn and  behind the trees.” Many have mobility problems or need supplemental oxygen to breathe. Many live where electric, internet and landline phone services are unreliable and completely absent during bad weather.  Many have no local family and their part-time or seasonal neighbors are rarely available in an emergency. Many depend on the kindness of strangers for grocery shopping and basic companionship. Thankfully,  Sullivan County is blessed with a phenomenal volunteer spirit and our Office for the Aging and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) are topnotch, but they can’t augment our tax and industrial bases, build 21st century infrastructure or improve our abysmal health factors and outcomes:

In each of the seven years from 2010 through 2016,  The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation has reported that people living in Bronx  and Sullivan Counties have the worst health factors and outcomes of anyone else living in New York State.

I want Breathing Is More Than Political!  to be a source of practical guidance from  the basics of learning to breathe with a tube in your nose to  the  *#%*^&$* insurance jungle.  I want people who’ve navigated the early retirement (potential income loss) . and (the potential crapshoot of) disability  to share their experiences.  More than anything,  I want to create a forum where we pool our experiences to bolster patients and caregivers and find solutions to some of our gnarliest transportation, communication, nutrition and respite care problems. (For instance, imagine a collective of five households that shares coupons, trips to the grocery store and takes turns providing respite care.  Imagine a collective of families that includes a plumber, organic gardener, baker and  computer tech who swap services.  Imagine….)

I hope you’ll add your perspective and suggestions to the conversation when we’re up and running!  Please click the subscribe button in the right column of any page to receive updates when we publish new content.  

BIP’s History.

BIP and I have been an item for eight-plus years.  We started during the 2008 Presidential Primaries because the Obama-Clinton debates sounded to me like referenda on the Democratic Party and the US electorate’s shallow form of Populism.  I spent that entire election cycle mesmerized by the historic drama of what our nation might embrace or reject,  the unveiling of our rampant, defensive tribalism and mainstream media’s self-congratulatory and  sophomoric coverage.

After the election, as you can read at Fracking Is Political,  BIP and I were up to our ears in high-pressure, high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  Thanks to  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)  and their fact-filled alarm ringing,  BIP  became part of what many believed was a futile effort to save the Delaware River Basin (DRB), Pennsylvania and New York from toxic gas extraction.  Since then — in defiance of all the bookmakers — local fracktivists won a de facto fracking ban in the Basin and a moratorium in New York State. However,  on January 17, 2017, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network announced that the Delaware River Basin Commission might re-consider its ban and warned us to demand a permanent ban in the Watershed.  (As I write this,  it is with great love and sadness that I read a message from one of our DRB defenders who is in North Dakota awaiting transport to Standing Rock.)

I hope the few posts I’ve managed to include about our people and culture at Home on the Delaware  will encourage you to read James Eldridge Quinlan’s  History of Sullivan County.

In many ways, BIP’s  Home on the Delaware  is a child of the fracking fight. Social, educational and economic divides exist in most places but are glaring in regions dependent on tourism and second-home buyers.  When the frack fight revealed  and exacerbated that divide in our River Valley, BIP organized The Light Up The Delaware River Party and invited everyone to celebrate the resources that define and unite us.

In small, interpersonal ways, it helped; but whether the debate is about merging beloved old school districts, the loss of our dairy farms, industrialization, gentrification or the siting of addiction recovery centers, our communal power is sapped by “either-or” solutions that, too often, ignores the needs of those with least resources.   Hopefully,  community projects such as Callicoon Visioning and North School Studio will help create a future that welcomes both old and new; that embraces eeling, maple “syrpling”  and 3-D Printing with equal joy.

No matter where you stand in the hamlet of Callicoon, New York,  you see Damascus, Pennsylvania across the River.  At root,  we are one people, joined by a waterway that the first hunters, fishers, trappers, farmers and loggers depended on for their lives.

The day the River rose to within a few feet of the bridge and we could almost touch the tops of travel trailers as they whooshed beneath us,  people from both shores stared at each other in primal shock.  Not so different, I’d imagine,  as a century before when ice floes bigger than houses boomed and collided,  threatening the bridge as runners shouted through the streets,  “The ice is breaking!  The ice is breaking!” 

To live here year after year for decades requires resilience and a trunk full of skills. It requires generalists who can pound nails, fence posts, bread dough and computer keys.  It requires a full-tilt immersion in:

The Vaudevillian*  Workforce:  

Specialization is a relatively new idea in our work/labor and market places.  I grew up in an extended family on land that fed us year-round.  Grandma did our baking, preserved our food and made our clothes.  Grandpa built our furniture, fixed the plumbing, ran the electric and planted acres of organic veggies every year.  They and my parents survived The Great Depression and taught their family the value of flexible living or, in anthropological terms, “evolution.”   Those of us who learned the lessons are ‘The New Vaudevillian* Workforce.”

*Vaudeville:  A variety show featuring performers whose talents and improvisational skills  are many and diverse.  

And that, in l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g form,  is BIP!

 


Coming soonBreathing Is More Than Political!  with helps and hints for patients,  families and medical workers from a chronically healthy nurse who went to work one day and was discharged from the hospital a week later with an oxygen tank in tow.

In the wake of a sudden,  life-smacking medical crisis,  I needed a  place where I could speak as a nurse who hadn’t seen the collapse coming;  a place where other people whose health has been upended over night — or in a matter of seconds — can teach, learn and laugh together because, face it,  breathing  doesn’t have an alternative and the world is short on oxygen humor.

Please click the subscribe button in the right column to receive updates when BIP publishes new content.

Nicknames: Electoral Omens


When American voters have strong feelings about a politician, they award a nickname. Understand the nickname and you’ll understand what its popular sentiment portends.

In 1860, Americans may have known with facts and figures that Abraham Lincoln was a savvy politician who often subscribed to the ends justifying the means, but “Honest Abe,”  with his way-tall physical stature, slow, considered speech, common humor,  quiet, ironic smile, worn face and haunted eyes, was above cynical politics.  The pain of a genuinely good man was clear to anyone with eyes, or so the winning narrative went.

When Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”) faced off in 1824 against John Quincy Adams (“Old Man Eloquent” or “The Madman from Massachusetts”), the Electoral College handed Adams the Presidency even though Jackson had earned more popular votes. During that 1824 election boondoggle,  the slaveholding South had tagged Adams  with the “Madman” label because it hated his Abolitionist stance with all its cotton-stuffed heart.  Four years later, The South and its stalwart warrior, Old Hickory,  sent the Madman packing and had their revenge against  “a corrupt system where elite insiders pursued their own interests without heeding the will of the people.”

In 1956,  when “Ike” Eisenhower and Progressive Adlai “Egghead” Stevenson vied for the US Presidency,  huge swaths of our old,  pre-WWII American culture were crumbling before an onslaught of rising expectations.  Women were loath to trade in their rivets for aprons.  Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Boycott, Brown v Board of Education, Beatniks, Jazz and (holy talismans forfend!)  Elvis combined to scare the living bejesus out of whites, conservative religious institutions, men, old political hacks and many other guardians of the old America.  In 1956, Ike — the General who’d saved us from Hitler, whose feet were solidly on no-nonsense ground — successfully defended the status quo  from the Egghead’s Progressive winds of change, but the  bells had been rung.  In 1960, the New World of Camelot was born.

To my point that nicknames reflect the passions of the time and may be an election bellwether,  the dearth of them in 2016 seems strange and notable. The best Hillary’s supporters have come up with is “Her,” as in “I’m With Her” and of course, she won’t use the ones assigned by her opponents.  “The Donald” is fine for a mogul-playboy but doesn’t resound on the political stage.  Cruz’ depiction of himself as “TrusTED”  hasn’t gained traction the way Trump’s moniker for him,  “Lyin’ Ted,” has.  And Kasich?  Well, Kasich is Kasich.

Into the 2016 nickname desert has come “Bernie,”  a Vermont Senator with rolled up sleeves, one new suit, unbridled hair and large, emphatic gestures.   The Senator’s impatience with old  models is familiar ground for young “Berners.” They grew up with The Wild Things of Maurice Sendak, another  curmudgeon who trusted them to understand the power of dreams and uncomfortable truths.  “Bernie” is a name for Brooklyn and The Rust Belt.  It belongs in a union hall, at a night school lectern and on picket lines.  Its lack of adornment feels comfortable on the tongues of people whose jobs have disappeared overseas,  of students crippled with debt and of the impoverished  who are more likely to do jail time than college time.

In truth, I don’t know what it all means for November but I do know that today’s political parties should learn what nicknames say about the future in a way that Stephen Douglas, John Q Adams, Ike’s Republicans and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ Democratic National Committee  haven’t.

(Disclaimer: I can’t swear that my Berniephilia hasn’t informed the “tone” of this post.)

 

 

New York State: Hillary’s Waterloo?


The majority of New York State Democrats are anti-war and anti-fracking.

As I breathe the sharp, cold air of the Delaware River Valley, fracking pipelines and compressors are crisscrossing and dotting our State.  In the last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) overrode New York’s  investigations into plans for the building of gas infrastructure near the Indian Point nuclear facility.  The plant,  just 25 miles north of New York City, is old by any standards and New York Times articles have raised consistent concerns over its accidents, aging storage facilities,  leaks and other critical safety issues.

These are unfortunate events for New York State residents and they don’t bode so well for Hillary Clinton, either. The anti-war, anti-fracking base in New York is  effective, in gear and  has no love or trust for her. Her fracking inconsistencies and donations from the oil and gas industries make her suspect and since her pro-Iraq War vote when she was a New York Senator,  the belief that she’s a Hawk with bad judgment persists. Recent events in France and Belgium and the vehemence of her support for regime change in Lybia when she was Secretary of State have bolstered this opinion — especially since so many anti-war folks believe there’s a correlation between our Iraq invasion and the rise of ISIS.

Even without those considerations, many rural voters distrust Clinton. They pride themselves on reading people — on knowing whether someone is genuine or wearing adaptive camouflage. Many say they’re wavering between Trump and Sanders. Some supported fracking. Some are FOX-watchers. Some steal from Peter to pay Paul when the mortgage or rent is due.  There are enclaves of reactionaries who emphatically support militia-thinking. Most are tired of seeing their kids go off to war or jail instead of college and they don’t have the resources to fight the heroin epidemic that’s claiming their families.  They’ve lost farms, plumbing businesses  and have stopped chasing the American Dream.  They’re discouraged,  can’t afford the cost of local farm goods and feel betrayed by established political hacks.  Even when gains are made, belief in them is tentative and tinged with anxiety.

Into the mix have come urbanites with their more socially Liberal tendencies. For instance, Zephyr Teachout, a populist, pro-choice, anti-fracker,  did an amazing job against Cuomo in the last election despite people not knowing her,  Cuomo’s refusal to debate her and the relatively small size of her campaign war chest.

In New York City and its environs, voters are thoroughly awake to all things fracking, its infrastructure, methane, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS) and gas explosions.  They’re particularly attuned to the threat of terror attacks, to economic collapse, Wall Street machinations, a friable Stock Market and affordable housing shortages.

Worse for Hillary, whether rural or urban, New York voters are familiar with the  candidates’ positions on those critical issues. With a riled, educated electorate, New York State could easily be Hillary’s Waterloo.

 

The Downside of Handmade for the Holidays


Needleworkers are a tortured lot.  Don’t be deceived when you come across one in the post office and s/he answers your question, “How’s it going?” with a sublime smile and glazed eyes.  Do not be taken in when the worst of us clasp our hands to our breasts  before launching into descriptions of our latest projects or newfangled yarns.

Each and every one of us is possessed of demons though our aspirations are pure. We begin with hope that our gifts will make the shadows recede just a tinge. We are Wiccans by nature no matter our denominations.

But never doubt that the Needleworker in the post office or on the church pew beside you is a Zombie;  an innocent in the grips of an undeniable compulsion.

Like any Creator – Poet, Painter,  Inventor, Metalworker or Potter  —  a Needleworker begins at the vortex of two competing and unforgiving forces: (1)  materials that call like Sirens through all fogs and  (2) an incessant, prickling Idea.  Walk through a potter’s shed.  Its shelves lined and splotched with jugs of slip and watery clay will  leave you in a state of hunger.  Hestia’s command to  “make something of use”  will thrum in your belly and a dream of beauty will whistle through your bones.  There is no escape.

A yarn stash is no different.  The play of colors and textures – fugues whispering in baskets in every room of the house.  Left-behind yarns.  Bits and pieces.  Loose ends.  Enough for a singleton sock or glove, a quarter-afghan or half a hat.

A few Needleworkers — inspired by the likes of Opie’s Aunt Bee or just loopy by nature – begin organizing for the next holiday season, birthday or Ground Hog Day  months before time.

But most of us – those who also huddle miserably on April 14th with our taxes —   surrender to the agony of making  holiday presents when the clocks are turned back in November.   “Holy shit,”  we say, models of holiday joy staring into the early night, “it’s upon me.”

Thus begins the frantic search for yarns to satisfy a yammering Idea or, as the days expire, an Inspiration to match the stash.  Throughout Thomas Kincaid’s Holidayland,  the piping tunes of happy elves drift from lemony windows and over marshmallow snow:

“Oh why oh why didn’t I wind this mess into balls?”

“Where the hell is that three foot piece of lime green!  I know I saved it for accent…”

“How could I have thought that ball was big enough for two freaking socks?”

“What if I made  four two-foot scarves and sewed them together in a kind of mosaic…?”

“Can I really knit a patchwork blanket in 33 days…?”

And on it goes, the mad scrabbling through baskets, pulling at ends that have wound and bound themselves like nettles.

To drink coffee at this stage is to explode into a billion pieces.

If you’re lucky, when all the skeins, threads and scraps have been arranged by texture, color or gauge, Inspiration will begin to surface.

You will  be impelled toward the brink of either Grace or Fire and the same inexorable Spring of Hope and Curiosity that doomed Pandora (and  most domestic cats)  will burn in you.  It’s heady.  It’s crack.  It’s the call of Eos, the eternal dawn.

At this point, I usually switch gears.  I go all Zen and surrender myself to the yarn.  I will eschew  preconceptions and  expectations,  I will  let the yarn speak; feel it flow through me. I will let it become  its true nature.  I will be a conduit for the Cosmos.  I will…

None of the effing gauges match.  I don’t have five  double-pointed size “1” needles.  I do have 3 size “0s” and two size “1s”  but I’ve tried that before and none of the fingers fit a human hand.

Ah hah!  Circular needles!  Two gloves at a time on circulars!  I know I’ve got that pattern somewhere and circulars galore….

Had Dante known about circular needles, he would have created a separate hell for their inventor.  A knitter can make anything on circular needles.  Refrigerator covers, snowmobile boots, and probably trees if you can get the threads of DNA to work just right.  The nightmare is in the limitless variety of circulars because each project requires just the right length and gauge:   42” for afghan panels and 6” for socks; and gauges from 14 mm for bulky sweaters to 0 mm for infant wear.  Obviously, since this is the Dark Edge of Creation,  we  – the Children of Ancient Handmaidens, Nurses and Conjurers  – will never have the elusive Ideal in stock.  As Ahab  or unsated Tantalus should have known,  if we are to survive the Giving Season, we must accept the limitations of our Hell and adapt.

So this year,  beloveds,  you are getting ornaments for your trees and multi-colored mittens.  Each will be a unique blend of textures and hues.

Whether or not they look or even fit right is hardly the point. Remember the year you got a dog sweater and the sleeves forced the poor animal’s legs up and out like the wings on a biplane? Remember the pooch’s worried frown and the hysterical laughter that sent tears flowing down our cheeks?  Of course you do.