I was 30 when I was diagnosed with gout. I remember seeing the doctor because I initially believed I had somehow walked on my foot incorrectly, or maybe I’d sprained my toe. I described the symptoms and the doctor nodded and said, casual as a cat lying in the sun, “You have gout.”
I was a little taken aback. “Gout is for old people,” I said.
The doctor shrugged. “Actually, a man entering his 30s is a prime candidate. Welcome to aging.”
Back then, gout was a peripheral part of my life. Always my big toe, always a day or two of discomfort. Tolerable. Now, at 42, gout has become a part of my day-to-day life.
And I hate it.
For the first several years after the diagnosis, I lived with the occasional flare-up. It didn’t bother me too much. The only concern I really had was work: as someone who worked on his feet, a flare-up was not a happy experience.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that my life was truly becoming affected by the onslaught of gout.
For the uninitiated, gout is caused by a simple process. Purines found in every day foods are metabolized into uric acid. Uric acid is expelled from the body through urine. The uric acid that remains – if there is an abundance – crystalizes and crowds into a joint, usually the big toe (because, let’s face it, gravity). Depending on the amount of crystalized uric acid, a flare-up can go from discomfort to extreme pain.
I’d like to take a look at those two words: extreme pain. I think we’ve desensitized ourselves to those words. We hear them so often, see them on commercials. “Do you suffer from extreme pain?” the concerned actor in a doctor’s coat might ask. But the words are really lost when used as a description. Yes, my gout causes extreme pain. The kind I can’t begin to describe. It is…hellish.
I want you to imagine your worst toothache, perhaps a migraine that begged you to be in a dark room without sound. Now imagine that in a joint. Now imagine that you can’t move that joint for the life of you. It is so swollen that the skin is shiny-smooth, wrinkle free. The slightest touch or – God forbid – movement is enough to make you faint. Or, even better, remember the last sprained ankle or wrist you had – and multiply it by five.
In the beginning it was my big toe. Then my ankle. Then my knees. I’ve suffered from flare-ups now in both elbows and both wrists. As I write this my left wrist is healing from a two-week bout, and my knee is currently the size of a baseball. I once had a flare-up so horrendous, so crippling, I could not get up off the couch to go to the bathroom; I peed into a water bottle because I feared trying to get up. Yes, it gets that bad.
Gout, too, can cause depression. You begin to wonder – selfishly – Why Me? How can I afford to live when I can’t even go to work? How long with this flare-up last? Friends and family, as sympathetic as they can be, don’t truly understand what you’re going through, so cancelling on plans or calling out sick from work appears to be laziness more than anything. It’s frustrating.
“Well, Sean, I do know gout is caused by lifestyle choices, so perhaps you should be making some changes.”
Oh, I’m way ahead of you. I’ve done it all. I’ve stopped drinking for long periods. I’ve tried vegan diets. I exercised, drank tons of water. I’ve been on allopurinol, but I had allergic reactions. I’ve Done Everything. And guess what? During these processes, I still had gout flare-ups. There seems to be nothing I can do but live with it.
But what frightens me the most is this: if gout has progressed this far in the past 12 years, what will the next 30 years of my life be like? The idea of being bed-ridden for long periods is not a good thought. Will my joints get gnarled and lumpy? Will I be hunched over using a walker at 50?
A lot of this is selfish complaining, I know. But really I wanted to get it out there, the experience, what it’s like to sit on the couch and dread getting up to go to the bathroom or, god forbid, outside. I do know it boils down to making severe changes now: all those foods high in purines, all those foods I enjoy to no end – red meats, poultry, seafood, and beer – will no longer need to be taken in moderation, but they’ll have to be removed for good.
It feels like such a sacrifice. It feels – again, selfishly – like another pathetic episode of Why Me?
As I dive deeper into this burgeoning interest of politics – both local and national – I find myself thinking about an issue that has bothered for some time. Even before the current election. Even before the last several elections, to be honest.
Presidential candidates offer several of the same promises that Americans like to hear. A boost in our economy, of course. More jobs, more jobs, more jobs. A safer country. Gun control. All of that, among other things.
These are not issues I speak of lightly. Certainly small business growth is key. And who doesn’t want a job? No one, of course, wants to think about an unsafe America. And holy heck, guns are a giant problem. Right??
Yet with all the promises, and all the ideology, candidates don’t seem to stop and recognize something: AMERICA IS NOT HOMOGENOUS. America, after all, is the wonderful Melting Pot we were taught in elementary school. Our amazing country is full of differences across the board – cultural, educational, economical, to name a few.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, America as One Giant Borderless Country. Go ahead, give it a try.
When a candidate promises to lower unemployment “in America,” is he or she considering that gaining employment in New York City is entirely different than finding a job in, say, Flagstaff? When they tout making America safe, do they consider the crime rate in Detroit as opposed to, say, the crime rate in Idaho Falls? How are these candidates tackling these issues specifically when they’re not on stage making promises they may or may not be able to keep?
Gun control, for example. Let’s regulate it, do background checks, blah blah blah. Look, my stance on gun control is surprisingly lenient. I support background checks and making certain regulations, but let’s face it: there are MILLIONS of guns in this country, so trying to block someone who really wants one from actually getting one is like catching Niagara Falls in a paper cup. Give it a try, but good fucking luck. Yet candidates still say how they’re going to get a grip on the issue.
With each election I feel like this is the key factor that proves these politicians are telling us what we want to hear. Donald Trump is the master. “I have great plans for this country, excellent plans. It’s going to be just terrific.” Great. Can you make stamp-sized Rhode Island as great as California? Can you promise gay night clubs in San Francisco will not suffer the same fate as Orlando? Can you tell me business will thrive in Flint as they do in San Diego? Can you promise the education a child receives in Albany will be as significant for a child in Des Moines?
How do candidates make blanket statements when there’s simply not enough cloth to go around?
I know that I’m out of my element here. I do. I’m talking out of my ass a little bit, too. I’m still learning, trying to educate myself. Clearly these concerns are why we have Secretaries of Education, Labor, State, etc. The States, I realize, try to have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in their districts as well. I’m not completely naive, but I’m still a little troubled.
Do the candidates purposely avoid straying into specifics because, ultimately, citizens don’t want to think of the United States as having…differences? Oh my gosh, that’s it, isn’t it?
Or maybe I’m just being silly. Even as I reread this post I’m still not quite satisfied with the point I’m trying to make. I just can’t seem to articulate it. Maybe in a year, when I’m more informed, more well-versed, I can give this a rewrite.
Look, I want America to be awesome. I want our differences to be exactly what makes us what we are. The entire world admires us. Let’s face it, despite recent events, we are still pretty awesome. And we will stay that way….I hope.
I got you to read it, didn’t I?!?!
Okay, it was a sneaky thing to do. BUT…the title of this post does hold relevance, so if you bear with me, I’ll elaborate more after I say what I have to say.
It’s been a week and two days since the election. A week and two days. I have needed that time to reflect. To absorb. To mourn. To not move to New Zealand.
I think we can all agree that this election was heated, contentious, and thoroughly exhausting. I still feel a disconnect. To everything. On the day after the election, I drove to work on autopilot (honestly, I don’t remember getting there). I was a shell of myself. I think many Americans felt exactly the same way.
I didn’t want Trump to be President. Let’s be honest: I didn’t want him in the running to begin with. He was a joke, after all. Laughable entertainment. “Oh, that silly Trump, trying to Make A Point! Good for you, Donald….now please go away and make room for a viable candidate.”
Not that there were many to choose from: Cruz, Rubio, and Christie. The Three Stooges. But I digress.
My knowledge of politics has always been bare bones. Enough to know who I want to vote for and who I don’t. Republicans hate gays and abortion. Democrats don’t. Republicans want the rich to stay rich. Democrats want them to pay their fair share of taxes. And so on, and so on. For me, as a gay man, I identify with Democrats for their progressive, liberal views.
But what, really, did I know outside of that? Anything I’d learned about politics in high school had long since been forgotten. The Constitution? The Bill of Rights? That was pretty much it. I was out of the loop.
Then…Trump won. Donald Trump won the Presidency of the United States of America. The man who grabs womens’ pussies. The man who called Mexicans rapists. The man who goes off the handle more often than John McEnroe. Donald Trump, Leader of the Free World. Commander in Chief. He will be making decisions that will affect the country. Worse, decisions that will CHANGE America. In my opinion, for the worse. That’s quite a responsibility to shoulder, and I can’t imagine Trump understands the gravity of the situation.
Suddenly, without warning, a fire was lit inside me. Incendiary. I can’t quite explain it. Before I knew it I was reading what I could about American politics. The process. How things work. Can the Supreme Court really change decisions when they want? Can the President strip me of my rights? Do I need to marry my partner now before Trump takes the Oath? WILL AMERICA FALL APART??
You name it, I was reading it. CNN. Daily News. The New York Times. If there was a word I didn’t understand, I Googled it. If there was a policy mentioned, I looked it up. Oh, so that’s what NAFTA means! Oh, I see, a Supreme Court decision can’t be overturned quite so easily, can it?!? And so on, and so on.
My best friend, Liz, who lives in Seattle, suggested I find out who my local councilpersons are. “Contact them,” she told me. “Find out who they are and tell them you have concerns.”
So I did. And everything changed.
Olga Diaz is the Escondido City Councilperson for District 3, where I live. Not only is she the only female councilperson, but the only Democrat. I reached out to her and expressed my desire to become more involved. Even at the most marginal of levels, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and pitch in. She responded within two hours and invited me to the local Democratic Club meeting, which was to take place the next morning.
Of course I went. It was inspiring! Granted, a bond was formed simply to commiserate over the recent election. But soon, during the meeting itself, ideas were discussed. Me and the other newbies introduced ourselves. We need to move forward, make changes. We were eager, and ready.
There is something I’ve realized about Trump’s election. It is definitely a tough pill to swallow, but ultimately his election as President is a Lesson. It’s a glass of cold water thrown in our faces. WAKE UP! We’ve been complacent, it seems. I mean, haven’t we? Sure, we’ve taken on opposition, fought for equality, done miraculous things. But we became sedentary, assuming politics would remain…political. Sure, there would be Republican candidates that the Democrats hate, and vice versa, but chances are they’d all be career politicians. I mean, would they??
But then came the jarring eye-opener:
We didn’t take into account that maybe, possibly, an everyday person might enter the ranks. We just assumed that every person to enter any political race wouldn’t be a racially charged businessman with a hidden agenda. A demagogue. A charlatan.
So it was decided: I am going to involve myself. I will attend rallies. I will be that annoying guy at the grocery store entrance asking if you’re registered to vote. I’ll make phone calls. I’ll pester my Congressman and legislators. Aside from my morning rituals that now include CNN, The Daily News, The New York Times, you name it, I have been to the library and picked up books on politics, how it all works.
Mind you, though I’m a Democrat, I will be reading opinions from ALL sides. I want different perspectives. You can’t write unless you know how to read; you can’t fly if you don’t have wings. A little dramatic, I know (come on, it’s Sean you’re reading here), but certainly truthful.
So, back to my blog title. I can see it, being in some kind of office. I would like for you to know and understand something: For years I have had a dream. A goal. I don’t want to be rich, or famous. What I want is simple: I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR SOMETHING. I don’t think that’s such a selfish longing. And maybe politics is that thing.
I’ll say it here: I’ll run one day, for something local. Mark my words. But what I need first and foremost is education. Information. I would never – EVER – pretend to be more than I am, a citizen with a goal to change things for the better. My community, my city, my county, my state, my country. I have no need for divisiveness, which is where we’re headed at this point. I have quite a bit of road ahead of me to travel. Quite a bit.
I wish I could explain this fire, this need. It’s bigger than me. But I want so badly to embrace it, to see where it takes me.
I love my country. Now more than ever. And I didn’t even know it until November 8th.
What god damned difference can I make?
This, I’m sure, is what millions of people are asking themselves after this disastrous election. Yes, I said disastrous, because that’s exactly what it is: DISASTROUS.
Am I being melodramatic? Fine. This is one of the rare instances you can pigeonhole me as a Stereotypical Gay Man overreacting on his feelings.
But I don’t want to talk about the election, believe it or not. I want to talk about what it’s done to me, and what I’d like to do about it.
I have often considered entering the political arena, even in the most marginal of terms. A volunteer. Handing out pamphlets. Joining a rally. Little things. But I’ve been needled by one uneasy question:
What difference can I actually make???
One person, I’ve learned, can make a huge difference. Influence, opinions, and stamina. Among other things. But, honestly, sometimes simply being involved is all that matters. Isn’t it? It’s easy to tell the chef he made a shitty steak, but what would you do if he gave you the kitchen and said, “Fine, go in an make one yourself”? Do you scoff and accept what was given to you? Or do you take the knife and make yourself a damn good steak?
As a gay man, Trump’s win frightens me. Perhaps I became too comfortable that the fight for Equality was won when, in truth, that fight was anything but won. It’s a fight that never ends. There will always be adversaries in the war for Equal Rights and understanding, even where we least expect them. Adversaries for all things that stand between you and what you believe.
So, as Donald Trump revels in the idea that he and his family will soon enter the White House, I take solace in knowing that I have a voice. I have the opportunity to become involved.
There is a lot of education ahead of me. I don’t pretend to know even a fraction of how politics work. I know the basics, but that’s not enough. What I do know is that education and information is key. Differences aren’t made my remaining sedentary, neither physically nor intellectually. Differences are made by actions, by taking the horse by the reins and shouting, “Let’s go!”
The first step of any task is often the most trying. Perhaps this is my first step, this blog post. But I do know I need to reach out to those I know can lead me in the right direction.
I am lucky to have friends who are not only politically motivated, but they know what’s going on – where to start, who to contact, what steps to take…and so on.
So, in the coming days and weeks, I will be educating myself on who my local legislators are and what they stand for. I will be sending emails. I will find out how I can help. These things will not happen overnight, but they will happen, because I don’t want to live in fear.
These are my baby steps. Because I want so badly to make a difference. I don’t want to watch the country go backward 50 years.
What I want, most of all, is to make a mark. To know that I made a difference.
“Where do I put this fire? This bright red feeling? This tiger lily down my mouth? She wants to grow to twenty feet tall.” – Paula Cole
NaNoWriMo is among us. For the uninitiated, that would be National Novel Writing Month. Sure, I’m a few days late recognizing this fantastical time of the year (sorry, Christmas), but I’m here now. So, as my Bronx born mother would say, Let’s tawk.
I have been aware of NaNoWriMo for several years. It was brought to my attention by a writing colleague.
“What is this NaNoWriMo you speak of?” I asked in a Lord-of-the-Rings kind of way.
“National Novel Writing Month,” she informed me. “You go online, sign up, and pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Exciting, right??”
“A novel? In 30 days? Wouldn’t it be easier to swim the Atlantic Ocean?”
“Not necessarily a novel, but just 50,000 words. If you don’t complete the book, that’s ok. You’re basically promising yourself to write everyday until you reach your goal. If a book comes out of it, that’s just icing.”
Seemed like a fairly harmless explanation.
I attempted it. By November 4th I gave up, watched too much Food Network, and drowned my guilt with rum cocktails. Then again, I always watch too much Food Network and drink rum cocktails.
NaNoWriMo really is harder than you think. You’re looking at about 2,000 words per day. Seems possible, when you say it out loud. But when you bring up that blank document and contemplate typing, you begin to remember what it was like writing those 5 page research papers in college. You start to get anxiety. You yawn once or twice. The internet become a horribly easy distraction. Oh, sure, a few kitty videos on YouTube wouldn’t hurt!
The idea, though, is to get something down. Anything. Even if it is complete and utter crap, just get it down. As Anne Lamott says in her book on writing, Bird by Bird, you will undoubtedly have a shitty first draft (her words, I swear). And let’s face it: 30 days or 30 years, your first draft will probably be shitty; no first draft goes unedited.
I’m a hypocrite, in all honesty. Here it is November 3rd and I have just under 1,500 words completed. And I’ll tell you, it’s pretty shitty (that rhymes!). Food Network and rum cocktails are calling. But I will be diligent. I will at least try.
I have several writing friends giving the challenge a try. We will all commiserate together when necessary. You can commiserate with me, if you’d like. I’m on twitter, and google plus. Come on, we can do this!
If not, point me to the nearest TV and crack open that bottle of Bacardi.
My days off are few and far between. That’s not to say I’m so busy that I can’t manage time for myself. In fact, I probably have the kind of time any writer with a day job would kill for.
I tend to work six days a week at my current job. Even with that kind of schedule, I only manage about 35 hours, max. Yes, you can drop your jaw, it’s okay. Believe me, I’d much rather work 40 hours and have two days off, but I digress.
If it matters, my time off isn’t at all exciting. You’d think I’d spend it hunched over a keyboard, chipping away at my novel-in-progress. Nope. Instead I manage to waste time in such magnificent ways. Watching television. The gym. Watching television and thinking about going to the gym. I even manage to chastise myself for having allowed so much unused time to slip by.
I do manage to get work done sometimes. When I do, I like to search out places to do so. It’s rare I find interesting places to find solace.
Starbucks works. Yes, I’m that douche who sits with his laptop or notebook, sipping at his overly-complicated latte, pretending I have the chops to make it as a writer. The library, too, is nice. But the library, you see, has free wifi; I tend to spend more time on Facebook than I do writing.
There aren’t many other places to go, though I’ve tried. The park. The mall. A bar. I’ve gone into work on my day off because, despite seeing it six days a week, I like the atmosphere.
Then I remembered there’s one place that I’ve only visited once before. A vineyard. Close to home. With a spectacular view and fantastic wine. So why not come back? It’s my day off, after all. It could very well be inspiring, you know?
Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m not hoping to feel a spark to jot down ten pages worth of material. In fact, so far, this blog post is as far as I’ve gotten. I shouldn’t even be drinking, given my horrific experiences with gout in the past year (long, long story, I’ll bore you with it another time).
BUT…I work hard. I’m a good person. I’m not out bar-hopping or murdering small children (though, working in customer service, I would like to sometimes). I think I deserve to relax and enjoy myself. And my god, it’s not expensive at all.
So here I am, at Orfila Winery, in my hometown of Escondido, California. It truly is a wonderful place. The view is not only beautiful, but cathartic. Before I propped open my laptop, I sipped a glass of wine and stared out at the expanse for a good half hour. Reflecting. Chilling out. Taking stock. And I’m loving it. Could this be an everyday thing? God, no. I’d go insane. But once in a great while? Abolutely.
The downer is the winery, too, has free access to wifi. At least I get to pop open WordPress and enlighten you with my afternoon. Not that you’re swooning, or anything.
Now I have to actually get some work done.
If I don’t, though, I’ll be okay with that. The view alone is cathartic on its own.
This is me writing a post to get myself writing. That’s it. Do you need to be witness? No. Do I want a little accountability for myself? Absolutely.
It’s 10 a.m. and I have to start getting ready for work at 10:30. I have told myself I will write something – anything – every day, simply to keep my creativity treading water, at the very least.
I feel this is important.
Creativity makes me feel good. It sparks my mind, gets the juices flowing. It inspires me. When I am able to put all things aside, have my cup of coffee, and write…well, it provides hope that I will, someday, make my living as a writer.
But I don’t always feel like creating. Sometimes I fall into the internet trap. Sometimes Facebook turns me into a zombie and I just stare and scroll, stare and scroll. Once in a while I’ll stop to watch a kitty video, or a laughing baby. “Oh, I’ll write later.” Later comes and I haven’t written a damn thing.
I’m the only one to blame for this. I’m the only one to blame for a lot of things – laundry not getting done, not hitting the gym, bathroom looking like a bomb hit it – but at least I can accept these things.
Gosh, I just realized my attempt at having to write something turned into a self-lecture about why I don’t write as much as I should.
How about this? Here’s a description of my workspace:
My Mac glows. The Canon printer that has been inkless for a solid six months acts more as a space to keep junk mail and unread books than it does a machine used to provide copies of my work. My snowman coffee mug is, at least, quite jovial (definitely a Frosty kind of guy, with a jaunty hat and frighteningly long scarf). Next to it, a short work list I started for work, which reads two things: “putting together a ‘when it’s slow list,'” and “weekly, daily side work.” I remember feeling strongly about this list when I started it, but not so much when I realize this list has been sitting here for a week, unmoved, laid on by my cat over a dozen times, I’m sure. An old pair of headphones are bundled up in front of the printer (I rarely use these, and I’m lost on how long they’ve been sitting there). Lastly, there’s my mouse pad with a portrait of two kittens on it, playing; how fitting that there are kittens on the mouse pad! Yes, I’m a dork, so there.
Okay, that wasn’t so bad. It sucks terribly that I can’t continue because, you know, day job. On a Sunday, no less. Sigh. But it’s okay. I did exactly what I set out to do, and that was to write something.
Granted, this won’t get me into the New Yorker, or even a BuzzFeed article, but at least it’s work. And look, it’s 10:21 a.m., just in the nick of time!