Monday, November 27, 2006


There is a real difference in the Heartland of this country and the West coast.

Today at our management meeting, our boss told a joke. "Why does divorce cost so much?" it began.

Now, all of us, who work with nothing but divorce all day long, and sometimes we even dream about it if there is a particularly knotty file sitting on our desk, all of us were stumped. There was a delicious (to the teller of joke) pause (which felt to all of the rest of us like we'd missed something, or maybe it was true what our first grade teacher had said, maybe we really were stupid). None of us answered.

I assure you this was not because any of us were afraid of blurting out the answer to the boss's joke. We were truly stumped. We don't stand on that sort of ceremony in our office. The Boss, we know, puts his pants on like the rest of us: quickly in the winter because we all keep our thermostats at about 55 degrees.

But when I asked my friend Joe, who lives in LA, "Why does divorce cost so much?" thinking I was going to tell a really good joke and that he would laugh when I had to tell him the punchline, and he immediately answered,

"because it's worth it," and he didn't even chuckle. He knew the goddamn punchline that none of us-- two lawyers, two MBA's and an MSW-- could figure out. Joe didn't even finish high school, but he lives and works in LA.

The only way I could rescue a comedic moment is to say, "Oh, I can't wait to tell my boss that there are audiences that wouldn't even pause on that one," and Joe graciously laughed at that.

Maybe it really is that we take our relationships more seriously here, and that it doesn't instantly occur to us that divorce is anything but a terrific tragedy to be avoided. There are obviously people who, parenthetically, live in a place where they might actually tomorrow slide into the Pacific Ocean if the earth rumbles a bit, don't think there's anything but value to a divorce.

Or maybe I am being a little harsh. Maybe they are just more funny than the rest of us out there. Or maybe when you do it for a living, if you actually live and breathe divorce all day long, it isn't instantly clear to you why people might acutally pay a lawyer a great deal of money to split things up. People up. Children up.

I used to do that for a living. People would actually say things to me like, "I'd rather pay you a thousand dollars than pay him one penny."

I like it much better now that I can say to people, "Maybe you need to be the bigger parent. The only one who suffers is your four year old son if you decide he can't see his dad until the hearing." And that mom actually thanked me for saying that, today, with tears in her eyes.

So, in a sense, it's true this joke, a divorce costs a lot because it's worth it.

But who really pays?

Friday, November 24, 2006


I’m watching my small son sleep.
We share my bed because
Grandpa is visiting.
Ben lies on his side,
one arm bent beneath him,
one outstretched.
In that upside down
open hand
lies Lightening McQueen.

His knees drawn up,
ear touching shoulder.
I read some poems,
Kooser’s postcards,
and wonder at the breaking
of my heart.

A small brontosaurus
embroidered above
a green word
Ben’s light blue pajamas
tucked under the lilac flannel sheet.

If it is still warm tomorrow,
I must plant bulbs.

Ben stirs, letting
McQueen fly
and rubs an eye;

moving his arm up,
he covers his eyes
from the intruding light
of my reading lamp.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Diagnostic Process, part 2: Denouement and Prognosis

I guess I need to finish the story, and it's sort of fitting I would post this on Thanksgiving Eve.

I resisted the temptation to turn to Dr. John, and say, "See? I told you!," because he looked so uncomfortable. The two doctors left the room again, leaving me to gloat in relative solitude. In a moment he returned with a prescription in his hand.

Standing before me with a sheepish grin, he said, "Here, this is a 'script for an anti-viral which should still be effective."

"What's the downside of the drug?" I asked.

"Downside?" he said, truly perplexed.

"I mean, what are the potential side effects? And more importantly, what good will it do? I don't want to take a prescription drug if it really won't change the course of this much," I say, looking him dead in his eyes.

He looks away. Then his gaze returns to me, he's still holding the paper before me. "Well, the virus might last seven days if you don't take this, and five if you do."

"Then I won't take it," I say, reaching for the tendered paper, "unless I don't feel better in a week. Then I'll fill it, because I'll be all worn down," I chuckle, more because I feel like it's time to let him off the hook.

He says, "That's fine, good choice." Then, he makes the statement that makes me understand he's got real potential to be a healer. "I'm sorry I don't have more time to spend with you today, but please make a follow up appointment, and I'd like to know how you came to have a two year old in your life." He smiles broadly and extends a hand to shake.

I take it, returning his smile. "Well, you're not getting away without seeing his picture." Releasing his hand, I reach for my checkbook where I carry Ben's latest picture. As I show it to him, he is satisfyingly appreciative.

"He's darling," he says. "It really is a pleasure to meet you," he says.

A few minutes later, as I am waiting to pay my co-pay in the lobby, John walks out the door and comes up to me. "Could I see that prescription?" he asks.

I hand it to him. He crosses something out, and writes a note in the margin. "I made a mistake," he says, "I wrote it for 100 milligrams, and if you do decide to take this, it should be in a dose which might actually help. It should have been 1000."

This young doctor has, in the space of ten minutes, said two things that distinguish him from so many young professionals, catapulting him into the rare class of people who will acutally help others. He has said "I'm sorry," and "I was wrong." I want to jump up and hug him and tell him to call his momma and tell her he's going to be a great doctor. Instead, I smile and thank him, feeling deeply grateful that someone at this clinic made a good hiring decision, again.

As I write this, my shingles are almost gone. I didn't fill the prescription. And the prognosis for Dr. John is good.

There are many things to be thankful for tomorrow: a good job with health insurance, healers, family, and the passing of a discomforting virus. If every child could be loved and we could just find peace, it'd be pretty close to a perfect world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Diagnostic Process, Part One

Yesterday I finally got in to see a doctor about my shingles.

First, I was a half an hour late, because instead of writing down the time I need to leave to make the appointment I wrote down the actual appointment time. When I got there, I read the look on Lorraine's face. She normally greets me, when I have Ben in tow, with a warm smile and our wait is never more than 10 minutes.

"I'll have to see if he can still see you." That's what I like about this clinic, they don't stand on the pretense of saying "The Doctor." Normally, someone like Lorraine might have said, "I'll have to see if The Doctor can see you," the capitals audible. But not here. This is the Ypsilanti Family Practice, and we know the docs are just humans. The huddled masses pass through this clinic, and they are welcomed and healed without regard to class.

I, all apologetic, said, "Oh jeez, Lorraine, did I write down the wrong time?"

"What time did you write down?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.

"1:30--I think the time I have to leave to get here." The clinic is across town, across an interstate, and a world away from upscale Ann Arbor. "I always write Ben's appointments down as the time I need to leave," I add, hoping the mention of The Prince will soften her judgment.

"Your appointment," she said, pausing just there for emphasis, "was scheduled for 1:30." Her regal posture has not moved. She looks me square in the eye. She is not moved by invocation of The Prince.

I look away from her gaze, for a nanosecond, but I know it is enough to signal I am defeated. "God, I hate middle age," I say. And then, genuinely, "I am so sorry. Of course I'll reschedule if I need to."

She softens, just a hair, reaching for the phone. "Let's see if he can see you." It's not even a capital h.

Thirty minutes later, she says, "I am sorry you waited so long, he can see you," and flash, I am into the inner sanctum and The Scale.

The Scale is a dirty liar, but I let it go.

The height is recorded at 71 inches, so I haven't shrunk at all, which is heartening. I could still win bets in bars with men who claim to be six feet tall.

The nurse who takes me to room 9 says, "He doesn't have that many patients, he has time to see you. How's Ben?"

I want to kiss her. I love this place. "Ben's fine. Thanks for that," and she smiles graciously.

"You don't really need to do the gown, I'll just set it here." After my encounter with The Scale, the thought of sitting with my fat apron lolling around the edges of the gown was really getting me down.

"Thank God," I say, and she smiles again, that knowing I'm-an-older-woman-too-and-I feel-your-pain-sister smile.

In walks a taller, thinner, brunette Dougie Howser. I'm "John Stracks," he says, extending his hand, "You're Cynthia Bostwick? We haven't met." I love this place. No "Me Doctor Surname, you Cindy" crap from this guy. We're almost equals.

"Hi, John," I say, feeling emboldened by the sisterhood of the nurse. "Good to meet you."

He asks why I am here, and I explain I think I have shingles. I tell him I called two weeks ago and this was the earliest appointment available. I tell him I have had them before, during my first year of law school 22 years ago. I describe the course of the illness to date. I do not ask for drugs, just confirmation.

He asks me if he can see it. I lift up my sweater and the bottom of my bra, and show him the rash, right there, under my too-ample right breast.

"Are you sure it's not your undergarment rubbing?"

This comment removes any trace of apology I still felt for being late and makes me want to lecture this high school kid about imitating a doctor. Then I think, oh wait, he's acting like a doctor, so he must be one.

I had the exquisite luxury of knowing my doc as a friend for nearly 20 years in St. Clair County. He trusted me, he knew I wasn't a nitwit, he believed I was capable of educated guesses about my own body. We talked about kids, life, politics, the art of medicine and law, and the child welfare system. Paul Bruer was a healer. This guy doesn't know me yet, so he's being a Doctor, not a partner in curing illness.

"I realize I am overweight and my undergarment," I sneer the word, "doesn't fit me like it used to, but I am certain this is not caused by the rubbing of same undergarment on my skin. This hurts. It started as a piercing back pain two days before the rash appeared. I've had them before. It's shingles."

"I'll be right back," he says. I think, from the look on his face, that he might be going to use an emesis basin.

He comes back in with a woman who looks even younger. "Hi, I'm Susan Yost, the Chief of Family Practice here. Would you mind if I took a peek at your rash?"

"Not at all," I lift the tight undergarment and she turns to him and says, "Yep. It's shingles, it's all along the nerve."


(to be continued, it's late, and I have shingles, whine, whine.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Batting averages and politics

In the blogosphere hall of fame, my political batting average is .666. I’ll avoid any comment on the supposed religious significance of the number to those who believe the Book of Revelations is a blueprint from our mortal existence, a belief which theologians of any serious study dispute, and recap for you.

John Tomlinson will be the new Probate Judge in St. Clair County. This is truly a wonderful moment for all of the most vulnerable of St. Clair County residents. John will make a wonderful judge and I am so glad to have been a part of his support in pursuit of that office.

We sent a strong message and overthrew some of the aliens. No more Rick Santorum. No more Delay crony. No Dick DeVos. Democrats now control Congress, which is part of getting back to balance. No single party should ever control all the branches of government.

However, on the third issue, the voters didn’t share my views. In passing Prop 2, people in Michigan supported the return to an uneven playing field. And we passed it by an astounding 58%, just two points lower of our famous ban on gay marriage a year ago. At least I live in one of three Michigan counties which defeated the proposal, but it wasn’t enough. As I walked into Ben’s preschool with him this morning, Kai’s mom said, “I have such elation and so much heartache over the election results, I am still reeling.” We chatted briefly about how to use Prop 2 tactics to defeat it: maybe we’ll mount a ballot initiative called the “keep women and minorities in their places” amendment, and reinstate affirmative action under that title. The fact that this regressive proposal was entitled the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative made it all the more devastating that people actually voted for it.

BAMN and the U of M are going to fight it, and hope springs eternal. Hail to the victors, to coin a phrase.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Overthrow the Aliens

It’s the eve of Election Day. I’ve got the shingles (look that up on the Google) and Ben has a high fever of unknown etiology, so this is going to be short.

I heard two remarkable speeches this weekend. The first, at the Ann Arbor NAACP dinner, delivered by Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP D.C. office. This is a guy who walks the halls of Congress (a few years ago I might have added “hallowed” in front of Congress, but not now.) He was articulate, acerbic and inspirational. He talked about his debate with Ward Connerly, the man behind that piece of trash known in this state as “the Civil Rights Initiative” or Prop 2. He described Mr. Connerly as “someone who climbed the ladder of success with the aid of affirmative action and now wants to kick the ladder down so no one else can climb.” I thought that was wonderful.

Hilary also told a very moving story about a childhood friend of his, a single father, whose 14 year old son was shot in gang crossfire a few years ago. This was a dad who did everything right and was trying his best to raise two wonderful boys to be men. As he knelt beside his dying boy in the gutter, a reporter asked him what he did wrong, why was his boy dying. What the man had the presence to say was that he’d done everything right for his own son, and his only regret is that he didn’t do it for the boy who pulled the trigger. We can’t build walls to keep “them” away from our kids, so we have to embrace and help every kid we can. Words to live by.

Last night, I drove into Detroit to hear Howard Zinn speak. Howard is the author of A People’s History of the United States. He’s a famous guy in peace circles, and in some other circles because he got fired from Spellman college for sticking with the underdogs. Howard said great things too. He said our country was being run by aliens, and he didn’t mean the people trying to sneak across our borders to find a better life for their families. He meant those people who are profiting from this horrible war in Iraq, and skimming the best off the top for their friends. The people who are stealing our votes and the lives of our kids. They are aliens, an unknown, unrecognizable life form.

Howard also quoted our own Declaration of Independence, and said that the people have a right to form a government, and, when they disagree with that government, they have the right to abolish it. The founders of this country turned the notion of sovereignty on its head: we are the sovereigns and we are only governed so long as we consent to be governed. He said that patriotism was about doing just that, withdrawing our consent, turning it into dissent, and abolishing this government set up by aliens—because it wasn’t what we thought it was. They have stolen our democracy and lulled us into a false sense of complacency. The media have us all entertained into numbness. That we’d better stand up and do something, anything, to stop it.

Howard Zinn and Hilary Shelton give me hope. When I take Ben by the hand tomorrow and walk across the street to Pittsfield Elementary school to cast my vote, I am going to do that one small thing to take back my country. And I am going to keep dissenting, even when my voice shakes.

But right now, I am tired and the right upper quadrant of my body feels like it’s being lanced. And seven more kids died today fighting a war that they didn’t start, that was based on pure lies, and that was started by an unlawful and unconstitutional exercise of executive power. And those nitwits in Congress all went along with it, because there were flags everywhere and they were all afraid of being called un-American.

There is nothing more American than dissent. Look that up on the Google, weep real tears, and vote tomorrow because your life depends on it. And then, Wednesday, give it to the Democrats and tell them they’d better start acting like they care about our country or you’re going to get rid of them, too.

Take this country back from the aliens.