Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bullcrap Customer Service Rep

I sent the following email to Jessica after I had an experience with a customer service rep at an insurance company that made me want to tear my hair out. A little background, I work in medical billing and make sure we get paid by patients and insurance companies. 


And now the email:

So I hate having customer service rework multiple patients for me b/c I feel like it's a pain in their ass and i don't want them to be mad at me. I know how crazy this is and I always think "Yeah, but they have to do it all day long anyway, what do they care if I give them 3 or 1?" Doesn't matter, I still hang up and call back 3 times.

That is until today. I had 3 patient's I needed reprocessing on and I thought, "Oh hell, I'll just stay on and have her do these." After she finished the first one I said, "Ok, I have two more patients."

First she sighed, then she said, "Oh brother..." then she said, "Why do you guys make so many mistakes, we don't make mistakes here?"

CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT!!!!?? Is that just God laughing at me? What are the odds?!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You Can't Win if You Don't Play

Been spending too much money on lottery tickets lately--don't I trust God?
 
Well, yeah I do, but what if he wants me to win the lottery?
 
See, now that's thinking.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Born This Way?

Two weeks ago I received my first copy of my six-month subscription to Rolling Stone that I paid a dollar for on Amazon. Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga to the lay folk, graced the cover.

This brings up a whole host of issues that I'm not interested in dealing with at this time. I very much dislike Lady Gaga, but it's hard for me to say why. In a nutshell I must say this: I'm not some typical Christian who hates most of what our culture manufactures. I like Ke$hsa, Eminem, Beyonce, Katy Perry to a small extent. But there is just something about L.G. that drives me to crazy town.

Very recently she released her latest album entitled "Born This Way." Now obviously at least some part of that is meant to deal with the Christian-right notion that being gay is a choice. I find the whole choice/genetics debate boring and missing the mark and I'm not interested in talking about it. I don't care if Lady Gaga believes that people are born gay or if they become gay. Repeat: I don't care. I haven't even made my own mind up about it, but I suspect it isn't as simple as a one or the other and that it is a misleading dichotomy—but for the purposes of this blog that's neither here nor there.

So leaving behind the gay debate we consider the phrase: Born This Way. Immediately I hated it and I wasn't sure why. My wife and I discussed it and she was basically cool with it. And I agree with her reasoning: a lot of who we are can be chalked up to the fact that this is simply who we are, who we were born as, and who we were meant to be by that impersonal force or god that created us. Yeah, I'm cool with that—AS FAR AS IT GOES. And to me, it doesn't go that far.

But I was trying to explain that to Jess, and it turned out to be deceptively hard to explain. I kept coming back to the reasoning that it is just too simple to say "Well, I was born this way." It seemed anti-intellectual, that it was too much of a catch-all. But I didn't have a good reason for why it was bad in the face of the fact that it does serve as a decent argument to explain why we are the way that we are.

So I stewed on it, not satisfied with the argument I was pushing—until tonite. Tonite I flipped on the last 15 minutes of Project Glee. I've never seen the show before, but Jess is a fan of Glee, so I thought it made sense to tune in. This girl was singing her heart out, and seemed to be doing a good job. She finished, and at first the judges were complementary. They said good things about her voice and her style, but then one judge told her that she got kind of got cutsie at the end when she really didn't need to, and he told her that she was over-compensating for something.

In that moment it occured to me that she could go with the Lady Gaga defense: "I wasn't compensating for anything, this is who I am—I was born this way."

I had finally put my thumb on the problem: Born this way—as if that's an answer to a question or a problem, is, in the end, an argument against change, against development, against evolution and improvement. Born this way is a ready made, applicable in any scenario excuse to not challenge yourself, to not deal with your strengths and weaknesses honestly, and to not progress and change because you have already been predetermined to be exactly where you are. Imagine the teacher trying to deal with the struggling high school student: "No, I can't do this school thing, I was born this way." Or the cruel, bastard husband to his wife, "What, this is who I am, I was born this way."

There is some truth to the phrase, but it is so woefully devoid of nuance and perspective and ultimately is an incomplete and extremely qualified thought that has no business masquerading as a mantra and complete philosophy.

I mean Mother Monster no ill will and I hope that she and I can still be friends, but dammit, you've got to call a spade a spade.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Get Yourself Some Wisdom

Ok, I plugged him before, but are you reading James Altucher yet? What are you waiting for? The guy is brilliant. Yes it's true that he's quite the entrepenuer, but I'm not (at least not yet), and his advice is so great and applicable for all of us out there, not just business leaders.

Here's a recent blog that I really enjoyed, Plug All of Your Leaks or You Will Die (nope, he's not really one for mincing words). And here's a little exerpt:

"Everybody has problems. They weren’t loved enough as children. They aren’t loved enough now. They are scared of their own financial issues. It’s been a tough, tough decade for everyone. You either take that toughness and turn it into compassion, or you let that toughness take over you. You become the leak. The people around you every day, for the most part, have had the energy severely drained out of them. They are your worst leaks. You must keep contact at a minimum. You can be the source of strength, but only if you are on guard against the leeches that will sneak through your clothes and latch onto your body."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I Cuss

WARNING: Explicit content lies below!

Spoiler Alert: In my forthcoming book you will find some words that you cannot hear on broadcast television per FCC guidelines. Call me crazy, but I am anticipating that this will not sit well with some people. In the American Christian subculture, of which I am a part, cussing is a hot button issue. John Piper, a very well known pastor from Minnesota, once remarked at a conference that, “God kicks our ass.” The powers that be cried out for blood, and he was made to apologize.

I agonized over whether or not to include the swear words that I did in my book. They flowed onto the page naturally enough during the writing process, but I had to discuss with Jessica whether or not they would make the final cut. I still don’t feel one hundred percent great about them, but I decided I would like myself even less if I took them out. I started out this life as a boy who stressed about becoming a movie star because I would one day be handed a script that contained swearing. I knew that at that time I would have to inform them that I didn’t do that sort of thing, that they would need to rewrite it if they wanted me in their movie. Though that sounds confident, I was actually very nervous for the confrontation. So how did I go from that level of purity to a person willing to immortalize four letter words in his own memoir? I’ll try to show you. If you have a strong opinion on the subject then I don’t expect to change your mind, but the words need saying, so you might as well listen.

I am someone who cusses. I grew up with a dad who did it entirely too much, and a mother who did it not at all. I hardly ever do it in public, at work or with anyone that I don’t know very well (which is also a good start for advice on sex). I think of this as me being respectful, and I think it is, to some extent, but it’s also very fear based. I have a major complex about swearing. Alarms go off in my brain anytime I hear someone I like or respect swear. Whether my mom meant to or not, ever since I can remember I was left with the impression that you could not be a good, respectable person and also swear, and you most certainly couldn’t be a Christian. I have consciously shucked this belief, but the residue of the axiom burns bright, and I don’t think it will ever go away.

Like I said, I am someone who swears. If I were to filter that out in my most personal description of my life, that I'm publishing for all eyes to see, I feel like I would be hiding something. I feel like I'd be allowing a veneer of acceptability to cover all the bits I'm worried someone would find distasteful. I don't like living my life that way. I still play the game, I always will, but I try to rebel against it as often as I can without being deported. That's it--that's why I'm leaving it in the book.

"But Jason, isn't swearing wrong?"

I have three answers to that question: Yes. No. Maybe.

Yes: Swearing is best used sparingly. The point of cussing is that it has power--the more you use it, the more you drain it of its effectiveness. For many people it becomes a stand in for articulation and actually expressing yourself. Overuse draws a straight line to meaninglessness. Very often swearing is the wrong thing to do.

No: Sometimes it is needed. Sometimes there is not a better word in the English language for a particular turn of phrase than a swear word. One of my favorite quotes is Hemingway's, "The first draft of anything is shit." I defy anyone to better express that sentiment without the cuss. Swear words are culturally appointed, not fixed things that will never change. They're man made, not handed down from Sinai.

Maybe: But the Christians will go straight to the Bible. Fine, we'll go there. There is no verse that says "no swearing." But there is a verse that says do not be coarse. I simply believe that you can swear without being coarse. Often times swearing is very coarse, of course. But here's the other thing I always point out: You can be extremely coarse without ever employing a swear. And that is why the Bible is actually weakened when we only file the very narrow category of "swearing" under the don't be coarse directive. I say this is a "maybe" because I know my argument is by no means watertight, but it's where I land on the issue.

Closing Thoughts:

The problem with a lot of Christian writing, if I can be so bold as to make a sweeping generalization, is that it’s tame and predictable. You know the answer will always be Jesus. An air of holiness wafts from the pages as you turn them. Now you have to be careful because sometimes this is genuine and I don’t begrudge anyone speaking in their actual voice. But often it isn't. People feel they need to say that Jesus has washed them white as snow, and the proof is a squeaky clean life.

That's bullshit.

Jesus has taken care of your sin problem in a spiritual sense with God, but we're all still very broken, needy and sinful down here on earth. I do believe God wants to save you from that as well, but it is a very slow, back and forth and never ending process.

Jesus didn’t come to make us nice. Jesus didn’t come so that we might be prim and proper and to make sure we have our shit in a row, our cheese on our cracker, and always observing a two drink limit. He came to redeem you, to make you new, not dust you off and do a makeover. It is because Jesus came that we can be honest about how messed up we are, how messed up this world is--indeed that's his only requirement, to admit the plain truth that you're jacked, and therefore you need him.

Whoa, got a little evangelical there, I apologize, but hopefully it helped to serve my point. I know this has been tough, but hopefully you and I are still friends. Feel free to comment, email or call if you're worried for me, if I'm completely off and need to be set straight. I'll buy you a coffee or a beer (which one depends on how much I like you), and we can talk about it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mysterium Tremendum

No, it isn't something from Harry Potter--it's much better, because it's real.

Mysterium Tremendum is a term that was coined in the early part of the 20th century to describe when someone has experienced the presense of the Holy, of the Wholly Other, of Divinity. Doubt, laugh or roll your eyes, but Aldous Huxley, certainly no Christian, described it this way:

"The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the in-compatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God."

I'm captivated by the profundity and implications of his description. I sort of look at it and ponder in awe. I hope you receive a similar high from it as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Deal In Hypotheticals

If the devil ever threatened me or my family I would start my defense by searching the Yellow Pages for an angel lawyer. If you operate under the truth that “stranger things have happened” it makes sense to start there. If you don’t believe in that then I can see how you would think it’s crazy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Disillusioned

This was the look on his face when I told him he wasn't driving a real car.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What Is It, and How Much Did it Cost?

The other day Jess wrote something wonderful, and I told her it needed to be shared. It was funny, insightful and sometimes personal, and it was this latter trait that she was hung up on. Why would anyone want to hear about her little hang-ups and random thoughts? What if someone was offended? I identify with these questions, but I also think I’ve managed a bit of transcendence beyond them and their talons. It is from that hard fought experience that I wish to share a few thoughts.


Thought #1: What is Art?

I don’t have a complete answer to this question, but I have notched a few of its characteristics into my mind. I hate and have always hated what I am about to say. You must understand that I don’t have the mind of an artist, of a creative type. I want all the boxes checked, all the buttons done up proper, and all the answer straight, concise, logical and as uncomplicated as possible. I don’t thrive in ambiguity—I try to commit homicide on ambiguity whenever I get the chance. But here is the thing I hate that I can no longer run from:


Art is different things to different people.

 
I am not ok with this. When I see “modern art” in a museum I will not shut up about how much I hate it, about how it isn’t truly art at all but someone who let their mind throw up on a canvas. Jess and I were at a museum a few months ago and I would not stop articulating how lowly so much of what I was seeing was, and she let me know that I better figure out how to stop it—quickly. But I cannot escape that there are some works of art (by this I mean music, movies, books etc.) that I cherish, and yet others would just as soon see fire set to them. The other thing is that James Joyce, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dostoevsky are all telling stories in incredibly different ways—and they’re all brilliant. Two of these authors I am in no way a fan of, but I understand that they are brilliant. If you only read Stephen King and then someone showed you Kurt Vonnegut you’d say, “This isn’t a book,” and you’d scratch your head in confusion—you’d have no frame of reference to judge by. It is ok that I don’t like Kurt Vonnegut, unfortunately it is not ok for me to tell you that you shouldn’t like him either. He is a brilliant mind and writer, yet I don’t think I’d pay $15 to own his entire collection. A lot of people like Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections.” I haven’t read it myself, but Stephen King said he wanted to throw it across the room, and then return, maybe, but only to piss on it. How is it possible that such a well regarded author could hate so deeply the work of another well regarded author? I didn’t write the rules, and I don’t understand why it should work this way. But it does.
What I’m talking about is freedom. The fact that brilliance can go so unappreciated should liberate you. Please, do your thing, I might even tell you it’s shit—if you like it, if it pleases you, then you need to ignore me.

Thought #2: Count the Cost

This is what I told Jess about her dilemma. People often respond well when they know that it cost you something to put those words on that page. Truth never fails to play a chord that resonates in the human soul. When you break through that fa├žade that we all put on for each other, people take notice. If it hurts to see it on the page, you’re probably going in the right direction. Not all good writing requires pain, but it does require a cost. If it was easy, you may have a problem on your hands. But that isn’t always true, so be careful. I don’t want what Joyce is selling, but I do accept that he had to pay a lot to get it out there.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Death to Rodents

To some I am the very breath of life, but to rodents I am the merciless angel of death.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Burning Plane Theory

When I was young there was one argument that I never got tired of making. I used to argue that if you were in a plane that was going down, there was only one way to insure survival. You need to stand at the door of the plane. As it's going down you're readying yourself to jump. As soon as the plane gets 10 to 15 feet from the ground you jump straight up into the air with all of your might. Your positive force going up will break the downward trajectory of the plane, and you'll simply fall to the ground, as if you fell from the roof of a shed. At this time it's important to begin to roll away from the crash site. You should tuck your arms and roll about 100 to 150 yards away to avoid any major debrie or other bodies falling on you.

 

This argument used to unfuriate people. They would insist vehemenently that I was wrong, that there was no way that would work. I assured them that with the right amount of intestinal fortitude and gumption, it could be done.

 

And I was right. In the intervening years science has proved that I was right; the advent of modern physics and string theory have more than exonorated my theory. I think people were upset that they didn't think of this themselves. Here I was, a boy of 9, and my way of thinking was so far advanced beyond my peers and even their parents—I think I would hate me and my intellect too.
 

I only bring it up because I wanted to remind you why you're reading me: Because I'm smarter than all the other competition out there, and you need me if you're going to consider yourself informed in this world.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why Our Basic Inclinations Are Wrong

This is now required reading if you still want to be my friend.

It's posted on NYTimes.com and I think they make you pay to see things that are more than a week old, so I'll post the text below until they sue me for everything I'm worth and there isn't a drop of fight left in these old bones.

It’s Not About You

Over the past few weeks, America’s colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew.

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.
More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.

Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself. As Atul Gawande mentioned during his countercultural address last week at Harvard Medical School, being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.

Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

Jason's contribution to the end of the article: "Lose yourself," just like Eminem said.