Archive for October, 2009

Ladybug Invasion

October 30, 2009

This happens every year: they ball themselves up and work their way inside: little hard-shell tanks squeezing in through slits and cracks. Something draws them, some mysterious bait, like a smell, a color, a texture too small or esoteric for humans to comprehend. It’s a ladybug thing. Once inside they are at a loss–their little instincts have played them false. There are no rose bushes here, no grass blades, no aphids or cutworms to molest. They fritter away their remaining hours crawling from here to there, or buzzing–when they land they stuff their gauzy gray wings quickly undercover like a torn slip. I never see them in flight, only landing. It’s a clumsy business with the wings spinning like helicopter blades, hauling a bulky cargo. On their tiny pinstroke legs they’re neat and spiffy, reconnoitering for the home they’ll never make.

What I’m Doing Now

October 28, 2009

Now that I’m almost done with the first draft of my next novel, it might be time to ask if it’s a feasible project.

Here’s the thing: the story has nine main characters. In other words, no main character, but an ensemble of interacting parts. If it were a movie it would be something directed by Robert Altman, where a common narrative thread connects people from different backgrounds–except, in my case, all the people are kids, ages 11-13. The main narrative takes place on a school bus–talk about forward motion!–and unfolds over the course of a school year. Nine months, nine characters: each month will focus on one of them. The title is, Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous.

This is a rare case where I thought of the title first, then came up with the story. There’s a mystery embedded in the title, of course: who?? Each of the children has some potential for “fame,” but also some built-in limitations, and are we talking about fame or in-fame, and is it in the near future and the distant future, and is it possible that the “somebody” isn’t one of the nine at all? And, in an age obsessed with “celebrity,” is fame necessarily a good thing?

There’s another mystery in the plot, which comprises the main narrative thread and has to do with something that regularly happens along the route. But I won’t go into that.

My question about feasibility is . . . . NINE main characters?? I’ve been told it’s inadvisable to project more than two, although it was done successfully with four in E. L. Koningsberg’s The View From Saturday. Less successfully (some would say) in Lynn Perkins’ Criss Cross, even though that book won a Newbery Award.

With a first draft almost complete, the torch is lit and I’m running with it. I can’t help asking though . . . now that I have this blog it might be interesting to throw the idea out there. Otherwise I’m thinking in a vacuum. Characters welcome . . . comments, too.

A Modest Proposal

October 9, 2009

To tell the truth, I’m almost to my limit with the health care “debate,” but something stirred my interest the other day: a bill. From the doctor’s office. They said I owed almost $250 more than I already paid for a routine checkup.
So, after calling the office numerous times, we finally got it straightened out: the billing clerk didn’t realize that we are cash customers. Lacking health insurance, like, um, 47 million other Americans, we pay as we go for services rendered. Our status, understood at the main desk where I wrote the check, didn’t get back to the office where bills are processed. I paid $145 for the checkup and some blood work recommended by my OB/GYN, and thought that was that. But according to the bill, I owed an additional $243. Why? Because the billing clerk thought I had insurance. Once she understood that I didn’t, the $243 was struck from the record and I’m no longer a debtor.
But I’m thinking, why should having insurance more than double my bill? Fortunately, I had the answer: “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” an article in The Atlantic by David Goldhill. Below the catchy title is one of the clearest explanations of the current system I’ve ever read.
The essence of Goldhill’s argument is that, in the health care system as it’s evolved, patients are not customers. The insurance company or the US government is the customer, and are billed according to their deep pockets. It’s not that all doctors are rapacious, but simply that it costs money to shuffle papers in offices. That’s what insurance companies and Medicare do, basically: pay people to shuffle papers in offices, and some of that money sifts down to pay the actual bill.
So my modest proposal is this: why don’t those of us with moderate means pay for our own doctor visits and routine tests? That involves making decisions; for instance–in my latest visit, my doctor recommended a biopsy. I did some research and decided not to, and time, I believe, has proved that decision to be wise. The $145 I paid may seem a little steep, but I spend that much on two weeks’ worth of groceries or a month of gasoline. Why don’t we do health insurance like we do auto insurance, where you pay for your own oil changes and new tires, and let the insurance pay for the unexpected disaster?

It’ll never happen, though–it makes too much sense.