it’s curmudgeon time

Bureaucracy, n., A system set up to help large institutions waste the time, resources, and lifespans of individuals.
—PJ’s Devilish Dictionary


One gets the impression sometimes that large medical institutions would be happier if we would all just die and stop bothering them. Certainly, their bureaucracies have little regard for our individual stories and needs. Some of these institutions train their employees well, to be completely professional in their ineptitude. Others can’t be arsed, but it all works out the same.

Or maybe that’s just an American thing.

And let me just state for the record: I know I am lucky to have medical and drug coverage at all, given that I am an American and our pay-for-play medical system is an abomination.

As of November 1, I transitioned all my medical coverage from two systems to two others, medical and drug (actually, three others but I won’t get into the horrorshow of that). It took hours on the phone, but mostly it seemed to go smoothly. Most of my prescriptions from my primary care physician got through to the new drug pushers and I received a new supply in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the most vital medication I take, the artificial thyroid hormone that keeps me alive, did not. My thyroid was removed some years back because I had cancer, so I literally cannot live without the synthetic hormone. I have been on the phone with UCLA countless times since November 1 trying to explain to them that the old prescription service they’ve been blithely sending my prescription to is no longer my service. I even explained this to my doctor on my last office visit on October 29 when he electronically sent the prescription off to my old service while I was in the office with him.

“I’m sorry, doctor, that won’t work. They’re no longer my provider.”
“Oh? Well, call into the office with the new information and we’ll send it again. Next!”

I’ve called several times in the last month, explained the situation patiently, been reassured that the next time the doctor is in the office, they will send the prescription off to the service. Fortunately, I had plenty of pills when this started. I’m now down to about a two-week supply and once the Rx is sent, it will take about a week for them to send me new pills. So, I called yesterday yet again and this time I seemed to have gotten someone who not only sounded professional but acted it. She told me that their records said the Rx had already been put in (but I’d just talked to my Rx provider and it had not). I explained yet again that it had been sent to my old Rx provider. She took extensive notes (like the others before her) and sent it on to the doctor’s assistant, putting an expedite on it because I was getting so short on meds. She said someone would call me back by 11 a.m. today to let me know how it was resolved.

I guess I don’t need to tell you that 11:30 rolled around and still no call. I called once more. This time I got another professional-sounding person who finally admitted that the doctor’s assistant had changed the information in the computer only yesterday. But now the doctor won’t be in until Thursday, so that’s the soonest this can be resolved.

I lost my shit. I usually don’t go that route because it’s counterproductive and because I really don’t like being that person. I try to remain reasonable even in the presence of dumberheads and I try not to swear and do other things that turn people hostile. But this is my life and they are being careless with it. I may have said something along the lines of, “This is what you’ve said every time I’ve called and nothing gets done. I’m tired of you all and if I get sick because of this I’m suing the shit out of UCLA.” (I probably won’t and they know it.)

It did not make me feel better. In fact, it just made me feel more impotent because, essentially, we both knew I was impotent in this situation (the other reason I don’t like to go there). The professional-sounding person on the other end of the line listened and said very professionally, “I’m sorry I can’t do anything more at this time. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Is there anything else I can help you with? is one of the more infuriating sentences in the world when you’ve been bashing your head against an intransigent wall. It is the last refuge of incompetent systems because they know there’s no reasonable reply to it except no. It is the professional equivalent of “Get off my phone and go fuck yourself.”

I have to say that there is some fine medicine being done at UCLA, and they have trained their personnel to meticulously professional phone manners instead of the old “Yeah, whatever” you used to get at UCLA. It doesn’t mean that they’re doing the job any better, but hey, they sound good. And UCLA would rather sound good than be good, if you know what I mean (and if you understand ancient SNL references).

I like my doctor there quite well. We’ve been together years and he’s a pioneer in the field and he’s done quite well for me generally. But this was not his finest hour, and the bureaucracy at UCLA is getting worse, not better. I may have to find a new endrocrinologist. Who is not associated with UCLA.

  1. Let me thread you a story… (1-26)
  2. Christina Lovejoy, town curmudgeon, takes great pride in her work. She’ll crank out a grumpy face & cynical comment for many occasions,
  3. but she don’t rightly hold with raining on the parades (or birthdays, weddings, and the like) of common folk.
  4. She mostly saves her curmudgeonliness for when people in power are acting like jackasses.
  5. (Although it did come in handy that time the town caught Excessive Jubilance Disease a few years back.)
  6. “Resistance is not futile,” Christina is fond of saying, often using a mock-robot voice. “Resistance is essential.”
  7. Take, for instance, that time President Turps & Vice President Pinche passed through Portalville on their way to an economic summit.
  8. Secret Service was out in force, of course, & nobody had a problem with that. After all, big men need protecting from public opinion.
  9. But just the week before Prez Turps declared he would build a great big ol’ wall around our portal to keep out illegal aliens.
  10. VP Pinche just nodded and gave his lord and master an idiot grin (cuz the man couldn’t find his own rear with both hands) and mumbled
  11. something about subversion and perversion and conversion. Couldn’t rightly figure what he was driving at but it sounded sinister.
  12. Thing is, couldn’t none of us remember seeing illegal aliens come through our portal, just the regular grey and Nordic variety,
  13. plus assorted critters from the Multiverse. But they’s somewhat of this town’s lifeblood, if you know what I mean. They keep us lively,
  14. and honest, if I’m being honest. Christina saw it just about the same way. She stood in the middle of Route 40 as the motorcade
  15. came through town. The Secret Service swarmed to clear her out of the way, but she presented them with her grumpiest of grump faces.
  16. Halted them dead in their tracks, I can tell you. Couldn’t get within ten feet of her. The motorcade had to stop.
  17. “I mean the president no harm,” she told everyone. “But I AM going to speak my mind.”
  18. All the tinted windows in the president’s limo spontaneously rolled down at once so he could hear what Christina had to say.
  19. “You can try building a wall around our portal,” she said, “but you should know we are a small town surrounded by big power….
  20. “Really big power, like HUGE, and it would be bad, very bad, and sad, very sad, if you did anything so rash.
  21. “That kind of power can’t be contained. It ripples out underground, spreading from this town out and beyond,
  22. “to places you can’t even imagine, like the hearts of good people, to the selfless and the courageous and the compassionate—
  23. “those things you & that Pinche with you have only heard spoken of & never felt yourselves. You can’t stop feelings, can’t stop ideas.
  24. “So I suggest you give up on that wall or you’ll be swallowed in an ocean of contempt that will drown you. Big water, big, big water.”
  25. Christina stepped out of the road, the president’s windows rolled back up, and the motorcade went on its way.
  26. But ain’t none of us heard any more nonsense about walling off the portal.

Random quote of the day:

“You can be nasty when you are young, but you really have to be older to achieve bitterness.”

—Fran Lebowitz, The Paris Review, Issue 127, Summer 1993


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.


So, here I am reading a book I’m enjoying immensely. I come upon a chapter in which the writer does something that I know, positively, I have told some young writers in my capacity as a critiquer to never do—switching POV late in a book to one not encountered before. Hey, I’ve been told not to do that myself. The thing is, it works perfectly in this book. As a reader coming upon that shift, I could give a hairy pontiff’s left ear whether the writer has changed POV. I want the information it can give me, I want to know what happens next. And in that moment of realization a great crap paper tide of old critiques fluttered behind me and a voice called across the abyss as it filled with the perfidy of my Writing Thoughts, It doesn’t really matter what you’re supposed to do. The only thing that matters is if you can make what you do work.

Not the first time I’ve had that thought, but it came home especially strong to me today. It may have something to do with rereading one of my older novels—a shuddering experience if ever there is one.

Experience. That’s the key word. The perfidy mentioned above is all about the difference between critiques based on experience (and maybe instinct) and those based on regurgitation. “The Rules” only matter if the story doesn’t work. And here’s the other thing, even if a beta reader or critquer or critic says the story doesn’t work, it still might not matter. That “doesn’t work” can be a question of individual taste, or prejudice, or the sour feeling left in the reader’s stomach by the cafeteria food. If your own gut—not the one turning sour—tells you that something is right, you need to stick by it.

I’m not saying we writers have a magic I’m A Genius Don’t Bother Me With Your Tiny Opinions card. No. If enough people tell you that something isn’t working, you should probably pay attention to that. Be very sure that your gut is talking, telling you a thing is right, and not some fractured corner of your ego.

And even as I’m typing that last paragraph, I’m thinking “Regurgitated Wisdom.” (Because, really, haven’t you heard the one about “if enough people” ad nauseam?) In this case, it happens to be regurgitated with a side of experience, so maybe it’s not total bullshit. Maybe I do sort of know what I’m talking about in this particular instance, as opposed to some of the half-assed critiques I have offered up over the years.

But you never know. Reading my old stuff and realizing how deluded I was about the quality of that work has me stumbling through a funhouse of fractured and distorted opinion. What do I really know?

This is an existential question and has no real answer. The question is the black matter holding the universe together like invisible glue. It is self-contained and complete and needs no critique to make it whole. Sufficient unto the day is the question thereof.

Dear Sir:

Your blog giving advice on doing quality self-publishing is riddled with careless typos. This does not inspire confidence. Yours, PJ

Dear Madam:

Your failure to distinguish between a Viking boat & a pirate ship when discussing cover art does not inspire confidence. Yours, PJ

Dear Madam:

Your blithe suggestions on how to squeeze more time out of a busy life for writing has PRIVILEGE scrawled all over it. No confidence. Yours, PJ

And that’s about all the writing/indy publishing blogging advice I can stomach for one day. Why did I inflict this upon myself in the first place? Clearly, I’m a masochist. Oh, I think maybe I’ll learn something that will revolutionize my life, get my creative life back on track and running smoothly. But no. There isn’t anything in any of these blogs that couldn’t be figured out by a half-witted horse with dyspepsia.

They are all written with such twerpy exuberance, too—the exuberance of those who have spent little time in the salt mines, whose biggest challenge in life balance seems to be choosing between watching TV with the wubs vs. social networking vs. actual writing.

I try hard not to think in terms of moral superiority—my reality vs. your networking reality—because as the old saying goes, “Everyone’s bag of stones weighs heavy to them.” But there’s generally an undertone of moral superiority running through these blogs, too. Sometimes not an undertone, but an overt and snot-nosed tone, if you want to know the truth. It’s hard not to get all morally-superioritying back at them.

Yet still these blogs are passed back and forth between hopefuls as if there’s some talismanic magic attached to them. The sad truth is that most seem more about having a platform for selling books than genuinely trying to help anyone. But I open each new one with hope, cynicism firmly suppressed because…well, I would like a little talismanic magic right about now. Maybe there will be some golden piece of wisdom my gassy, half-witted horse hasn’t already shared with me.

You see, I really am a masochist. Bring on the leather, the whips and chains!

ETA: There is actually quite a bit of really good advice out there, too, but wading through the self-involved claptrap to get to it can be quite discouraging.


Bureaucracy, n., A system set up to help large institutions waste the time, resources, and lifespans of individuals.



*With apologies to Ambrose Bierce.