Are You There America? It's Me…

November 18, 2008

Dreams On Life Support

Filed under: Fiction,Politics,Prose — Simone Barros @ 4:55 pm
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The doctor and nurse enter the sterile hospital room where machines hum, buzz and beep the factuality of their existence overpowering the faint sounds of sighs, coughs and wheezing.  The human sounds are not so certain of their existence.  The nurse tends to everything from the IVs to bedding.  The doctor asks, “How’s the patient?”  I can’t help but think, “You know better than me.  You, who can read the wheezing and coughs, you, see inside the chest and mind with x-rays and CAT scans, you tell me how the patient is doing” and in my silence, he does.  “The patient is no longer breathing on her own.  These machines are keeping her alive.” 

Machines which will pump the breathe of life into her lungs without judgment or prejudice for the kind life it is.  It could be miserable and torturous and desperately painful but the machine doesn’t care.  The doctor goes on talking but I’m stuck wondering why the machine doesn’t care. 

As long as the blood flows and the heart beats the machine doesn’t care.  As long as the stomach churns food, the fuel of the system, the machine doesn’t care.  I wonder would the machine pay any attention if that fuel ran out.  The patient’s figure once of such girth now lies frail and thin.  The fuel is running out.  How low must the fuel go before the machine cares?  I suppose the fuel would have dry up to the point where blood cells stood stalled on the arterial highways. 

From the parade of medical terms marching out of the doctor’s month, I see “white blood cells.”  Like the veterans in the Veteran’s Day parade, the white blood cells hobble and crank by in wheelchairs, their fortitude admirable but their numbers dwindling.  This once formidable patient now lies vulnerable to any and all attacks to her immune system.  I wonder does the machine care of her weakening defenses. 

The doctor clips the CAT scan to a light box hanging on the wall.  “Here is the remarkable thing.”  I lift my eyes heavy with exhaustion to view this black and white image of the patient’s grey matter.  “Such a unique case qualifies for the research in neurology.  Her insurance isn’t covering this so might as well free up this bed.  Neurology would be thrilled, I’m sure. The brain activity for a person with this much failure in the respiratory system is remarkable.” 

So is this what the machine cares about?  Brain activity?  Even though the patient seems so disconnected with the things going on around her and in her, somewhere the mind activates… what?  Dreams?  Visions of happier days to come?  Why do the dreams go one when all else fails?  Is this what the machine cares about?  Does the machine defy every other sign of death because of brain activity?  Could be?  The electricity that flows through the machine’s wiring might pick up some kind of interference from the electricity in the brain.  Is the machine betting that as long as it can keep the dream alive, it will have a purpose and not be unplugged and shoved into a storage-closest?  

 “That must be it!” I exclaim.  The doctor who confers with a nurse stops mid-sentence.  The machine has nothing to do with actually healing the patient’s failures and making her dreams a reality.  The machine only needs to keep the dream alive.  Keep the dream alive.  Keep the dream alive just so the patient muddles through this less than life, life.  “Unplug the machine.”  I announce.  The doctor barks about the constitutional rights of the patient.   He speaks of the right to life.  I proclaim the right to a free life.  I announce and proclaim though they lean in close like I’m panting out words clouded in mucus-y odor.  The nurse looks between the two of us, “She is speaking.  Doctor, you must listen.  She has opened her eyes!” 

My dreams are on life-support because that’s all of me that’s left but at some point the decision has to be made to pull the plug. 


Fear, Fear Go Away Come Again Another Administration

Filed under: Politics — Simone Barros @ 4:47 pm
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I admit my heart held an increased anxiety and apprehension as I watched Obama’s speech the night he was elected.  I am afraid and I voted for him!  So, I hate being afraid.  My fear doesn’t arise out of worrying that I won’t be able to buy an eighth gun, or make a tax free $250,000 by clicking a few buttons executing stock trades or that socialism will snatch my extra million that I was going spend on a new yacht and use it toward someone making $11.50 an hour to curb the costs of their life-saving heart transplant.  I’d be loathed to harbor those fears and yet, I am fearful. 

 You see, I live in Cleveland and I am desperately searching for a new career as the past eight years since I graduated from college have left me unsecured and in much debt.  Yep, I’m the lucky one who graduated from college the very same year Bush was elected, so I think my life is a picture of the results of his administration. 

I own no home because I refused to pay or rather borrow more than the house’s worth.  I don’t own a car because I refuse to take on big debt considering my low salary and lack of job security.  I’ve never made more than $27,000 a year even though I have a bachelor’s degree from a school ranked 31st among the world’s top 500 universities, 33rd on the national ranking and ranked 1st in my specific field! Yet, I have no career for all that education and hard work. 

I lived in New York on September 11th and waited with my heart in my hands for my friends who worked on Wall Street to come home.  So I take it personally that Osama bin Laden walks free, all the while Halliburton has made a pretty penny on infantry secured oil contracts.  

I’ve had to file for unemployment, and last year I had to put my student loans in forbearance.  Now, all the years I’d paid them down has been obliterated because of the interest that has grown during this forbearance. 

I had to put off paying for a wedding and most painfully having children because my fiancé is in the exact same situation as me. So I’ve really lived the effects of the Bush administration. 

Therefore, I’m baffled as to exactly why so many people think the conservative policies are not ones to fear.  I did everything by the book, straight As, National Honor’s Society, went to a great college, studied aboard.  I graduated and worked 16 hour days, six days a week, trying to build successful career.  I did everything everyone says is needed to succeed in this country and yet I’m drowning!  Okay, so I did study the arts even though I have a high aptitude for chemistry and physics.  To correct that mistake, I’m preparing to pursue a masters-degree in a science field but was horribly dismayed when a friend who studied chemical engineering, graduated in 2001, could not find work.  So he went directly to grad school getting a master in chemical engineering only to work extreme hours for little pay and little job satisfaction.  Big surprise! The science fields in the past eight years have not enjoyed growth, job security or satisfaction. 

When Obama spoke after being elected, the only thing I feared was that the change he champions won’t undo the damage that’s been done.  Among these articles and stories of people buying guns is preparation of the Obama administration I would really like to know what I should do in preparation of the Obama administration.  Should I study environmental sciences because he boasts funding alternative fuel research?  Should I join the Peace Corps to gain tuition credit as I take on loans for a masters-degree?  In talking about the bail-out Obama and Democrats say they want to open the credit market but I don’t need or want credit.  I need a higher income.  I could re-start my career by opening a small business but without projecting revenue and profit, should I take out small business loans?  Once Obama was elected everyone said racism was over, so should I go back to the executive who didn’t promote me, despite the glowing recommendations from other executives in the company?  The last person that reluctant executive promoted was a white male so should I go to him now and tell him that racism is all over, he and I can have a drink celebrating the promotion that I now have earned through hard work and merited with my talent?  Or should I start going to my family who now has all the prosperity that racism robbed generations of my family and ask for the same thousands of dollars cash graduation presents that my white peers used to kick start their careers?  I am afraid, because I don’t know how to utilize Obama’s administration to really change my life and give me the future I’ve dreamt.  If anyone knows how to do this please, please let me know.  Or just tell me what you’re doing to change all the hope of this campaign into the reality of an administration that will give you a prosperous life. 

My dreams are still alive but the past eight years have put them on life-support.  Does Obama really have the miracle cure to enable me?  Will I really get a chance to make something real happen from all my drive and determination?  If so I don’t want miss it and I guess I’m most fearful that I will.


November 8, 2008

America? Are You There? Are you celebrating?

C Wesley Crump

Photographer: C Wesley Crump

Are you there, America?  Are you celebrating?  Are you smiling as tears swell in your eyes? Is your heart ready to burst?  My heart beats as fiercely but I’m not quite sure it beats in time with the collective rhythm of this momentous moment.  Having celebrated my thirtieth birthday in this historic year, perhaps I am too young to realize this momentous culmination of the Civil Rights Movement or perhaps I am not young enough to be a part of the galvanized youth vote. For some reason the sentimentality of the moment escapes me.


Not that my mind fails to process this historic moment when a person who embodies the biracial foundation of The United States becomes the president of The Unites States.  I feel confident in naming the United States’ foundation a biracial one and one of multicultural decent just as Barack Obama is, just as all of us Americans truly are deep down inside.


Long ago when The United States was not a nation but simply a grouping of colonies on the brink of bankruptcy, dark skinned people from Africa cultivated tobacco and saved the first permanent English colony, Jamestown, Virginia, from starvation and ultimate ruin.  The Virginia Company based in London nearly “laid off” and closed down the Jamestown “offices” leaving the colonial employees not simply unemployed but dead.  Over half of Jamestown colonialists had already died as the colony failed to produce a successful crop and profit. However in 1619 when the first English settlers forced the first Yoruban settlers, the first Togolese settlers and the first Ghanan, Adja, Mina, Ewe, Fon, Mbundu, BaKongo, Igbo, Wolof, Chamba, Makua settlers to cultivate the tobacco crop, a colony’s financial standing finally rose out of the red and into the black, literally, and a nation was born.  A nation built by the calloused hands of European and African peoples.  1619 marks the first year slaves rescued a colony and synchronously marks the creation of the elected legislative body, the House of Burgesses in Jamestown.  Slavery and democracy, hand in hand, birthed a nation.  I doubt the English settlers realized the intrinsic bond they formed by spilling the blood of African peoples in the desperate act of staving off more deaths of European peoples.  


Yet the blood was spilled and mixed and soaked into the earth of this land.  As Crispus Attucks, a former slave who achieved his freedom and became a sailor spilled his blood among the first causalities in the Boston Massacre of the American Revolutionary War, as Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers and Buffalo soldiers poured their blood on American soil, biracial blood continued to flow and further fertilized this country’s land.  Throughout history, American bipartisanship mirrored America’s biracial foundation as both parties have followed the inspirations of Republicans Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln as well as Democrats Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy who introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  It would be painfully obtuse of me to overlook the floods of African blood that fertilized American land from the lynching of slavery, Reconstruction, segregation and Civil Rights but it would also be bitterly blinding for me to overlook the European blood that also flowed.  


On the second Tuesday of November in the year of two thousand eight, exactly three hundred eighty nine years, one hundred forty one thousand, nine hundred eighty five days, countless human lives after 1619, this moment of a black person’s election as The United States President seemed inevitable to me.


As an eighth grade student, when my teacher posed the question, “Do you think an African American can become president?”  I stood alone declaring yes.  Perhaps because my parents taught me to believe that with hard work, determination and imagination, I could achieve anything I dreamed of achieving, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because my maternal biracial great-grandfather bought the land he farmed in a time were slave decedents worked only as sharecroppers in southern Georgia and also bought a bus to drive his children and other children decedents of slaves to school when the county refused to bus children to the one Negro school in the area, I believed this moment inevitable.  Perhaps because my paternal biracial great-grandfather worked tirelessly in a coal mine to build his house on the land he worked to owned in West Virginia and proved a leader of his community reaching across racial divides, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because to this day both my mother’s family and my father’s family still own and manage the land my great-grandfathers owned, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because my maternal grandmother gained an education becoming a nurse and my paternal grandmother achieved a masters degree becoming a teacher, both in an age predating affirmative action where most European Americans had little more than a high school degree, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because my paternal grandfather entered this country as an immigrant who worked in a steel company, paid down his home loan in half the loan term, I believed this moment inevitable.  Perhaps because my family overflows with American dreams made reality, I believed this moment inevitable.


Perhaps because I watched Barack Obama speak at the Democratic convention four years earlier and learned of his policies from listening to his podcast as an Illinois Senator, I believed this moment inevitable. Perhaps because all the logical, observable, political trends pointed to a Democrat succeeding to the White House, I believed this moment inevitable.


I did not shed a tear. I did not raise my hands to the heavens. I felt heart palpitations and held my breath. That kind of breath drawn in before blowing out birthday cake candles. Days later I feel as though I have not yet released my deeply drawn breath. So, America if you are out there, it’s me and I need your help.


You see I graduated from New York University chanting, “I think I can; I think I can; I know I can.” from the “The Little Engine That Could” a story book read to me by my mother and beloved grandmother and given to me the day I completed my Bachelors Degree of Fine Arts from Tisch School of the Arts.  Yet I haven’t achieved my dreams. I must admit, I’d dutifully voted but I had paid little attention to politics other than the debates of abortion, prayer in school, creationism, welfare, gay marriage, affirmative action, Hobbs, Lock, Marx, Jefferson, capitalism versus socialism and all the topics that weave in and out of late night dorm room debates of political concepts and philosophy.  However suddenly on Tuesday, September 11th  as I fearfully waited for my friends who worked at Wall Street to return to their apartment where I was receiving their furniture delivery, politics stopped being a series of debates and logics, it became my life.  I became obsessed with exactly what “Peace in the Middle East” meant.  The more I read the angrier and more astonished I felt.  With great trepidation, I lifted the veils from my eyes.  I considered how I had entered the adult world in 2000 and despite my dreams, determination and diligent work logging eighteen hour days, six day weeks, only to continue working on my artwork after the extreme work day ended, my dreams eluded me.  Eight years later, I stilled worked tirelessly: without health care, without saving little more than $1,000 for a rollover IRA, without making any headway in paying off my student loans, without a car, without a house and without growing any nearer to my career dreams.  I’ve tried to avoid all the trappings of credit card debt.  I’ve gone eight years without having cable television service. I rarely purchase clothes.  I pack my lunch. The credit card debt I borrowed I did so to purchase a laptop to complete a freelance contract assignment, when the computer I’d bought with cash, crashed.  I also borrowed on credit cards bus tickets and plane tickets meeting with agents and producers to discuss my artwork and potential contracts.  Yet in all the eight years, all my work has failed to achieve my dreams.  Suddenly at thirty years, nearly every collegiate debate on abortion, affirmative action, Hobbs, Lock, Marx, Jefferson, capitalism versus socialism, all the politics stopped being a series of debates and logics, it became my life.  So…  I voted for Barack Obama because I need for my life to change and if the policies of the past eight years reined over my failed eight years then certainly the policies of the opposition would enable me and lift the roadblock that barred my success.


And yet at 7:45 am when a voting machine slurped down my ballot and the volunteer smiled and asked whether I would like a sticker, I couldn’t help but feel, “Okay, now what?”  The sticker read, “I made a difference.  So can you, vote.” I couldn’t help but wonder, “Have I made a difference?”  Will my life change? My fiancé and I ceaselessly exchanged these anti-climatic feelings over breakfast.  The rest of the day I spent working on my artwork.  Every second that I’m not working in an office to pay my rent and bills, I’m working on my art, so by 3 pm, I truly felt as though my life had not changed.  Despite my incessant failures and my mounting fears that I’ve lost years chasing an elusive dream, I still work toward that dream. I suppose this is the reason, I keyed into one particular part of Obama’s speech, “I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.”  The crowd chanted, “Yes we can” echoing “The Little Engine That Could” from my childhood, from my college graduation.  I suddenly felt so much older than all of them. I suddenly thought, “How can he promise my dreams will come true?!  I know the intoxication of possibility and the high of hope. But when you fall from those dizzying heights, when you fail as painfully as I have failed, what do you do then?”  As if my inner thoughts joined in the call and response concert of Grant Park, Obama answered, “There will be setbacks and false starts.  There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand. What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek — it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”


There!  There is where my heart skipped a beat!  That is the moment I drew a breath as if making a wish before the illuminated, promising candles of my thirtieth birthday cake! I have drawn that breath but have not released it.  I’m hoping, America that if you are truly out there, you can help me.  How much I want the chance to make the change I need in my life.  How much I want the ‘you’ Barack Obama spoke of to be me.  I truly want to make a difference, in my life and the lives of others.  I truly believed that I was destined to make a difference.  My belief led me to taking out student loans and gambling on my dreams of making a difference in the world.  My belief led me through these eight years of working despite every producer who refused to read my work but called upon me to work to 1 am on their shows and their films.  My belief led me to work in an industry where employer offered health plans and pensions are a myth and every contract is freelance.  My belief led me to rack up debt flying between LA and NYC to meet with the only agent who considered representing my art and producers who entertained my pitches.  My belief led me to failure.  What mistakes have I made?  


Perhaps I lack the sentimentality of this moment because my hope is dying.  With each refusal to produce my artwork, my hope dies.  With each month my student loan debt mounts, my hope dies. With each month I break even between income and bills and save nothing, my hope dies. With each grocery trip where I must stretch twenty dollars for four weeks of food, my hope dies.  With each painful decision I make that rips my heart asunder, my hope dies.


Before this sleepless night, I have never written and maintained a blog.  I’m not even sure that I’ll post anything more that this entry.  I have no myspace page or facebook page.  I’ve never had the desire. Yet, this night I lie awake not wanting this moment to pass me by without my feeling it, without my living it because I don’t know when it’s my hope that’s dying or me who’s dying.  


So while you, America celebrate, cry and thank the heavens, please tell me what dreams you are pursuing that you believe will be achieved now.  If you happen upon this blog, please leave a quick comment telling me what change you see upon the horizon in your life.  Please share with me how you plan to make Obama’s policies benefit your life.  If you have any suggestions of any fields of study or professions that will have job security under the new administration, please tell me.  America, if you are out there, please help in the easiest way.  Just type a few words about your dreams, your hope and the chance for change that you see coming in the next four years.  Please, are you there America?  It’s me…


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