Blog Pressure Release

So here’s what I’m going to do today. I realized that there are about three separate blogsful of stuff I need to write about, but in order to keep this all under one update and not confuse anyone unnecessarily, I’m going to put all three of them here.

1. Change Up

Remember that dead-end job I said I hated? Done with that. But let us take a moment and unpack what there is to take away from that experience.

The job I was doing is a job that’s necessary when ordinary people, with ordinary brains, have to interact with unnecessarily, grotesquely complicated systems created not by humans but by committees, which are infinitely worse. Committees and their systems don’t have any common sense. You don’t realize how important common sense is until you come into touch with a complete absence of it. It’s how we navigate day-to-day life; it’s the accretion of thousands, even millions of years of knowledge of how the world works and how a human can stay alive in it. Its antithesis: American healthcare laws. Here’s a system that people would be able to understand: “I’m sick, and I need a medicine to be better. My doctor says which medicine it is and how much. I go get it from the pharmacy.” Similarly: “I’m hurt, and I need a doctor to get better. I go to the hospital, where the doctors are. They fix me up.”

Instead, what people get is something more along the lines of: “I’m sick, and I need a medicine to be better. My doctor says which medicine it is and how much, but I can’t afford it on my own because everyone buys medicine through a middleman and so the manufacturers can raise the prices to absurd heights and no one questions it, unless through one of many possible cracks in the system they have to pay for it on their own, in which case they’ll probably go broke pretty quickly. I go to the pharmacy to get it but they have to ask the insurance company for permission through the claims adjudicator (that’s Express Scripts!), and it has to be the right insurance company because now some companies won’t give me certain medicines like contraceptives, and maybe there’s a problem or maybe I get my medicine, and if I don’t get my medicine I have to call up a phone number and talk to a computer, and if the computer doesn’t know the answer then I have to wait to talk to a person, and maybe that person has to talk to a different person, and maybe I’m supposed to get my medicine through the mail, which takes days but I’m sick now.” I won’t even get into the hospital side of it, not least because I don’t understand it myself.

But it’s no wonder that under this oppressive opacity, people get fatalistic. An old woman whose medicine was delayed in the mail for no apparent reason told me that she’d already been given more than the full three score and ten years allotted her by God, and maybe it would be simpler for her to just die. Another woman was having trouble getting the specific medicine she wanted and asked us where we got off telling her what she could and couldn’t take and why we were allowed to play God. You get to see a theme. Because the system has no face and no common sense, arguing with it is almost like arguing with force majeure, asking a hurricane to calm down, asking God to stay his wrath. The only difference is that when the system ignores you, it can ignore you personally and in a human language.

There’s another system I worked with that’s more benign and where problems mostly end up in laughs: chemical names. One of the big lessons I learned is that no one but no one can pronounce generic drug names. It was agonizing, yet funny, listening to people try to talk about their hydrochlorothiazide or cyclobenzaprine or atorvastatin. Some of them people can at least make a stab at, like methotrexate or gabapentin, but on those ones and a bunch of others, people just sort of say the first syllable and mumble, or give up preemptively and spell it out. Other good ones: simvastatin (“sim-vast-in?”), methylprednisolone, metoprolol, propranolol, bupropion, ipratropium, omeprazole, amlodipine (“amma-la-die-peen?”), eszopiclone, levetiracetam, lisdexamfetamine (looks like they just came right out and made fun of dyslexics on that one, and to add insult to injury it’s for ADD).

When you belong to a system as enormous and inhuman as the one I worked for—Express Scripts is the largest prescription benefits management company in the USA—you must become inhuman too. Our hours were regimented as though we were computers. You must begin taking calls within the first 4 to 5 minutes of your shift, and from then on, you may only stop taking calls during two (2) 15-minute breaks and one (1) unpaid 30-minute lunch period, all of which are algorithmically scheduled at certain minutes of your day. You may spend up to 2% of your day, but much preferably 0%, on unscheduled restroom breaks. If you have a problem that prohibits you from taking calls you must put your telephone into one of nine auxiliary modes, two of which are deprecated, and you must make a note of the minute you went into auxiliary and came out of it, which you must then e-mail to your supervisor. As to the content of calls, you must carefully memorize which information you are permitted to divulge (or “speak to”) with which parties; for example, you may need to nonsensically tell a parent that they may not be told the name of a drug their child takes that is paid under the parent’s insurance plan because the child is over eighteen (18) years of age, but if the parent mentions the name him/herself, you may tell him/her all other details about it. You must begin each call with a Greeting and a Willingness Statement (such as “I’d be more than happy to help you with that). You must address the caller by name at least once per call. You must offer to enroll the caller in the Worry-Free Fills program and to create an EZWeb profile for the caller. And so on.

They don’t even speak a human language there. They speak in acronyms, presumably because they sound more official and correct than mere words. A supervisor isn’t known as a supervisor, but as an RTL (resolution team lead). A day off is referred to only as PTO (paid time off). Bonus pay became OPI, and I don’t think anyone really knows what that stands for. Likewise with LMS, the name of the training program we accessed in order to watch poorly voiceovered slideshows to learn the specifics of how to service certain groups of customers. My favorite, though must have been the word for “problem” (or possibly “rule violation”), which was a QSO, for “quality service opportunity”.

Enough about that. I knew from the first day that I needed to get out of there, and this week I did it. I’ve been applying to jobs with sign companies and print shops and stuff. (To wrap up a loose end, that interview I mentioned in my last post didn’t end up with me getting the job, but I was okay with that, because when I went in, I discovered it wasn’t really what I thought. It gave off intense auras of “better than everyone” and “hipster”, and I discovered that I would get one week of vacation per year, with the first week not available until the end of the first full year. That kind of yearly schedule should be criminal, and I think in most OECD countries it is.) What I ended up getting is fairly unrelated. I found the job through my housemate Will, who’s a great guy and teaches middle school and has head and face hair much like mine but lighter. He introduced me to Rick, who’s in charge of a company that makes electric components for diesel engines. His company has recently invented something that keeps diesel engines from freezing up in cold weather, and it’s apparently the first of its kind and everyone wants one. I’ll be doing a bunch of different things, many of which I don’t know yet: web design, catalog management, internet ads. He knows how all this stuff works and will teach me, he just doesn’t have time to do it all himself because the company’s growing so fast. So I get to learn a bunch of useful skills, while working full-time, and to boot I get four weeks of vacation a year and nine holidays. I’ll be working for a much smaller, more personal company, where I can talk to the president (Rick) whenever and on a first name basis, whereas before I was at least five organizational levels away from the president. It’s a company that has common sense, and that counts for a lot, as I’ve been trying to describe today. I start Wednesday.

2. Paleo by Attrition

Now here’s something else that I need to mention. After years of thinking about the paleo diet, talking about why it makes sense, and telling everyone that they should do it to solve their health problems, I’m finally starting to actually do the paleo diet. That way, when I talk about it, I won’t feel like a charlatan, and I’ll be able to speak from actual experience.

I’ve had a few brief periods of paleo before, none of them strict and none of them long enough to be worth anything scientifically or therapeutically. There are two main things that have kept me from committing in the past. First, you may have noticed that I’ve been traveling a lot. Paleo is very much an anti-restaurant, cook-your-own-authentic-food diet, and it’s hard to follow it when you’re getting your nutrition from truck stop dumpsters or strangers handing you Big Macs.

Second is the bigger one, I think: I’m just in excellent health. All my life I’ve been able to eat anything I want and stay the same weight and hardly feel any ill effects. I’ve eaten nearly whole cakes, I’ve eaten meals that could have fed four people, and yet I have no gut. I have no big health problem to solve through diet, so why change anything? But I know the answer to that, and I’ve been denying it: it’s possible to look healthy and feel healthy and then discover later on in life that all that crap has caught up to you in the form of some debilitating disease or just a shortened lifespan. It’s also possible that I could feel better in ways I don’t even realize. Maybe my skin will look better, maybe I’ll have more consistent energy through the day, maybe my hair will grow longer. Maybe my mustache will finally get its act together and grow into something that doesn’t look like it belongs to a thirteen-year-old.

So I’m going to embark on this, experimentally, and see what data I can turn up. And here’s how I’m doing it: I’m getting rid of one proscribed food at a time, until they’re all gone. Partially this is because I have some stuff I want to use up and some scheduled days when I’ll be eating certain things. (Milk in the fridge, and I’m making potato-containing placki po węgiersku with Will for a house dinner in mid August.) Partially it’s so I can have a sort of last hurrah with each crap ingredient I eat. Those of you who saw me gorging on cupcakes and cake at the family reunion were witnessing my final indulgence in wheat (and gluten). I had a tamale and a big bucket of popcorn the other day and now I’m done with corn. For sugar I’ll probably go for ice cream. And so on.

A lot of these things I’ll be adding back in in modest amounts, but I’m going to go without all of it for at least a month so I can get a good read on what happens when I reintroduce each thing. That’s scientific! I’ve been reading several books and websites about nutrition, and while they all seem to agree on the main points, when it comes to the details I’ve mostly read that it’s up to me to figure out what works best for my own constitution. I suspect that, with my iron stomach, I’ll be perfectly able to handle dairy and rice with no observable effect. But I’m still going to forgo them for a while just for the sake of data. One must have data, data at any cost.

The nice part about all this experimenting I’m doing is that most of you don’t have to worry about it at all, because I’m so far away from you that you’re not cooking for me. I’ll just relay the results to you, and by the next time I see you, I’ll have a good handle on how to cook that way and a bunch of good recipes to use, and it’ll be easy to navigate. So here’s to some improved eating. I’ll let you know when I’m off all the things I’m ditching, and I’ll write here about anything interesting that happens.

Meanwhile, a book I recommend is The Perfect Health Diet. The book is really well researched and gives a really good all-encompassing perspective on nutrition and digestion and all that. The diet isn’t very restrictive but it apparently works wonders with people. It’s paleo-like in that it rules out wheat and vegetable oil and some other stuff, but it also allows such contraband as potatoes and rice. I’m not going to say a lot more, though, until I’ve done the experiment. That’s just for anyone who may be interested or might be contemplating a diet themselves.

3. High on Brain

When I was on my way to Chicago, something hit me. I don’t know if it was the change of pace from being in the city all the time, or if it was the rush of speed, or maybe the focus of mind that comes when you have to drive and block out anything unrelated. Whatever it was, though, I felt fantastic. Thoughts appeared and clarified themselves. Everything I saw catalyzed a new, deep idea. If I could sustain that state, I could write a novel a week. I settled for remembering all the ideas for later, when I knew I would be in a less amazing mental state.

One thing I realized was that, now that I’m done with Express Scripts, I need to work on my own personal goals, my fulfillment of who I am. So I’m going to set aside some time every night, or at least a few times a week if I can’t swing that, to do something creative. I’ll practice calligraphy, I’ll write a book, I’ll learn an instrument. Much later, after this car ride, I discovered that there are a few enterprising folks scattered around who have figured out that you can use a dentist drill and a diamond burr to write calligraphy on glass, and for this people will pay pretty well, especially if you’re good at it.

Also, just a couple days ago, I used some of the inspiration that I’d sent forward from my past and rode around the city looking for a place to play krokay. I think we could really use an outing where we all just do something fun, without worrying about house logistics and how the garden is doing and who’s cooking when and all that stuff that burdens us sometimes when we meet in the house. Minneapolis has some big parks, but they’re mostly big because of the lakes inside them, so I haven’t found a lost, back-of-nowhere place like the classic course in Winton Woods in Cincinnati. But I did find a pretty great little pocket of forest with a good grassy hill next to it, and it even named itself for me when I went there: I was exploring a hill a little further back into the forest, and as I walked by, something hopped in the undergrowth. I peered in and there stood a full-grown wild turkey, calmly pecking at the ground and leaves. It hopped on its left leg and kept its right leg tucked up to its breast, clearly injured. I stood watching it and trying to learn its life for as long as it stayed in view of me. Then I went back to my bike slightly breathless and trying to decide what name fit the place best: Left-Leg Turkey Hill? Lame Turkey Hill? Turkey Hop Hill? Your input is welcome.

Anyhow, I mention this because I feel like this last week or two has been something of a watershed. I’ve gotten to see a lot of family, I’ve won some trophies for croquet, I’ve gotten a job that won’t make me miserable, and I’ve decided I’m going to put some serious thought into figuring out where my life is going to go from here and how I can keep on improving it. Since I’m tired at the moment that I’m writing this, I can’t make a lot of this planning very vivid for you because it’s not vivid for me right now. But rest assured, it’ll be good.

P.S.: Photos

Here’s a logistical question for the blog. I hear you all want to see my pictures from Europe, and I keep forgetting I still haven’t put those up. There are two ways I can do it: I can go back to all my old posts and add photos to them, and then link back to them from a new post on the front page. Or I can write brand new posts with brief captions for all the photos, but you won’t have the whole story to tie it all together. Do you have a preference?

File under: work, food, deep thoughts, bad culture

Note: comments are temporarily disabled because Google’s spam-blocking software cannot withstand spammers’ resolve.



My two observations:

- I agree, the medical system is broken. My personal philosophy is to stay off of all medicines at all cost.

- I disagree with any diet theory that exists. I've seen too many people who are alive and healthy only because they won the genetics lottery. All the special diet, special rules people I've known get just as sick, just as often as the rest of us.


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Nathanael, I can't tell you how happy I am that you don't have to stay with Express Scripts! You have described in beautiful detail what I have to go through with all medicines I may need. It has been a nightmare. Now if only I could leave Express Scripts, too. Ha. I have stories, oh, I have stories.

It was a good job, because you learned what you DON'T ever want to do for a living.

I agree with David about the diets. All this stuff goes by fads. You live long enough, it recycles, and in the meantime, people live and die by whatever diet they're on.

I don't agree with David about going without medicine, though. I was brought up with that philosophy, and if it works, it works, but when it doesn't work you become very dead very quick. Or live a miserable life. Ask me sometime about my Aunt Teen.




  1. You just can't program the human spirit like a machine.
    2. Beware two things: a. You will lose that ability to eat anything/everything and not get fat, b. With some foods, like dairy, I think, if you give them up for too long and try to go back on them you'll find you've lost the ability to digest them.
    3. Thinking is good. Thinking for yourself is great!
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You must have talked to my doctor. At least three of those unpronounceable meds are ones I take regularly. And they're supposed to keep me alive in my olden age. (And a fourth med you named is one I'm allergic to.)

But I really had to laugh when you defined a "problem" as "quality service opportunity". One of my bosses at my last job had recently been in a training program to become a manager. I can't tell you how many times he insisted there were no "problems", only "opportunities"! And that was about 19 years ago!

Sure hope your new job turns out better!

Aunt E.


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