I never paid much attention to my birthday for most of my adult life, other than to be glad that another improbable year had passed. But lately these birthdays have gotten pretty notable.
Two years ago, on my birthday, I was knee-deep in helping run the Kshama Sawant campaign, which – like the campaigns of Lisa Herbold and Tammy Morales this week – was busy chasing ballots and trying to catch their opponent, in Kshama’s case incumbent Richard Conlin. Sawant passed him on my birthday, much like Lisa will pass Shannon Braddock on my birthday today :-). I got serenaded with “HappyBirthday” by Kshama, her staff, and volunteers in front of a bunch of TV cameras as the results were published. It was pretty awesome.
Last year was a completely different scene. In 2014 my 20-year relationship ended. I subsequently fell in love with a friend and colleague of several years, Revel Smith. Revel and I had a lot in common – music, political activism, professional media chops, and chronic health issues (in her case, multiple sclerosis). But in addition to our respective existing health issues we promptly each got serious new health problems – and hers, rapidly worsening chemical sensitivities and reactive airway disease (i.e., her throat would close up – scary stuff!), meant that we’d signed leases for not one but two consecutive apartments that we then found out were toxic. We couldn’t live in or quickly get out of the leases for either. (Side note: This city is a tenants’ rights nightmare.)
On my birthday last year, we were paying rent for both apartments while unable to staying in either – we were essentially homeless and (after taking a huge financial hit on the housing problems) broke. Worse, our ongoing health issues were worsening – Revel wound up receiving an extremely difficult but ultimately helpful series of IV steroid treatment last December, and a biopsy last fall had revealed that after a 20-year run, my transplanted kidney was finally showing serious signs of failing.
It was a frightening – OK, terrifying – time. My birthday one year ago marked the first time I wrote about much of this publicly , and asked friends for financial help to help stabilize my life. The outpouring of support from our friends and community – no exaggeration – saved our lives. Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of our hearts.
This year has been difficult, but it’s gotten better. I’m somewhere between the euphoria of two years ago and the rock bottom of last year. This April, we were able to move into an apartment that worked for us, ending seven long months of homelessness and the dubious privilege of having all of our worldly possessions in Hefty bags and a storage unit. (Our apartment has got problems, but we’re managing!) In May, Revel and I got married. (!) In August, I started working in Kshama’s city council office as a very part-time legislative aide. And Revel continues to be a source of both enormous joy and serious practical help in my life.
But there’s also been major problems. Most notably, I got a very frightening e coli infection in June that escalated rapidly and got into my bloodstream – I almost died from it, and, of course, any infection of that sort also further damages my transplanted kidney. That infection and my compromised immune system also meant that a small infection in a wound on my ankle took a long time to heal. And then it reemerged in August. And then again in September, with another week-long hospitalization.
At that point the infection had gotten into the bone, which is nasty and very hard to treat. At the moment, as I’m writing this, I’m at home with a central line in my chest hooked up to an IV line and a pouch of antibiotic. For nearly two months, with Revel’s invaluable help, I’ve been doing these daily IV infusions at home. I’m also cleaning and packing the ankle wound every day, which is another, separate process. And Revel’s dealing with her own health issues, including random, serious injuries to both feet which kept her frustratingly immobile while exhausting her remaining resources.
All this has financially exhausted us, too. We managed to stabilize our situation earlier this year, but it’s still a thin, fragile margin, and we still have almost no capacity to absorb unexpected expenses. With a bunch of health issues this fall, my resulting inability to work consistently (which I was always able to depend on), and a vehicle that suddenly needed multiple repairs last week, we exceeded our capacity. Both my rent and my health insurance payments last week only got covered because of overdraft protection. I urgently need to pay those bills. And, so, on my birthday this year what I want and need more than anything else is one last burst of financial help.
I hate to ask once again, but it really is what I need – and I’m so close, in health, housing, and my ability to work more actively again in the community. Giving back has never been an issue, but changing the world is a gig that doesn’t pay well. (The rewards are less tangible.) The less time that I need to spend stressed out about whether I can afford groceries this week – and that’s a very real problem right now – the more I can focus on healing the infection, improving my overall health, and doing more writing and activism.
If you value the media, activism, and political work I do in the community, and would like to help me do more of it without the emotional and health stress of being unable to pay my bills, I’d really appreciate your help. Today is my 56th birthday. (Yes, I’m getting old. Who would’ve ever expected that?) If 56 of you can each donate $50 (see the PayPal button at lower right), that would raise about $3,000, which would help hugely in getting me over the immediate hump and more stable as I enter another year. But whatever amount you can offer will help.
All of the trauma of my life over the past 18 months has underscored, for me, how many vulnerable people in this unthinkably wealthy city and country are still living on the margins. It takes so little – a health issue, a relationship breakup, a predatory loan, a job loss – to put people on the streets. And, at the same time, this period has been an amazing lesson in the power of community, of how, as the rich get richer and the rest of us are left behind, our only real security is in each other. Thank you SO much for your help – and for helping to enable me to work for a more just and sane world.
Many, many thanks –
PS I’m not sufficiently recovered from the health and financial insanities of the last year yet that I’ve been able to buffer myself against this sort of cascading set of problems. Hopefully soon! And one of the other victims has been my social life – I haven’t been in nearly as close a contact with many of you as I’d like. Hit me up – by e-mail or phone or text (206-719-6947).
PPS GO, LISA!!!!