Thursday, June 9, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

(under construction)
In this entry I am going to attempt to offer concise answers to address the questions and comments I most often receive about the status of my teeth and the creation of this blog, while also providing links to longer entries that provide what I hope are more in depth answers. If you wish to ask me a question that you don't see answered, feel free to email it to me at and I may add it to this section in the future if I feel it is appropriate and relevant. Thank you. Here are my questions, in no particular order:

Dude, what happened to your grill?
This is a long and complicated story. To answer some people's first responses, NO, I was never a meth addict, I didn't have a freak accident or get in a fight. The main physical factor is a lifetime of decay and improper care. Mental is a little harder for me to even figure out. I only ever went to the dentist twice as a kid and was never instilled with the discipline to take care of my teeth as a child. This morphed into an extreme irrational fear of dentists, shame, poor self-esteem, a distorted body image and general lack of trust in the world as I tried my best to hide my "secret" at all times. You can read a much more detailed story of my childhood upbringing here, and how it contributed to the lifetime of self-harm, denial and pain I lived with for nearly 2 decades suppressing my feelings to even my closest friends.

That looks like it hurts...a lot?
It does. Or, it has. A lot of the worst I am finally beginning to feel is over. Many of us have suffered from tooth aches. It is hard to describe what is is like to suffer from a whole mouth of them. In some ways you get used to it. You learn where to chew, what not to do, what not to eat, how to avoid pain as best you can. In general before I had my extractions, it was always hard to eat, because I had very few teeth to chew on and anytime food pushed down on any part of my mouth where my gums had grown over a broken crown, it hurt. I would have periodic infections that would make life practically unbearable for days on end that over the counter drugs hardly ever came close to killing the pain of. Sometimes I would drink. Sometimes I would just hate the world. Sometimes I would get sick of eating. I would never want to leave the house, because I never felt my friends with healthier teeth could remotely understand what I was going through, so I would just hide. To read more about what it felt like on a daily basis to eat and go through life like this, go here.

OMG I'm so terrified of the dentist, how do you do this?
It was terrifying for me at first too. I had not been to a dentist in almost 20 years! Even after I made up my mind that I was finally going to go to one, it took me 3 months to make an appointment. Opening my mouth to a beautiful stranger with perfect teeth expecting the worst possible diagnosis in my mind during my first appointment was frankly one of the scariest moments of my life. Luckily, I ended up finding a wonderful, supportive and compassionate student dentist on my first try, and that definitely made a huge difference those first few appointments. As far as the actual work being done, it has come to remind me so much of my time in art school and sculpture and woodworking classes that I have come to find it fascinating and empowering after my initial fears subsided and though some of my appointments have certainly been intensely draining, only a handful (out of 21 so far!) have I truly been in a decent amount of pain. You just have to remind yourself, that in a few hours, and a few days of healing, that you will be in far LESS.

My teeth are messed up too--you don't see my crying online and asking people for money! Why should I care about your problems, I can't even fix my own?
I wholeheartedly understand this perspective, and as stated many times throughout the blog, I will ultimately think no less of anyone if they do not wish to or are unable to donate. I do however believe firmly that there is nothing shameful about reaching out or asking for help, and I also wish to live by example in setting that precedent for others and being able to share the overwhelmingly positive response that has come from me living this way. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. We each can't help everyone, and all of us may not be monetarily fortunate enough to donate to me or even other causes or charities we probably feel even stronger about at any given time. I do however, challenge us all to regularly ask ourselves as we go about our daily lives, how we are fortunate, what we are thankful for, and what small ways are there that we can help others find happiness, health and wellness in our communities and the world that might not seem like much to us, but can mean the world to those who are suffering, and/or feel powerless or alone. Sometimes, this can be the simple act of asking a friend or a stranger, if they are okay. We won't know if we don't ask, and they might not even know that you genuinely care, if you don't take the first step.

What a great idea! What made you create this blog? Why did you decide to go so public with something so personal?
For years as a writer and person who performs poetry in the public eye, even who has always been generally brutally honest and vulnerable and open in the way that I speak and with what I choose to share, I have always nonetheless had a "boogeyman under the bed" when it came to the subject of my teeth. I knew in order to truly heal and overcome this fear I had to also overcome the huge wall between expressing my history and feelings about this part of me to the world in order to ever be able to live with myself as an artist and writer and to feel I had any true integrity as an artist, and a person in general, considering the type of honest, open person I strive to be on all other levels. I am an open book, and for the first time ever, I wanted to share myself with the world with no pages torn out. I also knew that I was not the only one suffering from this issue, and hoped that whatever crazy, creative ways I would pull out of my ass to express myself and detail this journey over the course of fixing myself, could also inspire others to face their own feels and see true tangible evidence of someone else in the world who found a way to overcome his deepest fear and pain.

Twenty grand? Dude, you can like, buy a house for that much! Why don't you just go to Mexico or Thailand or something for a vacation and get everything done for cheap?

I support your cause but my funds are pretty limited myself. What can I do to help? 
There are an endless number of things. What are you skills? Who is in your network that might be supportive of this cause?  Bakesales seem like one of the easiest ways to ever raise money with minimum investment. Community yardsales, carwashes, concerts...put a jar where you work, etc. The possibilities are really endless. If you really want to help and want some suggestions or to brainstorm, feel free to drop me a line at Above all, more than anything else though, really, all that I ask of you is that you repost my blog on facebook and twitter and your other networks and simply help me to continue to get my story out there, get more media coverage, reach more people, etc. That is the single, easiest, cheapest thing anyone can do. Roger Ebert got me 28,000 views in 2 days in nearly 80 countries and about $1,200 donations from a single tweet. I wholeheartedly have faith in my writing to do the work, if I can simply get a little help continuing to get it out there into the Universe. Thank you!

I heard about your story from Roger Ebert's tweet. How do you know him/how did he hear about you?

How has your life changed since you began to finally get the proper dental care and face your fears after all these years?

I need to go to the dentist myself but always keep putting it off out of fear. Do you have any suggestions for me to to overcome my own anxiety?

How long is all of this going to take until you are finished?
I initially had ignorantly set out to tackle everything in one year's time. I have had several modifications to my treatment plan and learned a lot since my first appointment, and though I still think that it could be possible under ideal circumstances, there are many factors that I feel will probably push it back a little further than planned. I do however, wholeheartedly aim to try my best to complete everything, which will probably be around 50 appointments, before June of 2012 when my dental student Rakhee is scheduled to graduate.

What are you going to do with your life after you are finally done? How do you think it will effect you, etc?
That is a question I don't yet remotely claim to have an answer to. I hope that my openness and transformation will only continue to open doors for me. I think it is honestly going to take some time alone with myself to relearn to smile and love food and my own skin and feel "natural" again and comfortable with first impressions and big smiles and figuring out my diet again. Sometime after or during that process, I aim to travel again, perhaps go on another bike tour, find a new place with water, grass and trees to live again, make more art, possibly write a book, fall in love, and save the world! Haha. I do however, also aspire to take some LONG-DESERVED vacation, possibly with a friend, and go to Hawaii for the first time possibly. After all I will have been through, my other fears should be EASY, and raising a few grand for an amazing vacation should seem like nothing!

With all that you have learned from all the treatments you have undergone and logging so much time in the dentist's chair, are you inspired at all to pursue dentistry yourself and help others who suffer or live in pain and fear the dentist as you have? Is there dentistry in your future?
This is another question I don't think I can answer yet. I do joke around about being an assistant or something often, and hope that perhaps I can try it out at the school one day before my treatment plan is finished. I will say that I cannot fathom me ever going to school to be an actual dentist at this time. However, I do not wish to "waste" my experiences and how huge of a part of my life this has been for so many years, and hope that in some way or another I can continue to help and inspire people to face their own fears, take care of themselves and brush their teeth in the future. Perhaps that could come in the form of a book, or with my background in social work and all the fund-raising and community organizing type of work I have done for years, I would not be surprised if I could possibly inspire some of the students I will have worked with to pursue more community-based or non-profit type of practices and programs, which I may very well try and help with. Who knows!

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