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Decade Letter

Badger Johnson published a holiday letter style decade recap that I enjoyed very much. I’d been thinking about returning to my annual holiday letter post and since I have a lot of missing time in my blog this last decade I’d try my hand at a decade recap.

I scrolled back to my 2010 recap. I enjoyed reading and seeing how much I’ve forgotten or placed in another time.

The last decade began with me living with Dad, his sickly little dog Myrtle and Oni, a piss hound a homeless guy foisted on us at the Leslie Lane Family Living Center. I was a counselor at Phoenix Programs leading our co-occurring efforts, gardening and cooking and a little melancholic.

I took an epic road trip with John and his dogs to the Everglades and points in between. Awesome trip but I also pinched a nerve and lost the use of my right arm for a while which was a project coming back from. Activated the power of gratitude for the first time.

Myrtle had a heart condition and passed away that summer. Oni pissed my bed one to many times and Dad took her to the pound when I griped about it. We filled our dog shaped hole shortly after with a 4 month old bichon frise’/Cocker spaniel hybrid Dad named Fido.

Fido was Dad’s dog and followed him around. Dad gave him the patience and love he had grown into in his 70s which both made me a little jealous and a little awed to see. Fido is a timid fellow and he had a scared look in his eye for me after I grabbed him up for kitchen pissing once. He never looked at Dad that way as he was slow and gentle and kind. Always.

I liked living with Dad. He came to appreciate and respect me for who I was without me having to change and whoever gets that? I was never a master of the manly arts but living by work and not having a lot going on I became an object of study. One time he said “You know Mick. I’ve been watching you and I see you live for other people. I don’t do that.” What a gift.

Dad had COPD and in Spring of 2011 I took him to Boone Hospital for what I thought would be a breathing treatment but they admitted him. That night he was on a respirator in an induced coma. They woke him up to see if he could breathe without the respirator. He couldn’t. “Breathe or die” he said.

That was hard. I had centered my whole life around him. My family had come in to town but after Betty and Bill left after going out to dinner I came home and said “we’ll Fido, this is all there is now”.

Fido and I were not long on our own as shortly thereafter a former Columbian returned to town when he split with his wife and I rented him a room. I had met Kevin once back in the day when I visited Columbia and we became good friends. My brother John also came to stay for about 6 months because of a series of events.

John is a wonder and he built my first wooden compost bin, dug out my dog waste compost system and built another raised bed in the garden.

But John went back to California and Kevin bought a cute little house on Walnut and it was Fido and I again on our own. I had cancelled Directv after baseball season, as I’d had the baseball package even though Dad had died about 3 games into the season. Biggest wave of grief I had was when the Tigers knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs and Dad wasn’t there to see it.

I should mention in the Spring of 2010 I officiated my friend Amy and Michael’s wedding. My 10th and final, so far, wedding. I also did my first of three, so far, funerals. I didn’t trust any minister to try to shoehorn Dad into heaven or damn him into hell. He’d announced to me he had become an atheist not long before he died. For a backslidden Christian who accepted he was going to hell a long time ago I was proud of him for letting all that bullshit go. “There are no atheists in the foxhole”. Yeah right.

In January 2012 my whole life changed. 10 days before the filing deadline an article in the local paper said no one had filed to run for the Second Ward Council seat. I decided to run and overnight my life changed. I started to think different, dress different, hang out with different people, and do different things.

When I decided to run I suspected my ideology wouldn’t live up to real world practicalities. I decided the employees and residents deserved pragmatic governance firmly rooted in the possible. I distilled my philosophy into 3 points, as is done: Livable Streets (the lack of a sidewalk on my busy street was my piece of anger, to take this crap on you have to be mad about something), Good Government (my handlers negotiated it to Cooperative Governance, but I never pulled that off), and Focus on the Future (a more universal way to describe sustainability).

A conservative and a Libertarian also joined the race. I got great help, raised the most money and won with 45% of the vote.

For two years or so I was the swing vote and it was intense, meaningful and fun. Columbia is an amazing city and I threw myself into it. The first 18 months was an incredible process of learning I can only compare to learning language when your three.

Stormwater regulation, land use, electric, water, sewer, streets, transit, parking, building projects, engineering, finance, solid waste. 20 things at least you could spend your life on and never plumb it’s depths.

On a personal level I went from an introverted putter around the house into a guy who went to everything and worked 10-12 hour days seven days a week for years. I read everything, researched on the side and scheduled tutorials with engineers. I made mistakes and learned and learned.

I decided to accept every invitation that fit in my schedule because I didn’t know what was important. I learned so much and met so many people. I decided to be a Columbia booster and unapologetic cheerleader. I kept my criticism constructive, I hope, and private.

I thought and learned and quickly came to the conclusion if you don’t want a slowly decaying status quo your role is to facilitate development. Pretty remarkable for a guy who sported a “Developers Go Build in Hell” bumper sticker back in the day.

I also learned about loud balancing and capacity and the current limits of intermittent energy sources. Pretty daunting for a former full time radical environmental activist.

Nonetheless I’ve done a lot I am proud of: Strict energy efficiency standards, raised our renewable energy from 5% to 15%, maintained solid reserves through a long series of bad budget years, updated our zoning laws with smarter growth strategies and approved a lot of dense downtown housing. We have done more for homelessness and begun a community land trust with over 20 permanently affordable homes built or in the pipeline.

I also co-chaired a Task Force on Community Violence. It was an amazing 18 month process with a report that is still the accepted way to move forward on race and policing. We were on that path when Ferguson happened and though hamstrung by lack of resources we’ve made an important progress including a ban the box law.

Through it all I had a career. Prior to running for office I had been put out to pasture at work for a notable blow up about my boss at the time and was a Counselor but no longer movingup. As a candidate Phoenix really supported me by moving me to a new position with flexibility and less emotional demands.

For a couple of years I had a “highly flexible low energy job” as my boss put it to compliment my public service. Eventually though I was needed more and became Clinical Director and more intellectually engaged in work.

Right after I kicked off my first reelection campaign I was asked to serve as Interim Executive Director and later got the position permanently.

My life quickly became insane. I told the Board I would be the best 35-40 hour a week Executive Director I could be but the City came first. It never worked that way. I was soon working 50-60 hours and doing Council. Even scaled back it was insane. I had no reserves and knew the wheel was going to come off the cart. And it did.

I should mention Flow who moved in with me in my first campaign to rent a room. What a relief for Fido who I struggled to get home every 6 hours to let him out and get him enough exercise and socialization so he wouldn’t cuddle pitifully around my head when I slept. Flow was a godsend for Fido and the garden until the 2012 drought broke her spirit.

Later John came back to live with me. He and Flow hit it off and I found I was living with a couple. Much to Uncle Mike’s chagrin who had moved into a spare room and had enjoyed squiring Flow about town and such.

John, Flow and I took an epic trip to Dominica. Two weeks around the island was transformative. I remember sitting on a beach totally chill and content wondering why my life wasn’t like that all the time. After letting it all go I couldn’t pick it up again and I came home and quit my job. My Board knew I was struggling and were good about me leaving.

Two days after I left the CEO of a local nonprofit called me to see if I’d be interested in some consulting. That seemed a better fit with Council and I lived on savings while I got the consulting firm going. John and I agreed to partner and we formed AAAAChange, LLC.

Pronounced 4-A-Change it stands for the 4 “A”s of the universal change process: Awareness, Assessment, Action & Accountability. We don’t do a lot of marketing but have done a lot of cool projects under a general heading of facilitated change processes.

We’ve written grants, advised nonprofits and disadvantaged startups, done trainings and moved someone. I’ve done some individual coaching on drinking reduction and working through grief.

Mostly I consult and train with Welcome Home a homeless veteran’s center. It’s been fun to be the in-house expert and really help shape a cool and growing nonprofit but not be responsible for it. We’re getting ready for CARF certification and that is really exciting.

Two years ago John and I bid on a contract with our local Community Improvement District to provide outreach, referral and coaching services for people who are homeless or panhandling downtown. I had created the program when I was at Phoenix but left before it was fully implemented.

John and I thought we could provide a more effective service at a lower cost and we were write. We quintupled the number of documented individuals served and have had incredible outcomes. In 2 years we’ve linked 15 individuals with permanent housing, coached 3 people into long term recovery and reunited 8 people with better situations in other communities.

I trained John on it but he’s made it his baby. We use a radical nonjudgment approach with a solution focus. We are assertive and ultra low barrier. First name or handle and the miracle question: “If you could be doing anything what would you be doing?” Then we step it out and take on step 1 jumping hoops and restoring relationships until it gets done.

I do a little clinical supervision with John and a couple of clients. I don’t do a lot of direct service besides backing up John. I did today looking for an aggressive panhandler who is new in town and engaging one of my old clients I ran into doing the search. I checked in on his status and gave him a suggestion on advancing his social security. If he can’t follow up might walk him through the application. Nothing changes a life like getting an income.

Mostly though I don’t miss direct service. I am grateful for the successes and I still hear from many. There might be hundreds out there but the dozens I’ve lost still weigh heavily on me when I have the time and stillness to reflect.

Relationships, I’ve had a few this decade. Beautiful, wonderful partners and I have been blessed with love and friendship but I can’t say I still know how to make love laugh.

I’ve started 2 book clubs the Columbia Men’s Book Club which is 8 years and running. It’s a low commitment club for non readers. We’ve read westerns, sci-fi, graphic novels and short stories. We’ve taken field trips and Trevor wrote an arts grant from one of our books and commissioned a map, did 4 radio shows and 2 re-enactments of the Diary of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. My newer book club the Happy Hour Book Club is another low commitment affair with more relevant literature by diverse authors.

Ironically I’m reading less then I ever have, though probably still a lot. I also built a front yard lending Library.

Early last summer I became an every day bicycle commuter. I was car sharing with John but he wanted have more freedom so he bought me out of the car. Helped me tread water through 2019.

Life changed again with my second re-election campaign which was brutal. I was called a thief and a liar twice a week on the front page of the paper for three months. I also raised and spent a lot of money and really nailed the science of campaigning. I was headed for a big victory anyway when my opponent had a DUI 2 weeks before the election.

The biggest change though was my Uncle, housemate and namesake was dying of cancer. John had been doing a lot of caregiving without me even noticing with business, governance and campaigning. I started to do more and stepped up after the campaign.

John got totally burned out and I moved Uncle Mike into the living room and did caregiving full time. I left the house 7-8 times a week. Business and governance.

It took a lot out of me and put all of the things I’d been throwing my life into in perspective. Death and dying is powerful that way. I took a fallow year in 2019 and laid down my political ambitions.

I still do a lot but not everything. I still want to do something big about affordable housing and desegregating Columbia before I’m done. I have more plans as a civic activist after my mandatory 1 year blackout period where our charter does not allow past members to influence Council.

I’m looking forward to that though, just between you and I constant reader.

I’m also trying to get a friend’s brother out of prison. You’ll see a lot more about that soon. I recorded my spiritual memoirs and am looking to do a philosophy based re-entry program called the Reciprocity Institute. You’ll see more about that in the future as well.

There’s probably other important stuff but 10 years is a long time. I recharged through the holidays. From my Yule Log decade reflection to the seven days of Kwanzaa into the new year I’ve reflected and collaborated and am going to own this decade. I’ve been studying my whole life for this decade and this is when it’s really going to happen. I’m excited to see what comes next….

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