Archive for May, 2020

The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter XII: Buying the Farm


Mike in KC

I moved to Columbia because I wanted to have a place to get ahead so that I could buy a house and have a place for my dad. I suspected his retirement was not going to end well. I stayed with my friend Sarah, then ultimately a room opened up at her house and I rented a room for her. I saved up my money. After a couple of years, I was ready buy a house, which was really great because dad had retired. He made it for a year. He had paid up his rent, cashed in his retirement and bought a new Ford F-215.

He then promptly lost the rest of the lifetime of savings on a epic, three week gambling binge.

He was fine for a year because he had free rent. He’d be broke and living on comp meals at the casinos and ramen noodles by the end of the month, but, he was making it. When his rent ran out, he decided that he was gonna live in the Ford F-215 pickup truck. My brother John and I had normalized this living out of a vehicle or out of a backpack in the great, wild West, so dad knew that was an acceptable lifestyle. His problem was with gambling. So three weeks later he’s in his truck and he’s flat broke.

I was eager to find a house and wanted to buy one. I couldn’t find one in any of my preferred neighborhoods, which would have been in the First Ward of Columbia. That is kind of my native, cultural homeland, at least in terms of where I could afford to buy a home.

I ended up looking on Columbia’s North side and found a great house. By that point my dad is living in his truck, in my friend Sarah’s driveway so I couldn’t be too choosy. I got this great house on Leslie Lane with a nice big backyard, big enough for horseshoes and the Leslie Lane Family Living Center began.

Dad and I moved in and settled in and we were pretty good roommates. It was right next to my employment at Phoenix Programs. When my grant ended and I moved into the main building, they built a brand new building near where I had bought my house. I’m a block from work so I would walk to work and could come home and dad had a little dog and we added other little dogs over time. We had a pretty good life together.

I encouraged my friend Harry Train to move to town. I thought he would be a great substance abuse counselor. It he turned out that he was. He stayed with me until he got a job in the field, then got his own apartment. My friend Kevin Webb came in and did a tour of duty on Leslie Lane, but that was after my dad had died.

Dad had COPD from being a big-time smoker. That caught up with him and he passed away. I had this period of grief and reflection about what it all means. I remember my family came from all over the country. Everyone also made it home to Michigan for a funeral there except for my brother John. John had spent a lot of time with my dad and made a decision early on that he was going to spend his time with him while he was living.

John had been to Columbia and stayed for a couple of weeks or a month. This was not that long before Dad passed. When we took my Dad to the emergency room for a breathing treatment, they ended up putting him on a ventilator. That became the last, four or five days of his life. My family members came from all over the country. Then, he passed away. After Dad died, most out of town folks left the next day in the late morning and early afternoon.

I had dinner the night after Dad died at the nearby Country Kitchen with Betty and Bill, my sister and her husband. I walked home after dinner and realized that when I got home I would find, Fido, the little dog that my dad and I had shared. Now, this was all there was, which was fine. Fido and I a really bonded. He was my dad’s dog. He was raised like I was. He’s a little aloof. He had been more like a brother, but he became my life partner as me and Fido lived in the Family Living Center. We ended up not being alone long because my friend Kevin came to stay. His marriage had gone foul in the State of California so he returned to his beloved Columbia as he needed a place to stay. I enjoyed living with Kevin.

My brother John was planning came to stay after for my dad’s funeral but we delayed his visit for two weeks as John was wrapping up his business in California. His plan was to look for property in Kentucky and kind of start a new life.

Two weeks after my dad died, we had the funeral in Michigan. As John was driving there through the State of Iowa got stopped and searched and he was found with two and a half pounds of marijuana. John had been living in California and had grown weed and had the weed that he had. He just packed up the weed that he had when he was going to move. He knew he wasn’t going to have access to free to low-cost, high-grade marijuana in the Midwest and South and so ran afoul of the law. He had his court stuff in Iowa then came to stay with me. That period was tough on him. He had had some felonies when he was a young man. He’d been working in the medical marijuana evaluation field. He had built this whole industry as kind of an office guy and an activist who lived a real righteous life in California.

Suddenly John is a felon and back to thinking about whether he’s going to go to prison or at least have a recent felony conviction and be on probation or parole. He stayed with me about six months until his court business wrapped up. He got to serve his probation in California and moved back out there. Then I was on my own again.

I had paid the DirectTV baseball package and Dad said, “Oh, let’s not get it for this year” but I was like, “Oh no!, We love watching baseball.” Dad loved the Detroit Tigers and I was a fan too. Following your out-of-market team is costly thing, but over his objections, I signed up for the baseball package and then he died about three games into baseball season in early April. I watched a lot of baseball that year. It was really the last year that the Detroit Tigers did well. In September they knocked the New York Yankees out of the play-offs and went on to the American League playoffs where they lost.

Watching them beat the Yankees was this massive wave of grief. Dad had been dead for five months, but I realized that he would’ve loved to have seen that. He didn’t get to see it really because of two or three cartons of cigarettes. As he lost his lung capacity, he would get some new inhaler and steroids that gave him more lung capacity. He would just spend it on smoking because he had to cut back as his lung capacity was so poor. I just don’t think he realized he could die from smoking. People had been saying, “Smoking’s going to kill you” for his whole life. When you get down to like five or 10% of your lung capacity, those cigarettes really matter.

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter XI: Columbia Career


Mike Trapp dont be a jerk

I moved to Columbia in January of 2016 and my friend Sarah Bantz said that I could sleep in her living room for a month.

I had $240 and a backpack and a duffle bag. For the first time in my life, I had difficulty finding a job. I’m pretty good worker. I’m a strategic thinker, I’ve learned a lot. I’m good at what I do. I’m not career-minded. I’m not afraid to work under my value. So I’ve always been able to get work really quickly.

When I moved to Columbia, I didn’t get a job until April. It took a personal connection because I was some guy from out of town. I didn’t have a real local connection. Up until this point, when I had applied for work, which had been a while because I’d gone through connections for the last eight or 10 years, but before that they were always looking at my resume.

People would say, “Oh my God, Mike, you’ve done a lot of stuff.” When I had this long string of 10 or 12, one to two year jobs I had assembled, people started to say “Man, you can’t hold a job.” I knew when I got a job that I would probably need to change my work plan. I also knew that when I got my first social work job, they asked me what my career goal was and I had said that I wanted to have 15 entry level jobs and I realized I had racked up about 13 of them maybe 12. I was burning through him and I knew I would needed to make a stand at my next job.

My roommates sister Amy Bantz got me a job at The Shelter, the local domestic violence shelter. I was their first full time male employee. I got a case management job there. It was just a great group of folks. There were these women that were all really strong and there was this great community and they operated according to a radical feminist consensus, although they were starting to change into your kind of standard hierarchically oriented nonprofit. That was the official structure.

I worked there for about a year and it was just a great experience. It was a great introduction to Columbia. I made a lot of great friends and got to do interesting work. Because I had a background with folks who had mental health conditions, I worked as a patient advocate mostly for women who were in the shelter, sometimes women who needed services like court support or stuff with ex partes.

We would do some safety planning and some folks with people who didn’t work out of the shelter. Primarily I worked with folks at the shelter and I worked with the survivors and family members who had a lot of substance use disorder and mental health conditions because that was my background and I had done domestic violence advocacy work and family preservation and I’d done batterer intervention. I was familiar with the standard model that the heart of domestic violence is power and control.

That’s something that nobody else in the social services environment specifically and especially in kind of any other environment besides domestic violence service specialists works from this idea that the heart of domestic violence is power and control. That resonates with the truth and that allows you to create effective modalities.

I worked with survivors doing safety plans and helping them get into housing and helping them with other kind of ancillary needs and the mental health and substance use disorders spheres. I got a reputation of being able to work with anybody. I was recruited to Phoenix Programs after I had been at the shelter for a little less than a year. The executive director really liked me at the shelter, but she knew that I had better in me and thought that this was a great opportunity. She recommended me for this grant funded position at Phoenix Programs running an assertive community treatment team, which is a team based approach for people with high need mental health issues and Phoenix programs as a stand-alone substance use disorder treatment. This was an experiment for them funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health who does these health special project grants. We had two years of funding to create an act team, which was kind of a new model because that’s advanced kind of mental health agency work being done by a stand-alone substance use disorder treatment took target folks who have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

It was part of a cohort of groups who were doing integrated mental health and substance use disorder treatment. And having that background of working with those two things from a context of domestic violence, I had this kind of holistic approach. I was team member and then just for a few months and then the person who was supervising the team left and then I took over kind of running the team. We had a lot of success and Phoenix programs was really interesting and that they were a 12-step oriented, almost Christian organization that had an abstinence-only approach. I had a very nuanced position towards marijuana for a substance abuse counselor. I had been a drug policy reform activist. I believed in the harm reduction model. I also believed in integrated substance use disorder and mental health integrating those two together.

We worked with these great consultants who were world leaders in that specialty. Ken Minkoff and Chris Klein. I got to work closely with them in a cohort of great practitioners from around the state. I really grew clinically in a powerful way. And after I’d been at Phoenix just running this kind of program as an uncredentialed person – I had a masters degree- I picked up a credential again, which I hadn’t had since I worked in Michigan. I was a social worker there. I picked up a credential as a substance abuse counselor.

When the grant funding ended, I went into the regular treatment environment and then I did a lot of training and I began to oversee training and become a clinical manager. I found substance use disorder treatment really fulfilling in a way that other work had not been in that it was overtly spiritual work. I had a spiritual approach when I would talk with my clients and the way they were open to that, I would definitely go there and try to engage spiritual processes and it could be really powerful for people who believe in that and to be able to do that openly as part of your model.

The other thing that I really got out of Phoenix Programs was the idea of working in an active spiritual program. Seeing people in recovery, learning the power of gratitude, I’m looking at 12 steps, which is a lot kind of like Wesleyan, the method that Methodists get their name from or discipleship from when I was a young evangelical.  This idea of where you’re at and making a daily assessment and trying to improve yourself every day and trying to have an active contact while you’re out doing good, that resonated with things that I believed in. I found that I was pretty good at being a substance use disorder counselor and then a supervisor of counselors and then ultimately the executive director.

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter X: Anza Borrego


Mike chin on hands

So things didn’t work out. Amy and I were living in Toledo. We moved to Lansing because she got a job as a librarian at a domestic violence resource place. In that transition we decided to separate and I went back to the house on Rotor Street in Monroe that had been my folks’ house. After my mom died, dad and Brenda lived at home. Dad just started living in his truck and just didn’t come home anymore. Brenda had the house, so I went and stayed with her.

About that time I took a trip to Anza Borrego [State Park in Southern California]. I’d caught a ride with my dad and we rode around to the desert Southwest. That was in January. I went just to kind of put my head together. I wanted to go off and camp by myself. I wanted to make it more of kind of a spiritual retreat. Aleister Crowley’s book Four really gets into what was it about Moses and Mohamed and the Buddha and Jesus that allowed them to go out and change the world. There was no point of doctrine that all of them believed. They believed very different things, but they all did the same thing. They went off into the wilderness and they came back, changed and then they implemented home from there.

And so I went to Anza Borrego both to clear my head. I have a place in the winter campaign. John had had recommended it as a nice place to camp in January and my dad got rides through near there because he used to deliver near Palm Springs. He dropped me off there and I camped by myself for about three weeks. It was just windy and it’s still winter camping, even though it’s like 70 degrees in the day time it get got cold at night. My gallon of water would freeze through, but the wind would be blowing. I just felt I’d kind of like blow through me and let go of a lot of stuff and I wanted to own my own hurt. So that didn’t carry any kind of bitterness or resentment. I wanted to just kind of feel it in and let it go.

I also opened myself up. Now, I was about 30. Jesus became spiritually aware at 30. He studied and then, for 3 years laid out an ambitious plan of healing people, feeding people and telling people stories. I was about 30 and times were weird. 9/11 had happened and the world seemed to be changing. Something that had really impressed upon my thinking during my breakdown days: I remember sleeping in front of the TV, I woke up and it was like the year 2000 was flashing and this was 1996. With Y2K and the change of millennium. I felt like that that was something. I explored that and spent a lot of time just being open to the universe and praying.

I was wandering around following ravens in the desert. You can only go hiking so many times and reading and you’re by yourself and talking to the camp ranger for about five minutes a day. Some days not. So, I was following these ravens and had been in this really open spiritual place. Going back to my Bible as literature class, one of the points that Dr. Roberta made that really struck me about Jesus is that Jesus was who he was. And there was also the times it was not that the times were right for that message that could move things. That just helped me see that this is not the time. Thirty is an arbitrary number. Moses was in his forties and fifties, and Mohammad was in his forties. Buddha, I don’t know how old he was.

I’m only using those folks as exemplars and models. I think if you want to implement a change process or decide who you are as a person and that, that’s what I’m talking about when I’m telling this story and what I’m doing. Take into account the conditions of the world or the things that I think are existential threats to all of our existence are that our, a front against what I would consider God’s justice or human justice. There are people who have nothing and struggle for their very existence and they are brothers and sisters and have had a right and a need for that assistance in a system that they can be successful and not have to be afraid. Everybody all the time. Everywhere. What do you do with those kinds of things? You know?

For me, I’ve decided that from time to time, you know, I’m going to pull back and I’m going to reflect and I’m going to make concrete changes in my life based upon those reflections.

As I follow the Ravens around and I found this morterro stone. They’re the mortar stones that the indigenous folks would pound grain with and this was a little brown, which they said that probably had symbolic powers. I just kind of carried around it and use it as a worry stone. I just felt that now and then I was on the right path and to keep doing what I’m doing and study in and learn and try to help. The millennium was important and as we had more people who were born in the new millennium and look at us who were bringing these kinds of ancient disruptive ideas about accumulating things and having stuff and engaging in this process of extraction and manufacture and distribution and consumption and disposable in such a way that puts the entire continued existence of life on the Planet Earth at-risk to meet some unmet psychological and emotional needs and feed ourselves, clothed ourselves, and have shelter in this short term destructive not even very fun way. Younger people are going to reject this and there’s going to be a mass movement.

You can’t stay in the pocket, you know, when I was burning brightly, when I was mad and when it’s come upon me of times when like when I’ve been campaigning or other times when you’re, or when I’ve been organizing giant protest or when I’ve been reading, doing a lot of poetry and you’re making this powerful emotional connections and doing things, then there’s the feeling that goes along with that. You feel it. It’s like a fire. You can’t keep that fire going year after year after year.

I got in the pocket and politics – to jump ahead a little bit – I was on 40, 50 hours a week plus a 40 hour a week job and I was sleeping and working all the time. Then it was really engaging and fun and I got a lot done. But it was maddening, too.

So I learned a lot in Anza Borrego and and I healed some and I got, I felt validated that I was on the right path and that this was not the time to go all in and to try to implement it, plan spiritual and cultural transformation to get us on a path towards equity and sustainability.

I came back from the trip. I worked, I lived with my sister Brenda. I, one of my old boss had started a private practice and so I had gotten social work licensure in the State of Michigan. So I started doing family counseling, a lot of abuse and neglect cases. I started doing batterer intervention, which is really amazing to go through separation and divorce with a group of guys who were also often in separation or divorce or struggling in a relationship and modeling taking on patriarchy and male privilege.

It really helped me grow as a man to help these dangerous and abusive men who also had a lot of love in their hearts and a desire to be good parents and husbands and boyfriends or just peaceful people or maybe they didn’t even see that they had a problem, but when the process went on and they had to own up to at least that one thing, because nobody got there by not having to do at least one terrible thing. All of them admitted that they had engaged to behaviors that controlling assholes did. And they could learn not to do that. And we could do that in a group and support each other and tell our stories and hold ourselves accountable and that was a good and powerful thing. I did that for a number of years.

When I moved out to work for CAN, I had talked my brother John and his partner to come out and organize because they are great organizers. I knew this movement was cooking and it was a chance for room and board and free weed. So they did. John and Marsha stayed out there and ultimately they broke up. Marcia moved further up the West Coast. John stayed out there and he worked for Dr. Todd Mikuriya who was really the one of the most significant and earliest medical marijuana practitioners. He had turned Jack Herer onto the idea of medical marijuana. Herer was the guy who wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes. He offered the phrase In any condition for which marijuana provides relief and was behind Prop 215 argument that since there’s not the research on marijuana, you have to be able to try it out. He considered marijuana an easement, which means even if it didn’t have any ability to treat that just being high makes you feel better when you’re sick. It’s just easier and you’re in a better place and a more relaxed and open state. if you’re dealing with a terrible illness, that’s a pretty good place to be.

John talked me into going out and working with Dr. Todd and the clinic. And so I moved back to California, kind of steered clear in my old crowd because I didn’t know how things had ended awkwardly. A little bit of regret about that because I could have reestablished some friendships while I was there and I didn’t. Now, I talk to them on Facebook. It’s just water under the bridge.

I worked at the marijuana clinic and we would do medical marijuana evaluations and I would do the blood pressures and schedule appointments and follow-up for the people who had high BPs. They were trying to treat the pot doctor like he was a primary care doctor and I would say, ‘No, you got a primary care doc and you need to get in with that doctor.’

We did good medical practice and it added to my kind of interest in chronic disease management. It was really the first time I kinda did that. I got into some biofeedback. Dr. Todd was an early innovator on that field and I took a class on biofeedback and it was really cool because a lot of the things that I had done with relaxation and states of consciousness, it was cool to demonstrate that on the machine. When I did alpha wave training, you would put on the thing that would measure your alpha waves and it would put up your alpha waves as a blue bar. You could close your eyes and that raises your alpha waves by about 10%. The trick is to using passive volition, you allow the bar to grow higher and alpha waves are created and this thing that is unconscious comes under your conscious control through a process called passive volition. It’s an act of the will, but it’s an allowance rather than a making.

That was fun because I put it on and rose the bar at-will the first time I tried and learned some stuff about hand-warming: You can control migraines by moving blood to your hands and you can check that by hand temperature. It added to a lot of these things that I had already been doing just by noticing the bodily symptoms and using that as how your body temp can be measured by the warmth of your hand, that had come to me when, during my manic breakdown, I noticed when I used my motivational speakers voice – the voice I use when I speak in front of a large group – my palms would sweat because I was afraid of speaking to the group, but then I would take a deep breath: fear plus oxygen equals ecstasy.

I was intrigued by that idea of ecstasy that I had felt in drugs, but also had felt at other times, like seeking really well. We’re really not doing a great presentation or performance or speech in front of a crowd that’s feeling, it’s that same kind of feeling of ecstasy. I realized that it was an overcoming of as fear.

I had doubts about wanting to live in California because some things I didn’t like about it is the, the rubbing your nose at the disparities. You know, there’s a lot of homeless people, a lot of aggressive panhandlers, a lot of very rich people, a lot of things, this big class divide and and it’s just right there and you can’t really get away from it.

And everything’s expensive. So it seems like there’s this focus on money that’s more so than any place that I’ve been. Plus it’s really beautiful and there’s lots of things to do and you can find anybody who’s into anything. I had great Dungeons and Dragons group and got engaged with political stuff and saw great shows and went to all the wilderness areas in the West. It was a great time, but it wasn’t as change-the-world as I like to be. I also knew that my dad did live in his truck, was not going to be a sustainable solution.

And so I quit Dr. Todd. I’d saved up a little bit of money. I didn’t make much, so I didn’t have a lot of money.

I went backpacking in Big Sur. It was a lot like my trip to Anza Borrego only this time rather than just kind of reading books – I think I took a Bible to Anza Borrego – I took the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, the thing that the Jesuits do for 30 days. I thought I would self-coach myself. When I was at a training at at a Catholic school I went in their library and I pulled the meditations off the shelf and opened this page and read this one page on humility. It was just powerful about having the three levels of humility: One is treating other people like yourself. Two is only allowing yourself what you need. Three, always take the worst thing in the service of a higher purpose. So you can only have what you need. It’s better to be sick than well. It’s better to be poor than rich. That’s the highest form of humility.

I took those exercises and I was by myself and I was camping. One of the spiritual exercises is this thing called a colloquia, which is a form of prayer of this kind of imaginary conversation. I don’t want to give too much away about what they are, because when you take the exercises, you’re supposed to take them as you’re not knowing what they are. So I didn’t read ahead. Once I read that part in the book, I just read them as I went, so I don’t want to get into too much there, but it would involve these colloquia and these amazing conversations. I was by myself, and was engaged in this organized spiritual practice of meditating on the themes that would go on for like four days. You’re doing visualizations and reading and thinking about it while you’re hiking in this beautiful and the redwoods and drinking the pure mountain streams and only eat and what you can carry. It was just this amazing experience.

I started to realize that I was making a break with the real world and how things are organized, like owning a house or going to a job. Having a manic breakdown, I was in a world of one and nobody else is on your vibe and it’s frightening and scary. Freud says religion is insanity. I felt like I was getting to that point where I was going to make this breakthrough and I was going to be very much organized to be different. I just felt like the world said, ‘It doesn’t have to happen now.’

I stepped back from that. I planned to do the 30-day thing and do the whole with no thought in mind beyond just doing these exercises. And I stopped after two and a half weeks and I called my dad and, and he happened to be headed to Fresno. And I thought, well, I may never get a chance to have another trip with my dad. I started hitchhiking to Fresno. I’ve been living out of my backpack and I’ve been going to these resorts and having a meal maybe once a week and I would resupply. You’re like a middle class guy when you’re walking around the woods with a backpack and people treat you like you’re middle class guy. And I got in a car with the guy and I’m a middle class guy, hitchhiking and feel like, ‘Oh, I’ve been backpacking I got dropped off. I didn’t know how long I was going to stay.’ It’s totally cool thing to do. I got out of his car in Santa Cruz and I was a homeless person because I’m dirty and I have a backpack and suddenly without me changing I dropped like eight pegs in the social order.

I leaned my backpack outside of a Denny’s and had been washing in the streams for three weeks. And I washed in the sink and with the warm water and this slew. I thought I was clean, but this slew of brown came off and I realized I had this thin film of dust that I had for weeks. I literally teared up, I was so emotional about the beauty of plumbing. Any person with a backpack can stumble in and wash with warm water. I sat down and I ate my dinner at Denny’s and I had this experience like Jesus was there having dinner. It was this intense kind of colloquy.

Robert Anton Wilson talks about it. He says, pick anybody and read everything they ever wrote, read everything that anybody who knew them, what they had to say about them, meditate on those words, memorize those words, focus your consciousness on that person, and that person will speak to you. Knowing what my mom would say about different things. I do this with my brother where I’ll say what my mom would say about something. In an imitation. He can do it to me. We have that. Jesus is such a figure of literature and society and Christian society and then something that’s animated and intrigued me.

That was a an interesting and powerful experience. I took that trip with my dad and it was the last trip I got to ride with him. I rode with them for about two weeks and got out and Eugene, Oregon and hooked up with my friends. John and Lisa. I had made some music with John and they let them Toledo. He has a great ethnomusicologist and just a great musical partner. We’d done a bunch of metaphysical roots music in the style of the Carter Family. It was good to reconnect with them. Their friend was driving a U-Haul to the Bay area so I caught a ride with her and told her the story of my life thus far, and shared a lot of the things that I’ve talked about. We really had this great bonding experience. She was moving there and wanted to stay cause it felt like we made a connection, but I had just left from there.

I caught a train to Toledo, Ohio and Mr. Harry Train picked me up at the airport. He was living with his sister in South Toledo and stayed in his basement for a few days. I called Sarah Bantz about taking her up on letting me crash with her if I was going to start a new life in Columbia, Missouri. I stopped and worked some construction with Eric Hempel in Champaign, Illinois. I tried to hitchhike to Columbia, but got rousted by the cops. I ended up coming into Columbia on a Greyhound in January of 2006.


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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter IX: Poetry and Social Work and Death and Meaning

I got my first job doing social with a really neat program. It was a great opportunity with this program called Families First, which was family preservation work, a last ditch effort to keep kids from going into foster care or extra services to help kids get out of foster care and back with their family.

Mike with a cap crop



It was developed in the state of Washington with this program called Home Builders. Then, Michigan took Home Builders and they added a drug and alcohol referral and treatment component, which was missing from Home Builders. Then, they also scaled it up. The Republican governor at the time who didn’t do a lot of good things really put a lot of money into this and it paid for itself and reduced foster care placements.

You would work with one or two families at a time in this intensive program. Each family got 10 to 20 hours per week. You basically would knock on a door – someone who either spanked their kid too hard, or their house was too dirty, or the kid didn’t go to school because they couldn’t get rid of lice or they let the kid run in the street or some other gap in basic parenting that’s expected by the rule of law – you’d knock on their door and they may or may not have heard that you were coming and you would say, ‘Hey, I want to do this voluntary program where we’re gonna help your issue.’ Almost everybody would say no, I don’t want some weirdo coming to my house. That doesn’t sound fun at all.’ Then I would say, ‘Okay, but even though it’s a voluntary program, it’s in lieu of foster care if you don’t sign up for the program, then they could take you to court and put your kids in foster care.’

And then everybody signed, but you had to overcome that. And you would basically start showing up. And it was a lot of like single moms with kids. And sometimes it would be this thing where you just become like the pseudo-dad. You’re for two hours after work every day hanging out. I’m playing with the kids while she’s making dinner or making dinner while she’s playing with the kids and help them pay bills and come up with a plan and discipline in the kids. We’d do this thing called one, two, three magic where you’d give him a couple of chances and then put them in timeout and you’d model it. For someone who didn’t have any kids and had lived a pretty disrupted, poor family lifestyle, – enriching and fun too. But, uh, you know, so not the even The Brady Bunch or let alone Leave it to Beaver – and then not having kids and having this kind of radical transient, young adulthood. It was a strange place to be in.

I found just kind of meeting with people and not bringing any kind of judgment because I had lived in a clapboard shack, shared a bed with my brother until I was nine, and we lost a brother through inattention. These things helped. Having been insane and being on a psych unit and coming back from that, it just really enlarged my compassion. I was able to see that shame and to be able to validate the struggle and be with people and listen to them with a lot of compassion, and then share something from my story that showed that this is a thing that happens and that people can manage became really successful.

We tracked our families and over my career I kept 98% of my families together. It was just by having a lot of risk tolerance and no judgment and then getting hands-in with them and trying to do the things that weren’t working. It was really great. It gave me a chance. I learned a lot. And then I saw every kind of problem because I saw a lot of drugs and alcohol. I saw a lot of domestic violence. We are very sophisticated about that with doing a routine inquiry about domestic violence, which is a best practice that hardly anyone does. It’s just so very common that in child abuse, it’s almost ubiquitous. If you see one, you’re going to see the other. You identify it and deal with it on people’s own terms by the person – their survivor – making the calls about what they’re gonna do and a lot of safety planning and drugs and alcohol and a lot of referral on that cause that’s a long-term thing.

By positively engaging kids and playing games and keeping them busy, they just misbehave a lot less. By consistently applying this pretty easy discipline plan, kids would get better and it would be pretty neat to go out and, and they’d be like, ‘Oh my God, my kids are terrible’ and saying never going to be right. And then like three weeks later, I see the kids doing something right. I’m like, ‘Hey, that’s one’ and BAM! The kid quits misbehaving, because they want to play Candy Land or Stratego or go to the park or go to McDonald’s. I’m going to do that as long as they’re working with me. When they’re not, they’re going to go to their room and not get any attention every single time. It worked. Then the parents would be doing it and we’d have a great time and it would onto the next.

If you’ve got someone that you didn’t gel with, it wasn’t that long. So it was a great lifestyle to put myself together. I really stepped back from this need to change the world. This kind of this kind of eschatological urgency that I developed as a fundamentalist Christian and really had gotten transformed and grown into this concern about the environmental crisis and wilderness loss and the irrevocable changes that happen through every aspect of society. I knew that I had like my little life fire had almost gone out and almost blazed out and I needed to find some kind of balance and purpose of how to live.

I went on vacation from responsibility where I was only responsible for myself. I recycled and gardened. I tried to walk and ride my bike and minimize car use, but I wasn’t going to protests. I wasn’t organizing stuff. If I did go, it was just to see people or to do something that was fun. That felt good. There’s this critical dynamic of do you fix the world or do you work with the broken people that are broken because the world is broken. If you just go around putting band-aids on all the people who get chewed up by the machine while the machine continues to chew things up.

Where I was then is pretty much where I am now. We need to create our own systems of taking care of each other and meeting each other’s needs. Politically I never really followed up on that narrative.

When I was with SEAC, one of the first workshops I went to at the first conference in Lexington, Kentucky was this green anarchy workshop put on by John Johnson. I considered myself a at this point a decentralized socialist. There’s all kinds of versions of socialism. I dug into the theory of it and looked at the history in organizations and I liked it this somewhat that the idea of democratic socialists who look to be this unofficial socialist wing of the democratic party a la Barney Sanders. I sent him a check when he ran for the house of representatives the first time.

Then, I started to question centralized power and, and realized, you know, in sociology there’s this thing called Michelle’s Iron Law of Oligarchy. Michelle did these seminal research on German trade unions that were really trying to be democratic and participatory events and ended up creating power structures and imbalanced based on information flow. Michelle argued that every organization creates a hierarchy and of power and that’s the iron law.

I felt like we didn’t need to create centralized power structures. We needed regional associations and local initiatives that have some kind of web or framework and coordination at the global level. If anybody is building the people-eating machine, nobody else can just kind of live and take care of their community’s needs. That’s kind of big picture. I layer that in with what’s your purpose? How do you live? You know, what Jesus did. And Jesus appears to have kinda launched this thing about love. This whole institution got created doing something else most of the time. He also put out, you know, some really important things and changed people just by talking face to face with a small group of folks.

I have that sense, but I also at this point in my life am feeling a need to not take on that and to just be in my world and helping the people that are around me and trying to enjoy life and so I did that for about two and a half years and great Sanya being responsible for people and being on call all the time. And it’s emotionally draining when you are empathetic and feeling stuff with people, you’re just drained at the end of the week. Then if you’re on call over the weekend and and you’ll lose some and you see some kids who struggle and you just want to get away from the horror for a while and go backpacking if you’ve got some money in the bank and don’t have aspirations of doing anything.

I quit my job for no good reason and was car camping and doing some backpacking when a friend of a friend, Amy Miller suggested that she also wanted to go backpacking and we went on a camping trip. We fall in love and had this whirlwind romance and six months later we got married.

When I got into a serious relationship, I realized that, well, I probably don’t want to just be a vagabond around. She had a job and a life. My boss had quit at my job. The supervisor job was open. So after quitting my job for no good reason, I came back with a raise and a promotion as the director of the program. I did that for about another nine months until the time came for Amy and I to hike the Appalachian Trail. That had long been a dream of hers. We kind of got together about backpacking. We weren’t gonna do the whole thing, but about 800 miles over a couple of months. We had a big garage sale and sold our stuff and put in notice for our jobs.

Then, I took my mom to a doctor’s appointment that she was concerned about. She found out she had lung cancer and that it was real bad. Then I’m torn, because I’m like wildly in love with this beautiful, adventurous, super smart, funny woman and we’re making a life together and we’re getting ready to do her dream. At the same time my mom is dying. I was in denial about what was going on and we decided to do the trip. It was really hard. I didn’t feel it. Climbing mountains in the cold was hard.

The last couple of days we hooked up with this doctor. She had been hiking with another group they were getting off the trail. Her hiking buddies wanted to find somebody for her to hike with, because they didn’t think anybody should be hiking by themselves. They knew we were slow. She was slow.

She was great. After a couple of days we talked about my poops. I thought I had giardia since I was exhausted from being cold and wet and physically challenged. That’s why my poop was running like water and life was hard. Eventually I bring up how my mom’s got the cancer. I asked her what these numbers meant, this 40% chance of living two years. I thought maybe it meant that she had a 60% chance of living forever. ‘That is not in fact what those numbers mean,’ she said. She put her hand on my shoulder and said Honey it means your mom’s going to die and real soon.

We arrived at this outdoor center and we camp the night. The next leg of the trail featured the first four miles all uphill. The trail climbed 4,000 feet over that four miles and I was hurting. We stayed an extra night and stashed our bags while we hiked around that day. We went back to set up camp that night to hike the next day and our packs were gone. We thought about trying to re-outfit, then realized it would probably be not much longer and a lot cheaper to just go home and come back.

We got home and I saw that my mom had made this massive decline in three weeks. She was in radiation every day. Because of people’s work schedules it was only my sister-in-law who was able to take mom to her treatment. We ended up staying, but it kind of killed our dream. Amy summed up best with Man, we gave away the cat to go on vacation.

I realized that I had been kind of hypo-manic for like a year because of being in love. She’d never really seen that I am more flat most of the time. I’ve perked up some over the years, but at that time, my default condition was more flat. My mom got sick and died, which was real hard. We were real close. It was a strain on my relationship with Amy.

I wrote a couple of songs about it. As my mom was dying, I wrote the first couple verses and the chorus. After she died, I wrote the rest of it. I wrote it in the present tense because I would see a family member, we would be hanging out and they would be talking and they would be talking about mom in the past tense. I could see the hurt in my mom’s eye. That’s where that empathy thing, that active listening from Professor Miller’s class in 1987 came up again. I’ve been doing that ever since.

It’s really hard when your mom is dying in the summer time.

The ministers go on vacation.

The road workers do their excavation,

but the truck driver stays at home alone with his regrets.

He drinks cheap beer, and he frets about his dying wife and his debts,

and if he should have stayed on the road so long.

And when your mom is dying in the summer time,

the birds still sing in the morning.

The red skies give the sailor’s warning.

And the sad boy does not sail on alone with his worst fears.

He stifles back his tears.

He tries to bring his family cheer as he writes another sad, sad song.

And when someone’s dying in the summer time,

people still go to the beach.

But happiness is so far out of reach.

We just all stay home

and we sit alone together and talk about the weather

and what’s gonna happen to Heather when her grandma dies before too long?

But the birds still sing when we mourn.

And with every death new life is born.

We’re all just part of the goddess anyway. Hey, Hey, Hey

So I’ll wipe away my tears and learn to face my fears

and know there’s a new part of God to hear me pray. Hey hey hey.

I there’s a new part of God to hear me pray. 

Talking about prayer, there is a verse in the bible that was really impactful to me and it says that we should pray without ceasing. You think about what does that mean? And you know, in prayer, if you mostly hear it in Christian Church, it’s like either a ritualistic words, which Protestants and Evangelicals, we weren’t lending to that except for like the Lord’s Prayer because that’s the way Jesus did it. It was more like requests for stuff and people would pray and ask for stuff. And then there was kind of a gratitude piece and one of the things that people would pray was ‘Your will, Lord, not mine’. I realized that you only need to ask once and then that’s the way it is. You don’t need to ask for stuff anymore because you’ve already asked for a thing to happen that should happen, whatever the divine has for you. I’ve never really liked that asking for stuff although sometimes when you get in a jam, it’s a thing that.

Oh boy, I don’t want to be late. Please start, uh, on the car or whatever, you know.

For the most part, most of my prayers are kind of gratitude. And if you’re gonna pray without ceasing, it’s more than like thinking words or saying words and those kinds of things. It becomes a way of experiencing the universe, a sense of connection, a sense of being mindful. All of that maybe is his prayer.

What is the nature of God from a material perspective?

What can we assume we at least know?

I know that I have a consciousness and that everybody has a consciousness and it’s organized. We also have a story in that people remember us. When I was crazy I noted that I started understanding when I self-fractured, I was able to look at myself and see that a lot of the ways that I, when faced with a problem or what to do, I was really doing what would mom do about it or what would dad do about it. They were so very different in the way they approach the world. Whoever had the better solution that would be when I would model myself after.

I realized that I could call up my mom’s voice and I know what she would say. I know she would be aghast at Donald Trump.

Considering the idea of God, we are at least the distributed intelligences of 7 billion people. Maybe we can add all the self-aware creatures in their consciousness structures and maybe even some of the ones who aren’t self aware but have proto-consciousness and memory. As long as we remember that there’s at least that and that’s pretty amazing and powerful. And can you get in touch with that?

That song gave me great comfort in that even though I felt my mom’s loss deeply and mourned her good and well for a year. I will occasionally have some moment of sadness or nostalgia. I still talk about her in the present tense and sometimes I say there’s very little difference with my mom being in Michigan or being in heaven except that I can’t call her.

This whole period of time was one of my prolific times as a poet. Before my mind cracked open, I was all inhibited and guarded and couldn’t be open or free to allow myself to express. Suddenly I couldn’t not do that. The dam was broken. Out of that I continued to have the gift of poetry and depending on how engaging my life is and do I have a venue for it is how much I create. I have not created much since I’ve got into politics and some other ways of talking to people and getting stuff out. During that time I was singing in a band – Milk Carton –  probably writing a poem a week.

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