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

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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