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sublime day

December 28, 2011 1 comment

Well we made it back safely from our holiday travels and I have successfully transitioned back to going to work everyday. Starting the week on a Tuesday certainly helps, after all tomorrow is Thursday already. Its kind of compensated for getting home late in the rain and not really having an easy time getting the car unloaded and things put away. An empty house needs attention, a dog with a day in a car needs some exercise. I tried to stop at an Indiana state rec area west of Circle City as Dad liked to call it, astute readers may recall, but I couldn’t find the entrance and spent our hiking time driving around some fake lakes.

We stopped at a hunters check in and walked down to a dock but I kept hearing all these guns going off and then it dawned on my road addled mind that I couldn’t really be walking Fido through woods full of armed strangers hoping to shoot who knows what. Fido didn’t understand why we would drive all day get to the woods and then get back in the car and drive all evening. If that dog would learn English I would explain shit to him. Easier I guess just to do things that make sense. All in all he’s a pretty reasonable critter with a healthy philosophy of life. A little more but sniffing and shit eating then I care for but he seems pretty well adjusted and less estranged perhaps then I usually am.

Fido is being pretty chill for it being my late night because Olive has been over all day. She is Amy and Michael’s dog and Fido’s best friend. They’re the same age and have been playing regularly since Fido was 4 months. He is thrilled to death and doesn’t need much from me at all. A little dog butlering please and he wouldn’t say no to a treat but he’s content. Olive is a character, closer to a default dog her mongrelism is hard to classify. Probably some pit because she’s brindle and has some muscles in her forehead, but she’s got a boxer’s chest and stance, some floppy hound ears with a bit of a bay to her bark as well. She’s a good dog. Energetic and pretty good with Fido. She does hump him some, but he puts up with it and sits down or lays down if he gets tired of it. Plus he was doing it to this puppy at the dog park yesterday. I try to stay out of dog politics, they generally work it out better if left alone.

Being my late day they had several hours to work out their biggest exuberance outside. I have a nice sized yard and first thing we did was put a fence up [white picket even, I am so conventional these days] so they have a good space to play. Got to have coffee with Amy before work. I had slept in a bit having Malavika and Isaiah over last night to play some games and get caught up. It was fun wish I could remember the name. Amy got to see my before coffee demeanor which you usually have to live with me to experience.

I roasted more coffee this morning after Amy left. I did an Ethiopian medium/dark and am looking forward to it. Been drinking dark roast Honduran and gave the rest of them away. They were popular presents and got to teach some people about coffee. The herbal skin cream from Erica was a big hit as well. We all remembered my Grandma’s having New Skin by her herb doctor Doctor Kaylor and it generated some reminiscing. Betty has a bit tucked away I wonder if you could analyze it to see what was in it, we all remember it as miraculous. Uncle Mike remembered it was brown and it definitely wasn’t as scenty as Erica’s. I’m thinking it was comfrey.

Busy day to day. Did a suicide awareness/prevention training. I’d done it before with this group so I was challenged to dig deeper into the phenomenon. Normally talk about attempters versus completers and did again but challenged the group to try to address the potential completers who may be passing through our orbits at any time. I read from David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” with one of his characters being on a psych unit for a hardcore overdose and really eloquently talks about her motivations. Since he later committed suicide I theorize it gives some insight into the mind of a completer, something usually isn’t possible.

He talks about wanting to end how he is feeling versus wanting to hurt himself, the euphemism we all want to use. He talked about horror being the dominant feeling, life turning lurid. I used those points to talk about the sublime. How to connect, provide hope, open the door to talk, provide meaning, normalize. I put my money where my mouth is and tackled the subject head on and tried to do that in my process group. Everything but the sublime part. Everyone is not ready for sublimity. Its an important word that we overuse/misuse. This lamp is sublime. No its not. Sublimity is overcoming the horror to something transcendent. Mostly though I just didn’t have the time, I get very few words in a process group which is intrinsically peer to peer. But I’ll work it in. Maybe do an education group on the topic.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading this far and thank you for your comments and your likes and for subscribing to my rambles if you do and for your own blogs and sharing your stories and your wisdom. It makes me a better person and inspires me to keep doing this.

 

Categories: books, dogs, feelings, travel, work

up late before the eclipse

December 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Watching some Lord of the Rings and writing some poetry. Another exciting Friday night here at Leslie Lane. Not sure why I’m a little melancholy after a really great day. I had a four day week and had rather an enjoyable day off. Put some decorations on the tree, cleaned a little house, made some bacon and eggs. I listened to a CD of Brenda doing her recovery story and it was really touching, I am so proud of her. I called her and we were both getting ready for the noon meeting. I took a formerly homeless gent i know who will only go if i take him and he likes to collect the coins. funny thing to do on a day off but it didn’t feel like work. saw some other folks i know, heartfelt but anonymous.

In the afternoon I went shopping which I am not much wont to do, but make exceptions from time to time especially this time of year. I bought some crampons for walking on the ice. not going to let a missouri winter keep me from my appointed rounds and I can’t keep going down hard each winter and expect not to get hurt some day.

We had our first dusting of snow but now its warming up a bit, cold tonight though. I have clothes on the line. After shopping went to a happy hour at a chain restaurant with a group celebrating a soon to be ex-coworker’s new job. It was fun and we shared going crazy stories and there were a surprising few for those who cared to share.

Besides the crampons I got some more winterizing stuff, door thresholds for the storm doors. Dad would be proud, tackling a project on my own. Probably on Sunday. I also got a programmable thermostat. Sorry Fido, you don’t need it warm in here while I’m at work and we could make it nippier when we’re under the down comforter. Another record year for green house gas emissions. That’s gotta change and that won’t happen if we don’t. As they say in recovery, if you keep doing what your doing, you keep getting what your getting.

I also got extension cords and now the tree has a cheery glow with a string of 100 white led lights. I’ll put a string of little lights on the ficus tomorrow, and maybe I’ll put a bulb on the kaffir lime tree, might look a little Charlie Brown. Speaking of which my co-worker Jane is going to play Charlie Brown Christmas for her Christmas-Eve ed group which I did last year to good effect. There’s some admirable characters and it allowed a nice approach to the difficult topic of Christmas. Some people don’t care, its just another day in treatment, while others are broken up over the ones they’re not with or the ones who are gone. I brought gifts which helped, people like presents, most of them would have got nothing.

It was fun working last year, coming home to spend the afternoon with Dad. Knew I had it lucky too. I guess that’s why I’m melancholy. Fido likes the tree, he pulls on the lower branches and drinks out of the basin. But its not the same.

Here’s the poem, only you faithful reader who will read 545 words of my banal Friday get to see the new stuff:

A Song of Earnest Regret

If I could have remembered Eowyn

where would i be now?  where would we be?

i am where I need to be

i guess, it at least feels right

but so much else is gone

all of the mighthavebeens

i don’t even know  if I miss them

except for now, when I do

oh Eowyn would I know your face?

did I know?

the damp of the spring rain

no not the first

held no comfort no solace even

but a bone chilling weariness

that like malaria

when its run its course

and your better again

to where being crippled up with sick

is a faint memory

only to come again

with no sure knowledge it will pass

but yes Sam there’s light up there

beauty that no shadow can touch

still the journey for some involves struggle

and sometimes it’s just a little too hard

too open your eyes to beauty

 

Standard Bronze Wins the Gold

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I can’t write anything about Thanksgiving without beginning with gratitude. Working in the field of addiction treatment I see first hand the power of that emotion, those thoughts and actions, allowing acceptance of present day realities as a platform for a better life. I saw a meme going around happiness doesn’t make you grateful, gratitude makes you happy. There’s a lot of truth there.

Nonetheless Thanksgiving takes it on the chin as a celebration of colonial imperialism and a day devoted to gluttony and excess. I was chatting with an individual of Native American extraction who asked about my holiday plans and after sharing them I asked after his. He said he wasn’t making a big of it because it didn’t have positive associations for him as the whole thing turned out. I couldn’t do anything but apologize. Another friend rails against Thanksgiving like its an abhorrent thing and his angst ridden pseudo-suffering seems more like an excuse to judge. I could do nothing but ignore it.

For me, a fan of both family and community and cooking good food, its a day to be celebrated without limits. I am a fan of what I call “the good life”, living well but in harmony. I wanted to make a feast but without promoting things that I find abhorrent. And with the able assistance of my housemate Kevin we cooked the shit out of this Thanksgiving with local sustainably raised stuff and put out a feast we could be proud of.

You may recall the cooking began last week when I made chicken stock out of the bits and pieces of my roasting chicken I had made the open up room in the freezer. I also got my shopping done but only because Kevin made a couple of trips to the store so I could add a few things.

Tuesday I picked up my bird. I had ordered an heirloom turkey at the Root Cellar a couple weeks back and learned they would do first come first serve at 10:00 but I had already booked a 2 hour 9:30. I wanted a big one under the mistaken notion that females are bigger and you get more white meat. Actually when I looked up the particular on the Standard Bronze I ended up with I learned males are bigger which makes a lot of sense when I think of it.

Regardless, my friend Gretchen had agreed to pick it up for me at 10:00 and I drove to her place on my lunch hour. Helpfully, Fresh Air was replaying a segment from 1987, I think, with a food chemist on how to roast a turkey. She said brine it overnight with a cup of salt, 2 cups for giant turkeys and more if you use Kosher salt. This is of course for fresh birds only. Corporate birds are pre-brined of course amongst other things in their little plastic shells.

The show had just gone on to touch on the trickiness of getting the thighs & legs up to 155 degrees without overcooking the breast when I got to Gretchens. I considered hearing her out but I was on my lunch hour and still had hopes of getting lunch. Apparently Terri Gross is pretty attached to this segment so maybe I’ll catch it next year but I made a note of the phenomenon and got my bird.

I had to give Gretchen more money because it was a mammoth thing at 21 #s and at $7.50 a pound it was a chunk of change. A considerable chunk of change. But for good reason. Turkey farming is tricky being willful birds prone to total die offs for more then a couple reasons. Bobtail Whites, the 99.9% turkey of choice is sedate and unnaturally big breasted to the point of not being able to bread without a turkey baster anymore. They can fly and get into more mischief and you factor in inputs and risk and no externalized costs (corporate turkeys pollute the water, eat commercial corn with all of its issues, and are charnal houses of horror that diminish the souls of everyone who devours them) and they are appropriately priced.

To live in a world of small family farms we have to pay more. Right now Americans only spend 7% or so of their income on food. Cheap food is expensive to the planet, the farmer, and our communities. Europe spends around 10% and I think in the Philippines they pay 40%, some countries are higher. Regardless of all that it was cool enough to leave the turkey in the car until after work when I threw it in the fridge.

Wednesday morning I pulled the Rouge Vif D’Etampes Pumpkin(AKA Cinderella pumpkin)  off the front porch, washed it good, cut it in half, scooped out the guts and baked on a cookie sheet with some water and pumpkin spices (just to scent the house). I roasted the seeds (greased cookie sheet with olive oil, sprinkle with Bob’s Steak Seasoning [corporate seasoned sugar/salt Dad bought]) which were not numerous but big and juicy and they came out good.

I cooked the pumpkin until it was soft, could’ve been softer, peeled and mashed and beat. I had promised Kevin I would blend it when I offered to prep the pumpkin vs using the canned variety but I was already overwhelmed by the pumpkin mess I had so far for a before work morning, even on my late day. {I just made a second pot of coffee for this cold and rainy Saturday morning, its a medium roast South Seas coffee I roasted last weekend, oh so delicious, and the 2nd press pot is such a luxury.}

Wednesday night I brined the turkey. I did it in the bag and added a cup of salt (1/2 canning salt, all I had), water and all the ice in the freezer (and they laughed when I threw the rest of the bag in the freezer at my last Summer party). After thinking about it and the pasture raised turkey being a little tough last year I added another 3/4 cup iodized salt (all that I had). The radio lady said it could be crusted on, you just got to rinse it good.

I put the bag in a bucket and the bucket in the basement/garage (I am blessed with a split level new readers). Then I realized I didn’t really know how to cook a turkey. Up until this year my method was to say “Hey Mom” or later “Hey Dad, how do you cook a turkey again?” This is why grief is intrinsically a year long commitment. You never really know what someone means to you until they’re not there and you have to experience the loss.

With my mom it was pickles. Thinking of the seasons it must have been 6 or 7 months after she died, I know I wasn’t thinking of it every day anymore, when Amee, my wife at the time, was talking to her mom about her making pickles. It hit me like a thunderclap, I would never again eat my mom’s pickles and I just started crying.

But thank God now orphans have the internet and Whole Paycheck, though lacking any other parental quality reminded me of the particulars of roasting a turkey. I see why they hold the 1 spot on Google as it was easy to find, well organized and comprehensive. They recommended less salt in the brine but I was undaunted because you don’t make a lot of money selling salt but you do selling “healthier” food. (You always have to factor in the economic angle of who is providing your information). They did mention you are supposed to pull out the squishy things which I had forgotten to do and pulled them and the sizable neck out of Tom’s yahoo.

I think we do our birds at 350 1/4 hour per pound and Whole Paycheck said 325-375 so I felt good about that. On the breast up or down debate they split the difference with an hour of down and flip it so you get the best of both worlds, juicier breast and crisped up skin. Cover it with foil but uncover for an hour, which Kevin suggested half the time covered, half uncovered, under the theory you can always cover it back up if it gets done to quick as I had been bouncing my research off him as he wrapped up his first day of solid cooking.

Thursday I got going on the turkey around 7:30. I pulled it out of the ice water and rinsed it good and gave it an hour to get rid of the chill before going into the oven which both Kevin and Whole Paycheck recommended. It took me near that amount of time to deal with it. I carefully went over the pretty thick skin and pulled out feather pieces. Bronzes are notorious for this I later read and this turkey lived up to it. Knowing it was intrinsic to the breed made me feel better. After laying out a ton of money I was kind of expecting perfection.

I also rubbed the bird with olive oil and stuffed with a quartered orange (Kevin’s idea) that had been hanging in the fridge for a while, left over fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme) Kevin had bought for the dressing with some marjoram and oregano from the garden. I also shoved in a few pieces of celery, heavy on the leafy part and a few whole cloves of garlic.

I added a pint of seasoned chicken stock and 1/2 bottle of an Italian white wine. I didn’t pre-heat the oven on consideration of the letting the turkey get to room temp made me think a gradual rise in temp was better. I folded in my turkey and wrapped in foil on the bottom rack because that’s the only way it would fit. Got her going at 8:30 as planned.

I made stock out of the neck, organs & folds of skin from the neck end and the ass end and I threw in the ass as well. I added marjoram and oregano and mace and set that to simmer for 4 hours.

Kevin helped me flip the bird and yest that pun was used which was a little tricky but wooden spoons up both ends did the job. 1/2 hour later and a 1/2 hour later I basted again. At its weight I was anticipating a 5 1/4 hour cook time with checking it a 1/2 hour early recommended by Whole Paycheck I pulled the foil off. Before then Kevin had made wing tip booties to keep them from getting over done.

The breast got nice and bronzed early so we put a piece of foil over that. We checked the temp in the crook of the thigh and we got 155 at 12:30 and pulled it out to rest until carving.

The dark meat was strong tasting, almost gamy and was hard to carve. The white meat was incredibly delicious. Juicy and intensely flavorful, I couldn’t have been more pleased. There was a layer of subcutaneous fat and the thin was thick so it wasn’t particularly edible but you shouldn’t be eating that stuff anyway. There was some integument I’ve been cutting out and tossing to Fido as well but I suspect that’s the cost of doing business with having birds that walk around and lead a life.

Reviews were very positive, it was a fine looking bird and people liked it. It was part of an excellent meal with a great assemblage of interesting people and was a pretty nice Thanksgiving. In addition to the turkey I also did mashed potatoes; red new potatoes with the skins on mashed with butter, whole milk and sour cream and sprinkled with minced wild onions (the fall crop is in, if you get them early they are like a more pungent chive, much better in my opinion).

Kevin did an array of from the basics with foody flair and put over 16 hours in the kitchen in two days. The guests brought some wonderful items as well leading to a colorful array of delectable morsels. Kevin paired the meal with a Stone Hill (out of Hermann MO) Norton that was excellent, dry and flavorful. We probably were easily pushing 90% local for the spread and it tasted like it.

I would like to tell you about the party and I may but I’ve been writing this post for days and my coffees getting drunk and I am wanting to get about my day three of a a four day weekend. A trip to the store, some house cleaning while I have momentum and its getting to be Christmas tree time, perhaps tomorrow.

all bad poetry is sincere

November 18, 2011 3 comments

Hello faithful reader. I am more and more choosing blogging over watching a movie, even though I just  read watching movies is good for you. Improves your social intelligence with increases in theory of mind skills. Most of the article, again from Scientific American Mind was on the value of fiction. Stories help us understand how people work in a way that conveying the same information in a report format for example doesn’t. TV doesn’t do it though. The stories are to rudimentary the characters too stock the author theorized.

It was a busy day at work and I fell a little further behind but I got out only 10 minutes late to walk Fido to the dog park before it got dark. It was fun hanging out, going every other day at pretty much the same time I am meeting up with the same people and Fido is getting to know some dogs. It has a cocktail party feel today and after wrapping up my 6 week course on self esteem today I acted like a friendly and outgoing person. I’m torn between bringing a lantern or just meeting up with these folks in the dark. Conversations in the dark are different as the day turned into night.

Fido got in some good play but I had to introduce myself to the other guy with a small dog and suggest we walk off so the dogs could play. It worked out. The things I do for that beast, who just wants more attention and dessicated liver the more I give him and I do stuff for him I wouldn’t do for myself. Like talk to a stranger to meet an emotional need.

Got me thinking about dogs so when I looked over my poetry links page I decided I would put up the second poem I wrote about my mom’s dog Tiger. My sister Brenda got him after Mom died and I moved in with her in the old homestead after I got separated so we were buddies again. I tried to write a silly song about him his whole life because I liked to sing to him when the just two of us were hanging out but never came up with anything. I wrote this the day he died.

He got cancer at 14 and since he was a dog we just kept him comfortable until he got pretty close. He didn’t seem to be in pain just got harder and harder to move. I had been carrying him outside to relieve himself and laying him on a thick blanket when he couldn’t. Brenda and I both kind of checked in on him and he seemed to appreciate hanging out in spite of his condition, until he didn’t. We both felt it and I took him to the pound to have him put down.

It was sad but I hadn’t really cried until I left him in the car and went and talked to the guy and he asked me if I had a leash and I said no he didn’t need one. He handed me a red one and told me to walk the dog in. I had sort of a tear hiccup, a mini burst and blubbered out “He can’t walk”, and the guy looked at me like I was a nut. I went and carried him in and laid him on a metal table and told him I loved him and I would bury him deep in the backyard he loved.

I smoked a cigarette and waited until it was over and carried him home in the blanket I had been told to bring. I carried him around in the back yard and cried and cried. I started to dig his whole and I was crying and singing this song and I stopped digging to write it furiously on the back of an envelope. I haven’t been able to find it but know the most sizable portion and hummed out a sufficient ending in the kitchen while my canned chili was microwaving.

Tiger died 2 or 3 days after the space shuttle blew up on re-entry. there were some kid’s science experiments you may recall. Both space shuttle catastrophes touched me deeply and I mean no disrespect. I was also cautioned in sharing this poem because of something my Creative Writing instructor at MCCC Dr Bruce Merkel said: “I don’t want to read any poetry about your dead dog, it was a big deal for you, but for the rest of us that stuff tends to be pretty banal”. Or words to that effect, nonetheless here it is:

The ants and the rats and the astronauts

Were strewn across the sky,

And many many tears were shed

For who knows where their bodies lay?

About the same day Tiger passed away

I buried him in the backyard,

I shed tears for him that I didn’t give them

When death hits home it hits hard.

He was more then a pet

He was a friend to me,

He was a comfort to my mom.

And he howled that day

When the hearse road away,

And he was never really the same.

He lost a little spark and he was slow to bark

But when you called his name,  he came.

Categories: dogs, family, feelings, poetry

used to read full time

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been getting a lot more “likes” on my posts from other poets and that has been flattering. Its also inspiring me to blog more. I was talking to a co-worker about a clinical issue and mentioned I had recently read of a study in Europe more definitively linking marijuana use with psychoses and she looked at me funny and said “how much do you read in a week?” I thought for a second and said “not counting Facebook and stuff, probably twenty, twenty-five hours a week. That’s down a lot from what it used to be when I was knocking out two or three books a week. (I certainly didn’t tell her about Summers as a teenager when I was knocking out a book and a half a day. Anyway, she said “twenty five hours? That’s like a part time job”. The funny thing is up until I bought the house I used to read full time. I also didn’t mention a fair chunk of it lately has been Fantastic Four comics (I’m coming up on the mid 80s, Sue Richards has this spiky mullet, a new low and the time I was coming of age, how sad).

Today it was beautiful out. A gorgeous day for any season but with the coming of winter a precious thing. My COD group talked me into taking the show on the road and took the group on a walk. It was nice to get out on the trail and there was a universal uptick in mood and a couple of total shifts. Mine was improved and I was feeling none to shabby to begin with. Walks are such a no brainer on a beautiful day with a stir crazy bunch who really need to learn the benefits of walking and being in nature. The downside is you get less direct teaching and there’s a lot of stuff I know that could be helpful so I usually keep ’em in the classroom or at most take the conversation outside. Today we walked and it was good.

After work I shoveled the last of the horse manure on the cold frame and started the surplus pile. Might finish it tomorrow if i get an early start and Fido doesn’t want to hang out at the park too long. I’ve been steady on every other day walks most to the dog park. Olive is coming on Sunday so I’ll get a freebie. I’m going to make a chicken. I was going to roast it but with thanksgiving coming up I think I will cut it up and barbecue it.

Today I planned on cooking for myself. I had thawed cube steaks I needed to cook and tomatoes have been ripening on the counter so I put two and two together. I scalded all the tomatoes that were ripe or mostly ripe. While the water was getting hot I fried 2 pieces of bacon. I poured off half the grease and let the bacon soak out some grease in a newspaper (you can’t do that with the internet). I fried up a diced red onion, 1/2 green pepper, 3 thai chile peppers drying on my window sill in the bacon pan. I added tomatoes when the onions started to carmelize about 3/4 of the cast iron skillet and boiled that down, adding some Mrs Dash & Agave nectar to bring down the bitterness of the fresh tomatoes.

I browned the cube steaks 4 pieces, maybe a little more then a pound and patted them in whole wheat flour. I took rest of the bacon grease and sauteed another red onion, this time chunkier, green pepper 1/2 slices and a few baby portobellos I think and browned the steaks. Added all that to the now pretty yummy cooked for an hour tomato sauce and let that simmer for 40 minutes or so (another hour wouldn’t hurt, could have gotten by maybe ten minutes less, it was gooood).

I made a salad with red lettuce, thin sliced yellow squash and shredded carrots. Probably grand total the meal was literally 97% local topped off with Kevin bringing Uprise sour dough whole wheat and cookies for desert. I also had a Boulevard Wheat when cooking. Sweet.

Well in the never ending quest to get more poetry on the web here is a poem I wrote in Creative Writing back before I could write poetry but I was a little clever and got by. This one is about fungi and is in the 5-7-5 syllable format but doesn’t have a seasonal nature so its not quite haiku:

Ascomycetes

What in the world does it mean?

I know I don’t know

Halloween 2011

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Wow what an eventful day. Such that I couldn’t even document it until this morning. I jammed out getting my counseling re-certification in. I needed 4 hours of continuing ed so I went into work early and pushed through a self study course. Took John to U-Haul on my lunch to get his tailgate installed and went by the post office to get that 10/31 postmark that saved me $75. Next year I am going to be more on it. Its getting to be like filing my taxes only the post office isn’t open until midnight.

After working a little over in a delicate kind of meeting thing I came home to see John with the trailer parked and van loaded and checking his fluids. Which then it really hit me that he would actually be going. Its been a huge blessing having John and the dogs come right after Dad died to ease that transition and though I am happy for him to get his life back in motion I was nonetheless hit by a wave of sadness still able to bring a little tear this morning.

So it goes without saying I didn’t get my jack-o-lantern carved. I ordered pizza and gave the delivery driver candy (plus a tip) and told him he had a great Dominos costume. I had 2 others, little kids from the neighborhood. I wish I would have given them more then a big handful of candy because that is all I got. I’m the only light on the block and anyone with a car goes elsewhere. Apparently people without cars go elsewhere. They were cute though a little Ninja and Pocahontas both around 3, maybe twins.

Halloween also marks the end of the blog a day challenge. I am glad my recent flurry of activity didn’t cause me to lose any subscribers. I unsubscribed to a blog I like mostly but he posts at least once a day and sometimes several and if it feels like a chore looking at my email inbox I start dropping blogs. I thought I had some good stuff this month and it drove up my hits but some were uninspired. Its been good discipline for the National Novel in a Month which I have thought about doing for years and decided to make the plunge this year so I expect faithful reader you will see a lot less of me for a while. I like posting and doing it every day made me realize how much I enjoy it. Will try to get back to you after my daily words are done but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Categories: dogs, family, feelings, work

Meaningless, Meaningless, all is Meaningless

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day…. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t…. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.” – David Foster Wallace

I wish I was  artsy and I would put it in graphics and maybe it would become a facebook meme. I was looking at Amazon recommendations and kept coming across his name and looked him up on Wikipedia. Probably recommended because I always pre-order anything by Pynchon and I’ve already crushed his oeuvre (a cool word I can’t spell or pronounce).’

I think Wallace nails it here though and makes a couple of important points that I kind of hammer on myself, if you know me. One is that its the little day to day things that are most significant in our lives. The small little courtesies and shared experiences that let people who are struggling a bit know that we are all in this together.

I also think he makes a great point about meaning and how it is a created thing. That I think is one of the fundamental truths. We know meaningful work is one of the few correlations with happiness. Knowing meaning is within your power to create is powerfully empowering. There are things about work or other life situations that have some relationship but there is a lot of freedom in interpretation. Researchers define meaningful work as having three qualities: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose. Sometimes a shift in focus can help move things into the meaningful category.

I always use working in a fast food restaurant (another word i can never spell) as my example. Its routinized, of dubious social value, low paying with little autonomy. But when you see someone working there with a developmental disability, pleased as punch to be wiping tables and picking up trays. Proudly in their uniform being out with the people and having a purpose you can see that even McDonalds offers an opportunity for some pretty intense meaning, as long as your bringing it.

I’ve touched on it in verse with a stanza out of “Untitled #1”:

Spring can be as cold as winter

For the mind without purpose

The heart without love

New life is inevitable

But not your life

Not our lives

Our Acts of Being

Are as meaningful

Or as meaningless

As we allow them to be.

Spring can be as cold as winter

When we refuse to allow

The Life Force to shine out

Brilliantly and forcefully

Categories: books, feelings, philosophy, poetry, work

eulogy for my father

September 27, 2011 1 comment

Its coming up on six months ago since Dad passed away. I’ve been missing him as baseball season winds down. He  would have been so happy seeing his Tigers winning the division and playing so strong going into the playoffs. He admitted to me that it was a bigger deal the Tigers winning the World Series then me being born back in 1968. They hadn’t won since 1947 and he had other kids. He denied it when I teased him about it later but I didn’t take offense. There was no competition in his love for baseball, it was welcoming and  I knew it didn’t mean he didn’t love me a lot, he just really loved baseball. Watching it with him taught me some of its nuance. I’m still not really patient enough for baseball but its coming.

I wrote the first half the night that Dad died. It opens very strident and I guess I was mustering gumption to do something different, defy convention. The second I wrote the weekend after and put most of a week into feeling my grief full time. And walking the dog. It was time well spent and Dad had an easy story to tell and I was blessed to be privy to the details.

These words brought me a lot of comfort and I am indeed blessed to have been raised in such away to cultivate them. Dad was really a poet. One of the last things really hit his lyricism, “I’m so tired of holding my eyes closed”. He could be sparse like that, spare I guess is a better word. Well its already a long piece so I shouldn’t put in too much of a prologue, except to say I hope it makes you think and if it brings you comfort I’m glad.

“Eulogy For My Father”

3780 words or so

 

“This above all, to thine own self be true. “ I am not really a minister and I don’t really want to be doing this. I am a grieving son and I want to be sitting next to my brothers and sisters, crying some, laughing some, squeezing an arm in reassurance, an arm across my back in love and support. I want to hear words of beauty and consolation in celebration of a life well lived by someone who knows and loves my Dad and will tell his story with truth, compassion, and respect, in accord with what my dad believed in a way that resonates with what I believe, with what we all believe. That was simply not going to happen. There is a narrow band of belief that dominates most discourse on matters of the spiritual. If you adhere to one of its dominant strains you might not have even noticed, or only noticed the slight difference when you hear someone talk from another dominant strain. But many of us are outside of that, un-believers or simply un-churched. We patiently sit through funerals, weddings and the like and listen to stuff that is irrelevant at best and often frankly offensive. So if I talk about some stuff that church people feel uncomfortable with just hang in there and bear with me, hold on to what is good. Believe it or not, I’m trying to be a uniter not a divider. Take what you need and leave the rest. But for a half hour at least these words are mostly, for the rest of us.

Mr. John Paul Trapp Senior has a story that is long and complicated. It spans generations, a continent, and is in small part outside the bounds of what the masses of men believe perhaps, at least what men say they believe. Funerals are fundamentally an act of the sacred and need touch upon the ineffable, the spiritual wonder of the transition to the next great adventure, or how else are loved ones to be comforted?

John was never comfortable about talking about spiritual things. When asked what he believed I always described his spiritual orientation as backslidden Christian. He believed in that whole thing, sort of, but wanted to do what he wanted to do. Mostly drink beer and smoke cigarettes work hard and raise his kids right. So how does a backslidden Christian raise his children? He exposes them to church, lots of them, if they want. Doesn’t encourage it or discourage it, but makes it clear he is not really into talking about it. He’d heard enough about it already, he would say.  Enough to feel judged, unworthy perhaps; but also defiant, resilient, and able to stand on his own two feet.

About a year ago Dad solemnly informed me that he had become an atheist. What???? An atheist at 73? Who does that? There are no atheists in foxholes the liars say who preach a spirituality of cowardice, of toadyism for rank gain, a theology of threats and bribes.

Dad had been watching the Discovery Channel and had heard about the Big Bang and it seemed a lot more reasonable, he informed me.  And the Big Bang is a beautiful and wondrous way to understand where we all come from. Condensed to a single point, a place with no dimension, only location. Containing all the matter in the universe. And then bam, everything there is flying apart in all directions, hundreds of millions of years pass and the uniform layer of hydrogen has ripples and perturbations and clumps coalesce and begin burning through nuclear fusion and stars are born and grow the heavy elements and die and explode and the star stuff keeps flying apart. Bigger and bigger.

12 billion years pass and dirt and such collects and spins around a midsized yellow sun on the spiral arm of a typical galaxy that we like to call the Milky Way, and so is born the planet Earth.

It is a beautiful story in its stark simplicity, and the lesson it teaches is the truly grand scope of creation. It has all the more power for being factually undeniably true. You can generate testable hypotheses and learn more about its nature, that is how science advances. In all the creation stories of all the peoples the Actual Truth turned out to be far more vast and far more wonderful. For when John declared his independence from the belief in god he was not rejecting the God Who Made the Universe. He was rejecting some weird little cartoon god he had heard about when he was a kid. A god who rejected all that was fun and demanded the humorless life of a drudge. A god who judged and made one feel small and unworthy.

I took John’s atheism as a step in the right direction. A rejection of something that should be rejected. And the universe is a vast and wondrous place. Currently in my day job I am a substance abuse counselor and I wrestle with helping addicts find a source of spiritual support when drugs and alcohol have taken control of their life. It is no accident that a chapter in the AA Big Book is called “We Agnostics”. Recovery is developing a way of life that is so positive, healthy and fulfilling there is no longer any room for nonsense, and so it becomes an exercise in serenity. And so they say: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But what of atheists and agnostics, is sobriety denied to them?  Not by any means. I have heard a number of workarounds, Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.), the program, door knobs and file cabinets, anything to reject the toxic selfishness inherent in addiction.  I, a little from the outside, as a treatment person not a recovery person, humbly propose the Universe. The universe is sufficient for the serenity prayer and has the advantage of being self-evident to all. ‘For I believe the universe exists for I have seen and heard parts of it. I have tasted of the summer fruit and smelled the coming rain; felt the gentle breeze as it rolls across the plain.”

The serenity prayer neatly divides the universe into two categories and gives us advice on how to deal with both. First, there is everything under our control. And what is under our control? Only our own actions and those we meet with bravery. Everything else, literally everything that is not our own actions are outside of our control, and so we meet everything with acceptance. The intersection of bravery and acceptance is where we find wisdom. And the universe is sufficient for the serenity prayer. It will hold the things we must accept, it is sufficient for serenity. It offers peace in a time of loss. You can say it with me if you want to try it on for size. “Universe grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

So does a belief in the Universe as science understands it preclude a belief in God? Absolutely not. 96% of Americans believe in God and that included Einstein and most scientists. The universe doesn’t compete with God as creator but is the fundamental proof of the scope of creation and that its source must be vast and mighty. For this message is not one of atheism or agnosticism for I am fact am a believer, a passionate dedicated believer in the God Who Made the Universe.  This universe, the real one. Personally I believe that like my body has a spirit which animates me the physical universe has a spirit which animates it. But I know what I believe is not what everyone believes and for today I want us all to reach for common ground in which to lift up the spirit of John Trapp in communion and love for remembrance, celebration, and comfort.

For even though he called himself atheist once, Dad told me that Mom was waiting for him. Dad was on a ventilator toward the end and when they took him off and brought him out of sedation, he told me, he had died, and he told me, with assurance, that Mom was waiting for him. I believe him. It is in her character. It is about all I ever saw my mom do. And so it begs the question if Mom was waiting for him where exactly was that? I can honestly say that dad didn’t care and didn’t put much thought into it. I already said he was uncomfortable on matters of the spirit. He was not uncomfortable in contradiction. And neither am I. The truth is too vast the universe too big to not contain many contradictions.  I like to believe in a personal god who cares about me. I like to believe in a universe governed by immutable natural laws that can be known and predicted and depended upon. I like to believe in miracles. I like to believe that Mom and Dad still live still love me and care about me, still speak to me with their wisdom. I know they still live in my heart if nowhere else.

John Trapp was a simple man and when I asked him how he wanted to be remembered it was as a Working Man. He worked hard growing up on an organic farm, though in those days they just called them farms. He was born in the heart of the Great Depression and the war years were lean ones on the home front. But the Trapp family was self-sufficient in a way that now we can scarcely understand. He had to churn the butter, pluck the hens, weed the row crops, feed the animals, there are others here who know these stories better than I so I will leave it at that he worked hard even as a small boy. But he played hard too. Fondly remembered tales of hijinks and adventure, messing around with the dogs, sledding, skating, hunting, how he earned his switchings, his sister Alice and her friends holding him down and kissing him.

But mostly he talked about working. Mowing grass, being the first to get a chain saw and cutting down trees. Hiring out as a farm hand, eventually for his sister Norma and her husband Joe. When the season ended he moved to the kill floor, slaughtering beef, hogs, and veal. It was a short trip from there to being a meat cutter. A dollar an hour until the union came and then he moved up to $2.65 cents an hour. Good money in the 50s and he still played hard. Drinking, dancing, roller skating, shuffle board and pool leagues, convertibles and drag racing; mishaps and near escape. Some reckless driving in Monroe that inexplicably ends with him joining the army. Trained as a mechanic he was stationed in Germany when the Berlin Wall was doing its Berlin Wall thing. There he developed a lifelong love affair with trucks. Most of his army stories though are about baseball or drinking beer. Good local beers with each town its own.

After his time in the service he returned home and to meat cutting, bought himself a brand new 1963 Ford Falcon Convertible, courted and married Frances Eileen Allen. He didn’t care that she had three kids he loved kids and promised to raise them as his own. John still had a little growing up to do but rose to the occasion with his readymade family and tried to be a good father to Bob, Betty and Brenda and three more boys when they came. Dad worked hard and we camped in Lake City in the summers.

Tragedy struck early and hard on this little family when John’s youngest son Dennis drowned in the swimming pool in the backyard. Dad blamed himself as the army had only taught him adult CPR and he later learned it was different for little kids. He drank beer and pitched horseshoes, all four by himself. Eddie Trapp came over and walked with him, no one had anything to say. Dad couldn’t handle family life anymore. He was broken in a way that luckily few of us will ever get to really understand. It was only 7 or 8 years ago that he told me he had finally gotten over Dennis dying. He went on a six month drunk from what I understand I am too young to remember.

He couldn’t stay home and didn’t believe in leaving, John was no coward, so all there was to do was to become a truck driver. He bought a straight truck and started hauling furniture for Beakins Van Lines. He would always point out the parking lot where he learned to drive when we drove through Circle City, as he liked to call it. North America became his home.

He took his first trip and was frightfully lonely. I had the great pleasure of finding and reading some of his letters home to Mom, before moth and rust destroyed, and they were heartfelt and touching. A demonstrative loving side of John I had never seen.  On his second trip he threw me up in the cab with him and we were off to see the country. I was three years old. I would stay up all night to help keep him awake and we would talk about everything. I was his confidant, sounding board, and in many ways the repository of his hopes and fears. What an incredible gift to give to a child, your total attention, sharing from your heart. Showing him the country. I am so incredibly blessed I cannot describe. Having such an enriching early childhood in large part shaped who I am today. I was able to learn that people live all kinds of different ways and you can go to places and see stuff.

Dad was a character on the road. He knew this country comprehensively. Everywhere. He gave his own names to the flowers he saw. He knew the phases of the moon and how the stars change overhead with time and distance. He grew to be wise. He learned to instantly make friends. To make the most of a chance encounter. To be real with people. He stayed true to Fran though she had her doubts as she had seen him flirt, a lot. But he stayed true to her in death as he did in life and as easy and convenient it would have been to find another woman to take care of him. Instead he struggled on alone learning how to take care of himself for the first time in his life.

Hauling furniture was hard work. He would work hard all day and drive all night, running hard after the elusive dollar. But he also learned the culture of the truck driver and prided himself on acting as a Professional Driver. Driving safely and courteously, safeguarding fellow travellers, and caring for shared spaces. Looking for opportunities to do someone a good turn. Flashing in trucks when they passed with his running lights a quick flash of thank you when another truck did the same. He was also a friend to hitchhikers and transients, scooping them up giving them honest work and a chance to see the country, starting many in a career.

He helped many a stranded motorist or someone just down on their luck. Early in his career he was the first on the scene when a truck had smashed into a pick up full of migrant workers. There were bodies all over the road the truck driver who caused the accident was weeping and doing nothing. Dad began pulling bodies off the road, living or dead he could not always tell but he had no assurance traffic would stop and it needed to be done. He was a brave man who acted with honor whatever the cost.

Once after he was done with furniture and hauling freight for BJ McAdams he picked up a hitchhiker in spite of the company rule against it because the kid wasn’t wearing shoes. He drove him somewhere, bought him a meal and gave him some money, and didn’t think much of it. Some months later he was tracked down by a private investigator from a fuel slip. The kid had remembered his handle, Trapper John in those days and John was flown in as a surprise witness in a Perry Mason kind of way and exonerated the kid from a bogus charge of armed robbery. Dad did a lot of heroic shit. Stopped rapes, beat men down for disrespecting women and was pulling out his deer rifle out of his truck when the police gunned down a mass killer in a bar he was drinking in. If the cops had been three minutes later John would have taken care of it himself.

He ended his long career, 37 years and well over five million miles driven without a major accident with Anderson Trucking, ATS. Dad loved Harold Anderson, a war hero, truck driver who parlayed his truck and a granite contract into a billion dollar company. He treated John square. They recognized Dad’s excellence and made him a trainer. As racist and sexist as John could be they tried to give him all the women and black folks because he treated people decent and gave everyone a fair shot.

John hauled freight and ATS specialized in specialty loads. A lot of granite and all kinds of big stuff, mining equipment, giant machines, and cranes. It allowed him to be a piece of history. He hauled in granite for the FDR memorial. He hauled scaffolding for crowd control for presidential inaugurations. He hauled a fair chunk of our industrial capacity to the Mexico border and brought back the things we used to make here. He hauled pieces of the space shuttle. He hauled the Disney Parade and towed the Goofy Car in the parade when it wouldn’t start. At the end of his career he specialized in Wind Mills. Technically difficult blades being 150’ long the rear wheels of the trailer were steered by an escort driver. He also loved being part of something good, something for the future. He drove truck until he was 70 about as old a driver as I have ever seen.

Retirement brought some new challenges but also some new joys. He got a little dog he named Myrtle. He had always called his trucks Bessie and his trailers Myrtle and Myrtle followed him around like a little trailer and was a faithful friend when he suddenly for the first time in his life had time on his hands. She was a little dog a chow mix with a leaky heart valve that left her short winded and easily tired. John could relate he was as well by this time. He struggled to pay the bills on a fixed income and could not work his way out of his spending problem like he always could in the past. I made him a deal, I would buy a house if he would come and live with me and help me with the upkeep.

It was a beautiful arrangement that renewed his sense of meaning to his life. Work, that could be done but didn’t need to be done. Perfect for a working man winding down. As my friend Lisa said in a consolation message: “Mike, I’m so sorry about your dad. I know that he has been a huge part of your life these past few years and you will feel his absence every day. You made such a difference to him during these past few years. I could tell that being part of your bustling, friendly household made him feel connected and loved. You took such good care of him.”

As Dad began to decline he began to lose interest in things. It’s a process I’ve seen over and over as people prepare for death. The Tao Te Ching 16th chapter speaks to this and has been a source of strength and guidance for me since my mom was dying:

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Path,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

If you wonder why we had John cremated it’s because he’d be spinning in his coffin as I have decided to end with a song. John had to abandon music when he married a woman who not only was tone deaf but could only make tone deaf children.  I sing this not only because it is the only song I have written about John but I wrote it when Mom was dying and it speaks to what I believe about these things.

When your wife 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 sailors warning

But 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 going to 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

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

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

relaxation

September 4, 2011 1 comment

most people i tell about relaxation aren’t trying to relax, they’re wanting relief from anxiety. i tell them its easier to start something positive then stop something negative. stopping being anxious is hard, better to work on cultivating relaxation. unless someone is attached to their anxiety because it meets some other vital need or they gain great benefit from it most people can get significant to total relief pretty quickly with some pretty basic techniques.

if the techniques are easy and actually pretty well known why don’t people get better on their own? mostly its two main mistakes. one is thinking you can make yourself relax and failing at it, a sort of learned helplessness because the act of making runs counter to relaxation. it is instead a process of allowing, akin to going to sleep. still it is an act of the will and so is known as passive volition.

The second pitfall is what inspired this post. “I tried that relation thing when i was feeling anxious and it didn’t help”. of course it didn’t. when you need it is a terrible time to try to learn it. you practice it when you’re already relaxed, before bed or after meds if you use those or a time when you’re already close. ‘seek the lord when he can be found’.

after that its pretty simple. all relaxation techniques involve slowing and deepening the breathing and relaxing the muscles. i like to breathe in my nose and out my mouth slowly and deeply and pay attention to the feeling of air going by my septum. usually i do progressive relaxation tightening muscle groups one by one starting with the toes and then relaxing. noticing how it feels to feel tense. noticing how it feels to feel relaxed. i learned it in a book when i was 16, been doing it off and on ever since. i credit with saving my sanity and perhaps even my life. best migraine treatment i’ve tried, even the pills that dissolve under your tongue and give you a three day hangover.

for anxiety you add in self talk. think about what you would say to a friend who felt that way. its ok, just breathe, its going to be ok, anxiety is just a feeling and feelings can’t hurt me. and scaling, numbering it between 1 & 10 like the pain scale and working your way down one point at a time. makes it concrete and feel more manageable to name it. especially something so prosaic as a 6. learn to be aware and catch it earlier if possible. learn that you can live with a four. we all get anxious some time. it is a dangerous and uncertain world.

anxiety is like the warning light on your dash board. it tells us something is wrong and we need to be aware and take some action. taking a pill is like putting a piece of black electrical tape over the light. it doesn’t address the issue. if you worry over the bills and drink or take a pill it doesn’t pay the bills.

you have to take some action. setting goals keeps us targeted and allows us to tolerate greater discomfort as we work for better things. visualization can help. i like to imagine tension as a darkness flowing out of me. i like to breathe in flexibility and breathe out tension. sometimes its as simple as working the tension out of my shoulders.

the emotions are not directly controllable so we have to push them indirectly through our thoughts, or our bodies, or our actions. exercise is great as well. it uses the same energy to be anxious that get used up by exercise or hard physical labor.

anger can be managed the same way, stress as well. if you breakdown the symptoms they all look pretty similar.

Categories: feelings, health

vicarious trauma vs burnout

Vicarious Trauma is the secondary effect of the therapeutic process and is intrinsic to good work. Empathy is the foundation of all successful practice. Empathy comes with listening and grows in depth and intensity over time with focused application. It can look like burn out but it is fundamentally different. Burn out is an over-application of energy or a lack of appropriate boundaries or limits or even a lack of self care. Vicarious Trauma comes with the job. The people who show up for treatment are almost always the walking wounded. Horror scarred trauma survivors who need someone to listen to them and feel their pain. Ask them questions about solutions and when they’ve done well and tell them they can do it. This is not without cost.

We know how empathy works in the brain. If you are given an electric shock certain brain areas light up on an f-mri scan. If you watch someone given an electric shock the same areas of the brain light up. Mirror neurons i think they call them that underlay our theory of mind. how we get into other peoples heads. What if you are an artist of getting into peoples heads. Maybe the negative energy would build up in you all day, almost every day so that by the end of the week you almost tingle with bad vibes.

Other peoples stress hurts your back and you feel that if you might be touched all you could do was shudder. You might become estranged from your own body and be soul sick empty. It might go up and down as your ability to tolerate it grows and becomes depleted from circumstances, real life events, that sort of thing. You might become afraid to handle it. shake it off. work it out. allow it to pass over and through you but not be you. maintain a core inviolate. but what if that just leads to ratcheting up the pressure. more. more. more.

I know what i can take and how much is good for me and i am solidly in the middle between the two. the only time i’ve worked in the field and not held symptoms of burn out was with cortez. i worked maybe 32 hours a week. 2-3 groups and maybe 10 clients, seen once weekly. i took a 4 day weekend every month, a week off every season and a month off in summer. i set my own schedule.

but i made squat and poverty has stresses of its own. the world is not organized this way. the world expects 40+ and more hard hours. i love being a clinician but it is not good for me. not in this world. but i’m learning and remain cautiously optimistic that i can find a way through the apparent inherent contradictions and do great things in a less costly way. Definitely success, people getting better, making a difference, more positive feedback then is good for me, is a counterweight to the hurts and pressures. my self care of course has a lot of room for improvement and that is probably where i need to go. the only factor really subject to change because it is under my power. gratitude of course. its whats carried me through this week til i ran up short feeling estranged and worn out but happy too at happy hour. putting it out there feels good too. i’m hesitant to share about my days unless they’re good. but one good thing about this space i don’t fear trouble. i am way beyond that.

 

Categories: feelings, health, work