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Ethics of Integrated Care

As a long time social services provider, clinical manager/trainer and administrator I have been doing my own trainings to maintain my Co-occurring Disorders certification for a long time. I have a strong interest in philosophy and have spent some time with a lot of primary texts.

The ethics trainings I have attended have not been very informative or helpful and have been focused a lot more on CYA (Cover Your Ass) and agency policies than actual training on ethics or even morals. Discussing scenarios is not as engaging as the real ethical scenarios that come up on almost a daily basis doing the work and managing those delivering services.

Since COVID raised it’s bumpy little head I have not been at an agency that has staff that need 6 hours of ethics training or wanted to gather up folks who need the training as a consultant. Last time I did self study and read and reflected on Stoic ethics. I had planned to work my way through some of Epictetus’s Discourses but I left it at home while I’m away from the office getting my van repaired.

I thought instead I would distill some of my ethical thinking in an extended blog post. My post career plans are to write a book “A Practical Guide on Building a Better World” distilling my lessons learned in social services, activism, politics, policy making and living an ethical life. A section on ethics will be a must.

My thinking on ethics is rooted in a big handful of thinkers, writers and doers. In no particular order I want to acknowledge Lou Marinoff author of “Plato Not Prozac” whose chapter on ethics I found transformative and made me a Multi-Ethic Relativist. I was fortunate enough to work with another PhD philosopher Brian Bowles who taught me the difference between boundary crossings and boundary violations.

My brother John Trapp has been an invaluable collaborator. He followed MLK to Gandhi to Tolstoy to the ancient Greeks. As a true Epicurean he nonetheless turned me on to the Stoics, most importantly my man Epictetus and the inimitable Marcus Aurelius. Of course I couldn’t leave ethics without acknowledging Jesus, primarily the Sermon on the Mount Jesus who launched me on a path with his simple admonition to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

Since you’ve read this far, you deserve a photo. Here is the aforementioned John Trapp in front of Turkey Creek on last week’s hike.

The first question to ask is why ethics? With a myriad of ongoing training needs why is ethics the only one required by name? The reason ethics is required is so that professionals don’t have sex with their clients. It is perennially the most common reason professionals lose their license or certification. I’ve seen it again and again throughout my career. To say it plain, never have sex with a client.

When we elicit feelings in clients we call it transference. Freud identified it as the driver of the therapeutic change process. Counseling, if you do it right is almost all listening with total attention. What is sexier than that? But it’s not real. As a helping professional you are not presenting your unadulterated authentic self but you are being paid to provide a service which involves activating the best part of yourself to help another primarily through supportive listening and empathy. Your client is not in love with you. They are in love with an illusion.

When clients elicit feelings in us that is called countertransference. It is normal and should be expected and needs to be managed. Clients will stir up all kinds of feelings in us from frustration, anger, sympathy, admiration and even love. No feeling is wrong, only actions based on those feelings. Having good supervision or peer support is essential to navigate the tricky waters of countertransference.

Now that the most essential point is made we can move on to defining our terms. Ethics is a system of thought that determines how to make moral judgements. Ethics is the system and morals are what we do. The powers that be should really mandate morals training instead of ethics training. As clinicians, supervisors, administrators and policy makers and even just as humans we are constantly using moral reasoning to navigate ethical dilemmas.

One of my favorite John Trapp quotes is “Most ethical dilemmas are choosing between the right thing and the easy thing”. This point helps us to make the distinction between justification of our choices and actions and rationalizations of our choices and actions. We all have a strong bias for the path of least resistance. Lou Marinoff points out the root of justification is in justice. That is why we need to have intelligible ethical systems. Lost people wander downhill.

Another shot of Turkey Creek from yesterday’s hike.

There are lots of ethical systems and they all have some value and they all have weaknesses, blindspots and contradictions. Lou Marinoff recommends using multiple systems for moral reasoning. Some fit better in some situations and sometimes looking at issues from multiple perspectives. He calls this approach Multiethical Relativism. Let’s look at some systems and what they offer.

Most folks get their ethical system from their religious background. That is fine and works for most people most of the time. The golden rule appears with slight variation in a large number of religious traditions.

In Buddhism they identify a concept called Ahimsa which means do no harm. It’s the first part of the Socratic Oath. As I learned from Brian Bowles both the left and the right hold a do no harm ethical basis, it’s truly a universal ethical principle. Where the right and the left diverge is the right holds a purity ethic as well. From borders, language and culture; to defined gender roles, and a respect for “life” folks in the right sometimes see the purity ideal trumping the limiting harm ethos.

Ahimsa is a great foundational ethical principle. There are other systems. Utilitarianism holds the most good for the most people. It has some moral value though it can easily be taken to perverse extremes with simple thought experiments. Here’s a nice comic illustrating it’s downside. https://existentialcomics.com/comic/494

Utilitarianism does have some good practical applications especially in group living situations. Sometimes the ethical choice is not in a particular client’s best interest. For the good of the group, the integrity of the program or for the safety of other participants and staff it can be ethical to discharge someone for example even if it’s not best for them.

When I was a young clinician I always gave my best effort for the person in the room and didn’t hold back. I was proud when I had successful outcomes in difficult cases and was not afraid to go the extra mile. I also didn’t pace myself well and would burn out. I saved my ducats though and so I would resign with notice and go backpacking or hitchhiking around the country until I healed up a bit and then throw myself back into the grind. Had I not been in a place to do that it would have been ethical to do a little less, better project my energy and personal well being and stuck it out for the long haul.

Another example is thinking about the clients you are going to serve in the future. I remember in my first social work job I was working with a sweet little old grandma who had her 2 grandkids (a boy and a girl) placed with her in a dilapidated one bedroom apartment. She had moved into the living room but Protective Services had issues with a bit and a girl sharing a room.

I worked the local housing authority to get them fast tracked and vouched for her without completing my due diligence. Turned out Gramma had a felony for operating drug house. Not only did I not get her in public housing I never got anyone in public housing ever again. On a positive note I had helped clean and paint the apartment did some other minor repairs and ran a curtain across the bedroom as a Plan B and it passed inspection and she kept the kids.

Even more than utilitarianism I find value in virtue ethics. As a student of sociology I learned about roles, status, and master status, the role that singularly defines us. Most women take their master status from relationships, wife and/or mother are common. Most men from their employment. I have never wanted to be defined by job or career or relationship and chose my master status as, a good person. So I naturally turned to virtue ethics that hold that virtue is the only good.

When faced with situations that challenge our equanimity we need only ask which virtue do I need to call on. When you can say, “thank goodness I ran into that really annoying person because it gave me the opportunity to practice patience” nothing bad can ever happen to you.

Virtue ethics requires us to define what is good. Fortunately Marcus Aurelius has done that for us. I’m going to share a larger meditation because it is a good one.

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly…”

For Marcus Good, Truth and Beauty are all synonyms. As a policy maker my moral framework of decision making was whenever possible we should move forward in the most just, beautiful, sustainable and equitable way. When that option is not on the table, and the utopian ideal rarely is, I would then factor all the possible options including doing nothing and support whichever was the least terrible and that set the stage for better choices in the future. Time for another picture.

Hunting morels is a great joy in life. This feller and his friends and neighbors was delicious.

Few clinicians and direct service workers are philosophers. We just need to have a few perspectives down in order to have highly functional moral reasoning. The work gets most interesting and the most dangerous not when we are choosing between the right thing and the easy thing, that is simple even if hard. Moral reasoning is most fruitful when our ethical principles are in conflict. When there are no easy choices but carefully balancing competing interests and moral precepts.

It’s less important to definitely answer the great questions, like is morality absolute or is it relative to the culture and times that you live in. In the helping professions we are not engaged in an intellectual exercise but making choices that can literally be life and death.

One important ethical consideration is boundary crossings versus boundary violations. Boundary violations are moral failings that are always wrong no matter what the circumstances. Exploiting clients financially or sexually or using them to meet your own emotional needs are all examples of boundary violations.

Boundary crossings are different. They are a step across clearly delineated lines of separation between staff and people being served. It might be socializing, accepting a gift, taking someone to a holiday gathering or a support group meeting which you might attend anyway. Going to funerals or weddings or other celebrations. The myriads of things we do with our friends and family that we don’t do with our clients.

Boundaries are an important part of professional life as dual relationships are frought with peril and ambiguity. A good boundary crossing is done for a therapeutic reason and is discussed with your supervisor or peer accountability partner. Having that second set of eyes is an important safeguard.

Here is an example in case I’m not being clear. I had a long-term counseling relationship with a fellow I’ll call Mark. Mark was old school,of Irish descent, and a larger than life character. He made a lot of breakthroughs in our work together after struggling with drugs and alcohol for a long time. As our work progressed he started mentioning and then insisting that we share a meal together. For Mark us sharing a meal was an acknowledgement of our equality and a recognition of our common humanity. So towards the end of our work I checked in with a peer manager  and took Mark to lunch. It was an important thing for him and helped him be OK with moving from our formal supports to relying on the informal supports of the recovery community.

After he was out of services he connected with me on social media. My policy is not to solicit online relationships with former clients but to accept them if I’m comfortable with it after they have completed services with me. Mark stayed in touch and I saw him continue to do well. Many years later he invited me to lunch at the restaurant he worked at. I was serving on City Council at the time and he wanted to show off his important friend and show me that he had made it.

After giving Mark a ride or two to the store I briefly became his paid caregiver when he developed a terminal illness. Throughout our post therapeutic relationship I was cognizant that the therapeutic relationship goes on forever but nonetheless a more reciprocal friendship type relationship developed. To do nothing else would have been to label Mark a second class citizen forever.

When we conflate boundary violations with boundary crossings we close the door to activities that can enhance the therapeutic relationship and add meaning and depth to our own lives as well as a greater sense of community. Many agencies and supervisors preach so hard against dual relationships out of an excess of caution and a lack of recognition of the full humanity of those served.

I developed a diagram to make this point. We have two axes, one is bond intensity (the strength of the staff-client relationship) and the other is bond integrity (the morality of the staff-client relationship). With high bond strength and a high moral compass you have engagement. Engagement comes from mechanical engineering, you engage a clutch for example. Even though the gears are separate they interlock and movement happens.

With a high bond intensity without equally high integrity we get enmeshment. The clinicians feelings are wrapped up in the client, there is an unhealthy connection that leads to poor outcomes and increased risk to the client and/or the agency. It is fear of enmeshment that drives most ethics trainings and policy manuals which unilaterally ban innocuous or even beneficial boundary crossings.

With high bond integrity but low bond strength we get a lot safer for staff and agencies but at a cost to efficacy and really helping people. I call this Arms Length Professionalism. Some people are going to get better but they probably would have gotten better without your help as well. With neither bond integrity or bond intensity you most likely get case failure. People quit showing up or get discharged from the program. Here is a poorly drawn chart to illustrate the 4 quadrants:

My final advice is engaging and acting your moral reasoning is also based on where you are in your career. If you are new in the helping professions stick close to agency policies and procedures and written ethical guidelines. Make your mistakes in the “Arms Length Professionalism” quadrant. Ask questions, seek advice.

As you grow in the work you gain greater ability to bring nuance and flexibility to issues. To seeing beyond the immediate to long-term issues and more effective ways to successfully engage clients to create a climate of better outcomes while avoiding the pitfalls of enmeshment.

There are bright lines though that should never be crossed regardless of how long you have been in the field. I worked on a psychiatric unit right after I got my BS degree. There was a 16 y/o girl who had been sexually assaulted who did not want to visit her father. She escalated and the charge nurse told me to take her to the “quiet room”.

I deescalated the situation and she agreed to stay calm. The charge nurse insisted, I resisted and she threatened to write me up for insubordination. I drug that poor girl to the “quiet room” and still feel the shame 30+ years later. I should have stood my ground and let the chips fall where they lay.

Your moral reasoning and your identity as a good person are some of the most sacred things you have. Protect them, grow them, teach them and let them carry you into a place of peace and efficacy.

Grokking Starship Troopers

It’s been a pretty quiet week. I had to work Saturday so I haven’t done much besides work. We had a supply drive and it was more fun than I thought it would be. It was set up with the Governor’s office for her inauguration (Governor Kelly of Kansas). My board is all Republicans so it was nice to meet and compare notes with the Democrats.

I had a bit of a mishap at the end and it took me a goodly amount of time to clean up my mess. That shot most of the daylight. I went to this bar and grill Ross’s 20th Street. The Chiefs game was on so there was a loud and drunken crowd. The taps weren’t working so I had a KC Bir Dunkel which is a decent one. That and a Reuben and fries. A little puny but ok. Not my vibe so I won’t be back.

Mostly I’ve been reading a lot. I crushed Ursula Leguin’s Earth Sea Trilogy. Pretty solid fantasy. There was some good language and an interesting set of stories. I’ve also been reading a book on Salvador Dali. Diary of a Genius is our bookclub selection so I picked up a couple of books about him from the library while I wait p0lpfor it from Thriftbooks.

I set that aside for Starship Troopers. I read most of Heinlein’s oeuvre in 7th grade and it stuck with me better than most. I remember when the female pilot shaves her head really made an impression on me. That wasn’t really a thing in 1980, at least where I was from.

I keep seeing this meme with a quote from Heinlein that the people who really grok him like 3 books: Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land. I love Stranger, it doesn’t feel as right-wing as a lot of Heinlein. Definitely a favorite of mine.

I’d barely remembered Harsh Mistress. The only thing that has stuck with me was Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Not a bad lesson for a 12 year old. Its an impressive novel and has a nice bit on insurgency and revolution. It hits on his themes of responsibilities as well as rights. I can see it’s appeal from the right and the left.

Troopers is more problematic, popularly considered fascist. I loved the movie which was a bit of a satire and pretty clever. I haven’t finished Troopers but I don’t see it as fascist but it is authoritarian.

The two years mandatory military service to become a citizen is not necessarily a bad idea. I support a mandatory service period although I would count Peace Corp or Americorps or that sort of thing.

There is a lot on this HS civics teacher and his Sargent in basic training that point to social ills having their origin in abandoning spanking. Treats it like it’s science. In 1968 definitely a reaction to what was happening. We know I. Behavioralism that rewarding positive behaviors is way more powerful than punishing negative behaviors.

There are a lot of problematic pieces around those themes. He predicted America not lasting to the 21st century before falling to crime and disorder because of permissive parenting and lack of consequences. You can look at how the rest of the world handles crime and punishment and our crime rates and incarceration rate and see his these are BS.

I think I grok Heinlein I just don’t like him. He thinks because I only like 2 of the 3 I don’t understand him. I understand him I just think he’s wrong. Troopers is a rip roaring good war novel though. I’ll take it over art history any time.

up early again

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Woke up about 3:00, forced myself to stay in bed until 5:00. Had a long and strange dream. I had gone back to Amsterdam but it seemed more like Austin. I was following up on some mystery from my last visit but it was more like a detective show then the actual mysteries I encountered in my eventful Amsterdam trip. There was political intrigue. I remember being in the situation where I knew I couldn’t remember most of what had happened in the last trip so people knew me but I didn’t know them. I remember someone taking my car. Eventually I encounter these business guys who did it and they think it is a pretty funny bit of hazing and I remember grabbing this heavyset bald guy in a suit and telling him that he just committed a felony and that if this shit doesn’t end right now I am having him prosecuted. I remember walking around with people I know through long tenement type apartment buildings and walking through people’s apartments and introducing ourselves. Flea markets with a big radio station promotion.

“Are you awake now?” I ask myself lying in bed allowing the details of the dream to come back in my mind. Dreams are cool and well worth cultivating. They’re just thoughts that we experience differently. The visual acuity, the sense of emotion, the heavy emotive content and lack of logic and social norms. The overall feeling (really the only thing that matters in dream interpretation) was one of discovery and adventure. A challenged sense of purpose that bounces back strong. Only a touch of confusion and that tempered by acceptance. I must be in a good place. Fido too, he slept in his own room last night.

Might take him for a walk even though I just did yesterday. I’ve got the time. All the house really needs is dishes done. Too rainy for laundry and it will force me to delve into my second tier dress clothes. All the walking and Marcus Aurelius is getting me more fit and trim. Wouldn’t mind growing down into some of my older dress shirts for example. My brown pants are fitting nice where I used to not be able to wear them with a shirt tucked in and they had fallen into the only to be worn in a pinch category.

Glad to have a tough week behind me at work. Closing or transferring all my cases has been grueling. A lot of details and good documentation essential for the hand off. Saying goodbye. “Mike, sorry I missed our appt. can I reschedule” “Well actually no you can’t, sorry I didn’t get to see you…good luck with the next guy”. I’m the only one who really meets people where they’re at all the time without exception. Some clients need that, everyone likes it. Everyone gets a step down in service.

The advantage of being a human being who talks to other human beings instead of the dis-empowering counselor to client relationship is they all care about me as a person too. Even though it sucks for them, none of them like people stepping out of their lives, they are happy for me and want me to be happy. They are proud to see me looking good and stepping into the spotlight. They know what I can do and can imagine that in the City Council. But its sad nonetheless.

I had a driver for my doors last night. Ann is a pilot and an interesting character who had some good tips and some things I hadn’t thought about. We hit the scattered houses in the precinct in the brand new neighborhood. All this generic America development. It was rainy and we saw the construction sites running with water mud pouring into the feeder creeks. In one site we saw the barrier material still in its rolls while the red mud pours into the creek. Everyone has a security system. The few people at home are content with the city. My picture and quotations are in that days paper and no one knows who I am.

Sarah is driving me today, might try her hand at door knocking. I am afraid its a little early for a surrogate. It definitely bombed when I tried having some help with signature gathering. If Sarah wants to do it we’ll give it a shot. Mostly she wants to hang out and be supportive which I appreciate. I got caught up on my follow up calls but it seemed late to be calling my assigned political contacts I need to reach out to. That’ll be today, Lord Willing and the creek don’t rise. Its supposed to be a rainy one. Need to figure out better plastic for my clipboard. Tried a comicbook bag cut in half which has the right size but was to flimsy.

The garage is flooded. I’ll need to get the subpump outflow extension back on track I suspect. Should have left well enough alone when I was messing in there. Dad usually had a reason for doing stuff. I miss him this morning. His wisdom, his unabashed self interest, which I always seem to run a little short on and causes me trouble.

Ordered beans yesterday. Will run short and probably have to pick up half a pound. Don’t even know if Z-Best is still at the market been roasting my own for so long. I’ll chat ’em up if they’re there. I hope the bread lady has some sliced. I ate the last of Jeff’s last night. I’d make myself some eggs but no bread. Eggs have been around awhile and will probably hard boil them. That or get the bacon out of the freezer. A pound of bacon is a big commitment for a household of one. (Sorry Fido no salt and nitrates for you buddy, I want you to live to be 20 so you’ll stay on dog cereal.)

Guess I’ll get my second cup of coffee, made it stronger today as this Guat is not that flavorful, hope the next is better. Got a Guat, Sumatran, Ethiopian and a Rwandan for the next round. Was going to treat myself to a pound of Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain, damn the expense but they’re both out of season.

its all downhill from here

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Good morning faithful reader. At least for now that’s all that gets to see these words as we travel down the campaign road largely in privateblogstealthmode. I had the Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t as prepared I would have liked. I got my intro and closing written but didn’t put together any notes to refer to in the general questions section. All in all it wasn’t terrible. If I picked a winner I would have said Bill Pauls. He seemed pretty comfortable, hit on his experience and came off as an affable insider with majority views. In the newspaper coverage I got tagged for supporting the hotel tax increase to expand the airport. A candidate in the other race got the line about bringing in partners which I was advised to take.

I still feel like spending my time talking to voters, getting organized and mounting a serious door to door to effort is better then the meeting with city officials and working on your sound bites approach of the other candidates which seem to be some of the other candidates approach. I suspect I won more votes in my 1/2 hour of furious door knocking then anyone did in the Chamber Forum or the newspaper coverage after. We shall see in April.

I am getting better at this being furiously busy. Was up a little early so made dinner in the crock pot before work. I took a pork loin and rolled in whole wheat flour and browned in a little olive oil. Rubbed it down in the spice mix my sister Betty made for Christmas presents and threw in with some black eyed peas I’d soaked, a couple carrots, garlic, a green and a yellow bell pepper, and some onion powder (my last onion was rotten). Put in a pint of water (less would have been better, I thought the beans would absorb more) and some “better then bullion”. It was good in my post door knocking rest break.

After that I went to a Legislative Forum by the League of Women Voters. Met a few folks and renewed relationships with some Democrats I had chatted up at the Chili Supper. Took grief for my muted tie from the same guy who gave me grief for my loud tie at the Chili Supper. I told him at least I bought this one new. How long before people notice I really only have one nice dress shirt? I’ve got a number of short sleeves but my Anarchist “A” on my forearm might give some of the electorate pause.

The forum was pretty fun. We have a funny and smart state house legislative delegation. I even like the Republican Kurt Schafer and Chris Kelly our house guy is really hilarious. They cross the aisle and get shit done which I appreciate why Stills and Weber make the lonely good fight in near supermajority Republican state which I also appreciate.

Came home and slept the sleep of the just. Continuing to read some Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, my political hero. Was considering using a piece of his for my final Ed Group this morning. Its been hitting me hard and challenging me to be less of a slave to passion. I am working on new piece based on his ideas, let me see if I remember the opening stanza I wrote yesterday morning. Living alone gives the great pleasure of being able to walk around house singing nonsense to yourself. If you haven’t tried it, please do.

“Anything done without intention

Can do damage to the soul

From the harsh word said when you are angry

To eating a doughnut when you’re full”

Tough words to live by, but the promise is freedom and serenity. Well worth having bouncing around my head. Might keep me from swinging through the Taco Bell drive through when I feel entitled.

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I put in a movie, more to see if my DVD player works then wanting to watch a movie. Mostly I am tired of being productive and not tired enough to go to sleep and for such was invented television. Cancelling my satellite and having my housemates move out has made for something akin to if not loneliness then certainly a satiation with being with my own thoughts. A rarity as I’m rather into it. Watching a horror movie Harry loaned me. I think I’ve seen it before, HP Lovecraft’s From Beyond, pretty good as I recall for what it is.

Its been a pretty relaxing evening. Took advantage of Olive keeping Fido company all day and got some dinner at Wendy’s and did a little shopping. Got some of the things on my list a nice can opener with big teeth and a cork screw at Macy’s. I also picked up a few cardigans at a good price. Struck out on a few things too, no rain jacket, garlic press or even a spatula like what I was looking for. I’m not a fan of shopping but it was tolerable.

Glad to have wrapped up another week. Getting busier but I was thankful it was OK for a while. I did my education group on some selections from the Enchiridion. It was well received. I call stoicism the only evidence based philosophy because of its heavy influence on cognitive behavioral therapy. I had given a lot of the Dover Thrift Editions away and been speaking him up to some of the smart dudes in treatment so I think that paved the way for greater acceptance.

Yesterday I walked dogs and made soup. Walking a dog is a joy walking two dogs is a bit of a chore. Olive is definitely a hound as she likes to stop and sniff at pretty much everything except when she is pulling on the leash trying to smell something ahead. She also has a pit bull stubbornness and some pull. We got into a little test of wills when I finally made her sit. Ultimately we made it to the dog park, started making the rounds, lots of big dogs so both of them were a little timid and then Olive jumped up on a picnic table full of regulars, mostly older. There was this general look of disdain and I grabbed Olive by the collar and pulled her off the table a little to roughly for the general sensibilities and it was a bit embarrassing. Closest thing I’ve been to losing my cool for a while. Made me glad I never had kids. I am known for being calm, gentle even, but if I had to deal with kids at odd times I suspect I would grab ’em up, maybe even bop ’em like I did to Fido and Olive summer before last when they were going after Remi the neighbors little purse dog. Glad I’ve done batterer intervention for a long time. Makes me look past the bullshit of easy excuses and own up my behavior and work on changing it. Don’t think I’ll get short with Olive again.

Soup was a better experience. I looked up a recipe just to make sure there weren’t any  celeriac tricks I needed to know. There aren’t but I got a pretty good recipe which I only slightly modified. I cooked three shallots in a teaspoon of bacon grease, added the peeled and chopped celeriac and three yukon golds also chopped. Then a quart of homemade chicken stock, a Michigan apple (the rest I think left at Brenda’s), and a bit more then a 1/2 tsp of thyme. Also added a kielbasa and a half (Kowalski’s holiday kielbasa from Danny’s in Monroe) and cooked it til it was done about a half hour. Added some of Kevin’s rue when it wasn’t thick enough. It was good and different. I like making soup cooking for one. Everything is in one pot but you still get your veggies.

Tomorrow, market, shopping, laundry (60 & sunny definitely using the clothesline), hiking with the dogs (patiently), and cleaning house. Wouldn’t mind doing some yard work. I still have tulips to put in and haven’t finished raking even the front yard. Glad real winter has stayed her hand. With the beautiful day putting off some house cleaning to Sunday is not a bad idea. Not having people over until 3 and a 3 day weekend. sweet.

Krampus Day Eve

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Happy Krampus Day Eve. Krampus, if your unfamiliar with him is the Swedish anti-Santa. He beats bad girls and boys with birch twigs and has kind of a demonic cast to him. I have been wishing people Happy Krampus Day Eve and telling folks about him all day.

I have done mine up in style making my biggest splash into the spirit of the holidays yet so far. Kevin and I went and got a tree from the Optimists. I got a longleaf pine this year. I like firs and don’t mind paying a little bit more but I got one last year and thought I would mix it up. Its not my first but we never got them when I was a kid because Mom thought the short needle ones were less of a mess. I like it because it has a shaggy look like something out of Dr Seuss.

I didn’t have it bagged because the truck was close and I thought waste the plastic and that was the right move because it was pretty easy. The Optimists cut off the bottom for you too. I have two tree stands, struggling with crappy stands is not worth the trouble. I used the big plastic one because it will hold like a gallon and a half of water so I usually only have to water every other day to stay out of trouble.

I am going to have a New Years Day party so I will want it looking fresh through that long at least. It has scented up the whole house, much more than the fir I got last year. I considered going to a cut your own place but the Optimists are close and it goes to a good cause. I have the angel on top but haven’t put up lights or anything yet. I still may do that tonight. I will also decorate Mom’s ficus and moved it to the other side of the living room instead of the corner next to the tree so it should be more prominent.

I also went to the Odd Fellow’s Christmas banquet. It was fun. I played door man and wished people  a good afternoon. It seems early to wish people a Merry Christmas and the fellahs who go to meetings I’ll see twice more before the day. Tomorrow is the meeting and I didn’t walk the dog today, maybe I’ll do that instead of decorating the tree. Getting some dinner and a walk would be a struggle.

After the dinner I went to Amy and Michael’s so Fido could play with Olive. They had a good time and Fido is sacked out. He’ll get up for a walk though. Although since he got a good play in he’s probably fine to wait until Tuesday for his walk. I worked pretty much a full day on Saturday so with the abbreviated weekend it might not be a bad idea to just chill. Curl up with a She Hulk comic and relax. I’ve been reading a stretch of hers lately starting at the beginning. Pretty crappy but they’re getting better in the second year, the character is fleshing out and becoming a little more interesting. Watching this growth process has been interesting, certainly a lot more to it that I didn’t get when I was reading them as they came out.

I’m also continuing to read Foucalt’s archaeology of modern thought. I’ve been reading the book off and on for like seven years now so I am certainly savoring it. Currently reading about the dualism of man with the Cogito no longer proving existence because what we know rests on this foundation of the unknown and we know enough about thought to know a lot of it is unknown to us. I’ve been reading 2-4 pages a couple times a week and taking time to let it settle in.

I’ve also been talking about dreams. I did two groups on them Saturday, what they are and how they work and am working it into conversation so I learn the stuff. PET scans have shown which parts of the brain are active, visual and feeling motion, deep centers of emotion with a deactivated volition, propriety, and logic centers. Explains a lot about dreams. To sum it up dreams are thinking but they feel different because of chemical changes in the sleeping brain. We think in dreams about the same stuff we think when we’re awake. You need dreams to solidify memory and they can be used to problem solve, hence the old saw, ‘let me sleep on it’.

What does all this mean and have to do with Krampus anyways? I don’t know, let me sleep on it.

The Salamander Dance

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Fido is restless wanting to go in and out. He’s been by himself most of the day. He is not a fan of being home all day when I work, even though I come home for lunch but he deals. Tonight I went out immediately after work just stopping by to let him out and pick up the car. I had hoped to leave work early because my lunch got mangled but the day was too difficult to disengage from gracefully except a mere 5 minutes early.

I was rushing because I decided to squeeze a little Occupy Como before my beer and a movie I had planned. Elise was in town and saw her there but I didn’t see the “You Are Awesome” sign which is my favorite. I settled with “There’s Nothing Wrong With You” after passing over a lot of other signs. Even the “We Are the 99%” didn’t resonate today. I am part of the 100%.

I didn’t stay long and headed over to RagTag and had a Cuban and a Schlafley APA, which were both familiar favorites that performed as expected. I also picked up a loaf of Ancient Grains bread and caught a flick with Trevor. We saw Urbanized which was pretty good but dragged a bit and felt like school. Would’ve been a nice break from a boring professor in a class on urban development. But it was visually interesting and showed stuff I did not know. Copenhagen and Stuttgart are smaller then I thought. A human’s visual field is 100 meters by 100 meters and classic cities make their central square that big probably the most interesting thing. I’d never thought of that seems obvious in retrospect. I love stuff that’s like that.

So after unsuccessfully trying to extort a piece of desiccated liver Fido is settling into some tug-o-frog interspersed with some fetch so my post drags out in spits and spurts. its good though he needs the attention and the fun. He’s my buddy.

I was walking him the other day at the Bear Creek Park out past the little lakes and met an old vet walking with a cane. Fido was a little skittish but we struck a conversation and he said “dogs are pretty good partners” and they are. After having been married, lived with folks, siblings, political cooperatives, unintentional communities, roommates, and road trip buddies Fido is enthused, low maintenance, and can make me smile just thinking about him. Its supposed to be nice tomorrow and we’ll go on a long walk. Even if I never get my shit shoveled. Actually should finish that Saturday weather permitting or Sunday for sure. Seems to take all my energy to do much more then tread water.

So once again I am mostly posting to get more poetry up. My hits have been up and I’ve been picking up subscribers as I put out more stuff. I guess at some point I’ll have to start writing some new stuff. I keep singing “Black Iron Prison” hoping to get more but I haven’t added anything I want to keep. But I bet I got at least another 100 floating around in my head and 50 more on scraps of paper and old books and notebooks and probably another 50 floating in the world. So maybe I can keep up the production.

I might share a poem in my ed group tomorrow. I was covering Feelings Management and somehow our ultimate nature came up. I had stated I am not my feelings, I am not my thoughts, and when asked what I was I thought my truest self was my will. That was called my actions but that doesn’t sit right but I couldn’t really explain how the will was different any better then Epictetus’s “moving towards a thing” or a sense of purpose. I also suggested a narrative or a story. There’s a couple of really smart dudes in treatment so it makes me want to take it up a notch and I may share my: i-believe-i-am-a-pattern I posted a couple posts back.

Well tonight’s offering goes back to the ill fated Appalachian Trail hike of 2000. I found it pretty challenging physically and it was an emotional low point but it was also filled with a sense of accomplishment intrinsic in climbing mountains every day and there was poignancy that makes that era very memorable. I had a tangible sense of intense nostalgia when I visited in September. I want to go back and hike more this Spring if I can get motivated on a few projects to make it happen. But anyway the biggest thing I remember was being cold and wet all time. It rained a lot, there was frequent heavy dew, and seemed times we lived in clouds, and sometimes above.

One night we (I hiked it with my wife at the time Amee) got a trail side shelter on the side of a mountain. The clouds came up below us and the other mountain peaks poked up and it was like being on an island in the clouds. But it was hard sometimes to keep spirits up in the rain and wet. But I noticed that that was when the salamanders and such would leave the little springs and streams and you could spot a lot of them out on the trail if your eyes open. I sparked this one and sang it as I wrote it hoping to cheer Amee up (and truthfully myself as well) when it started to rain for the umpteenth day in a row. I called all four of the pieces on the trip Appalachian Spring and a number. This one is number 4 so likely the last, but I can’t be sure of that without looking at a map. I went through a fairly intense non-linear period that I am still not completely over. Have to warn you its more then a bit silly, nonetheless “Appalachian Spring #4 (The Salamander Dance)”:

If it starts to rain by chance

The salamanders do their dance

They do their dance

The salamander dance

And if it starts to rain some more

Then the frogs begin to soar

There’s flying frogs all over the place

There’s flying frogs flying into your face

And if it starts to rain in pails

Then out will come the snails

With their slimy trails

Of snail entrails

And when the rain is finally done

Then out will come the sun

and the hikers will smile

For another mile

But if it starts to rain by chance

Then the salamanders do their dance

They do their dance

The salamander dance

i believe i am a pattern

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I have been working on a poetry archive on my blog with links to each of the poems I have posted. You should definitely check it out if you’re into that sort of thing. One of the bonuses is it gives me a definitive list of what I’ve got up on the blog. This one I could have sworn I put up as I recall posting different versions as it came together but the the most recent version I came across in the poetry category was incomplete. This one I’m quite proud of as it says what I believe in a pretty tight and succinct way. Hope you like it.

I believe I am a pattern

A pattern of information

Built from millions and millions of simplicities,

Organized through emergence

I arise up from the bottom,

I am many but still I am me.

And I believe I am a pattern

A consciousness construction

Will, sense, imagination, memory

And though I surely rise up from my body

I am much more a story

Told in the hearts of everyone who knows me.

And I believe I am a pattern

A pattern set in motion

In oscillation with the tides

Not just the ocean

But the Universe besides.

In every mind’s eye there is a cup

Its not the one from which I drink

But its close enough

Occam’s Razor cuts simplest is the best

Is my idea of cup unique from the rest?

Or do we all drink

From the same cup

After all?

For I believe I am a pattern

A process not an object

Like pendulums swing together

When they’re on the same wall

My heart beats to the rhythem

Of the One and the All

And I am subsumed in

The One.

And I believe there is a pattern.

self esteem

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been talking about self esteem in my Friday education group. It used to be a four week presentation but this iteration is looking like six. Its a really important topic in recovery because there is an inordinate amount of self sabotage amongst folks in substance abuse treatment. Intellectually the topic appeals to me because its so difficult to do anything productive on the topic. In general attitudes and beliefs are hard to shift and our sense of self is the oldest and most solid piece of who we are. It takes years of concerted effort to make serious headway and pointing people in that direction, laying it out and providing the tools feels like activism. “You Are Awesome” my favorite Occupation sign says. Its animated my thoughts.

I also like teaching on self esteem because it excuses me a chance to explore just exactly what we are and where we have emerged from. I discuss the mirror test, an ability to recognize yourself in a mirror requires self awareness. “Hey that’s me in there.” 6 month olds, dogs, cats, and monkeys they can’t do it. 18 month olds, chimps and other great apes, elephants, grey parrots, and dolphins can. What were we doing around that age, toddling around getting into shit. At some point we all went to touch the stove, that’s how babies explore the world and someone who loved us smacked our hand and said, “bad baby, don’t touch the stove”. What’d we learn besides don’t touch the stove. “I’m the bad baby who tries to touch the stove”. We are learning who we are.

How we view ourselves is so vital because of confirmation bias, the tendency to see evidence to support what we already believe. We like to believe we look out on the world in an objective way but really we only perceive what is in line with our existing beliefs. Now what is the risk if you believe you are a piece of shit? That is why it is so vital. The thesis I try to make is to pick a concrete strategy and stick with it for years even. When you achieve mastery pick another. I learned about self esteem and started to work on it around 16 probably in my high school psychology class. I’ve been at it ever sense. I’ve made some significant progress but my journey is not yet done.

I have been working on eliminating the word “should” out of my self talk for five years. I still catch myself thinking it. (the re-frame for “should” is “could”). I pretty much ferreted out “can’t” (the re-frame for “can’t” is “I’ve struggled with this in the past but I’m getting better on it because I’m working on it”  [not as pithy as “could” but memorable in its absurdity]). “Always” and “never” have had their place.

I teach a 2 step of do the right thing and give yourself credit. Challenging the inner critic instead of hiding from it or tuning it out. Ask it questions; “is this true?”, “does this preserve my life?”, “get me what I want?”, “keep what I don’t want from happening?”, “improve my relationships?”.

I told the story of getting shit canned at Food Town after 29 days when I was 17. Not because I wasn’t a hard worker but because I was to insecure to ask questions and didn’t know how to stay busy. Felt intimidated by the customers, not knowing where stuff was, and the bosses, easier to putter around the bottle room. I had always wanted to be a bag boy too. Mom wanted a kid to go to the store, you got to pick out the cereal and get a comic book at Crairie’s Drugs. When I was a little kid I looked up to the bag boys who brought our groceries out to the car back then. (You know when there were jobs for people to do.)

The bag boys seemed like gods. Kids who did what adults did, that’s what I wanted to be and I told my mom I wanted to be a bag boy and she said “You can’t because we’re not Lutheran and Francis Foods only hires Lutherans”. I told the story pretty matter of factly and a brother in the second row just looked dumb f0unded and said “You’re shitting me”. He couldn’t wrap his mind around a world where you couldn’t get a job because you were the wrong denomination. With all the growing problems of modernity, maybe things are getting better.

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