The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter X: Anza Borrego

 

Mike chin on hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Mike with a cap crop

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ministers go on vacation.

The road workers do their excavation,

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

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

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

And when your mom is dying in the summer time,

the birds still sing in the morning.

The red skies give the sailor’s warning.

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

He stifles back his tears.

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

And when someone’s dying in the summer time,

people still go to the beach.

But happiness is so far out of reach.

We just all stay home

and we sit alone together and talk about the weather

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

But the birds still sing when we mourn.

And with every death new life is born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the nature of God from a material perspective?

What can we assume we at least know?

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

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

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

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

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

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter VIII: Breakdown and Rebirth

Eventually you get to gate be long in the tooth to be a student organizer.

I started late after grad school and had done it for two and a half years. I had a nice lucrative gig in Arkansas, did some speaking engagements and got $1,000 check and decided that I was going to use that thousand dollars to start a new life.

Of course I went on an Epic road trip and I visited my girlfriend at the time in

Mike with the children

Huntsville, Alabama and caught a ride with her brother to Texas. In Texas, I caught a ride with some other friends who had been on a road trip and we all gathered – my brother and his partner and some other friends – for this cool camp out in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona on the Mexican border.

On this camp out, I was with two couples. I was just kind of a fifth wheel and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I’d been on the road for years and didn’t want to just kind of be on a permanent road trip tour. My brother at this point was on this two and a half year trip with he and his partner where they stayed in all of the bioregions of the West and they really got to deeply know and understand North America by going and living in every bioregion for months at a time just by hitchhiking and being careful with their expenses.

So I hung out with them and got to see the desert. We did a lot of rock climbing and bouldering and in canyons and hung out with climbing bums. And it had some adventure, but I decided to get off on my own. And so I crossed over into Mexico and I got a bus to Tijuana and then I crossed over the border from Tijuana into San Diego and I took a Greyhound because I didn’t want to hitchhike through LA, which is a giant cluster.

I got to Santa Barbara. When I was on the Greyhound to Santa Barbara, I had met this sixteen year old teenage runaway from Iowa. She had gotten snatched up by the police and sent home to Iowa. She just took some money from her mom’s purse and climbed out the bedroom window and bought a bus ticket and was on her way back to her boyfriend in Santa Barbara.

She introduced me to the Santa Barbara Beach bum community. I decided that I would kind of do this sociological experiment and I would just be homeless for a while and hang out in paradise. It was really informative. I do some work with the homeless and that week of kind of hanging out with the homeless folks and being a beach bum was enlightening. It’s like a full time job, you know, you gotta carry your stuff everywhere. You got to walk across town to get to the free place. And then you got to find a place to, to safe place to be able to spend the night. I spent one night on the beach. Then I met these other guys who found some private land where they said that the land owner didn’t mind if he pitched a tent. So we’d go pitch our tent and take it down.

I just hung out and blew through money. Homeless people can sense, you know, the guy who’s got a little bit held back. I ended up blowing through most of my money pretty quick there. I decided I’d better get moving.

It had been six weeks since I’d had a shower, since I’d left my my girlfriend’s brother’s in Texas. I had been on a long bus trip in Mexico and weeks and weeks of camping. It was like a sunny day. And so I got out in the Pacific and when the sun went behind the clouds. It got cold. My core temperature dropped. I was just cold and I’m miserable. I realized that I wasn’t on vacation anymore, that I was homeless. It was pretty miserable.

I started hitchhiking North. I stayed off Highway 1, which was a mistake and tried to go up the 101. I had trouble getting rides until this guy pulled over in a pickup truck. I said, “Hey, where are you going?” He’s like “Farther than you are now.” So I took the ride. His name was Workman and he was this really cool guy. He had this bit of a Jesus delusion maybe he was Jesus or maybe he was just someone living like Jesus.

He lived in this converted school bus that he had made into a camper. He dumpster dove his food and he was a sign painter and had painted a sign at a junk yard for the chance to park his bus there for a month. Now, he was going around painting signs, mostly in Spanish, and he was teaching himself Spanish as he’s worked his way South with a plan to get to the equator, because he liked the idea of being at zero degrees latitude. So he was on his way to Quito, Ecuador or thereabouts.

He was amazing, a real humble spiritual guy. I painted some signs with him and hung out for a few days. He offered to let me stay in his bus and he would get me a vehicle and he would teach me the art of sign painting and we would learn Spanish together. He would do things like, name anything, and I would name whenever I was hungry for. And he would pull it out of the dumpster or he would pull it out of his dried stocks. He was a fruit fast and kept finding a bunch of meat and dry it. We would eat anything I could think of. He could cook by what he had and his boss or what he could go pull out of a dumpster right now. We just had a great time. I had been planning on visiting my friend Jim Squatter, who was this anarchist super activist who had broken his neck and had come to the last Fermi protest in 1995, the year after the big one that I told the story about and helped organize some protests.

I had planned on seeing him and check out UC Santa Cruz and think about getting into a PhD program because if you don’t, I didn’t really want to go to work and didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I thought, well, PhD in sociology would be more useful than a master’s degree in sociology. And they had the best social movements department.

I called Squatter to let them know that I was going to be a little bit longer and maybe not coming at all because I was intrigued by Lance Workman’s live like Jesus right now style of live in, of just kinda humbly being a random force for good and living modestly off people’s waste. Squatters dad had died and he needed someone to watch his lizard and take care of his place so he could go back for the funeral. I parted from Workman. We exchanged some letters but I never made it back down to be able to find him again.

I got to Squatters’ place eventually. He gets that name cause he lived in squats in San Francisco. If you see that Michelle Shocked album where she’s being dragged off by the police, Squatter was the one who organized the protest that she got arrested on. It was cool because Michelle Shocked would call the house because she was still friends with Squatter. He was all in on the local activist scenes and had been a big protestor, but he had broken his neck and had become a cannabis activist because it helped with his muscle spasticity and he walked, even though he had a broken neck. He had some quadriplegia, but he got movement and got himself to walk through force of will and cannabis.

He introduced me to Debbie Goldbery with the Cannabis Action Network. That was in 1996 when they had just working towards the end of collecting signatures for the medical marijuana initiative, Prop 215. I tried to get a job as a lobbyist for a highway safety organization and that fell through. At the time cannabis reform was about 99th on my list of a hundred most important issues. I like to smoke weed and I found it to be good and I didn’t like the drug war, but there were a lot of other problems that seemed more immediate and important to me, but it was significant. Mostly I needed a job and so CAN had a great model. They had a communal house. Debbie had started the group. They did tabling on Telegraph Avenue. They also did tabling on rock concerts and they sold products and shared information about marijuana and hemp. They also did some other organizing.

Debbie had never had anybody come into CAN who brought previous organizing experience. She had done a lot of stuff and was a great organizer, but I had done a lot of stuff and was a great organizer, too. We ended up working really well together and we got into a place where we were coordinating the statewide grassroots effort for we started the PAC Friends of 215 with a group of activists and were real leaders on the statewide movement. We worked with the big money activists supported with funds George Zimmer from Men’s Warehouse and George Soros. That’s funny when you always hear about professional protesters, since I was an agent of Soros. I remember going to Men’s warehouse and picking up a $5,000 check and we got some funding. They spend a lot of money on advertising.

We kept the grassroots activists out of the media and we focused on some basic politics of voter registration and get out the vote activities. And we harnessed that grassroots energy and we won. We raised more money. We did a stealth campaign because the big money people didn’t put their money in until late. By the time that the preventionists and the cops started trying to do their organizing, they never caught up to us. We passed it and it changed the world. That was funny. Even as we were working towards it, we didn’t know if it would create a positive defense for people who were charged or if it would be a law that would really work because it was a new model rather than be in conflict with federal law it didn’t touch federal law at all and it just said, ‘You shall be exempted from state penalties and doctors shall not be punished for making recommendations.’

It created this system of legal protections requiring the state shall build a framework. But the day after it passed, everybody started opening up pot clubs. My friends who had been activists suddenly started to make a lot of money.

I had been struggling with depression. When you’re, when you’re living in poverty and you have a transitory lifestyle, there’s a lot of stresses to that. I had been depressed and not even kind of realized it. We went to this Renaissance festival. A friend of mine gave me this hit of ecstasy, mDMA. It really blew my mind, enlightened it. It made me have me this kind of happiness hangover for a number of days. It reminded me what it was like to feel joyful and to feel really good. I had forgotten and had been kind of going through the motions in life, even with all of these adventures and amazing experiences. I would not say that I was super happy most of the time. So I started to do that and use.

When you’re a drug policy reform activist, you end up having to use a lot of drugs. I had been pretty moderate in my use, but started to use massive doses of the highest quality cannabis and cannabis extracts and then supplementing that with mDMA on the weekends. That was my lifestyle through the spring, summer and into the fall.

We passed the election.

It was pretty euphoric. And then we had this three week trip to Amsterdam where Debbie was working security for the Cannabis Cup, which is the international pot growing championship that they would host in Amsterdam. She would work security alongside her friends. Her boyfriend was a guitar tech for Fishbone and they always played in Amsterdam during Cannabis Cup. She would go and week early and then and party and hang out and have fun and then work for a week and then stay a week after. So it was a three week trip. I was a little tight on money and almost didn’t go, but they really talked me into going and said it would be fine and I would have a good time.

We went and we stayed at this mind spa. The owner must have been involved in the international drug trade. There were no customers to this building and it didn’t look like it was used. He had all of this stuff including a sensory deprivation tank that we tried out. He had these things called synchro-tech machines that were syncopated light and sound that were supposed to generate psychedelic experiences. We went and stayed and ate good food and went to the clubs and smoked.

We did everything that there was to be done, which was a lot. And we turned it up a degree.

One night, Aaron, who is the person I was hanging out with the most he had gotten this stuff called organic ecstasy – some mDMA variant – he talked me in to doing it. We stayed up all night doing ecstasy until the next night came around. He talked me into it again and we stayed up all night doing ecstasy. A flip in my mind switched and I didn’t need to do ecstasy anymore. It was like being high all the time. Looking back on it, it was a manic breakdown while I was having this just this incredible psychedelic experience. From what I’ve been able to put together, I didn’t sleep for over a week. This flip switching was about a week into the trip and I didn’t sleep again for the entire trip.

I was afraid that if I tried to sleep, if I closed my eyes, that people would be whispering in my ears and trying to hypnotize me. I had one bag when we had gone to Amsterdam and had carried a friend’s bag with me. We hadn’t talked about it, but there was this expectations that since she had come with three bags and I came with one bag and you were allowed two bags that I would be carrying one of these bags back. There were these plates of hash that were CD-sized and were being dipped in wax the night before we left. I knew that part of what had been in that box were these Fishbone CDs that we had brought over.

I came to believe that this was some kind of initiation into some kind of psychedelic drug smuggling gang or I was having some kind of delusional experience. There’s really no way to know.

I had the bag and we’re going out on the trip. In the train I’m moving sluggish because I haven’t slept in two weeks. I had just started to feel a little bit tired. I didn’t make it out of the doors with the bags when we got to the train and the train left the airport. I didn’t know what to do because I felt like there was a good chance that one of those bags was filled with perhaps millions of dollars of hash. I know that there are decriminalized drugs in Amsterdam, but not suitcases full of them.

There were some people behind me who were going to the airport and I thought that the only people that I could trust would be random people. And so I poured my story out to this random girl who was standing behind me because I didn’t allow her to get off the train and missed the door. She said if I separated from my friends, they would wait for me at the airport. So if they’re there when you get there, they’ll, you can know that your friends and you can trust them. That seemed like real good advice. And I got there and my friends were long gone. Not only were they long gone, so was my plane ticket. I know that I had had it. I started to wonder. I didn’t know what to do.

I walked out to the airport and there was this this pile driver, this giant thing, and it was doing this rhythmic thing. And I had been kind of obsessed with the power of techno music to hypnotize. I felt drawn to this. And I felt like there was this cosmic confrontation that was coming and had wondered about the host of the mind spa and what was his involvement. Some cryptic things that had come up. I had read Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, which ironically has this character named Rocket Man who finds comes into a giant pile of hash and stumbles across Europe. It’s classic paranoid conspiracy novel, Pulitzer Prize winning. I’m living the story-line out of this novel.

One of the people who got me to go on the trip had given it to me to read. I’m putting all these things together. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not. Even to this day.

I was sitting out a bus. I fought the urge to go to this construction site based on this rhythmic pile driver. I’m sitting at the bus stop and I just decided that I pulled a bag of personal effects out of the bag and just left it at the bus stop and I walked away.

When I would get emotionally overwhelmed or in trouble, sometimes I would go hitchhiking because the day to day struggle of where are you going to eat? How are you going to keep yourself safe? Where are you going to lay your head? That was very centering, when you get into this primal quest for survival.

I walked away from the airport and walked down in the highway and put my thumb out and I started the walk. As I walked, I started thinking if I was miked or bugged or what was going on. I started throwing away things like lighters that I had picked up at the mind spa. I had been chain smoking. When you get emotional, when you get mentally fractured nicotine is a powerful focusing drug. When you’d smoke a cigarette, I have this moment of clarity and being able to organize my thoughts for just a brief moment. I had smoked all my cigarettes so had to reply on a progressive relaxation technique to fight my migraines. This had become part of my spiritual practice: breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, slowly and deeply.

I had done a lot of this as an activist, but I couldn’t do that now because my nose had been clogged up. I finally blew the snot out of my nose and took a deep breath and I felt this rush of power and energy and I felt my spiritual form and I realized that I was 10,000 feet tall and that my spiritual self was powerful and that I could call down any powers that I needed to make anything happen that I needed to happen. I didn’t why that I either had broken through into this place of being able to wield magic or I was some cosmic spirit that had this power.

I was tired of walking and was frustrated and I said, “I whisper when I want to hypnotize and I shout when I want something” and I said, “If I don’t get a ride right now, I will destroy Phillip Morris!” because I would, I was blaming tobacco for my inability to breathe. Instantly, there was this van that was in the far left lane and it flew through four lanes of traffic and pulled over and stopped. I got in and it was a woman who looked just like my mom. I just felt this great sense of calm and I immediately spilled my guts about what was going on and I didn’t know what to do.

She drove me up a ways and she pulled off an exit. And she drew me a map about how to get to Denmark or Belgium or something through back-ways where I wouldn’t have to go through customs, and felt that I would be safer leaving from another country if I had been involved in this. Then she gave me a hundred guilders and made me promise not to spend it on drugs and sent me on my way.

(I went and I had a series of adventures that I won’t go into the details because this is, again, this is a story that’s worthy of its own.)

I ended up going back to the mind spa. The dude was there and I asked him if anybody had called or said anything or left my plane ticket. He offered for me to come in saying that we could work it out. I thought, “Well, that was the whole plan of this of taking my plane ticket?” I had knew I didn’t lose it. I had checked it and it was in my backpack and then it wasn’t. I knew that it had been taken or it was reasonably certain of. I wasn’t certain of anything at that point, but I felt like that was what had happened. I said, no, I’m gonna stay with friends.

I went and called some people that I had met at various parties through having these weird conversations. I was pretty spun and didn’t get ahold of anybody. I had this hundred guilders. I did buy a pack of cigarettes and felt bad because I’d promised her I wouldn’t buy any drugs. It was any port in a storm. I bought a phone card and called my mom because she looked like my mom. My mom said, “We’ll get to the airport and we will get you a plane ticket.” They had taken out a loan. It was a lot of money. My parents bought me a plane ticket. I’m so glad I called when I was at the airport. My friends had told my family, “Mike disappeared. He was acting weird.” They told my brother who lived at the CAN office when they came back without me, they called my mom and told her Mike’s missing in Europe. It was funny because I almost did a journey to the East and was going to hitchhike around the entire world and come back to North America from the other side. But then I decided instead to call my mom. That ended up being a pretty transformative thing.

One thing I did before I left the bus station, was that I went to the train station, checked everything, and put all my stuff in a  locker. And I felt like I had heard a story about somebody else who had been caught with drugs leaving Amsterdam. I felt like that maybe if somebody had planted drugs on me. I didn’t know what all was in my bag. I just knew they’d taken my plane ticket.

I took out all of my stuff and checked it into a locker and then took the key and threw it in the garbage can. The only thing I kept was my wallet because my dad had ingrained in me to hold onto my wallet as a lifelong lesson. I also held on to my passport. I didn’t even have a pencil. I didn’t know what was bugged or if people were listening or if I was just engaged in this kind of spiritual transformation and had unleashed and awakened some kind of spiritual power. 

My dad through its series of mnemonics taught me to memorize in all of my scattered state this confirmation number to be able to pick up my bag. He did it by breaking it into chunks. I think it was MCH, Mickey Call Home and and it went on to some numbers. He was able to relate those numbers to things that I did. He learned me that. I got my ticket on KLM. Mind you, the guy who owned the mind spa was a heir to the KLM fortune from what I had understood. I was wondering about this international conspiracy of airline people and what was going on with that?

I was getting on the plane, I felt like the flight attendant had given me an eye took a right and I went right into a first class and sat down and drank the champagne and mimosas and ate a nice meal and went to the captain’s restroom and put on his cologne and I felt like I was something special. Come to find out I really didn’t have a courtesy flight with total all-access. This was before 9/11. A really big flight attendant – a bodybuilder flight attendant type – walked me back to the class that I was supposed to be in. It was funny because my ticketed seat didn’t exist. I have my ticket and I’m pulling it out and looking at it. There’s all of these kind of disconnects in reality warps.

When you go insane, you don’t just go insane. The universe goes insane or maybe the universe is always insane and you just wake up to be able to see it. I sat down and I talked to the guy. Everything that everybody said fed into this delusional reality. I had ran it a lot of stuff and I had the capacity to develop this amazingly complex and robust kind of delusional reality on almost everything.

When I got back, Oh, when I got back home, I walked in through customs. I don’t have any luggage. They pulled me out for special screening and they searched and they had done the same thing in the Netherlands because I couldn’t answer the questions right. You know, everything had too much meaning and I was too scattered, but too, they’d given me a search and a once over and didn’t find anything, put me on the plane.

So they gave me a search and a once over and lo and behold, they find four hits of LSD I’m in my wallet. I used to carry LSD in my wallet, but I distinctly remember pulling them out and leaving them on my dresser at home. It looked like those four squares that I had left over from this bad acid I’d bought from my housemate Kurt. They gave me a ticket, which turned out to be good. I got out and kind of expected everything to be over, but this whole kind of weirdness followed me. There were a lot of ominous things. For instance, there was this comic book laying in my bed in my parents’ house from the Stranger, and it had this thing about this guy who had got hypnotized to carry a bomb onto a plane that he thought was a box of chocolates. I swear to fucking God, that comic book is laying open, folded over in my room.

There was a Stephen King’s The Green Mile came out as a serial book. It was six little novelettes and they were laid out in the room. As time went on, their corners were starting to chew, like they were being eaten by mice. I looked the next day and more of it was gone. I felt like this compelling reason that I had to read this book and it was all this stuff about laying on of hands and spiritual experience that all seem really powerful because I was sleeping a couple hours a night and waking up bright and alert and rapid speech and not able to control myself.

I started to write poetry. I’d never done that even though I had had this creative writing class and had read a lot of poetry, but suddenly poetry started to spill out of me and I could write it at will on any subject. I was writing sonnets in five minutes with the right meter and rhyme scheme. I couldn’t harness it. I was all scattered. I started writing stuff in notebooks. There were just so many things that objectively really happened. At some point, everyone’s telling me that I’m disturbed and that there’s something wrong with me and they’re trying to get me to accept that I need to go help and go to the mental health agency that I used to work at. I’m doubting it.

I saw this flutter in this light by the window and thought, “Well, maybe I am delusional and I’m having this experience.” I went and opened the window. It was a bird that had gotten behind the storm window and now there’s a bird flying around the house. I was delusional about the airlines and then an airplane crashed in Ida, the town that I’m from about 15 miles from where I was at. I had gotten this concern about this mental health agency and then all the mental health agency people in the airport or on TV doing press conferences about how they’re doing the support for the people who died in the plane crash. Right before the plane crashed, I had felt like I had been compelled that I should paint and I didn’t want to paint and then I turn on the TV and this airplane crash and I felt like it was done to punish me for not doing this thing.

I had all of this craziness and it just kept accelerating.

Ultimately, my sister got me to go out to the mental health agency. I scared the person who was doing the assessment because I was too demonstrative and I’m a big guy and I’m waving my arms around. So she called the police and they took me to the psychiatric unit that I used to work at, Pineview. I stood in the sign-in room that I had gone down and talked to people into voluntarily signing in by saying “If you don’t sign in, they’re gonna commit you.” The mental health agency came through for me and they paid to send me to a hospital in a nearby community. So I only had to work with four of my former colleagues instead of 30 or 40 of them.

I signed myself in because I knew the process. I had worked in it. I was not convinced that I could act sane in front of a judge for a half an hour. I signed myself in and I stayed for two weeks and it was a really enlightening experience. Any one who works on a psychiatric unit if they get a chance to experience what it’s like from the other side of the counter, it can be really powerful because I had no idea the deep shame of being there, of not having your thoughts work, of feeling judged of people implying or telling you that you’re crazy. I was articulate and passionate and my thoughts were working very quickly and I had this great knowledge base. About half the people who are on a psychiatric unit don’t want to be there. And so I started talking to the people who didn’t want to be there and I’m like, “Oh man, if you don’t want to be here, it’s easier to get out. Just call your insurance company and tell them that you don’t want to be here. Because as soon as your insurance stops paying, they don’t keep you.”

There are these little four sheets that they put on the front of the chart that say what date your insurance runs out and before it goes out, they either let you go or they call and get more time. Nobody, no matter what problems they have, ever gets to stay one more day than their insurance will pay. So the people got on the phone and they called their insurance company and then they’re packing their bags and leaving. I got there and I discharged half the unit right before Christmas and then staff were getting sent home because they have low census days. And there was this resentment because I knew how all their bullshit worked and I would call them out on it.

I was filled with this sense of justice.

This guide told me about these witches who were at this Detroit mental hospital and I believed him and I’m asking them on the details. As we talked, I said, “I just figured out” –  because I was this wild, wildly empathetic – “they’re really not witches. There’s just people who are really mean to you, weren’t they? And he’s crying. And he’s like, yeah. And we had this breakthrough.

One of my old colleagues, this guy who had been through college on football scholarship and was not a very helpful guy, I noticed he was, had changed and he had become this really kind of great listener and supportive guy. And he was actually really good. Just when I had worked with them just a few years ago you know, he was a piece of shit employee. He just wanted to play foosball and get through his thing and you know, he wasn’t mean to people but he didn’t go out of his way to help. Now he was this really excellent clinician. There was this kind of wise old mental health advocate who had been doing it for like 20 years and he was really funny and really engaging and can meet you where you were at. Even though I was creating, we played foosball, but you were, we used to not let the patients play because none of them, they weren’t good. You have to work there to get really good at it, you know? So it would be like the for the, the guy who ran our unit love foosball and he’d grabbed the three best players and we play foosball while the poor nurse had have to do all the work and the patients never got to play cause they were, they were never any good.

Now, they played with the patients and he was really validating. And I saw that this just kind of magic about his approach. There were some other mental health patients that I just bonded with in a powerful way. This poet who was there and we would talk and write poetry and he shared his broad sheet with me and there was a girl I was flirting with. It was a transformative time.

I got on this medication called Risperidol, this anti-psychotic, which has got me sleeping every night. And I started putting my thoughts together and I was only sleeping for three or four hours, but I was sleeping every night and I left two weeks, a little bit more pulled together, but still pretty delusional.

All of these even more weird things continue to happen that I couldn’t understand that I couldn’t understand. This happened in November and in April of the following year I was sitting there and I was thinking about all that had happened. For the first time I thought, well, maybe I’m just crazy? Maybe this is just what people are saying it is. I was mixed up of whether I was caught up in an international conspiracy of people who were trying to blow my mind, some kind of Illuminati-style, trickster, CIA, psychedelics thing or was I have in this spiritual experience where I was coming into my personal spiritual power in a positive way.

I had this third possibility: maybe I’m just crazy and I made a list and I was able to identify like 10 or 12 things that were objectively real and fundamentally super weird and an amazing set of things –  like the airplane crash and a bunch of other things that had, that I knew for a fact that that had happened – and I made this list and I thought, I might never know what’s going to happen, but I know that I was a lot happier when I thought that the world operated like everybody else does.

In my mind, I made this mental box and I put all of those things in it that I didn’t understand and I put the word unknown and I decided that I would never know what happened, but that I was going to act like the world was like it was before all of this began because I was happier then, because now I had lost my girlfriend, I lost my job. I was living with my parents and and my thoughts didn’t work right anymore.

That day I started to get better rapidly.

So my mom was pushing me to go to work. And so I went to Voc Rehab and I had hoped that they would like send me to training or school. But you know, I got a master’s degree and a pretty decent work history, so they just made me get dressed up every day and show up, like I was going to work and look for work. And so I thought, well shit, if I have to do that, I might as well get a job. My mom handed me a newspaper and had circled this group home and I got a job at a group home like I had been doing 10 years before making about the same amount of money. I worked midnights at the group home. I only had one coworker. I continued to put my thoughts together and save up enough money to buy a beater car. I worked there for a few months and then I got a job as a Families First worker, my first social work job.

I went to my case manager and I said, “Hey man, I got a job, kinda like what you have. I think it would be a good idea.” I was on meds and they added Depakote, a mood stabilizer. (It kinda messed up my poops. It slowed my thinking.) They took a level and it wasn’t at therapeutic levels and the doctor wanted to raise it. And I said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m feeling better now.” There’s this classic pattern of people with bipolar disorder who gets stabilized on meds, don’t like the side effects, go off their meds and then have a manic breakdown again. It gets worse and bad things happen. I know that’s what he was thinking. But he said “You have a very serious mental illness and you’re never going to get better.”

That was devastating to me, but I knew there was no court order. I didn’t have to take the meds. And so I just said it was hard, but I was, I knew it was my decision. I just said, well, I’m still not going to take more Depakote. When I came back and he saw that I was still stable, he’s like, well, let’s get rid of the Depakote because it’s not at a stable level. I came back and I was still doing good. He’s like, well, let’s reduce the Risperidol. And then I came back and he’s like, well, let’s take you off the Risperidol. I managed. I had a whole set of tools that I would use to manage when I was depressed.

Going back to sociology I recall the idea of status and master status. Most people organize who there are from their job, but people with mental illness think of themselves as mentally ill: I’m a schizophrenia, I’m a bipolar. I’m borderline. I knew that that was dangerous. I thought of myself as someone who was struggling with symptoms of bipolar disorder that I didn’t always have them. I wasn’t always going to have them. It wasn’t who I was. I’m a good person who has symptoms of bipolar disorder right now. That protected me cause I don’t know of anyone who is so shattered and severe psychiatric symptoms who pulled themselves together and then went on to have a regular life. I did. I still struggle with mood stuff, but I have a whole array of mechanisms to manage it and to bring it on when I need that.

The quest after this period in life was how to integrate all of those experiences. I harvested those ideas and things that appeared delusional and sane at the time. I knew things were different when poems that I couldn’t get anybody to listen to because nobody wants to listen to a crazy person, that same poem I read at a poetry slam in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and I won and they gave me a crystal dish and a check for $25 for the same words that they wouldn’t listen to from a crazy person, but from a poet in a coffee shop, that was worthy of a cash prize.

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Church of the Sweet Light

So early Easter morning it hit me like a ton of bricks that we are living through the sweet light time. You probably know in Astrology the sky is divided into 12 houses each with a constellation. Since it’s four or five thousand years old every 2,000 years we shift a house.

It’s unclear when it is because good folks differ but 1950-2150 or something it happens and we move from Pisces to Aquarius. Like the song it could be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius or the sunset of the Piscean Age.

Either way we’re in that sweet light time. I’ve been holding small church circles with homeless folks for a little freeform spiritual experience right after sunrise and added the hour before subset. One or more of us prays, sings and we mangle some scripture if I don’t have my bible.

If I have my Bible I’ve been reading and preaching out of Isaiah. On cloudy/rainy days might do it whenever. Sweet light all day.

Caught the road to the rainbow
Patches caught first service. We walked to a nearby camp but there were new tents at the trailhead so we moseyed along.
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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter VII: Questioning Activism

 

When we got back from our epic hitchhiking trip we had been gone about six weeks. It had really been kind of a transformative thing.

Mike Trapp bike bag

It was empowering to be thousands of miles from home with very little money knowing that you can rely on strangers to help you out, putting yourself in a situation where people were offering you help. We read some books on it, but the biggest art of hitchhiking is to be patient and not have any expectation of ever getting a ride and enjoying where you’re at and having joy standing around the sunshine. We liked to stand at the top of the exit and write signs while waiting to get picked up.

We got home and just being in a house seem really weird. I spent the first night in the backyard.

The next day I called Mike Leonardi, my activist buddy. We were talking about getting an apartment together and I wanted to see where we were at with that seeing as how I had come back early. We had planned on being gone longer, but we were getting on each other’s nerves.

He was down in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which was the national headquarters for SEAC, the student environmental action coalition, the group that we had been active with. He was down at their national meeting and so I hitchhiked out the next day and left that morning. My mom was a little disappointed, but I was at this point: Now I’m ready to be on my own. That was my first solo trip. I met some great people.

George Moseley, this truck driver from Alabama that I corresponded with for a long time, just couldn’t believe that somebody in a master’s program who was intelligent and articulate and a good conversationalist would be out hitchhiking. Usually it’s people with mental illness or people who are really down on their luck. He just found me to be a lot of fun and always wanted me to come down and visit. I’m sorry I never followed up with that.

I also got picked up by Al Gore’s next door neighbor and this guy who had a gentleman’s cattle ranch next to Al Gore’s gentleman’s cattle ranch and had some great stories. When he found out I was a sociology master’s student, he hit me up for some free counseling and I got a long ride for him. That was really helpful. When he dropped me off, I felt like I should have invoiced him for counseling services. I felt like he had gotten more out of it than I had, which is cool.

I got picked up by some guys who gave me a beer. I made it to Chapel Hill and kind of dropped in and on the national meeting and plugged in at that level, which was kind of new. I had been involved in kind of regional organizing, but going to national meetings and participating. It was a little bit of a faction. There were these kinds of more organizational, internationalist types. There were Earth First direct action, radical types. And that was more of my cup of tea. Looking back on it now, I can see that we might have been overly exuberant with some of our idealism, questioning the value of organizational infrastructure, which history points out we might’ve not been on the right side of history on that one, but you make the best decisions. It was vital and it seemed passionate and it seemed right at the time.

So, I caught rides back most of the way and hitchhiked home and then started my last year of grad school. I finally got a teaching assistantship. I had been a poor student as an undergrad because mostly I worked in the group homes and nobody in my family really went to college and I didn’t live even in the same city that the college was at as an undergrad. My self-identity was more of a working person. I thought the goal of school was to obtain a piece of paper with as minimal amount of investment and cost as possible, but really what you’re supposed to do in college is make your life-long friends and figure out what tribe you’re in. I finally did that.

Originally, kindergarten was pretty fun. I mean, there were scary and anxiety provoking times, but Mrs. Nutter was really sweet and kind of motherly in a way that my mom was not, who was still pretty broken at that point.

Now, graduate school. I enjoyed it. Overall I got some nurturing there and it was good. I enjoyed my last year of grad school. Every other year of school I hated pretty intensely. I mean, I got some things out of it and it was transformative and I learned some stuff, but, it was just unpleasant and I didn’t enjoy it. But I really enjoyed my last year of grad school.

I got a 4.0. I had an apartment near campus. I was active in the environmental group, which led me to just be active and meet the other student leaders. It got me over my shyness. I stayed active in SEAC and regional organizing and a couple of different regions. John was active and in a chapter in Monroe County Community College, which was in the Michigan, Illinois and Indiana region. And then I was active in Toledo and we had a lot of overlap and joint activities because they were real close. But Ohio is like Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. I helped organize that whole area of the South and Midwest through grad school.

I had a teaching assistantship and was really kind of a political radical. I started to go to some more kind of pagan events and went to some solstice events near Athens, Ohio. That was neat just to be able to see that there’s this organized religious experience I could take part in that felt natural and comfortable. After I got my master’s degree, I had my first serious relationship. Christa and I had planned this trip to go to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It was a comedy of errors. We were so ill-prepared. I was busy doing other things. I’ve never been one into trip planning. Anyone who’s ever traveled with me knows: I bring an agreeable spirit and am open to anything, but do not do a lot of trip planning. There were some struggles. We did five weeks in Mexico. We got robbed and got sick and ran short of money and broke up over the course of the trip.

It was weird and awkward.

We had a lot of trouble getting across the border with our bus tickets. How we going to pay for extra tickets? Turns out, you can’t buy an out-of-town bus ticket with a Discover card. Who was going to get the money to buy the ticket? Then, we missed the bus. It was just a bunch of misadventure.

We went to sleep on the bus. I woke up and I looked up and there were mountains. Where we were, I had no idea. I realized I didn’t know the language and didn’t know that geography and didn’t know the history and there was hardly anybody who spoke English and I was reliant on a woman who is really questioning whether she wanted to be with me at any level at all. It was a neat experience and culturally opening. For most of our trip, survival was the prize. We limped back dirty and broken and flat-broke. I’m out of school. We wrapped up our trip early. I don’t have a lot of money and don’t know what I’m doing.

I applied for some jobs and had three choices in front of me from offers that I had put out and had offers on.

  1. I could have went to a wilderness adventure camp for at-risk kids in Pennsylvania. And then after a year of that, you could either go on a wagon train or you could go out on tall ship sailing for and become an adventure camp counselor; or
  2. I could move to Lima, Ohio to be a child abuse investigator; or
  3. I could take a job with SEAC, the group that I had organized with but now in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. Some kids in Ames, Iowa had created a job as a field organizer. That one was the least paid. The grant didn’t come through, so even I was offered half of what had earlier been offered. I said yes.

Before I arrived, even that half had evaporated, because they hadn’t raised the money. These kids were plucky and they promised to do their best. My mom gave me a couple of hundred bucks to get started so I hitchhiked to Ames, Iowa and became a field organizer for the Student Environmental Action Coalition. I had a heck of a time, did some stuff with the locals who were supporting me and then went on to Nebraska to organize against NAFTA. It is the biggest place to export corn to Mexico and would have the biggest benefit of NAFTA in all of North America. I had a heck of a time trying to sell people on opposing it. So there was a house district that seemed like it was swing and that was the strategy, but Bill Clinton bought them a bridge and he voted for it.

I went to a series of places. My housing had evaporated. I didn’t have a lot of support and had trouble making it on my own. The Ames kids ran out of money to pay me so I hitchhiked home. Then, the kids in Ames raised some money to get me on the road and before Christmas I went to St. Louis and worked with some kids at Washington University and had some success. We organized a little city-wide network in a couple of weeks and really hit it off with Sarah Bantz and Eric Hempel and people who are still my good friends today.

I went home for Christmas and stayed a little longer while they tried to raise some money to get me on the road. I couldn’t hit my mom up for a starter steak because I’d never paid her back from the last one. They finally raised the money.

In the meantime, there was this Klan rally in Columbus. I caught a ride with these communists out of Detroit who were going down to protest the Klan, figuring that I could catch a ride from someone else from another direction and end up closer to where I was going. I generally don’t go to those kinds of events. I think it’s better to not draw a lot of attention, but it was interesting. In the ride down, the guy giving me a ride is like, “I’m a gay, Communist Jew. This is an existential threat to my survival.” That helped me open my eyes to what we would call Antifa now, the alliance of communists and anarchists who organize and try to not allow fascists to have an organizing space and in our open society. It really raised questions that I don’t have answers to about what to do about that kind of dangerous ideology in a land where we prize and protect free speech.

I caught a ride to all this closest I could get to Columbia, Missouri, which is where I was heading, I’d never been, was Springfield, Ohio. And I caught a ride there with some friends at Wittenberg University and a stayed and I stayed an extra night because this snow storm hit and then it looked like the snow was breaking for the day and I set out, but it got immediately cold and it was like 10 below zero. I’m walking through the snow and I only made like 50 miles in my first day. I had to get a hotel room because there’s no way I could camp in 10 below weather. The next day, I had a terrible time. I was on bad highways and the roads where I was, hardly anybody out there. I kept saying I would only stand at exits that had services, but as soon as someone would pull over, I would be so cold that I would jump in the car and they would go one exit and there would be nothing at the exit. I’d start walking down the highway and I’d hope I get a ride before I die. I hope I get a ride before I die. This old man picked me up, it was so funny. He’s like, “Oh, you think it’s cold now? You should’ve been in the trenches in world war one.” He was that he was that old. He took me to an airport thinking that I could get an airline ticket with what I had. They didn’t have any flights.

I think it was just a ruse to get me used to the idea of taking a bus. I Greyhound-ed back to St. Louis to touch base with those kids again. I didn’t even try to hitchhike to Columbia while it stayed in the negative degrees. I spent the $200 I had to get started doing this two week gig in St. Louis where this retired, activist kid, Jeff Pavlik had a place on North Eighth Street where I could stay and do my organizing. We were thin on the ground in Missouri outside of St. Louis. He had been to a national conference and agreed to host. I got off the Greyhound. I had $6. I had spent $194. It would have been cheaper to have just bought a bus ticket to Columbia. But, you never know.

I had $6 and two weeks to stay in Columbia with Jeff Pavlik and his housemate, Trevor Harris and Jonathan Yates. I stayed with this great group of activists and we dumpster-dived and got a big box of tortillas and ate tortillas and beans. I lost my $6 in poker. I lived on nothing for two weeks. I lived well and I fell in love with Columbia. I was staying on North Eighth Street and I was walking downtown and in the second week I was there, I walked downtown to try to hustle up some activity and I ran into somebody I knew and I stopped and talked to them and I ran into somebody else I knew and I stopped and talked to them, too. And I thought, Man, this doesn’t happen in Monroe, Michigan. This doesn’t happen in Toledo, Ohio. It really felt at home, you know?

Being a college-town field organizer made me a college-town afficionnado from just visiting a lot of them and understanding the college life. I was in the third year of my master’s program. It was neat. I liked the college schedule, enjoyed college towns and what they had to offer.

I fell in love with Columbia. Jeff Pavlik and Trevor Harris and I came up with this idea of Ozark Summer, which would be like Mississippi Summer or Redwood Summer where we would have a summer-long camp-out with environmental education and community organizing and direct action. We organized that out of Columbia. We had this great summer-long camp-out that was pretty transformative of creating our own culture and doing activism and really getting committed to it. It was transformative for other people that had been involved with it, even if it never lived up to the dreams we had for it.

At the same time this was going on, protests had really taken off in my town, Monroe. There was the Fermi2 nuclear power plant there. And on Christmas day, 1993, a turbine threw a blade that smashed around and that led to millions of gallons of water becoming contaminated with radiation. The plan was to pump it into Lake Erie because the solution to pollution is dilution. And we opposed that. I wasn’t in town then, but my brother organized some protests and they became this grassroots phenomenon where hundreds of people showed up. It was the biggest protest ever seen in Monroe in history. It goes back to the Newton steel strike of the 1930s to find anything closer. Never been any history outside of some labor activism in the 1930s that had ever happened in our area and maybe the Indian Wars of the 18th century. After that it had been pretty quiet there. A great protest movement arose. When I was in town, I would organize on it and provide support.

Over the course of Ozark Summer, we also organized along with SEAC what we called the Grassroots National Action Festival. We had found that we could organize a conference and get a hundred or 200 people to come and then we could do a protest as part of that conference. Those were the biggest protests that we had because normally we get maybe 50 people to a protest, but if we had a conference with 200 people from out of town, suddenly we have a 250 person protest!

So we used that trick and got people to come in from all over the country. We got Earth First and Greenpeace, which never worked together, all together on this great coalition. We threw everything at them that we had. Before they reopened the plant – because we thought if they’re going to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to bring up this broken plant – if we could hit them with this grassroots protest, then maybe we could change that calculus and they would just abandon the whole thing and stop making all of this nuclear radiation and putting the Great Lakes at risk. The first day we did protests in Detroit and we chained people to the front doors of Detroit Edison’s headquarters including this guy who had paraplegia. It was just a great event.

Monroe is the hometown of General George Armstrong Custer. And we had this big statue of him on a horse that it’s in the central part of town in a big community gathering place. We covered him in yarn and we did this protest on reweaving the web of life. On the second day, we brought this woman activist from the Mescalero-Apache tribe where they were trying to site a high-level nuclear waste facility. Detroit Edison had been part of a consortium of these power plants. We’re able to bring this critical examination of this thing that was happening under-the-radar and we brought it and she was just this amazing, powerful presence and gave this great speech. It was this huge thing. There weren’t any or arrests although We had messed with the statue, they said. Claimed we had covered it with toilet paper. There was a lot of people in Monroe that have pride for Custer. That allowed us to highlight how he was a touchstone for militarism.

We had promised ourselves weeks ago that we were going to barricade the plant at two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. We had blocked the gates of the plant a number of times in probably seven or eight protests where people had gotten arrested using nonviolent civil disobedience. During a previous arrest I had really gotten injured by the police. We would set in front of the gates – there were two sets of gates – at the plant. Whichever gate had the least amount of people, they would arrest and pull those people out, drag them to police cars and arrest them and then re-open the gate.

They didn’t care if we blocked one gate, we just couldn’t block two gates. This was in case they needed one for their operations, a shift change and so forth. So they were expecting us to do that.

I joined in a blockade of the gates. Rather than drag me off and put me in a police car – I would go limp and non-cooperate. We had done nonviolence trainings and it was pretty standard – instead they decided to use pain compliance techniques to get me to move and obey. They put their thumb under my ear and they lifted me off the ground by having their thumb under my ear. When I touch it, it’s still tender now 30 years later. The police have nothing in their repertoire, when people tell them no, and when they say, you need to move now. I just said, “No, I can’t.” And so they stood me up and they had gotten me up and I realized I was on my feet and I was holding my own weight.

He was giving me this pain pressure technique and it hurts so bad and there were two of them. And then I just kicked my feet out. It was one of the braver things that I’d ever done. I was committed and I was not gonna move, even if they killed me. My cause was just. If they did, it would just bring attention to the issue. That is how you do nonviolent direct action: you’re so committed to your issue that you’re going to do whatever it takes. When they saw that, they just dragged me to the car and pushed me in. And that was that.

They expected that same because we had done that technique about seven times and they were lined up and had all the cops out. What we did instead is we had worked with a lot of folks from Earth First and we used a tactic from forest activism. Instead of going up to the gates where the police were posted up and waiting to drag us off and to paddy wagons, we tried another approach. We probably had 400 people camping. We probably had 500 to 1,000 people scattered all around. There was no great place to gather. People were all over. So we borrowed a school bus that these other more moderate anti-nuclear activists had. We didn’t tell them what we’re going to use it for.

We had cut three 30-foot trees and we put together these tripods, like you’re putting together a tipi. We chained activists at the top of the tripods and blocked the highway leading up to the plant’s gates. I was in the second group. So we dropped those people off and we set that up. We had practiced that and we could do it in a minute. Before the police got there, we had our activists chained and we had support people and the bus was rolling down the road because we didn’t want to get the bus seized seeing as how it was a borrowed bus. We also dropped off cement-filled barrels in which we handcuffed ourselves to rebar that we had ran through the center of the barrel. Our barrels would have been much stronger if we had had an extra $100 to buy stove pipe, but we couldn’t afford the stove pipe. They were able to get in with the bolt cutters into our arm holes. They didn’t have to blast through the cement to get to the handcuffs.

We were there so long that the police cars that they had left with all their lights going, well, their batteries had died. The police cars didn’t start.

We’ve created this mega traffic jam, which was part of our message. For the folks who live in the beaches area, that’s the only way to get out is the highway that runs by the plant. If there was any even a car accident than all those people would not be able to evacuated. We wanted to point out the problems with their evacuation plan by making this major traffic cluster and mission accomplished. That protest was off the hook.

Organizing constantly all through the summer had just worn me out. I was so relieved to be taken to jail. As people got to jail, they were macing and beating people. They had pushed over the tripods and maced the people when they hit the ground. There was a police riot and the police just started macing and grabbing people. My brother had a set of handcuffs in his backpack. We had organized by affinity groups. So we didn’t know what everybody was doing. So we knew about the tripods and the barrels, but there were other groups who had other plans. My brother was going to wait until they loaded up the first car with protestors and then handcuffed himself to the chassis of the police car, but he just got randomly maced and beaten, grabbed up, and then they were surprised to find the handcuffs, which was funny how we got our handcuffs. My friend Steve Merrick worked in a porn store. We bought porn store handcuffs because we got the employee discount. We had to do everything on the cheap. We organized this total fuck you protest with thousands of people from around the country for $2,000 or $3,000, including our cement filled barrels. It was amazing what we would do.

Sixteen of us ended up getting arrested. They arrested some media people. There was a Detroit news photographer who had got snatched up and beaten. When the police beat you, they charge you with assault. My friend Roger Prunty had gotten the hell whuped out of him and he came in and he was just all maced. I not just a squirt of mace in his face, but they’d shot it up his nose, down his throat and his ears. They had beat him with batons and it was all on tape. He was standing by the side of the road and they said, if you step one foot in the road, you’re going to be arrested. And he’s like, “Okay, I won’t.” And then the cop pulled back and just hit him with the stick and knocked him back on a ditch and six of them are swinging sticks at him. He was ended up getting convicted for because the police testified that when he said, “Okay, I won’t”, that spittle had come from his mouth and hit the police and that that was the assault. The whole time he’s laying in the fetal position and saying “I’m not resisting, I’m not resisting” while the police just beat him with clubs.

I had been really into the idea of direct action and I had been organizing bigger and bigger protests and I had plans to use the success of this protest to build other protests and build a protest movement. The whole purpose of SEAC was to take kid recycling club members and turn them into radical, direct action environmentalists. The threat to the environment seems like it’s an existential threat to our very survival. What we’re seeing now is with the climate change activists, a sense of urgency. It’s not like there’s this qualitative or quantitative difference, but that it’s been creeping on us and there has been these issues. We felt that passionately and we’re ready to do it by any means necessary.

But when I saw the results of it and doing all the court support for all the people who got arrested, who are from out of town, and you’d go to court with them and all of the, the grief and trouble and seeing Roger end up with an assault conviction, which could have affected his whole life outcome really made me question if that was the tactic that I wanted to invest in. I went on to do a few other direct action protests, but I really started to question whether that was a great tactic and whether I was believed in it.

Part of what Jesus did is he organized a mass movement against a corrupt religious and political state that didn’t take care of the poor and didn’t provide justice. This had become part of what I had felt had been my mission, that is, organizing this kind of movement and bring in this direct action movement that would restore some kind of participatory democracy and environmentally sustainable society that we were going to organize out of the ashes of the fallen state and that we were going to put ourselves on the line to stop the most egregious and threatening behavior until we could build that perfect world in the future. I questioned whether that was really the strategy that I was going to be able to do and would I be able to live with those consequences? I’m 24, 25 years old and I’m responsible for someone taking a serious beating. People could have been killed.

The next year some other activists organized a similar style protest event. I participated in that, but with less enthusiasm. I did it because I had gotten this thing started and I didn’t want them to do it on their own. I participated, but it didn’t have the passion and fire for it.

One other thing happened in that era. A farm family had reached out to John at Monroe County Community College River Raisen-SEAC about some wetlands that were under threat by a development project. We turned out a bunch of people for a couple of public meetings and we ended up saving these small wetlands. It was really the first success besides speaking truth to power and raising the cost to do things that we didn’t agree with, we had never really won anything.

When you have a radical agenda and you’re young and you’re not following the system, you get in late and you have don’t have an achievable end and you end up with less victories than you might. But we had that victory and that meant more than a lot of the other stuff. That informed my thinking.

I stopped working for the regional group and started to book my own trips because I realized that I was raising all of the money that my host groups would have to raise. They’re local, unpaid volunteers who had a cost and expense. I just decided that I could just book my own with other states and regions. I did trips to New York and I did a notable trip to Utah.

I had a month field organizing trip in the state of Utah. And when I got up there, I had one good contact at a school. I just worked the phones and identified contacts at other schools. We picked an issue, which was the Utah Wilderness Act. When they did the roadless and wild area act from which the wilderness areas were created, they did this study and looked at everywhere that was roadless and they identified it as preemptively wilderness and they put it under protection while they did more detailed studies and analysis and the political process in DC did its thing about about what would actually be named wilderness and protected forever.

In Utah, there were 20 million acres that have mostly red rock desert that had been identified as potential wilderness because of its lack of roads. There was a proposal on the table to preserve 4.5 of it as wilderness. Earth First said, “Let’s preserve all 20 million”. Sierra club said, “Let’s try to preserve 8 million.” There were adult groups working on it, but the students hadn’t been engaged. And so we engaged the students and we turned out, we generated hundreds and hundreds of postcards by moving around to all the college campuses in the state of Utah. And then we turned out several hundred people in Logan, Utah for a public meeting. And the Utah delegation flipped on it. They were supportive of it and then they opposed it and as a courtesy they wouldn’t pass things that only applied to that state without the support of the local delegation. It was defeated in that month. It was just great going from an idea to building, to jumping onto an existing campaign and then adding this incredible amount of organizing energy and and then having a victory.

The next year they passed a 5.7 million acre designation. There was a newspaper article where the Utah delegation referred to the number of postcards they had received and the number of people that had turned out at this public meeting that I had packed. That was kind of my second taste of victory. I realized that maybe there is something that can be done in electoral politics that has real consequence. Maybe it is more than just direct action and maybe it’s best to engage when you have the chance of actually changing and making some real wins on the ground instead of just speaking truth to power.

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter VI: Hitchhiking

Mike Trapp

Activism really kind of came to increasingly dominate my life in that time. I still worked at Pineview, the psychiatric unit, and I was a full time grad student, so I had kind of these three full-time lives and I’ve had.

I’ve had what was identified as cluster headaches. I would get these clusters of migraines. When I first moved to Rossford when I was 19 or 20, I had my first bad set of them. It works in a pattern where I have a migraine a month later and a migraine, two weeks later I have a migraine and week later I have a migraine. And then, a little bit down the road, I’m having migraines the entire time that I’m awake.

The first time I had them I didn’t know it was going to go away. The migraines quickly degraded the quality of my life to the point that I actually got suicidal. I had such low quality of life. They went away and and when the next cluster came, the doctor started to identify as cluster headaches. Knowing it would pass made it all much easier to deal with. I realized that working midnights, a lack of sleep from moving to the midnight shift while going to grad school resulted in me not getting a lot of sleep. I was really pushed. When I got my first migraine, I put in notice at my job, dropped a class and really started to downshift my life.

I also made some hard decisions about my car when I got my bachelor’s degree. I had never really even had a nice car, but I got a nice used car, a LeBaron convertible that had been a dream of mine to have a rag top like my dad’s ’63 Ford Falcon that we watch moulder in the garage. We used to play in it when we were kids.

I calculated how much I spent on car payments, insurance maintenance and gas. I realized I was spending about $9,000 a year. At the time I was making about $20,000. I realized that I could have the exact same lifestyle and make $9,000 less if I didn’t drive. So I sold my car and paid it off because I still owed some money on it. I still had a lump sum and I had also saved a little bit of money. My brother John had been working at a donut shop and got laid off and was collecting unemployment.

I had this pile of money and John had some money coming in. We decided that after my second year of grad school that we would take a summer and go hitchhiking around the country and we thought our goal would be that we would hitchhike out to the Arizona desert and do peyote. We set out.

John had hitchhiked some and I had done one hitchhiking trip in preparation, but I had just got picked up by a friend of the person who I was hitchhiking with and I ended up spending the long weekend with her, so I hadn’t really had a real hitching experience.  It was cool to like live out of the backpack and set off. We went to Chicago where we were supposed to meet up with someone who was going to give us a ride to Colorado, but we got to Chicago much quicker than we anticipated and it’s expensive town. So we left Chicago and went to a little town that had camping that was kind of west of Chicago where we hoped we would still be able to hook up with our ride. We camped in Morrisville and met some local drunks and got no jobs, tearing down carnival rides and just kind of embraced the whole experience living in the campground, cooking our food.

Neither of us had had a big camping experience. We both spent time in the truck and slept outside a lot, but the campfires and the tent. We had a department store tent. I don’t think I had a sleeping bag because it was summertime and we were planning on going into the Southwest.

We ended up missing our ride and, and just started hitchhiking. John sprained his ankle and we spent an extra week in Crystal Springs, Iowa near Iowa City and camped by a reservoir and hitchhiked to Iowa City for the college town culture. I was meeting all of the crazy characters and coming up with a catalog of hitchhiking stories that I still break out. It self selects on who picks you up hitchhiking: almost exclusively people who are really nice. This was the early nineties, and there wasn’t a big hitchhiking scene. There was some kind of counter-cultural folks who were still hitchhiking. It was before you could get on Craigslist and arrange rides. There was still a little bit of remnant hitchhiking culture and I think in like kind of the anarchist and the gutter punk scene, there was more train hopping.

We met some folks who told us about a Rainbow Gathering in Colorado in the Four Corners area. We decided that that sounded like us. It was an Iowa and there were these folks who just lived as transients and they would say it in the same campground as us and living on the nickel bottle deposit law that they have in Iowa. And they were going to drift out that way. So we set out towards Colorado and had bunch of adventures too many to recount. (That would be a worthy project in itself to this lay down hitchhiking stories. Although a couple come to mind, I know we had a heck of a time getting through Nebraska who’s real strict about keeping you off the highway. They had all these signs with phones and slashes through it back then. I just went through Nebraska now. And it didn’t seem like it looks like they’ve kind of lowered that vibe I think, cause you just don’t see a checkers anymore since Craigslist kind of took away the need.)

We walked the last three miles, so out in Nebraska and got to this bridge in Colorado and slept. Then the next morning, we got picked up by this guy who was, it was before the militia movement, but he was kinda like a proto-militia guy. He didn’t have a driver’s license and didn’t believe in licensing his car. He had these great stories about getting pulled over by the police and widen up their tickets and throwing it back in the chest and he didn’t pay his taxes. He was driving to Denver to go to federal court because he had a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department for coming on his land with the bank when they tried to foreclose it. He’s just a total character. And we had a good time with him. He wanted to take us to some strip bars after he did his court stuff, but we didn’t want to get stuck in Denver overnight. Cities are expensive and kind of weird places to camp. We had them drop us off at an exit. When we were at the exit, we wanted to leave at, there was this big bearded guy who had a a beach umbrella and a gallon of vodka. He invited us to join up with him, but we thought three of us being being drunk wouldn’t have it not be helpful. So we went and got some Mexican food. We came back and he had gotten a ride. We got rides and we got dropped off. We had kind of a rough idea where the Rainbow Gathering is. We got dropped off at this exit and there were like five or six other hitchhikers there, including the vodka guy. The vodka was all gone by now.

We knew there was no way you’re going to get people rides for that many people who are hustling rides. Everybody was at the exit. We had heard that there were these gold mines, so we hiked off into the woods looking for an abandoned gold mine that tried to sleep in, but we didn’t find any so we just camped on a hillside, I think in someone’s yard. Their dog came out and was messing with us. We got up real early and left.

We ultimately made it to the Rainbow Gathering thanks to a ride with these two drunken guys. They were real rural, redneck types. They knew where the Rainbow Gathering and were thinking about going. They took us on this ride. First they had to stop at this bar because they were going to try to score some cocaine for the trip, which from our understanding wasn’t really the vibe of the rainbow gathering, but that was their plan. They ended up not having any luck, which is just as well. And but they took us right to the Rainbow Gathering and we parted ways because we thought these fellows were going to be trouble. They got us to where we were going. The Rainbow Gathering was everything we imagined. It was like 20,000 hippies building a city in the middle of nowhere in the National Forest. It was at 14,000 feet, a place that only had 14 frost free days a year. We were ill-prepared without a lot of warm clothes or blankets, but there were these Baptist missionaries that were giving out blankets. We were able to get some extra blankets. They were not getting a lot of love from the pagan types but we appreciated the Baptists showing up and showing people how to take care of each other.

So, Rainbow Gatherings, how they work, if you’re not familiar with it is organized around kitchens where a group of volunteers from a certain area have a name and they put together meals and they bring food and then people who are going to eat, help out by hauling firewood or carrying water or helping clean up or doing prep cook work or whatever. You just make yourself useful and you get fed. They might have a tip jar and they might not.

We just had a great time. We got there early because there’s need for a setup crew. The Gathering builds slowly. The big event is for the week of 4th of July. There’s a line that gathered in this Valley and it was probably four or 5,000 people and you stand and you stand in a big circle and hold hands and have an hour of silence for world peace at noon and it’s kind of a beautiful thing. At one o’clock, everybody charges in and then hundreds of drums get broken out and becomes this big drum circle. So John had some altitude sickness, and after the after the holding of hands and humming for world peace, he went back to his tent and I was going around and people were drumming. Some people were going around with bags of psychedelic mushrooms, like grocery bags, just handing out a handful of people, but only to drummers. And I didn’t have a drum and I know rhythm and I don’t know what I would’ve done with one if I had one.

They passed me by, but there was this Samoan and they filled his big hands with mushrooms. He gave me half of his handful, as he didn’t have any pockets on his sarong. I ate those mushrooms on an empty stomach at 14,000 feet. I stayed and danced for about four hours. The music was flowing through us and we were chanting and they were like just hundreds of naked people and just dancing pretty fanatically.

I had really my first kind of non-Christian religious experience that was as powerful as the times that I had found that Jesus spoke to me or spoke to my heart or that I was felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I felt like there was the spirit and I was dancing with this spirit. And it was was felt like a spirit of a woman who was just brokenhearted. And then the dancing provided this kind of release and it was powerful and real. And that really made a basic challenge to my belief systems because I had gotten very diverse in my thinking, but I still held this kind of core that was pretty much Christian based. And then started to accept that there were ideas that were right for other people. And then I was incorporating good ideas from other places that were in alignment with kind of my Christian faith.

I had this kind of overtly powerful the cosmic experience with the spirit that had nothing to do with that kind of construct or reality base. It was just as real as anything else that I’d had. As I assimilated that, I stopped calling myself a Christian or a Christian Taoist. Realizing that each of these kinds of belief systems and this is more of a kind of traditional pagan seeing spirits and everything kind of experience or some spirit of the ancestors. I was out almost animist if I was trying to categorize it. I just started calling myself multi-construct because there are some times that I want to use certain different concepts and ways. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about God being in everything. Sometimes it’s very helpful to think that there is only the material universe that answers to natural laws. And sometimes it’s helpful to think that that an all powerful God or the universe and I have a personal relationship and  unable to communicate with that for support or encouragement, or mostly gratitude.

Also in living in my prayer life. I still don’t bow my knee to anything less than the guy who made the universe. But open to the idea that expresses itself in lots of different ways and that I’m open to having experiences and it’s like: do you know who are you with and what are you doing? When you get into psychedelics, you could say, okay, this was a drug experience, but I’ve read a lot of Timothy Leary and I think this theory holds true from my personal scientific experience and reading the clinical literature and talking to other people is that psychedelic experiences are fundamentally set by your mindset, by your environment, and then, and only then, the drug and the dose of drug. Some of my most intense psychedelic experiences have been through things like sleep deprivation and meditation.

That kind of confirmed that I was on this different path of, I was open to different States of consciousness and, and look to how to get there. And, and one thing that I had learned the reading my stuff and in what I would call the Western esoteric tradition, you know, this kind of Robert Anton Wilson, Aliester Croley, lots of other kinds of bases that looks at lots of different belief systems and looks at how to pull that out into practical spiritual reality of reality construction and personal power to implement positive change in the world is that there are a lot of ways to get there. And when you are using substances to achieve different States of Consciousness, to be aware and, and take a piece of this to observe and note and then looking at other times in life to find feeling States that are similar and to be able to cultivate and grow those and to learn the lessons that you need from them without the use of the drugs.

I have never been musical. I am tone deaf. My mom was tone deaf. My brothers and sisters are tone deaf. My dad was the only musical one of us in the family, he just didn’t want to participate with us because we were all so bad at it. Listening to bands, I could never separate out the individual instruments until I was at a concert in Columbus, Ohio and I had taken some LSD and I was like: There’s the lead guitar. There’s the bass guitar, I was able to pick out the individual instruments and hear them each on their own. That’s something that I’ve been able to do ever since. It provided this kind of organizational understanding of breakthrough or what I think Robert Anton Wilson called these reality tracks and when we use psychedelics or have spiritual experiences, then we remove those tracks and we’re able to lay down new kind of neural pathways and develop new ways of organizing ourselves and identifying who we are and how we operate in this amazing universe.

It was a powerful experience. We’re doing psychedelics every day. You couldn’t hitchhike out of there because out of the 20,000 people who were there, probably 5,000 of them hitchhiked there and were leaving at the same time. There is this hippie bus tour line that called Green Tortoise bus lines and they were coming back from a charter and they’d picked up some hitchhikers and they had detoured to the Rainbow Gathering without permission and they just parked under some trees to hide from the GPS and spend a weekend at the gathering. And then they realized that they would like to keep their jobs when they got back. So they sold some low price tickets to pay for the gas for going out of their way. So we got a $50 ticket and arrived to San Francisco. And it was just fun because it was a busload of folks from the Rainbow Gathering. And as we left the Gathering, we all started to shed our hippie personalities where everybody was like, ‘Hey bro, Hey sister’ and all that kind of Rainbow language and we realized that some people were punks and some people were whatever. We dropped people off along the route and the remains of us made it to San Francisco. Then, a smaller remnant of us got a hotel together in San Francisco. We were all off the chain at this point, kind of living under our own rules and being young and tripping every day for weeks. Then, add a bunch of alcohol to that in San Francisco.

John and I came to blows over something dumb. I just drunkenly grabbed him to pull him along when he wanted to call it a night and go back and he punched me in the face and we were throwing knuckle. It was really kind of the last brawl that we ever had. We fought a lot as kids. It had been a while as we grew up. We got pulled apart by these folks from New Jersey. I just decided that I was just going to hitchhike home on my own. I left early that morning, packed my stuff and I’m like, “I’ll see you.” I started to hitchhike out. I got a ride across the Bay over to Berkeley and stalled out and couldn’t get a ride and I was there for a number of hours. And then lo-and-behold, John got dropped off at the same accident that I was at. Since we were stuck together we decided to hitchhike together and see what happened. We shook hands and apologized. This guy Glen picked us up. We were at this this gay pickup park and he didn’t think we were ever gonna be able to get a ride.

And he invited us back to his place and Napa and for a long weekend. And he had done a bunch of hitchhiking in his misspent youth and caught a shrimp boat to Japan and stayed at a Buddhist monastery for a few years. And, and he was a really cool guy and his wife was really neat. She was a nursing home administrator and they had this beautiful home in Napa. He called her and said, “Honey, I’m bringing home a couple of hitchhikers.” The night before we were drinking 40-ouncers with this homeless guy, Cowboy on the streets of San Francisco. The next night we show up and she had thrown this cocktail party. We ended up becoming pretty good friends with Glen and Linda. John went back and house-sat for them where they went to Hawaii and when we moved back to the Bay area, we hung out with Glen and Linda a lot became lifelong friends. That’s kind of one of the neater hitchhike stories.

We decided we had had enough of each other with 24 hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks. So we just hitchhiked. We hitchhiked back immediately.

 

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Key Best Practices in the Shelter or Safe Place to Camp for Everyone who wants it Movement

I wrote this quickly before our CAR Camp press conference. Didn’t capture them all. Noted omission is utilizing Peer Navigators from the houseless community largely based on the wildly successful Community Health Worker programs for the Latinx community. Someone with respect in the community and an 8th grade education is more effective then folks with college degrees. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

 

Key Best Practices in the Shelter or Safe Place to Camp for Everyone who wants it Movement
as identified by Mike Trapp, MA, CCDP

Self Help/Mutual Aid: In the recovery community self-help programs help far more individuals and families then treatment and mental health providers without professional staff and minimal bureaucratic oversight. Instead oversight is provided by an engaged community and personal relationships. Our services to this point have been Self Help services project managed through an LLC; AAAAChange (pronounced 4-A-Change)

Radical Nonjudgement: Refined in 4-A-Change’s wildly successful street outreach program focusing on individuals who are homeless or panhandling in downtown Columbia our Crisis Shelter, Safe Camp and now Car Camp has shown the value of meeting people where they are at without preconditions and collaborating on how to advance the participant’s own goals which also enhances the larger community. It builds on Unconditional Positive Regard from Humanistic Psychology (Carl Rogers) but makes explicit individuals inalienable rights to autonomy.

No Barrier to Entry Approach: A simple COVID screening and agreement to adhere to reasonable project guidelines is all that is required for services. No intrusive questioning, paperwork or screening criteria are used to allow individuals maximum privacy and minimal hassle to engage in programming. The community is structured for safety with lots of “eyes on the street” and a positive peer culture with social correction according to the emergent EMTC model.

Programming is organized around individuals with multiple problems as the expected norm: Everyone who comes into contact with our programming is expected to have a trauma history, substance use disorder, mental health condition and/or personality disorder, physical disability and/or chronic untreated health issues, criminal justice involvement, and nicotine use. Individuals are also expected to have little resources, many barriers to achieve services and a fractured to nonexistent network of support.

Strengths Base not Deficit Based: individuals and families who are homeless are proven survivors with great potential for self-efficacy and positive change. The key is listening, rolling with resistance and supporting any positive steps forward no matter how small. Recovery behavior, speech and attitudes are expected, promulgated and quickly rewarded. Identifying an individual’s Last Period of Baseline Stability (Tell me about a time you did well…) is used to identify what success looks like for this individual.

Solution Focused: Identification of a person’s happy life goal is used to motivate towards immediate positive change. The Miracle Question has been stripped down to: “If you could be doing anything, what would you be doing?” and then stepped into goals and action steps that are supported and encouraged.

Critical Time Intervention: Services are provided as available to meet critical needs when crisis opens people up to the change process. Front loading services and supports for those on the move toward a better life replaces the episodic and periodic template-based services of traditional social services.

We are not a charity. We are not yet a social service agency. We are definitely not the government. We are a group of flawed and struggling individuals with lived experience working in solidarity with our unsheltered neighbors to build a Grassroots Recovery Oriented System of Care in Columbia and to ensure a more just and sustainable world.

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EXTREMELY MODIFIED THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY

Doing 3 pop up social service projects in 3 weeks to address the Corona Virus and related economic disruption on our unsheltered neighbors has led us to document our model and refine best practices to meet our no barrier to entry non coercive interventions. Here is one I am proud of and has shown good promise. I fixed my autocorrect errors and added more detail then the first version.

 

EMTC (Empty See)

EXTREMELY MODIFIED THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY

EMTC is a brand-new best practice to manage Pop Up Crisis Shelters and Safe Camps effectively, efficiently and with maximum impact to combat the intense disruption of the COCVID-19 pandemic and related economic disruption on individuals and families with multiple barriers. Therapeutic Communities were created for institutional treatment programs in corrections settings. Their key element is The Community is the Method of Change. Other useful aspects include the use of peer leadership, a phased approach of growth and development with clear markers of advancement and social correction. In our EMTC our levels are Guest, Volunteer Resident, and Staff in Shelter Settings and in Camp settings: Refugee, Camper, Volunteer & Staff (Campground House, Camp Counselor, Artist in Residence & Super Volunteers).

Social Correction – When an individual engages in words or behavior that is not helpful or in line with program objections other members of the group say: “Out of Care and Concern…” and add the constructive feedback. Recipients of the feedback are not allowed to defend themselves or argue but must simply say: “Thank you for the social awareness”, absorb the feedback as best they can and try to do better.

Downside – In a coercive prison system many former participants have a negative view of the model. At CoMoCrisisCenter.Com we will refer to our model as EMTC with the above mnemonic to highlight we are not supporting residency in the shelter but as a Center to address barriers and issues, with collaborative guidance to develop a plan to manage their issues and move quickly to self-sufficiency.

MTC – Another downside is individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders do not benefit from the TC approach and substance use disorders and mental health issues are almost always co-occurring. MTC addresses some of the deficiencies in the model by eliminating harsh confrontation and replacing it with carefrontration. Reducing the length of groups but still maintaining a mandatory structured schedule of education and counseling. The key element remains: The Community is the Method of Change.

EMTC – was developed on day 8 of community spread in CoMo to refine the organic processes developed on the fly for the Pop Up Shelter imbedded within a social safety net extended stay hotel which already housed many at risk individuals, the working poor, homeless and near homeless folks, recently released ex-offenders and individuals in active substance use that makes up the clientele of whichever is the lowest price hotel in a community.

EMTC highlights The Community is the Method of Change approach but is entirely voluntary and self-directed. There are no barriers to entry because of the critical need to access handwashing and disease management education to control the spread of the novel Corona virus. With a no barrier to entry approach immediate expulsion for placing the group at risk is critical. No permanent bans are appropriate as even the most problematic individuals and families need an opportunity to access the bare necessities of life and hygiene.

EMTC work through engaging individuals upfront and having as few rules as possible. All of those rules are posted, and the first step is orientation to those rules and winning a commitment to follow those rules or face immediate expulsion from the community. After a night out returnees are welcomed as new potential Guests or Refugees based on the community’s ability to take on new participants.

Learning social distancing, strict sanitation of surfaces, hand washing, and social distance is a challenge for everyone. Having a strong social awareness model is key to ensuring safe behavior and the community enforces its own norms and rules about maintaining a safe environment and managing scarce resources in a pandemic environment.

The Community is the Method of Change is key to modeling. Professional Leadership, Staff and Super Volunteers lead from the front engaging in all of the basic tasks like sanitizing portapotties and “show not tell” program participants how to engage in the community well. Everyone is open to feedback; everyone provides feedback to others.

The most extreme modification is the lack of a strict schedule. To be truly no barrier to entry participants must come to the program voluntarily and engage without any aspect of coercion. Individuals are their own best expert on what they need and what their schedule should be. As time and resources allow participants are encouraged but not required to address their issues with case management and other supports provided as available. The phased approach allows for a reward for proactive efforts to facilitate the project and gives everyone, regardless of their ability to help out and be a part of a productive community.

Circles replace group activities. Circles are socially distant small groups who sit or stand in a circle. Can be used for teaching, leadership development, mutual aid endeavors, and counseling for those with credentials and abilities to lead those. Recovery circles can function in a similar matter as AA, NA, etc. but with less structure in shorter durations based on the needs and abilities of those present.

The end goal is enhanced capacity, individual and family stability, community safety, permanent housing for those who wish it and individuals pursuing wellness and their own Happy Life Goals with encouragement and resources as available.

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter V: The Second Change

When I graduated from high school I was not socially ready for college.

Mike Pull yourself together man

I had fantasies about going to Olivette Nazarene College, which was where a lot of my friends from church went. If I would was going into the ministry, go to a Nazarene College would’ve been a good thing to do, but that just didn’t seem possible. And so I went to Monroe County Community College, which we used to call 13th grade. I knew some people from high school who went there. My friend Matt, with whom I had gone to Jackman Road Elementary. Then he moved Ida and we were together for sixth through ninth grade. And then we were friends at community college. So it was nice to reunite with a kid friend.

I got more socially active. I got involved with theater. I had been doing that in my church and I took a theater class. The former head of the Theater Department from Texas A&M, his mom lived in Monroe and so he moved there to take care of her in the end. So I had this world-class theater education at our tiny little country community college. I also had a great creative writing class that drew out my interest in writing. I had a trio of great sociology classes with Stan Davis. He had been a Beat and from Monroe. It was great to have this really counter-cultural guy who had these great stories about the jazz scene in 1950s New York.

Sociology is radical. I was prime for that because of my political orientation. In Sociology 101 he threw this idea out – ethnocentrism- that everybody in their own culture thinks that their language and culture and religion is the correct and true one and everybody else’s is alien and suspect. That blew my mind because I did a thought experiment and wondered about that I had found this state of forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation in a very Christian country. Even though my family wasn’t in the church, I had early and frequent exposure to it. What if I’d been born in Bangalore and I had been raised a Hindu? What were the odds of me hearing even the slightest aspect of the Christian message? There’s just been a lot less of that and there was a fundamental lack of justice that seemed incompatible with any kind of loving God.

That was the second time that I really re-thought my orientation in life. I really had to give up the religious fundamentalist idea and this idea of the Great Commission that our mission is to share the Christian message with everybody on the globe and bring everybody into Christianity. Then, what does that mean? There were big implications of that. I knew that I had had these powerful religious experiences that were realer than real and that had changed my life because I was a very different than who I would have bet at had I not had those experiences and been exposed to those ideas. I knew it was real. I came to the idea that maybe it’s the Trinity at least, and that the whole Christian doctrine was misguided.

I started to question whether the Bible even existed. It seemed to be a series of books by authors with particular points of view. And then they weren’t consistent and they certainly weren’t through time. All of those things had value. And what had the most value to me with those red words of Jesus. I read them all and they were not incompatible. He had nothing to say about Christianity. It had come um, later. And he had a lot of things to say about loving people and doing good and little about judging people in other countries and having some weird grand plan. There was this Great Commission. But what he actually said is go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit.

So it was this really select thing. He didn’t say “Go and share a message.” I got into this Jesus Institute where instead of taking the red letters of Jesus, they put the red letters of Jesus, of the things that had the most historical veracity. And you looked at the origins of the gospels and Mark was the oldest book and stuff that came later and John came much later. And that’s all the kind of cosmic and weird stuff. And the Great Commission stuff is all in the there. So there’s the, the red, which is like, Jesus probably said it and it matches his core message. There’s the pink, which is, Jesus might’ve said it, but somebody else said it before him. And it’s a common thing to attribute cool things to the coolest person.

It also matched this core message gray was there some historical veracity, but not enough proof to say that he really set it. It might fit the later church. Black goes against his core message. It has an obvious a later source. All of that great commission stuff was in the black. And, but then I thought, well, even if it is, the whole idea of discipleship is about small group accountability and doing a method of change. That is not incompatible with any spiritual system. Most of the religions have a Godhead. And that means something. And the ones that don’t, like Buddhism and Taoism are more about sciences of life. And so I started to think, well, maybe God is not just the Trinity, but maybe God is also an impersonal force that some people call Brahman. And maybe God is Allah and maybe God is the universe if you don’t believe in anything.

Another thing happened kind of at this kind of questioning point in politics is I’m still into comic books. I’m reading a lot of them. I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m buying a lot of used comics and, but I happened to buy a new one cause it caught my eye, was on a trip with my dad and I was at some store and I grabbed this Illuminatus #3 that was based on the book, the Illuminata and I just loved that it was on conspiracy theories and high weirdness and it had some real cosmic things. And so I had dug in and found the Illuminatus trilogy. And then I read everything that Robert Anton Wilson wrote.

And he had this, this book called the cosmic trigger that talked about his kind of spiritual awakening as coming out of a typical Christian regular life and into this experience of psychedelia and the Green Man. One of the things he points out and through his books is that this idea that everything is true, everything is false and everything is meaningless. Spirituality and religion and mythology and politics and medicine and literature, these are all constructs or reality tunnels or ways of viewing the world that created things that we mistake and that the realness, no, we don’t directly experience that. That’s this other thing. And that all constructs are like maps of the universe. And because the universe is so big, you lose information through scale and every religion, every belief system from atheist to Agnostics to Buddhist Christians, to doctors and lawyers and mechanics and sailors, from men and women and Americans and Somalis. People have no tribe and stone age people who don’t know that anybody exists outside of their valley. Those are all constructs. And in some sense they’re true. They reveal things that are useful and are accurate about the nature of the universe, but they’re also things that are lies.

He it also turned me onto Aleister Crowley, who wrote a lot of weird stuff that’s not worth reading, but he also wrote some interesting things, too. And one of his books, he called The Book of Lies. Every way of describing a thing necessarily simplifies and warps that it is inherently untrue. So, you can’t see anything that’s true. So this idea that everything is true and everything is false and everything is meaningless, because if you use it the wrong words or you have this miscommunication, and I’m a people watcher and I started to see it happen when people have two different conversations and being fundamentally confused and I enjoyed it.

I would often be sardonic and weird and say non-sequitors or things that meant something to me. And I hear them and what other people are saying. And I have parallel conversations and choose to interpret thing how I wanted to. And so I was intrigued by all of these ideas, but I also have still this idea of trying to be like Jesus and trying to be a good person. I kept that and I realized that it’s true for me. I ended up reading William James and his argument for religious experience. When I took this philosophy and religion class and they looked at all of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God they seem to just kind of circular and phony and based on a-priori assumptions that could be challenged. William James, his argument that I know that God is real because I met him. It doesn’t mean anything to you, but it means something to me.

That’s enough that I can organize my life around, but not that I can go out and get all evangelical about. So that I became that. I was still looking to be a disciple and offer discipleship depending on who I’m at. I got into this idea of high weirdness and being a random force for good.

How did I have money to buy books and do these things? I had never worked, because I was socially awkward. I had a job as a bag boy when I was a little kid. We used to go shopping at Francis Foods and my mom would buy me a comic book for just going to the grocery store with her and I’d get to pick out the cereal. That was a big deal for me.

I would see the bag boys and they were kids who had jobs and had cars and they looked really cool. I remember telling my mom that I wanted to be a bag boy when I grew up. And she said, “Well, you can’t be a bag boy because they only hire Lutherans. And we’re not”. The guy who owned Francis Foods only hires people from their church. All these, good looking Lutheran kids.

I had a chance to be a bag boy at Food Town in Monroe, Michigan. And I found it was not all the glamour that I had thought it was. I was an anxious young man and socially awkward. I had trouble like looking busy. I liked serving customers and packing groceries, but when no one was around, well, as they say, “If you’ve got time to lean, you got time to clean.” Also, nobody ever really taught me what the jobs were. I was too weird and shy to ask “Hey, what should I be doing?” I kind of failed at it and got fired.

I graduated high school in 1986 and Michigan’s economy was really down and there just weren’t a lot of jobs. My sister Brenda had been working in group homes and she got me a job at this place called Independence House. One of the things that Ronald Reagan did that he takes a lot of flack for because it’s contributed to our homeless problem and part of our mass incarceration problem is he did de-institutionalization. That was where they closed the state hospitals suddenly. In Michigan, which was fairly resourced for social services, they did group homes to step down people who had been in mental institutions but could probably live in the community.

Because my grandma had schizophrenia, I had spent a lot of time with her. We were there in the house and I would have to look after her when my mom worked. That’s another reason that I didn’t do a lot of work before Independence House. (I did have an ice cream route where I rode a bike around and sold ice cream for a summer. That’s met my best friend Chad Osborne with whom I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons over the years and have had a lot of adventures.)

I got this job at Independence House and there were six people with severe mental illness there. There was Mary Allen who thought she was Mary, the mother of God. There was this younger guy, Andy, who just seemed awkward and weird. There was a blind guy who had hallucinations. This was before the typical anti-psychotics had really come online. And so there were just a lot more people who were a lot more symptomatic.

I had amazing life experiences working with people who had mental illnesses. And I got really intrigued with it and I learned everything I could and I would read about their diagnoses and I would look up all of the medicines that they were on, on the physician’s desk reference that we had in the office. I would pore over their charts looking at what their behavior goals were. And even though I was just a line staff – part-time – I really brought this initiative to learn what their deal was and try to understand them.

In the second semester in Monroe County Community College, I had a Personality and Adjustment class with Dr. Miller where I learned this thing called active listening and active and reflective listening as a specific thing. If you don’t know it, do a quick Google search and you’ll see five or six bullet points. If you just do that consistently, that was all that Dr. Miller explained, look people in the eye, reflect back their content and their feelings and listen with total attention.

The only tool that I had when I would work with these people who would come and be an active hallucination or were suicidal or would these, and I’m a 19 year old, socially awkward, weird kid with one tool in my toolbox, active listening, which turns out to be like, if you’re only gonna know one thing, that’s the thing. And so I got better at it. And the thing that you do when you when you active listen, it grows your empathy and when you read stories it grows your empathy.

I had this process where I didn’t have any people and where everyone was an alien to me and I lived in my own world and every kid has that narcissist dilemma where you think you are the universe. I also had that challenge very early on with the death of my brother and, and being kind of obsessive about about spiritual things. Then adding this growing empathy and starting to understand. I got jobs at other group homes. There was one called McComb House where people who had both developmental disabilities and mental illness. That was a more challenging population because they weren’t as verbal. Then, I got this job at Lewis House, which was just for people who had developmental disabilities, a lot of people with Downs Syndrome and folks in kind of that, that 50 to 70 IQ range, maybe as low as 35.

They were interesting. I’m country truck driver’s son, and, and he read the newspaper and had a lot of written vocabulary, but I’d used a lot of big words and tried to, to cover up that, that shame about just being pouring out of place with being overcompensating, with being smart. That didn’t fly with people with a IQ 50, you know, they’re in that simple like two or 300 words, but you can convey all kinds of things. And so very quickly I learned a stripped down my language and, and get down to that core. I add a communications class and I learned it’s not just what you want to communicate, it’s what the person is able to receive. And I had these great folks to practice that skill with and I got really good at even the, the nonverbal guy Mark, I could understand. He called me Bob. He called everybody Bob. I learned how to choose my words carefully and that was really helpful.

I remember being a kid and we’d get down in the deep South and I would be baffled by accents or the Northeast and a waitress would come up and say stuff and it was like she was speaking Chinese. I couldn’t even pick out one word to know how to answer. My dad would tell me what she’d said. I got better at picking up accents and I got this great kind of skillset where I learned to simplify my language and choose my words based upon who I was talking to. Philosophically, I’d learned that I’m not a singular thing, but I’m this emergent organization of smaller sub-constructs based in my culture. So are you. If I want to talk to you, then I can choose our shared common language and cultural themes and motifs. Then, I might try to interject one new thing if to make it interesting.

I learned about the Quaker belief that we all have a light of the truth and our job in the universe is to share our light and pick up other people’s pieces of light. We both shine brighter. I had these powerful relationships with very simple people in whom saw a joy in a Christ’s likeness that I didn’t see in regular people who seemed obsessed about jobs and family and going place-to-place and buying crap and taking out the trash and being mad at each other and not communicating very well. I also didn’t see them as alien, but I saw that we shared this common humanity, but that they didn’t understand some piece of the truth or they had a malicious construct is what I started to think of as demons, these bad ideas that self-replicate and worm into our minds and lead us into doing things like destroying the planet and not having any friends and being a jerk.

I started to embrace all of the stuff. And I also learned the scientific method. It was funny, in my first semester of my freshman year, I had it in an anatomy and physiology (it was so damn hard), but I also had sociology and psychology. We learned the scientific method, too. I had already known it but it just drilled it in and got me thinking. I learned the idea of being a personal scientist. And I started to apply it and I started to do that at work. I started to implement my own behavior goals and I started to try to do more stuff because I was with the clients all day and I could sit around and watch TV or, or yak at my coworker. I did some of that.

Other times I engaged with the clients and did stuff and understood them. I brought this guy Eddie who had cerebral palsy and was hard to understand, home for Thanksgiving. And he got to know my family. And became part of the family. I didn’t have a car, you know, I rode my bike everywhere and got into biking.

I had always biked because we were country kids. We lived on a busy road and my brother Bob had gotten hit once so that informed my mom’s view of whether we could ride and where. We lived on Highway 151, a state highway, and then Lewis Avenue, which is a former state highway, but another busy country road with no shoulders.

When we lived in town, I could bike around more. I took a bicycle to class and started to ride a lot and bought a new bike. Since I got that job at Independence House, I started to get paychecks. I had never had money. I was used to not living with anything. I’d also learned about environmentalism and how that related to consumerism. I just didn’t want to buy stuff, didn’t want to have a car, rode my bike. I also rode the bus and on the bus were people with developmental disabilities and many of them I knew.  I subbed and worked multiple jobs and I kind of knew everybody in that community and we’d be riding around on the bus and I’d be riding my bike and I had my handful of friends and we’re playing Dungeons and Dragons and doing theater and it was a really good life.

At Monroe County Community College, I picked Psychology as my first major, changed to Theater in the second semester when I fell in love with the theater. Then, I changed it back to Psychology because I’m working in group homes. I’m thinking about a career and then I fall in love with Sociology. I still ended up getting my Associates in Psychology. I was maybe 19 or 20 when I started at Lewis House and there was just really cute 25 year old Kelly Perkins and she was a vegetarian too. Oh my God! I just fell in love with her, thought she was wonderful. She thought I was a funny and a dork and teased me a lot.

We ended up getting an apartment together and I decided to go to the University of Toledo because that’s where she went. We got an apartment in Rossford, Ohio. I ended up getting a car cause um, when I had a full time job in Temperance it was like 15 miles away on country roads and I would ride that. But I knew that I’d need a car to be able to do it. That summer when I wrote bicycles, I lost 40 pounds. I was like 280 pounds when I graduated high school. I always had kind an eating problem. You know, my dad and my brother and I, we eat a lot of restaurant food and traveling and I think they both have celiac disease cause we’d all eat the same. And I was the only one who was fat and they were both skinny as a rail. I hadn’t talked about this in my story, but that was part of my shame of just being. It feeds on itself because you don’t feel good about yourself so you eat more.

I lost this 40 pounds on like a 6,000 calorie a day diet cause I rode my bike like 150 miles a week and just rode all over. I got a car and I didn’t bike as much, but I had a beater: my 1976 Ford Torino. And I bought for like $350 and it would break down and then I would like have to save up a couple paychecks to get it fixed. And so I’d ride my bike either from Monroe and I lived in Monroe or Rossford, which would be a 15 or a 20 mile ride. I managed to graduate at the University of Toledo and get a bachelor’s in sociology because I didn’t like the experimental psychology professor who I thought was a jerk to me once.

And I also had some anxiety about using computers. Of course, I walked in this class where they were teaching computers. I just walked out and went down and dropped it. I had some anxiety about just machines in general. I graduated and I got a job at a psychiatric unit. I wanted to make more money than I did at the group homes. I had one class that was really helpful. Through the education department I learned about behavioralism. Our psychology department didn’t like behavioralists and that was really helpful for people with developmental disabilities. That’s when I really started to write my own programmatic goals and implement my own behavior modification programs.

I taught a guy not to stand too close while you talk, just through redirection and praise him when he was at the right limit. It was significant for him because he had been really annoying. He had bad breath and people hated him because he would stand right on you and talk at you obsessively. Learning to stop 18 inches away obsessively talk at people. It changed his life and it was something that I didn’t even talk to anybody about. I just worked with them every day and I had had a class on it and I thought I wrote it as a sample goal for a project and then I implemented and it worked. It was neat because it was informed by my deep knowledge of who he was. That was from just spending time with him in a nonjudgmental way and liking him. You know, I’m part of the Christian thing is to love everybody.

When that’s practical comes down to who you spend time with. It’s really kind of a magical thing. You have this opportunity to engage with people at a very high level and who are very different from you and you learn from them. I gained this childlike simplicity. Relative to the born again experience, one interpretation of that is being childlike and being new, which is kind of like that Zen idea of having a new mind where you look at everything with that child, like wonder. I got turned onto that idea as an immature 13 year old. I had all kinds of childish and childlike behaviors that I never got rid of that I knew were valuable. I played and still play. I recognize that the universe is either school or vacation, but perhaps it’s work and we are building the perfect world here on earth. It’s to be enjoyed. If we didn’t have the capacity for enjoyment, then that would be a cruel God that would give us that capacity. It feels good to feel good. And the best way to feel good is to try to help things and make things better.

At work, I would get frustrated with people who would be saying crazy stuff. And then I kinda taught myself like, well, this person has a mental illness and that’s how they express yourself and you can’t think badly or judge them about that. I started to apply this kind of grace for the most egregious and wildly antisocial and annoying behaviors and not having anything to do with me or feeling about that. Then, somebody cut me off in traffic and I thought, Oh, what if they have a mental illness? And I started to think, what if I gave that grace to everybody?

Later, I would learn that Plato invented that: be kind to everyone you meet because they’re going through a hard struggle. That was another kind of level of working on myself. This kind of leveled up on a wave of just not being frustrated or mad with people no matter what they did. So I got a job at PineView, this psychiatric unit with an adolescent unit and it was in a small town, so it was the only hospital in town. We got a smorgasbord and it was this weird mashup, you know, it was like a 28 bed facility. It would be like a bunch of suicidally depressed people and then a bunch of people who were having psychiatric psychotic breakdowns. What a painful mix. We’d have adolescents who were going through some of those same things or just adjustment issues or sometimes just having weirdly abusive parents who had found this unique way to torture their children for whatever reason. It still baffles me.

I was plopped in there with more skills, but also had the mix it up because you’d have to do take downs cause there would be people who would be, you know, stealing lightbulbs or trying to kill other people. We had a thing called ‘Paging Dr. Block” and it was like all the big guys in the hospital, it convene on that point in the hospital and take somebody down.

Sometimes we’d go to other floors and, and get like senile old people who are swinging and we’d put them in the four point leather restraints and the quiet room. Mostly that’s when I learned like the head off problems. Engage with people. In the group homes, I was the best one, you know, right from the beginning because I worked by myself and so I didn’t have a model of what other people did and nobody else did what I did, which is like get to know everybody deeply and read all this stuff and learn all the deep background and then try to be as helpful as you possibly could because they’re paying you. My dad taught me to work hard and when there was at the group home when nobody was around then I felt like I should research and learn and be better at my job.

Other people didn’t do that. But at the psych hospital there’s psychiatrists and nurses and people with a lot of experience and I don’t have that many skills. I learned how to take people down and the group home training. I’m a big guy. I learned how to listen a little bit and then we would get one on ones where we’d have to engage a client for at least 10 minutes and write up their progress note. Every client had one. And so I would do that and I wouldn’t be that good. But I started to watch and sometimes I would get rapport with a client because there were some people who were looking for something and could look past my lack of clinical skill or proper socialization. And they’d talk to me and I would ask them who was the most helpful person.

And I would watch and it was Norm the janitor. Norm was a terrible janitor. I was a mental health assistant and the mental health assistant was hired to break the union. There used to be these things called male attendants, which were basically the brute squad of the psychiatric unit and the nurse’s helper. You didn’t have to have a college degree and you put people in restraints and do checks and whatever else the nurses needed you to do. They created this other professional position that wasn’t in the union that made less money and required a college degree. It was a lot of people that went through college and football college scholarships because it still had this idea of the male attendant thing. So, Norm had been a male attendant and would occasionally switch roles, but he had moved into housekeeping because it was easier and he was the onsite janitor. He just would be, I could still picture him today having a broom leaning on the broom, listening with his total attention when he was supposed to be sweeping up people’s rooms and stuff.

Clients noticed it.

When I asked him who helped you the most? Uh, he got the most answers flying away than any clinician. Oh, it was Norm. So I started to try to be like norm and to make myself available and to listen. And I wasn’t very good at it because I wanted to talk and I thought I had something to say and I didn’t know the dangers of advice. I got better, but I wasn’t great. I was better than most. I was thinking about what I could do? I had a nice job that had a pension plan and I’d been good to stay there for five years, but I knew I was growing in my career.

The other thing I noticed was that the psychiatric unit was, I was very comfortable and knowledgeable about mental illness and I’d seen a lot of that. But at the psych unit, almost everybody had a problem with drugs and alcohol. And I didn’t know much about that at all because I had worked with people coming out of state institutions and people with developmental disabilities or both. Neither of those populations at that point in history had a chance to abuse drugs and alcohol. Some of them smoked because most of them smoke because they would addict the patients to cigarettes so they could threaten to take them away as a means of control. And so a lot of unlikely people smoke cigarettes back in the 80s and before.

I started to learn about drugs and alcohol. I read a bunch of journal articles and started to learn about abuse and addiction. Mostly I didn’t know much about the effects of the drugs and, uh, I mean I’d seen the effects of alcohol and I had been wary of it. I didn’t really start drinking until I was 19. And then I was very cautious because you know, my dad was a drunk and my brother John started partying at 11 and smoked a lot of weed and got into harder drugs and drank a lot. And had problems with the law and had been in and out of jail after he got out of high school. He’s three years older than me. Setting that tone that he was definitely like a burnout and I was like a geek kid who wasn’t a Bogarts. (There were jocks and burnouts and Bogarts. Everybody who wasn’t a jock or a burnout had to be a Bogart.)

When I read about drugs and alcohol, one of the things that really struck me was marijuana, which looked really innocuous and possibly mind expanding. I’ve been reading Robert Anton Wilson and was intrigued, by what he talked a lot about: psychedelics and cannabis and mind expansion. I didn’t even read Timothy Leary. That was all in the back of my head. When John got out of prison we started hanging out. We went to the Who concert with one of his friends, John Thompson. And we climbed out on this deck that stood over the entrance. We just watched the concert and danced around and they broke out a joint and I decided I was going to try it. It was amazing. I had this great concert experience. The Who were really great in 1991. I had this powerful, just great experience. So I started to use marijuana and then later LSD and read a lot of Timothy Leary and other ideas of kind of States of Consciousness and that’s relationship to spirituality and religious experience.

I mentioned that we would have to put people in the quiet room or in four-point restraints when I worked at Pine View. We had this adolescent patient who was sad and she said that her dad had abused her, but she lived with him and he was her parent. And he was the one who signed her in and she had to see him even though if she didn’t want to see him during regular visitations. One day, she threw a big fit enough to be dangerous. There was this charge nurse at the time, a real strict Nurse Ratched type. She had been in the military and dropped out to care for her aging mom. She later become our charge nurse and ran the psych unit like it was the military barracks. She said that the patient had to go in the quiet room and I’m like, “okay,” so I went to get her and then I negotiated that she would calm down and quit breaking stuff and not be dangerous and I wouldn’t have take her to the quiet room.

I went back and told the nurse, she said, “Wait, I told you to take her to the quiet room. She has to go to the quiet room. I told her no. She threatened to have me fired for insubordination. And then I went and dragged that poor girl to the quiet room and locked her in there. It was the wrongest thing that I’d ever done. It really bothered me and really soured me to the work.

At the same time this was going on, I had gotten kind of politically active. There was the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the military response for that from the Bush Administration. John was out of prison and we were hanging out. When he was in prison, he had gone through this parallel process of radicalization that I did. He voted for Reagan the first time that he could vote in a presidential election. When he was in prison, I was writing him letters and I had gotten radicalized and he got radicalized. He had this class analysis as kind of a hardcore Marxist. Neither of us believed in war. When the first Gulf War happened, I was working at the psychiatric unit. There was still more World War II veterans around then and a lot of them were triggered by the buildup to the war and were having traumatic experiences.

We had this flood of veterans come in and it was a weird, intense time. We were watching the bombing happen in the TV room. (I did this current events group to help people stay current with reality while they were isolated in the psych unit. It was just kind of normative conversation teaching, which I didn’t really understand the value of then. It was a good group.) Normally, we’d turn the TV off after group because we didn’t want people to watch TV. We wanted them to engage in a therapeutic process, but we just left it on and watched the bombs fall on TV and it just broke my heart. I got home and John had this sheet upon which he had written ‘Wage peace’ with spray paint. We went down and climbed up this power tower by our house and hung this banner that said ‘Wage peace’. Then, we went home and called the paper and told him that we saw this banner. We didn’t know how long it would be there. It was on the front page of the paper the next day.

With that, we became a two-person movement against the war. We had these red stickers printed up that said ‘End the War in the Gulf’ just like we had seen in Ann Arbor. Stop whatever, stop eating meat or whatever. So we started putting them up on stop signs. “Stop the war in the gulf”. Handing them out and distributing some and hanging banners. I came home from work one night and John says “If we leave right now” – this is being raised by a truck driver – “we could be at that protest tomorrow morning.

I decided I’d call in sick the next day and we just took off driving and drove all through the night. There were a million people there! It wasn’t just John and I who are against the war, but there were a million people. We all marched and Jesse Jackson spoke about how if there’s an eye for an eye, then it leaves you blind and broken. It was a powerful thing to be a part of this movement.

I had read about social movements, but I’ve really thought they were a historical phenomenon and this protest movement seemed like something that was happening now. The Gulf War was pretty short in its initial phase. I had this social movements class as an undergraduate with this great guy, Randy Stoker. He was a participant observer in this neighborhood uprising in Minneapolis. It sounded like some NIMBY stuff looking back on it, but some neighborhoods where the hippy neighborhood got activated and got their personal act as city council and fought this project and then they redistricted so they split the neighborhood up into four different districts and they took over all four of those districts and reshaped the politics of Minneapolis.

He was a talented storyteller and social movement theory and telling the stories and learn about the civil rights movement deeply. And I was into that stuff. I took the class again as a grad student and there was this guy, Michael Leonadri who was an activist.  About the same time, a fellow student named Rick Vanlandingham put together an environmental group. We had an undergrad social movements class together and I thought he was just kind of arrogant, but he was organizing stuff. He was organizing to save the Manhattan Marsh where they were doing this road extension. He’d identified what they had said was a borrow pit, but he had experts who confirmed that it was an original wetland and had protections. He was battling the city.

We fought where they took our wooded wetland. I was on campus and put in some Greek housing and I went to one protest where Rick was kind of dismissive of me. He was just kind of like’ “Here. Hold this sign and stand right there.” I never really wanted to be involved in his group, but Mike Leonardi was also in the group and Mike L. talked about a chapter of this larger group called SEAC, the Student Environmental Action Coalition. They were part of a coalition that was having this protest at this thing called WTI, this toxic waste incinerator that had planned for this little town in Appalachian part of Ohio.

Rick announced there was going to be a protest down there, but it’s like five hours away. He was surprised as shit when John and I were there that weekend! After the Gulf War, we were looking for something to attach to. It was a great project but we lost. They ended up building the toxic waste incinerator. Al Gore had come to a protest he was running with Bill Clinton for a second term, and Gore said “Bill Clinton and I will see to it that the WTI will never happen if we’re elected.” When they got elected, what Bill Clinton did is he said, “We’ll study the effects. We’ll take lead samples from the elementary school 1,200 feet from this toxic waste incinerator and if we see elevated lead levels and we’ll do something.

We lost that campaign but Martin Sheen came and there was direct action and that was the first time that I was arrested. Mike Leonardi and some other of my friends from SEAC were there, too and planned to get arrested. I hadn’t planned to get arrested because I had a graduate student meeting that was a the next day. As they load up the police in the car. They had sat in front of the gates and they were maybe 30 or 40 of them that were going to get arrested and they put them in a car and drove them off. And then one of the local said, “Hey, this is too easy. Let’s block the police cars taking the people out.”

There are hundreds of people milling around. A group of us block the police car and then that changed the immediate vibe of this thing that we had seen several times in this largely symbolic thing. Suddenly, the police kind of pulled out their Billy clubs and came up in a line in the front of the car. “If you don’t move, we will use force.” And then all of a sudden everybody started Lincoln arms and I’m standing in the front row and uh, and they push, they drive a car through it breaks the line and the car gets through. And then I say, “They can’t arrest us all. here’s only like five or six cops, you know, I said, if we stick together, we can shut this down.”

They pushed another car through and we [inaudible] the line, yield it as they just kind of drove the car slowly through the group. And then the cops came in and scooped out a few ringleaders cause I had made a little speech, I was ended up getting grabbed and thought they were gonna threaten to charge me with a felony for obstructing a police officer in the line of duty. I ended up just getting charged with a trespassing or disorderly conduct. I can’t remember. I think trespassing for that one. I felt lucky. I ended up doing a day in jail. There were so many of us, they could only jail seven people, you know. So there were like 50 of us that got arrested. So they had to schedule us over a series of time. A carload of us carpooled down to do our day in jail. And it was like the jail in Mayberry, this big cage. There was one real prisoner and then the rest of us protesters. We didn’t hunger strike on that one. I think even got me grilled cheese because I was a vegetarian. They took orders and brought in diner food for us. It was fun.

SEAC was a big thing. I went to this regional conference in Lexington, Kentucky. There was a weird group in Toledo. Very radical kind of environmental kids and, and, and older people in Toledo including this guy, Spider, who went around and picked up junk, a kind of odd leftover hippie who was part of the group. And this guy, Fawad, who was an anarchist, illegal immigrant from Pakistan who had come on a student visa and gotten into an anarchy and become a punk rocker and dropped out of school and lived underground. It was people like that, which was a neat diverse group.

I went to this regional conference in Lexington and there were all these workshops and I had like graduate level stuff on social movements. I participated in some groups and I suddenly the first time I tried it, I was really good at it. For the first time ever, I was like one of the cool kids because I knew all this social movement history and we were doing stuff and I’d been arrested at protests. I started giving them workshops and being pursued by attractive hippy women. I never imagined that considering my high school self. I lost my virginity at 23 in an awkward and non-communicative way.

I had been waiting until I’d fallen in love. I’d given up the idea of like, we ought to get married before you have sex. That was just a construct and there’s some value to it, but there are other constructs too. I immediately felt met the woman who I thought was love of my life. If I would’ve only waited if he went months, I could have had an awkward and weird experience with her instead.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter I: Origin Story

April 14, 2020 1 comment

I don’t know where to start this story, but I thought it would be good to kind of start with my parents and their stories.

 

 

My mom had an interesting life. Her father was a hammer man and worked at a plant in Toledo, Ohio. He married a very religious woman. She was hit by a car. She lost a child to appendicitis. She eventually developed schizophrenia. This was in the 1930s before there were psychiatric medications or any realistic treatment besides state hospitalization. In my family, we take care of our own. Her doctor at the time thought that a pregnancy might snap her out of it. That’s how my mom came to be born. The doctor’s theory did not work.

Mike Trapp in the sun2

 

She had this disconnect with reality and lived in her own kind of delusional world. “I’m afraid of the devil” was one of her catch phrases. She had a lot of kind of religious delusions and a real disconnect. For instance, she never learned my mom’s name. And so my mom was really raised by her older sister, Eleanora, who was 14 years older, and her abusive, much older husband. I think Auntie was 14 when she got married to a 35 year old junk picker, that we called uncle. My mom’s dad died in a car accident when my mom was 10, so she was virtually an orphan and had a hard life.  Uncle was abusive. I knew him as a kid. He would punch me in the stomach and say “Suck it in” when I was a little chubby kid.

My mom lived with her sister, Eleanora and my uncle Lot, which was not a good situation. She moved out of the house at 16, with her own abusive man, a guy named Bob Kelly. They had a child together – my brother Bob – and then three years later they had a daughter, my sister Betty. By then my mom really had had enough. She never really talked about what went down, but did acknowledge that her first husband had been abusive. This was in the early 1960s when it was a hard time to be a single mom with a couple of kids. There was minimal welfare support. She worked as a waitress. Right after she left her husband, she found out she was pregnant. This was before Roe versus Wade.

With little to no access to abortion.  She tried to a technique of taking some the counter pills that were supposed to cause an abortion: That didn’t work. My sister Brenda was born. Then, she had three kids living on her own when she met my dad.

To talk about the kind of man my dad was we really have to talk about his parents. They lived on a farm. His father got his arm cut off when my dad was five. With the settlement money he got from his railroad employer, he bought another farm that they then operated. They called my dad ‘Paws’. He was a ‘little shit’, as my dad would have said.

As a young man my Dad did the fetch and carry and ran around and helped with all the things that it takes two arms to do. My dad was real close to his dad who was a big drinker. My grandma got religion in her thirties, which caused a lot of friction. She went to LaSalle Gospel Tabernacle Church. They were a strict fundamentalist sect. She was very devoted to that and her devotion kind of pushed everybody in the family away from religion. My dad was the sixth of six kids. He was full of religious himself having regularly attended church with my grandma. By about 18, he left the church because he wanted to smoke cigarettes and drink beer. And chase pretty girls.

He did that. He worked hard. He had been a farmer, but later – along with my aunt and uncle – operated a meat packing place where he became an animal slaughterer and then a meat-cutter. Mostly, however, he drank. He got a drunk driving ticket when he was 23 years old. He had had been in some other trouble and so had a choice between a long jail sentence or – the other offer – join the army. The police thought that might straighten him out. So he joined the US Army and had a brief military career. During his few years in the Army he found the regimentation not to his liking, but did develop a lifelong love affair with trucks. He was a diesel mechanic and really enjoyed working on and driving trucks.

When he got out of the Army, he bought a 1963 Ford Falcon convertible and a got his job back as a meat cutter. The union had come in and he wasn’t making that dollar an hour anymore. He was actually making good money. At this point he met my in a bar. She pursued him heavily. I think either through a pregnancy scare or through outright manipulation, he ended up marrying her suddenly. This went against his family’s wishes. His family thought my mom a whore. I think that was just kind of the early sixties and that’s how some folks viewed a single mom. They’d always called Bob Kelly her first husband, but I learned much later that they’d never actually been married.

And so, my Mom and Dad became an instant family. They lived in a clapboard shack. My dad was definitely into having more kids. He was the decision maker in those kinds of things. My brother John was born, really the only planned birth in the whole family. Three years later I was born.

I remember when I was a little kid asking my dad if I was a planned baby or if I was an accident. And he said I was a que sera sera baby. Two years after that they had my brother Dennis and so that was the six kids. We were a family even though three of my brothers and sisters were only my half brothers and sisters.

Being born into the family, I never really felt any different. My dad treated us the same and made it a point that we were one family regardless of who our dad was. (Bob Kelly was never big in the picture.) I only remember him seeing my brothers and sisters a couple of times and there was some awkwardness. He certainly never paid any child support. There was also some bitterness in regards to that whole situation.

My dad was a meat cutter and he had a good union job and made a good wage, but he was a heavy drinker and he was a gambler. Sometimes he would come home without his paycheck cause he had lost it in a pool game. Certainly, drinking was problematic. John and I and my brother shared a bed in the hallway at our little house. When I was little, we would all sleep with the parents. “All my three sons”, my dad would say to the three of us little ones that, that were his own.

We were kind of off by herself in the country there. We had a backyard with a swimming pool. When I was three and Dennis was 18 months old, someone noticed that Dennis wasn’t around. My sister Brenda found him in the swimming pool. My dad jumped over the side of the pool and pulled him out. They tried CPR. Dennis’ death became a real seminal event for me. I was too small to really know what was going on.  I don’t know even if I really remember him. I have memories of that pool.

After Dennis died, my older brothers and sisters went to my Grandma Trapp. They took us to the zoo. After they lost Dennis, my Dad realized that they had no picture of all of us together, so they lined us all up in front of the car. We’re all snot-faced and crying and in front of the new car. That picture is about the saddest thing that you’ll ever see.

So my dad didn’t react well, nor nor did my mom. It led to – for my Mom, a lifelong issue with depression. It kind of broke her spirit in a lot of ways. My dad went on a six-month drunk. He lost his job and couldn’t put it together. He didn’t want to be at home seeing as he had so much hurt, rage and no skills at all to be able to talk about stuff. That wasn’t how things were done in the 1960s.

We had to do something. And so Dad became a truck driver with Beacon Van Lines. He kind of used that as an opportunity to follow his dream. It was something that he had always been interested in doing. And he drove a straight truck out of Indianapolis, Indiana. When we would drive by Circle City (as he called it) he would point out the parking lot where he learned to drive a truck. He took one trip by himself and had this phenomenal kind of loneliness. He scooped me up in the truck and took me on the road. That was a huge deal for me, because he had unwittingly created this incredibly enriching environment for me. I was three years old and getting to spend 24/7 with my dad, just he and I.

He would drive a lot at night and then we would load furniture in the day. He worked hard and he played hard. A lot of times he would stay up all night driving and I would sit on what we call the ‘dog house’. Our truck was what’s called a cab-over, which means the engine kind of sat right in the cab of the truck. There was this kind of plastic engine cover that sat between the two seats. And I would sit Indian style, as we called it then. We would talk all night and I would ask him questions and he would explain to me how the world was. He listened to my stories and my thoughts. I remember going to New York City for the first time. He talked about skyscrapers. I could only imagine those window scrapers that scrape ice, so I thought they were like things that. When I got to see New York City it was different than I had imagined, but every bit as amazing.

So, I got to see the country and be around all kinds of different people. I had been to 45 States before kindergarten. We would come home for about four days every six weeks. Looking back on it, I know that must’ve been hard on my Mom, because she lost her baby and then her next baby was gone. Sometimes mom would come on trips with us and the other brothers and sisters would go stay with my Grandma who was really severe and religious. That led to some resentment. I was resentful when I had to start kindergarten because that kind of wrapped up my living the adventurous life of the road. As it turned out, I didn’t have a lot of social skills considering I had not been around a lot of other kids. It was an anxiety provoking and kind of terrifying experience going into school.

The thing that really hit me – and this was informed by losing Dennis at three years old – is learning that you’re going to die. That came way earlier in my development history than it had any right to. On our truck trips, my Dad and I talked about Dennis a lot. My dad would share his thoughts and feelings and I would listen. We had a lot of conversations. As long as I’ve remembered, I knew that I was going to die and I think that is one of the things that made me different. It made me interested in spiritual things very early. When I asked where Dennis was, they would say that Dennis was with Jesus or Dennis is in heaven now.

All this made me think about the afterlife. Where do we go? I came to believe that Dennis was always present in his absence. And it was something that we talked about a lot when we were on the road and it was just Dad and I. That knowledge made me sometimes want to be with Jesus. And what did that mean? Dennis became this kind of magical figure that I had shadow memories of at best. Dennis was someone who was kind of always present. He was beautiful. He was special enough to be with Jesus right now. That had a big impact on me.

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