Tag Archives: Amwriting

The Letter, The List and My Greatest Fear

Mansfield, Pa. I was there for the week for basketball camp. I don’t know how it became a thing in our town, hundreds of miles away, but for anyone serious about basketball, at least any of us between 10 and 14, you went to Mansfield for a week of basketball camp. I was the most serious about it and I was there. I was about 12 and it was great.

It was a great time for a 12 year old who was obsessed. I was the kid who had a basketball in my hand every minute. I was the kid in Western New York, where it can snow in 8 or 9 different months a year, who would shovel the court to play in January. Or October, if need be. I was the kid who played a level up always. I was obsessed and good as far as anyone could tell. This was the first big year away at camp and the first time I shined outside my own town. I was good against the good kids my age from other towns. I could run with the good kids older then me. It was a buzz.

My dad picked me up and my memory is that he told me we had to get going fast. Mom wasn’t home and we had to get moving.

‘Where’s mom?’ I asked.

‘She had to go to see Grammy.’ He said.

‘When?’

‘She’s there now.’

A lot of things happened in our house without advanced warning. There were six or seven kids at that time, including a toddler, so it’s possible these plans were always in the works and I was just never informed. Still, weird for her to travel alone, but to be honest, she’d gone to Israel on her own while 8 months pregnant with the little one so who’s to say if it was weird that she went on short notice to see her parents.

‘Why?’ I asked.

Here’s where my memory fails me. I don’t know if I asked that. Maybe I didn’t, though I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have come up. Maybe we were driving a friend of mine home or something and he couldn’t tell me. Whatever was said I didn’t know ‘why’ she was gone until I read it in a letter. Might have been in the car right when I was packed up and we were ready to go. I have a memory of it being a letter I read when I got it on the kitchen table when we got all the way home. In hindsight I can imagine a dad wanting to keep it from a kid as long as possible.

What is true is that I found out in a letter. My dad probably wrote it. Might have been mom, but I can’t imagine. It was one of them. My grandfather was dead and he’d killed himself. It was a suicide letter by proxy.

I haven’t been writing much lately. I have to start again. I’m nervous about losing writing. I fear it’s like basketball. I’m old and unable and all those years of pounding my knees on pavement have not left me very able with a hoop and a ball anymore. I can shoot, I’ll always be able to shoot, but the rest is rusty and the will and ability to fix that are gone.

I’ve been sharing the writing I’ve done in the past in different ways recently. It’s been good to reach some new people and find some new life in old stories about times gone by. It’s been interesting to mine my own work, produced largely without reflection. Or rather, to reflect on what I was compelled to write over time.

I recently shared a piece that was written as if it were a letter to my sons. It was a letter outlining the fact that what I want for them is to feel loved and to love. I want the person they love to love them and to inspire laughter and curiosity and energy and compassion and passion and all the things that love alone can fulfill, but I don’t care if the person they love is a man or a woman. I will very much care about who that person is, I just won’t care about that.

It’s in line with a lot of my work, really. Often I’m sending a message out through time and space hoping they will see it and know they were loved. Know that I’m aware of the things I got wrong. Sorry for the parts I’ll fail at. I want them to know that I was a failure. That I was a drunken mess for years. That I had false starts and self doubt and self loathing. That I was depressed. That I hated school. That I didn’t know what I was doing when they came along and all I wanted to do was do right by them. That love so amazing as the love they and their mom have brought to my life is worth slogging through painful times for. That even the hope of it is enough.

I remember having a conversation with my sister a number of years back where I told her that I have always kept a list in my head of who it is I think is most at risk of killing themselves. It’s not some list of sad celebrities or self destructive artists of one sort or another. It was a list of family and friends. Mostly family. A list I at times put myself on. A chronicle of my real time assessments of presumed depressive states that were potential life changing suicides. I did it subconsciously and without noticing I was doing it for years. It sounds like bullshit to me, but it was true. I was truly unaware of this constant drone in my psyche.

One of the recurring points I’ve made over the years was the startling and profound understanding of mortality that I had when I saw my kids the seconds after they were born. It’s more pronounced after the first, sure but that isn’t to say it wasn’t there with the second. It’s a bell that can’t be unrung, but it can certainly be rung again.

It was a rolling realization but the fact is that it was inevitable, being me, that sooner than later the fear of the worst thing I could ever imagine would occur to me. What if some day, too far out to imagine, but not so far out I can avoid ever thinking about, one of my kids, in a moment of pain and suffering and confusion and hopelessness and depression killed himself. It’s the worst thought I can imagine. It’s vomit inducing to say. It’s my biggest fear and I’ve never acknowledged it until now.

Because I got that letter. The one that I had no idea would ripple into the future not in weeks or months or even years, but in generations. In families that weren’t even imagined yet. In the darkest corners of my imagination and in the lists I’d construct mindlessly for hopes that somehow the preparation would perhaps soften a blow I couldn’t possibly see coming.

I’m not capable of having an objective view of my life. By definition it’s impossible, but at times my subjective experience of it can lead to insights that perhaps obvious to others are still profound for me. So saying that it would appear my grandfather killing himself may have effected me and my point of view may sound obvious to you, it wasn’t to me. It wasn’t at all.

I felt bad after reading the letter. I felt hurt even. There was no ‘good’ way to tell me and at a time when communication at a distance was not like it is today I understand why I’d learn about it this way. But it felt like I was left a few days behind. I came back to everyone being in the third or fourth day. I came back to a process that I was left out of. It wasn’t like it was anyone’s fault. I’m really only putting it together right here. At the time I just felt out of synch with the world. I didn’t know what else to do then keep doing what I did. I probably went and shot hoops. It’s literally how I spent an easy 50% of my waking hours at that time.

What I didn’t do was cry. I felt terrible about that. I wanted to so badly, but it just didn’t happen at that time. I didn’t really shed a tear. Maybe I would have had I been there for the group horror, but I wasn’t and I was a twelve year old boy. Emotions are hard always, but they’re a more confounding sort of hard, a less tethered kind at that age. It was 30 years later, when a young man I only knew through others and only enough to say hello to killed himself that I finally wrote about him, and my grandfather and read it to my mother that I really bawled about it.

The tears were not just sad tears. The tears I’ve shed for this event are sorrow filled to be sure, but they are rage informed as well. Confusion and fear are in tears for a suicide as well. There’s empathy and judgement and all of it just comes out. It doesn’t get processed or fixed with a good cry. That’s the thing about suicide. It doesn’t, as far as I can tell it can’t get resolved.

I write because I write. I have only this single keyhole through which to see the world and from where I’m looking the threat of finding out the worst news imaginable is possible because I’ve found it out before. And I’ve watched others find out what it all means, over time, others more directly related and I can’t ever lose the fear of it. So I write. I write about as many of the feelings and failings I can muster the courage or the perspective to find in my story. I write to the worries I have that can keep me up, about what if they don’t know how much I love them. What if they are disconnected at a time when I can’t reach them and they think an awful thought and I can’t hug them and hold them and assure them they are loved. What if they are afraid of me or think I will judge them harshly and I add weight to the burdens I can’t know that they will someday carry. And I write.

I write because it brings me joy and relief and understanding and it can fill me with pride and drive me to dig deeper. In doing so I’ve come to understand that I don’t always see all the forces compelling creation. I don’t always understand why the topics come to the surface. When they do I can ignore them or indulge and some I’ve indulged should likely have been ignored and many I’ve ignored should probably have been explored. The process of creating over time though is starting to reveal reason’s to me and one of them is I don’t want to ever catch myself ever thinking I’ve ever failed to do everything in my power to keep these two names, these two magical and wonderful human beings as far away as possible from my tragic lists. Lists I can’t sop making.

Feeling the Love

Basketball player. That was the first dream.
More than anything I wanted to be a professional basketball player. I wanted it so badly that I played every day. All day. Not always easy for a kid from a top 5 snowiest city. Fine, I lived 20 mins from that city. Still, I spent a good many a days shoveling the playground courts across the street. braving wind and rain. Lighting up the court while running down car batteries.
I didn’t become a pro. That’s for sure. People who’ve met me as an adult might find it hard to imagine. I’m not really carrying a basketball players body these days.
I got pretty good. Real good. Good enough to make teams with guys who would make the pros. Good enough to run on the highest level court at any open gym. Not great, but pretty good.
By the time I got close enough to greats to know I wasn’t going to make it I got disappointed. Inertia kept me going. Inertia and the energy of youth and a deep love of the game. But I burned myself out. I was the kid that dribbled a mile or two to school and back, shot until my mom would make me come in as the sound of the ball on the concrete surely was keeping up the neighbors. I didn’t go pro, not even close, but I got a ton out of trying. I travelled, accomplished a good deal and even got in to college.
I was a failing student. Not a bad one, a failing one. You had to get 3 F’s to fail off the team in high school, so I’d carried two and came close with the rest. I’ve never liked school. But I’m very thankful I went to college.
I liked night classes. They tended to be populated by grown people, moms and dads going back to school or people looking to change careers, looking for a new direction. For me the appeal was that instead of 3 one hour classes a week there was 1 three hour class per week. I used to joke, ‘I can skip the whole week at once. Just think how much more efficient that is.’
In one of those classes I heard from the Executive Director of the local ARC who described what it was like to try to make a difference by helping others. It sounded great. I liked the idea of toiling for good. I liked the idea of waging a war on behalf of those that had been unfairly treated. I was in Human Services to that point because it was an easy course of study. That night would change that. I didn’t become a better student, but at least I was in the right place.
A senior girl who I knew in passing described an experience working at a summer camp. This camp was for adults, many of whom were ‘graduates’ of the Willowbrook state school. If you don’t know what that is (I didn’t) look it up.
Anyway, she described her experience, working morning to night in cabins and in pools and in music and arts and crafts classes, with adults with disabilities. Physical and developmental. Well, it sounded awesome.Truth be told, she struck me as the type of person that couldn’t do something so selfless. I was wrong, obviously. Both that she couldn’t and that it was selfless. Not at all selfless. It may be the place I’ve given the most of myself, but it’s also where Ive taken the most.
Over the eight years I worked there, starting a career in the field, I learned a thing or two about perseverance. Working with individuals who struggle day to day, but thrive through grit, determination and practiced indifference to the naysaying of others, I learned that it starts with trying. And trying starts with saying what you want.
As silly as it was to me to even think it, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write and get paid for it. I wanted to be a writer.
Turns out its not as easy as saying you want to. Unfortunately, you have to actually try. You have to try and fail a lot. Becoming a writer has made me learn that if a writer tells you, no, you don’t want to read this stuff I wrote, you should believe them. That’s how mine was for a long time. Now you STILL may not want to read my work, but at least it’s passable.
There’s truth to people who say all you need to do to be a writer is write. It’s true. But you can pass that hurdle and still not ‘feel’ like a writer. Until you feel like a writer you’ll never describe yourself as one.
I felt like a writer after I shared my work on a fateful winter morning on Medium and shared it with my facebook friends. I literally hit share and sprinted away from my computer and out for lunch. When I returned there were 20 or so amazing notes of encouragement. So many people who read it and liked it enough to tell me. It was unbelievable.
The next amazing feeling was being paid. I sold a piece to Mamalode. It was the sweetest and most impactful $20 I will ever earn. Someone not related to me, someone who didn’t even know me, bought my words. Breaking a big market, a Scary Mommy was amazing and a few bucks more. Being selected as a spotlight blogger for a dad blogger conference, well, I had no idea how big it was until I was there. I honestly didn’t know. It was great.
This past week it’s come full circle. I’ve written a book and I feel like a writer. Not in the way I imagined I would, I’m not retiring from the day job any time soon. I self published. It was not some bidding war. In fact, if you totaled the dollars I’ve earned and the dollars I’ve spent in pursuing my dream of being a writer you’d find a fairly decent sized number under the ‘break even’ line.
Something different started happening this past week. All these people I grew up with, in one place or another, at home or at camp or somewhere those places took me, they started buying my book and posting pictures of themselves with the book or of the book posed and lighted or in their hands. And they are saying the loveliest things. They are helping me, showing off my book and helping me sell it to people who don’t know me. Not sure anyone who doesn’t know me has bought one yet and I don’t care. I’d love if they did, but it’s not the point.
Book.SelfiesThese book shots and paperback selfies, they are amazingly touching. I can’t begin to describe to you how much they all mean to me. In a very real sense they are a literal dream come true. They are kindness and generosity and love I can feel. I’m moved beyond words and grateful to no end.
I never feel like thank you is enough. I start vomiting exclamation points. I start thanking so earnestly it might sound insincere, it might even read that way to me, but it couldn’t be more honest. I’m so very thankful.
If you are on my friend list it may seem silly that 10 or 12 people are doing this, it may start to seem silly, laughable or even annoying. I don’t care. I will love these pictures every day for the rest of my life. They are the product of so many kind and charitable souls celebrating a friend who is trying. To my eyes these pictures will ALWAYS be beautiful.
Thank you.

My Silly West Wing Dreams

‘I’ll have a shark sandwich. You like shark? Never had it! You’re in for a treat.’ I thought.

I wasn’t so much paraphrasing Jeff Bridges in the contender as I was riffing on my memory of him. I mean, shark sandwich. Come. On.

Not that I have a taste for killer beasts of the sea. Not much for seafood, actually. But what a cold and cool way to announce your power as President. Invite your opponent to come to the east wing and order someone near you to get you some shark. Damn.

No one ever imagines life in the governors mansion. Not from here. Not sitting in council chambers suggesting yourself as next town council rep. Why would you place such limitations on yourself. Nope, I could already imagine it. Life in the White House. Hell yeah.

I had written a statement to read that had gotten a very positive response from the organizer of our event. She was enthusiastic beyond words. Her email calmed me down before stoking my Walter Mitty like daydreams of shark sandwiches and front yard Easter egg hunts.

You have to understand. A writers work has an emotional ebb and flow. Allow me to illustrate using art. ‘Talledaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’.

At the beginning of the movie Ricky is running hot. Winning everything, on a roll, full of confidence and unable to imagine it ever stopping. In an interview he makes a statement that is EXACTLY what it feels like when you are writing and it’s flowing. He said…

‘Look. Here’s the deal, I’m the best there is, plain and simple, I mean

I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence.’

Okay, it’s crass. But you know what, I don’t care. That is how it feels when it’s working.

There’s another scene in the same movie. This is later on. Our main character, the beloved Ricky Bobby is in the middle of his comeuppance. He has failed and failed and failed and he finds himself imagining a himself being engulfed by a fire ball and he has stripped naked and is running wildly on the abandoned track in tighty whitey’s and a helmet screaming in a panic…

‘Help! Fire! Oh god help me. Help me Oprah Winfrey, help me Tom Cruise!’

This quote (paraphrased from memory) typifies exactly what it feels like as you push ‘publish’ on the writing you were so recently so confident of while producing it. It’s a pretty extreme variation between unflinching confidence and bed wetting fear, to be sure. Especially considering these emotional states exist without any transitional states between them. Typically, at least.

So when the organizer replied to my email, sent with all the confidence of a church farther hoping to god it be both silent and odorless, with the opening of WOW! Well, I was right back to my writerly confidence. She wrote a bunch more, but to be fair ‘you had me at wow’ is a statement I feel fairly confident making for all writers.

I arrived to the council chambers with humility in my heart, not that you’d see it on a topographical map as it was a tiny sparrow sitting behind a mountain of confidence. Warmly greeted upon introducing myself I was so very excited to be around similarly minded resisters. A moment of sincerity here, it was truly heartening to see all these folks, neighbors and friends I’d yet to meet who felt the same as me. We have a town council that by what I can gather has been 100% republican for decades, without so much as opponents to run against them.

So newly friendly with my neighbors who’d come out of the shadows I took my seat and the evening began. We pledged allegiance. Off we go. I had no idea there would be so many folks here. This was a real meeting, not just a town gathering. County officials from the party there, candidates for state office. It was a real thing happening. The pros got up. The first stood behind the table at the front of the room. Party guy told her to come around front, but I knew what she was doing. There was no podium. It had caused me a moments panic, but I had my WOW in my back pocket, already committed to paper, why should I worry.

I’ll tell you why. Because when she came around front of the table it snuck into my mind, around the mountain of confidence. The tiny sparrow was on my side of the mountain now. I’ve only once read my own work to a crowd from a stage. I barely got through without sobbing. To be fair that one was about my son, it was a tender piece about the fears of a father. This wasn’t that. It was a political speech. Still, I learned through the many times I’ve spoken to groups at work that holding my paper was a bad idea. The hands would start to shake.This would trigger the completely illogical loss of breath control. Then, yep, the water works. But this was a friendly crowd. Why should I worry.

Her reason for running was profound, heartbreaking, personal and touching. I was definitely in the right place, with the right people. Okay, I can do this.

Next candidate got up and announced that she was working on her speech. She would be reading from cards. CARDS! Why the hell didn’t I think of this. It would give me a natural way of looking up and realizing I’m not naked, these people are with me. And when the hell did this sparrow get so goddam big! WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOUNTAIN OF CONFIDENCE! And I was totally wrong about the sparrow being humility. The sparrow was humiliation!

At least I was still confident in the support of the audience. It would appear my rabble rousing, ‘conscience of the liberal left’ speech would meet the tenor of the room. We were all here to organize resistance. What the hell am I so afraid of. Get out of here, negative self talk. I don’t need you!

‘Okay, I know it’s been a long night, but we have some people that have offered to run for Town Council and they will all address you this evening.’

HOLY CRAP. HOLY CRAP. DEAR GOD, I KNOW I’M ATHEIST BUT PLEASE BECOME REAL AND TRANSPORT ME YODA LIKE TO SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE ELSE… Maybe I won’t be fir…

‘First I’d like to bring up Joe Medler.’

Shit. That’s not a sparrow. Is that an eagle? Why does he seem so angry and threatening. Shit. That’s a vulture, dude. Oh no, when I start calling myself dude in my brain something is way off. Crap. Don’t trip. Wait, why would I think that. I’m a grown man in fine health, I won’t trip. But god it would be the worst time to trip. I’M NOT GOING TO TRIP.

Breathe. This is easy.

‘Hello everyone.’ I said.

This isn’t so bad.

‘I’m not a politician. I filled out a survey, literally last night, and said yes, I’d be willing to be a candidate for town council. Then Tracey, wrote to say I should prepare a statement on why I was running. So I did. Thank you for being here and here goes.’

That was fine. What was I so worried about. All I gotta do now is read.

I pick up my paper, chin nailed to my chest, head down and we’re off.. that’s a strange tremble in my hand. Maybe two hands will be better. Wait. That’s supposed to stabilize not double the shaking. Where was I. Oh my god, why did I write suvch a personal piece. I really am kind of naked up here. Where are you mountain, don’t disappear.

NONONONONONONONO! It was just a simple crack of the voice nothing to worr.. shit, again. Is that water in my eyes. Fuck. I’m doing it again. Hands up, Im done.

‘And I think that’s a good place to stop.’ I said, and started to make my way back to my seat to see if I can fit under it. Forget the shark sandwiches, forget the glory of being a vessel for equality and democracy, forget the more humble aspirations of serving the town and being a politician.

‘Okay, Joe, do you mind if I read the rest. It’s really powerful and think it’s worth everyone hearing.’ said, Tracey.

‘My goodness, I can’t thank you enough. My god, yes, please, save me and this moment from the disaster it feels like!’ I thought. It came out more like a barely audible, ‘Yes. Thanks.’

She proceded to complete my story. I have to say whether they were just taking pity or genuinely appreciative of the writing, I don’t really care. Everyone was so generous with their kindness. Handshakes and thank yous and people sought me out to tell me they enjoyed it. I was in the right place after all.

But perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board in terms of figuring out how exactly I can best serve the goals of our group. After all, there is very little need for a crying call to arms. Might play into the worst stereotypes of liberals, actually. I’ll stay a bleeding heart, but perhaps i should retire the crying eyes;)

What Writing Does and Doesn’t Do For Me

Writing. I write to express myself. Sometimes it brings a smile of recognition to those that have known me or shared a portion of the same paths I’ve traveled. Other times in sparks interest of a sort that is more intriguing. Revealing of a self I may never have thought to share or may even have been hugely  invested in hiding. For me writing sublimates rage, actualizes vulnerability and exposes fear. It’s lessened the load considerably.

Sometimes I write merely to impress. To give myself and hopefully some others a few laughs. I like the feeling of making people laugh. I like the feeling of people thinking I’m funny even more. I like them telling me I made them laugh and that I’m funny most. I’m as easily wooed by flattery as anyone. Moreso than many, I’m sure. External validations are sweeter than the internal ones. Not as long lasting, but at least theres a button to push. Can’t always find it, but at least I know its there, waiting to be pressed.

It’s amongst my healthiest coping tools, writing. It’s creative and productive and a tool for reflection that has served me well. I fear the times when I’m uninspired and don’t write for a few weeks. I spent twenty years scrawling incoherent ramblings of rage and confusion into manic and crazy looking notebooks and journals wanting desperately to be a ‘writer’ only to learn it took others reading to make me one.

After that I learned that a facility for words merely means you meet the minimum requirements. What became apparent quickly to me was that I had to start getting naked. I had to start writing down the truths of me and not just the flattering ones. I wrote about rage and failings and experiences I buried deep. I shared my scariest moments and my more vulnerable ones. I have not fully cleaned out the closet as yet, but I’ve made space so when I look in I can make some sense of what’s left in there. I can see it all. I don’t just crumble under the sheer mass of emotional detritus. It’s been a very healing and healthy exercise. One I’m proud of.

If you are one of the few that has read a good deal of my work you’re aware of this. To one degree or another you’ve seen the praise seeking showoff, the vulnerable human and the emotional rager. I’ve kind of put it all out there. What’s not so present is the view you might have of me if you were actually looking at me with your own eyes. Every day.

Writing. It’s the best tool I’ve had to cope. With the pressure of being a dad and a husband. The pressure of working in a field where we are caring for people and their loved ones. Having what feels like a lot of responsibility on me a lot of the time due to both those things. Not to mention the inherrent guilt I seem to have been born with. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. It’s the best tool. But it’s not the only tool. Just the best.

The others I won’t get into. I won’t lay them at your feet and wait for some unearned praise, though that needy part desperately wants to. He wants to share all he does from midnight to three, wants to watch the little numbers crawl up. He wants your manipulated respect and even the tender feelings you have and share for a person being truthful about the lesser parts. But they would only validate me and make me more prone to continuing the other things. The ones I won’t share. Not with you or anyone. The parts I don’t want to let go of. That meet me in the middle of the night and stay primary no matter how much I squeeze in to distract me.

Writing is my best tool for coping. I just wish it was enough.

The Lodge, Part V: Figuring it Out

‘I really love it. It’s crazy. I’m here with people from all over the world, we work around the clock and we get one day off per 13. It’s perfect.’ I said. I meant it.

‘Joey, I’m so happy for you. I’m so excited.’

‘Thanks. It’s just a lot, but I think I really like it.’

This was my first call home after the guests had arrived. After the week long, 9AM-9PM trainings we were all ready to get to it, whatever it was. Even with that much time spent learning, with that many people who’d done it before there was no amount of preparation that was going to give me so much as a clue as to what that first day would entail.

‘I got picked to be on the bus that went into the city to pick up the guests. It was crazy. Unbelievable how much could happen in so short a time.’

This is not the staff picture from my 1st year. 3rd year, maybe?

About half of us staff were selected to ride the bus down to the city that first day. It really was a good omen, even if I didn’t know it yet. I’d be prepping the busses and coordinating the drop offs and pick ups within a couple of years and would continue to do them for many years after. You really had to trust the people on that crew. Any number of issues could arise, between the guests and their anxiety or separation or some other totally unexpected thing having to do with their diagnosis to random cars breaking down in front of you in the Lincoln Tunnel, car accidents, staff walking off never to be seen again (this happened more than once, place could drive you mad), incidents between guests on the bus, anxious, angry or just plain mean parents (as a rule they were ALL lovely. As a rule. Rules are ocassionally broken), mixed up medication, short fuses, insane heat, torrential rain. Whatever we ran into, whatever ran into us, we were there to check in 60 or so individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, process their personal effects and account for them, ensure they were fully stocked with meds, check in money get them on the bus and start to entertain them and continue to do so, and to be entertained by them for two weeks, sun up to well past sundown. It really was the most amazing thing I’ll ever do. Having and raising kids will mean more, but we can relate to so many others who’ve done it. But this, this was a singular experience.

‘Guests?’

‘Oh, yeah. Thing is they aren’t campers really. They’re grown ups and face it, grown ups don’t go to camps. They go on vacation. So they aren’t campers, they’re guests.’

‘That’s interesting.’ Mom said.

‘Yeah. Not so much, it’s just what it is. You forget about the word after a day of using it. Not even when you hear it so much during training. Truth is I was ready to see some guests by Sunday. They got here, Sunday.’

I was already spewing my person first language, practicing my committment to treating people respectfully and in line with their life experience and not the way I had before those trainings, which would have still been sensitive, but wouldn’t have been mindful of age appropriate language. In real terms I have learned a hand full of things in the 22 years since that week of training, some real valuable things, but none of it will ever come close to what I learned in those two weeks. Two because the training really didn’t end until after the first week that you were putting it into practice with the guys.

The training wea almost all centered around the arts and crafts room that was off the kitchen, the dining hall and the administrative/infirmary hallway. It was painted grey cement floors with knee to ceiling roller windows lining the walls to either side of our rows of chairs we lugged back and forth to and from the dining hall between meals to reset our classroom all day every day. I was given basic, sanctioned safety trainings, by the book and repeated yearly or near yearly since. I was given first hand trainings on what it meant to work in a field that was still populated with residents and former workers at Willowbrook State School. I met some of those who transformed our entire service system, from the inside, from one fraught and underfunded, filled with systemic abuse into one that was so truly person centered that we busted our asses to ensure that every person was given every ability to choose every single activity on their own and we would modify everything to ensure they could do it regardless of ability. I learned what it was like to be a sibling or a parent of a person with a disability from one of those parents. I met some of the heroic figures who said no to Doctors in the fifties who told them to put their child with a disability in the institutions and forget them. I met many of those children who found their way, through decades of darkness, both literally and in every other way and emerged on the other side heroic and still in touch with their tender and delicate humanity which had been so forsaken. They taught me. And I soaked it up. I loved it.

img_0191And I wasn’t alone. There was a core of us who made it through and reaped endless rewards because of it. There were at root about 30 or so of us who worked in cabins, lived with the guys. We were on call all through the night and working every waking minute (save the one hour break you lived for in order to shower and make a ten minute call to whoever to say how amazing the whole thing was or to cry because it was breaking you). Of those thirty about 16 or so made it through the summer. My cabin started with the full allotment of 6 staff. We lost Ausberto and Jim the Marine and I can’t remember who else, but one more. We made it through 3, two week sessions with just me, Mike and Tony. A suburban, an urban and a comrade. We cared for and loved 16 guys in that cabin every day. Two in wheelchairs? No problem, everyone will have what they need cause anyone of us would push ourselves miles past our limits to make sure of it. Truth is we did it to gut busting laughter much of the time. There were moments of discord and hot tempers, but they were over fast. Still love those guys and dozens more and would have the time of my life sitting around a fire all night reminiscing on those days. I can say confidently we all would. I met real family there.

‘Joey. I’m really proud of you.’

It’s still the most important thing I ever hear them say. Whenever they do I just eat it up.

‘Thanks mom. I think you would love it here more than anyone.’

And I’m sure I was right. It was a utopian society experimentation lab built on the ideals I learned from her. Love, compassion, understanding, committment, service and tireless giving that results in you getting so much after giving all of yourself.

3AM

I’m sick of everyone 

and their crockpot recipes. 

I’m sick of their Midwest mockeries. 

I’m tired of the constant cacophony 

of pained but righteous melodies 

sung by sparrows feeling entitled to everything 

and assholes baring their baritones 

and all the others who can’t be alone. 

Who won’t atone. Who sling their wares 

through country roadsides and broader thoroughfares. 

All the noise feels redundant but looks resplendent. 

Feels remarkable. But sounds insolent. 

I’m tired of wanting and wishing and playing 

never missing a moment I’m convinced is so vital 

to find it arrives and passes with no residue, no lasting. 

I leave wanting not more, not less. 

All I ever want is next. 

This can’t be me. It can’t be what it seems. 

I’m filled and fly on wings of dreams 

but ever I know and ever I try there’s nothing left but next. 

Next year and sorrow. 

Next pity and wallow. 

Next thing to be earned next feeling to burn. 

Forgotten piles amount to a life well mined 

by others who don’t give mine the time 

or the mind.

Drinks and Memories on The Good Men Project 

I have a 30 year relationship with drinking. One that covers so many memories….

I’m thrilled to be on The Good Men Project today, writing about it all….

Get This Man a Drink—and Let His Glass Catch up to His Memories