Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Safe Spaces

My instinct tells me that people who are offended by the concept of the safe space (provided they know the actual meaning of the term and not just the grotesque caricature derided by talk radio), are possibly the people most in need of a safe space. Their outrage and mockery of the idea that a person in crisis might need a 'space' to go to and be surrounded by caring, supportive, non-judgmental people, suggests a history of pain that needs to be confronted. I can imagine them scoffing at the safe space concept internally by saying, 'who was there for me when I needed help?', and, 'what is so great about these people that they have these resources that I lacked?' One of the most important things I have learned as a social worker is to look past the noise a person makes and seek out the issue. Every lion that roars has some kind of thorn in their paw. Ignore the roar. Find the thorn.

Monday, November 27, 2017

On Warfare

I am incredibly far from the wisest person in the world. I can be proud. I can be stubborn. I am fully capable of accessing every sin and folly imaginable, because I am human, and some traits are just inside of us to one degree or another. So, I'm no Sage, but I have received a few hard won lessons. Here's one of them: if you find yourself in a conflict or argument, the worst thing you can do is try to win. That may seem counterintuitive (I know it did to me for the longest time), but it's the truth. Don't try to win. Try to be correct. Humble yourself enough to allow your mind to consider an alternative opinion or criticism of your person or belief or stance--however aggressively presented--and make yourself willing...no...make yourself GRATEFUL if an adversary proves your point or orientation wrong. To be moved off of an incorrect path by friend, foe, or whatever--however indelicate the correction may be--is a great gift. You don't ever need to win an argument. You need to exit the other side of an argument with the correct information, so you can make whatever adjustments need to be made. If you lie in an argument, you will lose. If you misrepresent your opponent in an argument, you will lose. If you bluster and threaten and thump your chest in an argument, you will lose. Bluster, lying, bravado, clever word games...these are admissions of weakness, and they will be your downfall. If you're fighting with someone, you're fighting for something. But even if you vanquish your foe with your lies, straw man arguments, and bravado, if you are standing on a foundation of sand, you will sink. Conflict requires openness. It requires humility. Even if you rally the whole world around your campaign against one individual or idea, you will know in your heart that you are wrong. And what is wrong will be righted. What is done in the dark will be brought to the light. If you want to win, first you need to be humble. You need to be honest. And even if you find yourself won over by an opposing argument or adversary--even if you lose--you still have won.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Feral

Your eyes are wild
What contraption
Beats your heart?
I imagine steam
And Pistons
And cranking gears.

You know,
Everything is made.
Even wild things
Like you.
There is always
An inventor
In some mad laboratory
Even if that inventor is
Yourself.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

It Has Been Beautiful

There is a pain in my body
That feels like a demon
Trying to escape
There is a pain in my body
That feels like a demon
Trying to escape
Why do I hold tight to this pain?
Why do I cradle it like an infant?

I see God in the garden
Opening like a flower
I see God open his petals
In the garden like a flower
Look at the rain drops on his stem
What is it that is feeding him?

And it has been beautiful
But I must let this demon go
I have learned from my scars
But I must let this demon go
It is not fair to him to keep him
Now that he is fully grown

And it has been beautiful
But I must join God in the garden
I must open towards the same sun
As God in the garden
Oh let the rain come down
And water all of the flowers
In the garden.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Other Ways to Say I Love You



Me (eyes full of passion): I love you.

Her (eyes full of passion, voice sultry): I have a suspicion that, it may be possible--with an undetermined statistical probability--that somewhere in the general vicinity of where we currently are standing--give or take a vicinity--that there may be one, or possibly several people, who are feeling an emotion or emotions either precisely, or relatively similar, to the emotions and/or emotion that the words you employed just now are typically used to describe. I mean, I'm not not saying that this hypothetical person or people just proposed doesn't feel the same way that you have suggested you feel, and I'm not not saying that they don't not maybe potentially feel those feeling about you, but it's possible I'm saying other things which may or may not refer to different issues or causes, or also be in response to different emotional experiences. Do you know what I mean?

Me: ah, baby. That's so sweet.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I Light a Fire



I light a fire for you,
Not with a stick
Or a rock,
But with my soul
Which suddenly exists
Because you touched it
However randomly
With your own
Internal flame.
Light me up.
I am here.
Ready to burn.
Ready to illuminate.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Alphas

Men, with no authority over anyone else,
Kicking their dog, reprimanding their dog,
A little toy breed that is
Unable to afford a gun license,
But is fully able,
To validate its master.
Simply by being small.
Men, yelling at their wives,
Teaching their boys not to cry,
Teaching their girls that their future husband
Needs to be their king (not by words: by action)
Sitting down
Pot-bellied after mowing the grass
Drinking a beer and watching the game.
He will hit mom tonight.
The world told them, 'Make your kingdom!'
But they have no kingdom.
They work jobs that do not lionize them.
The bosses they listen to get younger
And younger.
The world told them in a whisper,
'You alone are qualified!'
But what has this wrought?
No promotion.
Kid is a fag.
Talk radio.
Beer.
Beer.
Beer.
Men: but on the inside, boys.
And they were beautiful once,
But those days are gone.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Surrounded

I am surrounded by ghosts,
My body is a map of their travels.
Every scar, burn, stretch mark,
Every pound of flesh that expands their map
Is guidepost. Is landmark. Is roadside attraction.
See here? When I flex my forearm, made firm by labor?
This introduces a long blue river to the map.
When I am surrounded, I imagine erecting a dam,
Building a fence or wall,
Drilling deep into the blue that comes with flexing,
And I feel comfort in the idea of retreat.
Yet I move forward,
Through discomfort and on to understanding,
Until the river disappears,
And the landscape
Returns
To uninterrupted flesh.

Friday, August 18, 2017

There Is No Space Between Us

One night, when I was the manager at the Drop Inn Center, I had to exit a very large and aggressive man from the shelter for sexually assaulting one of our female clients.

Typically, when you are exiting someone from a shelter for non-compliance, or having a difficult meeting with them (one where you suspect their ire may get up) you make sure someone else is present, and you are in a place with very clear exits.

I was about 27 at this time, and cocky. I would often do one-on-one discipline/exit with a variety of unpredictable characters.

I didn't behave differently in this situation. I asked the large man if I could talk to him, took him into the lobby of our intake area--where it was just he and I, and the only exit out of the room was through him. I told him the news. He didn't deny it. He looked down for a second, and then locked eyes with me. "So I'm out, right?"

"Yes." I said in a neutral tone.

He stepped up to me, and put his chest in my face. Our bodies were touching.

"You're in my space." I said, suddenly feeling the weight in the room.

"There is no space between us." he said.

What followed involved me trying to get away from him, him following me, chasing me, cursing and threatening me, telling me he was going to break my back (and I believed him). Eventually a more seasoned co-worker got hip to what was going on, and slid himself between the two of us, coaxing the man outside with a cigarette and the observation that, 'You don't want to go back to jail, man'.

I had a tall pair of brown work boots that I always wore in those days, and I was literally shaking in them.

I learned from that lesson--In the past, I was a hard learner: rather than following good advice, I usually needed to leave a little metaphorical blood on the floor before I found myself accepting basic wisdom--and from then on, I had someone else present during those tough conversations. I also worked on my delivery, and built up some empathy for the people I interacted with.

One thing that has stuck with me above all else from that night, almost in a kind of spiritual way, was that ominous threat: "There is no space between us."

Over time, as I recovered, I learned to respect what a cool line that is. When I would tell the story of that night, the impetus of my telling would shift from, 'Man, that was scary, and that's how I learned to not act like a cowboy', to 'Damn. That was an absolutely awesome and terrifying line. I wish I could pull off that level of intimidation in a pinch!'

And the line shifted even more after that. My son was having a bad day one day, and didn't want to talk to me. I gave him his space for awhile, but he seemed really down. I did some deductive reasoning, sat down with him on his bed in his room, and proposed my guess as to what might be bothering him. He looked at me, teared up, and hugged me. He asked me how I guessed. "There's no space between us', I said.

It was a transformative moment.

I have had the opportunity to use the line a few more times since then, but it has also become a rallying cry and motto with me and the boys. Whenever we are separated for awhile, we say it to each other: 'There is no space between us'. Whenever we are feeling lonely in this world, we realize we are not alone, because there is no space between us.

It is funny and strange how we are able to use life experiences, and appropriate language that was intended in a wholly different fashion, to build and move forward.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Social Work Conversations

A young black client of mine recently told me that he didn't understand why other black people hated white people. 'Slavery was forever ago, and there are white people like you out there, so why are they mad?'

My response? 'Don't let me off the hook.'

It's so easy to see a fairly evolved white person as an ally. But ask yourself what it costs a white person to be an 'ally'. The answer is that it costs nothing, and the reward is great. If I'm not a total open racist, I get rewarded for it. I'm 'woke'. I don't have to answer for systemic discrimination. I told this kid that I was glad he liked me, and I like him too, but don't let me off the hook. What do I do to change the system other than posting something on Facebook every now and then, or show up at the random rally? I am not your ally, because while I may be concerned about the way the police treat you, or by the way you have to work extra hard to access the privilege I glided into, what have I given up? I'm being rewarded for honoring the basic lessons we all learned while watching Sesame Street, although I haven't put in half of the work. Yes, young man, don't let hatred cloud your heart, but please understand that I am not your ally. I am a white man who has benefited from a system designed to promote my race and gender, and although I may like you, I will never give up my own position for you, and I will only help you until it cuts into my own bottom line. Be your own ally. Don't look for others to boost or improve you. Don't let hatred and anger make you ugly, but be realistic: I am not the one who is going to boost you to the next level, and I will never give up my position in order to advance your own.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Radical Islamic Terror:It's a Thing, Liberals

I feel like I understand the liberal concern with using the phrase 'Radical Islamic Terrorism'. They feel like it marginalizes and 'others' a minority group, and does a disservice to Islam as a religion. I also think this concern is a mistake. Christians have had to deal with the phrase 'radical Christianity' for years. The 'right' and the 'left of our political spectrum has also had to endure having the word 'radical' ascribed to their particular worldviews. Where was this concern then? The fact is that there is such a thing as 'radical Islamic terror', and it is something our country needs to be concerned with. Maybe it is blown up and used as a tool by the right to bolster their own power, but it is real. To acknowledge the radical element of an ideology is not an insult to the foundation ideology. It is a radical element of that ideology. It is acceptable to note this. By being offended by this phrase, liberals not only give cover to radicals within that religion, they also cede the ground of reasonableness to the opposition. Also, by adding this phrase to their stable of protected-class no-no words, they do a disservice to deservedly protected classes, like LGBTQ, racial minorities, women, and the handicapped within the zeitgeist. All of these are natural orientations. Radical Islamism is a chosen worldview. Islamophobia is a justifiable term, because it pertains to the wholesale fear and delegitimization of an entire religion, and usually extends to a certain kind of racism and xenophobia. There is nothing wrong with using the term 'radical Islamic terror'. Let's take the words one at a time. I am personally a radical leftist. Is the word radical wrong? No. Is the word leftist wrong? No. Personally, I don't even think all acts of terror are always wrong. Think of Harper's Ferry. So what's wrong with accepting the phrase 'radical Islamic terror? It's a legitimate descriptor of an actual movement, and it's a descriptor liberals haven't hesitated to use on other radical branches of an ideology. In the popular imagination, the liberal refusal to accept this phrase looks a lot like either collusion, or pollyannishness. This gives your adversaries the ideological high ground. Accept the term, and learn how to talk about it while making distinctions you feel need to be made. That's the only way to make this world and this country safer and better. Of course, I'd love to hear dissenting views.