ANTHROPOCENIC RELIEF 

The following is a guest post by Jim Trainer. Click on the link below to follow him on Patreon and sign up for his Poem of the Week.

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. 
—Grey’s Law

I don’t want to throw in with them anymore or even check in and see how remarkably little or original passes through their pea-brains.  Chalk social media up to more of the trouble with Jimbo and add it to the list with anything close to public consensus.  I like small rooms and hot lights, coffee shops of creaking wood and mortar, and I’m in love with communicating with you this way—one on one and from behind the microphone of this platform, as it were.
on Patreon

Yo. Trainer here. How’s your epoch? I’m torn from the lengthy torpor, poking my head from the morass and rejoining the doomed brand of the failing human race. I’m wont to agree with Steve Earle—kinda digging this global warming thing and anyway relieved to learn my old boss lost 6 people of an 8 person team, relieved to get word on the socials about the hardcore scene aping normalcy and even embracing fascist attitudes, and happy to see a dude in a dress at the Round Rock 4th of July Fair, as segregated and diabetic as it was. Some dolt in a baseball cap and cargoes with Aryan-blue eyes tried to nudge and wink me into his conspiracy, and well, I wasn’t havin’ it. Uncle Black Flag tee came over to break it up but by then dude was a pasty-white mess. I took my funnelcakes and camped on the black side of the fair and otherwise had a mighty fine close to one of our last weekends in the Anthropocene. My days are free and easy, comrade and I rest in the true Wisdom of Karma. It’s got nothing to do with me. Folks are dying days after posting their plandemic nonsense. Marjorie Green is closer to an indictment than she’s ever been and while the fates are throwing dice it’d be a charm for the next building in Florida to collapse on top of Governor DeSantis, and anyone he loves or cares about. Truth is he’s in his own Hell. It just sucks that others have to be victimized by it. I take little faith that dude just ain’t as cool as he thinks he is as he’s the fucking guy reopening everything and has the say-so on curriculum and the general morale and decorum of the worst state in the U.S. barring Arkansas. It’s striking how well that choad could fit, right into the hardcore scene, an off-shoot of the most relevant socio-political movement of the 20th Century. Couldn’t you just see The Ronald broing down and mugging like a hard guy in front of the felled walls of the Surfside, talking ’bout the movement and staying united? Don’t ask me, I left the hardcore scene before I was even in it. It was supposed to be about thinking for yourself but time and the lie run in smaller circles the older you get. You either live it, or try and learn, or end up playing the same downtuned cheap-metal you’ve been playing since High School.  As long’s the gang vocals back you, you’ll never have to look at the cause of your anger and spend your life reacting and missing the whole fucking point. 

I’m no better but I’m alone so there’s no one to tell me otherwise. I beat the same 3 tired rooms daily and put off writing more than any other activity. I think about exercise, which could technically be an exercise, and re-addict myself to coffee and cigarettes while staring out the glass doors. A wasp got in this morning and I took it as a bad sign but it’s action and it beats the swarms of lizard on the plank fence keening an eye on our end all last summer. Last summer was an aneurism even if I gladly lost so many cop-worshipping dick-for-brains on the socials. It got hotter and hotter and now it rains all the time. Chauvin’s been sentenced and as COVID exposures dip you get the feeling that despite the conversation and sloganeering, justice and right and truth will prevail. That’s how I feel at least but either way I’m not doing my part if it means I should elevate the nutter discourse to conversation or God forbid debate. I’m relieved about the end of the world and not for reasons of being right or just desserts. I’m glad I can have a conversation based on reason, that I’m surrounded with folks who’re glad to traipse the thorny path of truth. I’ve got health insurance and I’m vaxxed. Gigs are trickling in and best of all is I’m writing again. I couldn’t hang thinking of my personal journalism and otherwise anti-essay writing pitched up next to somebody’s so-and-so or fucking opinion for cry eye. I shut down Fascism deftly, in all its whiffs and odors now. I don’t try to reason with them and take their very existence as a threat. I’m not condoning violence but I’m not considering discourse or conversation either. It’s punkrock time, Brothers and Sisters. Time to disabuse your manners and any mores of decency and take their vague slouching toward authoritarianism as an affront, every hint and subtle innuendo as a blow to counter with a punch to their throats. They lost and they’ll continue to. Resign to fighting them, not persuading or convincing them, and it won’t matter who wins. Live for the fight, Reader! It’ll charge these end days and give you a reason. Plus I’ve got your back. I learned how in the hardcore scene but punk is an ethos. We know who we are. We’re the bearers of common sense which is what, if anything, I’d like you to take from this missive. Don’t honor an honorless man. Rush Limbaugh is dead. Don’t feed the Nutters. I’m telling you it’s something to live for, because I do. I’m back in the game, smoking Export As and writing again, having sex at the end of the world and living down my career as a Personal Journalist with more to report on than ever. Life was good but now it’s over but the end could be even better—especially if it’s the end of all this folly and nonsense. Chicken Little was right. Let’s fight and die together, for love and reason, beauty and ire.Yours,
TRAINER
AUSTIN TX

Jim Trainer is a poet, publisher, writer and performer.  He blogs weekly at Going For the Throat and writes a monthly column for Into The Void magazine.  As a proponent of personal journalism Trainer reports on the inner life while writing about recovery, mental health and the creative process.  Trainer publishes one letterpressed and perfectly bound-by-hand collection of poetry every year through Yellow Lark Press.  KEEP BLEEDING IN THE ANNO FINEM is his 7th and an anthology of the 10 years he’s spent writing at Going For the Throat.  Trainer is the progenitor of Stand Up Tragedy™and performs regularly throughout the United States.

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Symbiosis

I don’t know how much letter writing you do but I suggest more.  It’s a certain type of tunnel to aim some inner coherent thought at somebody.  Sure you can send a letter of update.  It’s been raining a little bit every day.  The neighbors fake snake delights though confuses me.  These car payments are a drag.  But it’s a better use of your mortal time to say something true.  

In 2015 a mystically deep and beautiful friend invited me to a poetry reading at a multi-disciplinary venue that has since been turned into condos due to its proximity to the city center.  Jim Trainer was there in a screaming white button-down reading tangible poems and prose.  He mentioned that he writes letters to whomever because, he explained, “I might not be able to write but I can always write a letter.”  I recalled what an anchor the pen pal of my teen years was.  The details of that writerly connection are sordid and I’ve been encouraged to turn it into a movie but for a suburban youth with terrible parents reaching out into the void and getting something to reach back was everything.  

I wrote to Jim from a sweltering third floor walkup, from the beach, from the jury box.  From some place true.  It’s been a good return on investment.       

If you’ve been at Going For The Throat or Jim’s Patreon you know about the symbiosis.  And if you’re in need of synergy now you know where to go.    

I’ll be swapping posts with Jim on the blog soon and I’m into the connected web it’s gonna weave. 

Drop Out

Quitting my job turned out to be an act of rebellion.  Internally, it was a nauseating boat ride of choppy am I doing the right thing waters.  But the response from my bosses put an anarchy A on my chest.  I didn’t know the power of quitting without giving a socially acceptable and sympathetic reason.  It was like laughing in the face of a bully.  Watching as they didn’t know the steps to the dance because I changed the rhythm.  

It put me back in touch with the feral part of me that wants to blow up polite society.  Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.  That quintessential Timothy Leary slogan has been resting in the recesses of my mind since I first heard it’s magic voice.  But I have never revered Leary himself.  Perhaps due to my true allegiance to Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters who I was introduced to in the Tom Wolfe tome, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  There was a sort of rivalry between the two camps of psychonaut exploration.  Wolfe spends the first eight chapters of Acid Test describing the ramshackle Pranksters in the most delicious and captivating of ways.  If it’s possible to write psychedelically then Wolfe has done it.  They leap off the page in day-glo freakdom of pure liberty and surreal psychedelic clowning.  They attempt to meet Leary but he has busied himself with some sacred experiment and stays holed up.  “One big piece of uptight constipation” Wolfe writes of Leary and his estate.  The chapter is called “The Crypt Trip” pointing a finger at the frigid and stolid atmosphere.  Every good story needs a villain right?  Leary gets villainized almost equally to the FBI in this odyssey for being uptight and boring.  Perhaps the worst offense to lurid hippies.  Wolfe swayed me to their camp in just four pages: Leary was an old fuddy-duddy.      

But I figured, maybe now that allegiance is generally less important to me I can give Leary a shot so I consulted his book Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out.  I found it a little hard to get through for its heavily immature and grandiose tone.  But I am reading it in 2021, not in 1965 when it was first published and I suspect that makes a difference.   In describing his “drop out” philosophy Leary takes aim at college.  He was over it.  Saw it as a tool for indoctrination.  He was not a popular guy in the upper echelon of Harvard so he was feeling the squeeze personally.  But he was also moving away from the educational system he was familiar with so he could focus inward.  It feels like so many conversations I’ve had in which some “they” is identified as orchestrating checkpoints of control with a motive to keep the truth underground.  They don’t want you to know what’s really going on at Area 51.    

Leary wrote, “I made the suggestion two years ago at Harvard University that they lock up Widener Library, put chains on the doors, and have little holes in the wall like in bank tellers’ windows, and if a student wanted to get a book, he would have to come with a little slip made out showing that he had some existential, practical question.”

In this view having access to “knowledge” requires a certain level of preparation even if it’s just meditation that brought you to some existential need.  He is suggesting that to seek knowledge we should want it from somewhere internal and not just sign up to have education downloaded in continued service to an elitist paradigm.

Leary saw himself as some authority on what kind of education is good and when.  This was fresh in my mind as I checked the day’s news and saw that Governor Ron DeSantis is on about the same idea, “It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately, now, the norm is really these are more intellectually repressive environments,” he complained.  

Of course, his blowhard self is inflamed by the idea of critical race theory and is working to legislate it away.  But I had a laugh at how he and Leary are cut from the same gatekeeping authority cloth.  Sure, Leary is coming from that when the student is ready the teacher will appear place and DeSantis from the educated voters are dangerous place but they could have taken the same car.  

DeSantis is proving Leary’s point though by advocating for a censored, bloodless, politically conservative curriculum.  I hope it’s no surprise that textbooks are bullshit.  I hope you’ve fixed your high school history education with a little Howard Zinn, Michelle Alexander, and Ned Blackhawk.   

Initially, reading Leary’s and Desantis’ thoughts about college in succession made me laugh out loud for the synchronicity, the hilarious polarity of it.  But as I’ve thought about it I’m left with further encouragement against allegiance.  To psychedelic guru or politician.  To college professor or boss.  They are people like you and I are people.  Flawed, opinionated, swayed by personal experience.  We work our agendas out on others whether we realize it or not. What gives people a following is finding enough other people with a similar sway to join their fight.  Whether that is for drugs or politics or Herbalife.  

The absolute value for both is that knowledge is powerful and potentially dangerous.  Leary saw the danger as people continuing to “play the intellectual game” missing out on the wisdom turning inward could bring.  DeSantis feels the same but the danger is to his own status.  If people engage with critical race theory they will see America in a different light and then be compelled to do something about It threatening his white male dominant status.  

We can get precious about whatever it is we ascribe to and continue to defend it without reevaluation.  Whether that is our own ideas or some part of our culture.  We owe it to one another to look out for the moments of restriction.  To find the motive and be skeptical and concerned when it is power and ego.  Leary thought he found THE way.  DeSantis wants to hold on to his political status.  That may not fairly summarize their motives but they are frames of reference worth zooming out to see.   

Purpose, Plagiarism, and Existential Pangs

I recently stumbled on this concept of ikigai in the comments of a reddit post from a disgruntled public school teacher.  It immediately repulsed me.  First for its assumption of the luxury to think about passion, mission, what we’re good at, and second, for its use as a tool to find employment. I am tired of the suggestion that work will be a passion.  It reminds me of taking required courses in college like research methods.  On the first day, the professor would have us say our name and why we were taking the class.  Always with the caveat that we couldn’t say—because it was required.  I made myself  think of this as a way to be creative but now I wonder why can’t we all just acknowledge reality.  The course is required to graduate.  I need a job to pay for somewhere to live.  Why are we so enamored with dressing these things up as some values-oriented higher purpose?  

How To Find Your Ikigai And Transform Your Outlook On Life And Business

I’d love to normalize working as survival, not as a calling.  When we talk about employment in terms of purpose, that automatically places a hierarchy with clerks and trash collectors at the bottom.  I’m not saying those jobs can’t give purpose but we don’t think of them that way.  Instead, we see them as a weigh station on the way to something bigger, more lucrative, more meaningful.  But we need those jobs and we were willing to see that for a while during the pandemic.  Essential workers became our gods and we all were proud of our grocery employees.  Now that things are less dire we’ve shifted back to thinking those people are too lazy to engage in career advancement and are assholes for wanting a living wage.

Ikigai was introduced to America in two ways.  First through the TED talk “How to Live to be 100+” and then through the Venn diagram you see plagiarized by Marc Winn who describes himself as a shaman twice on his LinkedIn.  He also uses the titles “way-finder” and “rainmaker” but it’s kind of hard to understand what he really does other than promote himself.  On his blog Winn took credit for the ikigai Venn diagram saying that he changed one word on an existing diagram about purpose, which was originally created by an astrologer, Andres Zuzunaga, but who is rarely credited for it.  Winn goes on to say that basically he could die happy knowing that he made this positive contribution to the world. He’s been interviewed about his “creation” and always mentions how meaningful it’s been to people.  Leave it to some generic entrepreneur to take the work of an astrologer, put a flashy word on it, and claim social revolution. And to really miss the point. Ikigai is a Japanese word that describes an essence within a culture. The meaning is much more nuanced than some employment-oriented Venn diagram could ever hope to capture.   

I’ll admit when I encountered the ikigai diagram, I was struck with an existential pang.  Purpose is currently eluding me.  Even though that is the point right now: to figure out what happens when I get off the train and stand still.  But I have organized my life around a purpose and that’s given me a reason to get up in the morning.  I have an inner hippie communist that believes in participating positively in society.  I had to have a job anyway so why not one  that benefits others.   But it’s when I start zooming out that I find myself lost.  

Our systems are autoimmune disorders.  Iatrogenically creating the problems they say they aim to solve.  I found meaning and purpose working at a food pantry.  Handing over sustenance to a family was direct and tangible.  Actual cans of corn and tomato paste donated by the government or our neighbors and delivered to our door.  But why are people even in need of food banks?  Maybe it has something to do with low wages, broken transportation systems, and lack of affordable housing.    

But we can’t look at the illness in the system.  Only in the individual.  People write glowingly about the magic of this ikigai Venn diagram.  They love the easy math equation of it.  Just plug the right answers into the circles and voila you’re on your way to a meaningful life!  

I guess ikigai is fine if you have middle class resources.  But what about those paycheck-to-paycheck and poverty level folks.  Where is their road to meaning and purpose?  In absurd student loan debt and second, third jobs?  There are limited answers in the circle of what I can be paid for in the hands of someone with a felony or without a high school diploma.  

I get that the audience for this ikigai Venn diagram is not everyone.  That it may be useful when someone with a degree, some work experience, and boredom shows up in the office of a career coach.  But I became aware of it through a public school teacher.  Arguably a meaningful and purposeful job.  But they often have to deal with the real implications of budget cuts and traumatized youth.  The world needs public school teachers, we can fill that part of the Venn in.  But I want to add a bunch of qualifiers to that.  The world needs public school teachers who have even the bare minimum of basic funding and support to do a good job.    

I guess I’m wondering where is the circle for what WE need FROM the world and why are we so often discouraged from asking?         

Motivational Speakers Should Find Honest Work

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.” – Tony Robbins

I worked for a brief while for a welfare-to-work program which is a federal bureaucratic bit of insanity.  My job was to counsel “participants” who had to prove they were job searching for 20 hours a week.  It was all paperwork red tape and hoop-jumping and was firmly in denial of the reality of the job market and economic possibilities.  Hey mom of 3 under the ages of 10, here’s a lead on a job at McDonald’s that pays $7.25 and will most certainly require that you work evenings and weekends.  My job was supposed to be all about motivation.  That elusive potion that will guarantee success if we can just figure out how to mainline it endlessly.  They hired a motivational speaker to teach us how to talk to our charges.  She had a grandmotherly-aw-shucks-southern approach.  Think Paula Deen but instead of butter and racism I had to peddle economic independence and upward mobility.    

I was hungry for some direction.  And so, the speaker dazzled me.  I was humbled but inspired.  Her instruction touched on some inner longing to show I could transcend the impossible and lift others up with me.  But then returning to our cubicles, a co-worker critiqued the hell out of the approach.  She was astute in assessing just how much that speech was based on personal charm and just how much it left out the real challenges of living in a major city with limited resources.  

Our assigned guru, we bowed to her bullet points and chanted her slogans in staff meetings.  She was meant to load us all in a golden chariot of enlightened workforce development so that together we’d ride down a road paved in inspirational colloquialisms. The tone was a walking talking one weird trick doctors don’t want you to know clickbait ad.  The speaker discovered how to use charisma and car salesperson grease to convince people she knew the way.      

Gurus are wont to rely on vague words and shiny slogans.  I recently watched an hour-long talk by a top-rated motivational speaker who spit out mantras every few minutes.  A prolific effort at snake oil selling.  The speaker keeps telling the audience they went from rock bottom to the top because they believed they could.  But what else happened?  What other luck did they stumble into?  Who supported these dreams?  It’s irresponsible to peddle the lie that we can go from zero to hero through sheer force of will.  Haven’t we all gotten on board with The Secret being bullshit?  Let’s look up to Ms. Pat and her stellar book Rabbit instead.  She tells it in scorching black and white with humor and wit but she never hesitates to give credit to luck, help, and love.  Using jokes to look into what’s dark and not pretending everything is light if we just choose to change our perspective.   

Welfare recipients aren’t going to get off welfare because I said something that gave them chills.  They will work on their own goals through a variety of means which may or may not involve me.  You know when I’m talking about this level of welfare it was $205 a month?  About $7 a day.  That was 12 years ago and it’s the same amount now.  Imagine if instead of paying that speaker $10k to motivate us to collect paperwork, and if instead of paying my $30k salary, and instead of renting office space in the middle of downtown, imagine if we just funded childcare or rent or food stamps.  Imagine if we stopped believing in the American dream that says we can move forward and up on our own if we work hard enough and instead we invested in each other.  Let’s opt out of the motivational pecking order.  This COULD BE a drill to prevent us from distraction if we step away from the Tony Robbins’ of the world.

It’s Just A Man

When I was a young teenager, and my mother was a middle-aged occasionally psychotic alcoholic, she made up this story that I wrote a letter threatening my father’s life.  She told me that if anything ever happened to him she’d call a lawyer right up and I’d go to jail.  I believed it and what a mind fuck.  It left a scar of trepidation, of basic mistrust in my culpability, and the haunting possibility that someone might hold something in their pocket to get me later.  

This is the first full week since I quit.  Finished all the commas and periods last Friday, put files in a box, and logged out for the final time.  Quitting a work-from-home job during a pandemic lacks some of the ceremony of turning in name badge and keys but it’s still tasty.  The pressure, though, is harder to log off from.  A lingering anxiety relentless in the back of my mind like a leaky faucet.  I had a break in thinking about it until I realized I wasn’t thinking about it and I went right back in.  It’s so easy to manifest monsters.  They sound like ‘what if’ and creep into your veins as hypertension, gray hair, and dyspnea.  What if the boss keeps needling me?  What if she judges and trashes me to others?   I’m already tired of explaining it.  I gotta hang up this unease.  

Psychic pain is the only real consequence and I can choose whether or not I turn myself in to that prison.  I’ve lived with the metaphorical fantasy threat that a phone call to the lawyer could come at any time from a boss, a jilted lover, the woman at the gas company.  It’s some social contract I’ve signed where you, any of you, hold the authority and I’m out here begging for any scrap of legitimacy you’re willing to give.    

My worth has been dictated by the letters after my name and my enthusiasm for playing by the rules.  And I’ve participated.  I’ve been willing to do what is needed to get picked for the team.  Because the threat that you can make a phone call and ruin me lingered.  Not everyone has an insane mother to build the walls of that psychic prison—we don’t need her for that.  Your social media, your boss, your HOA will do just fine.  But I’ve let myself out.  I’m working on it anyway.  What’s the boss going to do?  Have a say about my reputation?  Withhold some of my final paycheck?  G’head. Smear me.  Take my money.  Demote me to some corner of the Earth where you think I belong. I’ll just keep smiling as I roll my rock up the hill.        

One of my fondest memories is listening to Pantera for the first time in someone’s dirty garage in the dead of winter.  It felt like something behind the curtain was available to little old me.  That there was an alternative to the square and sterile suburban existence.  That maybe me and Phil Anselmo could have our own sort of legitimacy.    

Got shit on, pissed on, spit on

Stepped on, fucked with

Pointed at by lesser men

New life in place of old life

Unscarred by trials

I turned my back on that girl in the garage.  Bought in that the only way forward was white-knuckled upward climbing.  But the likes of AOC and Ran Prieur are taking me behind the curtain again.  It’s only a man back there blowing smoke.  I’d rather join hands with Phil, Alexandria, Ran and skip away from the subjective concept of who I should or have the right to be.  And instead, gallop towards 

A new level.  Of confidence. Of power.            

Vulgar Display of Power - Wikipedia

Strange and Baseless

Over full-bodied draught beers we crept into a friendship held up by some common experience and snark.  We had similar hard-luck backgrounds.  Connected in the way you get connected to others with damaging mothers.  He was above me in job title and alma matter.  In punk rock experience and new upward mobility.  Bragged that he would finish the day’s paperwork at a dive bar downtown while dining on PBR.  He curated a psychologist-by-day-renegade-by-night façade and I thought we were cut from the same cloth.  

Us against them.  

One night at our local watering hole, he was surprised by an earnest heartbreak I shared and he told me this didn’t fit with his view of me as “cold and calculating.”  Stunned I could reach some depth of feeling for another, he sneered.    

It turns out he was an adult.  The way I thought of that word as a teenager: a slur about people above a certain age who have turned their backs on revolution.  He told me about his anarchic hellraising.  Then showed me his collared shirt and certainty that he was above it all.  We didn’t have a shared us. He only visited the dregs I swam in.  Wore it like old patches on a denim jacket until he needed to turn that in for a sport coat.  

His us was my them.     

In final meetings with the boss, she showed a sincere face and uttered the I’ll miss working with you and hope to run into you some day.  I nod and agree at the strange and baseless assessment.  She wants me 

to want to be 

in her us.   

I’m familiar with pity and condescension.  Paid into it like a pension hoping to withdraw good will and job references.  As a woman who has at times been small and poor I could find sympathy.  I’ve been described as tough and resilient.  Been pre-empted by my own story before being introduced around.  Encouraged to want 

to want to be 

in their us.      

My recent return to revolution feels like crawling back, tail between my legs.  Back to getting high on ideas, sunsets, and songs by The Moody Blues.  

But I am welcomed as an upright and lean champion by magical sprites who wish to unburden me of ratty luggage. We sift through it all together.  I describe terrible snapshots of past struggles and we laugh at the strange and baseless assessments of other scared cherubs following chariots to the wrong place. 

They could all be in my us.  

Every last frightened babe out there hoping for some sensibility to lean on.  Even Mr. Cold and Calculating.  I take some offense and know he was wrong.  But he was just playing the game.  Working to feel admired and valid against the backdrop of an expanded universe where he is but one miniscule plot point.  I didn’t kiss his ass and he didn’t know what to do about it.  Told me he feared my kindness meant I was trying to pick him up and he’d have to let me down.  Dismissed my heartfelt vulnerability but used it to place himself firmly above.  I’m no longer selling tickets to that ride.  The boss hopes to see me because she believes after the dust settles I’ll share THE TRUTH.  

Are we just in a quantum entanglement – us presupposes them?  What if them all hung it up and we threw the whole cosmic gravy into a spinning brave freak-out all neon and morphing?  

Professional Observer

I worked at this psychiatric facility for a while.  It was a gig job but it worked out.  I knew the person in scheduling and she liked me enough.  My shift had me checking on patients every 15 minutes: taking vital signs, lighting cigarettes.  A fellow checker and lighter called us “professional observers.”  On the lookout for signs of suicide, violence, psychosis, general chicanery.    

At orientation, we were directed to never give our last names to patients.  Understanding nods all around.  Suspicion of the psychologically fragile is an easy sell.  Our initial training leaned heavily into protecting ourselves.  6 times I’ve been through the Non-violent Crisis Intervention training.  Which means that I should be able to get out of a chokehold without hurting the choker.  Don’t talk about your weekend plans.  Don’t share where you went to school.  Keep to yourself the daydream of hopping the fence going down through the swamp land behind the building to freedom.  Don’t share what you’d stash in your bindle to sustain you at least to Iowa.  Keep hidden what you learned from Steal This Book about grifting from grocery stores.  Show instead a blank stare of professional distance and decorum.  Don’t call anyone honey.  Maybe even forget your last name.  Be cautious with laughter. But do smile.

Doctors, however, must share only their last name.  We were all charged with standing behind that shield.  

We got this new MD.  A young somebody.  Came in with a phat wristwatch, striding strut and a hip ring tone.  He’d breeze on the unit, bark orders, breeze off.  What he lacked in empathy he made up for in medication orders.  One fine day, he lit the fuse of a patient who astutely hit ‘em where it hurts. He dared to use the doc’s first name.  Blasphemy!  Dr. Wristwatch showed us all an adult temper tantrum before it was cool.  So enraged, he moved to discharge the patient.  Probably would have sent him to the stockade were it an option: banished him to a life of imprisonment, torture, humiliation.  Or better yet, leave him in the government-funded mental health system.  That’ll do.     

A memo followed extolling the sanctity of the Doctor’s First Name.  I wonder if they ever co-opted the genizah.

The breakdown in the royal family is nice.  I don’t read past the headlines, but have seen enough to know it’s just one more thing millennials are ruining.  Oprah had something to do with it right?  

Come with me fam.  Let the dissolution of the royal family spurn us towards termination of ceremony, artifice, caste, class.  Let the machinations of categorical power imbalance slough off like the crispy dead layer it is.  Fart in the face of authority and call it free speech.

But what does it mean for me?

An old boss let me in on that little secret.  

I had a job I loved and believed in.  I felt our mission.  I loved our clients.  It was 2 miles from my home.  No weekends. People liked me.  It was good. 

Resignations really ruffled the staff.  For many it was a weigh station.  A starter job.   I thought little about it or was happy they were moving on to their destiny.  The old boss framed it well: people will find a way to make it about themselves.  What does that person know that I don’t?  Should I be trying to get ahead?  Where are these better jobs people are going to?  

Now I’m the quitter.  This boss doesn’t know the secret.  She took offense and badgered me.  Just couldn’t believe I might have a valid reason.  To be fair I didn’t give her one.  I plainly said “for personal reasons.”    She was flustered and called my character into question.  It turns out this is very unpopular.  To not bare one’s soul and seek absolution.  Career-focused websites will advise saying something.  But why do we feel entitled to another’s story?  

About five years ago, I signed up for a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class.  I was facilitating group therapy at the time using mindfulness meditation.  This is thee program everyone references for really deepening mindfulness practice. Groovy.  Sign me up.  Registration came with this long questionnaire asking about stressors, mental health symptoms, do you drink, how much do you sleep, have you been traumatized…Wow that’s a lot.  The only rationale given for collecting this was to “be better able to help you through the program.”  I declined to fill it out.  On the first day of the program, we met individually with the facilitator who stared at my blank pages in disbelief.   She was flustered, said she had to review this with her supervisor.  In the end I had to send an email promising that I was taking this class for personal enlightenment.  

Did I mention this is a manualized course?  There is a spiral bound, laminated workbook outlining the weeks.  So what’s that about our personal information helping to tailor the class?  MBSR is amazing.  I loved it and still use some of the techniques and ideas.  But it can also be a research project.  By collecting your data at the beginning and comparing it post-tests they have hard evidence of success.  And success begets funding in institutions.  But the marketing is all yoga poses and blissful smiles.  The benefit is purely yours.  We are just honored to be next to it.  Call me a paranoid skeptic, sure.  Or maybe I’m just a fan of transparency.  

Open Notes, the new law that allows us to see our medical notes, is in effect.  Right on.  Now medical doctor’s will have to think twice about describing us as “difficult.”  Or they won’t and we’ll just be more informed and take ourselves elsewhere.  

We manifest power when we take someone else’s story into our own hands.  A colleague/friend told me about a woman in a psychiatric institute who made a small gesture out of frustration.  When the nurse wrote it up in the chart she used the word “aggressive” and that patient was denied entry into a housing program that would have been a good fit.        

We’ve become so sure that our assessments of behavior are correct.  Psychiatrists diagnose people after one 45-minute meeting.  And they do so without ever looking at the organ they are treating.  Imagine if your doctor diagnosed you with cirrhosis without ever taking your blood.  We like diagnoses and labels.  Love them in fact.  Just look at how easily and quickly we’ve all become accustomed to hashtags.    

In the world of what does it mean for me? I’m comfortable with your uncertainty.  Sure I could tell my boss that I’ve lost my way.  That I can’t tell if I want out of this job or this whole career.  That I feel inept.  That I’d rather invite these clients to a drum circle in the woods.  But what will she gain?  Just the sense that she’s won.  She could remain elite and see me as not making the cut.  Instead, maybe I’ve left her questioning her role.  Did she contribute to my failure?  Could she have done something more, something different?  She wants absolution.  But I ain’t her savior.