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Unfinished Busines, or a letter to my father [Mar. 24th, 2014|09:19 am]
So as part of Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out at San Quentin Prison I wrote the following poem in response to a prompt asking up to write a letter to our father about the unfinished business in our relationship. It kind of long. [BTW, I volunteer in support of the program.]



Unfinished business

Unfinished business with papi
Opening this door memories
Drift up, odors sweet and foul.
Cellar shadows await below.
Now I sense why, so much is unfinished.

Papi, you are an unfinished business in me.
Two yous really, nurturing and punishing.
Sober and drunk contradict .

Three mes, child, teen, adult -- the
Child is the
Wounded one.
And then there is this old man here right now
Reflecting back to capture unfinished business.

You’ve passed, and sometimes it seems you’ve
Passed right out of me.

I know you are there in the blind of my mind
Papi the thinker, the critic, the joker, the lover,
Hiding in me, the echos of you
In me, in my boys, my daughter, my granddaughter
Unfinishing echos.

First memories of you are hard to
Grab or hold and they contradict. A
Foundation of love, a lap, a toss in the air,
Kites at the beach,
Anger, and absence.
Teasings the boy didn’t know how to take, and
Spankings undeserved.

The Man here and now thinks those
Contradictions were all about
Drinking. The man here and now
Thinks those contradictions are the
Unfinished business.

Seeking you and my unfinished business
I notice
I am the hunted and you hide in the
Blind. The missing place
Between that boy and this man.

Your drinking grew as I grew. And the
Betrayals, they grew too. But also the
Contradictions. They grew.

When I was a boy you were
Tall and strong, a man in
Full bloom. And then the
Sinkhole of your alcoholism
Swallowed whole our home and family.

Even now this man, opening this door,
Feels his heart cracked, feels the
Wreckage of that time of this
Unfinished
Business.

You were not a large man, but
You stood six feet
Tall. I looked up to you with
Pride and awe. Who knew I would
Grow to make that seem small! But
You lived by brain not brawn and
I would too.

Memories are strange, not at all
Complete. Only
Peaks and valleys get notice.

Here are some of mine I want to share.

Good things:
Flying kites at the Jersey Shore.
You taught me chess and to
Think, because you thought
-- rather than by some conscious plan.

Talents to build things with
Hands, those talents not
Gifted to me, but to my
Brothers. But my
Pride in that still clear.

Also clear from here is the
Love I have for you.

Where from this loving man in me?
Nevermind the contradictions in you and me.
No certain memory here, like the
Mummer of a distant stream I
Know you are somehow the
Fountain of love in me.
Nature or nurture not for me to say.

Those early days of simple
Childhood delight in a what seemed a
Mountainous six floor condo would soon be replaced.
Airplane to California, you already there. I was
Excited by the trip and to see you. I
Missed you I’m sure, but that’s the man here now saying that.

Memory holds images of that flight but
Not the
Arrival into your arms. The
Excitement of that time
Palpable, a motel with pool in
Sunny California. That first trip to
Disneyland, so many
Delights, but somehow
You, Papi, are hardly there. And
When you are there in those
Early days the boy remembers it as Grump.


Backfilled memory: before your
Accident in the LA fog in that first year
When I was six, you
Sang and your legs were strong. But
Metal rod and tracheotomy ended that. The
Man here now wonders about that accident.
Alcohol? No reason to believe that.

Just the same this seems the most
Likely moment for the turn, the
Turn into some dark alley of
Despair that brought you down. For sure the
Signs were there before we came to
California, though not to the child.

Looking in the hospital window,
Children weren’t allowed in in those days, I
Remember wanting you to be
Well, my hurting, but not much else. My
Life must have been consumed with
Play, only snapshots of you and mommy.

Papi, it wasn’t all bad.
That place we lived three miles from
Disneyland was a
Child’s dream, the same to
Knott’s Berry Farm.

Empty fields to play and dig and
Wander. Before the
Sinkhole took us, we had
Sunshine years playing to the
Rhythms of the
So. Cal. sun, bearfoot, free. But,
You were missing so much.

The man here now
Mourns the you not there. This
Man also wonders how much is
Backstory and how much is
Real story.


California was so different and those
First years were so full,
New House, pool,
Cub scouts, many trips to
Disneyland with each new visit,
Adventures into
Forbidden places as we
Wandered the neighborhoods.
Bags full of candy on Halloween.

Wandering my boyhood memories
Searching for you feels empty. I
Want to find you in the shadows, somehow I
Think I will know you there.
You must have been
Occupied with other things. Perhaps
Contemplating our despair.

Fondest memory: sitting on your
Lap as you told me about your
Work on the Apollo capsule which
Sat high on top of the Saturn V.

On a Sunday morning
Crawling up on the bed between
You and mommy, both
Naked under the covers
Welcoming and snuggling me.

The old man sitting here now knows you went to
Night school to reach your dreams.
Dreams interrupted by alcohol.
Dreams this old man understands, and the
Despair that can rise from unmet dreams. But the
Boy in this old man still
Cries for the Papi that went away.

Big brother, Alan, may be one reason my
Memories are not filled with you. He
Mediated much of our interaction, or perhaps your
Focus was most likely on him.
Looking back this old man sees the boy in me
Followed Alan wherever he would let me, and
He let me a lot.
I miss him.

Best Kite. We came to you with hope for a better
Kite. As in all things Alan in the lead. Something
Grabbed you about this quest, echos from your
Boyhood -- makes me wonder about the adventures you never shared.
Peering back I seem the bump on the log
Watching the play of you and Alan.

A quick trip to the hardware store,
Balsa Wood, and strong paper, for a
Six Sided kite. I watched in
Awe at your skill in
Creating this simple thing. But the
Miracle about to happen is why it
Sticks in my mind. Two boys
Trained in the art of flying
Ordinary kites
Cross to the far side of the school
Yard eager to pull our kite into the
Air with our fierce run. We let our
Papi’s master piece loose and
She flies, no run required, like no other kite we have
Known. My Papi built the
Best
Kite!


Papi, I don’t think you know how
Free we roamed. Maybe parents never know how
Far their children explore.

Memories in no particular order in time:
Pomegranate tree near the corner of
Beach Blvd and Cerritos peeling and eating up in the tree.
Tunnels in the sand inspired by the “Great Escape,”
Lucky to have survived.
Treks to Knotts Berry Farm for the capture of
Frogs -- only to be eaten by cats.
Adventures to Disneyland to
Watch the monorail and seek secret entry.
Exploration of the drainage ditches for the
Capture of pollywogs and entry to the
Turkey slaughter house just to see.


So much never shared with you, but this
Old man believes you approved.
Right here, there is a
Gap in my heart because we never shared
Our stories. I’m left
Wondering why you told us so few of your
Stories.

Sinkhole:
Moving on to the
Bad times. We never really
Spoke about your drinking, at least we came to the
Point where it was acknowledged. But that was
The man, not the boy. The boys
Pain was never acknowledged.

Disconnect: between this man and that
Boy. The boy had no tools, no
Comprehension of alcoholic drinking. Not
Picking on you, though it may seem so. I felt like the
Nexus between you and mommy. The
Drama of the alcoholic family system
Played out breaking my little loving heart.

Little me trying to fix it all. On a
Mission from mommy.
Hiding bottles of vodka,
Intervening in your fights.
Trips with you to the store to get your
Vodka to keep you on the road and from
Running into police cars.
Pleading with you to stop drinking for me.

Oh yeah! I was set up! Mommy asks,
“Ask Papi to stop drinking for the love of you.”
At least that is the best this old man can
Remember of it. The boy goes into the
Bedroom and lies on the bed with the
Stinky drunk Bopi and
Begs him to stop. And the
Drunk after some regret says “Yes, I love you and I will
Stop” You didn’t. Of course you didn’t.

This old man knows mommy was as
Sick as you, and her betrayal as
Deep.

Compassion: I realize in
Reflection I don’t really get it. I can’t
Imagine doing
That. I can’t imagine it even though I have
Fallen short in self-righteousness with
My own children. How do you loose
Complete sight of your children?
How do you? … And yet, this
Old man still loves you, the
Broken hearted boy never stopped
Loving you. And this
Old man loves the boy for it.

Papi, there is more, but this is the
Core hiding in the blind. The
Boy lay on that bed and he
Believed.
All things would be set
Right.
Papi would stop drinking and
Mommy would stop crying. The
Boy would return to
Play.

Instead a part of me hid in that blind.

Papi how do I finish this business? I
See your smile, and the
Jokester in you, whom I’ve
Denied and loved; telling me to
Enjoy. Have fun, and not to be so damn
Serious. That blind was never real.
You never passed out of me. This
Business is finished.

Love you.
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Guilt and Shame for VHV [Dec. 5th, 2013|07:31 am]
I’m having trouble getting into this guilt and shame exercise for VHV, so here is something I wrote six years ago as part of my own narrative exploration. I've edited to remove typos and make it clearer.

I was in the fourth grade and my new best friend at school was Alex Rodriguez (too old to be the baseball player). I didn’t have a lot of friends and I held Alex closely. Alex was a Mexican kid, big but not as big as me. Alex and I were the good guys. The bad guy was John French. John had been held back twice and should have been in sixth grade. John was a bully.

John terrorized most of the boys in the fourth grade class. I’m not sure when John showed up. I don't think he was there at the start of the school year, but he wasn't there at the end of the year. He had shown up in school not more than a month before. This is Orange County CA in the 60’s, a different time than now. Kids were not coddled and taken care of the way middle class folk like me take care of our kids now. A play date, might have referred to a school performance.

Unlike what I think it is like in middle class schools these days, we, the boys anyway, fought a lot in those days. My sense is that today fights are about winning no matter what, but an import part of this story is that in those days we had in my neighborhood a code honor. You didn't hit someone when they were down, you didn't break someone's glasses, you didn't gang up, and you stopped the fight when the other guy said "uncle." I don’t want to give the impression that I was a tough kid, because I wasn’t, but I had never lost a fight in school. I am of course a big man and I was the biggest kid in my age group. So fights were common, but I would soon give up fighting.

When John came to school he needed to let us all know he was the meanest kid in fourth grade. I remember that John did not do well in class and he was disruptive, but more than anything he hated being shown up in class. One day Billy, one of the smaller boys in our class, laughed at some incorrect response the John gave to Ms. Jones. Miss Jones was a first year teacher and by my reckoning she was quite beautiful. I still remember the crush I had on her. I would be surprised if John did not feel as I. Billy was buddies with Alex and me, but closer to Alex.

At lunch that day Alex and I were together, as usual, when on the playground when over near the monkey bars a shoving match broke out. It was John and Billy. "Don't you ever laugh at me again!”, John shouted. Billy was scared, he knew he could not stand up to John. Billy stammered an "OK." But the next instant French cold cocked Billy and then jumped on him and started smashing his face with Billy on the ground. Alex and I ran over.

"Get off of him," Alex exhorted. John stopped longed enough to challenge Alex to stop him. Even though Alex was younger and smaller than French he accepted. These days I would hope that a fight like this would have been stopped already by an alert staff member, but not back then 45 years ago. After administering one last blow to the hapless Billy he got up and engage Alex. Alex being honorable of course waited. As ten year olds our fights did not last all that long. Knowing that Alex could take John I struggled with my sense of honor on the sidelines as John and Alex got into a good tussle, after a few swings they were on the ground, and French got his legs around Alex's head. After a few minutes of this Alex began to yell uncle. French did not relent, and that is when I entered the fray.

I then told French to stop or I was getting in. The scenario repeated. French again got up to engage me, me waiting. Even though also younger I was John's size. I presented another psychological threat also, as my brother, in 6th grade, was both the biggest kid in school and acknowledged by all as the toughest. I slipped John's punch and tackled him. Perhaps I benefited from his tiredness. We wrestled for a short while and I got him in a headlock with my other hand prepared to punch him in the face if he did not give. After a while I was grateful that he gave in. We both got up. Still no adult to be seen. Words were exchange. "You are coward," I told him. "You ever do that to Billy again and I'll pound you," Alex asserted. Finally a teacher comes on the scene. “Break it up” she demand, we did and the teacher asked no questions but took Billy to the nurse. We didn't say anything, that's part of the code too, don't squeal to the authorities. I felt a shame over the things that happened after, and I wouldn't tell anyone this story for twenty years. The last words were French's, "this isn't over!"

The next day Alex and I were at our usual spot, leaning against the wall around the corner from Ms Jones' class. No doubt we were discussing the last day's fight watching the playground. To our surprise John walked up to us with a friendly greeting. He was sorry and we had shown him that he was wrong, and now he wanted to be friends. He told us his dad had told him that he should apologize make friends with us. Alex, perhaps the wiser of the two of us, refused. I was hesitant but acquiesced to walk home together after school. Alex advised me against it. Perhaps even today I’m too ready to overlook past behavior, I hooked up with John at the end of the day and engaged in like a friendly chat as we started on the walk towards our homes.

John was very talkative and I would learn a surprising amount about John on what was a fairly short walk. He lived with his dad. His dad had been to jail, had taught him how to fight. His mother had not been around since he was a baby. We lived in Stanton which borders Anaheim. Our school and my house was three miles from Disneyland -- this is good thing when you are ten. I would find out they didn’t have much money and that John lived on the wrong side of the tracks. As we walked John asks me to go home with him. At first I said I could not, but he begged, said that he really wanted me to see his house and spend some time together. This played into my desire to have more friends and was hard to resist. I knew I could get away with it, and despite the school and parental rules I agreed.

So we passed my house and turned left toward the inactive railroad tracks, the drainage ditch, and the old still uncovered but inactive dump. This was a place, also against the rules, for endless hours of exploration and games for my brother, myself, and other mischievous friends. I knew the territory. But it was a mostly empty of people and so John and I were alone.

As we passed the tracks on the dirt road and the closed gate that cut to the dump I was feeling pretty good. I had a new friend that had told me many things about his life, and I perhaps had told him some things about my alcoholic father and my other troubles. For some reason John fell a few steps behind but encouraged me to continue. Suddenly, I found myself face down in the dirt powder of the road. He had knocked me down. I turned onto my back and shocked asked, "why did you do that?"

"Now I'll show how to really fight!" He then pulled out and threw a small pocket knife at my feet and proceeded to open a slightly bigger one. "Get up and fight," he demand! I’m sure I laid there terrified for a few minutes not knowing what to do, this was way outside the code of honor from my middle class neighborhood. "No, I'm not stupid," I squeaked. We stayed in this position, me lying on the dirt with French standing over me for what seemed like the longest time. I guess even French had some code of honor because he eventually acquiesced. He let me know that I could not tell anyone or he would kill me, kicked some dirt at me and stomped off toward home. After I laid there crying for a few minutes. I got up dusted the dirt from my cloths and went home.

When I got home my mother noticed I was late and that I had some dirt on my cloths that I had not completely cleaned. I made up some story about staying after school which she bought -- one of the benefits of parents overwhelmed with their own lives. At dinner that night I considered telling, I was scared and really wanted to tell, but I was also ashamed and scared to tell. I had broken the rules, but more importantly I felt ashamed that I had not fought John. He had bested me. I'm sure I consider telling for some time but it stayed a secret.

I made up some story for Alex and stayed away from John. I suspect my relationship with Alex was damaged and maybe my trust of the world as a safe place. Fortunately, John French moved away again after a few months -- his father had gone back to jail and he had to go to a foster home again. Sadly, Alex also moved away before the end of the year. And as I said I kept the story to myself, forgetting it most of that time, for twenty years.

Later that year I got into a fight with another boy on the play ground. It got broke up by a teacher, no punishment. After I stood there crying, which the other boys took to mean he had won the fight. I didn't know why I was crying, but I resolved then and there to never be in a fight again -- the only except to that was a fight with my older brother five years later. I cold cocked him when he didn't expect it, but when he got up he beat the shit out of me.
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The Q 07112013 [Jul. 16th, 2013|07:56 am]
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I went into the office at Brick for the first time in almost three weeks Wednesday. I’ve been gone getting new teeth in Costa Rica. I flew in early Tuesday evening to the sight of a 777 strewn over a runway at SFO. Wednesday was busy. With way too many action items, I decided I would not follow the normal schedule and drive north to Novato, instead I would stay at my apartment in Los Gatos and forgo seeing my lover and showing up at the Q for Veterans Healing Veterans. My sweetheart sanctioned my choice. But when I woke early Thursday I knew I couldn’t stay; I had a commitment to witness and support some twenty men. So I was at the coffee shop shortly after 6AM getting a breakfast bagel and large coffee, and soon headed up I280, through SF and finally arriving home at 7:40AM.

The morning went well, B and I had many nice hugs, warm words of being glad to see each other, only one flare. Then three intense hours of the kind of liberty afforded someone making a living doing software these days followed -- I sat on the couch, laptop on lap, writing code, and doing the other minutiae involved in software development in the early 21st century. At shortly after 11AM I was out the door to get a burrito that I would wolf down and drive to San Quentin Prison.

I met Nancy, the volunteer brown card holder authorized to hold this meeting, five minutes late at 11:35. But it was was a good day at the Q, we moved quickly through the outer gate, and then as quickly as ever through the inner gate. To get this far I’ve gone down the checklist: the right color cloths, take id out of wallet, no phone, knives, etc. Paper, pen OK. I could have my wallet, but this seems unwise. The outer gate gives access to the prison offices and to the inner gate. To get through it all you need is good reason and your name on a list of those cleared to enter, cloths that meet the dress code, show your id, and sign in. The inner gate, the count gate, does not have a list. The gate of hell; by passing this gate you are acknowledging your life may be forfeit if necessary to subdue one or more prisoners. The concerns may be more real, but compared to getting on an airplane these days it seems pretty easy. At the Q the inner gate is about 300 yards from the outer gate. There is a tower with guards above it, but when you come up to the door, since you are not an escaping prisoner, you forget it is there. The door leads to a wide hallway with another guard. This morning no prison personnel were coming in or out, which is one reason the passage was quick, because as a visitor one always defers. You sign in. Remove metal from pockets, move to the guard, show him your id. This morning he choose not to wand me. He stamps my wrist with UV sensitive ink. Nancy and I pass to the next step which is the wait for another gate and guard who sits behind bulletproof glass in a room between two steel bar gates -- like the prison walls you’ve seen in video your whole life. We hold up our ids indicating the we have the requirement to pass this gate. The gate lock buzzes and Nancy opens the gate, we both step through and I close the gate -- thunk. We hold up our Ids for the guard to examine despite the fact that she might be as much as six feet away -- at best she can note that they legal ids. She buzzes the second gate, we walk through and I close this gate behind us with the same thunk. Presumably we’ve been counted. We are in the prison.

This is familiar territory to both of us, this is my seventh time in the prison. If one does not look up and read the signs or notice the razor wire it could be a college campus or a church yard, which in some sense it is as there are two chapels, and multiple prisoner offices, to our right -- gardens, fountains, and a guard shack as well. Nancy now forgoes the alarm buzzer we can pick up from that shack and carry as visitors. When we started this a few months ago she did not -- she and I do not feel unsafe here among robbers, and murderers.

We proceed past this area and to the right around the large multi-story building in front of us. Fifty yards ahead is a three story wall -- I have not been beyond this wall but it has several towers with rifled guards, it has doors in a few places, and I know that this is where some prisoners work -- Prison Industries. The road goes left here and there are original prison cells no longer in use to our left as we round the corner. Soon we pass the building and come onto the yard. This time of the day there are many prisoners out getting exercise, playing games, walking or running the yard, gathering in corners, etc. You have seen this place, or some other yard much like it, in many movies. We are headed to the other end of the yard where the ARC building stands. The Addiction Recovery Center (or something like that) is where 12-step meetings are held as well as many other group meetings such as ours -- it is a permanent temporary shelter -- it is beyond a fence with yet another gate, but this is normally unlocked this time of day because the building has been in use, so this day we don’t stop at the guard shack in the yard to ask that it be unlocked.

We walk through the yard, sometimes being acknowledged by prisons, sometimes not, but always seen. The prisoners are hyper alter, walking point, appearing calm. Today Don, the leader and creator of VHV, and I guy who comes across even in prison blues as a CEO, is already in the building and has set up the circle. Don is not a CEO, could be, instead he is a decorated Marine; he holds a masters degree. Bill, another marine is also there. We spend twenty minutes talking business about VHV as the men arrive and take seats. A few minutes before 12:30 we move to the circle and take our seats. Today, which is common, some men are late, something is going bad in one of the cell blocks which will delay them. Some will trickle in, and some will not show. After some discussion we begin a check in. Don reminds us that this is physical, emotional, spiritual.

Before things get going, I walk around the circle and greet the men. I retake my seat next to JD, the official facilitator for this meeting, he picks Kent who is across the circle to start. Kent is emotionally tight, but is good with god today, and he picks the direction to his right for the next guy. The check ins proceed with good, good, OK, or pain, good, good, etc. When it gets to JC he mentions the exercise we are all invited to be working. Our first trauma.

The therapeutic process we are involved in is called narration therapy. The exercise we are working is to write about our first trauma -- this is our first exercise. I have brought my write up, which I’m a little anxious about. Some significant check ins. Steve who is very tight offers maybe his first real check-in, he is glad to show up. Next, JC, one of three out of twenty that said he could not remember his first trauma, but he says “I think I’m getting some ideas of what it might be.” This is the fourth session since we started reading our traumas -- I’ve missed two of these. JC clearly feels hesitant, uncertain. After JC, Toney tells us he has just started VOEG (victim offender education group) training and that he is a little raw, but that it is a good kind of raw. Nancy and JD check in as doing well though Nancy is stressed about her son, and its my turn. I’m aware that I’m glad to be here again, and with my “trauma” in hand perhaps I feel ready to join in. “I’m physically OK, and happy to have new teeth” -- I give a big smile which gets approval from around the circle, “emotionally and spiritually good.” We finish going around the circle.

[As I write I’m wondering who my audience is and how I can share who these men are, but I think I can only reflect who they are through my experience.] The common theme in this room is that we are vets (the only exception being Nancy, because we need one brown card holder -- I don’t have my six months in grade to qualify.) We are white, black, hispanic, and asian. We have educations from did not graduate high school, to masters.

JD is a thin black man, probably early to mid fifties, but he could be 60. Army, but not combat, at least not serious combat. I don’t know how he came to be here behind the wall. Today he is religious, or maybe spiritual, and religion is the way he knows to express this. He recently lost his mother, the last person from his life beyond the wall. He seems just a little unstable to me, but a good man -- maybe that is how he came here. But in this moment he is about to show great wisdom.

JD checks with the three scheduled to read today, that they are ready. It turns out one of them is Nancy. This feels good because this takes care of that little shadow of doubt that it is appropriate for me to do my work here also. But before he starts any of them he comes back to JC and asks: “seems you’ve had something of a breakthrough, care to share more about that?”

RC, still hesitant, describes his mother raging when he was five, with him as silent witness she breaks all the glass things in her room, cutting herself. He still struggles with the idea that this is trauma. But he understands that much of his extreme behavior is rooted here. The circle comes in to support, asking questions, explaining how they see it, sharing related experiences. He talks about not really feeling anything. There any many attempts to give JC context in which to see this. I think about mad, glad, sad, what speaks to me is to add something about trauma leading to not feeling safe. JC shares that his younger siblings stopped sharing with JC the bad things that happened, because JC would avenge. He talks about his brother who is also in the Q and does not know the story just shared. JC’s sharing is brought to a close by Don bringing it back to the exercise: great stuff, now the process is to write it down and read it to the group, because this is different than just telling it. JC has no resistance to this and agrees to do so -- he clearly has gotten something from today. The circle is alive, intimate.

I am struck over and over with how much identify with these men. There stories are different than mine, but not different enough not seem them as like me. I keep thinking about my trauma story as theirs are read, that being stuck here semi-permanent is luck more than wisdom.

JD picks Nancy to read next. Her reading is short -- two paragraphs -- her mother left her alcoholic depressed father with Nancy in tow when she was three years-old returning to Australia. Terrible nightmares with monsters followed. They came back when she was six, mother and father reunited. Here the depth of these men surprised me. Most of their questions were not deep or penetrating, but they also did not just let her sit there. They asked her questions, could the monster be about parents arguing, proposed that she loved her father very much, inquired about the well being of Nancy and her mother and father. Soon there were tears. The catharsis evident. Honesty and simplicity won the day, and allowed for release. Nancy had been close and connected to her father for the last fifteen years of his life, and this was very vital to her now that he is gone. There was acknowledgement that this was a good story, a hopeful story that shows redemption is possible.

Next up was Isaac. Isaac is one of the leaders of this group. He also participated in the previous group -- the first of this kind. I think, but am not certain that like Don he has participated in VOEG training. Some of the content and wisdom of the group was birthed in VOEG training. Isaac is one of those men that carries himself in a way that demands respect. He was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. He would say when questioned, “I joined the Rangers because my patriotism wasn’t about dying for my country but doing the job and doing it well,” and that he wanted to be with other guys of like mind that fully intended to get out alive. The demand for respect is exemplified in the respect he gives others.

As a five year old Isaac remembers his father knocking on the door late at night, but nobody would answer, and he was forbidden. His mother’s new boyfriend was there. Later Isaac witnesses a fight between mother and boyfriend where mom is almost thrown out a window of his little room. Only the reality that she was going out the window created the energy to get out of the man’s grasp. Mom kept men in her life because it made it easier to take care of Isaac and siblings. Over the years there would be more incidents, more boy friends that abused, some men that abused him when she was not around. He had to learn not to tell his father because this only made it worse.

Isaac is a strong man, perhaps buttoned down more than he would admit, but evident that he has done a lot of personal work. Kent challenges him on being buttoned down, his questions almost accusatory. “I was buttoned down like you, and when it exploded it led to bad shit, are you like that?” This is where Isaac explains why he joined the Rangers. Clearly Kent is projecting, but I also see something there. I wonder how Isaac came to be here -- this side of the wall. Isaac is not perturbed like a man in denial though, he takes the issue on directly.

Our time isn’t up, but we don’t have time for another man. The three stories have taken an hour and forty-five minutes, and only fifteen remain. JD suggests that we use the time to checkout, but first asks does anyone have anything to say, or questions still to ask. Several men offer words of support to JC, Kent, and Nancy. Then Steve asks, through some awkward searching, so where is the therapeutic stuff? “There is no therapist here.” Steve is a wounded man, he has referenced several times that he is scared about this process that some of the shit he has gone through is stuff he has never shared; he clearly is uncertain that he will. Plainly Steve wants to come out of his self imposed cage -- one more restrictive than this prison. This question shifts the energy, everyone knows this is big. There is a pause, then Don explains that the writing followed by reading is the primary process. A lot of discussion ensues. Men with more experience giving their version of why and how this works. Steve seems to get it and for the first time says he will write.

I’m blown away, there are tears in my eyes, but I’m too embarrassed to tear openly. Each time I have been in this circle I have been deeply moved. Twenty years in circles outside of this place and there have been few moments as deeply moving. Few moments where I have been witness to this kind of courage. Men allowing themselves to be vulnerable among those that can truly hurt them. They are doing this after just two months. I’ve seen men’s groups go years between demonstrating this kind of courage.

Nancy, Don, Isaac, Randy, JD, and I, as the leaders meet after the meeting. I am moved as I think I have been after every meeting to tell them they are doing remarkable work.

As Nancy and I reversed our path out the prison; through the yard, uncounted at the count gate, wrist under the UV light to prove I’m me, sign out, sign out again. I knew why I had got up in the morning and made the hour and a half trek. It wasn’t just that I had a commitment to these men, it was also that I wanted to be filled with their courage and to discovered what work is here for me.
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Costa Rica, hanging with some ex-pats [Jul. 5th, 2013|08:47 pm]
Wow, after two weeks here a conversation with a bunch of half crazy ex-pats.

If you should find yourself in Heredia, Costa Rica, on a Friday afternoon, head to San Rafael de Heredia and ask the taxi to talk you to Bar Pachis, there you will meet a few ex-patriots, Fred, John, Bill, Bill, Joe, Judy, and a few other folks. John was a 2 star general in the army, Fred is a dentist, Joe a professional gambler, not sure about Bill, Bill, and Judy, but I intend to find out more tomorrow. This group has been together awhile, ya know like the joke about about the guys that says 13, and they all bust up in laughter. If you don't know the joke, just forget it.

It was a lot of story, but some of it really good story. John saved a little girl from a pile of dead people and raise her as his daughter -- 50 years ago.

Joe bought a house on a tip about the odds in a tennis match, and made enough to buy an excellent view from the hill.

It was fun, and never had a good time with a general, a dentist, and gambler, and other folks that have lived some piece of their life full out.

Maybe more tomorrow, maybe not.

But tomorrow I get my teeth back, well not my teeth, but the stuff they put on my implants.

rs
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Trauma, and the Q, and Herendia, Costa Rica, and teeth [Jun. 29th, 2013|11:59 am]
First, I'm in Herendia right now getting almost all of my bottom teeth replaced. I'm sitting in a hotel room. I've been here a week. Right now the bottom mouth has six implants and two teeth. I also have a very uncomfortable appliance.

I volunteering at San Quentin in support of https://www.facebook.com/VeteransHealingVeteransFromTheInsideOut. I'm not in the picture because I missed that day. We meet in a circle and work through our issue. Our current project is to write about our first Trauma -- i.e. the start of the path to PTSD. Now I don't have PTSD, but I've had my share of trauma, and I'm sure I've had and still have those places in my life where I over react because of my trauma.

My First Trauma [edited July 1]:

The first trauma I remembered a few weeks back when this exercise was suggested was when my older brother and I wrestled my father down so he wouldn’t get stabbed by my mother. I know I carried this trauma with me for a long time, but it feels to me that I shed it sometime back. As I write this I’m struggling to get back to that place.

I believe I was eleven, and my brother thirteen, when this happened, or least it happened close to the time that we finally left the home. It was a time of many traumas, ones that would follow, and I’m sure many that came before. It stands out because I felt heroic and shamed at the same time.

My father was an alcoholic; I’d say “is,” if he was still alive. From the time I was 9 or 10 and several years after this he was drinking chronically. His chronic drinking was the only reason that we, as boys, were capable of wresting my father in any meaningful way. He was so drunk that he staggered.

I can’t remember exactly what my mother and father fought over, but in these days they fought a lot. They were screaming and threatening each other while the two of stood by; my five year old bother no where in my memory. It was a war of two insane wills. No matter how it started, I remember my father staggered down the hallway and my mother rushed to the kitchen to get the largest knife and then stood at the end of the hall hysterically daring him to keep on coming. He kept on coming.

I suspect it was my brother that moved first but in my memory we moved in unison to intercede. My father tried to resist with both muscles and words, but we wrestled him to the floor. The three of us rolled there on the floor – he stunk from not bathing and a week of constant vodka ingestion. I remember feeling desperate to stop him from getting up. “Stop, please stop.” The struggle didn’t last long; something in him came to its senses. I suspect he didn’t want to hurt us. Then we had to talk down my still out of control mother.

When I got up from the floor I felt triumphant – like some primordial victory over the father. Joy that I had protected the mother. And at the same time shame, deep shame, that this had happened. I don’t remember even talking about it with my brother, but this time became our shared secret -- our shared wound. I'm sure it was on my mind for some time after this. I had terrible performance problems at this time in school, problems that I still have a hard time connecting to the hell at home, but then I had some learning issues as well and reflection being imperfect I don’t know how much to ascribe each.

As I think about it now it must have been a while before we moved out, maybe I was younger than I thought. In any case, I struggled with school from forth grade though high school. I managed to not get into serious trouble from ten to twenty more by luck then by sense, but also because I isolated. I suspect I was shy before this, but I do know this after I made few friends, I wasn't exactly afraid of men but my relationships (all of my relationships) were poor. I hung out in the reject pool, was unwilling to engage in most age appropriate socials.

I felt different, and the easiest modality for me was to be by myself. My burden was taking care of that younger brother while my mother struggled to food on the table on a roof over our heads. I became mommies boy, her partner taking care of my brother and new age spiritual seekers together. This wasn't all bad, but even in that I was isolated with no real friends through most of high school. In looking back I see that I circled the wagons, my mother and bothers were my only safe place.

Somehow rather than corrupting me, it became a sacred vow not to be like him. Or maybe it was to be like the loving man he was at core. When I say "it" here, I suppose I mean this time as much as this event. There were other events that in retrospect I see as trauma.

It occurs to me that one reason I'm a veteran is I needed to get away from my life and grow up. At the time I told myself it was for the benefits and to serve my country, but really it was to have a space to heal. I needed a new environment where I could begin to relate to other people without the weight of history I felt.
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depression [Apr. 29th, 2013|10:48 pm]
the problem with waking up a little bit is that it can be indistinguishable from depression.  they both have a tendency to see the world as it is, and that isn't always so good.

the world is seen with its discontinuities.  its less than perfect smoothness.  and you know there is no grace, just blind luck.

I saw a teeshirt today that said"no king, no god, no mercy." Just blind luck.

And yet there is the knowledge in that awakeness that if waking up and being done is possible then whatever there is in this world to navigate can be.

this younger generation -- as represent by the teeshirt --  gets some thing of this partially awake problem.  They have been fed irony all of their lives ...
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what is a life coach [Apr. 7th, 2013|03:21 pm]
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What is a life coach?  It takes a lot of splaining.   It is probably what the therapists that aren't sick want to be.  It is interaction in support of fulfillment without the thought that there is something to fix.

I'm going to introduce the guys in the mentoring program to to the idea of coaching and so I have to think about it.   I may start with the difference between my view of mentoring and coaching.  A mentor has some domain knowledge and part of his task is imparting that knowledge.  A coach may not know shit, except how to coach.

in that way a coach is like a therapist, but s/he probably know more because s/he has done something other than therapise.  On the other hand he knows less because s/he has not theory of who the client is, or what the client should do, or what is right or wrong with the client.  Instead he s/he just wants to further the agenda of the client.  The coach has such a big head that he believes in the clients big A -- agenda.  He is using his stupid question, in discriminate curiosity, complete lack of self involvement to focus his attention on that other person to encourage her definition of forward movement.

The first quality of a coach is non-judgment.  The kind of non-judgment that opens the ears to listen, but not only the ears, smell, taste, touch, pain, sight, joy, intuition, and whatever are opened by the lack of judgment.   By judgment I mean the fear of meeting something in ourselves that shuts down the ears, the eyes, the tongue, the heart so that we don't have a chance of experiencing pain.   In non-judgment the coach listens with all these senses, but especially with the senses of pain and joy.

It some ways it easier to say what a coach isn't than what s/he is.  Not a therapist.  Not an adviser.  Not a mentor,  Not an expert in anything but coaching.  But s/he overlaps with all.  Like a therapist sometimes deals with deeply emotional issues, both joy and suffering.  Like an adviser is a trusted confidant.   Like a mentor listens.  Like an expert -- oh never mind he isn't an expert.




 
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mornings like these [Apr. 5th, 2013|12:43 pm]
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This morning C and I had a disagreement.  It was about the laundry.  Well no not about the laundry, but money, and whether I embarrassed her about money.  Well not really, it was about her not really listening to what I say, instead of hearing some filter that says I care about how much money she spends on the laundry.  A few months ago she said something about me paying for the laundry -- well not really but there was an idea me paying sometimes.  The real problem is I made a comment about how much more her laundry bill was than mine.  This hit some sore point -- or so I believe.  C was gone most of the week after a weekend in Las Vegas with her daughter and husband and five kids and she just came home last night and we pretty much went straight to bed except for her complaining about a few dishes and cloths.  She did thank me several times for picking her up at the airport.  So this morning I need to take her to work -- her car was getting worked on while she traveled -- and the laundry in the morning.  But on the way she brings up the one conversation we/she started last night.  Now that's a big subject to try and explain -- so I won't but it was about money and the my belief that she doesn't trust that I will take care of myself if we were to get married and I jumped into the full time coaching.  You see she is very likely to get a very high paying job in the next few weeks which might require her to spend a lot of time in LA and to travel a lot and kind of cause us to change our life  -- and it would be the opportunity for me to do the jump at the same time.  But each time this is discussed there is this subtle and sometimes not so subtle distrust that I not will take care of myself of my part of the world that if I didn't have to make money I'd fold up and die or something.  And I am burnt out at my job and the smallest disruption like today causes me to have a hard time working.  And I am afraid of it so I react.  I can't do this -- the whole relationship -- if she is putting a bar for me to achieve as a life coach -- and I just want to say fuck it, I'm not going to enter this to meet some standard of hers.  I'm willing to support her in her adventure and I want the same -- which I don't even like admitting.  So there I am in the car feeling like this is unworkable.  Anyway we arrive at the laundry and after being told that the bill is like $150 dollars which she perceives as low!  She doesn't really get it that I paid part of the bill two weeks before, I think like $200 -- this after I paid another bill for over $300 two months before.  But I accept that hey ok maybe it is only $150 but I add my part of that is like $20 at most and that all I was saying before was that seems like a big ratio.  For her this is a statement that she spends too much, not a statement that hey I don't mind sharing the bill and I have been since you brought it up, but your idea that we are somehow 50/50 on this is a bit ridiculous.  As we are leaving the laundry I get "I'm never to embarras her like this again!"  I didn't even bring up the topic, I just was too stupid and stubborn to not just let it go -- because I fucking want to be understood -- stupid.  So then I'm like "I just want out of this, I want to go away."

So much for that ...

I went to the Q twice this week.  I had to escape from work to do it and I'm behind which in some bizarre way is why I'm writing at this moment -- i.e. the nexus between the above and how I feel about the time at the Q.   The time at the Q is the human stuff I want to do.  What can I say about what I experienced there.  Dignity, honestly, compassion, courage, ...

I heard a man talk about the crimes that turned him into a man in blue.  I got in visceral way his regret and his acceptance of responsibility and the rejection of that responsibility that only caused pain.  And I saw the path of trauma that led him to there.  I saw a life of pent up rage that emptied a gun and made a great athlete.

I have to step up to the integrity that these men.  Next week I have to create a lesson for next week.
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the Q [Apr. 1st, 2013|09:10 pm]
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Last Thursday I went to the Q to possibly, probably, start a regular process in the prison with veterans dealing with PTSD.

I'm going in at the invitation of this guy, Brenton MacKinnon.



I read the book after going in with him.  It is an excellent read, well written.  Brent is a talented writer.

I'm going in to support a group that is training to be mentors, especially for vets with PTSD that find themselves in the prison.  But I'll also do my best to make time to go the PTS support group.

I don't know where it will go, but I'm hopeful that I can support these men and others.
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the story of time [Mar. 15th, 2013|08:32 pm]
that we are caught in linear time or in one level of being is just the story this brian tells itself, but it could no more be awareness than a rock.

but that's right the awareness is everywhere, everything, everytime.
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