Monday, September 28, 2015

Political solutions 1

I am usually loath to post much about politics because there are way too many meaningless, useless, baseless opinions floating around the Internet already. Still, I do have some random thoughts, so why not add to the confusion?

It appears that John Boehner actually listened to what the Pope had to say.  That led to          some kind of epiphany and he resigned. He was not a politician I admired, but I fear I           will miss him.

That’s how it is here in the land
of winners and losers, whiners and supplicants.
That, of course again leads to
the visit of the traveling Pontiff.   Why won’t he be included in the next
Republican debate?  Now that would make for some Reality TV.   He’s got more
money than Trump, and a better costume.

I have read that there is a big
likelihood of a government shutdown over the selling of body parts for medical
research.  I think it is time to not shut down the government, but to shut down
Congress until the next election, if not for the next twenty years.  They
clearly don’t serve any function any more. Perhaps this democracy thing has run
it’s course.  It may be time for Oliver Cromwell, even flawed as he was.  A
good, self-impressed bureaucrat who can execute corrupt government officials,
corporate executives, bankers and hedge-fund managers just because he doesn’t
like their attitudes. A few executions of rich white men could do a lot for this

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why all this?

My girls are stressed. They are worried about wild animals and poison ivy.  But they are four and five years old and they have just been able to realize that the world is full of danger, especially if they're away from Mommy or Daddy. It's a normal reaction.  They have found out that the world is full of difficulties, but that's never going to change.  The difficulties these two little girls face are ripples in the water compared to the waves that most of the children of the world have to deal with, but everything can look ominous when you're four.

What saddens me more is how much fear and stress so many adults seem to be carrying around, and I'm not talking about the folks who are risking their lives to find safety, fleeing from countries where governments and rebels kill everyone in their path.  I'm referring to people who are trying to earn a living, support a family, pay for college, plan for retirement, take care of a sick or old person -- all the things that happen in a life.

I've been reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. In the early part of the book he makes the point that the move from the life of the hunter/gatherer to the agricultural way of life was a big step for civilization, but not a good move for most of the people the vast majority were peasants and had to work the land as long as the sun was up.  A few nobles and royalty lived the life of leisure. Now, I can't say that I agree with this, as I have not interviewed too many hunter/ gatherers. The lives of some of the  adolescent street kids I see actually seem to depend upon many of the same skills that helped the survival of our very early ancestors, and the lives of these kids is certainly quite stressful, so I'm not sure I agree with him.

But the point is this, technological advances, whether it is the ability to harvest wheat, develop GMO crops, find directions with a GPS, or ask Siri how to make onion soup, are all ways that make life easier, but also have the unintended consequence of making life go faster, and thus making people more stressed.

One hundred years ago, when T.R. was president, he would work from 9 Am to noon.  He would send out letters and and wait two weeks to get an answer.  Now everything is instantaneous. The result is that people have to work all the time. If you open an email people expect an answer, immediately.  Now people won't read their emails.

Even fifty years ago most people worked 9 to 5, went home, had a cocktail, watched TV and went to bed.  Now people can work at home, but they also feel the pressure to be working 24 hours a day.

AND, since everything is running constantly, businesses have learned to charge on a subscription basis.  There are fewer things you own; that can be paid for once and that's it.  Every month we pay for cable TV, protective software, phones, cloud storage, data, software,.  Medical companies have caught on.  Drug companies have developed medicines we need to take a pill a week or every day for the rest of our lives.  Nothing is cured; we pay on subscription.  Oxygen tanks are rented, breathing machines are leased.

That means we have to keep on working to make the monthtly payments.  Even a mortgage had a 30 year limit. Iinternet, wireless and medicines go on for ever.

It's supposed to make us healthier, but it creates stress.

So don't worry, the coyotes who roam suburbia won't eat you, but the corporations, who are just there to make a living -- except for places like Volkswagen who knew they were cheating us-- will help keep the stress level high.  And stress corrupts our immune system, which makes us more vulnerable to depression, cancer, diabetes, and just plain irritable pissed-offedness, which stresses relationships.

I don't know if there is a way out, except all of my patients who are over seventy seem to have found the TV station that plays only shows that ran before 1972.  Gun Smoke, Mayberry, and Leave It to Beaver seem very reassuring as the antidote to stress.  Fox News brings on heart attacks.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

back at it

After nearly three months I returned to my cozy corner office and sat mostly in the same chair and saw people I had not seen all summer, and one whom I had not seen for ten years.

I spent the whole day there, just one day, but it was certainly enough immerse me over my head in the reality of what goes on this side of the bridge.

I had spent the summer near the beach, watching and swimming as the tides rolled in and out.  Back in my office, by eleven o'clock, after just three hours, I had a much more intense feeling of what it is like to fight against the tide.

None of the people I saw were crazy.  None of them even had bad judgment, even though it could be said they made mistakes, most of their bad behaviors were the consequence of having only bad options available.

By eleven o'clock I had heard what had happened over the interim to realize that not everyone's summer was as blissful as mine.  People suffered with losses of love, money and health. There were  financial losses which were made worse by vindictive family conflicts over the scraps that were left.  These losses were due to illnesses, business decisions made in distant countries, and deceit.

In addition, people talked about the death and dying of close friends and family members. Now there is often a new layer of troubles, which has become more common over the past five years. It is the return of adult children to their parents' home. Often these children, ranging in age from twenty-five to forty, return after a divorce, and bring a child or two with them.  In some cases it is only the grandchild who is now part of the home, as that child's father or mother is lost somewhere out there, due to some addiction, or just total defeat.

Unemployment is down, but the jobs many people have now pay less, have no permanence, and can be very stressful.

Yet, almost all of the people I met with were resilient. With a little support they seem to find a way to carry-on. In the darkness there is a lot o dark humor.  Speaking of her sixteen year-old daughter one woman said:"She broke my heart and went to live with her father.  I was pleased to see how she ripped his heart out and stomped on it, but now she has come back to me."

 My role is to help them sort through options and anticipate consequences, even when the options are few.  My hope is to give them hope that there is some reward for just continuing the process.  That's what we all do anyway.

What adds to the sadness is how little trust there is now in so many of the institutions that we used to rely on to stabilize our world. To a large extent our government is a mess, our religions are being used as often to create conflict as they are to offer comfort, so many businesses seem to be slightly sleazy if not outright corrupt, and the way forward seems very uncertain.

But individually, each person is genuine, sincere, kind and caring, to the best of their abilities, under the circumstances. They attempt to ride over each wave looking for moments of peace and happiness.

The contradictions are everywhere.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.

Monday, September 14, 2015


I've been back on this side of the bridge for over a week, but I'm still not good at it. I am reuniting with friends and family who are part of the world, but it's not going that well. Tomorrow will be my first day going back into my office, and I'm wondering what it will be like.
i hope it helps me settle in and get reoriented.

i contacted several people who had told me they wanted to see me in my office.  They all seemed really pleased with the idea.  I was flattered, but I was a bit confused.  What is it that I do?

I spent a good part of today remembering, and I think I've got it down.

I had a great summer.  The time passed quickly and mostly without thought.  I was active, outside, moving around.  Friends came, the kids came, we all moved around together.  We ate, We drank, We hung-out.  As I said, the world on the other side of the bridge was free and light and happy (unreal).

This world is crowded, fast and busy.  It always has been.  But now, after a break like this, it seems crazy and frantic.  Every body's moving fast but things go so slowly. Every one's a little pissed-off because they can't get enough done.  They can't get enough done because few people agree on what the priorities are: Get out of my way! Leave me alone! Listen to me!

Build a road, build a bridge, take the kids to day-care. Go to war, don't go to war.  Vote for this clown, vote for that elitist.  Change the world, but pay the mortgage first.  Give the kids supper.

Sit in traffic, sit in the meeting, but be creative, be innovative. Think of the Next New Thing, watch football, but put the kids to bed first.

It's confusing to me because I don't need to do any of that any more.  I can sit and read fairy tales and watch TV re-runs.  It's more difficult to see the sun set around all these building.

But I do help put the kids to bed -- no fussing!! I do have to pay the bills, and tomorrow I will go to my office and see some folks.  I have been wondering how they are doing.  I hope I can ease them in the right direction.

I still don't have any sessions planned with the three lonely, more than a little crazy, women over sit-five, who really don't trust anyone in the world, except maybe me, sometimes. But they all called, wondering if I'm coming back.  Why did I come back?

I also have another project I am starting that will change the entire delivery of mental health services!!
Because now that I'm on this side of the bridge I feel like I have to do something.  Even if it means sitting in traffic and sitting in meetings.

I'll let you know how it goes after tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Staying on this side of the bridge

Again, as it is every year, September creeps in.  The sun rises later and sets sooner.  It’s light comes from a slightly different angle and seems softer, a bit more golden.  The people around me begin to load the kids’ bikes onto the bike racks and head home, as I have done for probably fifteen of the thirty years that we have owned this place by the bay.  More traffic is driving off the Cape than on to it.
To this feeling of an ending, this slight sadness, the melancholy that comes as the last days of a New England summer slip away, Mother Nature usually adds a touch of cool air to let everyone know that it is time to put on another layer and get serious..  It helps make the transition.  But this year the heat and humidity have lingered.  The Labor Day holiday is late, and with it, summer is hanging on.
This afternoon I took the kayak out onto the bay. There was a breeze coming across the water blowing away some of the heat.  It created little swells for me to bounce over.  There were very few boats around.  Almost all of them were working boats, picking up the lobster traps so that the folks who held off their vacations until the last week could have their fresh, local, lobster dinners. I was out on the water alone with the sea gulls and cormorants. I let the breeze do most of the work of taking me home.

This is the second summer that my wife and I have been down here the whole time.  We don’t work during the summer any more. Fortunately, it is by our choice that we hardly have much paid work at all.  In many ways, we are playing our own “September Song.”
It’s our kids who come down for weekends, or for a few of their vacation days.  Now they bring their kids.  We are starting on a third generation coming to this small house, a short walk to the beach.  The grandkids get there in their strollers. The oldest of them are learning to bounce on the waves on boogie boards, and to build sand castles to try and stop the tides.
It’s the unbroken chain of our lives playing out, as it does for so many families who have summer traditions that cement that feeling of family, caring and continuity.  There is a family down the street that all come together for the Fourth of July and again for Labor Day.  They have parents, four sons, their wives, their ex-wives, their  kids and some cousins.  They are a volatile family of arguments and strife, but no one wants to give up the summer, so they come back twice a year and do it all over again.
One of our families traditions is that we never had a TV down here.  It allows us to feel that the whole world is beautiful, prosperous and fun. When we drive over the bridge next week we will again be confronted with the total absurdities and lunacy that have plagued our species since we divided into tribes, or since Cain and Able, which ever you prefer.

We all know that it should be, and could be different, but it never is. So we try to stay on this side of the bridge for as long as we can.