An Item Off The Bucket List: Day 1

I have dreamed of a road trip to Seattle since my first visit to that City in 2000. Today, the love of my life and I are headed to Seattle, by way of Michigan. We plan on being on the road for at least 9 of our 14 day excursion. I will be posting picks and notes from the road and on my good old blog.

Before the posts start, I need to say thank you to a friend and mentor who gave Shannon and I an overly generous gift. When Steve heard about the floods from last year, he was upset that our plans were ruined. So, being the amazing human being he is, he stepped in and tried to make things better. His gift will be making our Trip not just possible, but amazing.

I wrote this for Steve’s retirement party. It was supposed to be included in his book, but somehow it wasn’t included. So I’m putting it here, so everyone knows how fantastic he is.

Thank you, Steve, for making this road trip possible.

Steve Eiseman is not a complicated man.  This is not to say he is not smart or that he lacks emotional depth.  On the contrary, Steve is a brilliant, caring and loving person.  At his core, this is who he is.  He isn’t duplicitous or insincere; he truly does care about those people around him, especially the clients.

At first glance, one might think that it is not humanly possible to care about other people as much as Steve does.  This may stem from our line of work.  As Probation Officers, we address more than the crimes our clients commit.  We see the environments that our clients live in.  We work with families that have dealt with more trauma, loss and grief than anyone should ever have to deal with.  What we see, day in and day out can easily be described as the worst behavior that humanity has to offer.  It is understandable, then, that our world view becomes more cynical with time.

And yet, Steve has worked this very same job for over thirty years.  He traveled in our neighborhoods, visited our schools, and worked with our clients, and their families.  When he did not work with our clients directly, he supervised us—his colleagues—sharing our experiences and listening to our concerns. Instead of burning out or reverting to an easy cynicism, Steve acknowledged the loss, the grief and the trauma  and instilled—as best he could—hope, optimism and compassion.  He did not avoid the pain with a Pollyanna attitude.  He acknowledged it head on and worked through it.  Steve recognizes the small miracles we experience for what they are:  Miracles.

This isn’t to say that it was easy work.  “On the road of life,” Steve would say, “I need a jump.”  Or he would say, “It doesn’t go. You have to push.”  He knows how difficult life can be, especially for our clients.  But it is not in Steve’s nature to surrender to these circumstances.  He accepts them for what they are—terrible, difficult and something that needs to change—and works to over-come them.  It is in Steve’s nature to do whatever it takes, even to his own detriment, to make life just a little bit better for those around him.

In theory, it is not a complicated philosophy:  To make life better for those around us.  In practice, it is damn near impossible to do.  And yet Steve has done it.  And Steve will continue to do it.  Retiring from the Juvenile Court is not the end of, “Steve the Sincere Optimist.”  It is simply a change of venue.

Our professional lives were enhanced by Steve Eiseman.  Some of us—myself included—were lucky enough to have our personal lives enhanced by him as well.  Through the years, Steve became more than a Deputy Chief.  He has been a mentor, a friend and a role model.  He has shown me what dedication, hard work and optimism can do for us.  Steve’s philosophy of love, care and support has affected me profoundly.   Simply put I am a better person because I know him.

Steve enriched the lives of everyone in our department.  Now that he is retired, it would be easy to slip into cynicism and sadness; but he has also shown us how to make our work place better.  Armed with his philosophy, framed by the philosopher Goethe, Steve has shown us the true definition of best practices—Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of becoming.

Steve, thank you for everything you have done for me.  I will miss you terribly.

–Marty

Lost and Rediscovered Treasures

TonyDadGina

My father passed away before he could share some of our family’s most prized treasures. Two of these treasures are frequently mentioned and missed recipes. The first is his famous Caesar’s Salad. I don’t know what he did differently with his salad–more anchovy paste? More Egg? Did he let the dressing stew longer?–but I have not had a caesar salad that could hold a candle to his. For a few years after his passing I would try a number of salads just to see if it could compare. I eventually decided to save my money and swear of Caesar’s salad. Why bother trying to copy what has never been copied?

The other lost recipe was more of my mother’s work than his. My parents combined their culinary powers to produce one of the most delicious barbecue sauces known to humanity. My mother would make the sauce to my dad’s specifications. I know they used Open Pit as a base instead of ketchup, but it was a day long affair of sautéing, stewing and grilling. Both of my parents promised to teach me the secret of the Award Winning Sauce (16th out of 600+ at the Mike Royko Ribfest) but they never got around to teaching us.

Both are gone forever. There is no way to recreate the Casear’s Salad Dressing. There is chance at rebuilding my mom’s BBQ sauce… But then I would be stuck recreating their legacy instead of working on my own. My parents did not want me to dwell on what was. They wanted my brother and I to excel beyond their wildest dreams. We can’t do that if we are stuck trying to recreate the lost sauce.

If either Tony or I stuck to the past, neither of us would have learned to grill. Our father promised to fill us in on his secrets, but we had to relearn them. And we did. That’s why this Sunday, Tony and I will be trying a new sauce. We will also tap in to our recently discovered Grilling Skills and slow cook our the ribs we intend to serve as we celebrate my parents. Our new sauce may not be as awesome as what we lost, but given time, we will learn.

Honors Fraternity? Honors anything…

I was invited to join Phi Kappa Phi, an Honor (Honor’s?) Society, at DePaul. At first I thought it was an error. The first four classes I took were pre-reqs. I was informed that these classes do not count towards honors or distinction. When I received a second invitation–this one addressed to Graduate Students–I figured I should give it a shot. The entrance essay was to “Describe how you have overcome a personal challenge.” There was a 500 word limit. This is what I wrote.

Special thanks to Lauren, my cousin Jack and my beautiful bride Shannon for helping me edit this. An honorable mention to Von because she offered to help me edit (and I’m sure she’d be awesome).

The personal challenge I have faced as an adult is straightforward. When I was 27 years old my father died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 59. My mother passed away a year later, after a long battle with breast cancer. She had just celebrated her 60th birthday. Their deaths shattered the foundation of the life I had established for myself.

My father was a public defender. He was able to understand the rigors of my job in the juvenile court system without a need for constant explanation. My mother, who was a teacher, was a source of calm and inspiration. She was able to provide an empowering sense of stability regardless of her illness. Their deaths removed the foundation of my support system. Yet more painful than heir passing, I lost the chance to show my parents how their guidance and support led directly to my success. My father was not around to see me buy my condo, nor was my mother alive to see me sell it before the housing market collapsed. My parents did not meet my wife—possibly the only woman they would have ever approved of—and they will not be there if we have any children. All of these losses led me to suffer a through a bout of major clinical depression that lasted nearly three years.
Overcoming depression was not easy. At first I tried to address it myself. I would work one day at a time and channel my grief into my job. This strategy worked, but it was not a perfect solution. My job requires more than just passion for the clients, and grief requires more work than moping at home. So I changed my tactics. I forced myself to expand my social circle. While this worked, my depression made “being social” feel like another full time job. I had made some progress in addressing my grief, but I believed that I needed to do more to overcome it.

I turned to grief therapy, and this proved to be the right step. Therapy changed the way l addressed my grief. I realized that loss does not go away if one just works hard or changes their routine. Loss becomes part of who we are. Instead of overcoming my grief, I made make peace with my grief. I stopped trying to overcome grief. I accepted that I could only cope with it.

By accepting my loss, my coping methods became more effective. In fact, they became effective enough to address every issue that I face today. I know I can tackle any personal challenge, work task or class assignment because I already tackled the biggest personal challenge I will ever face. I need to apply the same methods: Channeling energy to finish grunt work, taking tie off to take care of myself and asking for help when I need it, and changing how I perceive the problem in order to solve it. This is how I learned to accept my grief. It can work to help balance the rigors of school and the demands of working in social service.

I will channel my energy and do the grunt work I need to do. I know when I need to take care of myself, so I can continue to finish what I start. I can work alone or I can ask for help. If I can learn to cope with the loss of my parents, than I can balance the rigors of school with the difficult of working in social service.

I miss my parents still. While they are not alive to witness my success or to support me as I enter a new phase in life, I am positive they would approve of my choices and my dedication to both.

Planning

Last night I had one pervasive thought: I’m not going to live long enough to do everything I want to. I would be okay with this if I had a plan to do most of what I wanted to do. Actually, I’d be okay with this if I knew what I wanted to do.

There are far too many books that I want to read today, I can’t imagine what will be published over the next 30 years. There are places to go, bands to see, friends to visit. This says nothing about the professional goals I have: becoming a better clinician, changing careers, writing software…

I have no real plan to address these goals. I am just working to reach these goals. I’m not opposed to plans…but how do I craft an entire lifeplan?

Nerves

This weekend I purchased my textbook for my summer class: 1100+ pages on ASP .NET development for “professionals.” I have six months of java under my belt. This does not make me a professional, just an ambitious amateur. This future class is adding to my current pressure–that of my final Exam–causing me to take a serious look at what I am doing now and what my goals are.

Normally, I think this wouldn’t be a huge problem. While I would be worried and tense, I have ways of coping. But all these concerns are occuring around the 9th. This anniversary marks seven years without my dad. Usually, all my mental energy is directed at coping with grief, not with school crap.

February Can Piss Off

Yeah, that’s right. The shittiest month of the year, February, is almost over. February is cold, snowy, drab and, of course, a tease. See, we get a number of days off in February. While that is fantastic over all, it also forces one to worker harder. To be “more productive.” Fuck productive, fuck productivity and fuck February. Its too drab and cold to be productive. This is the time of year when folks should just stay inside and wait for the crappy month to pass.

Instead, we’re forced to not only be more productive, but to get even more shit done. Two sets of audits. A midterm. Wedding planning. Okay, the midterm and the wedding are my choice, so I don’t have a lot of room to complain about them. But still, a short month and a lot of things to accomplish. The least it could do would be allow us some goddamn sunshine. But No. We don’t get sunshine till the end of the month. What a punk move.

As February end, I’m realizing how the lack of a group site AND the lack of motivation has 1) Thrown my routine out the window and 2) increased my coffee intake 300%. While I should be worried about my ever-increasing caffeine intake, I’m more worried about my routine. I am trying to learn two new skills: Writing and Coding. I cannot do either if I don’t DO them. Writers write. Programmers Code. So far, I’m a dabbler in both. I have far too much that I want to accomplish, so dabbling will not cut it.

I could lower my expectations, but I think that’s reserved for Republicans and their idea of how to fix healthcare. I know, its a cheap shot. At least I’m not making fun of them for tweeting while I blog (just a note: I can do public speaking engagements with or without notes. I prefer legal pads to the palm of my hand).

As February punks us out with the promise of warmth and sunshine, I’ve decided to come back to this blog swinging. I’m looking at a site redesign and a more regular series of posts. Granted, I still do a good chunk of my nerd blogging over at WTTRP but I plan on bringing more nerd to the original blog soon.

First up, tell me about your February. Was it a punk for you too?

His Boom Box Was Named Big Baby

From: Wanted to Trade RP, the WoW blog I contribute to. This was written by Hillary:

I’m going to post a quick story, though, that I may eventually fiction out as an in character exchange, but for the time being, our readers should enjoy the absolute asskickery that is our author Bricu. The Feathermoon folks gathered at a park mid-Seattle. There were burgers, watermelon slices, salads, soda, and all around awesome food. Mid-meal, a gentleman that later identified himself as Grizzly walked up with a boombox propped on his shoulder. It was INCREDIBLY LOUD. One of our attendees had small children about, and respectfully requested that Grizzly lower the volume to not disupt the kids. This was about the time Grizzly’s intoxicated status became evident. We’re pretty sure he wasn’t on booze, but whatever it was, he was pretty fucked up. He began to rant how the park was his domain, we should RESPECT HIM, and then he started standing on picnic tables, his boombox on his shoulder, blazing awesome-tastic radio edited hiphop. Bricu tried to talk him down, but to no avail; Grizzly would have none of it.

After about ten or fifteen minutes of rudeness and disruption with most of our attendees incredibly uncomfortable by this stranger’s presence (he was not very subtle when he scoped out the lady’s purses), we called the Seattle police. Grizzly did not like police. Grizzly was shit out of luck because we’d had enough. As his sour mood and antics escalated, so did our calls to the authorities. He knocked over a trash barrel, started punching lit grills, and then got into people’s faces trying to intimidate them. To his credit, he was successful on the intimidation account. I was one of the folks that he decided to talk shit to, and it wasn’t fun. None of us had any idea who this guy was or what he was capable of. All we knew was he was ON something and hostile.

Thirty minutes passed, then forty, and still no PD. Our calls to 911 revealed that public disruption wasn’t an emergency situation and they’d get there when they could. Well, then Grizzly hit someone. He walked up to the chillest person there, slapped him across the face for absolutely NO REASON and talked a bunch of smack. He then swung on Tarquin, the event’s organizer. Bricu stuck himself between the men, yelled at him to stop. Grizzly took a couple of swings at him, Bricu Matrixed out with a pair of dodges, and then single shot him onto the pavement with a crack to the jaw. The nerd pigpile happened at that point – Bricu sat on his back, another gentleman restrained his arms while yet another sat on his legs. Another 911 call yielded the desired results, and the PD showed up about four or five minutes later.

I think perhaps my favorite part of this whole debaucle was Zalbuu, the Wildfire Rider’s angry priest. He was the guy sitting on Grizzly’s legs as we waited for the police. While he had this dude pinned, his cell phone rang. He picked it up, and all the rest of us can hear?

“Mom, this really isn’t a good time.”

And despite all this–and my right hook–I’m not settled with this. I haven’t hit another person–excluding my brother–since the 7th grade. I do not believe in violence. I really don’t. I cannot for the life of me think of a better way to have handled this. Grizzly got upset when I moved the cherries we had laid out away from him. If we started packing all of the food, he would have gotten more upset. There were kids there when he started (thankfully, before the slap, they were taken to a car so they didn’t have to see this). We called the Police. Hell, I called the police five times.

He could have had a gun or a knife. He could have really hurt someone. I jumped in because I thought I could take a punch better than my friend. I doubt I could have handled a stabbing….

There is another problem here that I am struggling with. I feel pretty good about the punch itself. It was one punch–the pig pile had other restraints and holds involved–and that’s a pretty damn macho thing. The base, reptilian part of my brain thinks that’s really cool. I’m old enough (and mature enough) to know it isn’t. What it means is that despite all of the skills I have developed at working with people, I had to resort to a method that doesn’t sit well.

My Dad always said “You never start a fight, but you always finish one.” I finished one. I still don’t feel good about it.