Archive for August 2013

Broken Systems


One of the first things my teachers told me when I entered Grad School was this: “Remember, you are going to work in a broken system.” I had no perspective then on what “broken system” meant, of course, and so the thought was promptly drowned in the resulting deluge of research papers and assigned readings.

Then came the day when I was looking for an internship site. At the place I now work, my interviewer, now my supervisor, told me the same thing: “Remember, we work in a broken system.” Now, the words scared me, because I wasn’t going to work in a broken system soon, I was going to work in a broken system tomorrow. I still wasn’t sure what it meant. I’m still working on it. It’s one of those phrases that lacks form until it is experienced. For the sake of education, though, I’ll try to put it into words.

We, as Americans, live in a society that is governed by certain assumptions. One such assumption is that everything of value can be measured. We also tend to assume the reverse: that only measurable things have value. As a result we have institutions such as insurance agencies, whose job it is to assign values to the trickier subjects in life, such as death, injury, and sickness.

Here’s where it goes awry for us Counselors. The above organizations set out to quantify the disruption of life brought on by serious mental illness. They landed on the idea that a person had to either have been hospitalized by their illness, or have an illness which is by definition disruptive. This is why certain mental illnesses, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, are usually covered by insurance, and things like, say, a personality disorder are rarely covered by insurance. In things like Medicaid, the system is even more bare-bones in what it covers.

It makes sense, from that point of view; Bob is too sick to go to work, money is lost (and Bob can’t afford his insurance payment), society as a whole is weaker for the sickness, and everybody loses. However, loss is not the key determinant of the severity of mental illness. It’s a canary in the coal mine, but it isn’t the killing smoke. In my mind, The severity of mental illness is based on the suffering of each individual person. The problem with that, as any professor will tell you, is that we have yet to successfully define “suffering”. Even if we could, there’s still the idea that a person can still function even if they’re miserable and in need of help. Try selling that to the insurance companies.

The cherry on top? The people that need mental health care the most are those who can afford it the least. The people that fall through the cracks and have to rely on things like Medicaid have to make due with fewer services than people who are actually healthy. Hence, broken system.

I want to leave you with a sense of hope, as I see this may come off as a bit of a hopeless situation. What I will conclude on is this: Any profession is only as good as the character of those within it. I can’t think of any job with kinder, hardier people.



Inherent Value


When I was a kid, I used to draw pictures for my Mom. “Blueprints” for inventions, battle scenes from Star Wars, or an old west sheriff’s office, I had a wide range of subject matter that I enjoyed. This is not a remarkable thing, most children do this. What I do find remarkable is that my Mom still has one of these pictures, in an expensive frame, hanging in her newly remodeled bathroom.

The picture in question is not what anyone would call good. For my Mom it has the charm of early childhood and the memories of her son before he could grow a beard. The merits of the piece will never be debated and it will only ever have an audience of one. But, I feel this is the perfect example of how art, even at it’s worst, has value.

I am a performer. I do musical theater. And like everyone else in this field, I’ve done “bad shows.” I have been in productions where the the casting was all wrong, or the music was learned incorrectly, or the director changes their vision almost hourly. But, one stands out as a really, all around, “bad show.”

This production, which will remain nameless, got off on the wrong foot. When the cast list went up, there were some head scratchers. People with no experience were given parts that were very large. Others were given preference because of politics and some were demoted for the same reason. Before we ever sang a note, people were questioning the show.

As we moved through the rehearsal process, it became clear that not everyone was up to the challenge of their role. Once we saw the costumes, we really knew we were in trouble. Nothing fit right, and most of the pieces looked like they came from a going out of business sale at a shoddy halloween store. No one felt like we were doing high art. And when the first obnoxiously negative Facebook comment came up, I couldn’t get too mad at the author.

We continued with the run of the show, and I felt indifferent about my life’s passion. But then, one night after the show, a kid I knew came up to me and told how much he enjoyed it. I said thank you, but he was insistent. This kid was very impressed by the story that we told. He said it made him think and that it was his favorite show he had seen that year. I was taken aback by this comment, but it was only recently that I got the proper mind set about this event.

I thought my show was crap. But, you know what? It influenced people. Maybe just that one kid, but someone none the less was changed. That boy, who probably still drew stick figures for his parents, showed me that if you are brave enough to put your art on display, no matter how awful you might think it is, you never know who it could inspire.


Baby Steps


My father is a renaissance man. When he talks about his work experience, it’s a whole lot of “three years here, 12 years there, back to school and then 7 years somewhere else”. The list varies from railroad inspector to orthopedic nurse to system administrator, but each job only gets about 10 seconds of explanation.

For him, 6 years at a job is a drop in the bucket – something that will escape his mind halfway through a glass of White Zinfandel. After all, he’s spent the last 62 years meeting people, switching jobs, and making memories.

And then there’s me. Twenty-four years into my life and two weeks away from leaving the only “real” job I’ve ever had. With the exception of one semester, I’ve spent the last 6 years making coffee, taking drive thru orders, and feeling pretty bummed about spilled milk. I landed the job when I graduated high school, and it has carried me through two cities, eight apartments, countless groups of friends, a college degree, and two internships.

And now it’s over. All the conversations I’ve had with coworkers, all of the training and drama and flirting and late night bar crawls, now neatly tucked into two lines of text on my résumé.

To me, this is massive. To the world, this is a baby step.

And with that step, I am reinvented. I am no longer a barista, no longer the token male in a sea of females. No, I have always been the ugly duckling that never really fit in with the beauties around me. My swans are out there making beautiful things, and it’s time for me to join them. This is my goodbye to City Brew and thank you for the memories. I feel so very humble and so very grateful.

My only wish is that my old pond will welcome me back every now and then for some coffee and a glass of Zinfandel.

– Clark

Reaching People


I think everyone wants to leave a mark on the world. To leave something behind that will outlive them. A sense of legacy, or at the very least a monument that you were ever here at all. For me, I hope the legacy I leave behind will be one of healing, and of helping to heal the hurt that keeps entire generations in filth and misery.

For me, reaching people and leaving behind a legacy are one in the same.

I once had a conversation with an actress. A damn good one, but that’s beside the point. She told me that the reason she acted was that the plays she was in had ideas so much bigger than she was, and by acting, she could both espouse and convey those ideas to people who needed to hear them.

My point is that no matter what job you choose to do, you need to find the thing bigger than you are that pushes you forward. For me, and maybe most, that thing is reaching people.

Here’s what I believe; poison runs in families. Trauma and repetition of harmful patterns is a more accurate label, but poison is perhaps more poetic, so that’s what I’m going with. There’s evidence enough for this poison, not the least of which is in my own family tree. My hope is that I can break these cycles for others like I’ve broken them in my own life. Only then can I leave evidence that I was here, in the future generations who can grow up free of old poison.