Archive for Philosophy

An Old Letter

While I was cleaning out my grandma’s house, I found an old letter from my grandpa, addressed to me. I only have two memories of the man. The first memory was him taking me out to Applebee’s for ice cream. The second was of the day he died, though he wasn’t really there for that one. After reading this letter, I wish I had known him better. It reads:

January 10, 1990

Letters to my unborn grandson

Dear __________ ,

          I don’t know your name because your mother, my daughter, and your father can’t agree on a name for you. I suggested several, but kids never follow a parent’s suggestion. Maybe you ought to make a note of that profundity for future reference, which brings me to the point of these and other letters which are to follow. Anyone who has reached my advanced age wants to insure that his progeny (look it up) doesn’t make the same mistakes that he made, as he at least makes an attempt to allow the possibility that his grandson will have a chance for a better life than he has had. It is not that I had a bad life by any means, but we always want something better for our kids and their kids. Beside that, I think it is a good idea to tell you something of the way your predecessors lived. That way you may better appreciate whatever advantages may come your way. Also, I might not be around when you reach the age of understanding.

          In my short life I have seen an enormous growth of technology. Some of these are talking movies, technicolor, T.V., radar, dirigibles, which I used to see fairly often as a small child in Dallas, jet planes, rockets, nuclear power, and a myriad of wonders in the areas of chemistry, astronomy, physics, biology, medicine, and so on too numerous to mention and most of which I don’t understand anyway.

         I have lived through three major wars and never served in any of them. I was too young for World War II (look it up, it was in all the papers); Korea came along when I was old enough, but three of the armed forces didn’t want guys with flat feet. Incidentally, if you have flat feet, you get them from me. All of the males from my mother’s side have, or had, flat feet. I used to fret about not having been in the service, but I have since come to the conclusion that it was a blessing in disguise. I don’t think that you will ever be called upon to serve, much less actually see combat. Events in the last six months have pretty much excluded the threat of any major conflicts in the United States.

The letter ends there. He probably intended to write more. Whether there are more letters hiding in that old house or not, I don’t know. I hope there are.

-Austin

Obladi, Oblada

Life has a nasty tendency of going on. Louis C.K. wrote that life isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s something that’s always going on around you, something you participate in and witness. That thought helped a lot over the last year, as a lot about my view of the world changed.

I came back to it recently, as my grandma’s condition gets steadily worse.

It’s funny. I don’t believe in an afterlife anymore. I think we’re born, we live, then we die. Poof. That’s it. Once I realized that, my sense of theism just fell away and was gone.

That’s not the funny part.

The funny part is that I can never admit it to people. Especially people who are on their way out, or to people who are just struggling with big life questions. There have been times I’ve just lied about my beliefs because it’s been easier.

The courage to live in line with my beliefs eludes me more often than not. I guess I’m not that different from the faithful in that respect.

I keep playing out a scene in my head. Nana asks me something about dying, and I lie to her about my beliefs because she’s dying, and I’d tell her anything to take some of the fear of that away. Dishonest, but comforting. There are worse things to live with. Might be a talent that makes me a better helper. Instilling hope, you could call it. If there’s no life after death, it’s not like it’ll matter soon, anyway.

I wish I had a better moral for that. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, maybe? More likely that soft lies can be kinder than hard truths.

Grit

I left for work with writer’s block, and I came back exhausted. So I’ll be brief again.

The idea of grit has been on my mind for a while. They mentioned it in grad school, and it has stuck with me since. Not just courage, but aggressive courage. A challenge, a dare to the situation to become more difficult, So that you can rise to it more. Not just perseverance, but worldliness on top of it.

It’s certainly something I’ve needed a lot of since starting my new job.

My heart goes out to these kids. Less so recently, I’ll admit, because mentally ill children are insufferable, and I get paid to suffer them. But still, all of them come from terrible situations, and living at the ranch is more punishment than opportunity. But, sympathy and mercy won’t help them. What they need is accountability, character, and some of that same grit I use.

So I’ll rise to the challenge. Again and again. Until I prove to myself and the world it can be done. Then I teach it to these kids. Maybe then I can start making that difference I set out to make.

-Austin

A Brief Check-In

Life is finally starting to resume after the strange fugue summer, Dan’s wedding, and the new job. I lost my new confidence and found it, and in finding it feel alive again.

I realized (again) I have a voice, and competencies, and a worldview. Even the people that have been at this job for years have things to learn from me.  There are things I need to improve upon, of course. I imagine literally everybody two months into a new job has things they need to improve on. But I’m stepping up more, and people are starting to tell me it shows. More than that, I’m starting to remember the old lessons on valuing myself, and I can feel that sense of congruence returning.

Big things are coming down the tube between Dan and I. Tomorrow I start really digging in my creative heels. I’ll let him break the news (because I know it would break his heart if he didn’t), but I will say some lifelong dreams are about to come true.

With Christmas on the way, and I’m finally in the same town as my family when it happens. On top of that, I have money to spend on them. Hopefully, that will be a trend for the foreseeable future.

With any luck, this is the start of that transition from surviving to thriving that marks an interesting life.

-Austin

Commitment

I wasn’t sure what to write about this morning when I woke up. Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew what I wanted to write about, I was just going to avoid it and half-ass something else.

See, I had gotten a bit of feedback on Saturday. My boss that I wasn’t doing enough to step up at my job. Coworkers didn’t feel like I had their backs. For a place where one of the hazards includes being attacked by mentally ill teenagers bigger than you are, that’s serious criticism.

So I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. After the pity party, I decided to make a change. Turns out it really can be that simple. See, inside the pity party is the implication that I didn’t think I was able to make any kind of change. Experience has proven that this is not true.

I’ve been volunteering for more. Making sure I’m the first one there in a blowout. Offering to take over and tag out for all manner of thankless jobs and paperwork drudgery. I’m only two days in to manning up, but I think I’m going to be okay.

When I buckled down and committed, it was like a bunch of puzzle pieces in my mind clicked into place. The inaction and the leaving the crises to other people were bad habits left over from when I wasn’t allowed to do much more than shadow. Action and effort suit me much better than anxiety and inertia.

I think the lesson here is in committing to a better way of doing things. Once you really go for it, things start to line up. Dan experienced it when he got back into acting and writing. Clark experienced it when he decided to take the plunge and move to New York. And now I’m experiencing it. If it happens that often it can’t just be coincidence.

So, at the risk of being preachy again, here’s my challenge to anyone reading. You know the right thing to do. Get out there and do it.

-Austin

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumn Abstract

A good friend of the Gold in Them Hills crew is staying at Dan’s and my house, so I’m forgoing a long post to simply say Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re so thankful for the friends, mothers, fathers, friends who are mothers, mothers who are friends, and anyone else who has played a part in blessing us so abundantly over the last year. You are truly worth celebrating.

Now go be with your loved ones!

Priorities

I chipped a tooth last night. I was flossing and a piece of tooth just fell right out of my mouth. I don’t know why.

You know those dreams where teeth fall out? I think it taps into that weird tooth paranoia those dreams create. I’m actually pretty worried about it. Like, more worried about it than most of the new job problems I’ve had over the last couple months.

Looks like I’m more vain than I thought I was. Oh, helping treat mental illness in kids? Pshaw. A small dental problem that can be fixed in an hour? Stop the presses, my life is about this now.

I feel a little guilty. When instinct reveals my priorities, they’re always so selfish and petty. Heck, usually the biggest impact on my day isn’t the strength of my lofty ideals, but what I’m planning on doing when I’m done with my shift. I literally care more about my X-box than improving the lives of children.

I can talk a good game, but I’m as much a monkey as everyone else on this rock. I’m not the person I say I am, I’m just a selfish asshole that puts talk before action. Here’s how I know. All the talk I’ve done about wanting to help people? Clearly not, If a chipped tooth is instantly at the top of my list.

Ir’s a silly rabbit hole to go down, I know, but this is where I’m at as of press time. I want to be a better person, but right now I want my tooth fixed more.

Upper Management

One of the first things you have to realize is that you can only ever have agency over yourself. No one else in the world is going to do what you want all the time. The trick is to communicate clearly, and work with what the other person gives you.

When I started work, my boss told me that trying to manage individual kids would drive me crazy. Instead, she told me to manage the milieu. In other words, the kids make their own choices, like every other human being. The mark of competency in this job is to steer them in the right direction by using the environment. If someone looks like they’re about to go off? Start putting away the breakables. If someone isn’t listening to staff? Send in one of their friends to talk them down. If they start making better decisions, they get more privileges.

Take for instance what happened a couple days ago. A bunch of the kids wanted to play cops and robbers in the living room. My first instinct was, no, this is a treatment center and I don’t want you to run around here yelling “bang, you’re dead.” But they were all pretty well-behaved that day so I figured as long as I set some ground rules we could see how it goes. So we told them no running, no yelling, and that they were to play with “paintball” guns. Not only did they meet the expectation, they got along for the day and played that game for a good five hours.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I noticed that the game they were playing was basically the wild west equivalent of a trust fall. One kid emerged from cover to say “bang, you’re (paintball) dead”, and then had to trust the other kid to play along. Entire rule systems rose and fell to tighten or loosen this honor system. The kids started to manage themselves, but also started to try and structure the environment just like the staff do. All the while, I could kick back and let them have fun.

I’m learning this job, slowly but surely. It may be a while before I really figure it out, but in the mean time, I’m learning to count the little victories and insights I find. Even if that insight is that there’s a time to let them play cops and robbers in the living room.

-Austin

The Peanut Butter Incident

Like I mentioned earlier, I try not to give out details for confidentiality reasons. So, here’s the HIPAA compliant outline. There was an incident at my place of work from which I gleaned much professional insight. It starts with me being a hard-ass. It ends with peanut butter being thrown at my head.

When I started this job, my supervisor recommended I start off very strict with the children, and then transition to being more lenient once the precedent was set. Good advice. Then one of my coworkers saw me try to put it into practice. He told me “Dude, you’re getting into power struggles with these kids. The other kids see that, and know that they can mess with you.”

So, I learned that there’s a time for being strict and a time for giving them a break.

And then I learned about the peanut butter. It turns out that we try to keep at least a couple jars of the stuff in the building at all times. We don’t deny them food, and kids, as they get older, are hungry all the time. As a compromise, they can request a spoonful of peanut butter at pretty much any time.

The astute reader may already realize that this is a privilege that is easily abused. As a result, I chose to be a hard-ass about this particular rule.

Now, I really wish I could go into details. Needless to say, I didn’t read the situation right, and said no at the wrong time, and got peanut butter thrown at my head. It missed, lucky for me, but it did make a mess.

It’s not important. What’s important is what happened afterward.

The first thing I said (after a few combat breaths) was “You were right. I screwed up.” And all that anger fell away. The kid just wanted someone to hear him/her out, and that string of no’s just built up until it popped, like it would with anyone. And because I admitted I made a mistake, not only did we walk away from this as something we could laugh at, that kid learned a lesson in owning your mistakes that he/she will remember.

The moral is, I’m not perfect. And that’s okay. More than that, because I know that I’m not perfect, it gives me a shot at becoming great at this job. Mental Health is helping other people be more authentic in their lives. We teach people how to be human. And part of that is learning how to be really good humans ourselves.

That day, I learned how to be more human. In so doing, another person learned the same lesson. To me, that’s a victory.

Writing About Writing

It has been getting harder of thinking what to write about these last couple weeks. I try to stay away from the preachy “Let me teach you stuff” posts, because I don’t want to be a holier-than-thou jerk. I’ve gotten away with posts that are, in my opinion, good enough.

The stress of a new job, especially one working with kids, is disrupting. So I  gave myself some leeway. And so did Dan and Clark.

Then there’s the whole confidentiality thing, where I can’t talk about anything specific. Let me give you an example. Say I don’t even use names. Something like, “a kid at that place I work did a thing.” If the parents of that kid stumbles across this and knows the thing I’m talking about? Bam! Sued. So I keep it vague on purpose.

And of course, there’s just pure, old-fashioned laziness. The part of me that only wants to do the bare minimum. Go to work, do my job, go home, go to sleep, repeat. Especially now that I have an income that can let me buy things that cost more than five dollars.

It’s tempting, but it’s no way to live a life. Mediocrity does not leave a legacy.

So if it seems like my posts have gotten a little stale lately, that’s because they have. Phoning it in to get used to a new job is understandable, sure. But like my friends keep trying to tell me, just good enough isn’t good enough.

This is me promising to get back on track, with this post, and hopefully with life, period.

-Austin