Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fathers, Students, and Dogs

The good news: Chet's surgery for the malignancy on his shoulder went fine. Randy and J (who is in Abilene after his return from California Sunday) will drop him at his daughter's home on their way back to Mississippi tomorrow. After an overnight with our friends in Arlington, they will be back home Thursday. I have missed them both, and even though my kitchen is clean while they are gone (as I load the dishwasher each time I dirty a dish and then run it when it is full--what a concept!--I am still ready for them to come home. :) We have managed fine, but last night and tonight, the dogs have a hard time understanding why they don't get to eat until 9 p.m.

I came home from class tonight to find Rex (the German Shepherd) with a paper sack stuck on his head. He had opened the cabinet door under the sink and gotten into the trash and retrieved a paper sack with chicken bones in it. He was in the corner, trying to paw the sack off his head--after he had eaten the chicken bones, of course. While it was quite the amusing site, I opted to gingerly take the sack off his head as he was somewhat distressed instead of taking a picture. Looks like he did not want to wait until 9 to eat tonight. :)

The students? Last night and tonight were the two graduate classes. Tonight they had role plays for the engagement phase of groups. Most of them are experienced and quite confident in themselves as they lead groups all the time, or at least, some of the time, or at least have done one or two. :) One of the things I love most about groups, and teaching groups, and observing groups, is the concept that the group is a microcosm of life. That was certainly illustrated tonight.

I tend to believe that experiencing the "here and now" is what teaches us what we need to know and be able to do--in our own lives, as well as when we are "training the trainers." It was "role play" but because even in the roles we play, we bring who we are into the scene, it was real. There was fun and laughter; there was pain and deep emotion; there was fear and concern about 'doing the right thing.' I also tend to believe that we have the ability to learn from anything if we are open to the lesson--while understanding that being open means being ready and it is okay that we are each ready at different times and places. If I could "give" students one gift, it would be that they could be kind to themselves; that they would understand they will never know all there is to know, but that because they are here and engaged in this process of discovery with the rest of us who are on this current path, they are 'further along the continuum of development' than others who are not on the seeking path.

I know there are times to be the "expert" and provide answers. I know there are times to allow the student/client/other to provide the answer. It all depends: on the situation, and the judgment of the teacher/therapist/other as to what you do and when you do it. I think that is the part that is most exciting for me. I think of those times I have been least "sure" of myself, and what I learned from it.

Back in the 80s, I was asked to do a talk radio show on mental health issues. My initial reaction was " I don't know enough. What if someone asks me something I don't know." My friend and colleague and asked me, "At what point do you think you will know enough?" I realized then that I would never have all the answers all the time, no matter what I did. I did what I knew to do: "Feel the fear, and do it anyway."

My first radio show--I have a vague recollection that it was about working mothers--I often found myself listening more and talking less. I often asked, "What do you think about that?" And while I did know statistics and facts and information that the general public did not, and sometimes I shared them, it was much more important to simply hear people, respond to their understanding of the world, and challenge them to consider it might possibly be a different way. Above all else, I did not want to be the kind of talk show host who had all the answers--as none of them do, or who confront people for the opportunity to put them down--as some of them do, or to agree with everything they said and have the callers/listeners leave with out thinking that there might be anther way of considering the situation.

What does this have to do with the students tonight? That I love watching them reach their own understandings of how to practice in a way that meshes with their unique personality and style, that because I, too, have had to make that journey that I understand it and the importance of not saving them from their fears, and most of all, that I believe in them that they will be able to do this work.

Louis L'Amour wrote in one of his books: The trail is not the thing. The end of the trail is the thing.

I tend to believe that is true.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Orleans

My colleague and friend, Debra, and I headed to Jackson early Tuesday for a workshop on disaster response training. After the shortage of social workers able to respond post-Katrina, the departments of mental health and health have collaborated on training professionals for disaster response. I had the training in Natchez last year, but accompanied Debra to another workshop.

After the day in the Pearl City Hall, we drove to New Orleans to the Gentilley neighborhood where her daughter lives and spent the night. I met some really interesting folks and we had a great time eating Tanya's jambalyah and Korean food from a nearby take out. I had never eaten Korean, and had all kinds of new taste sensations--some tiny dried, pickled fish, black beans with very chewy texture, kim chee, and all manner of spicy pork mixtures--and the best rice I have ever eaten. Of course, since it was 9:30 p.m. by the time that all happened, my sandwich from lunch was long gone and even the pickled pig lips were starting to look good.

I was staying in the boys' room, and Trent fell asleep on the couch with his cat, Chase--formerly known as Bill. Yesterday morning, Debra went back across the bridge to Bay St. Louis to visit an intern and we got the boys ready to bring back to Mississippi with us. Finally a bit after noon and left over Korean food, we headed home.

Tanya's house was located in one of the neighborhoods that was totally flooded during Katrina. She is only a few blocks from one of the levees and Lake Ponchatrain. The surges left her home totally underwater.

We passed a number of houses on the way out that are still unrepaired. It was interesting to see a duplex with one side repaired and people living in it, and the other side still boarded up and with the markings on the house as to survivors or non-survivors.


A residential school determined not to repair/rebuild. The buildings are sitting there empty, with only the remains of the Army Core "blue roofs" blowing in the breeze.

We had very little free time so I was unable to get much perspective on what is happening in the city on this trip. I will be spending 2 weeks there in August, however, and plan to get a better gauge of where the city is.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Things that make you smile

I have been reading the weekly papers and discussion board from the grad class (advanced group therapy) the last few days. I am amazed at the depth of insight, application to our group processes, and support for the personal and professional growth of each individual that is displayed in their papers and the comments on the discussion board. I find myself eager to grade their papers in order to find what new insights a class member has about the class.

Now, Tuesday's class was interesting in that I had been leading a discussion for around 15 minutes about a chart in one of our readings. Finally, one student raised his hand and said he was confused, that I was saying one thing, but from how he was reading it, the text was saying the opposite. I looked again, and he was correct. Another student said, "I noted that, too." and then another said she had thought that and so on until several students commented. I looked at them (incredulously, I am sure) and asked how long they were planning to let me discuss that before any of them pointed it out. We laughed about it, and when I shared it with my colleagues later in the week, we laughed about it as well.

The interesting thing has been reading their papers as they discuss the reasons that they did not point it out. In one way, one can see examples of Gilligan's theories about women socialized to care about feelings and relationship: some of them applied it in that context. Others mentioned not challenging authority, though I cannot conceive of how I have ever responded to any of these students which would make them think they could not challenge me. I often learn new or different ways of thinking about something from students. It is one of the reasons I love reading their papers: seeing how they understand what is happening in the classroom and its connections to the readings is fascinating.

We only have 4 more weeks of classes--8 total as 4 in family and 4 in group. I am missing them already, as this is the last class I will teach for them, unless something changes somewhere along the line and I am needed for a class that I don't know about yet. I have come to admire them--for their determination and grit to complete this program, their unwavering support of each other, and now, their obvious growing professional knowledge and skill. Mississippi has so many social problems and issues, but so much potential and strength to address those concerns. To know that in a few more months (well, 24 months so that is more than a few) we will have 21 more MSWs in this part of Mississippi is a very good feeling.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's about equality

I just read the news item where the Obama administration has extended benefits to gay and lesbian partners who are employees of the federal government, though not offering full health care coverage.  The rest of the article--predictably--indicated that the "balance" was between extending human rights (my words) and equal treatment (my words) and not upsetting the opportunity to achieve the broad goals (their words) of the administration.

One part of me can understand that: change comes slowly and often incrementally as we all understand from the social movements through which we have lived.  I recall one of my grad teachers whom I admired very much saying once in class, "It does women no good for you to throw yourself on the funeral pyre."  In other words, a sacrifice that achieves nothing is just a wasted sacrifice.

Another part of me recalls the question that many African Americans asked:  "How long?  If not now, when?"  At what point do we make the decision that extending the same rights and privileges to all of us that only some of us currently enjoy is good for us?  Or, even if one cannot grasp "good for us" at least understand it is the right thing to do.  I am certain that I could find many folks in South Africa, for example, who would say their perception is ending apartheid has not been "good" for some people.  Would that make it acceptable to continue to deny education, right to work and travel, vote, have access to adequate housing and clean water and food because it was not deemed "good" by some?  

One concern in the item was the upset over the administration's plans to file a brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Great.  As long as Defense of Marriage might mean defending the right of adults to marry even if they are gay or lesbian.  After all, marriage is a social convention that is presumed to provide stability for family--the basic unit of community.  Why is stability deemed necessary in one unit but not another?  Why is it when we all essentially want the same things from life--families and friends who care about us, good health, adequate income to supply housing, health, and other basic needs, and meaningful work--that it is so frightening to think extending those opportunities to all of us is somehow something of which we should be afraid?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm short-handed to do gardening

Yesterday I made the dog-food run to Memphis.  It was a beautiful summer day and I had lunch at Whole Foods and picked up some soap and beautiful huge organic cherries and blueberries that taste like real fruit and heirloom tomatoes.  On the way out, I made another stop at Fresh Market for organic chicken and spied these daisies.  I thought they would liven up the front porch a bit.

Alas, shortly after returning home and breaking up a dog fight (I am putting my dog on doggie valium) I was in ER with 3 wounds on my right hand.  (Interestingly enough my nurse has 6 dogs and my doctor has 10, so they were quite understanding and empathic.)  As a result of no use of the right hand for a while though, it will be hard to tend my newly arriving herbs.
I think this is the cilantro--I forgot to mark the pots and am going on a process of elimination and the vague memory I put cilantro in a long planter because it is tall.
The lavender is ready to be thinned and transplanted if I can get them out intact enough to replant with only one hand.
Basil--really ready for thinning!  I just hate the thought of pulling up some of them but know I have to in order for them to grow.
Likewise the dill!  I did not intend them to be so dense anyway, but the seeds are so tiny it was hard to keep them spaced.
Finally, the rosemary is showing.  I need more potting soil and a few more planters also and hoping by the weekend I will be able to use enough fingers on the right hand to help master the task.  It looks like tiling the new bathroom will still be a while longer, however.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June, and I should be in South Africa



I have been fortunate enough to have had 5 trips to South Africa.  All of them  have been in May-June, so when it is this time of year, I find my heart frequently on another continent, with the places and people that I love.  For some reason this past week, I have had Belize on my mind much of the time and visualize myself walking up the beach at San Pedro.  Now this strikes me as odd, since I did not necessarily fall in love with San Pedro.  It has a place in my heart and head, to be sure, for various reasons.  I can be like a dog with a bone when something gets stuck in my head and I have to make sense of it.

This past week has been one of those weeks--what with being at class at 8, working all day on class preps, training, research, routine department work, interviewing people for our new position, and in between, trying to take better care of my self physically and mentally, it has been a challenging week.  I have had some great times with my colleagues during the week, but that is true for most summers.  It is not as rushed and hectic, and though busy, we also enjoy the less frantic pace with fewer students and fewer routine business deadlines.  

I have been sensing some real differences in myself: emotionally, physically, and mentally--as in my cognitions.  All of that brings me back to wondering why I am thinking about Belize, when my cognitive self says, rather like my visit to London, I am glad I went, but feel no need to go back.
One of my favorite sites in Cape Town is the Table Mountain--from any angle.  While it is often clear and starkly beautiful, it has it share of being obscured by clouds or at the least, a vision of clouds rolling down the mountain side.  
Randy has been with me on two of my trips, and the year we went to the Cape of Good Hope, he took this picture of the ocean.  Two oceans meet at the Cape--in fact, there is even a South African wine called Two Oceans.  The warm waters of the Indian Ocean meet the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the result is breathtaking.
Heading east from Cape Town toward Port Elizabeth, one drives along the coast and past numerous beaches.  My colleague and I were talking about our pending study abroad classes for next year--hers in Belize and mine in South Africa--and I mentioned that South Africa is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world where surfing is popular.  On this particular day, the mist was so heavy it was almost impossible to see, and created the most surreal feeling, yet one of total peace.
The Western Province around Cape Town and Stellenbosch is also home to one of the most beautiful wine valleys in the world.  The vineyards supply much needed employment in the area.  Though under apartheid the workers were exploited, many vineyards today have empowerment programs that provide land, resources, or other opportunities for workers to enhance their lives.

Maybe Belize has been on my mind because my friend is home, and there is been much conversation around it.  Perhaps it is because one of the similarities between Belize and South Africa--besides their beauty--is the heart of the people.  Everywhere, I tend to find it is people who are marginalized who are the kindest and most generous to me.

Yesterday following our interview of a candidate, I was asking one of our grad students who is on the committee about a song I heard in a black church during a funeral.  All I could remember was the line "Jesus will fix it, He will fix it for you."  She broke into the song with a beautiful clear voice, and our chair joined her seconds later.  This woman is a regional supervisor with DHS, has children, is caretaker for her mother, is a superb grad student with many obligations related to that, and yet the joy in her life is unmistakable.  She transfers that joy to all around her.  It is her heart for people that makes the difference in her life.

Maybe that is why Belize has been on my mind, and why South Africa stays on it continuously, and why St. Paul is pretty well rooted in there now, too.  It is the heart that tells us what is important.