Thursday, June 29, 2006

Words and Action in Accord

I'm dealing with a prejudice of mine. I like people who have a tight coordination between what they say and what they do. It used to be worse- I used to assume that almost any discrepancy in word and deed -say the schism between a stated religious or ethical belief and an action- was a deliberate deception. A sign of evil and betrayal and blah blah blah...

I've grown up a lot since then. Frankly, for most people, words are just shit that comes out of their mouth to make them feel less lonely. It's white noise. Not for every one and not for anyone all the time. It's just in my nature to think of words as tools and it seems obvious to me that tools should be used precisely. It took a long time to understand that most humans don't see the world in terms of ends and means and don't instinctively value practicality as the highest ideal.

So I watch actions and friends and relationships: not what a person says about waitresses and flight attendants, but how they treat them. Not whether they preach the sanctity of marriage but how they treat their wives and how many wives they've had.

So I've grown a little bit, but it still bugs me.

It especially bugs me when words and words are not in accord. That seems so simple. (Following example heavily edited to take out the jargon)

Deputy: Sarge, I think this person is breaking this rule, but I don't have enough evidence to follow up.
Me: Why do you think he's doing it?
Deputy: I watched him do it.

And this is the deep prejudice, because it's hard not to interpret that as stupidity- but the person isn't stupid. It's just white noise coming out of the mouth.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Surviving an LTR

A new analogy/metaphor/comparison hit me today. Not sure how applicable it is, but it feels right. It's about relationships and the troubles they go through and at a deep level, how I look at them.

Kami and I have been together a long time. It will be twenty years in October. They have been mostly good times and I cherish her. But ther have been horrible moments that still hurt years later and sometimes the hurt or the memory drifts across my mind and everything is gray for a while.

I realized today that Kami isn't my longest-term relationship. It's not my birth family, either, since I moved out when I was sixteen. The longest, stormiest relationship so far is with my own body . It's not the years, as they say, it's the mileage. If you look closely there's a lot of scar tissue. Very few of the joints in my hands look they way they were designed to. There is a screw in one knee and probably should be one in the other and if I remembered all the shoulder dislocation it would be in double digits or close to it. Relationships or body, I've never held back much. Not expecting to last long, I've always been driven to get the life and the love out now, on the table, in the open. I've never, ever had a problem telling someone I loved them because I never believed I had a lot of time to waste.

The first time I dislocated my shoulder was decades ago, showing off that I could do a "human flag" from a stop sign. Don't know why it popped that time and not before. It hurt and I reduced it and for a long while I didn't trust it. I worked it hard, never wanting it to be weak or fail again. I actually felt betrayed by my own shoulder. When I judged it strong enough, I tested it... and it popped again, of course

So I was angry at a part of me.

What am I trying to say here? Not sure. Sometimes, under great (or not so great) pressure, things snap. Sometimes, that thing is a part of you. If it's truly a part of you, you work on it or get it replaced. I replaced my knee. I don't trust it, it always hurts, there are numb spots, the hamnstring they cut the replacement out of is as tight as a guitar string. It may not be as weak, but there are more parts damaged in the replacement process than I understood when I made the decision.

I haven't had surgery on my shoulders and I don't want to. They crunch. They hurt all the time. But I know what they can and can't do and how far I can push them before they pop and how to fix them and what I can get away with in the heat of a fight after fixing them. They're my shoulders, dammit. Even if they aren't the uninjured and untested teenager shoulders they're mine and we go well together.

Besides, they match the scars.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's a Long Story...

A few days ago (first real chance to write since) an inmate asked how I became a jail guard. "It's a long story," I said. Nothing more. It's personal information and we don't usually share that with inmates.

Kami and I had been thrown together in a conspiracy orchestrated by mutual friends which involved getting me to leave Nevada and then throwing us in the same room for an hour. That was all it took, really.

We knew very quickly that we wanted to spend the rest of out lives together. I don't recall it as any kind of big moment or sudden realization, it was just obvious. This is my wife. This may sound like I'm belittling something glorious, but I find glory in many seemingly small things: Meeting Kami was like putting on my favorite jacket. It fit right, it smelled right and I've never, ever, had a moment agonizing over which jacket is my favorite. It just is.

But we were smart and ambitious and had plans. We would both start careers. When we had a house and an income over 100k (1980's ) or a total of four books in print we would marry and have children.

Then the first Persian Gulf war erupted. I was in a National Guard unit E/1-249th AA. Echo company was a desert trained, air-mobile, anti-armor unit. We were rated one of the best tank killing units in the military and Hussein had a lot of tanks. Not for a minute was there a shred of doubt that we would be one of the first units deployed.

Suddenly, everything changed. If we were sent and if I was killed (medic assigned to a front-line unit without much of a self preservation instinct) all that Kami would have would be memories and my family would be fresh out of sons (Dad had always made a big deal that I was the last of his line).

So we decided to get married and start trying to have a child. The Gods must have smiled (or snickered) because according to the doctor Kami had been pregnant for about a week when we made the decision.

Then... nothing happened. The huge mass of top-of-the-line soviet tanks that Hussein had (and which our intelligence briefs had indicated were as good or better than the US M1 Abrams) fell apart in a matter of days. I wasn't going to war. I was going to live.

Ohmygod I have a wife and baby on the way!

Things moved quick from there. I talked to my advisor and found out that the double major (Biology and Psychology) I'd been working on for ten years would take another year (assuming I could pass biochemistry) or I'd have to take a single humanities class to get the psych degree.

---Couple of asides. 1)It took me ten years to put myself through college on the "work until I had enough to go back then stay as long as I could afford to" plan. 2) Shameless plug: The National Guard, between the student loan repayment program and the GI bill were instrumental in getting me through. Any military training is also a big edge in developing some discipline and turning whiny, selfish little entitled American kids into men and women who have a work ethic and a sense of teamwork.---asides end

And I needed a job. A real job that could support a family (omygodimgonnabeafather!!!). I put out a bunch of applications, mostly in the Law Enforcement area- it seemed like a good fit after some military, bouncing in a casino and talking to some old officers.

The Corrections job came through. It was a good fit.

Long story with a happy ending. Except it's not ended yet. Not by a long shot.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Do you ever sit down and think about the absolute random things that came together to create you? Not just the one in a million chance that that particular sperm would fertilize that particular egg in order to make your particular genetic combination. Other stuff.

I'm priveleged to know a few of the people who read this: extraordinary fighters and musicians; insightful, incisive, curious, warm friends. What magical combination does it take to make a Mac, a Kami, a Kevin or a Kai? (that's what you get for signing your comments).

The intersection that is shaping my life right now is twenty-five years of martial training combining with fifteen working the jails. But that's not the whole story. From listening to my seniors in the exciting, fast-paced world of Corrections it seems that a few years before I joined there was a level of unprofessional brutality and corruption that was tolerated and encouraged. I could not have stayed in the field if that was the case. I have no problem with using violence for a clear, justified and legal goal. I DO need a clear difference between the good guys and the bad guys and I need to be one of the good guys.

So I entered the field at the time when we were still expected to have the old skills- to be able to enter and finish a fight quick and hard, to recover from ambushes and prevail, not to back down from weapons or numbers but were discouraged from using them just to bolster our authority. Without moral hesitations, I could get into the physical stuff with an inner purity which made a lot of things possible.

If I had come in ten years later when the attitude had shifted to a very hands-off approach and the introduction of OC (pepper spray) to the facilities had started making people more tool than skill dependent, it would have been a different story. I might have been one of the "Five year rookies" still waiting for that first big fight.

When the corrections tactical team started it was essentially an unarmed SWAT team. Hostage rescue, riot control, cell extractions, barricaded threats... and no firearms. No problem. Strategically and tactically, it was a bad concept. But there was no more perfect way to intersect unarmed martial arts and real life.

This window of time fit perfectly with my training and my temperment. That's a lot of coincidence. Or a lot of luck. Give a thought, today, to the intersections of your life.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Point

This is where this has all been going, and as I've laid the background it's become obvious that I misunderstood may things. I'd looked at the big mythic journies as qualitatively different than the daily journeys and they aren't. I'd assumed, because sometimes it feels that way, that some deep events isolate you from the world, and that's not quite true.

This is what I'm talking about, the myth that has to be written- what happens to those few men and women who cross a dark threshold to a very deep place and return to find no community of people who have gone before? It has happened with veterans of Viet Nam, some of whom came home to families without parents who had served in Korea and a community who rejected them. It happens to officers who survive shootings and people who go into the desert and starve themselves to a vision.

It is the farthest travelers who learn the greatest secrets, and have the fewest to share it with.

I'm going to couch this in mythic language like the original Hero's Journey because myth is adaptable to many interpretations.

The Hero has completed his Journey. He has been beyond the world and has returned with new powers and new insights.
-The Homecoming: Greeted with joy, the returning hero greets his old friends

-Position in the Tribe: Accomplishments recognized, he is placed in a position of responsibility and respect.

-The dissatisfaction: He no longer fits with his old friends, perhaps due to the difference in growth. Members of the tribe become resentful. What yothe Hero believes is important does not mesh with the ideas of the power structure, tradition or politics of the tribe.

-Seeking Others: The Hero reaches out, looking for Others who have returned. He finds many, but most are burned out, suicidal, addicted or clinging to ancient glories.

-Creating the Kingdom: The hero ceases to search and decides to create a realm that reflects the wisdom he has won

- The leaving. The Kingdom runs well and happily and the Hero realizes that he is unneeded, unfulfilled and bored. With his confidence in his ability to create he goes in search, again, of Others.

-The Hero finds many archetypes in his travels, perhaps he must become each of these to move on. The Derelict: a burned out addict so overwhelmed by his experience that he can no longer function in the civilized world. Perhaps evil, but most likely pathetic, the Derelict searched his life for an enemy who could beat him and when he gave up he defeated himself. The Mystic: Caught up in the unearthliness of his vision, the Mystic has no connection with the day to day world. The King: Responsible and lonely he has accepted the reins of the Kingdom and works conscientiously, out of duty, slowly dying of boredom. The Teacher: Chooses to spread his knowledge either formally or as a guide leaving hints. He tries to help other to the Other Side and to be waiting when they return.

-The Hero begins teaching, but the truths are hard and the path is lonely. Further, the path must be walked alone, at the moments the Hero is teaching, the student cannot be on the path.

-At some point, a student will fail or die or betray.

-Creating a legacy: The Hero chooses to create a love-gift for the world, possibly his students. An expression of self and truth for future travelers. If the students are the legacy, this ties into the teaching step.

-Letting go of the Legacy. Once created, the Hero lets it go, watching only the changes in the world, not meddling.

-The Hero dies. In order to die well the Hero should have seen a student complete the Journey and been, perhaps, a Derelict, King, Mystic and Teacher.

That's my best guess at the mythic end game.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Journey Errata

Read the comments to the last post. The journey is a journey no matter which direction you are going and whether you are progressing or digressing is largely a point of view. Every career criminal that I have really talked to is convinced that he has moved closer to the truth of the world than a productive citizen can ever know.

There are rarified strata of criminals just as there are of good guys. There are cluster communities of bad guys who have done certain things and feel a kinship- bank robbers; sex offenders; murderers; deeper than the connection they feel with the rest of the criminal community.

And there is cross-over. There are certain predatory criminals who have used violence for an end and survived violence who I have more in common with than I do with my kid's school teachers.

This is important, but it is also an aside.

More stuff:
1)Everyone is involved in many of these journeys simultaneously. Fatherhood; career; martial arts; introspection; wilderness survival; emergency medicine; farming; criminals... are all areas where I have had huge growth, huge moments that shifted perspective. I'm not at the same level in all of them and never will be.

2) There is a mutual respect cross-over. I'm not a member of the criminal path, but our worlds touch a lot and that effects our interaction.

3) Some of the mountains have much in common, especially at the top. Most people who have really earned wisdom and insight do have a lot in common, and most can disagree gently.

4) No matter which secret brotherhood you have accessed, you are still a part of the mainstream community. After enlightenment, you still have to make a living. Maybe even suck up to a boss. (Who's hair raised at that sentence?)

5) Democratic and egalitarian societies have a real problem with extreme personal growth. In a Shoshone society, the people who brought themselves to the edge became Shamans and Warchiefs. In modern society they are eccentrics or babykillers.

6) This all seems very important and deep to me now, but in ten years I'm pretty sure I'll be laughing about how shallow and self-important I was.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Journey: Breakthrough and Community

Working off the description from the last entry, each journey ends not only with a change in the self, but with admission to a new community of peers.

The blue collar kid in the example becomes a college graduate. He enters a new community and will relate with other members of his new community. He may go home, but it will never feel right. Old friends will treat him differently because he has changed, even if he believes his core is the same. He sees different problems and different solutions in their day to day world. Some will resent him (I've been in many places where 'college boy' is as much an insult as any racial epithet), some will try to latch on to his success (another cliche- how many songs and stories have been based on the plea of a young woman to "take me away from this place"?) But it never fits.

It doesn't end, either. Journies never end. With each passage the hero moves into a new community of people who have shared the path and with each passage the group becomes smaller and tighter and deeper... and more distant from the mainstream.

Emergency Medical Technicians. They go through a complete journey in training, building up to the big test, the "Practical Exam". It's not that hard but it is stressful and many students choke and many have to repeat it, but once you have, you are an EMT. You have joined this elite group and you share things with them that an outsider doesn't really get.

And then you get your first call. No matter how well you did in training, the first real call is always different. And you find there is another community, because the professional EMTs don't see the world the way the rookies do, or the wannabes (the ones who got the certification 'just in case' but never went into the field).

Then there is the first big call- blood and guts and brains and highspeed decisions. A level of responsibility that is almost unbelievable. A sense of accomplishment or failure that is soul shaking... and you graduate to a more elite cadre.

(There is growth all this time, of course, and skills increase and routine decisions are made with easy authority... unless you burn out, a sneaky way of giving up and leaving the path while staying in the community.)

Then there is THE CALL. The one that haunts your dreams and brings up things you never thought to deal with: The decapitated infant. The butchered family. The rape victim. There's a story going around that you aren't a real cop until you taste your own tears. That goes for a lot of Emergency Services personnel. This brings on the dark night of the soul worse than ever before. It gets into your dreams, colors the way you look at every detail of life. You will either burn out, quit, kill yourself, or keep going. If you keep going it might be with understanding or joy or determination... but if you decide to keep going, you will find, on the other side, a helping hand and a very small community of very quiet men. It is a small brotherhood who have come to see things few others have; and they share. Not in a sense that is easy to understand- it's not like Tony or Mauricio or Sean see the world I do or drew the same conclusions from similar events. It's simply sharing that someone else has been through it and survived. That the feelings are okay. That you are stronger and better for the experience.

And at this end, there are clusters of small communities: the officers who have survived shootings are rare and find it easier to talk to each other. The officers who have been hostages are another group. The ones who have recovered from alcoholism. The ones who responded to 9-11. Membership in one group does not give you membership in another.

There is an old saying that 'there are many paths up the mountain', but really there are many mountains. The mountain is a symbol for a heightened perspective. The perspective a fireman gets will show him, perhaps, the preciousness of life in a way that someone who has never risked their own life and saved another can really feel... but it will be subtly different than the perspective of someone who risked his life to save another in a hostage situation and very different from someone who went alone into the wilderness for a long time. All will have heightened perspectives, but they will be different. Different mountains. Different communities of 'heroes'.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Background - The Journey

I've been putting off writing this long enough.

The Hero's Journey, as explained by Joseph Campbell, is the basic framework of many myths. It chronicles the stages that a person/character/youngster goes through to become something more. It has been used, quite successfully, as a framework for evaluating and directing lives.

In general, an ordinary person leading an ordinary life gets called to a great adventure and rejects it. The stakes are raised (sometimes many times) until the hero accepts, then he meets a teacher, a mentor, who shows him something about how to survive what he is about to face. The hero then faces the first challenge and commits to taking it on. Maybe wins, maybe not. Maybe the first challenge was an illusion... but the hero is committed and keeps at it until he passes this test, only to find out that this is nothing, a prelude, a taste.

He is changed, though, and begins in ernest to both become what he is destined to be and come to terms with it. He will make friends and enemies, gather allies and wisdom and take and pass many tests. <>.

Then he will face darkness, the true challenge. Everything will be on the line, not just his life, but his identity. He will have to face the hardest temptation of all, the temptation to quit, to take the laurels he has won and go home. This is the 'why' phase, the place and time of insight. It will shatter illusions about what the hero is to himself and to the universe.

Beyond that is the gift, the goal, the chalice. In myth, the grail or the Medusa's head or... many things. In life it is usually an insight and depth of understanding.

There are many many variations, many archetypes one may stumble across. It can be repeated over and over as the Hero tries to settle down and is called for new problems.

Because it is couched in the language of myth, people miss how often they have lived this. Imagine a blue collar high-school kid who, during an assembly hears about college. Nah, he says, I'm not smart enough or rich enough. He hears the girl he has had a crush on for years is going to State. Still, he rejects. (Maybe more piles on, he is told of a career he would love that requires college or an ailing grandparent whispers that she wants one member of the family to attend college before she dies.)

So he decides to apply and contacts the school counselor (who may encourage or discourage, may be the first mentor or the first test). You see the tests and the challenges linig up? Taking grades seriously for the first time. The SATs. Applications and interviews. The mentors, allies and enemies- the roommate who was always going to college and knows what to expect. The RA who recognizes the kid is lost at college, the upperclassman asshole. Each challenge, each test. Each final exam. Each serious date. All the times the poor kid though 'I can't do this, I'm not cut out for this...' and talks himself out of giving up. Each extraordinary teacher or complete ogre until... finals and a thesis. Do we all know someone who worked on his thesis for years? Or someone who never completed it, swallowed by the big challenge?

And the reward, the diploma which does change everything about the former blue-collar highschool kid, who now sees a bigger world and has prospects for a completely different life.

Then the career becomes the next journey...

Do you see this? Like evolution, it is everywhere if you open your eyes. You have lived this a dozen times in big and small ways. Every decision you have made that was truly big enough to change you has followed this pattern. Maybe not all the steps and maybe not in the exact order. Maybe you 'met the temptress' (one of the variations) and maybe you 'met the Goddess'. Maybe you journeyed mostly alone. But this is not new territory for you, just the images have changed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Illusions of Mastery

I'm re-reading a book, one of the ones that came out in the seventies that makes me want to puke every time I hear the word "warrior", especially applied to a non-violent lifestyle. You know the trope- it's always the first person account of a young, shallow, outwardly successful american college student who meets the quirky old man with seemingly mystic powers in an unlikely place. The quirky old man puts a finger on the vague disquiet that the protagonist feels in his life and challenges him to take a journey or follow a path or (insert cliched metaphor here) to become (insert euphemism for someone really special- warrior, shaman, "man of knowledge", healer, sorcerer, initiate, scout... there are dozens).

The protagonist is always extremely stupid and unobservant. The crazy old man (sometimes a woman) is always deft and subtle and, between the lines, smugly and self-righteously humble. That's humble with a capital H. Like in Horseshit. The protagonist eventually feels 'awakenings' and sees things that he has never seen before and rejects all that he has been taught about the false and plastic and shallow and spiritually dead mainstream culture.

As an aside, if you read these as potential cult initiations, you can get a good feel for the "Jim Jones" moment when the protagonist would have drunk the Grape Kool-aid of Doom as an act of proof of faith.

The whole premise is false and cruel. I'm really sorry that at some point the protagonist stopped smelling grass or tasting food or watching sunlight on water. I'm sorry the protagonist felt empty and unfulfilled. I'm really sorry it took two hundred pages of crappy writing for the author to get it clear to the protagonist that those were all individual choices. Ooooops. I didn't mean author and protagonist. I forgot for a second that these were all GENUINE First Person Accounts! Sorry. I obviously meant it took two hundred pages of crappy writing for the enlightened warrior mentor to bring the protagonist to this gate of understanding. That's what I meant. And they always seem to teach the last lesson on their death beds, which kind of makes it hard to verify anything. That's always convenient.

The need that inspires these books is also false and cruel. They can dress it up any way they want, but seeking mastery, at any level, is about seeking control. The world is a big and scary place. Not everything will go your way. Any way that you can measure happiness can and will be taken away from you- health, friends, posessions, experience will all fall away in age or senility or death. But so many people want to believe that there is this thing, this place, this discipline, this truth that will in some way transcend the inevitability of their own death, their own insignificance in the face of luck. They want an answer. People are lining up to provide answers, for a price.

Here's another persistant and obviously false belief about mastery: that if you truly achieve mastery in one thing, you have achieved it in all things. For the sake of argument, let's say that I have achieved absolute mastery in unarmed combat... you don't want me performing open-heart surgery on your child. Not if you have any brains at all. On the other hand, unless he's really special, you want me coming to save your ass from the bad guys, not your family doctor. The reply, of course, is that a true master has transcended such things as skills... which is a way of dodging and excusing the fact that the world is BIG. You will never know all of it and no matter how good you get at how many things, there will always be hundreds, thousands, millions of things that you don't know and can't fix.

But you can know and fix yourself, the enlightened ones say with smug, yet humble, superiority. To an extent, I agree. You can work on yourself. In any given situation you are the one variable you can control. To that extent, I agree. But if the self was truly mastered, all these final lessons wouldn't be happening on death beds, would they?

You can't beat time and you can't beat death. Get over that. But you can sure live while you're here. That may be the key, the one real chance at immortality lies in the stories you live and leave behind.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Too Busy

I've been really wanting to write- the difference between the small world and the big concepts behind it; how pushing someone into a leadership position is so much like teaching a child to ride a bike; how a sociopath can set the agenda without either him or the others around him realizing what is happening; storm clouds in the gorge...

Too busy. In the last four (or is it five now?) Two swing shifts, two and a half day shifts and two days off; two days of training; one night spent in the ER; a tactical operation; a day and a night visiting and talking with my oldest, closest friend.

Still to do- four reports, two investigations.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Other Side

This is a prelude to something I've been needing to write for some time, and it touches on one of the major themes of this blog and my life. You've been warned.

There is an "other side" Actually, there are lots of other sides. There are events in life that change the people who experience them on a fundamental level. These events change how that person sees the world, how they interact with the world-- the events change who they are. Mine, usually, have centered around risk or violence or exposure to subcultures that most people prefer to pretend don't exist. There are others, though- years of focused introspection in a monastary; immersion in an alien culture; surviving in the wilds with nothing; being diagnosed with a terminal disease... many others.

FYI- There are others that I consider invalid- the weekend meditation retreat, the 10-minute consultation and enlightenment with the guru, the guided survival camp with the emergency radio, the interview with the serial killer (who lies anyway). The good ways all have certain things in common- real risk and/or real deprivation and/or real fear.

There are people who have been to this other side and returned to the normal, comfortable 9-to-5 world. From that time on, the world never fits quite right. People from this side look at you and sense the difference. Some sense the otherness and respond with fear... nothing overt, usually, just an obvious discomfort. Sometimes they sense the insight gained and they wind up sitting at your feet like cultists (and some of the fakes and wannabes crave that for some unknown reason).

You want, so badly, for people to understand what you have learned on the other side... but. A big 'but'. I want my children to understand me, to really know me, but I will give everything I have so that they never see the whiteness of their own bones on a frosty morning, never see the eruption of meat and blood from someone they have just shot, never hear a man scream from a torn ear and never smell brains.

Until they see those things or something like them, though, they will not understand me. More importantly, they will not know who they are in the harsh times or what they will do. They will not know themselves until they have been to the other side.

Sometimes we are driven to share, some more than others, in the hope that with words we can create a few people who can understand without going through the events. But our words can become the fodder and the scripts for the wannabes and we recoil when we recognize our words coming from the mouth of a slick talking man with soft hands.