Monday, February 22, 2010

[opening excerpt of] Drafts 5 Through 8 in Chapter 6

Good social workers don’t share my fear of action and conflict. Some of them crave it. The best ones have a conflict switch that shuts down their own feelings so they can strategically dissect the heightened emotions of others. They have bagfuls of touchless tactics. They can throw bureaucracy at anger, they can speak in calm soothing tones that smother panicked screeching, and they can use just the right language to help a client accept the blame for his own problems.

It’s not that social workers don’t see the way society crushes people. But good ones know they can’t do shit about it, so they focus on the possible. With time, effort and smarts they can change how a client deals with the world.

I’m not a good social worker. I’ve been fleeing conflict since I was a child. I ran from family conflict to join my friends, and I ran even further away as soon as I got a student loan. I fled Nova Scotia, returned to the big city of my early childhood with saving-the-world dreams.

My sister flunked out of high school, remained at home and worked full time at the local paper mill. During my undergrad I studied a lot of Freud-babble about family and childhood, learned strategies, tactics and techniques for counselling people who had suffered family trauma, or were living in dysfunctional situations.

These theories fascinated me but I never related them to my own family. We students had been warned about our tendencies to self-diagnose, usually incorrectly, when learning about new disorders and behaviours. I hardly thought about my family at all. I put them out of my mind, barely kept in touch. And in the case of my sister, our adult relationship existed only through my mother’s updates. Michelle and my stepfather never bothered to talk after she moved to the US four years ago.

I thought about Michelle after the blackout, the next time I rode the TTC. I got on the bus and saw the usual waves of humanity.

I had promised myself I’d be more open to people when the power came back, but when I saw them all I was hit with agoraphobia. I sat down at the front, where you’re supposed to stand up for the elderly and disabled. I pulled out my sketchpad and sketched the lot of them, all hobbled together, like a comic book proof before the colour artist does his magic. For the thousandth time I wished for Michelle’s talent.

By the time I found Sarah snoring on the couch I had too many historical thoughts swirling in my head to bother with her. I went to bed and thought about Michelle some more. I thought about the girl she was, her genius of creation, with talents that far surpassed anything I could ever hope to achieve.

I’ve been drawing since I was a child. Once I entered the workforce I took classes every week. It kept my hands busy, scratched the itch that my computer keyboard gave me every day. I learned the techniques illustrators have used since the pencil was invented to create reasonably hand-drawn facsimiles of buildings and trees and faces. But I was more craftsman than artist.

Then there was Michelle. She could do what almost no one in human history could do. She could make something out of nothing. Those models she made as an early teen progressed from representations of places she’d seen in books to thin-air creations. She invented entire cities writ small. Tradition was just her starting point. It taught Michelle more about what was wrong with how we live than it did about rules and techniques for success. Michelle could revamp tradition and innovate on it, bring in new techniques from the atmosphere, spit on the gods and the ancestors and come away victorious. She was the greatest city planner and engineer in North America. At least on a model scale. Real life was a different story.

In real life Michelle taught English as a Second Language to immigrants in Portland. It was honourable work but it wasn’t exactly earth-moving, for a genius. I thought about it all night, until my stomach hurt. I called in sick in the morning.

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I can emphatically support from experiential knowledge your take on good social workers and them about to bun out.

The sections flows quite well Chris, and leaves me curious about his relationship to the distant sister being closer than with the partner (?) Sarah on the couch.

The narrator has that detached view of one who truly is a product and still living childhood dysfunction.
The pen is soon to draw him into adventure.
Hi Benji

I'm rushing through to let you know that I have moved Politics Plus to

I have you in the blogroll there. Would you update me in yours?
Good beginning. I was drawn in from the start.
Talk about drawn in,,,I wanted you to call Michelle! Right now,,,,,tonight!
Sounds like the narrator is in the wrong line of work.

I don't know how things are where you live (and sometimes, this varies within the US), but someone who is a psychological social worker would have probably have some background in behavioral and developmental psychology, in addition to clinical. So, if they have an innate aversion to Freud, they could always latch on to someone else.
This is quite good.

You have a sensitivity...I think mine has been knocked out of me.

...I often wonder where social workers get their vocabulary. Words like paradigm or getting in touch with your feelings...And you posit that they put their own feelings aside while treating the client.
Good stuff!
just thought i'd pop in and say hello since you haven't posted in a while.
Benji - I agree with the walking man and Middle Ditch and others- I was drawn to read this completely - I have a sort of social worker that has helped me navigate social security - medical benefits and all this type of thing - and I simply don't know how he manages to stay on an even keel with his workload (his lover also has many health problems) he has been priceless to me with advice and paperwork and all this sort of thing-
thanks so very much for your sympathy - very much appreciate it - I am much better emotionally now than I was - I just can't seem to shake this damn cold virus -
I hope you and your family are doing wonderfully !!
all the best in the world to you my friend and I will try to get more caught up here when I am better- I am sure I have missed a lot!!
Finally read your piece in THE COAST on Sable Island and the proposal to make it into a national park.

I tried to comment just under your story, but, for some reason was gun-shy in creating an account.

Anyway, here is what I said before asked to log in:

The world is not short on information on Sable Island...Spokiest real "treasure trove" in the world. So many have died to get to the bottom of the treasure--if there is a treasure--or if there is a bottom!
The place is crawling with mystery and legend. Maybe one more "expedition" will be planned--or more if Sable Island is opened up. I wouldn't worry too much about ecology or meddlesome tourists. For sure, no tourist is going to dive deep into spooky, dangerous tunnels,underground tide, quicksand and possible tunnel collapse..
...Danger aplenty...
...And I don't think there is ecological hazard...There's not much on Sable Island to spoil.

TWM: Yep, that's it exactly. I hope you'll read the book when it comes out in the fall. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Toast: and faraway waters.

TC: I'll be by for a visit soon!

MD: Excellent.
Babs: He calls her and much strangeness ensues.

X: Well, I think he actually likes Freud but is a bit of a closet fan. But yes, social work is going very well for him. I wonder though if it's the wrong line of work or the just done wrongly.

Ivan: Thanks, it's coming along, coming along.

Foam: Thanks for popping by. Time is escaping me these days. I'll keep chasing.

Devin: Hope you're feeling better! Let's all wave cold season bah-bye.
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